Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Ruma: Dawn of Empire

Ruma is a Powered by the Apocalypse game about a Roman Empire that is facing off against supernatural threats summoned by it barbarian neighbours. Players take the role of characters who are confronting those threats.

The rules introduce Latin-flavoured playbooks that reflect various roles in historical Roman society and within the Legions.

Irritatingly Ruma introduces some alternative names and spellings for the various countries and peoples of its world. It tries to put some fictional distance from history but not in a way that adds to the historical roots. While flawed as a narrative campaign Hunters of Alexandria did a better job of blending the historic and supernatural fantasy of its world.

Apocalypse World, as a ruleset, seems appropriate to the environment, the Empire is powerful but besieged by threats that seek to overthrow it. Characters will win big eventually but the costs will be high.

Ruma's fundamental problem for me is that I'm not sure why this isn't a skin for Monster of the Week. You play in a group, threats emerge and need to be countered.

Ruma is also badly in need of some good Threats and Fronts in the style of DungeonWorld. There's no real need to explain what has happened to the world (no-one explains the Apocalypse in Apocalypse World after all) instead it requires a compelling and urgent threat to the Roman way of life that needs to be met right now and only the characters can step up to the challenge.

What the book provides feels like a fundamental misunderstanding of the whole concept. In one of the suggestions a rich Roman needs the characters to recover lost knowledge from a foreign ruin, the escalations feel more like steps in a scenario and the final outcome of the threat is crop failure in Rome. Joe Banner's work (such as the recent Bastion Ein Sof) would be an ideal template here.

I really like the idea of Ruma but this is not an execution that does justice to the conceit.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Clink

Clink (Kickstarter campaign) is the game of Drifters who have come together for some specific purpose. It's meant for short games that test the resolve of the characters and see whether they will remain true to their purpose and achieve their goals or give up in the face of the obstacles they face and the weight of past failures.

The system is custom to the game and relatively straight-forward. It works on coin flips with heads being a "mostly succeeds" result and tails being "the situation gets worse". The characters have rules that allow them to flip another coin in the hope of getting a complete success in the form of double heads.

The special rules are elegant and drive the story. The central one being the Creed of the group, the reason and motivation why the group are together. When characters act towards their Creed they gain a coin. In addition the characters have Triggers, behaviours that are deeply ingrained but unhelpful. They feel more like bad habits that have arisen as a part of the character's difficult life prior to the game, a life lesson misapplied to their new situation.

The character's histories are revealed during the game through a system of Flashbacks (which provide the chance to flip an additional coin) and Scars (the result of losing a series of escalated coin flips). Too many Scars and a character loses faith in the Creed, either abandoning the group or making them unable to gain coins from it as they have lost faith in the meaning of the Creed.

Flashbacks are bought with Coins but can be used for the rest of the game as part of the character's inherent abilities.

The game system is essentially attritional so the players have an incentive to push towards fulfilling the group's Creed if they want the characters to succeed in their goals. Failing is kept interesting by revealing character's darker back stories.

The game requires a GM to provide obstacles and also to provide some escalation during coin flips. It feels very much like a "GM as player" role though as really the GM is there to challenge the other players as to whether their characters can fulfil their Creed or not. The GM's story contribution is to provide a stage for the action and some antagonists. The rest lies with the players.

Players also get to ask questions during Flashbacks and Scars so it feels like a very collaborative storytelling system.

The suggested backgrounds for the game are Spaghetti, Horror or Sci-Fi Western. The traditional Western genre can be problematic and I'm not sure the additional genre twist really changes that. This is a game about rugged individuals doing battle with the world to see the ascent of their personal morality.

It feels like a good choice of Creed is going to make or break the game.

Clink is a straight-forward game with a strong looking mechanic that allows for near zero-prep play and emergent player-led story gaming.