Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mage Noire

Let's skip the brain trust explanation and get right into it.
You used to be normal. Now you're not.
You used to have a normal life. Now it's anything but.
One day you had this dream, an I right, about signing your name somewhere and all of a sudden your brain is tied to this other place where the scales are tipped in favour of mad crap and if you pull on the strings, you can make crazy stuff happen as well.
And then sometimes you pull hard and the string breaks and you fall on your ass. Or something falls on you. That smarts, yeah.
Maybe you joined one of them nutty secret societies with handshakes that fry your brain or stop your heart dead, or maybe you didn't. Your business anyhow.
Where we are now is that we could both kill each other with a word, and none of these chumps would even know it. Hell, everyone of these guys could be a corpse already, and the world just ain't cottoned on yet. You coulda done it. You probably didn't. Maybe I did.
But here you are. In my place. And I know who you are.
Your move, kid.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Allow your darlings to be murdered / Knowing when to let an NPC go

There's a decision that shapes a GM, one that separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad.
You've put in time and effort creating a Non-Player Character for your game. You've not just statted them, you've woven them into the very fabric of your game world. They have a name, a back story, concerns, interests, a personality, goals, hopes and fears.
This is a recurring antagonist. A nemesis. Someone who your players love to lock horns with, who they curse in the day and ally with in darkest need.
Then the players just kill them. Usually in a summary fashion that in no way hints to the greatness of this character.

What do you do? Let the character die? Move on? Start again?
Or snatch them from the jaws of death, resurrect them off screen or retcon their survival?

This is the test.

I recently had to make this decision, twice, in my weekly Night's Black Agents game.

I created the first actual vampire the players were to meet, who was supposed to thrash them within an inch of their lives before dying himself or fleeing or driving them off.
They pretty much cut his head off in the first round of combat with him, dropping him instantly.
OK. That's fine. He has healing powers and is supposed to be hard to kill and fucking scary. Fair enough. Let them have their victory.
Their surveillance cameras picked him up walking around and killing Mafia henchmen with his bare hands some ten, fifteen minutes later. That put the wind up them.

The next time they meet him, some four sessions later, they were sufficiently wary of his recuperative abilities to nuke the site from orbit. They wheeled a bomb disposal robot, packed to the rafters with C4, into the building he was in and remotely detonated it.

I spent the next week agonising over what to do.
He was a vampire with supernatural speed, reflexes, resilience and healing. Of anyone could have survived, it would be him.
But that would be a spit in the face to the players. They'd put everything they had into making sure that they killed this guy dead. It would be unsatisfying to deprive them off that kill.
But what about the narrative function that the NPC was supposed to serve? And what about all the effort I put into building him?

Let me tell you a story.
Back in the late 90s I played in a Vampire: the Dark Ages game. I was playing a 7th Gen Brujah based on the Crusader Tancred de Hautville, who was a lot of a bastard. One of the other players was a 7th Gen Tremere who specialised in the Thaumaturgical Path of Fear. This becomes important shortly.
For some reason we were fighting a horde of flesh eating zombies in a tunnel network beneath London. It turned out that the source of all of these
Undead was a Celestial Chorus mage (don't ask me why, I still don't know to this day). He told us to stop killing the zombies, or he'd have to stop us.
So we attacked.
Our tried and tested tactic was for the Tremere to use the Path of Fear, which reduced the targets dice pools by a sizable amount, often preventing them from acting, and then the rest of us would beat the shit out of them.
So, the Tremere used Path of Fear and rolled well, reducing the Mage's dice pool by 9 dice. This pretty much guaranteed his death. The rest of us surged forward.
At this point the Storyteller starts panicking and tells us that the Mage is teleporting out of the tunnels.
Well, this is patently impossible, not unless the Mage has an Arête score of 10 (Arête is the measure of a Mage's magical might. A score of 3 let's you throw fireballs. A score of 10 literally makes you an actual God), which is highly improbable.
But the Storyteller informs us that, yes, the Mage is a God and can create a fully functioning universe in 6 days or less.
He rolls his one dice, gets a success and has the Mage escape.
Fucking atrocious! 

To this day I find this deeply unsatisfying. I'm getting that empty, gnawing, hollow feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.
If only I could roll back time and punch the storyteller in the gut and shout "how d'ya like them apples?!"

Back to Night's Black Agents...
Should the vampire escape?
They found his severed arm in the rubble of the building, and the rest of him stuck in a collapsed bolt hole in the cellar.
Their play paid off. They get the rewards. My NPC gets to be interrogated, and if they're sloppy he may escape (sans arm). He'll probably die. That's fine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Horror tropes / Cabin in the Woods and Fear Itself

Once again I'm late to the party - I watched Cabin in the Woods for the first time last night.

The thing that makes it an enjoyable film, in my opinion, is the clear love of standard horror movie tropes throughout. My wife and I were both delighted by the gas station in the beginning and it's treasure trove of creepy genre signposts: fish hooks, bear traps, animal skins, pickled creatures, hunting goods etc. I wondered aloud if they'd modeled the cabin on the one from Evil Dead. The scene where the victims choose the transgression for which they'll be punished is wonderful, as is Fran Krantz' line "I'm drawing a line in the sand, no one is reading any fucking Latin!"

The part that tied the film up to Fear Itself, for me, is the statement of specific roles within the genre:
The Whore / slut
The Scholar / egghead
The Warrior / jock
The Fool / burnout
The Virgin / good girl

Fear Itself uses these stereotypes to define character roles within the game with much the same effect as in Cabin...

