Ghost/Echo play session

(I'm new to this community, so I apologise if I've put this post in the wrong place.)

My family and I recently had a go at One.Seven Design's Ghost/Echo and, as requested, I'm posting about it here. We had a really great time of it. My thoughts on the game itself, as well as great moments from play, are below, but first... Our answers to the suggested questions!

Why does your crew need loot? So we can buy stuff with it and be stinking rich.
What ghost members do your individual crew members posess? Since Ghost/Echo is extremely cyberpunk, I allowed the players to carry over their ghost powers into the real world. We had Grip, the expert hacker of the team who could grab onto or strangle anything, Vixen, a fox/human DNA combination with a weaponised tail, the ability to jump far higher than a human, and deadly skill with a flechette pistol, and Hull, who had a very strong north-of-England accent that allowed him to talk directly to computers without having to interface his mind to theirs.
What is the ghost world? The internet as seen through the eyes of someone jacked into a computer. It manifests itself as an apocalyptic/post-apocalyptic landscape, full of ruined and burning buildings.
What is the real world like? Clean, sterile, and run by megacorporations.
What are Echoes? The ghosts of improperly deleted data. They live on hard drives across the world, pining for someone to acknowledge their existence. Whenever you drag a file to the recycle bin instead of using a secure file-deletion program, you've created an echo.
What are Wraiths? Anti-intrusion and computer security AIs, which manifest in a variety of threatning forms within the ghost world.

I went into this thinking that I was going to have a very hard time coming up with mechanics to fill in the blanks. As it happened, we ended up using it more as a LARP in some cases -- players would break off to talk to one another "in character", revealing a convoluted romance in Grip and Vixen's history -- but when it came down to dice rolls, the systems given in the document were more than adequate. The lack of a concept of stats or bonuses is actually a boon in as nebulously defined a game as this, as it normalises difficulty and allows for some unexpected stunts. At one point, Hull wound up threatning a crooked doctor with a handgun in a crowded bar. He rolled and, against all odds, he got away with it.

If there's one problem with this game, it's the list of "others". Coil, Grip, Demon, and Vixen sound like genuine members of a cyberpunk hacking crew. Hull might be a bit of a miss, but it still fits. On the other hand, the "others" list, while it does have some good names, also has a lot of proper nouns that don't really fit. This is just my personal opinion, but I struggled to come up with an idea of what Cable, Wheel, Banner, Latch, Chain, or Lake would look like, think like, or talk like.

Apart from that, it was a really interesting game and good fun. I quite like a lot of One.Seven's stuff, and this was no different. I'm inexperienced enough that it's not quite my place to make recommendations, but if it were this would definitely be on my list.

Comments

  • Your family sounds awesome.

    Tell me more about them? How many are you, what ages, what kinds of games do you play together?

    Did you ever have trouble coming up with dangers?
  • About "others", when I was first looking at the game, I thought others meant just other people, but after reading about the game on the internet, I noticed that some gaming groups treated "others" as other people and/ or other things.
  • Hopeless_Wanderer: That actually explains a lot. Part of the problem is that we generally use the word "others" to refer to people: "me and the others went to Anvilwerks", "I'll see what the others think about this."

    Paul_T: We're various different ages, ranging from twelve to over fifty. We're quite new to the scene; so far we're just working our way through One.Seven's games, although I've got a few vague ideas lined up about what to do after that. I don't have any trouble coming up with dangers or issues. The hard part, I find, is knowing, as GM, when to allow a move, when to demand a roll, and when to just say no. "Say yes or roll" is all very well, but if the move would end the game quickly and fairly unsatisfactorily, I think the GM should have the right to say "no" in extremis.

    One thing I find myself doing from time to time is what I call "flipping the boring bit". If all you can think about is boring and unoriginal stuff, take the most boring word and flip it. Let's say your players are having an argument outside the White House. It's loads more interesting to have an argument inside the White House.
  • Interesting!

    I'd love to hear more about your family and how this interest in playing games together - even a sequence of games! - came about. How many people are there, what brought them all together? How do they engage with the material?

    Fascinating stuff!
  • There are five of us, including me. I recently got into the narrative RPG scene, and I dragged them with me. I choose games and GM; we usually play for one or two hours and definitely prefer one-shot and quick games. They mostly enjoy it for the chance to say and do crazy things in-game. For example, I started this Ghost/Echo session by asking everyone what their "superpower" was. Hull went with a magical north-of-England accent that allowed him to talk directly to computers without having to fully interface.
  • Sounds great! I'd love to ask you a few more questions, if that's ok with you:

    How many times have you played, and what games?

    Were any of the people totally new to this kind of pastime?

    If so, how have they adjusted over time?

    Have you played any GMless games? Are you generally the GM?

    What's your role in the family?

    What are the roles and ages of the others?

