RPG Catch-Up, Part 5

Getting behind on my reading/posting with life/work being busy lately. Only three games to talk about this time. I finished reading them a couple weeks ago, but only just now getting around to finishing the write-up. Hopefully things start calming down so I can get back to more regular reading.

Hell 4 Leather, by Sebastian Hickey

It’s no secret that I’m a sucker for unique mechanics in games, especially when there’s a really physical part of them (like, say, the tower in Dread). Well, Hell 4 Leather also has a tower, but not of Jenga blocks. More on that in a moment.

The default premise is a futuristic world with a reality-show on steroids. The players are contestants and they have to flee across the globe and probably create a lot of destruction along the way. And, of course, there’s no safehouses as the same public that is watching you is the same public that can turn you in for a prize.

The game involves a team of characters with 3 clear objectives (the bigger, more open in scope, the better). Once those objectives are complete the end-game triggers, which can either be taking the fight to whomever the antagonists are or having a bloody deathmatch with only one PC left standing.

I’m already pretty well sold on the premise. It’s over the top, violent, high-octane action. Yes, please!

But the mechanics are pretty cool, too. In the middle of the table is a sheet of paper with a bullseye on it. In the bullseye is a stack of dice that grows as the game progresses. Instead of rolling dice for specific values or anything, you roll dice towards the target, try to get it within the bounds of the target, but without knocking the dice over. There are some basic rules for how dice should be thrown (there’s a video if you follow the link above), as well as things that can happen in the game to modify how many dice you roll (and if you’re injured, you may be throwing with your off-hand), and sometimes re-rolling dice. And, of course, knocking over the tower is bad, so extra bad stuff happens.

Also, Hell 4 Leather is GMless, so there’s some structure for how scenes should work and when to throw in adversity/complications for the characters to overcome. That stuff is all pretty straightforward.

I will say the rolling mechanic seemed a little dense at first, but there are some good examples in the book that really help clear things up.

And, like I said the default setting is this crazy reality-show setup, but there’s a lot of guidance on how to do other settings and there’s a number of included ideas as well.

This would definitely make for a solid one-shot/con-game type scenario. I’d really like to give it a shot sometime for sure.

Hollowpoint, by B. Murray, & C.W. Marshall

Hollowpoint is about hyper-competent spies/agents/whatever doing what they do best. Generally involving a lot of violence. Right from the start, I’m hooked on the premise. Of course.

Another cool thing the game incorporates is that these are people working in a team even though that may not be their preferred method of cooperation and that directly cooperating with one another can generally make individuals less effective. More on that later.

The default setting (which is easily hackable) has 6 stats characters can use to accomplish things: Kill (shooting, stabbing, whatever, but actually killing people), Take (stealing, etc), Terror (causing terror, making people terrified of you, etc), Con (tricking people and such), Dig (finding stuff out that others may not want you to know, or just otherwise getting information), & Cool (just being awesome, smiling in the face of danger, etc). These get ranked 0-5.

In addition PCs will have a number of traits that confer a one-time mechanical advantage (extra dice) when rolling.

The conflict mechanic is a little confusing at first, but thanks to plentiful examples, it’s pretty clear by the end. But, basically players will roll a pool of dice based on the stat their using (and possibly two extra dice from burning a trait). Then you’re looking for sets or matches. Longest/highest sets act first. Longer being more matches, higher being the actual die value. Sets are used to act against the opposition. When doing so the target must remove a die from their shortest, highest set, which may invalidate the set altogether or just reduce it’s length and possibly need re-ordered. The players & GM basically take turns at that point following the longest/highest set, going down in order. Once people run out of sets for dice to be removed from is when real damage & effects can start to be inflicted.

Teamwork is interesting. When players are narrating what they’re going to do (before dice are rolled) they can ask for help and say why they deserve it. If the person being asked for help agrees, they turn over their dice to the player asking for help, and now they’re out of the conflict for this round. On the other hand, they can just say “fuck that” and not help, and instead take two dice from the player who asked for help. “Calling for help makes you look small and people don’t want to help someone who’s always whining. Asking for help risks making you weaker.” There’s also a teamwork pool that a rejected player can take dice from. It’s mostly a fixed resource and can only be increased by introducing new characters, which only happens when a character retires/dies/otherwise moves on. It’s an interesting little economy.

One interesting thing is that the larger your die pool the more likely you are to get more sets, but you also increase your chances of getting a really long set, which isn’t always desirable. If you have one really long set taking up most of your dice, yeah, you get to act first and remove one die (possibly invalidating a set) from your opponent, but if they have multiple sets, they may get to act multiple times before you or your teammates can. It can be painful.

That’s the meat of the game. There’s some rules for how missions and scenes should be structured and there’s ways to do skill checks without a full-blown conflicts. There’s rules for requiring certain types of rolls in a given conflict (maybe you have to dig for some specific information while someone is creating a distraction with con). And there’s rules for more powerful/important NPCs.

Once you get your head wrapped around the die mechanic it’s a pretty straightforward system and sounds like a lot of fun. This is definitely one to go on my “must-play” list.

Kagematsu, by Danielle Lewon

I’ve known about Kagematsu for some time. I got a taste of it a few years back at GenCon in a little in-booth demo (maybe 15 minutes worth). It might have been with Danielle? I can’t remember. Anyhow, I’ve just now gotten around to actually reading the game.

The set-up is straightforward. Kagematsu takes place in Japan in 1572 during the “Warring States” era. Play focuses on a small, mostly helpless village living under the horror of a dangerous Threat. Without someone to defend them, the village is almost certainly doomed. Enter Kagamatsu, a ronin. The game is about a number of townswomen attempting to win Kagematsu’s affections and so secure his help in defending the village.

The first rule of Kagematsu is that you.. no. The first rule of Kagematsu is that Kagematsu must be played by a woman. It’s a key part of playing the game for a woman to play a traditional masculine role. The rest of the characters are the townswomen.

Townswomen have two traits to try and get Kagematsu’s attention: Innocence and Charm. They also have a Fear trait, which sort of tracks the terror the Threat is exerting on the village.

The bulk of the gameplay is “the Courtship”. The women trying for displays of affection from Kagematsu. There’s a list of affections each character can try to get (only once!) from Kagematsu. A scene is set, played through, and dice are rolled.

The affections might be something like a smile, or a stolen glance, and escalating to a confession of love or even a roll in the hay (winkwinknudgenudge). Some affections are gained through Innocence, some through Charm. And of course they get more difficult. Later you can leverage past successful affections through acts of desperation that give you an extra die to roll.

In addition, Kagematsu’s player is secretly tracking Love & Pity for each townswoman. These are totally subjective assessments and not necessarily tied to failure/success at all. Just the player asking “would that character’s action make Kagematsu love or pity them.” Love is used to modify Kagematsu’s roll (secretly) when a townswoman is trying for an affection. More love makes the roll easier for the other player.

Another bit is “The Looming Shadow” which is a way for the threat to interrupt a scene. If someone roll 3 or more sixes in a given scene, then it gets interrupted by the threat somehow.

The game ends when either one of the townswomen is able to elicit a promise from Kagematsu to protect the village and the game moves on to the confrontation where Kagematsu faces the threat. Or if all townswomen fail to elicit the promise, then Kagamatsu abandons the village and leaves.

Pretty straightforward game. I did enjoy the short demo I played, which was basically just a short couple scenes with me & a friend playing townswomen each aiming for a different affection. I’d definitely enjoy playing a full game of Kagematsu, which should be able to be done in a single session.

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