Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Zombie Dice: Rerolled

There are a lot of games out there with their own customised dice, which is fine for the game they are designed for, but what about using them in other ways? 'Rerolled' is all about re-purposing custom dice to get more game play out of them, focusing on dice included with board or card games rather than those designed for promotional purposes or for use with a specific role-playing game.

This will be the first game tackled by Rerolled where the dice have no numbers on them at all; the players in Zombie Dice take on the role of zombies who are chasing after living humans in search of tasty brains to eat. You get a set of 13 dice with the game, which appear in three colours and there are only three different symbols that appear on these dice:
  • Brain: You get to eat a victim's brains!
  • Footsteps: Your victim gets away.
  • Bang: Your victim shoots you!
The three colours of dice denote three levels of danger: green dice have more Brains than Bangs; everything is equal on yellow dice; and red dice have more Bangs than Brains. To make another game around these dice, we want to exploit these features (the red/yellow/green colouring and the special symbols in place of numbers) but also we have a pool of dice to play with, so we can make use of that too.

Shooting the Dice

Hard times make hard people, everyone knows that, but do hard people make hard times? If we're all out to grab what we can, because there isn't enough to go around, maybe we're the reason there isn't enough; maybe we're all just getting exactly what we deserve.

Shooting the Dice is a noir storytelling game about bitter pragmatists doing what they must in a city that doesn't care about them one way or the other: succeed, fail; get rich, go broke; live, die; it's all the same in the end... but while you live, maybe you'll get a chance to change the way things are.

This is a game for four players without a GM, but there are optional rules for adding a GM to the game further on; in addition to the dice, you'll also need a standard deck of playing cards, some tokens and the play-sheets provided on this link.


Every game of Shooting the Dice requires four characters who are each derived from one of the four
play-sheets: the Club, the Diamond, the Heart and the Spade. Everyone has to use a different playbook, so you can't have two Clubs in the game, but you can create a different character each time you use a playbook: the Spade you play this time is a private detective but next time they might be a corrupt cop or a concerned family member. When you take your play-sheet, choose one of the options for the type of character you are, name them and give them a short, punchy description.

For example, the player of the Heart chooses to make them 'a naive dilletante', naming them Peter Forsythe, the heir to his family's fortune who would rather be an artist in Paris.

At the start of the game, you use the suggestions on the play-sheets to create an interlocking narrative for the four characters: this can be a single story that unites all their lives via a common thread; it can be four pairs of stories that go around in a circle; it can be a story where one character is central to the lives of the other three; or it can be two entirely separate pairs of stories that intersect at a common point.

For example, the Spade's story is 'overcoming my bad reputation', while the Diamond's is 'finding out who's out to get me.' The two players agree that the Diamond has hired the Spade to find his blackmailer, knowing the the Spade is the kind of detective who will work outside the law to get things done; the Spade isn't happy about the arrangement, but the Diamond offers him a lot of money to take on the job.

After discussing the starting point for the characters' stories, deal out one suit of cards face down to each player: the Spade gets all the spades from the deck, the Heart gets all the hearts and so on; keep your cards face down in a single deck beside your play-sheet. You also take three tokens and place one on each of the 'Green' squares on your play-sheet, but you may choose to slide any one token down to the 'Yellow' square and draw the top card of your deck, turning it over and putting it face up on the opposite side of your character sheet to your deck. This will start you off with a slight advantage when it comes to resolving portions of the story, but you will be closer to getting into very deep trouble too.

Hard Times

To play the game, you each take a turn to frame a scene for your character: state where you are and why you are there, asking if any of the other characters are also in the scene with you. Generally, the more characters in a scene, the more choices you have when resolving it, but sometimes you want a scene with some minor characters so that you face less opposition to what you do. Every other player either plays their own character or a minor character in your scene, though they can also simply observe and make suggestions instead of taking a direct hand in the action. When you play a minor character in another player's scene, you should still portray them using the theme of your play-sheet, e.g. Power for the Club, Money for the Diamond and so on.

For example, the Club frames a scene in an illegal gambling den, where they have come to confront a rival who has muscled in on their action; they can ask for any other characters to be there or they can say they only want minor characters in this scene. In the latter case, the Diamond chooses to play the rival, the Spade plays the croupier who is dealing the cards, but the Heart sits this scene out, though they may still contribute to the colour of the scene and suggest how background characters might react to the action.

