A whole new world

I have this old laptop, Celeron CPU and Windows XP sticker, that I haven’t been able to make myself get rid of. It still works and has a pretty decent display, but it is too slow to be much fun with games and such. Yesterday morning I installed some soft synths on it, and after some tweaking it actually worked. It worked so well that I made a trip to town and bought a cheap MIDI-keyboard to go with it.

Lo and behold my minimal couch studio.

I haven’t used any soft synths before, and spent all morning installing free ones at random and just doodling. Two that I liked were Minimal and Meteorite from Psychic Modulation, and the doodles resulted in this little clip.

Except for Windows itself everything was done with free software. So if you’re curious it shouldn’t be very hard to set up your own stuff.

I used

  • VST Host – It doesn’t make any sounds by itself, but it provides an environment in which the soft synths can run. It also allows you to use the computer’s keyboard to play notes, if you don’t have a dedicated MIDI keyboard.
  • ASIO4all – At first I had a noticeable delay from pressing a key and hearing the sound. After installing the ASIO4all sound card driver that problem disappeared, just remember to enable the new driver in VST Host.
  • Psychic Modulation – The site where I got Minimal, the drum machine, and Meteorite, the synth sound.
  • Audacity – I had used this before on Linux, but I installed it on the laptop as well, so I could edit the recording a bit.
  • Miditech I2 Control-25 – The cheap MIDI keyboard, optional really. But I’ve been wanting something like it for a while, and this was a good an excuse to get one as any.

A call for gamers from across the globe

I’m a Swedish gamer, and I have insight in what happens on the Swedish RPG scene, such as it is.  Also, I learned some English in school, and thanks to that I can follow what’s going on in the US and UK. I can even play games from those areas.  A little remains of the German I took fifteen or twenty years ago in school, so with some effort I can follow discussions on German forums, and even read a game or two if I take my time.

Swedish is also similar enough to Danish and Norwegian that I can follow discussions on internet forums in those countries without too much problem.  But there it ends.

I know that RPGs are played in Poland, France, Italy, Japan, China, South America, French speaking parts of Canada and loads of other places, but I can’t really learn what’s going on there. And I want to know!

What games do they play? Have they taken up on the ‘indie wave’ of games like many gamers in my parts have done?  Are they still playing traditional games? Do they have their own form of freeform gaming, different from the kind I see people play here where I live?

Also, I’m doing a podcast. Most of the episodes are in Swedish, but a few are in English. And they offer gamers from around the world a glimpse of what RP looks like in these parts. A very focused glimpse of what’s going on in my own immediate circles, true, but it’s something.

I’ve been thinking about recording episodes where I discuss role playing games with people from around the world. Glimpses into gaming in far away places. The discussions or interviews could cover anything related to the hobby, whatever you think is interesting is what I want to hear about.

Are you a gamer living in another country?  Would you like to be a guest on my podcast? What would you like to talk about?

www.nordnordost.se/?tag=english-podcast-episode – Index of English language episodes of the Nordnordost podcast.

Reading Monsterhearts by Joe Mcdaldno

It’s been a while since my last update here. While I haven’t been away from gaming, I haven’t done much reading of games lately. Other aspects of the hobby have taken my time; I have been running a hacked Swords & Wizardry campaign, visited the Norwegian RPG con Holmcon and done a whole lot of podcasting on Nordnordost (some of the episodes are in English). I have also been waiting for Joe’s game Monsterhearts, I chipped in on the Kickstarter and have followed the updates with great interest since.

The game was released late yesterday evening, and I devoured it this morning before breakfast.

The book



I got the PDF version of the game, it’s a 160 page file laid out in single column 5.50 × 8.50 pages. So a little smaller than the usual 6×9 format, but not by much. The text is very friendly and accessible, I found it a lot easier to follow than the ancestor Apocalypse World. Yes Monsterhearts is based on Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World, sharing the same core rules but it is a stand alone product.

Monochrome photo manipulations done by Joe are used to illustrate the text.

The setting
The setting isn’t very detailed, there’s some sort of vague assumption that the game will be set in the present day, but nothing would have to be changed to play in a historical period, or sci-fi setting. Instead the focus is put on the PCs, they are troubled teenagers who are monsters, and have sex. The game focuses on the interactions between the PCs.

The rules
The basic resolution mechanic of the game is very simple. Roll 2d6, apply any modifiers from stats or conditions, a sum of 7-9 is a partial success, 10+ is a complete success, and 6 or lower is a failure. Around this mechanic an elaborate social conflict mechanic has been built, where the PCs have strings attached both to other PCs and to NPCs. The strings can be used to manipulate the other characters, or to gain advantages/bonuses.

