Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 31, part 1 – A Moment of Silence

The Team (plus Alycia Chin) is gathered at the Quill Compound. Various talks happen, and someone from the future tries to kill everyone. So basically a normal Monday night.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 3 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 2 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 28, part 1 – Question Time with the Ponies!

The team finally sits down for a nice, casual, light-and-breezy Answer Time interview with @HeroesAreMagic and @PowerPony. It’s an emotional roller coaster even before Congress publicly threatens them with treason.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 3 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 2 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 26, part 1 – The Horrible Satisfaction of the Aggrieved Dead

Vyortovians attack Halcyon High, Jason and Alycia face off against their fathers, and Charlotte connects with Federal City’s spiritual side.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 3 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 2 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 25, part 1 – A House Divided

All hell breaks lose, as Vyortovia appears off the coast, Alycia escapse Byron Quill’s holding cells in the Sepiaverse and heads for the Keynome, and something weird is up at Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 24, part 2 – Jason and Byron

Jason makes it to the Sepiaverse for the first time, pursuing Charlotte… who is apparently in hellscape D.C.? With Jason’s Dad?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 24, part 1 – Charlotte and the Magus

We spend a short session getting Charlotte caught up to Jason’s point in the game timeline, so we can get them both caught up to the rest of the game timeline.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 3 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 2 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 23, part 1 – Training Day

Link, Concord, and Mercury join up with That Other Team to work on training with Comet and Sergeant Amari… then the JHHLs show up.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22.5 – Between Game Big Reveals!

Sometimes, the stuff we play out via the forums, between games, contains some big plot reveals. This week was definitely one of those times.

If you’d like to read the threads themselves, here are some links:

If you want investigate the forum as a whole (most of the players can’t even keep up with everything), that’s over here

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 3 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Oh and there’s a Keynome under Halcyon High South.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 2 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 22, part 1 – Senioritis is a Thing

The team recovers and takes stock of events following the attack on Halcyon and their dropping of the Vyortovian Veil. Meanwhile, the world deals with the fact everyone forgot Iceland for a couple years.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 3 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

And Charlotte, Jason, and Adam tear apart the Vyortovian Veil. No big.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 2 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

Run, Harry. Run.
The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

And Harry saves the city from a reality bomb.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 21, part 1 – The Truth Shall Set You Free!

The team realizes the Vyortovians are using the Yule Creatures as a distraction while they slip into the city and create a massive breach between this world and the Sepiaverse, right in Charlotte’s cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 3 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 2 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 20, part 1 – The Frost and the Furry!

With the adults cast into unnatural slumber, the team rallies teen heroes across the city to combat Gryla, her Yule Lads, and the enormous, building-eating Yule Cat.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 19, part 2 – By Parental Authority Figures Betrayed!

Halcyon Heroes League
The team has to face the music as they’re called on the carpet by a strangely nervous looking Halcyon Heroes League.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 19, part 1 – By Parental Authority Figures Betrayed!

The team has to face down that most horrible of foes: a black-tie holiday party with a bunch of boring adults.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 18, part 3 – If This Be My Body

How Harry offers (and gains) Comfort and Support.
Charlotte rigs up a mystic telepathic link for the group. It totally works.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 17, part 2 – By My Friend Betrayed!

Jason drives Adam home and talks with Adam’s dad. It goes horribly.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 17, part 1 – By My Friend Betrayed!

Nissar AmariJason drives Adam home and talks with Adam’s dad. It goes horribly.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 3 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 2 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 16, part 1 – In the Clutches of Interpersonal Interaction

Halcyon Heroes League
A new day… a new crazy day.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 3 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 2 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 15, part 1 – Aftermath

We’re almost done with the day from hell, but there’s still a few more hours left in the evening.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 3 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 2 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 14, part 1 – Love Letters… Unleashed!

The group faces off against an AEGIS-hosted press conference, and we start off the session with Love Letters that let us check in to see how everyone is doing. (Answer: Not great.)

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 3 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 2 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 13, part 1 – If This Be In Media Res

The group rushes to rescue Pneuma, and finds her in the clutches of Rook Industries (at the airport, where Rook has the security contract). The standoff is diffused by the arrival of AEGIS, and the rest of the session focuses on how AEGIS and other adults deals with this event and with the team.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 3 – When Sablestar Strikes!

A-10, one of Harry’s classmates at Gardner.
Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 2 – When Sablestar Strikes!

Top-notch mid-game scribbles.
Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 11, part 1 – When Sablestar Strikes!

Sablestar’s attack on Halcyon High South gets complicated, and the heroes throw down with the gravity- and space-manipulating anarchist in the skies over Halcyon.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 3 – Halcyon High-jinx

The Farlander.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 2 – Halcyon High-jinx

Taz.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 10, part 1 – Halcyon High-jinx

NoNo Rodriguez.
It’s a day in the life of Leo and Adam, attending Halcyon High South! Meet NoNo Rodriguez! Meet the Vice-principle! Meet Taz, the weird new transfer student! Meet Farlander, the… scavenger alien from across the galaxy?

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 3 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

How Harry offers Comfort and Support.
Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 2 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 9, part 1 – Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

Jason spends most of the session unconscious. Jordan Amari is adorable. Other stuff happens, often involving adults allegedly being helpful..

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 3 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Jason tries to use the Quill AI and his nanites to figure out what Alycia was up to in the Quill warehouse for almost a month. It’s goes REALLY well.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 2 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Ghostheart is brought into custody, and everyone tries to Comfort and Support everyone else. Usually poorly.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 8, part 1 – Through a Vision, Darkly

Ghostheart is brought into custody, and eveyone tries to Comfort and Support everyone else. Usually poorly.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 3 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 2 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

We’re posting our Masks actual play as a podcast… because we can. You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 7, Part 1 – If the Graveyard be My Destiny!

We’re posting our Masks actual play as a podcast… because we can. You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

PowerPony is abducted by Ghostheart and his demonic minions and it’s time to throw-down in the cemetery.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 6, part 2: A History Divided Cannot Stand!

The team meets up for pizza and then delves into the secrets of the multiverse. As one does. Then they get… distracted by current events. And paperwork.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 6, part 1: A History Divided Cannot Stand!

The team meets up for pizza and then delves into the secrets of the multiverse. As one does.

Then they get… distracted by current events. And paperwork.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 5: Whence Comes the Pizza Guy

This session is a GM’s summary of events rather than an Actual Play, because he forgot to record the session.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 4, part 2: When Talk the Talkmen

Nissar Amari
Nissar Amari, Adam’s dad.
Everyone touches base with the important people in their life. It goes about as well as you’d expect.

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 4, part 1: When Talk the Talkmen

Mercury faces off against his greatest foe yet… his super-supportive dad! (Grown-ups are scary.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 3, part 2: Into the Sepia Dimension!

The fight with Iconoclast and Troll comes to a clear and definitive … end? Wow. Finally. Also, Jason Quill’s nemesis makes an appearance and accidentally sends Mercury to another dimension. Like ya do…

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 3, part 1: Into the Sepia Dimension!

The fight with Iconoclast and Troll comes to a clear and definitive … middle. Also, Jason Quill’s nemesis makes an appearance and accidentally sends Mercury to another dimension. Like ya do…

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 1, Part 2 – Iconoclast!

The first real session had some audio problems, which we resolved in session 2. You’ll fight to hear the players sometimes, but hopefully it’s worth it.

In this session, the players face off against… a morning television interview! (And a supervillain named Iconoclast, whatever.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks, Menagerie Actual Play, Session 1, Part 1 – Iconoclast!

The first real session had some audio problems, which we resolved in session 2. You’ll fight to hear the players sometimes, but hopefully it’s worth it.

In this session, the players face off against… a morning television interview! (And a supervillain named Iconoclast, whatever.)

You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.

Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.

Masks Menagerie Tropes

A couple weeks ago, I joked that I should try to identify the main tropes that show up in our current Masks game.

Unfortunately, some part of my brain didn’t know I was joking. So.

Masks, Actual Play Analysis, Sessions 11 to 15

We’re back! It’s another long flight, so let’s run through Masks sessions to the latest and see what to make of them…

Issue 11: When Sablestar Strikes! (hell-day part 3)

I like when we can start things in media res, if only to skip the fiddly front-loading on a session.

In this one, I skipped away from the school, working off the assumption Leo and Adam would want to get the action as far away from the school as they could. The players agreed, though in hindsight I probably didn’t need to play it so coy with the framing and just tell them what I was thinking. Lesson learned, though unfortunately not until now, and not when I needed it in session 13. More on that in a few.

At any rate, this fight went off quite well, I thought. The team has only had a few fights up to this point, and I was starting to think I’d need to bring in at least a 1-for-1 matchup to really test them, since they pretty much wiped out everyone up to this point.

Sablestar provided an additional and very different data point, proving a real problem for the heroes without me needing to bring in any further bad guys. Part of that was simply using mixed successes to complicate the scene with additional ‘stuff’ – when the heroes can take out a villain with 3 or maybe 4 solid hits, giving them something to do besides punching is much more interesting. This was definitely the most dynamic and interesting combat scene we’d had up to this point, and started to add some great backstory to Adam/Concord.

As things wrapped up, the last big move saw me handing out a pile of ‘take a powerful blow’ moves. I hemmed and hawed about this during the game – it felt right, and normally that’s enough, but for some reason I’m way way way more tentative with GM moves and even narration in this game. I have no idea why, and honestly I don’t think that extra care has benefited anyone very much, so I think I need to trust my instincts a bit more.

Weirdly, this is born out by a fairly egregious overstep I made a few sessions later. More on that in a bit.

Issue 12: When the Dead Walk!

(Hell-day part… four? seriously? – or part 4 and part 0, maybe, due to a flashback? It’s complicated)

This session was a bit weird, and weirdly short.

We started off with a flashback to cover what Ghost Girl had been up to during her Condition-clearing reckless investigation (a scene I should have had in the previous session and never got to). This ended up taking a long while, and didn’t involve anyone else, so that’s just poor use of time on my part, despite the fact I was happy with the stuff we got into and found out. Good narration, bad group-involvement. No GM cookie for that one.

The only other thing we got to was the big reveal that the robot that assembled itself in Link’s home base and came after him at school was actually a back-up of Pneuma that had activated after some kind of “Emergency: Go To 10″ protocol was activated when something bad happened to her.” There was some drama (and comfort/support moves) around this that I liked.

Buuuut, there is a problem I didn’t recognize until it was too late – putting Pneuma in danger is basically a board-clearing, table-flipping deal for Link, which presents problems when we already have a couple-three major plot chainsaws in the air. Bill gave me some good tips on ways to make that sort of thing a bit more of a timed slow burn, and I’ve tucked those away for later, but lesson learned.

Issue 13: If This Be In Media Res!

Day of Hell, part the Fifth

So I screwed up.

The obvious thing I screwed up is that I started in media res and framed the heroes into the middle of a major assault on… the secret basements and sub basements beneath the evacuated Halcyon International Airport, and I did so without checking with anyone first.

Which, when I sum it up like that, is so blindingly obvious a fuck-up it seems impossible I didn’t see it coming.

Now, that sort of framing is fine if you’ve taken the measure of the team and know that’s where things are going and just decide to skip to the higher action parts of things.

But that’s not what I did. Bad me. -2 GM cookies.

The thing is, it wasn’t DOING those things that was the actual screw-up.

The mistake I made was in getting talked into a hard-framed in media res thing in the first place, because I hadn’t prepped for it or really thought about it much, so I was ad-libbing the whole thing without communicating first, during, or after. (My only defense is that I was tired and punchy going into the night, but that’s pretty weak tea.) If I’m going to do something like that it needs prep, and communication. That was the real mistake.

This reinforces, in a weird way, the ‘need to trust my instincts more’ note I made a few sessions back, because my instincts were to not do this, and I didn’t listen.

So that’s both ways not trusting myself (not doing and doing) messing with me, inside two or three sessions. Bleh.

On the Bright Side

It was a deprotagonizing set-up, but everyone agreed the assumptions made were fair, if extrapolated without anyone’s input (damn it just seems to stupid and OBVIOUS every time I think about it). “If we’d played through the whole lead-in,” went the response, “it wouldn’t have looked exactly the same, but it would have been darn close, so it’s okay.”

Put another way, I’m annoyed with what I did, but I think the results in the fiction were good and added a lot of great stuff to the campaign – the introduction of Rosa Rook gets associated in everyone’s mind with the situation being out of their control and with high-handed manipulation by adults, and I guess that’s a plus, there; she’s a great addition I think the whole game really needed.

So… I really wish we’d gotten there differently, but I was glad for the final destination? I dunno.

The very best suggestion in post-session discussion was that getting everyone on the same page with the start of the session could have been handled beautifully with love letters, like that ones I used in Session One and which, in one player’s words “I’ve hoped we’d use more.” Great, great idea.

AEGIS swept in for a PR coverup (“those young heroes were at the airport to stop a power-suited terrorist!”), which leads us into the next session, where I’d take the love letter feedback to heart.

Issue 14: Love Letters… Unleashed!

Hellday 6: The Helldayening

I started off the session (and, really, pretty much filled up the session) playing off of love letters I’d written for each character.

I distributed them days earlier, giving everyone time to process and consider their choices, which gave everyone a lot more buy-in. I was also open to feedback and modification of the letters, but all the feedback was positive, so nothing to do there.

As I said, playing through all this stuff pretty much filled up the whole session, and saw the realization of the 6- rolls from the past three or four sessions that I’d had on my to-do list for awhile.

Jason started … let’s call it ‘hallucinating’ a 10-year-old version of Alycia Chin, bringing the total number of holographic AI relationships on his dance card to something like 4 or 5. I’m pretty happy with that result, and I think Dave was as well, as he had mentioned during the week wishing he could get all the success AND failure results from the love letter.

Concord’s … ‘shard’ finally woke up, which is going to give him something else to contend with – a ‘voice’ for the superhero side of his Superhero/Mundane existence, which we’ve both been looking forward to. The final scene with him and his family was awesome and brutal.

I was happy to see Link protecting his people to the press – I think that was really nice to see after a couple sessions of having them at risk. Also helped us highlight his friend Otto’s accessibility issues.

I was VERY happy to have Harry in a position where we could see him being more of an expert in the public side of being a superhero. It went well, and rolled into some good stuff in the following session as well. I really liked him in that space, and alienating him from his family a bit, which we haven’t seen yet, but will.

Everything else was revealing information (background about Ghost Girl) and laying the groundwork for same (Pneuma has a weird memory error in her backup, and AEGIS has a video of the moments surrounding Jason’s Dad’s … death? which Agent Waters slipped to Quill).

All in all, very happy with this session, and the use of the love letters. I’m thinking about using a “lite” version of this for the coming session to get things sorted out a bit more.

Issue 15: In the Clutches of Late-Night Melodrama!

Thank god this Hellday is ov- WHAT DO YOU MEAN PART 7?!?

I need to get better at rationing time based on how many characters are involved in the scene. I’m not good at that, and I need to get better.

Link moves in with the Gales, a twist I did NOT see coming. Need to think more about that, because there’s some completely unexplored territory there. Yet more good stuff with Harry, which I really liked.

Jason gets some information about his dad, working with Achilles Chin, working against someone… else? Who? What? Jason’s response says he’s expecting this to really blow up in his face in short order, in a big way. I’ve got some more stuff to lay out here.

Concord’s parents tell him they want him to stop working for the Concordance. Maybe. They want to talk about it. I think Mike and I are both excited about where that’s going.

And… a couple rolls go sideways and Ghost Girl starts out investigating her family’s ties to mystic secret societies and… ends up in the Sepiaverse.

So that’s gonna be a thing.

Thoughts

  1. I love this game. I haven’t been pushed like this in years.
  2. I also haven’t doubted myself as much either, which really needs to stop.

Masks “Menagerie” Campaign – Session 6 to 10

It’s been awhile since I’ve written about our ongoing Masks game (superhero antics in the vein of Young Justice, Teen Titans, or Avengers Academy), but that in no way means the game itself has slowed. Quite the opposite.

So, if only for the sake of bragging, I thought I’d catch things up.

The last time, I covered sessions 0 though 5. This time, it’s sessions 6 to 15, so buckle up.

Before I get rolling, I want to recognize two resources that have made this broad overview far more manageable.

The first is the forum that is automatically made available for any campaign you set up on Roll20.net. (Our game is played online, and while the voice chat isn’t able to handle our group’s particular challenges, the other tools it provides are invaluable.) The forum lives here, and sees continuous, nigh-daily activity in the form of fiction, world-building, general discussion, and (of course) the blow-by-blow Actual Play summaries – usually authored by Dave Hill – which supplement if not completely stand in for my spotty recollection.

(Said forum has been made even more valuable with the addition of a custom coded search/scraper that Bill forced around roll20’s forum code at great personal effort.)

The second tool is a more recent addition to our electronic tool box, a wiki built and customized (again, mostly) by two of the players, Bill and Mike. Thanks to the organization of the wiki (and downright sexy layout), I’m able to excavate all kinds of trivia and bits of game lore that might otherwise have flared and died within minutes of being introduced into a session.

With that out of the way…


When We Last Left Our Heroes…

Sessions 1 though 5 were mostly about introducing the heroes to the people of Halcyon, and the players (and myself) to the Masks system. They had a morning show interview, a downtown brawl with some bad guys, and then rode the fallout from those events, (including the speedster getting temporarily lost in an alternate, devastated version of Earth.)

Session five saw the team looking forward or inward – taking stock of the problems they had on their plate and making plans to deal with them.

It also saw their team coming to the attention of AEGIS, the SHIELD-esque organization of the Masks universe.


Issue 6

One of the directives for a Masks GM is presenting adults as supportive but short-sighted; willing to help but always pushing their own vision and agenda on the teen heroes – help with strings attached. Okay.

Enter Agent Ted Waters (who’s probably going to be the most supportive, least strings-attached adult in the game – though that’s a low bar), an experienced AEGIS agent and the father-figure/handler for Link (whose actual father is super-villain Rossum the Minion Maker). Waters shows up at Quill Industries (the ‘sanctum’ for the team’s Doomed character) with paperwork in hand that will officially recognize the team by AEGIS… a move AEGIS hasn’t… umm…. actually sanctioned?

This paperwork is simple – it merely requires the team pick a name and an official leader. Easy, right?

The name had been under discussion via in-character posts on the forum, but we hadn’t brought it to the forefront yet. This was meant to facilitate that. They tell Ted the team will be the Menagerie and it gets the expected, bemused response from the older man (a good sign you’re on the right track in a teen-oriented game).

The ‘strings’ attached to this bit of help were more meta-level than an actual condition offered by Waters – the team had to pick a leader; a requirement I thought might generate some drama/angst/hand-wringing/reflection/et cetera.

It did all those things, so yay. 🙂

The team eventually settled on Jason Quill (the Doomed, played by Dave), a decision which the team treated with varying levels of seriousness. (Jason on one end of the panic-stricken-with-the-weighty-responsibility spectrum; speedster Mercury (Kay) providing the ‘whatever man paperwork is boring just write something in it doesn’t matter’ counterbalance.)

While Jason continued to process this development, Ghost Girl went and got herself in one kind of trouble (attacked by someone who saw her as a dangerous menace, starting both an arc and introducing her current Mundane-vs-Freak Hook), while Like found another (investigating a mutual friend’s disappearance and running afoul their supernatural kidnapper).

This development brought us to the end of the session with the team rushing to help GG, but split (“where the hell is Link?”), and under a leader (technically) who was still a bit in shock.

Issue 7: If the Graveyard Be My Destiny!

(All credit to Dave for the comic-book-classic session titles.

This session was meant to introduce one of Ghost Girl’s issues and a sort-of nemesis; Ghostheart (one of the characters from the Masks Deck of Villains) whose main deal is obsessively keeping living people over THERE, and dead people over THERE, and NO TOUCHING NO TOUCHING NOT EVER.

Charlotte is all about connecting with people amongst both the living and dead (she’s playing the Outsider playbook, and filled with wonder at the modern world in which she now finds herself), so Ghostheart seemed almost a custom-written enemy for her.

Most of the session was a nighttime fight at GG’s home cemetery against Ghostheart and a couple of his summoned demonic henchthings – Rawhide and I-Didnt-Catch-the-Other-Guy’s-Name. After the fight (and some really stilted, useless, uncomfortable leadership, beautifully delivered by Dave), the heroes (reunited, since Link was tussling with Rawhide on his own, initially) tracked down and rescued the kidnappee “@powerpony” – an online-mutual of both Link and GG’s (PC-NPC-PC relationship triangles are good – need more of those).

Offscreen

The players conducted a couple Google-Doc-based scenes after this session, simply to get them done in satisfying fashion without taking up too much in-game time.

The first was Link talking with green-lantern/Blue-beetle-esque Concord about the details of the kid’s powers.

The second was between Link and Jason – an often tense but ultimately fruitful and relationship-building ‘discussion’ about what kind of leadership the team really needed (and what kind Jason could legitimately provide).

Both scenes were great, and the ‘offline’ RP option proved a good one, though we try not to use it too much, as it tends to move characters whose players have the mid-week bandwidth for such things further center stage, in a play environment (online, short sessions) where it already seems someone ends up drawing the Spotlight Short Straw every week.


Issue 8: Lo, There Shall Be an Evening of Character Interaction!

As a means of exploring GG’s current Hook (her Mundane connections with others, versus the Freak nature of her powers), we also learned a bit more about why Ghostheart wanted GG out of public circulation – her interactions with the Living were creating some kind of ectoplasmic catnip that would inevitably attract a terrible entity known as Pandemonium to the material world.

The only way she could guarantee her living friends’ safety was stay away from them. Which sucks.

AEGIS rolled back into the picture much sooner than anyone expected, as the team called them back to take Ghostheart into custody. (The team opts NOT to go the morally-and logically-questionable route of the Flash CW show, with villains held without due process, inside a particle accelerator, and fed Big Belly Burgers on a… mostly daily schedule.)

The rest of the session involved the team either trying to help each other out with Comfort and Support-based roleplaying (with mixed but fascinating and sometimes hilarious results), or working through their own problems; Link’s robotic not-girlfriend Pneuma announced she was departing Halcyon for a bit to visit ‘someone’ in Japan, while Jason went down a digital rabbit hole, investigating how and why his nemesis Alycia Chin infiltrated Quill Compound as a lowly warehouse employee for a month.

Jason’s investigation led to a great scene where he uses his nanobots and latent genius to analyze Alycia Chin’s actions, and gets knocked cold in the process via some kind of latent … mental … something … Alycia left behind in the video recordings of her activities. Remote Memetic Programming, maybe? Image-gestalt boobytrap? That would be bad.

Issue 9: Sizzling Big Adult-Influence Issue!

The Beginning of the Day From Hell

Morning! The second Weekday of the campaign, and time once again for all good heroes to… get to school.

(Assuming they aren’t a ghost from the civil war, or unconscious, of course.)

A while back, Concord’s player had started a discussion on the forum where we all talked about whether the Nova playbook was working for him, and we collectively came to the conclusion that the Janus playbook worked better. So we retconned it.

This session was the one where we started to get into that ‘dual identity’ drama a bit more, very literally in this case (because I am a ham-fisted hack) with Concord trying to help Link with an unconscious Jason (via an energy construct copy of himself) while simultaneously attending school in his ‘real’ body. He didn’t exactly balance this out well, and ended up being sent to the principal’s office when he confused his multiple mouths and remonstrated his English teacher for being a ‘walking deceit’ when he meant to be talking to the vision of Alycia Chin in Jason’s head.

I’d call this situation a solid B effort on my part. Maybe a B-. We get better at this in short order, though, so I’m not going to beat myself up too much.

Meanwhile, Mercury and Ghost Girl spent the morning reaching out to adults for advice and input, before Mercury had to get to school.

Harry’s dad-joking, eggplant-emoji-texting dad, Silver Streak.
This is always a fraught situation in Masks – going into a scene with an adult or adults in Masks carries an undercurrent of threat akin to an armed parley with A-level super-villains. Honestly I’ve never done as much broad-spectrum damage to the team with a bad guy as I have in scenes with their well-meaning mentors dispensing advice, constructive feedback, and (horror of horrors) heartfelt praise.

It didn’t really go better here, with both Harry’s dad and the retired ‘grail knight’ Armiger (Lucius, owner/operator of the Has Beans coffee shop, downtown) kicking in their two cents about Ghost Girl’s ongoing Ghostheart/Pandemonium problem, what they thought the kids should do about it (and, ultimately, who they thought the kids should be.) They got what they were after, but Ghost Girl at least wasn’t feeling great about it afterwards, which lead to some Condition-clearing reckless behavior later. (As it should.)

Issue 10: Halcyon High-Jinks (Hell Day, Part 2)

Dave, Margie, and Katherine were all out of town, which left Jason recovering from his tussle with not-Alycia, Ghost Girl roaming the city doing reckless things without consulting the team, and Harry actually attending Gardner Academy (the private high school that tends to specialize in rich kids and publicly recognized supers).

Concord and Link, on the other hand, are on their way to HHS – Halcyon High South – part of the public school system, where they academically toil in relative anonymity.

Bill and Mike (and I) were excited to play around with that classic of teen superhero comics, the high school, so we had a good time with this. First order of business was to establish the normal day, and I had fun introducing some of the faculty, and went to the players to fill in NPCs (which gave us the wonderful Ms. “No!” Rodriguez, Leo’s lab partner.

I also introduced Taz, a new transfer and tech-nerd who seemed to either be a bit on the spectrum or way over-informed about Leo, or both. She showed up both in Leo’s chem class as well as at lunch with Leo and Adam, and was generally fun to play, freaked out the players a skosh, and has more going on that I’m looking forward to getting into.

With the norm established, it was time to get some Concord-grade villains on the stage, and that mean “galactic” villains. For this, I went back to the Deck of Villainy and pulled out The Farlander (who is just too weird looking and fun to play) and Sablestar who, by sheer coincidence in visual design, seemed to be … related to Concord and his powers in some way. There’s some vague hand-waving on her card about being a member of the Void Collective and something of a space-anarchist, but I already have an anarchist villain, so Sablestar and the VC became a kind of counter-(if not anti-)Concordance, in my head. We’ll see how that fleshes out over time.

So: a bit of fighting at the school with The Farlander, and the introduction of Sablestar, and as things get complicated we call it for the night, ready to bring in the rest of the team next session as things heat up.


That’s five of the ten sessions I wanted to cover, so I’ll stop here and do 11 to 15 in the next post. More soon!

Masks Actual Play (Sessions 0 to 5)

There’s so much in my head with the weekly Masks game, every time I try to figure out what to say about it, I’m overwhelmed a bit, so this miiiight be a little random. I’ll try to keep a rein on things.

This is NOT going to be a blow-by-blow summary. I’m aiming for a 10-thousand foot view of how things are going.

Session 0

The players (five) came up with a lovely mix of traditional heroes (a speedster Legacy, a green-lantern-ish Nova), and some stuff that really turned the playbook concepts on their heads (a power-armor-and-AI-designing Bull, a nanite-infused Doomed inspired by Johnny Quest, an Outsider who is a ghost from the civil war era, marveling at the modern world).

One of the big things you do as a group in chargen is come up with answers to the “when we first met” questions, and this series of answers (here) presented us with a showdown against “Hannibal Lectric,” an older blue-blood sort of villain that really informed a lot of initial play, especially after some things that came out at the start of Session 1.

Of note: we’re using Roll20 for a play space (and Discord for voice chat), and during our last game (Dungeon World), we’d started making more use of the embedded forums Roll20 provides for each game. This took off in a BIG way for Masks, even before Session 0, with a lot of player pre-planning, and shows no sign of slowing down. I only wish the forum posts could be grouped more, but it’s still great.

If you’re interested, the (basically audio with a slideshow) recording of Session 0 is here.

Session 1 Prep

I made up love letters for everyone in the intervening week and dropped them on the players at the start of session 1. I am quite proud of all of them. They are collected here: Jason Quill: Doomed, Concord: the Nova, Mercury: the Legacy, Link: the Bull, Ghost Girl: the Outsider.

One of the things that came out of the love letters in play was the fact that the whole fight with Hannibal Lectric was a diversion so that something more important could be acquired while everyone was distracted. (This is/was tied to our Doomed in some way.)

Following the love letters, we cut into a tense “first team fight” kind of thing… which turned out to be four of the five heroes getting interviewed on “The Morning Starr” by nigh-plasticine host Tasha Starr.

When sonic-based villain Iconoclast interrupted the broadcast, the Bull was heard to comment “Thank Christ.”

The fight immediately moved to the street outside the studio, and we stopped the session in mid-brawl, with both the Nova and Legacy rocking pretty hefty piles of Conditions.

One of the players later posted a bunch of mocked-up live-tweets of both the interview and fight, which did a great job setting the tone and feel of the city and the world. Those posts are collected here.

Session 2

The street brawl continued, immediately complicated by the arrival of Troll, a meme-spewing bruiser whose strength and power increases in direct proportion to the strength of nearby Wifi signals.

Like Tasha Starr’s excruciatingly awkward interview questions, I put some effort into prepping bits of Troll’s dialogue, which I shared with the Masks community over here.

After this session, I posted a Plotagon-created video of some super-fan’s thoughts on the interview/fight. Plotagon quickly became a fun tool for the players to create their own virtual diaries and the like, so I’m happy I introduced it.

We had some technical problems that shortened the session, which unfortunately meant we were rolling into Session 3 with the ‘introductory fight’ still happening. Eh. We play for two to two-and-a-half hours, online, so we don’t get as much covered as I might like every session, but we’re having fun.

Session 3

I’d prepped a few other villains, ready to jump in to the brawl and get their faces on the news, but the complications didn’t head that direction, so they’re still waiting for their chance.

The (speedster) Legacy raced a self-destructing Iconoclast out of the city, but a decision to “give the villains an opening” introduced the Doomed’s nemesis to the scene (looking for the Doomed, whose energy signal was all over the speedster for fiction-reasons), which in turn led to a roll that resulted in the Legacy’s powers “going horribly out of control.”

I didn’t have anything prepped for that, but a few minutes of pondering and checking some notes got me to a classic speedster complication: getting unstuck in reality/time by overloading one’s powers, leading to foreshadowing – so Mercury was flung into a sepia-toned alternate earth in which a few Big Clues were dropped.

Meanwhile, the Bull’s “Assess the Situation: How Do We End This Quickly?” question from last session was finally answered when one of the Tweeting NPCs from post-session-one let the team know Troll’s weakness with regards to Wifi signal, which lead to a nice team moment with the Bull and the Nova.

And back at the point of the original fight, the Doomed and the ghostly Outsider had a moment of Comforting and Support – the first in the game, but definitely not the last: once that move was on the table, it quickly became one of the group’s favorites.

Mercury rejoined the team (and their reality) back in the city center, and before the authorities (or more bad guys) could show up, were ushered out of sight by Jaguar, the protege of Hyena, a vigilante superhero who’d become interested in the team after their first fight. (Thank you, session 0 team questions!)

By this point in the game, the players were starting to really get into the between-session stuff. The Doomed’s player started doing video diaries with plotagon, and he and the Bull also did a few play-by-post conversations on the forum. Other players were also sharing their thoughts and creations: art, pictures, and even a collection of relevant NPCs. (Here and here.)

Session 4

Most of this session was dealing with fall-out and developments from the first big public team fight. The most ironic thing was that we didn’t do any combat in this session, and our heroes ended up with more Conditions than they’d gotten in the fight.

Highlights included the Legacy’s dad telling him what a great job he’d done (and leaving him Insecure), and the Nova getting so scared of screwing up that he forgets how to fly at the end of the session.

I believe this also marks the point where the Bull changed his “Love” to the Nova character, in a “little brother” sense. His love up to this point had been his own NPC creation, so I liked seeing that, no matter how cool the NPC is. 🙂 (His rival remains the Doomed, which is all good.)

Session 5

The events of this session encompass something like… 3 hours. Maybe four. And no combat. And still chock-a-block with STUFF HAPPENING.

I reintroduced an NPC (@powerpony) as both a contact point for the Bull and the Outsider (gotta love those PC-NPC-PC triangles), which led to some good scenes and exchanges.

The Doomed got to reveal WHY he didn’t like interfacing with the AI in his “sanctum” – its holographic interface is modeled on his dead genius father.

AEGIS makes an appearance.

More CLUES about the “Sepia-verse” come out, linking the Legacy’s walkabout to the Doomed’s backstory.

And we wrapped up with a cutscene following the @powerpony NPC as she’s grabbed by… someone. Probably the start of an Arc. Duh duh dunnnn.

And that’s where we are.

Thoughts

Man there’s a lot going on! I’ve got Hooks set up for all the players (mostly), a main arc as well as several others impatiently waiting in the wings, and I can’t wait to get to ALL of it.

I’ve said this before, but PBTA-type games really feel like running Amber Diceless in a lot of good ways. (Hard to quantify ways, but good ways.) It’s got that same sense of freedom of narration, but the dice resolution injects and asks for a wonderful amount of unexpected plot twisting that takes any prep and dials it up to the point where it simply can’t be contained in the box I’d built. Good, good stuff.

Other Thoughts

There are a lot of different kinds of PBTA games.

Some focus more on genre-emulation and the dice mechanics, less on pushing for a certain kind of story experience (Dungeon World, IMO; also the Star Wars Rebel Ops game I ran).

Some focus more on mechanics that push play hard towards certain kinds of play or story events or whatever. Urban Shadows. Monsterhearts. Stuff like that.

Masks is definitely one of those games, focused on that superhero teen drama from stuff like Young Justice, New Mutants, Teen Titans, Avengers Academy, and so forth. That’s all to the good.

The only downside-like thing I’ve run into so far has been doing the post-session analysis on our shorter sessions has led to a LOT of co-mutual Influence sharing in the group (damn near everyone has Influence on everyone right now, though maybe that’s as it should be), and a lot of Label-shifting that sometimes doesn’t feel as punchy as it could – it feels like the label-shifting could be reduced by about 20%. I’m not sure if that’s just fallout from the shorter sessions.

Other Other Thoughts

Man I don’t know what kind of alchemy is firing off, but the player engagement in this game is through the roof. We’ve been playing together for well over a year and something just hit the gas on this game, hard. I suspect it’s a mix of the mechanics and (to a great degree) the genre.

Final Thought

This one’s from Kaylee, who’s been lurking on the voice channel during games, listening in during her homework like it’s a radioplay. Her thought:

“I wish this really was a comic book, or a superhero show. It would be SO GOOD.”

And it would. It is.

Great stuff.

Masks AP: Icons

Here’s a playlist of our first four (five) sessions of Masks, including Session 0 chargen, plus several plotagon video diaries players have done up.

A few notes:

  • Session 0 video was screwed up, so I turned that into an audio track with illustrative imagery.
  • Session 1 audio is jacked up – you can hear the GM fine and everyone else is EXTREMELY faint.

After that I ironed the bugs out, though honestly the whole thing works best as an audio podcast style thing, because we don’t do a LOT with the video except share illustrative memes while people are talking. 🙂

PC Video Journal

The player for Jason Quill (nanobot-infused Doomed in our campaign, loosely based on Johnny Quest) posted a video diary, following our first big fight.

(And tip of the hat to our power-armor-designing Bull, who also posted a journal in our Roll20 forum, full of angst and self-recrimination.)

I love living in the future. And damned if I don't love this game.

Masks Campaign Material – Super-YouTubers

We've had two play sessions of our Masks campaign so far.

The game opened with an excruciating interview between the team and morning show host Tasha Starr (of The Morning Starr), in which she asks them about the team, themselves, and the fight against Hannibal Lectric that brought them all together.

Things got complicated when Iconoclast (and, later, a superthug named Troll) interrupted the interview.

The storm of social media surrounding the interview is still going (as is the fight itself), but that hasn't stopped one fan from posting her thoughts.

In the wake of the interrupted interview between our team and morning show host Tasha Starr, super-tweeter "My Little Power Ranger" (@heroesaremagic) hops on YouTube to share her thoughts on what went down – was it fake? A publicity stunt?

Or was it something else?

https://youtu.be/fbjkH1eQBEI

Masks, Session 0

The video recording for this session went wonky, so here's the audio for our Masks session 0.

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B5y9JJSSCg1pZnNWNDZGS2NQNUk/view?usp=sharing

I'm SUPER excited to see these kids in action.

Link, the power-armored super-genius with a very complicated family life (Bull)
Concord, the way-too-young host of the Powers of Valor (Nova playbook)
Jason Quill, one-time child science adventurer, now 'protected' by a cloud of nanobots that seem to be… absorbing his psyche (Doomed)
Ghost Girl, the ghost of a civil-war-era girl, brought back to the wondrous world of the future (Outsider)
Harry Gale, a.k.a. Mercury – the youngest member of The World's Fastest Family (Legacy)

It's going to be a good time.

2017-08-08 – Masks 0 – w music.mp3 – Google Drive
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Breakers: The Secret World

(So… I made the mistake of clicking on Google Drive while editing a g+ post, and lost a meaty actual play and an hour of my life, because fuck-you, Google+, you joy-stealing bundle of 20% hacks.)

So, short version: despite planning on Masks (and making up a team of four cool heroes with the girls, my son, and wife), my oldest daughter and niece ended up actually playing World of Dungeons: Breakers during our vacation (since neither son nor wife could reliably participate), BUT due to my niece's unfamiliarity with the inspirational source media for Breakers, we stepped back from wacky Ghostbuster-style-dungeon-crawling, and went for a creepy horror game (niece's request) inspired by The Secret World MMO. (Start off by pretending the events in TSW make coherent narrative sense from start to finish – a conceit Breakers easily provides – and chuck everything that doesn't support that connecting tissue.)

It worked, it was cool, and we got to fight zombies, a wendigo, and barnacle-encrusted horrors from the unknown watery deeps.

Relative links include the Breakers rules (http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf), the random table of plausible character backgrounds for Breakers (https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1F_elby4nOucw0F6MwKHMtGxsCNQJ0O6JXhQ7LqB2fLk/edit?usp=sharing), and the attached map.

 

Dungeon Raiding 101

Had a fun evening that ran a little later than expected, doing something I haven't done in a long time.

Or ever, depending on how you look at it.

I did a group dungeon run in an MMO. Haven't done that in a long time.

I did it with two of my kids, so… yeah. That's new.

The vehicle for this bit of virtual heroic was a perennial game around our house: Pirate 101.

Now, we've been playing stuff from Kingsisle Entertainment for quite some time – http://randomaverage.com/index.php/2010/04/my-daughter-the-wizard/“>Kaylee played Wizard 101 for the first time back in 2010, before she turned five. The game's in-house popularity comes and goes (personally, I enjoy it, and there's enough going on with the pop-culture jokes, storyline, and card-building combat system that I don't get bored), but it's installed on our machines far more than not (and it runs on everything but the tablets and chromebooks, which is nice).

A few weeks ago, Kaylee started making noises about how she missed playing Pirate101, which shares the same basic setting as Wizard101, but with different classes, and more tactical, turn- and grid-based combat system (sort of a big-pixel version of X-Com combat, with cool animations when it plays out), and I was getting a leeeeettle tired of Sean's obsession with Overwatch, so I stuck both Wizard 101 and Pirate 101 back on, and let the kids go to town.

![Move-planning grid.](https://s.blogcdn.com/massively.joystiq.com/media/2012/08/pirate101-board.jpg "Move-planning grid.")

![Resulting animations.](https://edgecast.pirate101.com/image/free/Pirate/Images/Slideshows/combat3.jpg "Resulting combat animations!")

Sean enjoyed watching his sister rock the Pirate thing, but spent most of his own play time as Sean Bearhammer, young wizard.

…until a few days ago, when he decided he wanted to try out the Pirate side of the Spiral – where there's a bit more action in combat, and EVERYONE has a crew of cool anthropomorphic animals fighting on your side. Yeah. Hard to see why THAT was a draw.

It took him a few days to really figure out the combat system (and I have to force myself not to watch him play, because he make sub optimal choices GAHHHhhhh…), but by yesterday he was caught up to where Kaylee and I had gotten on our main guys, if not just a bit ahead.

So, in lieu of regular bedtime activities, we teamed up (Sean as his combat-heavy Buccaneer, Kaylee as her magic-hurling Witchdoctor, and me playing a sort of support & tactics Privateer) and headed to a (if not THE) lost city of gold, where we fought a lot of dinosaurian bad guys and, a BIT too late into the evening, decided to take down the final dungeon.

So… yeah. That was the evening – dungeon raiding with my kids for sweet loot and new skills.

It was pretty great.

Prepping for Breakers

We're heading out for a family vacation next week, my niece (13) is coming along, and she wants to do some gaming. (I've talked about gaming with Kaylee and her cousins in the past. It's a thing.)

Anyway, her only request was something "spooky" or suspenseful. Beyond that, "you and Kaylee pick something."

After some thinking (and considering what I'm going to be willing to pack), I've decided on Breakers (which is a hack/upgrade of World of Dungeons, which in turn is a hack of Dungeon World). – http://onesevendesign.com/breakers_wodu_turbo.pdf

The magical realm of Kyvr'ax has collided with Earth, shearing the dimensions and creating a mashed-up borderland between our reality and the monster-infested domain of the wizard Kai Shira Kai. You play working-class heroes who explore the twisted Break seeking fame and fortune. But don't stay too long, or the Cloud of Woe will surely find you!

Basically, it's an excuse to play modern-day characters dungeon-crawling like it's an ordinary job. Sort of Torg crossed with Inspectres? Sure. 🙂

Anyway, because it's Monday and I've got other stuff I'm supposed to be doing, I decided to come up with a table of Breaker origins/backgrounds. Just in case, you know?

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1KKJJNXj7w55ESHpQYvwAggtBbC2el6YYg3PH1YKotv0/edit?usp=sharing

Dungeon World Character Creation Thread

We’re starting up a mini-campaign of Dungeon World, with most of the conversation taking place in a single private Google+ conversation thread.

But it was too good, so I’m saving most of it here for posterity. Sorry the formatting is so terrible. Blame G+.


Okay, I think the plan I’m going to go with is running a Dungeon World thing, followed by a Masks thing. (I’m especially jazzed about Masks since I just got a new packet of playbooks from the Kickstarter yesterday, but patience…)

SO, here’s the particulars.

The Roll20 page is [link redacted] – you can jump in there and open a character sheet and put in stats and moves as you like, if you’re super motivated. (Mike, your Artificer is in there already.)

Dungeon World is baaaasically a PBTA take on classic DnD, so the standard DnD classes are there: Fighter, Wizard, Cleric, et cetera, and you can dig into alternate playbooks if you want to go the Basic DnD route of “Dwarf is a character class” or whatever. The System Resource document has all the basic classes, but seriously if you have some kind of fantasy trope you want to play, ask, because it probably exists out there somewhere.

Once I know what people are playing, I will hit you with personality and background questions.

The tone of the game will be fantasy closer to White Dwarf and Heavy Metal magazine covers than The Hobbit. Magic is powerful, weird, and dangerous.

We’ll be using Flags instead of Bonds, so ignore Bonds in the rules.

That’s about everything I can think of right now.


Mike Yay! Glad to finally be back to Dungeon World and interested in how Flags play out. Might I also suggest this document.


Doyce Oh I like those! Good stuff!

Basically, unless you’re a bard or some other highly social character (some priests might qualify), pick or design two flags for people to hit. If you’re super-social, three.


Mike BTW Doyce, are we still going to be doing the thing with the timeloop where my artificer remembers what happened that you’d mentioned in the previous thread, or are we doing something else? Will probably help me determine my Flags.


DoyceWhat do you think? I was thinking something like you suddenly find yourself riding a horse on the way to Frostberry at the base of the mountain, with these people you know, but also with that other set of very vivid (but fading?) “memories”… it would tie into your experiments in the cabin pretty well.

Or you could play someone else and your other guy can be a backup character following someone’s gruesome death. 🙂


Doyce Actually, Mike, I was looking over my notes from that other session, and guess what? During the lead-in questions, we found out that group was actually the SECOND group you were heading to the mountain with – the first group was wiped out before you ever got to the mountain.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BE TRYING TO REACH THE PEAK? 🙂

(~Ash tries to play it cool as he relives a hellish groundhog day scenario for the 113th time…~)


Mike I’d forgotten all about that. Man, Ash really shouldn’t have played with that clock… every single time.

I kind of like the idea of Ash just flashing back to town, with a brand new group of adventurers ready to head up to the Mountain. “Gods below, why is it always a new group of people? Why do the memories always end when we get to the door? Why is it always the same day but everything is different? Maybe things will turn out differently this time…”


Doyce

I love this, so much. 🙂

Also of use: the dungeonworldsrd.com site has a section just on Character Creation – nice, since the actual character class pages don’t cover things like “what stat numbers you get.”


Dave I’ve been re-reading the Flags article Doyce originally linked to at http://walkingmind.evilhat.com – From Bonds to Flags.

(Saying this aloud to be sure I get the idea): a Flag is a Significant Personality Trait, with how others can tap it to demonstrate it (both trait and tap being something that makes the game interesting) and so earn them an XP.


