Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Beards Not Bombs: A party game of protest slogans

We've all seen protest signs in the format [good thing] not [bad thing]! We also know that activist groups tend to be fractious, with splinter groups objecting to the main group's framing of the issue. In this game, you'll play improbable activists coming up with clever protest slogans.

Flickr/Thomas Anderson

Using a radically non-hierarchical democratic process, pick a starting player. That player should declare "I'm a [cause] activist. [A] not Bombs!" Another player should then jump in and declare "Well, I'm a [different cause] activist. [B] not [A]!" A third player would then say "well, I'm a [yet another cause] activist. [C] not [B]!" The causes for which you are activists can be as ridiculous and fanciful as you like, and the slogans are likely to become increasingly absurd as the game progresses.

The most important rule is that the two items in the slogan must either alliterate or rhyme. So the first player could be (among other things) a facial hair activist chanting "Beards not Bombs," or a mothers' rights activist chanting "Moms not Bombs." Alliteration should alternate with rhyming -- so the second slogan could be an eccentrics' rights activist ("Weirds not Beards!") or a pro-condiment activist ("Mustard not Moms").

There is no winner in this game -- just play until you get tired of it.

Monday, August 18, 2014

GenCon GM report 3: Fiasco -- Science Comics

The third GenCon game was another round of Fiasco. This time we used Nick Wedig's Science Comics playset.

Not this one, the evil one.

Our characters were:

  • Sir Captain Super Tight Pants, a superhero with the power to create clones of himself
  • Sir Captain Super Tight Pants 3, one of SCSTP's clones
  • Thuddy, the son of the evil Dr. Thunder who doesn't know who his mom is
  • Tear Duct, one of Dr. Thunder's minions
  • Static Cling, another of Dr. Thunder's minions, who SCSTP has declared his archnemesis (not realizing he's just a minion)

Our story begins as SCSTP-3 is driving his getaway van, having just stolen the Unobtainium that is necessary to power Dr. Thunder's weather control device. He is roaring down the highway through the Arizona desert outside the trailer park where Dr. Thunder has his lair, when he runs into construction and traffic grinds to a halt. This allows Thuddy, Tear Duct, and Static Cling to approach on mopeds. SCSTP-3 tries to escape through the sun roof, but Tear Duct's power of inducing weeping causes him to lose his footing and drop the Unobtainium into an irrigation ditch beside the highway.

SCSTP meets up with Static Cling at a cafe to brag about having defeated him, but Static Cling reveals to him that he has more Unobtainium.

Static Cling installs more Unobtainium in the weather control device. Dr. Thunder stops by to make sure the device will be operational for the church picnic on Sunday, as he wishes to make the weather mild and sunny.

Tear Duct worries that Dr. Thunder is going over to the side of Good. She sets the weather control device to make it rain on the church picnic.

Thuddy goes to the picnic, having been told by his dad that he would finally get to meet his mother there. But the picnic is rained out, so he doesn't get to meet her.

SCSTP-3 calls SCSTP from the traffic jam and swears that he has the Unobtainium. SCSTP concludes that Static Cling must have more Unobtainium, and therefore he needs to organize another mission to steal it. SCSTP-3 agrees to do so, as soon as he can get to a place to turn around on the highway.

SCSTP goes to meet Dr. Thunder at the picnic to accept his promised conversion to Good. But the rain, and the fact that Dr. Thunder isn't at the picnic after all (he's back in his lair trying to find the weather control device so he can fix it), convince him Dr. Thunder was lying about his conversion.

Static Cling attempts to fix the weather control device, but his static powers make it malfunction, causing snow. Tear Duct is happy about this, and puts on her heavy fur villain cloak that she's always wanted to be able to wear. SCSTP-3 spots Static Cling from the highway, and steals the weather control device from him. Thuddy sees SCSTP-3 running to his car with the device, and blames him for raining out the picnic.

Dr. Thunder assembles his minions to demand an explanation. He blames Tear Duct for the weather control device's malfunctions, and de-minionizes her.

Thuddy looks through his father's contacts and finds the phone number for one "Sally Lightning," who he suspects is is mother.

SCSTP-3 gets stuck in traffic again. He pulls up next to a police car, and the officer recognizes the helpfully labeled "Weather Control Device" in the passenger seat. The police don't buy the "costume party" excuse, and they lock SCSTP-3 up.

SCSTP assembles a team of clones to attack Static Cling's lair. Just as they are about to depart, they get a phone call from SCSTP-3 asking them to come to the jail to bail him out. So they head there instead.

