I’ve been posting about Paul Czege’s The Clay That Woke for some time now as I assembled my token set and prepared for what would become a rewarding play session this past Saturday. I ran the game at GameDay 44 in Mt Prospect, IL, organized by the indefatigable Mark Delsing. While I can’t pretend that everyone at the table was over the moon about the game, I’m happy to report that we all found the game challenging, rewarding, and at the very least intriguing. Playing the game was myself, the aforementioned Mark, Matt, Nikitas, and another Tim.

I’ve already posted about my preparation efforts, but now you can check out my brainstorming notes, which I’ve attached to this post. In general, I used the method outlined by Paul in the book and it worked great. I was able to generate two situations both weird and thematically loaded. As we started play, I divided the PCs into two groups, each employed to the main NPC for each situation.

The first involved an Empyrei convinced that he could return to a state of innocence. To do so, he kept a harem of seven wives and a brood of exactly 47 children. The children were either castrated or drugged in order to keep them prepubescent. Upon showing any sign of adulthood, they were sacrificed and replaced by a new child. Needless to say, the relationships were abusive, and two of the minotaurs, including Mark’s, were hired to keep watch and help carry out ceremonies.

The second situation involved a veteran of the Everwar who abandoned his post to return to the city and take up a sedentary life of pleasure. He opened a brothel where patrons rented apartments on a long-term basis in order to lead a life of hedonistic pleasure 24/7. Into this situtation I inserted a particular patron, Deo, who could not pay his bill but instead kept the brothel keep charmed by use of a mind-altering drug.

The first situation proved immediately potent and Mark couldn’t give away his silence tokens fast enough. He broke with the birthing traditions, returned a newborn to its mother, murdered the Empyrei, stuffed the man’s body into a infant bower, and promptly broke for the jungle in a frenzy. Along the way he caused another nameless minotaur to break with him, but his companion was slaughtered on the street after goring a child. Meanwhile, Nikitas’ character was a stoic philosopher determined to keep silence despite witnessing all of Mark’s madness. The contrast proved powerful and I’m happy that Nikitas stuck to his guns despite some initial worries that I kept to myself.

The second situation was less thematically charged, but led to some interesting characters and situations outside of the brothel elsewhere in the city. Most memorable for me was a racist constable and a begger woman with a odd sense of duty. None of these NPCs received the attention I would have liked to give them, and I would love to bring them back if we were playing long term. What I really want to emphasize is that, even though the game went in a different direction than the one I initially planned, it was still rewarding and charged with thematic potential. Frankly, given that I’m used to improvising while GMing, this felt more directly in my wheelhouse even if I had to take one or two breaks to recharge my creative batteries. There was still plenty to keep the players engaged, and I was happy to take them wherever they wanted to go.

Three of the four characters managed their way into the jungle. Mark’s character lost his final silence token. While in the jungle, he encountered The Bright (who I thoroughly enjoyed roleplaying as a cackling madman) and wrestled a carnivorous eel to its death (drawing inspiration from the book’s illustrations). Mark at first interpreted these events as a type of vision quest, and I think he was surprised to find out that everything was indeed real.

The two other minotaurs found the jungle a little differently. They chose to go as a team, and so their excursion felt more like a quest. Nonetheless, I did my best to make their trip just as bizarre as Mark’s. They met a man from the Everwar who was separated from his unit and seeking to regain his courage. They encountered lentic lions, and retrieved a particular forest slug used for its medicinal qualities. They also saved the soldier from a large snake (lots of eel and snake imagery in this game, hmmmm…) before returning to the city and to the brothel.

Finally, Nikitas’ character displayed an impressive level of dedication to silence. At times, I wondered if he was taking it too far, claiming that his minotaur felt it best to remove himself altogether from the dealing of mankind. But in the end, even he couldn’t help but display an inkling of passion. Needless to say, after Mark’s character murdered the Empyrei, the wives and servants suffered a combination of shock and confusion. The ensuing power vacum caused enough of a stir (one wife blinded and another strangled to death) that Nikitas eventually, when faced with mortal danger, expressed personal desire and broke silence. What’s more, he did so in public, on the city streets, and in full view of four other nameless minotaurs who voiced their respect. It was a powerful conclusion, well earned.

So far so great, but that’s not to say we didn’t run into a few hiccups along the way. Rather than nitpick, I want to give a few suggestions to people who might be gearing up to run their own session of Clay for the first time.

First, the Krater of Lots is a trick thing to wrap your head around. Physically, there is a lot to enjoy about tossing chips into a bowl and drawing them out to determine your fate. By the end of the session, the group had everyone chanting “Krater, Krater, Krater!” and even drumming on the table with each draw. It was an organic development, highly satisfying. It also emphasized the ritualistic feeling of using such an odd system. I only hope our neighbors looked up with bemused looks on their faces every time someone pulled a chip!

