GenCon – Part 8 (Friday Night, 8/14/2009)

I’m four actual play reports behind so I’ve got to get this GenCon recap thing done. For archival (and sometimes humorous) reasons I like to have extensive details in my reports but I think time has become my enemy and I’ve got to plow through this if I ever want to catch up.

Acts of Evil

Paul Czege has been working on the game Acts of Evil for a while (http://www.halfmeme.com/evil.html). He in a playtest modes right now and offered to run the game for Zach, Justin and I. We spent some time creating terrenes (space/time locations) and characters (who inhabited those terrenes) before GenCon so that we’d be ready to play when we got there.

What Rocked

The game has a very engaging system. Like My Life with Master, Paul has created mechanics that guide people to taking certain actions. In this case, hmm… I really need some power to face the teacher, I’ll get that by taking power from the nobodies, here I go to abuse people for my own gain. Yay!

This is also a resource management game. You have to balance you power, resistance and aspects. That doesn’t make much sense on paper, but if you’ve played Power Grid you get a sense of when it is a good time to buy oil, when you should be bidding high on a power plant, and when you want to coast in last place before your surge to victory. Acts of Evil has a similar flow. The various stats that, like My Life with Master, are constantly changing define what are you best options and when you are ready to try different actions.

Like your statistics the NPCs were really resources to manage as well. We started the game with several nobodies and one teacher (with a few more showing up in play). Gaining power of those characters was vital to the escalation of our occultists. Thus as index cards (with NPC information) were placed on the table, our objectives became tangible and clear. This really worked for me.

My underlings are you rivals. The great thing about that is that you need both, so but creating my own underlings I do something for you as well. It’s like cooperative competition. The characters may be at each other’s throats in the fiction but the players are actually working together in many regards to benefit each other.

What could have been improved

The same elegant mechanics that I praised have a few cracks where the occults can slip and start feeling helpless. In our case one of the players lost the first few rolls and things when downhill from there.

When Paul first starting play-testing AoE (I like the way that acronym looks just like Area of Effect) he experienced at lot of gratuitous killing and has sought ways to prevent meaningless death (these are self serving characters who are amoral not vindictive sociopaths). Unfortunately the changes he made felt like bandaids and acted more like handicaps than encouragement. While two of our characters had no reason to kill anyone, the third was a soldier named Bloody Billy. It was really had to contrive the fiction such that it made sense for him not to be killing people.

There is a lot of one on one time with the player and GM. The more I play and think about games the more conscious I become of this. We had several ideas for how to incorporate the players into other character’s scenes but that did really work with Paul’s vision. He very much wants introspective stories focused on our characters descent into evil. In fact, in this game our characters aren’t the protagonists, we’re that antagonists that create an environment where protagonists can emerge. I like the idea but in practice, I find myself wanting to play NPCs and frame scenes. Ultimately for me interaction is more rewarding that solitary introspection.

Some of the systems felt tacked on. Slaying mentioned above, but also the growing difficulty of gaining power over the NPCs felt inverted to me. I envisioned an occultist slowly seducing NPCs to serve them. Mechanically however it was your best bet to immediately try to make them subservient to you as it became incrementally harder each time you tried. Also, while I liked the idea of discovering someone’s ambitions and using that over them, it felt like a short circuit of the system rather than a part of it. Sometimes you create alternate mechanics (such as the compel mechanic in Fate, or “bringing down the pain” in The Shadow of Yesterday) to resolve conflicts, which is cool, but if that is the case I think the “discover ambition” mechanic needs to be more explicitly defined, as I felt as a player that I was basically asking Paul “Is it okay if I know what she wants now?”

I was really happy to be part of this playtest and I hope our group provided useful feedback to Paul. I look forward to Acts of Evil hitting the shelves.

Are you a Cultist? No really, are you?

One floor up and a few doors down from Paul’s room was the abode of Adam Pinilla from Podgecast. Inside was packed with filthy worshipers, rogue vigilantes, vigilant protectors and watchful seers. Oh… and a bunch of bloodthirsty villagers to boot. A bunch of people were packed in the room screaming accusations at each other and unfortunately (Rob, I’d like some bleach for my brain so I can forget this) exposing themselves to each other.

Rob’s genitals aside, I had a blast. We had folks there from Podgecast, Trapcast, Brilliant Gameologist, Narrative Control, Bear Swarm and Accidental Survivor The Walking Eye. Add some friends and family and we had an unholy good time. I took my first stab at moderating a game, which with that many players and that many rolls was actually a bit tricky. It was fun, though,  to see the whole thing from a bird’s eye view.