Wednesday, 19 October 2016

The Book Reveals Hidden Truths

Once again, I have ventured into the Ninth World of Numenera.

At the Roleplay Club I frequent, we try to be accomodating towards new arrivals so it's fairly easy to get a spot at a game whenever you show up. As my shifts were causing chaos in my schedule, I have had no regular spot so I got to play various characters whenever I had a spare evening to play.

This time I was playing a sneaky character whose main characteristic was being constantly suspicious of others. So while I was drinking and cracking jokes at the table, my character remained observant and silently assessing the situation as it unfolded. When it came to scenes where our group was interacting with NPCs, I didn't have much to do actively without breaking character.

So I reached for the book and perused it while listening to the other players.

I've mentioned before that, as a system, Numenera relies on a specific sentence descriptor as its base for a character concept. Said phrase being: 'I am a [adjective] [noun] who [verb].' I've also mentioned that I have not felt that this sentence was anything more than a conceptual guideline, having very little to do with your character from a mechanical standpoint.

It seems I was wrong.

Within the confines of two covers, I've found a list of adjectives, nouns and verbs (although I feel they were closer to verb phrases at times) that you can combine to create your character. Each of them came with a unique set of traits, backed up by system mechanics, to incorporate them into the game.

I was not aware this was part of the system and a quick comparison of the list to my character showed me that certain descriptors my character had were missing from the list. Maybe they were taken out of some supplementary materials or were simply not used mechanically. Whatever the case may be, I suppose this is what gave me a bad impression of the game initially as I'm quite fond of the modularity inherent in such a character creation system.

This matter requires further investigation...

Tuesday, 30 August 2016

Numenera, Once More

It's been well over a month since I sat down to play Numenera.
I nearly forgot about the game until I came by this trailer.

I must admit that I've never played Planescape: Torment. A sad fact I hope to rectify in the future, as I've heard a lot of good about the game. Based on that, the above trailer and having experienced the setting, this game offers great promise.

I feel the setting is far better suited to a video game than a roleplaying game. The art looks fantastic and gives that feel of a futuristic setting, although I suppose you'd have to play through the game to see its scavenging approach to technology, unlike most sci-fi settings where science rules supreme.

I'm especially looking forward to seeing the game's approach to story-related choices. The graph at the end of the trailer looks promising. If the choices are major enough that they change your experience of the gameplay, and crafted appropriately, it might be worth playing more than a few times. Most of the time, when I encounter choices within a game, they generally only change NPC responses, which in a narrative sense is hardly any change at all.

Since I'm alredy talking about Numenera.

A while ago I've received an email from Kickstarter informing me about The Night World, a boardgame set in the same setting. I did not back the game neither have I properly looked at it but I do have to admit, the recent character art is looking pretty sweet.

I still think that the setting has some interesting ideas and the art looks great.

I do hope that it will work better in these new mediums than it did as a roleplaying game.

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Suicide Squad

Last week, I had the pleasure to be invited to the cinema by some friends of mine. We went to see Suicide Squad and since everyone seems to be talking about it… so shall I…

The very first thing I should say is that I was surprised at how packed the audience was. Mainly because it’s not a good film. I’ll be generous and say it’s an average film but looking at what else was on that week, I suppose I shouldn’t have been surprised. If I wanted to go to the cinema and needed to pick any film, I’d rather go with Suicide Squad.

Visually, it’s a great film. It clearly is set in the same universe as Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman but without the darkened pallet. It’s bright and colourful without being overwhelming. I loved some of the visual effects they used for the villains. Whenever June Moon was changing into The Enchantress, her alternate personality would reach out from a nearby surface and simply flip her like a card, changing the businesswoman look into an ancient witch that looked like she just came out of a bath in a swamp.

Alas, that’s about as much good as I can say about the film.


The film assumes the viewer has no idea who any of the main characters are. It is a fair assumption but there’s a specific way the presentation was handled. The first two, Deadshot and Harley Quinn, got a very good montage and their own scenes… while the rest were nearly skipped over. Especially Captain Boomerang who was merely presented as a guy who throws things and has a thing for plush pink unicorns.

Even worse, after the montage was done and we went through all the scenes where the villains got recruited into Amanda Waller’s special task force, we’re presented with another character. We get to see his face, hear his name, know what he’s good at… and have him killed. Obviously, the one character without a separate flashback introduction is the first to die. It was such an obvious reveal, it was painful to watch.

The film is riddled with plot elements that just don’t make sense.

cleverest of them all
Amanda Waller, who is presented as this tough as nails, remorseless and does what has to be done, has her team scour the temple June Moon found. There’s one scene where she shows a picture of the idol June Moon broke thus releasing the Enchantress. Apparently, there was another idol which looked exactly the same. So this woman in charge of national security decides the best place to store something potentially containing a being of supreme power is on a shelf in her bathroom… cue facepalm.

Where's my own film?
When we’re presented with the crisis the protagonists are going to face, it is immediately ignored. The team is sent to retrieve someone from somewhere. That’s as much as we know, never mind the swirling vortex of doom in the middle of the city. Throughout the film, there’s no urgency to anything they do. Their main antagonist ends up feeling like background. Then we’re bombarded with scenes showcasing Harley’s romance with the Joker, making the film feel more about their relationship than anything else. I’m not surprised Margot Robbie wants a Harley/Joker spin-off, which Suicide Squad nearly is already.

