Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Plot Crawl Campaign - Running my Cthulhu game with a pile of props

As I blogged about a while back, I am running a 1920s Cthulhu game on the side along with my regular Weird West campaign. I lifted an idea from the Secret Cabal Podcast which I found rather inspiring. Rather than your typical game where someone would initially approach the investigators to tackle a specific mission looking into the supernatural, instead it would be based on what the players wanted to look into. It’s a plot crawl campaign.

It’s much like your good old fashioned hex crawl game. While there isn't a map of randomly generated content, it’s open ended to allow players to go where they will. Like a hex crawl game, a plot crawl has adventure seeds acting like a map of sorts with a few details laid out to grab the player's interest. They make the choice where to go and what to look into. Sometimes more choices might branch out depending on what they investigate, but they can turn around and poke their heads into another 'section of the map' investigating some other adventure plot if they want to.

It’s designed to run very much as an episodic game. There really isn’t any over arching story. As things progress, you can have recurring villains, NPCs, and past events to weave back in as details if needed. It’s immensely flexible as you can tailor the game to deal with past events and players, building up a larger story, or just go for the 'serial adventure of the week' format instead. None of this has to be planned out either. You just think of 4 or 5 different adventure seeds and run with it. The details will be fleshed out as the game is played.

My players started the session being called together by a lawyer overseeing the estate of a recently deceased professor. All of them knew the person and had a relationship with him (be it a relative, colleague, etc.). They were each individually named in the will to be present for the opening of a trunk of the professor's belongings. They were all led into a room, given a key to a small trunk, and left alone to go through the contents.

Inside the trunk they found different files, photographs, and other tidbits of strange information. I had made up a series of props in the manner of photographs, handwritten letters, and fake newspaper clippings. Each group of clues were given codes to match as a set (so all the clues for adventure G were together, while ones for adventure B were in another set, etc.). The players could rifle through the papers and pictures, and decide what they wanted to investigate.

For my first setting, I did kick things into high gear having the lawyer killed under exceedingly strange circumstances. This was followed up with the players being hunted by undead lackeys. All of it emphasizing that the strange did exist, and there were evil forces at play which knew the players had knowledge to secrets better left unknown.

However at the end of the session I gave the players a task. They needed to continue going through the contents of the trunk and decide that night what they wanted to investigate as a group for the next session. All the clues were fragments of some story, location, or odd supernatural thing. I made it a point that there were more papers and files within the trunk (meaning I would add more to the trunk later), however there were 5 different sets of clues and props for them to go through at first.

This really worked well for the group. It was a task to have them decide on what to do next (expect at least 30 minutes or so at your table). However it really cemented the feeling of them investigating these clues of weird, strange events. That there was another layer of occult existence under the normal world around them, and they were slowly unearthing it. Best of all, I knew exactly what the next adventure would be and it was based on what the PCs wanted to investigate further.

It is a bit of a chore to create some convincing props. However I didn't have to flesh out any adventures. I just needed some ideas of a location, possible NPCs, and some weird thing for the PCs to look into. So you don't have to have six different adventures fully prepared at the beginning, just a few ideas presented as six different sets of clues. As the players pick what they want to look into, I can turn around and work on that adventure specifically. Since many of the details were rather vague, I could even use an adventure generator for assembling the next adventure if needed. It really is a surprisingly flexible way of providing adventure seeds where the players get to give input on where to go next.

Something like this can be adopted for other settings and I am really beginning to take a shine to it. Maybe it would be printed public notices posted around a fantasy city, or an infonet log players would look through in a sci-fi campaign. Either way, all I would have to do is sketch out a few ideas and let the players decide what they wanted to check out next at the end of the session. If you are struggling to think of ideas for your next campaign consider running a plot crawl, with props and leads for the players they can provide some inspiration for further game sessions.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: Saboteur

For 3-10 players, Saboteur is a light card game that is part deception and part strategy. Players are dwarves seeking to mine a path to gold treasure. Unknown among the players is that some of them might actually be saboteurs, seeking to thwart the entire operation and keep the gold for themselves.

The game goes through 3 rounds, with the player having the most gold at the end being declared the winner. At the beginning of each round every player receives a role card indicating if they are a simple dwarven miner or a saboteur. An entrance card is put in play a defined distance from three face down goal cards which are randomly placed. Two of the goal cards lead to a lump of worthless ore, while one card is the gold treasure.

During a player’s turn they have the option of placing a card connecting the current paths, discarding a card, or to play an action card. Afterwards they draw one card. The action cards either hinder another player like breaking a mine cart or smashing a pick, or they repair that specific item. If a player has broken equipment cards in front of them, they can’t play any cards (except action cards to repair any broken cards on them). There are even map cards which allow the player to secretly see which of the 3 end goal cards is actually the treasure.

