Playing with (adult) beginners

Every year I find myself introducing a couple of new people into the hobby. They are friends or friends of friends who want to try role playing games. There’s much talk about introducing young people into the hobby, ‘They are our future!’ and all that, but realistically; I’m a 30-something dude – chances are the players I can actually connect and play interesting games with are also adults. And I don’t see much discussion about how to introduce adults into gaming, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on the matter.

My motivations are selfish of course. I’m into a niche segment of a niche hobby, and my experience shows that introducing new people to gaming is likely to be more successful than trying to convert existing role players into the style of games I like.

Enthusiasm is contagious, if I like the game we’re playing it will show, and the beginners are more likely to enjoy the game and come back.

Games I play with beginners
Of course, I would not play every game I enjoy on the first session with a beginner at the table. Some are ruled out due to complicated mechanics, others due to factors in the form or setting. I want games that are rules light, and can be grasped immediately. And I want games with familiar settings, the beginners should be able to visualize the setting immediately, in order to be able to judge themselves what sort of things could happen there and which could not.

  • Zombie Cinema – Like a broken record I repeat the name of that game in every situation. But for introducing beginners it is really an excellent choice. The rules are very simple, and uses a board and common dice, familiar to almost everyone. The game has a clear goal of moving your pawn along the track, and getting into arguments or disagreements with the other characters is not a problem at all. The theme of zombie invasion can easily be switched to any sort of untenable situation or disaster for those who don’t like zombies or have little grounding in that culture.
  • The Daughters of Verona – A storygame of Shakespearean comedy, everyone likes to laugh and have fun, and most people have a passing familiarity with the source material or the romantic comedy genre in general. The rules are very simple and the cards present possible events for play, reducing the risk of analysis paralysis.
  • Witch Quest – The game
    Witch Quest players

    Witch Quest players with props

    about teenage witches and their cats is not for everyone, granted, but for the right audience it has it’s place. The cat/witch pair play get’s someone on ‘your side’ right off the bat, and heartwarming stories can appeal even to very cautious beginners. The rules are not quite as simple as in the previous games, but quite manageable especially if you stay away from the optional section on combat.
  • Swords & Wizardry White Box – Basically any old school style D&D game from before AD&D is fine, provided the beginner actually wants a traditional game and combat focus. It allows the use of strange dice, gives a historical background to the hobby, and introduces concepts valid for many other games.

All these games are games that can be enjoyed by veteran players as well. Remember the bit about enthusiasm being contagious.

The first session
Don’t bring the beginners as guests into a standing game. They will lack the background to visualize events in the game, and therefore be hindered from taking part to their full potential. Pause the regular game and play a one-shot where they can see all the stages of prep and setup, to let them play on equal terms with the existing players.

Before starting the game, do some sort of creative warm up exercise. There are many available out there on the web, the last time I asked everyone to tell a lie, and then to tell a lie about themselves. An easy task to loosen up and break the ice at the table.

I make an effort to keep the first session short, 2-3 hours is good shorter is better. If the game ended too soon you can always play one more time, or have a rewarding discussion about gaming, investigating what could be a good game to play next time.

Don’t kill just the beginners’ PCs. If the game actually is about character death in the way Zombie Cinema and some old school games are by all means kill the PCs. But a beginner leaving the table with the sense that he/she failed or lost the game by having the PC die is less likely to return for your next game. – Official Zombie Cinema page. – Official The Daughters of Verona page. – English translation of Witch Quest. – Offical Swords & Wizardry White box page.


Birthday house con and play testing

This year my birthday coincided with a four day weekend, which I took advantage of and arranged a house con for the sphere of gamers around Nordnordost. Over four days we did loads of gaming, had some very nice meals and even managed a small birthday party combined with a book swap.

The Academy
My game about students at a boarding school has gone through numerous iterations. And without me first realising it I got stuck in a vicious circle of slowly changing preferences and always being a little behind on the updating the game. Which lead to it being close, but never quite finished. The game has been five years in the making, and now it feels like its about to be ready. Nothing is holding it back, the interior artwork is done, the rules finally work and the cover art has been ordered.

