Feedback after playing through Summer break and killer birds
We had a great time playing Summer break and killer birds the other day. I had four players: a troublemaker (14 yr, played by 16 yr), a rocker (13 yr, played by 14 yr), a weirdo (12 yr, played by 45 yr) and a hick (11 yr, played by 15 yr). They are experienced roleplayers, mainly from Dungeons and Dragons, using miniatures.
The rules are simple, great for beginners, with a storytelling focus that is interesting and engaging also for experienced players. The players had no problems at all adapting to "theatre-of-the-mind" roleplaying, without miniatures or round-to-round action.
The setting was very nice according to all players (and kindles strong nostalgia for people over forty, like the GM and the player of the weirdo). The younger players were happy to play Kids of an age they had no problems remembering, but in a past age with a twist.
The principles are great guidelines. After GM:ing I really appreciate how all six reinforces the themes of the game while facilitating the storytelling aspects. In particular, we like the way the principle that no Kid can die mirrors the conviction of every Kid this age that they are immortal ... It is easy to imagine that this is what changes at sixteen. That Kids can't die really helps making them willing to take risks and not get stuck in planning limbo (which I have suffered in other storytelling games before).
It is good that the Anchor drives the Kids on their own volition to the dull and unforgiving everyday life. As a GM, I prioritized the Mystery, so we only had the introductory scenes, the ending scenes, and two other everyday life scenes, of which one was an Anchor scene. Had we not been a bit short on time I would have prioritized differently. But there is a strong feeling anyway that everyday life will become a serious obstacle over a campaign unless the Kids balance it well with the Mysteries – especially parents will demand attention, timekeeping, school results, etc. Already in the end scenes for this Mystery, the angry father of the Rocker demanded she spend less time with her friends, and the mother of the weirdo did likewise but in a more well-meaning and concerned manner.
Scene cutting was very efficient, especially between scenes with a split party. I was a bit worried when the individual scenes at the start segued into the Pigeon nest with half of the party (weirdo and hick) and a visit to Stenhamra for the others (rocker and troublemaker). My concerns were however unfounded; splitting the party proved both natural and straightforward and set up very dynamic and focused scenes, with lots of action too at the Pigeon nest. Later, I therefore had no problems splitting the party again, with the troublemaker and the hick on a second tour to Stenhamra library and the weirdo and the rocker trying to find out about Lena Thelin (aunt of the Rocker) and getting to Mats Tingblad.
I found it surprisingly easy to set up action scenes, one successful or failed roll leading into the next. For example, the entire sequence at the Pigeon nest was a chase scene of sorts. First, the weirdo and hick hurried down their treehouse (Climb, success with a bought effect for help) to chase after the strange talking pigeons on their bikes (Move, success). Sneaking up on the nest (Sneak, once again with a bought effect for help) they found the magnetrine ship's ID (Investigate, Calculate) but were discovered by the pigeons (Comprehend failed, with consequence). When turning tails to get away, they spotted a glint from Majsan's binoculars on a nearby naze before she also disappeared on a bmx bike (she is cool)! They got away on their bikes (Move, success) but were rediscovered by the hundreds of pursuing pigeons when they tried to head off the mystery cyclist (Sneak, failure), so they had to rush again (Move, success). This brought them spurting out cross-track in front of Majsan, forcing an evasion maneuver (Move, success, bought effect from hick: Impress Majsan)! A perfect sliding stop and turn!
The concept of success with consequences or conditions on a failure worked very well in driving the story forward without railroading it – the Kids's choices still mattered most.
NPC relations connected the Kids well to the setting and specific Mystery, both those of their own invention and those picked from the suggestions.
Pushing a skill roll proved to be a strong temptation, and a slippery slope threatening to quickly break the Kids. With one die less per condition it becomes increasingly hard to succeed on any roll ... In this way, we found the Conditions to be a good balancing measure to the smooth solution of the Mystery, overambitious risk-taking, and too many ways of overcoming Trouble (pushing, luck, Pride). With some practise, we will be better at keeping in character while under a condition, too. Especially exhausted and injured were tricky to show in the roleplaying. An honourable mention to our angry troublemaker in this respect – very consistent roleplaying. For example, after failing a Contact roll to meet up with his Anchor at the library (to be let in the closed building), he checked Angry, pushed, failed again, and broke the window in his anger (getting in with a consequence).
Contact was fun to use for me as a GM, and a skill the players used very well, establishing contacts on the go and getting good results out of it. I really liked how a contact roll could mean a lot of different things, for example: the weirdo and the rocker are stuck bordering on broken with Mats Tingblad in his house, with killer birds outside. For help, they decide to call Gunnar's number to get hold of Majsan. Roll Contact – a successful roll means the relevant page in the phone book has not yet been used in Mats's birdcages. Eventually, Majsan picked up the phone silently (after all, the roll was succesful), and angrily snapped at her friend the weirdo for calling. But she came with Bullen and saved them!
The players were a bit confused by the rules on helping – they feel it should always be a good idea to help each other. In retrospect we realised a possible interpretation of the helping rules that we like – you should need to have the skill both to help and to be helped. Also, you should not suffer conditions or consequences for failing a help roll. For some actions, it could be possible to help if you are unskilled, like heavy lifting (Body) or accompishing a simple collaborative task under time pressure (packing a tent, Move). In such cases, a possible system could be to actually pool the dice, roll once requiring one success to overcome trouble and have all suffer the consequences on a failure.
In this Mystery in particular and in Tales of the Loop in general, some skills tend to dominate. Comprehend, for example, is used as a catch-all understand-what-is-happening skill in the Mystery. According to the descriptions, it seems Empathize should be used to understand animal behaviour and motives (as well as humans). We find that it is very important to uphold clear boundaries between skills as much as it is possible to balance the use of them and avoid super-useful skills that seem to duplicate whole areas of applications of other skills. Furthermore, some skills found only marginal or no application in the Mystery as played by us, mainly the two Tech skills Build and Tinker which made the player of the hick concerned (though he was happy to save the day at the end with a successful use of Tinker).
Other skills that were often used were Contact, Investigate, Force, and Move. Skills that were useful but not as often was Sneak, Calculate, and Empathize. Lead was never used, but I guess it was due to lack of experience with the system.
Iconic items were used, mainly in fights (three of four had "weapons", knife, razor-blade and drumsticks) while the fourth was a pet calf ...
Two of the players successfully used their Prides. The troublemaker (I sustain myself and my dog) successfully searched Gunnar's house for valuables (Investigate) and found the diary in the process. The rocker (I'm a drummer!) successfully fought the Goshawk (Force) in the showdown, adding one success to the one rolled for the required two. I made that interpretation, not sure if it's intended that way – how would you use Pride if more than one success is needed?
The disposition of the Mystery was a bit confusing to the GM at times. For example, what Majsan knows and under what conditions she tells it is spread over three entries: the Pigeon nest, Gunnar's house and her character presentation.
I didn't really use the maps of locations, it would have been more useful to have exterior views of the houses. For the finished product it would also be great to have handouts of useful illustrations, like character portraits, said exteriors, and the magnetrine ship. I used the original illustration from my copy of "Ur varselklotet" to show the wrecked ship, and the map from the same book was a much appreciated centrepiece at the table.
We have some suggestions for rules expansions and new Types that I will post in the following posts.
Last edited by Vargtass
on Sun 01 Jan 2017, 14:32, edited 1 time in total.