Friday 1 May 2020

Blood Sundown Review

I've actually been running games recently! Bully for me. I decided that I'd start reviewing the products I actually use - this was my first review on DrivethruRPG.

I've been running the sample adventure in Blood Sundown for the past few nights for players who are relatively new to RPGs and it has worked a treat. Everywhen's simple mechanics with little bookkeeping or arithmetic make it ideal for new or casual players, and the range of pregenerated characters included mean you can be up and running almost straight away. The sample adventure could probably be played in an evening if players most fast, but it'll have taken us three sessions of 2(ish) hours. The adventure itself is a good introduction to a 'Weird West' setting, and while everything needed is there on the page, there's no reason a GM couldn't put extra meat on the bones and turn the conflict between Dr Vitale and the townsfolk of Bliss into a longer campaign. The adventure does contain a section that implies some pretty basic information is hidden behind a dice roll, which is something that I try to avoid at all costs as a GM - player agency requires some information, even if it isn't complete or entirely correct - but that's an easy enough fix. You still need to reward characters who have, for example, the 'keen eyesight' boon or high Mind scores, but the reward cannot be the basic information required for action. That said, the adventure doesn't require the PCs to any particular thing for it to work, but that doesn't mean it is a railroad - Dr Vitale has his own plans and will put them into action if he can.

The rest of the book is a very good sourcebook for running a Western game using Everywhen. It doesn't have to be 'weird' - it'd be perfectly possible to run a 'historical' or 'Spaghetti' Western game using Everywhen and Blood Sundown, as long as it affords for competent protagonists (and even here, to add more grit to the game simply lean the balance of NPCs away from Rabble and towards Toughs and Rivals). The book includes a range of setting appropriate careers (as you'd expect from any Barbarians of Lemuria adaptation) some new equipment and setting appropriate rules (such as advice on how to handle a fast draw shootout), as well as a discussion of Faith and Magic appropriate to a 'Weird West' game, which would be well suited for 'weirding' other historical settings too. There's a fairly slim, but perfectly adequate bestiary of mundane animals and supernatural creatures.

I can recommend this both on its own terms, and an example of an Everywhen 'build'. I was a little underwhelmed by the examples in the core book, but that is par for the course when it comes to a system that aspires to be 'universal'. As an example build - and this, I expect, is true of all the recent Everywhen releases - Blood Sundown shows GMs what they can do fairly straightforwardly with the Everywhen engine.

As a final point; the layout is clean, the page decoration uses only greys and blacks, and the art is perfectly good black and white work and it all prints well. While I have stumped up for the PoD, before that was available I printed it 'booklet sized' on my home printer and found it worked well.

Thursday 23 January 2020

Troika! review/overview

As an avowed Advanced Fighting Fantasy fan, I've been a big fan of Daniel Sell's Troika!, even though I've STILL not got it to the table. It's a really terrific 2d6 fantasy game built on the Fighting Fantasy chassis but very much doing its own thing. There are tons of reviews out there, but I'd like to point YOU (if I was to trust the visitor data, the YOU these days is mainly adult webcammers) in the direction of a nice little review by Jakob Schmidt HERE.

Tuesday 21 January 2020

A Sensational Atlas

I was thinking about the bullet point format that has been (was? I'm well out of the loop these days)  discussed in OSR circles for a while now - basically digesting the sort of information found in the much maligned 'boxed text' (which I think is incredibly useful for new/rusty/tired GMs, but that's another post) and text for the GM's down into a series of bullet points. Sometimes these are presented as nested bullet points, so that the GM can see at a glance how one piece of information leads to another. Perhaps the extra information is revealed with time, by player questions, or through character action. I think this is an excellent format. [I can't find the original posts that got me thinking about this, but I'll add links if anyone points me in their direction]

This is done at the level of a dungeon 'room' or 'encounter location'. But years ago, running a WFRP game, I reflected on the 'placelessness' of my GMing. By this I mean that each inn, each city, each forest, each river etc. were almost utterly interchangeable. Except for 'plot elements', so to speak. Now, I'd like to think that I'm doing myself down, but I don't think I'm missing the mark by too much. And you could say that the 'plot elements' are what is important and that too much 'colour commentary' will mislead the players and take their focus off the important stuff. Perhaps. Nevertheless...

Nevertheless I want the players to get a sense of place, and movement, of travel when we play. To remember a place as more than just "where we did x or y". I am reminded here of a post from Monsters and Manuals - which again, I cannot find - in which he talked about the descriptions of travel and the countryside in LotR. I don't think a GM should try to ape this, but a GM can produce a pale, but effective simulation of the effect. To do this at the table, when I begin my next game I am going to assemble a 'sensational atlas'. This will be incomplete and ever changing, but in essence it will consist of a deliberate effort to identify a stack of descriptive words and phrases that can be used *without a great deal of thought* to evoke a particular location. Nothing else to get in the way. Just an index card for each location with smells, sounds, sights, even tastes and more tactile sensations when appropriate. 

So a jungle might have:

Emerald shadow of the canopy
Smell of rotting leaf litter
Thorny vines catching on your tunic
Constant hum of insects
Sweat dripping into your eyes
Trunks as broad as a cottars hut holding up the green
Vivid reds and yellows of sickly smelling flowers
Hooting, echoing calls and replies from the heights of the trees.
Thick undergrowth pulling at your boots
Sprawling ridge-like roots
Swarms of tiny flies crawling into your nose
Sucking mud of a boggy hollow
Crumbling, fallen log crawling with fat squirming larvae

and more more more, but no fat, nothing that isn't descriptive or, by my own low standards, evocative. 

And so on, and so on. I'm no poet, but that doesn't matter at the table. A different card for each town, for each environment, and even, when possible, between different iterations of each environment. And these would build up during play, of course, as new descriptive details are added at the table.  I bet *you* already do this. But I need to formalise this process to ensure better GMing practice.But at the table, I could do with this kind of aide memoire, this kind of prompt sheet, to keep the game *in the world*.