Wednesday, April 2, 2014

ECCC: The Avatar World Playtest (and other things)

Sure, a little more Metric. Lovin' this song. It's because of the indie music bent of the series and  Envy Adams' design (and the movie's song of course) but they make great music for Bryan Lee O'Malley's stuff. I'm stoked for Seconds, which will hopefully come out when he's finally done releasing the Color Editions.

So I wanted to talk about what I learned this weekend in my game of Avatar World. First, let me real quick set the stage for this.
I had three players. Jackson is a game designer and from Olympia who hasn't played Avatar World. Orion is also a designer and friend from Olympia who HAS played Avatar World once before, though that session was a bit of an anomaly (I'd been ready to play ApW that day, and the MC Robert and I both- well, mostly me I guess- kinda ended up pushing a darker style than the usual kid-friendliness of Avatar). Mark is a gamer I met at ECCC the previous night when I played Mouse Guard with him. None of them has significant experience with Avatar, basically at the premise of elemental-magic kung-fu action, which is all that's needed to play anyway. They had snippets of ideas from canon such as elements segregating into their own nations and airbenders being monk-like, but not much more. Jackson was an Airbender, Orion was an Aristocrat, and Mark was a Firebender.

The game had a political bent, with 14-year-old Princess Linmal the Aristocrat visiting the Fire Nation's (not the show country, just used the name) capital using Caes the Airbender and her friend Phil the Firebender as a bridge and local guide, respectively. What exactly happened is mostly irrelevant to my discussion today, but the central idea is that we spent the whole session in the city.

Here's the problem: Downtime exploring the city is completely outside the mechanics on its own. I found buttons where I could to give Linmal a thing to do because she felt she had a strong goal and I had an idea of where to push, a distant cousin from the branch families who was there to make sure she didn't cause trouble and was secretly there to assassinate her to take his place as heir to the Air Nation throne. The attempt didn't quite happen, which is fine but I probably should have accelerated that scene a little further.
But Linmal wasn't the problem. Caes and Phil did their own little thing that, while it felt Avatar-y, wasn't particularly engaging in mechanical terms. Phil didn't roll dice until the final encounter when they got into trouble with the Fire King. Now, there might have been opportunity and Mark got went past it (Mouse Guard the night before was the most story-game he'd done, so AvW was probably some of the most personal agency over his actions he'd experienced), but that also falls on me for poor spotlight control.

This is why I can't decide if the bulk of my issues are motivated by game issues or MC-skill issues. Among other things, one particular concept that's already in the book that I've always known but barely really understood is here:
You get to make a move whenever the players fail a roll, or when they look at you with expectation in their eyes.
I play a lot of Monsterhearts, and my other main *-world games are classic ApW and Sagas, all of which operate with the same safety net for me: the players will shove off each other very easily. In those games, I'm really more in control of situation than action, as the action is primarily powered by the characters being in conflict rather than aligned with each other. I rarely make moves without someone failing a roll because no one's really sitting around doing nothing.
Avatar World wants to be a little more like Dungeon World, where player characters might be uneasy or upset with each other but are rarely outright opposed. Personally, this is cause for concern: I'm really bad at running Dungeon World for exactly that reason. I need to be aggressive, and I'm very passive in that regard.
In looking back, I see a lot of places I could have started pushing harder, places where it was obvious that people weren't sure what to do narratively and I should have started making moves. I really feel bad about this situation in particular because this is not the first time downtime-exploring-in-the-city has shown this very problem for me - it happened in the very first game too. Its crazy - two thirds of Korra takes place in the middle of a metropolis, you'd think I could figure out how that show makes things exciting.

Another thing I want to potentially work on is some additional structure for starting up the game, forging the world and group. It took a LONG time, and the simplicity of playbooks helps but figuring out situation is hard so I'm gonna look into seeing if I can support that.

The Chi mechanic overall worked quite well! No Chi was spent on boosting moves, but it felt like a real option at least. Caes almost Improved too. However, one thing was a noticeable issue: we were running into situations where people wanted to be able to use their Chi but had no Tags available. This isn't an issue in combat, but in a talk-heavy session (we rolled Speak Honorably a LOT) it doesn't leave much room for Tags. I have four main options related to that: link Speak Honorably to the tag system, link Act Dishonorably to the tag system, confirm and emphasize Move With Intention's ability to be used as social positioning, and or weaken the requirement of Tags for the Chi system to function (which is the worst option and actually requires complicating the system further).

