31 August 2014

THE KRAKEN 2014 Report

The Kraken 2014 took place from 20 to 25 August at Schloss Neuhausen in Brandenburg. For those who are not familiar with German geography, this is probably as far from civilisation as you can possibly get in the former GDR, meaning no stupid distractions from gaming such as shops, cafés, restaurants, pedestrian streets, internet access or mobile phones. But who needs those when you can have five days of fine food (incl. vegetarian fare), German beer and gaming in an 18th century chateau?

Krakeneer's Kit


The foremost thing to specify is that The Kraken is not a convention; The Kraken is a gaming vacation. It is less busy, more relaxed, and with appr. 60 participants and a five-day duration you get to meet and know everyone without the hassle of running from one game or panel to the next. Also, since the whole chateau and its dependencies (including a chapel!) are 100% dedicated to The Kraken, you can isolate yourself for a moody Call of Cthulhu game or you can join the boisterous Scandinavians for a bout of axe-throwing, depending on your preference, at any given time.



Some events like new game presentations or RPG sessions have their own schedule whilst some others are simply ongoing like the miniature painting workshop or the Diplomacy and Axis & Allies games.

Axe-Throwing Area


Anyway, with so much to see, to take part in, and to do, I simply couldn't take note of all that was happening at The Kraken. As a result, what follows has been compiled from my own notes, my kids', and my friends' (especially Éric Vanel's). Still, it doesn't give justice to the awesomeness that it was. There's more here, and also there, and probably on other blogs too.

Friends at The Kraken


WEDNESDAY 20 AUGUST, afternoon

I got to play Sandy Petersen's gargantuan board-game, Cthulhu Wars, refereed by the man himself. The game is finished, only the quality of the minis is still being improved. This is an 'asymmetrical' board-game: even though the basic game mechanics are the same (invade the world with your cultists and summon your Old Ones), each faction plays in a slightly different way, and collects very different spellbooks, which are needed to bolster your actions. I played the Shub-Niggurath faction, which has more troops than the others (as befits a fertility goddess) but not quite as strong. I didn't perform particularly well, but then I guess at least three or four complete games are necessary to grasp all the subtleties of the game, and especially of the factions – the one you play AND the others! Anyway, we ended up with three players tied in terms of victory points (VP) and one player having just one less VP than the others, so I believe the game is very well balanced.







WEDNESDAY 20 AUGUST, evening, Opening Ceremony

Fabian Küchler, The Kraken's supremo, officially announced the start of the five-day gaming vacation. This was also the time for a few announcements:
- HeroQuest Glorantha will be published by Moon Design in early October
- Sandy Petersen will seek to crowdfund the Gods War board-game via a Kickstarter project as soon as every backer of Cthulhu Wars has received his or her copy of the game

WEDNESDAY 20 AUGUST, late evening

Well, after Cthulhu Wars, I got to play Sandy's new board-game, the Gods War. Contrary to Cthulhu Wars, this is very much a work in progress. The minis we used were salvaged from other games and the board was pretty crude. The final game will feature all-new minis. The game is supposed to start with the Spike rising up from the centre of the Lozenge, but we had a mere disc of cardboard instead of the mighty  magical mountain. The game "engine" is similar to Cthulhu Wars', with the well-known Gloranthan factions replacing the Old Ones (see my earlier blog entry), and with heroquests replacing spellbooks. One big novelty is the presence of runes, which are  drawn from a random deck. Although they add Gloranthan flavour to the game, I found their effects to be really too random and too heterogeneous. Some runes  bestow a mere movement bonus, some others give the player +2 VP, which can be decisive at the end of the game.
Overall, I preferred the Gods War to Cthulhu Wars: the game mechanics are simpler, there are less choices, but they are harder as bad choices in the beginning can give you a very bad start that is then hard to catch up. It's also more difficult to try and get one's VP in isolation from the rest of the players... most heroquests (which give you VPs) have killing other units as a pre-requisite. There is also a fun event during one of the early phases of the game: the Spike explodes and is replaced with a Chaos Rift that starts sucking in the players' units (except Chaos's). The non-Chaotic players have to co-operate to remove the Chaos Rift and replace it with Magasta's Pool, which is a co-operative element that is missing in the parent board-game.
So again, overall, a fantastic game with the only caveat that some runes are too powerful. Sandy should either make them less powerful or maybe add a rule that after you've reached the 40 VP threshold you cannot win using the rune cards. Since the game is still in its play-testing phase, I hope Sandy is reading this blog and taking my suggestion into account :)


That's the Spike in the centre


Chaos Rift sucking in units

Chaos Rift removed: Magasta's Pool


THURSDAY 21 AUGUST, early morning

The main room of the chateau was full of "self service" games. We grabbed up a copy of 7 Wonders and played several games.