Static Cling sneaks into the police station and steals the weather control device from the evidence room.

Tear Duct files an anonymous tip to the police, blaming SCSTP and his clones for the weather mayhem. The police arrest SCSTP and the clones as they arrive at the station.

Thuddy calls up his mother, who hangs up on him.

In the end, SCSTP-3 takes the blame for the weather problems and serves a long prison sentence. SCSTP gets off on the weather charges, but an ethics panel orders him to stop using his cloning powers. Static Cling is apprehended with the stolen weather control device and goes to jail as well. Tear Duct tries to build her own weather control device, but it goes wrong and causes a huge drought, which (since she's still wearing the fur cloak) causes her to die of heat stroke. Rejected by his mother, Thuddy sinks into a deep dispair and takes to watching anime gerbil porn to deal with his trauma.

GenCon GM report 2: Fiasco -- Touring Rock Band II

The second game I ran at Games on Demand for GenCon was Fiasco on Sunday afternoon. We used the Touring Rock Band II playset. Our characters were:

  • Dennis "Grizzly" Bencham, a drummer who was forced out of his band due to a drug problem and wants to re-join now that he's been through rehab.
  • Jörm Svenson, a failed rocker and Dennis's rehab buddy, who is helping him care for Vlad, the live grizzly bear that Dennis used to use in his stage shows.
  • Alan Perkins, DDS, a veterinary dentist who has agreed to go in with Jörm on a scheme to market gold dental grills for large predators.
  • Steven "The Spaceman" Stevenson, a much younger and much more talented drummer who was hired by the band to replace Dennis. He has a pet tiger, Tony, that he uses on stage.
  • Jacky LeGrand, the dissolute heir to the LeGrand Records company who has just lost the contract with Steven's band.

Our story begins at Starbucks, where Dennis and Jacky both work to make ends meet. In between making coffees, Jacky is looking through a huge stack of paternity test results to find out how many more child support payments he'll need to make out of the dwindling LeGrand Records fortune. Steven comes in, and Jacky tries to convince him to bring his band back to LeGrand Records. Dennis overhears this and gets upset, as he had hoped Jacky could pull some strings and get him back into the band. Jacky reassures Dennis that they're still bros, and that he's coming to Dennis's big party on Friday.

Trying to sabotage his replacement's career, Dennis sneaks into Steven's mansion and feeds poisoned meat to Tony. Steven confronts him and chases him off, but not before Tony has gotten very sick.

Jörm pays a visit to Alan to discuss their business deal. The scheme is running low on funds, but Jörm is sure it's just about to pay off. Alan agrees to try to get some of his dentist friends to buy in so that they can afford more gold for test grills.

Steven meets up with Alan at Starbucks for a consultation about Tony's health. While there, Steven catches sight of one of the paternity tests with his name on it. Before he can read the whole thing, Alan and Dennis get into a confrontation over the fact that Dennis "stole" Alan's wife. The manager has to come out and ask everyone to leave.

Steven's curiosity is piqued by the paternity test, as his mother had always told him he was the result of a virgin birth. He goes to the clinic, and after paying a long string of fees, gets a copy of the test showing that Alan is his father.

Jacky realizes he's not going to be able to make all of these child support payments. He needs to get some cash fast. Browsing through Craigslist, he finds an ad for an investment opportunity in making gold dental grills for large predators. After exchanging a few emails with Jörm, who assures him he will see at least double his money before the 6th of the next month, Jacky PayPals him his last $65,000.

Dennis goes to Jörm to get some drugs to give to Jacky at the party, in order to get him high enough that he'll sign paperwork giving him a recording contract. In exchange for the drugs, Dennis agrees to kidnap Tony as a test subject, so that the grill business can expand from bears into big cats.

Jörm tells Alan that he has a test tiger lined up. Alan is excited, since as a result of his meeting with Steven he has already come up with the idea of doing grills for tigers too. Jörm gives Alan the $65,000 he got from Jacky, in exchange for horse tranquilizers that Dennis can use on Tony and Jacky.

Alan returns to Starbucks to get more info on Dennis, now that he knows where the man who stole his wife works. Dennis refuses to serve him, so Jacky takes the order, and Alan gives his name as "Alan Perkins, DDS." The name sounds familiar, and Jacky matches it to one of the names on the paternity tests. When he gives Alan his drink, he also slips him a copy of the paternity test showing he's Steven's father.

Steven brings Tony to Alan's clinic, where Jörm uses Vlad to demonstrate the grill concept. But Alan and Steven are distracted as they realize that they have both seen the paternity test results. Steven calls his mother to confirm it, but she denies having slept with Alan.