Doyce

I would say the label of a flag is usually expressed as a personality trait, although the actual flag itself is the action that somebody takes to point at that personality trait

To go down a little bit further, it’s not just a personality trait that your character has, it’s an aspect of your character that you think will be FUN to see called out fairly regularly in play. People are going to be getting Xp rewards for hitting this thing, so they’re going to want to hit it. if you don’t want to see it… actually I’m going to say that if you don’t think you’ll enjoy seeing it repeatedly, pick something else.


Dave

(As a side note, and not to discourage anyone, but bearing in mind that this is meant to be a short campaign, it may not be necessary to boil the ocean to create our characters. Though I’ll confess I have several paragraphs of backstory already written …)


Doyce

He’s going to feel so silly when he dies in the first room.


Bill No worries, I can run an immediate sequel campaign using Wraith: the Oblivion.


Dave Is there a mechanical reason to put the Flags in the Roll20 Bio page, vs. putting them in on the main character sheet as if they were Bonds?

(We’ll probably want to gather all of those into a convenient document, since we need to know each other’s Flags more than our own.)


Doyce The bio page is the only page that other people can see, other than the people who can actually edit the character sheet. So you can see the part of the sheet with all the stats and numbers and moves, but somebody else looking at your sheet can only see that bio page. So if I wanted to see what flags to hit on your character, I can click on your character sheet and see those flags on the front page, but I won’t be able to see them if they’re inside your character sheet, and even if I could see them in the character sheet they’re a lot harder to find in there. 🙂

Basically I would put them in both places, but I’m weird like that.

Put another way: The bio page is basically for everything you want other people to see and know about your character


Dave Poifect, thanks.


Bill Did anyone else figure out what they are playing?


Doyce

Dave’s got a bard, Mike is doing his Artificer, Kay is I think gravitating toward a Ranger or Fighter. I don’t know about Margie yet, and my personal experience with her character choices, while extensive, isn’t deep enough to let me guess.

I do know that she’s usually as willing as you are to fill a needed gap, so you need not wait.

Right now, the ‘gaps’ are primarily thief- and fighter- or cleric-shaped, I think?

That said, it’s three sort of hybrid classes so far, so more dual-mode stuff (an unclassed ‘elf’ or ‘dwarf’ or something, for example) also works.

Knowledge/lore stuff can be covered by both the Artificer and Bard, but don’t let that rule out a Cleric or proper spell-caster.

I mean, really, I’d say go for whatever type of play most appeals to you – if you guys don’t end up with a bend-bars/lift gates or lockpick person, you’ll have to work the problems another way. 🙂


Dave I shall sing to the iron bars and they shall part to let me pass!

Or … most likely not.


Doyce My favorite part about the alternate Bard playbook is that it’s specifically designed to remove the ‘singing with a lute in the middle of a fight’ stuff. 🙂


Bill Okay, stock Thief is statted in Roll20.


Dave I will noodge the kinfolk.


Mike Bill, you say “stock thief” but the image makes me think of a very specific thief who wants my HP or my GP. 😉


Bill I’m not picky.


Doyce“Cowardly: Put us in situations I can justly complain about.”

Well, there’s everyone XP fountain for the game.

PERFECT. 🙂


MikeHey, Ash and Basler can complain about everything together! 😀

Actually just noticed that they both have the same flag, just named slightly different; I found mine under the Lawful header, but I figured I’d rename it for something more character appropriate.


Doyce Hmm. Yeah, that duplicate flag might be troublesome. Something to ponder. Hmm…


MikeOh I don’t know Doyce, that just means that Ash and Basler will want different things to complain about. Can’t speak for Bill, but from the Cowardly tag it sounds like he wants Basler to complain about being put into dangerous situations that he doesn’t want that he can complain about. “Hey Basler, this hallway looks suspicious. Mind taking a look?” “Oh, I don’t know…”

I see Ash’s more of seeing other people in danger and after helping them, complaining about being put upon to help. (just making some assumptions here…) Eduard: “Oh no, I’m being beset on all sides! Someone help me!” Ash: disgusted noise “I swear, if I wasn’t around to pull your butts out of the fire.”

Sure it’s a slight distinction, but I can see it being quiet different in play. Sort of an internal vs. external dynamic, if that makes sense.


DoyceI am 100% on board if you guys are. 🙂


DoyceKay has given you all a marvelous gift for this campaign.


Bill “Go fight that demon! This talisman will protect you.”

By the time that PC dies, the rest of us will have leveled up enough to beat it.


Doyce Actual conversation I had with kay on Roll20 tonight:

“Seriously, can I trust the thief?”

GM looks at your ‘Gullible’ flag.

“Absolutely.”


Bill


Doyce

This whole thread is a national treasure.


MikeJust checked out all the characters on the Roll20 page and I must say I’m very excited for tonight’s game.


Dave Yeah, thank goodness this is just a one-off adventure, otherwise folk might have put real effort into devising interesting characters …


Doyce

If you guys don’t end up destroying the world, I will keep them around for additional Adventures.


And here they are:

Ash Ulric, Artificer
ash

Basler
basler

Eduard Zitherhands, Bard
Eduard

Tiana, the rough mercenary turned paladin
tiana

Torwin the Courageous (among other things)
Torwin

Star Wars: Rebel Ops Update

I don't make a habit of posting links to the AP videos for our ongoing online Star Wars game, mostly because they're just a LOT of them (21 sessions recorded, with two additional missing sessions where we had technical difficulties).

23 sessions in about 46 weeks isn't too bad, as far as I'm concerned.

I'm sharing this one just because I'm happy with the way Roll20 is now working as our all-in-one voice, video, and virtual table solution, and happy with the OBS recording software and how the whole thing looks. It's not perfect, but it's pretty decent.

Plus it was just a fun session – lots of things going sideways in various ways, which is always a hoot – and set up some stuff I'm really looking forward to.

Visually, not a lot happening on the screen (I didn't use any maps or really drop in too many pictures this time), but I always like having the recording.

Star Wars World: Rebel Ops

Hey all.

I know there's a fair bit of love for +Andrew Medeiros's Star Wars World around here, so (prompted by +Aaron Griffin?) I thought I'd share a hack of that hack – Star Wars World: Rebel Ops.

The really short version of the changes from SWW is:
* Slightly tougher characters/less brutal combat.
* Different Force mechanics, mostly related to Corruption/Dark Side stuff and how that's handled by the players and GM.
* 66% fewer Jedi playbooks, to match the era/scope.
* Three new playbooks: The Droid, The Partisan, and the Slicer.
* Changes to pretty much every other playbook, except (for some reason) Gearhead.

There's a longer changelog thing on the front page.

Anyway: my group switched from FAE and have been playing with this for a couple weeks now, and it's going well, so I thought I'd share the fruits of many late-night editing sessions.

https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B5y9JJSSCg1pend2TE9TeTFBbDQ

SWW Rebel Ops.pdf – Google Drive
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Star Wars Rebel Ops, PTBA

Second session of running Rebel Ops, using a new (PtbA) game system for everything.

Very enjoyable stuff – good fight, and some fun RP scenes. I'm quite happy with how things are playing out in the new system, and also how it fits with my GMing style.

Also happy with the fact that game seems to be encouraging more player contributions. Weird, because it's not like Fate discourages that sort of thing, but it seemed more prevalent this time. Yay. 🙂

After a long break, some No Thank You, Evil! this afternoon

+Sean Testerman (5 and a half) wandered into my office, pulled out the NTYE box, opened it up, and told me it had been too long since we played.

We dusted off "Ado, the Sneaky Creature who Runs Like the Wind" (and his Invisible Friend with Big Ears, Ryan), and Ado announced he wanted to visit The Hive (from the land Into the Closet).

I flipped through the various enemies available while Ado Ran Like the Wind toward the Hive, spotted the PERFECT-looking Argle Bargle enemy, and by the time he got there, Ado was greeted with an eerie silence: no bees buzzed around the Hive. He snuck inside and found out they'd all be caught in their own honey (which had magically become alive and evil – the reskinned Argle Bargle).

Ado leapt to help his bee-friends, taking a huge delicious bite out of his enemy. He got honey-walloped in return, but a distraction from Ryan and some speedy running left the evil honey mastermind too dizzy to keep fighting. Victory!

The queen, once freed, rewarded Ado with honey cakes, a gold coin, and a big party.

  

In Album 2016-09-25

Dungeon World with Kaylee, via Google+ Polls

She got a 7 on her Defy Danger, trying to rush by some guards and get to the big bad, and it's time for Ugly Choices.

(And yeah, I know this sort of scene is pretty bog-standard and not full of the angst and internal turmoil you can get in PtbA games, but for an 11 year old, this choice is plenty ugly enough.)

Man I like running this game.

 

Star Wars, Rebel Ops – Shadowpoint Housekeeping, Part 1

After a too-long hiatus, we're back to playing our Star Wars approach-less FAE hack game. Short session, but we got started again, which is the main thing.

Lots of wrestling with Roll20 and Hangouts, again, because Google. 😛

Anyway…

Our heroes have seized the double-secret Imperial installation on the planet of Onderon, once called “Whisper Base,” for the Rebel Alliance.

They now have access to a secret, off-the-books facility plugged into the Imperial communications network—a powerful resource for the struggling Rebellion. However, while the Imperial bureaucracy at large does not have any knowledge of the base, the PCs must still contend with its master and originator, Moff Dardano, who is willing to do anything to recover his lost asset without allowing his rivals in the Empire to learn of its existence, much less of its capture. It is only a matter of time before the Moff takes action to reclaim the base and bring it back under his control…

Several regular players couldn't make our regular Hangouts game, so we played Dungeon World!

Started off with questions about the player's characters (an artificier, immolator, and an elven fighter) and background (elves were cast down from the moon and now live on the surface, unable to bear the moon's light).

Once I knew what was up with everyone, we dug into their motivation for seeking the long-abandoned temple at the peak of Death Frost mountain.

We didn't finish (everyone's standing around a padlocked trapdoor in an old petrified cabin at the top of the mountain), but a good creepy time was had.

(You can accomplish a lot as a GM with disconcerting furniture.)

Star Wars: Rebel Ops – The Onderon Job, Part 2

… in a different part of the Galaxy.
… eighteen months PRIOR to the events of the first six sessions.
… with a resistance group that actually isn't part of the Rebellion…

We're doing a two err… three session series with a different group of characters, partly to fill in some backstory and partly to test out some rules tweaks.

No thank you, Evil!

My daughter and I have played a lot of RPGs together, but nothing in recent memory has gotten her psyched up like Laurelai, a sneaky kid who reads great books – the character she just made up for No Thank You, Evil!

The character concept fired her imagination, as did all of the conversations she's already imagining between herself, her "I Gotcher Back" pack, and her animated stuffy companion/invisible friend, Knuffle Bunny.

This is also the first time she's read a rulebook cover to cover in one sitting; the great design and great art has my five year old calling for his turn making a guy.

This game has the potential to be a big win in a house with stiff competition.

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee (and Zoe!)

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee, as I have been known to do.

For some reason, I always seem to ‘find the time’ to do this sort of thing on a night when I have a hard stop looming (in this case, a Star Wars game at 8pm), but we did manage to get the evening sorted out pretty quickly, giving us close to an hour to play.

Since we’d last played Mouse Guard (using a variant of the Risus rules set), I’d done a little shopping, and picked up a couple cool, custom Mouse Guard lego figs from crazy bricks – mix them together with a some weapons from Brick Arms, and we had pretty good minis for Conner and Laurel.

Do I need minis for this game? I do not. Not at all.

Did I want them for the kids to play with anyway, so they can gave Mouse adventures whenever they want? Yes I do.

So we grabbed our dice-rolling frisbee (hot tip: have smaller kids roll their dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum), the index cards on which we’d scribbled character sheets last time and, with Zoe tucked in and Momma running some evening errands, sat down to play.

“So, in case you don’t remember…” I began.

“We really need to figure out what happened to that postmaster mouse from last time,” said Sean, fiddling with his minifig. “If we can’t find him, there’s no way for Elmoss to get mail.”

I blinked.

I mean, seriously: the kid is five, and we haven’t played in two weeks. He can’t remember where he left the socks he had on five minutes ago, but this… this he remembered.

“I’m impressed, Seanie,” Kaylee said. She looked at me. “All I remember from last time was talking to those robins.”

“Right?” I said. “Okay, let’s investigate that house where the postmaster was attacked.”

Our Heroes

Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.

Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0


The two guardmice, with the assistant post-mouse in tow, went to the head postmouse’s home and started investigating. Windows were damaged. The front door was torn off the hinges, and the inside was in worse shape.

“I think I know what it is,” intoned Sean, as Conner. He looked at me, face serious. “Blood-eyed owl!”

“Please no,” Kaylee whispered.

I'm with Kaylee on this one.

“Well, I said,” something like an owl couldn’t get into Elmoss without people seeing it, and probably couldn’t get inside the house. It was definitely something bigger than a mouse, but not huge. What do you want to check out?“

The mice did some digging, and discovered some footprints in the flour scattered around the kitchen. Laurel (Kaylee) was able to identify the prints as weasel tracks, and Conner (Sean) realized they led down into the cellar.


Right about here, Zoe (two and a half) decided she wasn’t ready for bedtime, and showed up at the edge of the table, staring wide-eyed at the dice.

“Can I play? Pleaaase?”

Yeah, I’m not going to say no to that.

“Zoe, do you want to play a butterfly?” Kaylee asked, pointing out her sidekick to me.

“No.”

“It’s okay,” I said, pulling my youngest onto my lap, “I’ve got an idea. Zoe, what do you want your mouse to be named?”

Emilie (brownfur, blue cloak)
Jumpy tenderfoot (4)
Assistant Postmouse (3)
(Stinkystripey, my bumblebee friend (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0 0 0 0

“I- I’m c-coming with you,” said the assistant postmouse as the two guards headed down into the cellar.

The three mice got into the basement (some confusion here, as Zoe thought we were supposed to pick up all our things and go down into our real basement), and found a tunnel dug through the side of the cellar, behind a big shelf.

“What would a weasel want with a postmouse?” Laurel wondered. “It’s just strange.”

They followed the winding tunnel (hand-dug, but seemingly not that new) until the air began to change, becoming dustier and more mildewy… then it opened into a much broader space: the many-pillared spaces of Darkheather!

Laurel was astonished – she had no idea Darkheather extended so far under the Territories.

The mice looked for more tracks and, while they found none, spotted a light in the distance and crept toward it as quietly as possible (something Conner excelled at and the other two… well…)

As soon as they could make out voices and the sound of flowing water, they stopped. The weasel and the mouse where talking, and they didn’t sound like enemies.

“This bag is full of nothing but papers!” the weasel hissed.

“Those ‘papers’ are every message Lockhaven’s sent through my offices in the past year,” the postmouse explained. “With that, you’ll know everything they’re planning.”

“RRRRrrrgg,” the weasel growled. “I’ll take this to my masters, but if it isn’t as you say, I’ll be back here for our gold, and the next attack won’t be false.”

“Fine,” said the mouse. “I’ll be gone, in any case. I’m dead here – off to a new town and a new name. I’ll be in touch once I’ve settled in.”


“Can we grab that mouse?” asked Kaylee.

“Sure,” I said, “but the weasel’s in a kind of canoe in the waterway, and he’s already got the letters, so…”

Her eyes went wide. She turned to Sean. “Get. That. Weasel.”

Laurel moved to pin down the postmouse (working with her companion), while Conner charged straight at the weasel.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“I’m going to jump right at him and chop his nose into pieces!” announced Sean, and he did… something with his mouse figure that snapped the blade right off his little plastic sword. Oops.

Kaylee rolled enough successes (we’re counting 4, 5, 6 as successes – part of the Risus Guard rules I’m using) to pin down the postmouse, and Zoe had her bumblebee buzz right at the weasel’s head to distract him.

Sean came in, rolling his four dice, and got two sixes and a five.

Now, in this system, sixes explode, so he can roll two more dice and count them.

Two more sixes.

Roll again.

Six and a two. The kids are howling with glee.

Roll again.

Five.

“So… that’s… seven success… on four dice.”

“Daddy,” said my wife, who’d been listening in from the next room. “I think he got him.”

Indeed.

Taking Sean’s minifig mishap as inspiration, I described Conner leaping out at the weasel and chopping the sword down into the weasel’s nose so hard it went right into his head and stuck, breaking the blade off before the weasel tumbled into the water. It was a real “Lieam versus the snake” moment.

Flawless victory. The mice retrieved the letter satchel, turned the traitor postmaster over to the locals, and prepared to head back to Lockhaven to report to Gwendolyn.


Hindsight

Zoe did great! She loved rolling however many dice I asked her to roll, and could even sort the successes from failures easily by focusing on pulling out the 1s, 2s, and 3s. Time to order a third mouse guard minifig…

Sean’s ability to keep track of everything from session to session impresses me, especially because he never seems to be paying attention until right when he needs to roll dice (don’t know where he gets that from…)

Kaylee, at 10, is much more interested in the larger mystery, and she’s so supportive of her siblings, even though it slows things down a lot and means we don’t get as much covered. She said something like “all I did was pin a mouse down in the fight, but… Sean’s roll was so awesome, it made up for it.”

And, just to reiterate: Roll dice in a frisbee or something similar – it really keeps the dice-chasing down to a minimum.

So: good game, good fight, good night!

Emilie, Emilie, jump up and down. Original art by Drexilwatcher.

Risus Supers!

S. John Ross (creator of Risus) mentioned a plan to run some one-shot game sessions online. I, like many others, voiced interest in this and (through a combination of luck and getting woken up before 6am by my kids) managed to snag a spot in the first game he decided to run: a one shot supers game this Friday.

Pre-generated characters were available, and while I was fine with that idea, I also pitched a short concept for a character a few people may be familiar with from back in my City of Heroes/DCUO days.

John liked my proposal, and we bounced feedback back and forth until we had nailed down a version we were both happy with. I’m putting it up here both to document the results and because I think it’s neat and interesting how the same basic character concept takes on different nuances when it’s expressed in different game systems.

The bullet lists beneath each cliche for this character are essentially the tools of the trade that come along with each cliche (defining those tools was a lot of the back and forth that John and I focused on). By default, tools of the trade are literal things you might possess, but as you can see, they can also cover demeanor, talents, areas of expertise, and ‘color’ for the character in question.

I’m looking forward to the game.


Lukacs Tolbathy, bastard child of a conniving war-witch and one of the Earth Princes of Utumno. (One of. His mother might know exactly which one, but she’s not saying, and rumors of her misspent youth indicate no less than fifteen likely candidates and twice the number “possibles.”).

With nothing in common with his mother and no connection to Utumno, Lukacs set out into the everworlds to find a life of his own. The alien invasion [or whatever Big Meta Thing is going on in the setting] lured him to Earth — providing him both a place where his native abilities were of use (in the role of a ‘superhero’), and where he stands some small chance of finding… What?

It’s possible Lukacs himself doesn’t know.

Pummelcite

Half-breed earth elemental prince: (4)
– tough skin, manifesting stony fists, forming a big rock hammer to hit stuff with, or doing… sort of earth-bender type stuff with the ground
– sense of hidden nobility
– humility of the low-born
– basic knowledge of the ‘everworlds’

Kind-hearted strongman: (3)
– supernaturally strong
– friendly eyes
– imposing silhouette
– third-tier beard

Half-trained witch’s apprentice: (2)
– basic cantrips and few ‘oh crap’ spells.
– might be able to cobble together a ritual, maybe. Given a lot of time and books he doesn’t possess.
– generalist knowledge of the comic book “supernatural” (as opposed to tech or mutant/metahuman stuff)

Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

tmp_14273-pummelcite-771518943

Mouse Guard Risus with Sean and Kaylee

Last night, I swapped out normal bedtime activities for a little RPG fun with Sean and Kaylee. I’ve done this in the past, and I’ve even done stuff with Kaylee and Sean before, but it’s been quite a while since we’ve been able to find time (blame moving, swim practice damn near every night, too much homework, and a two year old who’s neither ready to play, go to bed, or leave the big kids alone).

I didn’t have much time, but I’d kind of promised a game of some kind to Sean, Kaylee allegedly had her homework done, and dammit I wanted to do something.

That something, somewhat unexpectedly, turned out to be Mouse Guard.

Last week, Kaylee was poking around my gaming shelves. She pulled out a copy of the Mouse Guard RPG, asked what it was, and basically lost her mind when I told her it was a roleplaying game based on Mouse Guard. This reaction was unexpected; we’d been pitching game ideas for the last couple months and hadn’t really hit on anything that totally thrilled both of us, and I knew she and Sean both liked the comics, but Mouse Guard simply hadn’t occured to me.

So: setting and story solved — all I needed was a system.

Now, I’ve run the official version of the game in the past, and it’s fine – parts of it are brilliant – but it’s not something I’m going to play, these days. I wanted something lighter, something five year old friendly, and aside from all that something I personally wanted to run.

I got pretty excited when I found Mouse World – the author mentions the documents aren’t quite done, and he’s totally right; but while they may need an editing and reorganization pass, they are absolutely playable, and Kaylee and I took a few minutes this weekend to make up a guard mouse scout named Laurel. I love the PtbA mechanics, and I already know Sean can handle adding a couple d6s and a stat. The fact the MW hack uses checkbox conditions rather than hitpoints is another pro-kid vote in favor.

I’m looking forward to running the game at some point, but that didn’t end up being what I ran last night.

When push came to shove and I was moments away from the forty minute window we had to play, I decided on Risus, with a few optional rules added.

Risus has been around quite awhile, with a very dedicated fan base, and has a deserved reputation for being light and easy. It also has a rep for being a silly, comedy RPG (partly due to the author’s undeniable humor in presentation), and while it can certainly do comedy, I’m quite sure it could do lots of other stuff as well. I’d already been thinking about it for Star Wars, and had refreshed myself on some of my favorite optional rules, so I grabbed three six-packs of d6s for me, Kaylee, and Sean, some index cards, pencils, and headed downstairs.

Risus characters are pretty straightforward. You get ten dice to allocate to character-defining cliches (and a few other things), and when you want to do something, you pick the cliche you want to use, roll as many dice as the cliche has for its rating and, in the basic rules, add them up and see if the total is high enough. Here’s what we came up with:

tmp_808-Laurel - purple-redfur-1053912813
Laurel (redfur, purple cloak)
Experienced scout guard mouse (4)
Animal spirit-talker (4)
((Falcon, my monarch butterfly companion (3))
Lucky shots: 0 0 0

Laurel travels light, with a narrow-bladed sword, a few daggers, and small pack of supplies.

 

tmp_808-Mouse Guard Conner-771518943
Conner (brownfur, red cloak)
Sneaky guard mouse (4)
Heavily armed fighter (4)
(Buzzer, my dragonfly buddy (3))
Lucky Shots: 0 0 0

Any Risus-heads will recognize the optional rules we’re using so far: Sidekicks (trade in one die for a three-dice rated companion who can help you out sometimes), and Lucky Shots (trade in one dice for a pool of three renewable dice that can be added to any roll (one per roll) as a boost).

The only other optional rule I decided to use that’s pretty close to the rules for Simpler Risus. (I don’t know if that name is accurate, to be honest, but it’s something I wanted to try out.) Basically, instead of rolling your dice and adding them together, you count the dice that come up >3 as Successes. There were two main reasons for this:

  1. I generally like success-counting combined with ‘success at cost’ for failed rolls.
  2. Sean can certainly add up a bunch of dice (he started rolling and doing exactly that as soon as I handed him his set), but I knew from playing Hero Kids that at his age it’s much faster to have him separate the dice into high and low piles after a roll. Whenever we play, time is the big limiting factor to play, so this was a no-brainer.

Also, at his reading level, a *World character sheet isn’t going to fly. I needed something he could read.

(I may do something like Mouse World conditions, rather than the Risus diminishing dice pools, but it didn’t come up in play this time, so who knows?)

Why didn’t you just run Hero Kids, with mice, like you’ve talked about doing before?

I couldn’t find the books. 🙁

I think they’re still in book boxes until our basement is finished. (Just a few more weeks!)

Blah blah blah, rules-nerd: What happened in the GAME?

Right. Time to play. We now have 30 minutes.

The spring thaw has come, and with it, Gwendolyn’s first missions of the season. Laurel and Conner are dispatched to Elmoss with a satchel of mail. (Normally, she’d send at least three guard mice, but as Laurel is an experienced scout and grew up in Elmoss, it’s just two of them.)

I started off by asking Laurel to check the weather and plan their route. I told her she’d need a lot of successes to do a perfect job (4), because success-at-cost at that point in a mission is fun, but she shut me down with a perfect roll of four successes on four dice. Nevermind, then.

Basic route charted, I let the kids decide who was going to be the trailblazer (finding the best route forward, on the ground), and who would be the lookout. Laurel was the trailblazer, since she’s a scout, and we figured Conner was good for roaming lookout, since he’s sneaker. In this, both kids rolled, and came up with a few successes each. Laurel guided them along well enough, and things are going smoothly until they hit a wide, fast-moving stream that isn’t supposed to be there – spring runoff has cuz them off and left Laurel scratching her head on a muddy riverbank.

Meanwhile, Conner catches the sound of some birds approaching. He can’t find them in the overgrowth, but sneaks back to Laurel without alerting them. The mice hear them coming, and not knowing what kind of birds they might be, take cover.

Turns out it’s a couple ruffled looking robins, who drop in next to the stream, drink a bit of water, and start pecking around, looking for worms in the muddy bank.

Laurel decides this might be just the help they need to get past the stream and steps out to hail the birds in their own language.

(Once success, needed two.)

Unfortunately, it’s been quite awhile since she’s spoken Robin, and she’s rusty. Adding to that, the robins are grumpy, rattled (they were just chased by a falcon!), and hungry. When Laurel asks if she can trouble them for a lift over the stream, they say they’ll do it for food: about about those two big bugs the mice have with them?

“No!”

“Well don’t be greedy, little mouse… you can’t eat both of them yourself…”

Laurel calms down and suggests the two guard mice can help the robins find more appropriate food and, once the birds have their fill, they can carry the guards over the stream.

What this means is the mice do a lot of digging and mucking around in the muddy river bank, hauling out nightcrawlers for the ravenous robins. By the time they’re done, they are muddy, grumpy, and tired, but the robins are happy and carry them over the rushing water with no more problems.

The mice continue to Elmoss, are hailed and recognized by the local militia, and enter the town. Laurel knows the way to the post office, but (very low roll) once they get there, they find only a weepy assistant, and no master postmouse.

Apparently, just the night before, something terrible happened at the postmaster’s home; the whole place has been wrecked, with doors and windows broken and off their hinges, and no one seems to know what to do.

Can the guard mice help?

Tune in next time to find out!

All in all, a fun little session, and this morning, Sean said the nicest thing I’d ever want to hear about one of our games:

“Can we play it again tonight?”

Absolutely, little man. Absolutely.

Session Two of the current Star Wars game (run using Fate Accelerated).

Our heroes, having rescued a rebel agent on KWENN STATION, are en route to the backwater world of TATOOINE, in hopes of locating a former admiral and tactician of the OLD REPUBLIC – one long thought dead.

But the evil GALACTIC EMPIRE also knows of Adar Tallon’s existence, and even now the wretched spaceport of MOS EISLEY crawls with BOUNTY HUNTERS, searching for the famous leader.

The rebels are in a race against time, hoping to get the long-lost hero far away from the twin suns of Tatooine before Imperials descend on the planet in overwhelming force…

… end crawl.

Good session. A couple great roleplay scenes I really enjoyed (one of them explicitly introduced by the players, which was great), and beginning the manhunt in Mos Eisley.

Game-wise, I’m seeing dividends from tearing the old Tatooine Manhunt scenario into its component parts and rebuilding it.

Technical stuff: everything (video, audio, game space) was working nicely during the game, once I got on Chrome (I prefer Firefox, but Roll20 does NOT like doing audio/video conferencing on that browser).

Unfortunately, I changed the OBS recording settings for screen resolution since last week, to get rid of the black bars on the side, and maxed it out because I didn’t realize it would be too high for my little Mac Air to handle, so the recording is basically great audio and a video slideshow. Live and learn.

I feel like I’m zeroing in on the right settings, though. I did a test recording with the new settings and the result was solid. Here’s hoping session three is firing on all cylinders.

Session Notes from Dave

It’s a quick 24-hour hop from Kwenn Station to Tatooine – which is good, because it turns out the ship has an Aspect of “Absolutely No Expectation of Privacy.”

There are discussions about the inappropriateness of using thermal detonators on a space station.

Akana chats with Dana, Agent Phos. They discuss what the Rebellion actually means, which Backup chimes in on, wondering the difference between the Rebels and the Separatists. Dana posits it’s trying to return to the Republic. Akana suggests it’s trying to make the old Republic right. Aral sticks his head in and notes that as long as Naboo is free, it’s all good with him.

They eventually arrive at Tatooine, which has a number of bounty hunters in orbit, trying to arrange landing. Akana speaks the right trade talk, and gets an early landing in Docking Bay 94 in Mos Eisley.

The group discusses how to locate Adar Tallon.

E’lir tries to look up data on him, only to find out that much of his record has been scrubbed – perhaps an attempt by the Empire to make an unperson of him in the historic record, perhaps an attempt by Tallon or his allies to make him less obvious or findable.

They do discover that there was a significant uptick in settlement by discharged or retiring fighters after the Clone Wars on a number of planets that had not been affected by the war, including Tatooine.

A customs inspector is dealt with. It helps that they are carying actual legitimate cargo.

Aral searches for a contact in his records, and comes up with a Lepi female named Tebbi , who is a Rebel sympathizer and has been feeding low-level intel on Imperial troop levels on the planet, etc. She works in a souvenir shop, owned by her father.

Aral and Backup visit, and find that Tebbi’s father was killed that morning, possibly by bounty hunters, and with no sign that the city militia will do much about it. She doesn’t know anything about Tallon; the only human her father (who arrived on Tatooine about the same time, after the war) hung out with was a guy named Arno who lives in the Dune Sea. He also knew a Talorian named Slag.

Kelvin scouts out the area for threat levels. Visiting Jabba’s compound, he sees much coming and going, including a Gamorean and Jawa pair. He also spots the Mandalorian female that they saw on Kwenn Station.

Kelvin looks to find a room in town that could be used as a place where the crew of the Kis could stay or hide out. Things are very full, and the only place he can find a large room wants to barter for the ship’s cargo; Kelvin decides to check with the team before agreeing to it.

Kelvin also checks out a used speeder shop, as point-to-point travel by spacecraft is discouraged by the Imperials. He considers a decrepit Imperial troop transport to “requisition.”

Akana, E’lir, and Dana visit Lup’s General Store, run by a Shistavanen (Wolfman) couple. Their trading discussions (and what they might lead to) are interrupted by the arrival of a Gamorean and a Jawa, whose presence noticeably disturbs the shopkeep. Akana maneuvers in behind them…

And we stopped for the night….

First proper session of the Pandemic Legacy campaign

Got together on Thursday night with Kim, Tim, and Kate after a long hiatus following our ‘prep session.’ We managed to squeak out a victory for January (literally winning with the very last action we had before an automatic loss rule kicked in), at the cost of making all following sessions more difficult.

I understood, intellectually, that the game would change as we played – that it’s designed to do so – but I didn’t fully grasp how much, how quickly, and how profoundly.

February is going to be … something, is what I’m saying. low whistle

For those not familiar with the “legacy” style of board game, here’s a good review of Pandemic Legacy.

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

2016-02-26_9-05-59
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Thinking about Gaming and Gaming Culture

I’m lucky.

Actually, more than that: I’m privileged.

There are at least a thousand ways I could illustrate and demonstrate this assertion, but in this case, I’m thinking of a very specific example, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

First, a little history.

I’ve been messing around with role playing games pretty much ever since I was old enough to decide how I’d spend my free time; I think I got my copy of the magenta Basic D&D box back in 1980 or 1981, when I was about 9 or 10 – maybe for my tenth birthday, actually – and after that? Well, I’m sure you can imagine how I got from there to here.

The funny thing is – the wonderful, fantastic thing I only just realized this morning – in all the time I’ve been messing around with RPGs, I’ve almost never been a part of a group that matched the typical image of a standard D&D group: a bunch of white, cis male gamers. (There are a few exception to this, one of which I’ll get back to in a sec.)

I’m not saying every group I was involved in was a diverse, enlightened crowd of high-browed intellectuals – I mean, I played in high school, with a bunch of high-schoolers, after all – but it was never just a bunch of white dudes being white dudes. My high school group counted the class valedictorian (and elven druid) as a member – she’s a practicing doctor out in the Black Hills, these days. In fact, every campaign I’ve ever run (and all but one I’ve played in) has had a mix of men and women. The most recent campaign I ran was damn near perfect in terms of participants, by which I mean white straight guys were the minority.

And please don’t think I’m saying that out of some kind of white guy guilt, because that’s attributing me motives far more noble than the reality, which is that I’m just kind of selfish: I like my RPG sessions to be interesting, and homogeneity is fucking boring. Diversity in a creative space is life blood.

So, yeah: I’m lucky.

I’m also – as I was recently reminded – privileged.

See, for the last few months, I’ve been laboring under a terrible first-world problem: with my new job (great pay, coworkers, and benefits), wonderful wife I love spending time with (often watching great genre TV over a fast internet connection), three amazing kids who like spending time with me, and a new puppy to hang out with, it’s difficult to find enough time to work on my next novel and schedule some gaming.

Yeah, I know.

How can I go on under such a burden…

Anyway, I recently had a chance to get a little gaming in via Roll20/Hangouts – a classic scenario I’d never had the chance to play, using a system I really enjoy.

And folks, I’m here to tell you: it was like jumping headfirst into raw sewage.

Basically, take every negative gamer stereotype – every negative ‘-ism’ – stack it up in a single online chat room, and squeeze the whole mess down a wire and into your comfortable white earbuds. I should have known what was coming just by how many participants were using anime characters as their profile icons, but I ignored the signs.

It reminded me I was lucky; virtually every group I’ve been a part of, including the all-white-cis-male yet polite and respectful college Star Wars group (which high character I attribute largely to our excellent GM) – has made it hard for me to really understand how bad the worst representatives of my hobby can be.

It also demonstrated (again, as though I needed proof) that I am privileged, because no matter how terrible the table talk got, I never felt threatened. I never worried I might become the target of the group’s verbal abuse, because there was literally no version of The Other that could make me a target. I was safe and, in this context and with these kinds of people, I would always be safe in ways that so many of my friends would not.

It made me nauseous.

I left, of course, and spent time in the days after talking with the group organizer(s) and a couple of the players about why I left, and I honestly think the talking did some good, and will change the culture in that group, even if I never go back (which I certainly won’t).

And maybe that matters. Maybe it changes something, somewhere, and may make someone else’s life a little less terrible. I hope so.

In the meantime, I’m writing this to say thank you to everyone who’s made me lucky; who’s helped an ignorant white farm boy from the very middle of Middle America open his mind a little and love Difference – love the strange and unfamiliar and uncomfortable Other.

You’ve made my world better, and I promise I’ll keep trying to do the same for you.

All these games, fighting monsters.

It’s really time to apply what we’ve learned.

Random Update: What am I playing?

I’ve accidentally taken a fairly long break from gaming, whether you are talking about table top or computer games. The last thing I played with any kind of regularity was the Infinite Crisis MOBA, with Kaylee, over the summer. When that game’s cancellation was announced, it kind of took the wind out of my sails – both mine and Kaylee’s, to be honest.

It seems silly to mourn a game as relatively content-free as a MOBA, but Kaylee and I were really enjoying ourselves with it, and enjoying our time together. After that, the only thing we’ve been playing that I might sort of consider a game is Minecraft. Fun, especially once we got a home server set up, but very intermittent. (There was a point where basically everyone in the house was playing Minecraft, everyday, on one platform or another, but some of us lost our taste for the pocket edition when Sean accidentally deleted a few important world’s off our tablets.)

For all intents and purposes, we went through most of the summer without any gaming, with the exception of some Dungeon World.1

Ironically, the looming arrival of the new free to play model for Wildstar is what got me back to doing at least a little bit of online gaming, if not tabletop. I say ironically, because while Wildstar was what brought the idea back to my mind, that particular game remains barely playable for me, even weeks after the roll out of the new FTP platform. In other words, I would get in the mood to check out Wildstar, fail to be able to play, then log into something else. That went on long enough that I started getting excited about playing the other games, and still haven’t managed to actually get back to Wildstar.

So what have I been playing?

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I was very excited about this game when it first came out, and enjoyed it fairly well, but it never really clicked for Kate and I, and following the huge disappointment of Mass Effect 3, it was pretty easy to let this fellow Bioware-title fall off my radar a few months (maybe just one month) after it went live.

In the intervening time – almost 2 years – the game has switched to a free-to-play model and generally improved the play experience. It isn’t anything groundbreaking, and I’m not even sure it’s really Star Wars in the same way that something like Disney’s Rebels is, but lately I’ve been getting a yearning for a galaxy far away, and enjoying playing all these characters I haven’t seen in several years.

The game developers have done an especially good job at streamlining the leveling experience, to the point where you can essentially play only the storyline quests that are specifically related to your class, ignore everything else, and have no problem leveling through the content appropriately.2 This makes the entire leveling game a very repeatable experience, since all of the cutscenes and story are different for each class, even if you are going to the same planets and adventuring against the same backdrop. I certainly have no problem repeating content in BioWare games – I played through all of the Mass Effect series with six different characters and all of the Dragon Age series with 3 or 4 different characters – but basically having no repetition in the story in an MMO is pretty sweet.

Amusingly (for a Star Wars game), I really really don’t like playing most of the force users. The melee classes are a bit of a pain to play in any case, and to be perfectly honest Jedi with lightsabers don’t really feel like they’re hitting very hard, so the whole thing isn’t very satisfying. 3

By comparison, the mundane classes like Imperial Agent, Scoundrel, and especially Trooper and Bounty Hunter are tons of fun to play. Bounty Hunter/Trooper is definitely my favorite for game play, but I do have to give props to scoundrel for getting me to actually enjoy a stealth class, and Imperial Agent for a storyline that really makes me feel like I’m playing an MI:5-style espionage game. It is remarkably easy to work out backstory and motivations for all the characters I’m playing, which lends depth and interest to the (otherwise cosmetic) choices Bioware throws in my way.

EvE Online

I let my subscription to Eve lapse about 6 months ago (I really had no interest in doing any gaming while unemployed between permanent positions, which is a whole blog post in and of itself), and I haven’t really jumped back in with both feet yet, but I am playing a little bit and paying a bit more attention to the changes coming down the pipe between now and the end of the year.

The Secret World

TSW is always there for me, much like Lord of the Rings Online (I’ve got a lifetime subscription to both), though they scratch very different itches. I haven’t needed the LotRO itch scratched much, lately, but TSW’s conspiracy-laden world? That’s good stuff.

What am I not playing?

That’s really the big question, and the simple answer is I’m not playing any table-top or Hangouts/Roll20-based role playing games right now, which is a pretty big failing, as far as I’m concerned, since there’s so many I would like to be playing. My roll20 subscription is entirely up to date, and I really ought to be making use of it. More on that in another post.


  1. Great system, but the GM (me) had an obsession with using the Dragon Age setting that chilled player interest. 
  2. To use LotRO as an example: this would be like changing the XP rewards so that you could level up doing nothing but the “Book” quests and ignoring everything else, except that in The Old Republic, everyone classes “book” story is different. 
  3. The only exception to this is my Sith sorcerer, since she sits back and range and smites the entire landscape with lightning. 

RPGs with my Family: Dungeon World

It’s been a little while since I’ve had a chance to play any “of your cool games” with my niece and nephew (see here for the last time), but my family was coming out, and I’d been informed that they definitely wanted to play SOMEthing.

They didn’t really say what, so I talked it over with Kaylee and after some back and forth, we figured we’d go with Fate Accelerated if they really wanted to play using the same system we’d used last time, and Dungeon World if they didn’t have a preference. (Kaylee was keen to do Dungeon World in a freeform setting, rather than the Dragon Age game we played about twelve sessions of this summer – she thought that setting would be “too rough.”)

Unlike last time, I’m not going to get into an actual play, because this time wasn’t much like last time.

For starters, we didn’t get nearly as much time to play as we did during the last visit; last time was during the holiday break, my sister was out for most of a week, and our two youngest kids were at daycare for several of the days, so we had all kinds of uninterrupted free time. This time, we had eleven people banging around the house, only two evenings where the kids were all staying in the same house, and we weren’t able to even talk about the game until about 9pm, both nights.

But WITH THAT SAID, I am still really impressed with the background and story Malik, Jadyn, and Kaylee were able to put together in very little time playing Dungeon World – a game meant to represent a genre my niece and nephew knew only as “pretty much like The Hobbit.”

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We basically started from nothing, with no background at all. The kids picked out characters to play from the stock list. Once we got to the part where everyone defined Bonds with each other, I started asking questions, and their answers created everything about the situation and the world we were playing in.

I could go into some detail, but the upshot is that after maybe a half hour of Bonds-related questions, we had a bustling, cosmopolitan city ruled by a noble class secretly infected by vampirism over the last decade. Our heroes (a former-noble thief, bard with expertise in the undead, and priest of secrets, magic, and mayhem) were dead-set (heh) on exposing the vampiric nobility to the masses and bringing down the secret regime.

This from a 10, 12, and 16 year old – two of which don’t have any real exposure to the genre, at all.

Many of the newer RPGs out there suffer (in my opinion) from a kind of assumption of familiarity from the players. In some (worse) cases, the assumption goes further, figuring the players will not only know the genre(s), but get the irony of the game/setting/mash-up — in most cases, it makes the game uninteresting or unplayable for my young family members.

In this case, I was pleasantly surprised to see a game that could take real newbies and help them get a solid game going.

We didn’t get enough time to play – not a fraction of ‘enough’ – but we certainly wished we could, because the game we’d come up with (thanks in no small part to the way Dungeon World is set up) was engaging and exciting and, put simply, fun.

Five of five stars, will definitely play again.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #5: Tearful Farewells

After Kaylee voiced her concerns with the way things were going during the last session, we started off this session by immediately addressing what was going on in her other brother’s rooms – to address Kaylee’s concern about Elana’s little nephew being killed.

While her mother wailed and beat her breast a bit, leaning on the splintered doorway and urging Elana to “just look away”, Elana looked closer, and realized that neither the woman nor the boy on the floor had the right hair color for her sister in law or her nephew. A Discern Realities confirmed the victims were the two guests of her sister in law, and that Oren and his mother must be somewhere else.

Elana figured that, if they’d realized something was going wrong in the castle, Oren would have hidden and since Elana had been his default playmate/babysitter for the last few years, she had a pretty good guess where he might have gone (actually, she had three good guesses, and checking out Oren’s hiding spots would take some sneaking about the castle).

With this information in hand, Elana and her mother set out to look for Oren and reunite with Elana’s father (hopefully).

Along the way, I had Kaylee Defy Danger to get through the castle without running into more Howe guards while she checked a few of Oren’s hidyholes. She got a mixed success, at which point I threw a couple panicky castle servants in her path. They were freaking out and wanted to run for their lives, and Kaylee wanted to calm them down and get them to stay with her and her mother. Sounds like a Parley move. Kaylee got a mixed success, so she needed to arm the servants before they developed enough backbone to stick around – this, she accomplished by backtracking to the dead Howe guards outside the family suites and taking their weapons.

Having expanded her little group, I then had a small patrol of Howe guards stumble into them (mixed success on that defy danger, after all), and we had a bit of a skirmish, which they handled fairly well (Kaylee was much less inclined to take a hit to protect a servant, but luckily for him it didn’t come up.

They eventually made their way to the main hall of the castle, where Ser Gilmore and few men are in the process of being overwhelmed by an equal number of Howe soldiers, plus two archers and a circle mage. Kaylee wanted to get the drop on the mage, so I asked for a Defy Danger (the danger being the mage spotted her and lit her up like a votive candle) – she got a complete success, which allowed her to use her Ranger “called shot” move on the mage: in this case, an automatic hit, with enough rolled damage to take him out in one shot as she and the others surged into the room. It was a brief, fierce battle, but with Wolf mucking up the archers and the servant and Elana’s mother flanking the soldiers, most everyone came out in good shape.

Ser Gilmore sent his men to reinforce the main doors (already being pounded on from outside) and hurriedly reported Teryn Cousland had headed for the servants’ entrance to keep (in the kitchens) to secure it for his family’s escape. Duncan the Grey Warden had gone with him.

Elana wanted to go her father, but wanted Ser Gilmore to go. Parlay did not work out for her in this case, and Gil stood his ground, saying he’d hold the gate until the family could escape, as was his duty. Elana nodded, resigned, and Gil ran off to the doors.

