Until We Sink into Secrets

During our last play session, we played Until We Sink by Magnus Jakobsson.

We are:

  • Martin, the hotel manager with a sunny disposition who used to be an activities director on a cruise line.
  • Ira, an adventurous pilot that did an emergency landing on the island as she became obsessed in her adventures forgetting to give her plane the maintenance it needed.
  • Cricket, the surfer who has been chasing the biggest waves. They heard of an upcoming storm that would bring the biggest waves in the world to this island and now they want to be here to ride them.
  • Bill, the hotel caretaker who is very handy but gets nervous around guests, and
  • Howard, the gossiping retiree who left a hectic career in journalism and is on the island to wind down.

As we play, ominous things keep on happening on the island. The first day, the only other guest at the hotel, a sport fisherman, is found dead on the island at the base of a cliff. Martin insists that there is nothing to see and that all guests should avoid the scene as the authorities are handling the investigation.

On the second day, on a palm tree behind the hotel, a message appears carved saying: “We Meet Again Martin”. The typically jovial manager starts acting weird and is suddenly hard to find on the premises.

On the third day, a seagull dies after eating Martin’s sandwich. While Martin freaks out about this and goes into hiding again. The rest of the guests discuss what is the best way of mourning the death of the seagull.

On the fourth day, Cricket finds a large bone at the beach while surfing. They bring it back to the hotel to show it off. Ira thinks the bone should be donated to a voodoo priestess in Wisconsin as she knows it will be put to good use there. Martin wants the bone gone from the island.

On the fifth day, two strangers appear on the island. They are rough, loud, and get visibly drunk as time passes. They leave eventually. This leads Martin to confess that the island is controlled by a Spanish cartel and they came to threaten him as they thought he had killed their esteemed guest, the fisherman, who was from an Italian organized crime family.

On the sixth day, the island sinks. The guests had gone to the cliff to see if they could learn more about the fisherman and Cricket to catch the biggest waves that were expected that morning… but the island sank instead and we are all now in a small boat in the Pacific Ocean, waiting to be rescued. Except Ira who is trying to pull her plane out of the sunk island… it makes a great anchor.

Family-Friendly Fiasco

This week, we tried another online session of Fiasco by Jason Morningstar, but this time we used the Insta-Setup from The Museum playset by Angela M. Webber and Richard Malena and skipped both the Tilt and the Aftermath tables to speed up play. We chose to set our story during a school sleepover/lock-in at a science museum. Our collection of school kids include troublemaker Steve and his reluctant accomplice Ari (teacher’s pet) who need to find out the truth about a creepy teddy bear that keeps appearing all over the museum. Steve, who brings all the Lasers, doesn’t get along with Gregoria and all her Feelings, but Gregoria and her online BFF Katie are determined to get revenge for mean comments on the videos of their favorite YouTuber, costumer and cosplayer Corynne Thorn. Katie is from a different school but knows Ari and her brother Ron, who answers to Spock as readily as his own name, from summer camp. Katie carries a secret torch for Spock while Ari has roped her brother into playing the recorder to accompany her singing in an upcoming talent show.

Our story begins with Gregoria and Katie meeting in real life for the first time as all the kids are filing into the museum’s cavernous entrance. Gregoria has profiled Corynne’s bully online and believes that she will be able to identify her if they fly their fandom flag and watch people’s reactions, but when they watch a Corynne video, a teacher confiscates Gregoria’s phone. Next Steve visits Ari as the kids are setting up sleeping bags in the atrium and talks to her about the mysterious teddy bear appearances and how it moves about the museum, convincing her to assist in the search for it but agreeing to wait until after band practice. At band practice, Ari must persuade Spock again to participate, but he agrees when she reminds him about the extra-credit, so they run through her number a few times with Steve waiting in the wings to begin the search. After practice, Katie catches up to Spock while he’s in the Egyptian wing of the museum in front of the famed empty sarcophagus. Spock explains all about grave-robbers and other facts about the exhibit while Katie manages to flirt without frightening him away.

