You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.
Intro music by Mikhael Bureau.
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.
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.
In Session 0.2, we continue to build the world and the characters, and get into playbook questions.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.
In Session 0, we build the world and the characters.
You can subscribe to the podcast with your preferred podcast app right here.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
(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).
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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. 🙂
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.
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?
For our first real session of Masks, I decided to start off the game[^1] with a super-awkward morning-news-show-style interview with most of the team and the interviewer, Tasha Starr.
It was deliciously horrible. When Iconoclast finally blasted in the streetside window and shouted "this interview is over!" the Bull's immediate reaction – over a live mic – was "Thank Christ."
Then there were supers fisticuffs and the rescuing of civilians and idiot morning show hosts.
One of my wonderful players () put together a series of livetweets commemorating the interview, and I just had to share, because they're great.
The last one in the series is by me, foreshadowing events coming up in session 2 (and the still-ongoing fight just outside the studio).
[^1]: The actual start of the game was the love letters I wrote for all the characters, captured here: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7Vba3bjiu39 https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/7onPVFuExmH https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dry21LYnx7P https://plus.google.com/u/0/+DoyceTesterman/posts/dQDWqFRsUVJ
The video recording for this session went wonky, so here's the audio for our Masks session 0.
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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The whelmed podcast (located at the nigh-perfect url http://crashingthemode.com/) is basically “Buffering the Vampire Slayer,” but for Young Justice. I’ve just started in on the beginning of the show, and it’s great; if you like podcasts where pop culture love and gaming overlap and/or intersect, I recommend it.
But here’s an additional BONUS: the podcast crew recently recorded a session of Masks, GM’d by Brendan Conway (the game’s author), in which they play characters from the show in a scenario set in the five years between seasons 1 and 2 of YJ. The people playing these characters are note. perfect. in their portrayals (Kid Flash and Superboy are particular stand-outs), and Brendan does a fantastic job of introducing, integrating, and best-of-all explaining the rules as they go.
If you’re looking for an AP recording that works as a primer/introduction to the Masks rules, and want the added bonus of seeing the game presented via characters with which you’re probably already very familiar, I can’t recommend these recordings enough.
Update: There are also pre- and post-game talks with Brendan, which are pretty illuminating.
I’m very lucky to havein my regular Tuesday night (hangouts-based) gaming group. (we’re currently playing Dungeon World and Lady Blackbird, after wrapping up a 30-session pbta-hacked Star Wars campaign.)
I’m lucky to have him because he’s a great player. I didn’t even KNOW he could draw until he started turning out these wonderful character portraits.
And to be honest, the most enjoyable thing wasn't the final product (that's a very close second); it was the long post in our Dungeon World Roll20 forum in which Mike shared each iteration of the work he was doing, and went deep into the design theory behind each character. Fascinating stuff.
Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World…
Here’s the finished picture of my Dungeon World group, currently deep within the bowels of Frostdeath Mountain… I’m excited to see what sort of trouble these kids get into. Their last session ended…
After having the core D&D fifth edition books on my shelf for
well over a year almost three years, I finally had good cause to read them. (I'm a bit past the point where I can find the time to read RPGs just for the heck of it.)
I'm both surprised and delighted to discover how little of the Player's Handbook and Dungeon Master's Guide are actually rules for play: the (300 page) PHB's rules section is about 25 pages (with 175 for character creation, and 100 for magic-related stuff), and the DMG's section is roughly 30 pages, with the other 90% almost entirely devoted to world-building guidelines, advice, or examples of once kind or another (with optional rules from older editions of the game scattered throughout, allowing you to easily customize/homerule the system to whatever flavor of DnD you like best. Potion miscibility tables!)
It's weird to say 600 total pages of rulebooks represent a lean, simple system, but it really does. Good game.
Last night, we started a new Dungeon World game with the regular Tuesday night group. As I shared yesterday, I've been pretty excited about the game, as have the players, and it went about as well as I'd hoped.
But that's not what I'm posting about.
Normally,isn't around on Tuesday nights, but she was last night, and in lieu of doing some Overwatch matches with her (which is what normally happens if she's around and has no homework), I asked if she wanted to join the game.
Now, Kaylee's played quite a few RPGs with me, her cousins, and even with Sean, but she's never joined in on a 'regular' play group, and after I asked and she said she was in, I had a few niggling worries because… come on: she's eleven. She didn't even know two of the guys in the group. What if she ending up being the "super annoying kid of the GM?"
