Friday, April 29, 2011

Fantasy Weddings / If this were D&D, a dragon would have eaten somebody by now

Right now the royal wedding is on in the background, and I found myself looking at Westminster Abbey and all the gathered dignitaries, the tradition and the military dress uniforms, and thought:

"Wow! That's pretty awesome. All we need now is for a dual with magic swords, a gatecrashing dragon and a minor comedic scuffle between Dwarf and Elf nations, and this would rock."

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to happen. 
Once I had shaken off this crushing disappointment, I decided to blog about it. I'd draw a parallel between real world royal weddings and fantasy RPG weddings. I'd point out that the world would be scandalised that the Drow ambassador had been invited, yet the Half-Elves had not, as they are not recognised as a separate race, stuff like that. The dress would be woven out of gossamer thread from the Feywild, and the groom would arrive on a griffin wielding the blazing sword of office.

My next thought was, I'm gonna need some pictures to illustrate this. 

But, to my surprise, there are no actual D&D wedding pictures that Google can find me. In fact, there are no Forgotten Realms ones either. I even tried LRP and LARP weddings, as they love a good wedding, and nothing. 
The Google image search of Dungeons and Dragons Wedding did throw up a picture of a lovely young girl whose modesty was protected only by a Sega Dreamcast console and two controllers. 
I kid you not. 
I swear i wasn't looking for it. 

Final Fantasy didn't let me down.
I am disappointed that neither of them are a cat, though
So, a couple of genuine questions for all you gamers out there: 
Has a wedding ever featured in one of your games? 
Who got married - Player character(s) or NPCs?
Would you actually be engaged by an in-game wedding?

Long Distance Gaming / How to video conference for success and XP

I have two young kids, a house that's too small and I don't drive. Most of my gaming friends are steadily moving away. I am suffering from geek withdrawal, and my video games don't provide the same fix.
Whilst discussing a friends upcoming Hunter: the Vigil game via email, I was reminded that some people have managed to successfully play games using the internet - chat, IM, video conferences, stuff like that. I'd even looked into it myself a couple of years ago.

Could it work? Maybe...

So i've been poking around the internet (with moderate safe search on - i'm not a prude, but i'm not specifically looking for naked lady chat) and have found that the cool looking multi user white board featuring file uploading video conference site i'd used two years ago, Palbee, doesn't seem to exist anymore.
However, a site called Bigmarker does, and seems to do exactly the same thing, but with nicer graphics.

I'm thinking of inviting some friends to a test, but I do have some reservations:

  • Awkwardness - Will the heady thrill of genuine human contact be missed? Will we just look shyly at our hands like teenagers on a first date?
  • Dice rolling - So, how do we monitor this? I'm not explicitly accusing anybody of cheating here, more that I take an interest in my players rolls, which allows me to a) help translate roll results into action, and b) fudge stuff if the roll generally unsatisfactory. So, how do I see the dice? Should we use a dice roller program, or everybody have a second webcam pointed at a designated rolling space, or should I just unclench?
  • Character sheets - similar question to dice. I like to collect them in and keep hold of the character sheets at the end of each session. This prevents players turning up to sessions without their sheets. Players, it must be remembered, are prone to forgetting dice, pencils, books, character sheets, miniatures and their own names, so i feel this is an understandable precaution. 
  • Character creation & book reference - this usually involves sitting down the player(s) and the relevant books. Seeing as most gamers I know don't actually buy the books, it's down to the GM to bring them along. Not really possible over the net. Not unless I get creative with a web cam or scanner.

I'm hoping the benefits will out weigh the costs, though, namely that I can game with my buddies, and not actually leave my living room. Result.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gumshoe / Setting a trap for the bad guy

