Who wants to give my Game Chef alpha a first read with comments? I think it’s ready for folks to point out obvious problems. It’s a party game, kind of. GMless and freeformy and it handles up to 12.
I’m mostly not around for the contest duration so I did up something quick. Hopefully it’s also pretty good! Lord knows my design focus has sharpened up a lot in the past year. Good ingredients this time around, too.
Anyway, hit me up privately and I’ll send what I’ve got. And, as always, I’m always happy to reciprocate.
We decided to shut down our campaign of Space Wurm vs Moonicorn last night.
It had been 3 weeks since we played last, and before that we’d gone through another 3-week break. The breaks, combined with the demands of adult life, meant the stoke had escaped. I rely on their stoke more than they rely on mine, I think. I was ready and prepped — see the new and revised situation map (my new term! R-maps are yesterday’s tech, S-maps or smaps are tomorrow’s!) — but before we started, I talked with each player about how into the game they were feeling. Every one of them had some variation on “I could take it or leave it.”
I confess I was a little heartbroken, but I’m a service-minded GM and I can’t see asking a roomful of adults to participate in something they could take or leave, whatever, coin toss.
Honestly I probably could have gotten them engaged again. And then next week’s July 4 long weekend, we’d take another break, and then try to get it up and running again. Too much, too much, too much. Which is probably the theme of the game itself: it’s Too Much … unless you can recruit committed players who are ready to work hard and keep a lot of really weird shit in their head.
I’ll share my final takeaways about Space Wurm vs Moonicorn now, in stream of consciousness bullet form for your confusing bathroom reading:
* I’d totally run this again right now, new setup, and I’ll happily bring and run the one-shot to any convention. It pushes a lot of my aesthetic buttons just right and the tornado of grabby bits the game creates is maybe unique in my experience. I also have a huge, deep, abiding love for serious space opera — think Dune, not Flash Gordon — and that can carry me lots of places.
I was asked at NewMexicon why Space Wurm vs Moonicorn succeeds and I had too many small answers. My big answer is that it’s a tornado of grabby bits wrapped in irresistible colors.
* I have a new and serious respect for Dungeon World. I don’t really enjoy D&D style play, but I understand it. DW is a very happy midway point for my traditionally minded players to meet me way over in indieland.
The common move structure, other than the utter lack of support of PvP social tension, is an excellent match for SWvM. It gave me the affordances to easily nudge the game back into action/travel/discovery territory. It could have so easily wallowed in, well…PvP social tension. As much as I wish there were something procedural in place to introduce uncertainty when The Lover and Space Wurm (frex) have a dynamic, passionate quarrel, that absence meant that the game would quickly return to the creative space sketched out by the DW common moves.
I was wrong about Dungeon World. Now I’m thinking it’d be a gas to get in on one of the Chaos World settings at some point.
* Only one friction point between me and SWvM, and that’s the competitive superstructure of the game. Lots of parts to this bullet.
The non-star players agreed that their characters were largely reactive to whatever Space Wurm or Moonicorn were up to. This is by design, since the whole game is paced to the stars’ struggles. Like, the Lover could pursue her own agenda: in our game she’d been granted power over the Transport Guild. Bandwidth-wise there was just not enough air at the table for her to set up and execute the Ceremony to change the guild from clan control to a free market model. Some of that is having to learn how to apply the Ceremony rule well — it’s basically a faction-level version of Apocalypse World’s Workshop rules. And the Other playbook is, I think by design, designed more to wander wide-eyed and chaotic through the world rather than pursuing any internal needs. The lack of internal motivation wasn’t a showstopper, but it kept those players from fully investing.
Then there’s the Victory in Battle move, which is necessarily abstract and detached from the fiction. It’s a notable exception to the PbtA orthodoxy of fiction-first move triggers. Yes, literally the fiction of having defeated a Front’s Danger has to have occurred to trigger the move. But it’s not a discrete player moment; it’s not driven by a player decision. Rather, the GM has to decide if the danger has been defeated. Usually it’s pretty apparent in the fiction when that’s happened but I constantly felt insecure about when and how to make the call. In fact at one point it seemed like Space Wurm might have defeated a danger, but my brain warred between the “was that really the danger?” and “is it too soon?” impulses, and I withdrew my nod.
Victory in Battle also generates a necessarily abstract result: Space Wurm takes over the Front, and Moonicorn is free from the Front’s hunters. So there’s a lot of hand-waving between 1) defeating the space god’s avatar haunting the world lost inside the hypervoid, 2) pulling the world into normal space, thereby curing the Space Madness, and 3) ta-da, Space Wurm is now in charge of all interstellar travel! I’ve been well-trained by other highly abstract pacing games like Burning Empires so I’m okay with disconnects like this. It’s no big deal. It’s like the break between seasons of a TV show. Time passes, here’s a new situation. I think my play-the-day habits of old are in there pretty deep, though.
* The staggering array of questions Metzger throws at you for every Front and Danger can feel overwhelming, and it’s on you to put your foot down when you think you have enough material. On the other hand, you might not know if you really have enough! I forgot to pursue some of the drill-downs on one of our Fronts, and it showed like 3 turns in. You can see the blanks on my revised smap (start practicing now, folks, you’ll be hearing smap at next year’s con panels) where we hadn’t really drilled very deep, then time passed, and then they were on to focusing on a different front.
Now that I’ve run a mostly complete game, I think I would spread the attention around the Fronts more and work on integrating the materials more firmly across all the Fronts. The Religion and Interstellar Travel Fronts/Dangers were very well connected, and it was great! And the Spice stuff was definitely present — there was an important weird-psychedelic-drugs subtext to the game — but I could do better. It was the kind of thing that wouldn’t be apparent unless you’d run a Fronts-heavy game of Dungeon World I think. I don’t really use ’em formally in other PbtA games but Fronts are formally required in SWvM.
