Over the holidays I finally had a chance to play Novi Novi TRPG: The Horror. I had high expectations for it being an accessible TRPG to play with my wife, but it didn’t quite work as well as I had hoped. It’s a good game, it just wasn’t a good fit for us.
For background, my wife’s experience with TRPGs is playing a game of Magicalogia and seeing me play games of D&D and FFG Star Wars. We’ve watched a number of zombie shows and movies together, so I thought the horror theme would be a better hook than fantasy. To my surprise, she was more engaged with Magicalogia, which is more complex and included making characters. We played Magicalogia with three people, so having an extra person may have helped with engagement.
A Quick Refresher
As a refresher on Novi Novi TRPG, it’s a quick game where the story is generated by drawing cards. An Introduction card sets the background; several Story cards shape the scenes; and then a Climax card concludes the game. Characters are defined by the Power and Technique attributes, and each has a unique Skill. Characters gain additional Light (positive) or Dark (negative) abilities based on the result of each scene. Each Story card sets a scene and defines a dice-based test or role playing prompt. The role of GM rotates with each story card.
The Horror Begins
After explaining the gist of the game, we picked our characters. I chose the reporter and she chose the priestess. The reporter’s special ability is to say, “I’ve heard about that…” and add a +2 bonus to his roll. The priestess is adept at banishing evil spirits, so can roll 4D6 instead of a normal check if the GM determines the scene is spiritual.
Next we drew the Introduction card “Full of Zombies!” to set the stage. Zombies roamed the town, and whether they could be saved or not had to come after surviving.
This was followed the “Sticky” story card, where the priestess was covered in a mysterious sticky fluid while escaping the zombies. Rolling her Technique, the priestess succeeded in cleaning the substance from herself and drew the Archaeologist Light Card, giving a +1 bonus to Technique.
Following our sticky situation was the “Attack!” card, and my turn as a player. For this card, the GM rolls 2D6 to determine the number of creatures attacking my character, which also sets the difficulty. I unfortunately didn’t beat the target number, so drew the “Came from Edo” Darkness Card. With the new detail of my reporter coming from the Edo period, we flavored my character as using traditional writing instruments. The mechanical benefit was that I could substitute a sword roll with a 50% chance of success instead of a normal check.
Now came the “Nightmare” card, which put a damper on the game. The priestess had a bad dream where she was betrayed by the other player characters. Unlike the other story cards, this was a pure role-play card, so no dice roll was required. Instead, the GM determines if the RP was successful or not. She had trouble thinking of how to role play this, so we ended up abbreviating it as a success saying, “it was just a dream.” I didn’t mind skipping the scene, but despite my reassurances, it made her self-conscious and feeling that she wasn’t good at the game, which broke immersion. The end result was she got the the “Agent” card that provides a +1 bonus to tests by other characters.
The roles again switched and my reporter stumbled upon a “Desolate Park”. A squeaking sound preceded the appearance of a young boy riding a toy sheep. Drawing closer, he called out, “Play with me.” Not wanting to stick around, my reporter tried to run, but failed the check, netting him the “Criminal” Darkness card. This card simply gives a +1 to Power, but we flavored it as him becoming an overly aggressive paparazzi.
Next, the priestess had a “Final Battle”, which she unfortunately lost and became “Infected”, giving +2 Power and -1 Technique.
With the GM and player rolls switching again, it was time for the final story card before the climax. I drew the “Create a Barrier” card, and a mysterious girl appeared, shouting, “I’m going to create a barrier! Restore the guardian statues at the four corners!” In order to do so, I had to roll 6D6 and have four numbers in sequence (eg roll a 2, 3, 4, and 5). This check could be repeated up to four times, but my luck changed and I got it on the first roll. For my one and only Light card, I drew the “Gothic Lolita” NPC card, gaining +1 Power.
With both of us completing three story cards each, it was time for the climax. We drew the “Was everything a dream?”, and our characters awoke at the foot of a mountain. As the reporter and priestess surveyed the area, they felt that a stone fox statue was grinning at them, and wondered who had helped them. For this card, each player rolled a D6. The player with the highest roll chooses a Light or Dark card to have saved the player characters. In our case, I rolled highest and chose the Gothic Lolita as our rescuer from the horror.
After the game finished, I asked my wife for impressions, and she said that she had trouble getting into character. She thought that people already into games or otaku would enjoy it, though. Reflecting on the game, we ironically had more role -playing with the dice-based tests than we did the free form RP card. I think for beginners in particular, having a concrete mechanic to focus on can help them relax and not feel as self-conscious about role-playing.
After finishing Novi Novi TRPG, we tried out the game Invictus: The King. At first hesitant because of the competitive gameplay, she was much more into this game than Novi Novi. Not familiar with the rules, I quickly read them and we ended up playing three games, with a few mistakes made in the first two. I’ll write more about our experience with Invictus next time.