Other people were playing other board-games in a very relaxed mood, or ongoing games of Diplomacy and Axis & Allies.

THURSDAY 21 AUGUST, morning, Moon Design panel

Jeff from Moon Design addressed the fan audience and presented MD's future plans. This started with being at last able to view the Guide to Glorantha in all its dead tree glory. It is definitely the most beautiful role-playing supplement I have ever beheld. Two coffee table-sized books totalling appr. 1,000 pages, under faux leather covers, with a dust jacket, and glossy colour paper for each single page. And this was the standard version for the basic KS pledge! Unbelievable.






Moon Design schedule expected now to more or less conform to the following:

- HeroQuest Glorantha (early October), with a draft copy that we could peruse, which entails:
   o A clean-up of the rules system (main structural change = higher dice win).
   o How to create Esrolian and Tarshite characters.
   o Some cults re-written/cleaned up (Seven Mothers…) plus new cults (Waha…).
   o Every Magic system is better detailed (incl. Lunar magic better structured than in the Pavis book).

- A new edition of King of Sartar (beginning of 2015) with consistency corrections and with new chapters (appr. 20 additional pages)

- The Coming Storm (mid-2015), a massive Sartarite campaign by Ian Cooper, which only misses art at the moment

+ 2 or 3 more products (e.g., Prax Pak by Dave Scott, a full Prax sourcebook and campaign arc) by Gen Con 2015

- in the distant future: a Holy Country book

Moon Design has only one full-time employee and can only tackle one project at a time, hence the slow publication schedule.

However, in parallel to the publication of these scheduled works, there will be several Kickstarter campaigns:
  1. for the 13th Age Glorantha book (which will be published by Moon Design)
  2. for the Gods War board-game
  3. for the art of the Gods book, an endeavour similar to the Guide to Glorantha, but with less pages even though it will feature 500 entries (we were shown a draft of the prosopaedia)

Jeff also mentioned that the next issue of Wyrms Footnotes (issue No.16) would be a 'Lunar special', without providing any ETA though.

THURSDAY 21 AUGUST, afternoon

Jeff run an experimental HeroQuest game in which he had TWO player parties instead of one, each pitted against the other. This was (a) to show that the GtG could be used to ad lib a game using only the information provided in the book and (b) to experiment with the two-party approach. Obviously we had extremely simplified character sheets (1 keyword + 1 rune). A young lady from the other party opened the Atlas and chose the island of Melib. They played the natives, led by Prince Harstar the phenomenally awesome, and we played the Blue Zaranistangi invaders.
The game would last during all the gaming vacation, and we would play once or twice per day. Each session corresponded to a Gloranthan year; each of these sessions was like a mini-game in which the two factions acted against each other to take control of the island. The game went crazy, powers were dragged from all over the world, and finally we influenced the future of Glorantha by boosting the Hero War. They even dragged in Harrek!

(c) Eric Vanel


During the afternoon my kids played in a Call of Catthulhu game GM'ed by my friend Paolo, and had great fun.

THURSDAY 21 AUGUST, evening

I don't know if it is a new trend in RPGs, or just an area that I had overlooked in the past, and which I am only discovering now, but there are lots of GM-less RPGs nowadays. My epiphany can be dated back to the Chimériades convention and the White Books game we played there. Anyway, on Thursday night I got to play three GM-less RPGs in a row:
1) Enter the Avenger
2) We Are Here To See The Evil Wizard Kormákur
3) Amidst Endless Quiet

Enter the Avenger is a simple phase-by-phase game, in which each player takes turns to figure out whether one of the players (the Avenger) is or is not entitled to extolling vengeance from a supposed wrongdoer. The background, the offence itself, the path to revenge and the vengeance itself are all improvised at turns during the game. Quite classic, but very enjoyable.

We Are Here To See The Evil Wizard Kormákur was quite different. Each of us had a card with a limited set of actions (3 to 6), which curtailed our ability to improvise. Moreover, as a character who both wanted to kill the evil wizard Kormákur and who was in love with him, I had trouble finding a balance. I am afraid this was definitely less successful.

Amidst Endless Quiet was a very groundbreaking SF game. The roles were very strict but also mind-boggling, as one of us was 10,000 years old, another had a mind that could jump from one body to another, etc. We got to improvise great parts. Definitely recommended!

FRIDAY 22 AUGUST, early morning

More 7 Wonders and Citadels gaming in the tranquillity of the main room.

