Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bride of Stankenfreen

On vacation a few days ago, I found myself GMing some improv roleplaying. Since I'd had some fun with my recent Stankenfreen's Monsters one-shot, I reprised it for a different group. Much as with the first play-through, it proved to be great fun, but somewhat hobbled by utterly flawed mechanics.

Before reading further, you might want to view my post from the first game of Stankenfreen's Monsters.

Bad Mechanics:

Weird thing is, the mechanical flaws were different this time. In the previous play, the PCs were under-powered. Their skills didn't overlap much, and it was a rare roll that got +4 (the bonus from two bodyparts/skills on a single card). In this second game, the opposite happened. Most of the body parts were really broadly or metaphorically defined. As a result, nearly every roll a PC made had +6 or higher. Stop to consider the odds of rolling 11 or higher on 2d6+8... roughly a 97% chance of success. I'd say at least a third of the rolls were at those odds. Meanwhile, human NPCs were rolling 1d12+2. In all our various conflict scenes, I only managed to hit like four times.

The crit system for the game is flawed as well. In both sessions, curiously enough, double 1's were rolled twice. In the first session, John rolled double 1's twice. In the second session, Rob rolled double 1's twice. In neither session did anyone roll double 6's. For this second game, I increased the penalty of the critical failure, but it proved to be no better - despite getting two ticks on every card he had, Rob never lost a part.

I even tried to make the final conflict more interesting by putting them up against a boss monster - a rogue Stankenfreenian creation that had turned evil. While he took two parts off of one PC, he lost all 9 of his body parts before he could get a third action.

Beyond a doubt, this is the worst set of mechanics I've ever crafted. Yet both games have been incredibly fun, and the character creation process is a winner. One of the players told me this session was the most laugh-out-loud fun she'd ever had roleplaying.

I'm thinking that I may run it again sometime, but if so the die mechanics would need a major overhaul, probably a complete replacement. I'm thinking F# might be the way to go - but with Stankenfreen's character creation system.

Amazing Characters:

The real joy of the game was, as with the first session, the player characters. I sadly don't have character illustrations this time, but here's the lists of bodyparts.

April's PC:
  • The Feet of the Waiter
  • Legs of a Dancer
  • Vulcan Brain
  • X-Ray Vision
  • Hitler-style Face w/ Mustache
  • Tusks of a Woolly Mammoth
April went to a great deal of trouble trying to get rid of her Hitler face. She kept trying to justify using it on rolls, so that she could assign ticks from rolled 1's to it, but never ended up with enough ticks to lose the face. The tusks apparently annoyed here as well, because she had one of the other PCs trim them. X-Ray Vision, on the other hand, was definitely appreciated and utilized.

Carrie's PC:
  • Trunk of an Elephant
  • Wings of a Bumblebee
  • Vampire Fangs
  • The Mustache of Luigi
  • Heart of a Lion
  • Lion'sheart
You'll note that Carrie was given the heart of a lion by two different players. Parts were created and assigned blind - nobody knew what anyone was going to get. Since she got two Lion hearts, she got +4 at a minimum for every roll where bravery or predatory instinct were beneficial.
During this session, I reused the Corwin-in-the-dungeon gimmick 'cause I thought it was cute. Carrie ended up using her Vampire Fangs to drain him, so I gave her the new part "Blood of Amber" which was rather potent.

Jeremy's PC:
  • Lizard's Brain
  • Toes of a Chimpanzee
  • Breasts of a Prostitute
  • Hands of a Pointilist Painter
  • The Teeth of John Tesh
  • Weight of a Feather
Poor Jeremy had probably the least-useful set of parts, and the least focus/overlap, but he was able to make them count in the final battle. Weight of a Feather was fun, even if rarely useful. He was constantly being blown around by the other PCs.

Sarah's PC:
  • Elbow of a Tennis Player
  • Amazing Spring-Like Jumping Ability
  • The Spleen of Roger Rabbit
  • Raven's Tongue
  • Voice of the Siren
  • Tentacles of a Squid

Jumping Ability wasn't really a body-part, but I was cool with it. It combo'd well with Squid Tentacles for acrobatic tricks. Voice of the Siren combo'd with Raven's Tongue (since Raven is a Trickster God) for potent crowd-control and smooth-talking. As a result, it won her:
  • Ears of the Romanians (as in "Friends, Countrymen, Roman...ians, lend me your ears")
She then got in a fight with a crazed townsfolk that was trying to burn down the castle. From him she got the:
  • Singed Scalp of an Arsonist
but lost her squid tentacles in the conflagration. In the final battle with the Big Bad, she lost her Voice of the Siren as well.

