I was a player in five Games on Demand slots at Origins ’16, and four of them were Magpie games run by someone from Team Magpie. This year it was two sessions of Urban Shadows, with Marissa Kelly and Derrick Kapchinsky, plus a session of Bluebeard’s Bride under the guidance of Sarah Richardson, and finally a session of Zombie World with Brendan Conway. And by the way, that’s three years in a row I’ve played in two sessions of Urban Shadows in one Origins weekend.
Oddly enough, my hosting/GM responsibilities plus the realities of GoD line positioning meant that I failed to get into any sessions of Masks, Epyllion or Cartel, which were actually goals for me this year. Hopefully I’ll get to rectify that, maybe at NewMexiCon or something.
Anyhow, back to gameplay overviews – Urban Shadows has long been my favorite variant of the PbtA games. This year I chose to play The Hallowed in Marissa’s game, and I enthusiastically support that playbook’s inclusion in the system. I’m not ever going to be the guy who can give you a concise analysis of my impression of the fiddly-bits in a game, but I can at least tell when something pulls me in and makes me feel like I can competently emulate the archetype I expected to be inhabiting versus when something feels clunky or not-quite-there. And The Hallowed succeeds very well, in my opinion. (Just like The Vessel did last year, FWIW) I’m especially glad that it allows for a very broad approach to how a faith works and what the various tenets might be.
In the US session I played with Derrick, I was The Wolf. It’s actually the first time I’ve chosen that playbook, and I took it up specifically after hearing Seth Harris say something about how he didn’t want to play a Wolf because they’re so common. So I explicitly set out to be as not-common a Wolf as I could. The way I did it was to actually be more of a Coyote archetype than a Wolfish one. And to the extent we were able to explore such things within a one-shot, I believe it went well. I can’t say how not-common I came off to everyone else, but in my sense of things, I was able to inhabit my character and act somewhat differently than a typical werewolf while still being supported by the Moves, etc. So I guess I’m saying that I appreciate the ability of the playbooks – at least the ones I’ve tried – to interpret things broadly enough to bring fresh or uncommon approaches to the table without breaking the tone/theme/premise.
Next, Bluebeard’s Bride. This is where I’m prone to quip, “that’s not just a game, it’s an experience.” The session I played, which included Sarah Richardson, Sherri Stewart, Ariana Ramos, and Seth Harris, exists in my mind as something that transcended being “a game I played at Origins”. So it is really hard to analyze it in those terms. I admit I’m prone to hyperbole, especially about things I love, but damn, what a thing has been wrought here with this beautiful, terrifying, transgressive work of art. The difficulty for me comes in not being able to separate the general sense of gameplay with the specific moment of play that I experienced with the specific people around that table in that room. If I may get religious (but also a bit sacrilegious) for a second, it felt like the kind of thing I’ve always been taught Eucharist is supposed to be like (but almost never was, for me). And I’m not saying that kind of thing should be expected to happen every time Bluebeard’s Bride is played, but I guess I AM saying that if a game CAN go there – and this one can – then that’s something special.
I have more to say about my Bluebeard’s Bride experience but that’s for another post.
Finally, I got to play Zombie World. It was the last session of Games on Demand, Sunday morning, and I was one of the hosts so I didn’t expect to be playing anything and I would not have thought I COULD play anything because my voice was mostly gone from previous days of play in a loud room. But I was invited to go ahead and play something, I saw Brendan Conway had an open chair at his table, and I went for it. Sooo glad I did. I should say up front – I’m NOT a fan of zombie stuff in general, but I AM a fan of the TV version of The Walking Dead, because I love many of the characters and I relish the often-excruciating emotional pain of watching them deal with the ever-increasing traumas that the world piles onto them. (I dunno what that says about my own mental or emotional state, but there it is). Anyway, Zombie World, in my expert TWD-fanboy opinion, captures THAT EXACT THING about why I love the show and makes it possible to experience as a player in a game. Holy Hand Grenade, folks, does it SOOOO do that, and very well.
Also, the use of playing cards in a PbtA framework is sheer brilliance – and not just because it’s a “hey, wow, look, they figured out how to use cards instead of dice” wizbang innovation thing, but because the cards specifically work to undergird the thematics and tension in a way that I’m pretty sure dice wouldn’t be able to do. Ask me to be more specifically analytical about that and i’ll probably respond with, “Uhhhh … Mickie Like Zombie Cards OOOOH SHINY” but nevertheless, I feel there’s something about why and how the cards amplify the experience that maybe I can’t articulate but I can still sense. And I’ll leave it for other more talented analytical folks to expound.
In any case, no offense to Urban Shadows at all, but you remember when I said near the top that US has always been my favorite version of a PbtA game? Well, now I’ve got two more that I love even better.
Thanks, my wonderful friends at Planet Magpie, for totally screwing with my brain, my soul, and my equilibrium this past few days. I hope you’re happy.