I played Shinobigami at Chicago Gameday this weekend!

I loved it.

Samuel Crider ran it for myself, Eric Simon, and Josh Brining. I was really psyched to get a whack at this, given that I am a KS backer.

The gist of the session was each of us on a mission to retrieve a dagger that IIRC was itself a god that could be used to kill other gods and end the world. Ergo, each of our clans wanted it. We spent maybe half or less of the session making characters, and the rest playing out the “cycle” of turns that defines a session.

Shinobigami is a wonderful mix of high-improv and high structure. There’s a whole overlaying framework for a session and the scenes you play, but within that is ample room to just narrate things and revel in ninja color. E.g., I played an Oni, known only as “Ayumi”, whose cover was simply that she was a mysterious figure who was also famous for being mysterious — kind of a Prince-meets-Lucifer celebrity. Nobody knows what she does exactly, but they all want to follow her on Twitter. Her main attack (ninpo)? Apparel. So freaking cool.

There’s definitely a lot of moving parts to the game, though, and likely a lot of potential for strategy in mastering how those parts all interact with each other. The game is all skill rolls based on using a really cool chart-and-plot system, but with tons of exceptions to fiddle with.

I definitely think that running this as a one-shot would benefit from tools like ninpo cards and other cheat-sheets — we were doing a lot shuffling paper around looking up what we could do. And the initiative system for combat nearly broke my brain. It’s not complicated, but it’s sort of counter-intuitive at first; it took a few rounds before I began to grok it.

Overall, it reminded me a lot of Tenra Bansho Zero, in that the game is both heavily emo and fairly fiddly, and for some reason this tickles all the pleasure centers of my RPG brain. I desperately want to design big 11″ x 14″ character sheets and battle boards for it to facilitate handling and revel in the game-y bits.

So, yet another Japanese RPG that is totally my jam, despite not being huge into the source material. I am surprised and delighted. Can’t wait until this finally comes out.


I ran Mutant: Genlab Alpha at Chicago Gameday this weekend

And it went okay.

I followed the advice of Paul Beakley and set up some pregens that were mostly done, but left room for animal choice, power choice, PC relationships, and their Big Dream. We played a strategic turn first and then zoomed in on the PC cell carrying out some recon on the dog habitat. By about three hours in, three of the four PCs had been carried off, unconscious, by sentinels. After a break and be-brief, we called it quits.

So, yeah, none of the NPC and PC relationships we established during pregen-tweaking came into play at all, and really we had maybe an hour or more of PC-level play before the Near-Party Kill™.

I think the game went well overall, and while not blown away, the players seemed fairly intrigued by the game. Just not enough to figure a way to keep playing longer than we did (granted, one player — Sabe Jones — needed to hit the road just about when we were ending).

I will say that I was a little disheartened by the session, if only because of the staggering amount of time I invested in prep — reading the rules, re-reading, taking notes, making procedure/note sheets, designing character sheets and handouts — resulted in little actual play-time. A huge portion of the session as-was involved me teaching the game and us establishing the PCs.

I also don’t feel like I really managed to bring any of the NPCs we established into the session at all, and I don’t know how well I was following the principles defined in the GM chapter. Granted, I stuck to Paul’s advice and used only the random encounter table and PC Operations for the session, so everything was happening on-the-fly. But I have to wonder if maybe using one of the Key Events — say, the fetch-quest in event two — as the session would have been more rewarding as a one-shot.

Let me be clear, though, that this is not souring me on Genlab Alpha. I think it’s more that:

1) I have really lost a lot of my GM-fu of late. I don’t get to play nearly as much any more, so I think all of my skills are getting pretty rusty.

2) Likewise, I don’t think my prep process is effective or efficient. I really need to work on this.

3) I have become pretty fuzzy-minded since my heart attack and my son’s birth; this is maybe not a great combo with heavily improvised GM’ing.

That said, I feel like despite not really making good use of the NPCs, I played the game pretty straight. One of the principles is “Watchers are everywhere”, and there was a Checkpoint operation chosen for the dog habitat. The PCs biffed stealthily observing the Lodge, and so the dogs , being in with the Watchers, alerted the checkpoint and, well, sentinels are freaking tough.

I think another factor is something that I’ve posted about before, namely that I tend to choose complex, campaign-oriented RPGs for my Gameday one-shots. Were this an ongoing campaign, with players familiar with the game, I think it may have played out very differently. I’m staring to think that, as much as I want to use Gameday for experimentation with certain games I’m grooving on, I should maybe face the fact that one-shot events are better suited by RPGs designed for one-shots.

So, I’m glad I got this to the table, even as a one-shot, but I remain a bit let down.

Aaaaa! I’ve finally cracked this difficult game. Yesterday I ran the most successful Chuubo’s session I’ve ever had, as a convention one-shot, no less!

This Chicago Gameday landed on the weekend before Halloween, so I got the idea to run the Chuubo’s Halloween Special at the event. For the unfamiliar, the Halloween Special is a short Chuubo’s campaign with pregenerated characters. (Jenna calls it a “one-shot,” but in her sense of the term it means a campaign lasting upwards of 30 hours of play. More on that later.) It’s set in an alternate-universe version of the core setting’s Soma Village, in which Headmaster Entropy II is actually the Halloween King, ruler of a mirror world where everything is creepy and scary. Jasmine Apocynum, Soun Shounen, and Edony Marguerite all get involved in the story of how an amnesiac Entropy comes to realize who he really is and return to the Halloween World to reclaim his rightful throne.

