Clockwork Vines: Growing Kindness

Season 2 of Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley wrapped last night. When I joined the Clockwork Vines cast almost two years ago, I had no idea how much this game and these people would affect my life. I had heard good things about the GM, Honey, so I figured it would be fun. That it turned out to be so much more is something I treasure.

A little history. Back in late 2019 I was poking around, putting my name forward for actual plays looking to cast for a campaign. At that point I had played in a handful of one-offs. Those were fun and wet my appetite for a longer campaign, but since I was still a relative nobody in the AP space I wasn’t finding much success. I wasn’t a known entity. I think that, coupled with the fact that I was a beardy white guy, kept a lot of groups from wanting to cast me (for which I don’t blame them, given the way most beardy white guys were and are acting out). But I kept going, adding my name to the pile whenever a group was casting and accepting the fact that I likely wouldn’t hear from them again. As someone who trained as an actor and endured the theatre audition mill, it was an all too familiar process.

But my patience paid off! I got an email from someone named Honey about my application to join something called Clockwork Vines. Session Zero was [date] and could I fill out this questionnaire ahead of time. Woot! I’m going to be in an actual play, Ma! And for Call of Cthulhu, no less, one of my favourite systems. I wasn’t sure what “flower punk” was exactly, but it sounded intriguing.

At the Session Zero I met the other six players with whom I’d be exploring the world of Alstromeria Alley. Yes, you read that correctly. When most casts were in the 3-4 player range, there were enough of us to play rugby. Honey explained that fourteen people had responded to her “seeking players” notice and, not wanting to turn anyone away, she decided to run two tables of seven. This was the first example I had of Honey’s kindness; it would not be the last by a longshot.

And that was out first season. Two tables of players, our characters unknowingly facing the same threat albeit from different vantage points and little coordination. I settled into the role of Doctor William Lindsay, a Scots medical doctor modelled loosely after my grandfather. Skilled medical practitioner and amateur culinary enthusiast, Dr. Lindsay fit in nicely with the rest of our rather eccentric cast of characters. Sadly, most of the VODs for Season 1 were lost to the aether but Episodes 1 and 2 still exist, they’ll give you a taste of our merry band. While I am sad the Breakfast Episode was lost, it does make it that much more special for the folks who were there.

When Season 1 came to a close Honey had already hinted there would be a Season 2. The pandemic, of course, was in full swing by this time, so it took a bit longer than originally planned to come back together. But come back we did, sadly missing some of the cast from both tables dues to life and scheduling. That was okay; Fearless Leader Honey decided that, if two tables of seven were doable, one table of nine was also doable! And so we launched Season 2 of Clockwork Vines with not only a rugby team but a few spares. Which is good, it turns out we would need them before the end.

Season 2 took a lot longer than Season 1 for many reasons. I think primarily it came down to us being in the second year of pandemic isolation, whatever that meant to the individuals at the table. In general 2021 did not start great for any us, and going into play we were a lot more cognizant that, if we weren’t at out limits, we were damn close. So we practiced a lot more care for one another, opting to reschedule games rather than try to play when we just weren’t there mentally or emotionally. As a result, episodes in Season 2 went up more sporadically than Season 1. But everyone involved was better for the waiting, I think.

I could (and probably will) write an entire separate post about Honey. How amazing she is as a storyteller and GM, how generous a worldbuilder she is, creating a setting as evocative as Alstromeria Alley while leaving room for us players to inhabit that world and create personal bits of it. In fact I think if I needed another word to describe Honey beyond kind, it would be generous. Not just at the table, but in organizing fundraisers like Honey Bunches of Hope and the myriad other supports she organizes for the groups she believes in. If I told you Honey is one of the best people I have met through TTRPGs I feel I would still be underselling her as a person. But if you’ve been lucky enough to game with Honey, you know. If you haven’t, I envy you still having that possibility in your future.

It’s fair to say that Clockwork Vines, both the game itself and the people involved, helped get me through a couple of bad years. I’m a simple man and if it had “just” been a good game that might have been enough. But it was more than that. My fellow players were excellent people and I’m better for knowing and playing with them. Thank you to Aras, Vey, Chase, Margaret, and Jess for making Season 1 such a memorable and fun experience. You’re all outstanding and I hope to play with all of you again. Thank you to Rowan, Bella, Velvet, Ryan, Paul, and Nikki for making Season 2 just as special as Season 1 but in a completely different and distinct way. And thank you for the level of support we showed each other this past season. It wasn’t easy but so worth it in the end.

But if you get a chance to play with any of these folks, take it. That goes doubly for Honey.

