Monday, 6 May 2019

Peaky 2019

Peaky 2019 was a really good Peaky for me - I don’t think it could have gone much better.

(If you’re new here, Peaky is a freeform writing weekend. About 30 freeform writers meet on Friday evening and form groups of 5-6 writers. The rest of Friday evening and all of Saturday is spent writing the freeform, and the freeforms are then all run on Sunday.)

I co-wrote Tea at Longbourne and played two other freeforms and several boardgames.

Writing Tea at Longbourne (Friday)

I ended up in a writing  group with Tony, Heidi, AJ and Phil. It felt a bit like getting the band back together - Tony, Heidi, AJ and I were part of the writing team for Once Upon A Time in Tombstone. So it was easy for us to write together, and we’ve all each written games with Phil.

Unfortunately, we struggled to come up with an idea. Peaky starts with a session where everyone pitches ideas for freeforms (that may or may not be written). In our case, I was getting a bit fed up with the process (nothing really grabbed me) when Heidi half-flippantly said that she didn’t care what she wrote provided she wrote it in the room next door. I agreed, as did Phil, AJ and Tony - and at which point we had formed a group. But we didn’t have an idea.

AJ had pitched an idea that involved meaningful decisions, so we kicked that around for a while. I’ve had an idea about a first contact situation where the players are members of the United Nations. They have to react to events (one of Jupiter’s moons goes missing, that sort of thing). We also talked about the old BBC tv show Crisis Command, which was like a Cobra emergency committee larp.

But someone wondered if we could do a different genre, and completely randomly I suggested Pride and Prejudice. And that stuck… We came up with an idea where the characters would make key decisions that would affect events further down the line. And because we’re all nerds and geeks, some of those decisions were a bit gonzo. (We really were taking the most appalling liberties with Pride and Prejudice!)

But we really couldn’t figure out how to do it. We kicked ideas around all Friday night. We thought about making it very Nordic and getting the players to do all the hard work. (That was appealing - we figured we could finish before lunch and spend the rest of Saturday playing games.)

We decided to sleep on it, and hope for inspiration.

Writing Tea at Longbourne (Saturday)

And inspiration didn’t come. We had some ideas, but they weren’t that much better and we couldn’t agree what to do. To me, the ideas felt a bit nebulous and I had a feeling that we had something, but we needed a bit more detail.

So I suggested that everyone spends 30-45 minutes writing their idea up - how they envisaged the game would work. (Tony reported to another group that at this point we were all writing our own game…) We then printed out everyone’s ideas and reviewed them all. We picked the best ideas from each and suddenly we had a structure we could use.

Once we had decided what to write, Tea at Longbourne turned out to be ridiculously easy to write. It helped that the characters are extremely well known, and we could take great chunks from Wikipedia. (In fact, the cast list was almost entirely taken from Wikipedia.)

Another thing that made it easy is that we had structured the game so that we had pairs of characters acting as a team. So once we’d written one, we just had to change the names and we’d written the other. That sped everything up and we ended up finishing by 6pm. (Another writing group finished before us, mind you.)

We spent the rest of the evening playing boardgames - and I organised the Sunday running order, as usual. (I have a system now and it works smoothly).

Sunday - playing the games

On Sunday we played the games. The running order was:

0930 The Circus of Wonders and Shadows and Here’s Dreaming of You Kid
1230 Tea at Longbourne and Berlin Station
1500 Seeds of Humanity and Imaginary Friends

In The Circus of Wonders and Shadows I played an insecure stage magician who had come into possession of a fabulous artefact - but unfortunately had terrible consequences. I had a lovely time agonising whether to continue using it in my show or not.

I didn’t play in Here’s Dreaming of You Kid, which was a four-player game about relationships. (The GMs ran two games simultaneously, otherwise we would have had spare players with nothing to do.) It sounded really interesting though.

Berlin Station was a cold-war spy game that I didn’t play because I was running Tea at Longbourne.

