Monday, April 25, 2011

Missing, Presumed Left Behind

The last few days here in Vancouver have been glorious outside. The sun radiates warmly from bright, clear blue skies. Everyone is outside enjoying themselves and making the most of the early summer. From our apartment I can hear children playing in a nearby park, laughing and having fun.

So I went for a walk. A long walk.

I walked from where we live to Granville Street, putting me near the end of it, by 70th Avenue. I then walked straight up Granville as far as Granville Island. The last street number I passed before hitting the island was 4th Avenue. It took me about an hour. It was glorious. I wore my Rocketeer jacket because, despite it's weight, I was able to protect my neck from the sun beating down on my back the whole way up.

People have been telling me to visit Granville Island since I arrived, and I finally got to. The place was amazing. Markets of every kind sold everything I could need. There was delicious, ready to eat foods, fresh fruit and vegetables to take home, trinkets and kitschy junk to litter the house or send to friends.

There was an entire market called the Kids Market, filled with toy shops that sold all kinds of wondrous items. One sold the latest two Lego Mini-Figure series, from which I managed to get the pulp-era pilot and the awesome and much sought-after Hazmat guy thanks to the help of the staff. Another was filled floor to ceiling with puppets of every kind, from the simple finger puppet to the huge character puppets that made me long to have my Ernie to play with. They even had Fraggle Rock puppets! They had Mokey, Red, Wembley and Boober, but no Gobo. It took every ounce of will power not to buy any, especially Red or Wembley.

I dragged myself away from the Kids Market to explore the rest of the island, finding food and entertainment at every turn. By the time I decided to move on, I was completely lost and wandered in what I thought was the generally right direction until I found familiar territory again.

Getting back off Granville Island, I headed right looking for a popular gaming store, Drexoll Games. I wandered until I got to the end of the line of shops and decided I was on the wrong street (checking when I got home, I was). But it was the best mistake I ever made. Walking along what I later learned was 7th Avenue, I glanced down a side street at a crossing to check for traffic and my eyes popped. My brain misfired and a I stood motionless for a moment. This was parked just a few feet down the street.

Now, for those who may not be aware, "this" is a Ferrari F430. It is one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering and design in the world. As I fell in love with Vancouver thanks to MacGyver, I fell in love with the Ferrari brand around the same age thanks to Magnum P.I. I walked over to it, looking around to see if the owner was nearby and discovered it was parked outside a very nice car dealership. A very nice car dealership. I spent a good ten minutes walking around and admiring this dream machine, taking a handful of photographs and even a short video.

But I never touched it. Not a finger. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. Not that there were burly security men surrounding it, or staff from the dealership throwing me dirty looks. There weren't. I could have just reached out at any point and run my hand across the surface. But I didn't. Seeing it was special. Touching it was something beyond my comprehension. For me, that would be like touching the scales of a living dragon. This vehicle is a dream that I've had since I was a child. It held a magical place in my heart back then, and still does today.

So I just photographed it and walked away. Back out of the shade of the side street into the sun, now a little brighter, a little warmer, a little more awesome.

I headed south as far as Broadway and then walked that back as far as Granville. Once there, my legs finally gave up and screamed at me to take the bus home. I was honestly thinking of walking back still, but it was 6pm by now. I had been walking non-stop for five hours. The sun was still out, but low enough that cool shadows flooded the sidewalks. And so, a little reluctantly, I paid for the bus and headed home.

I got home and collapsed. I did laundry and started to organize my thought on my day and realized something.

Despite the sun, the markets, the toys and the car my day was missing something vital. Claire had stayed at home. I had no-one to share it with. I had no friends. No family. No-one that, in years to come, can say "Remember the day when we..." I miss my friends. I miss the times we shared. I miss barbeques on sunny days, walks in the park, coffee in town. I miss Sunday breakfast and hanging out.

