Monday, April 2, 2012

My last month in role-playing

In January and February I had way too little time for games, between traveling to Istanbul and the carnevale in Viareggio: my only opportunity to play was at EtrusCon (where I got my first taste of Mist-Robed Gate, besides playing Durance and The Dreaming Crucible all games I heartily recommend). To even things out, March had to be an all-out role-playing month, and all of my spare time was duly given to games. My current strategy for handling logistics is both simple and convenient, and it’s working like a charm: the “group” has me and Barbara as the only fixed members, and we play at Barbara’s during the weekends together with any number of “guest” players drawn from those friends of ours who just happen to be available on short notice. Thanks to this arrangement, in one month we were able to play:
  • Kagematsu (with Alessio): not our first game of it; probably the best so far. We were able to took our time, but didn’t waste any (I think I finally got the hang of how, as a village woman player, I can pace the game through my choice of whether to let a scene end or ask for more). We also hit, I think, the right balance between just enough historical accuracy to appease me and enough fantastic elements as needed to satisfy Barbara. We encountered a problem, though – possibly a “bug” in the rules: as we, the women, finally went after the Promise, Barbara as Kagematsu started rolling an endless string of triple-sixes (which is not at all unlikely, come think of it, when you’re rolling 9d6), producing a long sequence of inconclusive scenes (maybe six or eight of those in a row?) and the menace escalating to all-out war, as after a while we were exhausted of ideas for making it even more ominous. Those six-or-eight scenes added very little to the game – a couple could have been fine, but as inconclusive attempts accumulated they distracted us from the real point or even detracted from our enjoyment. Therefore, I’m considering house-ruling such a possibility away through some minor ad-hoc patch next time I play.
  • Psi*Run (with Alessio and Matteo): our first attempt with this game, and we loved it. Scheduling it as a two-days marathon afforded us all of the time we could wish for – a welcome change from the usually very constrained timeframe of one-shots. Having that extra bit of comfort, we felt enabled to really make the game sing for us on the emotional level. After an explosive beginning, we acted out many low-key scenes, with sparse, drawn out conversations between the runners, reminiscent of Ribbon Drive. More the European arthouse film than the Hollywood action movie, could we say. This, coupled with the use of familiar locations in the first half of the game, vastly increased our involvement. By the second half of it, then, play had gotten so emotionally charged that every single step the runners took felt deeply moving. It was great.
  • Play with Intent (with Alberto and Matthijs): not really part of the logistical arrangement I described, as we played this at a games tradeshow (“Play”, in Modena), but to be fair Alberto is one of the friends who live nearby and are always welcome at Barbara’s – well, Matthijs Holter would be welcome as well, but let’s be realistic. Anyway, since Matthijs (whom I had last met in Oslo last summer) was visiting Italy, how could I not show up and try his (and Emily Care Boss’s) “new thing”? This run of Play with Intent reminded me of jeepform, except it only had the good parts of jeepform IMO (i.e. no deliberate abuse of the players); but I get that individual runs can be very different from each other. What else to say? As a concept, it sure bears some thinking about the “identity of a game” besides the singular instance (top question: does such a thing even exist?), as well as pushing our current notion of what can be “packaged” as a “game” to its furthest limit. As an experience, it highlights once more how the core activity of game-design lies with providing built-in restrictions: as we were provided next to no restrictions at all, first thing we had to do was to add some – that is, to my understanding, we had to co-design our game on the spot.
  • Remember Tomorrow (with Monica and Lorenzo): for a while, I had been unfairly dismissive of this game. That's because the first time I gave it a try, in a demo run by a friend, having no previous knowledge of it… it fell flat. I think none of us players really “got” it at the time, that we all brought mistaken expectations to the table maybe, but still we decided to blame the design for blandness. I was lucky, one year later, to be given another demo – no matter how short – by Gregor Hutton himself: and it was wholly another game to me. Later still I read the book, finding out Greg’s vision for the game was well implied within the text and his style of play extensively explained. Remember Tomorrow is all about the “punk” in “cyberpunk”, with the “cyber” just painting it in shiny colors. And it’s an agile, fast moving game with room in it for some richness of detail, for the luxury of some speculation, but never taxing or exhausting. Thus I got to facilitate it myself, at last, and – apart from a few minor issues – it was a success. Truly my first impression had been wrong. I'm going to play this again.
So, what now? First there’s a sweet, sweet game of Bliss Stage, begun last December, which we need to bring to a closure – and, with both pilots as close as they are to blissing out, one more session will be enough. Then I absolutely want to playtest Ben Robbins’s Kingdom, the rules of which had me at first read: it looks delicious. Then what? Matteo asked me whether I’d run (as the GM) a game of Sorcerer, which sounds intriguing enough a perspective… Also, the new and revamped I reietti di Eden (tentative English title: Cast Down from Eden) is almost ripe for some serious playtest.

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