Reading Panty Explosion Perfect by Jake Richmond and Matt Schlotte

Panty Explosion Perfect is the new version of the game Panty Explosion from 2006. The previous version had intrigued me for quite some time when I finally got to play it at one of my potluck conventions. I liked PE a lot so when the new version was announced I pre-ordered. The game came in the mail yesterday and I read it immediately.

Panty Explosion Perfect

Panty Explosion Perfect

The book
Panty Explosion Perfect is a small booklet at a mere 26 pages, in a format slightly smaller than the usual 6×9 indie books. It is full color, and the highly readable two column format text is broken up by whole sections drawn in manga style. It was a very quick read

The setting
PEP is a game about Japanese school girls who do school girl things and fight demons. There is a section on the ordinary life of Japanese high school girls and a list of demons from Japanese folk-lore.

The rules
The rules are very simple. Character generation is limited to filling in the character’s name, two interesting facts and deciding upon a goal for the session. In play the mechanics boil down to rolling a single D6, where 4+ usually means a success.

The form
The form is traditional with GM (called ‘Superintendent’) and players, but in passing the game mentions the possibility of giving all the participants a character and rotating the GM’s tasks. As usual among Indie style games there is a focus on playing in separate scenes, rather than in free flowing narration.

Even if much was cut from PE in making PEP, the Best friend/Rival mechanism that IMO made PE so interesting stayed. Every player has a Best friend and a Rival among the other players. When challenges (conflicts) are resolved, the player states his or her intention, rolls the die and then the Best friend narrates the outcome if the roll was a success and the Rival if it failed. Since so much of the narration privileges is held by the players, leaving out the GM entirely seems like a natural move after a while.

The setting is OK. the short setting description and the list of options in the character generation section should provide enough material to run a few short convention style games.
The rules are good, there’s not much depth, but enough to keep the players’ interest in a three hour game.
The form is good, the Best friend/Rival mechanism seems like a good match to the setting.

Will I play it?
Maybe. To be honest I liked Panty Explosion the way it was. The new Panty Explosion Perfect is streamlined for goofy one shots, well suited to pickup games at cons or as a gateway game to introduce anime/manga fans into the role playing hobby. But it lacks depth and I think it will grow stale very quickly.… Panty Explosion Perfect product page.… The PEP character sheets that were left out of the book.

Other people play While the World Ends

While the World Ends

While the World Ends

I mentioned that I played While the World Ends at GothCon XXXV. One of the players wrote a play report after the con, and then offered to run the game herself at one of our potluck minicons.

The con took place last weekend, and they played using a computer instead of plain pen and paper, which lead to the impressive diagram that can be seen below. I think this is the first time that someone has played the game using a computer, and I must say that I hadn’t even thought about it before I heard about this session after the fact. For a more ‘traditional’ view of what the game might look like during play I recommend the report from the session I played in at SävCon X earlier this year.

WTWE actual play

Kareina's WTWE

Kareina also wrote another play report and I repost it here with her permission. The report contains a detailed account of how they did the prep with setting and character generation, and how play then proceeded.

Friday we had a couple of people over for a gaming night as part of a mini gaming convention that a friend of ours runs. Sadly, our weekend was so booked we got to play in only the one game, but it was quite fun. We played While the World Ends, which was written by the guy who organized this mini con. This is the game we played at Gothcon early this month that I so enjoyed. It was fun this time, too. One of the other players is totally new to gaming–he knows some of our friends through a Japanese style sword technique class, and they were talking about the con, and suggested he give it a try. The set up part of the game, where we build the world and set up the general plot normally takes 30 minutes, but with a new gamer and talking about the sorts of things that could be done meant that we spent two hours on that part, but it was a fun two hours.

The set up starts with naming five themes to include in the story, and five physical locations, one associated with each theme. We went with:

Steam powered-space ships: The Kim M. Borrows Memorial Spaceport (and we noted that just as the airport in Anchorage was named in memory of a man who was not yet dead when it was named, so this spaceport was named in memory of a living politician)

Geothermally active planet: St. Loch Hydrothermal Processing Plant (and we noted that the reason steam technology is used for local space flight is because the planet itself is generating so much of it)

Civil War: the Opposition Headquarters (we noted that the big spur for the war was a new technology to make use of the hydrothermal power that was due to be tested, which runs the risk of setting up some sort of volcanic eruption that would destroy the capital city–the opposition wishes to prevent this disaster)

Psychics: Secret Military Training Center for children with mind powers such a telepathy and telekinesis etc.