We played a three year session about a Martian military academy, hidden under the ice on Io – Sparta. A place where students prepared for the war against Earth, achieved the peak of physical perfection and mental resilience through a strict training regimen. A place where curling was the highest form of ritualized competition.

The rules fit the narrative and influenced the story in meaningful ways, the students developed in interesting ways and the evil plots and schemes of the liberal Earthlings finally drew the students into the war they had been preparing for.

Until Dawn
A few weeks ago I posted a hack for While the World Ends about estranged teenagers. It’s a fine hack, but the playtesters thought it should be a game of its own, rather than just a hack. One of them will have to change name, but right now there are two different versions of Until Dawn, one hack and one game. We managed to squeeze two separate playtests into the con, and I now have loads of notes and feedback to digest for the next version of the system.

During the con fellow Nordnordoster Elin’s essay on introducing sex in games dropped on the Gaming as Women blog. It’s a good read and it lead to some interesting discussions during the con. I’d put it on my recommended reading list for anyone who wants to bring any difficult matter or adult subjects into their games, but don’t know how. The advice given is applicable to a much wider range of topics than just sex.

Witch from Pompey Crew Design
I would also like to make a shout out to Pompey Crew Design who were kind enough to send us a preview of Witch – The Road to Lindisfarne so we could try it at the con. It’s a hack of Montsegur 1244, just like my game The Daughters of Verona, but it takes the storytelling in a completely different direction.

Visiting SävCon XI

Last weekend I went with some friends to SävCon XI to host the Indie Gaming Lounge for the third time. After the signups there were just three registered teams/groups who had shown an interest in our event, but when we did the final count we had run no less than 26 games. Some GMs from the other events had to cancel at the last minute and their players were sent our way, then there were the usual drop in players, and a few games where the free hosts of the IGL sat down to play a game for themselves.

  • A Taste for Murder – 4 times
  • Zombie Cinema – 4 times
  • Lady Blackbird – 3 times
  • Mist of Life – 3 times
  • Panty Explosion Perfect – 2 times
  • Den yttersta domen – 2 times
  • Snakes on a Plane – 2 times
  • The Daughters of Verona – 1 time
  • Witch Quest – 1 time
  • Fiasco – 1 time
  • Annalise – 1 time
  • Trollbabe – 1 time
  • In a Wicked Age – 1 time

I ran six games, went to the sauna, had the traditional IGL sausage Stroganoff supper, dodged the TV team and had a good time in general hanging out with the other hosts of the IGL.

Zombie Cinema players

Zombie Cinema players

We have been thinking of retiring Zombie Cinema from the IGL, after all – the event is about demoing new cool games. But still we bring it with us every year. It’s an awesome game, it’s easy to teach, and pretty much everyone has some form of prior knowledge of the ‘setting’. At one time, when we were choked with players we just handed a group ZC and told them to have fun. They came back four hours later with the game, cheering and laughing, they’d had a blast. So I think we’ll have to keep it on the menu for another few years. It’s also a good game for new hosts to run, since it’s so easy.

The game I played was set at a wizard school, somewhere halfway between Hogwarts and Brakebills College. It was great fun and reminded me to get back to writing The Academy.

I ran a game of The Daughters of Verona. Two of the players were SCA enthusiasts and one was a student of theater and script writing. That definitely was no disadvantage in having a good time with the game, but it was nice to see that enthusiasts of the genre could enjoy the game as well. One of the players even posted a short AP after the game.

Right before packing up I ran a quick game of Witch Quest. Since there were an odd number of players I let one of the witches have twin cats who shared all pools. It worked very well, and I’ll keep that technique in mind for future games.

Witch Quest players

Witch Quest players

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

Visiting GothCon XXXV

I just got back from GothCon XXXV, where I as usual helped hosting the Indie Gaming Lounge.

The games we had brought. Photograph by Joel Möller.

The games we had brought. Photograph by Joel Möller.

