Fire Goose

Created at the behest of Mark Hunt, for a silly little project on MeWe.

Fire Goose

Small beast, probably evil
Armor Class 16 Natural Armor
Hit Points 30 (5d10 + 5)
Speed 25 ft., fly 80 ft., swim 35 ft.
STR 12
DEX 14
CON 14
INT 5
WIS 9
CHA 3 (because geese)

Immune to Fear (as near as we can tell)

The Fire Goose is basically just a goose, from a fiery pocket dimension. We assume. No one wants to go to whatever beknighted hellhole spawned something as terrible as a goose (which is already terrible) but also on fire. We wouldn’t even know the damned things existed – and might then sleep slightly better – except some idiot in a robe summoned one and the sodding things keep pulling more of their feathered, furious kin over. Seriously, it’s terrible. We may be doomed. Did you learning nothing from the Vrock Debacle that leveled the city of Yll, Kevin ?!?

Not noticeably larger than a typical goose, a fire goose is often mistook as its local cousins, if you approach in bright sunlight (which makes the fiery crown nearly invisible). However, once you get close enough (why would you get closer?!? – even if you didn’t realize it’s on fire, it’s still a goose, and thus nothing but pure evil and spite), it will stretch out its wings and wreathe itself in flames; either as a power display or – and gods above and below help you if this turns out to be the case – a mating stance.

The fire goose is not afraid to attack an intruder, but is also MORE than willing to summon aid and kill anything not goose-shaped with the support of its hellish kin. It is not unusual to see two or three fire geese turn into a large flock of twenty in less than a minute.

Also, they’re apparently mating with local geese as well, now? And get viable progeny? Gods’ tears, Kevin, what did you do? This is the darkest timeline.

Squawking Lava Charge. If the fire goose moves at least 20 feet straight toward a target and then hits it with a beak attack on the same turn, the target takes an extra 7 (2d6) fire damage. The target must also succeed on a Wisdom Save or become Frightened. This is not a supernatural effect: geese are just effing terrifying, man, and this one is on fire.

The Great Honk. When the Fire Goose feels threatened, wants to BE threatened, or – as near as we can tell – just bloody feels like it, it may attempt to summon more Fire Geese to its aid. The Fire Goose must attempt a CON save; on a success, its call was loud enough to be heard beyond the filmy veil between worlds, and another Fire Goose appears within 30 feet, already angry and ready to get stuck in.

Fearsome Hiss. At The start of the Fire Goose’s turn, it wreathes itself in flames and emits a hiss that affects all creatures in a 15-foot cone in front of the dire goose. Each creature in the area must succeed a Wisdom Saving or have disadvantage on its attack rolls until the end of its next turn.

Fire Beak. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 1d6 + 4) burning damage.

Wreathed in Fire Wing Attack. Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 10 ft., one horrified target. Hit: 10 (2d6 + 4) fire damage. CON save or become prone.

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 “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!

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

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.


And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…


Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

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.

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.

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.

Still totally not running a Star Wars game

… just killing some time, making up a character with my daughter.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along…


Tashi Kaden

Aspects togruta bounty hunter

  • Togruta Bounty Hunter with annoying morals
  • Too honest for some people
  • I’m my family’s best hope for freedom
  • Never trust a Hutt
  • No money, more problems

Approaches

  • Leader: +1
  • Explorer: +1
  • Tech: +2
  • Fighter: +3
  • Scoundrel: +2
  • Scholar: +0

Stunts

Bad News AvezaBad New Travels Fast
Aspect: Modified Aka’jar-class long-range shuttle
Protection: 1; Demanding (Tech roll +2 to get underway)
(1 refresh)

Aveza: the pilot
Aspect: “We’re partners, or YOU can try flying this hunt of junk.”
Professional 2 (Tech +1, Explorer +2), Resilient, Sturdy
Troubling Aspect: “Fortune and Glory, in that order, please.”
(1 refresh)

Battle Armor
Aspect: Walking Arsenal with a Jetpack
Protection: 1, Exceptional (enter/leave a scene instantly)
Flaw: Demanding (Explorer +2 roll to access enter/leave scene ability)
(Refresh: 2)


Character Refresh: 2
Current Fate Points: 2

The Clone Wars as they were Fought in my Head

This post jarred this loose and onto the page.

Back in college, I played a minor character in a long-running Star Wars campaign. (This is not to say I didn’t play a lot, and got my character to the point where the game system started to break, but I don’t think of my guy as one of the main characters in that game.) Empire Strikes Back was probably one of only five movies I owned on videotape, and I watched it … a whole bunch. Roland (the guy who ran the game, which at some point or another seemed to have included most of the gamers on campus) had all the movies, of course, and they seemed to play in a loop in his dorm room. Star Wars was a big deal for pretty much my whole social circle in those days, is what I’m saying.

One of (great) things about the original trilogy was the fact they didn’t really explain much. Stuff was put out there, sans supporting background, and you just had to work out your own explanations for stuff. Our mid-afternoon BS sessions sounded like this:

“Han’s not an idiot: why did he say he did the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, when parsecs are a unit of distance, not time?”
“Maybe Lucas didn’t know that.”
“Look at Ben’s face when Han says it – he knows Han’s full of shit.”
“I think he’s saying he did it in 12 parsecs, and means units of distance. Like he found a hyperspace route that let him do a much shorter run – he’s boasting he’s the guy who found a fabled shortcut.”
“… okay that’s not the worst idea I’ve ever heard.”

The point is, we had theories and backstory for everything; stuff that only grew in depth and complexity the longer we played Rolo’s campaign.

One of the big question marks we loved to talk about? The Clone Wars.

In a galaxy far, far away, and SLIGHTLY longer ago than those other movies.

“I fought alongside your father in the Clone Wars.” That was pretty much all we had to work with. Sounded pretty badass, these Clone Wars. Epic. (Also, we saw them as MUCH further back than they really could have been, if Ben had been part of them, but whatever. We didn’t think about that.)

I think when Empire came out, there was some backstory (maybe in the novelization) that let us know Boba Fett’s armor was “Mandalorian” (whatever that was) and that he didn’t like Jedi for some historical reasons, and of course we tied all that into the Clone Wars too. (Lucas did too, he just made it stupid and kind of pathetic. Apparently, in Star Wars, all jetpacks do is look cool, malfunction, and kill their owners as a result. Buyer beware.)

And I don’t know about anyone else, but I guess I’d always pictured the clones (whoever or whatever they were in this context) as the bad guys. No idea why, really, but it felt right.

Anyway, that game wrapped up, college ended, and we all went our separate ways.

Then Phantom Menace came along.

Now, as a writer, one of my Achilles Heels (I have two) is under-explaining stuff. That’s something I’m working on, but I do so in moderation, because if anyone wants a really good example of what can go wrong when you explain things too much, and provide backstory demonstrably less cool than anything/everything your fans already imagined into those blank spaces, you need look no further than the Star Wars prequels.

When Phantom Menace came out, it was… well, it was what it was. I liked it well enough at the time. I still think it’s the best of the prequels, but that is very weak praise when you recognize how terrible I think the other two movies are.

Anyway, that movie left me theorizing about the (apparently) upcoming clone wars, and trying to reconcile Phantom Menace with my personal version of how Obi-wan and Anakin met.

My Clone Wars:

  • Obi-wan and Anakin would have met when Anakin’s more like 14 to 16. “He was already a great pilot,” but screw all that podracing bullshit. Anakin’s fighting a guerrilla war against local slavers. (Some of this isn’t what I thought at the time, but thanks to the Clone Wars animated series, Anakin and Slavery are strongly tied to each other, now, for me, and that’s fine.) Let it be Hutt Slavers on Tatooine, sure, because Lars and Beru are Luke’s Aunt and Uncle, so sure: Anakin’s from Tatooine. Fine. Point is: He is Already Fighting a War when We Meet Him.
  • The nature of sentient freedom would be a – if not THE – central theme. In general, the Star Wars galaxy has a Fucked. Up. relationship with sentient freedom. Slavery is rampant, especially when it comes to non-humans. Clones are/were only slightly less disposable than aluminum cans and were genetically hobbled to encourage obedience. Droids (and any humans with computer parts in their head) – all clearly sentient – are managed with slave collars (restraining bolts) and regular/frequent lobotomies (memory wipes) whenever they start to get to the point where their developing personality makes them less than completely tractable.
  • Anakin kind of pulls Obi-wan (and eventually, by extension, many other Jedi) into helping him with this ‘little war’, and the whole thing blossoms (with the helpful machinations of Palpatine/Sidious) into something not unlike the U.S. Civil War, with unclear battle lines drawn in such a way as to cause rifts in every major faction (including the Jedi).
  • Clones are on the ‘other’ side, as (basically) slave troops for … I dunno. The Hutts/Genosians? Sure that works. You know what? The second movie is call “Attack of the Clones” – but they aren’t attacking the POV characters, they’re defending them. Either the name is stupid (it is) or the plot is stupid (also yes), or whoever named it didn’t pay any goddamned attention to the movie they’d made (no comment).
  • We’d even get defecting clone units that join the ‘good guys’ (I put that in air quotes because, as we’ve seen, pretty much everyone in the galaxy has a fucked up idea of what’s okay and not okay when it comes to ‘lesser’ sentients.)
  • The Mandalorians are just a merc army the Hutts hired to fight the Republic, like the Hessians of the 18th century.
  • The Jedi aren’t the Catholic Church of Rome depicted in all the prequels – they’re a loose affiliation of wandering knights, roaming the galaxy, with maybe some central monastery gathering places. This loose affiliation means we get Jedi on both sides of the war.
  • We’d get to see the Hutt tanks that, by Return of the Jedi, have been cannibalized into pleasure skiffs.
  • Screw all that noise about Anakin being the Chosen One. What purpose does that serve? He’s powerful in the force (stick with what Ben said), excels in the training Obi-wan gave him, and is driven by a great and terrible purpose: freedom for all. (He would also be, by most viewers’ lights, right.)
  • The Jedi never figure out Palpatine is also Darth Sidious because Palpatine isn’t Darth Sidious – he’s a clone of Sidious (the prototype product of the cloning technology) that Sidious groomed to handle the mundanities of Coruscant politics. Once Palpatine gets the Big Chair in the Senate and gets granted all his Emergency Authority, Sidious kills him and takes his place, because the Jedi are long past suspecting Palpatine of having any Sith powers.

Anakin ultimately wipes out the Jedi because, after years of fighting, ‘his’ forces have pushed the Hutts back to just a few systems – the good guys are winning – and the Jedi “peacekeepers of the galaxy” secretly meet with the Hutts and negotiate a cease fire that lets the Republic stop fighting and lets the Hutts keep all the slaves they still control. Huge betrayal that Palpa-Sidious capitalizes on to turn Anakin, who proceeds to hunt down the Jedi like The Kurgan in Highlander.

His fight with Obi-wan leaves him nearly dead and/or dying, at which point Sidious slaps him into a cybernetic support system that – guess what? Pretty much makes him the Emperor’s puppet.

He will live out the rest of his days as The Most Powerful Slave.

Why do you think he’s got so much anger to channel?

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.

sos

Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.

Conversion:

  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

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

Mulling Over *Mountain Witch* mashups

For the last few weeks, I’ve been working on stuff related to the Mountain Witch, specifically:

  1. Prepping for a traditional “ronin samurai” play-through of the game, hopefully on Hangouts, hopefully soonish.
  2. Pondering various settings hacks for the game, including Dwarves/Dragon, Adventurers/Castle Ravenloft, Spark Prisoners/Escaping Castle Heterodyne, and so forth.

The basic criteria with these settings/setups are:

  • Protagonists have been, until the start of this game, pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do, and what they do isn’t usually very nice.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skill (for instance, having a bow lets you be a combat threat a much longer range than with the default daisho).
  • Trust – who you trust, how much you trust them, how that changes as the story progresses, and how that trust is used for or against you – is a huge deal.
    • Related to that: there is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters, so that the trust everyone has for each other is a bit uneven, right from the outset. (In the baseline game, it’s based on the zodiac of your birth, in the dwarf version it’s based on your birth stone, with Adventurers it’s… I dunno. Something something handwave figure it out before we play.)

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.

  • Protagonists are or have been pretty much on their own.
  • Everyone is generally pretty good at what they do.
  • Any ‘special abilities’ they have don’t really make them better than they already are, they expand the scope with which they can apply their skills (which is why everyone’s scrambling for special supplies at the outset of a Game).
  • Trust and how it’s used is a huge deal.
    • There is a ‘matrix’ of default relationships sort of built into the characters; in this case replace the Zodiac with the Districts, with a similar network of “you start off trusting these guys, and not these guys” for everyone, plus a bonus “and you really trust (or really don’t trust the other person from your own District).

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.

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.

So:

  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:

Earth

  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.

Water

  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.

Air

  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.

Fire

  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).

Thoughts?
Thoughts?

Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“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.

What We’re Starting With

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:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

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.

Where We’re Trying to Get

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:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.

Differences:

  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

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)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

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.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

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).”

And that’s it

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.”

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.

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.

Apologies for the reposting-of-same-post spam

I’m still working out the various strange drug interactions between this blog (wordpress) and google+. I generally LIKE how I have them talking to each other, but there’s a tipping point (related to post length) where it becomes obvious I should be written whatever I wrote via whichever platform I didn’t use. The post about starting up a Fate game with Kaylee was one of those times. Sorry.

FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.

BatmanBatman_0683

Aspects

High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Skills
Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

FATE: Statting out Supers, because why not?

Inspired by Ryan’s work on representing the Avengers and the JLA in Fate, and because I’m getting my head around this to run a DC Universe “Brainiac Invasion” game, I’ve been fiddling around with statting out various established characters in Fate Core and Fate Accelerated. I figured I’d share some of them here.

Black Widowblack widow

This version of Ms. Romanov is a bit of a mix between the classic comic book leader of the Avengers and the Black Widow we see in recent movies (who gives up the swingline/stinger bracelets for a glock). I think it’s a pretty good write-up, one of the easier ones I did, and the nice thing is that with a different set of aspects, this basic character skillset + stunts ports remarkably well to the Bat Family in Gotham.

Aspects
High Concept: Russian Superspy
Trouble: Dangerous Liasons
Natural Leader
Red Room Conditioning
I’ve got red on my ledger…

Skills
Great (+4) Stealth
Good (+3) Athletics, Shoot
Fair (+2) Fight, Investigate, Deceive
Average (+1) Burglary, Notice, Drive, Will

Stunts
Swingline. You move two zones for free in a conflict without rolling, instead of one, provided there are no situation aspects restricting movement.
Deadly Romance. Get a +2 to Deceive when seducing a target.
Flawless Interrogator. Get a +2 to Investigate when questioning someone.
(Optional) Widow’s Sting. Once per combat scene, spend a Fate point to force your target to take a Consequence rather than using Stress from a ranged attack.

Refresh: 3 (or 2)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Sneaky
Fair (+2) Clever, Quick
Average (+1) Forceful, Careful
Mediocre (+0) Flashy

Stunts
Because of my Red Room Conditioning, I get a +2 to Sneakily Attack in melee range.
[Two others as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

The important thing to remember about working out supers in Fate is that, as Ryan mentioned in his exploration of representing Iron Man’s suit, Aspects are always true, even if they aren’t currently being invoked. Black Widow is always a superspy, with the abilities and so forth that the super-soldier serum convey. Always. She gets to use her bracers to shoot stuff even when she’s not invoking her stunt, and in the same vein, she can use her swingline for stuff that isn’t just about moving quickly from zone to zone in combat. From “I have a gun and knives because super spies have guns to knives” to “I’m practically Immortal” to “I’m bulletproof“, the rules are there to follow the story and lend it mechanical weight, not the other way around.

250px-X-Men_Storm_MainStorm

I’m not particularly well-versed in X-men lore (I got the basic idea for Storm from the latest Marvel-branded RPG), so there are a few aspects and stunts that can be filled in by someone a bit more motivated or knowledgeable, or when Storm shows up in play, but as a baseline, it’s a pretty fun start.

Aspects
High Concept: Mercurial Mutant
Trouble: Claustrophobic
Strong-willed Leader
Goddess of the Storm
[open] (Former street thief?)

Skills
Great (+4) Shoot
Good (+3) Athletics, Will
Fair (+2) Notice, Physique, Lore
Average (+1) Investigate, Stealth, Burglary, Empathy

Stunts
Emotional Link. When you create any “high-emotion” aspect on yourself, you get two free invokes from it, if it pertains to your powers.
Weather-born. +2 to defend against attacks based on temperature extremes or electricity.
You know what happens to a toad that gets struck by lightning?. +2 to create weather-based advantages.

Refresh: 3

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Flashy
Fair (+2) Forceful, Sneaky
Average (+1) Clever, Quick
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I am a mercurial mutant, +2 to Forcefully Attack if I have an aspect indicating my emotions are high.
Because I am the Goddess of the Storm, +2 when I Flashily Overcome a social obstacle.

[Another  as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

Wolverinecan I help

Because who doesn’t like Wolverine?

Aspects
High Concept: Weapon X Feral Mutant
Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me
I’m the Best There Is at What I Do
Masterless Samurai
Beerserker

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Will, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Provoke
Average (+1) Drive, Stealth, [2 others as you like]

Stunts
What I Do Isn’t Very Nice. Once per scene, when you force an opponent to take a consequence, you can spend a fate point to increase the consequence’s severity (so mild becomes moderate, moderate becomes severe). If your opponent was already going to take a severe consequence, he must either take a severe consequence and a second consequence or be taken out.
Claws. Weapon:2
Regeneration. Spend a Fate Point to downstep a Mild or Moderate consequence.
Admantium Skeleton. Armor:2
Animal Senses. +2 Notice when scent is a Factor.

Refresh: 1 (In story terms Wolverine needs to have things go against him for awhile before he really gets rolling.)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Quick
Fair (+2) Forceful, Flashy
Average (+1) Sneaky, Clever
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I regenerate, once per session I can shift a consequence down a notch from Moderate to Mild, or Mild to gone.
Because of my Admantium Skeleton, I get +2 to Forcefully Defend vs physical attacks.
Because I am a Feral Mutant, I get a +2 to Cleverly overcome obstacles where my senses are a factor.

Finally, remember that Aspects are always true: Wolverine regenerates, whether he spends a fate point on it or not, so all he needs is a short rest after a conflict for his Consequences to shift to their ‘on the mend’ versions.

… and that’s it for now. Just playing around and figured I’d share.

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

FATE?

Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.

Mechanics

For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.

FAE?

As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family

I grew up in central South Dakota and, as a gamer from an early age (I convinced my folks to buy me the DnD redbox from a Sears catalog when I was nine), had to deal with a lot of flak, thanks largely to SUPER-informative publications like the Chick Tract “Dark Dungeons“, an upbeat little piece that I would find in my locker at school or see in my Sunday School mailbox with fair regularity.

I sometimes voice a fair amount of disdain for living in South Dakota, and you should understand: a lot of my bitterness comes from being the subject of a sort of passive-aggressive, community-wide intervention for about eight years. It got old.

With that said, my parents tended to take a pretty understanding view of the whole thing. I was involved in what I think is commonly known in academic circles as a “shit ton” of extracurricular activities, and my grades were good… in short, hauling around two gigantic, overstuffed gym bags full of DnD hardbacks wasn’t having any detrimental affects on anything other than my overburdened spine, so they general left it alone. (They took a similar approach to my voracious consumption of fantasy and science fiction, to the exclusion of almost all other literature, figuring “it doesn’t really matter what he’s reading, so long as he’s reading.”)

Still, it’s always been a bit of a sticking point with me; a sour note, if you will. It’s one thing (and a good thing) for your parents and extended family to “leave you be” to pursue your own interests, but it’s another thing entirely for them to join you from time to time in this thing that you really enjoy. I certainly knew what that kind of thing felt like, thanks to my time in band, and sports, and theatre productions, but I’d never got my family to sit down with me and help me slay a dragon.

Apparently, that’s always bothered me at least a little bit, because I keep trying to find “my kind” of games that my family might also enjoy; I mean, I know they like games, because we play a lot of them, and always have — my parents’ collection of board games, decks of cards, and domino sets is quite impressive.

Generally, this effort falls far short of success (I don’t even pull the game out, let alone try to play it), but there have been a few bright spots here and there: my dad took to Shadows Over Camelot like a pro, for example: fire gleaming in his eyes as he undertook the destruction of catapults that dared threaten the castle.

There was always the tantalizing opportunity for  success, is what I’m saying.

That opportunity has gotten a lot better as my sister’s kids get older, because they are brilliant and funny and happen to think their uncle is somewhat cool. I’ve played very short games of Shadows and Otherkind with them before, but as I packed for one of my far-too-infrequent visits back home, there was really only one game I considered worth sticking in my backpack.

That game was the shiny new hardback copy of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple that I’d just gotten in the mail days before, written by Daniel Solis and inspired in part by animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender (a big hit with the preteen crowd in my family).

“I brought a game along for us to play,” I told my twelve-year old nephew.

“What kind of game?” he asked.

“Kind of a story-telling game,” I said.

(Now, I’ve gotten a little tired of the “storygame” label that gets slapped on any indie-published game these days, but I want to be clear about this point — Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.)

“But we need a couple people to play,” I said.

‘How many?” he asked.

“A few,” I repled. “We need to get your mom and Grandma to play.”

“Coooooool,” he said.

Getting my nephew on board was the easy part, however, because our limited schedule and (literally) dozens of relatives coming by to visit, hold the new baby, and get caught up meant that we didn’t really have a large window of opportunity.

In fact, it wasn’t until Saturday evening, with our departure looming the next afternoon, that I decided that if the game was going to happen at all, it had to happen Now.

I won’t lie: I pretty much used guilt to get people to participate. In short, my nephew wanted to play, my nephew is awesome and kind of adorable, and anyone who said no would not be disappointing me, but him… which is basically like kicking a puppy.

No one wants to kick a puppy.

So, thanks to that bit of leverage, we got the smaller kids to bed (I’d intended for them to play, but it had just gotten too late) and sat down with my nephew, my wife (a gamer), and my sister and mom, both of whom took their seats protesting that (a) they didn’t get these kinds of games (b) they were absolutely crap at coming up with stories and (c) they were way too tired to think.

I would not be deterred. Passports (character sheets) were handed out, and the super-simple process of character creation began. I explained the process of coming with a pilgrim name, gratefully read example names from the beautiful book, used my own character (whom I’d played while the game was still being playtested) as an example, and in a few minutes we had our pilgrims assembled and ready to deal with the requests for aid being sent to the Flying Temple.

D, my nephew, presented us with Pilgrim Punching Fox, who gets into trouble by trying to solve problems with his lightning fast kung-fu, and who helps people by being clever, fast, nimble, and generally fox-like.

B, his mom and my sister, came up with Pilgrim Stinking Sherpa, who get into trouble because of the overwhelming stench that surrounds her, and helps people by leading them to the best course of action.

J, my mom, eventually worked out Pilgrim Curious Dog, who gets into trouble by poking around in things she shouldn’t, and helps people by being loyal.

K, my wife, introduced Pilgrim Warm House, who gets into trouble by believing unswervingly in True Love, and who helps people by providing shelter.

I brought back Pilgrim Broken Bear (formerly Broken Stone), who gets into trouble by breaking things accidentally, and who helps people by being protective.

The exciting thing: we hadn’t even gotten through character generation before my nephew and sister were kicking in ideas, brainstorming different ways the pilgrims’ Banners (bad points) and Avatars (good points) would work in play, and even making suggestions to J for her character’s name — she’s a literal person, and the metaphors that lie behind most Pilgrim names were a bit too much for her at 10pm, but once we focused on what she wanted (loyalty, for example), and then found a word to go with that, it was easy.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple with my family”

Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole”

Despite crazy schedules and a newborn to deal with, Chris and Tim and I managed to get together last night to for a little gaming. We were looking for something one-shot-like, and *I* was looking for something requiring minimal prep (and possibly minimal brain function; I’m a little short on sleep). After looking at a few options (Annalise, Dead of Night) we settled on Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple, written by Daniel Solis with some heartfelt bows in the direction of animated series like Avatar: the Last Airbender.

Local friends will know Daniel’s work through Happy Birthday Robot — a game that I introduced at a local food and fun day at the Consortium back when it was a charmingly illustrated webpage, and have since given as Christmas gifts. Do is a game somewhat in that vein, though a bit less strict in terms of how much everyone’s allows to contribute on each move; on your turn, constrained somewhat by which color (and how many) stones you draw from a bag, you write a sentence about your character’s actions, and everyone else then counters your heroics with some appropriate troubles and problems.

I’ve become somewhat disenchanted with the ”storygame” label for the indie-published games that I’ve mostly been playing for the past <mumble> years, but I want to be clear about this point — Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is very definitely a story-telling game in the purest, non-jargony sense — in fact, I would call it a story-telling game far more readily than I would call it a roleplaying game, and I don’t think that would upset the author very much; certainly, I intend it as a compliment.

On to the Game!

Tim and Chris showed up promptly at six pm, and after a quick game of Yikerz and a discussion of its potential uses as a resolution mechanic in an RPG, we got started with Do by creating pilgrims. The game has no GM (or rather, that role is both shared and rotating), so I made up one as well!

Chris presented us with Pilgrim Yawning Porcupine. Yawning Porcupine gets into trouble by being lazy, and helps people by browbeating them into doing the right thing.

Tim came up with Pilgrim Loquacious Heart (earning him the first acronym designation in my journal). PLH gets into trouble by talking too much, and helps people by showing them how to love. (Awww…)

I made up Broken Stone. Pilgrim Broken Stone gets into trouble by shattering things accidentally, and helps people by being steadfast.

Here’s how play went.

Continue reading “Actual Play of Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple — “Swallowed Whole””

Burning Wheel, in Review

With holiday schedules, an incoming bearcub, and all the other insanity that seems to surround the end of the year (I’m looking at you, NaNoWriMo), the automatic assumption is that no one will get any face to face gaming done in November and December. I was aiming to buck this trend this year, so I talked to the ‘absolute regulars’ for the Wednesday group and we agreed to switch our biweekly schedule to a weekly schedule, the idea being “if we try to play every week, we might get in almost as much gaming as we would if we played biweekly during normal parts of the year.”

On the whole? It basically worked. We managed to pull off four sessions of Burning Wheel during November and December (if you count the session we spent doing character generation and figuring out our setting). I’m reasonably proud of us for squeezing in that much between everything else going on, and I’m really quite happy with Burning Wheel as a game system.

In October, we’d tried out a little two-session test run that included Randy and De, and it went quite well (albeit with some narrator-summation at the end). When we decided to set the new game in the Pratchett-esque “Wiki World” that a group of us had collectively created in 2008, I was pretty jazzed.

The resulting mini-campaign is the introductory story of a group of semi-famous/semi-notorious members of society in Bodea-Lotnikk, the capitol of the Grand Duchy of Kroon, all of whom had agreed to join a newly created “Ducal Guard” that was in charge of investigating any crimes that might somehow involve more than one of the eighty-six burroughs of the city. Such cross-jurisdictional cases were a real nightmare, due to the varying, contradictory, and often incomprehensible laws of each burrough.

Our three protagonists were an elven historian who wanted to spread the order and clarity of elven law to the other areas of the city, a dwarven noblewoman (now outcast) looking to make such a name for herself that she could return to Sniffleheim draped in glory, and a human… ahh… entrepreneur who’d used his… financial gains… to buy a noble title (and who really can’t help but expose all the many weaknesses in the city’s current law enforcement system).

Their first case involved the murder of a famous dwarven full-contact nine-pins player, the investigation of which took us through three sessions of play and brought us in contact with the city’s nobility, sports hooligans, various nine-pins teams (including the Little Sniffleheim Molerats, Bodean Mudferthings, and the Lotnikk Sandmites), and many of the Burning Wheel sub-systems that I’ve been itching to try out. The tone of the sessions ran somewhere between Terry Prachett’s Night Watch books and an episode of Castle, which is pretty much what we were aiming for.

Can Burning Wheel Even Do Funny?
In short, yes. A slightly longer answer is that Burning Wheel takes the setting completely seriously, even if the setting itself involves crooning molerats, an earring-sized battle axe known as the Wee Prick, bar brawls with gangs of nine-pin hooligans, and extra-dimensional brain-tearing missle weapons that can blow holes in buildings.

Another way to put it is that life can be really funny, but falling off your roof still hurts. Burning Wheel is kind of like that.

Was I satisfied with how the story of the investigation came out? Yes. Would I like to do a lot more with those characters in that setting? Yes (and there’s lots of room for new guards to be introduced). Did we get a nice overview of the system? Yes: we got a couple Duel of Wits in, ended things with a short Fight!, and generally touched most of the systems in the game.

Did we really wring the system out? Not by a country mile. First and most importantly, although they pursued them, none of the character achieved any of the goals associated with their Beliefs — I chalk this up to rookie GM and player mistakes and too much time just learning the rules. Also, our characters started out fairly skilled (a mix of four and five lifepath characters) — as such, three sessions wasn’t really enough to see a ton of change with their characters in terms of skills — the stuff they’re quite good at takes a lot of challenge to improve (we didn’t quite get there in three sessions), and the skills they were learning for the first time (three guardsmen, none of whom had Observation!) didn’t quite get enough of a work out in that period of time to graduate to ‘full’ skills, either.

We were really CLOSE though; I expect that a couple more sessions would have seen several skill improvements and new skills opened up for everyone. The Belief thing just takes practice — and belief-goals that the players really can really push toward actively.

So what’s Burning Wheel like?
It’s not a Story Game. Or it’s the quintessential, fully-functional, armed-and-opertational Story Game. In short, it is exactly what it is, with no apologies for being five years old and often updated and evolved via its later texts. Crunchy combat (yet with no battlemat), highly-tactical social conflicts, SUPER-granual character advancement that basically guarantees you’ll won’t have the skill you need every single time and that the player will ALWAYS have some ‘improvement project’ they’re working on for their character… yet for all that the stuff that really matters — the stuff that informs almost every decision you make when the GM asks “what do you do next?” — is on the very first page of the character sheet — the page where there aren’t any numbers at all.

I kinda love it.

It’s not a perfect game, and it absolutely requires buy-in from everyone at the table (I mean literal buy-in — everyone should have their own copy of the core rules), but it is a game that – by turns – scratches almost every itch I get as a player and GM. Tactics, crunchy dice stuff, story-driven play, and the kind of game where you can actually envision playing the same characters for a long, long time (definitely not a design goal for most story-games).

To say it it supplants my need for traditional RPGs like DnD should go entirely without saying, but it also takes care of a lot of the stuff I’m looking for when I want to play something like Dogs in the Vineyard or The Shadow of Yesterday. It’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every type of situation (I can’t see pulling it out for one-shots unless it was a sort of con-game scenario like the Library of Worlds), but if I had an idea for a system-agnostic campaign, I think Burning Wheel would be the system I would have to eliminate from the running first, before I considered something else.

A long time coming.

Back in 2006, I wrote this short post:

You know what I’d like to do?

I’d like to make up a really rough sketch background against which to play a Lexicon Game. Like: “The Wose War and Scandal of Eddings Barony”, “The Atomic Apotheosis”, or “The Parliamentary Assassinations of 2128″.

Get a group of people together and just… you know. Go to town. Play the game.

Then, when it’s all laid out, set a game in the setting everyone just created.

I think that would be fun.

Nothing came of that post, at least not immediately.

Then, in October of 2008, I had the PHENOMENALLY FOOLISH idea to play exactly that sort of lexicon game from start to finish from October 15th to October 31st, just in time to get everyone’s creative juices primed for NaNoWriMo that year.

Here were the guidelines we used:

  • Basically Fantasy – more low fantasy and sword and sorcery in tone – with other fun bits bolted on. “A fantasy RPG, as GMd by John Cleese.”
  • No specific rules of magic at a macro level, with many insular rules of magic at the micro level.
  • Lots of different races.
  • Anything that might qualify as science-fiction or the like should be of a clockwork/steampunk/Jules Verne bent; this would include any theories about how the world exists in the solar system, the universe, and everything.
  • Other dimensions for weird crap to come from or leak out of.
  • A long and storied history.
  • Puns.
  • At least slightly humorous, in the style of Pratchett/Discworld, keeping in mind that most of the humor of the books comes from wry, pun-loving voice of the NARRATOR and snarky comments by the main characters… not because the entire population is half-knowingly running a Monty Python sketch.

I don’t remember everyone I snagged to participate in the thing, but there were probably at least eight that made it through to the end.

And… unbelievably, it worked. I even set my story for NaNoWriMo in that setting.

But I never ran a game there. Bodea-Lotnikk, the Charnel Road, the Jugular Way, and the Grand Duchy of Kroon have never been the stomping grounds for a group of my players.

That’s all about to change.

I wasn’t sure if we’d meet this week, but last night a couple folks got together and worked out what we’d like to do for a proper Burning Wheel campaign. Close to a dozen possibilities were proposed by yours truly, and as a footnote to one of those ideas, I’d added “we could even set the whole thing in Bodea-Lotnikk”.

Bodea-Lotnikk is the most populous urban area in Grand Duchy Of Kroon, comprised of no less than 86 distinct boroughs, assimilated townships, long-vanished villages, and subsumed hunting grounds. It boasts narrow streets laid out irregularly, clannish neighborhoods, and a vast collection of architecture marking the dying moments of any number of design eras best forgotten.

Oh my, but they liked that idea.

That provided a setting (and WHAT a setting), but it didn’t address the situation. I flipped to page 90 of the Adventure Burner and read this question:

What’s the Big Picture? What’s going on in this setting the makes it ripe for adventure? What’s changing?

What we decided on was this: the Grand Duke, as part of his continual effort to exercise some manner of order over the city, had established a City Guard, meant to investigate any ‘cross-borough’ crimes and enforce the laws of the city.

All of em.

For all 86 boroughs.

Simultaneously.

Complications will include stuff like contradictory laws between boroughs, hopelessly labyrinthine legal messes, questions of jurisdiction, and local law enforcement in each borough that just plain didn’t like the City Guard sticking their noses where they weren’t wanted.

The first session will (of course) open with a very public murder that will threaten the stability of the whole city.

We didn’t entirely finish characters, but we know that Kate’s playing a exiled dwarven noble by the name of Mika Harildsdottir, Tim’s playing an elven legal expert who’s positively thrilled to be out of the elvish Citadels and doing things with real people, and I think Chris is doing some kind of human criminal-turned-courtier. The Grand Duke’s decided they’re the ‘face’ of the City Guard, since they’re so multicultural and… *distracted hand wave* you know… things like that.

One of the other upsides to this concept is that it’s going to be dead simple to bring in other players on either a short- or long-term basis.

Another upside? It should be awesome.

I believe I’m going to call the campaign Burning Molerats.

The Library of Worlds, Part One

[Full disclosure: about 80% of this was designed by Alexander Newman for 10.10.10.  He was a great helped while I worked out how to to run the thing.]

Legends tell of a vast library buried in the shifting sands of al’Wadi al’Aqbar — the Great Desert — where any scroll may be found, where all secrets are revealed, and where knowledge flows free and clear like water from a spring.

Some tall tales tell of prices to be paid that cost too much, some speak of bargains made that should never have been sealed, and some of fools who sought riches and found only death.

But all the tales of this Library of Worlds speak of its librarian: a mighty Prince of the Djinn. The Djinn will grant three wishes, the story goes, but is silent on how he may be compelled to do so.

Still, what matter the tales? You have trekked deep into the desert, and now the Library is before you.


Princess Leisha — Heir Potential to the Empress (She Who is Alm, Bless Her Name) — is on a quest to find a cure for the disease that is killing her mother and, in doing so, become Heir Apparent. Aided by her companion (the preistess Fatima, Imamiyyah of the Faith), her bodyguard Suleiman (a slave, as are all men in the Empire), and Nejat their desert guide, the Princess has arrived at the foot of a minaret, deep in the Great Desert. This must be the entrance to the fabled Library of Libraries, where surely a cure… and much else besides… can be found.


Chris couldn’t make the game, but I asked De and she and Rachel came up. Cool. Here’s who played who.

Tim played Princess Leisha:

Beliefs:

  • I will find a cure for my mother, She Who Is Alm, and become Heir Apparent.
  • There is great knowledge in the Library: I will learn all that I can, for the glory of the Empire.
  • It breaks all the laws of Man and God, but I love Suleiman; I will consummate our love for all time.

Instincts:

  • Make a decision, then command.
  • Trust my advisor, Fatima.
  • Always study tomes carefully, you never know what lies between the pages.

De played Imamiyyah Fatima

Beliefs:

  • The Djinn in the Library heard the Prophet’s words from her own mouth: I shall obtain a true transcript and thereby rise in the Faith.
  • The social order of the Empire is ordained by God: I will preserve its ways.
  • Leisha’s feelings for her slave are obvious, and must be dealt with; I will expose Suleiman as unfaithful.

Instincts:

  • Let a slave do the labor.
  • Lead prayer at the appointed hours.
  • Always help other through my skill with Astrology.

Kate played Najat

Beliefs:

  • This quest is the opportunity I have been waiting for: I will exploit every advantage these pampered palace women offer.
  • Fool priests should keep their dogma to the palaces: it has no place coming between women and their men.
  • My fortunes change here: The Djinn must free all the Men of Alm, so that no one will suffer as I suffered.

Instincts:

  • Check for tracks.
  • Conserve water.
  • Speak my mind.

Randy played Suleiman the harem-slave/bodyguard

Beliefs:

  • I would live free: if this is truly the Library of Worlds, I shall escape to where I can thrive as a free man.
  • The Princess will be a better Empress than most: I will protect her interests as well as her life.
  • Fatima is more lovely in spirit than any palace woman; I will try to take her with me, if I can.

Instincts:

  • Trust the twitch in my left eye (Sixth Sense)
  • Never surrender my blade.
  • Protect the Princess with my life.

So the four (plus the princess’s drover and a bunch of camels) stood outside the minaret, pondering entrance. Suleiman finally fashioned a hook and line from some traveling gear and got it up through the archway at the top of the minaret. (Beginner’s Luck Throwing test.) Najat scrambled up into the minaret and used a second rope to help Suleiman up (she had climbing, and helped him get up with another beginner’s luck test, this time of climbing).

Fatima and the princes weren’t interested in learning how to climb — they order Suleiman to pull them up, so what would have been climbing checks for them became routine Forte tests for Suleiman.

Once everyone was up in the minaret, they descended the stairs within the tower and into a circular room, the walls covered in glowing script. A crystalline orb about the size of a softball stood on a pedestal in the center of the room. The only exit was an archway ‘curtained’ in golden light.

The text on the walls was legible, but hard to decipher, as it was ancient, verbose, and somewhat poetic. (Think translating Chaucer into modern english.) Eventually, she was able to work out that these verses were the Library rules:

Take no tome, and mark none,
If you would your homeworld see,
Bring no flame, and make none,
Lest you too would burnèd be.

Free in body, free in mind,
Freely share the knowledge ’round.
If you would your fellows bind,
What you seek shall ne’er be found.

The way was opened when you sought,
The way remains for gifts you’ve brought.
Find what you seek and then, begone!
The way will not remain for long.

The inscription above the arch read “That Which is Written Remains”. The veil seemed to be woven from the same soft golden light as the verses on the walls and the inscription above the arch.

Sul and Najat went through the arch, immediately noticing that the air was cooler and more humid (the Library has climate control). When they looked back, they saw the veil over the arch was is utterly black, shot with red — when Sul approached it, his left eye twitched (sixth sense for danger).

The Tower (GM notes)

The center of the tower is a pillar with an interior spiral staircase that leads only down. The N/E/S/W bridges from the center shaft to the outer walkway also lead to other parallel towers that ‘belong’ to other worlds. The NW bridge leads to and from the shaft to archway out. The ‘rim’ walkway gives easy access to a larger collection of scrolls than anyone present has seen, as well as rare bound books like those from the keeps of the recently subjugated Western Lands. There are also arches at NE, SE, and SW that lead outwards into concentric circles of yet more scrolls and books that should–but do not–overlap neighboring world-towers. Farther ‘out’ in those sub-towers, the collection expands to objects that are inscribed in some way (like Suleiman’s sword). Pretty much anything written upon can be found here… the trick is getting it out again.

The pattern of walkways is repeated overhead, apparently inaccessible, and leaning over the side shows that the same structure extends downwards further than anyone can see. At the level of the entrance are roughly contemporary works, below are works from the past, above (theoretically) are works from the future. The collection is not complete, though, for contemporary stuff, and definitely not complete for the future (also, the stairs in the column don’t go upward — you’ve have to use a hook and line (Throwing test) — and climbing tests (with the potential of falling into the infinite past), to get up to a higher level).

The shelves are all made of the same smooth stone as the minaret, and ornately inscribed with strange glyphs that, again, give off a golden light, sufficient to read by.

Need a Map for the walkways? It’s the Burning Wheel logo

A robed and hooded figure waits silently at the entrance to the central pillar and spiral stair.

The other two held back in the entry room, and couldn’t hear what the others were shouting back, which meant that when the princess and priestess finally did go through, Sul and Nejat were already confronting the Servitor.

The Whosiwhatsit?

So Sul and Nejat approached the figure by the stairs. They see that instead of a face it has a smooth mask of something like paper, covered in symbols and text. Its robes and all its visible ‘flesh’ are the same material and similarly marked. It’s basically humanoid, but apart from the text, featureless.

As they approach, the servitor bows and touches where its heart, lips, and forehead once were with its right hand. Then it holds its hand out as if expecting to be given something. The servitor will wait until given something with meaningful writing (Princess and Priestess both have scrolls, Sul has his sword, Nejat’s bow).

The Princess and Priestess both gave over their written works (Fatima, her copy of the Faith; Leisha, a 364 line love poem about Suleiman). Najat pretended ignorance of what the Servitor wanted, and Suleiman understood what was being asked and flat out refused.

The Servitor didn’t press their refusal and bowed to the both of them again, then reached out to touch their cheek in a mirror of a priest’s blessing.

They both accepted the Servitor’s touch. The servitor then bursts into a swirling dervish of paper bits and bears the visitors gifts off into the recesses of the library.

And I called for Forte tests. They both failed.

Both of them get a black symbol on their cheek where they were touched. The skin under and immediately around the mark tingles, and feels dry and… papery. Fatima made a  Symbology roll to figure out that the central character on their cheek meant “Birth” is surrounded by an indication of the date of the character’s birth.

The Forte test determined how fast the ‘blessing’ was spreading. Sul really blew the Forte test, so he had hours — the symbols on his cheek were visibly spreading. Najat barely missed it, so she’s got 22 months.

So Sul’s was growing visibly – Naj’s wasn’t (“obviously: a man is weaker”). Sul immediately whipped out his sword and GOUGED THE TEXT OUT OF HIS CHEEK. Blood everywhere, and the hunk of his face turned entirely to paper and blew away.

However, he DID get the ‘blessing’ out.

While the princess tended to her wounded bodyguard, Fatima went back and snagged the crystal that no one had touched in the entrance (as soon as any character got rid of their printed materials, the veil turned ‘harmless’ for them — Sul still sees the scary black and red veil, and Najat… doesn’t see any veil at all, anymore).

Right when she picked it up, I gave De the chance to either avoid ‘contact’ with the orb or to try to master it. She attempted to master it and REALLY blew the roll, so she mastered it, but it taxed her Will down to 1, almost knocking her unconscious. The orb exposed her to a full, multi-dimensional, fractal map of the infinite library of worlds. Handy for Orienteering, but hell on the sanity.  She came back to their Library looking haggard, and with a crone-like grip on the crystal.

Once Sul was kind-sorta patched up (wounds take a long time to heal in BW compared to stuff like DnD), Orienteering rolls were made to find the princess’s desired knowledge

They got to that part of the Library with the complication of meeting the almost-turned-servitor-but-not-quite male scholar from another world. His near-transformation creeped Najat out (Steel test: passed), but she showed no sign of it. Suleiman was EXTREMELY interested in which tower that man had come through in the first place, because in that world, men weren’t slaves.

Fatima: “Some worlds have more difficult trials than our own.”

The not-quite servitor talked a bit with his ‘sister’ Najat (he still had a mouth, kind of), and said Najat could call on him if she needed help.

For the first Research test, I had Leisha make Ob 3 for compiling obscure knowledge from many sources.

Then I had her making a “learning all this stuff roll” by using the Learning/Teaching rules from the BWR. I gave the Library’s Knowledge an effect Will of 5, so the duration of her Studying was [Days of Study = 5 + (10 – Her Will) + OB of Difficult Apothecary Test = 13 days. She had to succeed at an Ob3 Apothecary test to learn the material, and if she missed it, she’d have to start all over for another 13 days. Tim made the roll by one, and squeezed the time on the test down to 11 and a half days.

While the princess studied, Fatima and Najat decided to go look for the Djinn. (Sul wanted to go to, but wouldn’t leave the princess.) They made the roll, even with a penalty +1 Ob from Fatima’s linked Djinn-wise failure.

GM Notes:

The Prince was trapped the moment he entered the Library: his people were created from smokeless flame, as Man is made from clay, and he inherently breaks the rules of the Library simply by existing; rules formulated by a higher power even than that which governs his wish-granting. Far from being the Librarian, he is a prisoner, now bound to punish those who kindle flame inside its precincts.

He has been granted a huge chamber in the Library, in which he has created over the ages a beautiful ornamental garden of paths and streams, scents and breezes, glades where the rattle of reeds syncopates with the falling of water to whisper lewd secrets to an uncaring universe.

In the middle of the garden is a lake, and in the lake an island. A single tree has been painstakingly trained to arc over the lake in a slender, graceful, thorny bridge leading to a many-layered pavilion of pillars and veils

Once they got there, Fatima and Najat had a pleasant conversation with the Djinn, who offered them both quite a lot in exchange for a favor: for Najat — a cure for the Blessing; for Fatima, the exact words of the Prophet (after he dropped the Bomb that it was a Prophet, not a Prophetess, once upon a time).

He said he’d do both those things for them happily, if only they’d bear him out of this Library that he’d accidentally gotten caught in ages before. Fatima readily agreed. Najat said that she wanted the Men of Alm freed more than she wanted to be cured of the blessing, and the Djinn (though surprised) agreed to that instead.

He told Najat to take his vessel with her back to their ‘camp’ (the princess’s study location), so she could call him if need be, and they said they looked forward to leaving with him in a week or two.

[When they were talking, he’d said “If you need me, simply call my n– call for me.” And De said “Hey, do I know his name?” So I explained how the Djinn had many names and had her roll Djinn-wise. She got a crazy number of successes, so not only does she know that the Djinn can actually be compelled to grant three wishes by invoking any of his ‘unused’ names, she KNOWS she’s got a name of his no one’s used, and that she can MAKE him grant her three wishes, rather than paying him off by taking him out of the Library.

And De claims she has a “Horrible” way to get a complete, perfect, accurate copy of the Prophet’s words out of the Library, on paper.

We’ll find out if she’s right on Wednesday.]

That was the end. Leisha and Sul’s players are VERY interested in the fact that the Djinn’s vessel is coming back to their camp — they both want to talk to him too.

Burning Wheel (finally)

I got a copy of The Burning Wheel… hmm. My first mention of it on the blog was early 2004, and I know it was the first edition of the rules, so that probably means sometime in 2003.

