A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.

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How subversive can you make the Addams Family?

Lowell Kempf
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For the most part, I don’t watch much TV unless our son it watching it. (I’m soooo behind on Doctor Who :’( )But we did decide to binge the new Wednesday show.

For those of you who don’t know, it is about Wednesday Addams as a teenager at a boarding school of gothic adventure. If you aren’t familiar with Wednesday Addams or the Addams family in general, it’s safe to say you are not the target demographic.

I’m not going to go over the storyline because no one needs the spoilers. If you are the target demographic, you’ve probably already watched the show or are planning on it. I will say, from a plot angle, there weren’t a lot of surprises. My wife and I were able to put together what was going to happen pretty easily.

Which wasn’t actually a problem. We were watching a genre show for escapism. We weren’t looking to be challenged. We were looking for comfort food media.

What I do want to consider is the genre change that the work had to go through. The creators took a domestic sit-com (albeit a morbid one) and turned it into a young adult urban fantasy. That’s actually quite a change. From Happy Days to Buffy the Vampire Slayer

(Amusingly, Fred Armisen didn’t get the memo. His Uncle Fester would have fit in perfectly in any of the earlier versions of the Addams Family. And was a gem)

This meant going from having murder and torture as comedic elements that no one took seriously to having them be almost as serious as murder would be in real life. (Honestly, I don’t see any community being able to cover up as many horrible deaths as they do in the series)

In fact, we felt Wednesday had more in common with Harry Potter than other Addams Family work.

So, here’s the question: does it change things too much? Is it still an Addams Family work?

Well, we now live in a world where multi-media versions of propert are as common as kobolds in a first level dungeon. I’m honestly not sure how many different versions are out there of Spider-Man, just to site one example. It doesn’t even happen to be Parer Parker (Miles Morales rocks!) Heck, Doctor Who is all one continuity and has gone all over the place in genres and tone.

So, yeah, Wednesday does count as an Addams Family work. It’s a different take on the intellectual property but it is still a use of the property. It’s clearly its own canon. It totally loses that argument. (I wish I could say that about Rise of the Skywalkers) And it did a fun job turning it into a more dramatic approach which is what actually matters.

I can see how Wednesday might not appeal to Addams purists. On the other hand, given the innate subversive nature of the Addams Family, I can see purists being thrilled at how Wednesday subverts the property,
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Wed Dec 7, 2022 4:04 pm
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Darkhouse shows the difference between simple and easy

Lowell Kempf
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Darkhouse is a Roll and Write game from the 2017 GenCan’t Roll and Write contest. Which means I’ve actually had it in my files for a while, occasionally looking at it when I’ve been going through Roll and Write games.

As I’ve mentioned before (so many times regular readers are probably sick of it), that contest was a watershed event for me as far as Roll and Write games are concerned. Even though I’d played Roll and Write games that weren’t Yahtzee in funny clothes, I still thought of them that way. The contest opened my eyes to what you could do with the medium.

The theme of Darkhouse is being a gnome engineer who is trying to power up an underground version of a lighthouse. The actual game itself is trying to fill up six interconnected grids, ideally with the same number in each grid.

The game consists of ten rounds. Each round, you roll a die to see which box you’re working with. You then roll six dice with two rerolls. (Yahtzee does make an appearance.) The dice you end up with are the dice you use to fill in that grid.

BUT the grids have connections with a die box in each connection.you can place a die in those boxes so you can move the dice around to different grids. (I am not certain if you need to pay an extra die to move a die or if the die you place in the connection box is all you need)

AND there’s a catch! Ones are useless, if you roll a one for picking a grid at the start of a round, you have to reroll it. You can’t use ones to fill in grids. You can’t use ones to make connections. And there is a designated number ine grid so you have to use the connections to fill it.

On top of that, after you roll a grid number on the turn counter, you have a limited time to fill that grid up. Failing to do that will make you fill up the empty boxes with Xs high are worth negative points.

After ten rounds, add up the values of each grid. If a grid is complete and you’d used the same number in every box, double that number. If it’s that tricky one box, triple the score if you fill it with the same number. Bonuses for getting no Xs and filling in the entire board before ten rounds. Three plays is a game and you are trying to beat 1,100 as a score.