Elana and her mother headed for the kitchens, and found the halls oddly silent. The kitchen, by contrast, was a warzone – Howe bodies everywhere, in what must have been a massive melee. Elana followed a blood trail into the pantry, and found her father propped up against the intact bags of flour. Duncan was nowhere to be seen.

Father, mother, and daughter had a quick reunion, and Bryce confirmed that Oren and his mother were already out in the stables, hiding. Whew. Elana wanted to get him up and get them all out of there, but Bryce shook his head.

“I’m afraid I would not survive the standing…”

Duncan (who had been chasing down the last Howe soldier from their previous fight) returned. Bryce asked the Grey Warden for his help in getting his family to safety, and Duncan said he would, with conditions: he’d come to Highever to claim a recruit, and he and his duty demanded he find that recruit if at all possible. With Ser Gilmore unavailable… he looked to Elana.

Bryce closed his eyes and nodded. “If you get the rest of my family – my grandson and his mother and my wife away, then yes.” He looked at Elana “our duty is to protect Ferelden and then our family – in this new service, you will be doing both.” Elana nodded.

They got ready to depart, but Elana’s mother refused, saying she wasn’t going to leave her husband behind.

Kaylee’s response was a shouted “Aww come on!” and she tried to talk her mother into going with them, to take care of Oren, if nothing else. I called for a Parley, and she blew it (earning the last XP she needed to get to level 2).

“It’s your time to shine, my daughter. Tell Fergus what’s happened. Tell the King. Get away from here, and I will buy you time.”

Elana and her father had a few more words, which I’m a bit proud to say had us both smiling sadly and a little misty eyed. It was a sad scene, but a good one, and cemented Arl Howe as a long-term bad guy for both Elana and Kaylee.

She and Duncan got the stables, took up Oren and his mother, then snuck out of the the castle and into the city of Highever. There, Duncan led them to a “potential recruit” named Ser Jory – a big man with a farmer’s face and a very pregnant wife. After some talk, they came up with a plan for Ser Jory and his wife to head to Denerim (the capital) with their new “maidservant” and Jory’s new “son”, there to wait for word from either Elana or Fergus.

With that, Duncan and Elana headed for the city gates.

“Horses can wait,” murmured Duncan. “For now, we need to get away from here. Stealth first, then speed, then Ostagar.”

“And the king,” said Elana. She had much to tell him.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #4: Lines and Veils

The title for this post doesn’t have anything to do with the story of what happened in the game. It has everything to do with what happened with me and my player.

“Lines” and “Veils” are terms originally used in this context with Ron Edwards’ Sex and Sorcery, a supplement for Sorcerer. The basic idea is there’s a line that marks subject matter that isn’t allowed in-game, and a “veil” behind which lie events with are allowed, but not described in detail.

I try to be the best dad I can be, but sometimes I miss the mark. It should come as no surprise to those familiar with Dragon Age that there’s some subject matter that doesn’t suit everyone, either because it’s a bit too graphic, or (more often) because it plays hardball with the emotions, and sometimes I don’t successfully identify what those elements are, and need them pointed out.

It’s like this: every time I’ve run any tabletop game based in Thedas, someone at the table has teared up. Once it was over a dog, and I stuck to my guns. Once it wasn’t, and I realized I’d missed the mark.

This time, I flubbed up or nearly flubbed up a couple times, so by all means learn from my mistakes.

Before we played, I made a few notes about the main NPCs in this part of the story, and what they wanted, so I could act accordingly. The two main ones:

  • Arl Rendon Howe – wants to “reclaim” the seat of Highever that his family once held (many generations ago). He will stop at nothing to accomplish this, up to and including the murder of innocents. He has orchestrated a situation in which he has the overwhelming advantage, playing on the trust Teryn Bryce Cousland has in him.
  • Duncan – needs a strong Grey Warden candidate to bring back to Ostagar. He has several options within Castle Cousland, and won’t leave without one of them, unless staying means the failure of his whole mission.

Howe Treachery

In the night, Arl Howe’s “delayed” troops reveal themselves and attempt to seize the castle. This force vastly outnumbers the skeleton crew of Cousland guards within the keep, and it’s only through the quick thinking of one (now deceased) guard that the Howe forces don’t take the castle and kill everyone in a matter of minutes: most of the attacking troops are still outside, trying to bash their way through the keep’s heavy portcullis and front gates, both of which have been secured with deadman weights that take a dozen men to lift.

Although she went to bed early, Elana does not sleep well. Her rest is troubled by a disturbing dream in which she relives the earlier conversation with her father, while the face of a simpering Arl Howe transforms into the narrow, long-nosed mask of one of the fat grey-bodied rats she fought in the pantry.

It’s almost a relief when Wolf’s ferocious barking wakes her. Normally, she’d try to keep him quiet, as her quarters connect via a large common room with the other family apartments (one suite for her mother and father; the other for her brother, his wife, and their son), and she’s gotten in trouble for her furry companion’s noise, in the past.

She shushes her pet, but he won’t be entirely silenced, and continues to growl menacingly at the door to her room. Elana remembers both the pantry and her “Arl Howe as Evil Rat” dream, and both things prompt her to action: she eases out of her bed and over to a chest where she’s tossed her armor and other weaponry.

Finally, she shushes Wolf properly, and prepares to pull open her door to see what’s going on out there.

Kaylee doesn’t know why yet, but this action triggers a Defy Danger move, and I have her roll.

No one, least of all the two soldiers on the other side of the door, were expecting the result.

She nails the roll, and pulls open her door just as the soldier outside was about to kick it in. He sprawls in the doorway, doing a painful split, while his companion (holding a nocked bow), gawps.

To her credit, Elana’s first instinct isn’t to run a helpless man through. She demands to know what’s going on, but the only response is the man on the ground scrambling back and getting to his feet (she notices the emblem of Arl Howe on his shield), and the other man growling “kill her!”

Kaylee pulls a nice little tactical move, drawing back to the right and hard against the wall, so the archer has no angle on her and the closer soldier will have to come partway into the door to engage her, blocking his ally.

After some goading, the guy with the shield surges in, head on a swivel, and he locks in on Elana.

Unfortunately, he forgot about Wolf, who rushes him from the side, and with that distraction, Elana is able to run him through, just above the neckline of his armor.

This was the first point where we hit a slight disconnect between Kaylee’s expectations and the fiction. She’s played tons of games with me, but they’ve almost all been supers genre, or inspired by stuff like Avatar: The Last Airbender or pulp adventure. In short, they may have a lot of action, but generally, no one’s dying.

Basically, this more brutal fantasy setting was a surprise to her, and she hesitated more than a little when she realized her character had actually killed someone. It didn’t freak her out, exactly, but it set her back on her heels a little bit.

The archer had pulled back further into the common room, and Elana didn’t have any desire to charge a drawn longbow. Much better to engage in kind. Elana’s bow was still on the chest, on the other side of the room, so Elana dove across the doorway to get to it.

I called for a Defy Danger + DEX, and Kaylee blew the roll (and got a point of XP!). I asked her if she was going to get hit, or if Wolf was going take the damage for her (and be out of the rest of the fight) – the bow sang, Elana pushed Wolf ahead of her, and the arrow went halfway through her calf muscle. OW.

Kaylee’s character actually got the crap beat out of her during this and the next session – by the time it was all done, she was down to single digit hit points and I was skimming the “Last Breath” move.

Another side note: There’s actually a Ranger move that lets your animal companion soak a hit for you, then recover later. I wasn’t using that move (Kaylee doesn’t have it), but simply giving her a hard choice on her failed roll. Kaylee really doesn’t like her pet taking a hit in her place (also, he really does help with the fights).

Elana gets her bow while the bowman taunts her. She readies her arrow, holds Wolf back by his collar, and then whispers “Go.” Wolf charges through the door, and Elana steps out (onto her good leg) and Kaylee rolls Volley + Dex, getting perfect boxcars. The archer wastes his shot, missing Wolf, and drops before the war hound even reaches him.

Elana calls the dog back immediately and scans the large common room. Two more guards are pounding on the double doors leading into her parents apartments, making a great deal of noise (they’ve almost gotten through and are shouting threats at whoever’s inside). They haven’t noticed what’s going on on behind them.

Kaylee wants to sneak out and surprise them with her bow, and a successful Defy Danger lets her do a called shot and take one guy out before they realize she’s there. The other guy dies before he can reach her.

She rushes to the door and calls out, and her mother responds, then forces the door open. She’s donned armor as well, and has a well-worn (if not recently worn) sword in hand. Her eyes go wide at the arrow sticking out of her daughter’s leg, and tears up a sheet to make bandages while they catch each other up. Elana’s father never came to bed – he was up talking with Arl Howe, and he mother doesn’t know if he’s even still alive. If he is, he’s probably in the main hall, defending the main entrance into the keep. Her mother, once shown the Howe blazon on the soldiers’ shields, is livid and swearing a blue streak.

Her mother then has Elana bite down on one of her own arrow shafts while she works the other shaft out of Elana’s leg, bandages the wound, and tells her they need to get to the main hall.

Heading back down the common room, they see the door to her brother’s rooms, broken off its hinges, and two bodies on the floor within – one woman, and one child.

We stop there for the night.

On the whole it was a good session, and Kaylee was really into the scenes and the tactics of it, but a few minutes after she went to bed, she called me in and told me she wasn’t sure if she wanted to keep playing.

I asked her why, and she told me that she wasn’t used to the kind of fighting we were doing. I’d been going into lots of detail about what was going on the fights, but thing is, I was going into the wrong kind of detail – stuff she wasn’t comfortable with. I told her that I could be more vague about certain things – saying “he goes down” or “she out of the fight” to kind of soften things up (put it behind a “veil”), but the setting was the sort of thing where people were going to die, so we needed to be at least okay with that, or we should stop.

She was okay with “vague death,” but then went on to say she really wasn’t okay with what looked like her character’s six year old nephew getting killed. This was much more of a “lines” kind of conversation, and I reassured her that while things were pretty grim in her brother’s room, they weren’t as bad as they seemed, and if she’s trusted me to do another session, we could work through that.

So: some stuff goes behind veils, and some stuff needs to be behind a line and just not get touched. In hindsight, I should have guessed all that ahead of time, but I got wrapped up in (a) getting the narration to work with and for the rules “right” and (b) the setting and the story. My bad. I have to say, I came away from the after-session conversation very impressed with how Kaylee was able to articulate exactly what bothered her and what she wanted to do about it.

And the next session ended up being pretty darn awesome for both of us, even though…

Well.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #3: Getting Things Started

I promise I’m (almost) done mulling over game systems and talking about what might or might not work.

Instead, lets talk about the game and what really did or did not work.

Character Generation

Character generation in Dungeon World is dead simple, and gets even simpler when you have only one player, because you won’t run into a problem where two players want to play the same character class.

At least, that’s theory I went in with.

The problem is, Kaylee can’t decide between the Druid (animal shapeshifting is a big draw) and the Ranger (animal companion is almost as good as shapeshifting, plus some cool stuff with bows and dual wielding). She also takes a hard look at Wizards, but isn’t ready to with the extreme social stigma mages suffer in this setting, first hand.

Eventually (and I do mean eventually) she settles on Ranger, and after a bit more dithering, decides to be a human. Female dwarves don’t appeal at this point, and the elves backstory is (like the circle mages) a little too oppressive to be attractive.

I sell her on having Mabari Warhound as her animal companion (she names him “Wolf” to make my future narrations extra confusing), which probably indicates that she’s either very lucky, a noble, or both. She writes down a bond with Wolf (he’s smart enough for it to be relevant/changeable).

We talk a little more about where she wants to start out, and between that and the history bits that she likes, I decide to save myself some time and start out with something a lot like the Human Noble origin from the video game.

Sort of.

Welcome to Castle Cousland

For generations, your family, the Couslands, has stewarded the lands of Highever, earning the loyalty of your people with justice and temperance. When your country was occupied by the Orlesian Empire, your father and grandfather served the embattled kings of your land. Today, your father and elder brother once again take up House Cousland’s banner in service to the Crown——not against the men of Orlais, but against the bestial darkspawn rising in the south.

Blah blah blah. I get Kaylee caught up on what’s going on in Ferelden right now: rumors of a rising darkspawn presence in the south of Ferelden has been confirmed, and a royal decree has gone out from King Cailan: All knights, banns, arls, and even the two teryns of Ferelden are tƒofo lead what forces they can muster to the ancient Tevinter fortress of Ostagar (originally constructed as a barrier to barbarian raids from the southern wastes); there to unite as one army to wipe out the darkspawn and stop a new Blight before it has even begun.

(It’s possible the King was raised on a few too man heroic tales as a boy, and wants his reign to be marked by thrilling heroics, one way or the other.)

More importantly to our young Elana Cousland, her father and brother are soon leading Highever troops south to Ostagar, her father’s highest-ranking Arl (Rendon Howe, of Amaranthine) rode in today, and her father has sent for her.

The thing is, Howe is here, but his troops aren’t. The tardiness of Howe’s men is being discussed in the main hall as Elana enters; Howe is all apologies and general swarminess, but Kaylee is playing Elana especially polite and obedient, so she doesn’t say much. Her father explains that due to the troop delay, he’s going to hold his departure, but send the Cousland forces ahead with Elana’s older brother Fergus; he also informs Elana she’s going to be left in charge of the castle until the two of them return (heady responsibility for someone only just turned 16). While they talk over particulars, something Elana asks about the fight reminds her father (and me) of another visitor at the castle, and he sends for Duncan, the leader of the Grey Wardens in Ferelden, who is passing through Highever on a final recruiting search before joining the King at Ostagar to face the Darkspawn.

Duncan

I wasn’t sure how Kaylee would react to the Grey Warden showing up – maybe eagerly volunteering? Who knows?

Turns out, while Kaylee is very into the Grey Warden thing, Elana isn’t so excited, and gets a little bug-eyed when Duncan gently jokes “I’m sure your Ser Gilmore is a fine candidate, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that your daughter would also make a fine Grey Warden…”

The Teryn shuts this down – he’s not eager to send all his children into war, and jokes that if he did, his wife wouldn’t let him see tomorrow – and this is what actually gets a rise out of Elana – she’s not eager to jump into the fray for no reason, but she’s even less happy about other people making decisions for her. She and her father politely snipe at each other about this (“I bet I could convince mother…” “I’d take that bet, and sell tickets…”) until her father begs off and Elana bows and heads out.

During this scene, I also mentioned Arl Howe doesn’t seem comfortable with grey warden showing up, which leads Kaylee to some actions that trigger a Discern Reality move that Kaylee maxed out – she picked up a few interesting bits from the conversation: Duncan didn’t really expect her to say yes, but felt he had to at least ask, Arl Howe is actually quite nervous at the unexpected arrival of the Grey Warden, and her father is proud that Duncan asked after her as a warden, even though he refused the request.

As a side note, I want to draw attention to the way I worded the previous paragraph: Kaylee took some actions that triggered a move – one of the ‘basic’ moves in Dungeon World that anyone can do.

This is familiar territory for Dungeon World or really * World players in general, but it bears calling out here, explicitly: there are a fairly low number of ‘moves’ available to players and their characters, and the dice mechanics for them (really the only dice mechanics in the game) are very simple: roll 2d6 and add the bonus from a relevant stat (STR, DEX, CON, INT… you get the drill). You’re awesome when you roll high, and results get progressively more interesting the lower you roll (really bad rolls also get you experience points – failure is the best teacher).

Now, the tricky trap here is that the GM does not just say “Okay, to do [whatever it is you’re doing], do a Strength check.” You could certainly play a game that way, ad-libbing your way through a series of stat checks (it’s probably the easiest way to add non-combat skill-like rolls to basic DnD), but that game is not Dungeon World.

In DW, there are no ad hoc stat checks like those I’ve described; there are a set list of basic moves, augmented by special case and character-specific moves, and each of those moves have very specific criteria that make each move available: the fiction/play needs to (1) show the character taking specific sorts of actions in (2) a specific sort of situation. Those two things then trigger the move, and allow dice rolling.

What this means is that the game system needs the players to describe what they’re doing, how they’re doing it, and needs the GM to provide “sensory feedback” for whatever they’re doing, or the dice system kind of falls apart, or at least gets really boring. Now, This rolls into another one of those rules-that-just-look-like-advice: “moves must flow from the fiction, and the result of a move should be more fiction” (I’m paraphrasing). You never say “I’m going to hack and slash” and then roll – you describe your attack (what you’re doing, and how), which then triggers/justifies/allows a Hack and Slash roll, which results in more description.

In short, in order for Dungeon World to work, you need to play (and run) it a lot more like Amber (where the fiction is pretty much all you’ve got) or classic DnD (where you only have a combat system, so everything else was usually narration/fiction), and a lot less like a tactical mini-game (modern flavors of DnD).

I mention this because I did it correctly here, in this scene, and totally screwed it up a bit later, when we got to a fight. (In other words, I screwed up the element of the game where, over the years, I’ve picked up the bad habit of allowing the game system to stand in for coming up with cool narration.)

Mischief in the Pantry (Kill Ten Rats)

Where were we? Right: Elana makes her excuses and leaves Duncan, Arl Howe, and her father to talk.

She doesn’t get very far before Ser Gilmore finds her. Gil’s a good friend, only a few years older than her, and they grew up sparring together (against her mother’s half-hearted protests); Elana was more than a bit jealous when he was knighted two years ago. Gil informs her he’s on a mission from her mother: Elana’s dog (the Mabari war hound I mentioned) is in the massive pantry of the castle’s kitchen, Nan the cook is hot enough to boil water, and mother wants her to fix it.

Elana heads off to do so, with Gil tagging along (“to make sure it’s done, before your mother can find me again”). She gets to the kitchen, where Nan is threatening to skin her dog, and the kitchen servants are flat-out refusing to go into the pantry with “that beast” going crazy in there.

(Luckily, Kaylee and I know very well what a loudly barking dog is like – my imitation of this sound brings our own war hound racing into the room, quite confused.)

They head into the pantry. The dog isn’t chewing anything up or eating a prize roast – he’s sort of pacing, growling, and randomly barking his head off. He settles down somewhat when Elana gets there – less barking – but actually gets more anxious and antsy. Elana tries to figure out what’s going on, and a Discern Reality roll tells her that her dog’s body language is “Oh good, someone who understands me is now here and can FIX THE THING,” and that Wolf’s main stress seems to be focused on the back wall of the pantry, where there are a bunch of flour bags stacked up vertically. (“Like bowling pins,” is how Kaylee summarized it.)

Elana pulls one of the bags out of the way, and it comes apart in her hands; it’s been chewed through in the back, as have quite a few of the other bags, and the culprits – massive rats, “grey-bodied and fat, like ticks” – first cringe back and then burst into the room, swarming toward Elana.

Combat, as they say, ensues.

So here is the bit where I kind of screwed up. The introduction of the rats was suitably tense and creepy and really got Kaylee invested, but once the fight actually got going, my GM-ing muscle memory defaulted to something like “okay, it’s your go, roll hack and slash…” which is kind of terrible.

One of the main reasons it’s kind of terrible is because the GM doesn’t roll anything in DW – it’s all player rolls. If you do hack and slash, an awesome roll means you hit the guy and shut his offense down, a decent roll means you basically trade damage, and a bad roll means it’s all bad guy damage, incoming. So… if there’s little to no narration going on, it’s literally just a series of rolls by the players until the numbers on the paper all hit 0. Terrible with a group of players, outright horrible with only one player.

Luckily, I didn’t fail with the fiction more than a few times, because the dice system pushed me to come up with stuff on mixed results and failures anyway, which is FANTASTIC, because it forces the GM to figure out the fiction and come up with interesting failures, even if their default is kind of lazy “okay, your go, roll” stuff.

During the fight, I used mixed successes and failures to put some hard choices to Kaylee, including:

  • You can get the rats off you, or get them off your Dog. Who’s getting clear and who’s taking a hit? (She protected her dog. Good girl.)
  • You can leave yourself open to danger from behind, or cover Gil from the rats on the shelves he doesn’t see. (Again, covered her ally, not herself.)

The rats were wiped out (I made a ‘kill ten rats’ joke that Kaylee didn’t get, because I’ve failed as a father), Gil bandaged her injuries (“before your mother sees”), they calmed down the kitchen staff, and headed out with Wolf in tow.

The Dog Named Wolf.

After that, it was a bit more roleplay with Elana and her family members (Father, Mother, her brother Fergus, his wife, their son (her nephew Orin, ten years her junior and often her babysitting responsibility) and their “casual” noble guests (a friend of Elana’s sister-in-law, and her son, about Orin’s age).

Then Fergus rode out of the castle with all but a few of the Cousland guard with him, and the rest of the family had an early night.

Took awhile to talk about it, but the session was fairly short (as most of ours are, since we squeeze them in where we can), and we picked up in session two with a bad dream, and Wolf waking Elana up with some godawful loud barking in the middle of the night.

Post-game analysis

It was only after Kaylee was off to bed and I was replaying the session that I realized what I’d screwed up during the combat and, knowing what sort of things the NPCs were going to be trying to accomplish in the next session, I made a mental note to really go big on description/narration, so Kaylee would (a) follow suit and (b) have something to work with for her own narration.

This was absolutely the right thing to do, but (as I’ll share in the next post), there were some problems with going too big with narration – a “lines and veils” issue that I had to sort out with Kaylee, and which almost killed this game before it properly got going.

More soon!

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #2: Dungeon Age? Dragon World?

So I’m pondering Dungeon World with only one player, but player characters in DW need bonds with other characters, and maybe I can solve this with… companions? Persistent NPCs the player’s character can interact with in depth? This tickled something at the back of my brain – a region scientifically known as “that bit that makes me give BioWare too much money.”

As I’ve mentioned, I like Dragon Age (the RPG) and that’s at least partly because I love the setting for the Dragon Age video games – Thedas is a rich setting, and more than that it manages a potent mix of fresh invention and classic tropes – one might almost say cliches – of the genre; in many ways, there’s nothing especially new about the world BioWare presents in Dragon Age. Rich history, countries VERY OBVIOUSLY AND DIRECTLY based on real-world cultures, a rising evil, and a hero leading a motley band of misfits to save the world. It has, to put it lightly, been done.

But BioWare does it really, really well (most of the time). Then they do it again, then again, then again…

In short, it occurred to me that if I wanted to front-load some kind of heroic fantasy “thing” in a world with which I was quite familiar and which I already associated with the kind of “hero plus a double handful of role-play-linked NPCs”, I could hardly do better than starting with Thedas.

Thedas

With that said, there are all kinds of potential red flags with using this sort of solution with Dungeon World, mostly having to do with the fact that the game expects a lot of world building to emerge in play. But I had a pretty solid counter argument to that:

“Fuck it, it sounds fun.”

Still, I needed to make sure Kaylee agreed, so one evening we sat down and I went over the setting from roughly -6400TE to Sometime Yesterday Afternoon to see if anything in there sounded cool.

Result: LOTS of stuff sounded cool to her. The challenge then shifted to narrowing down to one or two places (both physically and temporally) that really grabbed her. We eventually winnowed it down to:

  • The Qunari arrival in the lands of Thedas (Zen-Communist Utopia Warriors invading evilish wizard empire).
  • The Grey Wardens (secretive organization dedicated to stopping the recurring arch-demon-led “Blights” that rise up to wipe out all life – who seem to know the only way to stop the Blights, with members from all sentient species and all disciplines).

We also talked about the various countries, and she really seemed to dig the reverse feudalism of Ferelden (where a noble’s job – one they can easily lose through incompetence or negligence – is essentially to protect local land owners and other civilians from predation, in return for… you know, payment).

So knowing she was into Grey Wardens, thought the Qunari were pretty cool, liked the idea of fighting a Blight, and liked Ferelden, it seemed pretty obvious we could basically start off in the same time-frame for Dragon Age: Origins, and then see how far we can blow those events to smithereens and do our own thing.

Thinking on it some more, I came up with a basic list of things to watch out for, and how to deal with them.

  • Don’t let the game run on video-game rails. This one is pretty obvious, but luckily it’s also pretty easy to deal with. The thing with Dungeon World (and, conveniently, my own play style) is that rather than some kind of meta-plot of events, you want to focus on people (well… “people”), what they want, and what they’re currently doing about it (see also: Towns in Dogs in the Vineyard). Anyone who’s played Amber with me knows that my between-game prep was basically just flipping through a complete deck of trump cards for all the NPCs (and places) and thinking about what they were doing either on their own or in reaction to whatever happened in previous sessions, and then playing accordingly in the next session. This is pretty darn close to how DW suggests managing the game’s “Fronts,” and conveniently, after mumble-hundred hours playing DA:O, I’m familiar with the various Fronts in that storyline, what they’re up to, and what they’re planning to do to get what they want. Out of necessity, the video game presents this stuff linearly, with set points in the story where interference is possible, but I can just wash all that cruft away and let the thing live and breathe. Spend a few evenings sketching out Fronts in the Dungeon World style, and I’m prepped.

  • Don’t try to map every event directly. Or: “don’t try to play through every single fight in DA:O.” Again, obvious, but worth keeping in the back of my mind. I want to focus on important social and martial conflicts, focus on the fiction, and focus on what my player is doing.

  • No custom playbooks to match the setting exactly. This may be something that makes both Dragon Age purists and *World hackers shake their heads a bit. In short, I’m just going to use the “classic” classes presented in Dungeon World – the ones pretty much any fantasy RPG player knows: Fighter, Cleric, Thief, Wizard, Ranger, et cetera – and shoehorn them into the roles presented in the Dragon Age fiction. There will be some tweaks made to Paladins to focus more on anti-magic stuff (since paladins will be templars) and basically all other magic-users (from Clerics to Wizards to Bards to whatever) will, within the fiction, just be different flavors of Mages (either Circle Mages or Apostates), and I’ll probably tweak the settings on multiclass moves so the lines between the spellcasting classes are a bit fuzzier, but otherwise, that’s about it. Dwarves won’t be clerics, and I might drop clerics entirely in favor of Circle Mages who use a move to learn spells from the Cleric list, just to keep magical healing roughly in line with the setting as presented.

But mostly, I don’t think I need to customize things. As much as I like the Dragon Age RPG, there are lots of different game-system ways to present Thedas, if you focus on the fiction.

“Focus on the fiction” is one of those tricky rules-that-don’t-look-like-rules that tend to crop up in Lumpley games, and it kind of tripped me up in our first session, which I’ll write about next.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #1: Just Figuring out What to Play

My gaming with Kaylee is fairly well documented and, in general, we’ve been pretty happy playing Fate or Fate Accelerated. It’s the sort of game that let’s me play pretty fast and loose with prep, and Fate Accelerated in particular gives us the flexibility to run pretty much any weird genre mashup Kaylee comes up with. All cool.

With that said, I’ve had an itch to try some different games. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Famliarity. While it’s easy to get excited about a new setting or story, it’s a little more difficult to get excited about the game system, since she and I are both quite familiar with Fate at this point.
  • “Same-Same.” Part of that familiarity brings along a sense that all of the obstacles and in fact the characters are a little bit… similar. Five aspects. Same numeric range on the same six approaches. Same numeric bonuses from the same number of Stunts. We can mix that up a bit by going for the more detailed Fate Core version, or something like Atomic Robo, or something even just a little more detailed like Jadepunk, but there’s an increase to overhead in there that doesn’t appeal to either of us at this point.
  • Tiny bit more crunch. I don’t like the way Fate “extras” are written, and Gear is gone in the current iteration, so if I want “stuff” that doesn’t just feel like a couple more aspects and stunt to keep track of, well… It’s hard to have them not feel like that, because in Fate that’s what they are.
  • Better failure incentives. Fate actually has decent incentives for failure. The problem is, the incentives for success (and the fuel – in the form of Fate Points) are stronger, and the mechanics are such that (at least in my experience), if you fail, it’s almost always because you let the other side win, like someone’s uncle “racing” their five-year old nephew across the backyard. Success is super easy, the instinct to win is natural and strong, the ability to do is right there, so while failure is often more interesting, it’s just as often disappointingly rare.

So, in short, we’re looking for something a little different not out of any lack of love for Fate, but just to shake things up a bit, ignite some excitement for a new system to go along with a new game, and maybe get a bit more “classic crunch” in there.

Now with that said, it’s no easy thing to just grab some other game, because I’ve got some counter-criteria.

  • Relative Simplicity. Kaylee can easily deal with any game system out there, I think. Certainly, something like 5e wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s always the chance Sean will pop in and want to play. I want to make that happen, and as I’ve explained before, my guideline for relative rules simplicity is “can a four year old manage it?” (This is one of the other reasons Fate Accelerated isn’t working really well right now: the +/- of the dice, subtraction that can go into negatives, et cetera definitely does not work for someone in Pre-K One.

  • Low Prep. I have the time and ability to prep a game at the point, I suppose, but I’d really rather have something that’s 25% prep and 75% happening in the game, at least in part because playing with Kaylee is extremely hit or miss: She might be tired, I might be tired, something might get in the way, and it might be weeks or even months before some big-prep thing actually sees the light of day. The return on investment for heavy prep is just not there.

  • Two-Person Friendly. – A whole bunch of RPGs want a handful of players, minimum. I could pull out DnD 5e (and I’d be happy to do so) and run Princes of the Apocalypse, but at that point either Kaylee is running three or four guys (with minimal attachment to any of them), or I’m using a spreadsheet and rebalancing the whole thing for one character which… no. No, I’m not doing that.

So, the mix of all these things eliminates a lot of games I’d normally be quite happy to run or play, under other circumstances.

  • DnD 5e. I like a ton of the stuff I’ve seen and read and heard about this game, but both prep and rebalancing encounters for a single hero is non-trivial.
  • Burning Wheel. I’ve read some great “solo hero” actual play reports, but again the prep (for someone not entirely familiar with the rules, due to lack of playing) strikes me as a way too much. Lots of stats for everything means a lot of prep. No.
  • Mouseguard. Hits a lot of the necessary criteria (prep is a dead-cinch, I know the system, I know what I’d change, and the mechanics and setting are Sean-friendly), but it’s a bit too far the other way in terms of interesting failure – solo MG would be brutal, and frankly that’s not what I feel like doing right now.
  • Dragon Age. I like the rules, and the simplicity, and the stunt system. Honestly I just like this game a whole bunch, but balancing to one player seems like an exercise in frustration, even more so than DnD.

I toyed around with The Strange a little bit, but Kaylee didn’t seem to find the premise very interesting. I’m not confident the Heroquest dice mechanic would be very… approachable. The One Ring is great, but again I don’t think the game is really balanced for solo heroics.

I kept coming back to Dungeon World (rulebook’s been sitting on my shelf since the kickstarter shipped ~mumble~ years ago), a fantasy adaptation of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The system is light and fast, and while the dice mechanic isn’t as simple as “count how many high dice you rolled”, adding three small numbers together is doable for any potential player in my household. Its fans trumpet the ease of prep, and in one GM’s words, running and playing the game is kind of like “a diceless game that sometimes go to dice” which, to put it mildly, fits pretty well inside my comfort zone.

It all seemed to work for what I needed, except that the characters need to have Bonds with other player characters. However, I thought I might be able to make that work, assuming I could provide Kaylee with a rich array of persistent NPCs to interact with – a band of companions or something, but without the overhead of “the GM is basically playing a half dozen other fully-statted PCs.”

A band of companions…

That gave me an idea.

Playing Hero Kids with my Hero Kids

Last night, in lieu of normal bedtime activities (reading Winnie-the-Pooh, Justice League I-Can-Read books, or our new favorite, Bone), Kaylee and Sean and I played some Hero Kids.

Hero Kids

For those of you unfamiliar, this is an RPG specifically designed for “kids from ages 4 to 10” – says so right on the tin cover. It’s been on my radar for some time, but I hadn’t done anything with it (including read it), partly because Kaylee and I have been entirely happy playing Fate [^And, in fact, I need to write up our most recent game using that system], and partly because I (incorrectly) thought it was some sort of “Pathfinder Lite” set of rules, which I had absolutely no interest in.

Luckily, after running across a few good actual play reports, I gave it a proper read-through, and decided it might be just the thing for getting Sean involved in our games.

This isn’t to say we’ve never done RPG-like stuff with Sean before – we’ve had quite a bit of fun with his Imaginex DC Heroes figures and a superhero hack of a game Cory Doctorow made up for his daughter. The trick of color coding the dice (so that a d12 is “the purple one” not “the d12”) and simply rolling and reporting the number worked out pretty well.

2014-11-15

Epic battle in a makeshift downtown.

But that option didn’t provide much story – it was really just a way for Dad to muck up otherwise frictionless superhero make-believe. I wanted something with a little – just a little – more oomph, but at the same time it had to pass the four-year-old test.

The Four-Year-Old Test

Some recognizable names in tabletop game design have been debating “the most intuitive dice mechanics” for the last several weeks. I haven’t paid much attention to these discussions, so I don’t know if I agree or disagree with any particular person. This is my take on it:

Intuitive directly correlates to A Four Year Old Can Manage It, Without Help.

By this guideline, Hero Kids is the most intuitive dice mechanic in any RPG I’m aware of. You roll a few six sided dice and find the biggest single result. Done.

  • No adding numbers together (he can do it, but finds it incredibly amusing to shout the wrong answer at the top of his lungs)
  • No counting successes Shadowrun/Vampire/Mouseguard style (which, while not beyond him, is marginally more complicated than “find the biggest number you rolled on a single die”).

Roll. Find biggest. Done.

It’s excellent, and combined with the utterly charming artwork provided for each of the (massive pile) of pregens provided, allows a kid to sit down, pick out someone who looks cool, and play. (And the fact that all the maps and paper minis in each module can be printed and prepped in a few minutes makes GM play setup a breeze.)

Example Character

The level of complexity a player deals with increases in direct proportion to how much of the character sheet they understand.
If they can’t read yet, they just focus on the icons and art, and the rest falls away.

And, not for nothing, the rules can easily be reskinned into a light version of damn near anything. Kaylee put together a very passable Hulk-like character for “super hero kids” in about four minutes.

MG-knight

Another example…

So, About the Actual Game…

The premise for the Hero Kids setting is wonderfully simple: all the Hero Kids live in a small town that would be idyllic, if you ignore the fact the place is constantly threatened by calamities both great and small. The kid’s parents are (in general) adventurers of the first water, and often called away for big problems, elsewhere, so it falls to the kids (who’ve been getting adventurer training since they were out of diapers) to deal with any troubles at home.

Anyone who thinks this setup is too silly or contrived to be engaging hasn’t been following current popular animated show and book trends, like Ever After High – my kids loved this simple premise for putting them in the hero-seat. [^You also needn’t worry about clichés or over-used tropes, because they aren’t jaded forty-year-old gamers; it’s games like these that introduce them to the tropes other modern games and books are playing for meta-irony that goes right over a kid’s head.]

As the game started, the two player characters (Swerver and Ashlee, a water/ice wizard and healer, respectively) are enjoying their weekly family dinner at the town’s tavern (the kid’s decided their characters were sisters).

There’s a crash in the kitchen, and the owner of the inn runs out, shouting that some HUGE rats just abducted her son Roger from right out of the kitchen.

The girls look at their parents, who cluck their tongues disapprovingly and murmur something like “Mmm. That’s too bad,” and return to their creamed corn.

“Aren’t you going to rescue Roger?”

“Oh… I suppose someone should, but not us.”

“Goodness no. It’s our one day off.”

“Why don’t you girls handle it?”

“Us?!?”

“Why not? You’ve certainly been training long enough.”

The kids look at their parents, each other, then exchange the very highest of high fives and race each other to the kitchen.

Kill Ten Rats

What followed was a (predictable, if you’re a jaded old gamer, but amazing if you’re them) descent into the inn’s basement, thence into a warren of tunnels beneath the inn, fighting a series of skirmishes with giant rats until finally facing off with the King Rat.

2015-03-10 - playing hero kids

I’m not going to describe the whole thing, but I am going to hit some of the highlights.

  • Sean picking out a girl character, all like “Whatever man, I’m a girl; get over it.”
  • Kaylee both picking a healer and maneuvering her character to take more of the damage to ‘cover’ her little brother. Best big sister ever.
  • Sean dealing with a ten foot high barrier in their way by instantly coming up with “I’m going to make a big water stair and then freeze it.” So awesome. [^We really need to watch Avatar: the Last Airbender and Legend of Korra with him, now that he’s old enough to remember it.]
  • Kaylee leading them into a ‘side cavern’ away from the main plot, and using her “searing light” as a way to see into series of stalagmites in which she could dimly make out… something. Turned out that “something” was four lost villagers, which she and her sister then freed and sent back out of the caves. Awesome.
  • The one rat who escaped every fight and kept retreating until he was finally beaten during the boss fight.
  • Sean spotting the King Rat paper miniature sitting by my notes and trying to convince me to bring him in during every. single. fight. we did.

“What are you going to do, Sean?”

“Well… I think the King Rat shows up now.”

  • The look on their faces when the rats in the last room used rat-sized tunnels to basically teleport around the edge of the room and sneak up on them.
  • The high-fives when King Rat went down.
  • Sean taking the King Rat paper mini with him, to bed.

This morning, seconds after he woke up, Sean came into the kitchen.

“Daddy, do you remember the game we played last night?”

“I sure do, bud.”

“With King Rat?”

“Yup.”

“I think… we should play that again.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Yeah. We should play that again. Maybe… we should play it now?”

So… yeah. It was a pretty good game.

2015-03-10 - hero kids

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Sessions 5 and 6

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be blogging about this game at all, right now: the last anyone would have heard about it would have been Session 3.

That doesn’t mean the game is going poorly! Far, far from it. However, there’s a ton of other stuff going on at the moment (work stuff, writing stuff, audiobook stuff, end of semester stuff, kids stuff, family stuff), and the simple fact is this: if the only way I had to record what happened in this game was writing down a detailed actual play, then nothing would be getting recorded.

Luckily, that’s not the case, since we’re playing the game on Google Hangouts “on air”, which automatically records it to Youtube. A bit of tweaking, settings changes, and playlist adjustment, and we get an excellent record of everything “previously on.”

This is everything so far:

I don’t think having these video recordings have made me any more or less likely to write down an actual play, but it does make me very happy something is being recorded, even when I’m stupidly busy.

Also, there are a few other nice benefits:

  • When I have time to ‘do stuff’ related to the game, I can prepare things for the next session, instead of writing about the last one.
  • I can rewatch prior sessions (or play them on my phone during drives and just listen to them podcast-style) to remind myself of stuff I’d introduced that I want to reincorporate.
  • The roll20 app is WONDERFUL for giving me a central place to both store and organize all the random stuff I’ve pulled together for the game, while at the same time providing means for sharing it with the players.

So: sorry for not writing things up in detail, but for real detail, nothing works much better than listening to exactly what happened in the session.

I will certainly have a post-game analysis of the good, bad, and ugly for both the game and for the Hangouts/Roll20 gaming medium. At this point, I would guess that we’ll have about eight sessions in total (tonight’s will be seven). Eight was my first estimate, then I’d started to think it would run to nine, but last session (after some hemming and hawing) the players sprang into action and pretty much skipped right over a whole subplot that didn’t grab them, so we’re back on track for eight.

The big challenge tonight? Everyone kind of split up, so we’re going to be splitting the camera time between three different scenes for awhile, which may or may not slow things down – we’re splitting up the camera time, but covering three times as much ground? Maybe? My guess is it’ll be a wash, or possibly lose us a bit of time on an additional scene where everyone gets caught up to everyone else.

I’m excited: this is the most consistent and continual RPG thing I’ve been able to run in over three years – as far as ‘online tabletop’ gaming goes, the tech has finally arrived in my opinion – I don’t know if it’s a golden age for online tabletop gaming, but it sure feels like it.

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Session 4

PHOENIX

After a week off for illness (mine) we’re jumping back into the Demolished Ones tonight, with session five.

While checking up on my notes, I realized I’d never posted an actual play for this session and, with thirty minutes to play time, it’s a bit too late.

Thankfully, there is at least a complete audio and video recording of the entire session. Phew.

Below, I’ve embedded a playlist for the entire campaign’s recordings thus far – the last two are for session four (we had a technical issue that necessitated restarting the hangout). Enjoy! My next write-up will try to sum up both sessions four and five.

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Three

“But first, I believe formal introductions are in order.”

The statement hangs in the air for more than a few moments, bringing silence to the booth at the late-night public house.

Finally, [Dave] speaks up: “Victor Edwards.”

I held up a Fate point. “I will give this to you if you now finish the sentence: ‘I think I was…'”

“I think I was…” says Victor, “someone in Her Majesty’s service.”

“Ah,” replies [Kim]. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Ophelia Stevens.” (A name Victor seems to associate with the scandalsheet-populating hijinx of the youthful nobility.)

“Just call me Red,” says Red, and turns to their large companion.

“Barnaby Cornelius Crispin,” he murmurs. Seems he’s got a name that matches his stature.

Once introductions are done and everyone basically shares what they are willing to share. From there, they decide to check out the boarding house for which they have a key.

Situated just south of Eden Park at the northern tip of Merchant’s Gate, the Cassius is an old and respected boarding house fallen upon hard times.

The building itself is a three-story affair with a common room, six guest rooms, and indoor plumbing.

One of the rooms here was apparently rented out by Jack Smith.

Smith’s boarding house room is a humble affair: bedroom/living room/table/everything else. It contains a bed, dresser, wardrobe, table, chair, and lamp. Objects of note:

A Gun
A small, snub-nosed revolver sits on top of a dresser, next to a few playing cards. It’s not loaded. It doesn’t match the holster that Smith was wearing.

memory3

Playing Cards
Five playing cards. The cards are Jacks of five different suits: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds, and… crosses?

RWS_Tarot_05_Hierophant
The Jack of Crosses. Not this… but basically this.

Literature
There is a flyer for the Society of Free Thought on a small table, just like the one at Smith’s house, except this one is covered with scribbles from Smith.

flier

Photographs
Also on the table with the Society flyer is small a collection of photographs. One photograph is a picture of a symbol carved in stone above a door: an eye in a circle (the same symbol as the one carved in the handle of the supposed murder weapon).

PHOENIX

The other three seem to be surveillance-style photographs of two men meeting.

Off to the Cherub

Once the group feels as though they have found everything there is to find, they get out of the boarding house and head (at Barnaby’s request) to the Cherub, where he remembers being fairly often. Turns out the Cherub is a fairly nice place… where not-nice things are arranged for. Barnaby has the other three taken to a private room, and meets up with a petite blonde woman named Cassiel, who is the Cherub’s ‘fixer’ – someone who sets up wealthy patrons with just the right person for an unseemly job. She’s also ostensibly the sous chef. Life is funny that way.

Cassiel knows Barnaby and seems to have a bit of a thing for him, and is quite willing to help him out with his questions. She recognizes the younger man in the photos – some politician nicknamed “Velvet” – though she only knows that the older guy in the suit and robe is one of the more prominent members of the Society of Conscious Thought, though she can’t say what his name is.

Barnaby gets a few more questions answered and arranges to make contact with Cassiel later, then gathers up everyone else and heads toward the Society of Conscious Thought, with a brief stop to pick up some ammunition for Victor’s recently acquired handgun.

The Society

As befits the hall of an ostensibly secret society, the Hall of Free Thought looks small and unassuming from the outside, with only the Society’s symbol (an eye in a circle) outwardly marking it.

No doorman guards the door, though there is a desk with a receptionist of sorts just inside the door, in the foyer.

Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.
Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.

The inside of the Hall is considerably more opulent than the outside. As much of the Hall is underground, it is a much larger building than it seems to be from the outside. The Hall contains a vast common room furnished with couches, chairs, tables, and a bar. This is where members of the Society gather to see and be seen, and to engage in stimulating conversation. The occasional card game is played here, though high-stakes gambling is strictly prohibited within the Hall.

The four, escorted in by Carolyn, immediately notice the large portrait prominently displayed in the main room, obviously the robed gentleman from the surveillance photos. Carolyn informs them that is “The Beneficient One” – head of the Society.

The Beneficent One
The Beneficent One

The Beneficent One is around, but probably will not be out in the common area tonight, explains Carolyn. Mr. Tock, another senior member, will very likely be out soon, following a meeting, however.

The four basically kill time for a bit, with Mr. Crispin casing the place, Victor sitting down with the younger men playing at cards, Ophelia poking through the bookshelves, and Red getting a drink from the bartender and the other end of the room.

Victor’s learns from the junior members playing poker that only a few rooms past the common room are open to members of their level, with private rooms available to those that live in the House, and even more secure chambers reserved for the senior members who run the Society, such as Mr. Tock and The Beneficent One.

Ophelia spots all of the “six books” she saw at Jack Smith’s house, but not repeated in any suspicous manner. She also spots (and secures) two pages of a rather odd little test, apparently left behind on a small side table.

Mr. Crispin verifies that all the doors out of the common room are locked.

Red is having a frustrating conversation with the barman, who is on his guard and not likely to chat with a patron of the Society, or share secrets about his employers.

An odd thing happens as Barnaby comes over to check in on Red.

