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Category: Gaming

Last Year in Carcosa

Or: ”A Lyric Scenario for The Yellow King RPG

  1. Gather no more than three people.
  2. Watch Last Year in Marienbad together in silence.
  3. Select characters from those depicted in the movie.
  4. Discuss your motivations, remaining in character. It is unnecessary to agree on the facts of the fiction.
  5. If there is disagreement on motivations, play Nim to resolve them.

“It’s a stupid game.”
“There’s a trick.”
“Just take an odd number.”
“There must be rules.”

Credit is due to Joseph S. Pulver, Sr.

Czech New Wave as Gaming Inspiration

I watched The Firemen’s Ball recently and enjoyed it quite a bit. The way Forman extracts humor from the banality really struck me. It also reminded me of the Electric Bastionland mini-campaign I’ve been chewing on.

I mean, tell me this isn’t a Bastion Council at work.

The leadership of the local firemen, gathered around a table, looking at something off-camera.

You could just run the whole movie as a background thread while other things are going on. “Ah, no, Monsieur Bagatelle can’t speak right now, he’s at the Firemen’s Ball.” “Well, I’m willing to do you that favor, but you need to make sure my daughter wins the beauty pageant.” “Huh, when did that building burn down?”

But it also intersects nicely with the Piertown Borough ideas I’ve been toying with. Don’t read after the cut if you’re playing in my mini-campaign. By which I mean if you want to play in this, drop me a comment, I have two slots I need to fill.

Lady Blackbird: End Game

This post was prompted by a recent Rob Donoghue tweet. To save you a click, he’s arguing that most RPGs have bad endgames: there’s no set process for what happens at the end of a game.

I recently finished up a Lady Blackbird game, and yep, there’s nothing explaining how to finish up the game. I mean, sure, the PCs achieve their goals probably, and perhaps those goals have changed over time, but. Look at it this way: Lady Blackbird explains exactly how to start a game, with situational advice and a solid reason to act. Nothing much on endings.

Thus, Lady Blackbird Montage. This isn’t exactly how I ended my game but it’s how I might have done it if I’d taken a bit longer to think about it.

“OK, build one final roll! You’re going to be narrating the bit in the credits where the voice over explains what your character does next in their life, so pick a trait and tags that reflect what you’d like to narrate. No dice from the dice pool, sorry. You can get an assist die from other characters if you both expect them to be spending a long time in each other’s presence, for whatever reason.

“For each success, you can narrate one cool thing that happens to your character. For every two failures, rounded down, you have to narrate one problem. You can remove a problem if you also drop a cool thing. So if you had three successes and two failures, you’d narrate three cool things and one problem, or you could do the trade and narrate two cool things and no problems.”

This is basically lifted from Fiasco but that’s a good game.

Lady Blackbird & Miro

Finished up that Lady Blackbird campaign I mentioned earlier, which was a blast. I might actually be about done with feeling like I’m a mediocre GM — still had the same tension I always have right before a session, but we got through this one with zero delays on account of my stress levels, which is pretty good for me and I feel great about where our improvisation led us.

More to the point, I’m completely sold on Miro. I’d been thinking I needed to do a ton of work to make a Miro board useful, and that I’d need to be messing around with it a lot during play. This is in fact untrue. I just set up an image board for NPCs and dropped a couple of reference images in it (one map, one picture of The Owl), and that was immediately helpful. Later on, I added a couple of rules references. Again, useful immediately without any serious work needed on my part.

Also great: using it for links to our dice roller, Google Sheets character sheets, and so on.

Actual Play: Lady Blackbird

I’m running a brief Lady Blackbird campaign for S. and some old Boston pals, and it’s going swimmingly. They’re all happy to help drive plot and I’m happy to throw in complications and the game sings pretty well under those conditions. I was curious to see how forgiving the mechanics were; it’s easy to make dice pool mechanics pretty brutal (hi, Blades in the Dark). In this case the huge dice pools and the ease of refreshing them means the characters feel pretty heroic. The players also seem to enjoy the part where you put together dice pools, so that’s all good.

I’ve been using Miro as a visual board, and I’m really digging it. Starting small and expanding use as we go is working well for me. Right now it looks like this:

Next iteration is probably trying to do character sheets on Miro. Oh, and adding a rules cheat sheet, that’d be easy.

I am tickled pink at my little annotations on the NPC portraits. Prince Lupus there has very soft hands and smells of gardenias. The PCs freed him while they were escaping from the Hand of Sorrow.

Go Alone: Actual Play

I sat down and played a session of Go Alone yesterday. It’s a solo journalling RPG in which you play an ancient magical sword that dreams of the day they can retire. It’s very hard to reach that goal; you’re pulling blocks from a Jenga tower, and when the tower falls, the sword breaks and the game ends.