    How often do you play, and for how long? Do you have any trouble getting everyone together, or is this an activity that takes priority for everyone?
  • To answer your questions, in order:

    We've played three times together so far: Lasers and Feelings, Ghost/Echo, and The Leviathan Manifesto. (I'm actually in the early stages of a personal project to rewrite the rules to TLM in such a way that they fit on a set of standard-sized playing cards. The idea is that you can fit the rules inside the box along with the deck of cards and have a portable "kit".)

    All of us were, and still are, completely new to this. It's too early to see any real adjustment, but the ideas of role-play, obeying a dice roll, narrating actions, and the like all took hold very quickly.

    TLM is mostly GMless, but it needs someone to set the scene and explain the rules at the start. I'm generally GM and our play sessions are generally my initiative -- I'm the only one who's motivated enough to actually seek out new and interesting games!

    In terms of familial roles, ages, et cetera, I mean no offense when I say that this is not information I'm comfortable posting online.

    It generally takes us about an hour and a half to do a one-shot game; we don't play often or regularly enough to do anything over multiple sessions. It's a spur-of-the-moment, rainy-afternoon type of activity.
  • Thank you for answering those! It's very interesting.

    As for asking you about more information on your family, I understand entirely if that seems rather overly personal.

    I always try to ask about such things because the idea of a family playing RPGs together fascinates me. I've never had that opportunity myself, despite many attempts, nor have I ever seen another family succeed.

    I'm not looking for personal details, of course (and, in any case, you're a new, anonymous poster, so no one has any idea who you might be). I'm just curious about whether you introduced the entire family to the games, and, if so, how you heard about them in the first place. Was it difficult to get started, or did you already have a sense of what to do and how to do it?

    I'm curious whether we're talking about a child asking their family to join them for a fun time, an adult organizing this as a family activity, or something else - a neighbour or a grandparent joining a family to play a game together? If older people are involved, how are they taking to the activity? Do the younger people and older people engage with it differently?

    Do all the players live together, or are some of them visiting, neighbours, relatives, etc?

    As you can see, I have lots of curiosity and lots of questions. I understand entirely if you don't want to answer them, but if you change your mind, please do come back with whatever information you're comfortable sharing. (There's no need to share anything overly personal or identify anything specifically, of course!)

    In any case, please do continue posting as you play other games. It's really heartwarming to hear about a family doing this together!
  • I'm surprised that you say you haven't seen any families succeed at this. Have you seen any fail? From my family, I find that the trick is to do as little introduction as possible and keep it light. I wouldn't have started by playing Lady Blackbird, for example; that's fairly complex and needs explanations of what keys are, what secrets are, et cetera. Leviathan Manifesto is brilliant because you literally need a deck of cards, a single A4 page of rules, and the rest is made up by the players on the fly. I might work up to LB later, but for now we keep it simple. We do have the standard problem of personal family arguments being rehashed within the game, but in general we can rise above that.
    (Interestingly enough, those members of the family who are married are much more comfortable with romantic subplots than those who are not.)
    All of us live together, which I think is also a large part of why it works so well. We're a nuclear family: mother, father, children.
    The biggest factor, though, is probably that we share a sense of humour. There are families where some people like nothing but puns and others enjoy long-drawn-out cerebral jokes in Medieval Latin; trying to get these people to play together is probably not worth your time. (This is, incidentally, a problem I've had with Apocalypse World ever since I came across it: I know it's part of the MC's prerogative to set the tone, but the rulebook seems to put forward a very serious world, full of sadness and death, and I think most people like a little bit of humour. We certainly do, and when the game doesn't have any built in the players tend to inject plenty, so I don't think AW would work for us.)
    There's really no difference between the way we engage with the game for any of the dividers you would expect: age, gender, et cetera don't matter at all. This is possibly because we do commit to the roleplay: it doesn't matter that you're a fifty-year-old white-collar worker in the real world when you're a twenty-year-old computer hacker in the game world.
    As for getting started, I am unashamed to admit that I ran my first game on pure adrenaline. It was difficult and it was scary, but the players picked it up very quickly and subsequent sessions have been far easier to plan. I had never played before, so I'm basically making up the "13Clocks rules of GMing" as I go along. I haven't done anything awful yet, so in my book that's a success!
  • edited January 2018
    I was not asked but, yes, family play works. When family meetings last more than a day, we throw a game in (D&D, Rêve - Ars magica french equivalent in a much lighter tone, Lady B., along with MtG and game boards). Also when the time is long, the kids play pretend, and I introduce different devices (similar to Levity games and map drawing) to see how things work and feel.
  • edited January 2018
    Excellent answer(s)!