Jacky goes to Dennis's party, where he finds that the only other person there is Jörm. They get to talking, and Jacky mentions this great investment opportunity in large predator grills that he found on Craigslist. Unaware of how Scandinavian names are pronounced, he doesn't connect the "Jörm" he was emailing with to the "Yorm" he's talking to now, so they both conclude that there is a competitor out there -- Jörm assumes it's Alan, trying to cut him out of the profits. Dennis gives Jacky a drink spiked with horse tranquilizers, but he overdid it, and Jacky passes out before he can sign the contract.

Dennis successfully kidnaps Tony, and brings a sedated Tony and Jacky to meet Jörm and Alan at the clinic. Jörm accuses Alan of going behind his back to start his own grill business. Dennis gets into a confrontation when he realizes that the dentist in this scheme is the guy who has been accusing him of stealing his wife, and he drives off with Tony and Jacky (as well as an un-sedated Vlad).

Jörm and Alan agree to try to ambush Dennis when he arrives at Steven's house to return Tony.

Steven comes out to find Jörm and Alan hiding in the tiger cage. They tell him that they have taken Tony to a "mobile clinic," and that he'll be returned, fitted with a grill, in no time.

Dennis arrives in the middle of the conversation. Jacky wakes up partially from his drugged state, and panics at seeing Vlad. He jumps on a mostly-awake Tony and rides him into the house. They crash through various rooms, picking up a guitar on the way, and come flying out of a second-story window. This is the most metal thing any of the neighbors have ever seen.

In the end, Jacky ends up in prison for not keeping up with his child support payments. Dennis goes to jail as well, and when he gets out he finds that Vlad is dead, so he takes up busking near Steven's house. Jörm gives up on the grills scheme and goes on to try to sell Strong Arm Lances exercises equipment at inappropriate professional conventions. Alan goes back to mundane dentistry. And Steven is mauled by Vlad and Tony and ends up in a nursing facility on a constant stream of pain meds for life.

GenCon GM report 1: Dread

Thank you to everyone who came by and bought a copy of Bunny Money Gunny at GenCon! The game got a lot of positive feedback, and I'll be announcing its future soon.

The President tries to start a nuclear war ...

In between hustling my own game, I ran a few RPGs for Games on Demand. The first was on Saturday, when we played a round of Dread: Cold War edition. My notes are a bit sketchy, but I'll try to give game mechanics in [brackets] to the best of my memory. A "pull" is to remove one block from the tower, a "no pull" is a choice to give up rather than risking having to make a pull.

Our cast of characters was:

  • The President: Harrison Ford, an actor-turned politician with secret Communist sympathies
  • The General: Isaac Westin, an ex-hippie who moved up the ranks by exploiting his contacts on the enemy side to which he was feeding classified information
  • The Journalist: Levar Burton, who witnessed the president kill a man in cold blood years ago
  • The CIA Agent: Nathan Malcolm Reynolds, a double agent protecting these great United States of America
  • The Groundskeeper: Joe Young, who gave the family fortune to his disabled sister
  • The Hippie: Wall Flower, a member of the peace movement with a "nuts not nukes" agenda

The story began with the Hippie protesting outside the gates of Camp David. When some mechanical noises interrupt the chirping of birds and rustling of leaves, she goes to investigate [pull]. She finds that several armored military vehicles painted with a hammer and sickle had driven up the access road to Camp David. She goes back to warn the guards at the gate that the communists were coming -- to which the guard dismissively replies "you're already here."

... and the Journalist tries to stop it.

The CIA Agent happens by at this moment, and since the Hippie had been a reliable informant in the past, he instructs the guards to let the hippies inside [pull], and goes to find the President.

Meanwhile, the Journalist had been waiting outside the command center bunker for hours for a scheduled interview with the President. A panicked staffer bursts out of the command center and asks the Journalist to help her find the President, because there was an emergency phone call. The Journalist, CIA Agent, and staffer all discover the President [pull] out walking his dog (a big shaggy dog named Chewie). They return to the bunker, where the President is told by the top Admiral back in Washington that Soviet nuclear submarines had slipped through the US's defenses and appeared outside five major cities -- New York, Los Angeles, Baltimore, -- and the line goes dead. The President takes a big swig from his father's lucky silver flask, but not an incapacitating one [pull].

The Groundskeeper catches sight of a helicopter painted with a hammer and sickle descending over one of the fields, where the General was relaxing. The Groundskeeper turns on the sprinklers just in time for the helicopter door to open [pull]. Six Soviet soldiers and a man in a suit with a giant briefcase emerge and immediately get soaked. The Hippie sees the helicopter as well, and slips away from the detention cell at the guard station [pull] to come to the field.