The overall plot of Cabin is a nice fit with the classic Fear Itself Ocean Game setting: a mysterious and incredibly powerful consciousness horrifically manipulates reality around unsuspecting stereotypes for their own amusement and benefit / a mysterious and technologically advanced organisation manipulates unsuspecting teens into falling into stereotypical roles and controls the environment around them for their own amusement and benefit.

You could run a straight Cabin in the Woods game using Fear Itself with zero effort or adaptation, and you could overlay the Mystery Men and their Ocean Game onto Cabin with only a few tweaks.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Games of Future Past / Planning my next game

I'm running a successful campaign at the moment, which obviously means that I'm thinking about what I want to run next.

I've been toying with a few plot ideas and potential settings for different games for awhile now, and suddenly have hope that I'll be able to run them.

I'm probably getting a bit giddy...

The games are:

Trail of Cthulhu
The first Gumshoe game I bought, and a work of beautiful genius. It successfully evokes multiple interpretations of Lovecraft's work, from the pulp two fisted tales of dark adventure to the doomed and weak minded soul not long for this world with the tenacious and fearful academic somewhere in between.
I have an idea for a game that draws upon The Mountains of Madness and Call of Cthulhu for mood and theme and a real life lost Arctic expedition for setting. I've already started mentally mapping out this idea. It's a strong contender.

Originally released as Aeon and soon to be re-released under that name, Trinity is the game from the Aeon Trilogy that I have played the least and have the most books for.
I think I ran a short one shot game for two players back in 2001/2.
It's a game that deserves another crack of the whip - a mix of epic sci-fi, space opera, cyberpunk, post apocalyptic wasteland, Starship Troopers, intrigue and horror. You can set the equalisers to any level you want just by varying the locations and organisations involved.
I'd run a vanilla Aeon Trinity game with a mix of investigation, combat and political manoeuvring.

Hunter: the Vigil
I think of all the World of Darkness games, H:tV has the broadest appeal. Used to playing the monsters in the other games? Have fun playing the other side for once. Never played a WoD game before? Here's a no nonsense gateway to the setting. Not sure about playing a monster? Play a legit human instead.
I was running a nWoD cops game when Hunter: the Vigil announced, and it quickly became apparent that I was running a proto hunter game.
When I finally got it I ran a short introductory story arc for my gaming group, then promptly got my wife pregnant again so had to scale back my gaming for awhile.
I've still got a load of unused ideas that I'd like to try out, and my wife bought me the Compacts & Conspiracies splatbook for my birthday, so it's fresh in my mind.

Ars Magica
My first gaming love. The second game I ever played, the first game I ran. Over the years I've built up and lost a sizable ArM library. I had about 20+ books for 2nd, 3rd and 4th edition, some of which are probably worth a bit of money now, and stupidly gave them all away to charity when the 5th edition came out. To make matters worse, 5th edition wasn't what I wanted it to be, and I gave up on it.
A few years and a bit of perspective later I realised that I wasn't giving it a chance. Different doesn't mean bad. And it couldn't be as much of a disappointment as Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition.
So I'd like to run Ars Magica again.

Changeling: the Lost
Look, this game is fucking brilliant. Really. It's the most well rounded game that White Wolf has ever produced. It's beautiful, horrific, terrifying, paranoid, innocent, brave, redemptive and compelling. It's everything good about folk tales and myths and everything good about modern horror.
It's the best Slender Man pictures meets Pan's Labyrinth meets The Evil Dead.
As I see it, Changeling: the Lost is a game about self discovery and personal agency - freed slaves learning that they can do anything they want, and trying to work out what that actually is, whilst fighting to preserve that freedom.

Mage: the Awakening/Mage Noir
It's hard to get a grip on Mage: the Awakening, to definitively say "this is what the game is about", especially when compared to its predecessor, Mage: the Ascension.
In Ascension it was explicit within the setting that you were caught up in an ideological, metaphysical war with clearly defined sides and an achievable goal. Awakening lacks this direction and forces the players to determine what they want to do and who they have to fight to do it.
The rules are great though. They allow the player characters to bend reality to their will and do a truly impressive range of miracle working.
If running Mage: the Awakening I'd use the Mage Noir setting and play in post war America, late 40s to early 50s, with the players hunting down magical artifacts like an arcane Maltese Falcon.

Every now and then I have an urge to run a good old fashioned high fantasy dungeon bash.
So far I've primarily used Pathfinder to run Goblin games, because Goblins are ace. The Goblin games I've run so far have been independent of each other but set in the same game world, so the events of the first game (slaughtering a farmer and his family, burning their house down and eating the livestock) informed the second (humans try to drive the Goblins out of the area, Goblins retaliate by setting fire to what they think is a religious monument but is in fact a signal beacon) and the second will inform the third (possible war due to the sudden amassing of an army after an invasion has been signaled).
In every game, though, the players have basically been looking for food and tribal status.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

And Fear and Paranoia will be out watchwords / Disturbing players sleep with Night's Black Agents

I'm currently running Kenneth Hite's Night's Black Agents, a Gumshoe game focusing on investigation, spy thriller tropes and vampires, over Google Hangouts. It's a fantastic game.
It sounds a bit weird at first: Jason Bourne alikes vs vampire conspiracy in a high octane thriller setting that focuses on investigation. Actually, it sounds a bit confused.
It doesn't run like that. It runs like a classic spy thriller, with an added level of scary shit at every level.