The flexibility of Tags combined with their binding nature was well-liked! Also, Orion basically liked all the moves the Aristocrat had to offer, though we found by the end that Mastermind might have a more interesting mechanic if it behaved a little differently ("when does it trigger, and how do I do it given that I'm not a mastermind myself" were the identified points of issue). After discussion, I'm considering a retroactive contingency thing. Orion had been torn between the aristocrat and the earthbender but chose against the EB because it had no real social-focus moves. This is not surprising to me as the earthbender continues to be a huge pain in the ass.
Jackson chose Redirection and kinda felt like the Airbender's moves were in the same boat as the MH Vampire, where only a couple moves are interesting to the point of overwhelming the others (namely Redirection and Soundbending). I mostly agree (with a caveat I'll get to in a moment), so I'll keep watching for any interesting ideas for Airbender moves.
Mark pretty quickly migrated to Sunsoul on the Firebender. In case you're not familiar with the playbook, that's the +1 Hot move. That's fine of course - it's a valid move, and I think it's helpful. EXCEPT: this is part of a trend I see in the *-World games when I play 'em with people who've never used the system before. Those +1 Stat moves are often very tempting to new players and completely ignored by folks who know how the system works - it's especially true if the player is new-ish to story games or even just plays trad games a lot too (using those words in the loosest sense). I think it's cuz the ability to be better at what you do is usually a great idea in trad games, whereas the *-world systems tend to shine brightest when you diversify your options and give yourself more opportunities to work with the mechanics, which is approximately the same reason I'm leery of stat-substitution moves (though not opposed, as I see those as significantly more useful). The +1 Stat moves are important for making the benders and the scholar really feel like the most natural, the hottest, the keenest, etc (as without those moves no one can reach a +3 stat) but I think they're not really the best thing in 1-shots. For that reason, I think when I put the playbooks on the table for a 1-shot con game or whatever I'm gonna cross out the +1 Stat moves. Besides, those are basically the least-needing of playtest feedback anyway.

So I learned a lot! Jackson and Orion talked with me some more afterward and had some good thoughts, as did Robert from his previous looks at the text (having run the game twice already).

Hey, while I'm here I might as well give the debrief on the rest of the con.
Games played:
Avatar World: Described above.
Fedora Noir: This unreleased game by Morgan Stinson is the best noir game you'll ever play. It's truly brilliant. I was The Detective, and it was so cool. Ask and I'll tell you the whole pitch. Orion was facilitating.
Mouse Guard: Played to fill a spot, this was my second experience with some variety of Burning Wheel, the other being a game of Torchbearer. BW's relatives are definitely a bit crunchy for me, and I don't know the comics, but it's cool.
Fiasco: I ran this off-menu at the drop of a hat on Sunday afternoon. Played the Tales From Suburbia playset with gamers who only had a bit of experience with Pathfinder but really wanted to see what this Fiasco thing was all about. It went really well - it moved swiftly, chaotically, satisfyingly, and with everyone getting into framing (which is the best, I love when new folks also do the framing - so often they fall back on the Resolve like a crutch).

Things Bought:
Lost At Sea is the original graphic novel by the guy who would go on to do Scott Pilgrim. It's a gorgeous book released really recently as a 10-Year Anniversary Edition. I almost got this the weekend before when I was in Portland at Powell's, but scoffed at the $25 price tag. Well, the price was the same but I'd been regretting not getting it all week so this was the one thing I came to the con knowing I would purchase.
It's still one of my absolute favorite comics ever. If you've not read it, go pick it up.