As usual we offered indie games, tea and candy on a drop-in basis. Popular games this year were Apocalypse World, Berättelser från Staden, Den Yttersta Domen, Fiasco and Null State. The weather was great, the finest I have ever experienced at GothCon, so many games were played outside.

I managed to do play tests of two of my current projects at the con, first a game of The Academy, the game formerly known as The Cadet Game.

The Academy playtest

The Academy playtest

We tested the bounds of the game and played with six players. Yet we managed to both build an academy, generate characters and play through three years at an orbiting space station and do epilogues for all the characters in a four hour convention slot. It was fun to see that the game worked so well, and I got some valuable feedback on the flow of the game.

Then I played a game of The Phenomenon, a super hero story that turned very 80’ies era supers comic in the end. It was very different from the angst ridden Mummy game in the previous test. I think I have the balancing down now, and it feels good that the game actually works for many different types of stories as intended.

While the World Ends

While the World Ends

Before leaving for home I ran a demo of While the World Ends for two players. This is first time I know of that the game has actually been played in English rather than Swedish. The story revolved around an archaeological dig for alien artifacts on a mysterious moon, and it turned into an exciting story as usual. I might get back to that game with a more lengthy actual play report later, but for now I can finally offer a photo of the artifacts of play from a game played entirely in English. The previous posts have only featured Swedish language artifacts: Greenhouses and Clef society

I got some new interesting Swedish games with me back home, and I hope to get back to them on this blog later with Reading posts.

Playing While the World Ends by Wilhelm Person, again

While the World Ends cover

While the World Ends cover

Before Christmas last year I played While the World Ends and posted about it, that post was mostly about the mechanics in the world building phase of the game. Two days ago I played in a great game at SävCon, and thought I’d share a bit about the play phase of the game this time.

To put the story into context let’s have a look at the setting as generated in the first phase.

  • Strict music boarding schools – The Wagner Institute
  • Cyborgs – Performance office 4
  • The soil is sick – Sonata, a new residential area
  • A child has turned 5 – 10 Note Road
  • A clef society – Fuga Bicycle Factory

The society in the story was based around some perverted classical musicians dream. A strict class society, called Clef society, with three grades of citizens G clef (administrators, foremen, managares), C clef (qualified, white collar labor) and F clef (blue collar), all ruled by a master class of Tenors.

All children were taken away from their parents at the age of 5 and put into schools, that had a focus on making them good citizens and finding their place in society. Honing their skills in that area.

All citizens were supervised, and those that were not up to standard were modified using cybertech to bring them up to level.

The society also had enormous problems with pollution, the very soil beneath their feet was poisoned. All food was grown in greenhouses, only artificial grass in the gardens etc.

We decided that the story was in fact a BBC low budget production from the 80’s, the kind where you wrap lamp posts in aluminum foil to make them more futuristic. The bicycle factory was there for budget reasons, a more fancy factory had been cut from the script to keep the budget down. Cybertech was invisible. All scenes were shot using too much blue, making everything look cold and lonely.

The society faced a rebellion ‘The Dissonance’, rebellious music teachers in the schools that taught false teachings to their most brilliant pupils in order to change society from within. Ideas of free expression and improvisation were starting to spread. The two different outcomes of this rebellion was ‘Success, society becomes a kinder place and we shot the epilogues with warmer colors.’ and ‘Failure, even stricter censorship is put in place at all levels of society killing the last sources of joy.’.


  • Synthia (-), a student at the Wagner Institute. Brilliant pianist and Tenor material. Her goal was to get away from her tutor Serena, a rebel, who she thought was corrupting her perfect piano playing skills. Her fear was that Serena would indeed succeed and that it would spoil her chances after graduation.
  • Michael G (-), a foreman at the construction site on the new Sonata area. His goal was to form a duo (marry) with Katherine G, a shift manager at the Fuga Bicycle Factory. His fear was that the soil he had been exposed to had given him cancer.
  • Mary F (+), the mother of Thomas, a student at the Wagner Institute. Her goal was to get her beloved son back. Her fear was that the sick soil and lacking maintenance of the institute would make her son sick, and kill him.
  • Samuel Tenor (+), an evaluator at Performance office 4, spending his days deciding which citizens that were substandard and in need of adjustment. His goal was to find the joy in music he had felt as a child, and he feared that his last adjustment had been insufficient to make him good enough to keep his position at the office.

