Posts tagged Call of Cthulhu

Arkham Nights 2012

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I’m taking a bit of a sidetrack from the blog exchange with Andy at Scrolls of the Platinum Warlock. Check out my account of being a player in one his games here! Next week you’ll get to hear from a player’s perspective what it’s like to play in one of my games!

 

This past weekend, I attended Arkham Nights, a three-day gaming convention held by Fantasy Flight Games for their board games inspired by the works of H.P. Lovecraft. For those of you not familiar with him, H.P. Lovecraft was one of the early horror writers who wrote about “things man was not meant to know” and the slow drive to insanity of the people who encountered them.

By the way, Lovecraft first wrote about the fictional town of Arkham, MA in 1936, long before anybody thought about putting the Batman villains in Arkham Asylum!

Over the years, Fantasy Flight Games, known for their high production values (and rather expensive board games) developed several games set in the Call of Cthulhu mythos (thus named after one of Lovecraft’s most famous works: The Call of Cthluhu). Currently, they have Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, Elder Sign, and Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. Generally, these board games are based around working cooperatively to hold back the horrors, but trying not to have your character go insane or be killed in the process.

Arkham Horror is perhaps my all time favorite board game, due to its near infinite replayability and its cooperative nature, so of course I decided to go to this convention! Plenty of other gamers were just as excited and some came from states away to come to play these games. Lucky for me, it was held at the Fantasy Flight Game Center in Roseville, MN a mere 15 minutes away from my house!

Fantasy Flight brought their A game to create a professional event!

Part of the registration fee went towards some awesome swag! Because I didn’t preregister, I missed out on green shirt with white tentacles on it, but I did get a swag bag of promotional gameplay components for Arkham Horror (a new Ancient One card for Yig, the Father of Serpents) and Elder Sign (a new Shub-Niggurath card) as well as a dice bag and some printed art. It doesn’t seem like Fantasy Flight intends to ever release this or any of the other promo cards to the public, but fortunately there’s a fan who’s been recreating all of the promo stuff for Arkham Horror at least and making them available to download here (and Yig has just been added).

I started off with a game of Mansions of Madness being the Keeper (basically controlling all the bad guys against four players working cooperatively). We played a new scenario from The Yellow Sign expansion and I got to play a bunch of cultists living out the King in Yellow (a play which, when performed, drives everyone insane in the third act) with the investigators as hapless participants. We had a lot of fun and a very close game. Eventually though, I won defeating the four investigators before they could burn the play’s script.

My players for Mansions of Madness. They’re smiling because they think they’re winning!

After that, I played in a game of Arkham Horror for the Arkham League. Basically, it’s a series of scenarios that are majorly stacked against the players. Defeat is all but guaranteed and your goal is basically to do as well as you can before you lose and then a score is calculated. For the first scenario, here were the special rules:

  • Only certain investigators were available, and they tended to be the weak ones
  • No clue tokens start on the board
  • No investigators start with any clues. Instead they gain $1 per clue, but…
  • Ye Olde Magick Shoppe and The Curiosite Shoppe are closed for the game (so your money is pretty much useless)
  • Cultists have the Endless ability and move on black arrows every Mythos phase unless they are engaged with an investigator

In addition, we were facing the new promo Yig. Every time a gate appears, you make a Sneak check at +2 minus the number of open gates. If you fail, you are Cursed. I’m told this was the easiest of the three scenarios!

First round, three out of four people got Cursed and things didn’t improve much from there. First round we got a rumor where we had to have someone go to a location and give up a Skill and a Blessing within a certain number of rounds or else all three monster rifts (from the Kingsport expansion) got unleashed. Needless to say with all of us being Cursed, we weren’t getting Blessed any time soon and we failed the mission, unleashing hordes of monsters onto the streets of Arkham.

After that, we had two monster surges with them emptying the outskirts twice, resulting in the terror track and the doom track skyrocketing up. We did managed to close (but not seal) two gates before Yig appeared. Unfortunately, anybody who is Cursed when he shows up is Devoured, so we all died (had anybody survived, they would have become Cursed). We totally got it handed to us, but that’s half the fun of Arkham Horror. After that, I played a standard game of Arkham Horror (what? there are clue tokens on the board?) in which we were actually doing alright!

The next day, I came back to play in an event called “Barricades,” in which all eight expansion packs of Arkham Horror were used! This resulted in a massive game and we wound up playing eight investigators between five players. Things were a little rough at first, but we wound up holding our own pretty well. And we even had Richard Launius, creator of Arkham Horror, stop by to chat with us and see how we were doing! Not long after we won! All in all, it was a really enjoyable game.

Our massive game of Arkham Horror with all eight expansions! Richard Launius (in yellow), creator of the game, stopped by to chat with us!

