Monday, September 29, 2014

The Secret World Chronicle

The world is used to metahumans. They have been around since World War II and, employed by ECHO (an organisation run by Nikola Tesla's grand nephew), take care of the world, fighting crime. But when the Thule Society resurfaces and brings along giant war machines, it seems ECHO and the metas have met their match.

I downloaded the Secret World Chronicle by Mercedes Lackey as part of a Humble Bundle and I had no idea what to expect. The first few pages in, I had a gigantic Avengers deja vu - it is set in a world of super heroes and there are some similarities. But in the end, the series finds its own feet and it stands quite well on them. I am a sucker for Nazi villains and the series hit just the right pulpy tone to make it work. There are a LOT of characters and the book shifts in its point of views from chapter to chapter, that may take some getting used to. But the characters leave an impression and quickly come alive.

If you like superheroes, then do give the Secret World Chronicle a try. It's a fast, fun ride and I loved the various superpowers the authors came up with. The most charming is Doctor Doom, who turns everything and everyone in his vicinity into part of a 1940s hard boiled novel. I really want to find a way to steal this for one of my roleplaying games. The series is based on a pocast, by the way, and you can listen to that here

There is just one thing: the German in the book is simply awful. There is a typo or grammatical error in pretty much every sentence (even when it's only two or three words...) and sometimes it's just plain wrong. My absolute favourite made me laugh aloud on the subway. One of the Nazi troopers has three black gangers in his sight and shouts: Würfel, schwarze Hunde. And yes, Würfel does mean die. But as in six-sided cubes or wood or plastic, not as in stop living. That was completely hilarious and an excellent example of why it's better to ask a native speaker, use a good dictionary or at least translate your sentences back if you must use online translators.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Shadowrun Rat's Nest: Rain Check

Instead of GMing Shadowrun, I'm sitting in bed, smelling like an eucalyptus tree and drinking copious amounts of tea in the hope that my cold doesn't turn into something worse. I was lookong forward to today's session. The players have made it out of the NAN and are planning on visiting an amusement park. Well, the two youngest characters want it and the others roll their eyes and go along.

If you happen to be a player in this campaign, I'd rather you not read on, please.

How often do you get the chance for an amusement park setting in Shadowrun? This is a gift. The players are already paranoid about all the horrible things that can happen and I do my best to keep them that way, casually dropping hints about how I've been reading up on accidents in amusement parks or how roller coasters are built. I actually did learn a lot of stuff about amusement park rides - roleplaying has always taught me the most abstruse things. My players have their money on real ghosts in the haunted house, a mascot running amok or a roller coaster coming off the tracks.

I had been fancying the haunted house and I might do it. I have a handful of minor stuff that can/will go wrong and one very big thing. But at first, I will sit back and wait to see if the characters manage to get themselves into trouble. So far, they have been very good at this. This is something I've come to rely on as a GM - most of the time, your players will do something, either really stupid or really inspired, and you just need to run with it.

One thing I am going to do for sure is the fortune teller. Who will take one look at a character's hand, go white as a sheet and give a cliché reading about a dark, handsome stranger and all that. And then she will close up her booth in a hurry and will be seen powerwalking towards the park's entrance not much later. I'm sure that this will ramp up player paranoia no end.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Castle Blackbird: Whitewater

We continue our Castle Blackbird game and to no-one's particular surprise, we still didn't finish. We could have, I could have rushed the story to an end, but given the choice, my players opted for a third session (we just need to convince the absent player).

By now, the characters are out Amselburg, by taking a boat down the river. And Konstanze has started to have visions in which she takes the form of a raven, one of the many who report back to the Baron. She has no idea where this is going, but the visions are real and she can even make the raven do things. Some rapids destroyed the boat and now the characters are in a dark forest, with the Baron closing in on them. At least he is on the wrong side of the river.