    Yeah, I've yet to see a family where everyone can get on the same page in terms of attention span, interest level, and time spent. Some people, in my experience, just "don't get" roleplaying or story gaming, at some fundamental level - that is, they can do it, but they don't understand why it's fun or engaging, or why you would bother doing it in the first place. Others just don't understand the creative commitment necessary (perhaps they're used to playing games where, when it's not your turn, you can run off to the kitchen or take a phone call). Finally, getting your teenage sibling interested in something which also appeals to your grandfather can be a challenge, to say the least.

    If you're a married couple + children, I can see that being somewhat easier than, say, a grandparent, a neighbour, and your teenage daughter's weird boyfriend who is visiting.

    You're right that Apocalypse World, as written, is a very 'serious' game (it doesn't help that it features some very "adult" themes throughout - violence, sex, drug addiction, dysfunctional relationships, and so forth - that may take it out of the running for a family with young children, for example). It's worth noting, though, that playing a game with serious themes does NOT mean that playing isn't fun or that you can't make jokes and have a good time. In my experience, except for players who are really hardcore about 'maintaining the atmosphere', even in games with very serious subject matter there can be lots of jokes and laughter up here, in the "real world", even as the characters get into some heavy drama.

    I'd love to hear about your experiences as a first-time GM. It's long been assumed that this almost never happens - i.e. most people never run a game without having first been introduced to the activity by other, experienced gamers. Whether someone can learn to roleplay just by, say, reading a rulebook, has long been a point of debate among roleplayers and theorists. (Examples of such things are very rare!)

    However, the modern world is quite different, because we now have the ability to listen to or watch other people playing on the internet. (e.g. my recent thread on Critical Role and the Rise of D&D.)

    Did you have any experiences with that at all?

    Have you ever listened to or watched others play?

    What gave you the sense that you knew what to do - at least enough to suggest it as an activity you could facilitate/run/moderate?

    How did you become interested in this in the first place?

    What parts came easily to you, and which were awkward, difficult, or totally incomprehensible? And for your fellow players?
  • I'd love to hear about your experiences as a first-time GM. It's long been assumed that this almost never happens - i.e. most people never run a game without having first been introduced to the activity by other, experienced gamers. Whether someone can learn to roleplay just by, say, reading a rulebook, has long been a point of debate among roleplayers and theorists. (Examples of such things are very rare!)
    A point of debate? Really? O_o

    I am one of those rare examples, then. I taught myself how to DM by reading BECMI Basic D&D at age 10, with no previous idea of what a RPG was. I was a terrible DM, of course, but perseverance helped - as well as forays into a number of non-D&D RPG books other the next few years. Most of my fellow players were first-timers, as well, with nobody but me to teach them how to play RPGs (I pity them).
  • Yes! I was also somewhat self-taught, but not entirely from scratch (I was introduced to some of the rules by an adult, who then gave me the Player's Handbook).

    I'm particularly curious to hear about an adult's version of the same journey, however - that's got to be significantly different.
  • What gave me the sense that I knew what to do? Sheer chutzpah and -- dare I say it -- arrogance, mainly. I've been interested in the indie-gaming and narrative-video-game (Edith Finch, Gone Home) scene for a while, as well as interactive fiction. I ran across Lasers and Feelings on itch.io and thought I would give it a shot. I've never watched online play, and I've never been a participant in any game other than my own. Really, this forum thread is the only contact I have with a wider community. Narrative focus probably made it easier: I didn't have to learn spells or complex dice rolls or anything like that. As long as we were all telling a story, I felt I was doing it right.

    I actually do fall under the heading of being quite hard-core about "maintaining the atmosphere". I've moderated myself in that regard, realising that my players prefer a bit of banter and joking around, but my big gaming ambition, which is probably a few years off at least, is to run a long-term, multi-session game of something like classic DnD or AW: something big and complex with rules and stats and tables and figures. I don't have the skills or the players for that, but maybe I will some day!

    On a different note, but possibly helpful to other self-taught GMs, I've been reading Impro by Keith Johnstone. He's an acting coach who specialises in improvisation, and he's written the book on creating stories from nothing. It's taught me some of the best tricks in my repertoire.
  • edited January 2018
    Very interesting! Quite an inspiring story.

    How are you so well-versed, then, in the field of roleplaying (enough to know about, say, AW, and the style of play involved in a long-term game)? Have you just done a lot of reading online, on forums and such? Or something else?

    I'd love to hear in as much detail as you are willing to muster what GMing a game absolutely "from scratch" was like. Were you nervous? Did you have any trouble describing what the game was going to be like to your family, when you had never played one yourself? Did you or other players engage in any practices that were, ultimately, not appropriate or functional for roleplaying, and have to correct them?

    (I do a lot of roleplaying/story games with people new to the hobby, and usually at least someone does or says something which is a fun idea, but crosses an important line in the premise of the activity, and we have to have a chat about how they shouldn't do that - or adjust our playstyle!)