The core book is mostly a toolbox with every component needed to build and run a custom game.

  • Design your own vampire - satanic, supernatural, alien or mutant
  • Build your own conspiracy, with a step by step guide on how to move from street/gang level to world spanning mega conspiracy
  • Move through Eastern Europe like Liam Neeson through a gang of human traffickers
  • Support and ultimately betray your friends and allies
  • Different modes of play from ultra realistic Dust to hyper paranoid Mirror, psychologically damaging Burn to high action Stakes

Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria
I've set my game in Bulgaria, one of the poorest and newest members of the European Union. It's an ex Communist state once part of the USSR. It's a gateway to Asia, Europe and the Middle East. It's government is incredibly corrupt. Border controls are virtually non existent. Organised crime is unchecked and run by ex members of the Communist Olympic Wrestling Team who found themselves suddenly unemployed and with the only marketable skills of being able to hurt people. Assassinations are common in Bulgaria, often happen in broad daylight in public places and can involve rocket launchers.
Honestly, as a setting, it's a gift.

I'm loving the creativity and verve that my players are bringing to the game. It's the first time that I've played with four of them, so there was a lot of unchartered territory as far as the group dynamic goes.
So far the team have:
  • Extracted an informant and hurt a number of Bulgarian Mafia goons in the process
  • Watched a human trafficking deal go bad, killed a load of surprisingly agile and hardy Germans and crashed out a bit when one got up again after having his head virtually severed
  • Blown themselves up when they placed a propane canister and an M60 in the same confined space they were in
  • Followed a trail of death and destruction as they played catch up to a sadistic killer who was tracking them down
  • Blown up some cop cars as they fled from the scene of a brutal murder they didn't commit
A genuine Bulgarian Mafia
boss and ex wrestler

The players have been writing up the sessions as In Character journals, which I'm very happy with.
The notes of paranoia in there make me feel like I'm doing a good job.
We're seven sessions in now, which is much further than I thought we'd get. Often these things lose momentum, but we still seem to be going strong. It'd be really good to see this game through to the bitter end.

I have seen the future, and it involves web cams / No sexy dancing rule

I've not been able to make my regular face to face gaming group for a few months now, so to combat my gaming cold turkey I've switched to the methadone of remote gaming via Google Hangouts
I bought this little webcam because it reminds me of the
scrub bot from WALL-E and the tech from Portal 2

This is no bad thing. I've heard a lot of protestations from fellow gamers along the lines of "I like to play face to face. I like the personal interaction. It wouldn't be the same. etc etc etc"
To be honest, I don't think that it's had an effect on the game or my enjoyment. Here's what I've noticed is missing:

  • I can't fist bump with the other players when they/I do something awesome
  • I can't steal or share dice and pencils
  • I can't send someone else to the bar for me
  • I can't smell the other players
  • The fifteen minute walk to the pub we play at
Other than that, it's all there. The trash talk, the annoying digressions, the jokes, the referral to the rules when something weird happens (although that's slightly easier, as we've all got electronic access and don't have to physically share the same copy. I other news, my book doesn't have grease stains or beer marks on it either). 
So, what are the benefits?

  • We can all read the books independently (see above)
  • There are less external distractions, because we're in dedicated rooms with headphones on
  • Note passing is quicker and more secure, thanks to instant messaging.
  • Being able to copy and paste stuff can be incredibly useful
  • As a GM I can vary the media I use. For example, in an investigative game, I might need to prepare handouts with newspaper clippings or photographs or maps etc. In an electronic game I can send a link across, share my screen, copy text, edit shared documents and pull something off the internet and share it in seconds. We can use video, audio, anything we can share.
  • It's really convenient. My PC is on my bedroom. I can start play with a mug of coffee, snacks and whatever next to me, get more whenever I want without interrupting play that much
  • I can use my own bathroom. 
It's worth pointing out that I don't play games that require miniatures or boards or other physical paraphernalia, so I don't know how these games would play out. 

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Breaking Radio Silence / The Corruption of Youth

It's been ... some months since my last post. Why is this? Real life, my friend, real life. 
Real life has been systematically poisoning me in my sleep. Never enough to kill or debilitate me, but just enough to stop me straying too far from its embrace. 

Which has struck a sickening blow to my gaming of late. The last bit of face to face gaming I did was in June when my 14 year old Nephew came down to visit. He plays a lot (a lot) of Skyrim, and bamboozles me with jargon:

I'm a high elf that's mostly magic
I have azure's star but I lost it, ring of hircine, mehrunes razor, dawn breaker, mace of molag bal wabbajack and the skull of corruption
I'm a vampire lord level 80
I have all dragon priest masks

I have no idea what about 65% of that means, but it tells me that he's ready for Pathfinder or D&D. 
My Dungeoneer character sheet
So when he came down we played Pathfinder and HeroQuest with a friend of mine, then he joined my gaming group on the evening and we played Dungeoneer: Advanced Fighting Fantasy. The rest of the time he just pwned me at video games. 
The final encounter in HeroQuest

He loved it. 
He played to type - A magic using Elf in all three games - and was basically a sneaky little bastard. He left my Barbarian to die in the HeroQuest dungeon, commanded a battalion of Goblins in Dungeoneer and let the Rogue take point in Pathfinder. I'll never trust him to have my back again in a game, ever.

A Goblin lair from Dungeoneer
Since then, though, I've not been able to find the time for face to face gaming, and my weekly fix has slipped by the wayside. 
Which has basically meant that I've not had much to talk about, gaming wise. It's all been a bit of a pipe dream.