First, Red tries to convince him that he really does want to help her and, in the same way she likes to take apart the mechanisms of things they’ve been finding, it seems as though she actually does that – take the man’s head apart a bit and put it together in a way that’s more suitable to her needs.

Something sort of rings in Barnaby’s head when she does this. He leans against the bar, nods to the barkeep, and says “Hello, old friend,” and – just like that, the barkeep is an old friend of his – has always been an old friend of his, in fact, and how could he have forgotten something like that?

Ophelia and Victor notice … something… when this happens, and both turn toward the bar, just as a door into the room opens and a well-dressed man steps through.

Good evening, he says, smiling at Ophelia. “I am Mr. Tock. I hope I can help you.”

Mr Tock
Mr. Tock

And that’s where things ended. Next session: Tonight!


Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Two

“Anyone know where Beacon Street is?” He looks around at the quiet, fog-shrouded night streets. “Or where we are?”

That’s where we ended session one of The Demolished Ones and, surprise surprise, where we picked up with session two.

I opened this up by informing the players that once [Dave] asked the question, the characters realize they do kind of know where they are, even if they don’t really know why, or have much context.

I played around with this a bit, by asking everyone what specific areas in the city they remember, even if it’s without context.

I also asked everyone (but Dave, who’d already defined this) for a notable item on their person.

  • Dave: A richly appointed sitting room, with dead men lying on the floor.
  • Kim: Carries a parasol. Remembers a very richly appointed sitting room, deeply shadowed, and [Kim]’s feeling here is that she was more a host and less a guest. I add a bit more ‘color’ here, because this plays in really well to my own diabolical plans.
  • “Red” (Amanda): On her person: a derringer in her handbag. Location: A small cottage in a garden.
  • Reggie: On his person: a nice pair of brass knuckles that say “Lucky” along the side. Place he remembers: a shady sort of club – “a place where proper gentlemen go to get improper things done.” I tell him he remembers the name of the place – Old Bollards.
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)

The four of them are somewhat lost in their own thoughts, remembering what they remember (or checking their weapons) as they drive to Beacon Street.

They notice quite a few more people walking the street in this area, and a higher police presence. The civilians are dressed fairly well, top hats and tails, mostly, with [Dave] dressed in probably the high-middle range of what they’re seeing in the area, and [Reggie] somewhere near the low end of appropriate, as a well-dressed day laborer (albeit an enormous one, noticeable for other reasons).

They get to 615 Beacon Street but, seeing two uniformed police officers milling about the front door of the house, they keep right on walking, then turn down a side street and take a moment to assess the situation.

Dave wants to have taken a ‘read’ on the policemen, so I have him give a value to his Empathy (and an associated Aspect). He writes down Empathy: Good (+3) and the Aspect “We Are All the Children of Adam and Eve.”

Reggie wanted a quick scan of the actual physical details with the cops, so I have him define Alertness and an Aspect. He selects Alertness: Fair (+2), and an Aspect “Don’t. Trust. Anybody.”

Kim wants to get an idea of how the house might be able to be gotten into, so I have her roll Burglary, which she already has.

Here’s what we get:

  • Dave: The officers are Distracted and Tired, and Dave rolls well enough he’ll be able to take advantage of these aspects, once, for free (no Fate points).
  • Reggie: The officers are armed with Revolvers and Nightsticks, and he’s fairly sure that, while they are trained, he could take them – though he might not want to fight two at once, he could.
  • Kim: She feels she could get in a second story window, but also that there’s probably an alley that leads to a back entrance. She’s quite sure – already – what the interior of a house like this will be.

A bit of planning goes on as they lurk in the side street, and ultimately what they decide to do is have [Dave] go chat with the Police (hoping they aren’t looking for them, specifically), to keep them distracted while the other three sneak into the back of the house and have a look around.

This goes well enough, with [Dave] using the Distracted and Tired to beef up the roll he makes with his (third) new skill – Rapport: Fair (+2), which also leads to him adding a third aspect “The masks go on so easily.” (Love it!)

Meanwhile, [Kim] has led the other two around the back, down an alley. She takes this chance to pick up Investigate: Average (+1) while searching for laundry left hanging out to dry behind a house, which she uses to replace her bloodstained jacket (and adds the aspect “Find out about Others before they find out about You.” Once at the back door of the house, she unleashes her Burglary again, then leads the trio sneaking into the house (picking up Stealth: Good (+3), and the Aspect “Nobody Notices a Child.”


615 Beacon Street

Aspects: Lived In Feel; Something’s Not Right.; Small, dark, and Cramped

The lower floor is mostly just the eat-in kitchen and a front sitting room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, study, and bathroom.

“Red” investigates the kitchen, which has no overt clues as to Smith’s identity, though there are some things that don’t quite add up. There are plates in the cupboards, but no dishes. The only drinking vessels are teacups – forty-five of them. The cutlery drawer is all forks. The refrigerator (!) has a bottle of half-spoiled milk, four bottles of ketchup, and stacks and stacks of collard greens. The pantry has one shelf of nothing but canned green beans, and three overstuffed shelves of canned dog food. (There is no other sign of a dog in the house… and no can opener in any of the drawers.)

[Kim] checks out the front sitting room, and finds a flyer for Society of Free Thought, though the unexpected dust in the room makes her rush back to the kitchen for a barely-muffled sneezing fit.

clean flier

[Dave] barely manages to cover up the sneezing from out front, asking the police about why they’re out here in the middle of the evening. One of the police snags a recent newspaper off the steps of the neighbors house and folds it open to the bottom front page.

Hmm...
Hmm…

[Reggie] creeps upstairs and, spotting nothing of note in the upstairs sitting room, moves on to the bedroom, where the wardrobe gives him more than a bit of trouble – the door sticks and he pulls it across the wooden floor somewhat loudly, trying to open it. (Botched untrained Investigate, which he didn’t want to put points into.)

“Red” (and, in a few seconds, [Kim]) rush upstairs as quickly and quietly as they can. “Red” sees what she can do to help [Reggie], while [Kim] checks the study again (noticing that the three bookshelves in the room only have four copies each of the same six books, arranged randomly: Ulysses, Brave New World, the Bible (KJV), Flatland (all used and dogeared identically), and the M-Mi volume of an encyclopedia set.

[Kim] then moves on to check the bathroom, but only has time to note that the room is bereft of any toiletries before the Cursed Wardrobe Strikes Again. “Red” tries to open the other door, which shrieks its unoiled protest so loudly that the police outside decide to investigate.

The three inside race (quietly, mostly) to the back door and manage to get outside just as the police unlock and open the front. They warn [Dave] away and proceed inside… [Dave] makes himself extremely scarce, and the four meet up a few blocks away.


The set out on foot, “Red” (walking with [Reggie]) unconsciously guiding them toward a neighborhood pub. [Dave] and [Kim] bring up the rear, and fall much further behind when [Dave] spots someone in one of the houses along the street watching television in the front room. Black and white television but… yeah. That’s television.

jurassic-park

What’s weirder: that there’s a television, or that they know exactly what it is?

… or that they know it’s wrong.

“Red” whistles for them to catch up and, turning back down the street, nearly collides with a wild-eyed man, reeking of fish. “Red” lets out a startled sound, and [Reggie] interposes himself.

Edward Gray

"The sky is not the sky!"
“The sky is not the sky!”

After a few moments of Edward’s rambling (he’s clearly not well) they decide he’s harmless and, given what they’ve seen in the last few hours, must have noticed how odd everything in the City is and, quite understandably, went off his head.

Sorry, but… the best way to summarize his crazy-talk is to simply refer you to the video of that part of the game session (runs for about five minutes).

After a few minutes of mad, cryptic comments (*points at [Dave]* “You used to work for them, and YOU” *points at [Kim]* “You didn’t work for them, and that’s even worse…”), he runs off down the street, hollering about brain juices and green beans.

Bemused, the quartet makes it the rest of the way to the public house and, holed up in a nice booth with pints all around, share out all the odd clues they’ve discovered (except for the bloody knife, which [Kim] mentions but keeps in her handbag), noting the key and the recurrence of the Society of Conscious Thought (on both the flyer from the house and the “Orphan” news clipping from the warehouse).

A bit stumped, they ponder the key “Red” found on Jack Smith. [Dave] uses a drunkard act and a bit of Rapport to get the bartender to tell them the key engraved with CBH 5 is probably from the Cassius Boarding House. Since it was obvious (to [Kim] at least) that Smith didn’t actually live in the house they just visited, it seems a visit to the Boarding House is in order.

“But first,” says [Kim], “I believe formal introductions are order.”


And that’s where we’ll pick up for Session Three.


Finally, for those who’d like to watch the whole recording, here you go:

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One

Because I didn’t have enough going on, I decided to start an online game of Fate, using a combination of Google Hangouts, Roll20, and (after the fact) YouTube (to share the recorded game sessions).

This is what I sent out to a long list of potential players:

You wake up in a room.

The floor is cold, stone, dry. The lights – three bare bulbs dangling from the rafters – do little to dispell the gloom. It takes time for your eyes to adjust.

You stand, brushing grit and dust from the front of a tailored jacket you’re sure you’ve never seen before. There’s a red stain on the sleeve.

Don’t worry. It’s not your blood.

I’d like to run a short rpg game, via Google Hangouts. Somewhere between three to six sessions, once a week, probably on a weeknight, after dinner and the kids are in bed, and wrapping up in time for everyone to get to sleep at a reasonable time. Don’t worry about the system or anything – the scenario is set up to teach the game and create characters as we play – it’s a method that works particularly well with this system.

The italicized bit is the basic set up.

If you’re interested, let me know. If you’re not, for whatever reason, don’t reply. 🙂 Easy peasy.

If we get enough people (I’d say three), we’re good to go.

I ended up with four, we agreed on a good night (Mondays) and started play last week.

Poster_1600x1200px

Now, as I said, we recorded the game session as we were playing (check out session one, here), but while it was a nice recording, it doesn’t capture what’s going on in the Roll20 window, so the handouts that I’m laying out in the virtual tabletop area can’t be seen by anyone watching the video later.

The upside: that means I’m still going to end up doing written play reports.

You Wake Up In A Room

I started with everyone unconscious and lost in unpleasant dreams. Each character’s dreams were different, and I slipped ‘notes’ to each player via Roll20 to let them know what sort of images they were struggling with.

Kim: A strange looking needle, coming toward your eye.

Reggie: The sound of a deadbolt sliding into place.

Amanda: Someone standing over you, shadowed, a knife in their hand.

Dave: The feel of something in your hand: a straight, hard handle, slightly curved and rough to the touch.

Reggie wakes up first, and after getting his bearings a bit…

Furnishings are sparse. Three bare bulbs hang from the ceiling: one in the center of the room, one near where you woke up, and one near the door. The bare bulbs are bright enough to give some illumination to the room, but there are shadows and dark corners everywhere. Along one of the long walls are a desk and chair. There are three steel drums in one corner; from here, they smell of oil.
Furnishings are sparse. Three bare bulbs hang from the ceiling: one in the center of the room, one near where you woke up, and one near the door.

… he turns his attention to the other three people lying on the floor nearby.

warehouse 23

Still on his knees, he moves over and tries to wake up Kim who, upon seeing Reggie, freaks out – to her, right then, he seems a horrible monster – and crab-walks backward and right onto/over Dave, who starts to stir. All this ruckus (Dave trying to get out from under the scrambling woman, Kim trying to get away, and Reggie trying to calm Kim down) wakes up Amanda, who is furthers from Reggie and closest to the door.

The bare bulbs are bright enough to give some illumination to the room, but there are shadows and dark corners everywhere.

Along one of the long walls are a desk and chair. There are three steel drums in one corner; from here, they smell of oil.

I stop at this point and have each player give us the most notable physical feature about the character belonging to the player to their virtual ‘left’. Here’s what we got (with pictures that came later):

  • Dave: (via Kim) Thin and wiry, 30ish, going gray. Violet eyes.
  • Reggie: (via Amanda) He’s huge. Hulking. Well over seven feet tall.
  • Amanda: (via Dave) She’s Irish – just definitively Irish. Red hair. Freckles. Et cetera.
  • Kim: (via Reggie) She’s tiny. Clearly a grown woman, but about the size of a ten-year-old girl.

The four, still a bit on their guard, start poking around. Their clothes are bit odd to them – Victorian style garb – comfortable, but not familiar. Kim is struck by the clothing in contrast to the electric light bulbs, and by the rotary phone on an old wooden table-style desk on one side of the large room. Incongruous.

Amanda messes with the phone a bit (the phone has a dial tone, but 911 yields no response, and she knows no other numbers), and heads to the other end of the room to check out a stack of fairly new and smelly oil drums while Reggie tries the nearby door (heavy, metal, and apparently barred). Dave’s trying to ask questions of everyone, but no one really wants to chat, at least in part because no one really remembers who they are, how they got here, or why they all seem to have a few bloodstains on their clothes, but no injuries.

Amanda Investigates the barrels and I have her tell me what rating she’d like the skill at. She selects 2 (Fair) and writes up a Character Aspect to go along with the skill.

“I investigate everything.” (Lovely, and nicely compellable.)

She discovers someone else behind the barrels, sitting an old wooden chair and asleep.

Or… no. Not asleep. She can’t say how she can tell with just a glance, but the mystery man is definitely dead.

Exhausted
Dead tired.

Also interesting: Amanda doesn’t announce the dead body, and instead quietly searches him for clues and information, snagging a wallet from an inside jacket pocket, and a key from a pants pocket. Also: a very ’cause of death’-looking stab wound on the back of his neck that completely severed his collar and tie.

Meanwhile, Reggie can’t get the door open, and Kim (perhaps trying to get further from Reggie) heads toward the same end of the room as Amanda, where there’s a large cargo-loading sized door all along the far short end of the room, chained and padlocked.

Kim pulls few bobby pins out of her hair and starts going to work on the lock (making some notes on her character sheet):

  • Aspect: I’m Used to Getting out of Tight Situations
  • Good (+3): Burglary

The lock is huge and stiff, though, and while the bobby pins can move the tumblers, actually turning the lock will require something a little more sturdy. Kim casts around for something like that and sees (over by the oil drums, but on the side away from crouching Amanda) a knife.

A bloody knife. Oh good.

Kim, like Amanda, is quite unfazed by the evidence of violence, picks up the knife, wipes it down a bit, and goes back to the lock.

Reggie, after struggling with the locked door and eying the windows fifteen feet overhead, growls to himself, stalks over past Dave toward the desk, and picks up the chair next to desk in one hand.

The phone rings.

Reggie stops, obviously nonplussed, but Dave reacts with little surprise, picking up the handset and answering with a cautious “hello?”

“The police are coming,” says a female voice. “You need to get out of there. They can’t find you with the body.”

“What body?” asks Dave, but the line has gone dead.

“Ahh… apparently the police are coming,” Dave announces, loud enough to carry. “And… is there a body in here?!?”

“Yes…” Amanda answers, waving distractedly back toward the barrels she’s now abandoned.

Reggie growls, turns, and whips the chair at the window above and to the right of the door.

  • Aspect: When I get mad I get REALLY mad
  • Good (+3): Might

The chair is destroyed, as is the window.

The two-tone sound of police sirens is distant in the foggy night air, but getting closer.

“Do you need help?” asks Dave? “Should I climb up on your sh– Oh. We can use the desk.”

He moves the phone to the side, starts to pick up one end of the light desk, but Reggie simply picks the whole thing up and carries it beneath the window and starts to climb up.

Dave climbs up after him, then takes the boost up to the now-clear window sill. The room – a warehouse, Dave realizes – is sunken a bit on this end of the building: it’s a fifteen foot drop inside, but only 10 to the street. He makes it easily – he’s surprisingly fit for a gentleman.

  • Aspect: Priest’s head on a soldier’s shoulders.
  • Equipment: A sharp pen knife with a rough wooden handle.
  • Good (+3): Athletics

From the outside, Dave is easily able to unbar the door (just as Kim finesses open the lock on the far end of the building and slips off the chain) – the door was bar, but the bar wasn’t locked in place – almost as if it was only meant to keep someone in.

Reggie heads out once the door is open, but Amanda stays for a moment, suddenly curious (Aspect Compel) about the lone drawer in the desk. She snags Reggie and says “Can you break this?” indicating the desk.

He doesn’t even pause. Once hammering fist and the desk is in two pieces. Amanda snags the two newspaper clippings inside and tucks them in with the rest of her collection of Odd Things.

Meanwhile, Kim has stepped out into some kind of loading yard at the back of the building and (after spending a Fate point to declare it’s there) hotwires a truck parked in the back.

horseless

The other three, gathered in front of “Warehouse 23”, hear an engine getting closer from the alley alongside the building (see crude map) and stare as the tiny woman in the truck lurches to a stop next to them.

“Need a lift?”

“Shotgun,” Dave immediately replies. Amanda grumbles. Reggie was already climbing in the back – the only spot he’d fit.

They pile in, and Kim instinctively heads away from the sirens.


I stop here and ask each player for the most notable personality trait of the person to their virtual right:

  • Amanda: (via Reggie) Scatterbrained – a flibbertigibbet
  • Dave: (via Amanda) Always looks like he’s plotting something
  • Kim: (via Dave) One damn determined woman
  • Reggie: (via Kim) Kind.

The players each note these observations on their character sheets.


They ride in silence for a few moments, then Dave says “So… where are we going?”

“615 Beacon Street,” replies Amanda. Everyone looks at her, sitting in the back seat, reading a card she’s pulled from a man’s wallet.

She holds up the card – some sort of ID for one Jack Smith. “I found it on the body.”

“Riiiight,” Dave says, then, “Anyone know where Beacon Street is?” He looks around at the quiet, fog-shrouded night streets. “Or where we are?”

A good question, which we'll get to next session!
A good question, which we’ll get to next session!

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #6 – Fight Fire

Due to unexpected fallout from last session, Nataly’s brawl with an alien gargoyle got her and her new family put on a blacklist that seems to have made it impossible to find a home in Mercury Bay. Things were looking grim as Matthew and Marilla pondered hitting the road yet again, hoping for better luck in another city.

But they got a surprise a few days later when the motel room’s phone rang. The woman on the other end of the phone spoke for a minute or so with Marilla, who sounded first suspicious, then surprised, then handed the phone to Nataly.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this… Nataly?”

“Yes.”

“Hi Nataly. You probably don’t remember me, but we sort of … met. I mean… you…” Nataly hears a deep breath, then: “You flew in and stopped that boy who stole my purse, then flew off before I could really thank you.”

“Oh!” Nataly pauses. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I should have stopped.”

“And I was too surprised to say anything, then. So…” Another pause. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Nataly, I was talking to your mom.” Nataly looks confused, then glances at Marilla, who looks away. “I heard through the grapevine that you were looking for a place to live. Actually, I gather you were looking at one of the apartments in my building, when you came to help me.”

“We’re… having some problems with that.”

“I heard that too,” the woman replies. “I wanted to invite you and your folks to come back over and take a look at that apartment again.”

“Really?”

“Really,” the woman says. “I’m sure we can work something out.”


“The fact is, Mike and I used to date,” the woman – Patricia – confides to Marilla as she walks the trio through the slightly-too-pink apartment again. “We don’t even talk anymore, really, but sometimes he brings people by to see any properties the building has open – I think he thinks he’s doing me a favor.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even own it; I manage it.”

“I’m surprised you had us back here,” Marilla comments, “what with the warnings that have apparently gone out.”

“I said we used to date,” Patricia says. “I’m long past the point where I care much for what that man thinks I should or shouldn’t do. And in any case -” she smiles at Nataly – “how could I not help out?”

The place isn’t perfect: the kitchen isn’t very large, the wiring is a bit dated, and there’s not much room for Matthew to work on projects, but it’s theirs if they want it.

“If you need to keep busy,” Patricia adds to Matthew, “there’s a huge workroom in the basement… that comes along with a handyman position I’d love to find someone for.”

“Well…” Matthew glances at Marilla and Nataly. “I think that’ll do just fine.”


Things settle down into a comfortable routine. Their new home – The Marquis – is a six story building built in the sixties, originally with thirty-six apartments (six apartments per floor, with three on either side of a central hallway/stairwell) but (after fifty years of modifications and tenants merging two or three smaller units) now boasting 26 of varying sizes. Nataly and her new family are on the fifth floor, in a “trio” condo (three old apartments, combined) that takes up all of one side of the floor. All the balconies from what were once three apartments have been combined into one.

(After a week, Matthew’s list of things to fix in the building is enough to ‘keep me busy until the girl graduates high school… if nothing else ever breaks.”)

Nataly starts attending the local public school, and makes friends around the neighborhood (most of the kids don’t know she’s any kind of superhero, and the ones who do (Patricia’s oldest son, a year younger than Nataly) keep it to themselves.

As a matter of fact, no one seems to be that bothered by the idea that there may be a part-time superhero in their midst – a few are especially friendly, most everyone is blandly neutral, and those that don’t seem to like the idea (Mr. Higgins, 1B) simply glare and stay away.

Patricia turns out to be a big help – she’s a bit of a pillar in the community (she *does* partly own the building, after all), well-liked, and a bit of an activist for good schools, walkable communities, and public green spaces.

And the school isn’t bad. Nataly makes a few friends fairly quickly (Kaylee has fun naming and detailing all of them), and things get familiar very quickly. It’s a nice neighborhood, and fairly quiet.

Which makes the sounds of approaching fire engines all the more notable.


The Fire

The kids in Nataly’s grade were on the playground as the fire trucks approached, and everyone crowded toward the fence to watch them pass.

Except Nataly. She was looking at the skyline, and what she saw worried her: it looked like the smoke was coming from the direction of The Marquis.

Since no one’s looking her way, Nataly ducks under the slide, puts up her force bubble, forces it to the light-bending transparency that makes her all but impossible to spot, and takes off, heading for the fire.

For this, I stole straight from the Jason Morningstar’s “Fight Fire” chapter in Fate Worlds, Volume 1 (one of several game settings in the book – this one designed for playing teams of fire fighters – brilliant). Specifically, I borrowed and modified the set-up for a ‘fire incident’ in an apartment building, from page 101:

Aspects: Mid-sixties construction; Not up to code; Reinforced ‘safety’ doors.

People and Circumstances:

  • Crowds in the street — residents desperate for their homes to be saved and most of the neighborhood as curious onlookers.
  • Nobody can find Mrs. Lupo from 6-B.
  • Miguel Flores is trying to break into his ex-wife’s apartment, 6-C, because his 11-year-old daughter Inez may be alone inside (home sick with an ear infection).

Zones
6-A (Void fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Good (+3) Spread, Fair (+2) Smoke, Average (+1) Burn; five stress boxes

6-B (Ignition site, Open fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Family treasures, Broken fire escape, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Superb (+5) Burn, Great (+4) Spread, Good (+3) Smoke, seven stress boxes

6-C (Smoldering fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Dripping roof tar, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Great (+4) Smoke, Good (+3) Burn, Fair (+2) Spread; six stress boxes

So with a little cribbing from an entirely different setting, we have one of those classics of comic book hero challenges: the burning building. I’m quietly pleased.

Nataly does a quick inspection of the building from the outside, from high up, while the fire trucks are setting up and trying to push back the crowd. The fire seemed to be focused on just one side of the sixth (top) floor. These apartments are some of the least expensive (read: smallest, sixth floor walk-ups, and no balcony except the fire escapes… one of which probably couldn’t safely be used as an escape in the first place). All the apartment windows on this floor are barred (why, this high up, Nataly can’t guess), so she enters the building through a window that opens onto the hallway that runs down the center of the floor.

Through the haze of smoke, she can see Mr. Florez at the end of the hall, trying to break open the reinforced safety door on 6-C. She approaches, and he’s so distracted that he doesn’t see her until she’s standing next to him. He’s not making any headway on the door.

He tries to get her to leave.

She blasts the door off its hinges, and he shuts up in a hurry.

The two rush into the room. The smoke is thick (Nataly takes some stress), but the gush of new air into the space luckily doesn’t cause the fire to flare up. Inez (age: 11, “one grade ahead of Nataly, but nice to younger kids”) is crouched in the bathroom tub, but otherwise okay. Nataly gets them both heading downstairs as fast as they can.

Now would be an excellent time to leave, but while circling the building, Nataly had heard several people mentioning the missing Mrs. Lupo, and knows she has to check her apartment before she can go. She does the trick with blasting the door down from the hallway again, but this apartment is a much different situation: the source of the fire, the apartment crawls with flames that reach for Nataly as soon as the door opens. Her force shield barely holds, and this is from the doorway.

Still, she tries.

The apartment is small, and doesn’t take long to check – Mrs. Lupo isn’t there, pretty much the only thing not on fire is an old piano in the living room, covered in framed photos.

Nataly is almost out of stress, and is coughing violently from the hot air (Minor consequence), but decides to take a few more seconds and at least save something from the fire. She scoops up all the photos into a second bubble and knocks out the nearest window to escape. The rush of air gives the fire new life, however, and the heat is more than Nataly can withstand – she flies through the hole on fire, barely under control, and (shouts and screams echoing from the street below) crashes onto the roof of the building across the street, still cradling the photos in a force bubble and her burned arms (moderate consequence).

The fire fighters take it from there.

Nataly requires some medical attention, but she’s reported as ‘a child trapped in the fire,’ and no one asks too many questions. Around the Marquis, no one needs to. Flowers, small gifts, cards, and “irresponsible piles” of candy (in Marilla’s words) appear at their apartment door. Mrs. Lupo (who’d been visiting her sister across town) comes by every afternoon and helps Nataly keep up with her homework.

Mr. Higgins isn’t any nicer, but that’s just Mr. Higgins.


And now you’re all caught up to where Kaylee and I are, so far. We have Nataly set up in a new home, with a base of operations, friends and family, and things to fight for. I love the way this has played out so far: it feels a bit like the apartment block in the new Hawkeye series, mixed up with a little Runaways and maybe Zita the Spacegirl.

What’s next?

I tell you, I just don’t know where to start: there’s just so much cool stuff we can do.

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #5 – Blacklisted

At the end of our last session, the hunt for a new home in Mercury Bay hit a snag when Nataly, Matthew, and Marilla (plus the realtor) were attacked by a creature that basically looked like a stone gargoyle and seemed to be looking for (and angry with) Nataly.

Nataly, of course, has no idea why.

There isn’t a lot to write about this session as it was:

  • Fairly short.
  • Mostly the fight between Nataly and the gargoyle creature, which I didn’t take notes on to the point where I can recount it round by round.

The “Gargoyle”

Unbeknownst to Nataly, this creature is actually a recent arrival in Mercury Bay – specifically, he arrived via that weird geode meteorite that came down a few nights ago (early last session). The fact that the thing hit the ground a few hours after Nataly and the M’s arrived in town is not a coincidence.

For stats, I basically stole an entry on The Nebbishter Glee on Fate SF (which has posted some really great Warhammer 40k stuff for FAE). My version looks like so:

Space “Gargoyle”

ASPECTS:

  • High Concept:Waist-high semi-intelligent demons
  • Trouble: Vulnerable to mind-affecting and magical attacks
  • Aspect: Greedy opportunist
  • Aspect: A propensity to replicate
  • Aspect: Cat-ape-dog-demon hybrids

APPROACHES

  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: 0
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +3

STUNTS:

  • Easy to Overlook: Take a +2 to Sneaky to be mistaken for statuary.
  • Remix: Once per session, I may sample the DNA of another living creature and produce another of my kind with a unique Aspect and Stunt inspired by that sample.
  • Replicate Servant: Once per session, I can produce a mook minion via replication.
  • Tough Little Critter: Once per session, I can become immune to a Forceful attack that would otherwise damage me.

REFRESH: 2

This little DNA-thief had one goal in this fight: bite the telekinetic space princess.

The fight made… a bit of a mess. Nataly told Matthew and Marilla to get the realtor into the back room, and tried to keep the gargoyle thing in the front rooms (not difficult, since it wanted to bite her anyway), but between the thing’s strength and mass and Nataly’s tendency to use hurled balls of telekinetic force, about sixty percent of the apartment was “remodeled into an open concept layout” in just under a minute. Oops.

The fight ended when the thing (having successfully given Nataly a Minor Consequence from a bite) leapt back onto the balcony and skittered off down the wall (they can’t actually fly… yet).

Fallout

The realtor was, putting it mildly, upset and shaken by these events. They didn’t realize how shaken until they tried to get in touch with him the next day and were informed he’d filed for a retraining order against the three of them. They sought someone else to help them find a home, but no one would talk to them: the realtor had been busy calling everyone in the real estate business in Mercury Bay (both realtors and those with property available) and urging that Nataly’s family be black-balled.

We ended the session as Marilla hung up the phone, turned back to them, and said “We may need to move. Again.”

Note: During this session, Nataly finally got her fifth aspect, which (I think) will be darned useful (for both Kaylee and me) in the future.

Aspect: Matthew and Marilla are always there for me.

Post Ludus Analysis: (Fate) Gaming with Kids

Almost all of the RPG gaming I’ve done recently has been with kids 14 and younger.

All, in fact, of the face to face gaming; only my google+ gaming has involved adult majorities at the table.

After wrapping up the Supers game I ran with my daughter, niece, and nephew, I scribbled down some notes, combined them with some thoughts I’d already had after playing solo with my daughter, and… well, here they are.

Fate Accelerated

Bar none, one of the best pick-up game systems I’ve played or run. As I demonstrated in the “Escape from Brainiac” scenario, you can quite literally sit everyone down with blank character sheets and begin playing immediately, teaching the game and building characters as you go. I think the basic outline for the game went something like this:

  • First Scene: The Golden Rule: “Describe it first, then we figure out what to roll.” Set High Concept. Use (and set) first (and maybe second) Approach. How do dice work. How are roll results determined. First Stunt. Different action types explained, as they come up, determined by The Golden Rule.
  • Second Scene: Trouble Aspect. First Relationship Aspect.
  • Third Scene: Second Stunt. Working together (Create Advantage). Using Aspects with Fate Points, the basic idea of Boosts as ‘flimsy aspects.’ Consequences. Second Relationship Aspect. Additional approaches rated.
  • Fourth Scene: “Personal Goal” aspect. Character basically complete, barring final stunt. Recharge Fate Points.
  • Fifth Scene: Dealing with opposed rolls. Overcome checks. Dealing with the concept of Armor.
  • Sixth and final scene: Everything comes together in one big scene.

And, despite being “light and quick,” it’s satisfying. The six approaches are quite broad-stroke ‘skills’, but Aspects and Stunts give the characters lots of individual flavor and impart the sense of growth. Also, it’s worth noting that having only a few Approaches means that those +1 bumps to an approach every 2 or 3 sessions feels like a really significant ‘level up’, compared to the same thing in Fate Core, where looking at a character with ratings in 10 skills out of possible 18 makes the +1 feel good, but not quite as huge.

The Golden Rule is Especially Critical

Most uttered phrase in any FAE conflict with me and my daughter: “Just tell me what you want to do.”

The Golden Rule in Fate is ‘Figure out what you do and then figure out what to roll.’ For kids, this goes double-triple-quintuple times. My daughter loves the rules for Fate and FAE, and tries to grapple with them for every action she wants to take – it hampers everything going on in the story, including her enjoyment of it. (And mine.)

When we remember “Just describe what you’re doing, make it cool, and then we’ll figure out what to roll,” things are fantastic.

To be honest, I find that’s a very good thing to remember when gaming with adults as well – it makes the play much better – but experienced adult gamers will do the imaginative heavy lifting in their heads, on their own, if necessary, because they’ve learned they usually have to.  New players and kids won’t have learned that, so their enjoyment of “announce action, roll, announce action, roll…” is much lower.

Which is good: it enforces the need for the Golden Rule – a good rule for any system, really.

They’re Going to Get Hit More, Hurt More, Bleed More

New players/kids don’t hit Aspects quite as much, don’t Create Advantages as much, don’t make use of existing ‘free’ aspects or Boosts as much. They just don’t. They’re less likely to use Fate points aggressively, and (from what I’ve seen) tend to keep them on hand to reduce the effects of a bad roll or getting hit hard more than to buff up one of their big hits. As a result, they’re characters fail more than (in my experience) most experienced gamers do when they play Fate, simply because they don’t invoke Aspects with the same aggressive abandon. (1)

((1) That means, by the way, the kid’s games are generally more enjoyable and exciting than Fate games I’ve played solely with adults, because failure – especially failure in Fate – is cool and interesting, as are Stress and Consequences. In my experience with Fate Core and FAE, failure is almost always a thing you have to let happen to your character, and most adult gamers don’t, which is a shame.)

All of this is fine, but there are a few things you’ll have to take on as the GM that you normally wouldn’t need to when running a game of Fate with more experienced players.

  1. Reminders to be awesome – let the dice fall where they may and then ask whoever rolled if they think one of their Aspects would give them a bonus to what happened. Because of the sorts of board games that kids are familiar with, the idea of tweaking a die result after the fact will be unfamiliar – they’re used to rolling and taking their lumps, good or bad.
  2. You’re the one who games probability curves. You as the GM probably need to take on the decision on whether or not to use an aspect invocation for a bonus (do this on any roll -2 or better) or a reroll (if the dice came up -3 or -4).
  3. You Must Remember Compels – most experienced gamers really engaging the Fate system will remember their Aspects and suggest compels when the opportunity is there – they like getting Fate points. This is great for a GM, because you don’t have to keep track of 5x+y aspects.  Kids and new gamers, on the other hand, generally aren’t looking for ways to screw their characters for a few Fate points, so you need to help them with that. Keep an eye on everyone’s stack of Fate points and when someone starts getting low, glance at that PC’s aspects and figure out a way in the current or next scene for them to earn a FP with a compel. Repeat this continuously – in my experience with kids, this will probably remain your job – most won’t aggressively do the work for you for a long time, though they’ll quickly become more accepting of the basic idea.
  4. You Are the Acting Hand of the Golden Rule. They will never tell you they want to Create an Advantage. Ever. Never ever. Make them tell you what they want to do, and YOU determine if something is an attack, overcome, or creating an advantage some other player can then exploit.

Remember: They’re Kids, and Kids Will Drive You Crazy

I think it’s clear that I love gaming with these guys, but still… yeah, it’s exhausting. My wife and sister thanked me dozens of times for ‘handling the kids’ over the holidays, because (a) playing Fate was pretty much the only thing the kids wanted to do when they had free time and (b) the other adults could see it wore me down over time.

Don’t get me wrong: they’re amazing, clever people, and consistently brought a steel-melting level of enthusiasm to the table. I love that.

But they’re kids. There’s certain inevitable consequences of that fact.

Focus (especially when it’s more than one kid) will be a huge, frustrating issue: more than once I announced (or said to one or another individual) I was going to go do something (anything) else if they couldn’t pull it together and show some respect for the game we were all playing.

Player Bravado is another thing I’d forgotten about. All that stuff you may or may not remember from gaming AS a kid with other kids the same age? You didn’t imagine any of it, and it wasn’t just you and the other idiots you played DnD with in high school. Arguing with the other players about whether or not their guy could beat the other player’s guy… bluster about which powerful NPC would leap to the attacked PC’s defense… randomly announcing they were going to join the bad guys once they got off the ship…

… that last thing was pretty cool, to be honest. But whatever.

And not all of the ‘kid’s habits’ I remember from my youth are terrible: I was able to make use of one the day after we wrapped up the Brainiac scenario.

Everything Can Be a Game

One of the things me and my gaming group (really: my best friends) did back in high school is stat everything.

And I mean everything. Cool movies. Bad movies. TV shows (they were all bad, I think). Characters from books. Character from comics. Every single person we had to read about in the history section of Social Studies. We statted EVERYTHING… then we argued about it.

And I think that was a good thing. We understood the system(s) better, and it helped us start to deconstruct both characters and stories analytically (something I find more than a little useful today).

So, the day after we wrapped up the game, we got to talking about how characters really work in Fate, what Aspects are supposed to do, long term, and I got the bright idea to give examples from books and movies they knew. Both Malik and Jadyn are huuuuuge Hunger Games fans, and if there’s an easier modern YA novel to stat out for a game, I don’t know it. High Concepts. Trouble Aspects. Relationship Aspects. Personal Goals. Gear. Conditions. Compels.

So easy.

And, as we talked about it, even though they’d been playing Fate for the last three days, you could see new lights going on – new understanding. New ideas.

Good, good stuff.
Good, good stuff.

The Point Is…

The point is, there’s “kids” stuff you handle (focus), stuff you just ignore or ask them to waste time on later (that bragging nonsense), and stuff you can and should engage. I think it’s all an inevitable aspect of new/young players and a game they’ve just learned to love.

And they do love it.

And it’s so worth it.

And I would absolutely, instantly, jump in to do the whole thing again.

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #4 – “House Hunters Supernatural”

I’ve been remiss in my actual play reports.

During the summer, Kaylee and I started up a solo supers campaign, and while I wrote about the first, second, and third sessions, I have definitely not been keeping up with current events.

Session Four

As you may or may not recall, soon after (suspiciously soon after) Nataly found a strange bracelet among her personal effects at the orphanage where she lived, the orphanage was visited by a man named Matthew who was interested in adopting the young girl. His paperwork was entirely in order, his references were – frankly – amazing, and before long Nataly was off to an idyllic childhood in the countryside with Matthew and his sister, Marilla.

It was not to be.

After an afternoon in which Matthew and Marilla encouraged Nataly to explore the farm (and the powers that had appeared when she first donned the bracelet), the farmhouse was set upon in the dead of night by strange mechanical spider creatures that proved remarkably resistant and quite… numerous. The trio fled the farm and Marilla (who seemed entirely familiar with the creatures) muttered something about how, in hindsight, it was obvious something like that would happen. “There’s no way you could miss the girl out here in the middle of nowhere – we need to go somewhere where there’s more interference – where she’s less likely to stand out.”

Matthew nodded, and turned onto the interstate highway that would take them to the coastal city of Mercury Bay.

Nataly’s new guardians put them up in a low-rent hotel the first day arrived, but started talking about a ‘proper home’ as soon as they’d unpacked. They seemed to have a budget that would allow them a decent place, even in the heart of the city, though Nataly couldn’t figure out how they earned the money: neither seemed to have a job.

As a matter of fact, neither seemed to be that surprised by the fact she could fly or hurl blasts of pure force… Hmm.

Nataly grew somewhat bored with the conversation and stared out the window at the dusk-shrouded city in the distance. She had a front row seat for the streaking falling star that seemed to crash into the ground somewhere between their motel and the city.

“I’m… going to go for a fl- walk,” she said.

Matthew didn’t like the idea, but Marilla was more sanguine. “Go ahead, girl. Be careful, of course, and don’t stay out too long.” To Matthew’s look, she replied. “She can’t stay locked up in a tower; that’s how everything went wrong in the first place.”

Nataly frowned, but left without asking any questions.

Once out of sight of the room, she took to the air, wrapped herself in a force bubble that would diffuse and distribute light, and headed toward the site of the meteor impact.

She wasn’t the only one. Dozens of emergency vehicles surrounded the area, their lights flashing in the gloom, and a number of emergency floodlights were focused on the small crater at the center of the chaos. The object that had fallen appeared to be stone of some kind: melted to slag by the heat of reentry, and cracked in half but (and this was very odd) apparently hollow, and lined with crystals, like a geode.

Almost big enough for someone to lie down in, isn't it?
Almost big enough for someone to lie down in, isn’t it?

It’s interesting, but not something Nataly can do anything about right now – her force bubble makes it hard for people to see her, but she’s not invisible – someone would notice the strange visual distortion hovering over the geode if she gets any closer, so she heads back to the motel and goes to sleep.

HGTV

The next day, Matthew and Marilla start looking for a new home and Nataly, a veteran of hours and hours spent watching HGTV in the orphanage rec room (their activity leader pretended it was good for the kids), is ready to offer her studied opinion on curb appeal and ‘must-have features’.

In fact, the girl actually sits the two adults down and makes them itemize a list of things they want, before they meet with the realtor so ‘we’re all on the same page and don’t end up looking at things we don’t want.’

[It *could* be Kaylee has seen more than a few dozen House Hunter shows herself, and that her GM specifically built this bit of the session to play to that. I need to see if I can dig up the ‘shopping list’ she put together at this point.]

The trio meets with Mark, a slightly oily but earnest realtor, who pats Nataly on the head and then generally ignores her. Looking over Matthew and Marilla’s somewhat homespun attire, he takes them first to a lower income neighborhood and a roomy but fairly dated (and pink) condo on the second floor of a four-story building. I describe the neighborhood as quite similar to the area of Queens where Kaylee and I have been many times. Nataly points out the items on the list where the ‘apartment’ fails (galley kitchen, no work space for Matthew’s projects) and steps out onto the balcony.

… where she can hear someone shouting, then shouting for help.

She glances back into the room, sees that the adults have wandered back into the private rooms, and leaps into the sky.

The situation is simple and straightforward. A woman in her late thirties, with a baby stroller, has apparently just had someone run off with her purse. Nataly barely slows down as she takes them in, then tears off through the air in the direction the woman is looking. A few swerving corners and she sees the (young) man running down a narrow street.

It isn’t even a fight. Between one step and the next, Nataly encases him in ‘basically a giant hamster ball’ and lets it bounce down the street until the guy inside is all but unconscious. She then picks the whole thing up and carries it through the air in front of her as she flies back to the woman.

By the time she gets back, there’s a sizable crowd (the woman is apparently well-known in the neighborhood), and while people are surprised to see a ‘hero’ in street clothes, no one screams or faints. A few even clap when she dumps the thief and the purse in street in front of the stroller. The woman gives Nataly an awkward hug, as though unsure if she should, and Nataly takes off, suddenly self-conscious and aware that she’s been gone long enough to be noticed.

Which Marilla certainly did. She gives Nataly an arched eyebrow as she lands on the patio. Matthew is keeping the realtor distracted with talk of old wiring and fire concerns.


House number two is far roomier, with a nice backyard, but is far from the city and (muttered by Marilla) “nowhere near the activity the girl will need to keep from being noticed.” The realtor can’t understand their reluctance, and spends quite some time trying to sell the adults on the house. Nataly heads to the backyard and, poking around, is surprised to hear a voice from behind her, almost repeating Marilla’s words.

“You need to work a little harder on not being noticed.”

She turns as a man vaults over the backyard fence. Dressed in cape, mask, and cowl, he could not look more out of place in this bland suburban area, but somehow he’s too serious to look ridiculous.

Nataly stands her ground. “I don’t know what you mean. And who are you?”

He ignores the question. “Hovering over the crash site last night. Dropping off a purse snatcher in front of fifteen witnesses with five actively recording smartphone cameras.” He crosses his arms, and she notices a pair of batons at his waist. “Unless you’re trying to draw attention or lure someone into a trap, you need to start thinking about lowering your profile.”

Nataly, not sure what to say, remains silent.

He doesn’t seem to expect this, and squints at her. “Are you trying to lure someone into a trap?”

“Maybe.”

He tenses. “Who?”

She says nothing, and he snorts and nods. “Fine. Still…” He reaches into one of the dozens of pouches on his belt and pulls out a swatch of black something. “It won’t hurt to keep your identity under wraps, unless you want your… guardians… to inherit your trouble.” He hands her the item.

She unfolds it and stares at the soft black domino mask.

“What -” she looks up, but the red-and-black suited stranger is gone.

In the distance, she hears a motorcycle engine roar to life.


Home #3 is yet another wild departure from the previous offerings – the realtor doesn’t seem to know what to make of this odd family. It’s a well-appointed condo on the thirtieth floor of a high-rise overlooking the city’s titular bay. Fancy, to say the least, and while it doesn’t have any place for Matthew’s ‘projects’, it easily ticks off the other boxes on Nataly’s list.

Everything is looking good, until a shadow darkens the french doors leading onto the patio and something crashes through the glass and skids to a stop in the middle of the (furnished) living room.

A squat, ugly, stone gargoyle unfurls its wings as it rises from its crouch, points a gnarled, clawed finger at Nataly and growls “YOU!

Business End of a Boom Tube – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Four (of Four)

First, a disclaimer: I’m not very good at Fate.

There are players out there who can wave their hand, summon up ever-folding images of the Fate Fractal to illustrate off-the-cuff google+ posts, and write up detailed hacks for the core rules three times a week.

That’s not me. I’m running these supers games using nothing but the rules in the book(s), without any variations.* I basically ignore things like the “Extras” chapter in Fate and FAE, and mentally summarize the whole chapter with “Sometimes you’ll want the game to do something a certain way that is different than anything else in the book, and if so, that should cost something.”

(* – No variations that I’m aware of – it’s possible that stuff from older versions of Fate have crept in, but if so I haven’t noticed and didn’t do it on purpose.)

The reason I bring this up is that, in this section of the game, there were a couple of situations where I wanted specific effects, and set up stuff in a way to make that happen. In hindsight, I can see ways I could have elegantly applied existing rules to accomplish the same thing, but the actual solutions I came up with on the fly aren’t lovely crystalline matrices – they’re rickety Rube Goldberg machines that held together only so long as I kept thinking about them. I don’t recommend replicating some of the stuff here, verbatim.