When the President, CIA Agent, and Journalist arrive, they are addressed by the man in the suit. He says he has come to make a deal. If the US agrees to immediately withdraw all of its troops from abroad and dismantle its nuclear arsenal, he will call the submarine captains on his giant Cold-War-era satellite phone and give them the secret code to call off their attack. But if the submarines don't receive the code from him in one hour, they will nuke five American cities.

The President turns to the General and asks "We can spare five cities, right?" The CIA Agent sounds the alarm [pull], calling all support staff to hide in the command bunker. The Hippie comes out of the woods (not wanting to be shot by jittery Soviet soldiers [no pull]), and is hustled of to the bunker by the Secret Service [no pull].

Meanwhile, the Groundskeeper sneaks around back of the helicopter [pull] and gets in through the door on the far side. Finding the controls similar to his riding mower [pull], he takes off and hovers several yards in the air above the Soviets.

The President and the General initially decide to threaten a nuclear counterstrike. The General finds the Big Red Button [pull], which is attached to its own satellite phone connection. The CIA Agent quickly talks them into an alternative plan. His files show [pull] that the Soviet leader who is here is Alexei Dmitrovich, a dedicated Party man who has two adult sons and an estranged wife living in Leningrad. If they can get the phones reconnected, he can have his agents in Russia kidnap the Soviet leader's family to use as leverage.

The Journalist volunteers to help, as he has extensive skills with electronics and computers. He and the CIA Agent manage to sneak out of Camp David [pull] and find the cut telephone wires right under the noses of the troops in the armored vehicles, who are distracted doing the crossword puzzle in the back of Pravda [pull]. They reconnect the phones [pull].

Returning to Camp David, the CIA Agent calls his contacts [pull], and in 15 minutes they have Dmitrovich's three family members [three pulls] in custody.

Meanwhile, the support staff in the security bunker is rife with rumors about what's going on. The emerging consensus is that the President is a Communist agent, and that he's meeting with a Soviet leader to sell out the USA. They whip themselves into a frenzy and find an unlocked weapons cabinet to arm themselves [pull]. The Hippie makes her case to the army Private [pull] and Secret Service agent [pull] guarding the bunker, the latter of whom recalls that he did see a book by a "Marx" on the President's bedside table. They all march toward the field. The secret service agent convinces his counterpart guarding the President to join the rebellion as well {pull].

The General decides he wants to cut a deal with the Soviets while they wait for confirmation of the CIA's capture of the Soviet leader's family. He approaches the Soviets, carrying the Big Red Button. He gives them the password he used to use in his days feeding intel to the enemy [failed pull -- tower collapses]. Unfortunately the Soviets mis-hear him, and so they shoot him dead.

The Soviet leader announces that he has changed the terms of the deal. Because the General tried to assault them and a team of crack commandos has apparently stolen their helicopter, they demand that the US give up Alaska as well in order to call off the nuclear attack. The CIA Agent makes a counter-offer: Call off the attack, or we will execute your family. The Soviet leader decides that while he could spare his ex-wife, his sons have promising careers ahead of them [pull]. So he agrees to call off the attacks -- if he can get through in time, as the hour is nearly up.

He calls the sub in New York in time [pull]. He calls the sub in Los Angeles in time [pull]. He calls the sub Baltimore in time [pull]. He calls the sub in New Orleans in time [pull].

At this moment, the Groundskeeper decides to try to land the helicopter [failed pull -- tower collapses]. Unfortunately for him, landing is harder than taking off. While swerving to try to avoid landing on the Soviet soldiers, the helicopter unbalances and crashes into the ground, killing him. The main rotor breaks off and comes tumbling toward the Soviet leader, who is dialing the last sub, outside Houston. The CIA Agent sacrifices himself [deliberately knocking over the tower] to push the Soviet leader to safety, and he makes the call in time [pull].

The President now decides he doesn't trust the Soviets, and that he should launch a preemptive nuclear strike anyway. He slips away from the staff mob [pull] and grabs the Big Red Button from the General's corpse. The Journalist spots him and dives in to stop him. [Because the tower had just been reset and this was the climactic moment, I had the President and Journalist simply play Jenga until one of them toppled the tower.] In the end, the Journalist seized control of the Big Red Button and removed the President and General's activation keys, averting nuclear war. The President's malfeasance had now been amply documented, and he was sure to be impeached.