For some reason, when I looked at Darkhouse back in 2017 (wow, that was five years ago! Roll and Writes make time fly), I didn’t grok that was I was actually move the dice physically over the sheet before writing anything down. The fact that I often use a digital die roller didn’t help. (What can I say, a clip board, a writing utensil and a die roller mean I can play Roll and Writes without a table)

Going back to it after years of Roll and Write experience (I’m scared to figure out how many Roll and Write games I’ve learned over the last five years), Darkhouse now seems pretty simple and obvious.

That said, I do like the mechanic of actually moving the die around. (And, yes, I could try to track in all my head but it’s simpler to use physical dice) Even with the rerolls, luck can have a big impact.

I haven’t figured out a way to break the game. On top of that, between the 1,100 scoring goal and time limits within the game, Darkhouse can be a very tight play with a very limited margin for error. Those are all good points.

I don’t know if Darkhouse is an evergreen but I do think it has some fun mechanics and isn’t easy to win. For a free game, that’s a win.
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Mon Dec 5, 2022 4:33 pm
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My November Gaming

Lowell Kempf
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I hadn’t quite planned it this way but I ended up spending November playing journaling games. National Novel Writing Month made me decide to look at journaling games and find out that there were a lot more of them out there than I realized.

Some folks classify these games as RPGs. I don’t think it’s the best fit. (Does that mean writing any work of fiction in the first person is an RPG since you’re taking on the role of a different person or creature?) At the same time, journaling games do involve taking on a different role so the argument does have merit.

I ended up trying:

The Artefact
Dave Ex Machina
House Spirit
Princess With A Cursed Sword
A Light, Relfected
The Swamp You Die In
Bucket of Bolts

I’ve already blogged about almost all of these games and I will blog about Bucket of Bolts during December. And here’s the thing.I already love writing so having fun with the games was almost a foregone conclusion. I do wonder how someone with less experience writing would do with them.

I may end up using some on the classroom so I guess I’ll find out.

Having a busy November kept me away from the table so I actually played almost all of these games on my tablet. Which might not be the strongest way to play a journaling game (some games recommend actually keeping a physical journal) but it did make it possible for me to actually play the games.

The one game I learned that wasn’t a journaling game was Darkhouse, a roll and write game from the 2017 GenCan’t Roll and Write contest. When I looked at the game five years ago, it had confused me. (Wow, was that actual five years ago?) Rereadiing the rules, I realized you actually physically move the dice around the play sheet before you write down the numbers. It’s fascinating how obvious that is to me now.

I’m not actually sure if it’s a good game yet and I have a couple rules questions. (Do you need to use a third die to move dice around or does the die in the intersection cover that cost?) However, I did have fun figuring out how it actually works.

I’m not going to play journaling games this heavily in the near future. However, I’ll probably play them more often.
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Fri Dec 2, 2022 4:17 pm
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My November PnP

Lowell Kempf
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November was a particularly busy month for work. In fact, I was worried that I wouldn’t find the time to make any print and play projects. However, I was able to complete a couple. Mostly due to Thanksgiving break

I made copies of

Birdscaping
Dice Spray (12th R&W contest)

Birdcaping was my ‘big’ project for the month. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet but it looks promising.

I honestly don’t know how much crafting I’ll get done in December but the fact that I was able to get something made in November makes me feel confident that something will get made.
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Thu Dec 1, 2022 2:43 pm
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Planning Dicember 2022

Lowell Kempf
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Ah, Dicember.

Last year was the first time I officially observed Dicember. Unofficially, I’ve probably been observing it for years. I’d just never heard of it

Here’s the idea: in celebration of dice games, you play different dice games. There are three different levels of the challenge: play fifteen different dice games: play thirty-one different games, play a different dice game every day of the month.

Last year, I did the third level, playing a different dice game every day. And it honestly ended up not always being fun. One day, when I was traveling, I played a solitaire game of Shut the Box to fulfill rhe challenge. And that was clearly playing just to play.

