Want some Hobomancer T-Shirts, Happy d20 Keychains, or other Hex swag? Good news. We've got a store at Zazzle now where you can order all sorts of Hex merchandise. I'll personally be picking up some Hobomancer playing cards in the near future.
If you read last week's blog, you saw how I'd run a trashy 80s fantasy version of My Fair Lady directed by the South Park guys. For that one, I had plenty of time to think about the basics and work out the details. Usually you don't have that luxury, so this week I'm going to share an example of running a randomly generated premise in real time.
At Archon over the weekend, I ran a Players' Choice game, which means the players get to decide what game I run for them. Since it was Sunday morning at a con that hands out free booze and nobody's brain was firing, they decided to leave it up to The Book of Dumb Tables, which the Random One-Shot script is based on. We rolled on both sets of tables and the players picked the one from The Book of Dumb Tables 2, which was "A Dark Comedy Version of A Christmas Carol as directed by The Coen Brothers." Since there were three players, we decided that it made sense for theme to play the three ghosts and they started making their characters.
That's when I realized that the obvious story for this concept wouldn't work for an RPG. Most people, upon hearing the premise, would expect the plot structure of A Christmas Carol set in a Coen Brothers world with Coen Brothers humor and tone, but each ghost in the Dickens story "stars" in its own vignette of the story, which is exactly the opposite of how RPGs work. So the first step in making the premise work was throwing out the structure you'd naturally expect. Luckily, the core plot of "three ghosts redeem a bad guy" still works. The ghosts are just working as a group, not a three-man tag team.
With the Dickens element covered, I needed to decide how to work in the "dark comedy" and "Coen Brothers" bits. Since the Coen brothers tend toward dark comedy, I decided to focus on the Coens. Many of their movies feature supernatural (or seemingly supernatural) elements in a stylized but mostly mundane world. O Brother, Where Art Thou is full of mythical creatures, Hudsucker Proxy has a magical clockman and an angel, The Man Who Wasn't There has UFOs, and even the Warthog from Hell in Raising Arizona and The Dude could easily be interpreted as not-quite human. Since the game had at least some kind of Christmas theme, we decided that the characters would spend their downtime working in the place where (the modern American version of) the Christmas spirit is alive year-round: the fucking mall, temple of disastrous consumerism.
The introduction of the story was brief, but the players threw in enough flavor to hint at a hellish ghostly bureaucracy that might be fun to play around with at a later date. For example, one of the ghosts had recently been promoted to Christmas ghost and was previously the Ghost of Tax Audits Future, so she was determined to do well on her first assignment out of fear of being sent back to the Eternal Revenue Service. Once the characters were established, I had to give them their assignment.
Since the game was set in modern day America, my first instinct for a Scrooge with lots of dark comedy potential was Donald Trump, and since all three players had been in my M-Force game the day before and didn't seem like raving racists, I felt reasonably safe that I wouldn't offend anyone by going with The Donald. Luckily I was right and once they realized that Trump was far too obstinate to change his ways because some ghosts kept him up at night, the players managed to convince the aliens who had put that thing on Trump's head that they could mine Earth for plastic without destroying humanity (It makes sense when you've got all the details. Trust me on that). It ended up being a short game (less than two hours), but the players seemed to enjoy themselves, I had fun, and it was very different from the average convention game, which is exactly what randomly-generated premises are supposed to be.
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Do you want to hear me talk about Hobomancer? You’re in luck, because the Game School podcast where I do just that came out a week or so ago. Also, the Hex crew will be at Archon this weekend. If you’re going and want to come to our panels or games, the schedule is on the QAGS Facebook page.
For this week’s blog, I decided to randomly generate a game idea using the One-Shot Game Concept Generator, then describe how I’d run it. The two concepts the script gave me were “the PCs are priests who work as super-heroes who are opposed by demons” and “A trashy 80s fantasy version of My Fair Lady as directed by Trey Parker and Matt Stone.” Since the first one is basically the plot of Battle Pope, I decided to go with option number two.
It’s up to the players how closely they want the characters to resemble the cast of My Fair Lady (I’m going to use the character names here to keep things simple), but Parker and Stone need to be the WWPHITM? for the Higgins and Pickering roles (I’d probably cast Parker as Higgins, but could see it going either way). In this version, they’re noble knights rather than linguists. Since the PCs are an adventuring party, the roles of Higgins' mother and the housekeeper would be filled by other party members. I’d make the funny little guy who’s in all the Parker & Stone movies Higgins’ squire. Eliza could work as either a PC or an NPC.