Don’t know that I have a lot more to add here. Very, very fun game, I have a new appreciation for a different game I thought I didn’t like, and I’m sad/disappointed that Space Wurm vs Moonicorn demanded more from its players than we could provide.
I’ve been in the deepest funk about RPGs lately. Some of it is that our Space Wurm vs Moonicorn game is on its third week of getting skipped, which is a week past my usual play-by date but fingers crossed we’ll get on it tomorrow. But mostly it’s not that.
I’d typically get stoked for BigBadCon around now but I just can’t make myself give a shit about going.
Last spring I was seriously considering trying to make the BBC-Metatopia-Dreamation circuit coming up to hawk one or more of my betas but I’m so not feeling that now.
I’d typically be navel-gazing right about now about some bit of indie gaming marginalia but I feel my defenses slamming into place well before I’ve even finished a draft of something. I’ve thrown away five or six longish posts because I just cannot even with the intellectual dueling and uncharitable counterattacks smoldering just beneath the surface of every reply.
I just don’t feel like defending my gaming bona fides day in and day out. Or constantly reassuring offended sensibilities that, no, just because I didn’t specifically mention a/your thing or thoroughly and rigorously construct an off-the-cuff comment does not mean I was targeting you.
I’m too old for this shit. How is everyone not already too old for this shit? Whatever, it must be a thrilling side-project for folks who thrive on drama.
Whenever I feel like this it’s a good sign I need a break. So I’m taking one. The Indie Game Reading Club will go off the air for a while and I’ll see how I feel when I start gaming again. Which, fingers crossed, should be tomorrow! I will probably not have anything especially insightful to say anyway, and even if I did I’ll be damned if I want to get sucked into a vortex of definition wars and pre-emptive counterattacks in the face of imagined slights.
(Here’s me pre-emptively shutting down what I’m sure will be someone’s speculations and questions: Nothing specifically prompted this. There is no simmering drive-by drama awaiting you if only you had the secret handshake. This isn’t about you, for absolutely all values of “you.”)
The Twitter game design advice meme, curated by Jason Pitre, a Gauntlet podcast about the 200 word RPG challenge, Ralph Lovegrove’s interview with the designers of Beyond the Wall on the fictoplasm podcast, breaking consent in RPGs by Kate Bullock, a playtest for Kids on Bikes by Jon Gilmour and Doug Levandowski; Kickstarters for Robin Laws’ The Yellow King and Hannah Shaffer’s Damn the Man; John Harper’s Star Force for everybody, new character sheets and characters for Jason Morningstar’s The Skeletons, Fast & Furious tribute games by Grant Howitt and Jason Morningstar, another Lasers & Feelings hack, and Peter Frain’s 80’s game Movie Night.
One of the hardest bits of cat herding I ever have to face is when the players want to plan.
It’s not formalized, more a mood shift. And the kind of planning I’m talking about here seems to only happen in the midst of a long (for me/us) campaign. Nine sessions in a hyperweird collaborative campaign universe is a pretty intense cognitive and creative load for everyone. It doesn’t surprise me that they need to take a step away from the fiction and say “wait.”
Planning was a big chunk of last night’s game. We’d taken last week off so there’s always the gear-grinding and oh-yeah-what-about and generally finding their footing. But in addition to that, each time I’d try to frame a scene, there’d be noticeable pushback from everyone — not just my risk-averse recovering trad player — to gain some altitude on what all is happening in the game. To skip over scene-setting and who all is where and just get right to the part where they talk about what they’re going to do next. Trying to strategize what happens before playing to find out.
It’s still conversation and we’re still playing, but it’s quite noticeably not PbtA-style fiction-first play. Which makes the moves hard to invoke without putting on my GM hat and psychically dragging everyone back into a Scene.
Probably the most vexing bit, for me, about this mood shift is that my players — particularly those accustomed to stakes-oriented games like Burning Wheel — just want me to tell them what dice to roll to get what they want. Because they’re living and thinking at the system level and not the fiction level, they want what they want and have stopped thinking about how to get there from inside the SIS.
Some of that, too, is in the nature of the game and many of its advanced moves. There are a couple level 6 characters now, and the moves in SWvM get big. The Other, for example, now has a messianic cult following her void cat-slash-messenger of the gods character. It fits perfectly and even advanced the Faith War grim portents to its final bullet: Yet more factions emerge, solidifying their local power bases and forging new doctrines of their own design.
I gotta say I love it when the players themselves push the danger toward its final form. They’re right at the precipice now! Muahaha. The messianic cult is a great advance for the Other because she (the player) has been struggling mightily to get and stay engaged with the situation. The Other doesn’t come with a good package of connections and history, and that’s by design, so I think it’d be hard for a player who needs that to play this particular book. As luck would have it, I guess, this player (who is also my risk-averse recovering trad player) is a good match for the Other’s other-ness.
Lots of Space Wurm’s moves are large-scale as well, which also pulls that player out of the fiction and into the planning/system/what-do-I-roll mode. Oh yeah, and since Space Wurm bargained away control of one of the fronts to the Lover, that player also finds himself shifted into that headspace. I think consciously shifting between planning/pseudo-GM mode and acting/fiction-first mode is a skill they need more practice with.
This was also the session where everyone got back together into the same location. Oh thank goodness. There was plenty of good stooooory with Moonicorn off liberating and defeating oppression, but the game is most definitely better when everyone’s moves are bouncing off each other.
I think, hope, that the “but wait, what the fuck is going on and what are we going to do about it?” vibe is gone so we can get back to Framing Scenes and Fiction Firsting. But it’ll be a couple weeks, again, before we can play so maybe not.