The Forgotten Axe

I’ve been playing in the Storium beta for the past week, and it has been a lot of fun. I recommend checking it out yourself to see if it is something that interests you, but in a nutshell: Storium is a platform for collaborative writing roleplay in the style of free-form forums. It brings a system of sorts to the table revolving around the idea of character assets and narrative control, so everything isn’t totally willy-nilly.

The first story I joined is Requiem, which is a fairly straightforward cyberpunk murder mystery. My character, Lukasz Zielinski, is a former reporter who used to go deep and attack corporations with his exposés, but of course that cost him. He woke up to the sound of alarms and a sprinkler system in a warehouse with four other people, one of whom had an axe right through her chest. Now the survivors are attempting to lay low, but also figure out what happened to this pink-haired girl and (hopefully) themselves as well.

One of the neat things about Storium is that the narrator can create assets the players are welcome to take and use. These can be physical objects—Lukasz is currently carrying the fire axe that had killed the pink-haired girl—but they also represent things like goals and memories.

Players have a lot of agency over the plot for better or worse. The narrator establishes scenes and puts forth challenges. Players “bid” their Strengths and Weaknesses toward positive or negative outcomes, and Assets, Goals, and Subplots move challenges toward a conclusion but do not weight the positive or negative result. The last player to play a card and complete the challenge gets control, and it is expected you write in a result that coincides with the good or bad nature of what happened. For example, I used my wild card for Strength (each player has a wild card for Strength and Weakness they can use to create things on the fly) to make one called “Questionable Contacts”. Since I won the challenge, I went ahead and narrated who the character is. The other players and the narrator have since incorporated her into the storyline.

What About That Axe?

Fragment: The AxeRight! I mentioned my character had a fire axe. Well, the narrator included a card in a later scene entitled “Fragment: The Axe”. It is an Asset representing a memory of the axe, specifically a character remembering seeing it somewhere before everything went south and the girl with the pink-hair was killed.

Nobody picked it up. For two whole scenes. The narrator simply didn’t include it in the third scene as an available option.

I think that’s great. The option to pursue such a plot thread was available, but none of the players chose to take it. We all had different plans in mind. So, while the axe is important as a murder weapon, its importance has otherwise been lessened in the interest of other things. It’s dynamic, and definitely one of the things I like so far about Storium’s system.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a murder to solve.

A short interview with Tom Grochowiak

I currently have a few irons in the fire. Much of what I’ve been doing the last several months revolves around the independent video game development scene. I’ve had the good fortune to play quite a few excellent games, and am writing for one now.

A lot of good stuff is coming from Poland, lately. Since I also have a linguistic background, naturally I had to check out Polish. Well, I fell in love instantly, and am currently taking a Polish class in Washington, D.C.

Tom Grochowiak, the owner of MoaCube (creators of Cinders, which I have written about previously) was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule and answer a few quick questions that I will be passing along to my Polish class. You are fortunate, blog readers, because you can see his answers too!  Continue reading

Cinders: The Irresponsibility of Freedom

When video games refer to having “mature” themes, they more often than not mean “darker and edgier”. This isn’t a bad thing by itself, but the novelty has certainly worn thin in a lot of ways. Adaptations of fairy tales, such as the recent rehash that is American McGee’s Alice: Madness Returns, tend to be especially guilty of such a move.

So it’s nice to see a breath of fresh air like Cinders, a visual novel game by MoaCube. It is inspired by the tale of Cinderella, which everyone is familiar with. Unlike some adaptations of the story, Cinders does not attempt to present a bacchanal of sex and violence and declare itself “mature”; instead, it approaches the characters in nuanced, realistic ways.

FinallyAs the player, you assume the role of Cinders, a young girl who lives with her stepmother Lady Carmosa, and Carmosa’s two daughters Gloria and Sophia. Ever since Cinders’s father died, Lady Carmosa has ruled over the house with cruelty. Poor Cinders gets the worst of it, being treated little better than a servant, and without the pay. Carmosa's Scorn

We’re all familiar with Cinderella. The prince’s ball, the fairy godmother, these are all elements of Cinders as well. What makes it different from other adaptations of the story I’ve seen—apart from Gracjana Zielinska’s amazing artwork—is how it examines the motivations and feelings not only of the protagonist, but her family as well.

