An Ode to the O’Declan’s Brewing Company

In the midst of my game-fast, I’m thinking about games past, old friends, long gone.

Let’s be fair, they aren’t that far gone.  Pete is IMing me right now and Aaron is coming over this weekend to watch UFC 145 but not having a solid excuse to sit down with them and visit fictional places makes it feel like they are far gone.

O’Declan’s Brewing Company was a strange and amazing game based in the Mieville-inspired MoBu City. The rhythm of the campaign was somewhere between Perdido Street Station and Breaking Bad. It was about two dwarves who ran a brewing company in a mad, magical city with newly immigrated giant spiders, wolves coming in from out in the country, dwarves bringing their crafts and wares, orcs and roden (rat people) living in the under-city and a fading memory of elves.

Pete and Aaron made really brave, interesting choices with their characters that made the game sing.

Pete made his character incredibly talented and quite flawed but not broken. Cormac O’Declan was a roaring drunk artisan of fine dwarven nog. Cormac was a great artist but the other interesting choice Pete made was in his relationships. He used the MoBu City setting we created together to its fullest and had relationships with the head of the spider community.  Suddenly, he had a reason to go share nog with a giant orb weaver (the orb weaver would dip bits of web into the nog and suck on it, rather than drink).

Aaron made Nolan Quinn, who was a huge departure from Aaron’s usual paragon bad-asses; Nolan was an accountant with a gambling habit. Not only that but Aaron made a straight man to Pete’s roaring drunk artist.

The relationship between these business partners was glorious. The rhythm of the game was odd. We weren’t anywhere near the quasi-Tolkien, dungeon crawling of our Forgotten Realms game. Nolan Quinn was shot in the gut the first session and was laid up for close to a year. Violence was a huge decision as these characters were not made for violence; they were normal guys, thrown into an a violent city straining against conflicting species and cultures.

I miss that game like hell; it might be my favorite campaign in recent years.  I wish like hell we had gotten another few dozen sessions into it, to see what became of the gambler and the drunk, the accountant and the brewer, two guys trying to make their way in the big city.

I raise my nog, nectar of the gods, to the sky, spill a bit on the soil and toast the cool things we made up together that have instilled this strong desire to go back and visit them again.

Burning Apocalypse Con

The games that have been hitting my table most in the past few years are Apocalypse World and Burning Wheel.  So when there is a con set up by the two designers of those games, both of whom are friends, I felt a strong pull to go.

Thing is, none of their games interest me as one-shots.  Burning Wheel, Burning Empires, Freemarket, Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World and In a Wicked Age are all games I’m eager to play but they all go from good to really great after a few sessions.  It was a con with almost all of my favorite games but I’m noticing that my favorite games need a few sessions to go from good to great.

FreeMarket: Our con scenario ran a little goofy for my tastes but I’m fascinated by the game.  I bought it soon after and I’m reading it now.  I’m sure I’ll have more thoughts in a bit.

Spending the Dragon’s Hoard:  I set up a campaign and not a one-shot.  There was just too much to do given the beliefs I put on the character sheet.  I’ll post up a thread on the Burning Wheel forum along with characters, beliefs and post-game thoughts.

In a Wicked Age: Another game that needed 4 more sessions to gain its full glory.  It was nice to game with Bret and Michael again.  This made me want to move to New York City right this moment and start a game of IaWA with Bret, Janaki and Janira.

Dogs in the Vineyard: John really runs the shit out of this game (check out the link for his amazing hand-outs).  Also, it was nice to finally game with Matt, who I’ve known for six and a half years and hadn’t gamed with yet.

I slept in for the Sunday morning slot.  It was nice to meander in at around noon, chat with Matt and Jared, chill and eat my salad.

Burning Apocalypse Con was a fun weekend with a conspicuous Alexander-shaped hole in it.

Hal heads into his 5th chapter: Lust for Life and the Fantastical

The play-by-post game is cruising right along and tomorrow will head into its fifth chapter.  I’m kind of shocked that it is working out so damned well.  I am really enjoying it.  It has been a great way to get acquainted with Burning Wheel Gold and has reminded me how much I love writing, leading me to attack other writing projects with a 750-1000 words a day discipline that I have not felt in the past decade.