Ten years ago, the young Princess of Pygmaila was kidnapped by agents of the Witch King of Kromdor (who is METAL AS FUCK). After years of searching, two brave knights (Higgins and Pickering) believe they’ve discovered the keep where the princess is being held. As the game begins, the party is preparing to assault the keep and rescue the princess. Just in time, too: according to a not-at-all-contrived-for-pacing prophecy, the kingdom will fall into ruin if the princess does not return home by her 18th birthday, which is right around the corner.
You can play through the raid on the keep if you really want, but I’d probably open the game just as the PCs have freed the princess and are facing off against the level boss and his minions so they can make their escape. During the battle, the princess needs to die. Since it’s a Parker and Stone movie, it would be really appropriate for a PC to accidentally kill her or at least indirectly cause her death. Also, make sure there’s a big fire. It’ll be important later.
Following the princess’s untimely demise, our brave party decides to drown their sorrows in booze and women at the nearest inn while they try to decide what to do next. If the king finds out what happened, they’ll probably be executed. As thy sit around feeling sorry for themselves, they can’t help but notice that one of the bar wenches/dancing girls/whores (depending on how Deathstalker you want to take things) bears a striking resemblance to the princess. Since the characters don’t want to die (and since the player presumably know the premise of the game), it shouldn’t be much of a leap for them to decide to try to pass the barmaid off as the princess.
Of course, that’s easier said than done. For starters, the proprietor of the inn (who may either be her father or an employer she’s indentured or enslaved to) isn’t going to let her go with the PCs without compensation for his loss. She also has a lover who doesn’t want her to go. Even more problematic is that she’s a commoner who doesn’t know anything about courtly etiquette or being a princess or covering her cleavage (it is trashy 80s fantasy). In addition to dodging the Witch King’s minions (since the real princess’s body was destroyed in the fire, they’re going to assume Eliza is the princess and her shabby clothing and unladylike behaviour is an attempted disguise) and other dangers of the road in order to get her home in time for the princess’s birthday, the party has to teach Eliza to be a proper princess. If you’re not lucky enough to have players who embrace the idea of playing adventurers running a finishing school, you can focus mostly on the dangers they encounter during the journey (but you’ll probably miss out on some great gaming).
Assuming the party makes it back to the castle in time, they’ll have to convince everyone that Eliza is the princess. The real test will come at the birthday feast, where the party will have to deal with Zoltan, a rival knight who just knows the PCs are up to something; the innkeeper, who has used the money he got from the PCs to buy his way into the nobility and is threatening to expose the ruse; Eliza’s lover, who wants her back; and possibly Eliza herself, who may want to just go back to her simple life in the hinterlands of Kromdor. As the PCs try to juggle all of this so they don’t get their heads chopped off, hilarity should ensue. Also, musical numbers.
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If you don't read the Playing D&D With Porn Stars blog, Zak's in the first round of something called the Thought Eater tournament where two anonymous people get assigned a topic and write about it, blog readers vote for the best one, and the winner moves on to the next round. So far there have been some pretty good entries. There will probably be more. You should read it and vote for the ones you like. I bet some of those anonymous writers would appreciate your vote.
As you may have heard, Netflix has announced a reboot of the ground-breaking TV sitcom, Full House. Since that makes Full House kind of topical, and since my brain is fried and I can't think of anything to write about, this seems like a good time to repost my review of the Full House board game from an old incarnation of The Death Cookie:
I usually don't pay a lot of attention to the dealer's room at conventions. For the most part, it's the same crap you find at every game/comic shop in the world. So I usually take a quick walk-through, decide there's nothing there I need, and go about my business. Lucky for me, Hex Marketing Director Carter Newton is more thorough. He's the one who first noticed that the dealer across the aisle from the Hex booth had a NEAR MINT copy of The Full House Board Game.
After sending Ross Fulton over to inquire about the price, I was amazed to find that the dealer was willing to part with the game for a measly five bucks. Though I felt a bit guilty paying such a low price for such a sought-after game, I realized that if I didn't snatch it up, someone else would.
During the game you travel around the board to places like the movie theater, the school, the park, and the TV station. At each location, you draw a card. Some have instructions that move you to other locations, or allow you to take cards from other players (how rude!). Most, however, feature pictures of members of the extended Tanner family: DJ, Stephanie, Danny, Michelle, Jesse, Becky, and the Twins. The object of the game is to get character cards for all six family members and "bring them all home for a Full House."