I started the game with biases from my own experience with Cinderella. Naturally I assumed I, the protagonist, was in the right, and that wicked stepfamily of mine was not worth worrying about in pursuit of my dreams.

Slowly, as the game progressed, I began to have more one-on-one chats with my stepsisters, and heard their side of the story. There were moments of warmth, but there didn’t appear to be any true reconciliation. They kept accusing me of not caring, of being selfish. I tried to come up with something to say, but when presented with the opportunity I continued to sneak out of the house and pursue my relationship with the captain of the guard.

IrresponsibleIn the end, I managed to escape from the house and run away with that very same captain, which in some situations could be considered a happy ending. I am content with it, for starters. One thing that really got to me, though, was that I hadn’t really thought about trying to stick around the house and patch things up with the family. They were the bad guys, after all. Although I warmed up to them, ultimately my desires took the forefront of my actions. Perhaps, as Carmosa said, I acted irresponsibly.

The game itself didn’t pass judgment on me, per se. The ending, by itself, was a satisfactory conclusion to the path I ultimately chose. It merely left me considering the consequences of my actions in a way that few games really end up doing.

I did enjoy the lack of black-and-white morality, and it’s my understanding that other endings are of course available. Perhaps I can reconcile my family issues and live, in a fashion, happily ever after.

Town of Last Chance

Here is a Dominion kingdom that I created, which my friends and I have enjoyed for a few sessions. I’m considering swapping Trader out for something else, because it appears to imbalance things a bit, but it is still pretty fun.

The Town of Last Chance (Intrigue and Hinterlands)

  • Coppersmith
  • Mining Village
  • Saboteur
  • Cache
  • Fool’s Gold
  • Ill-Gotten Gains
  • Inn
  • Spice Merchant
  • Stables
  • Trader

Tabletop Tales: Illithid Pashing

After the kerfuffle in Stonefall with Barnabas, the party had some down time. Wounds were healed, equipment was purchased, and Brithangel even made some potions of false life for his unappreciative fellows, who to a man had not volunteered their own blood for the admixtures. The goblin Bobbum was nowhere to be found, as was his way from time to time.

Kyrl, the party fighter, began hearing voices. This was some cause for concern. Turns out it was a sending spell, sent by one Landros, a wizard with whom Kyrl and Shade (the rogue) had dealt with in the past. Turns out the wizard was trapped behind some sort of impenetrable magical barrier through which he and his companion could not teleport, and needed rescuing.

“You have high-maintenance friends,” Brithangel told Kyrl. The elf was not one for tact. All the same, he agreed to offer his services in the rescue.

Continue reading

Tabletop Tales: Losing for Victory

During our last Pathfinder session we wrapped up one of the party rogue’s dangling plot threads. In a nutshell: he had agreed to retrieve an artifact for a crime boss named Barnabas. He didn’t, and went missing for a while. Barnabas figured he took the money and ran, so he put out a hit on the rogue. The rogue, clearly having chosen Wisdom as a dump stat, decided to confront the kingpin in his lair. Barnabas ran a brewery as a front organization, so that’s where we went.

The rogue had a 100 gold bounty on his head. As it turned out, Brithangel had the exact item that Barnabas was searching for. We still didn’t know what it did, and I was curious about the crime boss’s interest in the thing. I made him an offer: 250 gold, you take the bounty off the rogue’s head, and you tell me what’s so great about this thing you’re looking for.

Deal!

Oh, wait…

Long story short, the rogue convinces Barnabas to give him three more days. So I keep my money. Almost immediately after leaving the brewery, he discusses how they need to get all the criminal elements of the city together and revolt against Barnabas. A little over the top, I feel, but it’s his plot line so cool.

Thing is, there were a number of times the entire thing could have gone south. There were several occasions I found myself wanting it to fail. Complications make things interesting, and the straight path to victory is not always the best one.