Unless you think it’s cool. In which case, go ahead.

Now then, where were we?


We we last left our heroes, they’d just recovered most if not all of their memories of abduction by Braniac’s troops, and now knew that if they didn’t get off this ship soon, their friends and families were probably dead (or digitized and deleted, which amounts to the same thing).

Grim and determined, they ask Oracle for a new destination – someplace they can go to stop the digitization of their home neighborhood.

Oracle does a bit of searching – really all she seems to be able to do inside Brainiac’s system right now is find information; her access is too limited for serious hacking – and gives them a new direction to head: a control center located near the center of this section of the ship.

They proceed, and hit their first barrier in the form of an Automated Security Checkpoint in the next Junction Chamber.

Junction Room [Ugly Ver 1]

Characters need to make Good forceful overcome rolls to act each round (roll at the start of the round). If they don’t, they can’t move (defend, whatever). This is because of the Robotic Brain in the center of the room. The brain’s in an invulnerable forcefield and can’t be harmed.

At the start of the second round, three-unit squads of sentry-bots start showing up (3 stress for each squad, +2 at the stuff they’re good at, -2 to stuff they aren’t good at). They don’t have to make Overcome rolls to act.

If, in any round, all the heroes managed to overcome successfully, the Brain shorts out for a bit, and the forcefield drops for a round. The brain has 4 stress and, if destroyed, stops summoning patrol squads.

Or, you can do it this way:

Junction Room, [ver2]

Zone Aspect: Immobilizing Telekinetic Field (Allows Brain to forcefully Defend against any enemy action in the room.)

Brain in a Jar
Aspect: Telekinetic Construct
Forceful: +2
Stunt: Forcefield – Armor:4 versus all physical and most energy attacks. Does not work if Brain has Aspect: Shorted Out. If I am defeated “with style” on an Overcome vs. my Defend, I gain the Aspect: Shorted Out for one round.
Stunt: Summon Bots – Because I am a security construct, once per round I can summon a security bot patrol to the room.

Security Bot Patrol
Forceful: 2
Stress: 3 (Collective for group of three)

There are probably better ways to do it, but whatever.

Anyway, the trio enter the room. Due to her native telekinetic abilities (and related stunt), Angelia is able to forcefully overcome the telekinetic field immediately. Anna struggles but manages to keep moving by focusing on rescuing her parents (fate point and her new aspect), while Mikenna is basically immobilized.

The doors across the room open, and a trio of security bots march in and open fire. Angelia deals with them while Anna tried to freeze the metal Brain in the middle of the room on a pedestal (to no avail).

Angelia clears two of the three bots, but the remaining soldier gets reinforcements as three more bots rush in through a side entrance. Anna hurls ice at them to help out Angelia, but the girls are clearly struggling. Mikenna still can’t move.

On the third round, the bots are building up, and Anna is struggling to keep moving against the telekinetic force blanketing the room. Mikenna musters everything she’s got and manages to break free of the telekinesis. This added resistance shorts out the Brain for a few seconds and Mikenna takes that opportunity to turn the gold-plated bit of machinery into a non-functional pin-cushion. The telekinetic field drops, and the kids make short work of the remaining bots.

Alarms start sounding, and a stentorian voice starts droning about escaped prisoners needing to be stopped – converge on the control rooms – et cetera.

The kids battle toward the control room, moving fast so that resistance can’t get organized, and storm inside. Oracle has explained that, based on schematics, she thinks there are four ‘connections’ between the ship and a shield generator that, if disabled, will allow her to send reinforcements to them via Boom Tube (whatever that is).

It turns out that the four ‘connections’ are a bit more robust than that: four giant bolts jut from the floor in the large room – all of which need to be destroyed. They’re about this big:

AthertonBolts

Also, there’s a big combat-grade command bot in the center of the room where Oracle’s schematics say a “control unit” should be:

Brainiac_Ship_Guardian

Finally, while they entered from the ‘south’ and jammed the entrance, the other three walls in the room are deep alcoves that basically look like teleporter platforms – looks like a great way for reinforcements to arrive.

“So, what do you do?”

At this point, they group tries a number of things, but the situation quickly stabilizes to a number of key facts.

  1. A squad of three patrol-bots (same stats as the Junction Room) shows up on each of the three teleporter pads, every round.
  2. The Command Unit (+3 to everything relevant, 3 stress and full consequences) has a force field basically as tough as the one around the Robot Brain from the Junction Room. (Armor:4, but only active if the Command Bot’s declared action for that round is a Defend, otherwise it’s down). He can basically be ignored for now.
  3. The big bolts are very difficult to damage.

Round 1

The kids decide the reinforcements need to be dealt with.

Anna puts up an Ice Wall covering the ‘mouth’ of one of the teleporter alcoves. (I just made a … thing … Barrier? that the bots had to destroy to enter the room, with stress equal to Anna’s successes. That’s old-Fate thinking, probably: should have just made it a means for her to active defend against them entering the zone.)

Angelia blocks a second alcove with a force wall.

Mikenna fills her alcove with arrows and mows down the reinforcements there.

Round 2

Anna ices over the alcove that Angelia had before. Mikenna keeps firing on her alcove, and Angelia tries to unscrew one of the massive bolts with her telekinesis… unsuccessfully. (I decided to do some kind of ‘gradual success’ thing here, and didn’t have time to look up to see if that’s a thing that exists in Fate Core, so I just give decided on a total number of successes she needed to accumulate to totally unscrew the thing.)

Round 3

Anna ices over the third teleport node. Mikenna takes pot-shots at the Command Unit, but does nothing. Angelia keeps twisting.

Round 4

Anna and Mikenna team up to freeze and damage another bolt. This kind of works, but… reinforcements are slipping into the room through the shattered ice walls.

Round 5

Anna reinforces the ice walls while Mikenna cleans up the bots that got through. Angelia gets a bolt loose and starts on another.

Round 6

Anna, from this point on, is basically playing a game of ice-blaster whackamole with the ice walls, reinforcing whichever ones seem closest to going down. It keeps the others clear to act.

Mikenna finishes breaking the damaged bolt.

Angelia makes major headway on the third bolt.

Round 7

Angelia gets the third bolt free and turns to the fourth-and-final. Mikenna is assisting Anna.

Round 8

The Command Bot drops his shield and starts powering up a MAJOR blast at Angelia’s back (one round to build up an Advantage first). Mikenna fires a couple shots at it.

Round 9

Angelia has the bolt loose!

Mikenna defends Angelia from the Command Bot’s blast, taking the hit herself for a Moderate Consequence (burned torso).

Oracle hollers “Shield is down! Reinforcements incoming! (pause) I can get into their servers! *gleeful cackle*”

Round 10 (and after)

A boom tube opens, and through it comes Wonder Woman, armed with sword and shield, armored in red and gold. She takes in the room at a glance, nods to the three holding back Brainiac’s troops, and says:

“We must hold this control room until Oracle has done her work.”

She leaps across the room and buries her sword in the chest of the Control Bot, then turns.

“Will you fight with me?”

Yeah. Like she needs to ask.

The rest of the battle is a blur. Mikenna runs out of arrows and resorts to hand to hand. Angelia is smashing swaths through the incoming troops with the shattered halves of the broken bolt. Anna freezes robots solid until there is literally no more moisture left in the air to crystalize.

And still they come. And die, and die.

Finally, they hear that same voice – Brainiac’s voice, they now realize – call for a retreat. Announce evacuation. Flee.

They win.

Wonder Woman tells them they can’t use the Boom Tube to exit the ship (Watchtower security clearance only), but helps them hurriedly clear a teleport pad that Oracle has commandeered.

Its destination? Their home neighborhood – the massive shield unit, tumbling from the ship, destroyed the magnetic jar below the ship, freeing their friends and family.

They arrive in the middle of the street, covered in ice crystals, sweat, blood, grime…

… and drowning in the cheers of those who know them best.


Every one of us, sitting at the table, is grinning from ear to ear.

It’s a good day to be a hero.

Forbidden Island: Tropical Death Trap, or Charming Vacation Getaway?

Kate’s response: Why not both?

A few weeks ago, I noticed a thread on reddit’s /r/boardgames in which the original poster asked for other users’ lists of good 2-person or very small group games. There were many interesting suggestions, some of which I already owned, many of which I didn’t.

It was a moderately costly thread for me, because when a game came up on several lists and seemed the sort of thing I, Kate, and/or Kaylee might enjoy, it went onto the to-buy list; we’re pretty strapped for time around Casa Testerman these days, but at the same time, we love games of all types, especially stuff we can pull out and play with little notice and limited time.

What did I pick up? Lost Cities looks good, though I haven’t unwrapped it yet. Jaipur and Ticket to Ride we already own. Timeline was a gift from Santa to Kaylee, and I’m patiently waiting for our new copy of “Lord of the Rings: Confrontation” to arrive from the UK.

The one game we didn’t own, but which was on nearly every person’s list? Forbidden Island.

"The trees are actually quite lovely..."
“The trees are actually quite lovely…”

Designed by the same guy who created Pandemic, Forbidden Island is a cooperative game like Pandemic (but with considerably less fiddly rules) or Shadows Over Camelot (but with no ‘traitor’ role).

The basic idea is that you take 24 beautiful ‘location’ cards and use them to randomly create the Forbidden Island. Each of the (2 to 4) players picks a character to play (each with a special ability) – adventurers who have come to the island to recover the lost four elemental treasures of the Archeans before the island sinks.

Oh yeah: the island is sinking. Did I mention?

We didn’t get a chance to play it at the latest game day, but Kate and Kaylee and I did try it out a few nights ago (after Kate read the rules and took 20 minutes to watch the Tabletop crew lose), and managed to eke out a narrow victory with the starting difficulty level set to “novice.”

Then we sent Kaylee to bed and played it again with just the two of us at “normal” difficulty and eked out a still-more-narrow victory.

The last three location tiles left on the table as we finally catch a helicopter lift the hell out of there.
The last three location tiles left on the table as we finally catch a helicopter lift the hell out of there.

Last night, Kate pulled it out for a quick game before my audiobook recording session – it wasn’t pretty, but we managed a slightly wider margin of victory, still at “normal” difficulty, which put us three-for-three in the wins column.

We’ve both grudgingly acknowledged this means we need to start the next game at ‘elite.’

And that we’re doomed.

Garbage Disposal – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Three

In the last session with my niece, nephew, and daughter, the three young heroes were sneaking through the ship on which they’d found themselves following some kind of abduction they couldn’t remember.

Thanks to Angelia, they’d slipped out of the main corridors and into access passages that helped them avoid most of security patrols. Talking with Oracle (the voice on their earbuds) about what they could and couldn’t remember, the kids were able to recall they’d kind of known each other ‘before’ (and pick up Aspect to match this knowledge), but that was about it, so far.

They found their way to a choke point in the ship’s construction – a large room they needed to get through to reach the ‘transport’ section of the ship and, hopefully, escape. Stealthily scouting the room, they could see it was some kind of ‘trash reclamation’ chamber currently crowded with “Overseers”: a sort of commander-level robot that, according to Oracle, would be a challenge even if there were only one.

Meanwhile, Angelia had noticed that there were a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduced all the trash delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash were building up in the massive tubes overhead.

“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks me.

Garbage Disposal

I work out a quick list of tube contents.

  • Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
  • Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
  • Tube 3: Scrap metal.
  • Tube 4: Chemical waste.
  • Tube 5: Pillows and mattresses.

(Tube 5 got a muttered “Seriously?!?” from my niece as she peered at the list.)

This room wasn’t really meant to be a fight, or even a point to engage the dice – it was more of a puzzle solving challenge in which pretty much anything would work and the GM (me) was just curious what they’d come up with. Basically, anything they decided to do to clear out the Overseers would work if it made any kind of sense at all – the main question was what sort of consequences (Aspects) would they have to deal with in the room, afterwards, when they tried to cross it.

After some debate over the use of the Chemical Waste (and a few ideas in which they tried to use every tube, no matter what), they decided to empty the tubes onto the Overseers in the following order:

– Tube 3: Scrap metal.
This would introduce a lot of sharp ‘stuff’ that could damage the bots.

– Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
They saw the main value here as being the weight of the stuff: dropped on the bots, with the scrap metal already in place, would, they felt, either puncture or rupture their outer casings. Then…

– Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
It was a toss-up between this and the chemical waste, but in the end they went for this tube because (a) it would be likely to seep or pour into the damaged bots and cause shorts and (b) while gross, wouldn’t turn the whole room into a chemical hazard they had to get across.

The tubes were opened, stuff fell with clangs and crashes and lots of sloshing and squishing, sparks flew, and the room was full of the smell of rotting garbage and fried wiring.

The kids made their way through the piles of junk (or over and around it in the case of Angelia and ice-sliding Anna). Oracle assured them they were almost to the hangar. Anna keyed the switch for the big door leading out of the room, which slide open to reveal a Master Overseer coming to investigate the disturbance.

Cunning, observant, and clever; Intimidating size; Heavy front armor plating
Skilled (+3) at: commanding security bots, blaster cannon, forceful defending, assessing tactical situation, strafing zone with missiles

The kids scattered, Anna throwing up a quick ice shield and rolling to the side as the Overseer let off a series of plasma blasts.

Anna
Stunt: Because I can make snap-freeze shields, I get a +2 to quickly defend against physical attacks.

The overseer stomps into the room, coming about halfway through the hatchway, and blasts out an order that all prisoners surrender immediately.

Angelia, already used to throwing around heavy objects, tried to hurl the thing to the side, but the Overseer was braced and clinging to the deck and couldn’t be moved. Mikenna tried a few exploratory bow shots, but couldn’t get anything through the Overseer’s defenses. Anna slipped past the Overseer and into the hallway beyond, verifying that the nearest hangar was only a few hundred feet further along, but couldn’t figure out how to get her friends into the passageway, past the giant robot.

What followed was a few rounds of the Overseer proving Oracle right – it definitely was not the sort of thing the young heroes wanted to fight, if they could help it. Mikenna, dodging nimbly, was still unable to entirely avoid the thing’s plasma blasts and picked up several Stress hits and a “twisted knee” Minor Consequence. Angelia’s force fields handled the blasts a bit better, but she was still accumulating Stress. Anna avoided the worst of these attacks, but working on her own, her ice couldn’t do anything significant to the Overseer.

Once again, the kids ran through their (choose who goes next) initiative in such a way as to allow the Overseer the last action in a round, followed by it giving itself the first action of the next round. It took advantage of this by (first) blanketing the room in withering missile fire (successfully creating an advantage on Angelia of “pinned down”) and then Blasting her with everything it had. The force bubble held, but Angelia was driven straight down into trash and waste, sinking into and being swallowed by the muck.

Given the not-so-subtle example of the benefits of Create Advantage, the kids started working together.

The most memorable bit in the rounds that followed was Angelia rising up out of the trash with a MASSIVE ball of muck and gunk over her head and burying the Overseer in the stuff. Anna froze the whole mess solid, then both Mikenna and Angelia shattering pieces of it.

The end of the fight came as Anna and Mikenna were taking turns freezing and shattering pieces of the robot while Angelia used her telekinesis to ‘Pin Down’ the bot: it looked like it was going to get another big attack, but Mikenna managed to get an attack success JUST big enough to be impossible to handle with a combination of Stress and Consequences – the Overseer collapsed and shorted out. The kids managed to make it out with Stress and only Minor Consequences, though it was touch and go for a bit, and all three were completely out of Fate Points (I was treating the whole ‘escape from the ship’ as a single scenario, so breaks between play sessions didn’t refresh their pool).

Anna and Mikenna also picked up their last Relationship Aspects.

Mikenna
– Anna is too young to be put in danger.

Anna
– I will prove (to Mikenna) I’m a hero, just like everyone else.

The trio made their (limping) way out of Garbage Disposal and down the hallway, with Oracle telling them that the ports up ahead should give them a good view of the ship’s nearest hangar.

Unfortunately, the hangar was occupied.

Specifically, it was occupied by rank upon rank of the smaller “security” bots, larger humanoid combat models they hadn’t encountered yet, and dozens of overseers.

“That must be the whole invasion force for this ship,” said Oracle.

The Classic Flashback

This is where we pulled away the last remnants of the amnesia. They all remembered these forces. They remembered what had happened.

Ships had appeared, months ago, over many major cities through the world. New York. Chicago. Gotham. Central City. Mercury Bay. And, of course, their own home of Metropolis. Sections of each city were surrounded – encased, actually – in weird energy fields: gigantic forcefields that not even superheroes like Wonder Woman seemed to be able to do anything about. Worse, if the bubbles stayed up for too long, they would fade away and the area they’d bottled was just… gone. Erased. Deleted.

The news called them “jars,” and said that the attacking force was run by someone called Brainiac.

Still, it didn’t seem to matter that much from day to day. Even the areas in Metropolis that had been encased were far away from their home neighborhood – those were wealthy, important parts of town, and they lived in a low-income project – not even an invading alien would care that much about them.

Then something happened. The news started talking about new heroes showing up – helping the well-known heroes with the defense of Earth. People started noticing friends and neighbors with strange new abilities.

Then a bottle swallowed their neighborhood, followed almost immediately by Brainiac’s troops, dropping out of the sky like a storm, ordering everyone into the streets for ‘inspection.’

Everyone was scanned.

The kids remembered the scanners beeping when they were pointed at each of them. The light on top pulsed – the Collectors said something like “exobyte detected”… and everything went black.

They’d gotten powers.

And those powers had called Brainiac right to them — had dropped a jar over their friends and families — had started a timer ticking. Very much longer, and the only home they’d ever known would just be… gone.

I pointed to the last blank on their character sheets and asked each player to write down an Aspect that covered their reaction all this.

Angelia, the natural leader, started working on a plan:
– Aspect: We’ve got to get that Jar down before it’s too late.

Anna was more personal:
– Aspect: I will get my parents back.

Mikenna, thinking about it for longer than the others, rejected the personal or tactical for big and angry:
– Aspect: Brainiac needs to pay.

The mood at the table changed dramatically. They weren’t scrambling for an escape route anymore: they were looking around for something to break.

Needless to day, I was very impressed with how each character had come together. Treating the whole flashback as a refresh scene, I told all three players to reset their Fate Point totals to 3 and clear their Stress and Minor Consequences.

“Okay,” they asked Oracle. “How do we stop this?”

“We’re on a Ship?” – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Two

[Not a lot of dice rolling and no fights in this one, but good character building stuff.]

When we last left our heroes*, they’d just beaten down three guards and escaped from the “science tube” room where they’d been held in some kind of suspended animation. Rather than going out through the main exit that their mysterious ‘voice in the ear’ benefactor had provided them, however, they’d slipped out through a maintenance hatch that Angelia (Jadyn) had discovered, and were now crouching in a narrow passageway, next to an access terminal.

(* And we the players did actually leave them for awhile – this game took place over the four days my niece and nephew were in town. After the first fight, everyone crashed for the night and just left everything where it was on the gaming table. Being able to do this is, in fact, why we *have* a dedicated gaming table.)

“I wasn’t expecting you to find another way out of that room,” says the voice in their ears. “Heck, I didn’t even know there was another way out: the schematic I’m working with only shows the public corridors – it must be something they use for the patrol and security robots, so there’s a good chance the guys with guns don’t have any idea where you are right now. That’s good news, since it means I can get you a lot closer to getting off that ship without alerting more guards.”

“We’re on a ship?” Mikenna asks.

“Of course we’re on a ship,” Anna pipes up. “Can’t you tell? We’re probably in deep space right now.”

“Actually…” says the voice on their ear buds. “You’re not, though you are pretty far up – directly over one of the…” There’s a pause. “Is… any of this ringing any bells? We’ve had problems with amnesia from some of the people we’ve freed in the past.”

No on says anything.

“Riiiight,” the woman on the other end says. “Well… is there anything you *do* remember?”

So we talk a little bit about what the characters know about themselves and what they know about each other. I encourage really sketchy levels of detail. The kids determine that Angelia  (Jadyn) knows both Mikenna (Malik) and Anna (Kaylee); Anna knows Angelia, but only knows of Mikenna; Mikenna recognizes Angelia, but doesn’t know Anna at all.

Anna is eight, Angelia is 14 (a freshman who’s been taking high school classes for the last two years), Mikenna’s a junior.

At this point, we stop to talk a bit more about Aspects and what they do. Once that’s covered, we talk about the High Concept aspect they all already have, and what the other Aspect ‘slots’ are for.

  • High Concept (already covered)
  • Trouble Aspect
  • Relationship with Other Character 1
  • Relationship with Other Character 2
  • Something I’m not talking about yet.

I ask the players about Trouble Aspects and if there’s any sort of Aspects of their character that, while sometimes useful, tends to cause them problems more often than not. The kids, perhaps unsurprisingly, immediately get this concept. Kaylee already has one written down (Bites Off More Than She Can Chew, another expression of the character quality at the core of her first stunt), and with that example, it’s pretty easy for the other two kids to come up with something.

Angelia: “Wait a minute, let’s think about this…”

Mikenna: Good with crowds, bad with people.

I’m really happy with all three of these as Trouble Aspects. To be honest, they’re probably the best examples of these types of aspects that I’ve seen, let alone gotten to play with first hand; they’re absolutely doing their “first job” of giving me an easy level to pull that will reward the player with fate points, but they’re also actually useful – every one of them can be used to legitimately provide benefit in certain situations, and that’s so often not the case with Trouble aspects.

We also take a look at the information they came up with earlier about each other, and look at relationship aspects. Jadyn already has one written on Angelia’s sheet (I look out for Anna), and based on that the girls decide that Angelia babysits Anna sometimes.

From that, Kaylee writes down her first Relationship aspect: “Angelia is like the big sister I never had.”

Malik and Jadyn talk about their situation a little bit more, working out that Angelia is one of those kids that kids her own age don’t like because they’re taking advanced classes, and that older kids don’t like because the younger kid is showing them up. The kids work out that Mikenna is getting secretly, informally tutored on math and science by Angelia.

None of them really remember what happened, or how they got where they are right now, or much about anything or anyone beyond the people they’re looking at, but they remember a little.

Malik writes down: “I trust Angelia with the ‘brainy stuff.'”

A fascinating dynamic develops out of this, in that Angelia (the ‘middle’ kid, both in the game and at the table) is essentially the leader of the group.

I’m happy with getting the trouble and the first relationship aspects down at that point, so when the kids struggle with their second relationships, I wave that off for later and move things along.

“Okay, this is Oracle again,” say the voice in their ear buds.

‘Oracle?’ mouths Mikenna. Angelia shrugs.

“I’ve been going over the schematics for the tunnels you’re in, and I think I’ve found a way to get you closer to one of the hangars, which should be the best way to get you off the ship.” The maintenance screen they’re crouched next to light up with a map, and a series of passages light up. “Follow this route, and that should get you almost all the way there without you needing to go back into high-traffic areas.

“Almost?” asks Mikenna.

“Yeah… there’s a little bit of a problem, but let’s get you moving for now.”

The trio heads out, and traverse a fairly large distance without any problem (bypassing about a half-dozen rooms I’d sketched out encounters for and now discard, unmourned). Oracle brings them to a room with a round shaft leading down.

(This is something I’ve put in place to encourage the players to come with some kind of ‘movement power’ for their guys.)

“You need to get down to the bottom of their shaft,” says Oracle, “but it’s quite a ways down – don’t just jump.”

“How about we slide?” say Anna, and creates a kind of ice platform anchored to the side of the shaft, steps onto it, and starts building the platform down like a large spiral slide. Pretty normal ice-guy thing, but new to the players, so we do some rolls to control the descent and keep from descending at an out of control speed.

Meanwhile, Mikenna has pulled a line out of her utility belt, and is using it like a abseil/zip line, while Jadyn describes Angelia getting down by holding onto the walls of the shaft with her telekinesis and lowering herself that way.

I point out that anyone looking at Angelia would think she was just flying down slowly. Jadyn says “I can fly?!? Cool!” and Angelia’s movement accelerates rapidly.

We roll some dice to see how everyone’s new method of getting around works, and given the opportunity, all three kids decide to accent their ability with a Stunt. Jadyn can’t think of one yet, but knows she wants one.

Anna

  • Because I can make ice-slides, I get a +2 to flashily overcome movement-related obstacles.

Mikenna

  • Because I have a zip-line, I get a +2 to cleverly overcome Physical obstacles.
  • Clever +2 (Despite leaving ‘the brainy stuff’ to Angelia, Mikenna is quite smart herself – she just doesn’t apply it much of the time, apparently.)

The shaft opens out into a utility control room, and we’re sort of back to a room vaguely like a scene in the DCUO tutorial.

“Okay,” says Oracle, “the good news is, you’re almost to the hangar. The bad news is, they know you escaped from the holding pods, and they’ve put guards on all the choke points that might let someone off the ship. That’s the next room – it’s marked ‘waste accretion’ on the schematics. Take a peek in there and see what kind of guards they have posted.”

Anna (stealthily) creeps up, and reports a half-dozen “really big spider robots.” Basically these guys.

Stats coming next session.

Meanwhile, Jadyn has noticed that there are a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduces that the room next door is supposed to be where “Earth trash” is accumulated and destroyed, but all the delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash are building up in the massive tubes over the robot’s head.

“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks.

And therein begins a plan.

“Escape from the Science Tubes” – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part One

I could write about this game for a week. It’s possible I might.

There’s so much to take out of this experience, both in terms of game design, game running, game playing, and just the experience of playing with new players, that I probably need a few days just to organize my thoughts, but I don’t have that kind of time – I’m on a plane in 24 hours, and soaking in wall-to-wall busy for the next two weeks.

So instead, you get a series of slightly disorganized actual play reports. Hopefully that’ll work.

Right. Here we go.

The Most Wonderful Time… Of the Year

My sister was coming out to visit for the four or five days between Christmas and New Years. In tow, my nephew (14) and niece (10), and it was pretty much assumed that while everyone was out, Uncle Doyce would be playing games with the kids.

No Experience Required

Although neither niece or nephew do tabletop gaming regularly, I’ve played quite a few games with them in the past. Pilgrims of the Flying Temple went well, as did Happy Birthday Robot, though Dread was probably the biggest reigning hit – my nephew ended up writing a play about the events of that game session (and a proper ending, since we didn’t actually finish the story). At some point, I’ve also run something that required full sets of polyhedrals, but neither they or I can remember what that was. At any rate, they didn’t have a lot of gaming experience, and I needed to keep that in mind.

My daughter, by contrast, has done quite a bit more gaming with me, most recently a Fate Accelerated Edition “supers” game, very loosely set off the beaten track in some backwater DC Universe (I called it Earth-23). When I mentioned I’d be running something when Malik and Jadyn were in town, she got very excited at the idea that she’d be able to play some version of Fate with her cousins.

Note: I didn’t say “Fate” at any point; that was her assumption, and any hint that it might not turn out to be true was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best. No surprise, as she clearly likes the game.

I didn’t feel like arguing, and at any rate I had some decent ideas for what I could do with a supers game.

So this is what I have:

  • Nephew, Malik, 14. Little gaming experience. Passing familiarity with ‘supers’ thanks to the Batman “Arkham” console games.
  • Niece, Jadyn, 10. Little gaming experience. Very little if any supers familiarity.
  • Daughter, Kaylee, 8. Some gaming experience, almost all Fate or FAE. Has watched Young Justice, JLU, and Justice League series straight through, several times.

Clearly, I can’t just jump in and assume that everyone knows what’s going on with either the game or a setting. Forget “does everyone know who Solomon Grundy is?” – in terms of tropes, I can’t assume most of the people at the table will be familiar with common superhero powers, let alone how you’d express them in Fate or any other game.

So, what I need is a good introduction both to the setting and the system.

The best example I had of this sort of thing was The Demolished Ones, a really fabulous Fate scenario that scratches about every gaming and story itch I have. Unfortunately, the tone and concept are more than a little dark for young/new gamers, and it was too long to wrap up in any kind of satisfactory way in the time we had. Still… the “you start out with amnesia” thing…

I’d asked Kaylee early on if she wanted to play Nataly (her girl from our solo game, about which I still need to write about three or four more blog posts to get caught up), or make up someone new for her cousins’ visit, and she opted to make up someone new, because she likes making new characters almost as much as playing them. (Don’t we all?)

Knowing that, I chucked the “Christmas Gone Amuck in Mercury Bay” concept and focused on the idea of a group ‘origin story’, which brought me back around to something I’d been toying around with a few months ago – basically using the premise of DC Universe Online as the starting point of a tabletop supers game.

They Call It a “Tutorial”

See, the terribly useful thing about the start of most MMOs is that they set things up with the assumption that the new player is somewhat interested in the game, but doesn’t know that much about it – the character is a bit in the dark, and so learns along with the player. Also, a good tutorial at the beginning of the game like this starts out with simple concepts (this is how you attack) and slowly adds mechanics to the experience (this is the room where you learn to use your movement power) until, by the end, you’re doing all the ‘stuff’ you need to do to play the rest of the game (barring more esoteric activities like crafting and whatnot).

This sort of idea is easily (but, sadly, not often) mapped to an introductory scenario for a tabletop RPG like Fate.

Combine that with the amnesia stuff from The Demolished Ones, and good things start to happen.

As you’ll see.

You Wake Up In A Tube

I sat down with my players, an FAE book for each of us, lots of Fate dice, and blank character sheets.

I start with Jadyn, describing a dream her character is having in which she’s swimming around a coral reef, but in her normal street clothes, and she can breathe just fine. As soon as she realizes she’s dreaming, however, she starts to wake up, and finds herself inside some kind of glass tube, breathing mask and other wires strapped to her head, floating in some kind of liquid roughly the consistency of hair gel.

A female voice crackles in her ear (and in those of the other two players who are in similar tubes). “Right! I found you! Give me just a second and I’ll get you out of there.” Probably another minute passes and then the glass front of the tubes starts to roll down like a car window, spilling the goop out onto (and through) the metal grating floor of the large room. The goop flow carries all three of them out onto the deck as well, coughing and trying to squeegee the muck off their arms and faces.

Now’s the time to borrow from The Demolished Ones.

To Jadyn, I say, “You look over at Kaylee’s character. What is the first and most striking thing you notice about her appearance?”

She tells us that the girl has perfectly white hair, and I have Kaylee write that down on the back of her sheet.

I then repeat this for the other players, having each dictate a noteworthy physical feature of the person to their left at the table. Malik’s character has shockingly blue eyes. Jadyn’s character’s eyes are all black, with white pupils.

We do a bit of roleplaying and “what do you do first/next?” type things as I get them talking with each other for a few seconds – there are a lot of these suspended animation pods (immediately dubbed ‘science tubes’ by the players) in the room; most are empty, and those that aren’t contain people that have been in there so long their limbs are skinny and weak, their hair is mostly gone, and their skin has gone ‘water wrinkly’ all over and so badly their faces can’t easily be made out. They may not even be alive. Eww.

Once everyone gets a chance to actually roleplay themselves, I ask each player to tell me the first impression of the personality of the person on their right. Kaylee’s character is a “worrier,” Jadyn’s is “a nerdy expert,” and Malik’s is “an all-star athlete with attitude.”

Right.

My “tutorial” goal for this room:

  • Get (and explain) High Concept aspects
  • Get (and explain) at least one Approach for everyone
  • Build a stunt (if they need it) and explain them

The voice in their earbud returns. “Okay, the good news is, I can get the main door to your room open. The bad news is, there are guards right outside. Are any of you good with weapons?”

Malik says “What have you got?” and some kind of weapons locker opens in the corner. I tell him that it has whatever it is that he’s hoping to find, and he finds a bow and quiver of arrows and some random ‘utility belt’ stuff. No one else even checks the thing.

The door opens and a trio of ‘guards’ turn and then rush in. These guys:

Guard: Small quick combat unit. +2 at: patrolling, pulse rifle. -2 complex thought. Stress: 1 (2 hits takes it out)

I’m basically using the initiative system from Marvel Heroic, with just a touch of Doctor Who, so I ask if anyone is planning to do something that involves just talking.

Jadyn says she is, so I have her go first. She shouts “KEEP THEM BUSY” and runs off into the rows of “science tubes.” I ask what she’s doing, and she informs me she’s looking for a different exit.

Here, of course, is where an MMO disappoints you and a tabletop game (especially Fate) shines. I say “that’s very Cunning” and have her roll her dice and add her rating for the Cunning approach.

“I don’t have a rating in Cunning,” she replies.

I explain she can give it a rating at either 3, 2, 1, or 0, and how many of each rating she has to use, and she gives Cunning a 3, rolls, and easily adds the aspect “Concealed Maintenance Hatch” to the room.

“That’s what you’re doing while they keep the guards busy,” I say. “Who’s going next?”

She hands off to Malik (character: Mikenna), who uses his bow not to shoot the robots, but to burst a pipe and fill the area they’re standing in with steam (interesting choice, that). During this, he picks his +3 approach, writes out his High Concept, and picks up the first Stunt of the game

Mikenna

  • High Concept: High School All-star Marksman
  • Quick: +3
  • Stunt: Because everything moves slowly to my eyes, I get a +2 to Quickly create advantages.

Malik gives the turn to the robots, who have to overcome the passive steam obstacle to shoot, and end up not only missing, but giving both Mikenna and Anna (Kaylee’s character) a boost for their Defense success with style.

Anna is last. She’s scrambling for cover from the plasma blasts of the robots, shrieks, flings her arms out, and freezes… well, pretty much everything. The steam in the air, the water condensing on the bots, the bots themselves… pretty much everything. Two of them are taken out, and the last one is damaged, with ice stuck in its joints.

Anna

  • High Concept: Sub-zero Super Hero
  • Trouble: I bite off more than I can chew (didn’t come up here, but Kaylee already had it written down)
  • Flashy: +3
  • Stunt: Because I don’t know my own strength, I get a +2 to Forcefully attack multiple targets.

Kaylee starts off the next round by handing initiative back to Jadyn, who reappears out of the stacks just as the last robot rounds on Anna, gun leveled.

Her character (Angelia) shouts “Don’t you DARE!” and slams the robot into the ceiling… then the floor… then the wall.

Angelia

  • High Concept: Telekinetic Science Nerd
  • Relationship Aspect: I Look Out for Anna
  • Clever: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Stunt: Because I’m better at lifting heavy things, I get a +2 to Forcefully overcome obstacles. (Didn’t get used in this conflict, but the player really wanted it right away.)

“Come on,” she says, while the other two stare at the smashed robot. “I’ve got a way out.”

… and we’ll stop there… for now.

Next Up: “What Do You Mean, ‘Spaceship’?”

  • Sneaking through access tunnels I didn’t even know were there.
  • A little memory returns, leading to…
  • Relationship Aspects, Trouble Aspects, Scene Aspects

FATE: Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session Two – Trouble Magnet

Nataly wakes up in her room at the Clearwater Campus, her head foggy and filled with that nagging feeling you get when you can’t remember a dream you’re sure you really want to remember. Something about flying?…

[Amusing note: Kaylee has never felt, so far as she knows, that “can’t quite remember a dream” or the “I can’t remember what I was going to tell you” sensation, so explaining what Nataly’s head felt like took a lot longer than expected, and wandered off into an interesting discussion about memory.]

Nataly frowns at the ceiling, trying to remember why she feels so odd (and why she’s laying on top of the covers, fully dressed) when there’s a knock on the door. Nataly hops up to answer it, and notices the bracelet on her wrist. Her adventure from the night before comes back all at once – at least up to the part where she found her treasures box and opened it. She hides the bracelet in her bedclothes and opens the door.

It’s Kendra, literally hopping up and down with impatience. She slips inside as soon as the door opens more than a crack. The girls exchange notes, with Kendra doing most of the back-filling. Nataly put the bracelet on, started glowing and floating, and didn’t answer Kendra at all. The guard was patrolling past Mrs. McHevy’s desk, so Kendra closed the storage room all the way and doused Nataly’s glow by throwing a quilt from one of her treasures boxes over her — pretty good ghost costume, apparently.

Once the guard had moved on, Kendra tried to wake Nataly up, then gave that up and just pulled her through the air back to her room, “like a big party balloon.” She’d moved Nataly over her bed and, with nothing else to try, left her there.

Nataly finds this whole idea of floating very interesting. She retrieves the bracelet from her bed, slips it on, and tries jumping off the bed as high as she can and flying. No joy. A few more attempts (with Kendra providing commentary and suggestions) do not improve the situation.

There’s another knock on the door. Kids aren’t supposed to have anyone but them in their rooms, so Nataly hides both Kendra and the bracelet under the bed, and answers the door.

It’s Mrs. McHevy, who first asks if she heard “someone” jumping on “someone’s” bed, which is strictly against the rules. Nataly looks hangdog, but Mrs. McHevy can’t keep her stern expression on, because she’s excited: it seems a new adoptive parent just showed up at the Campus, just this morning, with all paperwork in order and asking specifically for Nataly! Interviews are normally on Saturdays, never on Sundays, but with this parent’s fine references – really quite remarkable references – exceptions were made, and Nataly should really get dressed up right now to go meet him.

Him? Why yes. His name is Mr. Cuthbert, and he’s filled out adoption (not foster, adoption!) papers on behalf of himself and his sister. A bit of an unorthodox family arrangement for an adoptive family, but their references were very good. Now get dressed!

Nataly moves quickly, just to get Mrs. McHevy out of the room before she notices Kendra, and they go to meet Mr. Cuthbert, who is waiting with the Principle.

Mr. Cuthbert, who insists (well, quietly and politely requests) that Nataly call him Matthew, seems like a very nice man — a bit older than people in most interviews, but still not old old. He doesn’t seem put off at all at Nataly’s rather hesitant answers during their chat, and they agree that Nataly should go pack and “take some time to say goodbye to all your friends.”

Nataly rushed back to her room to tell Kendra the news, but Kendra isn’t there, and neither is the bracelet!

Nataly rushes around, looking for Kendra, but finds Jolene instead, who first snarks about not seeing “your so called friend” and then shows shocked disbelief that Nataly is being adopted, before her, and not even on a Saturday.

Nataly finds a quiet spot to try to think through the problem. (Time to roll Clever.) She thinks of Kendra giving her frustrated instructions on how try to fly, and thinks her friend probably went to try it herself. She thinks of places she would go to do that, and checked the gym and playground before rushing to the roof, through a door that Kendra herself had once showed her didn’t lock properly.

Sure enough, there’s Kendra, on the edge of the room, trying to screw up her courage to the point where she’s ready to jump off a four-story building. Nataly tries to get her to come down, but Kendra is determined, and prepares to jump. Nataly rushes to her and manages to grab her arm before she goes over. She grabs her by the wrist/bracelet, and in her struggle to pull her friend back from the fall, the two shoot up into the air.

Nataly knows several moments of stunned wonder as she soars out over the lawns around the campus… and then she and her friend start falling in a long arc.

Nataly tries to (Carefully) think about what she had been trying to do when she flew off into the sky, but she can’t (too many distractions from her friend screaming and clawing at her arms). The ground rushes at them, Nataly flinches —

And they bounce, the two of them inside some kind of bubble force field. One massive bounce takes them into the woods, where they ricochet off the trees like a pinball until the bubble ‘bursts’ and they crash into a big bush.

[Another weird disconnect: Kaylee has no idea what a pinball machine is. This must be rectified.]

The girls limp home (Kendra ended up with a very tender ankle), and Nataly arrives back at her room grass-stained, scuffed, dirty, with twigs and leaves caught in her hair.

The principle and Matthew Cuthbert are waiting. The principle actually facepalms, expecting the Trouble Magnet to ruin her best chance at adoption.

Nataly sheepishly explains she was “just saying goodbye to my friend.”

Matthew looks the girl over, his eyes lingering for more than a few seconds on her bracelet, and says “Well, now, it seems the best thing for you is lots of open space and room to explore.” He turns to the surprised principle. “If everything’s all square with you, Nataly and I should probably be going.”


Observations: The game is going well! The only real challenge is the fact that Kaylee really likes to grab narration and just say whether various things are successful or not, or what others-besides-nataly are doing/saying/thinking. I’m generally fine with the input on setting and color stuff, because it tells me what kind of story she’s interested in, but I did remind her that (a) I’m playing too, and pretty much all I get to do is make stuff up, so she should try to leave something for me to do 🙂 and (b) when there’s some kind of conflict, the dice decide whether something works, not us. This second point was much easier for her to get when I compared it to the MMOs we play together (Wizard or Pirate 101, frex) where she decides what she’s going to do, but the game decides if it works.

FATE: Short “Supers” Session with Kaylee

Last night, Kaylee and I decided to trade our bedtime reading for a introductory mini-session of Fate Accelerated Edition, with her playing the would-be superhero she made up over the weekend.


It’s Saturday afternoon, just after lunch, and Nataly Smith is lying on the bed in her small room at Clearwater Campus (a combination orphanage and elementary) reading one of the few donated comic books she hasn’t worn the covers off of already. Her eyes are wide, drinking in the four-color heroics — she’s a million miles away.

She’s also late.

A loud knocking jolts her upright, and the door opens before she can answer. Mrs. McIntyre, Principle’s Assistant, bustles in, demanding to know why Nataly isn’t dressed for her interview yet — why she isn’t in fact at her interview, as the appointment was scheduled to start five minutes ago. It seems the girl forgot that she was supposed to meet with a potential foster parent today, and she rushes around under Mrs. McIntyre’s frazzled glare, pulling on her best jumper (“just a little bit frayed along the hem”) and rushing out the door.

Another child might have rushed into the classroom where Principle Sanchez was waiting, or lurked outside, trying to eavesdrop on his conversation with the potential foster parent, but Nataly simply knocked and waited. The principle called her in, and she — a veteran of many, many interviews, walked quietly over to the heavyset older woman sitting primly in an undersized chair and came to a sort of schoolyard-grade attention, hands clasped behind her.

The woman was not impressed.

“Skinny little thing,” she said through pinched lips. “And I thought you said she was older. I need a strong, reliable girl.”

Principle Sanchez’s mouth twitched. “Nataly is one of the oldest girls currently living on-campus. I believe she’s ten.” He stroked his mustache. “In any case, while our girls have a fine sense of responsibility, we don’t normally rate them by their lifting capacity.”

The older woman gave him a sharp look, but his expression made it impossible to take offense. “You know I take care of anyone I foster, Mister Sanchez.” She turned back to Nataly. “Ten, then?”

Nataly nodded. “Yes…” She waited, then. “Ma’am.”

The woman sniffed. “You seem pleasant enough for some barren little suburban couple to’ve snapped you up — how is it you’re still here?”

“I… haven’t been very lucky,” Nataly said, eyes downcast. Which was true, though it didn’t really tell the whole story. Nataly had been taken home with – literally – dozens of families on a trial basis, but something always went wrong.

The woman seemed to sense the evasion. “Not lucky?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you some kind of trouble maker?”

No, I’m a trouble magnet. Nataly thought — a phrase she’d heard the principle, Mrs. McIntyre, and most of her teachers use at one time or another — but she clamped her jaw shut to keep from saying it out loud.

The woman scowled. “Well? Speak up? Are you a trouble maker?” The principle started to say something, but she held up her hand to him, palm out. “I want to hear what the girl has to say.”

But Nataly froze. Trouble magnet echoed around her head, driving out any other possible reply she could have come up with and, knowing she couldn’t say that, she said nothing.

The silence dragged on, until the woman sniffed, sat back, and shook her head. “No.”

Principle Sanchez cleared his throat. “Perhaps –”

“No,” she snapped. “Two minutes into the conversation, and she’s already gone obstinate and locked her heels? I won’t have it. I’m too old and there are plenty of other girls.” She nodded her chin at Nataly. “You can go, girl, and good luck finding a family that will put up with a little bullheaded creature like you.”

Nataly’s lower lip moved just a bit, but she locked that down as well, managed a brief, automatic curtsy, and walked back the way she’d come.

It hardly surprised her anymore, when an interview went poorly. But it still hurt.


A hour later, Nataly was still sitting on the bed in her good jumper. She’d tried moping for a while, but she couldn’t really get her heart into it, and her eyes had fallen on the comic book she’d left behind. She was just picking it up when a shadow darkened her doorway.

It was Jolene.

“I just wanted to stop by,” said Jolene “and tell you how sorry I am that your interview foster parent thought you were terrible.”

Nataly glared. “That isn’t what happened.”

Jolene, only nine, raised an eyebrow in a way you normally only saw on bored adults. “Well, she didn’t take you home, did she? Something went wrong.” She tipped her head. “But something always does go wrong with you, doesn’t it?”

“Go. Away.”

“Away?” Jolene frowned. “But I’m in the hallway, not your room. There’s no rules against being in the hallway.”

“What. Do you want?”

“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” replied Jolene. “I mean, I’m moving in with a real adoptive family next week, and you can’t even find a foster family to take you. I feel terrible.” She sighed. “At this rate, you’ll be eighteen and kicked out of here as completely hopeless before you even see your treasures box.”

“I won’t –” Nataly’s eyes narrowed. “Treasure box?”