The game comes with a set of character classes, called skins. E.g. Werewolf, Vampire, Witch, each adds some special rules that only apply to that class, including a mechanical effect for what happens when a character of that class has sex.

The form
Monsterhearts uses the traditional setup with a GM and a group of players, playing a single character each. The players and the GM both follow the rules of the game, but the mechanisms are asymmetrical, the players follow one set which models stuff characters do, and vice versa.

The setting is OK, there’s not much detail. But if everyone buys into the general idea of playing teenage monsters who have sex, it should not be hard to fill in the blanks as you go.
The rules are good, they model the interactions in an interesting way.
The form is good. Both GM and players get very clear instructions on how the game should be played. There’s no intro adventure or anything like that, due to the way the character focused play is set up, but there are clear instructions for the GM on how to do everything from preparing the table, to leading the players through character generation, to finally running the game.

Will I play it?
Yes, I want to play this. A more difficult question is if I’d like to run Monsterhearts, the required GM style is very different from how I usually do things. From what I’ve read and heard from people who have been playing Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts is that it works very well in actual play. But I wonder if the style leads to players feeling that the rules get in the way of the story, or that the rules generate cool stories.

buriedwithoutceremony.com/monsterhearts/ – The official Monsterhearts page

Reading 44 – A Game of Automatic Fear by Matt Snyder

It’s Christmas Day, all presents have been opened and everyone here is relaxing. I decided to dive into the folder with PDF games I have acquired during the last year and see if I could find any gems for next year’s gaming. First, I read 44 by Matt Snyder.

The book
44 is 37 pages in the usual 6×9 format.44 cover The text is formated in a single column, but very heavy with rules terms, it took longer than expected to get through. There are a few small pictures in the margins.

The setting
The game’s setting is the US in the fifties, and one by one Section 44 is replacing the people with robot replicas. The PCs stumble across the truth and are targeted for replacement, and the game takes it’s beginning.

The rules
The rules are focused on tracking the struggle between the PCs (trying to survive) and the Director (trying to replace the PCs with robots). PCs have dice pools for Resolve, Contact and Material, and roll them against the Director’s pools to resolve conflicts. The system covers allies and friends, called Bonds, that the PCs can draw help from in the form of bonus dice. But doing so exposes them to danger, and they risk being converted to robots in service of the Director. Everything is geared towards promoting paranoia and fear.

The form
The game has a GM (The Director) to play the opposition to the PCs. Play goes through a fixed number of scenes during which the PCs try to avoid being replaced by robots. Any players who fail, proceed to play their robotic counterpart and work on the GM’s side to convert the remaining PCs. Any PCs that remain human at the end of the game have won.

The setting is weak, besides the basic premise of a shady conspiracy that replace people with robots in the fifties there isn’t much setting in the game. However, if the players are willing to fill in the gaps along the way, it shouldn’t be a problem.
The rules are good, are focused and seem to model the PCs’ struggle well.
The form is good. Clear instructions are given to both the GM and the players. The GM is even given a ‘character sheet’ of his own to track his resources during play.

Will I play it?
Maybe. I think that the general paranoia feel of the game is awesome, and I’m a fan of similar fiction with movies such as The Faculty and The Invasion, and the brilliant Iron Empires comics.

On the other hand I wonder how relevant the GM really is to the game, at first glance it looks like we have a Vestigal GM on our hands. I.e. 44 might be a game where so much of the GM’s role has been automated and handed out to the other players, that it might as well be played as a GM-less game. Only very small adjustments are needed to play the game in the style of Polaris, with the GM’s tasks rotating among the players.

storiesyouplay.com/44/ – The official 44 page

A better end of the world this Epimas

And now Christmas Eve is here, and Epiclaus has delivered the gaming gifts. I hope you’ll have a good time playing your new games with friends and family.

Epidiah and Emily are celebrating Epimas, and we’re invited. It’s all about gaming and giving games on the day before Christmas, which for them means Dec 24. Over here Santa come with presents a day earlier, on Christmas Eve, still a good day to give and get games.

Presently there are ten different PDF games listed on the site that you can buy for just $2.22 each. When you buy a gift for a friend, you get a free copy for yourself as well. If you order in time, the game will be sent out on Dec 24.

For the occasion I have created a special Revised edition of my game While the World Ends. It’s still the same game, but I have worked some of the rules tweaks that I have mentioned here on the blog into the text, so that everything will be in one place. The game has also been reformatted into US-Letter for easier printing. If you already have the game, there’s no real need to upgrade, but maybe it’s time to share it with a friend as an Epimas present?