Some days, I feel very alone.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Silence Is Golden

Video gaming is a hobby that relies heavily on a combination of a number of key factors to produce a holistic experience that few other hobbies can match. In the modern era we have the visual graphics, the music, dialog and sound effects for our ears and even the tactile response of rumbling controllers in our hands. All these together pull us into the world that has been built within the game.

In the past, I've considered that a game should only be played when all those factors are present, with the possible exception of the force-feedback controllers. Image and sound go together to produce a complete package, and even as far back as Space Invaders and Pac-Man, the music and effects were important to the final product.

My gaming history has moved from the basic stereo sounds of a television set to a simple 2.1 sound system with an impressive bass speaker to a full 5.1 surround sound system that allows me to pinpoint the location of enemies breathing from anywhere in the room! Sound has been vital to my own personal experiences. I love the music of games, but even more so, I love the sound effects produced to compliment my actions.

The roar of an engine as your muscle car sprints off the mark. The crunch of leaves and twigs underfoot as you explore the ruined temple. The deep, throbbing hum of an enormous city-sized starship blasting through the void. The gentle whistle of air rushing by as you glide through the skies. And there are few things more gratifying in a computer game than revving a chainsaw and running screaming at an alien enemy, sawing him in half as blade meets muscle and bone, squealing and spluttering.

So when I first got the Xbox set up here in Vancouver, you can understand how anxious I was about playing it at first before I managed to organize a working sound system. As I had brought my VGA cable with me, I was able to plug the machine into Claires shiny PC monitor. Unfortunately, unlike TVs which have built-in sound systems, the monitor was silent. Claire had gotten a simple sound system for her PC, but the jack was incompatible with the current wiring connected to the Xbox.

Regardless, I still wanted to play my beloved games. I yearned to get all stabby-stabby in Assassins Creed: Brotherhood. I wanted to kick tiny villagers in World of Keflings. I wanted to play the latest tracks that I liked in Rock Band. How bad could it be. I'd give it a go.

And you know what, they weren't bad. I had played Brotherhood a lot at home, and I was only playing the multiplayer anyway, which doesn't have exposition dialog or anything. All the sound effects I needed were of the gurgling last rasps of your character as someone shoves a hidden blade through your spleen, and I could mimic them myself pretty well. The Keflings got kicked in silence. Rock Band wasn't attempted. That would just have been ridiculous, and I wasn't that desperate. Really. Honestly...

On the other hand, I had bought Bulletstorm shortly after arriving in Vancouver to guarantee my access into the Gears of War 3 Beta, so I thought I'd give it a go. I lasted all of one chapter in the first Act, and even then it was a struggle. The game is a first person shooter that relies heavily on dialog and sound effects to build the atmosphere of the setting, and I was missing all of that. It just wasn't fun.

All of this brings me to one last game, Split/Second: Velocity, a racing game from Disney. Its gimmick is that, along with racing, you can cause massive explosions that destroy the tack and wreck the opposition in your quest for victory. When it comes to cars and fast driving, they kind of all sound the same. I was able to hear the growl of the engine and the squeal of tires in my own head, and an explosion is an explosion, so I could imagine the booming chaos whenever I triggered a Course Change. It was great! The game was fun and the sound effects I imagined suited the onscreen carnage. Super.

Eventually, I did get sound. I kicked Keflings, and heard the little chirps of surprise. I fired up Rock Band and had some friends over for my first Plastic Instruments Appreciation session in Vancouver. I went back and played BulletStorm, a much more enjoyable experience with the added sound. I tried out Split/Second for the first time with the games original effects playing in my ears...

And I was disappointed. The explosions weren't as loud, or as meaty as I had imagined them. The cars didn't growl the way they did in my head. The commentator between seasons was annoying. I played a few tracks and put it to one side. I'm not sure if I'll go back.