Thankfully I've found a way around that, which is remote gaming over Google Hangouts. More on that in later posts.

The Elf legs it, leaving the Barbarian to deal with the undead

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Old school modern Faery tales / Changeling: the Lost game pitch

That girl that played kiss catch with you after school - she steals children, turns them into mice and chases them through her garden. If she catches them, she eats them and leaves their heads for the other children to find.

That gentleman that watches the dance recitals - he takes the best dancers, sets them on fire and makes them dance in his fireplace to warm his cold hearth. If they burn out to ash, he scatters them on the wind.

The old lady that cleans your house? If you don't pay her, you have to clean her house until every one of the countless rooms are clean. First you have to pick up the bleached bones of the last cleaner.

There is a place, full of terrible beauty and burdensome duty, blinding light and lurking shadow, burning love and freezing fear, where stories are told because that is all the occupants know, where madness is codified and the sane wither and die.

People from our world are dragged into this world, bent to its needs and used until they're spent. A process that can take days or centuries.

In place of these lost souls the occupants leave behind a model made of string, gaffa tape and rags, leaves, twigs and old bones or Lego, glue and tin foil. These mockeries live the lives of the stolen so no one ever notices they're gone.

Every now and then, someone escapes back to our world. Or is released. Or is sent back. They find the world has turned without them, that they've aged faster or slower than everyone else and that there's this thing pretending to be them.

Back in our world these survivors gather in loose communities, attracted to the only other people who could possibly even begin to understand, the only other people they can trust to run or fight or hide if these things come back for them.

It's a bit like: Pan's Labyrinth, Hellboy II, The Lady in the Water, Spirited Away, Howls Moving Castle, Coraline, the Sandman

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunburn Notice / Nights Black Agents game pitch

Somewhere in Eastern Europe Matt Damon, Liam Neeson, Daniel Craig and Tom Cruise have just been burnt out by their employers and left to die.
They're suddenly on the radar of a powerful and malevolent international conspiracy who will stop at nothing to silence them. Permanently.
All they have to keep them alive is their years of specialised military and espionage training, a network of informants and a cache of weapons and equipment.
Running isn't an option. They've got to take this fight to the very top of the conspiracy and bring the bastards crashing down.
The only problem, the bastards might be vampires. Or something worse.

Nights Black Agents is a game of hyper capable spies, secret agents and military specialists thrown against a horrific conspiracy. Maybe it's the agents of Satan, or aliens. Maybe a supernatural curse or genetic mutations from unethical experimentation.
Players take on the roles of these super spies, caught in between their old agencies, local law enforcement, organised crime gangs and the shadowy conspiracy. They must uncover a trail of clues and follow it to the top of the conspiracy before the conspiracy gets them.

It's kind of like: Taken, Mission Impossible III, Bourne Trilogy, Casino Royale/Quantum of Solace, Ultraviolet (UK TV series), the Prisoner, Alias, Prison Break

Biotech Psychics vs Mutants and Aliens in the future / Trinity game pitch

Welcome to Trinity
It's 2120. The Aberrants have been exiled into deep space after they threatened the near total destruction of Earth. North America is under military law, run by mega corporations. Europe has been devastated by an orbital impact. China has risen under a totalitarian regime. Australia is a free world super power. South America is a mysterious hotbed of revolution and anarchy.
Space travel is common place, with settlements on the Moon and our neighbouring planets, and the asteroid field mined for minerals and ores. First contract has been made with other species to varying degrees of success.
Finally, a new branch of human evolution has been discovered - Psions, humans with the ability to manipulate sub- quantum energies, or Psi, and with them the study of a new field of science, Noetics.
You are a Psion, altered and awakened by one of the Psionic orders, tasked with protecting the Earth from the returning Aberrants, furthering your order's interests, representing Psions in a world once bitten by a super powered evolutionary branch of humanity.
You have powers, you have advanced hard tech and the latest bio tech.
Your adversaries include Aberrants - mutants with phenomenal power, organised crime, governments, mega corporations, other Psions, emergent alien threats and possibly the Aeon organisation - a philanthropic think tank with near unlimited resources and a patchy history at best.

It's a bit like: Cyberpunk, Babylon 5, Aliens, Final Fantasy: Spirits Within, Battlestar Galactica

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

"The geekiest thing I've ever done" / Aberrant play report

We played Aberrant last night. Once we'd finished, one of the players remarked that "that was the geekiest thing I've ever done". This was primarily because one of our core players is unfortunately over in Germany for three weeks on business, so joined via a G+ Hangout and Viber.
He paid €3 to watch me on a computer screen for two hours. I feel dirty yet oddly thrilled.

The players had opted to forcibly enter a Project Utopia Nova containment facility for questionable reasons - I.e. a wanted criminal had told them that bad things were happening there - and had understandably met with armed resistance.
First they took out a unit of heavily armed security guards, and we ended the session with my version of Captain America, Thor and Iron Man - Agent America, Aesir and Machine Man - arriving on the scene.

At the beginning of this session one of the player characters, a tank called Adonis, parleyed with them. He offered complete surrender if they would guarantee the safety of Solar Flair, another of the player characters, but as he didn't formally represent the team, he got punched through a wall instead.

I did have a plan for this session. The opposing team wanted the players to escape with their target so that the players could lead them to the rebel base (as it were).
Machine Man had an existing Mentor relationship with Adonis, so he was going to take a sucker punch from Adonis, letting the team escape and placing a tracker beacon on Adonis in the process.

