Tolkien Celebration 2019

Featured image by D.W. Luebbert

So McMenamin’s hosts an annual celebration for Tolkien’s birthday. The event is happening this year on Saturday January 12th at the Kennedy School. This year I will be part of a cool little team that will be teaching and playing Tolkien-themed board games from 11am-3pm that day. I’m very excited! Below is the list of games that I will be bringing to the event.

Games that I will bring that we can play (in order of length of time to play):

Games I’ll be bringing for show but not to play:

Come join me and a good group of friends as we play some board games in celebration of J.R.R. Tolkien!

Project Recreo – First Playtest

Featured Image is Droid Market by Cristi Balanescu

Playtesting or Will this Hold Up to Actual People Playing

Last night I had my first playtest for Project Recreo. First off thank you so much to my friends who were willing to take a risk and try something new that’s coming out of my head!

This playtest had me as the GM, and 3 players. I gave a brief synopsis of the world and the heritages (based heavily on this blog post), then presented 6 pre-generated character sheets (based off the characters developed in these two posts – here and here) that the players were able to choose from. The players chose the AI Walking Computer, the BE Companion, and the Evoluu Shaman.

What was really wonderful is how quickly the 3 players got into the game. As I was explaining the setting, the heritages, and the rules many questions and ideas were being thrown out. I’m glad I took notes because sometimes I had ideas coming two and three at a time. The character backgrounds the players came up with were great. We had an Evoluu Shaman who had plant-based mutations and was a lazy hippy type character, a BE Companion who wasn’t really smart but very attractive and had an illegal marriage to a high ranking military officer, and a sarcastic AI that held military secrets that they were willing to blackmail people with. It was great to hear their stories and concepts.

We even got a little time to start a scenario (not finish). It took almost 2 hours just to get through rules and character sheet explaining, but that gave us about 1 hour to do some playing. So I setup that players were a crew that took less-than-legal jobs from their handler named The Slug. The Slug sent them to steal a package on a land-train (think a really long armored accordion bus) heading from the arcology (think Judge Dredd style mega-city tower) they live in, to a mining outpost. The players got into it. The BE tried to seduce the person who the packaged belonged to, the Evoluu tried to sneak to the baggage car but failed their Espionage draw with a negative side-effect and attracted the focused attention of one of the land train stewards, and the AI tried to cleanup the mess the other two characters were making! It was awesome!

I got to introduce all the elements; deck of cards, character sheets, and the tokens. We did everything but get into combat, so we didn’t get to use the Action Tokens (I think I’m going to rename them Combat Tokens, so not to confuse people) and Wound Tokens.

Things that I learned and will be changing (thank you Darren, Elise, and Jess):

  • Setting the Target number at 10 for untrained actions was too difficult. I got this feedback from some online readers, but wanted to see it in action to verify if they were right. And they were right. So I’m going to test dropping the base Target number to 9 in the next playtest to see how that works.
  • Changing the base Abilities to be called Mind, Body, Spirit, rather than Mental, Physical, Spiritual. Be nouns rather than adjectives.
  • To not play into the traditional binary definition of angels and demons, I.e. demons are black and have bat wings, and angels are white and have bird wings. I need to think more about this, but I appreciate the push-back from the players.
  • To think about possible mutations for Evoluu as not just fauna mutations but also flora. One of the players had a great idea that their character would have plant based hair and could whip people with it like vines.
  • Limitations on the number of Power Tokens a player can collect for their character. Initially setting the limit to 1 of each, but I’m playing with the idea of tying it to an Ability or Aspect.
  • Shuffling the deck after each action. Yes multiple people expressed this when reading my initial proposal of the deck of cards mechanic. I was again resistant to this feedback but then seeing it in playtesting, saw that this route is probably best.
  • Being able to aid another player in an action. I had not yet considered this possibility and one of the players asked if it was possible. I said yes that should be possible so we then discussed how it could be handled. We decided on an aiding player being able to flip cards equal to their level of shared skill (1 for basic, 2 for advanced) and allowing the primary player to add those cards to their hand if they want. I’m still iffy on if this is the right way to do it, but I’m open to see how it works in playtesting.
  • Consider adding a universal thing that the Power tokens can be used for. Let a Power token always be used to decrease the target number by one.*

We also had some discussions about combat but didn’t really get to test them.

  • The Action (Combat) Tokens got a lot of discussion.
  • There was push back on GM actions not requiring draws, and how players should be allowed to react to those.
  • Potentially always allowing characters to be able to make unskilled reactions, even if they are out of tokens.
  • Maybe a Power token can be used for taking an additional Reaction action in Combat.*

I reflected at the end, that teaching both brand new rules and setting from the ground up was tough. It takes a lot more work than just doing one or the other. I realized I’m usually assuming that all the players know the rules system and I’m just presenting the setting. Teaching something coming out of my head and not out of a written work is also difficult because no one else at the table has studied the material like I have. So collaboration of teaching is harder.