There were a few moments in the middle of a tense battle that might have taken all of ten to twenty minutes at a table but took the better part of a day and a half posting that drove me a little nuts.  That is just part of the game.

There is an Adventure Log and we use it as a place to write about our favorite moments in each chapter and here’s what I wrote:

Its no one thing this time. I enjoyed getting to write about a gathering of Forgotten Realms Deities, that was good fun.

But more than that, I really dig how much Daniel throws himself into it. Not just being excited about the battle with Xerez but that too. When I post about good smells coming up from the inn’s kitchen, he writes about how much he enjoys breakfast. When people start playing music, drinking and dancing, Hal starts singing songs. I like his lust for life and that is what I enjoyed the most this chapter, the way Daniel takes little cues and enjoys experiencing the Forgotten Realms through Hal so damned much.

The system, the mechanics, the situation are all business as usual in importance but there is something about play-by-post that allows for a tangible enjoyment of experiencing something fantastical that feels different than it does at the table.  Maybe I’m a better writer than I am a speaker or maybe there is something about text over the spoken word or maybe I’m trying techniques on a forum that I would not dare to use at the table.

Maybe I should dare.

We need to consider the very real possibility that it isn’t about me at all (“Its not all about you, Judd.”) but Daniel is allowing his junior high-kid wonderment filter through while playing his teenage dream character with the perspective of an adult.

The whole experience is making me see gaming at a new angle and that is interesting to me.

An Autumn Lull

Our Dungeon World game is smacking its head on scheduling difficulties.  There’s something about the way the hack-n-slash, Defense and Avoid Danger movies bang against each other that vexes me and I can’t quite put my finger on what.  That combined with an XP system that is running lukewarm and I’m ambivalent about the game’s fate.  Maybe we’ll pick up something else that will catch fire, maybe we’ll stick with this and light it on fire or maybe we’ll all shake hands and figure out other ways to spend our Thursday nights.

The Apocalypse World set in the Hudson River Valley is happening once a month or so, if that.  My weekend schedule is hobbling that game, to be perfectly honest and that’s fine, my weekend traveling to see the lady-friend is far and away the priority and my buddies know that and understand.

The play-by-post game is going well.  Daniel and I have hit a more reasonable pace and I’m enjoying the hell out of it.  In a way, that game (along with a bunch of other personal things) reminded me how much I love writing and got me back to the keyboard in a disciplined manner.

The gaming table reflects the gamer’s life, I reckon.  I’m in-between things, not quite here and not quite there.  This isn’t one of those posts lamenting a slow gaming schedule.  I’m enjoying it, actually.  I’m fighting my usual instinct to quickly toss another game right onto the pile to fill a night of the week.

“Take it easy, Judd.  Get your car back, get back in the gym.  Keep writing.  And very carefully fill those time slots while getting resumes out and checking off tasks that align with goals that align with passions.”

How’s your autumn going?

The Many-Handed-Gods’ Many Faces

We played Dungeon World and in an effort to push things away from any kind of Tolkien vibe and more towards a Leiber/Vance end of the spectrum, I made up a creepy deity whose shrine they found in the Thieves’ Guild of Spanterhook called the Many-Handed God.  When an NPC with damage from a weapon that almost had to be a misprint butchered 3/4’s of the party, one of the players made a deal with Death to return.

He returned Evil (mental note: I need a better deal) and a disciple of the Many-Handed God, described as a thieves’ deity whose real hands are hidden behind and has dozens of hands on danging from chains dangling from his body.  I’m not sure why this deity pleased me so much as it was a riff on a character I played some years ago but it tickled my geek bone.

Before last week’s game was to begin, Anthony,  the newly Evil’ed priest’s player, said, “I think I know why the priest turned to evil.”

And I didn’t say, “Um, because he had to because he made a deal with Death, who is a concrete entity with mysterious goals all his/her/its own.”  I listened to my friend and roommate’s story about how the priest had come from a northern warrior culture where strength was prized above all, so when he died at the hands of a thief who worshiped the Many-Handed-God, he saw that this deity was stronger than his own and so he turned.  “And you could see the seeds of his evil in the beginning of the game when I kicked that one thief’s corpse.”  I nodded, kinda/sorta/vaguely remembering this key detail.

