Blog for Stephanie Bryant, a writer with too many hobbies and not enough time.

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April 2014

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Tough Mudder 2014

STARTOver the weekend, my company’s awesome Las Vegas Tough Mudders headed out to tackle this epic obstacle course for “Team F Cancer.” I am in no shape to run 10 miles and throw myself through 20 obstacles. It’s not that I can’t get there, but I just wasn’t up for it this year.

However, I did find a way to support our team and the whole Tough Mudder event. I signed up in January, as soon as the Tough Mudder “MVP” (Mudder Volunteer Program) was open, and volunteered for a Saturday afternoon shift at the finish line. We didn’t know the F Cancer’s start time until the week before the event, but I figured I had a better than 50-50 chance of seeing them at the finish and cheering them in (I lost that bet, by the way, but other volunteers remembered my guys and told me they were all completely awesome…. I completely agree).

F Cancer’s heat was at 8 in the morning, one of the first heats of the event, probably because our CEO, Ron, is a return Mudder– making him part of the Mudder Legion of participants who have done more than one Tough Mudder. They were done by the time I finally took over handing out finisher wristbands at the Finish Line. These were used to get your Finisher T-shirts– no wristband, no T-shirt… in theory. In practice, a lot of people coming out of the mud and electroshock pit are bleeding, shaking, shocky, and can barely process a half-sentence. I’m handing them little jelly bracelets that they need to hold onto while they splash water into their mouths to clear out the mud they ate while being electrocuted. And that’s assuming they’re not bleeding from a big gash in the hand from the giant rock in the Electroshock pit. There were so many of these types of injuries, the on-course medic moved his station back towards the finish line to triage and recommended people rinse off and drive themselves to Urgent Care if they still felt they needed medical attention.

Mudderers will be happy to know the course staff did get the rock out, at about 3 PM, with another 50 participants still on the course. At least that injury should be less prevalent for the Sunday Mudders.

Also around that time, the other 2 wristband volunteers had to leave their shift early and handed off their wristbands to somewhat less-dedicated volunteers. I stuck to it, though, and leveraged the Mudder spirit. As I handed out wristbands to teams, I said “Make sure everyone on your team gets one, okay?” This helped share the responsibility for getting their shirts. I also made sure if one of the team members was being led off for medical attention (that darned rock!) that someone on their team had a wristband for each teammate.

The weather was weird– overcast and rainy in the morning, with the sun finally popping out at about 1 PM. I was still glad for sunscreen– it’s very possible to get sunburn even when cloudy, and I’m especially vulnerable to it (I call it my “Celtic tan.”)

After all that, seeing so many people hurt, shaking, exhausted, and bleeding, I am sure you might wonder: Will I do Tough Mudder next year? If I have a team like Rocket’s F Cancer to run with, there’s really only one possible answer: HELL YES!!


RPG Review: Best Friends

Deviating a bit from my normal “actual play” writeups to do a bit of RPG book reviewing. I haven’t played this game yet, but I want to. I have read the book, which is part of the Bundle of Holding’s Indie Bundle, available until April 27, 2014.

BOX0002-front150Best Friends by Gregor Hutton is an amusing RPG with a simple premise: you play one of 5 best “frenemies” who are, indeed, both best friends as well as bitter enemies. Character stats are things like “pretty” and “tough” and “cool” and “rich,” but you don’t get to decide how pretty or rich you are. The other players vote on it. So if everyone decides you are super-cool, then you’ll have a “5” in “cool,” which means you have celebrity levels of coolness…. but you’ll be dumb, ugly, poor, and weak. Kind of like a broke version of Kim Kardashian.

Some of the things I like about this game book:

  • Everyone plays a female character. I like this, if only because it plays into the deep dynamic of female-female relationships.
  • Character creation is simple and is out of your hands. On the one hand, players like to control who they play in a game, and I don’t think Best Friends would lend itself to long-campaign style play. But for a one-shot, it’s delicious. I especially like this for reasons noted below.
  • The push mechanic lets you do something beyond your skills, doesn’t require any randomizer, and is essentially a way to give “fan mail” in a game. “Fan mail” mechanics (where players give other players some type of boost) is always welcome at my table.
  • My main complaint is that it’s written for groups of 6, including a GM, and it would be easy to adapt this to a GMless game. Fortunately, Gregor has provided an Appendix for exactly that adaptation.

One thing about the character creation process being driven by the other players is that it highlights something that does happen in female groups, especially as we’re growing up. The friends around you help identify and strengthen your identity. If Melissa is always the “tomboy,” then she pretty much needs to move to another state to stop wearing overalls and start wearing makeup, or her friends will all look at her funny.

I remember, vividly, the handful of young women who I grew up with who genuinely shed their former “selves” and remade themselves overnight– not just appearance, which happened almost weekly. But their interests, activities, and demeanor. It was always striking, and their friends rarely adapted well. The hardcore punk girl who grew out her mohawk and joined the cheerleaders was probably shunned more by her former gothpunk friends than she had ever been shunned by anyone else. We were baffled and could not figure out where it came from. And yet– obviously, she was passionate about this enough to buck everything we knew about her and become someone else.

That did not happen often– most of the time, if you were “the smart one” in your group, you were not also “the pretty one.” And your friends reinforced your role rather stringently, sometimes by abandoning you if you decided to become “the pretty one.”