Drawing of two women: girl Gregoria Spring in her school uniform and woman Corynne Thorn with multi-colored hair and platform shoes.

As Ari and Steve begin their search in earnest, they try to track the bear based on its previous appears, checking the Rocks and Minerals exhibit, the Egyptian room, and the Fossils and Dinosaur exhibits, but don’t find it until they go to the Air and Space room. Unfortunately, a teacher finds them, leading Steve to stuff the bear behind the seat of a plane, and carts them off to the administrator’s office, where Steve provokes the teacher to give him detention by constantly talking back. Gregoria shows up later in the same administrator’s office looking for her phone so she can confirm the online bully’s identity, but when Steve hears about her plan, he makes it clear that he thinks her whole plot is dumb—bullies are best ignored and not given attention.

The next morning at breakfast, Ari is talking with Gregoria about what it means to stand up to bullies and whether dropping laxatives in her drink is really the best way to teach her a lesson. Ari makes it clear that none of us think what she’s doing is right, but that we’d all support her if she wants to confront the girl and tell her how her actions are harmful. When she agrees, Ari lends Gregoria her phone to make the confirmation: the preppy-girl Karlaygh. Spock is sitting nearby and threatens to tell a teacher about their plans, but they convince him to back down once he understands that they won’t be playing any tricks, just talking. When Katie shows up and learns of the change in plans, it’s time to act because, as Spock points out, there she is. With the whole gang (sans Steve) behind her, Gregoria goes up to Karlaygh and confronts her on what she’s been doing online with Ari chiming in that these kinds of comments are wrong. Gregoria explains that Corynne is doing good in the world, raising money for charities and that when you attack her, you’re also attacking all those who love her and need her. Karlaygh tries to explain how she was having a bad day, but Gregoria points out the comments are on different days. Karlaygh backs down and says she’ll stop trolling for fun, but Gregoria says it’s okay to troll some people like politicians but regular people with followings don’t deserve it.

Later, once the teacher’s give the kids some free time, Steve leads the gang back to the Air & Space room where they find the bear but moved again, this time sitting in the pilot’s seat of a plane. Steve plans on cutting the bear open with his pocket knife to discover the truth but hears a small voice saying “No, that’s my bear” as he grabs it. Sitting behind the bear in the plane is a small boy about 4 or 5 years old, the son of a museum administrator who lives upstairs and often comes down to play in the evenings, even though he’s not supposed to. Steve makes him promise not to leave his bear around anymore so it won’t frighten the museum visitors. In epilogues, we see Ari freeze during the talent show, leaving Spock on stage to perform a recorder solo. Afterward, Spock thanks Ari for getting him up there and consoles her for not being able to perform. Much later, Gregoria goes to a meetup with Corynne and relates the whole story, but Corynne tells her not to worry about the haters and gives her a shout-out in her next video.

Microscopic Enchanted Forest

This week, we created the history of a forest in which various magical and supernatural creatures struggle to learn to live together beneath the vaulted canopy using Microscope by Ben Robbins.

Our history begins in a period of escalating conflicts between the various peoples when a forbidden child is born among the snake people, who are so long-lived that births are unusual and strictly regulated. This child promises to be a savior but none can yet foresee how. Not long after, Queen Uniqa of the unicorns and King Hip of the hippos marry and the hereditary Hippocorn Republic is born along with their first child. Shaka, the snake savior, becomes enraptured by the ideals this rising power embodies and joins the republican army under General Hiparth to become a great warrior. Decades later, General Hiparth deposes the monarch for interfering with the functioning of parliament but must seize personal control to restore order. The General rules the new Hippocorn Empire with an iron fist and begins by enslaving the gnomish peoples, who maintain their traditional parental gift to their children during the years of bondage by replacing gemstones with flowers trapped in amber. The forest spirits flee the Empire by going through their hidden portal to another realm. Meanwhile, the werewolves are rounded up into a ghetto to keep them from roaming the open forests, but the sprites create a black market to provide much needed goods to the suffering werewolves. Not long after anti-sprite slurs appear on birchbark signs in the forest, Shaka leads a rebellion to overthrow the Empire and defeats the emperox using a glove woven from hippocorn hair and weaponized with werewolf claws.