To anyone reading this who has worked in theatre, here’s a hint at how much this game meant to me: I’m having the same post-production sense of loss I used to have when we closed a really good production. I’ll get over it, of course, and we were already talking about a possible Season 3 so I know Alstromeria Alley isn’t closed to me forever quite yet.

But that doesn’t stop me from missing it.

The Rat Hole for May 3 and Announcements

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWell, it’s May. Hard to believe the year is a third gone, but what even is time these days? At the very least I plan to be better of posting here when I write over at The Rat Hole, so you don’t have to go hunting if you want to read my stuff.

This month is all about celebrations and holidays at the RPG Blog Carnival, so I dusted off and updated something I wrote several years back about birthday traditions for your campaign. Slipping a different birthday tradition into your character’s backstory is a great way to create a roleplaying moment in your game. Check it out and see what you think.

And now for a few updates!

ChairMy current desk chair, my faithful writing and editing companion of the past fourteen years, is finally ready for retirement. As you can see from the picture it is quite worn. I don’t mind that; if it were the only issue I would just recover it, fix it up, and carry on. Sadly it also has mechanical issues which make it painful to use for extended periods. So I shined up my Ko-Fi page and am accepting coffees to help pay for a new chair. If you have ever enjoyed what I do, here or over at The Rat Hole, or have enjoyed any of the several projects I have helped edit, and would like to help out, please consider buying me a coffee. I’m currently at 45% of my goal, which is frankly astounding to me. I plan to do something special for all donors once we reach 50% and again when we reach the final goal, as a thank you for their generosity. Don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll sort it out.

Last year I was part of my very first livestream as a player, Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley. We started our second season on Sunday, May 2, and it was a blast! It felt so good to return to this world with this cast under the guidance of Honey (of Honey and Dice). If you would like to catch up, I’ll link here as soon as the YouTube upload is available, or you can catch the VOD and give the channel a follow over on Twitch. We play using Call of Cthulhu rules, minus the sanity mechanic, which makes for an exciting, fast-playing game which is a bit more wholesome than one might expect from CoC. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out, Sundays at 6pm CST.

I have a few other things but I am saving them for a more in-depth post later in the week. Take care and talk to you soon!

RPGaDay August 29

You can game anywhere on earth, where would you choose?

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgI’ve had to break the answers to this question down by type of game, because of course the RPG makes a difference.

Fantasy (D&D, Pathfinder) – I’d pick any of the dozens of still standing castles throughout Scotland or Wales. I’d prefer something on the coast, in a room with a great view out over the ocean. Transform that room to double as a fantasy-medieval tavern, because every great adventure starts in the tavern! Big wooden tables, torchlight, fire roaring away in the hearth! And the beautiful Scottish or Welsh countryside and seaside to complete the feel.

Call of Cthulhu – If we’re going for classic 1930’s CoC, then I want to set-up camp next to the pyramids in Egypt in a style as authentic to a Dirty Thirties archaeological dig as possible. Or, since I know Egypt is rightfully protective of their heritage sites, I’d want a run-down old house somewhere in New England, preferably overlooking the ocean. Of course it would need to be in a sleepy, seemingly quiet New England village, so I could stash clues all over and make the Investigators have to poke around and, you know, investigate.

Shadowrun – Tokyo, in a glass-walled boardroom overlooking the centre of the city. Some might say it should be Seattle, but I think Tokyo already embodies what many imagine as a typical Shadowrun city. This would also work for Feng Shui, of course, although we could also reset to Hong Kong.

Post-Apocalyptic – I’m thinking games like Gamma World and the like. I’d want to pick one of the large-scale abandoned places, like an abandoned amusement park, or the massive airplane graveyard outside Tucson.

Now, it can be difficult to travel to all these places, not to mention getting your gaming group there as well. So I’ve also though about what I’d do with a chunk of property to turn it into a super-cool gaming location. But I think this might fall under a future RPGaDay category so I’ll leave it for now.

I’ve definitely left some games off this list, so what would be your choice of game/dream location? Let me know in the comments.

RPGaDay August 20

Most challenging but rewarding system you have learned?

I’ve had systems which challenged me in different ways. When I was ten-years-old and just diving in to this crazy hobby, “getting” Basic D&D was a bit of a challenge. I didn’t understand hit points for the first few sessions I played, and therefore didn’t realize why my characters were dying. Don’t even get me started on THAC0! When I finally understood how the game worked, that was also when I felt ready to be a Dungeon Master.

For the first several years of my gaming life I only played D&D, and I thought all RPGs were like that. So when I looked at stuff like GURPS or Call of Cthulhu for the first time, I was blown away. That became another learning curve, and expanded my “gamer mind”.