I read some of it. It intimidated the hell out of me (and turned me off — I was NOT in a good place to read about a super-crunchy rules system back then). I let the pair of books accumulate dust for a long time.

Sometime around 2006 or 2007, I started reading a lot of good things about the revised version of the rules (BW-R), so I ordered the shiny new version.

And tried to read it.

Too much. I let that pair of books accumulate dust alongside their older brothers.

But I kept reading those interesting actual play posts while I ran other games. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. My gaming was taken up with other things — limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules meant I was more likely to choose games with a lower level of required brain-investment than BW. The thing with Burning Wheel is that it really requires system familiarity — it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character. That’s a little daunting.

I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “story” elements of the game (Beliefs and Instincts especially) were just as effusive. But despite all that, it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard. A streamlined version of the Burning Wheel engine. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date. It was, by all accounts:

  • Accessible to new players.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • As with BW, strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • As with BW, lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make the elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.

I’ve since run MG quite a bit. I’ve enjoyed almost every session immensely, but it’s been hard for me to get my ‘regulars’ to dive into an MG game, basically because of the setting.

But I really wanted to get into that system with them.

So…

Burning Wheel. I felt like MG had been a good primer on the system — I felt like maybe I was ready to understand Burning Wheel. Thus emboldened, I dove into the system. Once the main books were read and grokked, I ordered the rest of the Burning Wheel books: Monster Burner, Magic Burner, and finally the new Adventure Burner, which is basically a 350 page collection of engaging epistles on running Burning Wheel, compiling years of experience and discussion.

On the second page, I read this (paraphrased):

Burning Wheel asks only for an open, honest desire to try it out and see how it works. You may be reluctant, or you may be skeptical — that’s natural, but for the game to have a hope of working, everyone at the table has to say “Let’s give this a fair shot.”

Last night, we finally got to give it a fair shot.

Burning Wheel is a weird critter

On one hand, it is far more character focused and player-driven than a traditional fantasy game, but it uses FAR more intense rules than the nontraditional, “lighter” RPGs I’ve played before, like In a Wicked Age or Shadow of Yesterday or Heroquest or… hell, anything. I’ve mentioned that the rules are crunchy, but they’re crunchy in odd places. For example, there’s no battlemat or miniature rules (honestly, I think they’d confuse things), but there is SUPER HIGHLY DETAILED rules for positioning in combat, weapon length, weapon speed, armor penetration, and all that stuff.

And of course all the major conflicts are resolved through double-blind action scripting, which can be… harrowing.

My Impressions

I loved the way Beliefs and instincts worked. We played a one-shot (that we decided to stretch into a second session next week) with pre-gen characters lacking only a few player-selected items to be finished, but given the Beliefs and Instincts right at the front of the (seven page!) character sheet, everyone had an immediate grasp on their character and started moving things toward the stuff their guy wanted.

Implied Details. Burning Wheel characters are like the game itself — detailed through hints. Burning Wheel has no setting, but the lifepaths (NONE of which have actual descriptions or explanations) very strongly imply a culture and perspective through the skills that are available and the Traits that one gets. The characters are like that — you look at three Instincts like “Always lead prayer at the appropriate hours” and “Always speak my mind” and “Let the slave do the work”, and you have a pretty clear picture of a character — a picture you’ve deduced only via the things they do.

Modular Rules. Burning Wheel rules and the Characters are alike in other ways. The system itself is modular; whole chunks of it can be ignored or simply kept on the side until needed. Likewise, I mentioned the seven page character sheets, but in play we only really looked at the first page (Beliefs and Instincts and Traits (and stats)), and the fourth (skills). Randy had to look at the combat and injury page once, and De had to look at the page where her Faith stuff was at, but they’re outliers: yeah, it’s seven pages. The rules are thousands of pages in total… but most of the time you only need the first chapter.

Color through mechanics. There is very little ‘color fiction’ in the books — almost none, actually. The culture and setting is conveyed through the skills and traits. Likewise, there is very little space on the character sheet for the ‘character concept’ (and that little entry is largely ignored once play starts), but the character’s Beliefs and Instincts and Traits and skills speak volumes  — they are vitally important to play and constantly referenced. Like all good characters in fiction, Burning Wheel characters are best understood by what they do and why.

The game is deep. Not like water is deep, or a philosopher is deep, but like a cave is deep. There are rules in there that won’t get touched for months if not in fact years of continual play. You can do one-shots in Burning Wheel, and short-arc adventures, but this is a game optimally designed for long term play. In fact, I think it would play *best* as a weekly, weeknight game (two and a half to three focused hours) that went on for at least six months.

I also think it would play as well with six players as with one player and one GM. Differently, but just as well. That’s pretty remarkable in itself.

How did the game go?

I’m going to recount the game itself in a second post, but in short I thought it went well. There was a lot of page flipping, and I wussed out on damaging a character at one point, and I feel like Tim was kind of thumb-twiddling for too long during the session, but on the whole it was good, and there was a lot of interesting stuff.

At the end of the night we could have called it complete: we had the shape of the thing in our minds, though no one’s Beliefs/Goals had been resolved.

But the players unanimously decided to come back next week and find out what happens. Plans are being planned — I can see it in their eyes — stuff is going to happen; beliefs are going to be fought for.

I think we have a winner.

(Took me long enough.)

Wasting time playing DnD

No, I’m not saying that playing DnD is a waste of my time, settle down. Breathe.

I ran into a pretty interesting thing I wanted to talk briefly about, though.

This week, I have a lot of gaming going on, which is kind of exciting; after months of pretty much nothing in the way of RPG play, I’m playing DnD, running Dragon Age, and then playing Burning Wheel — all in about five days.

Pretty heady stuff.

Last night we played the DnD game; that gave rise to this post. (Which should have probably been called ‘Wasting my time while playing DnD’, but who’d read that?)

Anyway, to my point.

For the last over-a-year, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty regular game going on weeknights. We’ve played quite a few games, most notably (in my mind) Don’t Rest Your Head, Diaspora, Primetime Adventures, and other stuff like that. Games in which, speaking broadly, there are a lot of ‘flags’ attached to your characters — things where you’ve said “this is something that interests me about this guy: I’d like to play around with that in the game, please.”

For instance, in the Diaspora game, Kate’s ‘flags’ (read: Aspects) had to do with being a bit of a lapsed pirate, something of a swashbuckler, a ship’s captain, and having some unfriendly family members looking for her. This was the stuff that was interesting to her, and as the GM I usually felt pretty safe if I planned for something or someone to come along and hit one of those elements of her character.

I could list many more examples, but they’re all pretty obviously along this line, and they all have a few things in common: “hitting” those things in an interesting way is what the players want, so it’s socially rewarding in the game, and most of the time it’s also mechanically rewarding.

Also, if I’m doing something as the GM that doesn’t touch on anyone’s flags in any way… well, the question to ask at that point is “What the hell are you doing, dude? I trust you, but get back on task.”

And that would be fair.

So. DnD.

No flags.

Now, Tim and I have been hammering on his Return to Northmoor campaign for awhile (him for QUITE awhile — I’m Johnny-come-lately), and for the ‘first arc’ of the game I think we’ve done a good job of creating a ‘flag and reward’ system for play that isn’t much of a rules hack.

This short game we’re doing right now isn’t that, though — it’s the mid-arc part of the Northmoor saga, and as such the original ‘secrets’ stuff doesn’t work, exactly. We did some in-character secrets-to-be-revealed, but they didn’t really work in the same way, and they made things a little wonky at the table.

(We’re addressing that by cribbing from Dragon Age and setting up Goals, rather than Secrets-to-be-Revealed, and I think that’ll work better for this arc, but I digress.)

How wonky? Well, when I answered Tim’s ‘secrets questions’ for my character, some of my answers were pointed at Kate’s character. I was all enthusiastic about this ‘what if Beren and Luthien hadn’t hit it off right away’ idea, and went with that — didn’t check with Kate on it (should have), and rattled it all off.

Kate didn’t finish her questions. Chris couldn’t make the first game.

So… guess which were the only “flags” flying for that first session? Guess what every scene seemed to center on?

Yeah.

Which is fine, except those weren’t Kate’s flags for her character. At all. So it wasn’t much fun for her. I think the quote was “it was fine for the first scene, but it’s every scene.”

For her, every scene was wasting time on stuff she wasn’t that interested in.

Second session, everyone else has had time to fill stuff in. I was trying not to play up my flags, because I felt like I’d got enough time on them the first session, so I played extra hard on whatever anyone else provided.

One of those ‘provided things’ was this kid I’d known in the past who was now all grown up. I’d introduced him to the game, Tim brought him in, so I felt obliged to play up whatever he was potentially doing in the story…

… which was trying to propose to Kate’s character. Oops. More time spent on a thing Kate was already tired of.

Then there was a kind of echo chamber thing with the Mysterious Bog Avenger that Tim introduced, who was some kind of vigilante who — inexplicably — dresses up like my character.

He gets introduced, so I play to it… then some NPCs react to my reaction, so I react to their reaction, so they react to …

Yeah. You see where that went. Or didn’t. I couldn’t drop it, though, cuz the only other thing I had going on was the thing with Kate’s character that I didn’t want to mess with at all.

And I couldn’t play to the flags on the other characters, because we hadn’t done the “Goals” yet — we just had Secrets, and I didn’t KNOW them because… yeah. Duh. SECRETS.

I finally fell back on a half-mentioned obsession with the MacGuffin we’re hunting down, just for something to talk about.

So what do I mean about wasting time?

I’ve gotten in the habit of playing to the flags on the characters at the table, trusting that doing so will (a) please and entertain the player of said character and (b) reward everyone involved in some mechanical way. Playing to those themes is, in fact, part of the game.

Well, no: it’s part of those games — the one’s I’ve been playing. It’s not part of DnD, and even though we’re in the middle of hacking that, we didn’t have the hack up to date last night, so it wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to do — give people indications of what everyone wanted play to be about and reward them for it. Without that, the whole hack is just a cool ‘power up’ chip we get for free each session.

(And in any case the hack will always and only ever be something extraneous to the Original Game — like having a battery mounted DVD player mounted in your car — nice, but easily forgotten and unused, unless you keep giving it power.)

In DnD, if you’re just playing to your own flags (or, as with the Bog Avenger, to no flags at all), it feels like you’re wasting time.

Why?

Well, A, you’re not hitting interesting elements of play for anyone (or only for yourself); and B, you aren’t engaging DnD itself by doing the stuff it’s good at doing (combat).

Which means you’re just spinning your cogs, not interacting with any of the machinery — you might as well be chatting about the most recent Dancing with the Stars, because you aren’t playing any part of the game, (even the part you added).

(Yes, you might be roleplaying… but about what? And who cares? Improv is great, but the audience needs to give a shit, y’know?)

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to note that it’s given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ve started thinking of as ‘the Northmoor Hack’.

That, and I’m looking forward to all the games happening this week.

Brain Damage

Randy’s running this low-powered supers-in-Gotham thing. Interesting background. Interesting atmosphere. Running it with Mutants and Masterminds, which is a 3.x d20 riff.

I’ve been feeling a vague hankering for supers stuff. (Dear City of Heroes — go Free to Play. Signed, Me.)

I expressed an interest, came up with a concept, dug around on the internet and found a couple write-ups that seemed to have the powers I wanted, mushed them all into one sheet, sent it to him and said “here – something like this, but balanced to your power level.”

As one does.

Then a couple things happened.

  1. I ran into one of the players already in the game and we talked about the schedule for the game.
  2. Randy sent me the revised sheet, with all the math done.

These two events raised some concerns for me.

Looking at the finalized character sheet resulted in a strong negative reaction. A gut reaction. It may be fair to say that my penetralia actually cringed — absent any motive will on my part — seeking to drag me away from the computer and the thing on the screen by my very entrails. It’s not that the design of the character was bad or that it didn’t do what I wanted — it’s that the mechanics and game the sheet represents just make me angry. Angry and filled with a helpless kind of dread.

I’m starting to suspect that all those years of d20 gaming actually damaged me. I wonder if don’t remember this because I can’t.

Show me on the character sheet where it touched you...

Secondarily, I’m concerned about (any) games where the schedule is “we start at Xpm, and play to whenever.” That sort of play has historically been frustrating for me. Seeing it posted as the consilii diem amounts to a huge fucking red flag labeled “You Will Regret This.”

Tim may laugh at this, but I’ve developed a huge appreciation for the games I’ve played that have a time constraint on the amount of time available to play. They are, uniformly, the games I’ve enjoyed the most, and which gave the most satisfying results and focused play. TiHE (until we switched from “Monday nights” to “all-day Sundays”). The Wednesday night gaming series. Mouseguard (which is actually time-constrained within the game itself). Dragon Age (sessions that, while on the weekends, have all had hard-stops built in). Most convention play is, I think, stronger for this. It may be the only thing I really miss about local conventions.

Maybe I’m just getting to the point where I’m not willing to give a game a shot if doesn’t meet certain baseline criteria — doubtful it can overcome the deficiency. Once bitten, twice shy?

Maybe.

My reaction to the basic core of the game system, though — like a growling, whining dog in the presence of a vampire — makes me suspect this may be something more/less than the reasoned response of a thinking adult with some significant non-game commitments.

Wrapping up Diaspora, Shakespeare-Style

So quite a little while ago, we started out a Diaspora game. Our schedules have been a little crazy — we did character generation in mid-January and played the seventh and final session last night — and as per normal, playing into the fourth and fifth sessions prompted a few system hacks, but on the whole it’s an entirely enjoyable system. But I’ve talked about the system before, and I’m not going to do that today.

I just want to talk a little bit about synchronicity and constraints and the kinds of fun that comes out of that.

When we did the character and star system creation lo those many months ago, we decided we needed some kind of theme or something to tie things together. I’d been writing a sci-fi novel at the time (still am, actually) and I’d enjoyed naming planets from one section of space after characters in Shakespeare plays — no particular reason, I just liked how they sounded — so I suggested we do something like that. Everyone agreed, so we went with that, plus “the system should start with the same letter as the name (first or middle) of the person who thought it up, and no systems starting with the same letter.”

So…
– Keepdown (Kate)
– Trinculo (Tim)
– Caliban (Chris)
– Dauphine (Doyce)
– Shylock (Kate again)
– Lear (Tim again)
– Achilles (Chris again)
– Orpheus (Me, and I don’t know how I got “O”, except that A was taken already)

Then we came up with personalities for these systems. Keepdown was struggling as an abandoned terraforming colony on a world wracked by hurricane-force storms. Trinculo was luxurious and opulent and self-satisfied. Caliban was privateers and pirate nobility raiding other systems for the resources they’d long since exhausted in their own. Dauphine was the poor exploited system Caliban mostly raided. Shylock was connivers and meddlers and diplomats. Lear was a blasted, nigh-uninhabitable, often betrayed wasteland of ancient ruins. Achilles was a world of science gone awry and angry, carnivorous plantlife. And Orpheus was a world of idealists and dreamers, trying to get back to the imagined ideals of Earth-Long-Past.

Then we came up with characters, and the Shakespeare thing continued.

Miranda was the daughter of the pirate lords of Caliban whose father (we find out MUCH later) died suspiciously. She fled the family and the family business when her uncle took over the family. She changed her name and started a mostly-legitimate business. When they found her again, she liquidated her assets, bought a ship, and hired a crew of misfits and the suspiciously secretive.

The ship’s name was the Tempest. It’s A.I. (helpful and communicative, but otherwise invisible) was named Ariel.

Tim came up with Titus Belliago, the president for life of Trinculo who became over bored with his continued, nigh-immortal existence (and more than a bit annoyed by the occasional assassination attempts). He arranged for a body double to impersonate him, pauper and the prince style, and snuck off to have adventures with one of his would-be assassins. (Phyll, from Achilles, played by Chris.) He took on the name Iago.

It wasn’t all Shakespeare themes. The AI played Settlers of Catan with Miranda on the long interstellar hauls. The ship’s log-software was named as “Spacebook”, in which the crew could comment on and Like/Dislike various updates from other members of the crew. (There were at least a half-dozen NPCs on the ship as well, from the “a bit jumpy” gunnery mate, to the “twitch gamer” comms officer who gave the crew bonuses to intimidation, but only when it wasn’t face to face.)

Things progressed, as they do.

I don’t know if I can explain the tangled mess of the final session without explaining the entire campaign (which I’m not going to do), but I’ll give it a try.

There’s a space station in Shylock system. Many different factions are meeting here for various reasons, and the crew of the Tempest have delivered a Dauphine diplomat there and are acting as liaison and body guard for him while he tries to acquire allies against Caliban predations.

In the course of events… Iago gets fatally wounded (which means, in his case, that he’ll need about a week of bed rest), Miranda is spotted by her uncle and his thugs try to take the Tempest by force (leaving at least half the crew too injured to do anything this session), the Dauphine diplomat is framed for intersystem biological terrorism and murder, and Iago’s pseudo-twin docks with the station on a slow-boat tour of the cluster.

That was the mess waiting for them as we started the session last night.

The players wrapped things up in about two hours of play. Maybe less.

In short:
– Iago discovered that Miranda – his Captain – was actually from the Caliban elite, and thus a pirate — a group he despised.
– Miranda discovered that Iago was actually the President For Life of Trinculo (she met his gone-somewhat-to-fat body double).

Armed with this information, and racing against a (player-invented and self-inforced) 45 minute deadline before Iago (who was getting no bed rest at all) bled out, our heroes:
– Snuck onto the Trinculo cruiser.
– Subdued Iago’s body double.
– “Revealed” to the Trinculo cruiser’s crew that the body-double touring the cluster had actually been a diversion so that the REAL Titus Belliago could have a quiet honeymoon with his new bride, Miranda Lafitte, of the Caliban Lafittes.
– Announced this marriage to the public.
– Demanded the release of the Dauphine diplomat (and extended diplomat alliances to Dauphine in general, in solidarity against Caliban).
– Explained that, clearly, the Shylock people the diplomat had been accused of killing had accidentally killed themselves by misusing the (Trinculo-designed) biochemical compounds they’d probably been trying to use on the diplomat in the first place.
– Established ties-by-marriage to the pirate lord families of Caliban, making it very difficult for Caliban to… you know… DO anything about any of it.

In short, they solved the whole problem by revealing their true identities and getting married.

Shakespeare.

(Luckily for them, one of the comedies.)

I call it As you Like it… Whether you Like it or Not.

The End. And a good end it was.

Diaspora Hacks, by way of Dresden Files

After a series of scheduling problems, we finally got back to the Diaspora game last night for the first time in… oh, six weeks or something. Been awhile.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the delay, because it gave me time to think about a few problems I felt like we were having with the game, mechanically. As I said over in this post, I’ve been pondering how to tweak the Diaspora system — it felt like we had a few too many get of jail free cards in play (in the form of Fate points), and a little too much cruft on the character sheet that wasn’t getting used.

As I’ve also said before, the designers behind Diaspora have built a hell of a game — they have my admiration for, if nothing else, their free-form stunt construction — but while they are fluent in FATE, it is the fluency of someone speaking a second language. The author’s themselves have said that even now they aren’t wholly comfortable with the way FATE does some things.

Enter Dresden Files.

This is a big, beautiful game from Evil Hat, and while I still don’t feel as though I completely grok everything they’re doing in character generation, there ARE a few things that I saw and immediately wanted to implement in the Diaspora game — solutions to my problems far more elegant than anything I’d come up with. Which makes sense: these are guys who (obviously) grok FATE at an atomic level.

Hack One: Reducing the number of Aspects on Characters

In Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, each of the five phases of character generation yield two character Aspects, for a total of ten. That’s fine in the SotC, which is kind of crazy and over the top and creates characters that are sort of swiss army knives of awesome, but in Diaspora it feels like too much.

Dresden files does it differently. Basically, your character has a “High Concept Aspect” that sort of sums up your character’s idea in a few words. Then they have a “Trouble” aspect that is basically “the thing that’s screwing up your High Concept”. Finally, you get only one aspect for each of the five phases of character generation.

Looking at the hard numbers, it doesn’t seem like THAT much of a change: seven aspects instead of ten, right? In practice, the combination of getting fewer aspects and giving two of those seven aspect specific “jobs” really, really helps tighten up the characters and clarify how they’re envisioned in play. Instead of having more money than you know what to do with, you’re on a budget — constraints are good.  We pared down the Diaspora characters to follow these guidelines (which was easy – the dead wood, unused aspects were easy to spot), and (for me, at least) the result was like walking into the optometrist, getting in the chair, and having him drop that first lens in place that shows you no, you really haven’t been seeing things that clearly until Right Now. The characters came into proper focus, is what I’m saying.

Hack Two: Reducing the number of Fate Points floating around

I’d toyed around with a few changes to the normal system in that previous post, but a little bit before the game I decided to try out — again — something from Dresden Files.

Normally, everyone gets 5 Fate points at the start of every session. It’s too many. Aside from any other consideration, we play on weeknights for three hours — we simply don’t NEED that many Fate points. Anyway.

Dresden’s method, super-simplified, is: “take the basic refresh (5, in this case) and subtract however many Stunt Abilities your character has (2 or 3, in this case), and the remainder is how many Fate points you get to start each session.”  (Unless you ended last session with more points than that refresh, in which case, keep that higher total.)

So rather than everyone starting with 5 Fate points, Tim and Kate started with 2 and Chris started with 3. This did a BUNCH of stuff during the session last night that I liked a lot.

  • More compels. Compels become a much more attractive and desirable option in play, because you’re more likely to need more Fate points.
  • A bit more hording of points. Fate Point totals higher than the refresh actually remain for next session — Kate’s had more Fate points at the end of the session than the beginning.
  • More struggle. With fewer Fate Points around, people weren’t piling on as many Aspects on during conflicts. This gave my poor mooks in a gunfight the chance to actually do some damage, and we started to see people actually take a consequence or two, rather than use up all their Fate points.
  • More invention. With Fate points in short supply, it actually became much more attractive to take a round “off” during a fight and set up some ‘free taggable’ aspects to use during the next actual attack. Tim did this a couple times, and it worked out well for him. This makes for more interesting, more textured conflicts. (Typing this out, I realize that that’s what I should have had the NPC crew members doing: rather than whiffing attacks at the enemy, they could have been hitting much easier target numbers to give Tim some help. Ahh well — hindsight.)

In short, the Fate points became more valuable, play became more dynamic, and the use of Aspects as fate point generators rose as well. Basically, the FATE core — the economy and mechanics of the system — actually got engaged a lot more. Since it’s a system I like, this was a big win from my point of view.

How about the play itself?

The net result of this was a session that – to my mind – had more clarity. The characters were in better focus. The game system gears were turning and grinding and chugging away and just generally much more present — more able to do what they were meant to do in the game.

Aspects (permanent and temporary alike) are the Killer App of the FATE system.

Somehow, by having fewer Aspects and giving people fewer points with which to invoke them, we actually made them MORE important.

Weird, but true.

Good game.

In a Wicked Amber

I don’t listen very well, even to myself.

Short version of that post — following a session of In a Wicked Age, I came to the conclusion that there’s a certain approach to play that Amber encourages in its long-time players that isn’t exactly what IaWA is designed for, or necessarily rewards.

What do I do with that information?

Obviously, I decide to run an Amber game, using In a Wicked Age.

On the face of it, there’s a lot of fruitful overlap; Amber’s got some pulp weirdness elements to it — looking over the Oracles that are part of the ‘vanilla’ game, almost all the elements included fit into an Amber setting really well. Finally, one of the things I find most interesting about a well-known setting is (re)interpreting it through the lens of a different game. In this case, the six ‘forms’ that define each character in IaWA are consistently fascinating to me — when you act in a conflict, you don’t say “I use my ranged combat skill” or “I use persuasion” — you make decisions like “I act ‘With Love'” or “I act ‘For Others'” or “For Myself” — to me, that’s such a consistently compelling filter through which to see a story.

So, given the opportunity to run a one-shot yesterday, I cobbled together some notes on a more Amberized Oracle and ran a game.

The Good
The Oracle – As I said before, the basic IAWA oracles are remarkably ‘on theme’ for an Amber game. “A minor insult, spoken casually, but striking very, very deep?” Oh yeah. The oracle gave us some fun stuff to work with, and as per usual also took things in a some unexpected directions. The end result of our Oracle draw was an abandoned stone tower – the source of some great power – now home to many unsavory birds filled with blood-craving ‘uncouth spirits’. There was another more friendly spirit in the tower as well, and mixed into that was the young man who’d been sent to reclaim the tower as his property, the conjurer who was working with/summoning the spirits inside the birds… and a full-on princess of Amber, involved in the whole mess somewhat parenthetically.

Best Interests – I did better this time with encouraging everyone to make best interests that were all things the characters didn’t have — things they need to take action in order to get, not react to in order to keep. I failed a bit at that in the last session, and it came out better here.

The Bad
The Oracle – Yeah, yeah, I know I had that under ‘the good’, but as useful as it was, my cobbled-together version lacked the kind of focus and clarity I’d have liked. To use it seriously, it would need a lot of work on focus.

The I-Dunno
Between a late start, a couple scheduled interruptions, some wrestling with the oracle results, and my (bad) habit of stopping to explain the rules before/during/after every bloody step, we didn’t get a tremendous amount done. Everyone got at least one scene in, but we didn’t resolve anything significant in that time.

Also, poor Dave ended up needing to throw himself against a bit of a wall with his conflicts — facing off against “The Birds” in an area in which they were particularly strong (direct conflict where their Swarm particlar strength was most valuable, on their home territory). This lead to three series of conflicts against the birds in which – if they managed to get the advantage initially, they really, really kept it. I dunno if that was actually a problem-problem, except that I should have been better about setting up more interesting consequences for failure.

Finally, I jumped into a conflict involving multiple people without having a clear handle on how it should work (sue me: it’s been more than a year since I last ran it), and it got a little wierd. I think it wouldn’t *stay* weird, given familiarity, and it all worked out okay, but it was weird at the time.

The Hmm
In a Wicked Age wants you to throw yourself into the action right away. I don’t mean that every scene should include someone saying “I attack this guy”, but basically the game system doesn’t really care what you’re doing until someone does something that someone else doesn’t want to see happen. (The PG name of this is “the Oh No You Don’t rule”.) To be fair to the game, things are set up during character generation to help ensure you’re being proactive – so long as you’re working toward your best interests.

Amber (the old RPG, not the fiction it’s based on), on the other hand, encourages an intelligence gathering mindset. Let’s see what’s going on. Let’s touch base with our allies. Let’s ascertain the lay of the land. This doesn’t entirely gel with the “get in there and start acting” desires of IaWA. Rather than nag players about that, I just kept going until I got to some kind of concrete action… supply the information they wanted, then asked “now what”, and kept going until someone said something that someone else didn’t want to see happen.

Some of that was people being new to the system, and not having any clue about “this version of Amber”, and so forth. I’d like to go back and play again and see if some time-to-assimilate and the uses of the rules would help this at all.

The D’oh
There’s a rule in In a Wicked Age that gets overlooked too often. Basically, it says that whenever you narrate anything, you also need to introduce some concrete fact into the world — some sort of detail that lends more weight and reality to the setting. This is especially important in vanilla IaWA, because you’re really totally starting from scratch in your setting, but even in this game it would have been tremendously helpful — hell, it’s a good rule of thumb in any game, but it’s NOT a rule of thumb in IaWA, it’s a rule, and I didn’t observe it.

Why’s that matter? Well, say I back Dave’s character up against a big tree outside the tower. In my head, that tree is big, but dead; the bark’s been stripped away, and the wood beneath is the pale gray of driftwood — a mix of bone-dry and swamp-rotted.

But I never said. All Dave hears is “tree”, so that’s all he’s got to work with it. More detail — more concrete realization of the world around the characters — means more stuff to work with in terms of describing the action or investment and understanding of the scene.

Also, Dave should have been on the We Owe list one more time than I counted, and that would have helped him during later conflicts. Grr.

Again?
We didn’t finish the story for the Oracles we drew, and I very much hope we get a chance to do so. IaWA is an interesting game, designed to build a series of (potentially) out-of-sequence short stories. (People call the system the Anthology Engine.) From session to session, it’s possible to play the same character but, as/more interestingly, it’s also possible to come into the next story playing someone else entirely — to explore the setting from multiple points of view over the course of a longer game and, in fact, to swap GMs around every three or four sessions, should the desire exist.

I’d like doing that, provided the system is something people got comfortable with.

In any case, I really do like the IaWA system – there’s a lot more (western, anyone?) I’d like to do with it — it’s a neat lens to look at the world through.

Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

“I bleed and take another action.”

There is a kind of magic in sacrifice.

No, I don’t mean literal magical sacrifices with babies and goats and stuff like that.[1] I’m talking about taking one for the team to bring said team that much closer to victory. That kind of thing earns mad respect, right?

You see this in all kinds of media — the guy who grimly deals with all the horrible stuff happening to him and voluntarily takes on more pain because it’s the only way to win — in film, Harrison Ford basically made a career out of it; Bruce Willis too, for that matter. In fiction, you’ve got your Frodos and Sams, your Celanawes.[2] In gaming, you’ve the Grey Wardens (Dragon Age), the Mouse Guard (Mouse Guard), or the game I stole this post title from, Shadows Over Camelot.

I’ve talked about Shadows Over Camelot before, so I’m not going to rehash the gameplay, and really this isn’t about the gameplay except for one small part of it.

SOC is a game where you work with the other players cooperatively against the game itself (yes, there’s a chance that there’s a traitor in your midst, but that doesn’t change the basic framework). During each person’s turn, something bad happens, and then you do something good. Something heroic. Just one thing.

However, if you choose to, you can take an additional action on your turn.

All you gotta do is bleed.

You’ve got a few life points (default is 4) and if you take a hit to that score (which, at our table, is referred to as “bleeding”), you can take another action.

We played this game this weekend, and I observed something during play that I’ve seen every single other time we’ve played — a grunt of acknowledgement and appreciation when someone chooses to do this. A respectful primate chest-thumping, if you will.

Strategically, there are good and bad times to do this — it’s pointless just to get around the board more quickly, but if you can join a quest and then ‘bleed’ to save said quest from failure (good) or complete it (better), well… you’re awesome. That particular game is, to me, very much about those kinds of sacrifices and hard choices — where do I fight when there are seven fronts in the assault on Camelot? Whom do I help? What should I save?

And you know what? Something else I’ve noticed is that some people really don’t like that game.

Now, I like games where I can lose. It would be really easy to make a cooperative game like Shadows Over Camelot that is, once you grok the rules, easy to win — I’ve heard there are games like that on the market. I wouldn’t consider that a good investment of either time or money, frankly, because in the time it takes to play a game like that, I could play something else where the outcome isn’t a foregone conclusion.

So part of the dislike is the fact that the game can be lost by everyone at the table – that no one might win? Maybe.

However, more than games I can lose, I like games where I have to bleed to win – where I have to weaken myself to strengthen The Cause. In the most recent SoC game, I was the traitor, and I still found myself bleeding (ostensibly) for the cause, simply because I find that compelling as a player.

I wonder if that’s part of the thing people don’t like about such games, because there ARE people who don’t like such games. Or movies. Or stories. Mouse Guard is a very heroic game to me, but it’s not heroic in a “super” sense where you’re all shiny and victorious and never really get touched by the dirt of the world; it’s heroic because the characters suffer — get hurt, get tired, get angry, get pneumonia — and keep struggling toward their goal anyway — they are little mice in a Great Big World That Will Eat Them, and still they battle on.

"This ends in death."

Just writing that gives me goosebumps — that’s how much I like it. When you can play a game like that and win? Oh man, the grin on my face (while my character cradles his broken arm and hobbles along on a crutch).

But I’ve played with no small number of people who find the whole Mouse Guard-like experience terribly frustrating — that you might win the day and be worse off, personally, than if you’d just stayed out of it? Grrrrrrr.

For me, it’s magical, that they struggle on in the face of such adversity.

That the knights continue to strive for Camelot even though Camelot is (we know) ultimately doomed (and, sometimes, doomed within the scope of the game we’re playing).

That the Wardens do what they do, knowing the price they pay.

That kind of stuff is pure magic. For me. It’s something I’m always pleased to find in a story, or movie, or game.

So much so that I have a hard time seeing when it’s not fun for someone else.

Or even, after the fact, figuring out why.


[1] Seriously, though: why goats? Who cares? Why not sacrifice a finger? If I were a blood-craving deity, I’d give mad props to the priest that needed my attention so badly he voluntarily went Frodo Of The Nine Fingers for me.

[2] You know, I was trying to think of an example of this kind of behavior in the most recent book I read – Until They are Hanged – and it’s not there to be found. The series is kind of noir fantasy, and that kind of self-sacrificing behavior just… wouldn’t quite fit. Which isn’t to say that people don’t bleed for a cause – they totally do – but they don’t manfully say “I’ll take this hit to save the lot of you,” because, well, it’s noir. People don’t want to get hit if they can help it, and in that setting there’s no guarantee that such a noble sacrifice would mean victory — it might just be a meaningless death, and who wants that?  People who act like that in the story (and there are a few) usually die. Quickly. And unmourned.

Diaspora, Session 3: Heat up the Iridium, it’s Shootin’ Time

It had been my intention to introduce everyone to the Ship, Personal, and Social combat mini-games in Diaspora during the first three sessions — basically in that order.

Didn’t work out that way. As I mentioned at the time, the first session took a bit of an odd turn when Kate flipped the space combat setup on its ear and turned it into a Social Conflict (for which I was wholly unprepared). Fun stuff.

So, with that taken care of, and personal conflict introduced in the last session, I made it clear that session three was to be SPAAAACE COMBAAAT. Period.

Unless, you know, something came up. Chris joked about flipping it into a cutthroat game of checkers, but such was not to be — ships faced off, and lo and behold, actually shot at each other.

There are fifteen enemy missile boats in this picture. Can you find them?
There are fifteen enemy missile boats in this picture. Can you find them?

At the end of the last session, the crew of the Tempest had agreed to take a ‘follow-up’ job with the pro-science Dauphine collective they’d sort of accidentally saved from an assassination attempt — in short, to escort the collective’s ship from the soon-to-be-abandoned, not-as-secret-as-they-thought base to a destination elsewhere in the system.

This presented a few problems.

  1. The collective’s ship had no pilot. It HAD had a pilot – the lead engineer, by the name of Darrec – but he’d come down with a bad case of silencer-to-the-temple during the attack, and was no longer an option.
  2. The ship was… sub-optimal. That’s not entirely fair: for Dauphine, it’s a GREAT ship. Not slip-capable, but certainly viable for moving around a single system at something like .1 Gs. It, like everything else in the base, was constructed modularly from materials that could be shipped in-system as something else.
  3. Suspicions abound within the collective. Specifically, a young hothead scientist by the name of Anton pulled Miranda aside and had a lot to say about no one could have known about the Tempest shipment OR about the base unless someone on the Inside had told them. His Culprit-Of-Choice was Eugene Felix, the group’s administrator (whom the heroes had found hiding in the comms chamber inside his office, with is executive assistant, Isabelle).  On the other side of the coin, there’s Terese, the mousy fuel engineer who thinks sleezy Isabelle had something to do with it.  The fact that she has a crush on Anton has nothing to do with it, of course.

The whole thing was giving Miranda a headache.

While the collective loaded up the Intrepid (and Phyll “tweaked it” with a few new Aspects that could be used if needed), Miranda tried to figure out who could help man the other ship.  Eventually, they decided to keep their ‘main’ crew on the Tempest and sent over Maric to keep an eye on the engine, Chance to fly the thing, and Anjela to man the one gun battery.

You know, just in case.

Finally, they got flying, and started the slow crawl toward the outer system.

The Diaspora guys love hard science — everything they do in this game, with the sole exception of the FTL travel (which pretty much has to be made out of Handwavium in order to work in ANY remotely realistic setting), is the kind of stuff that folks at Atomic Rockets would find plausible and supportable.

That makes space combat interesting and different from what you’d expect. Here’s a few key bits.

  • Properly-represented space combat would require some pretty wicked math and a three-dimensional ‘map’ that would take up my whole basement. Cool, but ultimately more work than the pay-off would justify.
  • There’s no anti-gravity, so there’s no dogfighting.
  • The ship and its hardware is going to be much more significant than the skills of the crew, whose impact is really going to be to in asking the ship to do things at the right time, rather than perform the actions themselves. In short, the ships are the characters.

There’s other stuff, but that’s the big parts that inform the combat.

Diaspora deals with the first point by boiling all the four-dimensional vector stuff into a one dimensional map. Yeah. ONE dimensional. Somehow — and I have to say it’s elegant how they manage it — they came up with a combat map where all you’re tracking is where your ship is on a LINE, and yet the location imparts not only location relative to other ships, but also relative velocity, acceleration, AND vector. It’s kind of brilliant.

Anyway, the reason I mention this is because the next thing that happened in the game was a space combat. I know, right? Who’d have expected THAT?

The Intrepid and the Tempest were set on pretty quickly by three missile boats looking to blow the Intrepid out of the sky. Now, if it had just been the Tempest, Iago could have gunned it and been gone before they ever got in range, but while the boats weren’t up to par with the Tempest, they were MUCH faster than the Intrepid.

The first phase in space combat is placement of the ships on the map, which is done by the players, following an opposed Navigation roll. I tried to get Kate to “take an automatic failure” here by offering her a Fate point and compelling her “A little bit Rusty” Aspect, but Kate decided that, while that was cool, she wanted to play the first combat ‘straight’, before we started mucking it up with compels.

So rolls were made, and Kate got to place the Intrepid and Tempest about as far away from the bad guys as she could and still leave them on the map.

The next phase of combat had to do with maneuvering, so Iago and Chance tried to get away. In this, the bad guys seemed more than competent enough to keep the two ships from escaping immediately, despite flying in formation.

The next phase were the weapons that worked at the speed of light — to whit, electronic warfare. This was a pretty one-sided battle, since only the Tempest had the hardware necessary to go on the offensive in this arena, and the enemy ships were hampered by a weak Data ‘health bar’ and Aspects like “Too Stupid to Know We’ve Been Hacked”.  Kaetlyn got into the systems of one of the gun boats and gave it a Major Consequence of “Friend or Foe Fire Control Recognition is Frelled”.

The next phase was Beam weapons, so energy beams started … beaming. This was interesting, because you don’t really want to use the full power of your beam weapons, because you may need to use them again in the torpedo phase for defense, and if you fired them a lot, it would cause some significant heat problems for the ship.  Kate played it safe but still managed to score a hit on one of the ships.

During the Torpedo phase that immediately followed, both Kate and Anjela (on the Intrepid) managed to defend from too much damage (the Tempest took a minor hit), and someone compelled the Hacked enemy ship to shoot one of its allies instead of them. That was cool. Also, explodey.

Then it was Repair phase, and Phyll went to work on patching the minor damage, which he did handily.

Then you start again at the top.  Each “round” probably takes about an hour inside the fiction of the game… it’s not Star Wars, but I find that I don’t mind – it feels like naval warfare, kind of.

In short, we played about three full rounds of all the phases before two of the three enemy ships were destroyed and the Intrepid escaped from the combat by working its way off the edge of the map.  The Tempest decided to stick it out and make sure there were  no enemy survivors, which took something like one or one-and-a-half more rounds, and then turned itself around and radioed the Intrepid for its location and vector so they could catch up.

There is no answer.

Dun dun DUNNNNNN.

Tune in next session to see what the heck happened to the ship the Tempest is supposed to be guarding.

—–

Once again, we had that weirdly ‘traditional gaming’ experience, where the combat scene took up most of the night.

However, the stuff in combat that takes up the time is different.

In a game like DnD, there’s a lot of time agonizing over the pieces on the board, trying to decided between 10 to 100 different bad-to-less-bad moves. It’s like chess without what I’ve realized is the pure genius of using a turn-clock.

Now, to be sure, the stuff in DnD that causes this kind of behavior is there for a reason — with all those tactical options/threats, there’s plenty of good reasons not to remain static in a fight and just plug away: “Roll to hit, roll damage, next guy…”

But there are lots of ways to solve that problem, and Fate keeps things interesting by seeding the play area with a constantly expanding and shifting list of Aspects — free-floating bonuses that you can use to buff up both your attacks and defenses if you can just think of a cool way your guy takes advantage of them.  Rather than reviewing your many chess-like options, you’re looking at the things happening in a fight and asking “what is out there that I can take advantage of?”  It’s kind of the role-playing combat version of what Jackie Chan does when you try to attack him with a stepladder.

((There are other ways to solve the problem of static, boring combats, by the way, and I’m going to talk about how Dragon Age RPG does it in some other post, but not today.))

The problem is, while it’s a more aggressive, active, and generally more inventive way of getting the players to interact with the ‘story’ of a conflict, it’s kind of… different, and it does increase processing time when, during every person’s turn, you have to stop to remind yourself to DO it.

Anyway.

My impression of the game – any game – has to be informed somewhat by what I see at the table and how I feel afterwards.

What I see at the table is that we’re having fun, and that some of that fun – perhaps a higher percentage than usual – is coming from the system. Kudos to the system.

More than any other ‘indie’ game I’ve played recently, Diaspora strikes me as a game that would work well in a longer-form game. This isn’t surprising; it’s a game designed by a group of guys inspired by Traveller, who come to Aspects and a lot of the Fate kung-fu a little uncomfortably, even after all this time — there’s is a mindset that assumes the 20-session campaign, and they built a game that supports that kind of play.

Moreover, they built a game that makes me support that kind of play, which is quite the accomplishment. Again, kudos.

I don’t know how long this game will run — I continue to muse about what game we’ll play next — but I’m in no hurry to wrap up and move on to the next thing. For now, I’m more than happy to stick around and – now that we’ve got system and all the sub-systems introduced – see what happens.

Because, best of all, there’s some stuff going on, and it’s pretty cool.

Diaspora, Session 2: Fight!

When we last left our space-faring heroes, they were delivering a cargo bay full of “mining equipment” to a (one assumes) secret base on Sebastus, a moon orbiting the main planet of the Dauphine system.

I say “one assumes” because, culturally, Dauphine is pretty anti-space — they tried it once, their attempt failed miserably (from their point of view — the scientists and settlers they stranded on Keepdown feel otherwise), and since then the highly insular conservatives have pretty much controlled the planet.

The conservatives don’t control their system, though — quite the contrary — since they’ve largely rejected any exploration of space-faring technology, the resource-rich system of Dauphine is pretty much defenseless and ripe for plucking, which the “indentured privateers” funded by resource-starved Caliban are more than willing to do.

So, when the crew is told that they’re delivering “mining equipment” (yes, it could be configured as mining equipment — it could also be configured to be a LOT of other stuff) to a base relatively close to Dauphine, on the spaceward-side of a tidally locked moon, they assume it’s for some kind of secret pro-tech Dauphine organization.

They’d be right.

Anyway, after their run in with some privateers/wildcat mining poachers when they arrived in system — three ships who’d apparently been informed they were coming, which begs the question of how anyone knew — they proceed in-system and radio the base to let them know their delivery is almost home.

No answer.

They continue inbound, discussing the radio silence, allow that that might be perfectly normal for a secret base, and simply try to raise the base every six hours or so as they fly (it’s a six-days-plus trip, so they have a lot of time).

They get one ‘normal’ reply once they get about two days out, very brief and a little too enthusiastically ‘covert’, and then nothing.

Until they pull into orbit and prepare to take the Squall (the Tempest’s shuttle) down to the base to finalize delivery plans; that’s when they get one very brief call for help.

Right. Lovely.

So the group suits up and prepares to land. Miranda, Phyll, Iago, and Kaetlyn are all going, and Miranda decides to bring Anjela (no-nonsense gunnery mate) along for a little extra firepower (Anjela’s an Orpheus native, and lovingly totes along a pack-powered personal laser).

The Short Version of What Happens

The group sneaks into the base, discovers via the security cameras that most of the personnel in the base are barricaded in one of the crew quarters, which are being cut through with plasma welders by a group of… well, they look like ninjas. Sort of burqa-wearing ninjas, but ninjas.

The ninjas and our heroes come to blows — guns are fired, swords are swung, a mining laser (and a smaller kind) are fired, and while the base is a little worse for wear afterwards, everyone is safe.

Once things settle down, the scientists in the base say they were attacked by a particularly militant fringe faction within the Dauphine conservative movement — a group that would rather see them dead than move into space any further. Since they sent assassins to end them, it’s clear this base location is compromised, so they need to move out to another base that’s much further away from Dauphine.

The question: can you carry our delivery just a little bit further… and… if it’s not too much trouble… could you escort our pathetic excuse for an intra-system cargo-hauler as we f l y v e r y s l o w l y to the other base?

Please?

How about if we pay you?

“Pay us? Why didn’t you say so?”

And that was the session.

The Long(er) Version

Well, it’s actually not that much longer in terms of relating what happened, but I didn’t want to talk a bit about the mechanics of the personal combat, and how it played out during the session, as well as note some of the cool and not-so-cool products of play.

The Base... well, a map of the base, anyway.

As you can see from the picture of the map, I laid out the base as a sort of series of pre-fab modules. As I was sketching the thing out, I read through the personal combat section to get an idea of the various kinds of things one normally does with these personal combat settings in this system.

See, while there’s definitely a story going on here (factions, politics, sides to pick, et cetera), the first three or four sessions of the game are very specifically “there” to introduce the various mini-games within Diaspora (with the exception – for now – of platoon combat). In this session, my goal was personal combat, so I wanted to explore and introduce as many of the relevant bells and whistles as possible.

To that end, I set up the bad guys to use various maneuvers, to be good at the sorts of things that one is good at in combat, and then messed around with the map a lot.

S’possible I messed around with the map a little TOO much.

What I WANTED was an over-crowded, super-cluttered base — stuff stacked along the walls, no truly straight path to anywhere, and kind of hard to get around. The nice thing about the way this expresses itself in this iteration of FATE is that you can create such things really easily, WITHOUT mapping some kind of crazy, maze-like environment — it’s enough to just draw in a really big room, break it into a couple zones, and give each zone “Stunts” like “Complicated” or “Cluttered” to limit the range of fire and things like that.

Truly difficult rooms, like those those circular ones with a central ‘core’ that you have to walk around anyway, which are then additionally filled with clutter, boxes, crates, desks, partitions, et cetera, I’d break into multiple zones, which means it would simply take more “movement” actions to get through them. And oh yeah: put in those hissing automatic doors that don’t really stop you but which do keep you from really tearing along at full speed.

Looked good in theory.

In practice, I started the bad guys on the opposite end of the base from Our Heroes, and it took us like… I dunno, six or seven rounds of just… moving to get anywhere close enough to DO anything.

And in that time, the players had managed to move like… I dunno. Two rooms. (One, for Tim, who didn’t have any levels in the requisite ‘moving quickly’ skill.)

So, that was that bad, most of which I could have totally fixed by breaking those smaller rooms up into two diagonal zones instead of one.

The good was… well, everything else.

The computer-hacker person actually had lots to do every round — she entrenched herself in the security station and proceeded to put Aspects on various zones that people would then tag for bonuses left and right: sprinkler systems flipped on and off, lights cut out, doors locked in front of a guy about to run through them (wham!), or right behind him, so he couldn’t retreat from a bad situation.

The gun-loving character got to shoot a lot of stuff, which worked out well. I feel like he was plenty effective.