Playing with multiple tracks

I had decided to do some multi track recording when I noticed that my LEM RDX 82u mixer feeds back the sound from the computer into the recorded track. This lead to a Matryoshka doll of recording, where the fourth track contained the third, which contained the second track, which contained the first track. The track also contained the second track, which contained the first track. And the first track, all mixed together with increasing delays. This was not what I had hoped for.

I ended up buying an M-Audio Fast Track Pro, which should work in Linux, both with custom drivers in Debian, and as a plain old USB-audio device under any OS.

However, it didn’t work that well with my Ubuntu 11.11 machine. Actually,it didn’t work at all at first. It took a lot of trial’n’error and searching the interwebs for me to figure out how to get it running.

Techno mumble follows…

In the end I managed to get the board running with the following command line start of jackd.

jackd -v -R -d alsa -C hw:0,1 -P hw:0,0 -H -s -r44100

Note that I use different subdevices for input and output (this should be configurable within QJackCtl, but it seemed to me like the settings never really propagated from the GUI to jackd. I found that some audio applications didn’t work with any other sound card than the first one (the 0 card), so I hacked /etc/modprobe.d/alsa-base.conf to allow snd-usb-audio to take the position as the first sound card.

I did a proof of concept recording this evening. It’s mostly random key mashing over an arpeggiator track, and all tracks but one were done on the Yamaha CS1x. The last one is the viola da gamba (the drone track in the back of the mix).

Download: No bubbles here.mp3

Reading Silver and white by Jackson Tegu

Yesterday I stumbled across Jackson Tegu’s game Silver and white, and I can’t get it out of my mind. Let me share my thoughts on this game with you all.

The book
The game comes in a 36 page PDF, formatted to be printed into a small booklet. The text is single column and easy to read, the wording is poetic at times. Almost half the book consists of handouts to be cut out before play, so it is a very quick read.

Silver and white
The setting
The game’s intro reads as follows:

Four suburban teenagers encounter the mystery that
will shape their lives. They explore, and each time they
touch, we players exchange cards. For them a few days,
for us a few hours. We make up a story together, our
invented truths springing from the cards we hold; and
they step into the unknown, pausing at every awkward
touch, hopeful despite everything to come.

The game is about four teenagers who stumble across a dead man and a mystery, and the relationships between them.

The rules
The game comes with four semi-pre gen characters, the players pick one and make some minor tweaks to it before going into play. There are no rules for task or conflict resolution, only a card driven mechanic for directing the interactions between the characters.

The form
The game is GM less, and steps have been taken to make it as facilitator less as possible. The players read the rules together as part of the shared prep before the session. Every player controls an aspect of the setting, and as the cards trade hands during the interactions between the characters, that control also shifts among the players.

The setting is good, there isn’t much setting material in the game, but what there is is very evocative. The players will do a lot of filling in the blanks during play.
The rules are OK, I think. Trading cards during the character interactions, possibly trying to get a card with a good epilogue on it, feels a bit contrived. But there could be an emergent quality to the mechanism that I fail to see just in the read through.
The form is excellent, the game demonstrates excellent pedagogy of play. The GM/facilitator less setup makes me think I could put this on a table, and then send in a group of players to experience the game by themselves with only the briefest of introductions.

Will I play it?
Yes. The fixed requirement of four players may mean that it will take a while before I get a good opportunity to do so, but this is presently the number one game on my to-play list. I sense that the game would benefit from a translation into Swedish before play, to remove the distractions of constant translations, but it should be playable in the original English.

photographsoflightning.wordpress.com/silver-and-white – The official site, where the game can be downloaded.

Reading Breaking the Ice – A game about Love, for Two by Emily Care Boss

Recently I have been thinking a lot about games with friendly themes. Games without any combat mechanics, and maybe even without conflict mechanics, set in friendly settings. I have known about Emily Care Boss’ game Breaking the Ice for quite some time, but never really looked into it. But this weekend I got the opportunity to do so.

Breaking the Ice
The book
My copy is a 42 page PDF, I think it is supposed to be a 9×6 book, or maybe slightly smaller. There is some nice cartoon style artwork by Barry Deutsch. The text is laid out in a single readable column, but something about the editing confused me, and I had to read through the game twice in order to get it. Since it’s a rather short game that wasn’t a big issue.

The setting
The game has no setting as such, but it is always a story about two people going on three dates. There is a section in the book with suggestions for how to decide on a setting before playing.