I like Gumshoe games. I own Trail of Cthulhu, The Esoterrorists and Fear Itself, and plan to invest in Mutant City Blues at the very least.
I like the investigative slant to the games, especially as the systems provide a fit for purpose medium for playing games that ape popular TV shows: CSI, Criminal Minds, The Mentalist, X Files et al.
I really appreciate a good cop drama / murder mystery, especially the quirky end of the spectrum.
I do have a problem, though, and its nothing to do with the system. It's about how you play the game.
Many crime dramas, at one point or another, will set a trap for the bad guy. The trail of clues has led as far as its going to, and the detectives are now at a loss.
Enter the maverick investigator, who creates an elaborate and entertaining trap for the killer, one designed to identify the perpetrator and separate them from the pack of suspects. This device is used almost weekly in The Mentalist.
How could you do this in a game? As a device, its fun, dramatic and rewarding, and a massive narrative contrivance.
For it to exist in a game, a number of things need to happen.
The plot must have presented enough clues and detail to allow the set up.
The GM must be willing to run with such a device, and able to think on their feet fast enough to do so
The players must be creative enough to coke up with a workable model, and have gathered enough evidence already to create such a trap.
As it stands, the missing ingredients that prevent such devices occurring in my games are, unfortunately, my ability as a GM to line up the clues and run with such a high degree of player creativity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Little Boy Lost / Caught in the Thorns

I had this story idea back when I was running my Hunter game, and I've been prompted to think of it again following recent events in my personal life.
My idea for the Hunter game was to create a sympathetic antagonist that maybe they didn't want to stop, but probably should.
I settled on a Changeling freshly escaped from captivity and returned home from her time in the hedge, changed and confused.
The Changeling was taken when 10 years old, and has matured some 8 years whilst in Arcadia. Unfortunately time in our world has not moved as swiftly, and she has been gone only a year.
Of course, she hasn't been missing. A Fetch took her place and has been living her life for the past year.
When the Changeling turns up at her family home, she finds an 11 year old girl made of twigs and leaves who looks like she did and answers to her name.
Her family turn her away and call the Police.
She escapes, and with nowhere else to go, follows her family.
The Fetch fears discovery greatly, and begins manifesting powers to evade detection and to expose the Changeling, but not before a family member is convinced of the truth.
Acting together, this 'converted' family member and the Changeling kidnap the Fetch, their intent to find out what it is and what is happening.
At this point, the Hunters enter. They are alerted by the kidnapping, and the reports of the strange girl and her insane stories.
As they track and find the Changeling, she uses her obviously supernatural Contracts and abilities to escape.
She returns to where she has the Fetch imprisoned, and as the Hunters confront her again, the Fetch is killed and explodes in a shower of leaves, string and rags.
The Changeling collapses as if wounded, and the perceptive amongst the Hunters will notice a ragged shadow escape from the Fetch's corpse and flee to the dark corners of the room.
This story arc should take about two sessions to play out, and hopefully should surprise the Shit out of the players.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The perfect crime? / Post update

I have integrated my Aeon Trilogy books with the rest of our book case stock.

I wonder if my wife will notice...

Aeon Trilogy / Hiding stuff from my wife

I am a criminal. I went up in the loft this afternoon, on legitimate house storage business, and took the opportunity to re-introduce my Aeon Trilogy books to our shelves.
Adventure! was already there, so why not usher them all out into the open...

I love these games. They're Pulp, Cyberpunk and Superhuman games that run together into a two century long epic plot of human potential.
System wise, they birth both Exalted / Scion and New World of Darkness.
Presentation wise, they revitalized WWs book format, with in-genre setting material for the first half, and system & storytelling at the back. This made the first half readable as a standalone book. Rawrsome!

The three main books received critical acclaim when published, but didn't do well enough on the sales front to warrant continued support. Trinity, as the first game, received about a dozen supplements / story modules, and Aberrant got about six-ish. Adventure! stood alone, but was such a work of transcendental genius that it didn't need anything.

Let me be clear on that last point.
Adventure! is possibly THE best game of all time. Ever. Hands down.

Anyways, I was looking round the new WW website last week, and couldn't find anything to do with these games. Have they stopped supporting them? It would be a tragedy if they have.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Object based story idea / Briefcase full of trouble

I've had this idea floating around in my head for a couple of years now. So long, in fact, that it's probably reached the point where i'll never use it, so you can have it for free. Please be good to my baby.

The idea is: One of the players, or an NPC associated with the players (preferably somebody they are bound to, like a younger sibling, best friend or lover), 'acquires' a briefcase. They don't know who it belongs to, they just have it now. They're not too keen to tell you how they got it, but they are keen to see what it is that's rattling inside it.