More than that, I found myself holding off playing games so they could serve as a slot in a later day. I suppose I could have just not counted plays before the designated day but that seemed dirty pool.

One idea I had contemplated last year was doing the fifteen dice game challenge but making them all new-to-me games. I mean, I could theoretically do that with Roll and Write games alone. But I think that would just result in grinding through games and not really enjoying learning them.

In other words, creating too many restrictions for myself stopped letting me have fun. And that’s a big reason why I game in the first place.

I will observe Dicember again but I’m not going to try to play a different dice game each day. I’ll just see how many different dice games I play. It’s safe to say it will be at least fifteen
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Wed Nov 30, 2022 3:24 pm
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The Swamp You Die In and other interesting places

Lowell Kempf
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I came across The Swamp You Die In by finding a hack of it called A Light, Reflected.

Out of all the journaling games I’ve tried in honor of NaNoWriMo, Swamp and its hacks are the shortest in form and the most guided. It’s also very simple, albeit not the simplest.

Basically, Swamp consists of six tables. Roll a die,consult the table you’re on, respond to that prompt. It can easily be only one sentence. And the theme is literally what the title tells you.

To be brutally honest, the prompts tend to be pretty specific compared to other journaling game I’ve played. You can easily add wiggle room but Swamp honestly hold your hand a lot.

The original game is laid out as a comic strip, with each prompt as its own panel. While that doesn’t actually affect the mechanics, it does add a nice bit of flavor to the experience.

The game also instructs you to not look ahead and not read the prompts you roll. So far, I have followed those rules so I still have some actual replay value.

That also means, unlike every other journaling game I’ve written about, I won’t post any of the play throught since that would spoil the game for others.

Okay, when I first approached Swamp, I found it too simple. However, the ability to pound out a game when I didn’t have time for a longer journaling game ended up being nice. Yeah; eventually I’ll see all the prompts but I’ll get in a few plays before then.

What really strikes me about Swamp is that I think it has real potential to work in the classroom. At first I thought I might be too simple. Then I remembered some students need more structure for creative writing than others.

Of course, I’ll have to change the theme from dying in a swamp!
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Mon Nov 28, 2022 6:40 pm
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Princess With A Cursed Sword play through

Lowell Kempf
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Princess With a Cursed Sword Play Through

(Apologies for wildly inconsistent verb tenses)

What does her gown signify?

The gown is actually the uniform of her school. It is a prim, dark blue dress with a white hem that is now stained

Why are her feet bare?

She gave her shoes to a beggar in her way to the ruins. They pinched her feet anyway.

What does her Sword want?

Her Sword wants to devour knowledge and memories.

What are her pronouns?

She and her.

The story begins as she comes to the ruins.

Card 1 - The Devil

As she walks through the gate, the princess finds herself inside what looks to have been a great library. Surely that means that learning was once important to this place.

But the roof and ceiling are altogether gone. Years of rain and snow and sun have ruined the burnt remnants of the Mubarak. Despite it all, the air is still full of the stench of ashes and smoke.

All around her, in the midst of the silence, the princess hears voices rise. It was the ghosts of all the murdered books, like a legion of demons.

She closed her eyes and thought of all the hours she had spent in the academy’s library. She thought of the rows of books in their rows of shelves. She thought of how every book had its place, one part of a single pattern.

Two coins - one head

In her mind, the princess took each ghost of a book and put it in its place. As she did so, their voices fell quiet. But when she put the last book in place, she heard a sharp crack.

The world suddenly had lines all across. The princess took off her glasses and saw that the lenses had cracked.

Card 2 - The Moon

The princess came across a deep, wide pool that was formed in the shape of a perfect circle. Of course it was artificial. You didn’t build something around a pond.

She doubted it had originally been a pool. Rain had filled iit.

She stared down into the water and saw tiny silver fish swimming .

Card 3 - King of Cups

It is a shadow but not a shadow. It sits on a throne that is made of moss and broken rocks and glowing vines.

It is a memory and it hungers for more memories. It hungers to turn the princess into nothing but a memory.

Cold sweat coating her brow, she swings the sword that hisses and mutters of its own hunger.

