Storium May Be Winding Down

I’ve enjoyed Storium; the card system, the collaborative storytelling, putting pictures on all these things for shared mental images. But I may be winding down my Storium time. Here’s a summary of games I’ve narrated, and how they’ve worked out.

  • Ghostbreath. Solo play with my wife. Seems like her character spent the whole story trying to get out of the story, and succeeded after a pretty short span. To my surprise, she said she wanted to play again. I used the default urban fantasy setting, fleshing it out in my own direction. (I think it was a cool little self-contained story.)
  • Bones Within. Solo play with a G+ friend, got through a staggering 77 scenes. The game stopped because he didn’t like a key trans formative point that happened to his character, and he had growing dissatisfaction with the game until he brought it to a close himself. I thought it made sense and would be cool for his monster hunter to be turned into a werewolf. He gave it a try, but never did really get past that dealbreaker. His second suicide attempt succeeded. I used the default urban fantasy setting, continuing to develop it to be my own.
  • Night War. Solo play with my wife, at her request, for a second game. Turns out she doesn’t like sharing narrative control. She likes controlling a character and letting the GM control the world. She lost interest and quit. Same urban fantasy setting.
  • Flame and Darkness. I took open invitation players for the first time. Previously I played with my wife, and with somebody I had previously pbpd with. Now I took on two strangers, named my version of the default urban fantasy setting “Citadel City” and took a crack at a new story. It’s up to 11 scenes, but it is disintegrating.
    • I have two players. One of them is dead set in making it a World of Darkness game, even when I explicitly said it is not. He just agrees and continues pumping it full of jargon and detail from World of Darkness (and as a player, he has narrative control to do it). Also, he cannot admit he misread or misunderstood, he just puts his nose in the air and insists he’s right and that’s what he meant to do.
    • They did not want to play to the challenges, so I quit using cards with this game. And it quickly becomes clear how cards are helpful for focusing the action; otherwise, things tend to sprawl.
    • The players tend to not focus on what they want to do next, and it feels adversarial being their narrator. It’s like they don’t want a narrator, they want to work it out together in a chat room; in which case I’d rather they did. They are in several other Storium games together, so maybe they’ll have a more satisfying experience there.
    • Again, I came up with what I thought was a cool plot twist riffing off their backgrounds and actions–and I’m not sure they’ll even finish this game. We’re at the climax, too. I sincerely doubt this one will go on after the first story arc.
  • Protectors of the Crown. Fey and musketeers. Original setting, loosely sketched setting and plot with lots of room for player narrative control. This is for three guys from my game table; one is not currently playing my face to face games, one is in some of the games and not others, and the third is pretty much in everything. And they’re buddies outside the game table. It’s the best comedy game.
    • So, this one is really slowed down because we’ve had some trouble with people narrating things that don’t fit with what came before. Calling that sort of thing out has a massively chilling effect. Sometimes play stops for a few days.
    • And I get the sense they feel picked on by challenges. So… whether that’s my fault or not, that sense of being picked on puts a massive chilling effect on my desire to keep it up for more when and if they finish this first little story.
  • Monster Hunters of Vurna Wood. I like the premise; grim low-fantasy base town, and each story is a group gathering to go hunt a specific mythical monster. Room for the players to help shape the monster, and a neat point-based scene navigation map. Focused, room for narrative control. What went wrong?
    • I specified “no snowflake” characters and got one, and shrugged and let it slide. She’s hunted (a bounty on her head from the king himself), I brought in a supernatural bounty hunter to kill her, and that’s grinding everything to a halt.
    • We have a fundamentally different understanding of how coordination and cards work, and in a group of 4, that’s a problem.
    • I’ve got 4 players that seem to be trying to solo play in the game (though one player insists they are coordinating efforts.) They seem to be sabotaging their own efforts, from my point of view, though I suspect one or more of them feel like I’m being cruel and unresponsive to their attempts to steer things.
      • One is aloof and contemptuous of the others, hardly deigning to speak to them. One is a gregarious nobleman who figures playing a weak card means he should incapacitate himself. One is a watchful tracker loner type who just wants to do her job. And one is very task oriented with little patience with the others.
    • Whether it’s my fault that the story is going poorly or not, I don’t think this group and I should play again. Maybe if I could pick a few to continue and a few to not, but the next scene may do that for me–if they continue to play at all. (I can’t make them finish this scene.)