Thank you again to my playtesters and I look forward to the next chance to try out more and institute some the changes suggested here!

*Edit – Added to the post at 1pm on 12/14/2018.*

Project Recreo – GM Actions & Wound Levels

Featured Image is The Invitation by Leighton Tsai

GM Actions (or how NPCs do things)

While in the shower this morning it came to me finally, that the GM should not be doing any card drawing in this game for actions. Thank you to those who helped plant the seeds of thought around this. Maybe the GM can draw cards for other reasons, but for most of the things players will be doing or reacting to, the GM should not draw cards….

So that means in combat NPCs will just have some automatic actions that will happen that then players will react to. An NPC will attack and automatically hit unless the player chooses to react and try to dodge or parry the attack.

An example will look like this:

An NPC attacks a PC. The GM declares the NPC hits for 3 damage. The PC has Basic Armor, so the armor will absorb at least 1 damage. But if the PC doesn’t do anything they are still going to take 2 damage. With only a 3 Stamina, that means they will be 2/3rds to being knocked out. So the PC decides to use a Reaction token, and rolls Melee Combat to parry the attack. They will have to roll 2 successes or more to block out all the damage.

Wound Levels (or in D&D parlance, hit points)

PCs have a Wound Level equal to their Stamina. If they don’t have the Stamina Aspect they have it equal to their Physical Attribute.

Once a PC has received Wound tokens equal to their Wound Level they are knocked unconscious and can no longer take actions.

A PC is consider dead once they have received twice their Wound Level in wound tokens. (i.e. if the PC has a Stamina of 3, the PC is considered dead once if received 6 wound tokens)

Each wound token that a PC has that has not knocked them unconscious or made them dead, decreases the number of cards a character draws or redraws (the player chooses).

Example:

A character has 2 wounds, and hasn’t gone unconscious yet, attempts to take an action that they have would draw 4 cards and redraw 3. The player can choose one of those options due to the 2 wounds:

  1. Draw 3 cards, and redraw 2
  2. Draw 4 cards, and redraw 1
  3. Draw 2 cards, and redraw 2 (you can’t redraw more than you drew originally)

This last action here isn’t the best but a player can still choose it.

I’m finally gonna have my first play test here with real players in less than two weeks so I’m looking forward to seeing these ideas in action and see how they hold up to actual play.

Project Recreo – Magic, Take 2 #NaGaDeMon

Featured Image is Spellbook by James Schofield

So I fell down in another wiki hole recently and realized that the mythos behind Alpha Omega was actually rooted in occult history of the 19th & 20th Centuries, and then adapted to a futuristic setting. It had me thinking maybe I should use a tarot deck rather than a standard playing deck for action resolutions. Not sure though…

I fell down the wiki hole while I was trying to do some research on developing suitable magic system for this game. I’m gonna take what I thought of in the first article on magic and adapt it a little further with help from a great game called Ars Magica. So here’s the second attempt:

  • Magic spells will be concocted using elements/components that the magic-wielder has already learned.
  • A 2 component spell will be any Easy action, 3 components will be Average, 4 components will be Hard, etc…
  • Magic-wielders can choose the number of components, they know at character creation, equal to their highest Spiritual Aspect.
  • Which components they can choose initially is dependent upon which Aspects they have.

Here is an updated list of components and which Aspect they are available to:

Universal Components (usable by all 3 magic wielders, Nature/Arcane/Divine)

  • Create
  • Destroy
  • Transform
  • Control
  • Reveal
  • Propel
  • Increase
  • Multiply
  • Combust

Unique Components (only available to the Aspects in parenthesis)

  • Atmosphere (Arcane/Nature)
  • Earth (Nature)
  • Energy (Arcane)
  • Fluids (Arcane/Nature)
  • Fauna (Nature)
  • Body (Arcane/Divine)
  • Psyche (Arcane/Divine)
  • Soul (Divine)
  • Flora (Nature)
  • Light (Divine)
  • Dark (Divine)

Example

So say a magic wielder wanted to cast a fireball at someone. That would need in its simplest form these components: Create, Energy, and Propel. Which would make it of Average difficulty to cast. Now say they wanted it to explode in the person’s face, they would need to add Combust as another component, thus increasing the difficulty. Or say they wanted to have it be larger to hit more targets they would need to add Multiply, and again increasing the difficulty.

Initial Thoughts

I think this system will be very narrative from the beginning as I play test it. It could become crunchier prettier easily but I want to encourage creativity in players, so we’ll see how that balances.