The swashbuckling pirate’s daughter got into a nice little sword fight with one of the assassins, which included a lot of leaping around and also some sliding around on the sprinkler-system-slicked floor.

And we got to try out Iago’s stunt “Applied Biology”, which (a la the most recent Sherlock Holmes flick) lets him use a large chunk of his Scientist skill in lieu of Brawling — this led an exchange where one of the bad guys was left standing right in front of the mining laser that Iago had been pushing around on a cargo cart, just as Phyl flipped it on, remotely.

The bad guy grabbed the front of the laser, shoved it to the side just as it fired, and LIVED… although he sustained a Severe Consequence of “Amputated AND Cauterized” — the mostly wince- and chuckle-inducing consequence of the evening.

All in all, it was a pretty dynamic fight with a lot of good stuff going on, some nice tactical stuff happening, where one player was setting up another one or taking advantage of something someone else had just done — it felt like synergies were happening all over.

The weird part?

The weird part was that I set up a really big fight on a really big map and it took pretty much the whole game session just to do that one fight.

I haven’t had that happen since… well, DnD, honestly. I don’t think it’s every happened in any kind of “indie” game in, well, ever. Some of those games are plenty deadly (Dogs, for example), but even then, fights are nasty, brutish, and short.

FATE does a lot of wonderful, character-driven, evocative stuff — using Aspects in all their various permutations are THE Killer App of the game, without a doubt, even in spin-offs like Diaspora — but to a certain degree SotC and Diaspora and all the “Version 3.0” FATE games are still very traditional in a lot of ways. The detailed play of session two’s combat reminded me of that.

That’s not a BAD thing, at all. Or good, really. It just is. A feature (in the landscape, not software, sense).

Anyway, the fight wrapped up, deals were made, and session three (which I’ll write up next) involved the crew of the Tempest splitting up a bit to pilot/escort the Dauphine collective’s “Intrepid” to a new base elsewhere in the system.

And, finally, some space combat. Heat up the iridium, Phyl, it’s Shootin’ Time…

Diaspora, Session 1: Teacup on The Tempest

I tell you, I don’t know why I bother prepping.

Last night was the only Wednesday in February where I could wrangle the Diaspora participants into the same location at the same time (which is an improvement; it had originally looked as though it would be April before we could play with the Cluster and characters we made up in January), and I’ve been reading, watching, and playing a LOT of sci fi lately, so it’s fair to say I was a little stoked and ready to go.

I’m not really much for prep work, but Diaspora has really gotten me revved up, and I’ve been all about doing Cool Hard Science research and reading, re-reading, and re-re-reading the rulebook to make sure I’ve got things worked out in my head.  It seems like the first couple sessions involve learning the game systems anyway, so I wanted to make sure I understood them.

And I came up with names and extremely wispy backstory for the NPC crew of the ship.

And… I prepped a little.

That last thing? I needn’t have bothered.

The Prep

So here’s what I did. I wanted to start the game off with a completely vanilla, Traveler-esque scenario. Not ground-breaking, but it would let me slowly introduce the mini-games inside diaspora, and establish the “norm” for the setting so that we could then riff off it.

I was a little flummoxed by all the possible options I had, though, so I poked around Abulafia and found a wonderful little “Traveller [sic] Mission Generator” that I hit refresh on a couple times until I found something fun and simple to start with.

  • Courier hires the party to transport goods.
  • The mission targets Asteroid Base.
  • Their efforts are opposed by foreign government.

Right, a fine start. I took that came up with:

The crew of the Tempest is on Unity Orbital Station in the Orpheus System, and has picked up a contract to ship mining equipment to the Dauphine System (specifically, to Sebastus, an icy, distant moon orbiting Dauphine itself). The source of this material is The Ladder, an Orphean research group, represented in this deal by Amalie Silas, and the recipient in Dauphine is group of politically progressive nobles who haven’t yet given up on the stars. The director of the base is one Denys Benois.

Getting the equipment to Dauphine is complicated due to the fact that the fast, quick route to Dauphine is through Caliban who (a) polices their slip-points (b) doesn’t want Dauphine getting better at utilizing their resources and (c) is hunting for most if not all of the PC characters for different reasons, so they either need to risk it, or take a longer, potentially more costly route.

I went for a ship-based mission right off the bat because when I looked at the characters we’d come up with, everyone had some kind of ship-based combat skill somewhere in their top teirs, and there was no other kind of activity (such as social conflict, personal conflict, et cetera) that was so universally present).

“Play to their strengths for this first session,” I thought.

Anyway, having worked out the basic plan, I crawled through the book and nailed down exactly what rules I wanted to hit.

Maintenance check

This was just to introduce this idea to the players. It was a pretty easy check to make (basic maintenance, upkeep-level repairs, refueling, etc), complicated just a little bit, due to the crew not actually working at making any kind of profit recently.

Setting up the job

Which I figured might involve a little roleplay and maybe a brokerage roll.

Navigation

The trip could take as little as 13 days, but could run 52 days (or more), and I wanted to make sure I knew the options well enough to be able to handle all the possible permutations the players might try to pull off.

Ship to Ship combat

Because obviously, there has to be some of that. For this, I grabbed and tweaked some of the pregenned ships from the book. (The pirate ship with the “Bowls of Fresh Fruit” aspect and a captain who’s apex skill is “Profession: Spokesmodel? Sold!)  Pretty soon, I had a trio of privateer/wildcatter ships: The Ingenue, the small-but-heavily-armed Queen Maab, and the modular, ore-hauling Keepdown Krab.

Ready? Ready!


The session opens with most of the PCs on the bridge of The Tempest. Before them, a azure-tinted holographic representation of three ships floats in the air. Over the comms, a voice says:

“Tempest, this it The Ingenue. Come to and prepare to be boarded. I repeat: come about and prepare to be boarded.”

Everyone looks at Captain Miranda.

Captain Miranda: “Ummmmm….”


We get a black screen with the words, “21 days earlier…


We see the crew of the Tempest debarking, eager for a few days “shore” leave on Unity Orbital Station. As they file past, Captain Mirana “Drake” is charging their cred sticks with their pay and reminding them to be back on the ship in 45 hours. Kaetlyn, Phyll, and “Iago” (Titus Belliago) linger in the background.

As the last of the ‘lesser’ crew file down the docking port, Kaetlyn steps around in front of Miranda, hands her her cred stick and says “running low on funds yet?”

“Not yet,” Miranda’s voice is calm, but she’s clearly a little tense — since buying the ship and fleeing with the barest of skeleton crews, they’ve been hoping from system to system, filling the roster but taking on no jobs until she knew that she hadn’t been spotted by her relatives on Prospero Station. “We’ll have work lined up by the end of the day.”

“It’s a good place for it,” comments ‘Iago’. He looks around. “However, it’s possible I might not be the most welcome person here, so I think I’ll… stay on the ship.” He heads back into the Tempest without bothering to get his pay stick charged. “Good luck. Take someone with you.”

Miranda nodded. “I’d like to, actually.”

Phyll, always helpful, says “I can come along.”

Kaetlyn glowers at him.

“What?” He thinks. “You can come along too.”

“Well, I guess I have to, don’t I?”

“Oh…” he thinks some more. “Weren’t you going to go shopping?”

The glower acquires additional glower. “Well not now.”

Poor Phyll.


The meeting with the Ladder rep is at a sort of “rent a meeting room” facility on the station. Amalie Silas is refreshingly open and straightforward about the job; they want to hire the Tempest because it’s a Caliban-designed ship whose captain did not enter into an “indenture” relationship to afford it — this means it will be unremarkable in Caliban space, but the crew will not beholden to Caliban in anyway. This is desirable, because they are shipping deep space mining gear to Dauphine, and as Caliban routinely sends wildcatter/privateers  into that system for resources, they would NOT like this shipment being made.

The pay is good (Silas is paying for the longer, four-jump route, but points out that they can jump right through Caliban’s system if they want to risk it, drastically shortening the trip and probably reaping a tidy profit… if they don’t run afoul Caliban’s slippoint station “refuel enforcement”.

Miranda negotiates a bit, and gets Silas to put an additional 2-day pro-rated bonus on top of the standard payment if Miranda calls her crew back from shore leave immediately and sets out today. Kaetlyn storms out, her dreams of shop(lift)ing shattered.


The cargo bay of the Tempest is stuffed full of crates and hard-to-package mining equipment, to the point where Iago comments they’re going to need to grease the ceiling to get the last two crates on. Everyone piles back aboard, their griping nicely muted by the fat pro-rate bonus the captain hands them as they return.

They set out for the six-day burn toward Orpheus’s “northern” slip point, and the command staff meets in the CIC to discuss the route they’ll take.

No one really wants to get into specifics about why certain systems should be avoided, so some of the reasons given are a bit vague, but the upshot is that Miranda, who’s “A bit Rusty” [aspect] doesn’t like their chances of slipping to Caliban, reorienting, reacquiring the slip point, and slipping out again before they’re intercepted by “escort boats” that will “forcibly invite” them to stop and refuel at the slip point station maintained (at great expense) at Caliban’s heavily-used slip points. While it sounds good in theory, in practice almost no one in the CIC wants to set foot on that station.

With all that said, they settle on a jump path of  Orpheus -> Achilles -> Lear -> Shylock -> Dauphine, with a maintenance stop planned at Shylock’s “tourist moon” of Nasira.

Business proceeds as normal up to the first jump (except for Phyll, who takes whatever opportunity he can to sneak into the cargo bay and poke through all the “really interesting” mining equipment).

Once at the slip point, Miranda makes her calculations, Iago and Phyll initiate the jump, and The Tempest arrives at the Achilles slip point, cooling panels already deploying to shed excess heat while they calculate the next jump.  They picked up a lot of momentum on the slip, and it takes them almost five hours to get the ship back to optimal slip range. Miranda silently notes that if that slip had been into Caliban space, there’s no way they’d have gotten out before being intercepted.

In the lull, Iago leaves the helm in (NPC) Keen’s hands and heads to the galley to start putting together the day’s main “together” meal. Many on board think he enjoys his role as cook more than that of pilot. They might not be wrong.

While doing so, Iago comms Phyll, asking him to come from engineering and help out. Ariel (the ship’s V.I.) informs him that Phyll is actually in the cargo bay. Iago deduces what Phyll’s up to and tells him to leave all the stuff there.

Food prep is made, Phyll natters on about how cool and infinitely modular the so-called mining equipment is (“You could make anything out of this stuff: plasma drills, yes, but also station defense systems, ship’s guns, automated laser platforms…”), and Miranda decides to do a little research into The Ladder.

What everyone learns from this is:

  • The Ladder is more R&D than manufacturing, and has a reputation (and notoriety) for providing advanced tech to “underdogs” throughout the Cluster, turning a profit, yes, but also following the credo encoded within their corporate logo: “Technology is the Great Equalizer.” (Like guns in the old west, right?)
  • Dauphine doesn’t really “do” tech and space exploration. Whoever’s doing all this is a minority in Dauphine.
  • NO one from Caliban will like ANYTHING Dauphine could make out of the equipment in their cargo hold.

The slip into Lear is nearly perfect: it takes the crew less than 15 minutes to reorient and slip out of the system: barely enough time to disperse heat and do the calculations. Everyone is happy about this, because Lear is a shithole.

The next jump takes them to Shylock. Reorientation is quick; Iago and Miranda get the ship on a course headed in-system, leave Ariel flying things, and head down for a Big Meal.

All eleven crew members are there, chatting about whatever comes up — talk is playfully steered by Iago to the topic of getting a hot tub installed for “crew comfort,” but Miranda quells that notion before the main course even comes out. Denied that, the crew starts speculating about the cargo, with Phyll talking about all the wonderful, destructive things one could make from the components. The talk gets turned around a little bit, and somehow returns to some speculation about a mining-laser-heated hot tub, at which point in time Miranda excuses herself and returns to the bridge.

Ariel: “Anything I can do, Captain?”

Miranda: “I’m fine.”

Ariel: “You seem… tense. Perhaps a game of chess?”

Miranda: “No…” (pause) “Load up C’tan.”

Ariel: “Yes, Captain. [pause] would you like the standard automated opponents?”

Miranda: “Two of them, yes. On Expert.”

Ariel: [dejected] “Yes, Captain.”

Miranda: [vaguely amused] “Would you like to play as well?”

Ariel: “May I?”

Miranda: “Certainly. Load scenario 23-B, with the random forest fires.”

Ariel: “Oh. My favorite…”

… and so they passed the flight.

[[I am slowly statting out Ariel-the-V.I.; one of her Aspects is totally going to be “Do you want to play a game?”]]

Their efforts are opposed by foreign government

The trip into and out of Shylock was relatively uneventful — the wear and tear from consecutive slips without maintenance was negligible, and the slip into Dauphine was, if anything, better than the Lear slip.

No sooner had they gotten reoriented, however, than Ariel announce multiple inbound contacts.

Before them, a azure-tinted holographic representation of three ships floats in the air. Over the comms, a voice says:

“Tempest, this it The Ingenue. Come to and prepare to be boarded. I repeat: come about and prepare to be boarded.”

Everyone looks at Captain Miranda.

Captain Miranda: “Ummmmm….”

Diaspora has a rule where anyone can spend a Fate point and declare something about the setting, as long as it pertains to their apex skill. Miranda’s apex skill is Brokerage (with a related “military grade” stunt that means she’s expert in the trading of goods in markets black or white); before she bought the ship, she advised hundreds of ship’s captains about the kinds of jobs to take and the kinds of upgrades to makes.

Kate spent a Fate point, announced that she knew the captain of the Ingenue and barked. “Jorge? Is that you? What are you doing and why are you in my way?”

I had her make a roll to see how well she knew Jorge and the Ingenue, and Kate rolled huge numbers, so I pretty much gave her everything I had on the ship:

“The Ingénue”, T2 Civilian Pirate

* Rotating license plates
* Glory-hungry pirates
* Camel of space (long time between refills and repairs)
* Friendly and approachable
* Big bowls of fresh fruit

Captain [Jorge] Demont
Profession: Spokesmodel 3; Resolve 2, Alertness 2; Charm 1, Slug Thrower 1, Intimidation 1

During the ensuing exchange, I also gave him aspects…
* I didn’t want to be a pirate
* Pretty and vain
* “I do love citrus…”

I had it all set up so that we’d be fighting these guys, plus:

“Queen Maab”
* Defending our weak friends
* Little room for cargo
* A monkey could fly this thing
* Gets pretty hot in here
* Out of ammo

And:

“Keepdown Krab”, T2 Modular Cargo Hauler
* All cargo is expendable
* Save our skins
* Unexpected burst of speed
* Plenty more space back there
* Can’t make money dead

… who wasn’t really interested in the fight; she had a full load of Dauphine ore and was ready to jump out of the system and screw the “bonus” promised by some mystery man who wanted them to empty the Tempest’s cargo hold.

But no fight was in the offing. Through a series of rolls, the crew convinced Captain Demont to come aboard and “inspect the cargo hold personally”, and I shucked the the Space Combat set up and starting setting up for a Social Combat (which I hadn’t prepped at all.)

Here are my notes… some of which won’t make sense if you haven’t played the game, but luckily the system for the conflict conveys events of real weight into the actual story of the session, so “what happens” is just as clear as “how”.

  • I started with a basic kind of ‘v-shaped’ map, like the one presented for the ‘romance’ social combat in the book, so… seven zones in length. On one end of the map was the “Fight” zone, and on the other was “Flight”.
  • With seven zones, the conflict was given seven turns to resolve. Each box represented an hour of real time.
  • If, at the end of a turn, all the remaining pirate ships were in the Fight box, they’d decide to fight. Or leave, if they were all together in the Flight box.
  • All the players got a chance to act in each turn, but they were represented on the board by a single “Tempest” marker which started at the bend in the “V”.
  • The Ingenue was also at the bend in the V.
  • The Queen Maab was halfway between the center and “Fight”.
  • The Keepdown Krab was one square away from “Flight” at the start.
  • The order of actions was Miranda -> Ingenue -> Tim -> Maab’s captain -> Chris -> Krab’s captain.

Miranda started off by receiving the captain of the Ingenue in the CIC, having Iago serve him a nice pina colada, and basically promising him a big payoff if he went back and told the other ships that the cargo bay didn’t have what they were looking for in it.

A big payoff. Big. HUGE. She tapped the amount out on a pad and showed it to him. He was very impressed.

[In game terms, Miranda used Assets to erect a “barrier” between the zone that she and the captain were in and the next zone closer to “fight”. It was a BIG barrier, because she nailed the roll and tagged her Liquid Assets aspect and… some aspect on the ship, I think, maybe. At any rate, the barrier had a pass value of SEVEN. Bam.]

The talk was very pleasant, except for Dumont mentioning that the captain of the Maab seemed very motivated to fight her, and seemed to know something about why she’d be out here flying an independent trader… such talk made Miranda nervous.

[Dumont used… I think Spokesmodel or intimidate… or maybe one augmented by the other to smoothly lay down a veiled threat on Miranda — a composure attack. The roll was good, and Miranda took two hits to her Composure track and mitigated the rest of the damage with a Minor (taggable) Consequence “Delgado might remember who I really am.”]

Dumont returned to his ship with a lot to think over. As he departed, Iago revealed that he’d fed the captain a bugging device in the fruit in his drink.

[Tim did a Maneuver to put the Aspect “Bugged” on the captain. I believe he might have tagged the Captain’s “I do love Citrus” to make the roll.]

Once Dumont was back on his ship, Delgado opened a tight-beam comm with him to find out what was going on and to try to get the two captains on the same page about what they were really here to do. The crew of the tempest listened in via the Bug as Delgado tried to browbeat Dumont into taking action “as they paid us to do”, and Dumont played dumb and stonewalled, clearly (to Miranda) more motivated by the fat payoff she’d promised than by Delgado’s threat.

[Delgado tried to ‘get close’ to Dumont by taking a move action, using Intimidate, but the barrier Miranda erected was too high, and I rolled absolute crap — Delgado was only able to erode the barrier from a 7 to a 6, and still hadn’t gotten close to Dumont in any viable way.]

Phyll, listening to this conversation, decided that the captain of the Maab needed a lesson in caution. He headed down to the cargo bay and, working with Ariel, activated all the “mining” power sources stored in the bay, calibrating their output signature to mesh with the power plant of The Tempest — specifically with the power source for the ship’s guns. Ariel, a V.I. installed on a privateer vessel, was disturbingly competent at this kind of electronic subterfuge.  When he hit the switch, the Maab read the resultant spike as though the Tempest had, approximately, a Frigate’s worth of firepower behind their beam weapons.

[Chris performed a composure attack on the captain of the Maab, rolling Engineering and tagging the Tempest’s “A most Delicate Monster” aspect (which refers to Ariel) for the boost that got him the shifts he needed to fill in some boxes in on the Composure track.]

The captain of the Krab made it clear to both her allies that if they fought, she was leaving without them, and reminded Delgado that he was there to protect her ship, and that You Can’t Make Money Dead.

[The captain of the Krab made a move self action to enter into the Flight box. Basically, she was an ally for the PCs in this fight.]

ONE HOUR UP. TIME FOR ROUND TWO.

Miranda reopened comms to the captain of the Ingenue, but “accidentally” left it on an open channel, and said something like:

“You know, since we have you here, I just thought of something — there’s a job I had to turn down, very lucrative, but we didn’t have the cargo space for it. I’m friends with the client, though, and he asked me for recommendations when I turned him down. Would you lot be interested?”

[This was a Brokerage roll, and we debated whether to put an aspect on someone or something, but we instead settled on doing a “move another” action, which moved the Captain most of the way toward Flight. He wasn’t QUITE convinced, though.]

I think the Captain replied with a tight-beam message he just got from Delgado, talking about reporting her “real identity” to Caliban. Maybe? Maybe.

[In any case, this was a compel on Miranda’s “Pirate’s Daughter” aspect, inducing her to panic, and Kate denied the compel, paying me a Fate point.]

[edited to fix] Tim’s attack wasn’t even an action his part. As Dumont sat on his ship, thinking things over and toying with the little umbrella from the drink Iago had served him, he noticed a sizable diamond earring pinned to the inside of the thing. An extra little bribe.

[This was, I think, a Charm check to move the Captain the last space into “Flight.” It worked, once Tim tagged the Captain’s “Pretty and Vain” aspect for a bonus. [edited to add] Tim was really tickled that his attack could easily be described as someone ELSE doing something.]

Delgado beamed a private message to Miranda, which she took in her ready room. It was a text message that basically said “I know who you are, and the Lafite familiy will be so relieved…”

[This was NOT a composure attack — it was an attempt to Move Another — Delgado was trying to move Miranda into the Fight box! I rolled A BIG number, and moved the Tempest crew entirely through the 6 Barrier, thus removing it.]

Miranda stormed out of her cabin and straight for the the gunnery stations.

Meanwhile, Phyll wasn’t done with the Maab. He ran an analysis of the other ship, and sent the captain a quick visual image of the Maab’s schematics, with all the weak points on the ship highlighted. The “caption” to the image was “proceed with caution”.

[Chris got a big hit on this with… I’m not sure what he rolled. I hope it wasn’t engineering, because you can’t roll the same skill twice, but I might have missed it. He tagged the Maab’s “Gets a little hot in here” as well, to indicate on the map how vulnerable the ship was to beam weapons. I mitigated the damage with a Minor Consequence (second thoughts) and Severe Consequence (“The crew of the Tempest is just… too good.”)]

I don’t remember what the Krab did at this point.

END OF ROUND TWO. TWO HOURS IN-GAME, DONE.

… and the conflict was almost over, too.

Miranda stormed onto the gunnery deck, pulled Anjela out of her seat, dropped in, activated every weapon within the Tempest’s considerable arsenal…

… and targeted all the weak points Phyll had just pointed out.

[Composure Attack, using Gunnery (well, Navigation with a stunt to let it sub in for Gunner, but whatever), free-tagging the Severe Consequence Phyll had just put on the captain, and Taking him Out.  This gave Kate the ability to decide what happened to the captain — we decided he completely lost his nerve at this point, and would flee the scene, go into dry dock, and eventually sell his ship at a loss and take up farming on Achilles. He. Was. Done.]

And with that, the conflict was over. The ships parted ways…

[Miranda tagged her Liquid Assest aspect to hit a level 5 Assets check and wired a LARGE payment to Dumont, as promised (she has an aspect of “Respect, Not Fear”, so she keeps her promises).]

And the Tempest turned in-system, ready to deliver their shipment.

The End.

For now.

Being Immortal in Fate (Diaspora)

Tim challenges me.

First, he never lets me coast during our games: not as a GM, certainly, but neither as – more simply – a roleplayer. I consider that a good thing.

Second, he challenges me on my choices. I’m not saying he busts my balls over every single thing I do in a game, but he makes sure that I know why I’m doing something — that there’s a reason for it that goes beyond “well, it’s X kind of game, so we should do X.”

But Third, he never lets me coast when it comes to the system — whatever system we’re running. What that means is that, if something is theoretically possible in the game, he will grab that ‘theoretically’ possible thing and wrangle it by the throat, dragging it from Theory into Practice.

Case in point: Diaspora. Let me point out a few things Tim did with his guy that might/would be, in another system or another time, “game breaking”.  Tim’s concept was basically:

  • I’m the Benevolent Dictator for Life of an entire star system. (Except that I bailed and left a twin in my place.)
  • The solar system I control is the source of life-extending food. Which I created. And kept the good stuff for myself.
  • Because of this super-SUPER-food and my own experiments on myself, I am (so far) effectively immortal and can heal from just about any injury.

He’s not being a dick about it : that’s just his character concept, and if I look at it and say “I don’t think that’s possible”, he’ll work with me.

Not that I said that.

  • Dude, you left a stranger that looks just like you in charge of a whole system of rich, bored, nigh-immortals? THANK YOU.
  • I like super-food. I like trying to figure out how one fruity oaty bar can feed someone for a year, and how that would be remotely profitable for anyone.
  • And… well, I had this idea about the whole regen thing. It’s kinda neat.

Here’s the deal with with regeneration; there’s really two things it’s likely to do. One is A Game Thing, and one is A Story Thing.

  • Game Thing: You recover from wounds a hell of a lot faster than the rules allow, presumably for some game-point cost roughly equal to having internal body armor that would have stopped about the same amount of damage. That’s easy to do: you just get the “internalized gear: armor” stunt and describe it as you healing really fast. Which is fine. It’s not super-interesting to me; it’s just a thing. Whatever. (Tim: you SHOULD note that if what we came up with as a solution is unsatisfying or too non-crunchy, we can do this.)
  • Story Thing: You take horrific damage that should kill another person, but it doesn’t kill you.

The thing is, people worry a lot about how to make Crazy Regeneration (TM) work as a Game Thing, but most of the time what the player wants is the Story Thing — they want a story in which their guy takes horrific damage that should kill them… and it doesn’t.

The story-point of this kind of ability is the hurt they undergo, you know?  Wolverine isn’t about his per-second-healing-rate — he’s about Surviving Shit That Should Kill You (physical and otherwise); no one would give a shit about Corwin of Amber if it weren’t for the fact that he got his eyes burned out of his head with hot pokers and kept going.

I mean… no one builds a guy with regen and then gives them agility so high they never gets hit. Where’s the fun in that?

So I listened to Tim to see what he was talking about, when he was talking about this ability.

And? He was talking about the cool scenes that would come from it.

He was talking about the story.

Right, so this is how you deal with that.

  1. Make sure he can get hit a lot.  Tim built a stunt called “better living through science” that lets him determine the size of his “stress” bar (or whatever it’s called, I don’t have the book with me) from his Science skill, not Stamina. Boom. He suddenly got a very roomy stress bar for taking physical damage.
  2. Make sure he’s got an Aspect that reflects this regen/durability. Why? Just to give the whole concept weight.
  3. Finally: Remember what damage to this guy means.

Here’s the thing: in FATE, damage to the stress bar of a character is temporary stuff: it goes away with a few seconds’ rest at the end of the fight. Ditto Minor Consequences. Moderate Consequences take maybe a good night’s rest to shake off. Serious consequences take a fair bit longer.

On a normal guy, then, stress bar damage and minor consequences are things like little cuts, scrapes, bruises… stuff like that. Moderate might be a wrenched shoulder or a light weapon graze that draws blood. Serious is a solid hit. Blood everywhere, or a totally broken limb.

On Tim’s guy, quite simply, damage to his stress bar is described in play as something roughly similar to a normal guy’s Serious hit. That’s where damage-of-note STARTS with him — anything less is too inconsequential to mention.  From that starting point, we then ramp to the point where his “Takes awhile to shake off” injuries are things like “I chopped off my arm to escape” — because on this guy, that’s not a permanent problem.

Put more succintly: a stress-hit on a normal guy is a bruise; on Tim’s guy, I blow a hole through his leg. Increase from those starting points in parallel.

That’s it. With that tweak, we get what we’re looking for: a guy who shakes off in minutes what it would take other people months to heal from, which was the whole point.

And when he invokes that “practically immortal” aspect to give himself a bonus? That means I know that he’s solving the problem by (mis)using his body in some particularly damaging way.

Ouch. Should be fun.

Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)

Exactly one year after our first gathering, the Wednesday night group got together for our first session of the new year, and we decided to get started in 2010 with Diaspora, the world’s softest hard sci-fi game.

Counting myself, there were four players, and we opted to each create two worlds in “the cluster” (a series of different star systems, connected by ‘slip points’ located above and below the barycenter of each system), for a total of eight.

The “theme” that we used for the system cluster was this:

  • Your first system starts with the same letter as your first name.
  • Your second system starts with the same letter as your middle name.
  • All system names are derived from characters in Shakespeare.

This worked pretty well, and gave us some pretty evocative setting elements, especially when the players took things a bit further and wrote out some of the Aspects on the systems, their characters, and even their ship as quotes from various works of Shakespeare.

Due to scheduling problems, we won’t be able to play for a couple more weeks months, but we’re all looking forward to it.

Anyway, we did the whole Cluster and character generation the first night, then posted the results to a Google Wave where we’ve since fleshed things out a bit. Here are the results.

Continue reading “Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)”

Farscape as gaming group

Recently Farscape became available on the ‘view on my computer’ queue via Netflix, part of a re-release that also put the whole series up for sale for a very reasonable price (as opposed to the original DVD releases, priced for something insane like 30 bucks for two episodes).

All of this pleases me.  Initially, my plan was to watch episodes while I’m on the elliptical, and while I’m doing that, I’m not only doing that, because it’s Farscape, and it kind of sucks me in. (I’m excited to watch past third season, actually, because I don’t think I ever saw all of Season Four, and I never saw the Peacekeeper Wars.)

But in rewatching the show, I’m struck by how strongly Farscape seems modeled on the story/structure of a gaming group. Not ‘game-based fiction’, but the group itself. Not even Dragonlance reflects my experience with the ebb and flow of a game at the table, and the things that happen with your players over time.

Five players, plus the GM.
Five players, plus the GM.

Season One:

So here’s what we’ve got when we first start playing the game.

GM: “I’m going to do this sci-fi game.”
Crichton: Cool.
Most of the players:
“What about the DnD game we’ve been doing?”
GM: “This will still have most of those dynamics. All the classes are pretty much the same, it’s just a few skills that will be different.”
D’argo: “As long as I can still have a big fucking sword.”
GM: “… fine. Whatever.”

  • Warrior: D’argo
  • Ranger: Aeryn
  • Cleric: Zhaan
  • Rogue: Rigel
  • Crichton, the only one who tries a new class, starting out as an ‘astronaut’ (basically a scientist/pilot multiclass with none of the multiclass disads… like the way elves and hobbits worked in original DnD).

Now, the GM quickly realizes that the guy playing Crichton is never going to miss a game session. The dude writes diary entries from his character’s point of view, podcasts random stuff, and even writes some fiction about the stuff that happens between official sessions.  A lot of the game is built around what this player does and the stuff he and the GM talk about. But everyone’s having a good time, and the bad guy seems to be working out pretty well, and word gets around. A couple more players want to join in.

And this GM has a real problem with telling a player they can’t join if they want to.

Chianna wants to play a rogue, but the group’s already got a rogue, so she goes the ‘physical burglar’ route so as to keep from stepping on Rigel’s toes.  It takes a few sessions to really take, and a it’s quite a few more sessions after that before Rigel’s player really acknowledges her at the table, but once that happens, those two kinda bond.

Stark is just a buddy of Rigel’s who’s visiting from out of town for a couple weeks and wants to play, so the GM has him play Crichton’s cellmate. The dude’s kinda of crazy, and doesn’t seem to give a crap about the actual game system — he just wants to roleplay everything instead of rolling dice, but whatever — the GM makes up death-priest variant, figuring it’ll never matter anyway, cuz the guy’ll be gone before long.

Near the end of the first story arc, the GM introduces Scorpius, whom everyone universally decides is cooler than Crase as far as bad guys go, and the GM likes playing him a lot, so Scorpius become the new big bad, and Crase flies off stage with the gunship that the GM mistakenly gave the players (he just wanted to make use of the ship-design rules he’d been playing with, and Crichton saw the design and talked him into introducing the ship via a weird pregnancy plot).

Season Two:

Six is a lot of players, but the situation doesn’t get appreciably better with the new storyline. Crichton is still super active, but the whole wormhole thing is kind of going by the wayside for the player, cuz he likes being chased by Scorpius and trying to hook his character up with Aeryn, so that’s pretty much the main arc.

Other players saw the whole torture scene stuff with Crichton, though, and want a piece of the story-action. D’argo nags the GM to push the ‘I have a son’ thing forward, for example.  Zhaan’s player is pretty pissed about the ‘crappy healing’ that clerics get in this system and continues to nag everyone to go back to the ‘real’ DnD game, but no one’s listening.

Rigel’s fine. Rigel’s always fine. Don’t worry about Rigel. He’s good.

The GM loves playing Scorpius, so he finally comes up with a way to play him even more often by sticking him inside Crichton’s head. Crichton actually stats up Scorpius’ second in command just so he and the GM can play some one-on-one ‘bad guy’ scenes.

Oh man… Rigel’s buddy actually decides to move to town (he’s got a semi-permanent gig with the local community theater). He wants back into the game. As the same death-priest guy. Crap.

Zhaan really wants to quit the game. Honestly, she’s run by Crichton (so he can play in more scenes) and the GM as much as the original player, cuz she doesn’t show up much. (Though she does come back for awhile when Stark’s player shows move into town, cuz she’s got a crush on him, but it doesn’t go anywhere, and she can’t even get his attention with a glorious death scene, so shes quits and doesn’t make a new character.)

The group is left with no healer except for the guy who’s main skill is helping people die. Crap.

So the GM finds someone to play a ‘regular’ doctor. Jool. His girlfriend. Who doesn’t game and doesn’t like science fiction. Even the guy playing Crichton thinks this is a bad idea.

Plus, the group is hitting nigh-critical mass. Too many of almost every class.

The GM wants to split the group into two separate groups for awhile. Crichton hates that idea, because he wants play more, not less, and doesn’t want to make another ‘main’ guy.

“I have a solution,” the GM says.

So the group’s get split up.

Group Moya

  • Fighter, D’argo
  • Rogue, Chianna
  • Jool, “healer”
  • Crichton

D’argo’s spending points on “I have a ship”, but he can’t do it all at once, so the GM’s letting him buy it a little bit at a time. That’s fine. But Crichton realizes that in this group he’s got nothing going on — his “Loves Aeryn” thing and “D’argo’s Buddy” doesn’t let him go after Chianna, no one’s really hunting Moya, Jool is dating the GM and they both give him dirty looks whenever he tries to hit on the character…

… so he only has wormholes to work on. This quickly gets old for EVERYONE.  The only respite is when Crichton takes a break and roleplays Braka in scenes with Scorpius.

Group Talyn

  • Fighter, Aeryn
  • Rogue, Rigel
  • Priest, Stark
  • MORE Crichton, who by this point in time has multiclassed so many times that the GM just simplified the system by making “Crichton” a class. Crichton loves this group, because he gets to continue to hit on Aeryn, shoot stuff, get chased by bad guys, and fiddle with wormhole tech.

But the GM is getting a little fatigued by running two groups every week. He isn’t aware of it consciously, but he resents all the time the game is taking — it starts to leak into the game itself: it’s basically impossible for anyone to do anything in any game session without making the situation worse, even if they succeed.  This trend will, we fear, continue.

——

And that’s about where I am right now in Season Three.

You gotta admit, as good as the show is, it’s weirdly similar to gaming groups.

… which in turn makes it dissimilar to any other kind of ensemble cast show I’ve ever watched. The characters are more strongly archetypal (or stereotypical, depending on how charitable you’re feeling) than anything like BSG or Babylon 5 or… well, anything.

What’s weird and remarkable is that they largely retain those archetypes even three years into the series. That’s not say they’re shallow, but their depth tends to be strictly confined to the original silos they were built into. Character archetypes. Classes. It makes the show immediately easy to grasp, no matter which episode you jump into.

(Until, if I recall correctly, Season Four, where everything goes CRAZY and the GM starts dropping acid.)

More as I think of it.

2009: The Year In Gaming

Well, the year in *my* gaming, anyway.

Last year, during the holidays, Tim (I’m pretty sure it was Tim) suggested that we set up a regular gaming schedule for:

  • A small group.
  • On weeknights.

This coincided well with my long-time desire to get a regularly scheduled game night going again. The small group also meant that we wouldn’t have (as many) problems with not being able to play because some significant percentage of the group couldn’t make it.

By and large, it worked. Since January 14th of last year, this is (to the best of my recollection) what I’ve played:

  • Don’t Rest Your Head – We did this as a one-shot with Tim and Chris and Kate, and while I think it would have been better with two sessions, it worked as a single session thanks to the players really pushing the story hard, and it was quite fun. I daresay it was perhaps the first really successful game I’ve run with Kate as a player. I remember this one fondly. That it was the first game of the ‘new’ schedule augured well for the future.
  • Dogs in the Vineyard – a kind-of wrap up for an on-again, off-again story we’d played in 2008.
  • Inspectres, thanks to a request from Bianca.
  • In a Wicked Age – we revisited this system a couple times during the year, and Tim and Chris as a sort of desert-rat Laurel and Hardy rarely fails to entertain. I’d like to take this game out for another spin in the future, if only to see how The Wedding comes out. (Where did I put that Oracle?…)
  • The Mountain Witch – this actually wasn’t a Wednesday Night game, but a weekend one-shot I ran for Kate, De, Lee, and their visiting brother Dale. The ending was something like: De killed Lee, Kate killed De, the Witch killed Kate, and Dale (saved the child and) killed himself. Glorious, bloody fun, hampered only by my misunderstanding of one ability Lee wrote down.
  • Shadows Over Camelot – Not an RPG as such, but it gave us a number of good games, and not just with my gamer friends: our first win came while playing with Kate’s mom, and I personally had a fantastic time playing with my own mom and dad. Dad really got into the game.
  • Primetime Adventure: Ironwall – A real milestone for me: we pitched a series and, from March to November, managed to run all six sessions in the first Season. That may not seem like much of an accomplishment, but when you consider we were coordinating the schedules of five adults, and had to postpone several times when the ‘spotlight’ player couldn’t show, I will happily dislocate my shoulder while patting my own back.  It’s worth noting that we all want to revisit this setting and the storyline in the future… but with a different system — very likely the Dresden Files, which will have just the mix we’re looking for. PTA is great for high-concept, but a little light on ground-level mechanics.

While we were ostensibly playing PTA, we squeezed in a couple other games as well.

  • Mouse Guard, more Mouse Guard, and yet more Mouse Guard. I love this game, pure and simple. I love it enough to try Burning Wheel.
  • 3:16 – A one-shot story of genocidal space marines. Good times. Would not mind going back to this game again at all.
  • Danger Patrol – I enjoyed this session so much. I’d LOVE to play a short series of serials in this madcap, space opera, radio drama universe.

Give or take, that’s about 19 games over the course of the year. Call it 23 if you count Shadows over Camelot. Not quite two games every month, but damn close; I’ll take it and say thankee sai.

What I’d love to play in the coming year:

Longer stuff

  • Burning Wheel or Burning Empires (probably Burning Wheel: I suspect that Diaspora might give me my spacey-sci-fi fix for 2010.)
  • Diaspora – an excellent game built on the Fate 3.0 engine. I’ve had time to go over the rules now, and the social combat sub-system makes me shivery, to say nothing about ship to ship combat. Fun stuff. God I love Aspects.

Shorter Stuff

  • Time & Temp – A game of time travel and underemployment. You travel through the ages actualizing solutions for the anomalies and paradoxes that threaten all of existence. You are reality’s only line of defense in the war between the rigidity of causality and freewill. Your reward: the hard earned satisfaction of a job well done. (Plus $11.50 an hour and a modest health package including comprehensive immunizations for history’s most prolific diseases.)
  • Annalise is a game about making Vampire stories. Each player characters are the victims, hunters and tools of the Vampire. The best example is that you are playing the story of Dracula with one person (for example) in the role of Mina Harker, one as Van Helsing, one as Renfield. The Vampire in your game, like Dracula, is what drives the plot, but it is not a protagonist.
  • Some more In a Wicked Age.
  • Some more Mouse Guard.
  • A little Ghost Echo, if I’m feeling cyberpunky.

What about playing? Hmm.

  • I think I should hook Chris up with a copy of Trail of Cthulu and see if he wants to run it. I’ve heard good things.
  • Fiasco, which doesn’t need a GM.
  • Ooh, someone run some Shotgun Diaries, please.

And whatever other shiny bit of metal gets my attention.

What about you?

Mouse Guard: The River at Elmoss, and making players cry

Got a chance to go back and play some Mouse Guard this weekend with Dave and Margie and Kate and Ka(y/therine).

This session was a continuation of action that took place in “Not much Use as a Postmouse” and “A New Route to Ivydale”.  Margie’s character Lucia was still Angry from the last session, so she took the “Summary of previous events” intro to the session, which lets her get rid of a condition on her sheet.

As the patrol was getting ready to set out to their next delivery point (Elmoss), they were met by a traveler/messenger from Elmoss who was looking… well, not for them, exactly, but for a Patrol that was supposed to have arrived in Elmoss several days ago, escorting a much-needed grain shipment from Ivydale.  The messenger hadn’t spotted them on his trip here, so he asked Our Heroes to see if they could find them as they traveled what SHOULD have been the same route.

Asking around Ivydale, the patrol learned that the other group of Guardmice was led by Warwick, a patrol leader with a good reputation and Rosamund’s (Kate) mentor back in her tenderpaw days.  Also, the last Aelwyn (Dave) heard, a female guardmouse of his acquaintance (“Brynn.” sigh) was a member of that patrol.

The group set out their goals for this mission;

  • Rosamund: Locate my old mentor, Warwick.
  • Aelwyn: Rescue Brynn’s patrol!
  • Lucia: Make sure the grain shipment makes it to Elmoss.
  • Graystripe (we haven’t met her yet): Impress her mentor enough to be made a full Guardmouse.

Scouting rolls were made as the patrol tracked the grain cart across quite rocky terrain, well away from the usual path (necessary, since from the tracks they could tell that the wagon was overburdened and very bad off in muddy areas).  This led to a ‘twist’ in which the patrol caught up to the wagon not far from Elmoss.  Warwick’s patrol had tried to ford a stream that had surged with Spring runoff at exactly the wrong moment… leaving the grain wagon almost tipped over next to the ford, and Warwick’s patrol clinging to a hummock of grass and detritus downstream a ways.

Dice were rolled, and the situation became further complicated: Lucia struggled to lever the grain wagon’s wheel out of the mud, Aelwyn struggled with tying off a rope from the shore while Roz swam out to the other mice, midstream. (Where she was pulled up by Graystripe.)

This complicated situation took us into a full-on Conflict with the river.  The river’s “Goal” was “wash the wagon, the grain, and both patrols down river”; the player’s goal was “save the mice, save the grain.”

This was a very challenging conflict to do, initially, and as I had quickly scripted my actions for the river, I should have stayed with the players and helped them ‘translate’ their actions into scripting… because it’s hard to see what an ‘attack’ looks like versus a river, or what skill to use… or what a maneuver looked like.  It just took awhile to get going.

Anyway, after two full exchanges (involving a lot of rope slinging and hauling mice up to the branches of a tree overhanging the river), the patrol managed to get almost everyone to relative safety, but they’d been pretty badly beat up in the process. (They only had two Disposition left from a starting 8).  Everyone was Tired.  In addition – Lucia (who was still basically in the River when it threw its final big surge) had to made a health check to see if she got sick from being, basically, half-drowned as she clung to the grain wagon (which got its wheels snapped off and was basically grounded out at the ford).  She failed that check, so in addition to being Tired, she was also Sick.

Once the water level had died down again, the patrol made its way up to Elmoss to get the town to send people out to help unload and transport the grain (and get medical treatment for the injured).  They ran into the useless, hampering, feudal-style bureaucracy of Elmoss, and got in a show-down with a nasal-voiced administrator who didn’t want to open the gate after dark, OR send anyone out after the food the town ACTUALLY NEEDED.

Aelwyn headed this showdown up with a stirring call to action, but everyone helped out, from Roz and Lucia’s persuasion, to Gray’s deceptive story about dangerous, hungry, grain-stealing weasels in the area. The administrator was unmoved (we got a tie), and Aelwyn tried to outstubborned him (Will vs. Will tiebreaker), mentioning that the ruling family who had paid for this shipment to be delivered would surely be curious who had prevented it from arriving.  When Lucia added “good point… what was your name again?” the adminstrator folded.

Their duty done, the patrol limped into town. Aelwyn acquired lodging for everyone (Resources check, also taking care of the “Tired” condition for everyone), and Roz tried to tend Warwick’s injuries, but the older mouse was pretty badly hurt, and all the water and his cracked ribs means he’ll probably always have a cough (missed Healer check lowered Warwick’s health by 1).  Lucia was also feeling a little drowned, and continues to have a nagging cough (failed Will check means she’s still sick, but with no lasting stat-damage — she’s hoping to get some medicinal help in her home town of Sprucetuck).

Gray tried to convince Warwick to make her a full Guardmouse – an argument Roz supported – but War was having none of that. Instead, he put Roz in charge of her training, since he’d be sick in bed for several weeks at least, and “the girl needs to get back out on the road”.  Roz accepted the job, and the next morning put Graystripe through the first of likely many hard swordmouseship workouts. (An instructor check for Roz, which in turn gave Graystripe a “failed” check on her Fighter skill.) There’s a new sheriff in town.

Meanwhile, Aelwyn went window shopping for Brynn and ended up spending way way way too much on a gift for her (a nice gift, but the failed Resource check resulted in Ael’s Resource score dropping by one – which in turn clears all his accumulated checks to advance that stat).

So: a bit bruised, a little waterlogged, but victorious, the Patrol prepares for the next leg of their journey – across the spring-snow-covered open meadows to Sprucetuck.


A few observations:

  • We hadn’t played in several months, and it took us a long time to remember all the nuances of the game we’d learned the last time. I forgot to encourage the players to earn ‘checks’ by using their Traits in ‘negative’ ways for one, and that hampered folks during the Player’s Turn in Elmoss.
  • The Conflict with the River was cool, in that it really showed what the system can do with weird conflicts, but that conflict totally took the system off the map in terms of “what skills do we roll” and “what does this kind of action look like in this context?”  Cool, but it slowed us down and caused a little frustration (see the title of the post).
  • The players still struggle with the idea that failure doesn’t mean “I don’t get X”, but instead means “I get X, but at a higher than anticipated cost… or with a twist.”  (And I struggle with remembering to POINT THIS OUT. :P) This led to folks pushing harder than they needed to in order to win conflicts, when “losing ” would have still gotten them what they want, but with interesting consequences.
    • Related to that, the Conflict with the River was temporarily frustrating, because it felt like “We won, but it didn’t FEEL like we won, cuz we’re still sick, tired, and the Grain is still stuck in the River.”
    • Once I pointed out that “you won, but I won a lot of rolls too”, and used a kind of “hit points – you lost a lot of em” analogy, then getting beat up and hurt while “winning” stopped being a problem for folks.
  • We worry a lot about getting the rules right.  This leads us to saying things like “Okay, on my Check, I want to use Healer on Warwick’s Injury…” instead of “I want to go see Warwick and have a scene with him.”  I think that’s just a matter of familiarity.  Right now, we’re Playing the System a bit more than just playing a game… I think that’ll come.
    • Lucky for us, while we’re perhaps “playing the system” overmuch right now, it’s a pretty GOOD system.

Mouse Guard is definitely a game where you get beat up and really struggle to pull out a victory.  It’s both heroic and not-heroic.  In once sense, it’s not-heroic cuz EVERYTHING is bigger and badder than you.  On the other, it’s very heroic, because in that face of all that, you soldier on ANYWAY, to protect the Territories.  That last point is a big one — it just may not be a game for everyone — but I hope we get a few more sessions to find out.

Meta-gaming, Actor-Stance, Author-stance, and Narration

Twitter. The final frontier new hotness. These are the transcripts of gaming nerds, trying to discuss involved game sessions using nerd jargon, in 140 characters or less.