That said, I still don’t think I have a full grasp on the strategy here, and I know the players didn’t, especially at first. How many chips should I put in? What should I be aiming for? What does this symbol or that symbol mean? There is some serious friction going on between the component, iconography, and desired outcomes that is so thorough that I can’t help but think it’s on purpose. By the end of the session we all had a few “aha” moments, but for most of the time, it felt almost entirely mysterious and opaque. It’s worth your time, in other words, to really study the menu of outcomes and help explain them to the players. It’s also worth noting that you really shouldn’t be thinking of the Krater as a traditional conflict resolution system. It’s a guide, not an arbitrator. Some outcomes are more definite than others, but overall events are determined by player negotiation.

On a purely practical note, I also had everyone at the table suggest to me that what they really want is a menu of outcomes that include the same icons as those appearing on the chips themselves. Making the translation from symbol to icon was just a step too many and was the source of real frustration at the table.

Second, I want to talk about the rulebook generally. For a first play-through, I think things went pretty well overall. Despite reading the book twice through, I was still having trouble remember all the rules, but I was usually able to locate the reference I needed within a reasonable amount of time. For future plays, however, I am seriously considering an all-in-one quick reference sheet. Because of the book’s organization, the rules are scattered throughout. At first, no big deal. But despite my serious of sticky tabs, there were times when I found myself completely lost. I love the book for learning the game, and for communicating the “feel” of the world and themes, but reference was, by the end, frustrating. I need something to bridge the gap and help me with a few key mechanical things while still learning the ropes.

Overall, the game was a success, and I wish I had more time with the same players to enjoy a long-term campaign. We all saw the potential for powerful relationships and rewarding mechanical outcomes via the menu, but also realized that most of those are available only over the course of multiple sessions. That is not to say, and I really want to emphasize this, that Clay is something you should put aside until you can assemble a dedicated group. If you have the opportunity for a single 3-5 hour session, play it! You’ll want to get your feet wet anyway while you learn the system and understand how theme connects with play. I found even my single session immensely rewarding, and although I’m sad we probably won’t continue, I can’t help but recommend the game in whatever form you can fit into your life.

#claytalk

So much gaming this weekend: E.V.E. 0, The Clay That Woke, and D&D 5e

tl;dr — E.V.E. 0 was frustrating, fun, and full of promise; The Clay That Woke was challenging and awesome, and I really need to read the book, assemble my tokens, and play it some more; my D&D 5e group continues to be awesome and D&D 5e is still maybe the best edition of the game I’ve played yet.

Not only did Chicago Gameday 44 happen this weekend, but since MadJay Brown was in town, I also got in a session of our sporadic D&D 5e campaign. Other than a good night’s sleep, I was gaming pretty much from 9:30 a.m. Saturday to 3:00 p.m. Sunday. I.e., my wife is awesome.

First up was E.V.E. 0, a game in early development from Dave Michalak that I played with him, Willow Palecek and Tim, a newcomer to Gameday. The basic is premise is that all the characters are from a clutch of bioengineered explorers — cloned sisters — dropped in crechecraft on some random planet. The game starts as you are “born” and have to figure out what equipment survived the landing and what’s the nature of your mission. Play starts with the group making up possible enhancements/mutations, tossing them into a hat (as it were) and randomly drawing a few for each PC. We collectively decided that our baseline form was a blue-skinned, mohawked Scarlett Jonhanson. My sister ended up with fur, telepathy, and web-spinners. We became aware of a mission beacon beckoning us across the landscape, and then I diverted in order to rescue a lost sister who’d awoken before the rest of us and was subsequently captured by natives.

The game was definitely rough, and we did a healthy de-brief at the end of the session. The big takeaway was that Dave had this cool loyalty chart that plotted a given PCs allegiance along a mission/sister axis and… some other axis that I forget. We all agreed that that chart should be the core resolution system, rather than a task/ability system Dave used for most of the game. Accomplishing physical tasks proved less interesting to us than questions like: “What does it mean that we just ate one of the sisters who failed to hatch?”

In all, I loved the core concept of the game and hope to see Dave either develop it into the loyalty chart game, or else embrace the “mutants explore a planet” task-y angle and adapt it to an existing system.

Next I got chance to play The Clay That Woke with Tim Koppang, Tim from above, Matt, and Nikita. The initial setup had two of us working for a master that used his harem of wives to birth a horde of children that he abused and sacrificed for his own spiritual needs, and so, within the first five minutes of the game I was joyously deep in Heavy Shit™ and was looking at the tenets of Silence thinking, “So… this is a list of rules I am going to violate almost immediately”. By mid-point in the session I had murdered the master and was running berserk into the jungle — and Tim being Tim, of course — accidentally goring a child en route.