Or, if I do, maybe I'll leave the sound off next time.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Conflict And Consequences

Notice: As this is the final post in this series, why not catch up on the whole lot.
1 Writing The Dreadnought RPG
2 The Great And Terrible Engine
3 Mysteries And Machinations
4 Intrigue And Investigations

I arrived in the store at my usual early hour. In a break from tradition, I got food on the way as Claire went to a writing seminar on writing for video games in Downtown, so we didn't have dinner at home. I suppose we could have had an early dinner, but I was playing the Gears of War 3 Beta and food was not a priority.

For the final installment of the series we only had three available players. One of the missing was away on holidays and had informed me last week while the other was chipping away at a project he needed to finish. After the others arrived, there was a short discussion about the Gears of War series and Beta before we started into the big finale[1].

Skip to the end.

This week was almost entirely combat with roleplaying opportunities spread between bouts of conflict. I think I've mentioned before that combat is my weak point. I find it hard to make dice rolling exciting, which is why I tend to emphasize the roleplaying aspect of my games. But tonight worked out well. There was lots for people to do, and combat was brutal. I got to inflict a lot of damage on people, and cause quite a few Consequences.

By the end of the night the characters were all a little bloodied and beaten, the last secret of the Dreadnought remained a secret, and the various characters parted ways to continue their individual unwritten stories beyond the adventure.

One of the interesting features of this evenings game was that one of the players sent his character in a very different direction from the book, and almost got the character killed in the process. Last minute fortune kept peoples attention focused on bigger problems, but things could have been interesting. Afterwords, there was some discussion about Player versus Player conflict, and I was happy to find the while everyone was OK with the idea of it for a once-off, the upcoming campaign will not be suffering such difficulties[2].

I was glad to see that everyone enjoyed the extended combat. Next week we start the character generation for Dresden Files, and while I don't expect to be regularly dealing with combat scenarios involving the huge numbers of forces on both sides that tonight’s session included, it may well be something I might try as a "season finale", and I'm glad the players are comfortable with the idea.

After the game we all retired to a local bar that we've been enjoying after most of the sessions so far. I had to strongly resist the urge to head home and play the Beta, but I enjoy the conversations that we usually have when we're out, so I dropped my bags at home and headed out as well. This gave me an opportunity to inquire about what the players present liked and didn't like about the game. Thankfully, there was little to complain about, and the only major issue was  a lack of complete comfort with the character players were playing, something that I admitted I expected even before the game began. These were pre-generated characters, with little input for the players that were playing them. For my following campaign, the players will be creating their own characters and that shouldn't be an issue.

As combat dominated the session, there wasn't as many opportunities for favourite moments, thought we did end the session on a note of hope for the characters and their world. As the session ended, one of the Player Characters turned to one of the Non-Player Characters from an opposing faction and shook hands, commenting "I hope we don't meet again before this war is over", to which the NPC replied, with the help of one of the other players at the table "I agree, and hope to see you again, soon."

Next week we meet to create the city and characters for my upcoming Dresden Files RPG. I can't wait to see what the players create. The last four weeks have been a wonderful experience for me as their GM. I can only imagine the amazing characters and world they will create themselves.

[1] Thanks to the Gears Beta, I didn't really prepare a snappy "Previously in Dreadnought", or any kind of opening in fact. So I started the game with "You all know where we stand, let's do this" and I feel the session suffered for it. I think players got into the game a lot faster the previous week and I feel we had a lot more energy from the moment the first scene began. Lesson learned: Always have a snappy opening.
[2] I realize some games work with Player versus Player conflict, but there is a reason I don't play them. PvP is something I don't enjoy, both as a GM and player. I like my party to work together as a unit. I actively discourage players from creating characters that have strongly opposing views or goals that are exclusive of each other. PvP tension is enjoyable and can really add to a game, but not all out conflict in my opinion. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Just Plain Talented

After far too many months of waiting, Gears of War 3 took its first steps into the public light at 2am this morning, Vancouver time. Naturally, as a Gears fan since playing Horde mode for the first time at a friends house, I stayed up to get in on the action at the first opportunity. Equally as obvious, Claire stayed up with me to watch the first few minutes before tottering off to dreamland.