The rules
The rules in Breaking the Ice are tightly focused on the growing attraction between the lovers. By rolling and re-rolling pools of D6s the players learn how the dates are going, and how the lovers find common interests that will strengthen the bond between them. Character generation involves collaborative mind map drawing starting with the character’s favorite color in the center, and then playing a game of word association from there to find the character’s traits.

The form
The game is one of the rare two player games. The players take turns being the active player and the story guide, however both roles involve mostly stuff usually associated with GM’ing. Not quite a player less game, but almost. The many examples in the game show play as being done in third person, in a rather abstract birds eye view of the story. In the end the players answer three questions about the dates and decide if the relationship grew into something steady.

The setting is OK, there’s not much there but the game gives enough information to guide the players while they decide on a setting of their own.
The rules are good, very focused on the subject of simulating dating.
The form is good, there are clear instructions in the game for what what the players should do at all stages. There’s a section on sex in games, good reading for players previously unfamiliar with lines and veils.

Will I play it?
Maybe. It’s a two player game, I only have few of those. I think one could vary the style of play in accordance with how familiar the two players are, allowing for more intimate story telling with close friends, to backing off a bit and playing it with more distance for playing with strangers at cons. I see the potential for both comedies and great drama in the game, depending on what setting is chosen.

www.blackgreengames.com/bti.html – The official site for the game.

Reading The Aegis Project by John Wick

Lately I’ve been getting emails from John Wick. At first I thought they were related to the Haiti bundle, I’ve gotten loads of mails about random gaming products since I purchased that one. But the emails got more insistent asking for help naming NPCs and stuff, the plot thickened.

A few days ago the answer to the mystery of the strange emails revealed itself in the form of yet another email – this time with a download link to John’s latest game, The Aegis Project, which I had apparently sponsored and then promptly forgotten all about.

The Aegis Project
The book
The game is 177 pages. Single column text in a very readable layout makes it a nice read, the first read through took me about two hours. There’s b/w interior art by Mauro Mussi, mostly showing mechs and posing people. I caught a few typos in the text, and a few rules that could have been more clearly written, but the total impression is still solid.

The setting
The setting in The Aegis Project is realistic sci-fi, or at least plausible to some extent. Mankind has reached the stars through FTL travel and established hundreds of colonies. One day aliens attack by sending an army of robots. The game is about the soldiers that face that threat, the soldiers can have access to mecha. There’s also two more settings in the game that pick up the ball and proceed with a civil war a few hundred years later, and even later another war with another inhuman enemy.

The rules
The rules cover template based character generation, task resolution (where you roll for narration privileges rather than success), and a rather abstract and narrative combat system. The main feature of the game, The Camaraderie mechanic which constitutes of a shared pool of bonus dice that any player can take from, and contribute to, arbitrarily. There’s neat stuff happening in at the table as players interact with the pool, even abusing or abstaining from using it tells the other players something about the character.

The game includes a brilliant method of adventure design, the GM states the overall goal of the adventure. Then the players take turns adding a few complications and intel before the adventure as such starts. No prep for the GM, and still a rather traditional form of adventuring in actual play!

The form
The game uses the traditional GM+players setup, but some interesting things happen in char gen. A player can chose to play a whole squad of soldiers instead of a single PC. A brilliant move to flesh out a squad of PCs without resorting to NPCs.

Players roll for narrative privileges in non combat situations, but in combat it reverts to the traditional pass/fail interpretation of dice rolls. This gives the game breadth of styles, covering both the traditional way of the GM interpreting the die results to produce a sense of chaos in combat, and a more story gaming kind of play in non combat situations.

The setting is ok, it tells us a lot on the grand scale, but little about the details. Expect to fill in a lot of blanks when playing.
The rules are good, they cover the needed ground and the Camaraderie mechanic puts some mechanical focus on playing a group of soldiers.
The form is very good, clear explanations of how the game should be played, including a few short bits of examples from play. There is also a bit on how to tie the three settings into a long continuous campaign of over 15 sessions.

Will I play it?
There is enthusiasm in the text, and right after I had read it I was ready to start a game right away. But after some deliberation I’m not certain. I want to see the game in actual play, and I’d rather run than be a player. But I think it might be a bit too focused on the soldiering at the expense of lack of coverage for what happens out of the combat zone for my tastes.

I find it more interesting (although not as pretty as) CthulhuTech, a somewhat similar in scope and idea. But that game also put a very strong focus on the fighty bits, ignoring the rich “civilian” setting it sported in the background material.

There is nothing in the game about the space travel, people do their fighting in the mud on far away worlds. There is definitely room for a supplement here, something along the lines of a Wing Commander RPG.

housesoftheblooded.net/jwpcom/?cat=96 – The project blog for The Aegis Project

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

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