Tea at Longbourne went really well - apart from a few logic errors towards the end, the players seemed to have a great time and even held an impromptu dance. There are a couple of changes that I want to make - the main one to allow for an ending that makes everyone happy. In the current version of the game it’s not possible for everyone to get what they want, and I’m not sure that’s the right thing to do in a Pride and Prejudice game.

A dance in Tea at Longbourne
In Seeds of Humanity I played a Botanist on a colony ship leaving a doomed earth. Unfortunately I struggled a bit with this game - it mixed a murder mystery with a bunch of angst, and while that worked for some, my character was a bit too peripheral to be fully involved.

Imaginary Friends was the last game - which was about childhood imaginary friends (I think). It sounded good.

Six out of six

So six freeforms written at Peaky, most of which I’m sure will be played again at some point. (I know I’m going to work on Tea at Longbourne.)

Sunday, 31 March 2019

Freeform ability strips

Ability Strips are a way to quickly add abilities to a freeform. They consist of a strip of card with three abilities for each character. There is also space for the character’s secret (something that they don’t want other people to know) and information (something that they know but don’t mind sharing).

You can download the file here.

I wrote them with Peaky in mind. There’s rarely a lot of spare time at Peaky, and so there are almost never any abilities at the game written there. While they’re not always necessary, sometimes I miss them so I designed these ability strips that do not require much effort to use. I imagine it wouldn’t take more than an extra 30 minutes to drop these into a typical Peaky game.

The abilities refer to goals and an “Other People” section, so you’ll need to make sure that your character sheets include those - but many already do.

If you’re familiar with our murder mystery games at Freeform Games then you may recognise much of this. In our games, characters all have three abilities, a secret and a clue. Our current format for our games has abilities within the character booklet, but at one time we had ability strips just like these (some of our older games still do).

Abilities don’t suit all games, but I can imagine them working well for games such as Best of the Wurst, An Ecumenical Matter, and Carry on at Camp David. I wouldn’t use them for games like Second Watch or Burning Orchid.

Some tips for using the strips

Knowing that I was going to include abilities wouldn’t change how I write a freeform - the abilities simply make it easy for information to be shared within the freeform.

Some of the abilities refer to a characters first goal. So it’s nice if the top goal is fairly interesting. (I like to think of using abilities as rolling a critical in a tabletop RPG - so it’s nice if you always get something worth having.) But on the other hand make sure that that top goal doesn’t give too much away.

There’s no reason why two (or more) characters can’t have the same abilities.

I generally don’t include many of the abilities that expose secrets, and I am careful about who I give those to.

In Freeform Games, the murder can’t be solved purely by using abilities (so the murderer doesn’t have “I’m the murderer” as their secret). So be circumspect when thinking about what to use as secrets and information.

Adding Ability Strips to The Highgate Club

Before posting this here I’ve taken the Ability Strips out for a spin and added them to The Highgate Club. I’d already prepped this as I had hoped to run it in January, but I didn’t get enough players and ran Death on the Gambia instead. So The Highgate Club is all printed out and ready to run...

So all I did was use the ability strips as given and created one for each character. I re-read their character sheet to identify an appropriate secret and piece of information, and that was it. The Highgate Club has 14 characters so I needed to create four more ability strips - and all I did was duplicate two of the pages. (So some characters have duplicate ability strips - not that it matters.)

I did check through the characters and make sure that they had an interesting first goal and that they knew at least two or three other people - that did mean a little bit of rewriting, which probably wasn’t a bad thing.

I haven’t run The Highgate Club again yet - and I’m looking forward to seeing if the strips make a difference.

Expanding further

The abilities I’ve used are all fairly straightforward information-sharing abilities that suit pretty much any freeform. Please feel free to replace with other abilities that suit your game.

A simple way to make the abilities suited to the character is to add a bit of flavour text, explaining why they have that ability.