It didn't go quite according to plan...
Solar Flair's player was 'a bit PMT' and played her that way.
She unleashed aggravated damage on both Agent America and Machine Man, nearly killing the Agent in the process.
Machine Man did manage to place the tracker on Adonis and say "make it look good, kid" whilst leaving himself wide open.
Adonis didn't take the bait. Instead he concentrated on getting the wounded to medical assistance and pretty much ignored the fight.
Max Control, the player's mind controlling bastard, dematerialised and took complete control of Aesir, landing an unexpected blow on Agent America and effectively turning the tables of the battle.

By this point, the dye was cast. The team had bought a gun to a knife fight. Solar Flair had used lethal force with no thought to the consequences. Max Control had violated one of the mightiest Nova's on earth and still retained control of him. A number of dangerous Novas had been released from containment.
The players retrieved their target, a teleporter called Gates, and left with her.
Adonis stayed behind to clean up the mess and recapture the released Novas.
Adonis' player has already created another character, one a bit less tank like.

I left the remaining player characters in the Antarctic, although they don't know that. They just know it's bitterly cold and everywhere is white.

It strikes me that if Novas were to build their own country, then Antarctica would be a place to do it...

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Toning down the action in my Survival Horror / Resident Evil 5 DLC

Yes, this is late. I play video games late, normally when I can get them in sales or in special edition packs. This is why I'm only just playing RE5 now.

I played RE4 through on my Wii (after it'd been out a while) and thoroughly enjoyed it - I.e. it scared the willies out of me.
I loved the tension. I loved the claustrophobia, the fear that a mob of infected villagers could be lurking round the corner, or, worse, a chainsaw wielding mutant that feels no pain. Or a dog. Or a ludicrous boss.
I found that whenever I reached a save point I was "right, that's it for the night" even if it was only 15 minutes of play, because I was scared.
The first time I reached the village encounter, where the villagers swarm and you first see a chainsaw gimp, I had to switch the game off and go and have a quiet lie down somewhere safe.
I enjoyed that as the game progressed and I upgraded my weapons and became a better shot that the low level villagers dropped like flies and dreaded the boss encounters and set pieces.
And I hated Ashley...

So I had high hopes for RE5. I'd read the previews and seen some of the gameplay and decided to ignore the controversy.
It apparently was more like RE4 than the other RE games, which was good. I found the first three unplayable due to the fixed camera angles, so something more like 4 was a good sign.

Playing it, though, is a very different feel. RE4 was a slow burn. The plot unfolds slowly, as does the cluster fuck value. You just meet aggressive villagers at first, and chainsaw mutants only appear to signpost significant challenges and to let you know that things are going to get much harder soon.
The story starts off as a simple hostage rescue and evolves over the course of the game into a conspiracy to control mass populace with a mutant parasite.

In contrast Resident Evil 5 pretty much starts off with "look, all these tribesman and townsfolk are definitely infected with the parasite from the last game!"
There is no mystery. No tension. It's a tactical shooter from the first encounter.
Oh, and I keep dying.
In the first encounter.
Which sucks.

So I was ready to give up on the game, but only once I'd tried out the extra material from the Gold Edition DLC I'd bought.
The multiplayer verses mode didn't appeal to me. I'd just die. I have no idea what Mercenaries is either, so I tried Lost in Nightmares, which tells the story of one of the main characters don't something previously (I'm sure that the actual details are not important).

It's ace! It's set in what looks like the mansion from the original Resident Evil, and is dripping with tension.
I've reached two checkpoints so far and not had a single combat encounter, which is brilliant.
I've come across lots of foreshadowing of the immense cluster fuck yet to come - blood on the walls and floor, destroyed scenery, dead security agents, broken cages and cryptic entries in abandoned journals.
It's going to go south very soon.
Which is the key. I'm loving the anticipation. I'm not disappointed when there's nothing around the corner, I'm relieved.

So I'm probably going to play through the DLC before returning to the main game, which is probably a bit perverse.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Bringing the Aberrant smackdown / Conforming to my players expectations

I am faced with a dilemma in my Aberrant game.
Do I actively try to kill all the player characters in one session, or not?

The game has been ramping up to the point where the player characters find themselves opposed to the local equivalent of the Avengers and the cliffhanger for the last session was the seconds directly before a direct physical confrontation.
The players have uncovered evidence that Utopia are not all they seem to be, and have effectively teamed up with a recurring villain to break into a Utopia facility and free a Terragen affiliated Nova.
Which has put them squarely at odds with Alpha Strike, the city's primary Nova team and Utopian agents.

The players have seen this coming from a way off, especially as we took a six month mid season break, and have started statting new characters because they don't believe they'll be walking away from this one.

Which is the source of my dilemma.
They expect me to throw everything at them and to wipe them off the face of the game world, which is exactly what a team like the Avengers should do to them.
Thing is, I'd be an irresponsible Storyteller if I just threw a straight fight at them. I have no intention of killing them, this is a story encounter as well as a set piece combat.
But they don't know that. They have to go into this presuming that they should be putting their affairs in order. They also can't be allowed to think that I'm going easy on them.

I'm going to have to kill one of them.
Which one?
The Adonis, the honourable and reserved tank?
Solar Flair, the narcissistic and slow witted fire starter?
Max Control, the arrogant and superior mind controller with Terragen leanings?
Tim Roley, the shape changer with multiple personalities?

They all bring something important to the group dynamic. They're a pleasure to play with and easy to place in situations.