I thought I would be good at Storium. Evidence so far suggests I am not; the only metric of success that really matters is whether everybody is having a good time, and on that front apparently I fail. So I’m thinking I may wind down my games and stop inflicting new ones on people.

Fun fact: my wife observes that the problems I’m having in Storium reflect the ones I have at my face-to-face game table. I just hope my face-to-face players have more fun than my Storium players seem to be having.

Anyway, even if I’m lousy at Storium, I’ve got an ongoing game, Defenders of Eldaav. It is set in the monster hunter setting, it’s the base town. I figure I can send people invitations, they can get in and kick a couple moves around and get a sense of it, then (with an account) go read lots of other games and participate in others if they want.

Maybe they can find people that are more fun to play with.

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Exemplar Avengers

I’m going to add a bunch of advice, DM tools, and sample characters to my Fictive Avengers game. This .pdf has example character concepts based on the templates (but very different than the movies and cartoons!) along with recommended “Master Menace” themes to build the campaign around. And a bit on what kind of base they might have. Check it out!

Exemplar Avengers 1

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Fictive Avengers–Dust It Off

Looks like I may have a chance to play Fictive Avengers with a new group in a few weeks. I’m thinking about going through and streamlining it some more, because for most of the group this would be their first experience with RPGs.

That’s why I figure it would be good to lead with Fictive Avengers. If you’ve seen one or more Avengers movies, you’ve got the background to play in the world. The system benefits from many innovations I discovered in playing other versions of Fictive Hack. I fancy myself good at describing superpowered interactions, and helping players feel like their characters are incredibly cool.

So I thought the game needed a proper cover. Here’s my first draft.

fictive avengers cover draft 1

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The Moon and the Gray Maze

At the end of May I ran an adventure in a Fallen Moon setting using my Murderhobo Remix. You can see the prep for that here.

The adventure was a failure. I thought the setting would be evocative, but it felt flat and empty. The players were game to try, but could not engage. The combat felt like a boring series of easy math problems. I thought I had worked the system to be light and fast and fun, and the setting to be tripping the light fantastic, but damn… it crashed and burned.

I mean, it sounds good on paper. They went up to check out the UFO crashed in the mountain above, and first fought some bandits. Got in, messed around, figured some stuff out, got nailed by a repair bot (reinforcement with the same stats and name came in) and then saw a space giant hit by lightning and reanimated, and they ran with no desire to return.

So we did some arena fighting with monsters. No? We hunted some centipedes through the living area. Not a twitch? Ugh. We quit an hour and a half early and will not return to the setting or rules. Crunch.

One of my players backed “There’s a Game in This Book.” I find the title of the game to be annoying, so for my working purposes I shortened it to “Game in Book” or GiB. I don’t normally have players asking me if I’ll run a game they found elsewhere–this is the first time.

As I looked through it, the game is clearly someone taking a White Wolf premise, adapting it from dice pool to d12, and running some customizing tweaks until it’s a very different system. I spent some time with it and figured out how it worked. Since I was planning to run a one-shot, I gave the two players a list of options I’d be willing to do, and “picaresque Vornheim” won out.

I had no idea what characters my players would make. Imagine my surprise when they both make golems with magic casting ability! I’m not sure we all understand what “picaresque” means. Still, my basic plan called for them to be trusted bodyguards of an aristocrat, so fortunately it was easy enough to make it work. I had spent my time figuring out combat (and plugging some holes with house rules) and figuring out the skill/attribute interaction. “They won’t make wizards,” I told myself. “No need to brush up on the magic.”