Two coins - two heads

The sword hungered for memories and knowledge. The thing was nothing but that. All that remained on the ruined throne was a bunt outline.

In her hand, the sword somehow had a gloating, satisfied feel. And she could no longer remember her grandmother’s eyes.

Card 4 - Five of Wands

The door was made of a wood so dark that it was almost black. It was far taller than her. If it wasn’t for the bright door handle, she might well have missed the door in the dark.

When she grasped the handle, it grasped her back. Long bronze teeth grow out of the handle, prepared to bite down on her hand.

The sword in her other hand, the hand that could not release it, muttered in bored tones. The door was not knowledge and held no interest for it.

One coin - head

Desperately, she pulled away. The teeth tore at her hand and arm. She fell to the ground, free but blood dripped down her arm.

And the door swung open.

Card 5 - Page of Pentacles

At first, the princess throught it was a person. Than a statute. But, in fact, it was machine in the shape of a person.

It was made of silver and crystal and glass. It was beautiful and in the shape of a young man.

And clearly and permanently broken.

Card 6 ~ The Sun

The princess had lost count of the stairs she had walked up and she was very good at counting. Around and around the stairs went up the ivory tower until she reached the roof and the sky above.

And the burning eyes of the gods stared down at her.

One coin - heads

The princess refused to bow her head. They were not her gods. There was a flash of darkness, as if the gods had blinked. She found herself in a gallery, far from the tower.

And she knew the gods were still watching.

Card 7 - The Magician

The princess knew that the tomb was what she had been searching for. It was in between two tall structures, almost as if the tomb itself was a canyon.

‘It is time,’ she said. Her feet were sore and bleeding. The arm and hand that were forced to hold the sword aches.

And the sword hissed and muttered. Black smoke rose from it.

‘No,’ the princess said.

And her hand opened. The sword fell. Fell into the darkness of the tomb. She did not hear it land.

And the memory of the lullaby her mother had used to sing her to sleep was gone.
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Sat Nov 26, 2022 1:45 am
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Princess With A Cursed Sword - good stuff

Lowell Kempf
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One journaling game that I found more than one reference to Princess With A Cursed Sword. So, after trying out a some very obscure games (and journaling games are already obscure), I knew I had to try Princess.

Short version: I liked it.

The game is a classic example of Exactly What It Says on the Tin. You are writing the story of a princess who has to cope with a cursed sword. The princess has come to some ruins to try and get rid of the sword.

In addition to writing materials, you will need a tarot deck (honestly, one where the minor arcana is illustrated) and two coins that have distinct heads and tails.

Set up consists of answering a few questions to define the princess and the sword (which includes why is she barefoot and what pronouns to use) Then you move to scenes.

Shuffle the tarot deck. Each suit has a general theme with different options and you also use the picture on the card to develop the scene.

A scene doesn’t have to have conflict. If you decide for it to have conflict, you flip one or two coins and the number of heads determines the level of success. No heads, failure and the princess barely survives. One head, barely succeeds but with great cost. Two, almost inhuman success. And you only use two coins if the princess’s past has prepared her OR if she uses the cursed sword.

You decide which card the game ends on and you decide if she is able to successfully give up the sword or not.

Okay. What makes Princess work as a journaling game? It has a neat theme, which is a good start. But honestly, it’s the Tarot deck that actually give the game so much potential. And that’s simply because it’s 78 possible prompts that can be interpreted multiple ways.

I have played games where the prompts are so vague that they just be ‘write something’ and games where I felt like I was told precisely what to write. Princess is a comfortable balance between the two. It has a lot of potential for one page of rules. I’d like to try it again using Piranesi (either the book by Susana Clarke or the actual artist) or Gormenghast (even though I’ve never finished even the first book) as inspirations.

That said, it isn’t a game I’d use in the classroom since I don’t think I could get away with a Tarot deck in that setting.
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Thu Nov 24, 2022 1:16 am
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Wreck This Journal is permission to get creative

Lowell Kempf
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I’m going to take a quick break from writing about journaling RPGs to comment on Wreck This Journal.