Once play began, Anthony began talking about the Many-Handed-God.  “He prizes strength above all else…”

“Anthony, its a thief’s god.  It prizes cunning.”

“Yes, cunning and strength!  He sees trial-by-combat as a hole rite…”

“Maybe if its a knife fight in an alley…”

“Yes, and wishes his worshipers to be strong and…”

We clearly had very different ideas and to be perfectly honest, I was about to stop the game and call him out for being wrong about his ideas concerning this bullshit deity who I made up and was overly proud of.  What the fuck?

Like many deities, the Many-Handed-God changed when adopted by his urban followers in the south.  Whereas in the north his hands will have axes, spears, swords, a compass and a fist, the urban shrines have knives, poisons, coins and forged writs.


There was another moment worth posting here, where Anthony was asking Aaron questions about his character, wanting to know why they were adventuring together, as the Bonds hadn’t bound them too much.  Aaron was really reticent to make anything up, his elf fighter had been butchered by the 9-damage mace misprint and while he loved his Ultra-Marine inspired take on the Paladin, he wasn’t about to become all invested.  “Listen, Anthony, this is a first level paladin who might get struck down after a few bad die rolls.  I’m not getting too attached.  I’ll come up with stuff as we go.”

I interjected an suggested that Aaron’s shiny deity was in fact the Many-Handed-Gods’ father and so it was natural for a priest of one to adventure with a paladin of the other.  Anthony was pleased with that but what Aaron said stuck with me.

Play-by-Post: Forum Play

Over 3 weeks and close to 200 posts later and The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm is still cruising right along.  I’m enjoying the play-by-post’s slow pace, allow me to learn the differences between Revised and Gold and allowing Daniel to become more acquainted with Burning Wheel.

I’m fascinated with this new way to play.  Here are some things that I’m thinking about and noticing as our game chugs along (also worth noting that there are other BWG play-by-post games springing up).

Shabbat and the Jewish Holidays:  Daniel’s observance of the Jewish holidays is really helpful, as it enforces breaks and pauses in play.  I know that I don’t want to start anything too intense in the hours just before sun-down on Friday and as the sun went down tonight on Rosh Hashanah, I knew I didn’t want to begin the coming conflict with the pack of great wolves and the bad-ass orc who road in on said wolves with an elf boy in their saddle-bags.  But in pausing right there on the edge of conflict, we’ll be set to go and excited to be back once we get back to it after a few days off.

Funny side-note, having this game’s pauses be dictated by Daniel’s religious observance is as connected to Judaism as I’ve felt in years.  Score one mitzvah point for Daniel.

Conversations: To me, this is one of the places where play-by-post falls down a bit and I’m developing ways to cope with it.  When we have a back and forth, I post questions and don’t wait for Daniel to answer them and keep the conversation going, with plenty of seeds for Daniel to grab onto.  I don’t want to actually have a conversation because over a forum that is annoying but I want the text to be a kind of outline of the conversation we’re having.  Its odd, check the link for an example.

I like GMing gatherings via forum and text more than I do in person.  Its easier to split things up and have NPC’s talking to one another and show their relationships by how they interact.

Rolling Procedures: Playing via forum, one really notices how often BW asks its players to make choices and those choices can lead to waiting for posts so the shit can really start.  We’re getting used to this and I’m sure I’ll have more to say as the game progresses.

Smiles and Nods: I’m thinking of the two guys I’ve gamed the most with in these past few years, Aaron and Pete and the way they show appreciation for cool shit.  Pete might jump up and say, “DAG!” and Aaron is more of a quiet nodder who will say, “That is fucking awesome,” quietly while he digests and starts to reply.  Over forum, there’s no real way to do that.  We have out of game talk via italics but for the most part, we’ve kept that to mechanics and system stuff.

For the most part, Daniel and I give each other smiles and nods via twitter.  I know I’m cooking with fire when he tweets at me.

We also have a forum threads for Idle Banter, one for each chapter of the game.

The other thing we’ve done is made a space for our favorite moments in our Adventure Log.  So far we’ve been using that as a place to say a favorite moment that the other person has written and its not only a nice attaboy but a nice way to check in and see what’s working for the other.

