Tag Archives: Umlaut

Traditional RPGs vs. Story Games

I do not understand the holy war between “Traditional RPGs” and “Story Games”.

I’ve played many great immersive traditional games over the years, using systems from AD&D to RuneQuest to GURPS to Traveller to Call of Cthulhu. There was one game of In Nomine that was so intense it ended up filling my dreams that night.

I’ve also played some highly enjoyable Forge-school narrative-style games such as Primetime Adventures and InSpectres. Indeed, of my favourite new games of recent years has to be Umlaut: The Game of Metal, which screamed “Play Me!” the first time I read it, and every session has turned out to be huge fun. That’s a pure story game; there’s no GM, the mechanics are boardgame-like and revolve around narrative control. Every session have been memorable for all the right reasons.

But here’s the thing; they are really two different kinds of game. They both do what they do well. There is really no point in fighting a holy war over which one of the two is best.

It seems to me that this holy war is driven by personal feuds between rival cliques of game designers and their supporters. So we get that risible claim that the players of traditional RPGs were “brain damaged”, and the depiction of story game advocates as “swine”. All of which leaves the most actual players bemused and wondering quite what all the fuss is about.

It all reminds me of the messy Protofour vs. Scalefour battles in the world of model railways back in the late 1970s. And I still have absolutely no clue what that one was all about.

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Morpheus Rising and Fahran at Bilston

Si Wright of Morpeus Rising at Bilston Robin 2 on 13th July 2014Morpheus Rising played a headline gig at Bilston Robin 2, with support from Fahran. Because the gig was more than week ago, I didn’t take proper notes, I’ve reviewed Morpheus Rising many times before and it was a few days after Stabcon, I’m going to write this up as if it was a session of Umläut: The Game of Metal.

Fahran at Bilston Robin 2In Umläut terms, Fahrah’s strongest performance trait was Stagecraft, and their set consisted largely of Face-Melters. They did well enough to win at least one Impression Check, and won themselves some Glory. They’re a very young band, and on the strength of performances like this they’re going places.

Pete Harwood and Damien Sweeting of Morpheus Rising at Bilston

The level of musicianship and especially their strength of songcraft suggest that Morpheus Rising’s best performance trait is Technique, though their Stagecraft and Power were hardly lacking. In the absense of drummer Nigel Durham who’d suffered a shoulder injury, former drummer Paul “Gibbo” Gibbons stood in on drums having hurredly learned the band’s new songs, and the band were still as tight as ever. Despite only two albums I heard the set described as sounding like a greatest hits set, with the bulk of the new album “Eximius Humanus” alongside highlights from the debut. Morpheus Rising too came away from the gig with plenty of Glory.

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White Wizzard: Is this an Umläut LARP?

Metal band White Wizzard look as if they’re playing a live-action game of Umläut: The Game of Metal, and somebody has just played “Split” on them:

On the band’s facebook page:

White Wizzard want to release a brief statement on singer Joseph Michael. Last night in Cardiff Wales, Joseph Michael left a crowd of fans sitting in the venue waiting to see White Wizzard, sat in a pub across the street and refused to perform the show for extremely selfish reasons. The band soldiered on with Peter Ellis and Jon Leon handling vocals. It was hugely unprofessional on his part. Due to these actions, we have secured another singer for mainland europe named Giles Lavery. Sadly, due to this any many other problems over the past several months, it is without question we must move on and immediately make a change. Joseph is making very false and erroneous claims on his facebook site unfortunately about Jon and the band, but without getting into a war of words we will just simply say he is lying and making a desperate attempt to hurt the band and Jon to cover up his very unprofessional actions. The rest of us are determined to move on, and we all assure you we are united and everything is fine within the rest of the group. We will do our best to move on. See ya out there! Thanks for all the fans support last night and beyond.

As the old saying states, there are always two sides to every story, and Joseph Michael’s own page has a rather different version of events:

Here is the real story on White Wizzard

Jon has been stealing money from us . From indie gogo fund and out on tour and i called him out on it.

He then fired me last night on the night off…

Then announced that i was refusing to sing… It’s all lies…

I was fired and he couldnt find someone to sing so he begged me 5 minutes before they went on…

Jon Leon is a Con man and has not honored one word he has said since i have joined this band… After i sang on White Wizzard – Devil’s Cut he threatened to forbid Earache Records from releasing it with my vocals if i didn’t sign a new contract giving no rights and a far worse deal..After the work was done…

If it wasn’t for Will Wallner and Jake Dreyer Standing up to this criminal he would have left myself and filmmaker Don Adams stranded in the middle of nowhere…

Jon Leon has paid for nothing on this trip and has acted a child the whole time. Please Do not Let him rip you off if you Purchased From Indie Go Go… Goodnight

The war of words isn’t abating, and the whole thing’s turning into a bad car crash you can’t look away from. This is a band who have (to date) had seven lead singers, seven guitarists and three drummers. You can draw your own conclusions from that…

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Iridium Tractor

Is this an early incarnation of the Agricultural Thresh Metal of Iridium Tractor, as seen in the game of Umläut: The Game of Metal at this year’s Summer Stabcon. But where is Flossy the sheep?