Treasures box.” Jolene’s eyes lit up, sensing a new weak spot. “Oh, I suppose you don’t know about those, since you came here as a little abandoned baby no one wanted. It’s the box where they put all the valuables you had when you came here, that you might lose.” She tilted your head. “Then again, since came here as an unwanted baby, you probably don’t even have –”

Nataly slammed the door.


“I’m never going to get adopted,” Nataly pushed at her food with a fork, her chin resting on her fist. “Everyone says I’m too skinny.”

Kendra, her one friend at Clearwater, gave her look. “Is that why you punched Jolene?”

Nataly’s head snapped up in surprise. “What? I didn’t punch her. I just slammed the door in her face.”

“Oh.” Kendra glanced across the cafeteria at a distance table full of giggling girls. “That’s too bad. She needs a good smack.”

Nataly grinned, but thinking of Jolene reminded her of something else. “She said something about a Treasures Box. Was she making that up or –”

“Nope, we all have those — all the stuff they don’t trust kids with.” She squinted into the middle distance. “Mine’s actually three boxes I think, and a key for a storage garage — all the stuff my grams left behind when she died, I think. They keep em all in a big storage room behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.” She looked at Nataly. “You didn’t know?”

“I never get to help in the office,” Nataly said. “And I’ve always been here. I probably don’t even have a box.”

“I bet you do,” Kendra said. Then she got the smile that was why she and Nataly had always been friend. “In fact…”

Nataly caught the grin and felt it spread to her own lips. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”


Fifteen minutes after lights out, Kendra knocked on Nataly’s door, and the two of them scurried through the campus, eyes peeled for the security guard that walked the hallways at night, tapping his stick on the radiators. Kendra claimed to know his wandering pattern, and she must have been right, because the girls didn’t see him all the way to the storage room door in the hallway behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.

The door was locked.

“How…” Nataly stared at the handle. “Can you pick locks?”

“No.” Kendra shook her head as through Nataly had just asked if she could breathe water. “Who knows how to pick locks?”

“Lots of people,” Nataly said.

“Lots of people in comic books, maybe,” Kendra muttered. “We need the key.”

“Well who –” Nataly’s eyes widened. “The janitor! He’s got every key to the whole building!”

“But they’re either in his closet, which is locked,” Kendra said, “or he took them home.”

“Maybe…” Nataly shook her head, thinking, but Kendra grinned and snuck back toward Mrs. McIntyre’s desk. “What are you doing?!?”

“I bet she’s got the keys in her desk.”

Nataly hurried after. “That’s private!”

Kendra stared back at her. “We’re breaking into a whole private room.”

She had a good point. Nataly joined the search, and found a ring of keys in a coffee cup full of loose change. Nataly went back to the door and started trying keys when Kendra stopped her.

“I just heard the security man hit a radiator!” she whispered.

The girls rushed back to Mrs. McIntyre’s desk and hid underneath. The guard walked slowly up and actually SAT on the desk for awhile, muttering to himself, sniffing loudly, clearing his throat, and generally just taking a load off in that way people who think they’re alone do. He even farted a couple times, but the girls bit their lips and stayed silent — probably the greatest test of their will in their short lives.

Finally, he stood up and wandered off. The girls hurried back and kept trying keys until the door opened and they slipped inside.

Only then did the giggles take them.


There were a lot of shelves and a LOT of boxes. It didn’t take Nataly long to figure out how they were organized, but when she went to where her box should be, there was nothing there, so she was forced to go shelf by shelf, reading each box label, one at a time. They did find Kendra’s boxes (there were four), at which point Nataly had to search by herself while Kendra went through them, holding up one small treasure after another.

Finally, Nataly came to a pile of boxes near the back of the room, each one labeled with names she didn’t recognize. She started moving them to the side and spotted hers near the bottom of the stack.

“Nataly,” Kendra hissed. “I think he’s coming back!”

Nataly kept moving boxes, finally pulling out hers — no bigger than a shoebox, dusty, and taped shut.

“Nataly!”

The young girl pulled at the tape, barely hearing her friend. Something inside the box had shifted and thumped when she’d picked it up. She did have a treasure!

“Nataly, he’s coming!”

The tape came away, the lid flipped to the side, and Nataly stared down at… a bracelet. A beautiful silver bracelet set with blue gems each the size of her thumbnail.

Hers. She knew it, somewhere deep inside. Always meant to be hers. She put it on.

“Nataly!” Kendra whispered as loudly as she could. “We need to–” She turned away from the door, and her eyes went wide. “…Nataly?”

Nataly floated in mid-air, arms hanging at her side, eyes wide open and glowing – glowing – blue.


And that’s where we stopped. (Amidst cries of “Wait!” “No!” and “Really, Daddy? Really?!?”)

Can’t wait to play again.

FATE: Gaming with my Daughter

So my daughter’s back from grandparent camp, she’s been briefed on the Fate dice mechanic, and we’ve been talking about games to play. Tinkerbell has been mentioned. Also: pirates, wizards, ninjas, Mouse Guard, and Skylanders. (This conversation went on for a couple days on car rides.) We finally settle on superheroes for the first game of the summer, mostly because that’s the topic she kept asking to go back to, once it came up.

I steered things away from game-talk for awhile and asked the classic “if you could have any super power…” question. Good discussion. She hits me with “force fields” as an answer, which I thought was interesting and unexpected. We talk some about what being able to make force fields would let her do, and she comes up with the obvious protective benefits, plus making little “force field balls” to throw at people, and “it would be cool if, like, I could go invisible because of the force field, if I wanted.”

To my knowledge, she’s never heard of the Fantastic Four. 🙂 She does have some unexpected DC Universe knowledge, because her friend is a Teen Titans fangirl. So while munching dinner tonight, I give her a list of the six FAE approaches and we talk about them in terms of which you’d want to use for different types of gymnastics, or bowling, or soccer, or math homework; all of this is just so I know we’re clear on what they each do.Then I ask her to rank them with a 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0 scheme for her force field girl. She goes for Forceful, Sneaky, and Clever for the top three.  “I’m really not very careful”, she opines.

Dinner’s over, and we sit down and talk about aspects. I give her an example of an Aspect, and she says “oh, they just describe something”, and I allow that that’s true, except they usually have an upside and downside, so they’re more interesting, and we start working out her girl’s backstory and from that what the Aspects would be.

Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.
Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.

The result: an orphaned alien princess, hiding on Earth in an orphanage. She never finds a good family, because trouble always seems to find her and mess things up. She’s in fifth grade now, but appeared on earth when she was a baby.  Her powers mostly come from a Sky Sapphire Bracelet (her: “Because I don’t want it to be like the Green Lantern ring.”), although she knows she CAN fly without the bracelet, which makes GM-me suspect that the bracelet is more of a focus than the source of power.

Finally, we get to the sheet. I filled out the first Aspect, just so it would fit in the box, and I wrote out the first Stunt, but after that she figured out the rubric and wrote out the second two stunts on her own.

“I can fly,” she says, “but I’m not good enough to get a bonus. I’m so-so.” I feel like she understands Stunts.

End result: sort of a Superman/Green Lantern/Invisible Girl/Megan Morse thing. Pretty cool.

I’m looking forward to playing. So is she, though she doesn’t think we’re ready until she’s written out a proper description and done a drawing.

The sheet so far.

#gaming #fae #fate

Life in Eve: Pretty Good Weekend

Like most ten-year-olds, EVE celebrated its birthday on the nearest weekend (just past), rather than the actual date (today), in order to maximize the fun.

I’m pretty glad they did.

My mom-in-law’s in town, the kids had a cool brass concert to go to, I’m wrapping up a bunch of MFA projects at the moment, and had a book review go up at the Mittani — all of which meant that while I was at my computer a lot this weekend, it wasn’t as often as it might have been, and I wasn’t always logged into the game.

But I tried.

Saturday was the Tuskers third Frigate Free For all, which was extremely conveniently located all of one jump away from one of our lowsec staging systems. I brought over one ship (a super-long-range Atron that lived a lot longer than I expected), and after that I made use of the prefit ships provided by the Tuskers for the event, trying my best to fly ships from every faction, and as many different kinds as I could. Some of the prefit ships were a little kooky (or shamefully short of ammo), but they were all fun in their own way (probably the most fun was a microwarpdrive + blaster fit Incursus), it was SO NICE to just dock up and say “give me something Gallente” and just get it, and I had a ball, as did the other pilots from our corp who joined in.  A couple mis-clicks cost me a few decimal points of security status, but I’ll live.

I could only stay for about one-sixth of the event’s duration due to aforementioned kid’s brass concert, so I left my corp mates to the carnage and headed out.

(You know: CCP really needs to make it easier to get into a new ship after you lose one. For a lot of pilots, it isn’t the loss of a ship that’s the problem: it’s the pain in the ass logistics of getting together the parts and assembling a new one. Even if you pre-fit a bunch of ships to be ready for whatever happens, all you’re really doing is time-shifting that preparation effort, and you always end up with ships you never fly.  Some way to click on a saved fitting and say “Give me one of these, purchased from THIS station, and already assembled. Go!” I can’t help but think that would make it easier for people to jump into space and take a fight.)

After the concert, I found out the FFA was still going on, having upgraded to destroyers in my absence, so I ran over to our staging station and picked up a sniping catalyst that has been gathering dust in my hangar and flew around sniping at random stuff, which unexpectedly led to a fun 1v1 fight between me and someone from Black Rebel Rifter Club, above a lonely moon on the edge of the system. Good fight, and I called a personal end to the event with that.

Final tally: due to my limited participation, “only” racked up 60 kills and 14 ship losses. Two of my corp mates made the top 25 killers for the event (one in the top ten), and our corporation registered 252 kills (including a Thanatos carrier) and 49 cheap-o losses. So much fun.

Saturday night, I decided to take the advice of someone from the EVE303 google group (Eve players in Denver) and did a long haul across enemy territory to HED-GP, a null-sec system where “things happen.” I noticed a lot of pilots from Bombers Bar in the system, and as I’m known to them, I joined their fleet and spent a little time plinking at various TEST pilots and trying to save as many tactical bookmarks as I could. (Meanwhile, back in our normal stomping grounds, Meg and Sthaz took part in massacring a pirate Battlecruiser fleet, so probably I selected the wrong activity for the night. Oh well.) I left the bomber in a station over in that area, in case I feel the need to terrorize TESTies again, and headed home.

Sunday was a big day, with lots of activities planned around New Eden to celebrate the game’s ten year anniversary. The big one was the Flight of 1000 Rifters, in which Marlona Sky arranged to sacrifice a super-carrier to whatever pilots showed up to take the ship down.

Red vs. Blue planned to be there, and started up the day with an early roam/ship move once the location of the event was announced — I joined their fleet simply to have a couple hundred allies in the impending brawl. Having flown in the Free For All the day before, I wanted to make sure I’d have more than enough ships on hand, and risked a cheap hauler to bring twenty executioners into the just-announced system, then hopped into an Ares interceptor to join the RvB gang on a roam to kill time until the 1000 Rifters event.

After a bit of meandering, the fleet managed to intercept a CCP Developer Fleet that was flying around in brand new Gnosis battlecruisers (prize ships given out to pilots for the 10th year anniversary). Many, many ships exploded, and honestly I’m not as happy about the CCP devs I got to shoot as I am about this ship loss.

I’ll say this about the Dev fleet (led by, I’m assuming, CCP Fozzie): they had good target discipline. I was locked, targeted, and then single-volleyed off the field at the precise moment one of the Devs managed to pull my into a hard turn that slowed my Ares down juuuust enough to hit. POP goes the interceptor.

Once we got done shooting devs (I logged a shameful number of CCP kills in a rookie frigate I picked up after losing the Ares), it was time to get to the supercarrier killing.

How to sum this up:

  • Pretty cool.
  • 2300 people in system.
  • OMG so much lag.
  • Frigate Free For All: brought 1 ship, used 14. Thousand Rifter event: brought 20 ships, used 1. Oops. (Also: now I need to move ~20 frigates back out to somewhere more useful.)
This is how Eve players light a birthday cake. (The time dilation lag left people lots of time to take screenshots.)

Most of the shooting wasn’t really directed at the supercarrier as much as the other pilots (in true Eve style), so many many ships exploded, none of which were mine (surprisingly).

Somewhere in there, Eve set a new record for concurrent connected players, just north of 65 thousand players.

I’m glad I did the 1000 Rifters event, but it was not nearly as fun (thanks to time dilation and unavoidable lag) as the (admittedly smaller, with “only” 300 pilots) Free For All the day before.

Logged out, played with the kids, wrote some more of my final paper, watched Doctor Who, and saw an email from CB that we had some visitors to the wormhole. No one was in comms when I logged in, but I spotted a few unfamiliar ships on scan. After about 15 minutes of stalking, I found a Noctis salvaging ship sucking up wrecks in a Sleeper site, and watched as his four battlecruiser bodyguards warped out and left him all alone.

Welcome to the Wormhole. Watch that first step.

Ooops. I crept up on the Noctis in a stealthy little Tengu strategic cruiser named (of course) Bad Penny, and a half-dozen volleys later I had a dead ship, a hold full of sleeper loot, and a nice little bow with which to wrap up the weekend.

Happy Birthday, Eve Online. Here’s to the second decade.

Life in Eve: April Fools

April got off to a rocky start, so I wasn’t really sure how things would look as the month wrapped up. Let’s review.

After a really, really excellent March, our hunger for good, challenging fun led us to take a lot of fights we probably should have avoided. Adrenaline withdrawal had set in, and the junkies did not react well. One week into April, we’d racked up about a third of the losses we had all through March, and one-twentieth of the wins. Ouch.

It wasn’t, in my opinion, that we were flying any worse, but we were making poor decisions, often fueled by desperation for some action. Everyone has nights like that in Eve, I think, but in this case we had about eight days of it, and it had gotten a little ridiculous. Familiarity had bred too much contempt, I suppose — it seemed the (vanishingly few) Amarr-held systems were full of nothing but off-grid fleet boosters, up-shipping nonsense, or (most often) pilots who simply wouldn’t engage.

Our long roams looking for something to fight were exercises in frustration.

In short, we felt we knew the enemy’s standard ploys and found them tiresome.

A change of scenery was called for. New territory, new faces, different pirates to shoot. Tuskers and Black Rebel Rifter Club active in the area — generally always a plus. Gallente loyalty points to earn. More familiarity with the whole war, and basically doubles the space we can effectively roam.

Battlefrogs are go.

Everyone seemed to agree, and off we went. Carriers were unlimbered, beacons were lit, and the HMS Marmoset set out for the “other front” in the war.

Things went moderately well. Probably at least two weeks were chewed up trying to figure out where the best options lay in terms of good opponents, but we slowly managed to pull ourselves out of the hole we’d gotten into.

There were also some cultural shifts to deal with.

  • Gallente seem to think actually capturing vulnerable systems is too much work, and are content to sit at a relatively weak level of war zone control, earning decidedly ‘meh’ levels of LP for their efforts, when they could easily upgrade.

    Nous sommes trop fatigués,” come the whispers. “Eet ees too hhhhard.”

  • Running missions is much more challenging — not impossible, but trickier. Basically, no one in the Gallente forces runs them, and honestly many of our own guys avoid them as well, as they are the quickest route to tanking personal standings with the Caldari to the point where (compounded with our anti-Amarr activities) pilots would be locked out of half of all known space even if they left the war.
  • Our opponent’s ship selection is quite different than the Amarr we’re used to. Assault Frigates are as thick as gnats. Someone is making a killing on selling Corax destroyers, I imagine. Caldari Navy Hookbills have always been a go-to ship for many pilots, but they are (perhaps understandably) everywhere in Caldari space, as are Condors.
  • Pirate presence and activity in this warzone is much higher.
  • Random visits from null-sec gangs is more common, as the Gallente-Caldari warzone has at least four connections to null-sec space, while the Minmatar-Amarr front has… zero.

Eventually (following another smaller move where we settled into more permanent digs), we found a hot pocket (heh) of Caldari resistance that seemed to suit us right down to the ground. It called for a fairly significant shift away from frigates and into destroyers, but we’d wanted to try that sort of thing out anyway. The tail end of April saw us back in the brisk business of explosions.

Corp Numbers

Our ship losses for April were down slightly from March and February, and the total and average value of the ships lost was lower, even though we’ve started flying larger classes of hulls. Our wins for the month didn’t match the ridiculous totals we tallied up in March, but they beat February both in raw volume and value — the first truly active “post Ushra’Khan” months. The rough, rough start of the month hurt us, and it took us awhile to find our feet in the new war zone, but we still ended up ~65% efficient for the month. Several pilots went inactive when we moved to the Gallente front, which affected our numbers slightly, but our active pilots certainly picked up the slack.

Solo kills were down a bit, which I attribute to a general unfamiliarity with the war zone and not knowing if an apparently solo opponent was actually solo or just bait, but started to pick up near the end of the month.

Top ships flown:

Friga — wait what? Actually, the most-flown ship for April was a destroyer. We racked up almost three times the number of wins in a Talwar then we did in any other hull type, and five other destroyer hulls made the list as well, whereas in March we didn’t (successfully) fly any.

Once again, escape pods made the Top 10 list for “ships flown by a pilot during a successful fight.” I call this the “putting skin in the game” statistic.

How about me, personally?

My statistics pretty much mirror the corp. April was all right: not my best month, but easily in the top three. I lost a few more ships than I have in the previous two months, but at the same time April marks the third month in a row where the total ISK value of my lost ships has gone down. Overall, I pulled my all-time efficiency up.

I didn’t fly quite as many different ships has I have in previous months, but I did vary a bit more in ship classes. Talwars topped the list, followed by Fed Navy Comets. I got wins in some other types of destroyers, one quite memorable fight in a Vexor cruiser, a couple in a Prophecy battlecruiser, and a single very special kill in stealth bomber that earned me both a bounty and a string of invective-filled evemails that culminated in this zinger:

“I hope you die of cancer.”

And what about the War?

I’ve already talked about the differences between the Calliente war zone versus the Minmatar/Amarr, and why our old stomping grounds got a little bit too trampled to bring the fun. I still don’t know if I love the new area, but we’ve got stuff to shoot at, and maybe some null-sec roams in our future, so we’ll see how it goes.


Could this be you?

As a side note: if you’re interested in trying this kind of gameplay out, drop me a comment. The corp has no assets, no bank account, and no intel worth the effort of a spy, so we’re pretty welcoming to anyone interested in learning how to blow up, take some guys down with you, and have fun as you explode. So far, our ‘new’ recruits include former wormholers, ex null-bloc soldiers, people we’ve blown up and then recruited, and one random guy who opened comms with me as we flew through the system he was in and shouted “Please take me with you!”

Generally speaking, just don’t be dick, don’t talk in local, don’t whine when your shit blows up, and we can talk.

Life in Eve: Same War, Different Front

“So this is a done deal?” CB sprawled across my couch, watching an animated children’s show on the main display screen, the sound either muted or piped directly through his Aura VI interface.

“Pretty much,” I sat at the desk, tapping my way through a briefing document that I should have sent out several days ago.

To help us through the move to the Gallente/Caldari front (hereafter the Caliente Zone), I’ve put together a basic guide with what little I know or have picked up about the war zone, both in terms of population and —

“Did everyone vote in favor?”

“Yeah.” I stopped, thought about that for a second, then shrugged. “Or voted ‘I don’t care.’ Same difference really.”

CB scratched at the collar of the formal jacket he insisted on wearing whenever he wasn’t in his pod. “Rather be shooting Caldari anyway.”

“Good,” I replied. “Then you can start figuring out how we’re going to deal with all the frakking Condors these bastards fly.”

People We’re Likely to Find Ourselves Shooting At

I frowned, trying to remember the rules of grammar I’d gotten drilled into me several lifetimes ago.

People at Whom We’re Likely to Find Oursel —

“Well that’s terrible,” I muttered.

“Didn’t you and the guys kill something like ten Condors in ten minutes last night?”

“Five,” I corrected. “In five minutes.” I couldn’t quite keep from grinning. “Pretty good start to the night.”

“The Rupture was more fun.”

My grin stretched. “Yes it was.”

CB, his back to me, raised his glass, mostly empty. “Welcome to the warzone.”

“Welcome to the Warzone,” I repeated.

Our Opponents

In addition to the Caldari and Amarr, there are quite a few solo/small gang/pirate groups active in the area. The two best known are probably The Tuskers and Black Rebel Rifter Club — both groups we’ve studied in the past. I’ve flagged these corps so everyone can easily recognize them in local, not as a warning, but to point out an opportunity for a fight. They generally embrace solo and small gang combat, and scorn the same practices we dislike. I’m excited to see them in the area.

The Landscape

Placid Region makes up the majority of Gallente half of the warzone. It connects to three different null-sec regions (Syndicate, Pure Blind, and Cloud Ring), which we’ll be making use of, and to Stacmon and Orvolle, minor high-sec trade hubs.

Black Rise is the Caldari’s largest —

“Where we heading tonight?”

“Everywhere?” I shrugged. “I’m just going to point us toward systems where stuff’s exploding.”

“Nice plan.”

“Whatever.  I haven’t memorized the map.”

“Yet.”

“Yet,” I agreed, since it was probably inevitable.

I looked around my new quarters, not missing the rust-chic of our mothballed Auga office nearly as much as I’d expected. The room shouted “Gallente” from every contoured chrome corner, and I’d be lying if I didn’t admit it felt good to be back under familiar stars.

I suspected we’d be here awhile.


Gambit Roulette is now flying under the auspices of the Federal Defense Union, the Gallente version of Matar’s Tribal Liberation Force. Some stuff we moved, but most of our pilots fly light enough it was easier to simply duplicate supplies and hangars in our second home in Essence, and leave jump clones and supplies in Auga.

Basically, this isn’t so much changing sides as it is moving to the other front in the same war. Some new faces to shoot at (and some old), different tactics from our opponents, new stars overhead — that’s the short term benefit. The long-term: by duplicating rather than moving our office, we’ve basically doubled (or more) our arena of operation.

Feels good.

Life in Eve: Junkies

 

March was a really, really good month for our corporation. By most any standard, it was the best month the corp has had since it was formed, and aside from the dry statistics, there’s the more interesting fact that we had gotten fairly well-known in the warzone.

“Props to you and your guys, Ty,” said one enemy pilot in local comms. “You guys always bring a fight.”

April… has not gone so well.

Really not a fan of this month.

Here’s a sample of our comms this month:

“Can I take on a Hookbill in this Atron?”

Answer: no.

“There’s a dragoon in the medium complex… can we even fight that?”
“Let’s… give it a shot… I guess?”

This was two guys in slashers. The Dragoon had backup.

“They only outnumber us by two.”
“And they have gang boosts –”
“And they have boosts, so really it’s worse than that.”
“By a lot –”
“By a lot. Yeah. Should we engage?”
“…. yeah.”

We did. It ended about how you’d expect.

“It’s horrible odds, but… whatever. We’re only two jumps from Auga to reship.”

Good argument. Then…

“We’re only three jumps from Auga to reship.”

Which was funny.

“We’re only four jumps from Auga to reship.”

Still funny.

“We’re only five jumps from Auga to reship.”

Less funny.

“We can always fly back to Auga to reship.”

And now it’s just grim.

In fact, in the last couple days, everything is grim. Tone of voice. Topics. The sense of desperation.

The desperation of a junkie.

In April, so far, the Corp has already racked up about a third of the losses we had all through March, and have snagged about one-twentieth of  the kills (my personal ratio is even worse, at least in terms of losses).

It seemed due to the simple fact that there are less fights available: the Amarr have been particularly scarce, especially in groups anywhere close to the size/composition we can realistically engage, and when we get anything that looks even sort of doable (if you cross your eyes and squint), we go for it.

Most of the time, though, what we decided was ‘sort of possible’ was really nowhere near that, but we go for it anyway.

Because March turned us into junkies, and April is making us go cold turkey.

Consider: in March, I was involved in at least one hundred fifty fights, give or take. Not all of them were recorded, because one side or the other ultimately managed to escape, but that’s a (low) estimate of the number of times a fight loomed. Probably, it was closer to two hundred, so let’s split the difference and call it one hundred eighty.

That works out to six fights a day, give or take, during March. Every day, six jolts of adrenaline (yes, adrenaline dumps from MMO PvP: an experience — for me — all-but unique to Eve).

A guy can get kind of addicted to that kind of thing.

We’ve got guys in the corp who, in February and March, have gotten in more fights than all the rest of their time in Eve, even if you count shooting NPCs.  It’s fun. It’s exciting. There is really nothing else in the game like it.

Then it just… stops. You are left with only bad opportunities to get your fix. Very bad opportunities.

And we’re taking those chances anyway. Of course. We’re junkies.

It’s not… good.  The frustration from not finding fights is bad already, and coupled with the stream of bad fights ending badly…

Yeah. Not good.

Time to make some changes.

Live in Eve: March in Review

So with March in the bag, I thought I’d look back and see how the corp did, both in terms of killboard statistics as well as the harder-to-track but far more useful non-metrics of mood, morale, and accomplishments.

Corp Numbers

Our ship losses for march were pretty much the same as February — just breaking 125 — though overall the total value of the ships lost was lower. I’m completely happy with this — it reflects the high level of activity in the corp right now — most nights, someone was flying and fighting, and that feels like a good thing to me.

Conversely, our kills for the month nearly doubled, and the value of the enemy assets we destroyed tripled and very nearly quadrupled.  This left us about 78% efficient for the month, and made March by far and away the most active month our corp has ever had, even compared to the month of fights in the Eugidi cluster.

It’s worth considering our losses compared to our wins for another reason: while we lost about as many ships in March as February, our spike in destroyed enemy ships means that we are selling our lost ships far more dearly.

We also saw a nice spike in solo kills: March tripled our number of solo kills over the next highest months, which speaks (I think) to growing pilot confidence and a willingness to engage and make something out of what looks like an bad  situation.

In short, we’re flying smarter and being a little less careful.

We certainly have our bad days, but all in all, it's been great.

Top ships flown:

Frigates. There are a (very) few cruisers mentioned, because of one abortive op we went on with Daggers, but that’s it. We didn’t get a single kill in destroyer all month, either. I have no plans to change that drastically, but we will be flying at least some bigger stuff this month.

How about me, personally?

I had a pretty weak couple of months in January and February, so March was pretty good for me in a lot of ways. I broke 100 kills for the month (102: a personal best), and lost exactly the same number of ships as last month. Of those 102, 93 were actual fights as opposed to destroyed capsules, 11 were solo fights, and I managed to be top damage on 40.

Had you watched each fight, you’d have seen me in a Slasher about one third of the time, the Executioner and Atron a distant second and third, and the Tormentor and Incursus coming on strong in the last week as I fiddled around with different ships. Lots of other stuff saw at least some use: I flew at least 15 different types ships during successful fights this month, and possibly more — I finished four fights in my escape pod, so I don’t know what I was flying before the explosion.

And what about the War?

March was a pretty good month for Minmatar. While it was never hard to find Amarr willing to fight, many of those fights were in entrenched systems where the slavers have set up a lots of support in the form of off-grid fleet boosting and the like. We can manage fights there, but we need to kill and get out in a hurry, because the follow-up wave in those systems is usually some kind of ridiculously overwhelming response. (My personal favorite is the gang that attacked our six-man tech1 frigate fleet with armor-boosted cruisers and an assault frig (vexor, maller, enyo), and then brought in an Ashimmu when they lost two ships and couldn’t kill us. GF?)

Anyway, the result of this tactic has been a downswing in fights in random locations around the war zone, and the Amarr down to about seven controlled systems out of 70. I’ve seen some 20+ Amarr fleets flying around, but I honestly don’t know what they’re doing or who they’re fighting, if anyone; most of LNA seems to have gone to sleep again, and I don’t know who else in the TLF is fielding fleets that size.

I’m not thrilled about this development, as it limits the level of activity we see from the other side. Early in the month, the Amarr and Minmatar were dead-even on warzone control, with both sides maintaining tier 3 for nearly a week, and I couldn’t have been more pleased: it seemed the best situation possible to encourage high activity in both factions, and I’d hoped it would last a lot longer.

A few days from the end of the month, Minmatar managed to push warzone control the highest level — tier 5 — the first time that’s happened since CCP made their most recent changes to the Faction Warfare control system.

Nice feather in the cap, but ultimately more trouble than it's worth.

This event triggered a rash of one-day-old alts flooding Minmatar faction warfare to leech Loyalty Points while the rewards were increased 225%. Gambit Roulette tried to go out and capture plexes during this time, but we kept getting distracted with good fights and — I believe — never actually collected an LP payment during the entire Tier 5 period. Whoops.

We also may, here and there, have pointed some unaffiliated pirates in the direction of particularly obvious LP leech pilots who needed a good ass-whupping. I consider it a community outreach and beautification project. Related: if any Amamake residents want to know who likes to boast in Minmatar chat about flying ‘combat’ ships with warp core stabilizers and cloaks on, give me a ping: I have a list.

And that’s about it! We’re planning to start April off a resounding thud of stupidity: who knows what’ll happen after that.

Life in Eve: Local is Fine, and Here’s How to Fix It.

First, a brief background, for the non-EvE players:

Like most MMOs, Eve has a number of text-based chat channels built into its user interface. The ones likely to see the most use are whatever corporation and/or alliance you’re part of, any player-made channels created for specific purposes or interests…

And Local.

Now, to the outsider, the concept of a “local channel” doesn’t seem that big a deal: most games I’ve played have some version of this: a channel that can only be seen by the people currently visiting a particular city are common, for example (though there’s usually some question about whether or not anyone pays attention to it).

In Eve, that Channel is called “Local.” It’s always on, always there, and always includes whomever is currently in the same solar system as you.

The reason this matters (for the purposes of this post), is that all the channels in Eve have a Member List displayed alongside the chat window.

Like so.

In some less-common situations, the member list only shows people who have actually spoken in that channel since you logged on, but in most cases, including Local in all of known space, the member list automatically updates to show everyone who’s currently in the same solar system.

This means that, in Eve, within known space (wormholes work differently), the very second that anyone enters the same solar system you’re in, you know, thanks to Local.

As a result, Local — specifically, Local’s member list — is more often used as an intelligence gathering tool than it is a means to chat with the unwashed masses of whatever backwater shithole you happen to be flying through at the moment.

I actually shrink the window so that the member list is the only thing I see.

Not everyone likes this.

There have been great fiery debates about whether or not Local’s member list should remain immediate (like it is now) or delayed (the way it works in Wormholes and some private channels, where no one knows you’re there unless you say something).

Which led to this conversation today:

“Man,” Em said. “I really wish we didn’t have automatic local out in the war zone. It’s so lame to have that much intel at your fingertips. It’d be so cool to see guys on directional scan in a complex and have NO idea of they were friendly or hostile — no Local list to compare it to and say ‘Well, I see three ships, and there are only two hostiles here and three friendlies, so it’s probably friendlies.'”

“Sure,” I replied. “Though it would suck for us as well if they changed it.”

“We’d cope,” Em said. “Hell, we already deal with that every day up in the wormhole.”

“Definitely, but that’s the wormhole. Things should work differently up there. I mean…” I pondered. “We’re in low security space, but it’s still Empire space, you know? The infrastructure is kind of messed up, but it’s still functional.”

“Empire?” Em replied. “Why would the Amarr or Minmatar or… hell, anybody provide intel about their own troop movements to anyone and everyone who can see the Local member list?”

“Well… they wouldn’t,” I said. “But I don’t think it’s really up to them — that’s just part of the deal with the technology. I don’t think they control it.” I shrugged. “Maybe CONCORD controls it.” I frowned. “Actually, I think it’s tied to the stargates somehow — like they’re relays or something — which is why the member list breaks out by star system, and why there’s other channels like one just for the local constellation of systems you’re in, and why it works the same way in High sec and Low sec and Null sec — all the same stargate technology.” Finally, I added, “That’d be why it doesn’t work that way in wormhole space — no stargates.”

Bringing people together in more ways than one.

There was a pause in the conversation. I turned back to the ship fitting I’d been assembling.

“You know what would be cool?” Em said, voice almost dreamy.

“I –”

“What would be cool,” he continued, “is if Local didn’t add you to the member list until you either used the channel… or used a Gate.”

I stopped, turning that idea over, then offered my analysis. “Huh.”

“I mean…” it didn’t even seem as though he heard me. “If it’s all attached to the stargate tech, and you didn’t use a stargate to get there, then…” He shook his head. “MAN that would be cool.”

“Wormholes,” I said, picking up on the idea. “You could — I mean, when you dropped out of a wormhole into a system in known space…”

“No one would know you were there,” Em completed the thought. “It’d make all those shitty class two systems with exits to Null sec SO much more fun.”

There's a hole in your sky...

“It’d be like having a black-ops drop capability for people who can’t fly black-ops ships yet.” I blinked. “Actually…”

“… black-ops jump bridges bypass gates.” Em finished.

Widow likes the idea. (It's smiling - trust me.)

“Regular Titan bridges too,” I said. “I mean –”

“– you’d see the beacon go up, but–”

“– you wouldn’t know who came in, or how many, without more recon. You’d just know a jump bridge happened.”

"Who left the door open?"

We were quiet for a while.

“Wow,” I said.

“Not like wormholes,” Em said, “still it’s own thing, and for most people flying around, it’s basically like nothing really changed, because as soon as you use a gate to jump into system, you’re loaded into Local, but… better than it is now.”

“Yeah,” I agreed. I shook my head, blinking. “You know what?”

“You’re going to write about it.” Em sounded amused.

“We need to tell people about this,” I replied. “This is a good idea.”


TL;DR: Wouldn’t it be cool if, in known space, you stayed off the Local member list if you could manage to bypass the stargate when you entered the system? As soon as you use a gate (or talk in Local), you show up, but until then…

Not quite how it works now. Neither is it the way it works in wormholes. Provides a really neat way to work around the current system, in-character.

Dunno about you, but I like it.

Life in Eve: Gambit Roulette

Regardless of the game, I’ve never been particularly drawn to stealth classes. Rogues, Burglars, Assassins… you know the type. The long setup. The slow creep. The careful maneuvering. The final violent burst of action that was, for all that, almost anticlimax to the preparation that got you there.

I could do it well enough. I just didn’t enjoy it all that much, or at least not as much as I did other possible options. I got my ‘single bullet kill’ achievements in Hitman II, but there were at least as many missions where I crashed the game because the engine couldn’t render that many dead sprites at the same time. That one where you dress up as the fireman? With the axe?

Oh, bank lobby killing spree: you complete me.

Which brings me to wormholes.

About a year ago, I started to get… itchy, when it came to living in a wormhole full time (which I had been doing for roughly a year and a half). As interesting and inspiring as blogs like Tiger Ears were (and continue to be), I found myself increasingly dissatisfied.

To be fair, wormholes aren’t for everyone. Wormhole living requires a lot of specialized knowledge about certain areas of Eve: the perpetual scanning; the living out of a player-owned-starbase that feels like camping full time out of twenty-year old modular tent with missing pieces; the ritual-and-requisite paranoia. No, it’s not for everyone. It’s not even for most.

But that wasn’t really my problem. I’d just gotten tired of playing a stealth class.

There are certainly examples of other kinds of combat that happen in wormhole space, but day to day, for most pilots, that’s the exception rather than the rule. In the life of a dedicated wormholer, pvp is about finding a target and, having found them, doing something with that knowledge before they know you’re there.

The slow creep. The long step up. The careful maneuvering. The final burst of action. Stealthy stuff. It had taken me awhile to recognize it, but when I did it was a bit obvious.

So I left.

Well, Ty left, anyway, and CB decided to come with me. The wormhole stayed just as active as it had been, but we were off to explore other options, which led to Gambit Roulette: our foray into Faction Warfare.

Gambit Roulette: A convoluted plan that relies on events completely within the realm of chance yet comes off without a hitch.

If your first reaction to seeing the plan unfold is “There is no way you planned that!”, then it’s a gambit roulette.

The reason for giving the corp this name was straightforward: I didn’t know what I was doing. Anything that looked like intentional success was obviously going to be, in truth, blind chance.

The first month of the corp’s existence wasn’t exactly draped in glory. I think we destroyed two enemy ships and lost seven.

I did a lot of solo flying in the months that followed, and managed to turn the kill/death ratio around, though never by any particularly stunning amount. 21:7. 18:4. Then right back down to a mediocre 11:9.

Through the early months, I was struck by the fact that, while there were obviously many groups flying around the warzone, I wasn’t *in* them, and getting in — becoming someone known and trusted — was going to take time.

“How’s that faction warfare thing going?” asked my buddies in the wormhole.

“Pretty good,” I said, and it was true, for all that I mostly on my own. “There’s always something to do.”

“Nice,” came the reply. “Maybe I’ll bring an alt down and join you or something.”

“Sounds cool,” I said, because it did, but at the same time I thought: I need to pave the way for my friends — to find the way into the good groups, and learn which are the bad groups — so they don’t have to do that slog work.

Something of a breakthrough came in that next month, as a veteran FW pilot I’d flown with a couple times invited me to a channel he seemed to use to sort out newer pilots he thought were worth the time.

He got me in my first fleet with the Order of the Black Daggers, a group of pilots who had fun, didn’t get too riled up when things got hard, and (most importantly) had a good leader and times when they regularly and reliably “did stuff.” I was happy – thrilled, really – to fly with them. Gambit Roulette ship losses per month increased by a factor of three; ship kills increased by a factor of six.

On fire, half dead, and limping away with the stuff off the other guy's wreck.

More importantly — FAR more importantly — I had found a group of good people to fly with. If my friends from the wormhole ever decided to check out this Faction Warfare thing (they did, and not on alts), I could simply say “these guys are with me,” and that would be that. (And it was.)

First, we were two.

Then another guy joined us. A stranger, though someone who’d read the blog, started in a wormhole, and wanted to try something else.

“If he wants in the wormhole,” CB said, “hell no. But if he wants to come out here? Sure. Blood for the blood god.”

Then our old corp mates joined us. Em and Div and Shan and the rest, with a few particularly dangerous souls staying behind to keep the lights on back in Anoikis and destroy the unwary.

We joined Daggers in their alliance – Ushra’Khan – and joined the fight for the Eugidi constellation: the first time the war really felt like a war and not a roaming free for all.

After days of fruitless efforts to find an Amarr opponent, Em got a fight with a neutral pilot in a complex — a guy who just wanted a fight; wanted to try something new in the game.

“Recruit him,” I said.

“Already talking it over with him,” he replied. “Going to get his buddy in here too.”

That recruited pilot got in on a Titan kill a few weeks later.

We have our up months and down months. January was quiet, with many of us traveling.

February, which saw two new pilots join — former wormholers looking for something different — was not quiet. Record number of ship losses, and if the number of kills didn’t spike by quite as much, we’ll chalk that up to the learning curve. We still destroyed as many enemy assets as I did the month I started flying with Daggers.

More importantly — far more importantly — we’d found more pilots we really clicked with.

And suddenly it’s now, nine months since this thing started, and we are the small group of pilots “doing stuff” on most nights.

This month, halfway through, we’ve nearly doubled the value of destroyed enemy assets from last month, with half the losses. Ignoring that crazy titan kill, it’s already our second most productive month, behind only the Eugidi war.

And best of all, it’s fun. It’s fast.

And we rarely need a cloaking device.


The five-character Corp ticker for Gambit Roulette is IMPRV.

Some people read that as “Improv” and assume we’re just making things up as we go.

Some people read it as “Improve” and think we’re all about trying to learn and get better.

I think: Why not both?

Life in Eve: Tys R Us, now open in Sinq Laison and all points East

So about a month ago, it became evident that the pilots in our corp would need to get into replacement ships often, and probably in a hurry.

It also seemed as though, while all the pilots were pretty smart at building interesting ships, sometimes we didn’t need ‘interesting’ as much as we needed ‘good and effective’. There was nothing wrong with the ships we were flying, but there was some functionality I often wished we had in the fleet that simply wasn’t occurring to anyone.

At the same time, I wasn’t (and never will) hand down some kind of ‘directive’ on what people can and can’t fly.

So, with all that in mind, I flew over to a market hub and spent most of an afternoon and evening buying the parts for about 50 ships, hauling them a few jumps away from the warzone, putting them together, and setting them up on corporation-only contracts, at cost.

The goal was two-fold:

1. Make it quick, easy, and cheap to get back into the action if you lost a ship.
2. Increase the odds someone would be flying one of those go-to ships I often wished we had.

And at the same time, if someone wanted to do their own thing, then no problem: this was in no way stopping them.

I got everything all set up, and Ty sent out a corp-wide message informing everyone that the storefront was open.

I probably shouldn’t have used the word “storefront.”

I also probably shouldn’t have left the default name (mine) on every one of the ships I’d assembled.

Because this happened:

Our pilots love their terrible puns.

I’d like to say it stopped there, but of course it didn’t.

I have a habit (I think it’s a good one) of reminding everyone to turn on their Damage Control modules as we drop cloak and warp toward a fight. Mostly, I’m reminding myself, but if it saves someone else’s ship, then all to the good.

Apparently, I say it often enough to be noticed.

And it’s not always about me. The most recent addition to the advertising campaign celebrates how March has been going.

Personally, I like the duck.

I also like that it doesn’t specify whether it will be our ships or the opponent’s that will blow up — whether the Slasher pictured is more deadly to the target or the pilot. This is what’s known as “Truth in Advertising.”

Nice work, Div.

Life in Eve: In Like a Lion

I want to say the month really got going when we got the escape pod with a set of low-grade Slave implants. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice surprise, but it’s not as though that was a particularly tough fight. It’s pretty hard to catch a pod in low-sec — the guy clearly wasn’t paying attention.

I kind of want to say the month started with Xyn and Ty taking down a Dramiel (and his Merlin partner) in a pair of Slashers. That was pretty sweet.

But no. For me, the month started with the very first time I undocked. I was starting late, and everyone else had already set out. There were enough pilots that they’d split into two smaller groups, both of which were kind of far away, so I set out on my own: hopped in a Slasher and headed into the warzone.

Right off the entry star gate, I see a Merlin. I want a fight. So does he. We go at it. I dock up afterwards, repair, and head back out.

Next up, I find a Rifter tucked into a complex. Good fight, good fight, and then got an Incursus on the way back home.

Not that any of these fights were easy (well, okay: the pod-kill was easy). All the real fights are close, heart-pounding things. Whether I’m solo or in a small gang of corp mates, someone has to re-ship or repair when the smoke clears: that’s just how it works when you’re in a bunch of frigates: even if you win, you’re probably on fire.

Frigate Combat: I'm on fire? That just means I'll do more damage!

I’m not good at this. I forget basic stuff in the middle of a fight. I burn out modules I desperately need, or forget to turn them on. Or I get out-piloted, pure and simple. Or I try to fight stuff I should really leave the hell alone.

Sometimes I get lucky.

The pilots in my corp are pretty much same.

Sometimes we're in the zone.

Like an eight on eight fight where we were outgunned, outshipped, took down all targets, and only lost a single frigate.

... and sometimes something that looks fine goes horribly wrong.

Even so, it’s been a pretty damn good month so far.

Life in Eve: Post-February Grab Bag

 

No time or inclination to put up an organized post, so instead you get a bunch of random stuff I’ve been meaning to share.

We did a lot of shooting this month.

February was our corp’s second-highest kill total since the corp was formed. Only December (when we were part of Ushra’Khan and involved in many fleets violently and constantly clashing over the Eugidi constellation) was higher, and only barely. February was also (no surprise, really) highest in terms of ship losses, though we still came out well ahead in the end.


FNGs: We’ve brought in quite a few new pilots – mostly guys recovering from post-boredom wormhole syndrome – and they have taken to Faction Warfare like ducks to water.

Shark-ducks, swimming in bloody, chum-filled water.

Anyway: welcome to the corp and quit making the rest of us look like we’re fucking afk. Jesus.


Our monthly combat efficiency would be better if we hadn’t lost a bunch of pods early in the month (I was certainly not immune, and I have the newly-retrained Battlecruisers 5 to prove it 🙁 ). That got a lot better in the second half the month, so I’m going to chalk that up to a string of bad luck and smart-bombs.


My dislike of ECM system has been replaced by the broken mechanics around off-grid boosting alts. It’s getting harder and harder to find a fight with anyone who doesn’t first “need” to get their their half-billion-isk tech3 cruiser in-system to hide at a safe spot and provide ridiculous boosts to a pack of shitty little frigates.

You seriously need your armor booster alt following around to support your solo punisher roam?

The guys in our corp could do off-grid boosting — we certainly have the skills required — but we don’t because off-grid boosting is (in terms of risk to reward) broken, and I don’t like using broken mechanics.

Following a particularly ridiculous fight with whatever I.LAW is calling itself this month, Em and I have established a new policy with regard to boosters: if you want them on the field, great. If you bring them in system and hide them off-grid, you are not going to get a fight. Period. Full-stop. No exceptions.

So: if your goal is to have everyone avoid you and have nothing to do, then congratulations – you win. If your goal is to actually play a PvP game and doing PvP things within that game…

You will have to find your entertainment elsewhere.