Some of the things I thought were weak in the game book:

  • This game focuses, heavily, on the negative aspects of girlfriendship, which is not the driving dynamic in most of my female-female friendships. That’s fine– it’s a game, after all– but it leaves out the possibilities for helping each other, supporting, etc. In an example in the appendix, there is a better example of a third player helping someone in a conflict, but that mechanic is presented as a sidebar only in the Conflicts section of the book.
  • The Example of Play section is disjointed– it seems to take an example from several scenes in a game session; personally, I would rather see a full scene played out  from framing through end, to give more context.

Those criticisms aside, this looks like a good, fun game to run. I can see it being popular with people who dislike dice-rolling and random elements in gaming. If you like games like Microscope and Our Last Best Hope, this would be a really good pick for your game group.

SS Placeholder: Monster in the House

Last night’s Fate Accelerated game was extremely fun, silly, over-the-top…. and then it went intense and dark, almost in an instant. The tone change was done well, I thought, and the end result was a “monster of the week” adventure that worked really, really well.

We had previously received a communique with a falsified source purporting to be from Space Race, but actually from somewhere else. In it, a red-haired space babe (“space babe” is almost a character class in this campaign) in a corset wanted to hire us to transport something, by way of specific coordinates. We discuss the job and decide it’s worth the risk.

Continue reading SS Placeholder: Monster in the House

Games that Fail

You know what’s frustrating? When you are 4 games into your 14-game challenge and you write Game #5, only to realize that it’s really bad and needs to be fixed before you’re even close to releasing it in a Print-and-play beta.

In other words: Monster Under the Bed still needs some work.

Ladies League of Invells, Part 2

inverseworldMore notes from my all-woman Inverse World game!

Note: Inverse World is now available in PDF format from DriveThruRPG!

We spent about an hour on character creation, some updates, and more worldbuilding. Professor A’s player was called into work unexpectedly, and my friend LeeAnn was joining us for the first time. LeeAnn decided to play Naga, a copper-skinned goblin Mechanic. Ugly as sin, usually dirty, but very friendly (to the point of social awkwardness) with her cockney accent and big grinning smile. And wig– Naga is usually wearing some kind of bouffant wig, usually unkempt.

For the updates, I handed out a custom sheet of InverseWorld-BasicMoves. One of the basic moves is my custom Investigation move– which I still need to tweak a bit– which expands the “Discern Realities” move to include other skills, and always results in a clue, but may give the adversaries a hold for when they encounter you (preparation). I’ve also adapted the Last Breath move to accommodate the Death Moves from Grim World (you get the Death Move at level 6, but cannot use both in the same death– those who would try to bargain with Death do not deserve to change the world on their passing.) And I altered the End of Session and Level Up moves. Level Up doesn’t add a spell to wizards’ spellbooks (because there are no wizards), and End of Session replaces overcoming a monster or enemy with changing a place for better or worse.

Finally, for my returning players, I handed out some possible Backgrounds from Pirate World by Iain Chantler and James Hawthorne. I explained these are completely optional, but give them a bit more background for their characters, based on what  I’d seen in their role-play. The Pirate World backgrounds are still in development, but I wanted to roll them out, see how they play, with options to expand or change them later. I suggested Mercantile for Captain Sparrow, Witch Hunter for Lantern Aeos, and Sneaky for Walker Enn. Enn liked Sneaky, but changed the word “Sneak” to “Stealth,” because it’s less pejorative. The Captain liked Mercantile. Aeos returned Witch Hunter and explained that she wouldn’t want to focus on driving the darkness out of just people– she wants it to be a more generalized thing.

This was a good lead-in to talking about the Darkness, which we decided as a group is an entity, a real thing that seeps into people and places and convinces them to turn away from Sola’s light and do bad things. It is subtle evil, though– pervasive, convincing… but rarely overt. I can already see that I will have many challenges in this group, as I cannot simply pit them against a Big Bad Evil Guy (BBEG) and make it obvious he’s their target.

We also discussed some of the more mundane adversaries the party faces– in particular, the oppressive, yet advanced, Empire that unites many of the Island nations.

Finally, we got underway. We picked up where we’d left off, and the party decided to explore the Fruit Market, a place on Glass of Sands where you can now buy nearly any type of technology you might wish for. Professor A was described as disappearing into the Fruit Market to do some “shopping,” presumably for bones.

Some highlights:

  • They ran into Naga and the Captain re-hired her onto the ship.
  • Enn investigated the vinyards on the belowside.
  • The party spoke to Mayor Kelvine, who is a charismatic fellow… who is probably lying through his teeth.
  • The Mayor and Captain Sparrow are old friends. He gave her a writ of salvage if she wants to go off to check out Smallski.
  • He set the Captain to meet someone named Marius… who may be the leader of the terrorists.
  • Aeos made contact with “Jehanne,” the woman who collects bread for the poor in the city (perhaps.)
  • Naga stumbled into a few dozen drinks and lifted a bunch of shiny things.
  • Aeos spoke to Donovan while Enn investigated the upper rafters of the Tax Agency building.
  • Donovan thought at first that Aeos had seen his dead wife, and was surprised to learn she was speaking of Elder Lantern Ethyl.
  • Enn met a young lad who looks startlingly like her long-lost younger brother. He’s the monkey-keeper in the Tax Agency.
  • Enn and Naga decided to track the goggle-wearing Dr. Glassner, first at his home, then at his lab at the university. Naga distracted his students while Enn sneaked down to the sub-basement lab.
  • And that’s where Enn saw the Crystal for the first time.

We ended there for now, with a number of leads and some fascinating stuff happening for the party.

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