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[Black Cadillacs] Things not to do in Kon Tum when y'ain't dead
Topic: [Black Cadillacs] Things not to do in Kon Tum when y'ain't dead (Read 1930 times)
[Black Cadillacs] Things not to do in Kon Tum when y'ain't dead
November 12, 2007, 10:16:22 AM »
A few weeks back, I had an opportunity to run a one-off playtest of
at a friend's birthday party-slash-mini con. I've posted some early (effusive) reactions to the game
over here at Story-Games
. In short, the game was fun. I had the opportunity to try out a few rules fiddles that I don't want to use in the
Barbed Wire & Bayonets
game (for fear of muddying the waters). Additionally, it was very nice to game (and reconnect) with a long-time friend (Denise) as well as a brand new friend (Floyd). I'll also mention that the events leading up to the game were super: we all played in a huge Lacuna game; we ate excellent food; on several occasions, Denise asked about (and occaisionally pimped) "the game you're running tonight, right?" Man, that ego stroke felt good. It's also part of the reason why this writeup has been so long coming -- I needed to distance myself from the elation.
A quick housekeeping note: I'll be following the same colouring convention as in the Barbed Wire reports:
Red for direct questions
Green for reflections
. However, I'll be adding a third markup:
Blue for rules tweaks that saw play in this game
I can say pretty safely that Denise is a long-time traditional gamer. Various iterations of Cyberpunk, the World of Darkness and D&D form the backbone of her gaming history. I can't speak for Floyd, so I'm hoping to track down an email address for him and get him in here. This history is especailly relevant because both Denise and Floyd looked a little worried/shocked/??? when I mentioned that playing the game would mean a fair bit of shared narrative and creative duties on everyone's part. Oh, and one of them might be the GM. I think that last one is a shocker...
We had a fairly short span in which to play (three hours max, maybe closer to two and a half). However, we were all game to try, regardless of how sleepy we were (all-day gaming con, right?). We spent a good half hour (45 mins?) going through the war creation process. The process worked well, and some great discussions resulted. I've got to start cataloging some of the spin-off topics that come out of this process, as they're equally important as the ones enshrined in the rules.
The point here is that this is a great stage to get to know what the other players want out of the game.
We settled on American marines in the Vietnam war. We didn't tie ourselves down to a specific battle or front (lacking the necessary research tools), but we set the action squarely in the south of Vietnam, because we wanted that lowland jungle and marsh feel. Thankfully, Floyd was quite knowledgeable about the socio-political (as opposed to military) background of the war, so he became our history wonk for the game.
This was definitely the least-researched BC game I've played. Denise/Floyd: did that lack of solid historical footing bother you? Or was "I've seen a few Vietnam movies" enough?
Next, we chose the Foe. Not much of a surprise here -- Floyd and Denise both expressed a decided lack of interest, and I was totally cool with being the bad guy. We quickly proceeded to Trooper creation,
which also saw the first rules tweak of the night. Although I didn't have a Trooper of my own, I got to play with Floyd and Denise as they passed the sheets around the table. Floyd and Denise each did step one (Name and Next of kin), and then each passed to the right (Denise to Floyd, Floyd to me, with Denise sitting out) for Background, and then Floyd sat out for Last Night at Home.
I think that this one's a keeper, as it allows the Foe to 'spike' characters with interesting flaws if need be. I also enjoyed being part of the character creation process, so that's good too. On a more practical level, it also means that the Foe is more aware of the Troopers -- she's been involved in their creation, so they're less likely to be faceless ciphers in her mind.
Next of Kin: Father - Jack Sr, army vet
Background: Farm boy, wide-eyed & innocent, trying to do good.
Last Night: Went to bar (underage!) with others from base.
Next of Kin: Father - Juan Sandes, from Albuquerque NM
Background: Hot-blooded yahoo, needs to prove himself 'a man'.
Last Night: Broke up with his girlfriend when she said that she was pregnant.
Mood: tense as opposed to action-adventure
Target: someone with intel. We were provided with a name and a picture, although the we never specified what those were.
Unit Type: normal grunts as opposed to special ops. (Generally unprepared for non-combat stuff.)
Film style: Hyper-real (think Black Hawk Down), jittery.
I was pretty jazzed about the parameters, especially the snatch-and-grab and the tension bit. Those two work together really well. The six parameters did exactly what they're supposed to do; my creative juices were flowing, but I didn't feel overly constrained.
Second rules tweak:
the face-up cards for the scene were dealt to the table before the scene frame, rather than during conflict resolution. It's a minute fiddle, but I like that it telegraphs (a bit) how important the scene will be to the mission -- lots of big cards, then you know damn well it matters, etc. The Troopers are both green recruits, filling holes in the platoon's ranks. I frame all of the grunts in the platoon in barracks waiting for orders. It's the oft-seen 'men being overly manly men' setup from a lot of popular culture. It's damn hot, and the air isn't moving. Hanson is busy writing a letter 'home to a special woman' (this is key -- we don't know who she is).
The rising action of the scene was brief. This was by design on my part. I didn't want Floyd and Denise to drown under a deluge of 'quick! more creativity! and now, some more!' I took every legal opportunity to introduce stuff that would push things towards a conflict.