One of the players signed up for the game couldn’t make it, so we ended up without a Shounen, but the group we had knocked it out of the park. We covered a lot of narrative ground in the five-hour time slot we had, and the fictional recap is not the most important part of this post, so I’ll just note a few highlights:

* The Headmaster started off playing the stern authority figure, cracking down on Jasmine’s and Edony’s antics, but then Jasmine’s preaching broke through. Something seemed right about the idea that this world was false, a prison, needing to be destroyed…
* Sneaking a read through some of Jasmine’s books, Edony learned of the six-armed Child of the Sun who might be capable of replacing the sun that went out. So she tried using her Inhuman and Changeling powers to manifest extra arms herself. She ended up growing creepy clawed arms that appeared whenever someone said the word “hand.”
* Jasmine reveled in using her Heart Magic to seize control of various Halloween monsters. This was often coupled with use of her Starry Eyes to not die when suffering horrible injury, because said Halloween monsters didn’t typically consent to having their hearts pulled out.
* Speaking of monsters, Entropy at one point used his Fallen King power to craft a giant were-squirrel thing out of a pumpkin-headed monster and various Halloween World detritus. Stopping its rampage ended up being Edony’s quest goal to “defeat an impossible monster”.
* The story ended in an enormous battle featuring the PCs, the usurper Jarls of the Halloween World and their minions, the Child of the Sun, and a collection of Halloween World residents loyal to their old king. Afterward, Entropy took his old throne; Jasmine became the Queen of the prison-world, which she renewed and made real by installing the Child of the Sun as its new sun; and Edony became the ambassador from the Halloween World to Soma.

To streamline the game for convention play, both accelerating the pace of progression and cutting down on mechanics teaching time, I made the following rules adjustments:

* Drastically reduced the needed XP to complete Quests. Basic Quests dinged every 5 points. Storyline Quests wrapped up at 10 points. This meant that if three major goals (4 XP/apiece per the Special) were fulfilled, or two plus a couple of Emotion or flavor points, the quest would finish.
* Ignored the 1, 2, 4, 8 restriction on Will expenditure.
* Didn’t use Wounds, Health Levels, or Issues.
* Didn’t use Technique lists for Magical Skills, but established a basic sort of thing they could do with the skill at no penalty, then assessed Obstacles using the normal rubric for stretching skill use.
* Reduced the importance of genre actions. Chapters concluded at natural breakpoints or cliffhangers in the story, not when a certain number of XP Actions had been performed. XP Actions then became a set of Quest flavor options available to everyone.
* No XP tokens. If you earned a bonus XP, including for a genre action, you immediately checked off a bubble on an active Quest of your choice.

Some of the above I might consider using as house rules in a campaign game as well, but they weren’t my main takeaway for how to run Chuubo’s in the general sense. My eureka moment, my new ironclad rule for doing Chuubo’s successfully, the secret key:

Focus as much of your attention as HG on fulfilling major Quest goals as possible.

I’d always known on a sort of intellectual level that Quests were the killer app in Chuubo’s. Not the diceless Intention ladder, not the miraculous powers, but the Quests—they’re the bit that made me go “ooh,” the idea I itched to port to other games, etc. But as a practical matter, I never really succeeded in making them hum until now. With the characters pregenerated and their entire first Arcs laid out in Quests 1, 2, 3, I did the one bit of prep that made everything work: I made a major Quest goal cheat sheet! I put all twelve Quests in a LibreOffice document, with one line reminding me of the overall thrust of the Quest, followed by each of its major Goals with checkboxes.

Then at the table, I chased those events relentlessly. Every time I framed a scene, I made sure I had at least one Quest goal primed to go. (Example: the Ideologue’s final quest involves “something important to you catches on fire,” so a monster she faced in the Labyrinth was a fire-breathing critter. I didn’t preplan what the something important was, but whatever it turned out to be, the fire was ready for it!) Where possible, I even aimed to hit a major goal per character in a scene. Where the core rules suggest moving spotlight time around from one XP Action to the next, I instead encouraged PCs to fade into the background for a bit once a major Quest goal tripped, until the others got their chance.

It didn’t take long for the players to catch on to the process and help me out with it! Their suggestions for things to happen next often helped clue me in to Quest goal opportunities I’d overlooked. (Example: we met up with a magus, one of the King’s advisors from times of old. I’d introduced him as a chance to invite the Ideologue to sit by a fire for one of her goals, but Edony’s player soon asked, “hey, might this guy know something terrible about my heritage?” Of course he did!) That dialogue facilitated by the Quest cards and my cheat sheet became the backbone of the session.

Hopefully that insight helps somebody else out there! I’d almost written off Chuubo’s as one of my heartbreaker games, titles that show tons of promise on paper but only manage to deliver so-so experiences in play. But now I’m excited to try a campaign again some time, parlaying what I’ve learned here into something closer to the mode the game was originally designed for. Props to Chicago Gameday for giving me the chance!

Because seriously, with its “Ask not what your economy can do for you, ask what you can do for your economy” mindset and historic, far-reaching fuckery, the business side of the equation has little room to complain about millennials being the selfish ones.

1. My heart goes out to Millenials. As Gen X’er, I remember being labeled a “pierced slacker” back in ’90s despite having near-zero career prospects as a result of my degree and working my ass off at underpaid jobs for maybe the first ten years of my post-college life.

2. I am reminded of how the typical metric for our economy’s health — how much are people spending — always strikes me as totally bizarre. Our economy only works if everyone is purchasing lots of crap all the time?

3. Three words: Guaranteed Basic Income.

(Aside: I wish sharing Tumblr posts on G+ looked a little nicer. h/t Jenn Martin)


Humza K (G+ isn’t letting me tag them) posted this in a comment elsewhere. My enthusiasm for the OSR has cooled a lot, but I love seeing efforts in its less-popular (as it were) nooks. (I own five of the ten listed here.)