The Gears of War Beta allows us fans to experience an early build of the multiplayer, putting the maps and weapon balances to the test. It's only a Beta, so most of the final content that will appear on the disc is not available, and I'm not just referring to the single player campaign. My favorite more, the previously mentioned Horde Mode is not featured, nor is the new gameplay type I'm most looking forward to trying out, Beast Mode.

This first week is for BulletStorm owners and Epic Games friends and family only, and the options available are limited. Currently, there is only one game mode and two maps available, though more will be released over the course of the four weeks the Beta runs for. First up, the maps.

Checkout: This is set inside a ruined supermarket. It is very close quarters combat orientated, with lots of destructible cover and low walls to both crouch behind, but also mantel over and stomp enemies. The rows of shelving give loads of ways to get around opponents and create cross fire opportunities, as well as quickly splitting up uncoordinated teams. The lighting on this map is beautiful, with sunlight streaming through frosted of grimy glass, brightening everything. But we'll get back to that later.

Thrashball: Set in a destroyed thrashball arena from the pre-war days. This is a big, open central area with small side areas for bottlenecked combat. One major issue I have with this map is that it appears to be possible to spawn-camp a team - the spawn zone has one tunnel exit (like a team dressing room exit to the pitch) and if you get forced back to there you're pretty much boned. This happened once to my team last night. When that doesn't happen though, it's a great fun map. The grass and plant-life that has reclaimed the arena are bright and lush, a noticeable departure from the browns and grays more common in the previous games.

Play alternates between the two maps per match, not per round. As I stated earlier, currently there is only one game mode available. While Team Deathmatch is nothing new to shooters in general, it is new to the Gears franchise, and their version puts a Gears style spin on things. Each team has a pool of 15 respawns. The object of the lesson is to kill the enemy team enough times to deplete their pool, then eliminate them. This means that four great players stuck with one sucky player could lose if said sucky player dies a lot and runs though the pool[1]. It also means one player could potentially be the last remaining player on his team and still cream the enemy with skillful use of the shotgun, going on to win for his team[2].

My opinion on competitive multiplayer shooters in general: I play Gears for Horde. I love the cooperative gameplay, the team work, the shared joy of victory and the shared exhilaration of defeat. There are no hard feelings when we die to the Horde waves. No one calls "cheater" or, "unfair advantage". No one accuses the opponents of host advantage, or the game of having unbalanced weapons. But I've never played a competitive multiplayer session that lasted more than a few rounds before those accusations were flying across the chat channels. And the Beta was no different. When my team was winning, this was "the best game ever", and this map was "so balanced" and everything was "great". When same team was loosing, the other team was "clearly cheating" and the maps were "unfair" and the shotgun was "so overpowered" and yadda, yadda, yadda. Sigh. I miss Horde already.

Based on my brief trip so far, here are my two top Pro Tips for the Beta:
1- Stick together as a team!! We lost more rounds by splitting up and running every which way than by opposing skill.
2- Learn when to ignore the voices in your head. When they're being nice and coordinating the offensive, then stay in contact, work as a team. When they're being offensive and complaining about the game, shut up and don't join in. You're better than that, and must accept that chances are you'll lose more than you'll win, especially at the start. Just focus on getting a few kills per game and you'll be fine.

Graphically, the game is beautiful, vivid and lush, with gorgeous lighting. One of the promises was to make everything brighter, and they have. Vivid colours, streaming sunshine. Everything looks amazing. From what I've seen, character models look nice too, but usually they're running about or getting stomped on, so it's hard to tell for sure. If you've played Enslaved, the Thrashball arena especially reminds me of those bright post-apocalyptic areas from that game (also built on the Unreal 3 engine), and the Checkout map reminds me of a brighter, easier to navigate and more interesting version of the supermarkets in Fallout 3.

