Archive for the 'Drowning & Falling' Category

[Dream Game] Escape from the Tombs

2008 Oct 22

Bizarre dreams last night, including a semi-RPG and a lost episode of Avatar Book III. This post is about the game, which seemed like a cross between Fred Hick’s Escape or DIE! and Jason Morningstar’s Drowning & Falling. I was at JiffyCon (in the dream) and planned to play some Exalted hack with Shreyas and Elizabeth, but we were waiting for the game to start, so we wandered over to another table where folks where playtesting another game.

The game involved placing cards on the table to form a basic labyrinthine dungeon, with some cards connecting to others and some not, very much like what a finished dungeon in Drowning & Falling looks like. And then the group decides on some basic reason that all their characters are trapped in a dungeon. I said, “Can I suggest that this is some kind of ancient archaeological site that we’ve stumbled into while looking for valuable cultural artifacts, Indiana Jones style?” Folks were very enthusiastic about that suggestion.

Play consisted of rolling some dice to see if 1) you could move between rooms, in the hopes of grabbing something valuable before fleeing for your life, and 2) making sure nothing terrible happened to your character in the new room. For example, I remember Shreyas rolled a success on movement and a failure on preventing something bad, narrating, “Okay, the door in front of me has a symbol like a purple bubble wand on it — P.S. there are bubble wands in this dungeon, okay — so I blow some bubbles on the door and it opens, but then some black tentacle shoots out from behind the door and pulls me through it, screaming.”

Unfortunately, that’s all I remember.

XP [07/02] Drowning & Falling

2008 Jul 4

First XP post! We played Jason Morningstar’s Drowning & Falling on Wed. Here’s how my experience went:

Encounters seemed to be more fun in the minds of their creators than they were for me in play; likewise, ideas that seemed really fun when I wrote them down seemed to come off as mediocre to others. Thinking up the encounters is hilarious, but describing them to other people so that they are hilarious is harder.

Succeeding in a challenge roll was not fun, because nothing happened. If was only fun if the roll failed, in which case you take damage or suffer other consequences, or succeeded and was the final one needed to beat the challenge, in which case you get loot or gain levels. Rolling the dice and having nothing mechanical happen seemed kinda lame.

Rolling up new characters was always fun.

Determining which traits to use in a roll was not fun, because we didn’t really do much descriptive work to make things make sense. Oftentimes, people just picked the highest traits that had left. Likewise, there was little description that accompanied using treasure for re-rolls, because the cool treasure we made up was rarely appropriate, even as a huge stretch.

Having another player choose the second trait you used in a roll was not fun; neither was it fun to choose another player’s second trait, because it was not clear what to choose or why to choose it. Frequently, people would just randomly choose a trait, choose a trait the player was good at, or choose a trait that seemed to go with the action described. The latter seems like it would be okay, but there were some really common pairings like Strong + Tough or Smart + Alert that were constantly being invoked.

Choosing negative traits as a scene framer was also not fun, because it seemed to not really have much to do with the context of the challenge. The best one we had was drowning in a corn silo thanks to the evil machinations of the Iowa Grain Council. We decided it would be Pathetic to drown in corn. Otherwise, it was hard to pick an appropriate one.

Keeping track of which traits you had already used in an encounter was not fun.

Doing the math necessary to figure out what you had to roll under (trait + trait – bad trait – monster) was not fun.

It was fun to see the number of people facing a challenge dwindle as people either succeeded or failed. But it was not fun facing the same challenge more than once. I kept hoping that the problem would evolve a bit before each roll, to give me guidance on which traits to pick and to give things more of a narrative. But instead it was like, “Roll again to see if you can keep the kobold Master of the Abyss from springing the trap door” after I’d failed once. Not so great.

It was not fun always rolling for each challenge alone, since there were few opportunities for interaction between players. Even magic and prayers, which seem to allow for cooperation or PVP didn’t really work that way, since the really helpful spells made you succeed automatically, which basically took the agency of success out of either players’ hands. Getting arbitrarily hosed was pretty fun, though.

Choosing which direction to go was fun.

Reading the text was fun. Reading excerpts from the book aloud before play began was fun. I wish we’d been able to do that more, but the text isn’t really set up for it.

I kept feeling the need for slightly more overall structure to the narrative, to make it sustainable, instead of just isolated meaningless fights (similar to my recent experience with D&D4, actually). I didn’t really care about the characters, so I needed something to care about, like the world unfolding in all its ridiculous glory or the overall progress of the party or something.

After about 8 rooms, we were all fairly tired of the slogging and wished we could have proceeded faster, without so many re-rolls.

All in all, it was fairly fun and I felt like there were definitely things we could have done to make it work better, like doing a better job at describing things or simply speeding up the process. Now that people are more familiar with it, I hope we can run it again and see if the experience is better. For our first time playing it, it was just a bit slow and cumbersome to truly deliver on the fast-paced, madcap fun described in the text.