Hand drawing of a snake person, a hippocorn, and an air mermaid flying above them.

To replace the fallen Hippocorn Empire, a ruling council arises and determines in its first meeting that it serves to handle only those things that the individual communities cannot handle internally or that occur between communities. There is a bit of a controversy when two council members—the representatives of the gnomes and the mairmaids (air mermaids)—are found to be having an affair, causing people to question whether they were acting in the best interests of all. Gnomish weddings become famous and popular because gnomes invite everyone to every wedding and serve the finest foods. The Forest Council begins to collapse when the mairmaids become the Council hosts and monopolize power by moving the meetings into the clouds, where only flying creatures can participate, breaking the people’s faith in the council, which soon dissolves. With no council to keep the peace, the werewolves and mairmaids get into a dispute when the mairmaid lantern festival—a festival of lanterns filled with swirling smoke-filled bubbles and bright lights that ends with a giant rainbow lantern shining everywhere—disrupts the werewolf first-turning ceremony by throwing off too much light. Eventually, the two groups find a way to combine their activities and resolve the dispute on their own, which launches a renaissance of growing peace between forest creatures.

The Renaissance officially begins when now-old but still-vital snake person savior, Shaka, marries a werewolf princess, showing that different peoples can unite in peace. A group of malcontented hippocorns and sprites worried about the little folk being left behind unite in opposition to these events, but this does not deter the spirit of the age. The Spirit folk return and begin an art movement using diaphanous layers to create sounds, images, and sculptures known as Spirit Baroque that culminates in an enormous Woodstock festival where many peoples celebrate together. A new council forms after the festival’s success and the werewolves build a temple with a giant moonstone to commemorate this new period of uneasy peace. The sprites, no longer fearful of the new order, form an alliance with the centaurs. Elves and gnomes decide they can share a garden that they have both claimed for decades and build a compound together at the garden. In the compound, the elves teach the gnomes the magic necessary to reanimate the flowers trapped in their amber gifts, and together they populate the garden with these ancient flowers. The sprites begin creating fashion accessories out of castoff bits from various creatures, like hippocorn fur and mairmaid scales, showing off the beauty of syncretic art. Our history ends with the erection of a statue to honor Shaka after the end of their long, full life.

Cheating an Ungrateful City

Tonight we played two short games, Cheat Your Own Adventure by Shane Mclean and For the Ungrateful City by Alexi Sargeant.

In our game of (Don’t) Cheat Your Own Adventure in the world of Illuminati University, you find a special card with your name on it that provides access to unlimited funds. You decide to head over to the casino to place impossible bets, where you choose to play the Poisoned Chalice in which you bet that your clone doesn’t drink the poison. When your last remaining competition finally succumbs, she claims you were cheating and dares you to drink from the chalice to prove you’re not using anti-poison. You grab the cup and quaff it down, which imbues with you mysterious energy and power, so you leap through the window and become a superhero fighting crime throughout the city. You’re surrounded by villains one day when your powers mysteriously vanish, so you convince them you can fulfill their financial dreams and withdraw whatever funds they request using the card of limitless cash. As they’re leaving satisfied, you choose to join one villain named Bryan on a sailing voyage around the world, where he tells his story and says he’s ready to go straight. When he’s arrested at one port of call for his past crimes, you decide to return to the casino where you get embroiled with the mobsters who run the place, but since you’re related to one of them, they don’t harm you. Unfortunately, someone in the casino realizes that you’re underage for gambling in this city, so they call the authorities. Before they arrive, you revive your superpowers and fly off to resume fighting crime. After weeks of crime fighting, your grades at school begin to suffer, so you decide to find someone worthy of inheriting your powers and taking over your crime fighting duties. When you call down the lightning to transfer the powers, however, the lightning not only transfers the powers but takes your life. And since we refused to cheat, the story ends there.