Freeform Games have some standard rules for combat, arrests, capturing, poisoning and pickpocketing that all contain further examples of abilities. You’re welcome to use them!

Here’s the link to the Ability Strips again.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Airecon 2019

Overall, I had a delightful Airecon 5. Airecon is the annual board and tabletop rpg convention held in March in the Harrogate Conference Centre. This was my third visit (it's virtually on my doorstep so it would be daft not to go).

This year, for the first time, I didn't go alone. Megan came with me, as did my brother and Jack his son. They all enjoyed themselves, and Megan decided to come back on the Sunday with me.

Here's how our convention played out.

Saturday

We started with Arrr, a playtest of a game of pirates digging up treasure. This involved getting our meeples to the buried treasure, rotating sections of the board to get paths to line up. There were some rules about stealing other player's treasure, but these seemed a bit complicated (a few too many exceptions involved) and when we started playing the complexity of just getting my meeples to my treasure meant I couldn't handle the stealing rules. I said this, Phil agreed, and we decided to ignore stealing for this game.

Arrr
Maybe stealing works once you've figured out the movement, but as a race game it was fine. (But I won, so maybe my view is coloured by that.)

Over at the Asmodee section of the game we decided to try Dice Forge. We were taken through the rules by one of the demo team, and had a very enjoyable game. Dice Forge features six-sided dice with interchangeable faces that you upgrade - it's a bit like a deckbuilder but you only have 12 cards. It plays quick and I like rolling dice. I won this as well.

Thumbs up for Dice Forge
After Dice Forge we wandered around the stalls a bit, I caught up with a few people that I knew, and then we grabbed something to eat from one of the several food outlets.

After that I went to find Megan (who was dropped off by Mrs H) while Phil and Jack played a few other games. When we came back, Phil and Jack were deep in a game so Megan and I played Wibbel, playtested a bee game (a bit too random - Megan had a great theme suggestion though), and played a huge version of Tsuro using carpet tiles (fun mainly for the physicality of it).

Phil and Jack then joined us to play Hey That's My Fish with the players as the playing pieces. We played a team game (kids v adults), and the team aspect was very interesting in trying to agree who should move each turn. Happily for all, it turned out to be a tie.

Hey! That's My Fish!
We then headed back to the Asmodee demo section to try Pandemic: The Fall of Rome, which we lost heavily. We followed that up with Four Elements (a four player flicking game similar to carrom) before having a final game of Dice Forge (which Phil decided to buy).

Sunday

My original plan for Sunday was to go on my own and play a tabletop RPG. (My even earlier plan was to run some tabletop, but I wasn't organised enough for that.) However, Megan had such a nice time on Saturday that she wanted to come with me. I'd booked myself in on a game, but it had no free spaces so instead we found a game with a couple of free spaces and played that instead.

Our characters - we were all playing women.

I checked with the GM that it was suitable for a 12-year old, and we started playing. The game was a Victorian Fate Accelerated investigation into mysterious goings on at an archaeological dig in Egypt. Unfortunately the game was very slow and I could tell Megan was bored (I wasn't that excited myself). Worse, I don't think we could ever have worked out what was going on from the clues we were given (even the grown-ups, let alone Megan).

A couple of things would have improved it:

  • Fewer players: When we joined, we had four players total. That's a good number for a tabletop RPG, it means that everyone gets plenty of limelight. Unfortunately, we were joined by two more players, making us six. Unless you're playing Hillfolk (or another game designed for lots of players), or you're an exceptional GM, six players is really too many.
  • Replace the first scene with shared history: Although the game was set in Victorian Egypt, the first scene was set at our lodgings in London and basically consisted of us being hired to investigate mysterious goings-on. We were never going to say no, but dutifully we played this out over 30 pointless minutes. Instead, we could have started in Cairo and replaced the hiring section with some character building and shared history.
  • Provide context with the clues: In an ideal scenario, we would have pieced together the clues, understood what was going on, and developed a plan to stop it. Unfortunately while we were finding clues, as players we didn't understand what we were seeing. As a result, all we did was poke the scenery and reacted to what turned up. If we'd understood what the clues meant, maybe we could have been more proactive. While the GM did bring the final scene forward, I'm pretty sure the mystery was unsolvable. The denouement featured a previously unknown NPC and some mad science, which I certainly didn't see coming.