If you're a fan of the show like I am, you'll notice that Joey is conspicuously missing from the character cards. Don't worry--while the instructions don't make it explicit, it soon becomes clear that you're playing Joey. The most obvious clue is that some of the spaces instruct players to "Tell A Joey Joke." Don't worry--the makers of this game realize that not everyone can be as funny as Dave Coulier, so they've provided a set of Joey Joke Cards. If you land on a joke space, you draw a card and tell the joke. The set includes such classics as: "My uncle stayed in college so long, when he graduated they gave him a gold watch." Funny, Funny Stuff!
Try as I might, I have yet to convince someone to play the game with me, so I can't really comment on gameplay, but the basic design looks good. There are, however, a few problems. For one, some cards allow you to take character cards from another player, which goes against the spirit of the show--if you've ever seen a single episode, you know that it's wrong to take things that don't belong to you. Also, eventually someone's going to win the game, which could make the other players feel bad. They could have solved both of these problems by letting all the players take turns moving the same game piece and sharing whatever cards get collected. That way, everybody wins! If the designers insist on a competitive game, they should have at least included a "Winner Hugs All" rule.
While I have a few minor complaints about the game, I'm going to give it 5 stars. The designers made the best board game they could, and that's all we can really ask. The Tanner family taught me that.
When we were working out how the songlines work in Hobomancer, we sort of unintentionally started playing with the idea of what you might call "the power of place." Basically, the songlines are areas of especially strong magical energy, and that magic is fueled by the power of the stories. The railroads aren't built along songlines, they create them by virtue of the number of stories that happen along them. Bad stories (we give the Trail of Tears as an example in the book) create corrupted songlines that can warp the people, the landscape, and especially the magic used along them.
Either shortly before or shortly after we released Hobomancer, I read Alan Moore's Voice of the Fire, which is a hard-to-describe novel where Moore's home town of Northampton is kind of the central character. The book articulated some of the sorts of ideas that we'd tried to pin down with the songlines and really got me thinking about the idea of making place a more integral part of game settings. Just like Serenity is the 10th character on Firefly, I like the idea of a game where the setting is vital to the story rather than just something that provides a little flavor. The new edition of M-Force that we're working on devotes a fair amount of space to developing the setting, but there it's more about discouraging murderhobos than making setting an integral part of the story.
Anyway, somewhere in all this thinking about place, I came up with an idea that I'm probably not going to get a chance to run any time soon (it wouldn't really work as a one-shot con game), so I'm throwing it out here in case anyone wants to give it a try. The idea is basically Quantum Leap meets Danny the Street. The PCs live in a neighborhood that periodically transports itself to other cities, other points in time, or even other realities (depending on how far you want to take it). Most of the people in the neighborhood don't even notice--they think they've always lived in whatever place they're in right now--but the PCs do, possibly because they're important in some way to whatever's causing the neighborhood to keep moving around. If I were running the game, I'd probably disguise it as something else (probably a paranormal investigation game) and keep the city in one place for the first few sessions. That way you can establish a sort of baseline of what the neighborhood is like and who its inhabitants are so the changes mean something. Once the neighborhood starts moving, the players need to figure out some basics about what's going on pretty quickly so they have a reason to either help (if the neighborhood is on the side of good) or interfere (if the neighborhood is evil) with whatever the neighborhood's goal is. Don't ask me what that is; if I knew, I'd be writing this up as a game supplement.
30. Favorite RPG playing celebrity.
31. Favorite non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing.
I'm torn between two answers, so I'll give them both. The first is the Dungeons & Dragons cartoon. It started shortly after I discovered D&D, and while I was still young enough to watch cartoons without it being considered weird (remember, this was in the dark times before The Simpsons). I watched it every Saturday religiously. A few years ago, I picked up the DVDs, and it actually holds up surprisingly well. The other strong contender is Dark Dungeons. Part of that is my weird fascination with Jack Chick, but having a Chick tract about gaming kind of made it seem like the hobby had arrived. It's sort of a twisted version of a song getting a Weird Al parody.
Bonus Question: Weirdest non-RPG thing to come out of RPGing.
When I was 10 or 11, these showed up in my local grocery store:
I don't remember the box with the red dragons here, just the yellow one and a red one with, I think, a dracolich on it. The candy was basically Smarties shaped like little wizards and fighters and possibly monsters. The really cool thing was that on the back of each box there was a card that either described a character class or a monster. Even though it was basically all stuff that was in the rulebooks I already had, I made sure to get a box with a different back every time in hopes of getting a complete set (without actually knowing how many a complete set contained). I'd cut the backs off the boxes and keep them with my dice and Monster Cards. I'm don't remember what I ended up doing with them.