One way of looking at this is that it’s just good target selection. To quote a certain FC: “If I see a fight, and know we have no chance of winning why should I fight?”

But it’s not really about that, it’s about rewarding certain kinds of behavior. To go back to my playground analogy, if you’re trying to organize a dodgeball game, but you always bring a medicine ball and the flubber-enhanced sneakers, no one’s going to play with you. Sure, it’s legal. Yes, it’s currently ‘working as intended.’ Fine.

But it’s not behavior I intend to encourage. Sometimes, I censure my kids’ behavior by simply walking out of the room — if they want to be fucking annoying, that’s fine: they’re 2 and 7, their brain chemistry is ridiculous at that age, and maybe they can’t help it. But I don’t need to subject myself to it, and I’m not going to. I find the same sort of response is the easiest option for me in Eve as well; there are people who don’t roll with off-grid boosting bullshit every day, and I can easily go and find them. Denying known off-grid booster addicts a fight doesn’t hurt my game at all.

You want to leave the medicine ball at home, you’re welcome to rejoin the rest of us. Until then, you can pound sand.


… and that’s it.

We now return you to the regularly scheduled warzone, already in progress.

Life in Eve: Jesus Wept

Tormentor, Inquisitor, Fed Navy Comet all in system. All in different complexes. All with the same ship name. Hmm.

Tormentor’s complex is hell and gone away, so I warp over there, hit the gate, and engage. I figure I have time to respond if both his buddies come, and maybe just the inquisitor will come in and I can kill him quick. Or “maybe” he’s a multiboxer and he’ll mismanage his backup. Whatever. I just want a fight.

I land, close, lock, TD, warp scram, start shooting…

And he leaves. Nothing but warp stabilizers in his lows.

Because having remote rep support and additional DPS on hand wasn’t enough of a security blanket against my big scary slasher — let’s make sure you can run as well.

The only thing that redeemed the roam for me was a punisher pilot who had the opportunity to run (55km away in open space), thought about it, and said “You know what? Fuck it, let’s dance.”

Good fight, you filthy slaver.

Life in Eve: Losing While Winning

This is one of those blog posts that says “I haven’t been writing about playing Eve very much, because of how much I’ve been playing Eve.”

So, yeah. Pretty much that. Despite Em being out of town and Shan being pretty busy and Dirk and me both dealing with the academic tsunami, the corp has stayed pretty active, and we’ve added a few new pilots — many of them former wormhole pilots looking for something with a bit more ‘instant-on’ kind of gameplay. We’ve all been learning a lot (especially me).

It's a good time to be flying internet spaceships.

This isn’t to say we aren’t blowing up hilariously on a pretty regular basis, but given that we’re flying basic frigates and destroyers right now, that hasn’t actually been a very crippling issue — when we look back at an evening’s hijinx and see that any one of the enemy ships we destroyed represents twice the value of all the ships we lost, it’s easy to feel productive. The corp has destroyed 50 billion isk worth of enemy ships since joining the war.

It can still be a little demoralizing to run through a lot of ships in a single night (I build my Slasher attack frigates in packs of 10 right now), but with a little practice you learn to deal with it and focus on the fun.

"Hey guys! I got a new ship! It's really swee--"

One of our pilots commented “I’ve killed more ships just in February, so far, than I did in the two years I played Eve up to this point.”

Maybe that doesn’t sound like fun to everyone, but it definitely is for us, the pilots we fly with, and (I assume) the pilots we fly against. Sometimes the explosions are ours. Sometimes theirs. Often, both. These things happen. Sorry you broke your ship.

Get in something cheap, and let’s go again.

Life in Eve: I really should remember to buy insurance

I’ve been back for a couple weeks, but what with all the hijinx in the wormhole, and leaving our alliance, and rejoining faction warfare after leaving the alliance, and moving our assets around, and even doing a bit of recruiting, I really haven’t had time to actually… you know… fly around and do fun things.

Last night looked promising, though: I got on later than normal, and while none of the usual suspects were around, our two newest recruits were online. Long-time wormhole residents, they’d been spending the day since joining the corp checking out all the bread and butter ships of faction warfare that usually never show up in the unknown depths of Anoikis.

I want to give them all the help they want, but it's hard to know when you're overwhelming someone.

“Have you guys got any ships near our staging system in the warzone?”

They answer in the affirmative, we hop on voice comms and set out for a little three-pilot roam. On a whim, I take us north into Siseide, planning to go from there up toward the Eugidi constellation, but I see an Amarr complex open and warp up to check it out.

Weird. No one seems to be in the complex, but there are a half-dozen wrecks around the entry gate, unlooted. Never one to look a gift gank in the mouth, I proceed to pick over the corpses of strangers, when a condor drops out of warp and engages me.

I’m not particularly worried about the Condor, since I know I can tank — even if I can’t catch it — until my backup arrives: I did the same thing yesterday against a Coercer destroyer, which hits quite a bit harder.

“Jump into system and warp to Ty,” I say. “This is sort of one of the home staging systems for I.LAW, but there aren’t any around, so we should be okay for a quick fight.”

There’s a joke in corp that “warp to Ty” usually translates to “warp into a horrible situation and lose your ship”, but I’m sure this time —

My guys jump into system warp to my location, and suddenly the local channel shows five or six new war targets in system… all of whom land on our position just as my guys arrive. It’s not pretty, though one of us managed to get out.

Right. Reship and head back out. Still heading north again, but along a different route. A few jumps along, I spot an open complex and one war target in system. Here’s hoping… and yes. Sure enough, I’ve got a punisher in the complex, jump in, engage, and call my guys in.

… and just as they land on the gate leading into the complex, six war targets (different group than before) who had jumped into system a few seconds after I engaged arrive on the gate as well and follow them in. I go down quickly, and try to get the new pilots out, but they’re both already tackled.

Still, I can’t fault their attitude.

“We’re going to die,” mutters one, “but this Punisher is going down first.”

It’s a bad trade, losing five frigates to (eventually) take out one, but it’s their first kill in Faction Warfare, and still worth a bit of celebrating.

I really have to remember to insure my ships.

Once again, we reship, and this time head south into the wilds of the Bleak Lands region. My two fellow pilots are in afterburner fit combat frigates, and I’m concerned any targets we find will simply outdistance them, so I go for an Atron attack frigate that can shut down particularly fast ships.

But outside of an enemy condor and slicer who don’t want to engage, I don’t get a chance to test the ship out. We capture several Amarr complexes, earning enough in TLF rewards to cover our ship losses, and I spend the time explaining the mechanics and common tactics used both for defending and assaulting complexes, since our first two fights didn’t actually involve the gates in any way. We dodge a small destroyer fleet and head back to station to stand down.

Not a great roam, but (for me) good to be back and flying, and (for them, hopefully) a brutal but fun introduction to the war zone.


Notable: The surprising thing I took out of both our fights is the current level of Amarr organization. The Amarr have always been willing and able to bring a fight, but what I’m seeing right now on their side is some serious coordination in terms of roaming fleets ready to jump in and come to the aid of lone plex runners. It’s very unusual to see backup arrive so quickly, and it’s not just one corporation or alliance managing this, but several, spread out over the war zone. I mean, I’ve been away for a few weeks, and I’m probably a little rusty when it comes to keeping my eyes on the fight, and d-scan, and local, and a dozen other things, but despite that I feel confident in saying our war targets have stepped up their game more than a little.

So: Lesson learned.

Life in Eve: The Perfect Storm

“Okay guys,” I said over voice comms. “I’ll be back in ten days. Don’t lose Isbrabata while I’m gone.”

I really should learn not to joke about things like that.

Not just any shit storm, either. The PERFECT shit storm.

Now, to be fair, when I got back from my residency, the Alliance had not lost Isbrabata… lots of people had done a lot of work to delay the inevitable, but that’s what it was: inevitable. When I was finally able to log in for a few minutes, my Inbox was full of messages from Alliance command that basically read like this:

Guys, we’ve had a good run, but the fact is we’re got too few people trying to hold too many systems, too far from the bulk of the rest of the militia forces to easily get help from other groups. The clock is ticking, so plan to move your stuff ASAP. Get on the forums, find the thread where we’re voting on where to relocate, and vote.

(Note: This is not the same poll as the other one, where we’re voting on whether or not to stay in Faction Warfare.)

I read that last line again.

What?

See, before I’d left for the residency (in other words, a couple weeks past) a topic had been started in the Alliance command area of the forum that basically started off with “Okay, Faction Warfare is STAGNANT and DEAD, and we need to decide how we’re going to HANDLE THAT.”

And the response to that thread amounted to a lot of people saying:

  • We like faction war.
  • Dude: This last month was the most successful and most active month of PvP our alliance has ever had, ever, in the history of everything. Seriously, go check the numbers. You’re high.

I had agreed with the people who deserved agreeing with and thought nothing more of it.

But apparently, not getting the response they wanted from leadership, the two people who really really really wanted to move to null-sec decided to put the subject up for an open vote in the Alliance.

I checked the thread and had to laugh, because the votes went something like 80% in favor of staying in faction warfare. (Pro tip: if you advertise yourself as a pro-Minmatar, pro-RP Alliance, and recruit people involved in Faction Warfare, you’re going to get a lot of people who want to stay in Faction Warfare and fight for the Minmatar.)

Right. I’ll just ignore that thread, then. It’s not like I haven’t got other things to worry about, like moving a hundred or so ships that evening. I logged in that night ready to get to work.

“We have a new tower in the wormhole,” Si reported.

“Please be joking,” I said.

“Nope,” Si replied.

“Please say you decided to put up a second tower for some activities,” I said.

“Nope,” Si replied.

“We have a new tower up in our system,” I repeated. “And it is not ours.”

“Correct,” Si replied. “And there are pilots from at least two other corporations –”

“Three,” Shan murmured.

“– three other corporations besides the ones who put up the tower, currently active in here.”

“So that’s the bad news,” Si said.

“Well I should fucking well hope so,” I muttered. “I’m on my way. How heavily set up is the tower?”

“That’s the good news,” Si replied. “They got interrupted by one of the other groups, I think. They lost a hauler full of fuel, and their tower – a small tower – doesn’t have any shield hardeners or defenses up. At all.”

“Really?” This was almost as unbelievable as the bad news.

“Yeah,” Si said. “We can’t quite figure out what they were thinking, either.”

Opportunities for education are everywhere.

The crew assembled, some of us grabbing new stealth bombers that got bonuses for the kind of damage the un-hardened tower would be particularly vulnerable too. This took awhile, and in the meantime, Shan and Si continued watching the wormhole.

“Umm…” Shan said. “We’ve got Proteus in system.”

“Lovely,” I said. “What’s he doing?”

“… shooting sleepers?”

“Ha,” I deadpanned. “Seriously. What’s he doing?”

“Seriously,” Si chimed in. “He’s shooting sleepers.”

“Do these people not even CHECK intel on these wormholes?”

“Apparently not.”

Dirk and Bre warped around the system, trying to get a good angle to grab the Proteus while the rest of us moved into position to dogpile on the strategic cruiser once one of them had grabbed it.

“Okay, I’m ready,” Bre said. “Is everyone else ready?”

Affirmatives came, and someone muttered “This is going to tell us really quick if there’s anyone else in system with us.”

Very true: One proteus strategic cruiser might look like bait and too risky to hit, but once Bre’s Tengu decloaked, the prize kitty would basically double.

“I’m going in,” Bre called. “Get ready to warp.”

The proteus didn't last long. At all.

So, with a half-billion ISK kill in our pocket, we reshipped and started the tower assault, fairly certain by this point that there were no other enemies around.

But that didn’t mean things were going to be simple.

“IF YOU’RE PART OF LEADERSHIP,” someone called out on Alliance comms, “COME INTO THE LEADER VOICE COMMS, PLEASE.”

“Okay guys,” I said. “I’ll keep shooting at the tower, but I suppose I better go hear whatever this is about.”

I switched comms.

“… so, since our corporation are mostly capitol ship and super-capitol ship pilots…” a voice was saying “… our guys are all really in favor of going to null-sec. We made an agreement to take over a couple systems out there, so we’re moving.”

“Umm… okay,” another voice said.

“… and since our corp is actually the administrative corporation for the Alliance…” the first voice continued, “… the alliance is going to null-sec, too.”

I heard someone say “So why did you even bother with that poll?” and I switched comm channels again.

I find myself unimpressed.

“Hey guys,” I said. “How’s that tower coming?”

“Getting there,” Em said. “Slowly.”

“Good, good… say,” I said. “We like faction warfare, right?”

“Love it.”

“Sure.”

“Ditto.”

“Okay…” I said. “Then we’re leaving Ushra Khan.”

“… do we still need to move out of Isbra?”

“Yeah.”

“And take down this tower, first.”

“Yeah.”

“Anything else?”

“Well,” I said. “To leave Ushra’Khan, we’re going to have to drop out of the war for twenty-four hours before we can join independently, so while we’re in the middle of moving, both sides may potentially be shooting us.”

Awesome.

Life in EvE: A Funny Way to Say Hello

Another virtual screen snapped to life in front of me, automatically arranging itself among the flickering three dimensional headshots of Em, Dirk, CB, and the pilot we’d started calling Geed.

“Guys,” Geed said, “This is Zen.”

“Hi… umm…” the new pilot’s eyes tracked left, right, up and down, taking in our images on his own in-pod display. “What’s… going on?”

I grinned. “Let me get you up to speed, Zen.” I pointed at one of the other displays. “About an hour ago, Em and Geed had a bit of a tussle.”

“A… tussle.”

“With bullets and missiles and explosions,” I explained, “which is kind of how we say hello out here, I guess.” I smiled. “Once that was done, they started talking.”

“As you do,” Em said.

“You do?” Zen asked.

Dirk shrugged. “Sometimes.”

“Anyway,” I continued, “we’ve been mostly swapping stories and explaining how things work in the war zone — the missions and objectives and such — we’re part of the Tribal Liberation Force. Geed seemed pretty keen on the whole thing and he mentioned his friend might be as well.”

“Meaning you,” Geed muttered.

“Nice.” Zen hesitated. “Does that mean you need to blow up one of my ships too?”

“Not today.”

“Excellent.” His face went deadpan. “When it comes time, maybe just shoot Geed again. He likes it.”

“Well,” Em murmured. “He came in looking for a fight, and stuck it out. That’s definitely what you need out here. I kind of overthink it sometimes.”

“I just shoot what they tell me,” Dirk added, as unnervingly cheerful as always.

“That’s an approach I understand,” Zen said. “Not sure I get how the whole war zone thing actually works, but I make a pretty good blunt instrument.”

“There’s some good folks in our alliance,” Em said. “They like explaining everything.” His eyes flickered my direction. “Especially Ty.”

“Especially me,” I agreed. “You can hardly shut me up.”

Veteran combat pilots, ready to share their knowledge and experience.

“So…” Zen glanced in Geed’s basic direction. “I take you guys have been talking about us joining you?”

“A bit,” I admitted, aware that surprise news could easily shut down his interest.

“I’ve been reading their recruitment page,” Geed added.

Em’s eyebrow rose. “We have one of those?”

Yes.” I managed an affronted expression. “We absolutely do. It part of my job as the… person who does things like that.”

“CEO.”

“Right. That.” I tipped my head, frowning, then turned to Geed. “… what’s it say again?”

Geed’s eyes tracked left to right, below the line of his display. “It says you’re gonna punch me.”

“OH! Now I — well, hold on.” I squinted, remembering the CONCORD form I’d had to fill out. “I doesn’t say that exactly.”

“‘Our recruitment policy:'” Geed read aloud, “‘Only trust people you can physically punch.'”

“Right,” I said. “And we can’t physically punch you, so we won’t entirely trust you.”

“I don’t even trust Ty,” CB muttered, “and I’ve known him twenty years.”

“Exactly.” I grinned, turning back to Geed. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t shoot some Amarr together.”


So… yeah. It appears we’re recruiting a little bit. Merry Christmas.

Time for a roam.

Life in EvE: “I’m not a Pirate.”

A few nights ago, members of the militia had banded together to work on retaking an Amarr-held system in the warzone. This was a pretty big undertaking, and to pull it off in a relatively short timeframe required round the clock participation; it wouldn’t be enough for our US-timezone-heavy alliance to do it, because any Amarr active in EU and Aussie areas would just undo our work.

So the fleet is a mix of lots of different corps and alliances, with lots of different countries represented. It’s fair to say we all have a slightly different way of looking at how life in the warzone works.

This eventually led to an enlightening conversation.

As we’re capturing yet another complex in the enemy system, recon reported a fairly good-sized fleet coming in, but they aren’t Amarr — it’s a gang of pilots under the Ivy League banner — graduates of Eve University who like to slum out in low- and null-sec space from time to time.

Sure enough, they headed for the complex, jumped in, and started shooting. I’m left with a bit of a problem.

None of them were viable targets for me.

They weren’t outlaws, they weren’t in faction warfare, we don’t have a secondary war declared with them, and they haven’t suddenly been flagged as criminals or “suspects” for engaging our fleet, because they’re only shooting those pilots on the field who are outlaws and, thus, legal targets for the technically law-abiding Ivy Leaguers.

Luckily, two things happened: first, the support ships in the Ivy League fleet started repairing their fleet mates, which flagged them as part of a legal ‘limited engagement’ that I’m somehow part of and, second, our fleet commander called those same pilots our primary targets. It’s like two great tastes that explode when put together.

Long story short, we stomp the other fleet pretty handily. Go us.

Later, I commented that for those of us in the fleet who actually care about our security status, it’s handy — if a bit silly — that the guys supporting the enemy fleet became viable targets for repairing the combatants, even if the combatants themselves never did.

“Just shoot everyone,” says the FC. “If you’re living in Low-sec space and you aren’t an outlaw, you’re doing it wrong.”

“I’m fighting a war,” I replied. “I’m not a fucking pirate.”


So… What Can You Shoot, You Pansy?

One of the things that was added in the most recent expansion was the idea of a “Safety” that, like a gun safety, generally keeps you from doing anything that’s too terribly stupid without a bit of forethought. The basic settings for the safety are:

  • Green: The game won’t let you do anything that would cause you to be flagged Suspect, which in turn lets anyone at all in the game legally shoot at you until the flag wears off in 15 minutes. Not coincidentally, this safety setting also prevents many of the actions that lower your overall security standing.
  • Yellow: The game will let you do things that will flag you Suspect, but won’t let you do anything that would flag you Criminal. This means you can do stuff that will allow player retaliation, but you won’t pick up that flag that will cause CONCORD to instantly destroy you if you wander into High Security space with the flag active.
  • Red: You can do anything, anywhere, and damn the consequences.

It may surprise you to learn that you can (if you want) take part in Faction Warfare full-bore without ever switching your Safety off of green.1 That’s how I’ve chosen to roll, most of the time.2 Here are a list of my viable targets:

War Targets (Faction War) – This one is kind of obvious. If the target is part of the opposing forces in the war, you can do whatever you like to each other. If it’s gold and shiny, you are hereby encouraged to shoot it.
War Targets (Declared War) – This is more of a specialized thing, as it shows up for any member of a group for which your corp or alliance have a privately declared, CONCORD-approved war active. Otherwise, it’s exactly the same as a faction warfare target.
Outlaws – This has nothing to do with wars of any kind — the target simply has such a bad security rating that any and all pilots in New Eden are encouraged to make them explode, and may do so wherever they like.
Criminals – This may seem a bit redundant with Outlaw, but the distinction is important: An Outlaw’s standing makes them a perpetual target, while someone with a Criminal flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Pretty much the only thing in low-sec that will give you a Criminal flag is destroying the pod of a non-wartarget.
Suspects – Like the Criminal flag, a Suspect flag has earned it due to a specific action, and the flag will drop off in 15 minutes or less. Unlike the Criminal flag, there are quite a lot of actions in Low-sec that will give you this flag — the short list includes attacking non-wartarget ships (not pods) and looting containers or wrecks owned by someone else. This is useful to law-abiding Faction Warfare guys if some non-Outlaw neutral attacks some non-Outlaw militia member – you’ll see the stranger pick up a Suspect flag, and know that he’s become a viable target for retaliation.
Limited Engagement Participant – Of all the flags, this one is the most opaque to me, with the most obscure and possibly goofy mechanics. The basic idea is that it’s supposed to allow you to shoot back when someone you wouldn’t normally be able to attack starts shooting at you. It’s also been set up to flag anyone who helps someone you’re engaged with, such as someone repairing your opponent. If that were all that happened, it would be pretty simple, but what I’m seeing in practice is where the weirdness creeps in.

For instance: I’m in a fleet with Pilot A. Pilot Z (who normally isn’t a legal target) shoots Pilot A. Pilot A is now in a limited engagement with Pilot Z, but I am not — I still have no legal targets. Pilot Y starts repping Pilot Z, joins the limited engagement with Pilot A, and is also flagged as being in a limited engagement with me, even though I still can’t legally shoot Pilot Z, and haven’t done anything to help Pilot A.

I mean, I’m not complaining, because it gives me a legal target, but… what?

Kill Right Available – This is another slightly odd one. The pilot with this tag has, at some point in the past, done something that has given another pilot “kill rights” on that pilot. Typically, this means they either blew up a ship or pod in high-sec, or killed a pilot’s pod in low-sec. Kill rights mean that if you get on the same combat grid as that pilot, you can ‘activate’ the the kill right, which makes that pilot a legal target for anyone for the next fifteen minutes — kill rights now basically deputize the victim pilot for the purpose of dishing out single-serve retribution. In turn, the “kill right available” flag shows up because the pilot who ‘owns’ kill rights has made them publicly available — meaning anyone can activate them. SO: the pilot with this tag isn’t a legal target, but he can be made one.

So: that’s the stuff you can shoot legally, and thus preserve your law-abiding security status.

I’m not a pirate, so this matters to me. Maybe it will to you, too.


1 – Granted, this isn’t saying much; you can leave it green in null-sec or wormhole space too; it doesn’t affect those areas in the least.

2 – When we were ousted from Faction Warfare for a couple days, I fought in one battle against the Amarr in which I had to “go yellow” to engage called targets, and I did, because it was necessary for the war. In all the other fights, the Amarr conveniently engaged me first or were Outlaw enough I could shoot them regardless.

Life in Eve: Too Busy to Write about Being Busy

“There’s really nothing quite like someone’s wanting you dead to make you want to go on living.”

The remarkable thing thing about being cast out of the war (albeit temporarily) was the amount of activity it roused out of the alliance. Fleets departed from our stations on an hourly basis, and those that weren’t shooting piles of bullets at the enemy were busy shipping piles into the local market to keep everyone flying and firing. It was really something, and although I think everyone would have been happier if we hadn’t had to deal with the all the red-tape and technicalities that caused the problem in the first place, it was gratifying to see how well we pulled together.

But with all that going on, there hadn’t been much time for broad strategies and big-picture thinking. Once things were sorted out and we were back on the side of the angels, we took a look around to see how things stood.

It wasn’t pretty.

We’d managed to defend our home system reasonably well even though we hadn’t had any official means of working directly with the militia, but beyond that our home constellation looked like the bottom of a bomb crater. The Amarr hadn’t managed to capture any of the local systems, but several were dangerously destabilized, and the big push to hold our ground when we’d been at a severe disadvantage left our pilots tapped out and exhausted now that it was time to rebuild.

Adding to the fun: the attacking forces kept on coming, which kept us distracted and disorganized — it was hard work to get stable again, and easy to go out on a simple roam around the war zone, looking for a brawl. The result was predictable: lots of fights that got us nothing, and not much done to get our house in order.

“Death is the only god that comes when you call.”

Our corp, with a slightly higher number of “seasoned” pilots per-capita, were (I’m proud to say) one of those groups who stayed in Eugidi to rebuild and shore up defenses while the big exciting fleets rolled out into the rest of the war zone. No regrets, here: it was our decision to stick to home defense, and I’m happy to say it paid off in its own way; as our pack of ex-wormholers figured out the ins and outs of our new home, we started winning a few fights of our own… then a few dozen. Then more. No grand melees, true, but hard-fought brawls that determined who would take control of complexes in the constellation — which way the scales would tip.

Small fights? Maybe. We’ll still cost the enemy billions, but we’ll do it by destroying a couple hundred ships, rather than one, and that’s fine by me. New/old ships… New/old tactics…

It’s a hell of a good time to be flying.

Life in Eve: Many Judgements

“So are we still locked out of the war?” CB asked, his voice slightly tinny.

I rubbed my eyes. This wasn’t the conversation I’d hoped to have — I wanted to talk about what ships to set up, and quickly follow that by getting into those ships and using them against the Amarr.

But that wasn’t happening.

“Yes,” I said, pitching my voice to carry to the speaker on my desk. “Due to the problems with one of the corps in the alliance –”

“Which one?” That was Em, his voice snapping with the same mix of irritation and head-shaking bemusement I felt.

“Doesn’t matter,” I said, not wanting to start pointing fingers. “Anyway, due to some issues they’ve had with the Minmatar Republic, the TLF rescinded official recognition our whole alliance’s legal participation in the war, which means CONCORD will treat any hostilities we take in the region as criminal or at the very least suspect.” I sounded like I was reciting from memory, because I was — I’d read and re-read the message from Alliance Command more than a few times in the last day.

“So…” Shan’s voice was calm and quiet. “If we fight any of the big fleets right now, with all those ‘illegal’ targets…”

“We’re going to be outlaws in our own high-security space in less time than it takes to tell it,” I finished the thought. “Yeah.”

“I’m borderline already,” Shan observed, “from that last thing.”

“I know,” I said. “No one has to fly if they don’t want to.”

“I want to,” Em said, “and I’ll take the hits to my sec status if it’s a fight worth taking, but this…” I could easily imagine him shaking his head in disgust. “This is taking the lashes for someone else’s fuck-up. That’s…” He let it drop. I knew what he would say, in any case — this was all ground we’d covered. “How long til it gets sorted out?”

“Twenty-four hours,” I said, willing myself to believe it. “TLF is sorted out, and they’ve filed their retraction with CONCORD, but with all their red tape — twenty-four hours.”

“Then I’ll see you then,” he said, and his comm cut.

I let the silence linger. Shan filled it. “I’m going to move some ships,” he murmured, “while there’s time.”

I raised my head and nodded, though he couldn’t see me. “Sounds good,” I replied, and he was gone.

“What are you gonna do?” CB asked, after a few seconds.

What did I want? A chance to find out what was right and a chance to act on it! I laughed. Who is ever granted the first, let alone the second of these? A workable approximation of truth, then. That would be enough… And a chance to swing my blade a few times in the right direction.

I shook my head, fingering the page edges of the book I held. “Not sure yet. Get back to me?”

“Right. Later.”

Silence.

I was many things — some of them objectively ‘bad’ — but I wasn’t an outlaw or a pirate.

Not yet, came the thought, and I scowled.

Technically, nothing in the fight had changed. The Amarr were still the Amarr — still slavers, still the reason we’d joined this war.

But to think of those in the safer parts of New Eden reacting not to me, but the warning ahead of me wherever I went — to see those I fought for cringing away — it was a bitter pill.

War criminal.

I stood up to get away from the thought, moving across the room and dropping on the couch, my book in hand. A comfort, just then; despite all the religious and philosophical texts out there, it was this book — obscure, rare, and older than the New Eden Gate — that I turned to for the best, most unflinching advice on how to live as an immortal with few allies I could trust.

I might have told her that I do not recognize rules when my life is at stake, or that I do not consider war a game. I could have said a great number of things, but if she did not know them already or did not choose to understand them, they would not have made a bit of difference. Besides, her feelings were already plain.

So I simply said one of the great rite truths: “There is generally more than one side to a story.”

I didn’t read. I hardly needed to — I’d been back and forth through the text so often I could quote long passages verbatim. I knew what it would tell me — what, put into my position, the story’s protagonist would do.

It came down to one thing: Why did I fight?

Was the war just another accomplishment to tick off a list? Another laurel wreath and a few more medals? Another business opportunity? Another way to call myself a hero? If so, I must walk a line that kept my fine clothing clean and my shoes polished.

No.

It wasn’t about why; it was about who. Who was I fighting for?

That question was easier to answer. Plainer. Cleaner.

In the mirrors of many judgments, my hands are the color of blood. I am a part of the evil which exists to oppose other evils; on that Great Day (of which prophets speak but in which they do not truly believe), on that day when the world is completely cleansed of evil, then I, too, will go down into darkness, swallowing curses.

But until then, I shall not wash my hands nor let them hang useless.

I left the book on the couch and headed for the hangar.

CB was waiting by the entrance.

“You heading out there?” I asked, not entirely able to conceal my surprise.

He nodded, his expression hidden behind his ever-present glasses. “Just waiting for you to sort your shit out.”

... my hands are the color of blood.

Yesterday, Isbrabata was the most violent system in all of New Eden. Over 300 ships turned to scrap.

But we held.

Life in Eve: Got a joke for you…

How does a “roleplay-oriented, pro-Minmatar, faction warfare alliance” that has been dealing with the game’s alliance mechanics for EIGHT YEARS end up in a situation where they get kicked out of the war because their collective standings with the Minmatar are too low?

Except I'm not fucking laughing.

I’m taking a day off, I guess. Fuck.

Life in Eve: Getting Ready for Retribution

It’s been a busy couple of weeks in the Eugidi constellation, but after we recaptured Floseswin, we called a few days of rest to mess around with more casual roaming, running some missions for the TLF, and getting prepped for upcoming ship changes this week. It’s really a pretty huge expansion, revamping so many ships that currently don’t see any kind of use on the game. Over 40 updated ships, about 30 of which are never currently flown — in essence, this quadruples the number of viable ship options people will have, which is just… huge. It’s huge.

Anyway, like many of my fellow corp leaders, I burn a couple days with CB, tracking down some of the soon-to-be-useful ship hulls and (as much as I can) refitting them in ways that don’t work right now but WILL work in a few days, then moving them to the war zone. This process takes a LOT of hauling, so I beg Berke to dust off his rarely used freighter to save me some pain. Thoraxes getting faster. Stabbers and Mallers suddenly not terrible. Arbitrators… man, I can’t wait for the arbitrators. Or Kestrels. Or Exequrors. Or Bellicoses. Bellicoseses. Bellicosi. Whatever. It almost makes the hours spent fitting and moving prepped ships worth it.

Almost.

Still, shipping contracts are complete for the finalized ships and I actually find I’ve got a little time to… you know… fly around in space. I do that, heading toward the now mostly unused corporate office near Egglehende to work out moving the last of our corp resources to our current system. As I’m flying through Dal, one of my alliance mates hails me, asking if I’m in a combat worthy ship.

What? Why? Why are you asking? Is something going on? What's going on? Lemme see!

I still have a few frigates in a local hangar, so I get into one and ask what’s going on.

He’s apparently spotted a Slasher hanging around outside one of the minor complexes in system. He suggests he try to pin it down, and I come in and actually blow it up, since he’s really not built for such things in his fleet interceptor. Sounds like a good plan to me.

“It might cascade,” he says, “but whatever.”

I don’t ask what he means, and I suppose I probably should have.

I warp to him, but the affects around the warp acceleration gate pulls me off course and I land next to the structure and right on top of the Slasher.

Wait… that’s not the Slasher, that’s ANOTHER slasher — that’s the slasher’s buddy. The first slasher is about 30 kilometers away and closing fast.

My own ship (an Imperial Navy Slicer I liberated from the Amarr) doesn’t like being so close to the enemy, (who now has not one but two webs on me), so I overheat my microwarpdrive and pull range JUST before the second Slasher gets close enough to cause me heartache.

I go to work on my first target, battling his shield booster with pulse lasers — it’s a slow battle, but one I know I’ll when when the shield booster runs out of charges. In fact, it would be almost boring if it weren’t for the maneuvering battle required to maintain proper range with the first target while keeping away from the second slasher, who’s trying to get close enough to shut down my drives. It’s complicated. (There’s another enemy ship nearby, but he’s wasting time chasing the interceptor that first started this thing, so he’s not an issue.)

Then the Incursus lands right next to us and comes after me.

Just as the 2nd slicer gets a web on me. No bueno.

Now I know what the other guy meant when he said things might Cascade.

Once again, I overheat my microwarpdrive (a touchy piece of machinery that does NOT like to be driven beyond factory specifications) and try to pull out of the 2nd slicer’s range. It’s working, but slowly.

Then, a wonderful thing happens. Just as I’m about to break out of the web of Slasher #2, my main target decides to try to get close enough to hit me with his short range autocannons. I break the webs and quickly pull away, but he continues to try to catch up to me, which pulls him into straight-line pursuit right behind me. As far as my targeting computer is concerned, he might as well be standing still.

The Slasher explodes, and the pilot’s pod warps free. His friends decide this is a sign of how things will go, and both vacate the field.

Which is good, because I just completely burnt my microwarpdrive out. Oops.

I limp back to station to repair, my mate (who didn’t get a shot on anyone) picks over the wreck, and I get to enjoy a completely unexpected adrenaline rush after a long day of hauling and logistics.

All in all, pretty good day.

Life in Eve: BOUSes? I don’t believe they exist…

Woo-hoo! November insanity coming to a close! Our little faction warfare corp has joined an established FW alliance! I seem to have an exclamation point surplus I need to run through!

After some administrative tedium in the new home system, I set out in a cruiser fleet with JR at the helm, heading to the system of Aset, where our cunning plan is to sweep into an enemy Complex and start capturing it in the hopes of a proper fight.

Our plan seems to be paying off: scouts report an Amarr fleet inbound from the southern part of the war zone. Sounds like they’ve got greater numbers than our armor gang (15 vs. 25 or so), but roughly the same basic ship composition.

Our opponents arrive in system in what looks like two groups — maybe that’s just some stragglers catching up. Combined by their delay (and a request in /local comms for a quick bathroom break from one of our slightly more drunk pilots), there’s just enough time for a smaller friendly shield gang to slip into the complex with us and achieve optimal combat ranges, bringing our total friendly force in the complex to only a few less than the Amarr, who hit the gate and warp in. The fight is on!

Or at least I assume it is, as I’m immediately volleyed off the field and I have to run and get another ship.

All in all, though, it was a pretty good fight, and went on for so long that I was actually able to reship and make it back in time to take over target calling for the last few ships (all the real fleet commanders had been forced off the field by that point). In contrast to the last few fights I’ve been in, the group’s discipline was really good — which is to say everyone was actually shooting what the target-callers said to shoot. This sounds like a pretty basic thing, but for some reason it’s been terribly DIFFICULT for us in the past, and everyone really pulled it together.

Also (and this may not sound like a good thing, but…) it wasn’t clear until fairly near the end which side would eventually hold the field, and that made it a very engaging fight. Ultimately, we persevered. Early losses were managed, discipline continued even after our support ships were brought down, and we were left with a few pilots still standing at the end, going through the pockets of our comrades, looking for loose change. Good fight.

I, like Wesley, was quite surprised to discover my error.

Then it was time to reship (well, not for me: I’d done that already :P.)

The Amarr seemed ready to go at it again, but had a longer trek than we did to reship, so we were more than ready when scouts reported their return. Some of us had reshipped to battlecruisers, because… reasons, I guess. The Amarr had brought cruisers, however, and forced the size restriction by moving into a Minmatar Complex in Floseswin that wouldn’t admit any of our larger ships.

(That is, incidentally, one of the faction warfare features I have a great, manly, hetero love toward. Moving on.)

Anyway, our battlecruiser pilots swapped down to similarly-sized stuff, and we charged.

Once again, our combat discipline was pretty solid. The Amarr targeted our fleet commanders almost immediately, so others had to step up and maintain order — our armor fleet ran through at least five target callers throughout the fight. Despite our numerical advantage on this fight, the absence of support ships and warping into the complex right at our opponents’ ideal ranges meant we were struggling at the outset, and (again) it wasn’t clear who would hold the field.

And of course I got blapped off the field pretty quick.

Again, at least two of our pilots had time to lose a ship, deaggress, jump back to our staging system, reship, return, and finish the fight. LONG fight.

In fact, I feel I should say this: kudos to the Amarr pilots for really grinding it out to the bitter end. I’m positive that they could have called the fight a lot sooner and got more of their pilots away, but they chose to buckle down and go down swinging — it made for a hell of a good fight, and a great ‘coming back after a long month’ night.

Salutes all around, you filthy slavers.

Life in Eve: Getting a Bad Feeling

So this is just a short post and, worse, it won’t make much sense or difference to anyone unless you both play EvE and do stuff in Faction Warfare.

So here we go.

Fact one: The Amarr-Minmatar warzone is getting some new jump gates in December, meant to open up a lot of cut off systems and improve moment throughout the warzone.

Fact two: Despite the fact that it’s currently a pain in the ass to offensively run complexes in enemy systems, the Amarr are hitting a couple Minmatar systems pretty damned hard, as if they would very much like to flip them to Amarr. I wonder why?

Let’s go to the map!

Click to embiggen

Orange is current Amarr territory. The green lines are where the new gates are going to go. The systems circled in black are the ones the Amarr are hitting hard.

I’ll let you chew that over.

Home a-Roam 4

The next few evenings are spent battening down the hatches for the upcoming November privations, resetting Planetary Interaction timers, and building a few Condors for a roam JR wants to try out.

Well, that and a bit of solo fun, which included a new Cormorant I’m trying out that managed to net me a few kills on its first flight. Definitely need to take that crazy looking ship out more in the future.

One dark spot on this solo flight was that I tried taking out a minor complex in enemy held territory, and found it entirely not worth the time. With only about half the changes to complexes currently in place, the massive fountain of ISK-production has been shut down — which is a good thing — at the cost of the sites being worth doing at all. That’s fine, though: I’ll take the benefits even if it means a month of avoiding plexes until the rest of the changes go in.

But enough about that — I’ve got Condors to build for a skirmish fleet!


There’s something fun and liberating about flying incredibly cheap ships that can hit targets from over fifty kilometers away, fly 4000 meters a second, and chase down pretty much anything. Adding to the fun of this roam is the fact that Em and Shan are coming along on one of JR’s roams for the first time (Em in a custom Condor that matches his very deep missile skills, Shan in a Vigil with several target painters, because he’s Minmatar to the bone).

We don’t find any ‘big’ fights, but that’s fine for our group, which is happier mauling and taking down smaller groups of larger game. The Condor is (now) a wonderfully versatile frigate, and we have a number of ship variations that leave our targets all but helpless to harm us, and our losses are few and far between.

Not so the enemy, as we rack up kills on an Arbitrator cruiser, Retribution assault frigate, Punisher frigate, a Daredevil pirate frigate fit with entirely too many expensive modules that did him no good at all and, finally, a Rifter and Rupture out shooting NPCs in asteroid belts. It was a fine conclusion to the evening, so JR calls it for the night and we head home.

Or so I thought.

“Okay guys, I’m going to head o– oh, there’s a Pilgrim on this gate.”

“He cloaked.”

“Can someone decloak — hey! We decloaked him!”

“Eh, he’s just going to jump the gate. He’s won’t aggress anyo–:

“He’s aggressing!”

“Everyone warp to JR. Everyone warp to JR.”

The fight took well over five minutes, partly due to the Force Recon Cruiser’s tanking ability and partly because we had to work through most of his drones first (and in two cases, reship in mid fight), but eventually we took the ship down, netting us a great tech-2 cruiser kill to cap off the night, as well as — effectively — the month of October.

And how has that month been going?

Not bad! Em, Dirk, and Shan have jumped into the pool, and last night our little corporation broke 100 kills since joining the war against the evil Amarr slave lords. Our win-to-loss ratio corp-wide is better than I’d expected at this point in our learning curve, but far more importantly, not a single kill on the board is any kind of structure. I’m very happy about that — it simplifies the issue a bit, but it’s still a good indicator that I’m getting what I wanted out of this experiment.

Why the retrospective?

Per usual, my free time during November will be pretty sparse, and what I have will be mostly dedicated to family and friends close at hand. Now is the time on EvE when we schedule a lot of long, slow, annoying skill trains that I’ve been putting off. I can’t complain about how October concluded, and I comfort myself with the thought that I’ll come out on the other end of November with a sexy new expansion only days away. I’m sure I’ll post a few things here and there (perhaps stories of the corp’s adventures while I’m MIA), but for the most part all I can say is good hunting, and I’ll see you soon.

Life in Eve: Home a-Roam 3

I’d intended to just pop in and check a few bits of to-do, but a quick greeting in comms leads to an invite into an ongoing fleet lead by several pilots I don’t know, but flown in by several I do.

“Who’s the new guy in my channel?” asks the FC. “Try?”

“It’s Ty,” one of the other pilots replies, before I can speak up. “He’s got his own corp, but he flies with us a lot. He’s good.”

“Cool.”

And that was that.

Not bad.

The doctrine for the fleet was “cruisers, with some fast tackle support.” Normally, I’d bring tackle in that situation, but I was informed we already had plenty before I’d even proposed it, which left me looking over my cruiser options of which I had only a few, handy.

The problem with cruisers right now (at least for me) is that they’re all going to get quite good in a little more than a month, so unless I know the ship in question is already about as good as it’s going to get, I’m loathe to fly it right now. I don’t mind losing ships (at all), but it bothers me to lose them simply because they aren’t currently good and would have survived if I’d just waited a few weeks. All those kinds of ships are waiting for me (and December) in a market system hangar.

The only ships immediately handy include a Rupture and two Stabber Fleet Issues. The Rupture is currently set up for a weird remote-rep fit that I’ve somehow managed not to lose (and which is useless for the current roam), so I discount that. The SFI’s are another story, as they are both (a) good ships and (b) not getting tweaked next month. The first of the two is a soloing-fit that wouldn’t fare well against the damage a decent sized fleet would attract, so I settle on the second ship, much slower, but heavily tanked and ideal for survival in the face of withering incoming fire.

We wander the war zone for a while, but pickings are slim and what few ships we do snag are far too fast for my sleek, aerodynamic brick to chase down.

Finally (and, again, just like the previous two outings), we find ourselves near home, where most of the action has been happening lately. Scouts report a few ships locally, but in a complex too small to admit our cruisers. The FC glumly advises people to reship and hurry back. I speak up.

“I have lots of destroyers right here in system.”

“How many?”

“At… least six.”

With guns?”

“Of course.”

“… okay! New plan! Everyone send Ty some money and dock up at his station. We’re going to steal his shit and kill some ships.”

A few ISK transfers later and we’re in warp to the complex in a fleet of Thrashers with suspiciously similar names. The targets warp away as we enter, and our rear guard reports enemies landing back at the entrance gate to the complex.

We can’t warp directly back to the gate (one of the ‘features’ of a complex), so the FC orders us to ‘bounce’ out to an orbit around the sun, then back to the complex entrance. Imagine our surprise when we land on the sun and see an entirely different fleet waiting for us. They aren’t war targets, but they seem perfectly willing to engage anyway, so let’s call them nascent pirates.

This fight goes well — we take out all their fleet, but the war targets that had been at the complex warp in and complicate matters, turning the whole thing into a grand melee. Pretty much everyone loses their shiny new destroyers, but the fight was a good one all around, and a fine way to end the evening.

Life in Eve: Home a-Roam 2

Friday’s a strangely quiet night in the war zone, so I spent some time working out some new fittings for Caldari assault ships and interceptors. I don’t get too far into this this, though, because some of the pilots I know are roaming around the zone and invite me along. I don’t know what I should bring, exactly, so I settle on the condor I’d cobbled together the night before.

As before, we really didn’t need to travel far to find trouble. I’d only just reshipped and got on comms when word came of war targets right next door. A bit more recon showed us two destroyers in a major Minmatar complex, backed up by a shiny Vigilant-class cruiser, rare enough in the faction warfare scene that most of our pilots (many of whom are fairly new) were unfamiliar with the ship’s advantages in camping a warp-in gate.

Despite the Vigilant, our FC (who, though he has faults, doesn’t number timidity among them) decided he wanted to go after the fight anyway, figuring to storm the complex and trust to our many tech1 frigates to blot out the proverbial sun… or at least overwhelm the Vigilant’s target system.

“He can’t lock down all of us.”

Our arrival was spotted, and all the ships bugged out as we entered the complex, but we waited, hoping they’d calm down and come back once they realized we weren’t the vanguard of a larger force.

They did, and at least initially didn’t hit us with any more ridiculously superior ships than they already had (those came later): the same two destroyers dropped back in with two more destroyer allies and the Vigilant.

Not Almity,” I called out on comms, before the FC could designate targets, remembering the mistakes made in the last week, calling him primary. “Anyone but Almity.”

The FC took it in stride, called other targets, and had everyone hit the Vigilant with tracking disruptors and hope for the best.

The fight was nasty, brutish, and relatively short — common for frigate brawls — two of the destroyers went down, then our own frigates started to pay the price of facing far superior firepower. Despite the disruptors, the Vigilant was nearly one-shotting our ships, and the pilots we’d already unhorsed had warped off and were already returning… this time in an SFI and Cynabal cruiser. Time to leave.