Cool scenes
A full recollection of the game would be the length of a book or movie script. But the scenes that follow were some of my favourites.

  • Michael G in his intro. Pacing the office preparing to make a call to his love Katherine G, practicing what to say. Picking up the phone, starting to dial, chickening out. Practicing some more, and then really making the call.

    Rolling the dice to see if the call would be successful, failing, and just as he touched the phone have it ring. The hospital calling him to tell him to come in for further testing.

  • Mary F, meeting her son at the Institute. Giving him a cake that has used her entire sugar ration to prepare. And then in a subsequent scene we see him and his friends, hyper active from the sugar after sharing the cake, play in the gymnasium. One crashing into a wall, making a small crack, through which the poisonous soil slowly starts to seep into the hall.
  • Samuel Tenor, watching a class of piano students through a false mirror. And after hearing Synthia being forced into playing wrong by her rebellious piano teacher, accepting sponsorship of her. The piano teacher became a favorite character of mine, and I played her in all her scenes.
  • Synthia and Serena playing four handed after Synthia had called her sister on the outside to raise the alarm about how Serena was ruining her. Serena had been forced to give up her exclusive mentoring of Synthia and share it with a more traditional teacher.

    They played Erik Satie’s Gymnopedies together, with doctored sheet music that only showed the notes and nothing else. And I managed to touch the player’s heart with my description of the sadness and despair in Serena’s playing.

  • Samuel Tenor attending an by-invitation-only concert with his protege in the Fuga Bicycle Factory, after hours. And hearing her battle against Serenas manipulation of the music on the piano.
  • Mary F kidnapping her son from the institute after he has fallen ill. Taking him home with her and hiding him from the authorities.
  • Michael G, finally in the epilogue, gathering courage to ask for Katherine G’s hand, only to have her swept away by Samuel Tenor right before his eyes. That hates-relation that I drew during setup really showed itself to be true.

In the end Mary F managed to win the victory to the rebel piano teachers with her struggle to bring her son home. The blue tinted filter was removed, and the epilogues were shot in brilliant colors. Everyone reached their goals, except Michael G who saw the love of his life kiss his old nemesis.

The game has ended, (+) won. Open picture to see all details, but beware it's all in Swedish.

About points of view
While the World Ends can be played in two different ways.

You can play it as a tactical board game, looking for the optimal relation to add next, setting your scenes carefully to rob your opponent of advances where he is strong. Then the game gives you the scenes to show how those events came to be.

Or, you can play it as a story game, narrating scenes that you think are the logical consequence of what has already happened, and use the board to keep track of the events and relations introduced. Then the game will tell you where your story is going.

Both ways are just as valid and fun to play. And the game does not break down if different players around the table select to play differently. The game is balanced (read random) enough that the story gamers still can win. Like they did in this game.

Roll in the epilogues
This is a new rule that I have been testing in the last few games. It is not in the book, but if I ever get around to making a revised edition it will be.

Once the victorious side has been decided and winners have narrated the change, players that want to can make a roll each for reaching their goals during their epilogues. Set the scenes as usual, they can roll even if there are no change tokens left in the location.

This way more of the main characters’ stories reach a conclusion.

The roll is optional, if a player is satisfied with the story as it is without reaching either goal or fear then don’t roll any dice. Just tell his or her epilogue like usual. – WTWE page on Lulu.

Playing Zombie Cinema by Eero Tuovinen

Zombie Cinema and Lady Blackbird were the most popular games in the Indie Gaming Lounge on SävCon X with five plays each.

Zombie Cinema

Zombie Cinema

Since we had brought ZC several years already, and it was very popular we had intended to not offer it at all this year. But we got two new hosts, who both love the game, so we kept it for another year.

ZC is one of the games I have played the most in the last years, and I thought I’d share my thoughts on actual play.