Sorry for the rant. I set high standards for convention games as I don't like disappointing players (and I don't like to be a disappointed player).

Adding a cat to the wall of cats
Lunch followed the RPG, and then designer Jon Hodgson demoed Bang and Twang, a very lightweight card game that was a fun but probably needed a few more beers to properly enjoy.

Megan and I then played Assembly, a cooperative game that we narrowly lost (we would have won it on our next turn). We finished Sunday with The River, a worker placement game that I came joint first in.

The River
Sunday at Airecon was noticeably quieter than Saturday, and speaking to one of the traders they said that it felt like everyone was just passing through the trade stands on Sunday, unlike Saturday where they would stop and browse. I couldn't disagree, as I'd done exactly that!

So that was Airecon 5, and we are all looking forward to Airecon 6 next year.

Meanwhile, elsewhere...

Links to some of the things I've recently written elsewhere.

Hosting Death on the Gambia in 2019: In January I hosted Death on the Gambia for the Little Leeds Larps Facebook group. Getting enough players was a bit of a challenge - we were hoping to get enough to run The Highgate Club, but instead I hosted Death on the Gambia instead.

Leeds Freeform Larps: This is the wiki I set up to promote freeforms in Leeds. Not terribly successful, at least not yet.

Looking Back at 2018: For the Freeform Games blog. My annual review of the year. I know that December is full of looking back stories, but I like to do this in January because the year isn't over until it's over, and I want my figures to be accurate.

Big Money: Again, for the Freeform Games blog. Here I've provided the money graphics for all our games so that our customers can do what I did when recently hosting Death on the Gambia.

Investigating Pickpocket Crimes simple rules for investigating pickpockets in freeforms. Written for Freeform Games, but anyone can use them.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Running Cthulhu Dark

So finally, after writing about it back in 2017, I have finally run Cthulhu Dark. I ran In Whom We Trust on a wet Sunday afternoon in March at Go Play Leeds (GPL), which wasn’t as atmospheric as I might hope.

In Whom We Trust was originally written for the Call of Cthulhu tournament at Convulsion ’96. Since then it has been played a number of times and suffered a variety of edits.
In Whom We Trust was also used as the RPGA tournament scenario at GenconUK 2001.

I last ran it at Continuum in Leicester in 2016 and wrote about that here.

For Cthulhu Dark, I made a few changes:

  • I deliberately made the characters more powerless. So rather than white European explorer types, I made them unemployed locals.
  • I changed the expedition from being a Miskatonic expedition to one from the University of São Paulo.
  • I added detail in the form of themes, creeping horrors, and what rolling 5s and 6s would reveal.

But apart from that, the scenario is pretty much as it was before.

How did it play?

I had four players, Nathan, Kip, Gary and Daniel. Two experienced players, and two very new to roleplaying. (One had apparently seen roleplaying on Critical Role, found GPL on meetup and turned up to find out what was going on. My how times have changed.) Happily, I don’t think I put them off.

The game went well, if perhaps shorter than I expected. We finished in under two hours. (Although perhaps I should have remembered that, as looking back on that run in Continuum I think that finished in a couple of hours as well.)

Still, two hours is plenty (not every session has to be a five hour marathon) and it gave us lots of time to relax and chat afterwards.