Sure enough, Hugo found himself embroiled in a shoving match with a big bruiser in the squad, [drawl]
[/drawl]. The goal for the conflict is "can Hugo prove himself to the squad".
What's neat here is that this is the first time I've seen an individual goal put forward.
I was a little nervous to see how the system would handle it. Since it wasn't 'her' conflict, I reminded Denise that all Troopers roll in every conflict. I think she looked a little worried. I probably spun off onto a tangent about how in the first playtest, a Trooper buried up to his neck in sand was able to affect the fiction. (The implication was that she had no excuse to do otherwise, but I didn't spell it out. Ok, maybe just a little. But I was undoubtedly smiling.)
I can't remember the specific back-and-forth of the conflict, but something that I distinctly remember is that unlike a lot of early-in-the-mission BC conflicts, I didn't win it in three Gos. Floyd and Denise made me work for my win, taking a couple of Gos in the mix -- which of course meant that I had to take them back. Floyd went for an early memory (and he timed it to coincide with a decent-sized die pool too!). Before that memory-Go, a bystander to the fisticuffs had been shoved into Hanson (who was trying to mind his business, and finish his letter). That gave Denise the perfect excuse to get Hanson in on things, so he tries to settle the disagreement in his own way. Enter Hugo's memory: his father fighting a fight for him when he was 13. Neat! That tied nicely into his background, and definitely ratcheted up the emotional stakes in the conflict. Plus, getting 1s and 2s as wild really helps when you're rolling a nice sized mit of dice. Floyd definitely took
The conflict ended with Hugo failing to impress the squad. However, Floyd and Denise flipped things in a neat sort of way during Falling Action:
got some grudging respect for his role in the whole thing. Denise and Floyd elected to leave things wide open in terms of my next scene frame. That's cool. Oh! Hanson didn't finish his letter.
There's a ton of stuff in here that I want to talk about.
I frame both fire teams in their choppers, just as they touch down in the LZ. There's all the cinematic stuff about the rotor wash, the noise, and the insanely beautiful sunset. I released the scene to the players just as their Troopers are hopping out, with the doorgunners covering them. I wanted to enjoy the organic discovery of the conflict this time, so I didn't play as aggressively as I could have during Rising Action. Next, something unpleasant happened. I don't know if my passive play was the root cause, or if the players weren't comfortable with the sweeping authority they held during Rising Action; the result was a kind of meandering tentativeness during Rising Action. It's tough to describe, but it was like we all knew what the conflict had to be about, but we were all reluctant to jump in and declare it. At one point, I actually said "OK, there's a conflict here, but no one seems willing to propose one." That seemed to get the ball rolling again, and it looked like we were in for an interesting firefight with some VC soldiers...
And then the timer went off. Hello, Endgame!
The timing of Endgame was a mixed blessing -- it cut short a less-than great Rising Action. On the other hand, it looked like we were about to solve that little bump. Regardless, I quickly ran through the card-game rules. Due in large part to the very short game, no one was even close to filling their hands, and I had to improvise a solution.
I elected to have everyone draw-up to four cards from the deck, and ignore all of the 'fake card' rules. We played the game out over three tricks.
I think that the three-trick portion of the tweak was good. Three stories seems to be about right for a given mission. However, I'm thinking that the best way to solve the hand-size dilemma is to actually start everyone with three cards in-hand. Maximum hand size will be about five or six cards, and card collecting becomes more about
a good hand, as opposed to scrabbling for whatever is the best thing going.
Does that make sense?
Denise and Floyd both seemed hell-bent on actually accomplishing the mission (ie: kidnap the target, extract, etc.) as part of play. Although this is technically possible, I explained to them that although getting together for a game is called a "Mission", that it's just a term. If they wanted to treat it like a hard-and-fast mission, they were entitled to do so. However, the rules allow them to keep the endgame narration as minute as they like. In fact, if this had been a long-term game, they would have been totally cool with having Mission Two actually be
. Esssentially, there's some semantic disconnect between the rules text: it says Mission, and it means Session.
In the end, the Mission wraps with claymores going off, some poor old villager (and his donkey) getting torn apart, half the squad dying in the firefight and the camera craning
up into the sky to survey the carnage. Fade to black.
This was cool. Not amazing, but cool. It felt a little forced, but the results were fine. What happened next was amazing.
Denise and Floyd had both won stories. I explained what they were, and discovered that I need to re-write the rules for Stories. Here's what the game text should read, because it's what I said that night, and it
"Pick a moment in the game that affected you, the player. It doesn't have to be a big earth-shattering thing, but it has to move you as a human being. Now, re-tell that moment and change it. The change can be as subtle or as sweeping as you like. The medium of the message is up to you." I then went on to articulate some of the mechanical restrictions (
I've since come to believe that all of those restrictions are ass. They're not necessary, at least not for the stories themselves.
Here's what we ended up with.
Floyd's story is all about how Hugo met the guys, got along with them and really bonded (
). It's directed at his Dad.
Denise's story is actually Hanson finishing the letter (after the climactic firefight) he'd started writing in scene one. Except that instead of telling what really happens, Hanson lies through his teeth -- soldiers who punched him and now lie dead in the jungle are "great guys, and we're really enjoying our time together" and so forth.
Once again, I was thrilled at how the Story mechanic allowed the players to comment on our game as people. It's very rewarding to see in play.
- Your soapbox about War. Use it.
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