In For the Ungrateful City, we are a group of superheroes in an underwater city that will soon face an unprecedented threat. Zip is a manipulator of electricity who can throw lightning bolts, leading most citizens to admire and fear her, the champion of the city’s downtrodden. Mr. Clear, who can turn invisible and erect force fields, dreams of the city’s potential to bring the people of air and water together, but is saddened to see the reality of their interactions turning cruel. Freefall, a human from the surface world, first came to the city with his mother and gran when 16 so the pressure of the oceans could offset the outward pressure caused by the emergence of his telekinetic powers. Jala is a water nymph with the ability to control water in all its forms who some fear could be more dangerous than the threat the city faces, but most believe the city leaders have her under control. Finally, the city’s official protector is Courage, whose brother had preceded him in the role before dying on a mysterious mission that the city leaders have yet to tell him about, but he knows the city’s secret foundations. When the threat finally materializes, we each choose to defend her—Freefall to earn the acceptance of her citizens, Mr. Clear because he sees beauty in her potential, Zip to protect the common people, and Courage to protect his brother’s legacy and the city’s past—all except one. Jala turns out to have been the looming threat all along and uses her vast power to try to take over the city as her teammates stand against her.

Truth & Daring: Never Croak!

Tonight we played Truth & Daring by Tim & Kristin Devine (a hack of Lasers & Feelings) about a group of kids who call ourselves the Tads and meet in The Tad Pad, a treehouse in the woods, full of walkie-talkies, camping gear, and fishing supplies. Our motto is “Frogs never croak!” and we mostly hang out at Toys 4U, a local shop. We are: Crystal a clumsy collector of all things whose determined to complete her Garbage Pail Kids set; Ray a dramatic artist whose always creating; Riley the mischievous new kid whose hand buzzer won’t be her biggest prank; Casey the curious woodsy explorer who plans to discover something, anything; Sal our would-be grifter seeking riches, honest or not; Joe the techie gamemaster with an extra set of dice and character sheets always at hand; Devon the daredevil athlete who wears a tracksuit and a small towel around his neck at all times; and Margaret our brainy nerd with her notebook of answers and several library books of info at the ready.

Hand drawing of some members of our group, including the creature in the water.

Our story begins with Casey, Sal, and Joe in the woods looking to show Riley the creature we’ve suspected lived there for years. After much tramping around and discussion, we decide that we’ll have better luck at night and agree for the whole club to sleep over together by the pond. Crystal has Devon and Ray over to her house to help her prepare for the sleepover, knowing her mom is over-protective. After recalling the messy accident when Ray spilled the Kool-Aid all over her kitchen for his spill-life, we decide that Devon must be the one to talk to Crystal’s mom about the sleepover, and Ray rushes out but bumps into Mrs. J on his way down the driveway.

That night at the sleepover, Riley wants a marshmallow roast, but we’re worried about starting a fire. As we talk about the creature, an amphibious thing with fur, Ray shows off his cubist rendering that may be cool but doesn’t help us visualize what we’re looking for. One of the marshmallows that we’ve tossed into the pond disappears, and we get very excited and begin tossing more marshmallows and watching them sink. Finally, the creature rises from the water like a great hairy frog with enormous bulging eyes and a taste for marshmallow. We lure it closer and Joe and Sal pet it, but is this a young one? What if its mother comes looking for it? We name the creature Marshmallow before it splashes back into the water. We all scramble to hide when we realize two people are traipsing out to the pond and beginning to walk around it in our direction. They seem to be two men working for the government who are taking readings of the pond; they notice an oddity at one point, something that will surely bring them back for another look in the future. Miraculously, they never notice us, not even Ray pretending to be a tree, and continue to move around to the far side of the pond.