    On a sidenote, I don't think a more complex or long-term game would be out of your reach at all. Most of the complexity of roleplaying comes in the fictional shared imaginary space, and remember to operate according to the rules of the "conversation" you're engaged in. If your players are capable of the discipline of "maintaining the atmosphere" (which is entirely unnecessary to successful gaming, by the way, although it's sometimes desirable - I think of it as a spice rather than as a fundamental ingredient), then they'll have no problem mastering some basic rules.

    For instance, old-school D&D or a game like AW requires you to take in a lot of fictional detail, but the rules themselves (especially from a player's perspective) are very few and very simple. In basic D&D, you just say what you do and the GM tells you to roll some dice occasionally. In AW, you need to know your character's moves (typically 2 or 3 of them), but otherwise you just play your character, and, when a basic move comes up (which, at first, the MC can be in charge of entirely), read the appropriate text, roll the dice, and follow its directions.

    When you're playing long-term, it's even less of an issue, because you have time to learn the rules slowly as you go, instead of trying to absorb them all within an hour or two.

    Granted, there are other games (modern D&D, Burning Wheel, etc) which DO require a much more nuanced understanding of a large set of rules and fine points; nevertheless, many "involved, long-term" games do not require that at all. You might enjoy my Middle Earth game, for instance, which, aside from understanding your character's Key Traits and Victories, doesn't require any real rules knowledge on behalf of the players or the GM at all - Thus began the adventures of Eowyn....

  • To answer your questions in order:

    I did a lot of reading around, following links, looking at lists of "my favourite RPGs", et cetera. It was really research in the same way that you would research anything else: find an expert, read their work, and see what other experts they cited. I started from Lasers and Feelings, read through everything I could get for free off One.Seven's website, and that gave me a set of terms to Google. It all spiralled somewhat out of control from there.

    True, I had never played a game like this before, but just from cultural references we were all aware of how DnD basically worked -- we at least got the ideas of characters, dice rolls, et cetera. Starting with Lasers and Feelings was very helpful because if anyone had a question about the rules it didn't take long to find the answers on the sheet. We'd also all seen Star Trek, so we got the "atmosphere" of the game and understood the basic premise of flying around the galaxy in a cool starship. I started by asking what kind of plot points they wanted, and we eventually settled on "space dragons". From there, I added in some ideas I'd prepped half an hour before. The one thing I knew I needed going in was a sense of drama and excitement, so I started them off by having them fighting a dragon in space. Once they landed, I was able to get in some worldbuilding and actual plot, leading on to an investigative scene, and then another fight, with a bigger, badder dragon, to round the whole thing off. My conscious thought process really didn't go beyond Dramatic Writing 101 stuff, and I did at one point have to stop the game for a minute or two because I had no idea where to go next, but on the whole I managed to keep it flowing. The players wouldn't ever misbehave as such; this was my idea, not something we'd been kicking around for a while, and I think to a large extent they wanted to humor me. Once they realised how fun it was, we were away.

    My worry with running a big game isn't absolutely about remembering the rules. It's more about consistency. I don't think I'm practiced enough yet to hold an entire universe in my head and in my notes over tens of hours of play, and I really really don't want my players to be able to trap my NPCs in an inconsistency. That's one thing I learned very quickly: players are dangerous things. You can set up a whole world for them to explore, and they unfailingly go and find the one bit that you didn't fully prepare. I think my biggest mistake starting out was actually writing campaigns instead of -- and I know it's a cliché by now -- playing to find out what happened.
  • I'm curious how long the process of research and learning you describe took!
    My worry with running a big game isn't absolutely about remembering the rules. It's more about consistency. I don't think I'm practiced enough yet to hold an entire universe in my head and in my notes over tens of hours of play, and I really really don't want my players to be able to trap my NPCs in an inconsistency. That's one thing I learned very quickly: players are dangerous things. You can set up a whole world for them to explore, and they unfailingly go and find the one bit that you didn't fully prepare. I think my biggest mistake starting out was actually writing campaigns instead of -- and I know it's a cliché by now -- playing to find out what happened.
    At some point in my role-playing career, it changed my perspective immensely - and made my GMing life a lot easier - when I realized we weren't going to play "gotcha" off inconsistencies. This requires, of course, everybody to be down with the idea that there's no competition of any sort going on between the current GM/MC/whatever and any other players. Once you collectively adopt that mindset, you're helping each other avoid or fix inconsistencies, instead of exploiting them in a way disruptive of the game; no one ever has to hold it all in their head all by themselves, because all are helping everybody remember.
  • Yes. That's a really helpful switch in attitude.

    Another is that's if the players do something clever to "trap" an NPC in some way, they're probably feeling good about it. Play into their hands!

    That's really fun for everyone involved.
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