I'm still flying by the seat of my pants here as a GM. I have a rough idea where this is going to end and I have figured out why the Baron needs to have Konstanze back by midnight, but everything else is improvised. Luckily, I have players who do a lot of the heavy lifting by coming up with idea and scenes for themselves. Now I just need to get over the panicky feeling that people are bored when they are really not. I am incredibly bad at judging my own stories and if people are having fun playing in them. I think every GM is probably too critical of themselves (every good GM anyway), but part of this is really reading cues wrong, even from people I have played with for more than a decade. I'm not sure how to deal with this, but being told that oh yes, they want a third session helps a lot.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Bear in a Boat

Boy anda bear in a boat 2

A Boy and a Bear in a Boat. It's excactly what is says on the cover. A boy walks up to a bear in a boat and asks him to take him across the sea. The bear starts rowing and still is when the boy wakes up the next day. The boy quickly finds out that the bear has no clue where they are going...

Don't read this book if you expect a clear-cut story. I felt like I was reading Waiting for Godot with bears. That being said, I liked it a lot. The illustrations are charming and the story lends itself to all kinds of interpretations. You could for example easily read it as a Bildungsroman, with the boy taking over more and more responsibility.

Or you just take it at face value and read a story about the boy who goes on a trip with a quirky bear (who loves anchovy-vanilla sandwiches and drinks tea every afternoon). Neither of them are all that easy to get along with, but in a boat you don't have much choice.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Friday, September 5, 2014

Castle Blackbird

We're still covering for our absent GM at our fortnightly (is that a word?) Deadlands round and we're playing Castel Blackbird. It's a Lady Blackbird hack. Lady Blackbird is very rules-light game with pregenerated characters in a steampunk setting. It's great for running at a con or if you have only one session to play. It's free to download and there are a ton of hacks for it, here are some

Castle Blackbird gives you six characters and a gaslight setting, with a lot of rumours about eldritch monsters and conspiracy theories. The rules are a bit more expansive, with another type of dice added for example. I decided to take the setting and go with the normal Lady Blackbird rules, with some minor changes.

There are four players, who all have some experience with freeform games that require both players and GM to improvise. I GM and I found it mentally exhausting because apart from some big picture story ideas, I couldn't really prepare. You get a starting scene, with the characters having to escape from the soldiers surrounding them and after that, the players decide on the direction things are going to take. So far, they have escaped through the sewers, found their way into the hospital/asylum and out again and are now trying to reach a pub they know of where they hope to find a boat to escape the town via the river for good. We'll finish (I hope) next week, we only had three hours to play last time.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Every Day by David Levithan

Here be spoilers.

A wakes up every day in a different body. Ze gets the memories of the person ze is for that day and has to live like that as best as ze can. Usually, ze tries to disturb the life of the person as little as possible. But when ze wakes up in the body of Justin and meets Justin's girlfriend Rhiannon, ze breaks that rule.

And if you think that this goes on to be some soppy teenage love story, you would be wrong. It's not and it doesn't take the easy way out. The ending is hopefull, but not happy. And while A and Rhiannon are busy trying to figure out their feelings and how to make it all work, the books gets to explore quite a number of interesting things. How we perceive each other and how important appearance is, for one thing. How much can change in just one day.

By far the most interesting thing about Every Day for me was the fact that the people A lives in are not all heterosexual. Some are, others are gay or bi or trans and it's never treated as anything but normal. A hirself doesn't have a gender. Ze calls zirself Andrew sometimes, but ze sees hirself as neither or maybe both male and female. There is little enough queer represetation in young adult books and this is a very good example. The characters are not defined by their gender or sexuality, but it's there.

Levithan manages to introduce us to a new character in every chapter and to give them personality with just a couple of sentences. I found myself caring about every single one of them...something other authors don't manage with their protagonists. I read the German translation and I found the language a bit too adult for a 16 year old, but that may have well been the fault of the translation. And A is not really the typical teenager.

I'm very thankful that this is not the first part of a trilogy. The potential is there, but I hate the trilogy trend with the strength of a thousand suns and the book is much better ending where it does. Authors don't need to explain or explore every little thing about their characters.