Midnight Urchins: Game Recap

My game was quite fun to run. The players made me laugh a lot and I let them get away with too much because of it.

Dramatis Personae

Players

Chum Budley as played by Michael

Talents

  • Projectile Vomit
  • Iron Liver
  • Stabbing Survivor

Chunk Budley as played by Michael

Talents

  • Crazy Face
  • Scary Fast
  • Even Chum makes sense to me

Mario as played by Steve

Talents

  • Walk away from terrible crashes
  • Don’t look dangerous
  • Inexplicably doesn’t smell bad

Blowfish as played by Mark

Talents

  • Um, I believe that’s mine
  • Punk’s Junk, heavy metal rules
  • The Pope is my godfather

Shackbuilder as played by Adam

Talents

  • Shackbuilding
  • Beard of frightening manliness
  • Technobabble

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Review: Cat RPG

[Cross-posted to RPG.net.]

Wicked Dead Brewing Company’s role-playing game Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes is great fun for pick-up games with players of all ages.

[For clarity’s sake: this review is not about the completely different Cat RPG from FNH, published here and on Lulu.]

Style

John Wick’s Cat RPG, published in 2004, is a tiny little book that sells for $15, or $7 as PDF. The book numbers 44 pages, in 5.5 in. x 8.5 in. format (140 mm x 215 mm). The black-and-white two-column layout is simple but pleasant enough to the eye; all illustrations are from public domain art.

The text is organized in alternating sections of setting info in the form of first-person narration by the author’s cat, and rules material. The style is not bad; it could have used a bit of polishing but all in all an easy read.

Organization-wise, because the rules information is found throughout the text, a short page or half-page rules summary for the players would be very useful. The table of content is sufficient to find the necessary information; there is no index, but the game is short enough that it’s not difficult to find what you’re looking for.

A character sheet is provided at the end. It’s serviceable, though some fans have created alternate ones that are even more useful.

Substance

Cat RPG uses John Wick’s very simple Advantage system, relying on small pools of six-sided dice. Characters take only minutes to create; aside from a concept and names, cats have six traits:

  • Claws for fighting and climbing
  • Coat shows off a cat’s colours, protects him from claws and teeth and helps him persuade others.
  • Face for perception, sensory center (eyes, nose, ears, tongue and whiskers).
  • Fangs for fighting and carrying things around.
  • Legs for jumping, balance and other quick movements.
  • Tail for using Magic.

Traits are rated Best (5 dice), Strong (4 dice), or Good (3 dice). Damage may later bring those down to Hurt (2 dice) or Crippled (1 die). Each cat gets one Best trait, two Strong, and the rest at Good.

Other creatures may have different traits; for example, dogs have Nose (smelling) and Paws (digging); humans have Thumbs (picking things up, manipulation).

Cat characters also have 7 points of Reputation to distribute (e.g., Rat Catcher 2). They can spend them on up to five Reputations; ratings that can go up to 5. Finally, cats start with nine lives, of course.

When taking a challenge — runs a Risk — a cat’s player rolls a number of d6 equal to the appropriate trait. Appropriate reputations grant additional dice. And finally, any advantage that can be credibly narrated by the player will grant Advantage dice. For example:

A cat tries to hide from a dog. The player says, “I have three advantages. First, it’s dark, lending to my hiding skills. Second, it’s raining, which makes it hard for the dog to catch my scent. Finally, I’m up high, hiding on a dumpster. High above the dog’s head.”

The GM agrees and says, “Okay. You have three advantages. You can roll three additional dice to hide.”

Sometimes cats face an opponent that has different traits. If a cat has a Trait an enemy doesn’t have, there’s no competition; the cat wins any contest involving that Trait. Conversely, if an enemy has a Trait a cat doesn’t have, the cat loses the contest.

The book offers rules on contests and damage, using cat magic, and character advancement.

The background material woven through — this is not the kind of game that makes a sharp distinction between setting and system — revolves around the role of cats in protecting humans against supernatural threats, and particularly boggins which feed on people’s negative emotions. A few adventure seeds and the traits for a few enemies are provided.

Finally, the book contains useful game-mastering advice that is quite handy not only for this game but in a wider context. The emphasis is on dream adventures, since cats can wander freely in the Realm of Dreams. Another useful advice section discusses how a GM can overlay Cat on top of another role-playing game. The example offered is that of adding Jonesy the cat from Alien to a sci-fi horror story.

Actual Play

I have run this game several times at conventions; most recently, I ran it for the third year in a row at ConQuest NW.

