Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Two More Games from Sydcon

So, two other games I played at Sydcon were An ARD Day's Night (Paranoia), and The Silence in the Chapel (Call of Cthulhu). I want to comment on these games separately because they're part of a long gaming tradition, and because they're rather old systems that are well-suited to the con format.

Paranoia has been around in various editions for more than twenty-five years. An ARD Day's Night is a from a published collection of Paranoia modules called Acute Paranoia, republished for the new edition in Flashbacks, and was run at Sydcon by Melissa Legrand. The adventure follows the typical Paranoia structure, where a group of troubleshooters are assigned to find trouble - in this case, with the systems regulating the day/nightcycle in ARD sector - and shoot it.

And this wasn't one of your more subtle, satirical modules - goofiness abounded, with histrionic accusations of treason and equally histrionic defences. The GM added a new R&D device - a Portal gun - and jiggered the service group and secret society memberships for maximum fun.

My favourite bit was the set-piece which saw the troubleshooters mistaken for a popular entertainment troupe, and mobbed by screaming infrareds. This was followed by a musical number, wherein my character, a secret commie, was able to propagandise a huge crowd by singing the songs of his Commie hero, John Lenin. A clone well-spent, I feel.

The over-the-top silliness, the disposable nature of the player characters, and the standard mission structure all make Paranoia ideal for a light and happy con game session. It's more than possible to play the game in a darker mode, but it's considerably easier to grab the Portal gun and drag the whole party into an infinite portal loop. Funny, too.

System-wise, the most recent iteration of the Paranoia rules were used, though in practice this largely meant the player rolling the dice and the GM describing an outcome - usually a complicated, destructive outcome with little relation to the character's skill number. Most attempted skill uses were successful if that was more fun, which it usually was; the exception was the Portal gun, where most uses went horribly wrong.

I'm ok with that as a resolution scheme.

The Silence in the Chapel was written by Ken Finlayson and presented to celebrate Call of Cthulhu's thirtieth anniversary. Call of Cthulhu was a direct influence on early Australian systemless games; many of the early multiform modules were horror scenarios that emphasised the personal experience over the game system.

I was initially concerned at the sparseness of the character sheet I was given - a couple of paragraphs of rather dry background, some skill percentages, a bit of system explanation. This turned out to be less of a problem than it might have been, because the characters were drawn from the same strong archetypes as the source game and the Lovecraft mythos. I had a New York sophisticate; I played him as subtly camp, with genuine affection for his colleagues.

The game was well staged - there was a full colour map of 1920s Boston in the middle of the table; as the group followed leads, the GM placed laminated illustrations of the various places, people and objects on the map, which could be passed around. This led to a deeper sense of immersion in the setting.

In keeping with default Cthulhu style, a small group of investigators investigated. The game was open-ended, but channeled to key points that the GM had prepared for, with boxed text and laminated pictures. A particular highlight was interrogating a working-class labourer who'd been driven mad by Cthulhoid beasties.

The system was a stripped-down version of the Chaosium Call of Cthulhu game - each character had a small, illustrative set of skills and percentile dice were rolled against them. No sanity system was used - the game was staged so that the awful horror was revealed slowly, gathering pace towards an ultimate climax. Rolling against sanity would have altered the flow. You don't want an investigator going batshit at the wrong time.

As a particularly neat touch, the adventure was chock full of subtle homages to the original rules - the characters were all named after the various example characters in the rulebook, for example, and the scenario was heavily inspired by "The Magician", the original example adventure.

So: two old-school games from Sydcon. For my part, I'm really pleased that Sydcon ran them. These systems are part of our culture's history - and in many cases, it'll be the first chance players get to play them. The big published systems provide a common point of reference for strangers at a con. And they can provide a sense of history and continuity.

As a case in point: I didn't play it, but Sydcon also ran an original D&D game. A young gamer was heard to exclaim, "It's just like fourth edition!"

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