I ended the post for my A Cozy Den game abruptly all things considered, even if it was for a joke. In truth, there’s a lot of things on my mind for both the session and the game. You could consider this to be a mashup of a review and an editorial.
So, let’s start from the top. As I said at the beginning of the session, the setting and premise are very interesting. The RPG industry is filled to the brim with fantasy games first, sci-fi games second, and rarely any room for other types of settings to crop up except for some variation of horror, leaving the other types being few and far in between. A good selling point for me is a setting that’s completely different from the norm, and A Cozy Den does exactly that. A slice of life game but the twist is that you’re a lesbian snake girl living with other lesbian snake girls.
However, I feel as though I did not properly play it. Of course, I don’t mean I flubbed the rules or anything, but rather I shot the meaning of the game in the foot. It was originally meant to be just a cozy, cute game about lesbian snake girls cuddling each other, and I turned it into this Lifetime soap opera. I did this for a lot of games, yes, but those other times were deliberate, like using a game based off an anime to instead have a Greek setting or setting a Cute Ship Girls doing Ship Things RPG in a film noir genre. This was more accidental.
My basic aim was to write a hurt/comfort story. You had Jessie who got kicked out of a bad home and then you had Steph who lost her love in a snowstorm. The overall idea was for the two to bond together and end up filling in the pieces. And yet… the chemistry didn’t mesh. My mistake was playing up Jessie to be this tough ass “I don’t give a crap” outlook until a moment where she breaks down and shares her feelings with Steph. And yet, that moment never happened. I probably should have made that a more likely possibility instead of leaving it up to CRGE-Kai to decide. It probably wouldn’t have changed a lot, but at least I could try and break out of the first stage.
The gameplay is very chill with how it’s played. There’s instructions on how to do the first scene, kinda like in Bliss Stage, though it’s mainly establishing what a particular Lesbisnake wants. And most of the time, that need would be randomly generated. This is a repeated process until players have a solid idea of what to do. Effectively, it’s training wheels. I kinda like this idea since it helps people who otherwise aren’t good at roleplaying to get their feet wet.
Another thing I liked were the Threat Cards. Usually in a PbtA game, rolling a six or less results in massive consequences, such as in Titan World, when rolling a six or less results in you meeting your end at the hands of a Titan. Here, the consequences are that of drawing a card. Most times, it results in damage to you or your Den. However, at the bottom of each card is a need, something to help drive the narrative. This also helps in creating a solid ground for players to work off of when starting out.
For an example, Jessie and Steph were rolling about until they got a Threat that had Steph losing her keys. This created a narrative where Steph had to go and look for the keys, which resulted in the internet being unplugged. Sometimes life is like that. One failure leads to another failure. For a good while, the game seemed to be pretty alright.
Then I decided to make a plot twist where Steph’s lover survived the blizzard. I guess this was okay to do, but it definitely smacked the romance angle away. Now it’s a story about how Jessie’s father was a jerk. And personally, I felt like that’s when I broke the theme of the game unintentionally. I mean, yeah, the game tried to go back into the comfort of having the two Lesbisnakes take Cassie in, but then Jessie’s father comes, they have a huge brawl, and it results in Steph basically killing the Manserpent. That definitely rubbed me the wrong way. Like, I feel like this is x-card territory right there. And then I had tried to do a bittersweet ending, but that’s when I decided “oh hey, remember how there’s this awkward period where it starts to become spring and then we get tons of sudden snowstorms?” and killed off the couple. That’s when I decided to end the session with a joke and here we are now, where I explain what I thought of the game.
As I mentioned before, the premise is a much needed rarity and the execution are good. However, there are some snags I have noticed. Not huge, game breaking snags like “roll under a small number with 3d6” but tiny, subtle snags. For instance, the move Cuddle isn’t necessarily a move in the same regard as others. There’s no results for rolling a success or a partial success like the others had. It’s instead a procedure where one party asks the other to cuddle. I mentioned how this might be the “free parking” move, where it’s a safe move to make because there’s no harm and no foul in using the move compared to the other six. However, you have to allocate that move to one of your seven stats.
Meaning that, if you decide to make Cuddling a move for your +3 Stat, then, unless the GM decides to have you roll for it, it’s practically useless. It could be me not understanding the move in particular. However, that brings me to the main topic of this review/editorial. See, I came to a revelation that Powered by the Apocalypse games aren’t my jam for one simple reason: the Moves.
It’s a weird thing, I know, but hear me out. In most RPGs, the actions you do are reflected in a broad series of stats. You want to lift weights? Roll Strength. You wanna jump high? Roll Dexterity. And so forth and so forth. Some games create a narrower yet equally broad set of stats called skills that dictate how good you are at a skill and thus in those cases, the two would be Athletics and Acrobatics respectively.
But with the Powered by the Apocalypse kind of games, while you do have stats, those stats apply to skills that are only specific to certain scenarios. Going back to Titan World, almost all the Moves have to do with one aspect of Attack on Titan: fighting the Titans. In order, one move has you avoid danger from Titans, aim to kill a Titan, kill that Titan (which you need to do twice), fight a dude hand to hand, become aware of a situation, try not to freak out, rescue someone from the jaws of death, and what is essentially a death save. For stuff outside of that, like gathering knowledge or conversing with people? Nope. Nothing.