I finished up the convention with a game of Fiasco set in the Call of Cthulhu mythos. If you didn’t have a WTF moment, let me enlighten you: Call of Cthluhu is a psychological, grim game where characters are fighting back against an inevitable fate. Fiasco, by Bully Pulpit Games, is a freeform roleplaying game that advertises itself as “A game of powerful ambition & poor impulse control” and it winds up being incredibly chaotic and slapstick. Big genre clash! And that’s what made it awesome!

In Fiasco, characters have relationships and motivations with each other on the table. We had a teenager who joined a cult as an emo act of rebellion against his father, who shared the same name as a police officer, who worked with my character to get rich through a bit of murder, who participated in some illicit activities with a cultist, who was bitter rivals with the first cultist.

Things quickly got way out of control with multiple people getting whacked on the head with shovels, my character revealing he was a Deep One and launching an invasion or Arkham, one of the characters getting possessed by Hastur, and everyone getting rounded up into a cult meeting in which a crate of dynamite went off. Luckily my character walked way from the whole deal completely unscathed, but the wig he wore became fused onto his reptilian Deep One skull. We spent so much time laughing at the ridiculous situation we were developing that we didn’t care about how confusing it was turning out!

Finally, I ended my convention with one more game of Arkham Horror. We had to pack up before we were finished, but things were looking really well for us so I’ll call it a win.

All in all, Arkham Nights was a fantastic event! If anybody is around the Twin Cities area next year, I highly recommend they come!

Fantasy Flight Games Event Center

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This week, I’m going to be talking about a little known secret, even here in the Twin Cities. Turns out that Fantasy Flight Games, creators of board games like Arkham Horror and A Game of Thrones as well as roleplaying games like Deathwatch and the new Star Wars: Edge of the Empire have the Fantasy Flight Event Center in Roseville, MN. It’s about 15 minutes from my house and 5 minutes from the Roseville Public Library where I go every Wednesday as part of my AmeriCorps service. And let me tell you, it’s awesome!

As the name implies, there are two parts to the location:

Fantasy Flight Games…

The Fantasy Flight Games Event Center’s main purpose is to provide an outlet where Fantasy Flight’s games can be sold. Of course, Source Comics and Games (described here) has all of these games and more, but I imagine Fantasy Flight prefers to have a direct outlet so they can make a bigger profit. Fortunately, this means that games at this location are discounted (15% off for members only) as are preorders (10% for nonmembers, 20% off for members). There are games from other companies as well there, especially if they are products for the same universe as some of Fantasy Flight’s products (e.g. Cubicle 7’s The One Ring roleplaying game was next to their Lord of the Rings Living Card Game).

You can also check out games there to play ($3, free with a membership) or even rent a Warhammer army ($5, free with membership). Membership is a bit steep, especially if you’re on an AmeriCorps living stipend like me, ($20 one month, $50 three months, $75 six months, $125 one year), but if you are a heavy gamer who buys lots of Fantasy Flight products, I could see it easily paying for itself.

…Event Center

Some gamers play Star Wars: X-Wing using a fan-made Death Star trench run map!

In addition to being a store, the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center is a location where people can play games. There are about fifteen open gaming tables tables set up on the main floor and another five on the upper mezzanine (a quieter, more secluded area, but for members only). While I was there, I saw several minis, roleplaying, and board games being played. The staff lets you play whatever you want and said I’d be more than welcome to run my weekly Deadlands game there (we had our first session on Wednesday and it was a lot of fun!).

These gamers were doing a HeroClix tournament between themselves. The player on the far left was really excited to get a chance to pull out his giant Clix!

The Fantasy Flight Games Event Center also hosts special events from time to time. Next weekend is Arkham Nights, a three day event devoted to H.P. Lovecraft and the games inspired by his works. Not only will there be sessions for board games like Arkham Horror, Mansions of Madness, and Elder Sign (with special promo cards as swag), but also a Call of Cthulhu Living Card Game tournament, a costume contest, and even a Cthulhu-themed Fiasco game. Plus the game designers for these games will be there. The only downside is that the event costs $20 to attend, which as said before, can be tough if you’re on a budget.

All in all, the Fantasy Flight Games Event Center is an awesome place. It’s a great place to host your weekly game (they even stay open till midnight on weeknights) or have a pickup game with some friends. If you’ve got a disposable income and can afford to be an avid Fantasy Flight gamer, there’s lots of great events and discounts that you can take advantage of. If you’re ever in the Twin Cities, I highly recommend visiting it!

The view from up on the mezzanine. Pictures like this often wind up in the promotional material because it makes the location look HUGE!

What Encourages or Discourages Avoiding Combat?

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Due to changes in my schedule, I’ve decided to move my “new post day” from Saturday to Wednesday. This should result in a much more reliable weekly posting schedule from now on.