As for Cthulhu Dark itself:

  • Playing the game was pretty painless. It’s about the level of rules that I like - very simple, not very difficult. As this was the first time I’d played it there were a couple of moments where I had to look something up, most only now and again.
  • Insight worked well - one player reached 6 insight just at the end, the others were on 4s and 5s.
  • There was one survivor, which isn’t unusual for In Whom We Trust. It was nice and depressing. Nobody was upset about that - I pitched it as “Doomed investigators in the Amazon jungle,” so they knew what was coming.
  • I totally forgot about the creeping horrors, which didn’t surprise me as I had a feeling that would happen. My plan to overcome that was that I repeated them on the worksheet at the end of the scenario. Only I never looked at it. I don’t use a GM’s screen, and maybe if I did I would have written them out so that I couldn’t miss them. (Still, given that we were playing in Geek Retreat, I’m not sure it would have made much difference.) 
  • I found a few glitches in the scenario, which I’ve since sorted out.

Overall I’m enjoyed running Cthulhu Dark - it worked well with In Whom We Trust. I’ll probably use it again, if I’m running a horror game (which to be honest doesn’t happen much these days).

Try it for yourself

Here are the game files:

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Contingency Envelopes Again

After reflecting on contingency envelopes last year in my experience in Shogun last year, I decided to be a high-trust player in Torch of Freedom and open my contingency envelopes early.

Because I was a bit rushed to start with (thanks to a busy day at work I didn’t check into the hotel until 10 minutes before everything was going to start), I decided not to open my contingency envelopes immediately, but wait until the end of the first period.

I had three envelopes, two looking for player numbers and the third for an item. I spotted one of the players at about midnight on the Friday after spending much of the evening staring at badges numbers.

When I opened the other I breathed a sigh of relief as I knew what it referred to (because I’d played before) and knew that meant I didn’t have to worry about reading name badges.

As for the third contingency, I never did see the item, but what it revealed wasn’t a surprise.

In all cases I would say that they could just have been added to my character sheet in a “What you don’t know yet” section along the lines of: “If you see Blind Pugh then you recognise him as Ambassador Flint.”

So for my contingency envelopes, there was nothing that could be included on my character sheet.

However, I’m hoping that I don’t have to be a high-trust player for much longer. If writers can think a bit more about their contingency envelopes, then I wouldn’t want to open them in advance. The trick will be working out when that happens...

Tuesday, 19 February 2019

Torch of Freedom

I don't think I've ever been as unprepared for a weekend freeform as I was for Torch of Freedom, held as usual in Retford during February.

Me as Yuri Fedotkin
Normally I've read my character sheet and got my costume prepared and arrived in good time so that I can relax at the hotel, finish reading and make some plans. This time, a number of factors contributed to my unpreparedness - including Mrs H spending a large chunk of the previous ten days in bed with flu, an unfinished costume, and running a workshop in Birmingham on the day it started. All of which meant I didn't arrive at the hotel until ten minutes before everything was supposed to begin...

So not a very relaxing start, and perhaps that contributed to my weekend being a bit up and down.

Torch of Freedom - what's it about?

It is 1848 and in the eastern European country of Petronia, unrest is brewing as the downtrodden workers rail against the oppressive yoke of their aristocratic masters. It is against this background that a revolution will occur.

I was playing Yuri Fedotkin, the Russian ambassador to Petronia. I wanted to fan the flames of revolution, but ensure that they were snuffed out.

Torch of Freedom was originally written by Bruce Glassco, Brian Altmiller, Rebecca Ellis, Suzanne Miller, Walter Neill and Paul Wayner. It was first run in the USA in 2002, followed by a run in Retford in 2003. I played in the US run (as Horace Hoffman), and I was a GM in the first UK run. So I've experienced it all three times.

Highlights

Revolution - the mechanic: The revolution was so much better this time around. Previously the revolution had involved a simple wargame with locations taped out on the floor, with rules for movement and battle. It was chaos, took forever to resolve, and left a lot of bad memories.

This time, the revolution consisted of a simple yet tactical voting mechanism, using poker chips of different weight (to represent the quality of your forces). There were five key locations, and control of three of them was required for victory. All you did was decide which area you were going to contest, and which way to vote (Monarchy or Republic).

