A collection of rambling posts about gaming, running, and politics. (and, in 2009, photography.)

Friday, July 25, 2008


So we went and joined our new gaming buddy, Michael again last night.

His friend, Kelly, was unavailable, and will be out of pocket until early August, but we decided to get together anyway and goof around with some gaming stuff.

I'd planned to try out Inspectres or Jedi in the Vineyard (Dogs in the Vineyard, tweaked for Jedi). Inspectres is something that I got my hands on awhile back from Matthew, but had not actually played, though it seemed very fun. I've done Dogs before, in a previously mentioned abortive effort - Oh look, I apparently never posted a recap of that session - this may be a two-for-one post. I'll get to that later.

Anyway, we headed to Michael's place. I brought with me a TON of gaming material. He's been interested in getting his hands on all variety of games, and I'm happy to help. So I lent him a huge stack of books including gems like Feng Shui (which I pimped hard), Dogs, Donjon, Sorcerer, Burning Wheel, Riddle of Steel, new World of Darkness, d20 Modern, and a few others (but not Shadowrun, as I couldn't find my shadowrun 4 book).

So after a quick game of Jungle Speed, just for kicks, we cranked up some Inspectres. For those of you unfamiliar with Inspectres, in brief, it is a simple little game based on Ghostbusters that borrows thematically from Men In Black and, well, like I said - Ghostbusters. Its pretty highly narrative, having mechanics that let the players take over the direction of the story.

So we blazed through character creation, which took us all like 10 minutes, cause its crazy simple. I setup the deal: they get a phone call from the Director of Public Transportation in their home city of Fairview, a bustling metropolis. They meet with the Director, who tells them that he has a major problem. A little while back, he says, the lights on subway platform B started going out, right at 12:47AM, sharp. They'd stay out for a minute or so, and then come back on. They couldn't figure out what the heck was going on with the lights. Then, last night, when the lights winked out, when they came back on, two people who were there when they went off, but were gone now. The director needed the characters to figure out what was going on and fix it before the media caught wind, and he had a major problem on his hands.

The players headed straight for the station and started digging around. They asked about the station, and I described it to the players, tile walls, trash bins, graffiti, crappy wall murals, your completely average run of the mill inner city subway platform. I described how after a few minutes passed a throng of people assembled on the platform, a train came, they got on while others got off, the train whisked away and the crowd bustled on their way. In passing I mentioned a guitarist playing in the hall that lead into the subway station. Jason's character wanted to go chat him up and see what he knew.

I froze right here for just a moment. The game indicates that the GM comes up with the basic premise for the session- and then says something to the effect of "through role playing, negotiation with the GM, skill rolls, and Confessions, the players can steer the course of the game". So I spent a moment, considering role playing Jason's chatting up the guitar player. I could either role play the encounter, with the musician knowing nothing, or knowing something, and sharing those details with Jason, which I would make up ("Sure, Jason, he tells you that he saw a dark guy in a long cape right before the lights went out, standing right behind the two guys that went missing. Weird, I don't see many people wearing capes...") but part of the point of this game is to let the players steer the game and create the story, instead of me doing it.

So I had him roll his Contacts dice, which he did, and I asked him, "Okay, Jason, what's the guy know?" Jason responded quickly, stating that the fellow told him that the lights had been going out for a much longer period of time than the Director had told them (or that people had been disappearing for awhile now, between Jason and Krissi, both of these details came to light). He did fantastic with it, and then turned to me and said "So is this how this game works? We just say what happens, and do the story?", "Yeah", I told him. "So what's the GM for?" he wanted to know. "I'm playing bass," I said, using Ron Edwards' analogy. I create a foundation, and you guys build on it, and I help to transition from scene to scene." He looked skeptical. But Jason has deep roots in non-narrativist gaming, so anytime he, as a player, gets to dictate more than what his character wants to do, he gets a little squeamish.

We spent a few more minutes there, Krissi wanted to talk to the ticket agents and the cops there in the subway station. No problem, again, I had her roll dice, and narrate what details she got. So by this point, they'd found out, thanks to narration from Krissi and Jason, that people had been going missing for awhile, and the lights had been going out for awhile too, but these details did not seem to be directly linked to each other. Krissi also narrated that the lights did not go out every night at the same time, as they'd been told, but instead went out every night when train number 58 came through the station.

I thought all of this was very cool.

