I spent this evening playing with my Bacchanalia cards. Bacchanalia is an Italian story game based on Paul Czege’s Bacchanal. The key difference is that dice are used in the original game.
I’ve been trying to get my head around the mathematics of converting the game from dice to cards. It seems to translate remarkably well: the mechanics seem a bit convoluted at first but feel quite straightforward after a while.
I’m keen to give the game a try soon with some of my more open minded friends (it’s about a participating in a Roman orgy after all!). What I’m fascinated by is the way the game forces certain types of event to happen, entirely randomly, and yet still tell a story.
If anyone living in London is reading this and would like a copy of the game, leave a comment below. I ordered six copies from the publisher because they were charging a fixed rate for postage. I’ll be charging £15, which is just a little more than what they cost me, and plan to have a few copies on me at the next London RPG Meetup (Saturday 20 April).
Image: cover to Hot Guys Making Out.
One of the other Ben Lehman games I’ve been reading this weekend is Hot Guys Making Out, a yaoi roleplaying game about a nobleman, his ward and their frustrated attempts to Get It On. GM-less for 2-4 players (the other players play servants who can assist the protagonists).
I frankly had never heard of yaoi before discovering this game, but it’s really interesting the way the game develops the romantic and erotic tension. It’s playing card based and characters can only be active in the scene if they can play a card in their hand equal to or higher than the last one played. If they can’t, they have to describe some minor detail while discarding and drawing a new card. There’s a bit more to it than that, but not much, and each story takes about an hour to play.
Ben Lehman’s website: http://www.tao-games.com/?p=36
Buy Hot Guys Making Out at Indie Press Revolution: http://www.indiepressrevolution.com/xcart/product.php?productid=18784&cat=0&featured=Y
Interview with Ben Lehman: http://www.minient.net/2011/07/interview-with-bliss-stage-creator-ben-lehman/
Article by Jake Richmond about his own attempts to write a yaoi themed game which eventually lead to the development of BxB: http://atarashigames.wordpress.com/2011/09/22/b-x-b-boy-x-boy-yaoi-explosion-and-why-traditional-game-design-kind-of-sucks/
Image: Asuka Langley Soryu from the Evangelion anime series. Artist unknown (http://www.thezeonicfront.com/2010/12/lonecows-top-10-anime-women-1.html)
I’ve had a bit of a Ben Lehman weekend. One of his games that caught my eye is Bliss Stage, a game about teenage sex and giant robots, heavily influenced by anime.
I’m not much of an anime fan, but the game certainly looks up my street.
It’s been a while since I posted a report from my Monsterhearts game, of which we completed the fifth session on Wednesday. I won’t go into the level of detail that I did for the first two sessions, but to summarise:
Episode 3: Lilith and Evelyn are abducted by the football team and taken blindfolded to Sporks Island, which we had established in our initial session was an abandoned Alcatraz-style prison just off the coast. There, Lilith is locked up into one of the cells while Evelyn is taken into the basement where Mariella, the girl who Evelyn had had a run in with in the last episode, proceeded to beat her severely. Lilith meanwhile is visited by Brad (Mariella’s boyfriend and the jock who killed Daniel in a hit and run, causing him to become a ghost), who ruefully warns her that she is in mortal danger while swigging out of a bottle of Jack Daniels.
Back at Peter’s father’s bar, Flanagan’s meanwhile, Peter and Daniel are playing pool and getting slowly drunk. They catch a large biker watching them who it turns out is Rob, an old friend of Peter’s mother who proceeds to give him a letter from her explaining that she is dead (of cancer) and that she was sorry to abandon him. But before that can sink in, the football team arrive in the bar. Peter and Daniel overhear that they abducted Lilith and Evelyn (thinking that the agenda was a prank rather than murder). The boys get into a fight and then escape to steal a boat in a bid to rescue the girls from the island.