After Wednesday night’s PTA game (where we are now 4/6 on our season of Ironwall), Tim (cyface) tweeted:

cyface A good game of #sg-pta last night. Had to tie @doycet to the stone table to make him RP instead of Metagame, but we got there. 🙂

Now, I know Tim meant no harm in his comment, and I know specifically (I think) which scene he was (mostly) referring to, but I couldn’t resist a reply.

doycet @cyface I attribute my flighty non-rpness to being really unsure if we’d get the bloody episode done on time without fast-forwarding.

Which unsurety stemmed from the fact that one guy’s spotlight episode (Tim’s, actually) coincided with a ‘screen presence: 2’ for every other character: two of them ramping up to their spotlight eps, and one coming down off his spotlight and ‘wrapping up’. There was a lot going on!

Then, of course, I started second guessing myself:

doycet @cyface Unless I’m that bad all the time — in which case… yeah, I don’t know.

Tim replied:

cyface @doycet Some of both, but generally, live for the moment, as long as the moment is good!

Meera also commented (in a reflection of the fact that she still feels she’s learning to grok some of the indie voodoo):

mtfierce @cyface Funny, I thought @doycet only metagamed in pity for the kids at the back of the indie class.

Which is a kind thing to say, and perhaps more consideration than I warrant — I know one of the things I’ve failed at with PTA in the past has been meta-level discussion of the events in the game in lieu of… you know… PLAYING.  It’s something I’ve been trying to avoid (pretty successfully, I believe) in the current season of play.

So went back and really thought about the game session (and previous sessions) in an analytical (and somewhat unkind) fashion.  That analysis prompted my next couple statements:

doycet @cyface Trying to analyze my play — is it meta-game, or doing author-stance narration? If it’s the later, then… yeah, I am. For me, authoring > acting.

doycet @cyface By “>”, I mean “more personal enjoyment/comfortable for me”. I do enjoy both kinds of play in others, and even acting for myself… in smaller doses.

This led us off into a (more profitable, IMO) discussion.

cyface @doycet It’s an interesting question. Assuming author is being well cared for, I’d prolly choose actor. But if author bad, actor = painful

cyface @doycet …and thus I’d choose author since I think it’s affects more people at once. If I can stabilize author, back to actor.

Hmm. Okay, I understand, here, what Tim’s saying, I think: “Assuming the story isn’t careening off the rails, I’d rather ‘play my guy’ and not step back into an author-level role unless necessary.”  Which is fine, but not exactly what I was talking about. To whit:

doycet @cyface Not 100% we mean the same wrt ‘author stance’. I just mean ‘playing my guy’ in 3rd person (author), rather than 1st person (actor).

doycet @cyface So, put another way, I-the-player am more comfortable playing in 3rd person than 1st, and wonder if my 3rd-person play reads, to you, as meta-play.

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I think there may be >2 modes: 1st prsn RP, 3rd prsn authorial description, omniscient scene narration, & meta-level “pre-summary”.

Here, I’m basically co-opting Forge-speak terms for stuff.

  • Actor-stance. The way I’m using it, I mean interacting with the game from your character’s 1st person point-of-view.  Obviously, you’re only using info the character knows, and your play is mostly roleplay, in the traditional, non-game sense.
  • Author-stance. You’re still just playing your guy, but the POV is more of a personalized 3rd-person, rather than 1st-person. Your character is still only acting ‘as they would act’, but rather than sort of improv’d roleplay acting, you may be describing their actions and what they say, rather than playing them out.
  • Director Stance. The player actually determines aspects of the story relative to the character in some fashion, entirely separately from the character’s knowledge or ability to influence events. So, the player not only determines their character’s actions, but the context, timing, and spatial circumstances of those actions, or even features of the world separate from the characters. (I do this all the time – it still isn’t meta-play.)
  • Meta-level “play” is, for me, something to be avoided, where you’d doing stuff like “Okay, if I succeed here, this is exactly what happens, and if you succeed, this is exactly what happens…” and then we roll dice (or whatever) and… there’s nothing left to PLAY, cuz we already described every possible outcome, so we just tic a box on the form we already filled out and go on to the next scene.  Some folks (me included) think of this as ‘playing before you actually play’.

So… yeah, if I read Tim’s first tweet as being backed with all this terminology (I rather doubt it was, and good for him), then I’d have thought he was saying I was doing that last thing.  Hopefully, what he was saying was that I was doing more Director Stance wankery (which, to be fair, I enjoy) rather than Actor (which, to be fair, Tim seems to (inexplicably) enjoy seeing me do).

doycet @cyface @mtfierce I’d say only meta-“pre-summary” is sucky “playing-without-play”, but either rules/results analysis -or- bad scene narration can BECOME that thing, by accident.

Now, personally, I don’t necessarily think Author or Director stances are bad – I’m a writer, so of course I enjoy looking at the scene from the CAMERA’S point of view, rather than the actors.  I’d go so far as to say I actually prefer them over Actor stance (full on, first person roleplay) for myself, but I’m at ease enough in my own neuroses to admit that at least one (lesser) reason I find them more comfortable (read: safe) is because when I get into first-person roleplaying in a scene, I get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene.

Well, duh.  Of course I do.  Let me rephrase.

“I’ll actually (sometimes) get more emotionally wrapped up in the scene than I’m comfortable with, and I’m concerned I might  make my fellow players uncomfortable with the level of my emotional involvement (when I play angry, I’ll get angry, et cetera), so I instinctively avoid it… That’s actually happened in the past, and I make me feel a little oogey.”

Said oogeyness is entirely a trust issue, and I really should cowboy-up and let go of my trust issues when I’m playing with the Wednesday group. Feh.

But still… that issue aside, I just plain like author/director modes.

What about you guys?

—-

In a weird bit of synchronicity, Paul Czege made this comment on a thread over on Story Games just last week:

I think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting.

Because for a story to be affecting, it must be made from some of the author’s bare personality and honest identity. When a player’s character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is “awesome” but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.

So there’s that. I don’t think Paul is wrong.

“This ends in Mud.”

david-petersen-mouse-guard-4((The title of this session is a tongue-in-cheek tribute to the finest, most awesome line in the new Mouse Guard collection, Winter 1152.))

A player couldn’t make our ongoing PTA season this week, so the remaining players and I opted to do a one-shot with Mouse Guard.

Since chargen takes quite a bit of time for new folks, I ran the whole thing as a series of questions in a (55 reply!) email thread. Here’s what they came up with:

  • Chris: Jerrick is a 33 year old patrol leader originally from Dawnrock. He had a natural talent as a survivalist and leader that led him to the Guard. As a tenderpaw and later a patrol mouse, he specialized in pathfinding, and has a reputation for never losing a mouse in any of his patrols. He is wise in the ways of mice, wilderness, motivation, and tracks. He believes “there’s always another way”, and his Instinct is to protect the mice of his Patrol at any cost.
  • Randy: Faolan is a 20 year old patrol mouse originally from Shaleburrow. He had a natural talent as a fighter; and he is extremely Bold — the guard seemed a natural fit for him… once he could be convinced not to attack everything at first blush. In Lockhaven, he was assigned to Rand (who was on his final wilderness patrol). Rand focused on his training as a scout, but his specialty (and first love) has always been fighting. He is wise in the ways of scrounging and predators. He believes “success comes through victory”, and his Instinct is to always keep a sharp blade.
  • Meera: Yarrow is a 25 year old tenderpaw — unusually old to join the guard, she applied to the guard several years after her home, Walnutpeck, was lost in the Weasel War — an event that left her and all the other survivors of the wonderful, wood-carved town Bitter. She grew up with her parents (Brand and Ivy) and learned the ways of the apiary from them – a common trade in Walnutpeck, whose apiaries were second to none, prior to the War. Her generous nature made her many friends — most of whom are now gone. She deceived the guard about her age and was eventually found out, but was allowed to stay anyway. In Lockhaven, she was assigned to Jerrick, who focused on her training as a healer and survivalist; her training thus far has been… eclectic. She is tough (all those bee-stings) and wise in the ways of weasels. She believes you must “think with your head and act with your heart”, and her Instinct is to always have a second exit available.

Prep was pretty simple: I used the Mission Burner method that someone posted on Story Games, and came up with the following:

PICK A SETTLEMENT
– Pick a settlement one or more of the patrol members are from or have history with: DAWNROCK

(Jerrick is from there, and Yarrow had a friend there – a loremouse named Siaran.)

IN THE PAST
– Weather messed something up there.

(Specifically, Spring snowmelt and rain caused a mudslide that snapped the wheel off the town’s only Mill.)

IN THE PRESENT (YOUR MISSION)
– Important mice or supplies must be accompanied to the settlement.

(Carpentry tools and a Carpenter (Faolan’s old Carpentry artisan to whom he was apprenticed: Sable.))

– Wild animals are creating difficulties for the settlement.

(The possibility exists that creatures emerging from winter hibernation might pose a problem to repairing the Mill — I’m thinking, since we’re on a “mud” theme: Bullfrog.)

IN THE FUTURE
– The difficulties will experience an unexpected twist

(See: Bullfrog.)

The Mission: “This ends in Mud”

Escort Sable (carpenter who once apprenticed Faolan) to Dawnrock with supplies, then help that settlement repair their mudslide-damaged Mill.

GM TURN

1. Get to Dawnrock. Pathfinder Test: Ob6 (Spring).
— ((Conditions Failure: Main person is Tired, helpers are Hungry and Thirsty.)) *OR*
— ((Twist Failure: Mice are on the wrong side of a broad, swampy area that’s become nigh impassable in the Spring Thaw. Ob5 Boatcrafter or Ob8 Survivalist — Failure conditions on this are Tired (lead mouse) or Hungry & Thirsty))

2. Repair the Mill (Complex test – must perform 3)
Scientist Ob5 (Design new wheel); Laborer and/or Health Ob3 (clearing mud and damaged bits – hauling supplies); Carpenter Ob 6; Healer (to help Sable recover from the wet and muddy trip – he’s Sick).
— ((Twist Failure: A bullfrog emerges from his muddy winter hibernation where the Laborer mice are clearing, and decides to have one of them as a snack. Bullfrog Nature 5: Leaping, Croaking, Camouflage, Predator))

PLAYER TURN: Go!


How it Played Out

((None of the players have played MG before. Jerrick has read Burning Wheel. The other two players have read Fall 1152. That’s it. Avante!))

After a brief overview of how the system basically worked, we jumped in.

The scene opened with mud. Snow melt, last night’s rain… whatever the reason, the courtyard in Lockhaven was muddy.

Standing in that mud, staring at a cart (like the one the grain merchant was hauling in Fall 1152) loaded to the brim with carpentry supplies and tools, are Faolan and Yarrow.

Cut to: Jerrick, in Gwendolyn’s study. The matriarch is explaining that, while this isn’t a particularly glamorous assignment, it’s very important; the water wheel on Dawnrock’s only mill was snapped off in a mudslide — although they have many skilled stone masons, the town has no carpenter to speak of; Lockhaven has arranged to provide both carpentry supplies and a skilled carpenter — in exchange, Dawnrock will send down several wagonloads of milled grain in the fall.

Gwen’s captains suggested Jerrick be sent, as he’s from Dawnrock and knows the area.

Jerrick nods, then asks the more pertinent question. “Who’s the carpenter?”

Cut back to the courtyard, where a stooped oldfur toddles up to the guardmouse and tenderpaw.

“Oy! Give an old mouse a hand up onta that cart!”

Faolan peers. “S-Sable?”

“Aye! I be a deputy guard mouse, now, boy! Time to test alla that training I wasted on you!”

“You’re… going with us?”

“Aye! Now… get me up on that wagon! I’ll be able to see for miles!”

“Get. Down.” Jerrick was not in the mood to humor the oldfur when he reached the courtyard. There were younger carpenters in Lockehaven, and he was at a loss as to way this old fool was being sent into the wilderness.

Much cussing ensued, and moaning about having to walk, but eventually Sable got down.

((Thing I forgot: both Jerrick and Faolan have Patrol Captain Harrow as an Enemy — Harrow is the guy behind assigning them to glorified carpentry duty, and the one who arranged for a crotchety oldfur to be sent along. I was GOING to have him show up just before they left to make sure they knew that, but I got so wrapped up messing around playing Sable, I forgot. 😛 ))

Jerrick, well-known as an expert pathfinder, turned to his newest patrol member. “All right, Yarrow — how about you find us a way to Dawnrock?”

Yarrow seriously considered scurrying away.

((Pathfinder test. Ob6. Yarrow doesn’t HAVE Pathfinder. Beginner’s luck rules, with help from Faolan (scouting) and Jerrick (wilderness-wise), left her rolling 3 dice… needing six successes. Sure. Failure. GM opts for a twist.))

The patrol heads… well, mostly north. Jerrick is stoically silent as Yarrow leads them, refraining from any comment more helpful than “are you sure?”

A long day ends with the group staring at the murky morass of a spring-swollen swamp. Dawnrock lies somewhere on the other side. Doubling back will add another day to the trip; possibly two. Continuing forward will require some kind of boat. Or… raft. or… something.

They decide to sleep on it.

The next morning, Faolan starts scrounging up bits of wood and vine to contruct a viable raft. Yarrow helps out by hauling the stuff (laborer), Jerrick ‘supervised’ with motivation-wise, and even Sable “helped”… by criticizing Faolan’s clearly atrophied carpentry skills.

((Boatcrafting. Ob5. Faolan has a 2. 3 helping dice from others, plus Scrounge-wise gave him six dice to roll. 3 success. GM uses a Conditions Twist.))

While the raft that Faolan finally got strapped together was enough to keep the cart (mostly) out of the water, the whole thing was terribly top-heavy and nowhere near big enough for the mice to ride (except for Sable, some of the time). Yarrow and Jerrick waded along on either side of the raft, chest-deep in the water, while Faolan pushed on the thing from the back.

The raft got hung up on tufts of grass repeatedly, and was generally a nightmare to move, but by late afternoon, they had cleared the swamp. Soaked to the bone, they’d had no time to eat — Yarrow and Jerrick were Hungry, but Faolan was too Angry to be hungry.

Oh, and old Sable is sneezing and sniffling and clearly Sick.

Back on “dry” land, they set out for Dawnrock and got there well after dark. It took some talking, but the town guard finally let them in, and let them stay in the guard house — no wandering around town for the strange guardmice, not without the See’s say-so, so Jerrick couldn’t even go stay at his family’s home — nor could Yarrow visit her friend.

The next morning, the guard were greeted by the leaders of the town and enthusiastically led out to the mill site to start on repairs. There was much to do.

First, they decided that Sable needed to be seen to. Jerrick went back into town to find a shop selling medicinal herbs and such.

((Resource test: Ob 4. Player was rolling about 7 or 8 dice, thanks to some help and being in his home town. Easy success, giving +1D to Yarrow’s next roll.))

With the supplies in hand, Yarrow set about making an eye-watering, head-clearing poultice for Sable.

((Healer test: Ob 3. Yarrow’s Healer is 2, plus the +1d for supplies, plus help from Faolan. She got two successes, spent a Fate point to blow up a 6, and got another success. Victory! Healthy old carpenter coot!))

With a revitalized (and aromatic) master carpenter dealing with building a new wheel, Yarrow started leading the laborers as they cleared mud and detritus from the wheel’s final location, and Faolan started cutting down a new axle for the wheel (something Sable figured Faolan could handle).

((Laborer, Ob3. Yarrow has 2. Helping from everyone, including ‘supervision’ from Jerricks motivation-wise (best trait EVER). Success.))

((Carpenter, Ob… 4? Something like that. Helping dice abound. Player gets 3 successes, two of which are sixes, but opts not to go for the win, wanting to see what will happen.))

Yarrow is covered pretty much head to toe in mud, ears drooping, when she hears “Y-Yarrow? is that… you?”

Her ears droop further.

It’s her friend, the loremouse Siaran, native of Dawnrock, whom she was hoping to impress with her guard mouseliness (her Goal for this session).

He’s unfailingly impressed and enthusiastic about seeing her, however, and even volunteers to jump in and help with the clearing of mud. He rolls up his pant legs and sleeves, hops in, and starts shoveling with a passion only seen in over-enthusiastic scholars trying to show off.

His shovel bites into the mud and pokes a just-waking Bullfrog right on the nose.

The bullfrog is not amused. It croaks. Siaran croaks desperately back. It doesn’t seem to have much affect.

((CONFLICT! Bullfrog, Nature 5, vs. the patrol. Bullfrog Goal is “Eat Siaran.” Patrol goal is “drive off bullfrog, and keep it from ever coming back.”))

Disposition is rolled. I get 7. Players get 13! (Faolan spent a Fate point to blow up a bunch of sixes.)

Action 1: I script Attack. Players (Yarrow) script Defend (they’re new to scripting, but it worked out in their favor this time). Yarrow rolls her Nature to defend, and throws herself and Siaran down and out of the way of the whipping tongue (taxing her Nature).

I get four successes on five dice. Yarrow gets two, but they’re both sixes. She spends a Fate point, rolls the two new dice, and gets two more successes. Tie!

Action 2: I script Maneuver. Players (Jerrick, with a bow) scripts Maneuver. I get two success, and so do the players (which is a shame, cuz they were rolling a LOT of dice). We both get +2D to our next action…

Action 3: … which doesn’t matter for me, because I scripted Feint, and the Players (Faolan) scripted an all-out attack. I don’t get to roll at all, and Faolan got six success, then spent his last Fate point to blow up some sixes and finish off my last point of Disposition.

The bullfrog, shovel-smacked, bruised, and cut along its flank, flees the area. Awestruck locals cheer.

PLAYER TURN
Jerrick and Yarrow are Hungry and Thirsty, but this is Jerrick’s home town, so mom and pop fix them a nice meal, and that’s all taken care off with no Checks.

Jerrick, introduced to Yarrow’s friend, is very interested in the young mouse’s ability (unhelpful as it was) to speak Bullfrog, and spends a few days speaking of all things Loremouse. (Skill check on Loremouse. Two Success.)

Yarrow, chastised at her terrible pathfinding, gets up on the very highest parts of Dawnrock (which is atop a tall hill along the coast to boot) and takes many notes on the lay off the land she can see for miles and miles.
(Pathfinder beginner’s luck check: Success.)

Faolan’s time is spent more simply — at a pub, regaling the locals with retellings of the fight with the bullfrog, tossing back free (“medicinal”) beer, with cute young (“medicinal”) she-mice perched on his knee.
(Will check to recover from Angry: Success!)

A pretty fun time, even though we kind of forgot to set GOALS for the mission until very near the end. Bah. GM-failure.

Still, a good night, fun had by all (I think). Call it a win.

Love this game.

[3:16] Actual Play: Reptiloid Chameleon Tricksters in the Goya Asteroid Belt — no way were those actual troopers.

So the player of this episode’s spotlight character didn’t show up for PTA last night (Khaaaaan!), I suddenly needed to run something off the cuff, and we didn’t get started until 7, due to the waiting to see if the Spotlight guy would show.

Right. Zero Prep time, short play-time. Go!

  • Lady Blackbird felt like a little too much prep. Maybe. or something. It felt like too much.
  • A Penny for My Thoughts would have been perfect, but I haven’t finished reading the rules yet.
  • I also haven’t read Geiger Counter or Danger Patrol yet.
  • I couldn’t FIND Ghost Echo.
  • Mouse Guard would have been perfect… if we already had characters done.

And I’m flipping through my PDFs, and say “Okay, how about 3:16?”

3:16 is (on the surface) about Space Marines blowing the hell out of aliens. It’s Warhammer 40k, Spacehulk, Aliens, Starship Troopers (the movie), and not a small amount of Full Metal Jacket and Platoon all rolled up into a thick, fleshy ball, shot full of stims, and dropped out an airlock.

We went with it.

Character generation is fast. Characters have two stats: Fighting Ability (FA) and Non-Fighting Ability (NFA). They have a reputation. They have a name.

  • Merra played Sgt. Trib, who had a rep as a super-positive optimist. Tim’s character immediately dubbed him “Sergeant Happypants”. FA6/NFA4
  • Tim played Cpt. Boll, a cigar-chomping vet who’d been promoted and demoted from Sergeant more times than he could count. FA7/NFA3
  • Chris played Trooper Weevil, who is snarly. FA7/NFA3

Their briefing by the prissy Lt. informed them that an asteroid-belt mining facility had gone signal dark. Command was sending in 3rd Army, 16th Battalion to reestablish comms and make sure nothing had gone amiss.

The troops were warned that Aliens were active in the area: reptilian humanoids with a POWERFUL MIMICRY ABILITY. They were to be DESTROYED WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.

“How do we tell if someone is a miner or a reptiloid?”
“If he’s shooting at you, he’s a reptiloid pretending to be a miner.”
“What if he’s just a scared miner?”
“He’s a reptiloid, pretending to be a scared miner.”

Note: the actual “alien threat” that I rolled up was Corrupt Troopers with the Armor ability.

So the troopers get in the drop ship and head on down to the mining base. In flight, while the Lt. droned on, the ship is hit with… something and starts to heel over and tumble.

Cpl. Boll immediately pops the back deployment hatch and orders everyone to EVAC NOW!

Weevil and Boll succeed, Trib does not.

What followed was a firefight in the hangar bay with well-armed opponents who had taken out the transport with guided missiles.

Afterwards, the troopers noticed the dead ‘reptiloids’ looked just like dead troopers. In power armor identical to their own. With the same weapons.

Really good camouflage, that.

The proceed into the mining facility tunnels, getting harassed by one of the “enemy” (voiced by Clancy Brown), who taunted them with their ignorance of what Command was really up to out here, and how they didn’t know what they were really being used for, and how the troopers should be joining forces, not fighting.

The Lt. ordered radios shut down.

They came to the mining base/town in the heart of the asteroid. At the center of the company-built town, they found a mass grave and a crudely built monument. The “Enemy Voice” came over the town’s loudspeakers.

“You see what happened here? We were told the miners had been taken over by mind-controlling alien leeches — that we had to destroy them for their own good, and the good of Terra.”

“That wasn’t what happen. What happened was these families wanted better pay. That’s it. We got sent in to gun them down.”

“They aren’t the enemy. Command is the enemy. Terra is the Enemy. You are the enemy.”

A big fight ensued. Tim took a look at all the Threat Tokens on the board, and decided to have a Flashback and name one of his Strengths — a move which automatically wins the conflict and wipes out all the Threat Tokens in Play. Many enemy armor suits were weak-spot-exploited.

Having used a Strength, Boll is now eligible for promotion at the end of the mission… and he’s 1/10th of the way to acquiring his final Strength/Weakness: “Hatred of Terra”.

From that, I think you can guess at one possible arc in this game.

They marines chase down the enemy as they retreat to their own ship, and there’s a final showdown versus the Enemy Voice marine right at the gangplank of the ship, before it flies off.

Once again, he tries to get the troopers to come with him – to see the truth – and to DO something about it.

Then Sergeant Happypants shot him in the face (and considered fragging Cpl. Boll into the bargain).

The end.

Back on the TCST Dortmunder, Cpl. Boll is promoted to Sergeant (again), and the unit requests (and gets) a number of weapon-grade improvements (though Weevil’s request for a tactical shotgun was denied). Weevil’s NFA went up to 4, Boll’s FA went to 8.

We were done playing in a little over 2 hours.

Good stuff. I didn’t have the rules down too well – hadn’t read them in maybe six months – but we muddled through and I only forgot one important thing (NFA rolls out of combat give you a bonus in later rolls).

And honestly? I’d kinda like to play this again and see what happens with these guys. All told, what more do you want out of a quick and dirty night of gaming?


Finally, as promised to the group, a series of links to hacks, tweaks, discussions, and actual play. I marked the particularly good stuff.

Talking about the game:

Hacks and Quick Improvements:

Tools:

Actual Play

[PTA] Ironwall, Episode 1: The Ambassador

Wow, it’s been awhile since this episode aired, but as Episode 2 is playing tonight, I thought I’d better get a summary down.

I covered the pilot episode of this post-apocalyptic, fairies-are-back-and-they’re-pissed, survival drama here, in case you’re looking to get caught up.

Previously on Ironwall:

  • Shot of Sienna going all black magic scary in The Fairy Hill; children looking at her, horrified.
  • Shot of Cam meeting his shoulder-fairy for the first time out in the suburban ruins. “I want to come with you!”
  • Cam turning on Lennox in the cabin of the train. “Would you just back off?”
  • The Duke of the Fairy Hill, talking to Joseph. “My goodness; you’ve gone entirely native, haven’t you?”

OPENING

The camera zooms around the post-apocafunky island of not-Manhattan, showing us various settlements.

  • Where Upper East Side is today, we see patrols along the banks, a guardpost at Hellgate Bridge and on Roosevelt island (the bridge that crosses the East River at the island is torn out over the island, so that people have to cross by dropping down to the island, going through the guards, and then back up). There’s also a ship dock here that we take a little time looking at, so maybe that’s important.
  • Where the Upper West Side use to be, there are crumbling but well-maintained brownstones with anachronistically-dressed people (kind of feudal post-apoc chic) walking around the neighborhood, nodding and smiling to each other and looking secure.
  • All around Grand Central (where the sign over the doors just says CENTRAL), a bustling town-within-a-city, with lots of activity – working machinery, construction, conversation… some electric lights flickering to life as a generator sputters to life and a small group of people cheer while JOSEPH (J. Rhys-Meyers OMG) looks pensive.
  • We see the skyscrapers to the south end of the island, kestrels and other birds circling and nesting in the rusting framework. Most of the floors are open to the weather, and high up, a pair of watchers scan the horizon. One gets the others attention and points out to the sea. The second person pulls out binoculars, looks out to sea, and nods to the other, who goes over to the far side of the tower and starts ringing a bell.

We zoom back to “Central”, see Lennox (Viggo) turn toward the sound, looking first up at the iron towers, then in the direction of the sea. There are many buildings in the way, but by his frown and the look in his eyes, it seems he can see, or at least guess, what’s out there.

The camera zooms through those buildings (a big church, the NYC library, etc.) out to the sea, where we see a large sailboat, modern, but sort of gone primitive, with a kind of US gov’t emblem on the sail; again, a bit primitive. On the ship, in the prow, there is a woman in quasi-military, weirdly formal white attire, looking out at up at the city. The camera slows, starts moving more smoothly, pans around to look over her shoulder from her POV, and we see the City in silhouette as the sun sets behind it.

The silhouette goes black and we see it turn into the logo for the show as “IRONWALL” and the faun’s head fades in over it, the theme music fades in, and the OPENING CREDITS ROLL.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you – at least in my broadcast area – by Xcel Energy Wind Power, and the new Solarum hybrid from Kia. Someone got the word out that the show has a “you bastards blew it all to hell” eco-theme. Huh.


AND WE’RE BACK.

We start on the docks on Roosevelt Island, beneath the shattered span of bridge. All the key people are waiting for the woman in white to get off her fancy boat. Joseph (Rhys-Meyers) is there, but in the background: standing to the foreground of the crowd is the Old Priest and Lennox (Viggo). Our other principal actors are scattered around the crowd. There’s also a big fat man in a fancy coat and a lean, rangy looking guy, both standing next to the priest.

Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.
Here to help you. Not at all evil. Promise.

The woman in white looks too-clean white, and the first shot of her is almost upskirt, standing under a flag made by an aspiring Betsy Ross Jr. with old naval insignia and a couple of stars, maybe some stripes. Her first line is a little classic: “Don’t worry. We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”

She smiles to show it’s a joke, but no one’s really laughing.

Oh, it’s Bridget Regan. She introduces herself as Elizabeth Montclair, and makes a speech(standing on a stack of old computer monitors): she’s an ambassador from Washington-that-was, and she wants to establish an alliance with the settlements of “your city”. (She doesn’t call it Ironwall, but she doesn’t say New York, either. It feels like she wants to, but doesn’t.)

The speech is followed by scattered applause – a lot of people turn around and go about their business without clapping, but some people (the fat man in front) are SUPER PUMPED.


The Ambassador suggests a more private place to talk with the Leadery-types, and leaves her soldiers (did I mention she has a bunch of soldiers on the boat?) on the boat and goes with the Priest, the fat man, the lean guy, and Our Heroes to talk at The Church.

The Church is a little weird. There’s aren’t a ton of religious trappings, and I feel like their pretending it’s one of the cathedrals in NYC, but it’s not one I recognize. Most of the iconography is missing, and the front doors just have these BIG iron spikes mounted on them, like it means something. Hopefully we’ll find out more later.

Right now, it’s not important: the Church is just the Scoobies’ Library for now.

Lennox and Cam (rawr) sit in the pews listening, JOSEPH (again, Rhys-Meyers) is up front next to Father Ezekial. Sienna the Spooky Witch stands in the back, looking through the modest library.

The Ambassador comes clean (right) saying that actually, she needs the resources of the city to track down a threat that has escaped from her own city and was headed here – is probably here already. She is chasing a traitor from her settlement who is some kind of ‘skin-changer’. A human, but one who can shapeshift – ‘co-opting the worst of fey magic.’ She wants to bring her people (did I mention the soldiers) off the boat and conduct the search.

“We have an excellent success rate in tracking down fey hidden within humanity.”

Which sounds about as creepy-inquisition as it should, I think.

The fugitive woman (name: Veronica Jacobson) has an ‘everyskin-cloak’. The Ambassador indicates that the ‘needs’ of the cloak mean that the woman is probably going to start feeding on the locals in some way. Maybe she has already.

“So she is human?” – Cam
“I don’t know if that’s a fair assessment anymore.” – Montclair

OUR HEROES look for additional information, some to avoid a witchhunt (CAM), some curiosity (SIENNA), some guilty consciences (JOSEPH), and to make sure who is really in danger (LENNOX).

The Ambassador mentions, during the questioning, that part of the reason the coat is important is because it includes not just the black magic of torturing animals, but also the skins (and thus, associated abilities) of the fey.

So, there’s… like… fairy parts in this cloak? Like… torn-off flutterby wings and such? Eww.


OOC Comments

“‘Pensive’ is very big this year.” – Doyce, overusing the word.

“She’s an Ambassador. She’s here to Ambass.” – Doyce

“Snuffleupaghi?” – Tim, musing on the kinds of skins the cloak might incorporate.


Next, a MONTAGE scene showing posters going up, people being talked to, observations being made in whatever way is most appropriate to each character.

All this leads to someone getting a lead.

“Good news, we found her, bad news is, she’s taken Clemens.”

Right… who’s that again?

“We think we found her, but Clemens is missing…”
“…and there’s a lot of meat on Clemens.”

Ohh… Clemens (Gailard Sartain) is the fat man — who is also probably the guy in charge of the fancy Upper West Side people.

There is some planning about how to take this woman-monster thing down, which gave up a good line:

“You can’t go in loaded for bear if she’s going to be a bat.”


Anyway, Lennox (who apparently has Fey-dar) leads the way to a warehouse somewhere along the Hudson shoreline. The whole place is kind of boggy, because the Hudson has reclaimed a lot of the lower-lying areas along the southwest side of the island, but it’s not totally underwater.

So there’s a chase/fight in a warehouse. It’s dark and tense and everyone has crappy old flashlights that barely work (except for CAM, whose flashlight is awesome and can SEAR THE RETINA.

Now, here’s the thing; according to the Buffy Bible of Show Order, everyone should get their asses kicked by this monster, and only beat her in the second attempt at the end of the episode, but … no. The woman goes down without a huge fight. Sienna reminds Lennox he needs to +DESTROY+ her coat.

“I wouldn’t trust me with it.”

They pull the coat off the woman (which apparently REALLY REALLY HURTS), and then Lenn pours oil over it and makes sure it burns. It does, but it also writhes and screams while it does so… which is creepy.

Lennox is frowning – showhow, he thought this would be harder.


COMMERCIAL BREAK: Ironwall is brought to you by Kiva, who bought the whole 90 second spot so they could really explain the charity. Huh. Good idea; Ironwall is nerd-tasty, and Kiva is the kind of Charity nerds would probably like.


Sienna is with Father Ezekial and captured girl as they bind wounds caused by pulling the coat off of her skin. (Also: OW.)

“So, who do you think gave her the coat?” Sienna insinuates.

The priest demurs, noting they don’t have enough information to imply anything.

Sienna points out that if the girl was so good at the black magicks, there would have been a lot more in the way of, say, injury, let alone hot, crunchy death. Projecting much, Si?

The father points out the politics of it – that too sensitive a situation to accuse anyone outright, but that they should maybe… umm… hold the girl while they do a little more investigation.

Sienna agrees and offers to ward the room in addition to having the guard.

So… that’s interesting – she admits to a little bit of magic to regular people, at least, and the priest doesn’t bat an eye.


Lennox and Cam chat a bit about how easily the woman (they start calling her Veronica, so we know we’re supposed to see her as a person) was captured, and if it was that easy, how did she haul off Clemens-the-fat?

Cam goes to talk to Clemens, because he thinks there’s more information to be found in how he was caught by this wisp of a woman. After an argument with his SHOULDER FAIRY, he discovers The Ambassador has troops in the city – within the village of Upper West, specifically. After seeing the relative luxury that Clemens enjoys, he gets to the bottom of the situation.

Seems as thought Upper West has already been in talks with Washington, and drawn up some agreements.

Also, these aren’t the troops from the boat, these are OTHER troops – MORE troops – who marched up to the city overland (suffering some losses) and were let on the island over the Great Bridge (which Upper West is supposed to guard).


Lennox finds about about the new kids in town, and meets with Logan-the-Lean of Upper East to gain some kind of Solidarity.

Logan agrees, and comments says, “Wouldn’t it be a shame if the soldiers they brought accidentally ran across our `friends’ in the Ramble. Oh no, that wouldn’t be right.”

Lennox agrees. Is he agreeing that it wouldn’t be right, or that the soldiers should have an accident?

Yep, that was deliberately ambiguous.


Joseph has a high-larious moment in the church confessional with his Sekrit Ironwall Fey Contact, who uses the name “Joseph” like a weapon.

Sekrit Contact wants to know what Joseph wants to be, what he wants being “the Kerrigan” to mean. Where he wants to fit in. If he’s going to take on a role in the fey politics, how much self-delusion is he willing to give up?

Just as things start to get interesting, The Ambassador shows up to cop a feel on the local politics and starts insinuating things about our city, trying to draw Joseph out into talking about Our Heroes.

She doesn’t seem terribly impressed with Our Heroes. But she has noticed some “odd things”.

  • One of the most senior borderer in your settlement (Lennox) failed to notice his own nephews had been replaced with Changelings?
  • Cam doesn’t farm, yet he goes to the Park every night?
  • Serena does magic? How? From books? We have many books, but none of our people can do what you say she’s done.
  • Did you know that even the best-glamoured of the Fey still leave a tell-tale, no matter how close they come to appearing human? Something to give them away — a strange birthmark, perhaps, or unnaturally colored eyes, like yours, Joseph…

Yeah, she is not of the comfort-making.


Commerical Break: Ironwall is brought to you by the new Kodacell.


Sienna is in with the animal-skin woman, who wakes up while Sienna does magical stuff — draws wards or something.

“Your magic works?”

Sienna seems nonplussed. “We don’t burn witches here,” Sienna says, maybe over-hopefully.

The girl seems darkly amused – also, apparently, The Ambassador is her sister. The girl’s story is that she stole the skin-coat (part of a Washington R&D about working against the fey) in retribution for Elizabeth Montclair (the ambassador) having lost her moral compass, as well as the Program having devoured the rest of the girl’s family.

Not sure if “devoured” is literal or not.

Sienna feels the girl out to see if she notices anything about the magical wards or any magics around either of them.

Veronica gives no indications that she can feel anything of the sort.

The last visual of this scene is a pan back to see that indeed, the girl is in the middle of some nasty-looking wards, completely oblivious to that fact.


Thanks to Father E, there’s going to be a trial… a not-trial, to see if there SHOULD be a trial: if Ironwall needs to keep Veronica around to stand trial for crimes against the city itself before she is released to The Ambassador.

BEFORE THE TRIAL, CAM’s earring… erm, shoulderfey notices Joseph. The two have lots of side-whispers and facial gesticulation while Cam, Sienna, and Lennox compare notes. Cam and Joseph are sent to make sure that The Ramble (read: the Queen of Flowers, Cam’s Fey-with-Benefits) is alerted to the troops that may cross from Upper West and down to Central if the not-trial doesn’t go The Ambassador’s way. There’s some talk about getting those soldiers to disappear. Permanently.

Cam and Joseph head into the Ramble to make deal with the Queen of Flowers. The deal is voiced such that the QUEEN makes it clear that “If 30 men are taken care of, I will be owed 30 men worth of work.” Somehow, she makes it sound like a group sex scenario will be partial payment.

“She is surrounded by the scent of musk and elderberries and wine…” – Doyce

“You cut-and-pasted that straight from my forebrain…” – Tim

In the meantime, Cam’s “pet fairy” (who is NOT present) is mentioned and the Queen acts unconcerned the influence of pets against her and Cam’s… ugh… connection. Also, she makes lots of allusions to Josephe’s status as “Kerrigan” but nothing outright is said.


Sienna tells Lennox she’ll stand at the trial to say Veronica would only know black magic if it bit her (and at that, only if it wasn’t subtle) – to indicated that there’s no way Veronica created the every-skin coat on her own. But as Father E points out, they don’t have any reason to hold her in protective custody since there’s no crime committed here.

Thus commences THE NOT-TRIAL.

[The conflict at “NOT A TRIAL” is just to find out if they can convince the Board to keep Veronica in Ironwall, against MONTCLAIR’S wishes. MONTCLAIR stands up and defends self. The players get lots of black card failure. FAILURE brings out Veronica to her sister MONTCLAIR’s custody.]

And, again, the show goes against what you’d expect, and Sienna and Lennox lose the argument to the council, who votes to hand Veronica over to The Ambassador.

Lennox, who disagrees with the whole thing and thinks Ironwall should just tell The Ambassador to sod off, and is CLEARLY thinking about just jumping in and “fixing things”, still escorts the Ambassador and Veronica across city to the Q bridge and, from there, to MONTCLAIR’s boat. They get within sight of the boat, looking down on it from the bridge and BOOM BOAT EXPLOSION!

There’s a shot of Lennox’s face, and Sienna’s… and we’re pretty damned sure THEY didn’t do it.

So who did?

END.


Next week, on Ironwall:

  • A voice, to Joseph: “You did have something that would help you remember… but do you remember where it is?”
  • Veronica, to Sienna: “You said you lost your child?”
  • CAM: looks at Joseph “Your eyes seem different somehow.”
  • Someone tells Lennox. “Some of the Board think you’re trying to pull off a coup.” Lennox doesn’t look like he’s denying it.
  • “Did any of the Ambassador’s soldiers enter the Ramble last night? Four are missing.”

Optimizing my free time

I don’t have anything against DnD 4e. In my opinion, it’s a big step up – a real evolution – from the 3rd edition rules.

I don’t have anything against the folks in the monthly game of DnD 4e that I play in. They’re all decent enough folks.

I like my character. I like the way my character works in play. I even like the storyline.

But I’m done.  I was at the game for eight hours on Saturday, not counting travel time, and we managed two fights and one scene that might nominally be deemed ‘role-play’ that ended becoming a player-discussion of the inherent morality (or lack thereof) of groups of adventures who categorize entire sentient peoples by racial stereotypes, then kill ’em and take their stuff.

Fascinating, in a petri dish kind of way, but not what I signed on for, general.

So I’m done.

What shall I do instead?  There’s a weekend writer group that invited me to join in, and I think I’ll do that.

As for gaming in general, I think I’ll stick with things that produce a better fun to time ratio.

Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill”

((Our pitch session is here. The cast includes:

  • Cam, mechanic and tinkerer-savant
  • Joseph, one of the pillars of the settlement, hiding a terrible secret
  • Lennox, border guard, the survivor of a wiped-out settlement
  • Sienna, practitioner of black magic who has already paid high prices

The rest of the session follows below, as recounted by TWoP.

But first, a few observations on how to achieve successful, fun play in PTA, garnered in part from a recent ‘tips’ discussion on Story-Games, proven by last night’s session:

  • SUPER IMPORANT RULE ONE: Keep Stakes limited to what the character wants out of the scene. Let me emphasize this: what the character (not player) wants (not ‘what will happen’).
    • Bullshit: “If I win, a, b, and c happens, in that order, in this way, such that we needn’t even play it out.”
    • Not Bullshit: “My guy wants to find out more about X if I win.” or “My guy wants to be impressively competent if I win.”
    • This is so simple, and in the past I’ve seen it done wrong (and done it wrong) so many times.
  • IMPORTANT Rule Two: The high card narrates the conflict, but THE GM STILL INTRODUCES “PLOT” FACTS. Put another way: “This is PTA, not Inspectres.”
    • Bad – The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for… “FATHER DONNELLY!”
    • Good- The narrating player says: “You beat him up, pow biff bang, and pull him up by his collar, and he admits that he’s working for…” *turns to GM to fill in the blank*
  • Do not include specific consequences of failure or success when setting Stakes. Leave that up to the High Card player. Just. Say. What. You. Want.

Other good things to remember:

  • The Producer frames all scenes. The players just take turns requesting scenes, providing a focus, location and an agenda.
    • On the agenda: Don’t overcomplicate. The agenda should simply be what the characters are “up to” on the surface, not what the whole scene is going to be about.
  • Not every scene must have a conflict.

Right: enough rules chatter – on with the recounting of heroics.

Continue reading “Primetime Adventures: Ironwall, Pilot Episode, “The Hill””

My thoughts on the Mouse Guard RPG

I’m very excited about the first play session of our new Primetime Adventures game this Wednesday, and while I’m putting a lot of mental effort into it, another game is on my radar, and I really had to share.

There are a few games that I think of as the touchstones in independently published roleplaying ‘story’ games. Sorcerer. Inspectres. Dogs in the Vineyard. Primetime Adventures. The Shadow of Yesterday. The Burning Wheel. My heart wants to add Spirit of the Century to the list, or Don’t Rest Your Head, but while they’re some of my favorite games, they also came along later, and they were built with a somewhat different priority in mind than that first list.

Those who know my gaming habits know that I’ve played or run (or both) most of the games on that list — usually a number of times (usually not as much as I’d have liked) — with good reason. Each one brings something special to the table that either isn’t available elsewhere, or which became an element copied numerous times in other games. They’re seminal, as well as being fun.

The one exception on that list  of seminal, inventive games is The Burning Wheel — I’ve never played Burning Wheel.

Now, that isn’t to say I didn’t OWN the game — I had the very first edition of the game, hand-numbered, in pencil, with a little thank-you note from Luke Crane.

But play it? No, I did not.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a good game – many many people will say a great game – but it’s very very crunchy.

And I don’t mean it’s “Crunchy for a Story Game,” the way Agon is; I mean it makes games like DnD, Warhammer, and GURPS look like diceless freeform.

Those other games reward players with better ‘performance’ once the players have achieved a degree of system familiarity. Burning Wheel goes a bit other other direction: it punishes the absence of system familiarity – it is through system knowledge that one achieves nominal – rather than exceptional – performance from one’s character.

At the time that I got Burning Wheel, I was already doing a very long-running DnD game, and frankly I didn’t *want* to run another crunchy, high-GM-prep system; I just didn’t feel as though people wanted to dive in and learn a whole new system with that much detail. Hell, *I* didn’t; the game sat on my shelves for several years – skimmed, but unread. If it came up in conversation, I mentioned that I really wanted to play the game with some people that understood it before I tried to run it myself. In the meantime, I ran other games — with DnD handling our/my need for crunchy tactical games, our indie gaming was taken up with other things — with limited gaming time and ever-shrinking schedules, the folks I play with are just more likely to choose games with a lower level of required investment than BW.

But I never quite abandoned my interest in the game. Everything I heard about the game sounded – to my tactical-loving side – quite cool, and the raves and praise heaped on the “Story” elements of the game (character Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, and Goals) were just as effusive. When the Revised version of the game came out, I picked it up; when Burning Empires came out, I read and re-read information on the game and its setting. But it was still a game that took too much time to learn, too much time to prep.

Then came Mouse Guard.

mouse_guard_rpg_cover

Mouse Guard is a roleplaying game where players assume the role of the titular Guard from the comic books by David Petersen: bipedal, intelligent mice who protect their communities from a variety of threats in a semi-medieval setting. There is no magic in the setting, nor are there any humans; the threats to those precarious communities are the seasons, the weather, the wild animals, and (sadly) the very mice the Guard are sworn to protect. Their goal is simple: to keep the roads open within the Territories – to keep from becoming prisoners in their own cities – mice in gilded cages, if you like.

To me, the idea that the creators behind Mouse Guard (who were also RP gamers of a more classic sort) wanted to have an RPG for their product didn’t surprise me – nor did the fact that they wanted a more story-driven game. What surprised me was that they were going to get the Burning Wheel crew to do the game. What surprised me the most was what I started to hear about the Mouse Guard RPG:

  • A streamlined version of the game. The sparest, most elegant iteration of the rules, to date.
  • Accessible to new players – not just new-to-BW, but new to Roleplaying.
  • Still a true and excellent representation of the Good Things That Are Burning Wheel.
  • Strong player-centered focus of play that’s built directly into the rules in numerous ways.
  • Lots of situation-generating hooks built right into the characters, making running the game easy.
  • Several procedural innovations that make elements of play that are problematic in other games (high crunch = high prep time) very fast and easy.
  • There are already a number of ‘hacks’ to port the game to settings that I find very interesting. (Such as “Realm Guard”, which involves playing Dunedain in the 4th Age of Middle Earth. Mmmm good.)

Also, it didn’t hurt that the book itself — 8″x8″, hardbound, 300+ pages, but with a ruleset that can be completely summarized on the backside of the official character sheet, and thus chock full of setting material, advice, and artwork rather than charts — is f’in gorgeous.

So I got it.

I read it. Cover to cover, like a good book. I annoyed Kate by reading sections out loud, explaining rules she didn’t care about, and recounting examples from the source material she’d never read. Hell, I’m still doing it.

Here are some of my thoughts.

Rewards

In short:

  • The player defines the character via their Beliefs, Goals, Instincts, and Traits, and it is ONLY through bringing those elements to light during roleplay, in the game, that you are rewarded with Fate and Persona points (which probably do pretty much what you expect).
  • Skills improve through active use. Period. Through play. Period.

The Mechanics of Success and Failure

Basic tests in Mouse Guard are simple RPG fare: either unopposed or “versus” checks – in either case, the player needs X number of successes to achieve Unmitigated success. Your skills are numerically rated (usually from 1 to 6), and when tested, you roll a number of d6s equal to the skill rating, count those rolling 4 or higher as successes and discarding the “cowards” that came up 3 or less. If you’ve played Shadowrun or Vampire, you’ll recognize this.

The innovation here is that there is no failure result in the game. What’s that? A crunchy-tactical game where you can’t lose?

Kinda. If you fail to get success outright, success is achieved at the cost of “Conditions” or a “Twist.” With conditions, you win, but you acquire (or more) conditions, such as Tired, Sick, Hungry, Angry, Injured, and so forth.

So you can save your wounded companion, even if you blew the roll, but now you’re Tired.

You can escape from the Owl, but you’re Injured… and Hungry… and Tired. Ouch.

Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...
Sometimes, you're not trying to escape...

Twists work similarly, but instead of taking a condition, your conflict is interrupted by (or leads to) a twist that takes the story in a new direction… and which very likely leads to ANOTHER conflict.