The briefcase is average size, clearly expensive, and locked. It's easy enough to jimmy the lock, though, with a little effort. It clicks open on the first or second attempt, leaving barely a scratch on the exterior faux leather.

Inside the briefcase is a whole load of trouble.
There's a gun with at least one bullet down.
There's a kilo of coke or smack.
Some money, about a grand, with specks of blood across the edges.
An envelope containing photos of a naked and unconscious high school girl.
A 2gig memory stick full of spreadsheets, names, dates and map references.
A diamond ring.
The keys to a fast, expensive car.

From this point onwards, any number of things could happen. The players could decide to dispose of the briefcase and its contents. They might want to keep or use some of the stuff inside. They might think the best course of action is to turn it into the proper authorities. They might seek advice from somebody more experienced, or more influential.

What will happen is they will become aware that they are being followed. Maybe by government suits, maybe by the Police, maybe by mobsters, maybe by all of them. Their houses and flats will get turned over. People they know will be intimidated, roughed up or even wake up dead.
Finally, the person who 'acquired' the briefcase will be arrested and charged with a string of heinous crimes - murder, drug trafficking, espionage, rape, fraud, kidnapping, robbery.
The evidence is overwhelming - witnesses placing the character at the scene of all crimes, video tapes, phone taps, forensics, legal documentation, motive, opportunity, means. It does not look good.

There are, however, at least two ways out of it.

  1. Commit a crime, put something from that crime inside the briefcase, and then allow somebody else to steal the briefcase. This is the easy option.
  2. Solve all the other crimes that have been covered up by the briefcase. This is the hard option.

So what is the briefcase? It's a magic item that diverts all suspicion and evidence of a crime from the actual perpetrator and onto an 'innocent' patsy instead. The unlucky patsy has to steal the briefcase and open it, and then suddenly becomes the chief suspect in multiple serious criminal investigations, and any 'unofficial' investigations that any wronged parties may be pursuing.

For example: Fingers Malone shoots Micky the Hat in the face after an argument about a card game. Fingers needs to lose the gun, fast, and needs to get himself an alibi faster. He puts the gun in the briefcase and leave the briefcase on the front seat of his unlocked car which he then parks in a bad part of town. Inevitably the briefcase is stolen by Sniffy Smith, a loser meth head looking for his next pipe. Within a week Sniffy is arrested for the murder of Micky the Hat after his DNA and finger prints are discovered at the crime scene, and Micky's mother recalls Micky arguing with somebody fitting Sniffy's description. A couple of days later, Sniffy is ganked with a shiv in the prison showers after Micky's gang pay another inmate to teach him a lesson.

Had Sniffy wanted to get out of the situation, he would either have had to prove that Fingers had shot Micky the Hat, or stash some evidence of his most serious crime to date in the briefcase and have it stolen.
Unfortunately Sniffy isn't smart enough to do either, so is sent down the river and dies of a perforated kidney shortly afterwards.
Poor Sniffy.

The wireless keyboard on my desk top PC died the other night. Luckily shortly after completing a sentence. I was left with the dilemma of either a) publishing an incomplete post, or b) saving a draft until I sorted out my technical glitch.
I chose option a.

There are still a few points I wanted to cover with this post, and publishing them separately feels rather unsatisfying.

I tagged three games in the 'labels' field of this post: World of Darkness, The Esoterrorists and Fear Itself. Why? I'll tell you why...

For The World of Darkness, when running with the above story seed, I would try to play up the ethics involved. The player characters face a much harder road if they opt to travel the high road - i.e. not succumb to the 'get out of jail free' card the briefcase presents and either take the fall and become a scapegoat, or try to solve the other crimes and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The players themselves may already have committed a serious felony or two between them, and may relish the opportunity to get away with it. It would be easy to just let them, and in many ways, this is what should happen.
However, if they do choose this course of action, then they should have to make a high penalty Morality check, even if they're a Werewolf following Harmony (I guess - The book is all the way over there on my shelf, and it's late...).
So, the character can dispose of a potentially sticky problem, but they have to deal with the consequences of that - Morality loss - as they doom another innocent soul to life in prison/the death sentence/a grisly murder etc.