Smuggling: The Racoon (the name of the smuggler’s ship–we noted that one of the major things being smuggled was the psychic children who have been rescued from the training facility above)

The next step is to brainstorm a list of ten character names, which are assigned to the five locations (two each). Then each of us (four players) chooses one of those characters to play, and we determine a goal and a fear for each of the player characters. My character was based in the opposition headquarters, and my goal was to use propaganda to win over 30% of the undecided populace to our side in the the civil war in an attempt to thus win the war, and my fear was that failure to do so would result in needless bloodshed as part of the war (it would be possible to have a personal failure, but have the war’s goal of preventing that technology triggering an eruption succeed, but more people would die in the process).

One of the other characters was based on the smuggler’s ship–she was an escaped psychic whose goal was to rescue her brother from the military training center, and whose fear was getting re-caught herself. The two of us were on the “positive” side of the game–should we “win” the story’s conclusion would be that the new technology would be implemented in such a way as to prevent all future volcanic eruptions and keep the planet safe for humans.

The other two characters were on the “negative” side–if they won then the use of that new technology would trigger the eruption and destroy the capital city. One of them was based at the hydrothermal plant, and her goal was to be the person who got to implement the technology (putting her own career goals before such minor issues of safety procedures). Her fear was screwing up and losing her job and someone else gaining the glory to be had from being the one to implement the technology. The final character (played by the new guy) worked as a trainer in the military center, and her goal was to discover the “leak”–what/who is causing some of the children in training to disappear. Her fear is a mass escape on the part of many students at once.

Once we had our characters and knew which ones were on which side (it is necessary in this game that there be two on each side) we revealed the first few relationships between the characters. Each player character starts out the game with a relationship to one of the player characters on the other side, and to one of the NPCs. The two I choose were that my character is the ex husband of the scientist who wants to implement the technology, and is currently dating the captain of one of the ships over at the space port. One of the other characters chose to reveal that his character is the cousin of mine.

Finally we could begin play. This is done by taking turns creating scenes–for each scene we tell who is present, where they are located, when the action takes place (the timing of the scenes can wander both forward and backwards in time, as we see fit), and what just happened. In order for a named character to be present they must either be associated with the location, or must have a revealed relationship with a character who is associated with that location (so at the start of the game my character could be present in the Opposition Headquarters, the Hydrothermal Processing Plant, or the Spaceport.

There are two types of scenes we may create:

Colour-building scenes–ones where the plot is developed, but nothing happens to further our character’s goals. Every time we choose to do one of these we gain a token. That token may be used by either of the players on that side to reveal a new relationship between characters. Each relationship is a one-way arrow connecting two characters, and is described with an “is” statement that shows the direction of the arrow. “R is the ex of J” means that the arrow points towards A. This is important for the other type of scene.

Goal scenes–ones wherein the character performs an action that is intended to help them achieve their goal. In these scenes, like in the plot-developing scenes above, any non-player characters present are played by the players, dividing them up so that there is someone playing each character. After setting the scene the players play the action until reaching the crisis point–in one of my scenes I was attempting to convince the pilot of the smuggler ship (an NPC) that she wanted to help the opposition cause by dropping leaflets full of my propaganda over the city. After some conversation it is necessary to decide if I am successful or not–this is where the “game” part comes in, with dice rolling.

Each character is alloted a number of dice, which can change over the course of the game. We get one for being a player character, and another for each relationship arrow which points towards us. A successful die roll is rolling high (4, 5 or 6 on a six-sided dice). We start the game with three dice each, which means that it is very likely that we should be able to achieve at least one success each time we roll the dice (but, of course, we might not). Each player needs to complete three steps towards their goal in order to achieve their goal and win the game, but it gets harder each time. The first time one needs to roll one success (if you don’t you move one step closer to your fear instead), the second time one needs to roll two successes, and the final time one needs to roll three processes. Needless to say, it would be possible to do this without revealing new relationships (and thus gaining more dice to roll each time), but the odds say that it is more likely that instead one would tick off all of the steps to failure, instead. This is the motivation to doing the plot-developing scenes, so that one is able to reveal more relationships between the characters in such a way as to get arrows pointing towards the ones who can help with one’s goals.