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Umläut: The Game of Metal

One of the most entertaining games I’ve played recently has to be Umläut: The Game of Metal, the collaborative storytelling game of competing metal bands. We played this game at Stabcon in Stockport this year, with four players, the ideal number according to the rules.

You start by making up a band, giving them a name, sub-genre, membership and setlist, then distributing seven points between the three performance traits of Technique, Stagecraft and Power.

Over the course of the game these figures can go up and down, as the band also accumulates scores in Cash, Fanbase, Ego and Hope. Ego is the double-edged score; there are circumstances in which a high ego can benefit the band, but let it get too high and you risk the band splitting.

On the grounds that the your band didn’t have to be any sub-genre of metal, and the first time I played the game at last year’s Stabcon Phil Masters ended up winning the game with an avant-garde French pop band, I came up with the band “Clown Car”, whose genre wasn’t metal at all, but “Neo-Prog My Arse”.

They started out with the following membership

Sharon, prog diva
Nigel, poet and audience frightener
Kevin, keytar player with cape
Vlad, bass player, with too many strings
Bob, guitarist, with too many necks
Brian, drummer, who’s also in 17 other bands

I could use the usual disclaimer stating that any resemblance to any members of real bands is pure coincidence, but somehow I don’t think you’d believe me.

Their songs just happened to contain a lot of software testing in-jokes, with songs like “Blue Screen of Death”, “Object Reference Not Set To An Instance Of This Object”, “Clown Car Abandoned In A Field” and “It Works On My Machine”.

I distributed the starting Performance Traits in the ratio 3/3/1, which seemed about right for a somewhat theatrical prog band, good technique and stagecraft, but a bit lacking in oomph.

Their rivals included the “Agricultural Thresh Metal” of Iridium Tractor, with their mascot Flossy the sheep, and The Risen, a band of zombies of famous dead people.

Having created your bands, gameplay is divided into scenes, going round the table with each player choosing a type of scene for their band. You can have work scenes, describing an episode in the character’s day job, rehearsal scenes in which the band improve their performance stats, publicity stunts in which the band try to drum up support, and so on. In most scenes there’s some kind of conflict, which is resolved by drawing cards; the player with the most black cards “wins” the scene, but the player with the highest value card gets to narrate the scene.

In this game we had things like the great brussels sprout avalanche of Sainsbury’s (a work scene). We also had a situation with members of two different bands having day jobs at the same software house, and a project going pear-shaped saw a conflict scene in the shape of a very fraught team meeting, followed by a split scene as Clown Car’s lead singer emigrated to Hawaii as part of the fallout. That’s what happens if you let Ego get too high.

The key moments are the Gig Scenes, where a pair of bands play co-headline gigs and try to blow each other off stage by accumulating the most Glory over the course of the three rounds of the gig, using the same card-based mechanism, and what strikes me is just how well the rules mirror reality. For example:

At first sight, many people assume that the best way to play is simply to load all your performance traits into Technique, and play Ballads at every opportunity. The theory is that since you’re always drawing loads of cards during the attention check, you ought to pretty much shut your opponent out. Even if you don’t manage to get any Glory (because your power is low and you only get one Shred from the Ballad), you’ll eventually get lucky and score one or two and your opponent has no chance to score anything.

In practice, not only is this very boring, but it doesn’t actually work. Even if you draw more cards during the Attention Check you can’t guarantee your opponent getting a lucky draw and beating you. They get one good Attention Check and they’re usually going to get a whole lot of Glory because you didn’t really put anything into Stagecraft.

I’ve been to gigs where that is precisely what happened.

The game ends after a set time (we set this as three hours after the start, since the game was in a four-hour convention slot), after which we trigger the endgame, which take the form of a final round of gigs scenes involving all the bands. Clown Car, with their new lead singer Tracy blew Iridium Tractor off stage, but even that wasn’t quite enough to win the game for them.

But saying that, the game isn’t really about winning or losing, but telling an entertaining story. At the end of the game the band with the highest score in Fanbase is the most successful (Did you end up touring stadiums? Did you let it go too far? Or did you never really get beyond the toilet circuit), and the band with the lowest Ego relative to their Hope is the happiest, even if they never did make it big.

As a game and a rock fan, Umläut: The Game of Metal is one of those games that demands to be played as soon as you read the rules, and makes for both a highly entertaining game and a suprisingly accurate view into the world of rock’n'roll.

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