If the players are predisposed to investigating mysteries and bringing people to justice, then a Gumshoe game like Fear Itself or The Esoterrorists would work well with this object. Each item within the briefcase should provide a solid enough clue to begin an investigation into the crime and who committed it.
Additionally, there's the investigation into the briefcase itself. It should have as exotic a backstory as you can muster - a cursed item, created by a tempting demon of wrath? An Esoterrorist tool pulled from the Outer Dark? A haunted item powered by a ghosts regret?
Extended research into the briefcase's past should pull up clues to it's powers and history - hints at when it may have surfaced before, possibly in other forms - a bag, a book, a cloth sack - and who may have benefited or suffered from it in the past. Characters can expect to have to pour over newspaper archives, police records, local history and interview key witnesses before they can piece together what it does.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Using Film and TV to inspire games / Consistent Look and Feel part III

I've a running list in my head of films and TV Series that inspire me to run games, or that would serve as fine examples of games I already want to run. For example, i've previously mentioned how the Tom Cruise 'Valkyrie' movie made me want to run an Empire centric Star Wars game. I still maintain that it would rock. 

So, to complement my existing posts on Images and Music that make me think of the World of Darkness, here are the films and shows that, to me, serve as fine examples of the setting.

  • Sin City - The comic book counts as well. The corruption, endemic crime, moral decay and physical rot of Basin City shows how a World of Darkness city should look. The stark black and white images and stories of love, betrayal, loyalty and revenge all serve as excellent examples of the setting and its themes,and I swear to God that Marv is a Promethean
  • Night Watch - Opposing supernatural factions fight an occult cold war in a cramped and run down Moscow
  • Hellboy II: The Golden Army - I've only seen this the once, but i'll be damned if that's not a Changeling Goblin Market they find
  • Pan Labyrinth - This is such a good film, and could inspire a dozen or more Changeling: The Lost games. The horrific fairy tale elements are just fantastic, and could easily be excursions into the Hedge, with a True Fae tempting an innocent child into his court.
  • Dog Soldiers - A staple recommendation for Werewolf games, but more so Hunter games. The film doesn't focus on the Werewolf pack so much as it shines a spot light on how an organised cell can use tactics against a superior foe. Plus, I love it when a posh bird talks dirty.
  • Dark City - This is about a Mastigos Mage awakening to his power, and battling against Goetic Demons as he attempts to escape Pandemonium, with it's mazes, warping dimensions and mind bending effects.

TV Series
  • Being Human - I think this series really shows what can be done to make supernatural characters normal, assessable, believable, vulnerable and human. It shows three very different people struggling to cope with being a 'monster' whilst trying to lead the kind of normal life that should be denied them, to varying degrees of success.
  • True Blood - Let's be plain here, True Blood is the most direct example of World of Darkness Vampires available on popular media today. It shows the political hierarchies and intrigue, the compelling blood addiction, the effects of age, and Humanity loss on a Vampire, and has loads of nudity and a bag full of other supernatural critters knocking about. 
  • Twin Peaks - A fine inspiration for a Hunter game, as an FBI agent stumbles across a small town that's being systematically corrupted by what could be a demon, or one of the True Fae, or maybe a Spirit. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Cult Initiation / An introduction to RPGs

In my last post I mentioned my efforts to recruit one of my work friends into Role Playing. As part of this exercise I squandered valuable work time to write him an email that outlined some very basic concepts of the hobby.
I have smuggled it out of work for your reading pleasure...

So, I'm such a big geek that I really want to talk about this now, and I probably wasn't going to do any work now anyway…

RPGs require a structured system. All participants have set roles and responsibilities. There is usually a robust conflict resolution system and other rules in place to help arbitrate success and failure, and degrees thereof.

Most games, and there are more games out there than you could possibly imagine, require one person to take on a facilitation role. This role has a number of names, depending on which game you're playing. Dungeons and Dragons uses a Dungeon Master (DM). Most generic games use a Games Master (GM). My favoured system uses a Storyteller. Other titles include Director, Narrator and Story Guide.