In other words, that bedrock concept of Indie Gaming GMing – “Failure should make things more interesting.” – is hardwired into the game.

Scripting

Scripting is a core concept of extended Burning Wheel conflicts — the “big” conflicts in BW use this kind of conflict, where opposing sides pick a short series of actions without knowing what the other side is going to do — potentially leaving themselves wide open at the worst possible moment, or tactically outguessing the other side at the perfect time.

I love the concept of scripting – it has that kind of immersive realism I sometimes enjoy – but in practice, I know the BW implementation leaves some people cold.

In Mouse Guard, the scripting is a far more streamlined version of the basic BW scripting… simpler, but with powerful choices — perhaps the best implementationof the mechanic. Far from being just a guessing game, you have to weigh which actions your character is good at, which your partners are good at, which your “weapons” are helpful for (scripting works in any kind of conflict, from weapons to survival to chases to oration debates), compare each of them to the actions the opponent might do taking into account what he and his weapons are good at… and then realize your opponent is doing all that too, at which point it becomes very much like a strategic board game mechanic, in terms of the mental gymnastics required to use limited information to outwit the other guy.

And, like the basic skill tests, Failure and Success has many many shades — it’s only by utterly defeating your opponent without letting them get a paw on you that you get exactly what you wanted, exactly how you wanted it.

Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.
Even if he wins, things will probably not go perfectly.

Teamwork
Teamwork is vital. That’s one of the fundamentals of this game. You are little mice in a great big world, and quite frankly you will be ultimately unable to complete your missions if you don’t work together – eventually, even with the skill system having “outs” for failed rolls, you’ll hit a Full Conflict with scripting that simply blows you away, with no way out but death. The prey are bigger than you (hell, the herbivores are bigger than you, and they’re eating all the food!) the seasons are bigger than you, the weather is bigger than you… you need to help each other.

mouseguard-patrol

“Call it what you like, but I’m still failing”
Now yes: failure isn’t “failure” in Mouse Guard, but it stings to play a game and lose the first conflict – maybe the first several – but the way the game is set up, all that means is that a new, unexpected situation crops up. (And in other way, reminiscent of With Great Power, such struggles feed you the resources you need to Kick Ass later.)

There are a lot of games out there that are basically mission completion games. The point of those games is to use your resources well in order to successfully complete a mission. In those games failing the mission is failing; it isn’t game-destroying, but it is a failure. You had a chance to step on up, and you didn’t step, as it were.

Mouse Guard looks a lot like a mission-completion games. Mouse Guard feels a lot like a mission-completion game. But I don’t think Mouse Guard actually is a mission-completion game.
Mouse Guard is a game where you tell a story about heroes who go on a mission (little heroes, but still). That’s a close thing, but its also a sharp and important divide.

One of the most excellent things about that difference is that it might teach everyone at the table to let go a little bit and try something heroic rather than spend ten minutes figuring out a safer plan.

To act, rather than deliberate.
To act, rather than deliberate.

Conclusion
I don’t care if it’s mice (though I like the other settings people are porting the system into) — the simple fact of the matter is that I think this is one of the best tactical, crunchy, story-driven games out there — maybe the only one that’s all three.

I can’t wait to play.

Primetime Adventures Pitch Session: Apocalypse Fairies!

So last night we got got together to work through the Pitch Session for a new Primetime Adventures game.

((For those who don’t know, Primetime Adventures is a game meant to emulate action/melodrama television shows. The purpose of play is to create a short-run television series (5 or 9 episodes) driven by the Issues of the show’s stars. Players in PTA are both the Actors of their protagonists as well as Authors of the TV series. The GM (called the Producer in this game) has two jobs: make sure scenes move toward Conflict and work the overall story arc for the Season into play.))

Pitch sessions for PTA are always strange beasts, because people come in to the session with random ideas for shows, almost none of which ever make it through the whole process, and by the end, you have something pretty cool that everyone’s excited about… and no one’s entirely sure how it happened.

I was going to cheat a bit on this post and find a previous post about a PTA pitch session and kind of map what happened then to what happened last night, but it turns out I’ve never written about a pitch session before. No easy-out for me.

Right, so here’s what happened.

First, I was running a little late from a class I was teaching, so we got going around six-thirty or so. I had a notebook in my pocket with a few pitch ideas, and not much else.

So we chatted a little bit and then I asked everyone what kind of television show they didn’t want to see / do. Tim said that he really wasn’t much into the idea of a ‘straight’ one-hour dramedy like Gilmore Girls or Felicity or something like that. No one looked too disappointed by that – I think we’re the sort of folks who expect a little genre weirdness in our TV. Cool.

Meera spoke up and requested we avoid setting things in any war between the Amercian Civil War and today, simply because her history-fu for that time frame was weak. Again, that sounded good to everyone (for myself, I was merely homesick for the “Strange Allies” PTA game we never finished.)

That was pretty much all the “I’d rather not”s for everyone, so we talked a bit about what kind of pitches we had.

Randy piped up (a bit tongue in cheek) with the idea I dubbed “Left Behind… Because You’re An Asshole”, where something akin to the Biblical Rapture occurs, but only people who are, objectively, good people actually transcend.

We talked a little bit around this topic, until I admitted that, while I liked the idea of a kind of “oh crap, all these people are gone, how will we survive?” event, the idea of an event with biblical elements left me pretty cold.

Tim jumped in and said he was also into the idea of a kind of a post-apocalyptic survival story, though not just “straight zombies” in the vein of The Walking Dead, which is an idea I’d mentioned earlier in the week.

((I’d like to pat us all on the back at this point for not mentioning the Swine Flu once the whole night.))

Right around that same point, Tim also mentioned that he enjoyed “resource drama” – where you’re scrounging for supplies and making do with whatever you can find. The A-Team was mentioned, which is a little too camp for me, but also elements of Mad Max and things of that nature.

We threw around a lot of Survival Drama at this point, and talked about the kinds of story arcs you could do in there: a hellbent run from Point A to Point Z, basic survival, defend the base, find a weakness of and destroy the Big Bad… things like that.

I thought it might be interesting to start well AFTER the initial “inciting event,” and Tim agreed, mentioning that flashbacks would certainly explore that event more.

So we tossed around ideas of what the apocalypse might have been. Zombies… vampires… dragons… robots… robots created to fight zombies (yes, seriously), then turning on their owners…

Somewhere in there, Tim commented that some kind of Faerie Attack had never been done as an Apocalypse Event, and I said something like “Well, then we should do that.”

(I believe Meera would like me to state, for the record, that the faeries were not her idea… she just (gleefully) went along with it.)

That seemed to provide quite a lightning rod for ideas after that point, and coalesced into a show concept that The Producer is tentatively calling Ironwall (until we think of something yet more awesome).

SOMETHING had caused the Fae to reemerge in our world, and those fae (a collective term that we decided encompassed everything from fairies and pixies to trolls and dragons to bakemono and oni — all presented in the style of Hellboy II and Pan’s Labyrinth’s art team) were Very Angry. The result of this re-emergence was hundreds of millions if not billions dead (either from fae attacks or from jumping off bridges when they realize that the bogeyman is real).

We tossed around several ideas about WHY they had come back, including:

  • The bio-organism of Earth was calling on its last, most vicious defenders, having failed through the ‘fever’ of Global Warming to control the human disease. “Giant T-cells shaped like Unicorns,” Meera quipped.
  • There was a regime shift in Faerie and the new King really hated us (a la The Golden Army).
  • The thousand-year treaty (involving a drunk Irishman, the King of the Fae, and a lost poker bet) finally ran out.
  • Old iron railway tracks had been torn up, reconnecting long-severed ley lines.
  • Nanites run amok. (which we didn’t exactly love)
  • Starbuck is an angel. (Okay, not really.)

… and in the end we decided it didn’t matter, or that it would come out during the show itself. The basic idea was that humanity was on the ropes, hiding out in the ruins of big cities, where the Iron content was high enough to weaken the fae magic. Something had recently happened to put the status quo in danger, and Our Heroes would be doing something about it.

Tim asked what would be happening that would bring the characters together, and Randy came up with a pretty awesome idea (and the First Scene of the Pilot): somehow the Fae had made it into the City (tentatively, Manhattan – Detroit would work better, but we know nothing about Detroit) where the Settlement was and had swapped in EVERYONE’S children for Changelings. The “First Scene” idea for the Pilot is all these adults dragging their crying, screaming children into the middle of the settlement and throwing them into a bonfire, where the audience finally sees that the people in the hoods and robes are not the bad guys, and that the things in the fire are monsters.

That opening scene lets us do a lot of stuff during the pilot:

  • Explain what the Fae can do with glamours and illusion and the like.
  • Visit a fae stronghold and see how the bad guys roll.
  • Show off the characters in an action-type situation.
  • Get everyone asking questions like “How could they do this? Why didn’t they do it before? WHAT HAS CHANGED AND HOW SCREWED ARE WE?!”

… which is basically everything a Pilot is supposed to do.

There was a bit more background stuff, during which it became clear that SEX was going to be a big element of the story, because the Fey need humanity to refresh their bloodlines (and humans… well, are human, and the Fae are hot and sexy). Plus, Tim made “Sex with Fairies” his character’s main Issue. I wrote all that background stuff down in the Series Bible on the Wiki page, so check it out.

Then we came up with characters:

  • Tim is playing a kind of mechanic-savant with natural animal sex appeal whose Issue is temptation: specifically, sex with faeries: *gasp* SLEEPING WITH THE (hawt) ENEMY.
  • Meera is playing a girl whose black magic led her to cut some pretty unspeakable bargains when the fae first arrived. Her issue is Atonement.
  • Randy is playing a border guard for the settlement – someone who survived another settlement in a smaller town being wiped out. He has issues with control, born of concern for protecting the settlement.
  • And Chris is playing a young man who was taken in by the settlement’s priest when he was a young boy and who has grown up as a pillar of the community. His issue is Self-Worth, because HE IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE FAE, A LYING LITTLE CHANGELING THAT HIS “PARENTS” DIDN’T HAVE THE GUTS TO KILL.

Ahem.

So… right. That’s where we are now. Pretty much nothing at all like any of the pitch ideas we’d been thinking of, pretty cool… and no one really knows how we got there.

I’m rather excited to play.

Coming back to the old home town: Paragon City

Saturday morning, I revved up the old comp and prepared to get in a little gaming goodness. Would I get back to the incredibly satisfying, incredibly frustrating Braid? How about restarting Bioshock, to get at some of the story I’ve missed? Perhaps a little of the Ol’ Reliable, with Lord of the Rings Online?

None of the above. This weekend, I played City of Heroes.

Now, it’s been a long time since I’ve played CoH, though I think it’s fair to say that, when I played, I logged enough hours to last me the rest of my life, if I so chose. Still, I’ve been feeling an itch to play some supers lately – and, specifically, to play particular characters from CoH – and the opportunity presented itself, so that’s what I did.

Also, there’s two more Supers games coming out this year, and I want CoH fresh in my memory when I go check them out.

I don’t have a lot of nuanced analysis to present, so here’s just some stuff off the top of my head.

Good

  • Well, it’s fun, isn’t it? Not having to worry about bad guys getting behind you, the fairly intuitive interface (with some important exceptions), and hell… it’s super heroes – that’s pretty damned fun.Don’t discount this bullet point: it balances out a GREAT DEAL of the “Bad” and “Meh” below.
  • CoH is easy to play. If you don’t want to sweat the details, you really don’t have to, and that’s okay: you get an arrow telling you where to go to get missions, then you get an arrow telling you where the missions are, and then you do the mission and repeat. Provided you don’t ramp up the difficulty setting at all, I’m convinced a half-trained monkey could get a character into the mid-thirties with no problems at all. If you’re working with familiar contacts in a big zone, you can fly from mission to mission of mindless fun.
  • Extensible. If you like crafting systems and character stat tweaking CoH definitely comes through, limited only by your pocket book.
  • New content. Seems the development team is still doing solid work, and while I haven’t messed with the Mission Builder (nor am I likely to do much creation with it — my days of creating custom stories for CoH are long past (when it was much harder to manage), and that desire has NOT returned at ALL), I’ve heard that some of the new player-created content is excellent, and there certainly is a LOT of it.

Bad

  • Fucking. Timed. Missions. Why aren’t all the timed missions LABELED AS SUCH? It’s a simple, fixable thing, and game is, basically, fucking rude for not warning people. It’s doubly annoying when combined with this: I think they MUST have changed this somewhat since I last played, because damned if I remember this, but WHY IN THE HELL do you automatically get the next mission in a chain when you turn in the previous one? I just click on the NPC and BOOM: new mission? WTF, over?
  • Bugs. Perhaps I got so used to it last time that I didn’t notice, but DAMN the game is buggy. Kind of stupid bugs, also. Base problems. Costume options that migrate to some other table and screw up your character’s look. NPC pathing stupidity that borders on the laughable. Weird door bugs. Those stupid fucking CoT teleportals that go the wrong direction. Crashing the game if I’m using the wrong power when I zone. Seriously: for a game that relies SO HEAVILY on Zoning, it should be less crash- and bug-prone.
  • Zoning. Ugh. So much zoning. I don’t care if it’s fast (it isn’t, even on a good comp), it’s overused.
  • Inventory Management. The inventory capacity on CoH characters is STUPIDLY small. You can get 10 enhancements before being full up. Roughly 15 recipes. About 30 types of salvage. Roughly speaking, that’s half the bag space of LotRO – about a third of WoW. The number of times my recipe or enhancement slots filled up (with useful or valuable stuff), requiring a trip to a store (or four) was frustrating.
  • The interface is great, except when it isn’t. Is there any way to get into screen where you can see your powers and how they’re slotted WITHOUT clicking “Manage” in the Enhancement bag inventory? Is there any indicator that screen even exists, if you didn’t already know?
  • Why can’t you just drop a mission? I don’t mean “Drop it and get credit for it.” I mean DROP IT. I have three mission slots (at least one of which I probably got dropped on me without warning when I turned in an old one – see “Stupid Fucking Timed Missions” above), and I end up in a new area with cool new missions and I can’t just drop the crap I have and take these new things – I *HAVE TO* do those existing missions first.

Good? Bad? I’m the guy with the nanites in my blood.

  • Anyone who tells me that CoH doesn’t have an Inventory system, WoW-like auction house, crafting halls, potions, or body looting — YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES, or just being disingenuous. The ONLY difference in the looting between CoH and other MMOs is that CoH has it happen automatically, without clicking on the body. That’s it. Salvage, inspirations, and enhancements? That’s LOOT. Some of it even makes a coin-jingling noise when you get it. All CoH does is remove a single click. (Actually, WoW doesn’t make you click anymore either, really, so…)
  • Level Cap. Like the urban spawl of Los Angeles or Denver, CoH continues to grow perpetually OUTWARD, with no interest in growing UPWARD. This is apples for some, oranges for others.
  • Only three missions can be live at a time? Really? Three? I get that CoH is geared for ultra-casual players, but goddamn: THREE? I’ve got over Forty-five quest slots in LotRO, and I manage. My daughter can count to ten without using her fingers; give us some fucking credit.

Now, did I enjoy myself? Oh hell yes. I played enough on Saturday that I didn’t get much of anything else done, and Sunday wasn’t much better. I’m pretty sure I dreamed about it Saturday night – it gets into my pores. It holds a special place in my heart – surrounded by a bit of scar-tissue, but still.

And Kaylee loves it. More than any other MMO, she just loves it. That might be partly due to the fact that she heard it in the womb, but it is what it is – she loves it. Like LotRO, she loves hitting the attack buttons as long as they make a satisfying BOOM, and LOTS of powers in CoH go Boom.

That said, it’s a game I have to approach with some caution – it’s fun and all, but it has a bad tendency to cause me to push other things out of my scope of vision — that’s all on me, not the game, but it is something of which I need to be aware.

NCSoft has a payment scheme these days that lets you pay for a single month at a time via paypal, without the annoyance of starting-then-stopping a recurring monthly plan, just to get some casual play – I’ll probably do that for the next month, simply to get my ‘fix’ for the superhero goodness and to analyze how much influence it still has on my productivity. Maybe I’ll even lure Kate along for the ride: who knows?

But I had a good time. It’s a good game, for all it’s quirks and flaws; maybe even despite – or because – of them.

We got our butts kicked by Shadows over Camelot, and it was excellent.

As I’ve said before, I’ve wanted to play Shadows Over Camelot for quite a long time. Two and a half years, probably. This desire hit a fairly significant road block in that neither I nor anyone I knew owned the game, and the price tag on the box discouraged whim-purchase.

I thought I’d found a loophole in February when I bought it for a buddy’s birthday, but it was not to be – he and I were both interested, but the familiarity of Catan lured in all of our playmates and when he went back to NYC, he took the game with him. The nerve.

But a few weeks ago, my darling wife picked up a copy we’d put on reserve, and I basically commandeered Dave’s impromptu game day on Saturday by walking in, pulling out the box, and setting up without so much as a by your leave.

shdowsoc_tabellone
Our version of the game looked something like this, except there were a lot fewer swords accumulated on the Round Table (far right), and the Deck of Evil Events (black deck) does not appear to be dampened with Manly Tears of Regret and Suffering. YMMV on that one, apparently.

So we set up, and I read aloud through all the rules (kudos to everyone for staying awake), and we played.

The basic game works like this.

  • Each player (minimum of 3, maximum of 7) plays a Knight of the Round Table – one of the named ones that you’d probably recognize.
  • You begin in Camelot, around the Round Table.
  • All around Camelot, forces array themselves to bring the Kingdom down. Seriously, there are more things trying drag down Camelot than there are knights to deal with them; (1) Saxons continually raid from the sea, (2) Picts raid from the forests, (3) the armies of Morgan and Mordred assemble Siege Engines to storm the castle, (4) the Black Knight challenges the might of the knights, (5) Despair of ever finding the Grail grows, (6) Excalibur is lost in the Lake, and might never be recovered, (7) Lancelot has abandoned Camelot, and will aid the King only indirectly… if confronted by a knight who can best him in combat, and (8) oh yeah, there’s a dragon.
  • King Arthur goes first, unless no one’s playing him, in which case the youngest player goes first.
  • On your turn, Something Bad Happens. For Something Bad, you either (1) draw from The Bad Deck (black cards) and do whatever it says (for instance, strengthen the Black Knight, Strengthen Lancelot, Grow the Pict or Saxon armies, increase Grail Despair, et cetera – or there’s some REALLY evil things that can happen, usually associated with Morgan, Mordred, or the Queen), (2) place a siege engine around Camelot (see the picture), or (3) lower your own Life by 1 to prevent anything else bad from happening.
  • Once Something Bad Happens, you then do Something Heroic. These heroic things are usually things that act in direct opposition to the Bad Things: Seek the Grail, face off against the Black Knight, lead forces against the Saxons, try to get Excalibur, simply destroy siege engines around Camelot (not at all easy), and things like that.
  • Once you’re done with your turn, play proceeds clockwise to the next Knight, and that simple cycle repeats.

Each of those Threats is basically a nigh-Sisyphean task. For example: you and several other knights might be working like crazy to collect White “Grail” cards to accumulate eight and finish that Grail quest, but EVERY SINGLE time a knight goes, Something Bad Happens, and if they draw a black “Despair” card, then “poof” goes the latest Grail card, and the balance swings back the way of Failure. That same teeter-totter action is happening all over the Kingdom, with slight variations.

And you can’t just place Siege Engines instead – if 12 accumulate around the Castle, then Camelot falls, and they’re damnably hard to eliminate once they’re on the board.

Winning the quests is the way to victory, but each one of those quests requires significant effort. Worse, some of those quests are perpetual (you can defeat the Black Knight, but he’ll just hold another tourney once he recovers; you can defeat the Picts and the Saxons, but they’ll just attack again next year); while others, even when won, cause the forces of Evil to redouble their efforts (once you have the Grail, any “Grail Despair” cards instead become “add another Siege Engine to the board” cards, for example).

So you can really band together to win a quest, but if you do, (a) you’re ignoring other forces attacking Camelot, and (b) once the Big Quests are won, they increase the rate of assault on Camelot.

You can spread out to handle everything at once, but then it’s a war of attrition. It’s a tricky thing to balance.

And by “Tricky” I mean to say “we played it twice and got our butts kicked both times.” Some successful tactics did present themselves, but we weren’t quite putting it all together yet.

That said, it seemed as though fun was had, and there was a strong opinion – dare I say a smoldering fire burning in the eyes of the failed knights – indicating that more play of the game lies in our future.

Then what? What happens when we finally eke out a victory and save Camelot?

Then we finally play the FULL game.

The version where one of the knights is a Traitor.

Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)

Wednesday night rolled around, and we were set to play In a Wicked Age. This was going to be my fourth or so time running the game, the second time for both Tim and Chris to play (revisiting the same characters) and the first time for both Meera and Randy.

Participant background

It’s not unimportant to note that I have a lot of play time with various story-games (not as much as I’d like) and that Tim and Chris have been playing quite a few different games with me in the last year or so, including Galactic, Dogs in the Vineyard, Inspectres, IAWA, and a couple others (I think). Meera’s played a couple of these types of games as well, most notably (in my head) Primetime Adventures. Randy’s played a little PTA, some Dogs, some Sorcerer, and I think that’s about it.

Significant (to me, at least) is that both Meera and Randy have a lot of play time with Amber DRPG (or some variation thereon) – enough that I think it’s fair to say that their experience with that game strongly informs and establishes their modes of play. I don’t say that to malign – I love em both, but the habits that Amber establishes are there, demonstrable, detectable even if you don’t know that’s what you’re seeing, and hard to break.

I bring that up because it mattered in play.

Now, first off, I think the game went well. We had a fun oracle to start out with, and there was a lot of stuff going on.

WHEN WE LAST LEFT OUR HEROES (read: last session)
* Farid Dafir, the marketplace snake charmer, had just reclaimed his rightful place at the head of the animal cult, ousting the woman Eil Bet.
* “Regano” al Aiqtanq, his cousin, had at least temporarily snared the heart of Kianna, the sneak-thief who’d gotten the whole mess with the released genii and the evil spirit started in the first place.

Chris was left at the top of the We Owe list. He picked NEST OF VIPERS as the Oracle and selected the first one. Tim crossed himself off the We Owe list to “just be” in the story.

The Oracles elements (from which one selects a character) are:
* A band of slavers, bold and incorrigible
* A moon gazer, possessed by 10 rival spirits
* Burglary of the storehouse of a powerful robber merchant
* The warden-ghost of the place, generous to the good-willed

Possible Characters, implied or implicit
* Any one of the slavers, including their leader, 2nd in command, or whoever
* Any one of the slaves, ditto
* The moon gazer, possessed
* Any one of the people burgling the storehouse
* The robber merchant, or one of his people
* The warden-ghost

From that, we came up with:

* Chris, playing his cult-leader/animal-charmer Fariq, who is also the moon-gazer with the 10 angry spirits within.
* Tim, playing Regano.
* Meera, playing Jessemyn, one of the slavers, who are all working for…
* Randy, playing Kadashman, the robber merchant and sorcerer.

The NPCs were:
* Natan, Kadashman’s eunuch major-domo, conniving to replace his master.
* Kianna, the thief from the first session, reincorporated as the burglar of the robber merchants ‘storehouse’.
* Saahi, the head of the slavers, in love with Kadashman.
* “Precious Dove”, Kadashman’s prime concubine, his conduit to the spirits he controls through sorcery, the one person who can put Fariq’s spirits at peace, the person Kianna was sent in to “borrow” (kidnap) by Fariq.

Much wackiness ensued. In the end, Fariq had his spirits sorted out, the concubines had all fled, Regaro had kept Kianna safe from the eunuch (who was rolled up in a large rug), and Saahi and Jessemyn were riding out into the desert with an unconscious Kadashman draped over the saddle. It was a pretty good session.

But there were still a few disconnects and weirdness. I, for one, automatically went into post-conflict narration once something wrapped up, and (a) that’s not always my job and (b) the results of the conflict hadn’t been negotiated yet, so I was totally going cart before the horse.

That wasn’t all of it, though. There were a few points in the game when what was going on at the table was sort of churning the water without doing anything, and a few points where the action ground to a halt when I’d turn to a player, ask what they were doing, and get a kind of deer in the headlights look. Analysis Paralysis, Tim calls it, and mmmmmmaybe that’s right. I’m not sure, though.

I am sure (pretty sure) what was causing it though.

Over on his blog, Vincent has been talking about different resolution systems. Specifically, talking about the ways in which the different games’ fictional stuff affects their system stuff, and vice versa.

The cloud means the game’s fictional stuff; the cubes mean its real-world stuff. If you can point to it on the table, pick it up and hand it to someone, erase it from a character sheet, it goes in the cubes. If you can’t, if it exists only in your imagination and conversation, it goes in the cloud.

Bear with me, guys, I’m going somewhere with this.

Continue reading “Why I wouldn’t use IAWA to run Amber (at least not with Amber players)”

Birthday presents for nerds

From a GChat with the DM in my once-a-month DnD game:

12:59 PM Dale: Congratulations: your character gets 175 xp in celebration of you living another year 😉

Cha-ching.

A review of my recent gaming, via pictures.

game-teim.jpg
Why yes, yes it can.
Tabletop
Played us a little Dogs in the Vineyard last week. The session ended on a cliffhanger. My prediction for the next session?
kittenandgun-1.jpg
Interpret as you see fit.


MMO: Lord of the Rings Online
geiri.jpg
What’s been going on with Geiri?
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That would be Geiri, Tiranor, and our new friend, level 60.
Next…
finnras.jpg
I’ve been trying to catch Finn up to Kate’s minstrel who, as of January 15th, was about ten levels ahead of him.
OCD-powers… ACTIVATE!
finn-level.png
Mission: Accomplished. As an upside, while I’ve really enjoyed playing this character for a long stretch, it’s really given me an appreciation for other things… like playing my other two characters, extra writing time, and… you know… the touch of natural light on my pale, pale skin.
emyl.jpg
No funny action shot of what’s been going on with Emyl — I have really enjoyed playing a non-melee guy and hiding behind other people while THEY get beat on — it’s a nice change of pace. Also, playing as a trio (Kate on her Captain, and Tim on his shiny new Warden) was really enjoyable, although it seems as though one of us is always unable to talk on voice-chat, due to one ailment or another.


MMO: WoW
account-cancelled.png
Since I never got the new expansion to the game when it came out (during NaNoWriMo), and all the people I played with aren’t playing anymore (or moved to another server — is it me? You can say if it’s me), I just figured I didn’t need to be spending money on the subscription right now. Maybe later, but not now.


ZOMBIES
Because what gaming post is complete without zombies?
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Amber Diceless doesn’t make the “Bucket List”?

Related to my previous post, a spin-off discussion about why Amber Diceless doesn’t make some people’s top-12 list.
I contribute to the discussion, but the money-quote is from Tony LB, who just explained to me why I haven’t enjoyed any Amber game I’ve played, but immensely enjoyed the ones I’ve run; relative focus on the character relationships in the game.

Posted By: TonyLB
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really miserable in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of his physical and mental abilities.
Here’s a recipe for making yourself really happy in ADRPG: Go in with a character that you enjoy because of the way they view their family members.

This is also explains why I always thought it was important for folks to have read a couple of the books first.

d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)

I feel weird using ‘d20’ to refer to a game of Dungeons and Dragons 4.0, as the game is fundamentally different than the versatile-but-expensive set of lego bricks that made up the 3.5, 3.0, and d20 systems of old.
But anyway.
We played a little more of the Keep on the Shadowfells on Saturday, and by ‘a little bit’ I mean ‘just that one fight that notoriously kills entire parties, followed by some handwaving in the direction of roleplay’.
Man that’s a vicious fight. I’m only playing with one house rule to the 4.0 system, and it is this: “You can trade in Healing Surges for Action Points on a 1:1 basis, and use the resulting action points as indicated within the rules.”
If there a limit to one Action Point per encounter? If so, we ignored that one too. If not, and it’s just ‘on AP per round’, we were fine.
Anyway, I think it’s fair to say that without that little house rule most everyone would have died. (And don’t anyone blame the halfling wandering off, because the fight is tuned to five players, and you had five even not counting the halfling.) As it was, Irontooth dropped the Paladin and Warlord about a round before he himself fell, but some first aid rolls got them standing again.
A few thoughts on the system, scenario, and our general gameplay:

Continue reading “d20 update (and a bit of a rant at the end)”

Patch 4.1 out for DnD

Okay, not a patch, but people make the DnD = MMORPG comparison so much, I figured one more tired joke wouldn’t hurt.
Actually, it’s errata and updates for all three books, enough that I hope they correct this stuff in a second printing of the 4.0 rules.
They has completely overhauled the skill challenge system in the DMG errata. All skill challenges now end with 3 failures regardless of complexity, so Complexity 5 challenges are going to be very difficult. However, they also dropped the difficulty of all skill checks by 5 (which is something I was already doing, based on the number crunching geniuses at Story-Games… you know, they don’t right many crunchy games, but those guys grok dice probabilities.
Anyway: all Easy skill checks are now difficulty 5 instead of 10. Moderate skill checks are now DC 10 instead of 15, and Hard checks are now DC 15 instead of 20. This still scales up with level.

Gaming Update

Haven’t done one of these in awhile, mostly because I’d been updating WoW and LotRO play stuff using Twitter. However, Twitter’s API went completely kerflooey a month ago or so, which means that, since Twitter never updates in my feedreader anymore, I rarely think about it, and thus, never update it.
So, until I come up with another, better way to just give MMO character updates on the fly, here’s everything going on with anything that could be considered gaming.
MMO: WoW
Grezzk
I mostly just log Grez on for raiding and running a few ‘daily’ (repeatable each day) quests for cash. My guild has finished off Vashj, and is the only Hordeside guild to have done so on my server (Farstriders). We’re currently working on Kaelthas, the Blood elf ‘prince’, who is the other boss at the same Tier of difficulty as Vashj, and I’d expect he’ll go down in the next week or so… this will ALSO be a boss kill that no one on the Horde side of our server has completed.
Grezzk is pretty well geared at this point, because I’ve been working on such things and I’m considered a ‘contributing’ member of the raid, but one recent ‘gear ding’ made me very happy: I just got the second piece of a four-piece ‘set’ of items available only to raiders hitting the high level of content that we are. (In wow-speak: The Tier Five two-piece set bonus for hunters.) Getting two pieces of that ‘set’ gives me a really awesome bonus ability: every time I hit something, I heal my pet for 15% of whatever my damage was.
Just… ponder that for a second. If you don’t do wow, work it out for whatever game you DO play, where you have a pet. You’re on CoH? Okay… you hit a bad guy for 100 points and your Jack Frost heals 15 points.
As an added bonus, the threat generated by that heal doesn’t count toward me — it counts as the pet healing itself, so it actually helps the pet hold aggro and tank for me when I’m soloing, which is AWESOME – I do so much damage now that it’s really hard for my pet to really tank anything for more than a few seconds before my damage output convinces the target that I’m the (far) more serious threat.
Syncerus
Druids in WoW are a bit like Kheldians in CoH, only much, much better. Depending on the way I spec, I can play him as a Tank + backup Melee damage-dealer, a viable main healer, or a ranged damage-dealer (which I already have with Grezzk and have no intention of doing with Syn).
This kind of versatility has been a total joy to level with. I’m specced heavily into Tanking/melee, with a few good low-end abilities out of the healing tree. That, plus effort on my part to have both a good set of tanking gear and a good set of healing gear means that I can solo to my heart’s content as an extremely viable ‘big cat’ form (with stealth, which makes things even more fun), and then join a five-man dungeon run as either the Tank, the Healer (I’ve actually healed as many runs as I’ve tanked), or even melee damage.
When I want a break, I just strap on my healing gear and join a PvP battleground and heal like crazy — it’s great practice for when a regular old PvE dungeon fight goes haywire and everyone (including me) starts taking damage… plus I earn a ton of Honor I’ll be able to use at level 70 for some huge gear upgrades.
My goal is to get him to 70 as fast as possible (I’m at level 66, and it’s taken me approximately half as much time as it took me on Grezzk), respec into full-on healing mode, and join in the Raiding fun with the rest of the guild. Once I hit 70, I think about a few serious runs of some end-game content will get me to the point where I can actually contribute well to even the toughest of the raids we’re doing — I already have about half the gear I need (8 items) to be a viable raid-level healer.
LotRO
Geiri and Tiranor (“Geiranor”) have leveled up to 46-of-50 in Lord of the Rings, and we’re well and truly into some interesting end-game content.
The progression of the storyline in the game has us to the point where the Fellowship is in Rivendell and is ready to leave on their great journey, but unable to leave because one of the Nine survived the attack at the Fords of Bruinen and is slinking around the Trollshaws and the Misty Mountains, spying on Rivendell. Gandalf surmises (rightly) that if the Fellowship set out while a Nazgul was around to report back to Moria, they’d all be dead inside a week.
So you have to eliminate that threat.
Yeah… we defeated a Nazgul, baby. (As part of a full team, but still.) Big epic fight in an old dwarf ruin in the Misty Mountains. The ground trembled and the walls shook, and when it was all said and done, the bastard went down. Pretty damn cool.
So we’ve four more levels to go to fifty, and I think something like seven more “books” of epic storyline to play through before Mines of Moria drops sometime later this year.
And we have a few alts we want to level. Kate took some time this week on her minstrel an rocketed up like 4 or 5 levels. It’s NOT hard to find a big group willing to help you with your quests when you’re a healer, I guess. WHO KNEW.
Tabletop
Why is that we can easily get five people to the table with short notice for a DnD game, but we can’t get three together reliably for something like In a Wicked Age on even a monthly basis?
Eh.
4th edition is fun for what it’s good at. I’m kind of eliding the roleplaying stuff at this point while we learn the rules a bit more, and that means we’re doing a lot of fights, but the fights are fun.
in non-dnd news, Colorado Story Game is doing a gameday up at the Casa this coming weekend. I’ll either be running IaWA or The Mountain Witch, probably. I’d like to do more In a Wicked Age with Lee and De and Kate… the In a Wuxia Age with Dave and Margie and Kate… and Spirit of the Century.
Yeah… more Spirit of the Century would be GOOD. I keep thinking that being able to put Aspects on the Scene is the perfect way to reflect the kind of subtle magic you see in the Lord of the Rings books.
Hmm.

To my gamer-homies that don’t live within 10 minutes of me…

415610_sk_lg.jpg I’m seriously thinking about this camera (thirty bucks, so… less than a tank of gas), plus Skype (free), for in-home video conferencing.
It’ll be more and more useful as Kaylee gets older and I need some remote face-time, but for gaming? Yeah, I’m seriously thinking about this. Maybe just as a test run if enough people are interested enough to shell out for the camera.
Why? Mostly so I can play with more people without everyone bankrupting themselves for the gas money. 😛

Hacking the DnD Action Point rules

So I looked over the various gaming threads that had come out of discussions of Action Points and how they were used — I agree and disagree in equal measures with what folks are saying, so I’m just writing down my thoughts on Action Points from my own point of view.
This essentially codifies the House Ruled Action Point system I’ve been using.
First, my thoughts:

1. Action Points are cool. I don’t necessarily love how they’re implemented in the game, because:
– 1a: They can only do one thing (take an additional Standard Action).
– 1b: That option is alternately kind of lame or potentially game breaking.
2. Due to (1b) and the risk of a game breaking series of Action Point expenditures (two or three rounds in a row of additional actions would kind of break things, yes), the game designers opted to:
– 2a: Heavily restrict the number of APs a player can have.
– 2b: Heavily restrict how often APs can be used.
I understand why they did that, but I think it simply treats the symptomatic problems of the system as implemented — it doesn’t fix what’s busted.
3. Since Action Points, under the standard system are both (a) rare and (b) unstable in terms of payoff, they’re rarely used by the players.
– 3a: Their primary purpose (allowing players to combat the unavoidable whiff-factor in a dice mechanic with no bell curve and roughly a 50/50 chance of success on any given roll) is alternately too weak or too powerful in practice.
– 3b: Their alternate purpose (as a way to make characters more awesome) is diluted.

Truly, they might just as easily not even be in the game: as written, they represent a lot of bookkeeping (“a new Action Point accrues every two encounters, but the total resets to 1 after each Extended Rest”? Really, Wizards of the Coast? Really?), for a rare and often anticlimactic pay-off.
They are, alternately, “too much” and “not enough”, in my opinion.
So here’s my hack. Changes and additions are italicized.

1. Your character starts with one Action Point. For the purposes of drifting as little as possible from the core rules, we’ll retain the standard accrual rules I just made fun of:
– 1a. You gain a fresh Action Point every other encounter.
– 1b. Your current total of Action points resets to 1 after an Extended Rest.
2. You can use your Action Points for one of three things:
– 2a: Spend an AP to take an additional standard action. (Once per Encounter)
– 2b: Spend an AP to reroll a failed (or successful) d20 roll. (Once per Turn)
– 2c: Spend an AP to add +3 to (or subtract 3 from) a d20 roll. (Once per Turn)

Edit to Add: A natural 1 can’t be rerolled, and always misses. Sometimes, you’re just screwed, and that’s awesome too.
3. At will, as a free action, you can cross off a Healing Surge and give yourself an Action Point, which can immediately be used in one of the ways listed under 2. Healing Surges reset per the normal rules.

The end result allows players to “push” by sacrificing some resources in a way that I already know I like a lot from playing lots of other games with similar options. (Vincent Baker uses a phrase “trading in your future for your present” and I like that term quite a lot.)
It’s also relatively “trad gaming” in the options it presents: if I really wanted to hack it into some kind of Indie co-authored hippie craziness, I’d add a few Meta-options under #2, like spending an AP to let you add facts to the game fiction, a la Spirit of the Century.
Even without that option, I’d definitely consider a player who really wanted to take part in a scene and suggested paying an Action Point to conveniently show up, if it was remotely plausible.
Bones?

The One Where He Totally Geeked Out Like a Mid-1980s Gamer Nerd ((Hacking DnD 4 into Lord of the Rings))

I noticed early on that LotRO’s main conceit about their “Health Bar” really really works in DnD 4th with regards to healing.
Lord of the Rings refers to your ‘health bar’ as Morale — so it’s mostly representative of your will to continue the fight — the rest of the game works in similar ways — where death =’s ‘retreat’ and so forth. This makes ‘healers’ in Lord of the Rings (which is really quite a low-magic setting) make sense — they are the minstrels with their uplifting songs (VERY Tolkein), the Captains with the rallying crys and bold words, and even the Lore Masters with their quietly whispered words (or sometimes taking your worries on their own shoulders to ease your burden).
That idea really works in 4th edition DnD, especially when you look at the Healing Surges everyone has (accessible in combat as Second Wind) and the names of the healing-type abilities for the Warlord (Captain), which indicate that they’re really just boosting your will to continue the fight.
Mike Mearls was saying in an interview that it changes nothing in the game if a player wants to take all his mage spells and switch them to ‘cold’ damage instead of, say, fire; it’s the kind of customization hacking he expects from players in the game as they make their character their own.
Then I thought: it would be a pretty simple thing indeed to hack the Cleric into a sort of lore-master and/or minstrel (or both, depending on which path you took at creation) simply by changing the names of the powers and changing their “implement” from a holy symbol to either a wizards staff or a musical instrument. Do that, drop Mages and Warlocks from the game (or leave them for the bad guys), and you’re pretty much ready to play in Middle Earth in LotRO style.
So, to sum up…
– Drop Dragonborn and Tieflings. Duh.
– Elladrin are the elves of Lothlorien and Rivendell.
– Sylvan elves are the elves of Mirkwood.
– Fighters: unchanged. Depending on build, they are either Champions or Guardians.
– Rogues: rogues are more melee damage dealers than the LotRO Burglars, and their benefit to the group is slightly different, but it’s still similar enough. Halfling rogues should favor trickster builds, probably, with the other type being more common with sylvan elves and the like.
– Rangers: virtually no changes.
– Warlord: call em Captains and you’re done, though I think a lot of them would be multiclassed.
– Cleric: the ‘sit-in-the-back’ build (whatever the name) you tweak in Power names and Implements to be Minstrels, and the ‘up-in-your-face’ build you likewise tweak to be Loremasters.
– Warlocks: probably only bad guys — infernal types serve Sauron entirely, I’d guess. Fey types work alright with the High elves, and Star-pact warlocks would make an interesting type of Loremaster, maybe.
– Mages: too overt to be anything but bad guys, really.
This would simulate LotRO pretty well, would work for a game setting like Midnight quite well, but still be too much magic for true Tolkein.
If you really wanted to be totally hardcore Tolkein, not LotRO, you remove Clerics and Mages. Healing would fall entirely to the use of Healing Surges and any Captains you had with you. Warlocks stay in the setting in very particular instances. Infernal Warlocks are bad guys, Fey Warlocks are the Elf Lords, and Star Pact Warlocks are Gandalf and Sauruman. (Keep the Ritual List, from which you’d likewise remove things like passwall and the Portal magic, but keep the ‘rezzes’ for when Frodo gets insta-gibbed a ringwraith on Weathertop. Only the various Warlocks would get such Rituals automatically — anyone else would need a Feat to learn a few — Aragorn did so.)

DnD Skill Challenges

Skill Challenges are a new wrinkle in DnD skill use that aim to make said skills use… well, more interesting. The basic idea is that each Skill Challenge has a Complexity rating from one to five.
A Complexity One skill challenge for a group of level 1 adventurers, for example, requires that the group as a whole succeeds at 3 skill checks before it fails at 3. A complexity Five skill challenge is something like “succeed at 11 before you fail at 7”.* The idea is that everyone around the table who is involved is taking turns at working on this challenge, either by making their own skill rolls or helping someone else hit theirs, and that each of these ‘moves’ is roleplayed/narrated as you go, making the whole thing more interactive.
In an ideal world, there are a few ‘obvious’ skills that work for each encounter, and the unspoken challenge to the players to come up with novel ways to apply the skills they’re good at that aren’t on that pre-approved list. It’s all very, if I may say so, hippy and indie. It’s a LOT like how all the skills and combat in Heroquest work.
In practice, the Challenges have come under a lot of fire, both because the Difficulties for success are weighted HEAVILY toward failure in some places, and because people are having trouble getting their heads around it, and finally because the results of the Challenge are, as written, binary: you either Win Completely or fail completely.
Enter Keith Baker, and some excellent thoughts on making Skill Challenges interesting and winnable, without actually changing the math. (Which I’m doing anyway.)
One good suggestion is something straight out of Heroquest, but predicated on the DnD Combat model: more graduated levels of success, ranging from the Crit-like total victory, to a regular old Success, to Moderate success, partial success, failure with some benefit, failure with a single mote of light, and the Crit-fumble of Total Loss.
But the best suggestion is one I’ve been working on for what seems like years, now: setting up conflicts so that the failures are as interesting as the victories.
* – I know the numbers I quoted for Complexity values are off, compared to the rules — I’m quoting a mathmatical rework of the rules that makes more sense to me.

“Keys” for DnD

For a longer-term DnD game, I am seriously considering using something like the experience point system in The Shadow of Yesterday — the “keys” that you pick for your character and which give you xp when you ‘hit’ them. (You’d need about 10 to 15 to level, probably, which would be pretty fast, even compared to the speeded up ratio in 4.0.)
Clinton wrote up a hack of the system for 3.5 d20. It’s here, and would require a very little bit of tweaking to update to 4.0. Some excerpts:

The first way you get XP is through Keys. They determine behaviors that will earn XP for your character. Keys are motivations, problems, connections, duties and loyalties. You should pick one at 1st level, and one every odd level after that. You can never have more than five Keys.
Counters
Each Key has a Counter. If you go against the Key – that is, act according to the Counter – you can choose one of two options:
* Lose 2 XP.
* Remove the Key and gain 7 XP. You can never take this Key again.
((A few particularly typical d20 key examples.))
Key of Bloodlust
Your character enjoys overpowering others in combat. Gain 1 XP every time you/your group wins a battle, or 3 XP for defeating a foe equal to or more powerful than your group. Counter: Be defeated in battle.
Key of Glittering Gold
Your character loves wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth (max: 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP every time you finish an adventure with more wealth than you started with. Gain 5 XP every time you finish an adventure with double your previous wealth. Counter: Lose (or give away) over half your fortune.
Key of Fraternity
Your character has someone he is sworn to, a friend who is more important than anyone else. Gain 1 XP every time this character is present in a scene with your character (maximum 3 per adventure). Gain 2 XP whenever your character makes a decision that is influenced by them. Gain 5 XP every time your character defends them by putting himself at unusual risk. Counter: Sever the relationship with this person or the person dies.
Key of Vengeance
Your character has a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 2 XP every time your character strikes a minor blow at that group or person (killing a member of the organization or one of the person’s lackeys, disrupting their life, destroying their property). Gain 5 XP every time your character strikes a major blow at that group or person. Counter: Let your enemy go or destroy the entire organization.
Key of the Masochist
Your character thrives on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time he is bloodied and 3 XP every time he is dropped to 0 hp. Counter: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.

There are also some “classic fantasy trope” examples of Keys on the TSoY wiki, here. I particularly like:

Key of the Explorer
Your character seeks novelty and discovery at every opportunity. Gain 1 XP everytime she goes somewhere or encounters something new to her. Gain 3 XP whenever she experiences something unknown to her society. Buyoff: Settle down to a quiet life.
Key of Extravagance
Your character seeks every opportunity to impress those around you with his means and generosity. Gain 1 XP every time he gives a gift or spends money on an unnecessary luxury. Gain 3 XP every time he blows a significant fraction of his net worth. Buyoff: Refuse a luxury you could have had.
Key of Glory
Who cares about power or riches? You crave fame! Gain 1 XP when your actions inspire strangers to talk about you insultingly (there’s no such thing as bad publicity). Gain 3 XP when your deeds win you acclaim and adulation. Buyoff: Adopt a pseudonym or go incognito.