Here are some stats from my first night playing. This might be especially useful for those of you interested in hoping to unlock the Beta exclusive Gold Lancer and Trashball Cole skins.

10 matches of Team Deathmatch took me approximately 2 hours and netted me 24 Rounds played, and a total of 22 kills with the Lancer alone (the required stat to watch for the Gold Lancer retail unlock), and many more kills in total. I unlocked a bunch of stuff, including weapon skins and Anya as a playable character for just playing the 10 matches.

I originally thought the retail unlock Gold Lancer requirements (Complete 90 matches in any game type to unlock for the Beta period. To permanently unlock, score 100 kills with the Gold-Plated Retro Lancer during the Beta period) were tough, but they seem like something that is going to happen anyway over the course of 4 weeks. Even over the 3 weeks most people have. Kill stealing is a bitch, but I've given as much as been taken, so it all balances out, right? Also, I'm generally ignoring Executions in favour of laying a few more rounds in my target to guarantee no-one else gets to him first.

And finally, the weapons. I'm gonna make this fast, as Claire just hit the shower, so I have access to the PC monitor the Xbox is currently plugged into. Here goes:

Lancer is lancer, gnasher shotgun is broken, retro lancer seems ridiculously inefficient compared to the modern version (terrible recoil, massive footprint), new shotgun is crazy powerful but takes an eon to reload, incendiary grenades are hilarious (melting surfaces), flash bang grenades cause stun, blinding white light and just seem more useful, new digger weapon (tunnels underground and past cover) is cool to see in action but I haven't had a chance to try it yet, mortar is the usual splash damage hilarity, grinder is same as always, and I haven't gotten my hands on the sniper rifle yet.

All in all, I'm loving the chance to get my hands on the game this early. The game modes that will be available over the course of the Beta period are not why I am even remotely interested in the final retail game, but they give me the opportunity to see some of the maps, weapons and gameplay tweaks that is ahead of me. I'll be playing as much of it as possible, all the while yearning for the peace and man-love happy times that is Horde mode, now with female skins![3]

[1] Me.
[2] Not me.
[3] Despite female playable characters, Claire has made it very clear that she will be remaining with Marcus as her ingame avatar of death-by-sniper. Can't blame her. Even after all these years, my man-crush on Baird remains as powerful as the first day I laid eyes on his goggles.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Intrigue And Investigations

Notice: I've had an unexpected number of requests for more details on the events of the story itself, or the possibility of posting my notes somewhere[1]. As I've stated before, this is an RPG game for personal use based on the copyrighted works of Cherie Priest. In respect of her work, I am purposely avoiding revealing plot points from the story, instead focusing these Actual Play posts on the session gameplay itself. If you enjoy these posts, perhaps you should think of picking up Dreadnought or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest from your local book store, or at any number of locations online.

Once more I arrived at The Connection full on the fabulous foodening provided by my wonderful wife. I'm starting to see a trend in my meals before my GM sessions. Last week was pork mince with sloppy joe mix and salad on toasted buns, this week was the same mince mix and salad but in tacos. Next week I intend to try the same mix and salad combo in tortilla wraps! Nom-nom-nom.

One of the players actually beat me to the store this week, so we chatted and discussed our weekends as the rest of the gang arrived over the following 45 minutes. By 7pm we had the full table, the first game with five players present!

I opened the game a little differently this week, trying something humorous. I did a "Previously, in Dreadnought"[2] recap as if it was a TV show, throwing out a string of sound bites, dialogue from various characters, both PCs and NPCs, hitting all the major revelations and facts from the previous two sessions. I think it worked really well to focus the players on the game, and I loved doing it. Definitely something I'll use again.

The game opened with some opportunity for investigation, roleplay and interparty conversation that allowed the players figure out a little more of what was going on. It also was the first point in the story that I got to play with my train, losing some carriages and introducing one new piece, as in the original text. Great fun was had by all.