Every scene needs at least one action in it, something that you do on your turn to push towards the outcome you want: this is where the Tough, Fast and Discreet tracks on your play-sheet come in. Each track is a measure of your character's ability and can be used in many types of action:
  • Tough: your physical & mental resilience; can you keep going and stay cool?
  • Fast: your physical & mental agility; are you quick enough to stay ahead of trouble?
  • Discreet: your physical & mental caution: can you slip through someone's guard?
An action can be triggered by you or another player: sometimes you will want something and the way to get it is to take action, but other times another character in the scene will threaten you and you will have to take action to deal with that. It is always you who takes action in your scene, not any other player, but the player who triggers the action decides whether you need to be Tough, Fast or Discreet to get what you want.

For example, the Club is building to making a demand of the Diamond, intending to be Tough on their action, but the Diamond beats them to it by saying that they flip up the card table and make a run for the exit; if the Club really wants that confrontation, their going to have to be Fast!

When you act, you roll: pick up a die of the correct colour (corresponding to where your token is on the track for that type of action) and roll it:
  • Wise: if you roll a brain, you get what you wanted; you succeed at this action and you may choose to draw one card from your deck or that of the character you were acting against. Also, all face down cards you have are turned face up.
  • Legwork: this will take a little more effort; your action only partially succeeds but it leaves the door open for more action later. You may draw a card from your deck or that of the character you were acting against, but you put it face down by your play-sheet instead of face up; turn your face down cards face up the next time you get a Wise result.
  • Trouble: you failed at this totally and suffer a little as a result; you don't draw a card, but you do move your token one square down on this track, from 'Green' to 'Yellow', from 'Yellow' to 'Red' or remove it entirely if you are already on 'Red.' Once a token is removed, you can't regain it and you automatically fail at any action of the corresponding type.
For example, the Club rolls a Fast action to catch up with the Diamond: their Fast token is currently on 'Yellow', so they are equally likely to get any result.
  • On Wise, they catch the Diamond and get them to agree to back off out of their territory; they may also draw one club or one diamond card and place it face up beside their play-sheet.
  • On Legwork, the Diamond gets away in a taxi, but the Club overhears where they are going and can pay a visit later; they may take a club or diamond card and place it face down by their play-sheet.
  • On Trouble, the Diamond leads the Club into an ambush, where the Diamond's minions rough up the Club; they have to move their Fast token down one square to 'Red.'
Some scenes might require more than one action to resolve them satisfactorily, but no player should ever trigger more than one action per scene, e.g. you can't extend your own scene indefinitely by triggering action after action.

Dealer's Choice

As you play, you will collect a set of face up cards in front of you which can be used to add various twists & turns to the story: every play-sheet contains a list of plot twists that any player can spend cards to activate. You can use the plot twist abilities on any play-sheet, not just your own, as long as you have the required cards to spend; when you spend cards, they go back face down in the deck for that play-sheet, e.g. all heart cards go back into the Heart's deck once spent, all club cards go back into the Club's deck and so on.

While you can achieve most of the same results as these plot twists by taking actions in scenes, spending cards for a plot twist simply makes it happen, at any time: you can activate a plot twist during any player's scene, not just your own. Also, a plot twist trumps an action, so if you spend 2 spade cards to reveal that the butler was blackmailing another character, then that overturns anything already established in the fiction about who may have done it and it can only be overturned by spending 3 spades: you can't change that fact by making it the target of an action. Once anything becomes locked though (by spending 4 cards of the appropriate suit on it) it cannot be changed by any means, neither actions nor further plot twists.

For example. the Spade is in a scene where they are attempting to track down a hoodlum who has threatened their client, hoping to find out who paid them off; the Heart, who has 3 heart cards, interrupts by spending 2 of them to establish that the hoodlum is actually the Spade's old partner, who has fallen on hard  times. Later, the Heart spends 3 more heart cards to change this and states that the Spade's old partner actually has a grudge against them for a perceived wrong and has been working behind the scenes against them all this time.

You can also gain cards directly, without taking actions, by making a deal with another player: you make a deal in order to push one of your tokens up the track, from 'Red' to 'Yellow' or from 'Yellow' to 'Green.' When it is your turn, frame the scene with the character you want to make the deal with: you can come to some arrangement with them in addition to taking actions in your scene, but the deal must be struck first. The deal consists of a formal arrangement between the two characters, where they negotiate how one will assist the other: when you strike a deal, you move one of your tokens up one square on it's track and the character you struck the deal with draws one card from your deck and one card from their own, putting both cards face down in front of them.