You can probably see where a set up like this would speed up the leveling process in some entertaining ways. 🙂

Actual Play: Keep on the Shadowfells, Session One

As I mentioned, had a chance to play the first couple events in the sort of “DnD 4th Edition Lite” Keep on the Shadowfells. What you get with this game is basically a DnD Lite version of the rules (somewhat too light in a few places — would have helped to know a few things that aren’t mentioned in the 16 page rules booklet, but it worked out), 5 pregenned characters with all the math worked out and put on a nice, easy to read sheet and their first two level-ups already worked out, and an 80-page adventure… a pretty good one, at that.
Oh, and you get all the maps you’ll need for any combat, so when I fight starts, you just lay out the map, drop down the tokens, and go at it.
Stuff I noticed about the game
1. In MSExcel-speak, 4e still tests as “True” for whatever value you assign to “Dungeons & Dragons.” A lot of people have been busting on it, saying that it’s all-combat, all the time, and there’s no support for anything else, etc. etc. This has pretty much been true for every iteration of the game. The people saying such things are very silly. We haven’t had a chance to do a skill challenge yet, but when we do, I expect good things.
2. You really do need mini’s or good counters to play this thing. I need to get better wood discs than the ones I made — smaller, and less splintery. Either pre-made, or I need to get a 3/4″ dowel and get a MUCH finer-toothed blade for the saw.
3. Combat is a lot more interesting than it’s been before, because…
3A. Everyone can contribute meaningfully to the fight, even/especially the (traditionally useless) first-level Wizard.
3B. Everyone can do a lot of crazy maneuvers and funky stuff. It’s entirely possible for everyone to “Use their Nuke” and really do something awesome.
3C. We did not make full use of it, but I did see that classes are designed to have serious synergy in combat: the Cleric’s maneuvers set up Paladin’s maneuvers set up Fighter’s maneuvers. You’re really a TEAM now. Heaven help me when Margie and Kate start coordinating their respective ‘battlefield control’ abilities — they started to get a handle on them by the middle of the second fight and suddenly my super-mobile Kobolds had a VERY difficult time moving around.
3D. The monsters are really a team too. I played stupidly with the Wyrmpriest in the second fight. I should have bombed guys with his acid bomb ability from long range for awhile first, THEN come in and drop his two AoE attacks once the battlefield set up.
3E. The monsters require so much less book-keeping than before.
3F. A lot of the crazy 3e complications are now much simpler.
3G. There’s some better rules on building an encounter so that terrain, traps, conditions, etc., matter more–the scene is more interactive… there are many more ways to interact and use terrain.
4. On the other hand, while fights require more intelligence and imagination than prior editions’ Rock-em Sock-em Robots combat system, fights last a long time.
5. There’s a disconnect at the table, because most of use have played 3.0 and 3.5 before — I’ve played a LOT, Dave and Margie and Jackie played quite a bit, and Kate’s played less, but MUCH more recently — so when a rule in 4.0 is different from 3.5, there was a bit of shock… sometimes it was “is that a new rule or a Doyce Houserule?” (disclaimer: I used no houserules) and stuff I remember from 3.5 that isnt’ true anymore (Example: Standing up from being prone doesn’t cause an Opportunity Attack — in fact a LOT less stuff does, which makes it easier to deal with… but leaves veterans with the niggling suspicion that we’re forgetting to do something.)
6. In previous editions, each class had a very different feel: if you were a 1st level Magic-User, you had to play the game very differently than a 1st level Fighter. This difference is FAR less pronounced now. Also, the classes that are “simple” versus “complicated” have changed. Paladins and clerics have a LOT of stuff on their sheets. Rogues LOOK simpler than that, but the way you apply what they can do during a fight is pretty advanced stuff.
7. There is pretty much no effort to make the mechanics hyper-realistic. Hit points are as much “morale” as they are “health”, and that kind of logic is the only way some abilities make sense. I like it.
Stuff I noticed about the play
1. All the characters are awesome. I want to play a fully tank-specced dwarven fighter so much I can taste it. Similarly, I think a rogue with a rapier, a ranged weapon (vs. twin-blade) ranger, and a cleric would all be a ton of fun. There are really no classes that, when reading about them in the PHB, didn’t sound fun and worth checking out.
2. Christ, but we are a persnickety, particular, optimizing bunch of nitwits. I mention this solely because Katherine played with us last night, running the rogue, and by the end of the night I felt positively terrible for her, because the nice nurturing adults just could. not. let. her. play. her. guy. and just do whatever she wanted, because there was a tactically better move to be made somewhere. We need to let her just ‘go in and hit that guy’ for awhile before we worry about shit like flanking and such. Let her GET flanked once or twice, and I guarantee she’ll learn to do it herself.
3. Along the same lines: good lord we’re terrified of taking an Opportunity Attack. Damn.
4. I was tired, and Kate was flat out exhausted — really, we shouldn’t have played, but I’m glad we did — it would have been close to a month before we could have gotten these specific people to the table again, and it was nice to pull out all the dice and really beat on stuff.
What happened?
Oh, Margie’s guy is friends with a sort of professional adventurer guy. Said guy is haring off on one of his wild adventures to find a Dragon’s burial site. He’ll be back in a month. It’s been three month’s and the guy’s wife comes to margie and guilts her into going and looking for him. Said dwarf recruits several mutual acquaintances to come with. His drinking pal the mage. The paladin he knows from the warrior’s guild. The cleric the paladin is tight with… and the rogue that the cleric has turned into a little “rehabilitation side-project.”
Right. Oh, and when word gets out that the priest and paladin are headed for Winterhaven, a friend of theirs in the temple who researches such things drops in while they’re packing and advises them to keep on the lookout for a death cult that was spotted heading that direction about a year ago. “You know, just in case. Sure it’s nothing. Ta-ta.”
Right.
So they’re traveling to the town and about three days in and getting close to the town they get waylaid by bandits. Little lizardmen- kobolds. There is fighting. The slinger gets away and the others die.
The group gets to town and starts talking to folks, asking after the dwarf’s buddy. Clues are had. The paladin approaches the Lord of the town and gets a promise of reward if they wipe out the kobolds that are harassing the town.
So they have to decide about what to do next: go down to the rumored dragon’s graveyard to look for the missing guy, or head for the Kobold camp? (Or even head for the old abandoned keep from the fallen empire, up in the hills — the one either haunted, or infested with goblins, or both.) They decide that the dwarf’s buddy is the first priority.
They head south out of town and are ambushed by more kobolds — a bit tougher group. The slinger had run back to camp and told such a tale of horror about the adventurers that some bigger guns were called out.
There was more fighting. A lot of “once per day” powers made an appearance, some of which healed the party for large amounts, others of which set large patches of foliage on fire. The group came out of the fight largely unscratched (thanks to healing) but with some of their bigger powers already used up for the day. They’re a little shaky about if they should move on or rest up. *mutters about over-cautious heroes*
And that’s when we called it for the night. I had a good time. I hope we play again.
At the same time? It made me really appreciate the kind of play we have with In a Wicked Age. Different (very), but also very good. I should always make sure to have a copy of that game with me when heading to someone’s house.
As a side note: I’m rolling all my dice out in front of everyone. No fudging, so there’s a good chance some folks are going to be making Death Saves at some point… heaven knows how many times I soft-pitched a fight in 3.5 to keep folks from dying (and the rogue still bit it like… what? Five times?)

Dealing with the whiff-factor in DnD

Played some DnD last night. It was good. I will talk about that more in a bit, but for now, an idea for combating the frustration of repeating missing in a fight.

The Angry Meter
If you miss, you get a token. A Big bowl of glass stones that you get to grab from when you miss — a nice tactile way of portraying building anger. Conceptually it transforms a miss from “a whiff” into “I didn’t hit you yet…but I’m getting closer”.
You can turn in five tokens on a future roll, after the roll has been made.
In Heroic Tier: they’re worth a +5
In Paragon Tier: +10
In Epic Tier: +15
That way, if you would miss anyway by spending tokens, you wouldn’t spend them and just rack up another for the pile.
Critical Fumbles give you two tokens, because 1’s make us really angry… alternately, if you want a fumble to suck more, you lose all your stones when you roll a 1.
You lose all your stockpiled tokens during an extended rest.

Kind of like it… but I’m not sure a game with so much “Marked enemy” stuff going on needs another token floating around the table.

OM Freakin’ G: The DnD 4.0 game with the seven-year old got even more awesome.

You haven’t been keeping up with the exploits of D and his dad Tony? Why on earth not? Go here. Read.
Turns out two of the kid’s characters can speak draconic, and they’ve been fighting kobolds, so the kid is making Dad translate what they’re saying all the time.

At this point in the fight it was very much all over but for the agonized draconic shouting. But that, interestingly, is when things got really funny and weird.
“GGLgLGGGLGG! SSSSSSSssss ss ss …”
“What’s that mean?”
“We are done for, my brother! Let us die with honor!”, I say. After all … they’re toast. Everyone knows it.
Quoth D: “Do you surrender?”
>Blink, blink< "Uhhhh ... SSS?" "What's that mean?" "Uhhhh ... yes?" So now he's got two prisoners, and I'm all like "What the heck is he going to do with prisoners? Is there going to be horrific torture involved? Is he going to wring information out of them, then slaughter them? Kids can be dark ... " Quoth D: "Are you good now?" >Blink, blink< "Uh ... I don't think we're really ... uh ... good or evil. We're just sorta ... us." "Oh. Well I've decided you're going to be good." "But that ... that doesn't actually make us good." "It will. I believe in you." Wow. His major adventure-genre influences have been Fantastic Four, Naruto and Avatar ... but I didn't realize he'd actually been listening.
So he took them back to Winterhaven. He said “You’re going to live here now, and you’re going to be good.” He spent all afternoon talking to extremely mistrustful villagers, convincing them to give these two guys a chance.
In the interest of having chances to, y’know, fight (which D definitely agrees is a lot of fun) we established that he’d gotten lucky and captured the only two non-evil kobolds in the whole tribe, and that the rest of them were terribly evil right down to the core and needed to be killed with extreme death.
D listened to that and said “Yeah, because otherwise we’d have to rescue everybody, and I don’t have enough legos for that.”

Can’t. Stop. Grinning.

Watching the 4.0 DnD release

… is a fascinating kind of car-crash voyeurism.
Lots of folks into gaming have never really tried anything outside of their comfort zone for gaming, and that’s fine.
Many many of those folks are playing DnD.
But what’s happened with 4.0 is that the designers for the game, unlike many of their players, have been watching and (unlike some of the gaming-industry-aware-but-disdainful d20 faithful) embracing some of the significant gaming innovations of the last five years or so. For example:

  • In-combat “tagging” with non-combat skills to give your allies bonuses. (Spirit of the Century)
  • Reducing resource overload to keep the characters streamlined and fun to play as they level. (MMOs)
  • “Respeccing” your character without significant penalty as you level. (SotC. MMOs)
  • The same system used for all actions, even spellcasting. (Heroquest. Dogs. Hell, any indie game in the last 5 years.)
  • Taking actions that set everyone up to be awesome, not just you. (The driving force behind most any indie game.)
  • It seems like a small thing, but it’s something *I* had been playing with a hack for for a couple months now… mechanics to support a “Tank, holding aggro” in a tabletop game.

One of the things I hadn’t seen so far, though, was this little tidbit…

*Q:* Will there be social combat rules in 4E or some other system that allows for non-combat conflict resolution?
A: Yes. We have been playtesting a new social encounter system, which has been one of the most heavily developed—and contentious—parts of the game. Look for it in the DMG.

Sold.
One of the things that bothered me about 3.5 DnD is that, as a tactical combat game at heart (something it does very very very well), non-combat interactions (ie: the “roleplaying” in RPG) never got the same amount of system support that combat does. Consequently, combat is more *important* than other activities; it has more weight, just in terms of time-devoted-to-it-at-the-table. When a scene that uses Bluff and Diplomacy will simply be ten minutes of roleplay and (if I’m lucky and it’s not simply hand waved away via GM Fiat) one die roll… while a combat with that same antagonist might run 30 minutes to an hour of game play… why would I put much time into developing my Bluff and Diplomacy feats when Combat skills let my character ‘be awesome’ for a much longer stretch of play-time at the table? It’s got a bad payoff percentage at the gaming table.
Answer: I wouldn’t, or I will anyway and be frustrated. (See also: my bard character Gwydion.)
Rules that let an important ‘soft skills’ encounter get the same love and attention from the system that a physical fight does? Games with that kind of ability are the reason I abandoned 3.5 in the first place.
It heartens me that the designers for 4.0 obviously paid so much attention to the best stuff that the REST of the gaming industry (both pen and paper and electronic) has introduced in the last 5 years.
Why is watching the release of the game like watching a car crash?
Well, for many DnD players, all of this new stuff, which is familiar to ME (and my friends, thanks to the evangelical nature of my enthusiasm for those sorts of games in the last few years), is very unfamiliar, new, strange, and just plain WEIRD to them… watching them come to grips with the new DnD is just… fascinating.

Learn about DnD 4.0 with some cool, funny guys.

Okay, so here’s what happened.
Tycho and Gabriel from Penny Arcade, plus Scott Kurtz from PvP, got together with one of the R&D guys from Wizards of the Coast, who runs a DnD game for them.
They recorded the whole thing. Plus, Gabe and Scott drew some scenes from the adventure.
So what the teeming public gets out of it: the whole adventure has been recorded as eight podcasts, plus funny comics.
But that’s not all!
See, Tycho plays d20 all the time. Scott hasn’t played in years, but did at one time. Gabe has never played DnD or any other tabletop RPG at all.
And the GM is really good and takes his time explaining everything, so you find out about the game’s system in a way that’s really natural — the guy is REALLY good explaining the game.
And you have players who are just kind of excellent to listen to.
The first session is here.
The second session is here.
You have to create a login to the Wizard’s web site to see the stuff and download the podcasts. If you have the least little interest in the game, at all, this is how I would suggest you learn about the game, before even looking at the rules, or buying them.
I have to admit, I’ve been looking over the rules for the levels 21 to 30, the “Epic” ranges, and thinking that those rules represent exactly the direction our long-time DnD game went… an ogre warrior gathering an army to become a battle master… or a cleric on the way to demigod-hood, for example (she gave birth her deity’s son, after all)… it’s a shame these weren’t the rules we were using back then. We would have had somewhere to go.

For the nerd on your Father’s Day list

Dungeons and Dragons, 4th Edition.
I’m sorry, I’m just hearing too much good stuff about it. The indie roleplaying community is going gah-gah over it. “If old-school basic Dungeons and Dragons were rewritten by Days of Wonder, after they’d played Spirit of the Century for six months.”
It’s meant to be a high magic game… crazy high magic like rivers of flowing earth and villages of dragonblood humanoids. Dunno if I love that, but …
Eh. I dunno. I mention it mostly because of the great reactions from people whose opinions and gaming tendencies I frequently agree with, and from this actual-play write up, in which the gamer’s seven year old son plays through the first DnD 4th edition module, simultaneously running five characters, keeps all the rules straight (even for Attacks of Opportunity), and outmaneuvers his dad.
I confess: the battlefield rules sound really fun.

“I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.”

bt-dd-box-225.jpgSo a few weeks ago, I was poking through an old chest of junk from high school and found something I thought I’d long, long LONG since lost. That image to the right gives the suspense away, but I’ll say it anyway:
The pink-box, 1980 copyright, got it for Christmas out of a Sears catalog, “red box” Dungeons and Dragons. The dice are gone (as is the crayon included to color in the numbers), and the spine of the book is cut through so I could put it in a ring binder, and the box is full of old maps and worlds and character sheets, but it’s there. The expert rules, too, in all its weird, crazy, “dwarves, elves, and halflings are characters classes, like warriors and wizards” glory.
And I want to run it so, so bad.
Or at least something like it. For me, a romp down the OD&D lane would be one thick with nostalgia, but I understand that, while the rules are kind of light, not everyone would want to spend the time grokking them (and ignoring the stuff you know from more recent, if not really improved editions) just to smack some kobolds for 1d6 damage with an iron mace.
But… something like that, you know? I love me some Wicked Age, or Spirit of the Century, and I long for a good campaign using Heroquest rules, but while WIcked Age is lean and mean and good story-making fun, and Spirit is a hell of a fun romp and plenty rules crunchy, and Heroquest has a kind of all-in-one fantasy beauty to it, none of the games I’m playing right now scratch a particular itch that I can best sum up as “defined progression.”
You know what I mean; that thing that D&D does, where you get a certain number of experience points, and then there’s a ch-ching and you get a new skill or new trick or new something. Wicked Age characters change, but it’s more story-like. Spirit of the Century characters… shift but, superhero-like, don’t really level up. Dogs characters change all the time, but it’s as a result of things that happen in the story, not because you got 1000 xp and became a Dog-Exorcist, Level 3, you know? There’s no level-up chart for fixing 2 Dogs towns and then *ding!* Heroquest is more traditional, but is like Hero System or other point-based games in some ways — little, incremental changes that you pretty much get by your own spending of points.
I want… I dunno. Burning Wheel would probably do it, with its skills and mega-crunch and life paths, but it’s a big meaty system that Kate played once and didn’t love, and I don’t want to have to learn and then teach another huge, meaty system, anyway. I did that with DnD 3.0 and 3.5, and it burned me out to the point where I won’t play those games anymore; they make me sad the way a failed, codependent relationship does.
So I want something with some structure to character progression, some smacking-kobold fun, that I don’t have to spend a lot of brain power learning… so something I already kind of know, and like, and didn’t burn out on.

Continue reading ““I kick it (old school) for 1d6+2 damage.””

In a Wicked Age

So I’ve mentioned this game a couple times on the site, but haven’t really gotten into the game that much or talked about the sessions. Let’s fix that.
A few months back, I went down to Lee and De’s with Kate, and we cracked open my copy of In A Wicked Age — a game designed to do Sword and Sorcery in the vein of Howard or Tanith Lee. There’s a cool podcast interview with Vincent about the game, here.
The game basically let’s you draw a few cards to define the elements of the setting, pick up some of those elements as PCs, some as NPCs or setting, get each of them pointing guns at each others heads (metaphorically) and then dumping them into a situation together.
Combat/conflict is about as complicated as any “roll initiative/roll defense/gain advantage for next round” game, and is basically perfectly designed to create a kind of an anthology of loosely connected short stories that involve many of the same characters (to a greater or lesser degree) in many sessions. Each session jumps to a new chapter… forward in time… backwards, sideways… whatever. It’s pretty hot, and the rules cool and pretty easy to ‘get’.
It hit the gaming community, and everyone promptly built like 300 million new oracles to use the system in different settings — unlike Dogs, it’s highly setting-independent as a system.
Anyway, we got to the game-starting, and I opened to that part of the book, and we did that stuff. Here’s what the book said to do, and what we did.

Continue reading “In a Wicked Age”

Nobilis, renewed.

(Via Story Games:) Rebecca Borgstrom has released “Unlikely Flowerings”, the first part of the long-awaited Society of Flowers supplement for Nobilis as a 115 page pdf at Drivethrurpg for $5. It’s also available for free at (the publisher) Eos’ website, but “purchasing it from DTRPG will show your support for the author, her efforts and improve the chances of seeing the rest of the book.”
Nobilis is also getting a reprint by Eos Press. The reprint will be revised and twice as thick as the 2nd edition, due to resizing the book to 8.5″ x 11″; will contain new art, a new visual style, and content from The Game of Powers Live-action RP rules. (Which is ironic, since I always thought the rules in Game of Powers worked better for TTRPGs than the main rulebook’s more LARPish rules.)

Week in Review

Not a ton to say, really. Kate might disagree, but it doesn’t feel as though a lot’s been going on with Gaming-stuff.
* No Galactic or Spirit of the Century. *sad panda*
* I led a Kara raid up through the Opera event on Wednesday. That was fun in a wacky way; more stress, but we had a weird group and ended up doing stuff like taking out Moroes and company with no priests, chain-traps, and a lot of shooting things in the face.
* One of the other Raids on a ‘free’ night fell through, which left me with nothing to do, so I hopped on Syncerus the Drood and chewed up Strangethorn Vale and Duskwallow Marsh for awhile, dinging both 40 (hellooooo Dire Bear form) and 41.
* I didn’t really want to watch the Oscars, so I played during that while Kate watched and filed a bunch of her books on our now-full shelves. This led to FINALLY getting Kayti done with the huge Zul Farrak dungeon for which I’ve been gathering quests and prepatory gear for… three months? A long time. During the run I dinged 47, and turning in the (eight!) quests afterwards took her all through 47 tp 48. Tanking the run was fun, though the paladin threat generation isn’t as easy as I recall (partly due to trigger-happy pug-teammates).
Grezzk’s guild is struggling to recreate itself in an active-raiding mold. Consequently, raid schedules are in flux, the officer corp is in flux, the guild charter… you get the picture. Old officers unhappy with the changes are leaving, etc. etc.
Y’know what I’m doing about it? Nothing. I went to the (vent-based) meeting to vote on various changes, and offered my two cents and a reality check or two on some of the rules, but volunteer to be a raid leader? No. Volunteer to be an officer? No.
Thanks. I’ve done that. I have the t-shirt and the “die in a fire” emails from former guildmates.
I log on. I play. If I’m really lucky, I get in a group with some folks and we have a good time. If not, I still get to blow stuff up and mess with my little characters and play a game.
A second job (unpaid, that is) I do not need.

“All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.” (Galactic: introduction and Session One)

I’m really not going to be able to do the Galactic game justice with an Actual Play report.
First, we’ve had four sessions now and I haven’t done a report yet. The first one was back in late November, and the details are a bit hazy.
Second, a ton of stuff has gone on, and inevitably, I’m going to forget some stuff.
Third, I want to talk a bit about the mechanics in the game, so that’s going to color things a bit, and there’s a lot of that to talk about.
I’m going to give a shot, though, because the game deserves the thought and discussion.
So let’s start from the beginning.
In Session 0, we had too many players. That’s all right, because (a) one guy wasn’t going to be able to stay with us for the whole run and (b) with a few extra players, we were more likely to have enough people to play even if someone couldn’t make a session.
These are the characters we came up with. We each also had to come up with one planet and one faction that’s active in the setting, and you repeat that between each of your three quests, also, during the first session, every Captain comes up with their own cliffhanger for the first quest to start with. They also pick the world the quest will feature. The player on the left picks a faction that will be prevalent. The player on the right comes up with a central NPC for the quest.
So there is a lot of communal world-building going on throughout the game, which means that each game of Galactic is very different in tone, elements, and story than any OTHER game, despite the “main” story being the same. (Even the Scourge itself is different in each game.)
Now, on the surface, Galactic looks like the kind of game where no one can miss a session. The reason for that is the way character creation works. Everyone makes up a starship captain, and then we sort of ‘meet’ each captain in turn, and everyone else at the table (except the gm) makes a crew member for that captain. Captains and their ships can run the gamut from an officer of the Concordant Navy to the captain of a commercial cruise ship to the leader of a ragtag group of scavengers — it’s all good. Thing is, it seems like “if someone doesn’t show, then that crewmember isn’t there on every captain’s scene, and so forth”, but as long as you make the ‘minimum’ number of players (which might be three plus the GM, maybe, but which could work with just two players, short-term), you’re good to go.
The basic background of the setting is that mankind, after creating the huge Galactic Republic, was wiped out by the mysterious Scourge. One colony ship escaped the genocide, and founded a new home on a nasty, brutish world at the end of nowhere. They finally returned to the stars, found out about their lost history, and are starting to explore and colonize back in the direction of the “Core” — the home of the original Republic. On the way, they run into lots of alien races who were once part of the Republic (and who often revile or worship humanity, by turns), as well as the ruins and abandoned technology of their own ancestors.
And then the Scourge wakes up.
The game is about how these captains (working alone for the most part) try to stop the thing that no one could stop the last time. It’s got a strong feel of the new Battlestar Galactica for me, both in the story tone and in the mechanics and interplay of crew and captains.
MECHANICS
This is basically how the conflict works out.
A scene opens with a captain. We set up what happens and we play. At some point in there — maybe right away, maybe later — we get to a point where either I or the Captain say that something happens that other one says “no” to, and that’s where and when we go to the Conflict system.
The conflict system works like so: in true Firefly- or BSG-style, there’s two sides to every conflict — there’s “what the conflict is ostensibly about” and “the relationship between the Captain and one of the crew that is either going to be strengthened by Trust or weakened by Doubt as a result of what happens.” It’s important to understand that Winning or Losing the Goal happens INDEPENDENTLY of the Trust/vs/Doubt thing with the crewmember. You can totally get your ass kicked in the epic space battle, but the crewmember who is “on the hook” for that scene could trust you more at the end, because of the WAY things happened. Or vice versa: you could kick ass and take names, but your actions fill the crewmember with Doubt.
Anyway:
1. You figure out what the Conflict is about, and which crewmember is ‘on the hook’. (This is my term for it — not the game’s.)
2. Then, the Crew who are involved take the one dice that they get to contribute to the conflict (there are painful and dangerous ways to contribute more dice — sometimes a LOT more dice — using what I and the author call the “leaf on the wind” mechanic) and decide if that dice is going to help the Quest or the Crew side of the conflict.
3. Then, the GM decides where he is going to allocate his dice in the conflict — is it mostly going toward weakening the crew’s resolve, or to resisting the Goal of the quest? Maybe an even mix? The GM has a budget of dice he can use on each captain (plus any Doubt the crew has in the captain), so I can’t just crush them every time with as many dice as I want.
4. Once the captain sees where the crew are putting their effort, and what forces are arrayed against him, he puts out his own dice, which can be quite numerous — he has multi-dice ‘archetypes’ that can be brought to bear, as well as the ability to utilize any Trust that he’s earned from any of his crew (like any captain, he can put the crew’s Trust to use, though that puts that Trust at risk — he can lose it). Finally, he can decide that whatever he’s doing might put innocent bystanders at risk, and the bigger those potential Consequences are, the more extra dice he can bring in. They are BIG dice too, those Consequence dice, so they’re very tempting.
When it’s all said and done, the dice are all arrayed against each other, and there is rolling, and comparisons a lot like the old dice game “War”, and narration of that round happens, and then folks might have lost, or they might ‘give’, or they might rally and go into another round and keep battling until the whole thing is resolved. At the end, the Captain has either won or lost their goal, and one of the crew members has either gained Doubt or Trust in the captain (and the same crewmember can totally have both Trust AND Doubt in the captain, over time, which is awesome.
Once that scene is done, we do it all again with the NEXT player; we switch to a new captain, everyone switches gears to playing a new character, and off we go.
So… that’s kind of what happens in play.
STORY/GAME STRUCTURE
This is a very set kind of story arc. Each captain plays through three quests. A quest is over when the captain wins three conflicts having to do with that quest. Now… that might be three wins in a row, or 2 wins, then a loss, and then a win; or maybe five straight losses followed by three wins (which would be kind of cool). Doesn’t matter — at some point, they get the three wins, the quest is accomplished, and they move to the next, then the next. (Unless they die — they CAN die, and there are provisions in place for that.)
Once the third quest is done, we move to the Last Big Quest, and at the end humanity is either saved or it’s wiped out by the Scourge. The end.
Right now, we’re about four sessions in, and pretty much everyone is done with their first quest.
Session 1 (Chris, Tim, Dave)
We started with Tim’s Captain Nils, the captain of Isabel’s Dream, which is ostensibly a cruise ship, but is also a neutral ground for diplomatic meetings and happens to be armed (definsively!) to the bloody teeth.
Tim had a great cliffhanger set up, and I was looking forward to it, but I also wanted to make sure we were ‘getting our roleplay in.’ Matt Wilson is a great game designer, but in playing his other ‘big’ game, Primetime Adventures, I’d noticed that players got wrapped up enough in the mechanics that they didn’t… you know… “just roleplay” — they only did with regards to the Conflict — making for very focused, but very short scenes… maybe only a few lines of dialog and lots of narrative. That’s partly Matt’s playstyle (as I understand it), but I wanted to make sure that we were taking the time to roleplay just for the sake of roleplaying as well.
Also, this “who is the ‘featured’ crewmember” thing was kind of new to everyone, so I took a page from BSG and started the ‘show’ with a scene between the captain and the crewmember-of-note. In this case, that was Dave’s college student, working as an assistant purser on the ship.
We opened the scene with Tim’s captain briefing the purser on the seating arrangements for a big banquet that evening on the ship. This was an impromptu thing, but Tim really rose to the occasion, rattling off page after page of detailed “do’s” and “DO NOTS” about everyone attending the party — who couldn’t sit next to who, and why, and which group’s hated which other groups, or who needed special treatment, or practices, or food, or greetings — while the harried and utterly overwhelmed purser trailed along in his wake, nodding and trying to take notes. The scene really illustrates how good Nils is at his role (which is largely an act) and how new to the whole thing Dave’s purser is.
So now the cliffhanger, which is simply this:

During the banquet, as the Dream comes into orbit over the planet of R___, the mysterious black box in Captain Belinar’s room (passed down for generations in his family in readiness for ‘when the Scourge return’) begins to beep. The captain is called to his suite, and he and a few select members of his crew enter. As soon as they do, the box emits every more beeps, and the ship shifts perceptibly. The helm hails the captain, and informs him they have just lost all steerage control, and the ship has moved into a landing pattern with the planet’s surface.
There are a few seconds of silence, and the captain comments, “It’s unfortunate that we’re not atmosphere capable.”

The goal for the conflict was “Get control of the ship away from the box, before we enter the atmosphere.”
I’d love to give a play-by-play, but it’s been months, so here were the key bits:
* Dave’s neophyte-purser character was at some level mind-melded with the mysterious black box.
* Chris’ security chief/ship’s chaplain was a pain in the captain’s tuchas.
* The captain kept the ship from entering orbit by cutting all the main power in the ship (including things like the gravity control) and using on-board nuclear missiles (!), fired at the planet (!!!) to introduce enough counter-momentum to get back into a shaky low-orbit.
* Dave’s character, as a college-level historian, was shocked that the captain targeted the planet randomly to induce the right thrust for the ship, ignoring the fact that he was targeting key bits of the local ruins, such as the famed “Third Pylon”, but the captain’s plan paid off : the planet’s highly damaging Acid Raid (which actually shouldn’t have been falling during that phase of the planet’s weather) damaged the missiles enough that they didn’t damage anything of any importance on the uninhabited planet — several didn’t even fire.
We then switched to Dave’s character, Allysande Daen, who’s main goal is to track down her father, a former navy admiral, and find out what happened to him and What’s Going On.
We join the crew making planet fall on Ando III, a cool-temperate planet with a vaguely oriental flavor, on which “Zeno”, Daen’s father’s former XO, is living… in a well-heeled asylum.
Tim’s crewmember Bosley, Daen’s personal ‘batman’ is the crewmember on the hook. Chris is playing “Smoke” the stoner-mode mechanic who keeps Daen’s “Heart of Darkness” working. Daen and Bosley are heading to the Asylum. Smoke is heading to the local bazaar to scrounge up some supplies.
Bosley, who knows Daen well, is quietly talking with her during the mechanized rickshaw ride to the asylum. They’re discussing things like “Are you prepared to tell him how your career is doing?” (It isn’t: she left the navy to pursue this personal quest.)
Dave’s cliffhanger setup was the next bit:

Daen and Bosley walk into the public “sun room” where Zeno and a number of other patients are sitting around doing various sun-room activities. He looks up and recognizes her. She says “Hello, Commander. I’m looking for my father, and I was hoping you might be able to help me find him.”
The old man nods and says “I was afraid of that.” Then he and EVERY OTHER PATIENT IN THE ROOM pulls guns out from under their lap blankets and open fire.

The goal for the conflict is essentially “Win the firefight without killing Zeno.”
((A word about conflict goals: they are best when they have interesting failure options built into them. “Survive the fight.” is boring, but “Survive without killing Xeno” is cool: you can LOSE the conflict, but that could mean lots of things. Maybe you lose the firefight; or have to flee; or the police arrive and arrest everyone; or you win, but you shoot the one source of information you have… or a dozen other things. Setting up a good conflict WITH INTERESTING FAILURE OPTIONS is a key part of not just Galactic, but any game. Losing should be just as interesting, if not more so, than winning.))
So there’s a gunfight. Meanwhile, Smoke is in the bazaar, and only a few seconds after the shots start in the asylum, some guys jump him in the bazaar and he’s running for his life and shouting for help from the Captain as well. (His crew-dice were in on the side of winning the Crew conflict, not the Quest one — how well she handled Smoke’s problems would build Trust with Bosley. Bosley was ALSO in on the Crew conflict, not the quest.)
Again, I have only a few bullet points.
* The captain took a few bullets in this fight. Dice that get knocked out of a conflict stand the chance of being “impaired” – made unavailable for the rest of the quest. A LOT of Daen’s “Warrior” archetype dice got impaired during the fight, so that’s how that was narrated.
* Dave went to a lot of work to protect both Tim and Chris’s dice from getting knocked out — lots of shouted commands and shoving Bosley out of harm’s way and suchlike.
* Some ‘deep cover’ agents from the organization that Daen is working with a lot showed up to help out (use of her Connections trait, which allows (or forces) rerolls)
* Dave ended up winning the conflict, and closes in on Zeno, who’s run out of bullets. He agrees to talk, and then goes into a violent seizure (seizures being one of the “Scourge traits” in this version of the game.
And cut to the next guy.
Captain Argon Slash is docking his ship, the Legion, on “The Drift” — a massive space-station in the middle of uninhabited space, comprised of hundreds if not thousands of different ships crushed, bound, and welded together. Each captain has his own ‘flavor’, and Slash’s is a kind of mix between Firefly and an anime where the characters often make Super Deformed angry-faces. The crewmembers for this part of the quest are Sonja, Slash’s ex-wife and the ship’s negotiator; and Jake, who’s sort of a young, crazy, gun-ho shootist (and Slash’s fifth-cousin).
Slash, who collected crazy Solar Republic artifacts (and then tries to integrate them with his ship), has discovered a weird pyramidal object. He’s not sure what it does, but he’s heard a rumor that at the heart of the Drift are ships that date back as far as the Solar Republic — ships that still WORK. His ‘plan’ is to find a way into the core of the gang-turf-controlled Drift and plug the device in… and just… see what happens.
Which is his approach to most ancient tech.
The three are heading toward a meeting with a contact on the Drift who controls the territory they need to get through when they’re jumped by members of the neo-luddite, anti-expansion “Blue Sky” faction.
Slash holds them off — thermal detonator in Jabba’s Palace-style — with a Mysterious Ancient Artifact (or two). Jake is waiting (and eager) for orders to shoot. Sonja is verbally sniping at everyone. The following verbal exchange takes place
Sonya: “Listen to the man — I was once married to him, and I can assure you it’s dangerous to get close to him.”
Blue Sky: “Silence! We would hear nothing from someone who has succumbed to the sin of divorce!”
Sonya: “Excuse me?!?”
Blue Sky: “Quiet!”
Sonya: “All right, you rudimentary-lathe people have gone too far.”
And that’s when the shooting starts.
* Slash was pretty much conning the Blue Sky folks all the way through.
* Jake’s crew dice where very hot — he was shooting all over.
* Sonya was saved from ‘knock out’ by Argon’s love of tech. She takes a shot and the chest and Slash cries out, running over to her and pawing at the hole in her clothing. She protests that she’s fine — and he reveals he was just checking to see if the armor weave that he put into her jacket (without her knowledge) held. It did! Slash is happy — Sonya is pissed.
I put a LOT of dice against the Crew aspect on this fight, cuz I wanted Sonya to have Doubt in Slash, but the group banded together and held me off — Sonya, although she doesn’t *like* Argon very much, does *trust* him… at least she trusts his instincts with technology. (Ironically, it’s turned out that Sonya is the only crewmember who DOES have trust in Argon… maybe the other’s don’t know him that well?)
The Blue Sky scatters, and Jake runs off after them, whooping and hollering. Sonya storms off back to the ship. Argon is left by himself.
Back to Captain Nils
The goal of this conflict was not very good on my part — simply “Get Control of the Ship back from the Box.” It was a FUNNY conflict, to be sure, but not a good one — failure would have resulted in nothing much happening, which sucks. Luckily, they one.
What happened.
* The box used some kind of lightning on Chris’ guy… then sort of mind-controlled him. Nils had to incapacitate him with some other ancient family-heirloom widget.
* Dave’s character was the box-translator most of the way through this. (“No, no, using the blue lightning against the Reverend is BAD!”)
* The box was receiving a signal from the planet, telling it to come down to the planet. The Signal is on U-space frequency … ironically, from the just-saved-from-destruction Third Pylon!
* Nils is able to control the box by speaking commands to it in Trilatian. (The Solar Republic version of the /sudo command.)
And Allysande Daen…
With Zeno having seizures and possibly doing himself serious internal harm, SMOKE has to talk the Captain through dosing the man on something that will bring him out of the seizures and subdue him… without killing him. Luckily, Smoke is something of a ‘pharmaceutical expert’.
* Smoke gives quick, professional medical advice and actually shouts at Allysande when she hesitates at one point.
* She trust him and follows his instructions.
* Bosley now really trusts her for her success and for supporting her crew. (Though I think we awarded Trust wrong here…)
… and that was the end of session one. I’ll put another post up for Sessions 2 and 3 combined, and a third for Session Four, which is where we are now.

“Let’s not create a WoW-widow before we even get married, hmm?”

… or, to be fair, a Gaming-widow in general.
I’ve been giving my Google-calendar a workout for the last couple days, because although I am a gamer of many different colors and stripes, I have traveled down the road of life-imbalance quite a few times since the early 90s (oh, those early MUDs and MUSHes; oh those hours of Space Hulk and Battletech map creation), mid-90s, and far far more recently… and I’d just rather not go back there, thanks.
So: I raid in WoW (though I could wish for a little more progression-status and a little less farm-status — I did my farming in my youth :P), and I have some alts I really enjoy, and I play LotRO, and a have a copy of Tabula Rasa winging its way to me for a practically criminal discount, and I have table top games I’m running and even more that I want to run, and then there’s writing stuff, and reading stuff… the question before me is “how do I get enough time to ‘blow stuff up’, without ensuring that I have “ALL THE TIME YOU COULD EVER WANT, AND THEN SOME, YOU BASTARD”?
Ahem.
I’m not an expert, but these are the guidelines I’m working with right now.
1. Schedule my time. I don’t mean just my play time, but just flat out schedule the Big Stuff that needs doing during the next week. Note: I use the word “needs” advisedly, and not without some irony; leveling my druid does not “need” doing… it’s just one of those things I’d enjoy getting to do.
2. Kate and Kaylee first. The time I will, without fail, spend with My Girls during the week goes on the calendar first. Everything else bends to adapt. Non-negotiable. This is fairly easy for Kaylee-time, as Jackie and I already have a set schedule that pretty much ensures I see her every day (barring the off-weekend). Kate and I — not habitually that detail-oriented — are working on actually scheduling stuff, too: weekly date nights and the Regular Tuesday Night Activity (currently swing dancing). This also (happily) includes some activities like LotRO and watching geeky shows like Avatar, so… Win/Win!
3. Limited ‘play commitments’. I have a limited amount of time to be online and playing stuff. Call it 15 to 20 hours a week. My guild has planned activities that take about 15 to 20 hours a week. I do ****NOT**** want to spend all my online time on those planned activities. Therefore, I need to strictly limit my raiding commitments. This basically boils down to (selfishly, very selfishly) signing up only for stuff *I* really want to do, and NOT signing up for things just to ‘help folks out’. I’ve prioritized my time helping online-people out before, and it always means I spend too much time online with an exponentially decreasing amount of personal enjoyment. I play so *I* can have fun; bugger off, internets. This rule means I get to spend a good portion of ‘me’ time completely unstructured. I approve.
4. Vetoes Unless I am currently involved in some kind of group activity in which my sudden departure will result in screwing over a bunch of other people. (I’m GMing a game, a central player in a game, or in some kind of group, online), Kate (and, to a lesser degree, Kaylee) can ask me to drop what I’m doing. ((Emergencies, of COURSE, mean that I say “sorry guys, gotta go” and I f-ing GO. Duh. Obviously.)) Conversely, I reserve the right to go kill stuff instead of watching a third hour of Trading Spaces… or Little Einsteins.
There are unspoken parts of this, like the assumption that there will be lots of ‘white space’ on my calendar that will get filled in naturally with the “sand” of honey-dos, chores, random acts of laziness, and especially impromptu fun stuff involving either The Girls, or Games, or both.
But you have to lay out the Big Stuff first, before the whole area fills in with sand and leaves no room for them.
Or so it seems to me. I’ll report back, maybe, on how it all works in practice.

Week in Review

Just a quickie.
MMO: WoW
Grezzk
This was kind of an exciting week with the guild, as we expanded our raid schedule a bit to accommodate more people.
Normally, we do the (10-man) Karazhan instance on the weekends (most of the real progress is on Saturday and Sunday for a couple hours, though we do sometimes get started with a drunken Friday night ‘run’ for laughs).
This last week, we ran a Kara raid on the weeknights as well. This is a pretty big deal, because you can’t be saved to two instances at the same time, which means we had 20+ different people (or at least different characters) participating, and two runs means more gear upgrades for everyone. Both teams pretty much cleared the whole instance. (I believe the weekday team did it in three nights, and the weekend group did everything but Maiden in two runs and just decided to skip the Maiden of Virtue, as there was no benefit for anyone to doing the fight.)
That was cool, but even better was fielding a full 25-man group to take a shot a High King Maulgar (and his court of Ogres) on Friday night, followed by Gruul the Dragonkiller.
This was a pretty momentous thing. The last time we took a serious stab at that fight was in November, and we didn’t really get enough people: we didn’t actually even beat Maulgar, and we’ve had that fight pretty much worked out for awhile.
Now… this time… okay, the signs weren’t great. We took maybe an hour to get started, and we have a LOT, and I mean a LOT of new people. The guy who usually magetanks Krosh Firehand was on his healer, so Lee was magetanking with Wyrmeyed. We had a new guy tanking Kiggler the Crazed who’d never done it before. We had a new guy who doesn’t speak English very well tanking the Warlock. Probably half our healers were new. We brought a level 68 guy along just to fill out to 25 people. It was crazy.
So we fight through the trash to get to the High King, we explain the fight to the new people, and how complicated the five-simultaneous-pulls start is, and we say “go” and we go…
… and we one-shot it. Damn near perfect fight. After not doing it for months and then bringing a bunch of new people. That was cool. I was up around 900 damage-per-second, and another guy broke 1000 dps. Insane. In-sane.
So it’s on to Gruuls. The Raid Leader announces that we’re going to do three tries and be done with the fight, no matter how it’s going. No building frustration: we have a lot of new people (we swapped in a 70 for the 68 at this point, with no hard feelings), and a brand new strategy to learn.
Let me explain what kills people in this fight. It’s not really the Boss. Gruul is an incredibly big guy in a very big cavern, and he does this thing every so often where he smashes the ground. Again, this guy is BIG: when he smashes the ground, it jumps like a trampoline and everyone goes flying in the air in random directions. When you land, you are slowed… slowed… slowed, and six seconds after you land, you’re frozen for a few seconds, and then SHATTERED. Everyone who’s within 15 feet of you at that point will cause you (a lot of) damage, then you can move again, if you aren’t dead. Around four people or so around you, and you stand a good chance of dying. If no one is close to you, you take no damage.
The problem is, even with a big room, there are 25 people in there. The chance of you landing too close to too many people is HIGH, and it’s hard to get away when you’re slowed. So we have a strategy now where everyone but the healers and the tanks run to the walls before the slam, so we don’t fly around anywhere — just the healers and tanks do. Less people flying around means less damage from the Shatter.
And it works. Damn it works. We did not get Gruul down, but we got him lower than we ever have in the past (again, with a lot of new people and no practice in two months). We had some bad luck where all our healers got silenced at a very bad point in the fight, so the tanks died… and on another attempt, sheer bad luck bounced all the healers and the tanks on top of each other, so the whole healing and tanking groups Shattered each other to death.
But that’s just bad luck. We can beat bad luck. We totally have the damage-dealers we need (I broke 1000dps on one attempt, and another guy broke an unheard-of 1200) and we have the method we need to beat that bastard. It might even be this Friday night.
… when I will be on a plane to New York, which I’m very happy about… so I wish them luck.
ANYWAY: it was a very fun series of runs, and Grezzk got the last of the gear he can get from either of the instances (pretty much — I’ve given up on getting the Wolfslayer Rifle or Nightbane’s mail leggings, and that’s okay) — Curator in Karazhan dropped my Demon Hunter (Tier 4) shoulderguards and I got the matching gloves off High King Maulgaur, so not only are my stats pretty damn good, I *match* — at this point, I’m going along on the runs to help the rest of the guild gear up and to have a good time (which it almost always is). My last two major equipment upgrades until we get past Gruul and start doing the later 25-man raids are going to come through Arena pvp.
Syncerus and Thienedera
I’m leveling up two Horde alts right now. Syncerus the tauren druid (the bearcat cow), and Thienedera the paladin. Last week, they got a lot of love. This week, I’m leaving them logged out in Inns to build up their rested rating for that lovely double XP bonus. I’ve seen the low and mid-game content already — I’m not interested in dwelling on it this time, so I’m focusing on flying up to 70 as fast as I can with both of them. Thie is a little lower level than Syn at this point (she’s on a PvP server for now, so I’m a little more cautious), but I expect they’ll get a lot of playtime soon.
My grand scheme is to have one Damage dealer, one Tank, and one Healer at level 70 and reasonably well-geared by the time the next expansion hits. I don’t have much interest in alts past that point.
Kayti
I have, really, one alliance character. I finally dusted off Kayti and took her for a spin this week, and it was a lot of fun. Spell casters are a total pain in the ass on a paladin, but if I avoid them it’s a nice relaxing solo grind. I’m taking my time on her because there’s stuff on the Alliance side of the mid-game that I HAVEN’T seen.


LotRO
Kate was available to play this week, so we got on Geiri and Tiranor. We had a lot of Fellowship quests to do, so I got on the Looking for Fellowship channel and asked around for some more people. A guy sent me a tell and pretty quick we were in a group with a bunch of guys who all know each other in real life and were all on voicechat.
Two hours later, all those Fellowship quests were done, Kate had gotten hooked up with some new crafted loot from one of the other players, and I had built up a pretty good start on a “DPS” set of equipment to put on when I’m not tanking — something that will become a lot more useful when Book Twelve opens up new options for Guardians, and we had some new people in our Friends list. It was another good run with a random group of strangers — in that arena, I believe LotRO is the Best MMO on the market, bar NONE.


Tabletop
No gaming this week, but here’s what I having coming up:
Ongoing:
* Galactic: We still have a lot of game left to do there.
* Spirit of the Century: Need to get those sessions started up again.
Upcoming
* I have Savage Donjon Squad ready for our next pick-up game session.
* Once Galactic is done, I want to take a stab at Bliss Stage with Dave and De and whoever else I can get in.
* I have the pre-order copy of In a Wicked Age, a sword and sorcery bit of genius from the guy who did Dogs in the Vineyard. Totally new system. Totally new kind of Awesome.
* Don’t think I’ve forgotten about our characters for Breaking the Ice, Kate. I haven’t. Also, I have been challenged to play a Paranoia-set game using Breaking the Ice, and I don’t intend to back down from that. That’s a two-person game — anyone out there want to learn a new game set in a familiar, crazy setting?

So let’s talk about Galactic.