Well… I crammed on it while they were finishing up the characters at the table, and ran it without a hitch. So an easy magic system is a big plus.

In preparing, I used the delightful aristocrat generator and relationship generator in Vornheim to make four interlinked aristocrats, then looked for the hooks in that pile that would drive my adventure. One was a vain woman, bedecked in jewels, rival to another who had an art collection. And she sneaks out to be a masked dancer in a tavern. Perfect. Also, I decided she’s trying to branch out into cat burglary.

I used an asylum breakout, a wizard’s son with control over big rats, a wizard who was old and decrepit but who had the object they were going to steal, fun with dwarves and summoned creatures and granary cats… It was very Vornheim, and my players had a great time! We ended early because we came to the end of what I had set up for a one-shot. But their response was VERY positive.

I will strip-mine GiB for a few useful notions, but I won’t play it again. Vornheim is another story. These two players want to go back, most likely in Fictive Hack. (We all miss spending Awesome Points.)

Let’s check the scorecard for setting and system for these two experiments.

  • Fallen Moon: D.
  • Murderhobo Remix: F.
  • There’s a Game in This Book: C-
  • Vornheim: A.
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Fae Noir Races

I got the Fae Noir .pdf in RPGNow’s 10 year anniversary bundle sale. I decided to use their versions of the fae for a Storium game. As a reference for players of that game, I reproduce them here.

Properties of all Fae.

  • They detect glamour (fae illusions) more easily.
  • They do not physically age past the point of physical maturity, never die of old age or suffer from age-related infirmity.
  • They resist some physical damage.
  • Takes fey twice as long to suffer from lack of food and water.
  • They are impulsive.
  • Cold iron hurts them more. They are uncomfortable around iron, are sick if they touch it for more than a day, die after 3 days of contact. Recover from the sickness over about a day.

BROWNIE. About 2 feet tall, about 50 pounds. Rounded ears. Darker complexions, they wear brown clothes. They like to work themselves into human society, trading work for food and a place to sleep. They must be of service to someone, or they may go mad.

ELF. Between 6 inches and 1 foot, under 20 pounds. City elves tend to make tiny cottages and fit in. Wild elves take on the traits of nature. Both are very social, and highly skilled at glamour. They take their homes and communities very seriously, and protect them with curses, tricks, and traps.

FAIRY. Still 6-12 inches tall, but half the weight, with wings (usually insect-like.) They like elves and hate trolls (who eat them.) Their social structure is feudal. They tend to go nearly nude, and use glamour to generate fanciful clothing.

FAUN. Usually 4-5 feet tall and about 100 pounds. Top half is Tuatha, with sharply pointed ears and frizzy hair and short sharp horns. The bottom half is goaty. Males outnumber females 9-1, but they can interbreed with a variety of races and are very lusty. They don’t like work, they have a temper (it rarely flashes) and hold grudges. They love most of all to romance and drink and dance. Above average musicians, and many have glamour skill.

GOBLIN. About 4 feet tall, about 120 pounds. Barrel chest, long thin limbs, big heads, terrible posture; some are impossibly hairy. They are very strong. Some have powerful glamour skill. They are sadistic. All of them are Unseelie. They are cowards who fear a fair fight or fire. They are responsible for changelings; stolen babies become goblins.

KOBOLD. About 4 feet tall, about 200 pounds. They are powerfully muscled. Not very skilled craftsmen (they resemble legendary dwarves) but they are good miners. They have a basic sense of honor and decency, and they feel close to humanity as fellow miners.

LEPRECHAUN. About 2.5 feet tall, heavy drinkers with huge personalities, loud mouths, and thieving fingers. They love to play games. They make shoes, and all of them are gifted cobblers who need to make shoes to blow of steam in their down time.