Who should I kill?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The siren song of the dungeon crawl / Guilty pleasures

So I've been playing this game, Pixel Dungeon, on my Nexus 4 a lot recently. A lot.
It's getting a little out of hand.

It's one of those retro RPGs that are so popular these days. As the name suggests it's a pixel heavy, lo-fi dungeon bash. You descend through randomly generated levels of an unnamed dungeon, kill anything that moves, collect gold and items (weapons, armour, wands, potions, scrolls) and face off against occasional bosses.
Your progress is determined as much by the luck of the draw - which items are randomly placed on each level - as your tactical skill as a player (at least, that's what I tell myself).
Death is usually tragically often and frustrating, so much so that a friend and I have taken to messaging each other stating what killed us and how far we got:
L1 Rat
L5 Goo (fucking goo)
L4 Sewer Crab
L7 Burned to death after drinking an unidentified potion

All of which has got me thinking about the old school dungeon crawl, a mode of play I've strenuously avoided as a GM.
I... I think I'm ready to run one now.

In the past few days I've found myself flicking through my Pathfinder books reading up on hidden doors, traps, monsters, potions, magic items and treasure.
I've been looking up dungeon mapping apps and websites.
I've been thinking of ways to make a cool, engaging, three-dimensional dungeon that makes sense and what set pieces I'd want in there.

There's a possibility that I'll be using some OSR micro lite rules as well...


Saturday, March 23, 2013

Do it your way, for a limited time only / Playing Star Wars before Episode VII

I had a sobering thought today... I've only, what, a year, 18 months, to go before the new Star Wars movie comes out and crushes the post Jedi game ideas I have.

Yes, I'm sure (I hope) they'll be good; that the story will be more finely honed than George 'I'm an ideas guy' Lucas's prequel efforts, mainly because he's not writing or directing and that they'll be inspiring.

The thing is, all the ideas I have for how I'd run a Post Jedi game, a New Jedi Republic game, would be moot.
It'd be like running a prequel / Clone Wars game and ignoring Episodes I - III.
Which wouldn't be a completely bad idea, but still...

Because the game is based on a franchise, the franchise defines the game setting. Drift away from the franchise and you kind of lose the reason for playing.

I have these ideas for a Star Wars game that I probably won't get to use now.

Over throwing the Empire creates a power vacuum which the Rebellion faithful naturally expect someone like Mon Mothma, Leia Organa and the reinstated Senate to fill.
More realistically other factions move to fill the void as well. The Imperial command structure will exists and their bureaucracy has been running the galaxy for 30 years thank you much. Organised crime has flourished under Imperial rule. It's foolish to think that crime families died with Jabba.
Then there are the Rebels. They've been fighting for years and have finally won. What do they do now? War time generals don't always make the best peacetime leaders. Lando will fall on his feet, he governed a colony. Others will not be so skilled, resulting in dissent amongst the population and a foothold for corruption and organised crime.

Then there's the new Jedi Order, founded by Luke Skywalker.
Skywalker is not a true Jedi. He received less than half the training that even his father did, and he was considered too old to train effectively. He received only perfunctory schooling in the Jedi Code and history with Kenobi and Yoda focusing upon the martial applications of The Force, due to time constraints. They needed a serviceable warrior to challenge Vader and Palpatine, and this is the legacy they pass onto the new Jedi Order.
Luke Skywalker has flirted with the Dark Side, turning to it on the second Death Star before pulling himself back from the brink. He is still an emotional being and put the fate of the galaxy on hold to pursue a personal quest. Any Jedi he trains will follow his lead, his example.
In short, he is not training true Jedi, not any Jedi that a Master emerging from decades of hiding would recognise, anyway. He is training Force users that are as likely to turn to the Dark Side as be a force for good. Maybe they'll be the balance in the Force that the galaxy needs. Maybe not.

Add to this the forgotten history of the galaxy. Palpatine destroyed the library in the Jedi Temple when he seized power, and it is safe to assume that he did the same elsewhere. He definitely effectively purged all recorded knowledge of the Jedi Order so that it was regarded as a "hokey old religion" by the likes of Han Solo. Any knowledge that could be a threat to Palpatine's rule was destroyed.

So, it is conceivable (to me) that eventually the New Republic would wish to recover this lost knowledge, that someone would be given Senate backing to uncover it and restore the libraries and academies and arts and technology that the Empire plundered and hid.

From this I would run an exploration adventure - the players form the core of an archeological expedition, including pilot, security, bureaucrat/academic, technician etc tasked with finding Imperial sites and raiding them for information.

Cue encounters with resistant Imperial cells, half crazed Jedi still in hiding, corrupt planetary officials, pirates, smugglers, the discovery of forbidden lore, dark secrets, temptation, fear, anger and suffering.

Like I say, I've only a limited time to run this game before the new canon likely invalidates it.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Is it really broken? / Why not just commit to a Second Edition?

I am a long term White Wolf fan. The first RPG I cared about was Ars Magica 3rd Ed, which in turn coloured my opinion on the Tremere in Vampire: the Masquerade and the Order of Hermes in Mage: the Ascension for years afterwards (I regarded them as poor reproductions of their mighty heyday. On reflection I realise that they were my favourite clan/order. To this day I regret not playing a Tremere.)
The first game I successfully ran as a Storyteller was Masquerade.
I played V:tM, M:tAs, Changeling: the Dreaming (1st Ed, with Bunk Cards), Werewolf: the Apocalypse, Dark Ages, Aeon Trilogy (Trinity/Aberrant/Adventure! [Best game ever]), Hunter: the Reckoning, Orpheus and Exalted 1st Ed.
I embraced the new World of Darkness games when they came out, preferring the revised Storytelling system over the old Storyteller one.
I lamented the apparent death of White Wolf as its parent company, CCP, had to regroup and restructure in the changing economic climate and effectively closed WW down, and I genuinely rejoiced when Rich Thomas set up Onyx Path Publishing and secured the rights to continue publishing new gaming material for the World of Darkness.