Our game this time stayed fairly evenly matched at first, with each side gaining tick marks towards winning at about the same rate. Then they did a goal scene that resulted in a failure, and I managed to achieve my final goal which both won me the game, but also gave my side a total of the five points needed have our side triumph. As a result the civil war was resolved relatively bloodlessly and the new technology was implemented with all safety measures intact, preventing the volcanic eruption. After that there is an epilogue, wherein each of the other characters does one final scene to determine if they also succeed in their goals and what happens. In this case the other two players who were only one point away from achieving their goals failed, but the new guy had a successful epilogue, which brought him up to 2/3 of the way towards completing his goal, too.

This makes twice now that I have played this game, and I really enjoy it. It is much more like reading a book (or even watching a movie) than traditional role playing adventure games, but it is a shared activity with friends. Even though I think of myself as a reader not a writer, with the formal structure of the game it is easy to come up with things my character might do towards achieving his goals, and so it is easy to set the scene. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys gaming, story telling, reading, and just spending time with friends

Reading New Horizon Starter Guide by Michal Lysek and Ian Stewart

I met Michal Lysek in the dealers’ room at GothCon XXXV where he was promoting his new RPG by handing out the New Horizon Starter Guide. We chatted a bit about the game and I promised him a mention here as thanks for the book. I read it on the train home, and have been thinking a lot about the game since. It is time to make that presentation.

Note that the New Horizon Starter Guide is not intended to be a full game. It is only a presentation/preview of the full New Horizon game. There is support material on the New Horizon web page that must be downloaded if you want to head into actual play using the Starter Guide rather than the full game.

New Horizon Starter Guide

New Horizon Starter Guide

The book
The New Horizon Starter Guide is a 68 page 9×6 Lulu booklet. The full game is in color, and from what I can tell the page layout and style has been reused in the Starter Guide, but in b/w to keep costs down. The text is very small, in double columns, and has white illuminations on a gray background. No doubt this was the hardest to read book I have ever laid my hands on, it is even worse than the notorious Gemini RPG.

There are a few illustrations, showing panoramas of the setting and people posing with weapons.

The setting
The year is 2495 AD and mankind has spread to the stars and settled on an alien world New Horizon. Through some extreme evolution and manipulation humanity has also diverged into several different races. Olympians are ‘ordinary’ humans, but with longer life spans. Prometheans are humans with cyber tech and Medeans are humans who have had their genome affected by the alien world causing some sort of mutants. There are also three different kinds of androids as playable races. And everyone live in a constant struggle against both each other and the environment. I would describe the feel of the setting as Korean online computer RPG, not that I have ever played any such games, but still… Old west, high tech, low tech and Final Fantasy aesthetics in a wild mix, almost everyone is young and beautiful. The PCs have weapons, armor and a will to go out and kill stuff.

The rules
New Horizon uses the generic Vo|t system which is free, I don’t know if it’s only free as in beer or free as in source code too.

Character generation is done with a point buy system, points are spent on the attributes, backgrounds and traits. While tables are needed to generate the characters, none should be needed during actual play.

Basic task resolution is done by rolling two d20s against an attribute, hoping for at least one of them to show a value below the attribute which indicates a success. Thanks to using two dice various tricks and twists can be used to infer more details about the outcome of the action.

The form
The Starter Guide does not include much instruction on how to run the game, but it is a traditional game with players who play their characters and a GM who runs adventures, provides opposition and descriptions of the game world. The GM is supposed to handle all the rules and mechanics in the background, Vo|t is designed to run silently, with the Storyteller handling all the numbers and rolls.

Here I usually hand out some grades for Setting, Rules and Form. But since I have only read an incomplete preview of the system I will skip this step. The grades would have been low, probably unfairly so.