FRIDAY 22 AUGUST, morning, Gloranthan Q&A

This panel pretty much focused on the Gods War because only Sandy was present. Apparently the demos at gen Con were very successful. The game will be published with four starting factions (Chaos [purple], Storm [white], Sun [yellow], Darkness [black]), but it is currently being playtested with three further factions (Earth [green], Sea [blue], Moon [red]) that will be available as expansions. Further factions are planned: new gods, elder races.

FRIDAY 22 AUGUST, afternoon

We continued the experimental HQ game, then we played the Gods War and Cthulhu Wars again.

Éric played in Shaman Quest – Four Meadows, a game run by Topi Pitkänen. The game was set in Glorantha but its engine was based on Topi's legendary Gloranthan Tarot. The characters had to quest in both the mundane and the spirit world to meet and overcome Bad Man, awaken their fetch and become Shamans. According to Éric, it was a great experience!

We got to buy the Sharper Adventures in HeroQuest Glorantha chapbook [fundraiser] by Robin D Laws, a 32-page booklet chock-full of advice by Robin D Laws on running HQ games set in Glorantha.



FRIDAY 22 AUGUST, evening

One cool thing at The Kraken is that you get to play with the authors of the games, which always offers invaluable insight into their vision of the game. So on Friday night we played the The Cardinal's Blades RPG GM'd by the author, Philippe Auribeau. I haven't read the books, and I am not particularly a fan of the cloak-and-dagger genre, but Philippe's lively GMing style coupled with the game's extremely kinematic mechanism made it a wonderful gaming session.
In this age of artsy-fartsy RPGs, The Cardinal's Blades RPG manages to be completely old school in its extended use of abilities, skills, and numerous tarot card draws [instead of dice rolls], in a pulp rendering of a 17th century Paris full of scheming noblemen and courtesans. Since The Cardinal's Blades is published by Les Éditions Sans-Détour who are famous for their incredibly gorgeous games, The Cardinal's Blades also has its fair share of terrific props: the already-mentioned tarot deck for skill use and combat, another deck to create the player characters, and other cool goodies.

SATURDAY 23 AUGUST, morning

Another round of Jeff's experimental HQ game, and yet some more board-gaming.

SATURDAY 23 AUGUST, afternoon

Rise of Ralios freeform! Éric Vanel and Hervé Carteau, who had run the Rise of Ralios freeform at Chimériades, ran it again for The Kraken. This time I didn't play a character but I refereed the war-gaming phases of the game. I liked it better this way because I am a terrible freeform player. My daughter, who enjoys freeforms, reprised her role as Alangellia, earth priestess of Ralia, and did well again [sorry, but I had to add this bit of paternal pride]. My son, who missed the Chimériades freeform, played a badass fighter who got to become one of the Arkats.







SATURDAY 23 AUGUST, evening

I got to play in yet another game refereed by its author! This time it was Grégory Privat's Bimbo RPG, an homage to the Grindhouse genre, and possibly the gonzo-est RPG I've ever played. In Bimbo, each player takes the role of a curvaceous B-movie heroine in an adventure whose sequences mirror those of a film, with an introduction, several scenes, and an ending. Not only must the players go through the adventure, they must also shine better than the other ones in the eyes of the director (the referee), so there's plenty of room for exaggerated acting and witty punchlines. We played the "Space Vixens" adventure from the published game, which was a Star Wars spoof with a healthy dose of I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space in it. Definitely not a politically correct game but with a tremendous fun potential in it and — to get back to the GM-less games discussion from 21st August — with heaps of player agency through the mechanics of "let's shoot it again" when a player is dissatisfied with how a scene unfolded. Possibly one of the best ideas for a role-playing game in years (even tough I can't really see how the game can deliver beyond one-shot sessions).

SUNDAY 24 AUGUST, morning, Elder Secrets of Glorantha

Sandy Petersen entertained us to a string of anecdotes about the early days at the Chaosium, and he revealed us quite a number of Gloranthan secrets. Actually quite a lot, so I'll concentrate of the MGF ones and on the Pamaltelan ones, since this blog is supposed to concentrate on Pamaltela.

Heroes and Super-Heroes of Glorantha

Each hero is linked to a given rune, and each rune has but one single super-hero per age. Harrek for instance is the super-hero of the Death rune; Jar-Eel of Harmony. And they sort of influence each other at this level: after Harrek killed Jar-Eel in the Battle of Heroes he "retired" from adventuring, as if Harmony had overcome Death.

Pamaltela

In Pamaltela, history and geology go backwards. Dinosaurs, for instance, are not a relic of the past: they are NEW animals.

Humans are going out, after having started at the height of civilisation (the Artmali Empire) and become less and less civilised. Fonrit is the only area that is trying to hold out. In the Fourth Age, Slarges shall rule Pamaltela.