Irrespective of title, they all pretty much do the same thing.
Describe the game world that the players interact with
Portray other fictional characters that the players interact with (these are called NPCs - Non-Player Characters)
Arbitrate disputes and rules decisions (i.e. prevent the 'I hit you' 'no you didn't' five year old child argument)
Move the story forward - this is the hardest bit, as it requires the GM to keep the players motivated, interested and challenged
Design the game world, plot stories and plan encounters - This is as hard as the GM wants to make it. Some games provide pre-published adventures, so the GM only needs to run the story as written. Some GMs prefer to 'wing it' and just improvise a story as they go on. Others will spend hours researching historical detail and present an entirely accurate 17th Century Venice and all the murder and intrigue that setting could suggest. Others just fudge it and produce games that are as true to life as most Hollywood movies, but have explosions and cool stuff, so that's alright.

The players create a character each, using a detailed process laid out in the games main rules. Characters have two threads - personality and statistics. Some people confuse the two, but they're knob heads.

A player's role is to interact with the world that the GM presents, and to interact with the other players. 'Interaction' can include - climbing walls, lurking in shadows, seducing wenches, murdering cuckolding uncles, stealing stuff, being witty, plotting revolution, disarming bombs, shooting people dead, driving cars - whatever.

Different games have different focuses. Dungeons and Dragons, for example, is massively focussed on killing monsters and getting magic items. Works in a similar fashion to World of Warcraft et al.

The procedural games I mentioned, Gumshoe, focus on unravelling mystery, finding clues, solving puzzles and often running away from horrific monsters. Then there are the social games, that focus on politics, social hierarchies, intrigue, betrayal and revenge.

Nobody plays games that focus on love, forgiveness and chastity.

Many games have rules that govern when and how your character can go mad, how 'good' or 'bad' a person they may be and deal with complicated themes.

Many others deal with simple themes, like smiting evil and killing monsters.

Next time we'll talk settings, genres and tropes.

Dice - We throw these at Power Gamers

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Cult initiation / Getting new people into the hobby

I'm a bit of a secret geek at work, and don't, as a rule, publicize my gaming hobby. About ten years ago some work colleagues found out that I did Live Action Roleplay (at the time), and I didn't hear the end of it. Of course, finding a full suit of leather armor, foam sword and shield and a leather cloak in someone's closet is very different to finding some D&D books and some dice...
However, one of my rare work friends has recently expressed an interest in table top RPG. He's been listening to some pod casts about MineCraft, Yog-pod or similar, which also includes some recorded D&D sessions. He seems to think these are very cool, and has asked for more information. I think he's mostly into the fact players can essentially choose their own course of action, rather than be limited the way MMORPGs do.

I've been cultivating this interest in the hopes he'll try it out. I've written a brief overview of the hobby, which I'll try to post up here if I can get it off works servers.

My game collection is White Wolf / World of Darkness heavy, but with Star Wars Saga Ed, Trail of Cthulhu, Esoterrorists, Fear Itself and In Nomine as well.

What's a good intro game for a new player from this lot?

Saturday, April 9, 2011

White Wolf / Reports of their death have been greatly exaggerated

A few weeks ago, whilst reviewing World of Darkness: Mirrors, I pretty much stated that White Wolf were no longer publishing game books, and were now just a legacy holding of CCP.

Yeah, I was wrong. Which is fine. I'm not an industry insider, and I'm often wrong. I live with being wrong on a daily basis. Just ask my wife (ba dum dum).
I also don't mind being wrong about this as I enjoy White Wolf games immensely.

However, I would like to share with you the extent of my wrongness. Enjoy...

One man grass roots campaign / getting geek books on Kindle

I've recently posted my thoughts on the Amazon Kindle and e-book publishing within the RPG world.
Then I got my wife a Kindle for Mothers Day. More correctly, our children did, but they're both under four, so there you go.
Anyways, I was mightily impressed with what a Kindle can do.
Yeah, It's not much good for anything other than reading, but the fact that it allows you to read pretty much anything is awesome.
PDFs, Word Docs, Open Office docs, html, web pages, other fruit formats, plus mp3s and audio books. Fantastic!

Which brought me back to my original train of thought: why can't you get geek books on the Kindle?
A friend at work writes novels, and his first book on the Kindle. He states that It's piss easy. If he can do it as a part time author, then a full time publishing house should have no issues.
Therefore I have started a one man campaign, and I am wondering if you will join me.
When you view a book on the main Amazon site, there's a link that says "tell the publisher that you would like to see this book on Kindle" or some such.
I have been going through the gaming books I own and / or want and clicking this link.
I believe more people should do so.