My counterpart in the master’s house, Nikita, took the opposite track and did his utmost to adhere to Silence no matter what. What’s great is that this had part of me angry at him — “How can you stand by and do nothing about this?” — and part of me filled with deep respect — “Dude, you are hardcore.”

We had some difficulties with the Krater of Lots. At first it was really confusing that the icons on the tokens were different from the icons on the result sheet; it took some time for us to translate them, and even then sometimes they were — to my old eyes — similar enough that I had to study them for a bit to tell one from another. I think since we also didn’t really grok the strategy, a lot of our results were either one of the last options on the list, or else no result and we defaulted to foreshadowing. I feel like actually reading the dang book and having handled the tokens for one play-through will solve a lot of this, though. It was mostly that all of us save Tim were flying blind, totally new to the game.

Overall, though, the session completely renewed my interest in TCTW. I would really like to get a run of 3-6 sessions of this under my belt. Tim adeptly primed the session for one-shot-ness, but I could see how a lot of the issues addressed by the game would fare better given time to develop, not to mention the characters gaining some of the tokens that can only be earned through play.

And thus endeth Gameday on Saturday.

Sunday started bright and early with pancakes at home and then D&D 5e at 10:00 a.m. with my Sunday crew: Jenn Martin, Julianna Aldredge, Geoff Raye, Dave Michalak, newcomer Tamora, and our DM MadJay Brown. We played for about five hours, though a good chunk of the beginning was spent catching up everyone and figuring out a plan of action. There was much talky-talk at first, and I made use of my paladin’s noble background and their bond to establish that my mother, a baroness, had essentially been charged by the duke to take possession of the lands in which we currently found ourselves, and thus not only was I high-ranked in the local temple, but I was also essentially the ranking political figure in the area. I threw my mother’s influence around in an attempt to buy a mercenary company away from one of our enemies, to limited success.

And then we went into a dungeon and fought a death knight summoned by a Deck of Many Things. Good times!

There were definitely moments when I was flashing back to my 3e days, as the battle with the death knight involved a certain amount of standing toe-to-toe and whittling down hit points, not to mentioned players stalled on their turns figuring out rules and bonuses, but I attribute both of these phenomena to our general rustiness with the system. After the game I realized that I could stand to compile a personal combat sheet for my paladin, one that outlines all his possible options in a combat round, as it’s staggering the amount of choice available to him despite being just 5th level and owning no magic items.

And to Jay’s credit, the fight both involved multiple objectives and could have been avoided depending on how our initial scouting of the scene had gone, which to me is good D&D. The religious and fighting types in the group got to be valorous, the sneaky types to be sneaky, and the arcane types to be inscrutable.

5e continues to impress me. There’s definitely still the tactical/resource bits at which 3e excelled, but the backgrounds/bonds/flaws add a dimension of mechanical support to the talky-talk that I think the game has always been sorely lacking, yet in implementation is remarkably unobtrusive. I only wish that alignment had the same kind of teeth. If only the XP mechanics were better, I’d say that — at least as a player — 5e is the best D&D.

So, lots of gaming this weekend. Which is good, since it’ll likely be months before I game face-to-face again. And the fact that I played, rather than ran, has me feeling recharged rather than drained, which is a nice change for me. I could really get used to this whole thing where you let other people do the heavy lifting and just show up to play with pencil and dice in hand.