Will I play it?
No. I will not run New Horizon, nor will I seek out a group to play in. If any of the creators were to personally run a game at a con I might be interested though, if only to see how it actually is supposed to fit together.

I see two big obstacles for enjoying the game.

The first is the setting. When I read it I get the same feeling I had when I first encountered anime. They were breaking conventions and somehow knowing that there were people out there who thought it was awesome, and that if I’d only penetrate the material I could also enjoy what at first only looked like a very odd mix of genres. In the end I started liking anime, perhaps New Horizon would grow on me if I gave it a chance.

The second is the rules. I am sure Vo|t is an excellent system, but I wonder if it was a wise choice for New Horizon. If what I saw in the Starter Guide is correct, that the GM should handle all the rules and mechanics, Vo|t seems a bit unwieldy. As a GM I would prefer an even simpler system if I were to handle all the dice rolling and mechanics for my players. But if the focus of the is combat, should the players be robbed of running their own characters? (I imagine it would play out like Doom over telephone, where the GM sits at the computer, plays the game and gives verbal descriptions, and the player says what he wants his character to do.)

There are a few references to the ‘D20 system’ in the book, I wonder if they mean the d20 system we saw in the previous incarnation of D&D and Star Wars. Because if someone only had described the New Horizon setting to me, I would have thought that system would have been a nice match. Combat focus, character classes, the implied adventurer paradigm etc, everything would fit nicely for New Horizon. It would be interesting to peek behind the curtains and see why Michal and Ian chose the Vo|t system. – The official New Horizon page. – The Vo|t system page.

Reading Null State – Ett actionrollspel om de som räddar världen av Mikael Bergström

I got Null State by Mikael Bergström at GothCon XXXV, signed and numbered. I have followed the development at a distance, but never quite understood what the central idea of the game was.

Null State cover

Null State cover

The book
Null State is 74 pages in a format that almost is A5, but a few millimeters short on the width. The text is single column, but large enough and surrounded by huge margins that makes it easy to read. It is a nice and quick read.

There are numerous illustrations by the author and Ronny Jacobsson, all very nice and they fit the gritty feel of the game well.

The setting
The world is constantly under threat of destruction from science gone wrong. The GM is recommended to use articles from popular science magazines as inspiration and background for adventures. The PCs are ordinary people (who might have some minor super powers) that have been recruited by an organization that calls itself Null State to put themselves in peril to save the world from those threats. Often on short notice, and with a high mortality rate among the PCs. It is assumed that the organization has other operatives nearby, so when a PC dies the player get back into the game as soon as he or she has built a new PC.

The game lists Global Frequency by Warren Ellis as one of the main inspirations. I have not read that book so I can’t say how close the game gets.

The rules
The rules are simple, character generation is just a matter of distributing 12 points over the six stats, and making up a few specialties. Task resolution is done by simply rolling a D6 against the stat, under or equal is a success.

The form
Null State is played in the traditional style with a GM and a set of players, the players play their characters and the GM takes care of the rest.

The chapter with ideas and advice on how the GM can challenge the PCs is twice the size of the rules chapter. I expect that a group will experience character casualties at a pace that rivals Paranoia.

The setting is OK. I considered giving the game a weak rating since there isn’t much to work with when building adventures, and the Null State organization is not given much of a description. But it is an short little game for short little stories, and there is enough setting for that. But remember to pick up a popular science magazine before playing, it is your setting supplement.

The rules are good. Very simple, but for what the game aims to do they fit well. There are a few suggestions for campaign play in the game but I don’t think that many groups would agree that the game suits itself for campaign play

The form is good. It clearly explains how to prepare and run short games with adventures about people who save the world. There are a few examples of play in the game.

Will I play it?
My first instinct was to say ‘no’, the game is simple enough to suit new comers to the hobby, but rampart character death is something that I try to avoid when playing with such players. But on the other hand, there aren’t many games where you could run a full game in an hour and a half, or even shorter than that if you provide some pre gens. Null State might end up in my bag of games, ready to be run when I get a group of players who can’t commit to a full four or five hour game. – The official Null State page.

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