The Evil Editions of the Scott Pilgrim books are only available at cons and feature a higher price tag with the only major difference being the Evil Ex on the cover instead of one of the heroes. I don't own any other Evil Editions and had completely forgotten they even existed (as I read the comics for the first time AFTER PAX last year and haven't seen the Evils since), but the colourist was sellin' 'em and I wanted my absolute favorite one in the special edition and signed. Volume 4 is easily my favorite Scott Pilgrim book, which is in turn easily my favorite comic series (with second place going to Saga right now - I decided against buying Saga Volume 3 while there, but it was a serious consideration). Volume 4 has Lisa Miller and Knives' dad and Roxy and Scott and Ramona having troubles but getting past it and Scott actually taking the first major steps at growing up. It's my biggest issue with the movie that Scott doesn't learn anything at all and continues to be a huge dumb self-absorbed jerk (who is lovable) through the whole thing, while in the comics he actually displays, you know, growth of character. Volume 4 is where everything comes together in a perfect storm.

I've been considering getting Tony Dowler's Seattle Doomsday Map since it first came out, and I love it. It's gorgeous and smart and Tony's an awesome guy. I also got a microdungeon!

I confess: I haven't the slightest idea what to do with Avery's new thing. It's really nice feeling and sturdy and the font and text is beautiful and yet it's held together with a binder clip and I think you're supposed to color right on the pages? So can it only be used once completely? Do I photocopy it? Is there a PDF or something? I haven't read it enough to know if it's even something I would play, it's just a part of the collection. But like I said, it's a really pretty assembly thing.

These are just the autographs I got from the three webcomics folks I read on a daily basis, Jeph Jacques (Questionable Content), David Willis (Dumbing of Age, Shortpacked!), and Danielle Corsetto (Girls With Slingshots). I mostly post this image as an excuse to also talk about the crazy thing Orion did: have you ever played Broken Telephone or Exquisite Corpse or any of a dozen other names that game has? On a sheet of paper you write a description, the next person draws that thing, then you fold over the description and the next person tries to describe the picture, and the next person draws that, etc. Well, Orion went around Artist Alley on Sunday and had the actual artists playing off each other in sequence (and he had two simultaneous games going so every person did a drawing on one game and a description on the other). The end result was really funny and interesting, and there was some cool art in there. I'll post that up here on the blog too once Orion scans it in cuz it's so cool.

Anyway, I think that's it for actually getting. I photographed a ton of comics and artists I wanted to check out cuz they looked cool but couldn't buy their stuff. Some of this was just based on the covers, others were from experience with the premise. Here, if you want to know what I found interesting:
Rust by Royden Lepp.
Tale of Sand by Jim Henson.
Polarity by Max Bemis. I've already read the first volume of this one, it's pretty awesome.
The Midas Flesh by Ryan North. (WHAT? It's seriously by Ryan North?! Rad. Explains the velociraptor in a spacesuit picture I guess)
Dragon Age: The World of Thedas Volume 1 Art Book by Dark Horse. It's good, I've looked through it before.
The Last of Us Art Book by Dark Horse. Also excellent. Dark Horse makes really great art books, I own the Mass Effect one and the Assassin's Creed IV one.
EVE Source Art Book by Dark Horse. Holy shit, this looks awesome for a game that is ultimately kinda banal to me.
Dream Thief by Jan Nitz.
The Legend of Korra Art of the Animated Series Book One by Dark Horse.
Avatar The Last Airbender Art of the Animated Series by Dark Horse. Better than the Korra one even, and they're both really great.
Hinges: Book 1 Clockwork City by Meredith McClaren.
Prophet by Brandon Graham. Morgan bought the third volume and said it was a super great series.
Pax Romana by Jonathan Hickman.
The Red Wing by Jonathan Hickman.
The Manhattan Proects by Jonathan Hickman.
Red Mass For Mars by Jonathan Hickman. All these Hickman comics just had great covers.
Change by Ales Kot.
Mind the Gap by Jim McCann.
Zero Illustrations 07-09 by JM Ken Niimura.
The Activity by Nathan Edmonson.
Snapshot by Andy Diggle.
Planetoid by Ken Garing.
The Nightly News by Jonathan Hickman.
ATGO Transhuman by Jonathan Hickman.
Spontaneous by Joe Harris.
The Coldest City by Antony Johnston.
Wasteland by Antony Johnston.
Minor Acts of Heroism.
The Art of Isaac Hannaford.
Joshua Hale Fialkov.
reMind by Jason Brubaker.

If you check any of those out tell me what you think!
Later folks.
End Recording,

No comments :

Post a Comment