By the way, you "win" the session by collecting "franchise dice", which you get when you roll well on the dice, or by solving the mystery. They were rolling well and were already up to three or four franchise dice, out of the ten that they needed for success.

I asked what other research they wanted to do, and it was suggested that they head to the library and do some digging. They rode the subway to the library, and started looking for old news stories about the subway. Still trying to get a good grasp of how the game and system was supposed to work, I went ahead and narrated what they found - maybe I should have let them narrate this part too - I explained that there had been a terrible subway accident some years ago, involving train number 58, at subway platform B. Also that recently a local asylum had closed, and most of the people that were turned out were sleeping in the subway.

They wanted to head back to the subway platform, and I asked, while thumbing through the book, if they wanted to do any Technology rolls to get some cool equipment. They were all totally unsure on this front - what do they need? And how does this work? I spent a few minutes paging through the little book, looking to get some direction with regards to tech. I was not able to definitively determine if they asked for a piece of equipment and then rolled for it, or if later they said "I pull out my super ecto chaos de-atomizer!" and then do a tech roll. So I let them come up with some stuff they'd want (walkie talkies, night vision gear, a camera that can see ghosts), and make tech rolls. Again, they were rolling well, and were racking up Franchise dice.

Soon they headed back to the station. Earlier, while at the library, Krissi had gotten some blueprints. I let her narrate what they showed, and she said that they showed that the current subway station B was build right on top of the original station B, and that tracks still lead through that old station. When they got back to the subway station, they wanted to find a way to get down to the old platform. Having already found the blueprints, and being close to their goal of 10 franchise dice, I didn't make her roll to find the way down, but on a lark, the door was locked, and Jason rolled his athletics to bust it open. They went down to the abandoned platform and looked around. They asked what all was down here, and I sortof froze. I described the old platform, but for some reason nothing clever came to mind, and so it was a pretty empty and boring place. They asked about what lay down the subway tracks, and I flailed about mentally for a moment, before pulling something totally out of my ass and describing a large metal web in the subway tunnel. They investigated closer and saw that there were cocoon like objects on the metal web. Jason wanted to climb up and check out one of the cocoons. I had him roll his Athletics to bust one open, and let him describe what was in it. It turns out that it was one of the missing people, and that he was alive. By this time, they had already gotten the necessary Franchise dice, so we got into wrap-up mode. The guy in the cocoon indicated that they'd been snatched by -oh no!- the guy coming up the subway tunnel right now! It was a one legged ghost, strangely enough. He was the first person that had disappeared mysteriously. He claimed that the subway took his leg, and that he was kidnapping these people and keeping them alive, then letting them go later, because "it had been they're time, and the subway was going to take them!". Krissi jumped onto the only Confession of the night, and narrated that she was glad that they'd thought to bring the priests kit, in order to give final rites to this specter, and he passed on into the great beyond.

That was that. We only were at it for about and hour and a half - it blazed by. We killed some more time by nerding it up and talking about the games that I'd brought down to lend, and Michael told us about the Toon game that he's working with to game with his daughter.

So we had a great evening, and I'm glad to have had a chance to run Inspectres.

Now some observations about it:

I was a tad disappointed by Inspectres. I think part of that is due to the normal shakiness that occurs when I pick up a game that I've only read through a few times and run it live. That's normal, and there are bound to be hiccups, and misinterpretations, etc. Part of it too is that this is the most Narrative I've participated in. Dogs and TSOY both have some strong narrative elements, but neither gives as much control of the game to the players as Inspectres does. Don't get me wrong, despite being disappointed, I did have a good time, and I think that the players enjoyed it as a short distraction as well. I have to commend Krissi, Michael and Jason, as they all did a fantastic job. In fact I was impressed with their eagerness and creativity in narrating details. That said - I see alot of potential in it. Run well, its a ton of fun to have a truely collaborative story effort, one that is not the typical model - crafted by the DM and interacted with a little bit by the players, but one that is actually crafted pretty equally by everyone. I think I was a little disappointed with how quickly it went through as well. It is self described as a pickup game, and maybe I should have paid more attention to that, but it just felt short. It felt like we only had just enough time to "get it going", and then it was done. So it felt a little flat to me, in a way.

Anyway - looking forward to doing some more gaming with Michael, we'll see what we end up running. Maybe we can do a little d20 Modern or Feng Shui, since those seem like they might be games that would be of keen interest to him.

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