The Obsidian Portal and the Dream Forum: I can’t help but think of a forum made to support our play.  I see a forum where we can script and the scripts will be revealed as soon as we’ve both entered our choices and maybe even lines up our scripts and gives system help for outcomes.  As it is, OP is fine.  I like the wiki, the way I can insert a link to an NPC easily and the way the whole thing is set up.

Double-back: As a GM, it is nice to be able to go back and take a hard look at my decisions, re-read not an AP thread about the game but a thread where the game is being played.  That is damned interesting

Text Performance Art?: It is neat to have people following the game, watching and reacting.  I wish the forum software allowed for more interaction with little side comments like on ENworld’s forum.

There is a whole community of folks playing play-by-post games or just using the Obsidian Post site as a place to store information, maps, NPC’s and such for their games.  I see a bit of a disconnect.  When people talk about good sites, they talk about funky fonts, youtube videos and lots of time-consuming production time spent on making their OP site look good.  Different games, different priorities and its all good.  Everyone on the OP forum has been very friendly and welcoming and I get the feeling that folks understand that people use the site for very different reasons.

Daniel did make a sexy title page headed for our game, to be fair.

One-on-One: This is the last element of the game that I wrote down to write on in this blog post and it might just be the most important.  Playing via forum is glacially slow and I’d think that the more people, the more slowly it would move.  I bet there are games that would lend themselves well to this kind of group play (Polaris, Universalis both come to mind immediately).

As it is, I’m really happy we went with one-on-one play, allowing us to learn the system and the medium.

[Apocalypse World] Just Outside the City: Five Years Later

From this thread over on Barfing Forth:

Dear Apocalypse Worlders,
Five years have gone by and the threat from the south never came, the remnants of the Five Points Empire collapsed like a flan in a cupboard.  New York City continues to eat itself in uncountable petty feuds.  The cannibals have crammed their way into the southern tip of the Garden.  Meanwhile the Hudson River Valley Compact has flourished and despite the harsh winter famines, commerce has blossomed and the roads were cleared.

There is a murmuring among the populace, some say it is time for elections and others say that democracy got them into the Big Mess in the first place.

Choose an NPC from your list.  You can choose to Hold them Tight or Set them Up.

Hold them Tight means you took them into your confidence and kept them with you during these past five years.  Roll ______________ to find out how that’s going.

Set them Up means you saw to them finding their own place and now they are in charge of some thing, place or organization in the area.  You can find that place on the map or you can explain what they are now in charge of.  Roll ______________ to find out how that’s going.

State of the Table: Autumn 2011 Edition

It has been a late summer of transitions and the gaming reflects that.

My buddy, Pete moved out and that has rearranged the games I was in with him.

The O’Declan Brewing Company (Burning Wheel): If we pick this game up again, it’ll be when Pete is good and situated and me and Aaron find a night when we can head up north to get our games on.  From talking to Aaron, I have a feeling we might pick up something else; we might be able to get Aaron to GM something for me and Pete, which would be a hoot.

But I also really want to play a few more sessions with the O.B.C.  At the end of our last session, they paid a mercenary company to skulk into town and murder their enemies.  I want to play through the consequences of that, dammit.

The Hudson River Valley (Apocalypse World): This summer’s weekend scheduling made gaming with these folks all but impossible, so we haven’t gamed in months.  But we’re picking it up this Saturday.  I’m cooking up letters to the players that lead us into play five years after our last game.

Lights of Hoover:  Dammit, but I think this game is a fatal casualty of Pete moving out.  I’m not sure that any of us have the will to start it up without him here.

Cyberpunk Lunches: The half-hour format was rough but I think we were making it work.  A few weeks of consistent summer traveling put the kibosh on this one.  I’m beginning to think that Autumn and Spring are my gaming seasons.  Summer travels and the winter holidays tend to muss up gaming the other half of the year.

Lady Blackbird and then what?: Continuing with our house game tradition, we’re getting together with my housemates and a few friends to consider a Thursday night game.  Our first night will be Lady Blackbird and then we’ll figure it out from there.  I’m hungering for a campaign of Dogs in the Vineyard until I leave town but we’ll see…might be Dungeon World or somethin’ else.