For example, the Heart has fallen on hard times and has their Discreet on 'Red', while both Tough & Fast are on 'Yellow', so they seek a deal with the Diamond: they frame a scene of going to the bank the Diamond works in to ask for a loan on favourable terms. The Diamond replies that they might consider this, if the Heart renounces their interest in someone that the Diamond is attracted to... reluctantly, the Heart agrees, so they push their Discreet token back up to 'Yellow', while the Diamond draws one heart and one diamond card, putting them both face down by their play-sheet.

The Joker

You can make room for a GM-like role in this game if that's your preference, which also allows a fifth player to take part: the Joker gets no play-sheet, no deck and doesn't get a turn of their own, but they can influence the game in a number of ways:
  • The Joker plays all minor characters in the game and controls the colour of each scene: other players may make suggestions or requests, but they only play their own characters throughout the game, no others.
  • The Joker gets to trigger one action on every other player's turn, whether they are taking an active part in that scene or not: they can establish obstacles or challenges as needed to trigger an action.
  • When you roll Trouble on any action, the Joker draws a card from your deck and puts it face up in front of them; the Joker may spend these cards just like any other player.
  • You can only make a deal with the Joker, in their role as a minor character: you cannot make deals with other main characters. When you make a deal with the Joker, they draw two cards from your deck and put them face up in front of them.
The Joker is quite powerful, but they depend on the main character's stories, they don't have one of their own: they reflect the mood of the city and the consequences of what the main characters do, but they can't drive anything to happen by themselves.

Monday, 20 June 2016

A Life of Games

It's been some time since my last post, again, so this is more of a catch up than anything else: there's some good stuff, some bad stuff and some very personal stuff, so skip this if you just want new game things (though there are some new game things mentioned haphazardly.)

So, all the way back at the end of March, when I last posted, I'd recently started a series of posts under the banner title of Rerolled (and there are still more of those to come: one is about one-third complete at the moment of writing and I have ideas for at least two more after that) and Concrete Cow was a pleasant memory... well, kind of pleasant. The day itself was as wonderful as ever, marred only by Neil Smith's announcement that, after 10 years, he was stepping down as organiser and handing over the reins of authority (the moment had been prepared for) but in myself, I was not happy. In the three months preceding this day, I'd lost my father to a sudden acceleration in his long-term illness and also the children's centre where I had worked for a dozen years had closed its doors for good, so two big tent-poles in my life were abruptly jerked away. I suspect other people noticed on the day my lack of energy or enthusiasm, which affected my morning & afternoon games, both play-tests of systems I'd loved creating but was finding it hard to remember why.

Which brings me onto the first good game thing: New Gods for an Old Town,the self-contained playset for Just Heroes, my super-heroic hack of Apocalypse World. I've had a chance to run this playset at two different conventions now, with 8 different players, and I'm quite happy with how it works: you don't get the full experience that you would in a true Just Heroes campaign, but you get a good feel for how the superpowers work, how the characters interact and how it creates an authentically comic-like experience from those things. It's persuaded me that the hack works, mechanically, but I still need at least one lengthy, multi-session play-test to really find all the kinks and bumps so I can smooth them out.
The playset comes with four ready-to-play characters who are built from the double-playbook style of the Just Heroes rules: each hero is composed of an Origin and a Style, with the former guiding the player though creating their origin story and the latter giving them a selection of powers they can use, either beginning with them in play or acquiring them as they advance.

Back at Concrete Cow, I recovered my mojo at the end of the day by standing up to 'GM' (I can only use the term loosely) an 8-player game of Newton, a very fast and loose, back-of-a-fag-packet game that we playstormed back at Indiecon 2012. The basic conceit, that various sci-fi B-movie monsters, aliens, mutants, androids and mad scientists have been co-opted by the British Government and now live in a purpose built, secret town, goes down very well, but weaving a story out of the chaos that ensues is hard: I think one player suggested that there should be no continuity between games, as Newton is obviously going to get destroyed at the climax of every game.