The next day, back at the clubhouse, Casey and Margaret return from the pond with some strange-looking devices that seem to have been set up to continue taking readings. We decide we have to return them to the pond, but slightly sabotaged, but if we truly want to save Marshmallow and protect them, then we’re going to have to pull an even bigger prank…and get caught doing it. In a montage, you see us preparing our prank. Joe creates posters promoting our monster viewing at the marsh while Sal sells tickets to neighborhood kids for the viewing. Ray works in his studio creating an elaborate papier mache monster while Crystal collects fur and other bits from the forest for decorating the monster. Riley builds elaborate traps and create the right effect for viewers, including croaking sounds catapults to launch marsh muck while Margaret creates shoes for leaving fake monster footprints all around the marshes. Margaret also rigs up a way to set off the government scopes while Devon makes sure the grown-ups and other government goons find out about the viewing and show up at the right time.

We’re in the middle of our big show with the local kids when the government goons show up and see that the monster everyone is talking about is made of papier mache even if it does set off their radioscopes. Sal tries desperately to convince them that they owe us something for all this work, but they leave without arresting anyone convinced that they’ve been chasing our prank monster rather than a real one. After they’re gone, we all sit together out by the pond tossing marshmallows out to our friend and make a solemn promise never to reveal the truth about Marshmallow and to always protect it. Frogs never croak!

Behind the Magic Quest

We played Behind the Magic, by Randy Lubin in this week’s game session. We played as a fellowship of adventurers on a quest to vanquish an evil necromancer that was raising an army of undead dragons to destroy civilization.

Our characters are:

  • Ayla, the ditzy necromancer
  • Lance, the germaphobe ranger
  • Skip, the unconfident thief
  • Kor, the scatterbrained barbarian
  • Monty, the misinformed monk
  • Evodie, the persnickety tinkerer

Our story begins when Ayla puts a flyer at a local library seeking a group of brave souls to go with her on a long trip at see to reach the volcanic island where a rogue wizard has begun raising an army of undead dragons, which is not in concordance with the regulations stipulated by The Council of Necromany, where she seeks to advance in rank.

The fist order of business is finding a way to get to the volcanic island to face the wizard. Kor and Ayla go to the harbor to find passage to the island… but they end up buying a tourist riverboat. While it is sea worthy, it is slow, overpriced and requires beasts of burden to run the oars. The view and comfort from the deck cannot be beat though.

Meanwhile, Skip, Lance and Monty are procuring supplies for their voyage. Monty insists on getting rum and pinecones to use as navigation tools, Skip manages to steal a pair of oxen, and Lance promptly washes the oxen before bringing them into the ship.

Just before setting sail, the party makes themselves comfortable. Ayla is setting cute figurines in her room, the captain’s quarters, while Evodie is ensuring everyone knows what their chores are, is writing a list of ‘regulations’ to follow while at sea, and is checking the safety supplies.

The trip to the island ends up being safer than expected as the party manages to avoid a dangerous whirlpool near the island… but it takes far longer than expected, over 6 months at sea, as the pinecone and rum navigation system that Monty insisted on using is not effective, to no one’s surprise, and Lance keeps on stopping the animals from moving as he thinks it is necessary to keep all areas of the ship as clean as possible.

Eventually, the adventurers reach the volcanic island. They start trekking inland by foot, following the smoke plume blown by the volcano. Ayla gets distracted by a very cute lava monster and decides it would make a great pet for the party as it is so cute with its natural glow.

After a day’s walk, the party deems it necessary to set camp. As they scheme how to approach the wizard and the zombie and skeleton dragons they expect to encounter the next day (or figure what is the best way of taking care of a baby lava monster pet), an old vampire dragon that was nearby perched on a tree drools blood all over Lance, who faints instantly. Turns out there are four kind of undead dragons: zombie, skeleton, vampire and mummy.

