Grim’s Tales: Introduction

Practically every RPG book ever written contains some written advice for the Games Master, the guy or girl who carries the can and the responsibility for a good session largely on their shoulders. This advice is manifold and somewhat helpful but somehow the play examples and the sorts of problems that the Games Master might encounter don’t ring particularly true and none of the big problems I’ve had in my games have ever been dealt with by any advice section I’ve ever read. This has improved a little over time, the 4e D&D DMs guide has a much better section on dealing with the differing demands of different players but never explicitly points out that they’re being an actual problem. It just treats it all very softly-softly and nicely-nicely as it being a clash of different tastes and gaming expectations.

No.

Sometimes the player is just being an arsehole and needs a dry-slap and to be told to stop being a wanker.

Even with these improvements the books have never tackled the sorts of problems I’ve had as a Games Master. They’ve never told me what I should do if it’s 3am of a marathon session and one player out of the group falls asleep while the rest are still up for it. They’ve never told me how to handle it if the group has one too many bhong hits and gets a giggle-fit in the middle of a serious scene or what to do if one of them passes out and sticks his character sheet to his face with drool. There hasn’t been so much as a hint of how to stay impartial when one of your players is cute and is coming onto you, certainly not if they’re doing it with the express desire to get something out of it in the game. There’s not been any clue as to how to let down a larper gently about the crapness of their costume or the horrifying morphological transformation that their corset has done to their body.

In short, then, the sort of Games Master advice one gets in RPG books is like passing your driving test. Sure, now you can drive the car from ‘A’ to ‘B’ but you’ve been given no hint as how to handle a car full of swearing drunken people trying to shove you off the road, what to do if a child vomits on your neck from the back seat while you’re on the motorway or whether you’re allowed to take a piss on the hard shoulder.

We all need real and practical advice sometimes and this series of blog posts, intermittently, will try to deal with some of the real problems that GMs – and players – encounter in real-life gaming groups, rather than the sort of ‘Gaming with Dick & Jane’ items we find in our gaming manuals.

Feel free to chime in and use the articles as an ‘agony aunt’ column for your own questions and group problems as we progress.

Review: Wolfsheim for Scion (Adventure PDF)

Introduction
White Wolf persist in being one of the few big companies to get their PDF and web policy right. I know I mention this every time, but it continues to be worth pointing out. While they’re still a little overpriced for what you get – in many cases – White Wolf are pretty much bang on and seem to understand the medium and the PDF market better than the other large companies. This is especially poignant in the wake of Wizards of the Coast getting it so utterly wrong quite recently and of Palladium finally catching on to this newfangled technology stuff and moving on from carving editions of RIFTS into stone with a bison shin bone.

Still, given that White Wolf’s been consistent in this, I can no longer simply give them kudos and a higher score just for approaching e-publishing better than anyone else.

Wolfsheim is a mini-adventure for Scion, stand alone, suitable for an evening’s play or as a pick-up or convention game, though it will need experienced characters to be pre-generated in such an instance. It’s fairly straightforward, if a little rail-roady (as most of these adventures from White Wolf have been) and it could easily be shifted in space and time from its modern, Germanic setting to just about anywhere or anywhen.

The basic storyline is that of Yojimbo, the famous Japanese samurai story, a town caught between two predatory groups and the wanderers coming in, upsetting the balance between the people and their antagonists and, hopefully, causing a new peace to come about (through a great deal of bloodshed in the middle).

Overview
Wolfsheim is 44 pages, landscape – so suitable for laptop oriented gaming – of adventure with a short introduction and quite a few pages of organisational material, cuecards and NPC stat cards in the back. The meat of the adventure runs to about 22 pages all told with the rest taken up with the introductory material, background information, NPC motivations and the aforementioned play aids. The adventure is tight and focussed and, as well as falling within the overall Yojimbo scenario, also draws on dark fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretal and the myths and stories that circulate about the Black Forest.

Artwork
The layout in unremarkable but workmanlike, I still can’t abide the layout or stylistic choices made in much of the modern White Wolf material but this is personal taste. While is biases my review it may not impact so much on your appreciation of the book. The book is presented in landscape, which many consider better for electronic products as it makes better use of the space on laptop or desktop screens. The artwork itself is a very mixed bag from a fistful of artists and the end result is that the presentation of the piece lacks a sense of cohesion, the different pieces not necessarily meshing with each other or the adventure as written.

Writing
Overall the writing is workmanlike and gets the job done but it isn’t particularly inspiring or engaging, it doesn’t excite you about the adventure or what is going on. The whole scenario doesn’t particularly feel suited to Scion either, it feels more like it should have been written and selected for the nWoD (or even the oWoD) and it would particularly fit Forsaken or Lost. For my money it feels out of place in the Scion world and is disjointed from my expectations and appreciations of that game, which are more heroic and grandiose than this scenario encourages.

The Goblin King, head of one of the two antagonist factions in the adventure (the other being werewolves) also seemed to jarr with the overall scenario to me. Goblins always tend to feel like comic relief, no matter how nastily they’re written (the Goblin in the film Catseye being one exception) and the Goblin King was no exception, every interaction with him, every quote, made me read the character like the cartoon Cobra Commander or Starscream, a screaming, egotistical incompetent that felt, as I said, like the comic relief and not something to be taken seriously.

Rules
The NPCs appear to be balanced and, while strong, there are circumstances and alliances that the players can take advantage of in order to even their odds. Taken as a straightforward fight players may find the scenario challenging – and it is combat heavy – but if they have even a modicum of cunning, or are combat oriented, they should survive the scenario fine.

Conclusion
A deeply average and slightly overpriced adventure, not 100% suited to the Scion idiom but good for a pick-up game or convention session.

Upsides

  • Well presented, lots of useful help for the Storyteller.
  • Extremely versatile scenario that could be used in any time period of geographic location with a little tweaking.

Downsides

  • Slightly too expensive (by $1-2).
  • Uninspiring.

Score
Style: 2
Substance: 3
Overall: 2.5