Most recently I’ve been challenged by pure storytelling games. Having played games where the rewards come from the story for so long, it is a big shift getting used to games where the story is the reward. But I’m enjoying the perspective change, and the ideas it gives me for integrating more immediate rewards for story into my current campaigns. I’m still not fully comfortable out there in pure story territory, I’m always going to want some crunch.

What’s you’re most rewarding system? Let me know in the comments.

#RPGaDay, Day 20: Favourite Horror RPG

Call_of_Cthulhu_RPG_1st_ed_1981I mentioned in an earlier RPGaDay post that I’m currently diving deep in to Trail of Cthulhu. But before that I was head over heals for the Call of Cthulhu game, going all the way back to the first box set. I loved playing it almost as much as I enjoyed running it. The issue was finding people to play it with me. Growing up in Fort McMurray the player pool was already small, and the cross-section of that pool who also loved horror RPGs was not overflowing. Add to that the persistent issue that it is hard to run a long-lasting CoC campaign due to player mortality/insanity, and most folks, even the ones who loved the game, would often opt to play something else. I still managed to sneak in the occasional Halloween or Friday the 13th one-off, but the game mostly gathered dust on my shelf.

Another persistent issue with Call of Cthulhu, and why it isn’t sitting squarely atop my favourite list, was the investigative aspect of the game. Don’t get me wrong, I love games where I have to puzzle things out, especially when the mechanics of the game support that. But CoC, like many games of the time, was a straight ahead dice roller: you have a stat represented as a percentile, you roll percentile dice to see if you succeed, and only if you succeed do you get anywhere. If you don’t succeed (because random dice are random) everything stalls, and either the players have to figure out some other more circuitous avenue or the game master has to just give them the clue. Neither solution is particularly satisfying.

Enter Trail of Cthulhu. As you would expect from a game which uses a system called GUMSHOE, 200px-TrailofCthulhucoverToC handles clues and clue-finding a little differently. It starts with the premise that, as the characters are investigators of one stripe or another, they will find clues. Finding clues, after all, is not the real important part. Understanding a clue, that’s where the metal hits the bone. So in ToC you will almost always find clues if you are looking for them, and if you as the player can figure out what they mean you’re golden. If you can’t, though, your character can then choose to spend points from an appropriate skill to determine what the clue means, or if there is any extra knowledge to be gleaned from a clue you already understand. The upside is, no more stalled investigations. Your players will always have a way forward, and if they spend their point pools wisely, may gain information which gives them an advantage.

And having solved that issue, Trail of Cthulhu bumps out Call of Cthulhu as my favourite. All of that delicious, madness-inducing Cthulhu Mythos, with a mechanic which lets the players get to the meat quicker? Yes, please!

What’s your favourite horror RPG? Comment and let’s discuss.

RPGaDay #28: Scariest Game You’ve Played

The scariest game I’ve played, and I’m sad it hasn’t been topped since, is the first time I played Call of Cthulhu. I’d read H.P. Lovecraft and stories inspired by him for years, and I picked up the first edition of the game when it came out. But I didn’t have a chance to play it until my buddy Grant decided to run a campaign. Grant was a big believer in reality in his non-fantasy role-playing games. For him, and specifically with CoC, that meant we weren’t going to get away with things just because we were the hero. The dice fell where they fell, and if that meant we went insane twenty minutes into the game, so be it. Roll up a new character.

Grant ran us through a modified version of one of the intro adventures, and it was horrifying from the start. We began by answering a summons to an old friend’s hospital room, where he imparted a dark secret to us. Then he died, but not before expelling a fleshy, blood-soaked bezoar right on…me. First Sanity Check of the evening, but definitely not the last. We encountered forbidden books, the walking dead, and unnatural creatures from beyond. I actually managed to hold my sanity through multiple sessions, even as it was slowly chipped away by our ‘adventures’. When my poor antiquarian finally broke, he attacked, armed only with a cricket bat and his firm belief he was the Archangel Michael, some horrible beast of negotiable geometry. It was a good death, as Call of Cthulhu deaths go.

What made these sessions so scary? Partly it was Grant’s deadpan delivery, which somehow made the horrid things he described even more terrible. Play time was definitely part of it. Because of our various work schedules our games usually started at 10pm and ran until the wee hours. So we, like our characters, rarely saw the sun and were so very tired. But mostly we were just invested. It was the first campaign where no one tried to make it funny or silly. We bought into the world from the first game and never looked back. The importance of that is something I carried with me into my future gaming groups.

What was your scariest game? Drop it in the comments!