The core loop is simple: you take 1-6 actions (usually inventing memories or describing events) based on prompts randomly selected by playing card draws. Most card draws require you to pull a block from the tower. That’s one day. At the end of the day, you make up a short in-person narrative about the day and what you’ve learned about your bearer and yourself.

I found that the deliberate separation of the two phases helped me set aside the knowledge that I was controlling the fiction; I consistently felt like I was reacting to events that were outside my control. There was no guarantee that I was going to get prompts that would let me tell a particular story. It also helped that the Jenga tower was completely uncontrollable. I knew I couldn’t force the story in any particular direction, because after a couple of days I was never expecting to survive.

I realized pretty early that I had to be careful about not answering unasked questions. If the prompt didn’t call for me to make up a particular bit of background, I didn’t make it up. This was relatively natural for me, since I tend towards developing characters in play anyhow, but still took some care.

In the end I wound up with a slight emotional attachment to my PC — less than usual but still there — and a narrative that arose from my treasured intersection of oracular divination and storytelling. I will do this again.

After the break, the actual play. I wrote all this in GoodNotes — the handwriting recognition was capable of capturing my scrawl, which is pretty impressive. I have a few notes on what I was thinking; these are italicized.


I had a great weekend of gaming at a virtual mini-con ran by Paul Beakley as part of the Indie Game Reading Club. (Patreon him up, yo!) I have a couple of general thoughts, then I’ll do a quick recap of the games I played in.

In order to deal with the usual “people who are around when registration opens get into all the games” problem, Paul asked people to hold their registrations to one or two games in the first day, and then opened the floodgates a bit wider. That worked really well. He also highlighted games that needed more people, which was cool. The latter probably only works if you have a relatively small population of players/games, but that’s maybe a good idea anyhow. Or you could automate it if there was good free event registration software out there? Alas.

Over the course of the weekend, we sort of evolved a practice of posting a thread for each completed game in the Slack. I really dug this because I liked learning a bit about games I wasn’t playing, and I liked seeing what else people I’d played with had been up to. It was great for connections.

I played in four games, which was just about right. By coincidence I had Friday off, so I was able to double up on games there, which was a bit tiring but ultimately fine. I booked myself into evening games on Saturday and Sunday, leaving days free to relax and play World of Warcraft and so on.

The Gathering Stones

I played a game of i’m sorry did you say street magic last night with Rye, Nicholas, and Joe, and it was awesome.

Quick description: it’s technically a map building game, but really it’s a game in which you build the relationships between places on a map which never actually gets drawn. Unlike The Quiet Year, there are no random elements. I’d wondered if that would result in overly still metaphorical waters, but as it turned out, the game forces interaction between the setting elements you create with just enough strength to prevent stagnation. Also, every time around the table, there’s an Event which must alter at least one element, so that keeps things moving as well.

If this sounds interesting, note that the game was in the Racial Justice bundle in the summer of 2020, so you may already have it.

Our city was boastful, vast, ageless, and magnetic: four adjectives chosen from a list at the start of play. It wound up being a place where cultures and people met and mixed and fought over the millennia. I defined an early Neighborhood as “An ancient waterfall, tamed by technologists long gone, filtering through man-made gates.” That sense of ebbing and flowing knowledge stuck throughout the game, for me. (I always wish I could see the city we created through the eyes of another player, though.)

The facilitator, Rye, added a whole new kind of people made of light as our second Compass: the theme for a round of play. After he declared the Compass, he established a new Landmark, the Painted Passageway. “Painting that was the origin of the Bright Ones. They first came unnoticed as the artists were in a frenzy. Now they are observed passing in and out of this painting.” The game almost immediately grounded itself in the way the existing residents reacted to the Bright Ones and the changes they brought. It became evident over the next two rounds that they were going to draw on the water of the city for their own purposes.

The sense of beings beyond our control taking advantage of our resources was interesting; the way the merchants of Main Street (“True Name: Political power, wealth, commerce.”) mirrored those actions was interesting. Lots of layers. As we came towards a close, I took a Resident I’d already established and asked the rest of the table if I could re-establish him 50 years in the future, making an abrupt time jump, and they said sure! So the hot-headed, conspiracy-minded Kevin Young became a chubby, relaxed bartender collecting the stories of travelers. “I’ll tell you my story,” he said, “But first I want to hear what you know of the time the Bright Ones came and left.” And he wrote it all down, in hopes that a century from now the Bright Ones would be remembered, and less feared.

I do in fact want to play this again. I also want to use it as a base for the next urban fantasy game I run; run it as the first session, and build characters from there.