Which means I’m still writing about journals. I did not expect to be this on brand for NaNoWriMo for what’s looking to be the entire month of November.

Our son has been asking for a Wreck This Journal for literally months and we finally caved and got him on of the many different versions.

Wreck This Journal is a paradox. It’s a set of very specific instructions for thinking out of the box.

It’s a book where each page or two has instructions on what you should do to that page. And it’s safe to ssay that they will cause some damage to the page in the process and quite likely the rest of the book while you are at it.

There are what must be a couple hundred prompts in this book. One of the ones that has stuck with me is making a stain catalog.

Perhaps it’s less out of the box thinking and more open permission to destroy something.

We were afraid that our son would get bored with it or ignore the instructions and just use the journal as a sketch book. Instead, he has spent hours either following the instructions or doing his own interpretation of them. (He wasn’t going to mail the journal so he drew a picture of mailing it)

I have heard that Wreck This Journal is about giving you permission to make mistakes and messes. To embrace them. I don’t think that’s the only interpretation but it’s one I can see working for our son.

Honestly, I can see buying him a Wreck This Journal as an annual event.
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Mon Nov 21, 2022 5:13 pm
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House Spirit Play Through

Lowell Kempf
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House Spirit play through

The house is ancient, very old. But I am more ancient still. More ancient by far. The vein of rock that lies beneath the house was my birth place and my home.

I do not have a name for myself but humans would call me kobold. My skin, when I choose to have skin, is mottled yellow. My arms are longer than my legs and very strong. My eyes are like coals and my smile has many teeth.

But humans, they cannot see me. That is my choice and their own as well.

The house is old, with tall ceilings and narrow doors and many, many shadows. The Shafers, they have lived in the house for generations. They think they have been here for a long time. But they have not been here as long as I have.

There is the ancient great grandmother who needs two canes to walk over the uneven floor. I remember when she was a mewling toddler. There is her grandson, who works in the mines, and his wife who came from another town. And their daughter, who thinks the house is haunted. I do not say she is wrong.

Roll 1 = 3

The Shafers have hired a traveling man to repair the home. He is not from these lands. It is an insult to me and the stones to have him pass over the threshold.

That night, as he lay asleep in the back room, I breathed into his lungs. I filled his lungs with grave dust. He would not live out the week.

As for the Shafers, I filled their shoes with rocks so they would stumble.

Roll 2 = 2

The Shafers brought in a holy man to drive me out of their home. Not that they truly knew me or my nature. Only that something was affecting their lives.

The holy man was a fat charlatan and fraud, who merely mumbled the words people expected to hear. I did not deign to appear to him. I merely let him know my presence. That was enough to turn his hair white and make him a gibbering madman.

And the Shafers were reminded of me and my power.

Roll 3 = 2

The Shafers lived in sullen fear. The house had been their place for generations. On some level, they had always known me but for generations, they could pretend that they did not. But they had borough on my ill will.

No milk could remain sweet under this roof. Salt lost its favor and would no longer preserve meat. Shadows would grow long for no reason.

They knew me.

Roll 4 = 1

The great grandmother died in the night. It was through no action of my own. It was her own mortality and her time.

But as she breathed her last, the old woman turned and her eyes were upon me. And she said:

“I have always seen you’

Roll 5 = 6

They pour libations of salt and iron filings in the corners of rooms for me. The Shafers hung out a wind chime on the front porch made of iron.

For their consideration, I straightened the roof of the home and I ensured that the father was safe in the mines.

Roll 6 = 4

Some days only exist for time to pass. Some days are only there so there is a space between now and then.

I am older than the hills. I have always known days like this and I remember to treasure them.

Roll 7 = 1

The daughter has chosen to leave. She is doing so without telling her parents. They will not leave the house. For them, it is too much of their world. But my presence is too much for her.

I do not say she is wrong.

With her, the Shafers will end, at least as far as I am concerned. The line, if it continues, will be somewhere else. Someone else’s concern. The house will fall. Houses have fallen before over my land. Houses will rise again.

As she left, she stumbled on a stone. It was gold. One last gift.
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Fri Nov 18, 2022 6:23 pm
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