Then the train started out on the final leg of its journey.

Skip to the end.

Once again my players never cease to amaze me. There were many, many awesome moments, but if I had to pick just two, they would be as follows:

The first was right at the start, before they had even left the station, when one player decided to investigate one of the more interesting carriages of the train by approaching it in exactly the same manner as the same character in the novel. I awarded the player a FATE point for that, though I guess I should have awarded it to Cherie Priest for writing a character that follows her nature and acts exactly as she should in a given situation!

The other involved a great example of how Aspects can be used. The Aspect "I'm not here to fight you" was meant as a Trouble, allowing me to Compel him into not getting violent. Instead, the player suggested that he could use it to gain a bonus on his Gun skill as he was using it to disarm the opponent, not inflict damage. In other words, he was removing the opponent as a threat, thus not having to fight him. I totally loved this idea, and the player invoked the Aspect to get a +2 to a roll, giving him a success, shooting the gun from the NPCs hand, and removing him from combat without inflicting damage.

There was a brief moment where there was a very real threat that the party might get totally split up due to decisions made for the protection of the passengers. Luckily, it was decided at the eleventh hour to keep the civilians together and thus the party remained in the same general location. I'm not sure how I would have handled the endgame had the players actually decided to split themselves up, but thankfully it's not something I had to deal with tonight.

Suffice it to say, if the players had come up with a plausible explanation to split the party at this stage, I would be writing an angry letter to the author reclaiming my previously awarded FATE point and pointing out the massive plot hole in her story. However, the varied excuses of weather, raiders and a three-day delay for the passengers in getting to their connecting trains (a fate worse than the threat of death that accompanied remaining on board the Dreadnought, apparently) justified keeping everyone on the moving train.

While one of the trains two main secrets were revealed this week, the other remains under lock and key, mainly due to some fantastic gaming by the player in charge of said secret. We'll see if this comes to light before the end of our story next week, but I remain open to the possibility that it won't.

All in all, once again, a great game. My players are, each and every one of them, awesome. We have a great time, loads of laughs and some great gaming too. We're the only group in the store on a Tuesday evening, which is lucky. I think anyone else who could be there might get annoyed at the constant interruptions by howls of laughter every few minutes.

I thought two hours would be awfully short to play a story driven game, but at three sessions in, I'm noticing that we're all pretty focused on the game from the opening scenes. While there is still the usual tangential tales and side stories about the cute things we saw on YouTube this week, they take up less time than I've experienced with other groups. It seems to be working well so far. The only thing I can say is that it might end up making my upcoming Dresden Files games into a series of two-parters rather than the episodic style of one night, one story. That's not a problem, just an observation.

Next week, Dreadnought wraps up with a final massive combat session and then some! I aim to do some serious harm to my PCs. So far, these games have introduced the players to all the basics of FATE 3.0, from Fudge dice to FATE points, and Aspects to Stunts. Now it's time to teach them about pain and suffering, and the Consequences thereof!

[1] My notes were never meant to be read by anyone apart from myself anyway, so even if I did post them, they wouldn't be much use to anyone. Buy the book, bullet point the key events from the moment Mercy boards the Dreadnought to the moment she changes transport and you have what I wrote.
[2] I always loved hearing Goliath intone "Previous, in Gargoyles" at the start of an episode of the Disney cartoon from the 90's. Any time I hear or say "Previously, in..." I hear it in my head being said by Keith David. If I could get any celebrity to record my phone answering message, it would be him.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Mysteries And Machinations

Notice: This posting is about the second session of an RPG game for personal use based on the copyrighted works of Cherie Priest. The caveat from the first post continues to apply, namely that I will continue to avoid revealing plot points from the story, instead focusing this post on the gameplay itself. If you enjoy these Actual Play posts, perhaps you should think of picking up Dreadnought or Boneshaker by Cherie Priest from your local book store, or at any number of locations online.