The next morning, Skip, Kor, Evodie and Monty go up the volcano. (Whose smart idea was it to leave the necromancer and the ranger back at the camp when facing flying undead animals?!). As they approach the dragon’s den, they noticed they are being followed. Kor throws a stone at one of the shadows that is following them and it is a dragon that falls immediately upon being hit. Unfortunately, the party is not very attentive on their path and fall into an earth pit trap set by the evil wizard.

Monty then remembers that the wood spirits can be called to send a message. So he sends a message to Ayla and Lance via a dream to come rescue them. They arrive just in time as the evil wizard and the horde of geriatric undead dragons face them. Live dragons rarely die as they have really long lifetimes; the ones the wizard was able to raise all have severe mobility issues, acute arthritis and are no match to the party. The only real threat is the wizard with his spellbook. In a moment of unimagined teamwork, Monty throws the one book with all his knowledge, the Holy Bible, at the wizard, Skip catches it and quickly replaces the spellbook with the bible. The wizard was then unable to cast any dangerous spells and was quickly vanquished by the adventurers.

After another 6 months, our heroes make it back home where they are rewarded handsomely by the Council of Necromancy. Here the party splits and they all follow different paths:

  • Kor stays at the docks, waiting for the next boat that will take him on a new adventure.
  • Monty decides that he needs to go back to what he knows and goes back to his church.
  • Evodie wants to write a botanical medicine book with all the plants they encountered in the island.
  • Lance finally gets the ranger badge he had been wanting to get for so long. He then goes back to the island with Evodie to continue the needed research for the botanical medicine book endeavor.
  • Skip comes to the conclusion that he no longer wants to be in this line of work as it was exhausting saving everyone from themselves.
  • Ayla devotes her time to making the riverboat as cute as possible, giving it a complete makeover. Then she uses it to ferry people on a tourist trip to ‘Draconic Park’.

Street Magic Xanth

We played I’m Sorry Did You Say Street Magic by Caro Ascercion in this week’s session to create a magical and mysterious city called Xanth that sits at the nexus of time, with portals bringing people and technologies from throughout history together in a single place. The time-displaced residents mostly live in Timetown, whose raucous energy is contained by the disorienting technomagical barrier known as the Shift and whose residents ride the vomit comet more formally known as the Temporal Rail to loop through the ages. A would-be time autocrat is plucking dictators from history before their demise for storage in his Refuge, but his plans remain unknown. Under the city lie the Rimlands, a grim windowless land known for its oppressive heat and banging machinery and inhabited by the forgotten underclasses. Most denizens of Xanth would never venture there except for the Cavern of All Desires, where impish dwarfs drive dark bargains with ironic twists in exchange for your heart’s desire.

Shapes laying out our game of I'm Sorry Did You Say Street Magic.

On the surface are the City Square and Merlin’s Place. The latter is the neighborhood where magical creatures choose to dwell, with its old-timey cobblestone roads and thatched roofed buildings circling the ancient silver tree with the glowing lantern fruit, Thornglow. Thornglow is protected by the Glow Guardians, a group of kindly pacifist monks who initially oppose a druid who intends to live within the tree. In the end, the mayor vests the druid to live in the tree, which doubles the Guardians’s workload as the tree becomes a tourist attraction once there is someone to see. While some make hefty donations to support the druid’s upkeep, others worry about the future of the tree and what political fallout will result from this change. On the edges of Merlin’s Place is the Greenwood, a mystical river through a forest where smugglers sell their wares in dynamic swindles and scams, including one incompetent scammer, Rusty McCrusty but better known as Krusty.