I may be (probably am) biased, but really I needn't have worried. She was focused, polite, thoughtful, inventive, and just all around a positive contributing member of the game – I was particularly impressed with her answer to the question I asked each player: "This land is beautiful/desolate, because…" (here: https://youtu.be/ML-LUfjNgas?t=1h10m26s), but all of her play showed so much thought, I worried people would think I'd coached her.
(She told me after that game that during the owlbear fight, she'd been googling "how to take down big monsters in fantasy games" so she'd have a good action to take when it was her turn.)
Nerd-gamer-me was proud as could be.
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.
Yay! Glad to finally be back to Dungeon World and interested in how Flags play out. Might I also suggest this document.
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.
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.
What 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. 🙂
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…~)
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?
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.”
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.
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.
(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 …)
He’s going to feel so silly when he dies in the first room.
No worries, I can run an immediate sequel campaign using Wraith: the Oblivion.
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.)
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
Did anyone else figure out what they are playing?
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. 🙂
I shall sing to the iron bars and they shall part to let me pass!
Or … most likely not.
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. 🙂
Okay, stock Thief is statted in Roll20.
I will noodge the kinfolk.
Bill, you say “stock thief” but the image makes me think of a very specific thief who wants my HP or my GP. 😉
I’m not picky.
“Cowardly: Put us in situations I can justly complain about.”
Well, there’s everyone XP fountain for the game.
Hey, 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.
Hmm. Yeah, that duplicate flag might be troublesome. Something to ponder. Hmm…
Oh 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.
I am 100% on board if you guys are. 🙂
Kay has given you all a marvelous gift for this campaign.
“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.
Actual conversation I had with kay on Roll20 tonight:
“Seriously, can I trust the thief?”
GM looks at your ‘Gullible’ flag.
This whole thread is a national treasure.
Just checked out all the characters on the Roll20 page and I must say I’m very excited for tonight’s game.
Yeah, thank goodness this is just a one-off adventure, otherwise folk might have put real effort into devising interesting characters …
If you guys don’t end up destroying the world, I will keep them around for additional Adventures.
And here they are:
Eduard Zitherhands, Bard
Tiana, the rough mercenary turned paladin
Torwin the Courageous (among other things)
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.
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.
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.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:
The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:
A new setting hack occurred to me today, though, that’s really pretty interesting – the basic idea is using Mountain Witch to run The Hunger Games.
At this point, all I’d need to do is map the basic outline to the four acts that Mountain Witch defaults to, with bonus points if the game actually starts well before the beginning of the Game itself (in the Capitol or something).
Well, that and change the two default questions players answer during character generation.
Double-bonus points if it’s not literally Hunger Games, but something in that general ‘survival YA’ vein.
“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.
“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.
“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”
I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.
SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably
the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.
Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.
So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.
At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:
Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:
If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.
The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.
Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.
Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.
Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions. The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.
Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?
Similarities to Jadepunk include:
Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?
1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.
We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.
2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.
You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.
3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)
The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.
Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.
Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…
Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.
Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.
4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets
Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.
And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)
A Word about Healing
Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.
One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”
No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”
As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.
It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.
(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)
This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:
That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:
The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.
(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)
Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.
I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.
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:
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.
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.
“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 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.
Five playing cards. The cards are Jacks of five different suits: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds, and… crosses?
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.”
And that’s where things ended. Next session: Tonight!
“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.
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:
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.
[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.
[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.
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.
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:
This has been sitting in my drafts folder for something like six months, so let’s put it out there, just for fun.
I made this guy up for a “feudal, so-high-tech-it’s-low-tech Japan” campaign that ran for (I think) just the character creation session. An obvious riff on the Blade of the Immortal comics (which I’ve never read).
High Concept: Immortal Samurai
Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me
– Nanites in my Blood
– Everyone Lies, but No One Listens
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Deceive, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Stealth
Average (+1) Craft, Ride/Transport, Will, Provoke
Nanite Repair. 2:Armor, or 2 over average armor in setting. 1x/session, spend a fate point to downshift Minor or Moderate Consequences (2 stunts). See also “Being Immortal in Fate.”
Liars know Liars. Use Deceive to defend versus Deception or overcome obstacles created via Deception.
Physical Stress: OOOO
Mental Stress: OOO