Mariella badly injures Evelyn (technically according to the game mechanics, she kills her, but player characters have a couple of ways they can evade death in this game; in this case, Evelyn opts to lose all her “strings” on other characters - read my Monsterhearts review for an explanation of that) and reveals herself to be some kind of monster, as she sloughs off her human skin to reveal the form of a giant snake. But Evelyn eventually escapes her bonds and runs away. Lilith similarly overpowers Brad, locking him in the prison cell.
The girls eventually flee, only to encounter Peter and Daniel rather impotently coming to rescue them. Back on dry land, the four all return home (in Daniel’s case, a bench).
Episode 4: We fast forwarded a few days to the weekend (we very briefly established that Brad and Mariella were missing from school the day after the abduction but returned soon afterwards and pointedly left the gang alone), to find Lilith and Daniel enjoying milkshakes in the mall. Concerned about the events from a few days ago, both of them opt to Gaze Into the Abyss to try and figure out what really happened. Gazing into the bottom of his glass, Daniel has an extremely visceral and clear vision of Ophelia, the girl they had noticed had gone missing on Tuesday, being eaten by Mariella-the-snake-monster. Lilith meanwhile, attempting to do something similar by gazing into a mirror in the clothes store next door, completely fluffs her roll and, distracted, buys herself a new minidress.
Evelyn and Peter meanwhile are carrying out their Saturday detention. They quickly get bored however, and start exchanging a series of notes to discuss the week’s events:
Before long, they get bored and skip out of the detention. Evelyn agrees to drive Peter to Flanagan’s and they bump into Lilith and Daniel on the way (hey, it’s a small town).
The gang proceed to get drunk in the bar, Evelyn and Peter fall out (again) and Evelyn hexes Peter to pee himself, only for it to backfire and affect her as well.Disgruntled and in need of a wash, Peter rushes upstairs to his bedroom and Lilith goes upstairs to make amends. This goes very well indeed, and the two end up having sex.
Washing and changing herself in the women’s toilet, Evelyn discovers a passageway, which they eventually decide must be the rumoured escape tunnel leading to Sporks Island (the tunnel was also established in our initial session). With Lilith and Peter returning from their escapade upstairs, the group decides to go down the tunnel to see if they can find anything useful back on the island.
The tunnel eventually leads them to the basement room where Evelyn was tied up and beaten by Mariella. There they find two things: Mariella’s purse (Prada, naturally), and Ophelia’s severed hand. Subdued by this, the gang return to Sporks. Feeling drained, Evelyn opts for a night in and is disappointed that Lilith does not choose to join her and instead stay out with the boys.
Episode 5: This episode began with each of the characters being confronted with a choice. In Peter’s case, he wakes up in the morning and looks out of his bedroom window to find Rob in the street staring back at him. Admitting that he know’s Peter’s secret that he is a werewolf, and that Rob is as well (as was Peter’s mother), he asks Peter to come into the forest with him and transform together. Peter accepts, only to black out, as is usually the case when he becomes a wolf. Hours later, he awakes with Rob in a forest clearing and hurriedly skips off home.
Evelyn is awoken in the morning by the doorbell ringing and is surprised to discover Mariella on her doorstep asking to talk. Denying her entry, Mariella goes on to explain that she wants to make amends for her past attack, explains that she is in fact a snake demon from hell, and that she was summoned by Simon, Brad’s father. But she wants out of the deal and sees Evelyn as the only person in the town powerful enough to help her. Intrigued but still suspicious, Evelyn agrees to talk further in school the next day.
Daniel slept the night in Flanagan’s. Unable to find Peter in the house, he sneaks out of the house intending to go and see Lilith and Evelyn, only for Brad’s father’s limousine to stop him in the street. Simon, a heavy set, bearded and beringed man in his 40s, goes on to explain that he is very sorry for the behaviour of Brad and Mariella the previous week and wishes to call a truce. In exchange, he offers what he thinks Daniel would most desire. Opening the trunk to reveal a bound and gagged Brad, Simon explains that he knows how Daniel was killed and offers Daniel an ornate dagger to kill Brad with and have his revenge. A shocked Daniel accepts the knife but uses it to untie Brad’s bonds, only for Brad to cower in the boot. Daniel walks away, keeping the sacrificial dagger, and heads towards Evelyn’s home.
