And welcoming 2023
Hello again. I hope everyone had a good holiday filled with the comfort of family, friends, good food, and fellowship. And some gaming. Because 1. it’s fun and 2. it too is one of the few things left that brings those great ingredients together.
THOSE DARK PLACES
Not the holidays – the game. Tis the season to be busy, so the regulars at CCWC are winding down the new year and taking Those Dark Places for a test drive.
Written by Jonathan Hicks and published by Osprey, TDP is a rules-lite RPG set in a blue-collar, industrial sci fi setting. No bright and shiny future here; space exploration is a dirty, dangerous job. Your characters are half spacemen, half ‘off-shore drilling rig‘ workers – but waaaay off-shore.
Bottom line is it’s tough ‘to boldly go‘ when everything is cold, cramped, claustrophobic, on a tight deadline, and even tighter budget. There really is a ‘bottom line‘ here and your crew has signed up to work. It’s hard work too, so your ship is heading into the Big Empty where ever the company sends you to do whatever needs doing.
A fast-play, rules-lite game.
You’ve heard that phrase around here often enough, eh?
The game itself is simple enough: four character stats, [Charisma, Agility, Strength, and Education] seven crew positions with pertinent skills, and a short weapon list. All tests are D6 + relevant stat + crew position modifier. Default target number is a 7+, but that goes up or down depending on the task’s difficulty. There’s an elegant stress/pressure mechanic for shocking or high-tension circumstances, but that’s pretty much it.
No exhaustive equipment list or parsing of complex, technical skills. The space ships are there to get your crew where it needs to be. It’s assumed you’ve got whatever basic tools you need to get the job done, so the real story unfolds on the station/ship/colony hab when you arrive. Remember the movies ‘Outland’, ‘Alien’, ‘Moon’, and ‘The Martian‘ ? TDP lives in that neighborhood.
I’m running the tutorial scenario included in the book with a couple personal tweaks for a full table of seven players. All in all, it’s going smoothly. The ship, Better Left Unsaid, arrived in the Procyon system last week and we’re gearing up for the finish tomorrow night.
What you really need for a rules-lite game
Aside from the usual ‘pen, paper, dice, minis, and terrain/tiles’? Experience. Gaming experience, that is.
Most of the ‘rules-lite’ games I’ve encountered are simple and fast-play, yes. They’re great and I love ’em. But they also require a certain level of familiarity with TTGs or RPGs when you crack open the book. A player – or at least the GM – needs to come to the table with a base knowledge about the setting or genre, along with a decent competence in game mechanics and principles. They’ve got to be comfortable with improvising yet knowledgeable enough to stay on track. You need a sense of direction and to know how to drive, so to speak, in order to jump into a ‘rules-lite’ game system and have it run smooth.
IMO, Those Dark Places is one such game and what it does, it does very well. It’s compact, low crunch, low drag while able to accommodate a wide range of potential settings and narratives. An experienced GM (General Monitor, in this case) will find it easy to run – providing they’re adept at generating their own stories and don’t need a rule for everything. I definitely recommend it.
On tap for 2023
Next year’s schedule is filling up. The modern monster hunter/supernatural warfare rule set When Nightmares Come is at the top of the To Do list. As it stands now, there will also be some brutal Insurgent Earth action as the valiant resistance cell at Rowville squares off against new Alien Occupation Forces. There’s a second iteration of Nightwatch on the radar too, one that includes upgraded combat mechanics along with more narrative and campaign elements. Uncle Vanya has been showing up at the dacha recently, complaining no one pays him any attention anymore. Oh, and there’s more cyberpunk espionage and mayhem material for Exploit Zero. (the Aunties are predicting a nasty little corporate war)
I’m not ready to talk about FARLIGHT – Law and Order at the ragged edge of the Galaxy yet.
Fiction-wise, there’s a third Exclusion Zone short to finish, (One and Two, in case you’re interested.) plus a long-overdue return to the post-apocalyptic fantasy land of the Shattered Worlds. So I’ve got my work cut out for 2023.
That’s it for now. I wish you all a happy, healthy New Year. May your 2023 be filled with good friends and good games.