Then Isabel, seeing before all others that the Scourge would indeed be the end of Humanity, did gather up the faithful and lead them across the Wastelands and through many hardships and past many tempting oases, until they came to their new home. There, Isabel said they would be safe, and told the people to persevere, and was gone.
On the nasty, unpleasant world of Caliban, that is the story at the core of the ‘origins’ tales in most of the religions. There was a great and powerful kingdom/empire/shogunate, and then the Scourge came (why and how they came varies wildly), and the great prophet Isabel led the Chosen on a long trip and left them to fend for themselves in a rough and dangerous place that was, nonetheless, safe from the Scourge. The Chosen survived, and everyone else died. Noah’s Ark, but with a LOT less water.
Time passes. Many many many generations of people live and die (often violently) on Caliban, which is a harsh world requiring harsh measures and harsher rules. The world is sparsely but widely settled, and its people are highly territorial, warring with all other territories both for survival and for the supposed evils “they” have committed since time immemorial. Mankind slowly becomes more civilized (or at least more technologically advanced) and, like Earth, people find a comfortable place in their lives for their religion — maybe making it a central part of their lives… maybe not thinking about it at all.
About five generations ago, someone found a long lost ruins down near the almost-uninhabitable equator. In the ruins are some very very odd documents and… artifacts that contain references to the prophet Isabel.
Many references.
And a lot of math that people are only barely able to figure out — math and information that seems to be showing the exact location of the great ship that Isabel brought her people to safety in… and that location is smack dab in The Reef.
The Reef… which is an asteroid belt on the outer edge of the solar system of which Caliban is a part.
Space-faring technology at that point in time amounted to a few unmanned rockets being fired into the outer atmosphere. (When fighting your neighbors and survival are your two main motivators for several millenna, a budding space program is not a big priority.)
People were, needless to say, a bit agitated.
Temporary treaties were signed. Much work is done in a surprisingly short period of time. Several territories send ships to the coordinates in the Reef.
They find Isabel’s ship.
The five generations since then have seen a lot of change.
-=-
So, the basic legend seems to be true. There was a big … empire? Federation? Something. A big human-founded republic that spanned thousands of worlds. Somewhere at the height of that, the Scourge came… or were created… or manifested… something. Isabel saw the writing on the wall, got together an enormous generation ship with all the best tech (much of which Caliban techs are still trying to reverse-engineer), and set out to get clear of the impending destruction of the human race.
She passed a lot of really nice, habitable planets and, for reasons unknown, picked arid, barely habitable Caliban to settle on. Humanity had to work so hard to survive in those first years that they lost — or gave up — pretty much any knowledge that didn’t focus directly on making it to the next sunrise. Society fell apart, scattered, and slowly… very very slowly… rebuilt, and discovered where it had come from; the disaster it had avoided. There is a resurgence of faith, but also a massive drive to analyze all the old texts in light of this new information.
What does mankind do in a situation like that?
They head right back out to the stars, of course.
-=-
In the current time, there are many colonies spreading out from Caliban, funded by the still highly competitive, barely cordial Territories of the home world. Beyond the colonies are the Remnants — hundreds, maybe thousands of worlds that were once part of the Solor Republic that was humanity at its finest. Left behind are ruins, lost technology, mysteries, and hundreds of Alien clans that still live on those worlds and who were, inexplicably, untouched by the Scourge that destroyed humanity. Some are neutral toward the last survivors of mankind; some worship them like returning gods; most of them shoot on sight (using technology far better than Caliban’s), screaming in a rage. It has been well over two thousand years since they’ve seen a human, and still they remember the pain of when it all came crumbling down.
You play a ship’s captain, sailing the void between worlds in search of… something. (What that is is different for everyone, isn’t it?) You might be a captain in the Concordance Navy. You might be a smuggler, or entrepreneur, or merchant, or archaeologist, or scavenger, or one of the idle rich, or something else: no matter what, you’re the Captain, and when things get rough, it’s just you and your crew.
Things are about to get rough.
The Scourge is coming again.

Continue reading “So let’s talk about Galactic.”

Galactic: good for the brain, bad for the eyes

I was going to write up a post about the character/universe generation for the Galactic game from this weekend (a complete campaign I’m foolishly trying to cram into the space between here and mid-December), but I wanted to transfer everyone’s notes up to the wiki first.
And reading their [censored] awful handwriting, I am now totally [censored] blind, so you’ll have to wait for the update until I learn how to read braille.
I thought *my* handwriting was bad. Holy hell.
Anyway, the stuff I sacrificed my eyes to transcribe is on the wiki here.

Week in Review

So here’s what’s been going on.
Face to Face
Ran a murder mystery for the most recent Spirit of the Century game on Friday night. “Doctor Brightman is dead.” Good stuff, for all that I suck at doing mysteries. It was “Margie’s session,” so I gave it a college try, anyway. There were investigations, autopsies, some wonderfully fun characterizations, a seance, and a whole lot of laughing. Present were Chris, Tim, Dave and Margie; again, I have to give a nod to Kate’s observation that I run better games when I’m NOT close friends with everyone at the table — we just generally focus more on the game and less on everything else.
Didn’t even seem to get too sidetracked by having Kaylee around for the first part of the game.
This Thursday, it’s Zombies at(e) my Homecoming Dance 2: The Revenge of the Hickey.
Online, not MMO
I’m going to be playing in (not running) a play-by-forum game of Galactic(!), using the ashcan edition that Matt did up for Gencon this year. That should be fun. No character information or even links yet — we’re juuuust getting rolling.
MMO
WoW
Grezzk is still level 70. I’ve actually being getting into some fun dungeon runs lately (there are only about… five or so in the later game that I haven’t done even once, if you only count the five-mans). I’m not UBER geared or anything, but at this stage my ‘effective level’ is 108, taking my gear into account. (Taking gear into account, the maximum level in WoW is somewhere around 150, while perhaps 125 is as high as I’m likely to get with the Guild I’m part of.) Anyway, I’m still having a lot of fun with Grezzk.
Hit 45 on Kayti. Nothing terribly exciting to report on her. People keep stopping in mid-run to ask me what kind of weapon I’m using, cuz they can’t figure out how a tanking paladin is topping the damage reports. I try to explain that the damage is all from the paladin abilities, and that I would do pretty much the same damage if i were naked, but no one seems to get it. Eh. In a few more levels, I can hurl an “Avenger’s Shield” (think Captain America-esque energy contruct) at enemies to pull them, and tanking is going to get a LOT easier. Woot.
I tanked a run into Scarlet Monastery’s Cathedral a few days ago and it went really smoothly. We obliterated everything and aside from one jackass who screwed up the boss-looting at the end, it was a great run.
There was one point where I TOTALLY “pulled a Hype” with her as well (which is a tactic that *I*, personally, have never seen work in WoW, that I used to do all the time in CoH). We were clearing out a big chapel area, one clump of guys at a time… like 3 or 4 guys at a time — it was SAFE, but it wasn’t particularly hard. About halfway through I told the other paladin “heal me, I want to try something” (I didn’t really tell the priest ahead of time. oops 🙂 and I just ran through a couple (or three 🙂 clusters at once and pulled them all back to the group — something like 8 to 10 guys. Got em all nice and pissed at me and the group just burned em down. I think most of them were JUST about out of mana when the fight ended.
The group’s response: “That was fun. Do it again.”
LotRO
Tyelaf is level 21. We (he tends to work with Tirawyn the Captain) have done most of the quests around the town of Bree, and now have two BIG GROUP things to deal with — spying on the Witch King himself, and a foray into the Great Barrows that house the last ruler of Cardolan. Yikes. After that… folks need a lot of help in the Lone Lands, and a lot of that involves shooting Orcs, so I’m THERE.
Geiri remains my toughest character. I don’t know if he’s my FAVORITE, but he’s definitely tied for first. At level 16 (17?) he’s got considerably higher morale (read: health) than Tye, and he and Tiranor the elven hunter TEAR through quests that I recall being a pretty big pain in the tuchas with Tye. We were on last night for a few hours and finished up all the storyline in Ered Luin (the Blue Mountains and Celondim) and headed East through the Shire and into Bree, where we met up with Strider and continued to harass the kinda-sorta undead dwarf Skorgrim — that dude HAS to be tired of seeing use show up and mess with his plans over and over. It’s been like… well, for Tiranor, it’s going on 600 years, now. (God I love how the time-instanced storyline in LotRO works.)
Downside to Geiri: he takes half a coon’s age to kill anything on his own. However, this rarely comes up. 🙂
His personal bane: creban. Friggin’ evil birds.
Oh, and elves that go running off of cliffs and break his damn ankles.
I haven’t played Yarren much, but she’s also wrapped up all the quests in the Shire and has headed to Bree to see what this “Strider” guy wants (something about heading into the Old Forest to look for some hobbits he’s supposed to meet up with in Bree). She’s also going to give up the plain-jane professions of farming and cooking. Poking at old scrolls and bits of lost lore from the Second Age is SO much more interesting (and likely to get her face melted off, but THAT’S FUN TOO.)

[SotC/Fate] A Different Take on Phases

From one of the game’s author’s a great tweak to the phases in SotC character generation to move away from a time-oriented series of phases and instead use a more organic series of questions to find answers for:
* Who are you?
* Who are you connected to?
* What’s your big issue?
* What kind of situations do you see yourself being involved in?
it’s very very good.
Don’t get me wrong — I love the phases of character creation in the standard Spirit of the Century rules, and I’ve used them both in a standard game and an Amber game with good success, but the phases themselves are pretty closely tied to the post-Great War setting. This tweak allows you to ‘fit’ character generation into virtually any setting with no problems at all — it has all the Aspecty-goodness of SotC with some great flavor added from things like Primetime Adventures “issues” and even the old-school Amber questionnaires. Good stuff.

Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance

Caught up by the desire to play a little wacky horror roleplaying in the middle of the week, I got a few folks together, pulled out the pocket-sized campfire horror game Dead of Night, and we had ourselves some fun.
The players:
* Jay, in town from New York for the next few months — catch his part in Pride and Prejudice next month at the Denver Performing Arts Center.
* Meera the Fierce
* Randy
The Concept:
* It is 1985
* You are in High School
* Heathers and Pretty in Pink meets Shawn of the Dead
The Main NPCS:
* Meridith, the Homecoming Queen
* Troy, the “captain awesome”, knows-everyones-name, cool but cocky quarterback (played by James Marsden)
* Rick “the Hickey” – head linebacker, bully (played by Jake Busey)
* Sarah – salutatorian, on the field hockey varsity team, pretty, popular, and rumored to be pregnant (I said Julia Stiles was playing this part, but I was actually thinking of Erika Christensen. Huh.)
* Kinney(, Melvin) – an angry young man who’s been threatening to burn down the school since sixth grade
* Bender – the stoner dude
My constraints for character creation:
* Tell me why you’re NOT going to the Homecoming Dance
* Tell me about some kind of relationship you have with at least two of the NPCs above
Here’s what we got:
* Meera: Alice (“don’t call me Allison”) – the smart, acidic, Scary Goth Chick. Sophomore. She’s Troy’s little sister and dated Kinney in Junior High until he got “too intense”. She’s not at the homecoming dance because… c’mon, look at her. Look at THEM — it’s obvious.
* Jay: Chris – the slightly stoned, visionary singer/guitarist/songwriter of Beefcake Express (not the band’s actual name, which I can’t remember, but it was close to that). Bender is the bass player, and Kinney is the drummer. In play, we also discovered he had a one-night ‘thing’ with the homecoming queen, and he still has a thing for her. He’s a Junior. He’s not at the homecoming dance because the class officers selected a clearly inferior cover band to play at the dance.
* Randy: Jason – the rebellion-through-kleptomania kid. He’s a sophomore, and has a crush on Sarah. Rick the Hickey has selected him as a particular target for harassment, but Jason returns the favor by routinely stealing Rick’s stuff. ((He really doesn’t like Rick because he dated Sarah for a little while last year.)) He’s not at the dance because he didn’t have the guts to ask Sarah (who, because of her personal drama, is also not going). Also, as we find out with the first in-character line in the game, Jason always plays halflings.
What are they all doing during the Homecoming dance?
* They’re in the basement at Alice’s house, playing Call of Cthulu. Alice is GMing. Jason is playing a short british man.
Quote and other wackiness after the cut.

Continue reading “Zombies at(e) the Homecoming Dance”

Playing to win

I actually had two points for my “serious gamer” post, but the thing was getting too long, so here’s the rest of it.
Let me pick out the bits in the first post that had to do with my second point.

Player B can have an extremely productive 90 minutes online and then go to a movie with local friends.

Productive. Getting stuff done.

Cleaned up some old quests, and started collecting some materials I need for the next ‘big’ dungeon I want to do with her.

How did I know I’d need them? I looked up dungeon instances for the basic level I’m at, focusing on stuff that was higher level by a little bit, because (a) it’s better rewards and (b) I’m a pretty good player, so I want to push myself.

Also, following some research on the “maintankadin” forums, I respecced her for a stronger tanking build, which cost me a ton of gold, but the results of which I liked.

I don’t just research what there is to do — I read about how to do it. Yeah, most of the posts are about playing at 70, and if I’m only level 40, that’s not entirely relevant, but it does tell me what to aim for, what to expect, and most importantly, what I will be expected to do if I want to team up with other people.

… spent some time in the afternoon doing more work on game-prep for that face to face game, and reading up on LotRO quests and appropriate surnames for Men of Gondor.

Prep, prep, prep. I want the face to face game to come off well, and while I don’t prep scenarios as such, I *do* prep by getting familiar with the rules. For this game coming up, I’m researching:
1. Half-life
2. Horror movies of the 80s
3. Mullets
And I’m looking up surnames of the Men of Gondor (note: they don’t use them) because at level 15 your LotRO character can pick a surname, and with the server I’m on, it’s important to me that it’s accurate. I’m a fan-boy.

Kate and did a little LotRO stuff, which mostly amounted to us running around the Old Forest in fear for our very lives.

Why do I prep? Why do I look stuff up? Because eventually the shit is going to hit the fan in whatever game you’re playing, and you want to continue to have fun — not have a frustrating night.
That’s the same reason I aim to do things that push my play ability. If my ‘safe’ play has more instances where I’ve pushed the limit and had to really work to succeed, then I’m ready for the times when I have to redline when I’m NOT expecting it.
Yes, we ran around all over, yes we scrambled — the only time I didn’t have fun was when I was defeated and had to retreat from some wild critters that really shouldn’t have been that much of a challenge — they WERE, because Kate and I got separated, which also shouldn’t have happened.
Saturday, I was on my paladin and teamed up with another one. I tank on my paladin, and I’ve done a LOT of reading on how to do well as a tank on WoW, because it is a LOT different than tanking on City of Heroes.
1. You don’t get any kind of front-loaded aggro. Most tanks in WoW only have a piddly little ranged attack — some (most paladins) don’t have any, and they have to build it by getting beat on for a good ten seconds. 2. Their aggro is FRAGILE. It is no challenge at all for a damage-dealing class to decide they want to pull the bad guy’s aggro from me onto themselves… the CHALLENGE in play is to do as much damage as they can WITHOUT getting aggro. (You can run an aggro meter to tell you were you are in relation to the tank.)
In CoH, Tanks get a ranged taunt that affects up to five enemies at the same time, and, once you start hitting them, pretty much guarantees you will never lose their attention that fight.
The only thing like that in WoW is dynamite, and I can’t MAKE dynamite.
So I was out with this other paladin, and while I’m still running up to the baddie, they throw off a holy smite — a ranged spell they get, because of their build, that I don’t have. Before you could say “What the…” I was running back the way I came, chasing the thing down as it went after the other character.
After the fight, I asked them to wait and let me build aggro on the mob first. “Five seconds,” I said, “during which you can even hit them with your basic attack if you want, just don’t use that Smite.”
“Why worry about it?” They said. “I can tank these little guys.”
Sure, but that’s not the point.
There’s something my football coach used to say. “You play like you practice.” Only into my mid-thirties do I really start to understand that.

Continue reading “Playing to win”

Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer

Okay. This is going to seem like it has a lot to do with MMO gaming, but at it’s heart it’s about gaming in general — even just about social commitments as a whole.
In the MMO world (and in gaming in general, in a much less formalized/articulated way) there are two labels for players that can tossed around: “Casual” and “Hardcore”.
Definitions of these two terms vary, but in a nutshell, the two might mean any or all of the following, depending on the speaker:

  • Casual – Doesn’t take the game that seriously. Doesn’t play much (less than 20 hours a week, let’s say). Isn’t reliable in terms of showing up for planned activities. Automatically drops game-related activities if something ‘better’ comes up. Isn’t a particularly good player. Isn’t a particularly ‘advanced’ player (has good gear — progresses through game content). Just isn’t very serious about it. Might say they’re showing up for something and just… won’t. Has a life.
  • Hardcore – Takes the game WAY TOO seriously. Plays more per week than they spend at work. Never misses, and usually organizes, planned game activities. Automatically drops other activities if something comes up in game. Is a ‘leet’ player with great gear, ultra-fast progression into end-game content, know the math of the game backwards and forwards, knows the Lore by heart. Is the attendance-nazi for in-game events. Lives the ‘life’ of a Basement Dwelling Virgin Troglodyte.

Clearly, the generalizations above are filled with statements from one side, talking about the OTHER side. In MMOs (and online forums in general) it’s a lot more obvious, but it happens in face to face games, too. We all know the guy who keeps the spreadsheet of all the treasure accumulated at last weeks game — who’s got the best gear so far — who the group has beaten, what the xp-per-session is, and who’s missed the most sessions.
We also know the guy who says they’ll show up to the game, doesn’t for three weeks running, and when he does, arrives with his second six-pack of the day and proceeds to drunk (yes, “drunk”, not “drink”) his way through the game. The other players shake their head at this ‘casual’ person, the casual person wonders about those other five at the table who showed up on time, and clearly have no life.
So… which one are you?

Continue reading “Casual/Hardcore vs. the Serious Gamer”

Gaming in review

A mix of gaming this weekend.
((Blogging bitching: it really should be possible to just hit Ctrl-B in Moveabletype to Boldface something. It worked in 2.0 for pete’s sake — you mean to tell me you can’t do it NOW?))
Tabletop
Played Spirit of the Century on Friday night. I pretty much went in with a scenario ‘aimed’ at two player characters who bailed out at the last moment, so I had to wing it.
Luckly, SotC is good at winging it. I had:
– The Daring Magpie – burglar and dilettante faceman, who has done a couple sessions already.
– Rami Samiti – East Indian psychic: ditto.
– Trent McCoy – new character for a player who’s been at all the games — a driver and ‘gun man’.
– Beau Brass – a musician and smooth talker.
My basic method with these games is to ‘focus’ on one or two characters in each session — specifically, I’ll pick someone who’s already been at the game a couple times, and make this ‘their’ session. I was going to game at the retired character for Trent’s player, but he was, as I said, retired, so that indicated The Daring Magpie and/or Rami as the focal point.
Those two characters are different enough, and I’m lazy enough, that I didn’t want to screw around with working out a story that featured both of them equally. Rami had a lot of stuff going on in “The Ape Soldier of Teyawasu”, so that mean The Daring Magpie.
Therefore: social situations, schmoozing, and possibly some sneaking about and stealing stuff. Main focus: something both urban and urbane (based on player comment).
Then, if we have new players, I try to throw something in for them. Trents a drive and shooter. Beau is also new.
So… I opened with a car chase, moved to New York City for the main action (since we’d already ‘done’ L.A.), and set the whole thing around a music festival at the Woolworth Building, to give Beau some musical spotlight.
The heroes started out in mid-chase, trying to stop the bad guys from delivering something to NYC for Doctor Methuselah. They stop them, open the crate with the MacGuffin inside, and find a note from Doctor M himself that reads:

Hello Century Club,
If you’re reading this, you’ve stopped my witless minions from delivering a key piece of equipment I require for my current project.
However, this puts you in a dilemma.
While the project in question would be a brilliant step forward for mankind, it also requires certain sacrifices you would likely find objectionable. You have, probably unknowingly, stopped that plan by acquiring the object in this box. Bravo.
However, the device that requires this object is already in place and will be activated on [date two days hence], regardless. Without this object in place, as a focus for the devices power, well over ninety percent of the population of Manhattan will perish.
So: Do you keep the object, foil my plans, but doom a city, or deliver the object and complete the device (and with it, my original plan)?
Either way, it is now your problem. Good luck, god speed, etc.
M

Then I just sat back and watched the fireworks.
We had a lot of digressions and such, simply because we hadn’t played or seen each other in a month, but all in all it was a good session and lots of fun.


WoW
Grezzk joined the Scholomance Debate Team on the Farstriders server a few weeks back. Since then, I haven’t done a LOT with the guild members, but the stuff I have done has been both fun and a good learning experience. I’ve also got a lot of good loot recently, but frankly that’s been mostly all my own doing.

  • Ran Mana Tombs, and tanked it with Tusker the wonder pig. Would like to do that again, as we didn’t finish the last boss.
  • Ran Auchenai Crypts with some of the SDT members. That went just fine, although the Tank… should play his other mains.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Underbog. A competent healer that knew how to watch my pet and keep him standing meant that we cleared this with no problems.
  • Pet-tanked the Coilfang Slave Pens. Ditto here, though the healer was different. Tusker has tanked about a quarter of the high-level instances in the game now.
  • Ran “The Mechanar” instance with the guildies, and got a really nice gun that, unfortunately, I need to get some better gear to go along with it before it will be as good as my bow, despite the fact that it has better stats — basically, I’m just in better shape to use a bow right now than a gun.
  • Ran the 25-man raid “Gruul’s Lair.” Big group, but a short instance — just two big rooms with some trash mobs in between — takes about an hour. We downed High King Maulgar and his 4 Boss-level buddies (think fighting Statesman, Back Alley Brawler, Synapse, Positron, and Numina, all at once), but couldn’t quite take down Gruul himself — the Guild hasn’t been able to take him yet. Crazy fight. Crazy.

Heck, all the boss fights in WoW are crazy at some level. The easiest boss fights in WoW make the hardest boss fights in CoH look like a game of air hockey at Chuck E. Cheese… I have a lot to learn about most of those fights, but I didn’t screw up too bad (except for siccing Tusker on the wrong boss at one point in the Maulgar fight and feeling like a moronic “huntard” when someone on vent said “Grezzk, where’s your pet?”
Kayti the Paladin-tank
Got to level 43 with her, and continue to plow forward. I like tanking, and of the tank classes, I still like tanking with Paladins the best.
Syncerus the bear-cow
Played Syncerus the tauren (bull) druid (bear form!) with Lee’s little priest for awhile on… Sunday? Saturday? Got about 3 levels and most of a fourth, cleared all my missions for the first low-level Dungeon in the game, and got a bunch of new gear and abilities. Druids are like CoH Kheldians, except the nature forms they take (Tank, Melee DPS, Healing, Ranged DPS) are actually AS GOOD AS their equivalent counterparts, with different mechanics for every form. Very challenging class.


Lord of the Rings Online
Tyelaf the Hunter joined the Council of the Secret Flame, an RPG.net-related Kinship. Good group of folks, and helpful. He’s level 14.
Yarren Heatherfoot the hobbit burglar passed Tye as my highest level character, thanks to lots of Bounders-related misadventures with her cousin Tirra. I don’t know that she’s my favorite character — I really like all of my characters on that server (Hunter, Burglar, Champion, GUARDIAN) — but with the neat crowd-control ability and funny situational stuff, she and Tirra (who’s also a burglar) are a LOT of fun to play.
Geiri the dwarf Guardian. Yeah. Stop me if you’ve heard this one — I get in front and do a lot of shield-meet-goblin-face-bashing goodness, and Tiranor the Elf Hunter shoots things until they are very very dead. It’s a match made in Valar. Although they are not our highest level pair, they are very likely our most deadly. Tiranor frequently kills stuff before it even gets to me. No oliphaunts, yet, but she’s getting there.

Week in Review

Tabletop
Played a little Spirit of the Century this last weekend. It wasn’t the session I’d dreamed up for the game I had to abort last week, since that would have been totally inappropriate for the group we’d assembled, but it was still fun. We had…
Mongols
Mob Mooks
Mysterious Vanishing Zeppelins
Mushrooms, Giant
Mushrooms, Glowing
A lost civilization of cannibals (sorry, ran out of M’s)
… and a whole lot of fire.
Best of all, the most “turtle-up” player got drawn right into the middle of the story, which I think both startled and pleased him. He habitually makes people who are kind of distant from everyone else he’s working with, and hard to socket in, and with very little work on my part (and thanks to a great idea from Randy) he was right in the middle of the whole story. It was ABOUT him, really, which was cool.
I think the best part was when he rescued the starlet of his favorite Radio program — Esperanza Kittredge — and she threw her arms around his neck and said ‘get me out of here!’
And… see… he has this Aspect about how he loves this radio show…
And he has this OTHER aspect of “No one touches the Master of Shinanju!”
So I held up a Fate point and said “She’s sobbing into your shoulder, and her voice is even more amazing than it is on the radio, but No One Touches the Master of Shinanju…”
And he could either take the Fate point and shove her rudely away, or
let her cling and instead pay ME a Fate point (and it’s not like he had a ton at that point).
Does he comfort his idol, or stick with the hard line, elite attitude?
Bang, baby. 🙂
And he thought about it a bit, and paid me the point, and let her cling to him as he carried them away from the giant burning mushroom on the rope ladder dangling from the escaping zeppelin.
It was cool.
MMO stuff after the cut.
—————————

Continue reading “Week in Review”

Hmm

I think, assuming that Birdwell Island is a Chancel (which is clearly is, otherwise all the mortals would have gone insane by now), Emily Elizabeth must be the Imperator.
I’ve tried to work it with her as a Noble and Clifford as her anchor, but it just doesn’t work, since he’s got like… three anchors himself.
So she’s the Imperator. Obviously aligned with the Light — no one else could be that positive.

“Now a regular weekly publication!”

It’s a Spirit of the Century-palooza. First, we had a character generation shindig down at Lee and De’s for Nine Princes in Pulp (Amber, with a thick layer of pulpy goodness), and now…

“The Century Club Presents…” is (a) a fictional pulp periodical that tells the heroic tales of the Century Club and (b) a pulp pick-up game using the Spirit of the Century system. That means a game influenced by the pulps — serial adventures of the early Twentieth Century starring iconic characters like Doc Savage and The Shadow and echoed today in movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark or The Rocketeer.
We’re aiming for each session to be relatively self-contained, so that the players participating each session can change with no real problems. The characters are all affiliated with the Century Club, and this loose structure provides continuity, while allowing the freedom to create nearly any sort of adventure and include whomever shows up that week to play.
The idea here is to get a regularly scheduled game going for which the specific day of the weekend, the locale, the participants, and even the GM change as we go, depending on who can make it that week.
As of Sunday, we’ve got seven characters mostly made up, but WE NEED. MORE. POWER.
I’ll be sending out another message today, organizing a “There’s still time to SAVE THE WORLD!” get together for this weekend. The more players we have, the better the chance that there’s always enough people to play. 🙂

Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.

So I went down to Lee and De’s yesterday and, with Randy, Meera, and Kingsley, made up characters for a run of Spirit of the Century, in an Amber-that-never-quite-was.
Yeah. Amber.
An Amber with ray guns, planes that flap their own wings, clockwork-driven trump machines, a steam-driven monstrosity called Morgenstern, and growing fleets of zeppelins with Unicorn and Silver Rose emblems on the side.
The Great War is over, and things have changed.

Continue reading “Hell did not freeze over, but it did get a little brisk down there.”

Mortal Coil

This weekend, Kate’s in town and I wanted to have a social kind of gaming thing — while both she and I game, we really haven’t done much gaming together at all — basically two games I’ve run had a few too many players and were both kind of chaotic (either as a result of the group size, or intentionally, or both).
So anyway, due to the super-creative nature of the player’s we’d be doing this with, and the fact that the my regular group’s history involves a fair amount of diceless stuff, I decided on running Mortal Coil, which I’ve been excited to run, and seeing what happened.
The problem: I haven’t actually run MC before.
The solution: test run with two of my ‘regular’ players (Dave and Margie) to go through the whole ‘pitch session’, character creation, and a sample conflict to see where the hitches and questions arose.
The result: [AP] From the Casebook of Donne & Donne, Detectives — lots of fun and, as you can see from my post to the Forge, lots of rules questions.
The whole thing DID prompt me to go back to the Mortal Coil section of RandomWiki though, and reread MortalCoil – Conflict Examples. These were all written by the game’s author; I thought they were cool and useful before I’d run the game — having now run it, I think they’re damned near invaluable.

Face to face gaming? People do that?

Potentially running two face to face games this coming week while Aaron and Kate are at the Casa:

Ancient China. Wire-fu. Old, jealous gods. Young, jealous nobles: Xian Quan

And this other bit of wackiness:

The holiday season means a lot of things to a lot of people. For some it’s the pristine beauty of a snow-crusted country evening, warmed by a comfortable helping of mulled wine. For others, it’s the rat-race of an adrenaline-charged City Christmas, with eager shoppers in search of unique playthings to give to each other. To many, it means placing familiar objects lovingly on a tree, and gathering with family to forget the worries of an ailing world for a few days.
Christmas is not — traditionally — a time of high adventure and danger.
But there was a Christmas (not too long ago) when something extraordinary happened. When a handful of people came face to face with what they knew was the true magic of Christmas.
So they killed it.
This is their tale.

Just the thing for a post-holiday slump, no?
The nice thing is: all the participants are geeks, so if the game stories don’t wrap up nice and neat, we can play in a group chat or something until it wraps up.
Or something… random thought, that. Anyway.
*goes off to write Bangs.

Very Sad

Went looking for the the Nobilis “Lexicon” projects today.
They seem to have vanished.

Whoa

Prep for the Heroquest game has generated 105 emails in ten days, between me and five players.
Upside: very damn good characters, almost all of which are 100% ready to go before we sit down on Friday.

Weekend in gaming

Friday: Played InSpectres, in which our heros (a hooker, an ex-mormon mechanic, a fringe-fringe-FRINGE scientist, and a cold-war MI-5 operative frozen in stasis since 1960) open a new franchise juuuuust off the Strip in Las Vegas… in an abandoned Elvis Wedding Chapel.
Then they saved a haunted zoo. Much fun.
Saturday: I mugged a few people and forced them to convert their d20 Living Jungle Characters over to “Heroquest: Malatra.” Things went… confusingly, but I have some pretty high hopes for this marriage of Setting and System, once I work out all the kinks.
Sunday: Jackie was at the consortium playing ViD. Justin and I (at his request) made up a character for Paladin (a ranger-type on a mission from the Sword of Heaven Order) and played through the first encounter. Justin grasped the basic resolution mechanics as quickly as I could dredge them out of my rusty memory, and had a good time playing the guy in shining armor. Fun. (And more on that later.)

Nobilis pre-post-mortem

Let’s say you get into a book club. It’s a pretty interesting set up, where you get a tremendous number of new books (40 or so), for about forty bucks.
The only catch is you have to indicate *at the signup stage* which books you’re going to want to read during the course of the run. It doesn’t have to be books that are published at the time (you’ll be getting books regularly and about bi-weekly for… let’s say a year and a half), but of course the list is all going to be based on your preferences and interests that you have at that moment in time.
About halfway in, maybe less, you realize your preferences have changed. The first half-dozen books were great and exactly what you were hoping for, and you’ve found some wonderful and interesting bits here and there since then, but there’s also some things you’re getting that really don’t work for you at all, plus you’ve been reading some other stuff on the side and found out about a newer style of book club where you pay a bit more but get smaller batches of books, which lets you switch your preferences much more easily.
Basically, at this point, despite some great experiences, you’re ready for the last of the books to show up so you can read it and move on. You just want to get it over with, and that’s no way to read a book.
That’s pretty much where I am with the Nobilis game. I love the players, love the characters, and even like the storyline (such as it is), but I’ve taken the whole thing someplace that I don’t really find that engaging and basically I simply want to wrap things up as well as I can and move on; this one ran too long and tried to do too much: in retrospect I should have stopped after session six — that’s really where it stopped being a story and started being meeting minutes, a bunch of things I’m just not that proud of. Regardless, I’ve come to believe that shorter campaign lengths result in a much leaner and cleaner story arc overall and help keep the excitement level up at a higher level.
So… I love the game, and I think I need to finish it up cleanly and more importantly quickly, because it deserves the kind of concise attack that it came in with. Time to move on.

Braaaaaiiiinsss

Dirty little gaming secret: I love undead.
Stumbling hordes of zombies, lightning-quick skeletons — it’s all good. Shawn of the Dead cannot get here fast enough. People say it’s because I like using them as monsters in DnD, but that’s just silly: there is no game or game system that cannot be improved with the inclusion of a shambling corpse.
So this weekend, I picked up Zombies, which I’d been meaning to do for awhile. Later, Justin and I talked Jackie into playing the game.
High points:
* Gameplay is pretty sweet and quite a bit of fun.
* Evocative of the genre.
* I want the expansion packs for the game (especially Mall Walkers, but the military-themed one might be fun for a little more Resident Evil-style ass-kicking).
Low Point: Due to (a) inexperience on the part of the players and (b) general maliciousness on the part of the same players, finishing the game took quite a bit longer than I’d have expected — the final piece on the map went down about an hour in… I think it was about a total of 3 or 3.5 hours before someone finally won. Jackie had quite a bit of fun with it, but didn’t end up finishing the game — Randy played her spot until the end.
I’m going to mitigate that someone by acknowledging that it probably boils down to inexperience playing — (a) I’m pretty sure we used a couple cards wrong and (b) as soon as the ‘escape’ tile came out on the map, we all tried to get to it, whether we had the firepower to make it or not. As I said, Randy eventually won, I think in part because he hadn’t ‘already’ sacked some of the buildings in town for loot, so he decided to go do that, and came back to the helipad with a lot more Life and Bullet chits to play with.
That said, Justin probably could have won by simply accumulating 25 dead zombies… he was really close at one point, but blew it when he tried to make it to the helipad instead of picking off lone dead guys.
Good game, regardless. Makes me want to pick up All Flesh Must Be Eaten.
Plus, a HUGE bonus: ONE HUNDRED zombie mini-figs. [Insert evil laughter.]

Analyzing the last few sessions

It is something of an irony that the players in my d20 game have been so interested and involved and generally pleased with the last couple sessions that have followed the dungeon-crawl-that-wouldn’t-end. Having well and truly poisoned the well with regards to combat (six months of nothing but pretty much put paid to that need for awhile), I’ve been digging in with what can best be described as Bangs for each of the characters (there are about 3 too many players for this to be wholly effective, but it’s basically working), and we haven’t rolled more than a handful of dice per session in that time.
It’ll never last — I haven’t got the stamina to make things up on the fly in d20 forever and the system works against anything of the kind, really — but right now we’re doing some interesting things and I’ve gotten folks to a point where they’ll be willing to put their characters away pretty soon and call the whole thing good.
After that, I’m looking forward to trying out HeroQuest and some other systems — still a little surprised at some of the resistance to anything-but-d20 that I keep running into, but them’s the breaks. I have to acknowledge that I run games better when the system doesn’t fight more freeform story construction and try to find a system that let’s me run a better game in the genre that both I and the players find interesting.

Narrative d20?

I’ve heard a lot of interesting stuff about the new Conan RPG from Mongoose publishing — that it gives players alot of input on the story, et cetera — the sorts of things that currently flip my skirt up — whatever.
I’d also heard that the author both read Sorcerer, Sorcerer & Sword, and talked quite a bit with Ron Edwards about narrativist play.
Well, lookie lookie, here’s a d20 and narratavism thread that pretty much documents part of that evolution.
Kinda makes me want to go get that damn book. Again. Bleah.
I particular like this “how to help make d20 more character-driven” idea.

…personality feats.
The mechanic is simple – you take a thematic feat that has some sort of behavior associatited with it, and when you follow that behavior, you gain an action point (one per session). The action point can be spent for a roll bonus, or can be turned in at the end of the session for xp for the whole party. That last bit is genius, since it makes even the most gamist players willing to tolerate non-optimal behavior from their compatriots in the name of role playing because there’s a tangible reward for it (for gearheads, the xp reward for a single point is the same as an encounter of a level equal to the party’s average level).
There’s a sampler of the rules with some example feats in pdf form here. The only thing I should add is that the common practice (Even by Mr. Aylott, or so I’m told) is to give each character one personality feat for free.

I don’t know that it encourages the players to step in and add to the overall plotting, but it’s a great thing for getting traditional KIAMO-style players to get into character a bit. I’ll have to check out the game they mention the idea comes form.

‘Scuse me while I gush

In the history of Nobilis, the first 20th century was different.
So were the 400 wondrous years after that, but that is all gone now.
One day, it was the year 2400 and space-ships plied the Aetheric Currents between earth and the colony worlds. Then (about one hundred years ago) a rogue imperator conspired, an immortal Queen/Empress died, and human history/memory was reset back en masse.
The next day it was 1900 again, and the world, the history books and mortal memory had been changed so that it seemed normal for it to be 1900.
The crew at OceanWiki is putting together a Lexicon to tell us about everything we lost from those amazing five-hundred years.
It’s a shorter project than the former Lexicon, but it’s tighter, faster, and dare-I-say already better than the first effort… and we’re only on the A-C entries.
Amazing, terrific stuff: all the ‘lost futures’ of all your favorite sci-fi, brought into one place — Jules Verne and Space 1889 and Castle Falkenstein and Robert Heinlein and Buckaroo Banzai and Doc Savage and John Carter.
From “Ben Faulk, the First One to do Something Else” to the Pan African Teleostean Hegemony… this is really good stuff.
Go. Read.

d20 skill-check hack

As noted here:
Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non-combat rolls where the entire task (skill) is handled with a single, linear-odds roll.
Here’s how to fix that.
There’s a little known optional combat rule that states that people can choose to ‘roll’ their AC every round. Basically, you don’t have a Base 10 AC… figure out whatever you’ve got over 10, call that your “AC Bonus”, and add that to a d20 roll every time you’re attacked.
I doubt anyone does that — hell, I doubt anyone knows it’s there — but look in the DMG.
ANYWAY: while I don’t recommend it for combat necessarily, I think it would be useful for Skill Checks. Many of these are Opposed Rolls anyway — this little house-rule would make all Skill checks opposed.
Find the current DC for a skill. Subtract 10. Whatever’s left over is the DC Bonus. When someone tries to do something to overcome that challenge, the GM rolls a d20 and adds that DC bonus.
What does this do? Two main things.
1. Creates a pyamidal instead of linear success curve. In the case of a Thief with Open Locks +15 vs. a Lock with a DC bonus of +15 (formerly a DC 25 lock):
00.25% You Crit succeed, it crit fails.
02.50% You Crit, it fails
49.5% You succeed, it fails (or, you tie each other)
44.75% You fail, it succeeds.
02.50% You fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% You crit fail, it crit succeeds
00.25% Mutual Fumble
It’s a pyramid curve, but it’s a curve.
2. Removes instances of “Ugh… I got a 19… I know that d20 modules always set the DC’s in five-point increments on everything, so I’ll spend an Action Dice to give me a boost… worse case scenario, I get to a 20, and maybe I’ll get to the 25 break point.” (Particularly annoying on Gather Information charts, when adding the AD will almost certainly glean more info)… If the DC’s are d20+5, d20+10, d20+15, et cetera instead of 15, 20, 25… there wouldn’t be those artifical ‘rungs’ in the DCs to shoot for… that d20+5 DC might be, on your try, a net DC 6 all the way up to a net DC 25… every NPC you talk to is talkative in different ways, after all.

d20 vs. the Dice Pool… or is it?

Overheard on The Forge :: d20 vs. 3d6, regarding “linear curves”.

D20 combat is really a die pool system (rolling multiple dice and counting sucessess) in disguise. You roll so many to-hits on single d20s in any given combat that, over the course of a battle, you get a reasonable normal distribution of expected results. Where d20 breaks down is when it shifts to non combat where the entire task is handled with a single roll, and you don’t get this faux pool effect. This is why Take 10 and Take 20 were invented [and, Doyce would add, rolling to Assist…] to patch the weakness of using linear single-rolls for everything other than combat […] increasing the likelihood of getting the expected result.

And… they’re right. One of the things I’ve realized that I really like about the games that I’m currently looking over is that they’re ALL either (a) dice pool mechanics or (b) single-dice mechanics with a means of earning re-rolls or (c) both.
I’ve always liked dice pools — ever since Shadowrun 1 came out. (Roll and add: not so much.) Really negates the chance of Being Good and Sucking Anyway — if you’re good at something, you’re adding not only to your skill, but actually affecting the odds of rolling good numbers.

Greedy

One of the things I said in the comments on this post regarded the way that d20 (or some other ‘classic’ games) de-protagonize the player character though those instances where you’ve got this great character that blows stuff he’s supposed to be good at.
Eventually, that’s the character they become, and they aren’t the guy you wanted to play anymore.
There’s the other side to that: the situtation where you absolutely nail something you’re really not that good at. One of the examples from a recent game was in Dave’s spycraft game a few sessions back — my character was trying to occupy the guards at the front gate while the rest of the team engaged in a firefight in the back of the house. My plan (very impromptu) was to keep them tied down by pulling up in front of the gate and engaging in a firefight.
Three rounds (and three 20’s) later, I had all three guys disarmed or unconcious and was busy shackling them to the gate.
Now, I’ll give Spycraft this much: you have some control on when and how you’re going to suck and rock — I got the 20’s but I had to spend… Karma, for all intents and purposes, to really capitalize on the luck of the roll.
I didn’t have to do that… I could have left them as normal hits and saved the karma dice to spend on something I’m supposed to be good at, either to capitalize on good rolls or alleviate bad ones.
But damn, we needed break right about then — and I got greedy — so now I’m reconciling smooth-talking, psych-degree, professional profiler Agent McEvitt with “Shotgun Dylan”. Something I can deal with, yes… but noteworthy in that it is something that needs to be dealt with.
Just sayin’.
“Uncharacteristic Success” wasn’t something that it had occured to me as something that could blow your concept as well.

The Plot Point

A few weeks ago, Dave commented that we’ve been at this Nobilis thing for ‘about a year’.
I believe my immediate reaction to this was something like “you’re completely crackers”, but it turns out he’s right: the first Nobilis session was… well, I posted about it around the last week of April of 2003, so I suppose that’s pretty close to the first little half-session we did.
Looking back, I’m both pleased and annoyed, but generally far more of the former than the latter.

Continue reading “The Plot Point”

Cool, baby. Cool.

So for the last couple weeks I’ve been contributing the insanity of the Lexicon Of The Second Age, in which people are sequentially writing up entries on the Second Age of Creation for the Nobilis setting, following certain guidelines.
Once a few standard practices and guildelines worked themselves into place, things have gone swimmingly, and I honestly find myself looking forward to the next entry from the others and the next entry to write — there’s tons of stuff that’s come out of the project that I’m already planning to use in my own campaign.
Today’s “O” contribution was a little tongue-in-cheek (after several entries worth of Serious Topics) — a time-jaunting band of heroes who spent the Second Age saving the world, doing good, and rocking out (a Noble tribute to the Hong Kong Cavaliers).
Good times.

Making Magic… magic.

A long email exchange on magic in rpgs — not a lot that resonated with me, but I did want to refer back to this passage, which touches on a possible problem I’m having in Nobilis (and possibly other stories).
Emphasis mine:

… [I am] against taking magic for granted, relying on the system, instead of trying to elicit that which the system is designed to facilitate. Relying on the system has the paradoxical effect of making the magic both more and less real: on the one hand, it removes everything from the realm of concrete action and physical description, distancing everyone from what?s really going on; on the other hand, by invoking rules, one lends an air of authority if not verisimilitude to the proceedings. ?I?m using Waters of Vision to try and see what?s going on? implies that the magic is real*; ?I?m peering into the water in the bowl on my dresser to see what I can see in the ripples? leaves crucial room for doubt and ambiguity**.
(The paradoxical epistemology of rpgs: precisely because they are so subjective?based almost wholly on the subjective cause-and-effect dialogue between players and referee?they end up being much more objective than the real world.)

* — “Real”, read “measurable and solid”, which is so antithetical to the idea of what magic is in most settings that it makes Magic into Not-Magic (Technology). Magic in DnD (and in virtually every other RPG out there), for instance, is actually Technology — very reliable technology, come to that.
** — But lends a solidity to the act itself. Compare “I do a Divination of his location.” to the actual concrete actions described in the example above: which one immerses you in the world of the character more? Which allows (or forces) a certain emotional separation from the scene?
This all goes back to a problem I choose to perceive in the Nobilis games I’m running, in that most of the sessions fail to have anything resembling a mythic tone to them. I know that most of this lies with me — to have a mythic feel, a lot has to come from me, and frankly I think most people of my generation are going to have problem with mythic thinking — it’s not what we were raised on, after all — sesame street is a far cry from being raised on oral tradition stories and fairy tales at bedtime. My myths are those of Tolkien — a magical world with very very VERY little that is overtly magic in it: a world with histories but not myths… myth doesn?t enter into it, and the closest thing to fairy tales are Bilbo’s encounter with the Trolls and the regrettable Tom Bombadil (who really should have been in a short book of his own… preferably in a different world entirely).
And to top it off, I taught myself systems at a young age whereby everything that happens in Tolkien can be quantified (RPGs) — just to milk that last bit of wonder myth out of it.
(Note to self: buy many books of fairy tales — read them to children as they grow up.)
So, back on track, I don’t necessarily know the imagery of myths, and thus my Nobilis games tend to feel more like (best case) an Unknown Armies game where everyone’s playing an Avatar or (worst case) a Supers game.
Supers… the myths of our time, and more’s the pity; though you can have mythic supers tales (cf. Hitherby Dragons), that’s the exception, not the rule.
So, Question the First: how to think mythically? How to encourage the players to think/act mythically?
The other thing that is leeching the magical out of the Nobilis game is that I’m very focused on the rules right now, because I’m trying to teach them to my players — so that even when they simply describe “this is my concrete and emotionally immersive action”, I break it down from the subjective-but-immersive to the objective-but-non-immersive — I’m very much into showing everyone what gears are turning behind the curtain right now, because I want them to see how the machine works.
My motives are good: I want people to know the rules well enough to be able to ignore them, but I’m beginning to think that that’s not going to happen, at least not quickly.
So I think “We’ll, we’ll let everyone be subjective-concrete-immersive and I’ll be the only one making sure the game system is being observed and everyone can just trust me that it’s fair.”
Which is fine, if everyone trusts me, and maybe they do. I’m nervous about that because I-the-player got really burned on that about a year or two ago and I’m still compensating for that in most of my games, trying to make sure that everyone knows I’m working with a fair and balanced rules set even if they never asked.
So, Question the Second: How to move from my current mode of “objective-non-immersive” to “subjective-immersive” to let people be engaged in the action, not the rules. Ideally, the goal should be that the players are always utterly confident that they did what they say they did, but unsure as to whether the ‘magic’ will behave as expected. This is easier, provided trust-in-the-GM by both the players and the GM.
What frustrates me about this is that I was DOING this (creating more mythic imagery and veiling the hard rules) at the beginning of the game before I really learned the rules, and I’m doing it less now because I’m thinking of them too much.

Order of events

Interesting thoughts on why to decide your Estate last when creating a character in Nobilis, stored here for my convenience:

The crux of Tony’s process is that the Estate is the LAST thing you choose when designing your character.
What it does (I feel) is discourage people from playing Estates and Affiliations instead of characters.
In my attempts to play Nobilis I have seen characters who seem designed to govern a pre-selected Estate. That’s okay, but I maintain that it’s only okay with careful consideration and balance. Without a critical eye, choosing the Estate first (from my experience) can lead to a more shallow and two-dimensional character. Why? Because the tendency is to create a character whose background is retrofitted to rationalize and justify why they were ennobled as that particular Power. (ie. the computer hacker who is the Power of Computers, the painfully shy girl who loves to read to the exclusion of anything else is the power of Libraries)
Or the abused child who grows up to be Affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark.. It begs the question of who wants to play an abused child and why? Is it just to rationalize why you’re affiliated with the Fallen or the Dark- or because it’s truly part of the character?
The London cabbie who is the Power of Coincidence is more interesting in my opinion, because he was somebody before he became a demi-god.
Now someone will fairly argue that Imperators might select some one to steward an Estate based upon their interests and predilictions. I’ll grant you that. I do maintain that it leans towards to a more contrived character, but no – not a guarantee; this is a generality, not a hard and fast rule.