Lilith meanwhile has a very different encounter, while asleep, she begins to dream lucidly of a female fawn who leads her into a magical realm. The fawn goes onto explain that they have been looking for her for many years, that she is the daughter of the Fairy King Oberon and that she needs to stay in the fairy realm to reclaim her throne. A surprised (and, in spite of herself, delighted) Lilith declines the offer. Gazing into a glassy pool, she finds herself back in her room.
The gang regroups and decides it needs to take action against Simon, who they have now identified to be their real enemy. They plan to abduct Brad to try and learn more from him. Meanwhile, Evelyn also casts a hex on Mariella, rendering her incapable of causing people harm.
The next day in school, Daniel confronts Brad. Hiding from Mariella, Brad agrees to meet him at the end of the day. Meanwhile, Evelyn meets with Mariella. She agrees to help Mariella if Mariella can provide her with magic books to help her learn more about demonology. The two depart, with Mariella kissing Evelyn passionately.
So far, the game has been a lot of fun, but I’ve found it quite a challenge to GM, not least because not only have I barely GMed in years but that this is my first low-prep, story game.
I frankly screwed up in the third session, setting up a situation which I lacked the confidence or preparation to fully see through. My initial idea was that Mariella would badly underestimate Evelyn and get killed off quite quickly. When that didn’t happen (mainly because of a few bad die rolls), I was left floundering. My biggest problem is having the confidence to cause player characters harm. The Apocalypse World/Monsterhearts system works by letting the GM cause as much harm as they like, simply by declaring it: only the players get to roll dice. While that is theoretically easy, in practice it is quite nerve-wrecking: how do you do it in a way that is dramatically interesting and won’t just piss off the player concerned?
I went the opposite direction in the fourth session, letting the players almost entirely set the agenda for the game themselves. This resulted in a very fun session, but frankly not very much happened. To push the story forward somewhat, I made a very deliberate decision to start the fifth session off with me forcing each of the characters to make a defining choice. I think this worked pretty well, but putting them all in that situation at the same time is a little artificial (maybe the stars were just right; whatever).
My other big problem (and it is no secret, I’ve discussed it with his player), is Peter. While the other three characters have a neat little dynamic going, we’ve really struggled to bring him into the drama - let alone have him go dark, which is sort of what werewolves exist to do. I’ve got a couple of ideas for the next session, and I’ve laid a number of plot threads there which will hopefully pay dividends in the long run, but thus far it hasn’t worked.
One of the potential reasons for this is perhaps because we’ve gone for a “Scooby gang” approach, whereas I get the feeling that the game, as written, envisages much more of a mix of protagonists and antagonists. This has lead to a lack of conflict and the players drifting into soap opera. Indeed, it seems to be going on a bit longer than I originally envisioned. We probably have a good 3-4 sessions to go before reaching the end game, which is about 50% more sessions in total than the rule book estimates a game will last. Maybe this is the problem with a bunch of Buffy fans playing a game which is clearly influenced by more recent supernatural young adult fiction!
But the main thing I have to do, going forward, is better preparation. I’ve been winging it, partly deliberately because of the game’s agenda to “keep the story feral”. But I’ve come to realise that that isn’t the same thing as not bothering to flesh out the main NPCs or the backstory. I’m planning to set aside some time this weekend to get that sorted.
Overall though, the game has been a lot of fun and the players seem to be enjoying themselves. Onwards and upwards!
 Gazing into the Abyss is a “move” (action) that players can take in Monsterhearts, which helps them gain insights into what’s going on. Each player character has their own different way of gazing into the abyss.
World of Dungeons, the stripped down and retro iteration of Dungeon World: http://www.onesevendesign.com/dw/world_of_dungeons_1979.pdf