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Story games Tabletop RPGs

Love in the Time of Seið is intimate and intense

At Go Play NW, I played a session of Love in the Time of Seið that I would rank among my top five gaming sessions of all time.

Designed by Matthijs Holter and Jason Morningstar, Love in the Time of Seið (the “ð” is pronounced like the “th” in “them,” as I understand it) is a GM-less story game for 3-5 players — though having played it with five, I highly recommend the full complement — requiring no prep and playable in a single session.

Seið is based on Matthijs’ Archipelago II. (Archipelago III, revised by Jason, is the newest version.) About half of this slender volume is stuff you’re supposed to copy and cut out for use in play — character sheets, resolution cards, and locations — so I recommend snagging the PDF, or both print and PDF.

The play aids print up just fine on regular paper, which is what I did for my go folder of zero-notice RPGs. The character sheets deserve special mention for their design, which includes a built-in table tent:

The game itself is a Norse-themed Shakespearean blood tragedy, a spiral of death, sex, and messy relationships, and it’s a thing of beauty.

Intimate dovetailing

Each character sheet has themes (e.g., sexuality and the gods for the seiðkona), a brief background, three questions to keep in mind (but not answer definitively until play begins), a background on the fictitious Scandinavian setting, and some thematically appropriate names on the front. On the back are a series of questions — things like “More details!” and “That might not be quite so easy!” — used to drive gameplay.

Seið plays out in a series of scenes, rotating around the table, which each scene spotlighting a single character (though often including several characters). When it’s your turn in the spotlight, you choose a location and, if it’s the first time that location has been used, also choose a version of the place to describe; each location card offers several options. You then frame the scene, rope in other players as needed, and you’re off.

What makes it tick so beautifully in play is that everyone has some common ground, and everyone is involved in every scene. The common ground is in the setting, which is collaboratively created using thematically appropriate locations, and the goal: the game ends when two characters have been removed from play (in our game, they were both dead).

The involvement comes from several sources. Folks in the scene are obviously involved, of course. But the player to the spotlight player’s left is also the Location Guide, inserting an event during the scene, and the player to her right is the Theme Guide, watching for ways the spotlight character’s themes can be incorporated into the scene. And on top of that, everyone at the table can interject with the game’s questions, working to make the scene even more amazing and driving the story towards a tragic finale.

The net result is that every character, and every player, is deeply and intricately dovetailed with every other character and player at the table. It’s a powerful and surprisingly intimate experience, one that depends on trust and a mutual willingness to hold one’s own ideas lightly and react to the fiction as it plays out.

The rush is intense

I found Love in the Time of Seið electrifying and deeply engaging. It took a lot of focus energy to play, in large part because you’re almost always “on” — which I love. In our session, everyone at the table brought their A game, the story and characters surprised us all, and afterwards I had that great combination GMing high/completely drained feeling that only comes from the best gaming sessions.

Love in the Time of Seið is a masterpiece of refined, effective game design, and a glorious blast to play, and I highly recommend it.

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

My “go folder” of zero-prep, zero-notice RPGs

Attending Go Play NW prompted me to rebuild my “go folder” — the games I can run on zero notice, either by grabbing the book (and having everything else in the folder) or because the whole game is in the folder.

All of them are self-contained, require no prep from anyone, can be played in a session or two, and come packaged with a premise/hook to get us rolling.