The only note I will add to this is that, in my limited Nobilis experience thus far, I’ve had the most ‘problems of two-dimensionality’ with the characters whose backgrounds were designed around their (eventual) Estate. I love everyone’s characters, but them’s the facts.
The old Amber-ism of ‘make up the character you’ve always wanted to play’ works pretty well here. (Hell, in any game, come to that.)

“Still… not as scary…”

The creator of Nobilis, reinventing the ecosystem of the world’s oceans on Hitherby Dragons.

The ocean should be made of custard. On a purely practical level, it would be tastier and more nutritious than sea water. On a more idealistic level, it’s one of the few things that could entice me to take up a career as a sailor: a custard sea, with little gummi fish! (The fish would have to be gummi fish. Otherwise they’d drown. Normal fish can’t breathe custard! That’s a silly idea.)
Gummi fish wouldn’t be the only wonders of a custard sea. There’d be white chocolate reefs and a Bermuda’s Triangle made of deadly meringue. Would the sailors consume it or would it consume them? You’d never know. Not without going there!
Most of all, there’d be little candied fruits suspended in the custard. And you know what that would mean?
That’s right.
An end to scurvy IN OUR TIME.

The beginning of the end of the beginning…

So I wrapped up the OA campaign last Friday night with the the most unwrap-uppy wrap-up I’ve ever done. Let’s go over the salient points:
I introduced a new Evil Faction.
I reintroduced a new Bad Guy.
I failed utterly to bring closure to any of the various personal storylines going on, merely advancing them slightly and leaving them dangling in tantilizing ways.
In short, I did little more than leave things in a very good position for a sequel campaign. So good, in fact, that my players are already asking for it. (For which I partly blame Last Samurai).
And yes, I’m considering it. But not now, and not soon. I accomplished the closure of one of the campaigns I was trying to close up, and I’m going to revel in that for awhile (and keep plugging away at the end of the current DnD game).

Stepping into other shoes

After some thoughts provoked by the posts here and here, I opted to eschew the turn timer for the Nobilis game tonight.
Result? Mixed. The scenes were much more complete and felt a lot more ‘whole’ to me, but at the same time there’s something good to be said for an impetus to wrap up a scene instead of letting it simply fade and fade and fade and faaaade to black.

Continue reading “Stepping into other shoes”

Hello, Clarice

I’ve got some catching up to do… Monday Mashup #13: Silence of the Lambs
I’m combining this with Nobilis.
Lecter is a captured excrucian, gone from cannibal to destroyer-of-bits-of-creation. Because he has been captured by the PC’s and they have no proof that he’s actually done any harm, they’re stuck with either keeping him under lock and key or releasing him, and they aren’t going to release him.
He therefore becomes a source of information — insight into the other monsters out there in the world whose motivations are beyond the understanding of normal folks but which are completely understandable to him.
In the stories, Lecter’s motivations were alienation and aesthetics; he only killed the most stupid, annoying, and distasteful. Playing around with this, you get a pretty archetypal Excrucian — they are truly alien by nature (coming from beyond Creation), and aestetically motivated, as they try to ‘collect’ all the portions of creation within themselves… perhaps not strictly cannibalistic, but close enough. Our little captured excrucian never expects anyone to understand him… who in Creation could.
Until he begins to sense that he might have an ally (or at least willing dupe) in the form of one of the PCs: someone particularly bright, particularly ruthless, notably pragmatic…
Hmm. This is an idea I might have to use.

Pondering the flow

So, we’ve had a few players cross-over from one Nobilis game group to the other now, and someone asked one of the ‘crossers’ which one of the groups stayed on track better.
His answer, to say the least, surprised me a bit, so I set about the Saturday session with the goal of getting the thing in focus a bit better. The result (as summarized elsewhere):

Nobilis seemed to be focused and on track and yet somehow ?off?.

That’s just how it seemed to me, at any rate. Wasn’t really sure if anyone else saw it that way.
Dave chimed in:

Re Nobilis, I thought the session went well, too, but I agree that it was “off.” May be because folks are scattered here and there, and not necessarily pulling toward a common goal. Or maybe not.

There’s a magic formula there, somewhere, with the Nobilis stuff. People are all addressing the story but…
Hmm… I’m not feeling like everyone’s gears are engaged? Everyone’s addressing the problems at hand but not always involved at the same time.
Case in point: as much as I liked the scene with the Wyrd sisters from from last game, the scene where everything really felt ‘right’ was Sian visiting Meon.
Could this be because it was a personal project… er… rather, a personally-devised solution to a problem? I think maybe so — it felt much more player-determined, which is a point at which a game like Nobilis or Amber really seems to start to hum, I think… when the players have their own projects to work on, or are coming up with their own solutions and actions.
The scenes that have, thus far, worked really well, since the split of the group into two (in no particular order):
– Lust and Crime disposing of the Excrucian weapons.
– Sian and Justice in general.
– Sian and Meon in general.
– Death traveling back in time (by Gating along the ‘path’ of his own lifeline) to collect his former ‘tribe’ as warriors.
– Donner and Cities making a private arrangement of mutual benefit.
Things that haven’t really clicked:
– Most anything where someone said ‘I need you to do this’, especially when the ‘how to do it’ part is defined at all… giving them leeway to solve the problem in whatever way they feel like always seems to work better (though that still comes in second place to the scenes that are completely self-determined.
So I’m not sure that ‘common goals’ are really what’s missing… just need to get to that point where everyone’s engaged in their private idaho’s, I guess. This isn’t new ground or discovery for me (or anyone else reading this, I suspect) — it’s just something I need to remind myself of from time to time.

Weeknight relaxation.

Ran the ‘Chrysalis A’ group last night (the first time with the full group), and got things rolling with the patented “throw sixteen problems at them at once and let them sort that out… by the time they do, the group dynamic will have gelled.”
One notable quote from the game last night that I want to make sure to mention related to a task set them by the Boss. During the events a few sessions ago, a big cave complex under the town collapsed, killing quite a number of town inhabitants in sinkholes and the like — they are supposed to replenish the population by bringing in 30,000 new people from… well, wherever, so long as they aren’t simply ‘made’.
The comment, following about ten minutes of theorizing about ‘How’ (involving everything from kidnapping to disaster recovery to time-travel), was this: “Let’s back up and decide who we want to get. We know we can get whoever we want once we decide who that is, so let’s not worry about that part.”
That’s one of the great Nobilis secrets: it’s not the how that matters, it’s the why and the who. I’m really pleased that this fact was spontaneously voiced by the players. Yay.
There is a great deal of good to be said for scheduling a regular game on a weeknight. It encourages people to focus (in theory – in practice, I seem to be immune), it feels a bit more intimate, and (for me, anyway) it refreshes you and seems to shorten up the week somehow (since you get a chance for a little playtime in the middle of work, basically).
The downsides are mostly having to figure out where everything you need the next morning ended up during the game session the night before.

Weekend review 3

Sunday: Finished up the second serial in Dave’s In Deo Confidemus :: Spycraft campaign in a blaze of gunfire (mostly not ours, surprise surprise) and a couple of fine moments for [self-centered] my own character[/self-centered], the most married man in the entire intelligence community, ever.
(Crap, Dylan still needs to call his wife.)

Weekend review 2

Saturday: First half of the second session of the second story-arc in Nobilis (which of course would be designated Session 8C… don’t ask). Four players who have never gamed with each other as a gestalt (or, in some cases, at all), so I’m really still working on getting the group to gel and build some momentum. Folks are still finding their sea-legs, I think. I hope.
To aid this, I’ve hit on the simple solution of taking two fairly complicated plots (1. political wrangling over key ‘geographic spiritual resources’ and 2. a plot to frame the familia for treason) and starting them up simultaneously while the familia is still making introductions. Not satisfied with stopping there, I’ve also introduced a few key NPCs that should loom large in the story for some time and made notes about the far-reaching consequences of some player actions.
Things are coming along well, mostly: I’m a little unhappy with my own ability to keep gametime even (it *felt* about right to me, but I’m not sure if it did to everyone else), but I’m pleased with the group and the dynamics that are being introduced. I’m looking forward to these initial plots (esp. the frame-job) concluding and where some of the loose threads might lead — also, I have some characters who are really designed to tell a strongly internal, personal story and I’m looking forward to exploring that some more.
Favorite bit: Jurai of the Cammora’s introduction and explaining his desire to meet everyone ‘just say Hellooooo.’
Also… tumescence in it’s creepiest form EVER. Bwuuahh ha haaa.

Making the lower levels not matter

While talking about something else, Bryant mentioned something called the “No Myth meme”, which sounds vaguely interesting, especially when combined with task resolution:

The No Myth meme rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn?t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen; a failed task resolution check doesn?t mean the players have failed, it means there?s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that?s a reasonable approach.

This gives me something of an insight into how one would logically be able to run certain kinds of games in d20, even with low-level characters: if failure (one a skill check, for instance) actually just results in the situation become one level more complicated, then you have a framework in which a 1st level character can play in any sort of game at all — some situations may be (or become) too complex to be worth the effort of resolving, but you don’t have to worry about a situation where simple low-level skill scores make it impossible to succeed at certain tasks.
GM: “The door’s locked.”
Player: “I pick the lock. I did that last time I was through here.”
GM: “Let’s have a roll.”
Player: [rolls] “Ulp… umm… how about a 5? Total.”
GM: “Well, it was easy enough the last time you worked this door, but this time you get over-eager and snap the lockpicks off in the lock. How will you approach the problem now?”
Granted, I’m not sure this can apply in ‘opposed’ situations (sneaking versus someone else’s listen, or, more obviously, combat), but in most other cases it should be pretty doable.
I can certainly see applications for this in some genres. Pulp is a good example, as is any sort of fantasy setting with lots of intrigue, and of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it works really well in a Spycraft campaign. I can think of any number of situations in, say, Alias where, by failing, the protagonist simply causes the situation to become more complicated.
Sneak in and steal something.
Snag fingerprint to get into door.
> Take too long in the lab (blew the first search roll).
>> Have to talk your way past guard who, since you took so long, noticed you leaving the area.
Eventually, you get to a point where, if you’ve screwed up quite a bit, you find yourself strapped to a chair and getting dosed on sodium pentathol, but really that’s just another level of complication to deal with.
(Or, in a 1st-level Amber campaign, Corwin just built up so many complications in his first assault on Amber that he ended up blinded and stuck in a dungeon cell. 🙂

Update

Note to self: preparing a list of likely (and point-balanced) qualities for a well-known Chancel and Imperator does not appreciably make the Chancel- and Imperator-creation process go any faster than doing nothing of the kind beforehand.

This post is a year late

Having finally had a chance to play through some Spycraft stuff, I can finally see what people have been saying — the combat system changes take it head-and-shoulders above the standard d20 combat system. Fluid, smooth, and much more intuitive to a non-tactically-thinking gamer, they literally made it possible to ‘do what the guys in the movies do’ without having to have read a book on squad tactics, or know anything about the system works with regard to cover and the like.
The skill and feat system? Ditto. I’ll lay most of my enjoyment at the feet of the GM and fellow players, but I must say this is a hugely improved d20 system varient.
[Addendum: As a GM, Dave stays in character with his NPCs much better than I do. Much much better. Much]

Update review

The clearest review of 3.5 that I’ve seen is here:

This release is like Microsoft charging for software updates. If you love the operating system and are devoted to it, you’ll buy it. If you’re a casual user, you’ll ignore it until a time comes when you need it, or have the means to get it. If you’re a first-time user, by all means, this is for you. If you prefer another operating system, it becomes moot. If you thought 3.0 and the D20 system was “broken”, a common euphemism for “these rules aren’t to my taste so let’s just hate them”, you’re not going to be impressed by 3.5, either.

Missed it

In my Palm, July 6th, 2003:
1st TiHE Game Session (not counting bidding war – 1997)
Six years ago… wow.

Grumble

Jackie got an email notice today that her 3.5 PHB is shipping.
Me? Nothing. Why? Because I preordered my stuff too soon.
Yeah. A lovely but little-known fact of Amazon pre-orders is that, once they get the book in, they start shipping out in reverse order of the date the order was placed.
So… the longer you wait to pre-order, the faster you’ll get the book. Makes a hell of a lot of sense.

Useful bits

For anywhere from $2.50 to $6, The Language of Flowers is a steal and terribly terribly useful for a Nobilis game.
It’s a very simple book: the first half is lists of flowers in alphabetical order, matched to their traditional message/meaning. The second half of the book is arranged alphabetically by meaning/message, with the flower following. Good stuff, and pocket-sized.

Oh my

Mongoose Publishing: Babylon 5 RPG, due to hit local shops any day now.
I’m only surprised it took this long for someone to get this license. I’m not surprised it’s d20.

All the previews are up on the web site. Tidbits include a sneak peek at the rules for Telepathy and a few of the major characters on board Babylon 5 — including Sinclair and Ivanova.
Fiery Trial, the first story arc, will be shipping to distributors this week.

I’m of two minds about this. First: cool. Mongoose is going the way of the licensed BESM products: half game-book, half sourcebook, so that there’s lots of good stuff even if you’re ‘just’ a fan of the show with no interest in the game. They repeat a number of times in the production blurbs that the book is ‘more detailed than anything you’ve ever seen from yadda yadda yadda’, so that’s good.
Second: this is Mongoose. Mongoose is a mixed bag for me — on one hand, I like their stuff, but on the other, they have a REAL tendency to come up with REALLY COOL IDEAS that are in no way balanced within the d20 system.
Emphasis: Often really cool. Often not balanced.
For an example, I present the Quintessential Monk book — the ‘varied paths’ that they came up with for monks, coming up with ‘substitution sets’ of alternate feats for the free stuff that monks get as they progress to give you a dozen ‘variant’ monks that are nicely balanced… that’s beautiful.
The prestige classes from the same book? An abomination before man and GM. Wow. Absolute crap. Cool concepts? Absolutely. But game busters? Wow.
So you’ll have to understand my trepidation — do I think they’re going to come up with some great ways of handling the deep, intriguing bits of the B5 setting. I think they will be fantastic at that… Story they understand.
Game balance? Well, we’ll see.

Poof, you’re a bird

Prompted by watching the Prophecy, Dracula, and seeing similar stunts in the LoEG trailers, I present this bit of fluff for Nobilis (though, like many Nobilis Gifts, I’d rather have it in Amber 🙂
Gift: Body Swarm
Greater Change of Self (9) Self Only (-3) Simple Miracle (-1) One Trick (-3) Uncommon (1) = Cost: 3
This gift allows you to change into a flock/swarm/pack of vermin or small winged critters… pick one type of critter, whatever works best for the character — power of Heaven might go for white doves or butterflies, a power of Light might go for sparrows or honeybees, a power of Hell might select bats or rats or something equally disturbing. Generally, the animal needs to be fairly small — swarms of Condors might be a bit much. As a rough guideline, ten little critters will manifest for each Wound Level the character has, and killing off ~10 of the things will inflict a Wound level on the character. Other than that, you consciousness is pretty much distributed over the whole group, which might make it easy to spy on many people (provided you’ve got the Aspect to process all that incoming information), though there should probably be some logical limit on how far apart the individual critters can be spread out… call it a mile.

Bam! Ka-pow(er)

The Newest Diceless Game: Marvel Supers.
Looks interesting. Some of the ‘sliding around resources’ mechanic sounds a lot like Nobilis’ movement of points between ‘effect’ and ‘penetration’ for Miracles.
It also sounds like it’s a little incomplete or at least in need of tweaks but seriously, to an Amber veteran that’s the sort of blip that barely shows up on the radar.

(Via ***Dave)

The name’s the thing.

One of the NPC’s in my Nobilis game has three names. Why? Because he’s supposed to be a serial rapist, and serial-anythings always have three names.
Lileks explains:

Well, we know Eric Robert Rudolph?s guilty, don?t we? He has THREE NAMES. He was Eric Rudolph for years, but now he?s Eric Robert Rudolph. Say no more. That?s why I never thought Richard Jewell did the Atlanta bombing; he would have been described as Richard Jay Jewell, or Richard Harvey Jewell. People don?t get a middle name unless they?re a famous criminal. That?s the law. Ricky Ray Rector. Lee Harvey Oswald. James Earl Ray. Sirhan Sirhan Sirhan.
The nation is run by people with four names (William Jefferson Blythe Clinton, George Herbert Walker Bush, Harry Herbert Heever Hoover, etc.) The nation is entertained by people with one name – Cher, Sting, Madonna, Eminem, Rush. The people with three names are found guilty by jury members who have two names. What of the five-namers, you ask? Those are the puppet masters, my friend. The Masonic Illuminati. Somewhere now in Bavaria, Rheingelt Quincy Etienne Xavier Chernobog is shaking hands with John Jacob Zhinkleheimer Kim Tanaka. And that handshake took six years to learn.

John Jacob Zhinkleheimer Kim Tanaka… (Makes not in NPC-names memopad). Good stuff.

What games would Nobles play?
How about this one: the HipBone Games, with many variants.
Looks like fun, and definitely something I’m going to try with Justin.

Spinoffs

I’ve fiddled together a proper blog for the nobilis game here: chrysalis.
Those of you who keep track of the Cry Havoc game will not certain design similarties (grouping of posts by type, images to go with the groups, etc.), and certainly the “back” pages are very similar to CH at the moment, both because I haven’t the time to fiddle with them and because I really like that color scheme.
More to the point, this has allowed me to give all my great players a place to write some stuff, which is always good.

Estate thought 2, Manifestations

I’ve been trying to figure how to do things where you might be inclined to pick up a secondary Estate just to get a specific feel for the character — Frex, “J’hon Wu, the Power of Guns” might want to have doves burst into frame whenever he does an Aspect miracle of 4 or higher.
A ‘book’ example of this is Delerium of the Endless and her butterflies/fish/whatever — a more subtle example might be the sound of wings whenever Death is around.
The problem is, even spending 1 point on something like this is a heck of a lot for a special effect.

Continue reading “Estate thought 2, Manifestations”

Estate thought

It’s easy, in Nobilis, to choose an Estate and then try to base everything on making them a perfect fit for that Estate (a good example might be Destiny of the Endless) or making the character’s personality the direct opposite of what would be expected (Destruction of the Endless). Alternately, if you look at something like Lord of Light as an example, you see a main character who’s influenced by the estate but has several other big things that influence his personality as well.
I personally think it’s a really good idea to figure out what kind of character you want to play first and figure out their Estate later. (A good example of this is (IMO) Death of the Endless, who approaches things the way any dedicated professional does — it’s important, and a big part of her ‘life’, but not all of it.)

Interlude 2: Loyalty’s Birth

Another bit of floral bordering for the Nobilis game. This one is ENTIRELY spoiler-free (at least relative to the story arc). It’s just a lame attempt to write out the enNoblement of one of the NPCs I’m using in the story. My intent was just write out an enNoblement for anyone, just for the sake of doing it, but unfortunately I picked the Power of Loyalty. What I found out is that Joshua Stark’s martini-dry demeanor does not allow for the sort poetic waxing that most of the enNoblement bits in the rulebooks have.
Oh well. It was still sort of fun.

Continue reading “Interlude 2: Loyalty’s Birth”

C’est que ce?

What is “Blake’s Seven” and why are people comparing it to the premise of the Nobilis test game?

Anchors info

For the non-Nobilis people, the premise: Nobilis have mortal servants, known as Anchors, who will work for them and can also serve as ‘hosts’ that the Nobilis can jump into, take over, and even perform miracles through — anonymously.
For my reference, there are essentially four different types of Anchors, or more accurately, Anchors each have one ability, either chosen from the list below or designed with me:
Aid Miracle: calling on the Anchor with this ability helps out with a small, predefined set of tasks or miracles. For example, a persuasive Anchor can help sway opinions, a hound-spirit can help you hunt. *
Earthly Magic: the Anchor possess some earthly magic that you don’t (most certainly not the same thing as a Miracle, basically creating magical equivilants of 20th century tech), which gives you access to it.
Influence: the Anchor has mortal influence, can obtain wealth for you, or provide useful information or assistance within the area of their speciality.
Agent: the Anchor is multitalented and can be given tasks on a session-to-session basis, such as retrieving needed tools that you don’t have time to go after or protecting an area from spies or sabotuers — in mundane RPG campaigns, anchors talented enough to be a Noble’s “agent” anchor would be the PC. Their relative effectiveness is generally a function of your Spirit. *
Addendum
Your Noble can not directly control the actions of their Anchor except by performing an Aspect miracle through them (with the appropriate cost in AMPs). This means, particularly, that an Anchor is a representative, not an avatar. They can convey messages from their Noble, but do not constitute the same thing as having the Noble in attendance in a social situation.

Nobilis NPCs

A list of some of the NPC’s involved in the events surrounding the I&H Nobilis game. (Players may not want to know this, but it’s just blurbs, no stats.)
*Update*: changed and added a few NPCs, allowing me to move a few people around who are more useful to me unaffiliated with the ‘main’ Familias.

Continue reading “Nobilis NPCs”

Just for a good weekend read

Hogshead/GoO has a PDF “example of play” available on their website — basically it’s 20 pages right out of the rule book and it’s a hell of an entertaining read.
It’s also huge. I took the document, excised the two full-page pictures from the document and chopped it down to about a third the size. Download file if you like — even if you’re not into Nobilis, the example of play is a hoot to read.

Ivy & Hyacinth; Session 1, intro 3

[This last intro log was easily the most difficult, since we didn?t do much more with ?pat? than set the stage for upcoming events… by this point our time was running out.]

A wooded copse looks down over an open expanse of grass. Faeries flit from shadow to shadow in the gloaming beneath the trees, occasionally circling the head of the creature that stands at the border of darkness and light. The creature is not human, but seems to give the impression of a humanoid form, if that form were composed of the firm but pliable substance of a mushroom, it?s skin the durable ?leather? of a puffball. It?s toes dig into the earth beneath it and flat black ?eyes? take in the world beyond the trees.
The strange shadows of a city loom all about this small patch of tamed wilderness ? the place were she stands is a temporary refuge at best.
Why the creature thinks it needs a refuge is unclear even to it, but somehow it knows.
As it ponders the how and why of that it senses a type of smoke, somehow both near at hand and very far away. It knows this smoke is called ?incense? and that knowledge brings with it something like fear.
The smell grows stronger.

Quick Summary: The Graf of Fungus
Aspect: 0
Domain (Fungus): 4
Realm: 2
Spirit: 2

Gift: Fast Reincarnation (when the Graf is killed, it?s body accelerates into decomposition as, somewhere else in the world, it?s body and spirit are reconstituted from the fungal matter at hand). 3 pts.

Limit of Spirit: Uninspiring

Restriction: The Graf can be Summoned by those who know the proper ritual. Normally, it finds such interruptions rather enjoyable, since the sort of people who would choose to summon the Sovereign Power of Fungus are often quite… interesting.

[The Graf of Fungus is played by Margie Kleerup.]

Ivy & Hyacinth, Session 1, Intro 2

A MAN SPRAWLS across a threadbare and badly sprung armchair. A light bulb socket hangs directly overhead, dangling from the ceiling on a cord and holding only the shattered remains of a blackened bulb.
There is dust on the scarred wooden floor, the single windowsill, the radiator next too it, and on the misused armchair itself ? all of which seems entirely undisturbed. The room is otherwise empty. Something in the chair is digging into the man?s back.
He is lithe and wiry, the man; lean, with short blonde hair so pale it was almost white. He wears a fine pair of slacks that quite are quite obviously part of an expensive suit, a dark, form-fitting sleeveless shirt somewhere between silk and mesh, and no jacket. A shoulder holster hangs along his left side, empty. He, unlike the room, is not covered in dust.
He raises his other hand (instinct or habit, one might say) to take a drink and discovers he still holds the neck of a whiskey bottle between his fingers. He seems less surprised by the natural inclination of his hand to cling to a bottle even in unconsciousness than he is when he notices that the bottle ends in jagged shards about halfway down.
There is something dark and tacky on the jagged edges of the bottle, and he is not injured (barring the damage the chair is doing). The room does not smell of spilt whiskey, nor does he see broken glass or blood (or footprints? how did I get here?) on the floor as he sits up and looks around.
He stands, wiping the bottle down to erase fingerprints and dropping it on the chair behind him as he looks over the room. Neither his jacket nor the presumably missing pistol are anywhere to be seen so the holster hanging at his side remains both conspicuous and useless. He slips it off, winds the straps around the holster itself and shoves it into a pants pocket where it bulges and ruins the line of his slacks, but does not draw as much attention.
His gaze moves to the bare window and the world beyond. Tenements. Projects. He is certainly not dressed to blend in but, searching his mind, he finds no particular concern about such things. His natural instincts tell him he is more than competent enough to handle the dangers of such places, though he has no idea how or why.
Of course, in searching his mind he finds precious little else in the way of information or memory, which does bother him. He is a well-dressed newborn delivered into an abandoned tenement in an unknown city. The room holds no further information for him beyond that.
Turning to the door he walks into the rest of the world, searching for himself.
Ambrose Donner, Power of Lightning
Aspect 1
Durant
Domain 4
Realm 1
Spirit 2
[Ambrose Donner, Duke of Lightning, is played by Randy Trimmer]

(Apologies for the lack of further character information ? we sat down, made characters, and played ? I?m still collecting background info, I don?t have the character bonds available, and they are being changed anyway as the player reads more character examples from everyone?s fine websites, so hopefully the character page will be up and more complete later.)

Man, somebody stop me

I made a Nobilis page (yeah, sue me, it’s what I do for games I like), mostly as a place to put up links to files and web pages that I’ve mostly be finding and refinding with Google searches.
Normally, I would not do something this friggin’ girly, but Nobilis has a HUGE amount of floral imagery and an art neuveau feel, so I just figured I’d go with it.

What I like, what I don’t like, how I’m fixing it.

Yep, more Nobilis posting.

Warning, this is not really fun fictional crap, but me thinking out loud about the kind of game-design stuff that I do all the time… if you don’t want to talk nuts and bolts, don’t worry about it.

I’ve run Amber extensively (duh) and I’ve run Everway a few times, and I personally think Nobilis has a huge advantage in the realm of Conflict Resolution over both systems. Sustaining Damage aside, Both Amber and Everway hit the (DnD-like) problem of everybody expecting their PCs to put forth the maximum conceivable effort for every single action, because there are no PC resources to spend or withhold (and yeah, I’m guilty of this as a player):

“You’ve just walked the Pattern, twice, when the House Manticore Chaosite ambushes you… his first swing narrowly misses beheading you, instead drawing blood on your sword-arm.”

“WHAT? My Warfare HAS to be good enough to dodge that! I bear down, putting all my effort into winning, regardless of the cost”
“Just like you did for the last five opponents?”
“Yes, just like that.”

Sure, a GM can work through the system and either use a subjective internal system for dealing with this or tack on an objective internal system, but that doesn’t address the fact that said System is absent from the basic rules… it’s not a huge failing — like I said, it’s been missing since the First of All RPGs (and even in games where penalties can be applied as you gradually get hurt, they are generally ignored, especially as the night drags into the wee hours).
What I like about Nobilis is that you’ve got your ‘normal optimum’ and those lovely little Miracle points that can be used to stage things up to a Greater Effect if you need it… you can’t really said you’ve Given It Your All in Nobilis until You’ve dropped 8 MP’s on a Word of Command whose very invocation ruptured your spleen. THAT’S effort 🙂
What I don’t like is dealing with Penetration rules and Auctoritas.
-=-=-
Okay, I haven’t got the larp rules yet, but based on something R. Sean mentions about how the miracle contests work in the LARP rules game and something I’m not particularly in love with in the combat examples for the Tabletop rules, I’m going to implement a house rule regarding powers/combat and how it works with Auctoritas (read Nobilis 101 if you dont’ know what the hell I’m talking about… it makes this way clearer):
Way it currently works: An attack must have ‘penetration’ defined ahead of time or it goes poof if it hits any sort of Auctoritas (basically magic godling-forcefield equal to your Spirit), or if it hits an Auctoritas higher than the Penetration you decided to use.
Player one has Aspect 4, Spirit 1.
Player two has Domain (cold) 4, Spirit 4.
Way combat works now:
1. Player 1 punches player 2 as an Aspect 4 miracle. Player1 defines no Penetration on the attack, so nothing happens. Poof. P1 either has to declare (on the next action) that the attack was Aspect 0, Penetration 4 to get a crappy effect (and he probably has to make several attacks to “get the range”: “I try penetration 1… no? how about 2? no? damn…”), or spend miracle points to keep the attack high and still penetrate. Ugh.
2. Player 2 uses a Domain Cold attack on Player 1. Domain 4, but no penetration. It goes poof. There isn’t much Auctoritas there, but it’s enough.
The Way I want it to work: Auctoritas interferes with any incoming miracle, moving it down in strength to a degree equal to it’s strength… the remaining strength of the attack or effect gets through.
How it would look with the same characters:
1. Player 1 punches Player 2 as an Aspect 4 miracle. Player 2’s Auctoritas of 4 pushes the punches strength down to an Aspect 0 miracle, which is basically a competent Mortal’s punch, and that is what connects… a bruise at best, unless P2 is already hurt, and Player1 knows he’s going to have to ‘push himself’ (spend MPs) to do serious damage.
2. Player 2 uses a Domain Cold (4) attack on Player 1 (who has Spirit 1). P1’s auctoritas pushes the Domain 4 miracle down to a 3, which isn’t enough ‘miracle’ for Lesser Creation of Cold (need level 4), so it basically becomes a illusory ghost miracle within P1’s auctoritas, and P2 knows that he needs to pump it up a bit (but not by how much — since “Ghost Miracle” is a level 1 miracle, the guy could have a Spirit anywhere from 3 to 1… if he’d had a 4, it would have negated even a Ghost Miracle.
Anyway, this means the players don’t have to worry about declaring Penetration or crunching numbers at all. Here’s what they see:
1.
“I punch him. Aspect 4.”
“His auctoritas is strong, pushing out against every hostile move you make in his direction… you’re landing punches, but they don’t have any more oomph than a mortal brown belt.”
“Damn… okay, time to push.”

2.
“Freeze the area: lesser creation of cold… something like a sleet storm.”

“The area is rimed in ice and several of the mooks are knocked to the ground by the slippery conditions and the incredibly painful slivers of ice blasting through the air, but the air around your main opponent contains only ghostly images of the effect… nothing real seems to be reaching him.”

Both players know they have to spend MP’s to make their actions stronger against the Auctoritas, but they don’t have to declare penetration, just overall “Oomph”. The net effect on their MP’s is EXACTLY the same, but the combats play faster, with less focus on number crunching and less unrealistic ‘range finding’.
Okay… tech-design talk off.

Nobilis 101

For those interested (and apparently some are), I have a “Nobilis 101” document available. It’s about 15 pages printed, but considering that it’s a solid breakdown of a 300 page book (enough to use to make characters and get a good idea of the setting), that’s not too bad.
The original html document, written by a guy named “Ry” in 1999 (when there was only the first edition book out), is here. It is still a viable document and highly recommended. All respect is due this guy. it’s a great document.
I (and ***Dave) fiddled with it because…

  • The layout was pretty basic (circa 1999 straight text) and the ‘tables’ were hard to read.
  • Some of the rules info has changed
  • In fiddling with it, we both figured out the rules much better than we had before. I love the main rulebook, but when I was about thirty pages in, I stalled, and it was reading and editing the 101 document that really made things clear to me.

Nobilis – Hyacinth & Ivy: Session 1, Intro 4

To the Nobilis, the symbology of flowers is strong — they are one of the oldest associative symbols, and an almost inseparable part of sympathetic magical rituals. A tiger lily doesn?t just mean strength, it is strength, whereas magnolia is the flower of Nobility.
This is a story of Hyacinth and Ivy.
This is a story of Jealousy and Friendship.
-=-=-
[edited transcript version of intro session]


GM
You wake up on a psychiatrist couch.

Power of Lust
Actually, for me that makes all kinds of sense.

GM
Taking your own measure, you note that you are dressed in your typical…?

PoL
Leather.

GM
Right. Leather. You have an ornate but serviceable knife in your left hand — both of which are coated in blood that has long-since gone tacky; in your right hand you hold a cell-phone whose screen indicates you’ve missed… ten calls. As soon as you register that, the phone starts to ring.

PoL
Answer it, sit up if I haven?t already, and look around the room.

GM
The room is typical Freudian fare: dark read leather and mahogany, heavy drapes over the windows. The female voice on the other end of the line is speaking somewhat loudly, her voice is filled with strain. You’re not tracking the words however, as your attention is on the angel sitting in the traditional psychiatrists wing-backed chair across the shadowy room.

PoL
Angel? That?s what it is?

GM
He?s wearing the robes you associate with angel imagery. Also, the big white wings hanging over the back of the chair is a giveaway.

PoL
What?s he… doing?

GM
He looks quite dead: his chest has been split open and youre? fairly sure even from here that his heart is missing. The voice on the other end of the phone is repeating a name over and over, as though trying to get your attention.

PoL
Is it my name?

GM
You’re not sure. You don’t remember your name. *Can’t* remember, actually…

PoL
Greaaat. What?s the name she?s calling me?

GM
Macy. It doesn?t exactly sound wrong.

PoL
?Who is this??

GM
?It?s me, obviously. There are people watching my place and all kinds of crazy shit on the news. What happened??

PoL
Is there a TV in here?

GM
Psychiatrist?s office? There?s a radio in the corner. It just happens to be on the hourly new summary. Massive fire at a Rave in Chicago, firefight in London. Some sort of massive power grid blackout in Malaysia. [assumes caller?s voice] ?They said you were dead.?

PoL
?Who??

GM
?Everyone. Where are you??

PoL
… ?where are you??

GM
?My place, like a said; being watched.
[long pause. player waits]
New York.?

PoL
?Right.? Where am I?

GM
You glance out through the drapes. You?re on the second floor of a brownstone on a residential-looking street filled with dozens of other brownstones — it almost has to be New York, although you could never explain how you know that.

PoL
?I?m… close to you. I?ll call you back when I?m closer.? Hang up. Wash off the blood from the knife and my hand, wipe it down and stick it in my coat or belt or something until I can dump it. I?m leaving. Oh, but before I wash up, I cut the angel?s throat, just in case.

Other Player
What?

PoL
It looks like I tried to kill him, but I don?t know what kills angels — I don?t even understand how he IS one — so I definitely want to make SURE, because right now there isn?t any little voice in my head that?s telling me ?It couldn?t have been me!?, so I?m going to assume it was and make sure I do it right.

GM
… Umm… Right. Next player.

-=-=-
“Macy”, Baroness of Lust, scion of The Fallen, is played by Jackie

Nobilis – Hyacinth & Ivy: Session 1, Intro 1

To the Nobilis, the symbology of flowers is strong — they are one of the oldest associative symbols, and an almost inseparable part of sympathetic magical rituals. A tiger lily doesn?t just mean strength, it is strength, whereas magnolia is the flower of Nobility.
This is a story of Hyacinth and Ivy.
This is a story of Jealosy and Friendship.

The Power of Punishment lay on the cobblestones of a dirty alley. This, as her eyes slowly blinked open, was the first thing she noticed; grimy stones, bits of refuse settles against the juncture of a buildings wall and the ground.
Her cheek was pressed against the stone as well, which meant she was lying on her stomach, with her back exposed to —
She rolled over, blinking rapidly against the noontime sun that snuck through the rooftops overhead to stab at her eyes. The alleyway was dank and old, which seemed familiar, and thick with the stink of molding trash.
That seemed familiar too, although somehow for a different reason.
She sat up, resting her arms on her knees. She was wearing slacks, a jacket. Her knuckles were scraped and bruised. A taxicab drove by the mouth of the alley several dozen yards away and she realised she was in London.
She didn?t know how she knew it was London, what or where London was, or why it filled her with a certain relief, but she knew that she knew.
Forcing herself to her feet, she took stock of her surroundings.
The dead body on the ground between her and the alley?s dead end caught her attention first.
Her reaction was strange, or at least might have been; there was no fear or revulsion, only resignation, as though this were a familiar scene playing out for the hundredth time to no happy conclusion. She approached the face down body (too much like her own earlier pose for comfort) and rolled it over.
A flash. A memory. Looking over the shoulder of a London bobby, looking down on a body, lying in a very similar — the same? — alley. Blood everywhere. the poor woman’s eyes wide with terror and death and the stink of blood and offal is nearly overwhelming and —
Five… no, seven bullet entry points. Centre mass. Also, his eyes were missing. It did not look as though he?d ever had them.
In a sudden flash of memory, she remembered the scene. He was stalking towards her from the dead-end of the alley, half-smiling. She had had a pistol in her memory, and he had been wearing sun glasses.
Searching, she found the gun against the wall and shortly thereafter found a holster for it at the small of her back. The other?s sun glasses she didn?t see.
She frowned. It didn?t feel right, having used a gun. There was something…
Something… off. Wrong weapon. Not the feeling that she wouldn?t have killed someone, but the feeling that it wouldn?t have been this way.
Something was wrong, but that wasn?t quite the worst of it.
She?d been trying to remember her name since she?d first rolled over and faced the sun, and she couldn?t.
-=-=-
[The nobilis of Punishment is played by Dave Hill.]

The first attempt at Nobilis

As should be evident by now, there is a HELL of a lot of stuff to process just in the background for Nobilis — the book is 300 pages and maybe 10 of it is hard rules… the rest are examples and and examples and great great great fiction and more examples.
For a test game, I needed to simplify the background.
That usually means I start killing people.
The idea is simple: character generation is more than involved enough without having to frell with designing Chancels (the players job) and their Imperator (also the player’s job, and both come AFTER character creation for a number of reasons.)
So, the premise: The characters are Nobilis whose Imperator is accused of Treason against Creation and the Valde Bellum… it (the Imperator) is found guilty and destroyed.
Usually, that’s the end of it: destroying the Imperator means the Chancel breaks apart and/or returns to what it used to be as part of the Prosaic Earth and the Nobilis die from the shock of having a god’s soul ripped out of their body.
Didn’t happen. Therefore, the treasonous (and they MUST be treasonous if their Imperator was, right?) Nobilis must be hunted down and likewise destroyed. That’s the seed of the plot.
But wait, there’s more
Just because the destruction of their Boss didn’t kill them doesn’t mean there aren’t downsides: the PC’s start out the story separated from each other, away from their Chancel (just as well, as it’s currently occupied by hostile forces), and utterly Amnesiac from the psychic shock of what’s just happened.
(Cool, but also a key game-thing: since the players have amnesia, the PLAYERS don’t have to keep track of all the background stuff — they don’t even have to remember the game rules… as they slowly remember who and what they are, I can phase in their introduction to the rules and background: one player has an Aspect confrontation… another works with her Domain… another with her Gifts while a fourth is contacted by a Nobilis that wants to help them avoid the forces sent by Lord Entropy.)
When they wake up, each encounters evidence that Things Aren’t All Right, and that they’ve recently been involved in either Fight or Flight. Flashes of memory both help and hinder them at this point. One finds herself in an alleyway in London. Next to her lies the body of a dead man with no eyes, and she remembers (in a sudden flash) shooting him.
Except… she doesn’t particularly like guns, and she has a distinct feeling that there is another, better, more appropriate weapon she would have been using…
They don’t know who they are, why they can’t remember themselves, or what’s going on, but they’ve got a really bad feeling about this.
More (A sort of log of the first session) later.

Nobilis

Okay. I’ve finally gotten around to this post. It’s taken awhile.
As I’ve mentioned before, I recently gave into the overwhelming weight of my own curiosity and bought a copy of Nobilis: a game of sovereign powers
Anyone familiar with the game and me will most likely first ask “What the hell took you so long?” And on the face of it, there’s several good reasons to support that kind of reaction. Let’s look at them.
Resources
The book lists a sort bibliography of inspiration, but on the first or second page of the book rather than the end. That’s kind of fun, but take a look at some of the things on the list:
On a Pale Horse, The Complete Traveler in Black, Charles de Lint et al., Donaldson?s (ugh) Mordant?s Need, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Guy Gavriel Kay, Jane Lindskold, Roger Zelazny (specifically Lord of Light, Creatures of Light and Darkness, and a few others).
There are No Dice
However, unlike Amber (with which I’m passing familiar) there is a fine and well-documented OBJECTIVE resolution (and combat, and damage) system that I find both elegant and intuitive. Comparing the two games, one potential player commented that such things ‘just seem to have been thought out better’. I heartily agree.
Players Can Play in Scenes Where Their Characters are Not Present
Something I feel worth mentioning, mostly because it’s different than in most other RPGs, and comes up a lot in the sort of Diceless, High-power games that Nobilis is built for — you don’t need to be part of a group when you can clap your hands and flatten a crowd of people, so when the GM is working with you, the other players become either a mood-breaking peanut gallery (guilty) or bored.

Given all this, it seems like the perfect fit for someone with my inclinations and background. Perfect.
As a result, I didn’t buy it for a very long time simply because my natural inclination to get it made me suspicious that I’d be horribly disappointed. Also, the 2nd edition book is 43 bucks, so that’s a downside.
Anyway, what’s the game about?
Concepts
Earth is part of creation: it is (using prosaic perception) a ball of dirt floating in a vast vacuum around a ball of burning gas that provides it heat and light… it is ALSO (using mythic perception) a world-fruit that hangs on the thousand-fruitted world-tree Yggdrasil – heaven hangs above the tree and hell boils at it’s roots, and it encompasses All Knowable Things of Creation (though not exactly all things, since some are not OF Creation).
Both these existences are ‘true’ — or rather both are viable reflections of the truth.
Imperators
Imperators are the Great Powers of Creation — bitterly divided, holding to the causes of Hell or Heaven, Light or Dark, Old Gods or New, Duty or Freedom.
There are seven kinds of Imperator known on Earth: Angels (servants of Beauty), Devils (or the Fallen, servants of Corruption), The Light (protectors of Humanity), The Dark (destroyers of Humanity), The Wild (the Free), True (or Old) Gods, and Aaron?s Serpents (the children of Yggdrasil, nurtured within its bark until they are strong enough to break free).
(Note: these aren’t the PC’s… we’re getting to them.)
Now, given that, you can see where you’ve got a ripe playground for conflict already, but that doesn’t cover half of it… because you’ve still got the Excrucians to deal with.
Excrucians
Each of the Imperators works in Creation towards its own ineffable goals. In addition to these beings there are Things From Outside Creation: The Excrucians — their stated goal is the utter annihilation of All Creation, pulling each destroyed thing into themselves where it will Live Forever In Them.
Hell and Heaven might not get along, but both sides agree that Losing Creation is a Bad Thing. The Earth is one of ~30 worlds on Yggdrasil where the Excrucian War (or Valde Bellum) is currently being actively fought.
Most Imperator/Excrucian battles are waged in the Spirit Realm, which is so hard to deal with that no space is spent on it in the book — that’s where the Imperators do their thing — the problem is that the Bad Guys also try to destroy aspects of Creation in the Material World (Mythic and/or Prosaic versions, take your pick). The Imperators don’t have the time or ability to deal with those incursions, so some create “homes” out of portions of the Material world by investing part of themselves into it, creating Secret Places… also known as Chancels, and once-Mortal Servants (who become more than mortal as a result).
Secret Places
The ritual that makes a Secret Place, a Chancel, requires a hundred nights, and a human death each night of it. Then a piece of the Imperator?s self is bound into a piece of it to give it strength.
Sovereign Powers
The Valde Bellum or Excrucian War is waged in the spirit world. With Excrucian victories there, the things of this world lose a little bit of magic and of soul. Humans caught in the creation of a Chancel and humans who spend years inside a Chancel or its vicinity make the perfect receptacles for a shard of the Imperator?s own divine essence.
These humans become the Sovereign Powers. The shard of Imperator-soul they are given burns out a piece of their own soul, and their minds are made loyal. They are given in return a gift that is sometimes full consolation: power. The typical soul-shard is a prototype for a single aspect of reality, such as Night, Doorways, or Agony, and it gives the onetime human control over that Thing. Often, these humans receive other great blessings as well. Their normal responsibilities are simple: defend the aspects of reality associated with their Imperator (Imperators have Several, and split them between servants), guard and govern the Chancel and its inhabitants, and (when it does not interfere with the above duties) help in the general defense of the Earth.
***Whew***
That’s the basic concept. Characters are rated as to their relative prowess, the strength of their soul, the mastery they have over their Estate, and the mastery they have over the Celestial Family’s Chancel.
The story tends to focus on personal interactions (alliances and intrigue) between the PC’s and other Nobilis from other Chancels (there are thousands of such Nobilis), the goals of their Imperator, their own personal goals for themselves, those they love, and their Estate, and the War against the Excrucians.
Next post: what do you DO with all this? (Or what did I do?)

Random geek thought

Okay, so I just picked up Nobilis a few weeks back, someone check me on this.
The Matrix is a Nobilis game
The Suits = Excrucians
Chancel = the practice contruct? Or possible Zion.
Mystic Earth = the Matrix
Prosaic Earth = starts out as the Matrix, til you take the red pill and then it’s the ‘real earth’? I’m a little shakey on the Nobilis terminology.
Neo is just the guy everyone’s been waiting for who got killer ranks in Spirit. (Everyone has good ranks in Realm and Domain, I think, since that’s just the program with the downside that none of it really works in the prosaic earth, but but the rest of it basically works.

House Rule: Called Shots

Found a good one in the Quintessential Fighter:
CALLED SHOTS
There are many more ways to cripple and defeat an enemy besides simply swing a weapon at him again and again. Some instead choose to aim their blows at specific body parts, not only dealing damage but hindering the enemy’s ability to keep fighting.
How it works:
You can make a variety of called shots, provided you meet the requirements listed below.
1. First, you must score a threat against your target.
2. Rather than rolling to confirm a crit, you announce “Called shot to [body part]” instead, then make the roll that would normally confirm the threat.
3. The base damage is applied normally, but if the confirmation roll succeeds, consult the chart below rather than doing normal critial damage.

    Arm

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: Victim drops held item. 1d4 damage. -4 to all checks and attack rolls using wounded arm.
  • Duration: d6 rounds
    Leg

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: 1d4 damage. Speed halved. Climb, Jump, and Swim @ -4.
  • Duration: d6 rounds
    Groin

  • Requirement: BAB +2 or greater
  • Effect: Victim Staggered for d6 rounds.
    Head

  • Requirement: BAB +8 or greater
  • Effect: 1d4 damage. Stunned: Loses Dex bonus to AC, can take no actions, attackers +2 to attack victim.
  • Duration: d4 rounds.
    Eye

  • Requirement: BAB +10 or greater
  • Effect: 1d6 damage. -4 to all Dex-based checks. Two such injuries = blindness.
  • Duration: d6 hours, eye loss possibly permanent (DC 15 Fort to avoid)

Called shots only work against the same sorts of targets that Critical Hits are Effective against. The effects of these can be negated early with the use of Cure spells or Healing checks. (Unless referring to permanent eye loss, which would require regeneration.
Also: There are variant rules for monks that cause similar effects in combat. They are different in that they require Stunning Attacks instead of critical hits (so are more controllable) and allow Fort Save. Also, they can be targeted against more body locations.
Use of those rules for “Pressure Point Attacks” doesn’t mean that monks cannot also use this rule when they score a threat.