Monday, July 16, 2018

Summerland Second Edition

I loved and was frustrated with Summerland in equal measure and when a second edition was Kickstarted I was excited and immediately backed it.

To be honest I didn't read the prospectus too deeply as I would have been happy with any improvement over the original rules.

However now in possession of the second edition I feel that the issues I had with the game are clearly not those the author did.

The game is set after human civilisation has been wiped out virtual overnight by the strange appearance of a forest over most of the land mass of the globe. It's a situation that reminiscent of sci-fi such as the Southern Reach trilogy or Roadside Picnic. From computer games then we are very much in the territory explored by *The Last of Us*.

The biggest issue I have with the game is its split game system. It has one game system for most things in the game, in this case a version of the Open d6 system. It then has a specialised sub-system for handling the thing that is the core of the game.

In Summerland the players are meant to play Drifters, characters who are resistant to the "call" of the forest. Their resistance comes from some inner trauma that leaves them unable to hear the call due to their psychic pain.

They can use their trauma as a bonus in contests however in using and confronting their past there is a chance that they start to resolve their Trauma. This is both good, because as the Drifter becomes less alienated and damaged they are more likely to be accepted in the few communities that exist in the area outside of the main effect of the call. It is also bad as the Drifter becomes more susceptible to call and their livelihood is based around doing things in the forest that others can't.

Therefore the game, from the character's point of a view. Is a finely judged dance where the character slowly resolves more of their Trauma and attempts to integrate with a community, transitioning from one way of life to another.

For me, this is the heart of the game and the reason to play it. All the survival horror is essentially the backdrop to this inner struggle.

The game as written disagrees. Survival horror is the name of the game and combat gets more page space than trauma does.

This second edition makes me feel like I need to get over myself and accept that Summerland is a creepy game of surviving a spiritual apocalypse and I should take what I like about it and try and create another game that reflects what I find interesting.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Belly of the Beast

Belly of the Beast has a very unusual premise. An alien giant worm has consumed the surface of a conventional fantasy setting and now the shattered remnants of civilisation live inside the vast intestine of the creature, struggling to scavenge enough to survive from either the creature itself of the remains of its other meals. I guess you might summarise it as post-apocalyptic body horror.

The Swallowed live in small communities learning to live on what they can scavenge within the complex tract of the worm and the body of the creature itself.

Life inside the creature is defined not by day or not or the passing of the seasons but the structure of the creatures body, its movement and the arrival of new resources in the form of newly devoured territory. It really is new levels of "grimdark".

The game is structured around "pulls" which is where the characters try and acquire what their community needs to get through another day. The communities are world-built or can simply be randomly generated (along with their current needs).

The GM creates an opportunity to satisfy that need and the characters go after that opportunity as best they can. It predates Blades in the Dark but there is a lot of overlap in the basic ideas of the adventure play being driven and feeding back into the community cycle. Mechanically though only the adventure play has rules and mechanics. The communities are more abstract.

On the mechanics, during conflicts the GM sets the difficulty of any task or outcome and then the player builds a dice pool based on their character and pools of Advantage and Instinct dice. Advantage dice seem to be GM-awarded fiat that players can request. Instinct dice are more interesting as they are built up by the characters acting out the character's instincts and those instincts are those of desperate survivors. Essentially the Instinct dice enforce the cultural values of the setting. Act according to them and you get rewarded with dice that you can spent to be more successful.

Although the rules explains the mechanics clearly (with handy recaps and summaries at the back of the book) it is a little hard to really understand how the dice flow works without trying it in play.
Belly of the Beast is a highly distinctive setting with a custom ruleset that aims to support player behaviour that matches the setting. Its biggest failings, as written, is putting a burden of both story creation and situational judgement on the GM. It feels like there could have been more support for collaborative situation or world-building and that the mechanics of the challenge could have been based around the structure of the pull.

This is a game I'm curious to play but it does fall between traditional and storytelling stools so it might be difficult to pitch it to an interested group.