No arguments from me, as a single shot from the Vigilant stripped my shields, armor, and melted half the ship’s structure. I left the field trailing fire and smoke but (again) basically functional.

We couldn’t have been said to have come out ahead for the fight, but to be honest the engagement was so fun no one really seemed to care. Since we’d barely left our home system, reshipping and repair for those pilots willing to stick around took little time, and before long our somewhat smaller fleet was back in space and poking around, which led in a fairly short order to another engagement with the surviving two destroyers from the previous tussle, this time without the support of a couple quarter-million-isk pirate cruisers.

It went about how you’d expect, and brought my unlikely Condor up to an unprecedented three-battle survival rate.

Life in Eve: Home a-Roam

These days, we hardly need to go anywhere to find a fight. Immediately next door, we have a long-established I.LAW Amarr corporation that seems (at least to me – not everyone agrees) predisposed to relatively even fights. One more jump and you’re into the home staging system for Fweddit, which… has a lot of pilots. The same distance in the opposite direction (figuratively as well as literally) you’ll find the Agony Unleashed, full of pilots for whom I have tremendous respect, and if all else fails there’s notorious Amamake, filled to overflowing with pirate gangs.

None of that’s to say that you’ll always find the fight you’re looking for — it’s currently kind of rough running around solo, because the half-complete changes to complexes discourage pilots from clearing them on their own — but if you can find the pitch that the war zone is tuned to at the moment, things can be pretty cool.

Don't get me wrong - it can also be kind of brutal.

Thursday, JR ran up a flag for pilots interested in a remote-repair armor gang — a concept that’s only marginally workable at present but likely to be very effective in December — the ship’s are cheap(ish) so it’s good training for when the tactic becomes (much) more effective.

We ran around for a very short roam (all of two system gates, I think) before JR got word of a nearby allied fleet trying to scare up a fight with Fweddit nearby. It seemed likely that either of our groups would be outmanned or outshipped by our opponents, but together…

We reformed as a single fleet and… well, all I’ll say is that we got a fight. Not convinced it was the fight we wanted, exactly, but it was certainly a fight. In short, the other side outnumbered and outshipped us, despite our Voltron maneuver. Also, there is a regrettable tendency to call the most recognizable enemy fleet commanders primary. I’ve made the same mistake, which is why I spotted it now, and the fact that some of those pilots recognize this and play to it by making themselves particularly easy-to-reach targets in particularly hard-to-kill ships.

So we kind of wasted a whole lot of time killing one or two guys who were set up to take the pounding, while the other guys took us apart at their leisure.

Once this fight was done (my ship survived — not sure how that happened), there was a long delay while JR and the other fleet’s commander talked, and by the time it was done, most everyone was done waiting around and had taken off for the night. One pilot had tracked a group of war targets who were banging around in frigates and looking for a fight, however. We had five or six pilots still willing to fly, and dropped on them in orbit around a planet in similarly-sized ships.

Both sides were looking for a good fight, but the game itself was set to deny us — something was seriously wrong with the local ‘grid’ — it was so small that my Condor was actually running off grid from my target by simply orbiting him. Neither side could accomplish anything, so we disengaged and retreated.

By this point, however, all sides were feeling a little denied, so we basically agreed on a place to meet up and conclude our fight. This went pretty well for us, as we were able to take out all five of their ships, with two of ours still on the field (mine included, albeit ever-so-slightly on fire). Good fights all around, and we called it a night.

Life in Eve: Shake Shake Shake

It will surprise no one when I say that I’m not happy with the way some of the features in Faction Warfare in Eve work, and I’m looking forward to fixes proposed for December.

Soon.

Most of dissatisfaction stems from the ways in which the system can be gamed for the sole purpose of making ISK.

Now, I don’t have any problem with people making ISK. I don’t have a problem with someone playing smart, or avoiding a senseless fight. I do have a problem with people who are clearly subverting a system. Take a new-player-friendly theater of activity called “faction warfare”, set in “war zones”, and tell me that the most common “new” players involved are ignoring all fights and fitting their ships to avoid all consequences of any activity they undertake in that theater, and I’ll call those people bad names.

They’re not being innovative or ’emergent’ any more than a lamprey is an “outside the box thinker”. They’re just parasites, dragging down another fish.

Yes, I’ve tried to kill such pilots when I can. This also should surprise no one. As a rule, people don’t view tapeworms as a life-enhancing feature.

So I was thrilled to find out that some of the Faction Warfare changes proposed for the December expansion were going to be implemented immediately, in an effort to kill off the worst of the demonstrably game-breaking behavior. If nothing else, it closed a hemorrhaging ISK faucet six weeks early, and that alone is worth it.

But there were other benefits.

Although not all the changes are in place, enough things changed in terms of system control and defensive and offensive “plexing” that it shook things up around the war zone. There were a lot more pilots flying around, a lot more fights happening, a lot more investment. I spotted the first Infrastructure Hub bashing fleet I’ve seen in, literally, months. Then another. Then response fleets. Then pirate fleets looking to start a fight with those fleets. It’s easily the busiest I’ve seen the war zone in weeks, and that’s with one of the largest enemy corporations in the area temporarily out of the action while they repaint Amarr logos over top the Caldari flare on their ships.

There’s something to be said for changes to a system that alter the rules about what’s good/bad, useful/useless behavior in a given theatre of activity in the game. The changes get people whining, but it also promotes a heightening level of participation and activity as people figure things out, take initial advantage, figure out optimal behaviors, implement them, and adapt to the meta-game shifting as a result.

It’s a good argument for regular in-game events that shake things up simply for the sake of the shaking. Something as simple as Incursions actually spawning inside the war zone would throw a deep wrinkle into things, as would adding (or destroying) routes through the war zones.

I’m not saying change stuff just to change it, but if you can come up with cool reasons for tweaking the equations of success from time to time, it wakes people up.

Keep things moving to keep people interested.

I do a bit of defensive plexing at the start of the evening, to (a) get a sense of how the new loyalty point rewards for this activity will stack up in vulnerable systems (answer: well) and (b) try to move some vulnerable systems back toward stability before the Amarr can flip them to slaver-sovereignty.

JR is doing a “cheapfleet” roam of frigates and destroyers, and I hop into a Thrasher to join in, since (at least initially) I don’t much feel like being an important cog in the machine — mine will be the way of support and heavier DPS, not scouting and (thus) nigh second-in-command.

As he’s done in the past, JR splits the fleet into two squads and two separate but linked voice comms channels, so we can roam independently in smaller, less-threatening groups, but call for backup if needed. He then puts newer pilots in as squad commands and eases himself into the back seat to let the training-by-fire commence.

My body is ready.

Squad 2 (of which I am a member) wanders somewhat, our FC seeming a bit a sea and unmotivated. The upside: Fel is with us (since I dragged him along) and getting some scouting practice, as he’s in the fastest ship in our squad — a speedy Atron attack frigate.

Our roam takes us by secondary routes to the system of Sahtogas. We send in Fel to scout and wait at the entry gate, directing him toward any open complexes, hoping to attract the attention of the fairly numerous war targets in system (who are often more inclined to doze inside stations until prodded).

Meanwhile, a war target drops on our gate and most of us open fire. I don’t, because I suspect he’s going to jump through the gate if things look serious. They do, and he does. I follow.

… and appear in the midst of a significantly larger fleet than my own, all war targets and all heading through the same gate but in the other direction to go after our guys. They apparently slipped down to the gate after Fel warped away. I try to give warning, but it comes too late for some and we lose a couple ships.

Meanwhile, Squad One is coming at Sahtogas from another direction, and tries to bait the same group of war targets into attacking. This works, but (again) the enemy fleet proves too strong for only half our group to manage, and we trade ships at a slightly disappointing 2:1 ratio.

With several pilots reshipping, the rest of us scattered, and our squad commander unaccountably silent, I announce I’m heading back to our original mustering system, where it will be easier for our returning pilots to link up. This initiative puts me in the lead and scouting ahead for the rest of the squad.

One jump short of our muster point (but conveniently near my home station) I spot a Naga battlecruiser in one of our local complexes. A quick reconnoiter puts him 190 klicks off the complex entry and (annoyingly) still able to shoot me, so I switch out of my Thrasher and into a Taranis interceptor to see if I can snag him.

No joy, as he runs when I start to close in, but our activity attracts the attention of a small gang of pirates from nearby, notorious Amamake. Again, I switch ships, this time to a Stabber Fleet Issue — the Minmatar Navy’s justifiably well-regarded “SFI” cruiser.

The pirates, having taken out one of our frigates, retreat to Amamake, but a scout locates them near planet six and I warp to their location, clearly looking for payback for the loss of our frigate (rageface). They seem inclined to take the fight, as their three assault frigates (two Wolves, one Hawk) look to be more than enough for the job I represent. The Hawk gets in too close to me, however, and with two webifiers and a warp scrambler on him, he’s not going to be able to correct that error. I call the rest of the fleet in and the Hawk dies fairly quickly, while his allies scatter.

We try for one of the Wolves, but our chosen target it too fast — only one ship (Fel’s Atron) can keep up with him, and can’t slow the Wolf down enough for anyone else to catch up — he finally manages to slingshot Fel and slip away.

JR is... shall we say... nonplussed by the fact that only one of our small ships has bothered to fit a microwarpdrive, even though he specifically said everyone should have one.

I try to pull another fight in Amamake while the rest of the fleet slips back to neighboring systems, but the pirates jump in after them before anything else develops. This works out, as we’re able to snag and kill the Wolf who had previously escaped.

I drop back to repair the SFI, and scouts report another group on the gate in Amamake, so I head back in to try to make something happen. I can’t track them down, but that proves to be wasted effort: I drop on them accidentally after giving up my search and warping back to the out-gate. Pirate pilots in an Atron frigate, Jaguar assault frigate, Rupture cruiser, and Zealot heavy assault cruiser circle me, but none seem eager to engage, since it will mean that the mean, nasty pirates will be targeted by the stargate’s defensive sentries for attacking a squeaky-clean citizen like myself.

With my backup ready, I start things off by popping the Atron, then we all turn attention to the Rupture, who tears away and leads us well off the gate before we pull him down and take out the ship. The kill takes some time, however, and by then he has backup inbound. They manage to catch me as the Rupture… ruptures, and my heroic SFI goes down while the rest of the fleet escapes. (Luckily, I have a dozen replacements at the ready, and more reasons than ever to fly them. Great ship.)

The fleet swaps around ships a bit, and Matt calls us into an enemy-held system nearby, where we miss a Firetail frigate but catch and kill yet another Wolf, trading a Taranis to a Cynabal cruiser in the process, at which point JR takes off for the night, and I follow suit.

A good night, if a bit directionless and disorganized at the start — it felt good to head out into the war zone and actually find pilots looking for a fight.

Life in Eve: Education

Last night, our little two-man faction warfare corporation tripled in size, and I led a small roam/introductory tour into the wilds of the war zone. Four pilots (myself, Em, Shan, and newly-recruited Fel) flying the very best in cheap and disposable combat spacecraft (an Incursus, Atron, and two Slashers).

Preparatory documents, FAQs, links, and useful maps had all been assembled and then sent out. Shopping had been done (including a splurge on a pile of inexplicably under-priced frigates that netted use close to two-hundred slashers). Questions had been asked and answered.

Nothing left to do but head out and learn to explode.

I had a path in mind, and sent us at best speed through Sinq Laison to Audaerne and, from there, into the Eugidi constellation, which is a kind of rat’s nest of systems well behind the front lines, popular with risk-adverse war targets and (by contrast) conflict-hungry pirates looking for a fight. All in all, it’s a pretty good group of systems to visit if you want to familiarize yourself with the ‘plex mechanics, possibly catch a fleeing enemy, and maybe even get something like an viable fight.

Emphasis on maybe. As it turned out, once we chased off a few timid Merlin frigates with Cynabal backup, the only action to be found lay with a trio of pirates I’d run into in the past. They decided to meet our four frigates with three destroyers (and more backup lurking in the wings); we decided the fight wasn’t for us. In leaving the constellation, we managed to draw one far enough away from his friends to cost him any nearby backup, but he remained wary enough to escape through a gate jump without losing his Thrasher. Ahh well.

From there, we headed south toward Dal, pausing here and there to check out likely-looking complexes for enemies, but arrived at our destination without anything exciting coming of it and docked up for a few minutes to rub our eyes and repair a bit of damage from overheated afterburners.

I returned after the brief break feeling more than a little restless. It’s been well over a week since I’ve had a proper fight (the last roam I was on had me sitting in a support cruiser, which is fun but doesn’t involve much in the way of direct violence), and after two hours of cat-and-mouse work with no payout, I just wanted a face to shoot.

“We’re going to jump over to Siseide,” I said, naming a neighboring system with a lot of violent activity showing on the map, and a known home system for a few Amarr loyalists. “See if we can’t stir something up.”

The system’s population was a weird mix of Minmatar and Amarr forces when we arrived, but as I split us into smaller groups to scout around (as I had been doing all night, to give everyone a turn at hanging their ass out in the wind to get shot at), most of our nominal allies departed toward Auga.

Em headed for one of the open Amarr complexes, I went for the minor one on the far side of the system, and landed nearly on top of a Slasher like my own, who immediately jumped the gate into the complex and invited me to follow him in. I called my fleet mates to me and charged in, but he saw my backup arriving and beat a retreat.

Once the other three had arrived, I had Shan start capturing the complex. This wasn’t a wholly empty activity; Siseide was the first system we’d entered all night that was actually held by the Amarr, so it was our first chance to actually capture an enemy complex, as opposed to defend our own, and I wanted them to get a sense of what that was like.

In any case, we didn’t stick with that for long, as it was clear the locals (all veteran members of a long-running faction warfare corporation) were putting together a response to our intrusion. The first to land on the gate and jump in was a Thrasher, but his friends seemed further behind, and I thought the odds were good that if we hit him hard when he entered, we could take his ship before the rest arrived.

My nebulous plan solidified when I realized the lead pilot it was Almity, one of the better known fleet commanders for the Amarr.

Things seemed to be going well, despite Em and Shan calling out enemy ships closing in: the enemy thrasher’s shields were dropping with comforting speed, and the heavy hitting but traditionally thinly-tanked ship looked close to death.

Then we punched through to the ship’s armor, and all progress just… stopped.

“Armor tanked?” I wondered aloud. “Who armor tanks a Thrasher?”

The answer, apparently, is “Well-known enemy fleet commanders who expect to be called primary and use that tendency to act as effective bait.”

Four other Amarr pilots landed on us while we tried to take the Thrasher out. I should have called an evacuation (I was the only one held at that point), but I wanted at least one kill, even leavened with our own ship losses, and kept us in the fight long enough for Almity’s companions to catch hold of both Shan and Em as well.

All in all it was a fine, tasty bait they set for us, and I bit with everything I had. Lesson learned, and well-played by the Amarr pilots. Hats off.

“I missed the whole thing!” moaned one of the Amarr pilots in local comms.

“Don’t worry, I’m sure you’ll get another chance,” I quipped.

“I hope so, man,” he replied. “They say you were actually fit for PvP and willing to fight. Good show!”

We retreated and reshipped (I’ve got several dozen appropriate ships scattered around the the area), but by then it was getting more than a little late, so we called it for the night, with plans for more shenanigans in the days to come.

Maybe not the auspicious beginning I might have hoped for (not helped by the fact that my decision-making was colored my just wanting any kind of fight — the whole thing left me happy with the results even though we lost), but a start nonetheless and with lots of things to learn from the engagement.

Early this morning, Agony pilots came swarming through the system while I fiddled with a few ships in the hangar, and one of their pilots (whom I know from various roams and training classes) tossed me a greeting.

“I heard you decided to put up a decent fight last night, instead of running,” she said. “Very cool.”

“Thanks,” I said, and meant it — enemies they may be, but it’s nice to earn a little recognition, even if it’s for blowing up. Funny, though, that the news of an inconsequential frigate brawl spread even that far.

How sad is it that the simple act of taking a fight with no gimmicks and no bullshit is cause for comment, compliment, and small celebration (twice!) by your opponents, though you sit in the midst of zone focused on war, and a game focused on PvP? It makes me understand Rote Kapelle’s current goal.

Life in Eve: Prep

“Alright, Fel, if you feel like you understand the risks, and you’re still interested, I’m glad to have you.” I punched the virtual ACCEPT? button on my terminal and sat back in the chair in my quarters.

There was no reply from the overhead speakers to which I’d routed the caller’s voice.

I waited, then: “Fel?”

“Umm. Yes. Sorry. I’m here.” I could almost hear the other pilot shake himself. “I just… well, not to raise too many alarm bells or anything, but I’m a bit surprised you accepted me so soo — umm. Quickly.”

“Ahh.” I thought about that a moment, letting my eyes drop to my hands, resting in my lap. “You know what CB said when I told him about your original message asking to join?”

“The first one? That was months ago.”

“Yup.” I cleared my throat, wanting to get the phrasing right. “He said: ‘If he wants in the wormhole, fuck no. If he wants in the war zone, fuck it.'” More comms silence. “Don’t take that personally…”

Fel’s laughter came with a rush. “Are you kidding? I’m from a wormhole too — paranoia, I understand; I practically tell the new pilots to fly in front of me when we go on ops.”

I chuckled along with him, nodding. “Well, that’s half of it, then. The other half… ” I shrugged. “There’s maybe three hundred million isk worth of ships and ship modules in our shared hangars. I only keep enough liquid ISK around to ensure that the station rental bills are paid automatically –” I cleared my throat — “after a little mishap a few months back.”

“Sure –”

“Point is,” I interrupted, “you really can’t do much harm down here in known space, because this corp’s got no real assets to steal. Hell, even if you awox one of us for fun, we’re only going to be out a cheap clone and a cheaper frigate. And frankly we could use another couple good pilots. Paranoia is fine, but new blood helps keep people awake.”

“Well… okay then.”

“Okay then,” I repeated, letting a small smile creep into place. “Get some rack time. Odds are we’ll be roaming tomorrow night, either with friends in cheap ships or acquaintances in expensive ones. Welcome to the asylum.”

“Glad to be here,” he replied, then cut comms.

I stared at the overhead speaker for a few seconds, my thoughts drifting, then popped up to a standing position, stretching one arm across my chest and rolling my neck on my shoulders as I walked out to the balcony overlooking the hangars. “No breaks today.” I blinked. “Tonight. Whatever.” My eyes itched, and I rubbed at them while I tapped the commands that would swing the Malediction into the launch bay. “Little more scouting to do before everyone gets here.”

I’d been out of a ship for almost a week — visiting the University of Caille to talk about, of all things, my writing — apparently, as a combat pilot, I made a decent journalist. Since I’d gotten back, I’d done little more than scout new safes throughout the war zone and write a half-dozen briefings on the key systems and hot spots that a new pilot — or at least a pilot unfamiliar with the War — would want to know about.

I was itching for some actual combat, even a frustrating loss, but war targets would go unmolested tonight, at least by me; we had new pilots coming to join us, and I wanted everything as smooth as I could get it for the transition.

New pilots for the war. Old friends for the fleet.

“Aura, set course for Avenod. Let’s map out some safes in the Eugidi cluster.”

… before everyone gets here.

My voice sounded tired, even to me, but I could feel that same small smile creep back onto my face.

I practically jogged to the piloting pod.

 

Life in Eve: the Pants-on-Head Offensive #eveonline

While I’ve been playing just as much as ever, and writing about the new stuff coming in the expansion, I haven’t felt compelled to write about actual events in game for a little while, simply because it’s been pretty typical and straightforward shenanigans: small gang stuff every few nights, random solo stuff the rest of the time. Faction Warfare is a very interesting and sometimes frustrating environment; on one hand I feel as though I’d get more out of it if I were connected to some of the big established groups, but on the other hand there’s direct evidence that Sturgeon’s Revelation applies just as much to people as it does to anything else1, and I’m not sure I need to expose myself to that any more than I already am.2

Case in Point:

I went on a small gang roam last night, run by one of the really good guys I’ve run into — someone who’s a real pleasure to fly with and who always seems to have a fun fleet idea to try out.

Flying with him: a couple of his corp mates, and a cage of shit-flinging spider monkeys.

WTF am I hearing?

Now, normally, it’s not that bad. The fleet members list was about the same as usual, but for whatever reason — full moon, hormone imbalance, Ritalin shortage — this ancillary group of pilots (from a corp unaffiliated with the FC) have been particularly sub-functional lately.

But I grit my teeth and bear it, because I want to try out this new idea the FC has. The last few roams, he’s been asking for armor-tanked cruisers supported by a couple tech1 logistics ships (the exequror, which is currently a hairsbreadth above a joke setup, but receives a major facelift in a few months), and specifically asked if I could bring one of the support cruisers, which is a class of ship I’m well-skilled for and never really get a chance to fly.

Anyway: the evening didn’t offer up a lot of viable opportunities. The nature of the ships we were flying (support cruisers with poor attributes, combat cruisers press-ganged into remote-repair setups) and our numbers (ranging from 6 to, at best, 10 or so) meant that our window of viable targets was a bit narrow — potential opponents either warped away before we could get there, or seriously outnumbered us.

Still, we preserved, roaming around the war zone, looking for anything that would give us a good run.

(Side note: the tunnel vision that overcomes “healers” in any group activity is just as present in EvE as it is in any other MMO, at least in my experience. I couldn’t name one system we flew through last night, aside from where we started and where we ended.)

After a slow hour or so, people were justifiably itching for a fight, and everyone was pretty happy when a scout (one of our spider-monkeys) excitedly announced he had a war target tackled. The current fleet commander called for jump and we warped to the fight.

Imagine my bemusement when the overview loaded, and all I saw were two different shades of purple on the list of nearby pilots: the purple of my fleetmates, and the purple of fellow members of my militia.

The scout (also a militia member) was shooting one of the pilots in that second group.

We're going to war!

Apparently, the spider monkeys had had some kind of friendly fire incident a few days earlier, resulting in a pilot from some other militia corporation losing a ship. Reparations were made, but in the end, the two corps decided to use the in-game system to declare war on each other, thus making each other valid war targets.

Let me repeat that (because I for damn sure needed it explained twice when I first heard it): faced with two different enemy militia to fight (whose pilot memberships collectively numbers a bit over fifteen thousand), these two groups within the same militia decided to start shooting each other over a 10 second friendly fire incident, some name-calling, and the loss of a single frigate.

I really don’t think that is how one successfully conducts a war.

Please note the remarkable lack of SHOOTING EACH OTHER in the above photo.

Faced with this situation, I did what I’m supposed to do in a support ship, surrounded by friendly pilots taking fire: I locked up every ally I could and started repping anyone getting shot.

Yes, everyone.

Yes, the “other guys” too.

I figure we were already well into the realm of Pants-on-Head idiocy, so adding a little more ridiculous behavior could hardly hurt.3

Eventually, someone decided to shoot me. I’m honestly not sure which side. Maybe both.

Upside: I got a lot of good practice flying support, and the ship loss was amusingly cheap.

And, not for nothing, having an excuse to drop fleet afterwards (when the FC called it a night) was something of a blessed release.


1 – There’s also a disturbing trend wherein the forces behind Gabriel’s Greater Internet Dickwad Theory manifest at such a high concentration in EvE that intelligent, well-spoken people who seem immune to this phenomena (while on Reddit, for example) turn into mouth-breathing frat boys the moment they log into the game and join a fleet. I’m embarrassed on their behalf.

2 – One of the nice things about wormholes? You are generally insulated from the 90%, except in small doses. Call that a plus. In faction warfare, I keep my local channel set so I only see who’s in the system (not anything anyone’s actually saying), and make liberal use of the ‘block’ chat function make other channels marginally useful.

3 – It’s easy to poke fun, but you must be careful when casting stones; stuff easily as stupid happens with head-shaking frequency throughout the game. Usually, the result is a lot more costly (which either makes it more or less funny, depending on who you ask.)

Life in EvE: Shirt Off My Back #eveonline

“You bought a shirt?” CB’s voice on comms is muddled, as if he can’t decide between a mocking tone and something that conveys more disgust.

“Two shirts,” I correct him as I check the map of the local constellation. “Let’s head for Floseswin via Gallente space — there’s usually some Amarr hitting complexes back there.”

“On it.” His ship, a mirror to my own Thrasher-class destroyer, comes about and aligns to the next gate. “So what are you going to do with two hundred-million isk shirts?”

“They didn’t cost that much, with the discount the TLF had at the time,” I reply. “More like 25 million.”

CB fills our channel with a string of profanity that last most of the way through the 63 AU warp across the system. “Who the fuck pays 25 million isk for a shirt?”

“Well…” I drawl. “Someone who intends to sell them for… more than that.”

He pauses. “How much more?”

“The thing is, these things are really rare outside the Militia. Hell, they’re rare inside the militia.”

“That’s not exactly hard to understand.”

“Right. Anyway, hardly anyone picks them out and then puts them back out on the public market, so I figure they won’t move very fast, but if someone’s looking for some fancy outfit that no one else will have –”

“– for those incredibly common times when we’re out of our ships and socializing?”

“I don’t know — people with too much money spend it on stupid shit just to say they have it. Jump gate on contact and swing over to Isbrabata.”

“Copy that.” His ship warps off, and I continue through the Aset system. “So how much did you put them on the market for?”

“That was tricky,” I say. “No one had ever sold them on the market before, so I kind of had to guess how much some rich idiot would be willing to pay.”

“Fascinating,” CB deadpans. “How much did you list them for?”

“I tried to check the Jita market, but with the Caldari shooting me on site whenever I swing into their system, it was kind of hard to do –”

“How much,” he growls, “did you list them for?”

“Two hundred fifty million,” I answer. “A piece.”

He makes sputtering sounds into his comms. “You think anyone –”

“Break break,” I cut in. “Got an Ishtar on scan.” I hit the directional scan again, but the ship is gone. “Crap, he’s going the other way. Jump back to Avenod.”

“I’m two jumps out.”

“That’s fine, it’s just to get in front of him. I have to get turned around first.” I land on my destination gate, cancel the gate jump, spin the ship around and warp back the other direction.

“Which one’s the Ishtar?”

“Ishkur,” I correct him.

“You said Ishtar.”

“Did I?” I frowned. “Well, I meant Ishkur. It’s that Incursus variant with all the drones. Tough little assault frigate. He might be willing to take us on, or I can get him engaged and tackled before you get there. Something.”

“Can we take him?”

“Probably, though he’ll likely blow up whichever of us snags him first.” Our destroyers were fit for short, brutal engagements ending in explosions — either ours or someone else’s — the Ishkur was tough enough to drag the fight out and get through one of our ships. Probably not both, though.

Probably. I grin. As always, it was the uncertainty of a fight that made the whole thing worth it.

“Jumping into Avenod.” There’s a flash on my overview, gone almost as soon as I see it. “He was right here. I think he just opened a major complex in here. Ballsy. Warping up there.”

“Landing on my gate. Want me to jump in?”

My ship enters warp. “Yeah. I’ll land and –” I frown as I drop out of warp at short range, eyeing our target ship’s silhouette. “That’s weird, it looks like Vexoooooh… oh. Shit.” I laugh into the mic as the Ishtar heavy assault cruiser — the Ishkur’s bigger, badder brother — disgorges a flight of drones in my direction; one of the probably half-dozen or so flights he can field before the ship runs low. “Cancel that. Don’t warp. Target’s not an Ishkur. It’s an Ishtar.”

“I told you that’s what you said.”

I laugh again, shaking my head and readying my warp commands to get my escape pod out as my fragile destroyer melts in the face of the far heavier ship’s firepower. As the explosion rocks me free of the wreckage, I switch to the star system’s public comms for a moment.

Ty > Good fight! Thought you were a little ol’ Ishkur… Whoops!
Maren > Ahh… yeah, I just thought you were just being really aggressive.

“I’m laughing my ass off at you right now,” CB says as I warp out and set course to pick up a new ship. “I thought you should know.”

“I am too,” I grin. “Ahh well. Good start to the night’s roam. What shall I blow up now?”

“Whatever you like, I guess,” CB replied. “You can pay for it with those shirts, if they ever sell.”

“Oh,” I replied. “See, that’s the punchline.”

Silence. Then: “They already sold?”

“Yup. Not right away, but pretty fast.” I shrug. “I priced them too low, I guess. Still, half a billion off a couple shirts isn’t bad.”

“Who –” CB cuts himself off. “Okay, hurry up and get back here. I really need to shoot somebody.”


So yeah:

  • I was so used to seeing frigates and other small ships that my brain convinced me an Ishtar was an Ishkur. Whoops. Still, it was pretty funny.
  • People will pay stupid amounts of money for rare things.
  • You can actually put those special clothing items on, wear them awhile and then, if you get bored with the look, remove them and they drop right back into your items hangar in whatever station you’re in. Which means you can then sell them. So… if you recently spent 250 million on a black and red uniform shirt that smelled a little… used? Sorry about that.

Life in Eve: Two Months in the War #eveonline

Ty’s currently at 2 months and 2 days with the small corp he and CB formed solely to take into Faction Warfare and, if memory serves, that means it’s been exactly 2 months since we joined up. I’m inclined to take a look back and see how things have gone.

PvP Experience and Enjoyment
This is, ostensibly, what I wanted to get into the whole thing for, so how’s that been going?

June was definitely a learning month; all told, I was on two kills for the month and lost seven ships (six of which had something to do with Faction Warfare (the seventh was just me running around nullsec in a Talos until I blew the thing up).

With that said, I learned a lot from those losses, and June also marked my first small gang roam with a FW group (netting a fine battlecruiser kill), and my first solo kill, ever. Pretty hard to complain about that.

Killboard efficiency is vastly overrated, in my opinion, but it’s hard not to be pretty happy with both July and August. I turned around the numbers from June and have managed to maintain a 3:1 kill ratio and a stupidly lopsided ISK destroyed to ISK lost ratio (thanks to flying frigates and other cheap ships), in addition to getting a couple more solo kills and FCing a fleet for hilarious results. Again, I don’t really care about the numbers, but it’s nice to look at the big picture as well as review fights and review my many mistakes. 🙂 (In all seriousness: I don’t lose less ISK if I destroy someone else’s ship, so who cares what my “ISK efficiency” is? Meaningless number.)

Income
The Faction Warfare screens are accessed in-game by drilling down into the “Business” menu, and that’s no accident — a lot of folks are there solely to make ISK, and though it’s a secondary concern for me (I make more than enough from Planetary Interaction Colonies), you’re going to make a fair amount of money even if you don’t pay it much attention and just “try everything”, as I like to do. In the last two months I’ve netted (not grossed) several billion isk from Faction Warfare as a result of truly, TRULY desultory money making effort on my part (easily less than ten percent of the time I’ve spent on FW, total), including cashing out my loyalty points at the “wrong” tier almost every time.1 On a minute-to-minute basis, there is simply nothing else I’ve done in the game that makes as much ISK in such short, discrete, instant-on chunks of time.

People will argue about whether the small gang and solo pvp is a bonus feature of Faction Warfare money making activities, or if it’s the other way around, but it hardly matters — if you want both, and plan for both, you’re going to be pretty happy with the results.

Social
This is slower going, due to the necessary and justified paranoia that runs through Faction Warfare, but I’ve gotten fairly familiar with a couple groups, and can jump on (or ignore) their nightly shenanigans with zero drama. That ‘social curve’ is steeper than what a typical MMO player might expect (unless you’re joining up with friends), but the rewards are worth it for me.

Overall
You know, the fact of the matter is, I didn’t blog about EvE all last week because I was too busy playing EvE. I suppose that says a lot right there, and mercuryapp.com (which I use to take down the notes that eventually become blog posts) reflects my satisfaction with the last sixty days.

After a year or more in Wormholes (which, while fun, almost always require extensive scanning preceding any kind of organized activity, and ongoing scanning throughout said activity), the fact that I can log in, hop in a ship, undock, do something, fight someone, and make twenty to sixty million isk — all within 15 to 30 minutes — is a huge draw for me, especially right now.

In my opinion, Faction Warfare may be the best “mixed-discipline” activity in the game for a new player coming into EvE Online for the first time, though RvB and EvE Uni have a better infrastructure built in for training new pilots the ins and outs of the game. I’d highly recommend it for that new player, or any more experienced player looking for something different to try out.


1 – Can you make more money doing other things in EvE? Sure. Can you do it in ten-minute chunks of time, solo, in a tech 1 frigate or a cheap bomber? No.

Life in Eve: Something Else #eveonline

I drop onto the couch and stare at the massive screen mounted on the wall of my quarters.

Too much information, and none of it useful. Where’s the off switch?

Hell, where’s the remote?

“Aura?”

“Yes, pilot?”

“Channel broadcast please. Echo to Milcomms. TLF. BSB. Message follows:”

Ty > Anyone up to any shenanigans? I’ll take anything but another infrastructure Hub bash.

I lean back and closed my eyes to block out the massive but blessedly mute screen. On the one hand, I was tired, but it was more the sort of tired you got from doing the same thing over and over, which described the last 24 hours pretty well. Four (or was it five) infrastructure hubs had died, replaced with our own, and while the Oracle battlecruiser I’d brought to the last few had made the process a bit less annoying than the dozens of bomber runs from yesterday, it was still a mental drain. I was more restless than worn out, but wanted to do something — anything — else.

“Transmaritanus requesting private channel connection, pilot.”

“Let him in.” I smirk. This should be good; Trans was a pretty good poster child for ‘something else.’

“Yo.” Trans’s voice was, as usual, distant and tinny, his words rushed. “I’ve got a fleet I can maybe get you in, but you need to shut up about it. It does not exist. If you talk about it out in public, I will burn your fields and villages, okay?”

“Who is this? How did you get this number?” I replied. “I don’t know what a ‘fleet’ is, and I certainly don’t know anything about one forming up.” I cut comms and crossed my fingers.

Working my way up out of the ‘entry level’ chafe in the TLF war effort was an ongoing chore — one I’d been engaged in for almost a month. Tedious, albeit fairly simple: be active on comms, don’t be a moron, don’t be a dick, answer what questions you can, no matter how repetitively they’re asked by the constant influx of new pilots (nevermind that I’d actually taken the time to go and find the answers myself), and just try to use your head.

Being able to mute pilots who are either too stupid to learn or too bitter and nasty to add anything to the conversation had helped immensely.

Eventually, one of the few well-respected veterans who still had the intestinal fortitude to spend time in general Milchat had decided I might be worth spending a little more effort on, and gave me access to a private channel he used for pulling ‘potentials’ into fleets that, while not ‘open’, per se, weren’t entirely closed to all strangers. I’d gone from being one of the unwashed hippies camping in a cheap tent out on the lawn to being a semi-respectable stranger standing in the entryway, trying not to track mud on the tile.

Through Trans’s channel I’d organized or been invited on a few very small operations, but this fleet sounded like a bigger deal.

Assuming he could get me in.

Several minutes passed, and I was about to write the whole thing off as a false positive, when Aura chimed.

“Fleet invitation incoming, pilot. Would you like –”

“Accept!” I cut in. “Accept.” A new channel ID opened on the giant screen, with fleet information. Tech2 frigates and destroyers… twenty pilots in fleet…

Heading to… null-sec?

“Ty, are you familiar with the Curse region?”

I wonder if living there for six months counts. “More than a little. What do you need me to bring?”

“Got anything fast?”

I can’t help but smirk.


Lessons learned:

Sometimes it can be fun to go back to old stomping grounds. A great night. Killed fifteen or sixteen ships and took on some really impressive groups (one with a pair of Basilisks for logistic support) with a pilot of assault frigates and destroyers. Only lost two ships the whole night.

Best of all: invited to a couple new comms channels to ensure I’d be in the loop for future activities. Awesome.

Life in Eve: How it Goes #eveonline

“Any pilots available to help us knock down a couple infrastructure hubs? We’ve got a few ready to fall, and a good defensive fleet, but we need more damage on the structures.”

I hesitated, but the guys putting this call out sounded as though they knew what they were doing, and wouldn’t randomly give enemy pilots access to voice comms.

“This is Ty, I’m in a bomber and I’m available.”

“Perfect, I’ll send you an invite to fleet.”

“Sounds good. Where am I headed?”

“First target is Haras.”

Life in Eve: Tripped and Fell into the Captain’s Chair #eveonline

“So I accidentally ended up in charge of a fleet last night, and –”

“Stop,” CB holds up a hand. “I don’t have have a drink yet.”

“You need a drink for this?”

“You got put in charge of a fleet ‘by accident’?” He makes a face. “Yeah. I do. Where’s your port?”

“Port?” I raise my eyebrows. “What makes you think I have port?”

“You might put the rum out where everyone can see and fly Ruptures til your pod goo turns orange,” CB mutters, peering into a low cupboard, “but Gallente goes bone deep.” He buries his arm up to the shoulder in the compartment, searching by touch.

“That is a crude stereotype, and I’m offended by the –”

CB pulls a small, dark, dusty bottle out and thunks it down on the table in front of me. “What was that? I couldn’t hear you through all the being right.”

I give him a sour look. “Corkscrew and shot glasses are up on the third shelf.”

“Classy.”


CB smacks his lips. “Fruity, with a spice finish.”

“What does that even mean?”

He slides the empty glass across the table. “Means reload me.”


“So this guy, I don’t even know his name –”

“– doesn’t matter –”

“– doesn’t matter. He’s screaming on milcomms that he’s gotten the infrastructure in Haras down this close to vulnerable, but he’s got to stop and get some rack time, and if he comes back and the system hasn’t been broken down, the Hub taken out, and the whole system put back in Minmatar hands, we’re all terrible and should self-destruct into the sun.”

“And you listen to him because…”

I shrug. “It was something to do?” CB just looks at me, so I keep going. “Anyway, I wrap up the thing I was doing and when someone else asks what’s going on, I say ‘Well, I guess I’m going to go over to Haras and finish making it vulnerable for an attack on the Hub.’ I don’t make a big deal of it, but then some other guy opens comms and says “YES WE HAVE TO DO THIS IT IS TIME LET’S GO LET’S GET MOTIVATED LET’S FLEET UP SIGNAL ME FOR FLEET INVITATIONS I WILL ESTABLISH VOICE COMMS.”

“So of course you signed up right away.”

“No, I pretty much ignored him,” I reply. “He was annoying.” I take another drink. “But… when I got to Haras –”

“Where’s Haras?” CB interrupts. “I feel like I know that one.”

“We’ve hit plexes there before,” I answer. “It’s a dead-end system, kind of out of the way. Only one gate in or out, which…” I make a face. “Well, that’s relevant later.”

“So you get there.”

“So I get there,” I continue. “And there’s probably a dozen of us in system, and they’re all in the loud guy’s fleet, and it sounds like more are on the way from all over. He’s been organizing it on the public milcomms, so a lot of new guys who want to do something — anything — are heading over with all the key requirements for a classic kitchen sink fleet.” I roll my head on shoulders. “I figure the only thing worse than being in that fleet is being the only guy in the system who isn’t in the fleet, so I signal and get an invite.”

“And they put you in charge?”

“Well, no.” I pour another half-glass. “But it’s a mess. The guy hasn’t set up any squad commanders. Or wing commanders. Or, well, anything. There are guys in the group who have that level of training, and he’s not using them.” I shrug. “I mean, it’s not his fault. I if I hadn’t spent all that time in OUCH, I wouldn’t know anything about how to set up the hierarchy for a fleet, but I did, so I do, and I start giving him suggestions on who needs to go where.”

“And…”

“And he just says ‘Here I made you fleet boss so you can move people.'”

“And that’s when you got put in charge.”

I shake my head. “He was still Fleet Commander at that point.”

CB makes a rude noise. “When the shit hits the fan, people don’t listen to the new OFC; they listen to the sergeant who actually knows how to get shit done.”

“Whatever.” I roll my eyes, though in hindsight I can see he’s right. “Anyway, I get everyone sorted out, and all the squads and wings are rolling, and we’re up to about twenty, twenty-five ships, with more on the way, and someone says ‘Now what?'”

“And they all turn and look at you.” He smirks. “It’s a burden being right all the time.”

“I’m sure.”

He tosses back his glass in one shot. “This is why I don’t help people, as a rule. It leads to… things.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Things?”

He waves his hand around. “Things. Shut up.”

“Anyway.” I shake my head at him. “Yeah. They say ‘So what are we doing, Ty?’, and I tell a couple of the guys in frigates to hit the complexes and bring the infrastructure the rest of the way down.” I take a drink. “That actually works, and we start working on the Hub itself, trying to get at the guts of the thing the old fashioned way, but we have the wrong ships — too many small fast things, and not enough big guns — we probably can’t even break through the Hub’s shields, and even if we can it’s going to take hours, not minutes, and some of these guys have never even been out to shoot a tower or POCO before, so they’re already bitching it’s taking too long and it’s only been five minutes.”

“You need different ships.”

“Yeah, and it’s ten or fifteen jumps to get anywhere were we can swap, and…” I tap the edge of my glass “… a bunch of them can’t fly anything but the frigates they’re in.”

“Where are the vets?”

I shrug. “Except for one guy I can name, and two others who spend their free time shitting up the channel with hate and stupidity, they don’t listen to milchat. Half the time I can’t blame them, because it’s bad; the other half, I think that it’s bad because they never interact with anyone in there. Anyway, the guys that are going to answer an all-hands call for a fleet are going to mostly be new pilots.” I lean my head back against the wall. “And by this point, there’s the problem with the gate camp.”

“The –” CB stops himself. “What happened?”

“One of the stragglers coming to join us tells us that there’s about thirty ships on the other side of the gate — our only way out, by the way — and they’re a pretty good composition for keeping us trapped in here for hours.”

“That’s a problem.”

“That’s actually half the problem.”

CB rubs at his temples. “Keep going.”

“Well, we had a hurricane on the out-gate, but far enough away from the gate itself that we think maybe we can drop on it and kill it before his buddies jump in and back him up, so I call for a fleet warp to the tackling frig that’s right on top of him.” I tap my glass again, and he refills my glass, then his own. “Just as we get into warp, the lead guy calls out multiple contacts.”

“How many’s ‘multiple’?”

“I ask him that,” I reply, “and he says ‘sixty or so’.”

“Sixty.” CB tastes the port, then sets it down. “That is more than thirty.”

“It is.” I toss the drink back, and unlike CB I don’t bother tasting it. “Turns out there was a cloaked up Arazu right off the gate, and the other thirty ships are a black-ops bomber fleet that just got cyno-jumped into the system, right on top of us.”

CB hisses through his teeth. “You jumped into that?”

“And jumped right the hell back out,” I reply. “Not everyone made it, but most of us did, and after that it was just cat and mouse for a couple hours. The one thing –” I held up a finger “– the one thing that made it almost worth while is that they had about fifty pilots tied up with keeping us in the system or hunting after us, so we wasted wasted more of their time than ours.”

CB looks at me, his face expressionless.

I look back, mirroring him.

“Did they buy that crap when you said it to th–”

“I have no idea,” I smirk. “No one called me on it, though.”

“So you play hide-and-seek for awhile.”

“Yeah, and deal with spies.”

“How do you know there were –” He cuts himself off. “Nevermind. Always spies.”

“Yeah.” I nod. “In this case, there were a few clues, like a couple of the enemy ships always knowing exactly where to warp to on our safe spots.” I pause, savoring the next part. “And of course when war target pilots log into our voice comms.”

“What –” CB catches himself. “Please be joking.”

“Nope.” I smile. “It was actually kind of funny. The voice comms were being run by that same guy who didn’t know how to organize the fleet, and one of my squad commanders has just said something like ‘You know, you REALLY need to put some kind of security on these servers, or anyone with the info could just jump on here and raise hell.’ No sooner had he said it than we get fifteen simultaneous new connections to the voice comms server, all named some kind of variation of either Susan Black or Hans Jagerblitzen. Before we know what’s going on, they all jump into our channel and start clucking.”

CB shoots up from his chair. “You’re shitting me.” His voice is a mixture of laughter and disbelief. “You are shitting me right now.”

“Some of them had echo effects on their voices.” I’m struggling to keep my voice level, because it’s funnier that way. “Some of them were autotuned, so it sounded like some kind of song, but yeah… clucking.”

“That’s…” he shakes his head, still chuckling has he sits. “That’s actually pretty fucking funny.”

I grin. “It took the guy in charge of comms about thirty seconds to get everyone blocked and lock down the channel, but after that?” I nod. “We all cracked up pretty hard.”

“So’d you all die?”

“Nah.” I pick up the port bottle, find it empty, and raise an eyebrow before tossing it in the bin. “We got a scout set up on the other side of the gate, and when another milita fleet roamed through and got their attention, we slipped out — didn’t even lose any of the shinier ships.”

“So…” CB ticks points off on his fingers. “Didn’t capture the system, got camped in, got black ops dropped, infiltrated by spies, comm security broken by chickens…” he presents his hand to me, five digits extended in all directions, then picks up his half-empty glass and raises it. “Successful fleet command?”

“Could have been worse.” I pick up my empty glass and tik it against his. “Could have been boring.”