This took about 30 minutes, and was timetabled for the start of Saturday evening, just after the meal break. That’s a huge improvement over the 3-4 hours to resolve the previous revolution.

Revolution - the result: In the first two runs of Torch of Freedom, the monarchy beat the revolutionaries, and the status quo was maintained. This time the revolution was successful and the monarchy was overthrown!

I do wonder how much of that was down to the wargame. There are plenty of players who would not have wanted to participate in that, or may have played sub-optimally because they didn’t fully understand the rules. Simplifying the revolution mechanic probably made it more democratic by making it easier to be involved.

Revolution - my involvement: The other reason there was such a majority was possibly because of people like me. I’m afraid I was meta-gaming. After two failed revolutions, I wanted to see a successful revolution - and so I did my bit to help that along.

This took two approaches. The first was someone from my past was a revolutionary and a friend (played by Julie), and I fed them rifles to help them bolster their forces. The other thing I did was to ask them which areas they weren’t contesting, and I defended there. (I decided that although Steve wanted the revolution to be successful, Russia couldn’t be seen to be on the side of the revolutionaries - so I planned to commit my forces where they wouldn’t be effective.)

As it happens, the revolutionaries took the area I was defending as well! (It turns out that there was more than one revolutionary cell.)

Negotiating with the Ambassadors: I enjoyed the careful negotiations with the other ambassadors (particularly Paul, Steve and Max) . Three of us would have been happy to turn Petronia into a protectorate but nobody had the power to do it alone. As time went on we had more power and more options, and the key thing was not to move in too soon. (I’ve done that before, and you can end up regretting it by becoming the enemy.) So it was a dance, and an enjoyable one at that.

Rewarding the gypsies: It was a delight to interact with David and Liz, who were playing the gypsy king and queen. They’d helped me in the past, I rewarded them in game. I always like to be generous in game, and this time it was rewarded as they came to me later on with something very important...

Hoffman in chains in 2002!
Checking in with Hoffman: As I played Hoffman previously, I was interested to see how his arc compared to mine. I think Matthew was more successful than I was - I ended up in chains after the revolution.

My costume: Despite being a source of some stress, I was very happy with the frock coat that Mrs H made me. Amusingly, I’ve just realised that I was wearing the exact same waistcoat in 2019 and 2002. It doesn’t get out much!

Seeing old friends: Inevitably one of the high points of any weekend game is spending time with friends. Despite a bit of a rushed start, there was still plenty of time to catch up over breakfast and the dinner break.

The barricade: At about 5.30pm, just before the dinner break, the revolutionaries built an awesome barricade, waved banners and sang and danced loudly. It was a wonderful start to the revolution.

Battling 21st century sensibilities: Inevitably modern-day players brought their modern-day sensibilities with them, and it was fun to try and argue from a 19th century perspective. For example, I had great fun explaining that admitting women into university was clearly unwise as not only did they not need an expensive education to run the house and raise children, but that they were taking the place that could be taken by someone more useful: a man.

I noticed the same issue in 2002 when I was playing the factory owner, Hoffman. Here are my notes from the time: One thing that didn't quite work (and I probably could have predicted this) was the problem of the players bringing their 21st century values to a game set in 1848. As a capitalist oppressor of the masses, I particularly noticed this. Although conditions for my workers were appalling (by our standards), I was doing nothing wrong - and yet rather too often I found myself condemned for the workers' poor conditions by those who should know better. (There also weren't enough arranged marriages and executions after the revolution, for similar reasons.)

But…

Unfortunately, if I was scoring Torch of Freedom out of 5, it would only scrape a 3. I didn’t quite have enough game for my liking.

Big problem was that I didn’t quite have enough to do. Friday night was fine and chaotic as usual, as I spend most Friday figuring out who I need to talk to and re-reading my character sheet over and over again.

