The Publisher: Magpie Games
Degree of Familiarity: About as much as you can have right now; I've played it a couple of times and I'm familiar with the underlying mechanics
Books Required: Technically just the one, though as the book itself points out it doesn't really go into some of the norms of PbtA games, so reading another such game is helpful. Not necessary for chargen, though
So, in Crossroads Carnival, you're playing the folks working in the carnival...but these folks are also monsters. The Dog-Faced boy is really a werewolf. The Seer can really speak to spirits and knows the future, and so forth. The game delves into some pretty heavy topics, but does so by taking a rich, bleak, fascinating time in history (the Dust Bowl, which you might already know I have an interest in if you've checked out Dark Eras) and framing it as literally the potential end of the world. That's what these monsters are fighting to prevent.
I've played it a couple of times now, and I gotta say I'm really keen to run it for one of my groups (I think that's funny because my one group that was going to play Alas for the Awful Sea has kinda backed off on that game because it's too heavy and they need something lighter, and what's my first thought? "Oh, how about this game about othering and abuse through the lens of a carnival." Anyway.).
Character creation works the way it usually does for PbtA games; choose a playbook first. I've got six to choose from, and I've played two (the Mermaid and the Seer), so I'll do something not-those. That gives me Dog-Faced, Geek, Snake Charmer, or Strongman to choose from. ARGH. I love them all.
I think I'll take Snake-Charmer; I almost played that the other night at QCC (wound up with Seer instead). I don't care for any of the names on the sheet, so I shall name my snake-charmer Xo (first sound is the palatal fricative like in "treasure"). For look I choose "modest," for eyes I choose "teasing," and for origin I choose "child of a basilisk."
Next, I figure out "Indulgence;" this is basically what my character hungers for that feeds his inhuman appetite. It doesn't have to be overtly predatory, but like, nothing senses you can't pick "eating human flesh with an erotic overtone" (which was the Mermaid's in the game I played in the other night).
Well, here's what I'm thinking so far: Xo is the child of a basilisk. He's never known either of his parents; his father (the basilisk) was long gone before he was born, and his mother sickened and died as he and his brother grew in her womb (his brother is his snake, obviously).
Ooh, I think I want his Indulgence to be "body heat." He wants to be warm, and the sun just doesn't do it. He needs to be next to people.
Next I do stats. I get to add one to one of my stats (which are Bones, Breath, Grace, and Guile). So what do I want to be good at? I'm thinking probably offering comfort, which keys off of Grace, so I'll add my point to that.
Now I do my pitch card (I learned about these playing the game; see more here). In context, it's a series of questions about the character:
- How did you end up at the carnival? I ran away from the orphanage I lived in at age 9 and wound up at the carnival. I was a young boy carrying a large snake; they adopted me right away. (NB: I think Xo would be a late teen in-game.)
- Why are you fighting on the side of humanity? My mother was a human. Humans are mostly OK, when they want to be. Really they are.
- Why don't you give in to your monstrous nature? I hate what it makes people do. I don't want to see them like that.
- What makes your cold blood run hot, no matter how much you resist? Kissing. It's so human.
- What or who has your snake killed that you're keeping hidden? One of the performers used to have a cat. My snake ate it. I still have its collar. I'm not sure why.
Moves! I get Forbidden Fruit by default (I dance with my snake-brother and I get people to do what I want, but I have to give them at least a glimpse of my flesh to seal the deal). The other choice is either Viper's Kiss (I'm venomous) or Shedding Skin (exactly that; I can shed my skin and alter my appearance). I think I'll take the former, but mostly because I don't really see the latter as appropriate to Xo. We'll call Viper's Kiss something he inherited from his father, and it's not something he's especially proud of.
And that's it! I really like this game.