We pitch the game not as ‘a zombie RPG’, but as ‘a zombie movie RPG’, and it is popular both with beginners and veteran players. Since the rules are very simple and easy to explain, and the players make the setting together before play starts the time from sitting down to actually playing the game is very short.

On SävCon we have players that have returned every year and asked for it again. But this year I forced them to play Love in the Time of Seið instead, the IGL is about finding new favorites, not playing old ones!

Start with building the setting. Make sure to have a setting and a situation that would be interesting even without zombies. ZC works the best if you first play it as another kind of story, and then have the zombies appear. Don’t start from a stand still and let the story linger while you wait for the zombies to come on so that you can get the action started. The PCs should already be doing stuff important to them when the zombies appear.

Then build characters the usual way. Make it clear to the players that it is perfectly fine to swap out cards that they don’t like, or even to trade cards with other players. Extend the character generation with building small name signs for the PCs from scraps of paper. Since there are no character sheets it is easy to forget the names of the other PCs, or even your own. The signs solve this problem.

Zombie Cinema name signs. Jack was the first to be eaten by the zombies...

Do the first round of scenes as pure introductions of the PCs, don’t bother with the conflicts and don’t advance the zombies. This is just practice at setting scenes and at the same time we learn what the PCs are like.

Once the first round of scenes is done, set up the game board, explain how to read it and how to do conflicts.

Now you can start playing by the book, or in the case of ZC ‘by the dark gray sheet with tiny black print’.

My advice is to keep the zombies out of the story entirely until the first PC is eaten by them. Play the game, follow the situation that you set up while you decided upon the setting. Let the PCs follow their own agendas. Listen to APAP #14 for an example of how this works.

If you should find yourself as a zombie player, know that the stories get more interesting when the players are forced to let the PCs have conflicts with each other in order to advance. Dodge open conflict, attack or threaten NPCs rather than PCs.

Don’t forget the epilogues, they wrap up the game nicely. – Official Zombie Cinema page.

Playing Love in the Time of Seið by Jason Morningstar and Matthijs Holter

Love in the Time of Seið

Love in the Time of Seið

I wonder if I broke some kind of record with Jason’s and Matthijs’ game Love in the Time of Seið. I read, translated and played it three times (with different groups each time) it all in less than a week.

The game has a sort of emergent quality to it. Just reading the game the first time didn’t really tell me how cool it was. It was in the translation work and the subsequent actual plays that I figured it out. I thought I’d share some stuff that I didn’t see in the book, that could be useful if you’re going to play it for the first time.

Yes, I translated the game into Swedish before playing. I bought the dead tree version, had no photocopier and I didn’t want to cut up the book. So when I had to make my own handouts I took the detour and translated them at the same time. All plays were done with my translated handouts.

Translated handouts

But really, the game would have played just fine without the translation. There isn’t very much text for the players to read. But the new format was convenient never the less.

Some advice
I pitched the game as ‘Shakespeare and Wagner write a viking story together!’, and that was really all the setting information that the players needed to decide if they wanted to play it or not.

Do the warm up exercise as suggested in the book. We retold scenes from the Star Wars movies and a Mickey Mouse-cartoon. Pick something that everyone is familiar with, no need to waste creative energy at this stage. The focus is on the phrases, not the story, deviations from the original is expected.

Make everyone read all characters, just like it says in the rules. The information is a bit thin, but if you read all of them you get a pretty good grasp of the situation. Also, it enforces the idea that the players have no secrets, even if the characters do.

It helps if everyone thinks of the game like a play in the theater or opera. Each of the eight locations is one set of props that can be brought onto the stage by stage hands between the scenes. It also gives a mood and feel to the game that suits the story implied in the characters. The characters interact with each other or make monologues, they don’t interact with the scenery to any greater extent, remember, it’s all just card board. Characters that are not the PCs are done by extras, don’t give them the cool lines or stories.

I played both with named characters and with characters that simply were The Princess, The Knight etc. Both worked well, but if there are no names to remember, there are no names to forget either.

This is a theater play, written by people that have no concern for historical correctness. Don’t worry if someone does something that isn’t historically correct, or even that introduces minor inconsistencies or contradictions. Use the phrases if you need, but don’t let the game get bogged down.