All of the above is a long way of saying "I love White Wolf/World of Darkness games and am one of the faithful".

Which, in turn, leads to this post and me expressing my concerns about updated rule set being introduced with the God Machine Chronicles and the new Demon game.
One of the things I looked about the new WoD was that every game used the same system, same skills, same mechanics and that every game was able to mechanically cross over with each other without having to fudge the incongruities.
This changes with Demon, as it uses a revised Storytelling system as laid out in the God Machine.

As far as I can tell, to play Demon you need to own the World of Darkness core rule book, Demon and the God Machine.
I can also see that some of the core mechanics have changed so that examples of game play read significantly differently.

So, my question is, are the rules contained within the World of Darkness core book actually broken?
If they are broken, then surely a second edition is warranted rather than an additional supplement?

I guess that there are marketing concerns at work. Onyx Path do not own the games or the system, so maybe CCP don't want a new edition of every single game coming out.
Maybe Onyx Path decided against a second edition because they wanted to retain the good faith of their players.

At the moment though I am keen to see what Demon is, but very reserved about the system updates.

The Onyx Path G+ account (which I think is Ian Watson) had informed me that the rules updates will be available for free, and there is no need to buy the God Machine to get them.
Which is very good.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

It's not Post Apocalyptic until someone owns a dog / Zombie Survival Game Quick Start

For my own reference, but shared for your own zombie apocalypse convenience, here's a quick start aid for defining your game's setting and initial challenges.
All sections require a d10 roll, either one for the group or for each player.

Named Survivors
Roll once for each player.
1. Child (under two years)
2. Child (under twelve years)
3 - 4. Teenager
5 - 6. Useless sibling/best friend (adult)
7 - 8. Incapacitated partner (injured or pregnant)
9. Elderly parent / grandparent
10. Dog

Where are you holed up?
Roll once for the group.
1. School
2. Bank
3. Prison
4. Block of flats/Apartment building
5. Office building
6. Supermarket
7. Gated estate
8. Farm
9. Medical centre
10. Pub

How long will your food last?
Roll once for the group.
1. You've not eaten for days
2 - 3. You've run out
4 - 5. A day, at best
6 - 7. Two days
8 - 9. Five days
10. A week

What specific supplies are you nearly out of?
Roll once for the group.
1 - 2. Medical supplies - antibiotics, painkillers, antihistamine, bandages, insulin
3 - 4. Ammo - you've a handful of shells left, barely enough to take yourself out once you get bit
5 - 6. Fuel - You've enough to keep the generator running for a night, or just enough to get to town...
7 - 8. Tools and spare parts - You've something useful; a truck, a generator, a radio, a water pump; but it just needs some spare parts and some work to get it up and running again
9 - 10. Environment appropriate clothing - the seasons have turned since everything first happened, and now your group is left with summer clothes as the snow starts falling or winter fleeces in a summer heatwave

Sources of Internal Conflict
Roll once for each player.
1. You've been secretly stockpiling your own personal stash of supplies. They've gone. Who took it? Do they know it was yours?
2. You have taken in love with another member of your group, but they are involved with someone else
3. You disagree with the decisions that the group have been making recently. You could do a better job, and if they'd listened to you, then we wouldn't have lost Jimmy last month
4. You took meds before, to help with your moods. You've not had any for awhile now, and you're having troubles. Mood settings. Anxiety. Depression. You know that you're not speed to cold turkey off them, but you didn't have a choice
5. You've found a secret stash of food, medicines, ammo and survival gear in the camp. You don't know who it belongs to, but you're keeping an eye out. Someone's been holding out on the group, and might be planning on bugging out soon. Who knows what they've got planned
6. One of the other members of your group has been making thinly veiled advances at you/your partner. It's pretty obvious, and it's pushing a wedge between the group.
7. You made a bad move recently, and one of the group paid the ultimate price. You messed up and left Jimmy to die. No one has said anything, but someone knows it's your fault.
8. You basically just don't like one of the group. Something about them rubs you wrong. They've got everyone else fooled, but you see straight through them. Choose one other player and start hating their characters guts. They don't even have to know.
9. You're terrified. You've been having nightmares about these things since your Aunt died when you were 8 years old, and now they're walking around and you can barely stand to think about it. Thing is, people are counting on you, and you have skills that the group needs. Even so, you freeze or panic when they're near you. It's only a matter of time before you or someone else gets eaten because of it.
10. Despite everything you've seen, everything you've heard, you don't like killing these things. They were people once, often people you knew. You just can't bring yourself to do it. You volunteered to kill Jimmy when he got bit, but just let him shamble off instead. Of course, you told everyone else that you put him down quickly.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Ingress / Mage for Android devices?

I've been playing a lot of Ingress on my Android phone recently. It's really growing on me.
The game functions on two main levels.