I arrived at The Connection on Cambie nice and early to get set up. Thanks to my wonderful wife, I was full up on a delicious dinner and ready to game. Due to unavoidable circumstances, one of my players from last weeks game was absent. However, during the week, we picked up another player, so we had four regardless. Despite this, I played the missing players Player Character, and the new entry to our ranks was given a new PC.

The previous session had ended at the first station stop on the journey, and anyone who has read the books knows that a few new characters board the train at this point. So when another player told me he would be free and interested in joining, I honestly couldn't believe my luck. This was too perfect. He'd just play one of the new characters that would otherwise have been an Non-Player Character. Honestly, I couldn't have planned this if I had tried. That said, I would have preferred to not have one of the starting players miss the game, but nothing could be done, so we motored on regardless.

After our new player had a chance to read over his character, and some brief questions about FATE were asked, the game got going at around 7:15pm.

Where the first session opened with an opportunity for everyone to introduce themselves, this week opened with some conversations on the stations platform before the whistle blew and everyone boarded. After that, we had a long roleplaying session where mysteries were raised, everyone learned a little more about each others motivations, and uneasy allegiances were formed between Player Characters. This brought us right up to 8pm, and the next station.

A quick stop, some new passengers, a few more questions between players, and we had our combat of the evening. That ran up to and beyond 9pm, but the staff at the store are super awesome, and we were let run a little late to wrap things up. Combat over, one more revelation with an NPC, and I called it for the evening. My watch was just rolling on to 9:20pm.

So, how did the evening go? Pretty good, I think. Let's review.

It opened with some fantastic roleplaying from everyone. More silly accents, more hilarity, more intrigue. Facts were doled out in tiny bites, and players fished for clues in everything that was said. In fact, I was worried that it was too slow, and used my power lent to me as the controller of what had once been a PC to move things along once. I'm not sure if that was great idea, but I felt that we were tight on time, and some of the players had to spend more in the scene time listening than interacting due to the character, so I felt it was worth the risk. It's not something I wanted to do, as I love letting players converse back and forth with each other at leisure. Regardless, most of the facts were laid out by the end, which was the important thing.

Combat was once again the slow point for me. I think this is something I need to work on. For something that is supposed to represent a fast, frantic event, I find combat in most games to be slow and boring. I tried to liven it up with dramatic descriptions, but in the end, it's going to be "I rolled one Plus overall, giving me Great Guns", "They rolled only Fair on their Drive, so you do 2 Stress". Still, we had some fun moments, like one player spending a FATE Point to make a Declaration that the carriages were steam heated and so had bags of coal stored away somewhere, then using that coal to help take out an opponent! Or another player using Investigate to discover a weak point, making that a tagable Aspect.

The game ended with one last round of roleplay, and, just before everyone relaxed, the arrival of something far in the distance.

One of the things I'm enjoying from the game is watching how the players and dice cause the story to divert from the book. Upholding my self-imposed ban on spoilers, all I'll say is that, by now, in the book Mercy was aware of one of the major secrets the Dreadnought held. Try as I might, I could not force the events of the book to play out in the game. The dice constantly rolled against me. I love that! There is every chance this secret will never come to light, and if that is the resolution, then so be it. I'm not going to press the matter. It's my game, based on Cherie Priests work, but this version of it is the players story. Kind of like a Marvel "What If..." Except without the Watcher.

I still didn't really Compel any Aspects, unfortunately. That is really something I need to work on. It's a core mechanic of the system, and I'm pretty weak at it. Granted, combat didn't really need any, but there must have been a moment or two where I could have pressed the players one way or another during the earlier scenes.

So there we have it. More adventure, more mystery, and more interparty conflict! Next week may or may not wrap everything up. There is a chance that we'll run for a fourth week. Tune in again to find out!