The Surprising Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm:  I’m shocked at how much I am enjoying playing this play-by-post with Daniel.  During an online conversation about pbp someone had taught em the valuable lesson that the pace is glacial and they were right.  But there are advantages to that.  I can peruse books, character histories,  look over beliefs and take my sweet time.  That has been good fun and it has me writing regularly, which is a nice start for other things.

And medium of the game aside, Daniel has made this romantic, stuck-between-worlds character who has really charmed me.  Yeah, he is a fugitive from junior high daydreaming but there is passion in those daydreams and the burning up process has left its mark, veering it off from perfect reinventions.  I think that the restrictions of the lifepaths has helped and Daniel has embraced that, making the tough choices necessary to make this version of the character, rather than trying to hold on to an ideal version.  Burning Wheel demanded that he let some parts go and allowed him to accentuate other bits and its led to interesting choices.

And how about you?  How were your summer games and what is your autumn looking like?

The Ballad of Hal Whitewyrm

A funny thing happened when I played a few games of Burning Wheel in the Forgotten Realms.  Friends would contact me online and tell me about the games they always wanted to play on the Realms.  Jason was one person and getting to boot up a one-on-one game with him a few weeks ago was really rewarding.

These are the folks with the old Forgotten Realms maps push-pinned to their walls and ceilings when they were a kid.

Daniel was another and he blogged about it and blogged about it again:

Hal Whitewyrm is the character that got away, the one character I really wanted to play and never got the chance to.

Hal Whitewyrm is a half-elf bard living in Highmoon[1], in Deepingdale, in the area known as the Dalelands. He has somewhere in his heritage a trace of weredragon[2] blood which gives him orange eyes. He’s a joyful fellow who honestly loves adventuring.

Hal is the character I created back in the early 90s, when I first started to get into AD&D in high school. He’s the character I would constantly recreate during class, the one I would write short stories about, the one who was my avatar in the world of high adventure that are the Realms. He was a shallow character concept[3] with cool orange eyes and a weredragon girlfriend who existed mostly in my 5-subject spiral notebook in story after story. And I loved it.

I just never got to play Hal. My D&D group played Basic D&D/Rules Cyclopedia and we had a fairly regular schedule, so, little time to try out new ideas. Then we played less and less, then I moved, etc. Aside from the fact that I used the name as an email address for some time, I have not gone back to this character in over a decade. Which is why I surprised myself when I answered Judd’s question about what character I would play in a Burning Wheel Realms game as follows:

* I’d play the character I’ve carried with me for years, Hal Whitewyrm, a half-elven bard with weredragon blood in his ancestry (weredragons are a race of female-only shapeshifting wyrms from the Moonshaes – see the thread there?). He’s the guy I wrote stories about in my teens yet never got to play. Hal is all about the romantic journey (as in literary genre, not mass market Harlequin titles), facing adventure in a large world, ideally of the legendary danger kind, with fast friends at his side, a love life to look forward to, and death around him to put it all in perspective. Think Aragorn’s journey, but with a bard who also deals with issues of identity.”

Wow, I’d never really put those ideas into words before but yeah, that’s what Hal is all about for me: exploring the high fantasy romantic character arc; less about killing monsters and taking their stuff, more about zero-to-hero who saves the princess and loses friends along the way.

I’m kind of fascinated.  I’m not sure a successful game of BW is possible from this spot.  The expectations of setting and character are pretty intense and that interests me.  Playing Hal as a Burning Wheel character is going to mean that what it means to be Hal is going to be challenged.  Hal is going to go through the fire and in doing so will be changed.  Even the character creation (or as we say in BW jargon – character burning) is going to leave Hal different than the guy Daniel dreamed up.

The back and forth with Daniel during the process of burning up Hal was fun and kinda interesting.  BW’s lifepaths have a way of taking what you thought the character might be and adding wrinkles that you hadn’t expected.  The tough choices of the Wheel start immediately.

I’m intrigued to give the Obsidian Portal a shot and play around with different online methods of play.  We’ll stick to play-by-post but maybe we’ll want to give some skype or G+ stuff a shot.  We’ll see how it goes.

For now it is an excuse to write a little every day, hit the heavy-bag, so to speak.  My hope is to wake up and make a short post here and then hit on a few stories that are in danger of getting angry with me.  Don’t want stories angry with me, when that happens they stop talking to me all together.  I can’t have that.

Here’s the first post if yer interested in such things.