Saturday morning, however, was very quiet for me. The international negotiations had been concluded on Friday, so I was mainly reliant on personal goals. And while these ticked over, there wasn’t quite enough to keep me fully occupied. When I reconsidered my character sheet I realised that I had quite a bit of background, but not that much plot.

Things improved on Saturday afternoon as we approached the time for the revolution. There was a lot of preparation, and the ambassadorial dance was in full swing as we tried to work out what each other was doing, and tried not to overcommit our forces too early.
The barricade
And then it was the revolution. The revolution itself took 30 minutes, at which point it was clear that the monarchy had been overthrown. As an ambassador I got a tiny vote in deciding the shape of the country, but there was such a huge majority for a republic with universal suffrage that it didn’t matter which way I voted.

After that a provisional government had to be formed, with candidates putting themselves forward by 10.30 on Sunday morning (with yet more voting to follow).

So at about 9pm on Saturday, with the second vote over, my game effectively stopped. There was no government for me to liaise with, and my personal goals were more or less done. So I sat in the bar with other members of the losing side and drank beer.

On Sunday I wondered what to do, and decided to interview all the candidates for the provisional government to find out their policy on international relations, and in particular their views on Russia. Despite me having some votes, most people were completely honest and didn’t think to try and persuade me to vote for them by being pro-Russia.

And then, once my vote was cast at 11am, that was pretty much it for me for the rest of the game. I wouldn’t have minded finishing a bit early on Sunday, if only there hadn’t been so much downtime earlier on as well.

Things I could have done

Maybe there were a few things I could have done to give me more to do.

Shoehorn my way into other plots: Perhaps I could have somehow shoehorned my way into other plots. That's not something I find very easy to do - although that's easier if my character has a specific skill that someone needs. I'm not aware that anyone needed the Russian ambassador for anything.

The romance rules: Torch of Freedom had a set of romance rules, as most weekend freeforms do, but I didn't use them. That's mainly because almost all of the characters I interacted with (whether other ambassadors or people named in my character sheet) were men. I like it when romance emerges naturally from playing alongside another character, and I'm not about to start chasing romance just because I have nothing else to do.

My family: It turned out that both my son (Ivan) and daughter (Irena) were also in Torch of Freedom. I had been told that Ivan had been killed in Turkey and Irena was missing. I suspected that Irena was in the game, and while I realised that Ivan might also be present, that seemed more unlikely.

I was on the trail of Irena on Friday night, and her identity was revealed to me on Saturday. At about the same time, Ivan revealed himself to me. While I introduced myself to them (and introduced them to each other), and offered help, this didn't go much further. I did get involved in some of Ivan's plots, but a bit too little too late.

Looking back, I expect that different players would have found it easier to share plots. As it was, I didn't get on with either player particularly well (a lack of chemistry) and as a result our dealings were largely transactional. Perhaps I should have pushed through that and made more of an effort.

Silver linings

Given that I had more downtime that I prefer, this did present some silver linings.

Time to chat: One thing that there never seems to be enough time of at the weekend freeforms is time to chat to other players. This time I had lots of great conversations, including many with people I don’t normally get to chat to.
The hotel, looking almost tropical in February
Best Retford sleep ever: Thanks to being fairly relaxed on Saturday evening, I think I had my best night’s sleep ever at Retford. I slept really solidly through to Sunday morning, which is a rarity.

Does the game need to change?

Two things make me think that maybe Torch of Freedom still needs a bit of work.

The first are my notes from the first run of Torch of Freedom, when I wrote: ...one of the players had become ill just before the game started. Unfortunately, he and I were fairly closely linked and I think it affected my game as there were parts of Saturday and Sunday when I didn't have enough to do (my goals at that point being either done or in tatters). I'm never really sure how much of that was my fault and how much was due to the missing player. One other thing that was lacking on my otherwise substantial character sheet were a few juicy nuggets of information about other characters completely unrelated to any of my plots. That might have helped me get involved in other plots, I don't know. But as I said, it might just have been me.