Christie's PC:
  • Lips of a Latin Lover
  • Super-Strong Hair
  • The Claws of the Sloth
  • Legs of a Giraffe
  • Princess Sparkle Pony's Horn
  • Owl's Eyes
Princess Sparkle Pony is this Unicorn that keeps showing up on Blank White Cards at Jeremy and Christie's house, so she was able to use the Horn to magically heal people (but not the Undead). One of my favorite images of the game was the idea of this 12-foot-tall giraffe-legged unicorn-horned character constantly leaning in with her lush latin lover's lips to make the other PCs a little uncomfortable.
At some point, the tips were trimmed off April's "Tusks of a Woolly Mammoth". After that happened, these tips were braided into Christie's Super-Strong Hair. It was part Wilma Flintstone, party improvised weapon.

Rob's PC
  • Ears of a Bat
  • Hyper-extending fully-controllable Tongue
  • Hyena's Jaws
  • Buddha's Knuckle
  • Eye of the Tiger
  • Eyes of a Child
Most of us pictured Rob's character with 4 eyes. He described himself as just having 2 - the eyes of a tiger cub. Turning a critical eye at the card now, I realize by the rules he'd have 3 eyes - two children's eyes and just one eye of a tiger. Speaking of Rules, Rob can rules-lawyer and munchkin-out like no one else I'd ever willingly game with. He makes it entertaining enough that we tolerate it, even appreciate it, at least in one-shots. I mention this because Rob was the only person I had to say "no" to during the game - he kept coming up with spurious ways to use 4 or 5 bodyparts on a single roll. The justifications were entertaining, so I usually let it fly.

Gene's PC:
  • Skin of a Chameleon
  • Legs of a Centipede
  • Arm (just 1) of a Body Builder
  • Liver of a Drunken Japanese Stockbroker
  • 360-degree swiveling Neck
  • Pouch of a Kangaroo
  • Moebius' Splint
Moebius' Splint needs a bit of explanation. Moebius was the brand-new puppy that Jeremy and Christie got a few weeks ago. Within half an hour of getting this puppy, he'd broken his arm. The free puppy has cost them $1,500. Currently, Moebius is wearing a bright purple cast/splint. It makes one of his legs seem longer than the others, and it's a rigid object that smacks into people when climbs into their laps. All day, we'd been referring to it as his secret weapon. Gene interpreted this combination of cards to mean that 50 of his character's 100 centipede legs were in splints.

In addition to the PC's parts listed above, someone got this off an NPC:
  • Strong Arms of a Pitchfork-Wielding Farmer
but for the life of me, I can't remember who got those arms.

The Big Bad
At the end of the game, the PC's had to do battle with Dr. Stankenfreen's Most Evilest Creation EVER. So, I gave everyone another blank card, and had them generate the body parts of the Big Bad. Thus did they face:
  • Dragon'sbreath
  • Vader's Helmet
  • Mouth of an Asp (poison included)
  • Picasso Face
  • Blowfish-like Inflating Body with Spikes
  • The Black Sulpherous Void That Was Dick Cheney's Heart
  • Hung Like a Walrus
  • Whiskers of a Kitten
  • Will of Oberon
  • Soul of Evil Incarnate
Despite having 10 body parts (3 of which overlapped - Evil, Oberon, and Cheney), and initiative, he went down in the second round. I got to deliver a post-modern monolog and use the dark sides of both the Force and Cubism, but to no avail. He went down with only minor injury to the PCs.

Link to photos from the game. Probably not of interest if you don't know the players.


Lunatyk said...

Players can be incredibly creative when facing boss-level threats...

they will always find a way to kill it dead...

Anonymous said...

I'd use Risus. Let the spiral of death work for with the game for once.
That would allow dropping the ones critical system, since parts would fall off on their own. Developing a soul could result from a roll of all sixes (meaning it would happen through the traits closest to death) and would then allow the dice pools to heal.