Role-Playing Games: Gamestorm Mini-Reviews, Part 1
I played a bunch of great games at Gamestorm 14 a few weeks ago! Here’s what you missed out on (or got in on) along with my thoughts:
“Kill the GM and Take Their Stuff” is the pitch for this one, and it delivers. Coming out of last year’s Shakespeare-themed Game Chef design competition, in ST you choose a play set of sorts based around a certain kind of male authority. You have The Monarch, The Homecoming King, The Amazon King, The Dungeon Master, The A.I., etc.
We picked the Amazon King, because overthrowing Jeff Bezos’ internet empire sounded fun. It was. The GM played Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.com, and ancillary characters. We played various people in his employ, angling to overtake something of Jeff’s:
- his office
- his smartphone, and
- his powerpoint presentation
These three things start off in the GM’s hands, and correspond to the three points of authority in the game:
- deciding where a scene is set
- deciding which characters are present, and
- deciding what threat is currently in play
As our characters would fictionally get one of Jeff’s possessions, we the players would get authority over the corresponding thing. So when my plucky, loyal intern at Amazon nabbed credit for Mr. Bezos’ powerpoint presentation showing the world the first AmaPhone (clever), I got the “threat” card, and would get to say what threat is in play when setting scenes. The game ends after the GM has no more authority.
Serpent’s Tooth is still in playtest, and should definitely be given a look-see. I really want to try the Dungeon Master and the Homecoming King.
I talked to the dude who made this, if you don’t know what it’s about.
Shorthand: Monstrous (literally: vampires/werewolves and all that) teenagers play with each others’ hearts and bodies.
All the cool kids love MH right now, and I didn’t. I didn’t hate it or anything, I just wasn’t excited about it on a fundamental level; it didn’t grab me. But then! Oh, then I played it!
I was The Queen, a bitchy girl (in this case; the Queen doesn’t have to be a girl) who ruled her small-town school with her ruthless clique. As soon as we started making our characters I could not understand the former me I had been, a person who wasn’t crazy-in-love with Monsterhearts. Because, you guys, it’s really good.
Besides me we had two others. First, the Selkie, a mythological creature who is a human when she sheds her pelt, a seal when she puts it on. My Queen owned her pelt at the start of the game, which meant I could boss her around (and why oh why would I ever want to do that?). The other character was the Hollow, a sort of homunculus/Frankensteinian creature who hungers to be human.
We started off by determining the seating chart in our small Appalachian-town school, which led to bitchy quarrels, then eventually blood, sex, more blood, fire, sneaking around down by the sea, and more sex.
So: good times! I need more Monsterhearts in my life.
On the Ecology of the Mud Dragon
Mud Dragon is a funny little game that is still working my brain. I’ve run it a number of times, and had actually scheduled this session to run for kids. Surprise! No kids show up to play games on a Friday morning. In any case, I still got to run it for adults.
You play stupid, lazy little Mud Dragons. I mean that. To do anything in the game, your Mud Dragon has to overcome one of its stats by rolling higher than its associated number. You have:
- Petty Greed
It runs incredibly smooth out of the book, with the characters and a scenario that come from rolling on random tables.
Our Dragons were (as is typical) trying to get some shiny gold and/or a princess. It’s a silly game, and shenanigans ensued, with dragons belching flame when trying to strike fear into the hearts of men, or staring stupidly when they couldn’t understand what the humans were saying.
It’s fast, too; I haven’t played a game of it that’s gone over 45 minutes, and it’s usually done in 20 or 30 minutes. The reason it’s still working my brain is that, for such a simple, silly little game, there’s a lot going on here. It’s simple, but it’s not stupid. It feels like a perfectly crafted object, something with heft that sits smooth and balanced in your hand. And yet, the premise is just incredibly silly and light. There’s nothing to take serious in what the game’s about, but don’t let that make you overlook how it works.
I think it’s that I normally wouldn’t care to play a game with this premise – silly games are fine, but the exploits of Mud Dragons are just not that interesting to me – but I find myself coming back to it again, because it’s so polished.
Cyberpunk Noir. Do you need to know more than that?
Technoir‘s very evocative, but perhaps since I haven’t read nor seen much of the Cyberpunk or Noir canon, the fiction we were driving for felt a little muddled to me. We were in future Hong Kong, and as the player characters we were all tied together, running deals and such. See how I didn’t really get what were supposed to be doing?
We were all tied to NPCs, and there were shady deals going down, and we were trying to get our cut of the dirty money. I understood what we were doing, but it all felt very vague to me. I don’t think Technoir’s a bad game or anything – it was just one session at a convention – but it certainly seemed like the game could function just perfectly while what was happening in the fiction remained at a very removed, high level.
That said, making characters and picking gear was lots of fun. In my (sad, doomed) lifelong quest to be Ryan Gosling, I envisioned a sort of driver character, and had a badass ride that I got to use during a chase scene. That was pretty sweet.
Hot Guys Making Out
Exactly what it says on the tin. Or is it? HGMO is a game that emulates Yaoi manga, which, if you haven’t figured it out, is about romantic gay fiction. It’s currently in a preview edition that hasn’t seen wide release.
HGMO is set during the Spanish Civil War, and stars two principal characters: Gonsalvo, a young man who is fleeing (for unknown reasons) into the safety of the mountain hacienda of Honoré. Inevitably, there is romantic tension and an escalation of intimacy and physicality between Gonsalvo and Honoré, as a threat mounts (in our game, it was the jealousy that Maria, the maid, had for Gonsalvo and Honoré’s love).
I’ve played HGMO once before, and my previous game had lots of intimacy between Gonsalvo and Honoré, to the point of a sex in a meadow under the open sky. In this game, the Spanish Civil War played a much larger part and we spent the better part of the game locked in Honoré’s wine cellar, holding out for our lives.
Despite the provocative title, HGMO provides a very sensuous, realistic, not-over-the-top experience. Play goes around the table, with each person narrating one action or sentence from their character, laying down a corresponding card (from a traditional deck) as they do so. Certain cards allow for new types of actions. For example, Gonsalvo cannot take direct action, and Honoré cannot describe his feelings. However, if you get the right card, your character can break these rules.
In trying to get the cards you want to complete the actions you so burn for, you can discard a card and draw a new one on your turn. When you do this, you don’t say what your character does, but instead describe a detail of the scene.
In this way, HGMO provides a very emotional, well-paced game that is by turns frustratingly restrained and satisfyingly indulgent. I’m going to be honest and say I was a little hesitant to play a Boy’s Love game the first time I tried HGMO, but now I want more.
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I’ll be back next week with the last five mini-reviews from my time at Gamestorm!