The really quick character creation allowed me to do away with pre-generated characters, the approach I usually favour for time-constrained convention games. I found that people really love making their cat character and get attached to it. A majority of the players are people who played in a previous game, and saved their character sheet!

The simplicity of the game also lends itself well to the sketchy, modular preparation style I recommend for conventions. A page or two of outline and character thumbnails suffices to run most games. It doesn’t help to have too much material, since cats do what they will and do not willingly follow a railroad track!

On the down side, even though they are short the rules are not organized for very rapid reference; I’ve resolved that in the future I would have a rules cheat sheet on the back of each character sheet. Some rules need to be made explicit or tinkered with; for example, how do characters help one another? My answer is that they don’t — cats are solitary, self-centered creatures, after all.

In fact, many aspects of feline behaviour seem to be excellent matches for typical player behaviour, such as the combination of heroics for a cause with ruthless cruelty to one’s opponents. In every game, player character have heroically protected the innocent — and endlessly tormented even minor enemies. In one game, they took malicious pleasure in completely wrecking the inside of a convertible BMW, and in terrifying a dog. In our most recent game, in a scene taking place in the Goblin King’s castle in the Dreamlands, they amused themselves by throwing purple velociraptors down a set of Escheresque stairs and watching them bounce. Good times…

One thing I found missing in the rules is some incentive for characters to use their weaker traits. There is a strong incentive in the rules as written to always use your best trait for everything. It’s personal taste, but I like systems that offer incentives to use weaker stats and accept the occasional failure.

I have run this game for newcomers to role-playing and for young players. It’s very easy to grasp and people really get into the idea of playing feline. Incidentally, it’s quite easy to allow players to have dog characters instead, if the group is thus inclined.

In Short

Cat is a simple, streamlined game that makes for excellent impromptu, one-off, or episodic games. It’s an excellent choice for gaming with children or introducing your non-gamer friends to the hobby without scaring them off with mazes and monsters or hit location tables. It requires very little backstory and can be fitted in just about any setting to taste, from medieval fantasy to modern horror, etc. It could even be quite easily adapted to live-action gaming, at least system-wise.

It is not a good choice for people who prefer crunchy systems or don’t enjoy playing whimsical characters.

Links of interest:

ConQuest NW report

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Last weekend’s ConQuest NW was great fun, if exhausting.

On Friday I played in the Mouse Guard RPG, and in the Once Upon A Time non-collectible card game.  On Saturday I played in a role-playing game called Knights of the Road, Knights of the Rail, another RPG called In A Wicked Age, and a board game, Vanished Planet.  Mickey “Geek Girl” Schulz and I also sat down to record segments for a new podcast we are starting, called Geek Sisterhood.

On Sunday, I ran a game of Cat, a game which seems to attract uncanny interest in terms of attendance; most of the players had been in previous episodes of the game these last two years.

I also had a great time chatting with so many people I only get to play with at conventions.  All in all, an excellent convention, and perhaps my best experience at ConQuest NW to date.  Thank you very much to everybody who made it happen, from the organizers to our friends to the new people we met.

Games for NW Conquest

Here are the games I am running for NW Conquest

Friday 2 pm

Arkham Horror (Board Game)

Based on the popular works of HP Lovecraft. The year is 1938. The Old Ones seek to rise and crush the pitiful race of man. Their minions flock to their bidding and open the gates between their worlds and yours. You are one of handful of investigators who seek to stop them. Can you succeed or will your body and sanity be too little to withstand the soul shattering horrors pitted against you?

Saturday 2 pm

The Horror of Blackmore Manor (AD&D 3.5)

For all those players who miss a good fashioned adventure. Generations have passed since a terrible curse befell Blackmoor Manor. To this day fearful peasants tell of the horrors that stalk those dreaded halls. Many have sought to destroy the unhallowed evil that lies there and failed. Can you succeed where they failed? For 6 players of 9th level.

Sunday noon

The Treasure of the Ebon Star (Star Wars d6)

An adventure set in the classic Rebellion era of Episodes IV-V. An old friend goes missing. Legends of an ancient treasure. Imperial entanglements. Open war raging between the bounty hunters, pirates and crime lords of an entire sector. How does it all tie together- and why are they all after you?

Oly 6 players per game (8 if well behaved and team players, so sign up early!

Games I am running at Conquest NW

Here’s a list of the games I am running at this year’s Conquest NW.