OGRE. they are huge, with no glamour capacity at all, just massive muscles and a tough hide and the ability (and inclination) to eat anything that doesn’t want to be eaten, or that holds still. When it comes to humans, they feed equally well on their terror and their flesh.

TROLL. Smaller than ogres, wiry, and capable of using glamour. They have a hunched posture at over 7 feet, and are extremely wiry and gnarled. Trolls can be far more social than ogres.

TUATHA de DANAAN. Human size, capable of tinkering with human magic but not glamour; taller than humans, more beautiful, unearthly in their perspectives and form. They are the most common that humanity will deal with. Their ears come to a slight point. Their governing structure is feudal.


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Use Stuff.

I love the blogosphere for its inspiration and for its gifts of developed RPG stuff.

The people who put these things out WANT you to use them. They WANT you to be inspired. They are eager to see how you take what they’ve done and use it in ways they may not have expected. If they didn’t feel that way, they wouldn’t put their work and their thinking on the internet.

When you enjoy their work, you are supporting them. When you actually  use their work, that’s a validation of their decision to share.

So if people share their maps, and you find them inspirational, stock them! Use them! Share the results! When people post free or cheap game systems, think them over! Try them out! Hack them to fit your sensibilities! Share the results! When people host contests, enter if you are at all interested! Be part of the fun!

I have tinkered with contributions from a dozen or more bloggers, and that kind of tinkering enriches what I offer and is a form of gratitude for what they offer. As someone who puts things out on the blog, I can say that it feels really good when people take the time to look it over, think it through, and use it as-is or with some experimentation.

There is generosity in receiving with gratitude. You honor the gift and the giver. You say to the creator, “You inspired me. You made something useful.” That is a message bloggers love to hear, and love to see in action.

My thanks to Kirin Robinson, Jack Shear, Matt Jackson, Simon Forster, Telecanter, Justin Alexander, Kevin Campbell, Brent Newhall, Brendan S., Fr. Dave, Erik Jensen, Ian Johnson, Mike Nystul, Fred Hicks, Patrick Stuart, Rafael Chandler, Jason Sholtis, Courtney Campbell, and the countless others that have inspired me.

Thank you for sharing with me, and for letting me share with you.

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Edge City Summit 2014

Just had three players over for lovely grilled fajita lunch and strategic discussion about a campaign. Rather than taking up game time at the table talking about prioritizing challenges and planning how to take them on, the group met to do that in a separate session. The fourth player was not invited because he’s swapping out characters, his old one doesn’t care and his new one isn’t here yet.

The players talked through delegating some tasks to trusted NPCs, back story that informs the current situations, and step by step planning to take on some challenges. Some things were moved to the top of the list, others shuffled to the bottom or left out.

I took lots of notes, as I use this sort of player thinking to prioritize my prep. When I know what they want to tackle, then I focus on those obstacles and weave it all together to be a good rousing session. While I am an excellent improv GM, there is a lot of super-powers and investigative detective work in this game, so having some prep really helps.

One of my players for that game has spotty availability in June, so we’ll play Edge City in July. For June, we’ll keep on with Fantasy Masks in Dweredell; we are all surprised at the staying power of that game with my players. I think part of the reason for that is I have not over-thought Dweredell. I put together maybe a half page of notes every two sessions, and kind of run things loose and off-the-cuff. That’s a serious antidote to Edge City, where the players have to have a goddamn summit to sort challenges and figure out what they’ll do next. Perhaps the simplicity and expectation of violence are two factors that make the setting so attractive. I will honor that by injecting violence and simplicity at every opportunity when we play there.

I will only have 2-3 players for Murderhobo Remix on Friday. My group doesn’t like one-shots, because my group doesn’t like new things, and one-shots are new things.

I will keep working on my Edge City resource document and session summaries, and on the scenario for Murderhobo Remix on Friday. Feels kind of strange right now to not be working on a rule set. That time will come around again.

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