Speaking of Indiecon, that was the next setback that had to be endured: since first attending back in 2010 to shamelessly pimp my Game Chef entry Never to Die, this has been the gaming highlight of my year. Comprised of a very long weekend devoted to small press & home-brew RPGs, it's a place where you could get players for a game of just about anything at all: 300 dedicated gamers, looking to play morning, noon and night, would sign up to anything, even a blank sheet (yes, I did do that on a bet and all the players who signed up got a glass of the champagne I won.) After announcing a potential price rise in February, due to negotiations between the organising committee and the new management at the site where the con was held, this was followed by news in April that Indiecon would not be going ahead after all; combined with my ambivalent feelings about GMing at Concrete Cow, this left me with a long, blank future of no-gaming ahead of me.

Image result for severn valley railwayIf the three things that keep you going in life are family, friends and career, by mid-April all three of mine had received critical damage and I simply ran out of impetus: the world was going on and I didn't particularly care if it left me behind. With no reason to go out, I virtually stopped doing so, venturing as far as the local shops every other day for essentials; thankfully, I had my partner Philip's support, so I wasn't in dire financial straits, but I wasn't socialising with anyone other than him. I think  I had one good day out, when he took me on the Severn Valley Railway, a restored heritage steam service that runs the 16 miles between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth: it was a beautiful day that drew me back out of my slump for a week or so.

Generally though, things didn't get better and it was only the prior commitment I had made to run games at the UK Games Expo in June that I was holding onto: not in the sense that it was giving me the hope to carry on, but it was the last obligation I had to dismiss, after which I would be unencumbered by any commitments. My thoughts spiralled downwards, I sunk into despair, my temper shortened and overall I was looking forward to a time when I could somehow fade out of the world altogether.

Fortunately, come the start of June, the UK Games Expo turned out to be great: there were significant changes to the venue this year, as the hotel was given over almost entirely to RPGs, with the trade hall relocated over to the NEC a few minutes stumble away. A friend in need of a place to stop over made use of our guest bedroom the night before the convention began, so it was an excuse to practice socialising again and remembering how to talk to people: there were more friends at the Expo itself, plus lots of new people to meet as well and, overall, excluding the odd hiccup that could be laughed off, I ran three games I was very happy with, providing a metric ton or two or entertainment to the 13 players I had across the two days I attended. The rest of the weekend was given over to my partner, with whom I had a lovely unwinding day on Sunday before venturing out on one of the hottest, brightest days of the year to enjoy a quiet Monday afternoon in one of the many splendid heritage parks in the midlands.

Somewhat recharged, I began to contemplate writing games again, something that had turned into a Sisyphean task in the preceding two months: the Rerolled articles had been left on a bit of a cliff-hanger, so I relit the fires under those ideas and let them simmer. Also, I had promised myself that I would publish New Gods for an Old Town after its UKGE playtest, so I got on and did that. Things started to thaw and move in my mind again: perhaps not as freely and fantastically as they had in my productivity peaks, but steam was building and I could feel some solid ideas bubbling up, things I was keen to do and try out. Some more playing had to be done, so I rustled up a game on Google Hangouts: after a false start or two, I finally got my game on, on-line, with at least one more session in the pipeline.

Which brings me up the present day and the wheel that keeps on turning: following on from Indiecon, one of the other great UK conventions held at the same site, Conception, also announced that it would cease to run, not just for this year but for the foreseeable future. This is a great blow to the UK gaming scene, it was possibly the largest RPG-devoted convention in the whole of the British Isles and had attracted guests from Europe, America and maybe even further afield in its time. It was a highlight of the UK games calendar, people looked forward to it, prepared special games for it, turned their lodges into bar/restaurants at it! It was where I met gamers who have become, I hope, lifelong friends and I will apologise to them now for not sharing many of the thoughts on this blog with them sooner, but if coming out as queer is hard, then coming out as depressed is a hundred times harder.

So as not to end on a bleak note, my writing seems to be getting back on track and today I did something I haven't done for quite a while: this morning, I sat down to write a new short story-game and this afternoon I published it on Drivethru. Some of you will recognise Underfoot from it's earlier appearance on this blog as the first subject of Rerolled but this is a slightly meatier version with somewhat tweaked rules: as before though, you play a fae-creature or wizard's familiar trying to get by in a city that will crush you as soon as tolerate you. It's not a metaphor, but I can't stop you from seeing it that way if you want to.