Friday, 2:00 pm

A Mission to Barkstone

Mouse Guard

4.5 hrs, 3 players

Spring, 1153 In the wake of Midnight’s rebellion the town of Barkstone has been left short of supplies and has few militia left. Your patrol is being dispatched to help protect foraging parties being sent perilously close to the Darkheather in search of food.

Saturday, 9:00 am

Won’t You Spare me Over ’til Another Year?

Knights of the Road, Knights of the Rail,

4.5 hrs, 6 players

THE DATE: 1934

THE PLACE: Picayune, Mississippi

You and your bunkies were catting a freight when you got spied by the bulls and had to hit the grit or do a hitch. Now you’ve jungled up for the night and are gathered about your gunboat, downing the last of your mulligan stew, when unearthly singing calls to you across the cotton fields. Can you and your fellow ‘boes save an innocent woman and child when Old Man Death comes a’callin?

Saturday, 2:00 pm

To Ward Against the Darkness

Quaestors of the Middle Realm (set in Tekumel),

4.5 hrs, 6 players

For thousands of years the Sinking Land clan has lived in the great marshes of the Flats of Tsechélnu. Now trouble has come in the form of a courier dressed in the uniform of the Omnipotent Azure Legion, his body found in the marsh, bloated from exposure to the Food of the Ssú. A messenger has been dispatched to Penóm but it is a six-day round trip. Can you solve the mystery before an Imperial investigation brings trouble to your village?

Sunday, 9:00 am

Vanished Planet

2 hrs, 5 players

EARTH HAS VANISHED. A seething mass of darkness has appeared where earth once was, and is stretching its deadly tentacles towards the homeworlds. Now cryptic messages are being transmitted from vanished planet Earth. It s up to you to complete these goals, banish the creature, and restore Earth before your homeworld is destroyed! Vanished Planet is a cooperative game for 1-6 players who must work together to manage their resources and complete mission goals to win.

Mortalis LARP at ConQuest

mortalisAmber Eagar of Mortalis Games announced on Emerald City Game Feast on Monday:

Here’s my shameless promotion: I’ll be in the LARP room promoting my game system, Mortalis LARP. Won’t be running anything, just promoting my system and helping 5th Wall Gaming out.

For those unfamiliar with the acronym, LARP means live-action role-playing.  Mortalis Games have both a Website and a LiveJournal community that will be of interest to LARPers.  Mortalis is a fantasy-themed game using a boffer-type system, meaning combat action are resolved through the use of padded weapons facsimiles.

LARPs at ConQuest NW are organized by the Portland-based LARP organization called 5th Wall Gaming, a bunch of great people who run extremely fun games.  And I do mean “Xtreme”…  🙂

Goodhobbits: A Freeport Adventure

You shouldn’t have gotten out of bed this morning…

It’s been five years since the Freeport Guard was divided between the Sea Lord Guards and the Watch. Between the trustworthy, loyal soldiers dedicated to keep the Sea Lord safe, and the corrupt, untrustworthy troops that are now charged with keeping the very laws they regularly break.

Well, did break. Sometimes break. You get the drift.

And you’re one of Commissioner Holliver’s special squad of investigative Watchmen. You solved that string of murders by that cultist, so the current problem besetting Freeport should be a breeze!

Bilbo Baggins, first Cappo for the Finger of Baggins

Bilbo Baggins, first Cappo for the Finger of Baggins

Yeah, right.

This morning, Her Sea Lordship, Marilise Maeorgan received a surprise this morning by the main gate of her palace. She received a severed ring finger in a pickle jar. Pickled no less. Normally this wouldn’t be a problem, except that this looks like the calling card of a continental crime syndicate known as the Finger of Baggins.

To top it off, the Watch Captains for the Eastern District and Scuvytown both up and left their posts, departing for parts unknown a couple of days ago. This has caused a ruckus in the Watch, especially with the rumor that the Finger was in town.

On top of all that, the Halfling Benevolent Association has closed its doors and is turning away all callers. What bee is buzzing around in Mr. Finn’s bonnet? (Mr. Finn is the head of the HBA and reputedly the man behind the crime organization known as the Syndicate. Or so they say.)

Guess what? It’s your job to solve this one and find out what’s going on. Are these events related? Is the Finger in town? Why is Finn hiding? What the Hell is going on? And Holliver wants the report on his desk tomorrow!

Good luck, you’re going to need it.

Game Information

  • System: Savage Worlds
  • Setting: Freeport by Green Ronin
  • Number of Players: 2-6
  • Pregenerated Characters?: Yes
  • When: Saturday, January 17, 2009, 4:30 PM – 9:00 PM
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