Thursday, November 20, 2008

InSpectres 1889

Each year Emerald City Game Festhas a theme. You get extra raffle tickets for running a game that fitthat theme, and I think there might be other incentives that I'm justnot remembering. This year it was "Steampunk". About a third to a halfof the games in the program were in-theme, as were both of the games I played in.

The first one I played in was Saint George's Arms. It was an InSpectres game, run by Sophie Lagace.I'd played InSpectres recently, with mixed results. That game had fallen flat, but that was largely the players fault, and seemed like the sort of thing we'd not have trouble with on our second outing, so I was tentatively excited to give it another go. We'd gamed with Sophie before, 3 or 4 times before she moved to California. It was pretty cool that she and Edmund drove back up here for the free con they'd helped create, and we were glad to see them.

Standard InSpectres is basically Ghostbusters. This was Ghostbusters in 1889, so we could do some steampunk. We ended up with minimal steampunkishness, but had a blast anyway. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was found dead in his home, with possible occult causes, and so the Queen's own ghostbusters were called in to investigate. Sophie did a good job of creating an opening situation that was easy to grok (some sort of pixies or faeries had killed him) and riff off of. We lampooned the era, the spoiled gentry, the notion that England was the pinnacle of civilization and everyone else "savages". Lots of good tongue-in-cheekiness, and some zulu pixies.

InSpectres GMs get to sit back a lot, providing minimal structure and letting the players chew the scenery. Sophie did a good job of this, nudging us to new scenes when the plot slowed, calling for die rolls when needed, etc. Her administrative skills were showcased well. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, but I mean it sincerely. If the InSpectres GM assumes all the work will be done for them, the game can bog down in a morass of meaningless meandering subscenes or zip to premature conclusion due to a string of good rolls that should never have advanced the plot. For a game that is so player-driven, it actually takes a good GM to keep it rolling, and Sophie was definitely up to the task.

I played a flamboyant bit of puffery named Reginald Carter Fizzlebottom, Esquire, 58th in line to the throne. He was a talented athlete, a royal scholar, a foppish dandy, and a womanizing rake. Very fun. I'm a little worried that I've given Sophie a poor impression of me, though, as my two most recent characters in games she was present for included this windbag womanizer and a vampire with a host of undead brides. Oh, well...

As is the case with InSpectres, things can get a bit whacky. Our pixies ended up being zulu-pygmy-pixies. They had glowing teeth that left glowing bite marks. They had tiny blowguns with poison darts, but you had to get hit by several of the tiny darts to get an effective dose. Taking photos of them stole their souls. Killing them by traditional means would actually make them regenerate into bigger, nastier bodies. The sounds that we thought were zulu drums instead turned out to be dozens of pixies beating eachother to death to inspire their own metamorphosis into combat-form-super-pixies.

I'm now sold on InSpectres. I ordered a copy from my friendly local game story (Gary's Games), which should show up in a week or two. I'm even more excited for the third session of the game, since we have yet to really make use of the Reality TV narrative structure the game assumes, or the campaign rules, and I think both will boost the game to a higher level. As with Wushu, InSpectres is a game that needs a good group to make it fly, but if you've got good players it's an awesome little pick-up game. Check it out.

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