Now, if these were just the set of skills you can roll off, that’d be fine, but the way the system is made, those skills are the only things you can use for rolling. And some of those skills are locked away to be used by higher leveled characters. It says something when the very first move I made in a PbtA game on this blog was Intimidate, an Advanced Move for the Warrior class in Titan World, simply because that was the only Move that fits the context of the scene.
I had to be really creative with how I were to use the seven skills in A Cozy Den, such as using Hunt to actually traverse from the den to outside or using Arrange the Den to look for the keys. It didn’t help that three of the seven moves have a very similar function: relaxing. Bask lets you lay in the sun, Nap lets you… well, nap, and I already mentioned what Cuddle does. However, Nap has the mechanical bonus of adding a +1 to your next check, which, when coupled with the “match the situation to your personality” part of the check, can result in a +2, which ends up being a far better advantage than just 1. Granted, each of the moves can be used in their right context, like, you need to get warm and you didn’t get to cuddle so you decide to bask. However, if you wanted to do anything other than rearrange the den, bask, nap, socialize, wrestle, hunt, or cuddle, then, well, you’re outta luck.
You can see how PbtA games can be extremely limiting. In a way, I find it very ironic. The game that best summarizes the kind of system I’m talking about with attributes and skills is D20, yet I rarely play D20 solo for the reason being that, for the most part, all of them are set in a similar fantasy setting. Meanwhile, the PbtA games have great, fantastic settings that stick out from the norm… and yet they have limitations to how you can play them. The only game that doesn’t have a problem like this is Headspace, since each character has their own three sets of skills and due to the mechanics of Headspace, anyone can use most or all the skills, as well as Dungeon World, which has the Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma skills condensed into their own respective moves. And I guess you can make the same extension to Apocalypse World.
Sure, you can have it be base rolls off the stats if you wanted to. Titan World, Night Witches, even Apocalypse World has basic stats to use for rolls. However, A Cozy Den doesn’t have normal stats. As I said before, it’s three levels of Femme, three levels of Butch, and a middle ground, and only three to four of those seven would get points. Contrast this with the other games. Apocalypse World gives you a choice of four sets of stats, all of which are balanced in terms of point totals and most always give at least three of the five stats points. Titan World, Night Witches, Headspace and Dungeon World gives more of a “assign these numbers to these stats” function, but it’s mostly the same: an average spread of points that guarantees that at most one stat has a 0. The only exception is Night Witches with the justification being that the point total goes to either 0 or 1 depending on what rank you are, that and there’s only four stats total, one of which automatically gets a 0 and it’s something you earn as you play the game.
I get what A Cozy Den is going for. Three varying degrees of Femme and Butch followed by the blend of the two. Not to mention allocating the seven Moves to the seven Stats. Thing is, I felt like it can be easier to utilize if it was just three stats: Femme, Butch and Futch (the blend), then assign two moves to each Stat, with Cuddle being a special move that isn’t dependant on stats. Though looking up the terms, I do notice how the spectrum of Femme to Butch is exactly the same as the spectrum in the game, right down to the middle section being called Futch. With that in mind, I now understand why there’s seven stats and why sizing it down to the three I mentioned wouldn’t have worked as well.
That said, it still doesn’t change my overall thoughts on the PbtA system. I guess I need to watch an Actual Play of a PbtA game to understand the overall context of how the game’s usually done, since it might be because of my overall dependence on rolling for even the most basic things if it invites just the slightest chance of failure, like what happened with the sudden snowstorm ending.
However, looking through the books made me think. Despite the limitations, I still enjoy the PbtA games and find them interesting. Winging it is one of the major things a GM has to do when doing a game, because there are chances where you’ll come across something that isn’t covered in the rules. So, I guess I just answered my own concerns with how PbtA games are played. It doesn’t help that my favorite game that I’ve played at CanGames was Circles of Power, a PbtA game.
One more thing I want to point out that I like about A Cozy Den: The Personality Chart. It’s a matrix of several personality traits that helps define what your character is like. Is your character platonic or lustful? Is she manic or lazy? You assign points to them to best sum up your character and then, later in the game, when you make a roll, you have the option to roll on the chart for a bonus, provided that the situation best suits the character’s personality. For instance, a lazy Lesbisnake would be able to nap easier because they can roll on their personality to get a +1 bonus on top of whatever bonuses their stat has. This concept is very good and even well balanced (even with a full 11 on your personality, you have a 2.78% chance of failing). However, I never found an appropriate time to utilize the personality chart, though that’s mostly due to the fact of the move list being limited, as I can only match up a few skills with a few contexts. However, with skill-based rolls like in D20, this actually works to its benefit, so it’s definitely a good idea.
Overall, A Cozy Den has this experimental feeling to it, taking a unique setting like Lesbisnakes living together, using a simplistic system like PbtA, and creating an overall “feel-good” kind of game that anyone can enjoy. For the most part, the experiment is a success and I had enjoyed playing the game. Despite some of the flaws I had with this game, which I can easily tweak out if I were to play the game again, I feel as though this would be a great game to play with friends, provided they’re okay with the concept. It’s definitely a breath of fresh air for me.