#claytalk   #chicagogameday   #chicagogameday44   #dnd   #5e

So much gaming this weekend: E.V.E. 0, The Clay That Woke, and D&D 5e tl;dr — E.V.E. 0 was frustrating, fun, and full of promise; The Clay That Woke was challenging and awesome, and I really need to read the book, assemble my tokens, and play it some more; my D&D 5e group continues to be awesome and D&D 5e is still maybe the best edition of the game I’ve played yet. Not only did Chicago Gameday 44 happen this weekend, but since MadJay Brown was in town, I also got in a session of our sporadic D&D 5e campaign. Other than a good night’s sleep, I was gaming pretty much from 9:30 a.m. Saturday to 3:00 p.m. Sunday. I.e., my wife is awesome. First up was E.V.E. 0, a game in early development from Dave Michalak that I played with him, Willow Palecek and Tim, a newcomer to Gameday. The basic is premise is that all the characters are from a clutch of bioengineered explorers — cloned sisters — dropped in crechecraft on some random planet. The game starts as you are “born” and have to figure out what equipment survived the landing and what’s the nature of your mission. Play starts with the group making up possible enhancements/mutations, tossing them into a hat (as it were) and randomly drawing a few for each PC. We collectively decided that our baseline form was a blue-skinned, mohawked Scarlett Jonhanson. My sister ended up with fur, telepathy, and web-spinners. We became aware of a mission beacon beckoning us across the landscape, and then I diverted in order to rescue a lost sister who’d awoken before the rest of us and was subsequently captured by natives. The game was definitely rough, and we did a healthy de-brief at the end of the session. The big takeaway was that Dave had this cool loyalty chart that plotted a given PCs allegiance along a mission/sister axis and… some other axis that I forget. We all agreed that that chart should be the core resolution system, rather than a task/ability system Dave used for most of the game. Accomplishing physical tasks proved less interesting to us than questions like: “What does it mean that we just ate one of the sisters who failed to hatch?” In all, I loved the core concept of the game and hope to see Dave either develop it into the loyalty chart game, or else embrace the “mutants explore a planet” task-y angle and adapt it to an existing system. Next I got chance to play The Clay That Woke with Tim Koppang, Tim from above, Matt, and Nikita. The initial setup had two of us working for a master that used his harem of wives to birth a horde of children that he abused and sacrificed for his own spiritual needs, and so, within the first five minutes of the game I was joyously deep in Heavy Shit™ and was looking at the tenets of Silence thinking, “So… this is a list of rules I am going to violate almost immediately”. By mid-point in the session I had murdered the master and was running berserk into the jungle — and Tim being Tim, of course — accidentally goring a child en route. My counterpart in the master’s house, Nikita, took the opposite track and did his utmost to adhere to Silence no matter what. What’s great is that this had part of me angry at him — “How can you stand by and do nothing about this?” — and part of me filled with deep respect — “Dude, you are hardcore.” We had some difficulties with the Krater of Lots. At first it was really confusing that the icons on the tokens were different from the icons on the result sheet; it took some time for us to translate them, and even then sometimes they were — to my old eyes — similar enough that I had to study them for a bit to tell one from another. I think since we also didn’t really grok the strategy, a lot of our results were either one of the last options on the list, or else no result and we defaulted to foreshadowing. I feel like actually reading the dang book and having handled the tokens for one play-through will solve a lot of this, though. It was mostly that all of us save Tim were flying blind, totally new to the game. Overall, though, the session completely renewed my interest in TCTW. I would really like to get a run of 3-6 sessions of this under my belt. Tim adeptly primed the session for one-shot-ness, but I could see how a lot of the issues addressed by the game would fare better given time to develop, not to mention the characters gaining some of the tokens that can only be earned through play. And thus endeth Gameday on Saturday. Sunday started bright and early with pancakes at home and then D&D 5e at 10:00 a.m. with my Sunday crew: Jenn Martin, Julianna Aldredge, Geoff Raye, Dave Michalak, newcomer Tamora, and our DM MadJay Brown. We played for about five hours, though a good chunk of the beginning was spent catching up everyone and figuring out a plan of action. There was much talky-talk at first, and I made use of my paladin’s noble background and their bond to establish that my mother, a baroness, had essentially been charged by the duke to take possession of the lands in which we currently found ourselves, and thus not only was I high-ranked in the local temple, but I was also essentially the ranking political figure in the area. I threw my mother’s influence around in an attempt to buy a mercenary company away from one of our enemies, to limited success. And then we went into a dungeon and fought a death knight summoned by a Deck of Many Things. Good times! There were definitely moments when I was flashing back to my 3e days, as the battle with the death knight involved a certain amount of standing toe-to-toe and whittling down hit points, not to mentioned players stalled on their turns figuring out rules and bonuses, but I attribute both of these phenomena to our general rustiness with the system. After the game I realized that I could stand to compile a personal combat sheet for my paladin, one that outlines all his possible options in a combat round, as it’s staggering the amount of choice available to him despite being just 5th level and owning no magic items. And to Jay’s credit, the fight both involved multiple objectives and could have been avoided depending on how our initial scouting of the scene had gone, which to me is good D&D. The religious and fighting types in the group got to be valorous, the sneaky types to be sneaky, and the arcane types to be inscrutable. 5e continues to impress me. There’s definitely still the tactical/resource bits at which 3e excelled, but the backgrounds/bonds/flaws add a dimension of mechanical support to the talky-talk that I think the game has always been sorely lacking, yet in implementation is remarkably unobtrusive. I only wish that alignment had the same kind of teeth. If only the XP mechanics were better, I’d say that — at least as a player — 5e is the best D&D. So, lots of gaming this weekend. Which is good, since it’ll likely be months before I game face-to-face again. And the fact that I played, rather than ran, has me feeling recharged rather than drained, which is a nice change for me. I could really get used to this whole thing where you let other people do the heavy lifting and just show up to play with pencil and dice in hand. #claytalk   #chicagogameday   #chicagogameday44   #dnd   #5e]]>