The City Square itself is the central meeting place, the hub of government and commercial activity. Everyone is always rushing away from you at all hours there (“No time to talk” they say). The central landmark of the Square is Poet’s Corner, with a massive domed roof and space for all to stand and voice their thoughts. It’s the city’s primary icon and where the mayor makes seasonal speeches from its famed forty-two steps. Tucked away nearby is the Last Lagoon, a quasi-legal speakeasy where protestors gather and “mums the word”. Toward the end of our night, the Mayor makes a major speech in Poet’s Corner about the city’s plans for the future, which leads to public protests about the druid, worries about funding for the Zenubian Archives, controversy between opposing sides on a proposed ban of duplication magic, Thornglow sensing the city’s unrest and releasing calming pollen and seeds throughout Xanth that may counteract the attempts of the time-displaced dictators to sow unrest and begin their push for power.

High above the city floats the land of Zenubia, which consists entirely of floating buildings and constructs, including the Little Garden, a park with multiple fountains and a stone path that provides a little serenity in the technological marvel. Tethys the promising business student leads a study group in the Garden for her fellow students. People may enter the wealthy Zenubian enclave by taking the ferry at Sun’s Reach, a sunny canal that begins on the surface but stretches into the sky. The Zenubian Archives are a multimedia library with VR interfaces to supplement the traditional tomes that hold ancient knowledge, but first they must tear their eyes away from the flying atrium that carries up through the entire building. The official archivist is Sumara, a dedicated historian whose eccentricity cannot hide her extensive knowledge and who thought she had secured enough funding for the Archive until the mayor’s speech put that in doubt.

Dawn of the Ghost Invasion

This week we played Dawn of the Monster Invasion by Randy Lubin to tell the story of how Orangetown becomes overrun by ghosts and other spirits. We get our first glimpse of trouble when a crank medium holds a reading where many claim to have seen ghosts across the town, but one patron is especially irked not to have seen his mother. The performance quickly gets away from him as the audience peppers him with questions he doesn’t have any answers for. Next we catch up with the mayor of Orangetown at a press conference trying to dispel the persistent rumors about the strange happenings in the town since they broke ground on a new shopping complex at an ancient burial site. The mayor stresses that there is nothing to worry about, that everyone should continue about their business (Keep shopping!), that the missing firehouse is sure to be found soon, and that the town has set up temporary housing for anyone whose house has gone missing at the abandoned mental hospital and the drive-in theater where the axe murder took place all those years ago.

At a book signing with an entrance fee at the public library, a local author and serial cryer of wolf about paranormal phenomena peddles his new book and answers questions about the haunting hitting Orangetown and nearby municipalities. While the crowd doesn’t trust him, he insists that the danger is real. Then we join the Prepper Channel where we learn about the importance of an underground bunker and how to prepare for a ghostly apocalypse. If your bunker’s not underground, your mirrors covered, and your shelves stocked with months worth of canned goods, then you’re not ready, so “Stay safe, stay underground.” In town, the local grocer has decided now is the time to double prices, but the locals ponder out loud whether a riot might be a better solution. The grocer does make a few sales of “ghost repellant” but has long been sold out of dog food.

Next we join Kaylaug4gh at a protest where she argues that the town is racist against Ectoplasmic-Americans and how we must learn to stop trespassing on their land. Many people agree with the sentiment and discuss the rumor that this is designed to get increased Ectoplasmic-American representation in Congress, until we learn about the many mistakes the medium made with an online ghost kit and an over-mustarded sandwich. With the local response completely ineffective, FEMA leads a National Guard effort to evacuate the town and sweep out the ghosts. The gruff NG Colonel leading the operation takes questions from all concerned locals and remains unshaken as long as the choppers are on the way. Finally, the ghosts have taken over and demand that we flee or bow before their collective might, with one particular ghost manifesting before the entire town. While many agree to leave, others don’t want to abandon their homes and try to negotiate the degree of groveling required to stay. When the ghost demands to be left alone, FEMA agrees to make the evacuation order mandatory and begins moving folks out of town.

A Year in Review

It has now been over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic hit and changed our lives… and prevented us from meeting in person to play. Now that a year has passed, I figured it would be a good time to look at how our gaming has changed.