The rules suggest that you go around the table taking turns in setting the scenes. We just let whoever had an idea set the next scene. It worked out very well. As facilitator, keep an eye on the stage/spotlight time each character gets, and ask those that lag behind for more scenes; ‘It has been a long time since we last saw the Earl in a scene, would you like to set one?’

If a player leaves the game permanently, keep the character in the story. Take turns playing that character as needed, and even setting scenes for him or her. … holter – My ‘Reading’ post for the game.

Playing Montsegur 1244 by Frederik J. Jensen

Yesterday I got back from SävCon X, where I among other things played two games of Montsegur 1244 by Frederik J. Jensen.

Together with our test run before the convention that makes for three full games. Enough for me to write a short post about the game discussing ideas, experiences and advice. My focus is my own, i.e. that of someone who intends to play the game at a convention, where all or at least part of the group will be strangers.

Montsegur 1244 cover

Montsegur 1244 cover

Before the con
In the test run we used the English handouts provided by Frederik on the website in conjunction with the game book and translated the cards on the fly as we were playing, and read the longer texts in their original English. At SävCon we used our own fully translated version.

I am by no means a good translator, but even my poor translation was way better for us than playing in a mishmash of Swedish and English. My advice: If you are not native speakers, spend some time before playing and translate everything to your native language, cards, act intros and background information. Even if you are good at reading English, your players might not be.

Go on Wikipedia and and read more about the Cathars and the crusade against them. There is information in the game, but it will come even more to life if you have more knowledge. Also, it is very interesting.

18+ age restriction
I did suspect earlier, but after our first session I was certain, this is not a game suitable for minors. I usually don’t flinch at young teens that watch movies intended for an older audience. But I wouldn’t want anyone to be subjected to this without them understanding what they were getting into.

The game includes themes of children in danger, sexual abuse, and people coming to harm, and they are not the nameless goons of a D&D game, they will be characters that the players care about. There are also strong religious themes in the game, we didn’t find any issues on that front ourselves, but I imagine that people with a strong faith (of any kind) could feel uneasy about that.

I do not say that these things are bad and I wouldn’t want to remove those strong themes from the game. But everyone that are coming to the table should know in advance what they are getting themselves into.

This is an awesome game, and I love it. But when pitching it (to mature players) I made sure that I explained that we put that ’18+’ on it for a very good reason. Many groups turned the game down, I am certain it was for the best.

Translated cards and handouts

Actual play
It really doesn’t matter who reads the act intros and background bits. Check before play starts if anyone is uncomfortable with reading aloud and offer to read in their place. Montsegur 1244 may be a very uncomfortable game, but it should not be for this reason at least.

Faye and Amiel, the children PCs, live their own lives. Remove them during the character selection phase, and give both to the Arsende player. She gets to play them when, and can temporarily hand them out to other players if she wants to interact with them in character.

Guilhelm, the old man PC from the expansion. Make him an old friend of Raymond’s father. That ties him tighter into the narrative.

Give the players with Perfect characters time to read through all the background material before play starts. It really helps them.

The game instructs the players to take turns setting scenes. I wouldn’t worry about setting scenes in order around the table (the book says nothing about turn order), just do it in any order. Let the player that has an idea for a scene set it. Don’t worry if the players don’t set the same number of scenes. Just make sure that everyone at least gets a chance to set one scene per act.

Don’t distract the player that is setting the scene by introducing the next scene card at the same time. Wait until the scene is finished, then turn over a new card and read all three aloud.

The consolamentum is an really interesting part of the game. Bring a Bible or at least a printout of the relevant sections, in case any of the players want to act it out in some detail, or even LARP it.

Don’t kill off the entire cast of non-main characters in the middle of the story, the end-game will suffer.

If a player can’t stay until the end of the session don’t kill his or her characters outright, just distribute them among the other players.