One: The crunchy strategy game.
The point of the game is to capture points on the map, Portals, and to control their resources. There are two factions: The Resistance and The Enlightened. You choose a faction then travel round your local area locating Portals and 'hacking' them.
Hacking a Portal gives you resources - useable inventory items such as shields grenades and resonators, keys - Portal access codes that allow you to manipulate the resources the Portal produces, experience - AP, and energy.
If you gain control of a Portal you can link it to other Portals. Link three or more Portals and you create a Control Field.
This leads is to the second level.

Two: The RPG setting
There is a growing back story to the game. The two factions have a scripted reason to be opposed. You choose your faction based on those reasons.
Portals are bringing a new kind of energy into our world - XM or Extraordinary Matter.
The Resistance want to stem this flow and protect the world.
The Enlightened believe that XM is a positive energy and act to encourage and nurture it.
The stated affects of XM is to change the brain waves and thought patterns of nearby people.
If you link multiple Portals together you create a Control Field over the area between the Portals. These Control Fields change the thought patterns of those within them to match the desires of the Faction that controls the field.

Apply this concept to Mage, Ascension or Awakening.
Both games feature two main factions: The Traditions vs The Technocracy / The
Orders vs The Seers of the Throne.
Both are arguably fighting an ideological battle to control or free the minds of the sleeping populace.
The Traditions want to reignite peoples imagination and belief. The Technocracy want to channel that imagination and belief into only one paradigm - Science.
The Seers of the Throne want to rule the Fallen World, with a docile and compliant sleeper populace whilst the Orders rail against this hubris.
The Ascension has Nodes, sites where Quintessence flows into the world that mages compete for and The Awakening has Hallows, sacred places where Mana crosses into the Fallen World.

Here's my reading: The core concepts of Ingress can easily be applied to a Mage game. Players have already chosen a faction and an ideology. They already seek to control sites of power.
Add to that a concrete way to influence sleeping minds - linking these sites together to produce magical fields between them. Maybe these fields affect paradigm as well, or reduce Paradox or provide bonuses to certain Spheres or Arcana.
That's a resource worth fighting for.

For years now I've had an idea about The Technocracy/Seers using mobile phone masts to channel mind controlling magic into the Sleeping populace.
Now I know how it would run.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cash up front/how much would you pay?

Here's a question: How much would you pay for an RPG system?
Not just the core rules, but everything you *need* to run it.

I've been discussing the cost of buying certain Fantasy Flight Games, which are coming in at the higher end of the pricing spectrum with cards, custom dice, encounter maps and counters.

I feel it's all a bit too rich for my stomach, and have steered clear (although I have been assured that they're beautiful and play well).

I'm feeling that about £30 (US$47.50) is about my maximum. That's how much I paid for the Pathfinder Core Rules last year and Night's Black Agents this year.

I already have all the dice required to run those two games, so no further investment is required on that front. Maybe £10 if I didn't have any dice and wanted to splash out on a nice set.

Pathfinder, realistically, requires the Bestiary to run a game (unless you're going incredibly low fantasy and interacting with only the core races), so that's another £25. I paid that too.

Night's Black Agents is standalone, requires only a d6 per player, and for my £30 I got the hardback book, PDF, Android app and a PDF of an introductory adventure.

How much would you pay, and what do you expect to get for that?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Two fisted tales of Adventure! / The best game ever

I often describe Adventure as 'the best game ever'. This is not just hyperbole. One of the authors, Bruce Baugh, commented last year that he and the other authors had "bottled lightening" with the book.

For a game that I originally only bought to complete my set of the Aeon Trilogy (including Trinity and Aberrant) it has had a significant affect on me.
If I had never bought Adventure! I would never have read Planetary or Hellboy. I wouldn't have been exposed to Pulp literature. It paved the way for me to appreciate and enjoy Trail of Cthulhu and read Lovecraft's work.
This book, this game fired my imagination like no other.

Why? What makes this game so God damn good?
Everything. The commissioned short stories (including ones by Warren Ellis and Greg Stolze), the setting - presented as journal entries, newspaper clippings, letters and notices that makes up the first third of the book.
The control that just stops everything from tipping over the edge into complete absurdity and keeps it running on that razors edge of genius.

It is the swinging 20's and everything is possible if you're willing to seize opportunity by the lapels and shake it until the good stuff falls out. Those with the initiative to make a difference can change present and define the future.

You play one of the Inspired: either a Daredevil, a Mesmerist or a Stalwart - a traditional hero possessed of luck and determination, a person with mysterious psychic powers or a demi-god, a man of bronze capable of impossible feats.

The second reason that the game shines is the system. It's based on the standard White Wolf/Storyteller system, with additions that fit the setting perfectly.

Stunts: The game rewards creativity and engagement with mechanical bonuses. Describe what you want to do. If you've put on effort you get a bonus. If it's cool you get a bigger bonus. If everyone at the table goes "whoa" then you get an even bigger bonus.
You do cool shit, you get could stuff. Fortune favours the bold and all that.

Knacks: The Inspired get Knacks. Not quite powers, not quite enhanced abilities. Both. Neither. Daredevils get Knacks that allow them to push the boundaries of good fortune, Mesmerists get powers of the mind to push and pull objects and thoughts and emotions whilst Stalwarts get to dodge bullets, lift cars and walk across deserts without water or shade with no ill effects.

Finally, Adventure! is a game of undisputable character. It oozes it from its every pore. It is bold. It is bright. It is everything you need from a game.

And it is being republished. Onyx Path Publishing, the successor to White Wolf, has bought the rights and are working on new editions of all the Aeon Trilogy.
I cannot tell you how excited I am.