Changes in game selection

Since we have been pretty good about keeping records of the games we play in the form of session recaps, I was able to tabulate which games we have played since March 2018 when we started recording them in the Story Games Club website.

With all the data now analyzed, here are some highlights:

• 151 sessions recorded since March 22nd, 2018. (That is when we started writing the recaps.)
• 50 different games have been recorded. (Or more based on how you count hacks of games).
• The pandemic did not slow us down. Since the pandemic hit, we have recorded 51 play sessions as of the writing of this article (March 17th, 2021). Which is in line with the 100 sessions we recorded the 2 previous years.
• We have played Fiasco over 16 times… and I know we did not record all our sessions.

I did a quick comparison looking at the variety of games we played before and during the pandemic. The chart below shows you how they have broken out so far.

Capture

I find this chart very interesting as it highlights how we have adjusted to playing online.

Before the pandemic, we were able to try different games week after week, with almost 50% of the games not being part of the regular rotation. During the pandemic, this has reduced to less than 30% as a good amount of the games we played before are not easy to play virtually or require us to create special spreadsheets to handle the play materials needed.

Games like Fiasco and Companion’s Tale that either require a lot of simultaneous conversations between players happening during setup or that have card components difficult for us to recreate in Google Sheets have seen little play. We seem to have replaced them with games that can be run off a browser easily, like those that use the For the Drama engine or the Story Synth.

Intricacies of Online Play

When we started playing online, I was uncertain if we were going to play regularly as we were not enough players to sustain weekly games, and without a presence at a physical location with foot traffic like we had in the past, it would be difficult to recruit new players. Well, turns out that ended up not being an issue. The move to online play reduced many commutes, previous players that had moved away from the area were now able to join, and new players kept on finding us via Meetup. Our group has actually grown, and we consistently hit enough numbers to run two tables.

Playing online has had its advantages.

• No commute, so players from far away can join.
• Play session is shorter. We regularly finish before the 3hr mark.
• No ambient noise. Some of the places we used to play at would get very loud and would make it hard to hear each other or ruin some scenes. (Looking at you Irish dancers!)

But it has also brought unexpected challenges.

• Since we advertise publicly and are always open to new players, we need to be conscious of minimizing the technology required to play. We always have people join us with different hardware and comfort with technology. To streamline our playing, we have avoided using platforms that require creating accounts or assume that the user knows their way around their platform already. Spending the first 30 minutes of a session troubleshooting with the technology of a new player can negatively impactthe experience for everyone. So, Zoom and shared Google Sheet or Story Synth/For the Drama website is what we use.

• Games that require several conversations taking place at the same time don’t work well. We love Fiasco, but the setup becomes difficult as for it to shine one needs to take turns talking to players sitting next to one. Not a problem in person, but it becomes difficult online and makes the setup take longer.

• Once we have a spreadsheet setup for a game, it becomes very easy to run that game though. Final Voyage of the Selene, Follow, Palanquin, and Lasers & Feelings have seen more play than usual as we have them ready to go.

• It is time consuming to create a spreadsheet that works for each game though. The spreadsheet needs to be properly setup so a new player can follow along. (Designers, if you are reading this, can we get a Google Spreadsheet for playing your game as a Kickstarter reward or something?)

Next Steps

With vaccines now becoming more and more available and the economy slowly opening back up, it will be interesting to see if we can continue playing online or if we go back to meeting in person… or both? I guess it will come down to what kind of attendance we can maintain and if we can find convenient physical locations in which to play.

Compendium of Games We Play

Here is a list of games we have played at Story Games Club. Some we play more than others. Some are easier to play online than others.

Powered by the Apocalypse:

Lasers & Feelings & Hacks

LARPs:

Story Synth Engine:

For the Queen and For the Drama Hacks

For the Drama Engine:

  • For the Drama Engine
  • For the Case that Will Make the Headlines
  • For this Ungrateful City
  • For the Crown
  • For the Band
  • Around the Couch
  • The Lost Island
  • At This Precise Moment