A particular moment came when one of the NPCs said, “You know, some of us are questioning if you’re doing this because you really want things back the way they were before Barnabus came to power, or if you’re just trying to save your own skin.” Part of me screamed YES! This is when we get ambushed by our former allies! Alas, despite the brief tension, nothing came from this incident. Even after we killed Baranabus and I bribed his hired tengu assassin to leave us alone, one of the leaders of the short rebellion had us alone for a few minutes and could have made any number of demands. Sadly, it was merely a happy ending.

None of this is to say that victory is a bad thing, per se. Yet in an ongoing campaign, stories need to fuel future adventures. Things like unexpected betrayal certainly add further motivations. It is enjoyable to wrap up a story in a tidy fashion like we did here, but it is still early in the campaign and I couldn’t help feeling there was so much more that could be done. Perhaps complications will arise in future sessions. We have a good GM, and it is easy to sit here after the sessions and say there was a lot that could have been done without being behind the screen. I know in my own games there are plenty of things I wish I would have done differently for my players. Nonetheless, it is good advice to follow: complicate things.

Next time, Brith makes out with a mind flayer.

Dungeon Grind

Many a year ago I read at least half a million webcomics. Sadly those halcyon days are largely behind me. However, I do read Dungeon Grind, by British creator Steve Dismukes. I love it.

Dungeon Grind follows Vykus, a goblin who seeks employment at Castle Evilgrim, lair of the arch-lich Xyziax. Vykus attempts to revive his career in much the same way the rest of us do: filling out an application!

Hilarity, as they say, ensues. Steve is adept at playing with the general conventions of Dungeons & Dragons-style roleplaying games as seen from the other side, without crossing too far over the fourth wall into “we’re in a game” territory that is prevalent in many other comedic fantasy RPG comics.

The characters are heartwarming. Steve writes and draws another, more serious comic called Dark Places (which unfortunately appears to be on hiatus), and he brings a lot of that subtlety to the humor of Dungeon Grind. The kobold Jeek is really someone you’d want as your best friend. Also, between Dungeon Grind and Dark Places, the kobolds are the best-drawn I’ve ever seen.

Vykus and Jeek

So check out the website. You can also start from the first strip. There are only 60 or so at the moment; it’s a great time to catch up!

Dungeon Grind updates every Monday and Friday. If you enjoy it, please vote for it on TopWebcomics.com. That will help Steve get some much-deserved exposure for his work. You can vote every 24 hours!

Tabletop Tales: Dynamic Combat

Despite a few pointed efforts to the contrary, Brithangel Malraeneus survived to fight another day. The human he had cornered fled deeper into the mines, and the party decided to pursue. There they discovered strange machinery left behind by an older civilization. What at first blush appeared to be a frivolous attempt at increasing the rogue’s wealth had proved something else entirely.

Within the center of the mine, Brith and his companions found a large room containing six cylindrical chambers. A human woman was there, as well as a few guards and—naturally—another minotaur. They had prisoners who were bound. When they saw our heroes, the minotaur lifted up one of the prisoners, opened one of the middle chambers, tossed him inside, and slammed the door shut.

We rolled initiative, the party steeled themselves for battle, and on Brith’s turn he… ran right for the nearest chamber! Minotaurs, after all, had proven bad for the health of other party members, and the alchemist wasn’t sitting on a stack of hit points.

It’s important to me to play in games where combat happens in interesting environments. I do enjoy bashing some skulls in as much as the next person, but I’m always happier when there are other things going on. Decisions that need to be made, secondary objectives needing fulfillment, and so on. When I can put my character’s skills to use in a way other than bluffing to feint, tumbling to avoid attacks, and climbing to higher vantage points, I enjoy the game all the more.

Brithangel happens to be an incredibly intelligent alchemist, so his goal was to figure out what exactly the human and her entourage intended to do with these strange devices. Continue reading

Lords of Waterdeep

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Lords of Waterdeep

I went to Labyrinth Games & Puzzles on Saturday the 14th to meet my friend Adam for an afternoon of board games with some of his friends. One of those games was Lords of Waterdeep, which neither of us had played. I commented that it reminded me of both Ticket to Ride and Agricola. Those are great games.

A little while later the owner came over, saw we were playing, and said: “Oh, I love that game! We call it ‘Ticket to Agricola’!” I was glad she and I saw eye to eye!