The games

My go folder contains the stuff I need for these seven games, each in its own pocket (plus characters, blank paper, and stuff for my group’s ongoing games in the other pockets):

  1. Lady Blackbird (whole game), a steampunk game with a pregenerated cast that nonetheless plays out entirely differently every time, and which somehow managed to fit the core rules onto every character sheet without impeding usability. So, so good.
  2. GHOST/ECHO (whole game), a two-page RPG that kicks off with a bang: “WHILE HUNTING FOR LOOT IN THE GHOST WORLD, YOUR CREW WAS SOLD OUT. YOU’VE WALKED RIGHT INTO AN AMBUSH, WITH HUNGRY WRAITHS ON YOUR HEELS.” I haven’t played this one yet.
  3. Jedi Blackbird (whole game), a Star Wars (Old Republic era) hack of Lady Blackbird. I haven’t run this one either, but I posted about it on Yore.
  4. Ghost Lines (whole game), another John Harper game (because John is amazing at designing this style of game), this one about hunting spirits in a setting where they’re “free to roam the world since the gates of death were broken in the cataclysm.” The game assumes you’re familiar with Apocalypse World; I haven’t gotten to run it yet.
  5. DCC RPG (whole game), condensed down into a convention funnel edition, including The Portal Under the Stars and a stack of pregenerated peasants. Funnels are a hoot, and this short one is excellent; for a longer option, I could grab Sailors on the Starless Sea.
  6. Psi-Run, one of the only RPGs I rate a 10/10, because it’s perfect. The PCs are pyschic escapees from some sort of sinister program, being pursued by relentless Chasers, and if they get caught, they lose. Starts with the tension already ratcheted up to about an 8, and goes from there.
  7. Love in the Time of Seið, which is based on Archipelago, a Norse-themed Shakespearean tragedy that spirals into blood and death. I played this at GPNW, and it was amazing. All of the characters start off beautifully dovetailed with one another, and there’s almost never any downtime.

I would literally be happy to run any of these games right this hot minute.

The folder

I use an Esselte Oxford poly 8-pocket folder (paid link) as opposed to a multi-pocket folio, because in my experience those tend to smush pages unless I’m extremely careful with them (which I’m not).

This one lays flat (coil binding!), holds a ton of stuff, and has bounced around in my gaming bag for the past year with no signs of wear. It’s now tucked away in my new gaming bag — poised, catlike, ready to pounce on gaming opportunities with no notice whatsoever.

Categories
Story games Tabletop RPGs

METAL SHOWCASE 11PM review

A little while back game designer Jason Morningstar said this about his solitaire RPG METAL SHOWCASE 11PM: “Half solo RPG, half choose-your-path novel, half nobody has ever bought or played this and I think it is really good!”

Gauntlet thrown, challenge accepted. I ordered a copy, played it, and now I’m going to talk about it. Only briefly, though, because this is an RPG with potential spoilers.

It took me about 30 minutes to play, and I had a great time. I’d happily play it again. But part of the fun was knowing almost nothing about it going in, and while it’s a tricky line to walk in a review I want to preserve that experience for you.

Pictured above are the book, the two dice I grabbed (black because \m/), and the back of my character sheet. The latter shows all the notes I made during the game, hopefully tantalizing you without spoiling anything. I named my band Suppurating Maelstrom. My favorite note from the session was “Enabled [character’s] morbid obesity.”

Here are my impressions after one play, which I jotted down immediately after playing.

What a fantastic little game

It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure or Fighting Fantasy book, only better written and more fun. You have a character and stats; you make choices and compete in contests.

But you’re also asked to get inside your guy’s head at different points, and those choices — and the notes you made about them — matter later on. My first session was 30 enjoyable minutes long, told a story (a rather depressing one; my guy was kind of a dick), and made me want to play again.

That might sound like a subtle tweak on the formula, but in combination with the tight presentation and writing, an alchemy occurs: There’s roleplaying here that I’ve never experienced when playing a gamebook. I felt involved in a way that was much more like how I’d get into a non-solitaire RPG session, or a solo board game session when playing a board game that tells a story, like Arkham Horror or Astra Titanus. It’s hard to explain, but: good stuff.

There are plenty of choices involved, and the stuff you make up on the fringes of the game space will be different every time, so I can see this having good replayability. It’s also difficult to win; that’s a good thing.

I’ve never played a game quite like it. I’m enamored of it, and I recommend it.