The RPG Blog Carnival topic for the month of April was “Combat Avoidance” and was hosted by Exchange of Realities. Yeah, I know it’s May now, but it is a topic that I really want to talk about.

Combat has always been the heart of role-playing games. After all, Dungeons & Dragons evolved from miniatures wargaming where there is nothing but combat! I’d estimate that 95% of the role-playing games out there have some sort of rules about how to handle fighting and combat (with the remaining 5% being either aimed at kids or deliberately made so as to avoid combat). Although the GM has a lot of say into how much combat there is in a game, I think that there are definitely some external factors that encourage or discourage avoiding combat during gameplay. I would say that the big ones are the expectations of the setting, the expectations of the system, and the danger level to characters.

Expectations of the Setting

Here are the first lines in the “Makin’ Heroes” chapter of Deadlands Reloaded:

Strap on your six-guns and saddle up, amigo. It’s time to make your salty gunslinger, mysterious huckster, or savage brave.

And here is an excerpt from the “Characters” chapter of The One Ring: Adventures Over the Edge of the Wild:

Whatever their motivation or purpose, most characters created for The One Ring are individuals who have chosen to abandon their day-to-day activities and become adventurers. They are not soldiers or captains following the commands of a lord, nor are they subtle wizards trying to weave the threads spun by fate: they are bold souls putting themselves in peril by their own free will, sometimes simply for the love of adventure itself.

Notice something? They each describe the characters in their games very differently. The quote from Deadlands provides three archetypical characters, all of which are typically combat-oriented (even though you can play one that is not). The preceding sentence even makes pretty broad statement about Deadlands characters having six-guns. The One Ring however describes characters in terms of their love of adventure and specifically says that they are not soldiers (even though there is a “soldier” career). It’s quite conceivable that characters in this system would not be combat oriented, and indeed many of the characters in the source material, like Bilbo and Frodo, are not.

So which is more likely to avoid a typical combat, the “salty gunslinger” or the “adventurer.” Probably the adventurer. Why? Because that’s what the setting expects them to do. The setting also creates an expectation for what the characters’ default behavior will be when coming up against something hostile. In Dungeons & Dragons, the default behavior when confronted with a dragon is probably to fight it, not talk to it, and to only run if the fight is unwinnable. But in The One Ring, the default behavior would probably be to riddle with the dragon or run, but to fight it as a last resort (like if it’s burning Lake Town to the ground).

Expectations of the System

There’s a pretty easy litmus test for how much combat is expected in the system: how much of a character sheet is devoted to combat? Here’s a Dungeons & Dragons 4e 5th Level Dragonborn Rogue I found online using the standard D&D 4e character sheet. Aside from the sections on skills, senses, character info, gear, and arguably ability scores, the entire character sheet is devoted to combat (including 2 out of 4 pages devoted specifically to cards describing combat maneuvers). I estimate that about 85% of the character sheet is for describing stuff about combat. You might extrapolate then that 85% of D&D 4e is about combat, which in my experience (especially considering the official Wizards of the Coast convention games) is about right.

In fact, one of the big criticisms from D&D 3.x fans when D&D 4e first came out was that it was too focused on combat and not enough on role-playing. Often times they cited the fact that there weren’t profession skills or other non-combat character options. I won’t take either side on this, but I do wonder if part of the reason was that the D&D 3.5 character sheet from the PHB had about 60% of it devoted to combat, implying that combat only featured in 60% of the time.

So what does that mean for combat avoidance? With more space on the character sheet for non-combat related items, it would make sense that characters have more things to do to avoid combat. In D&D 3.x, you might have the means to avoid 40% of combats whereas in D&D 4e, you only have the means to avoid 15% of them. Now I’ll be the first to say that this is not a definitive measure and there are no doubt many factors, like GM play-style, that have a greater influence. But the fact remains that in a system where the important parts of your character are what they can do in combat, then it is less likely that it will be avoided.

Danger Level

On a more practical level, combat is typically avoided if there is a lot of danger of a character suffering ill consequences because of it. In Call of Cthulhu, investigators almost always avoid combat because there is a very good chance that they will die if they fight (or they will go insane, or both). Contrast that with a system like Hollow Earth Expedition where there is little danger of getting into a fight with Nazis, even if they have guns and you are using your fists. If combat is the most direct means of achieving your goals (as it would be if there are Nazis in the way of claiming the lost treasure) and there is little danger, then combat avoidance is very unlikely. The risk is small compared to the reward. But if there is a lot of risk, you might try some safer alternatives to avoid combat altogether.

I’ll reiterate once again that at the end of the day, the GM probably has more influence than these factors in determining how much combat there is. For instance, I’ve seen sessions of D&D 4e run without combat. But you might want to think about these external factors if you are wanting to encourage or discourage combat in your game session.

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