Pamaltelan trolls are obviously different to Genertelan trolls. They don't suffer from the trollkin curse, but they have a curse of their own: they have lost the Cold rune and have become thin. They are heroquesting to become portly again like their Genertelan cousins. They have tried two different heroquests but both failed:
- in the first one they quested for Darkness; the clan who did this now begets trollkin
- in the other one, they quested for Storm: the clan who did this now begets Horned Trolls (a creature from before Time)

Loral

Sandy says Monster Island by The Design Mechanism is definitely Loral.

Teleos

In the First Age, it was a Pirate kingdom. The people were already coloured, but any colour could be born to any other colour, e.g., a blue man and an orange woman cold have a yellow child and a red child. Each colour corresponded to a particular set of skills.
In the Second Age, the Middle Sea Empire suppressed the Teleons.
In the Third Age, the tribes are separated, which prevents them from having the set of skills necessary to scour the seas again but they DO remember the past!

SUNDAY 24 AUGUST, early afternoon, 13th Age Glorantha panel

Jeff held the 13th Age Glorantha panel. The interesting thing is that the KS will be managed by Moon Design, and the book (if funded but who doubts it?) will be published by Moon Design with a regular ISS… reference number. That should bring many new players to the world of Glorantha and, hopefully, expand its popularity beyond the current 'core' fanbase.

SUNDAY 24 AUGUST, afternoon

I've already mentioned how fantastic it was to be able to play in a game refereed by its very own author, and I had the privilege of experiencing that for The Cardinal's Blades and Bimbo.
Well, this being The Kraken and Sandy Petersen being the main guest of honour, there was also a Call of Cthulhu game GM'd by Sandy. But, guess what?, everyone wanted in, so Fabian organised a lottery. Six lucky people were drawn to play in Sandy's game. Believe it or not, both my kids got a place at Sandy's table; I was so jealous. The game was a contemporary CoC game called See! and featured a new drug with eldritch implications... My son's character died by being absorbed into Great Cthulhu (is there a coolest way to lose one's character?) whilst my daughter's got shotgunned from behind by a cultist; she was so disappointed.

SUNDAY 24 AUGUST, late afternoon

I got to play the stunning Copper Town board-game by Turkka Kylliäinen, refereed by the amazing Topi (again!). The game features three Tarshite hill clans who try to monopolise the trade of copper in Tarsh, plus the city dwellers of Copper Town, and two bandit clans, one Lunar and one Orlanthi. It was a four-player game with Topi playing one of the hill clans and the city dwellers, but without trying to win, and the rest of us playing the other factions. I had both the Orlanthi bandit clan and one of the hill clans.



Unfortunately, the game uses the game mechanics from Dragon Pass; I understand it is an homage to that venerable game, but game design has evolved quite a lot from the 70s, and hex-based movement and huge stacks of counters are slightly old-fashioned in 2014... Nevertheless, the game worked surprisingly well [thanks to Topi], and it was a close race at the end of the game to finish with the most VPs. I came second by a mere single VP to Rémy, so I guess the game is balanced.

Too bad there is only one extant copy of it.

SUNDAY 24 AUGUST, evening

First we had a heart-breaking closing ceremony. When a gaming vacation is this perfect, with fine food, good friends, and unlimited German beer, you just do not want to see it ending. Alas, it had to, and we parted with tears in our eyes [almost].

The closing ceremony was followed by a mediaeval banquet (which actually looked more like a Renaissance supper to me) in the beautiful basement of the chateau.



After the dinner, Sandy ran a very difficult Lovecraftian Super-Quiz, and then our Nordic friends organised a Cthulhuesque chant-along based on Christmas carols whose lyrics had been altered to refer to the Mythos. The Shoggoth Song was my favourite one:

I had a little shoggoth
I conjured up one day.
I used an elder sigil
So shoggoth and I play.

Shoggoth, shoggoth, shoggoth
With mouths and pseudopods.
Shoggoth, shoggoth, shoggoth
Foul creature of the gods.

One day while we were playing
My monstrous pal broke free.
I'd dropped the elder sigil,
Li'l Shoggy turned on me.

Shoggoth, shoggoth, shoggoth
He ripped me to a shred.
Shoggoth, shoggoth, shoggoth
We played and now I'm dead.

3 comments:

Grégory M said...

Fantastique compte-rendu, j'ai pris un grand plaisir à lire tout ça, merci Gianni.

Rappar said...

très fun, on s'y croirait! ;)

Ben Lehman said...

Hi! I'm really glad you enjoyed Amidst Endless Quiet! It's a favorite for me, too.

yrs--
--Ben