The second is that I met quite a few other players who didn’t seem to have enough of a game either (although it was lovely talking to them). Which makes me think it’s not just me.

A problem with a revolution
An angry, if successful,
revolutionary

Part of the problem is the revolution itself. The very nature of the revolution means that there will be winners and losers. That’s great if you’re on the winning side, but if you’re on the losing side your game may just have been taken away from you.

As written, the outcome of the revolution can go the following ways:
  • Monarchy: the status quo. Great for the upper classes, but disenfranchises everyone else.
  • Anarchy: this would pretty much mean the end of the game for everyone.
  • Protectorate under Turkey, Russia or Austria. Great for the relevant ambassador, likely to annoy lots of other people.
  • Republic with Propertied Voters: Great if you have property, but what do those who don't have property do? 
  • Republic with Universal Suffrage: This is the best result for everyone, although even then not everyone got to vote candidates onto the provisional government.

So as it happens, we had the best result for the game - but that still left quite a few players with not much left to do once their side had lost.

Changes to Torch of Freedom

Here are a few ideas of things that could be done for the next run of Torch of Freedom.

Move the revolution: Now that we had a speedy mechanic for resolving the revolution, it could be pushed back in the schedule until last thing Saturday night or even first thing Sunday. It would make for a fine end to the game.

But if you did that, I’d be even more worried about not having enough game, so it shouldn’t be the only change.

More things known about people: As I noted in 2002, my character sheet lacked nuggets of information about other characters. If you weren’t detailed in my background, then I didn’t know anything about you other than the (bland) public information. I like to see bits of information about other characters - if nothing else it’s something to start a conversation about.

This change doesn’t have to be a complete rewrite. The trick is to look at each character to work out what their issues and problems are, and then spread that information around some of the other characters.

More events: Although the Torch of Freedom timetable looked busy, it was surprisingly empty of events suitable for anyone to attend. So I think it would be good to have a few extra events that anyone can attend - a dance, gambling, speeches. I am sure there are others.

Another option would be to make more of the strikes. A bit like putting out the fires in Shogun, the strikes could be something for anyone nearby to become involved in. Some players would be the striking workers, some the troops breaking the strike.

Gambling in the taverns: Gimble’s chocolate house could have had a roulette wheel and cards, dice could have been available in the taverns. That would have given us games to gamble on, although we may have needed a smaller unit of currency than the Ista to gamble with.

Bit parts: Adding bit parts (small roles played by the players for short periods of time) would give players something to do during the quiet times. I can imagine lots of small roles that would be fun to play - striking workers, rioters, gypsies. Minor aristocrats getting beaten up in the warrens. Criminals for the police to arrest.

The diplomatic game: Maybe there could be a diplomatic popularity game, with the various ambassadors (and other nationals) aiming to increase their country’s popularity in Petronia.

And finally...

Perhaps another player would have had a better time with Yuri Fedotkin. Perhaps Yuri just didn’t suit me. If so, perhaps I need to improve how I fill in the casting questionnaire to give the GMs a better chance of giving me a character I will enjoy.

I don’t normally record my casting choices - perhaps I should do so. But I probably ought to work out what it is I like in a freeform in a general sense. Based on Torch of Freedom, these are my first thoughts:

  • I like to be busy: I like having lots to do - particularly stuff that's meaningful (so I don't mean busywork). That doesn’t have to mean lots of goals, but it often does.
  • I like to have someone I can trust in a game: I really like having at least one close ally in the game that I can definitely trust. That doesn’t have to mean romance - just a trusted friend is enough.
  • I like being part of a group: I’d rather be part of a group than a loner. And if I must be a loner, then I would like lots of strong links to other players.

That’s a start, and I will consider more as I go on.

(Thanks to Charlie, Julie and CJ for the photos - I didn't take very many!)