The only other characters who get a bit more fleshed out are Deadshot and El Diablo. Deadshot is presented as an excellent hitman for hire who loves shooting people but also a dad who cares deeply for his daughter while El Diablo is trying to redeem himself and ignore how others are pushing him to burn whatever is trying to kill them. The rest is just background noise.

I don’t even know what to say about the final act. They come together as a team against a world-threatening evil (which still doesn’t feel urgent even at this point) because they have nothing better to do.

Within a narrative, there’s a way for any given team to take on the role of a single protagonist. This generally requires each character on the team to serve a specific role that helps them achieve their goals but as the final goal has been ignored up to the final act and none of them has a clear defined role in the context of the group, even the final confrontation feels tacked-on.

what watching the film feels like
If you like the superhero genre and have nothing better to do either, I suppose you can watch this film. It has some nice action scenes, Deadshot and Harley are presented nicely and it has nice visual… just don’t think about the plot, please.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

Entering The Ninth World

It's a map!
This week I had the pleasure to sit down and play a game of Numenera.

It's a fantasy setting based in the far future.

You're in a world that has seen the rise and fall of civilisations that were far beyond the scope of our current one in terms of technology. It's billions of years into the future and humanity is once again rebuilding itself in a world filled with ancient technology.

The game takes seriously Arthur C. Clarke's words that 'Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.' As such, we had a moment where we entered through a portal, found ourselves in some kind of structure and found a small room with buttons on the wall. When one was pressed, the doors closed! We experienced a strange sensation of the floor moving up and when it stopped, the doors opened to show that everything changed!

We found a lift.

It is odd playing in a setting where instead of explaining any out of the ordinary item as magical, we say it's just science. Superior and advanced science but science nonetheless!

I'm told it was a Kickstarter game and the official game site confirms it.

Numenera's website also mentions that its system is easy to run.
'Numenera gameplay involves a simple die roll that determines success or failure for any kind of action.'

It's true that we only ever had to roll a d20 for any sort of check but this is hardly anything new. I've not found many systems where you'd have to roll multiple times and do some complicated math to use a Skill, for instance, analysing an artefact. One roll either tells you what it is or what you think it is (or nothing at all, GM discretion advised).

Most system complexity stems from combat. Sadly, we experienced very little in terms of combat. The one opportunity we had, we prefered to use the sneaky approach to re-stealing items rather than go on a suicide mission so I can't comment on combat complexity here.

When I first heard about this game, I was told that characters are made by choosing descriptors and adding them into a sentence: I’m a [blank] [blank] who [blanks].

I believe my character was a Clever Jack who Runs Swiftly. There's three character classes called Glaives (analogue to warriors), Nanos (wizard-like) and Jacks (jack-of-all-trade). While my skillset did reflect the character, I was disappointed that choosing the descriptors didn't provide me with any mechanical benefits. It was meant to be used as a Concept which, being structured as a specific sentence, I found highly limiting.

I wasn't fond of the way Cyphers worked either. That's what artifacts of bygone times are called within the setting. They provide you with an awesome effect! I was highly excited to read that my character had a device that would turn her invisible but my excitement died quickly when it was mentioned that Cyphers are one-use items only. This does fit in well with a focus of discovering and scavenging lost technology as it forces you to continue the practice but it also means you can't keep what you found for long.

So if you think you can walk around with a sword that shoots laserz, you can! Only once...

I would much prefer some other limits to the devices rather than a simple one-use limitation.

I have to say, I wasn't sold on the game at first. The setting required me getting used to it but I can see potential in it now. My initial thoughts on the system, having played through one session, aren't great but it's nothing that can't be worked with. All in all, the game session was enjoyable and it did provide a different feel when you imagined your fantasy with sci-fi influences.

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

The Beginning

It was a dark and stormy night...

Cliché or Classic?
Either way, it's unmistakably an opening line.

Every story has a beginning... and stories are what I'd like to dedicate this blog to but a blog also needs an opening post... and I never know where nor how to start.

I've been running roleplaying games since I was thirteen. Although there were periods of time when I wasn't running anything, it was always a matter of time before I picked up a pencil and started rolling dice again.

Lately, something occured to me. Whether you're going through a dungeon looking for monsters to slay, hacking the virtual systems of a megacorp or trying to survive in a world hidden away from mortal eyes, the games that we play are riddled with a narrative.

I doubt this is a coincidence. Many games that I've played had chapters in their corebooks on crafting a story and some had it as their main selling point, being a system made specifically for creating stories. I suppose it harkens back to those mythic times when a community would sit down by the fire late at night and listen to one person telling stories.

Roleplaying games are similar in this way. We sit down and create a story. The main difference here is that everyone has a say in crafting a shared experience in an imaginary world. We take on the roles of heroes, anti-heroes or even villains and go through our own stories together.

This story aspect is a defining characteristic of roleplaying games that differentiates them highly from video- or even board-games. In neither of those mediums can you freely experience a narrative all of your own choosing and act out your own character. Yes, there are limits to what you can and cannot do, but they're all part of a story.

This is what I want to write about.

I want to write about games.
I want to write about stories.
I want to write about narrative.

So I made a blog...