When a path leads to the treasure, special treasure cards equal to the number of players are drawn from a deck. Starting with the player that reached the treasure, they get their choice of treasure cards which have a varying number of gold nuggets. It’s entirely possible that some players will get more treasure cards than other fellow mining dwarves. If all the cards are exhausted and/or a legal path cannot be made to the treasure, each saboteur gets a set number of gold nuggets as treasure while the miners getting nothing. The role cards are shuffled and new cards are dealt to each player for the next round.

The game becomes a fun game of deception. You try to see which opponent might be throwing a wrench into the miner’s plans. If they feel someone is a saboteur, they can try to lock them out breaking their equipment. As a saboteur, you want to try and be subtle with subverting the path away from the treasure.

Not everything is a cooperative effort for the miners though. The player that reaches the treasure first gets their first choice of gold cards. The cards are an unequal distribution of 1 to 3 gold nuggets. Also if any players are saboteurs, the miner that gets to the treasure first will get an extra gold nugget card. So there is a big incentive to try and get to the treasure first (as you’ll likely get more victory points). This might even mean trying to stop other miners so you are the one successfully establishing a path on your turn.

The Good - This is a fun light game with a fair amount of strategy. The rules are very simple and easy to pick up. The game also plays rather quickly taking only 20-30 minutes. The cards are of sturdy stock and the illustrations are pleasant, colorful, playful depictions of dwarves and their mining equipment.

The Bad - While it’s simplicity has some charm, it can be somewhat of a repetitive game. You can get an very bad streak of drawn cards where it’s practically impossible to remove broken equipment played on you. This can be somewhat frustrating. If you are the lone saboteur (which is possible in a lower player count game) and are figured the likely traitor early in the game, it can be disheartening as everyone else keeps dumping broken equipment cards on you preventing you from doing anything.

The Verdict - Saboteur is an enjoyable light game, also a few things really add to the play experience. The role cards used will have one extra card over the total number of players. It’s entirely possible in a lower player count game to have no saboteurs, yet no one will know this until the end of the round. Also, having 3 rounds with new role cards given out at the beginning of each one means a player might not be stuck in a particular role for the entire game.

One really nice twist is that even though all the miners share the glory when a path reaches the treasure goal, the cards are not distributed equally and have different values. So while you do want to be sure and get to the gold with your fellow miners, you certainly don’t share the rewards evenly. This little twist adds some complexity in determining who the saboteurs are. If a player prevents another from reaching the treasure, are they a traitor or are they just a greedy miner trying to reach the gold first?

With a small box, light rules, and being able to accommodate up to 10 people, Saboteur makes for a fun evening. It’s a great filler game and a wonderful way to cap off a night of heavy board games, or make for an enjoyable hour or so by itself.

[Note: There is a slight variation I like using when there are potentially more than one saboteur (5-10 people). Like the Resistance, I add one extra step after the role cards are given out. Everyone closes their eyes and one person announces that the saboteurs open their eyes and find out who else might be a saboteur for that round. Everyone is then instructed to close their eyes again and open them all at once, with the game starting as normal. It can be difficult for the saboteurs to win a round unless they can somewhat work together. This little extra step allows for the saboteurs to strengthen their position when they bluff to the other miner players.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Plastic Soldier Co. - German platoon painted

Quietly over the past months I’ve been steadily working through my German platoon. There is a local con coming up in September and I think I might try to demo a few games. With my Brits done I wanted to also get a group of Germans finished to face off against them.

The detail for the German figures are pretty good. Some of the MG42 weapons are a little bulky and odd looking, but for the most part the figures are accurately modeled and equipped. I’ve assembled models both from the late war and the heavy weapons kits available from Plastic Soldier Co.

Some of the figures are from Zvezda pioneers and pak-36 sets.

Another handful are Airfix pak-40 crew members (which I couldn’t pass up as the AT gun also came with an Opel Blitz truck). The one below is also with a Zvezda pioneer armed with a flamethrower.
However you can see the bulk are from PSC. They certainly paint up pretty well and happy with how they turned out.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Alleycon 2014 - A local gaming/fandom con in Gwangju

Last year a small geek fandom con dubbed, Alleycon, was run at a local eatery in Gwangju, Korea. This Sept. 27 it'll be hosted in a larger venue at the Gwangju Women's University. Last year the event was pretty fun and it looks like it'll be bigger this year with some more guests and organized events.

Pre-registration I believe is closed, but seems there is still quite a few passes left so registration at the door shouldn't be an issue. Not certain about the costs, but all day passes should run between 20,000-30,000 kwon. Best of all many con events will have proceeds going to a local orphanage. So you can spend some cash picking up (and playing) some geek-centric items and ease that guilt a little knowing you are doing some good at the same time.

There'll be a cosplay contest, video games, some Q&A sessions via skype with some sci-fi authors, and a bevy of tabletop gaming. Along with set events, there will also be a room with open tables. So if you are itching to throw down and try out a game in your collection, this might be a great chance to try it out with a few like minded folks.

I'll be running a Bolt Action demo game and also a Savage Worlds WWII game. Last year I did something similar and had a good time running events as most of my players had not tried RPGs or miniature wargames before. So it's always a treat to give folks a chance to see what the hubub of gaming is all about.