Playing While the World Ends by Wilhelm Person

Last weekend I hosted a potluck RPG convention together with a friend. The guests were invited to facilitate/GM whatever games they wanted during a whole weekend of gaming. In the end there were so many of us that we needed two apartments, and people drifted back and forth in -20C / -4F going between games.

I played Montsegur 1244, Holmes D&D, Polaris and… well we were supposed to play Atomic Highway on Sunday morning, but the GM had caught a bad cold and had to cancel.

So there I was with three other players, nothing prepared and four hours to spend. The others had their minds set on Sci Fi and some sort of apocalypse. What to do?

While the World Ends cover

While the World Ends cover

I brought out While the World Ends, a story game written to match those exact criteria, did a short intro and we started with the world building.

Together we built a rather bright and shiny Sci Fi setting. The main idea was fusion power, providing everyone with cheap and reliable energy. This allowed greenhouses even in arctic regions, and the population was spread out in small communes all over the planet, leading some sort of nice futuristic hippie lives with robot servants. The power was held by the electrical company, that over the centuries had formed something like a monarchy governing the whole planet, with a baron or count in every commune. Also this planet was under threat of the nearby star going supernova, but thanks to the centralized power structure everyone on planet had focused their efforts towards the building of generational star ships.

We zoomed in on the setting and built the five locations that would be central in the story and populated them:

  • A robot recycling facility
    • Oskar
    • The Bumblebee
  • An exchange office where the citizens can trade goods for power
    • Joel
    • Albert
  • The greenhouse Susannah
    • Ottilia
    • Hans
  • The office of Baron Markov
    • Maria
    • Chekov
  • Pico, the first starship prototype, just completed and ready for takeoff
    • Captain Elin
    • Anton

We decided that the world in the story faced these two different paths and everyone chose a main character:

  • + Either the star ships would prove to be a great success, and the people would spread out over the galaxy.
    • Ottilia, the greenhouse worker, who wanted to go into space
    • Captain Elin of the Pico, who wanted to lead the exploration of space
  • – Or internal struggles among the nobles of the power company would lead to civil war and the abandonment of the star ship project.
    • Chekov the lowly office worker, who wanted to overthrow baron Markov
    • Oskar the robot mechanic, who wanted his hacked robot The Bumblebee to be given human rights since it was sentient

    We added some initial relationships between the characters and the story was ready to start.

    Everything started with Ottilia getting a strange form letter from the Baron’s office, she was being reassigned to work in the cobalt mines, and through the entire story the fought an ever increasing pile of paperwork trying to stop the bureaucracy. Also we learned that she was dating Oskar, and enlisted his uncle Albert in the fight against the uninterested clerk Chekov.

    Oskar had his robot lie to him about hacking into the exchange office mainframe, and was under investigation for the hacking. He geeked out about sentient machines with his friend Hans. He also managed to convince uncle Albert to give The Bumblebee official access to the exchange office records.

    Chekov schemed with Anton in a double coup, both to replace Elin with Anton as commander of the Pico, and to discredit the ruling baron for incompetence. The plan almost succeeded, but was foiled at the last minute by The Bumblebee, when the tampering with Elin’s records was discovered.

    Captain Elin found out that Anton was scheming for her place as the commanding officer of the Pico. Together with her husband Albert she managed to restore her good name.

    While the World Ends

    While the World Ends

    Ottilia and Elin won the game when Ottilia managed to win the battle against Chekov’s bureaucracy. Epic, right?

    In the epilogue we saw Chekov serve a long prison sentence, and then rejoining the bureaucracy at the very lowest level of paper pushing. Oskar managed to get The Bumblebee assigned as permanent captain of the Pico, an immortal robot to keep watch over the humans on their long voyage through space. Captain Elin gave up her place to the robot and found a peaceful life working in the ship’s greenhouses with her husband.

    And the final epilogue was set ten years later, and showed a girl with bangs giving her mother Ottilia a hug before being sent to her father Oskar for lunch, all in a greenhouse under a starry space sky.

    A happy ending for a good session and a good story.

    I especially liked the happy part of the end, after a weekend of Montsegur 1244 and Polaris you need all the happy you can get. – Buy While the World Ends through Lulu.

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