Clicking Sands: Dramatis Personae

This short post will be followed by a bit more in the way of observations and a recounting of Actual Play, but for now:

Okay, after putting this off far too long, I have to get it down or I’m going to forget what happened (it’s been all of 5 days now), so forgive the disorganization.
Due to some players calling in sick, we didn’t do the normal DnD game on Friday (which is fast approaching final wrap-up). I’d been talking with that group about trying out some other games when the DnD stuff finished up, so I jumped on this opportunity to run… something. Anything. Whatever. While discussing ideas for a pick-up game, two of the players were VERY into the idea of the future apocalyptic sword-n-sorcery style “Clicking Sands” set up, so we decided to make up some characters for that and give it a try.
The players:
Player 1 is a DnD player with probably 15 years of GMing and play experience under his belt. This is one of those guys who plays it tough — for better or worse, he’s got most of the critters in the Monster Manual memorized, and he general plays tough-as-nails fighter types who are more than willing to call down Fireballs on their position if it means winning the fight. Interestingly, he came up with a character, kicker, and demon faster than anyone else, but that might have been because he was the most ‘into’ the setting at the outset.
Player 2 had not been at all interested in my ‘regular’ Sorcerer game for a number of reasons, so it surprised me when she decided to show up anyway and try out the system for this game — perhaps it was the S & S idea rather than the modern setting, who knows. Her participation had mixed results — more on that below and in previous posts.
Player 3 plays many different genres but has probably not played outside of d20 for the last four years (and hadn’t played for several years before that). He was still interested in what the game had to offer (and certainly was one of the group most interested in the ‘alternate’ games I’ve been talking about). Like player 2, character generation was a slow and painstaking selection process for him.
Player 4 was already somewhat familiar with the Sorcerer rules from our ‘normal’ game and who I asked to participate simply to help with rules stuff. She started slow with chargen, commenting that ‘everything I wanted to do I’m doing in the other game” but then really took off once she got a new concept firmly in her head — in the end, she went from “I can’t think of anything.” to “I picked too many demon abilities again.”
We talked about the setting in really broad terms and basically decided that “our” version of Clicking Sands would be sort of a mix of Mad Max (without the vehicles), Steel Dawn, and Blood of Heroes (one of my favorite flicks). I had some anime influences in the back of my head as well (Nausicaa, for example), but I kept them somewhat to myself for now.
The session, such as it was, pretty much consisted of Sorcerer-style character generation, though I think that it was only semi-sorc-style since several of the players instinctively kept their concepts to themselves instead of working as a sort of group round-robing thing, and I was too busy trying to help everyone with the nuts and bolts (with three core books between four players and only one &Sword book) that I didn’t take the time to get them into a more group-mode style — remembering to do that would have helped me later, I think.
Once character generation was done, it was already 9pm and I decided that, for better or worse, I wanted to play through each character’s kicker and give people a taste of what the system played like, but stop there.
I’m going to break the following down by player:
Stamina: 6 Cybernetics (Unnatural means), Military Training
Will: 3 Survivor
Lore: 1 Wanderer (Brush with the Unknown)
Past: 6 Scout/Outrider/Explorer
Price: -1 Scarred (difficulty in social situations)
Humanity: 6
Telltale: Radiation burn scars.
Description: A sun-baked, turban-wrapped explorer of the wastelands.
Kicker: Reynaldo was hired to lead a CityLord’s group of soldiers into one of the Lost Citadels and return with “powerful magicks”. Well, they got what they were after. Reynaldo got ‘infected’ and, several weeks later, returned to the CityLord to inform his employer that he had… survived. The lord deduced that Reynaldo had in fact become just the thing he was looking for and ordered his men to capture him.
Demon — Drex, a parasite demon defined as a sentient nanotechnology symbiote. See the leading link for details, but Drex basically repairs Reynaldo’s body very quickly and lends him some neural speed, extra senses, and combat effectiveness. Its telltale is the luminescent text that ‘scrolls’ under Rin’s skin when his powers are actively in use. It’s need is Sunlight (often and regular) and its Desire is Knowledge (it’s been dormant a long time).
We started off with the Kicker as advertised, with a few added details — the CityLord wanted to lull the PC into complacency before acting to ‘collect’ him, so I put the character in a private room with some ‘trained’ girls. They were somewhat frightened of him (see his Telltale), but things were proceeding ‘normally’ (think of the scene with the prostitute in Last Man Standing).
As mentioned, the player in this case is a longtime DnD player who enjoys playing combat types, so I wanted to show him how combat worked in Sorcerer. That informed a lot of how this scene developed.
When the CityLord acted, I gave the player a perception test to notice the guys creeping up on the room. His Demon conveys motion sense, so between his Cover and the Demon’s power, he was rolling something like 12 dice. Wow.
So, he (easily) noticed the approach of bad guys from both the hallway and an adjascent maze of rooms. Is stated action was to throw the girl off of him, slip next to the hallway door, brandish his demon-granted special damage claws, and nail the first guy that came through the door. He was rolling his Perception dice into his Cover (ambushing fell under outrider, I figured), into his Stamina, plus the bonus dice for a good Tactic and the fun description of throwing the shrieking whore off the bed.
And he STILL lost initiative to THREE of the five guys coming in. My dice were hot. Sue me.
At any rate, this gave me the chance to explain how aborting your action for a decent defense roll. The player thought that sounded like a really good idea and even came up with a good description of the ‘dodge’ without any prompting from me (which impressed me, since we haven’t been doing anything like this in the d20 game he’s in) — the doors opened before he could get to them and left him standing naked in the middle of the room with crossbows leveled at him — he leapt straight up and grabbed the pipes along the ceiling.
Ugh. I got a single success on three of the attacks anyway, but with his Armor ability (defined as ‘fast regen’) that worked out to 3 lasting and 3 temp penalties as three bolts grazed him or passed through non-critical meat.
The next round, the player was down to an effective 0 on both Stamina and Cover and didn’t have his bit Perception pool to roll from, so he had to get creative.
The character described Rin swinging forward and kicking the guy right in front of him in the chest, then using that momentum to swing his legs up over his body as he hung from the pipes, throwing himself backwards as one of the attackers coming from across the room passed under him in a lunge and he landed on the bed and bounced to the opposite door.
Nice. I gave him three dice total, starting from 0.
Against five guys… all rolling five dice. Ack.
Amazingly, he wins initiative against his kicking target and opts for a 1-die dodge against the two guys that beat his initiative — he gets a 10. His Kick hits his guy and the rest of it goes to plan, with the added bit of color of the two narrow-narrow miss/grazes from the two attackers he dodged with a 10.
Next round, he’s standing in front of one guy blocking his path out of the room via the ‘back door’, four guys behind him between him and the ‘front door’ (one penalized ?2 from the kick), and a maze of rooms that the back door leads to, giving him a good chance of getting some cover.
Long story short: he gets about 4 successes on the guy in the door with an edged weapon attack and runs like hell, crossbow bolts “pooking” through the sliding corrogated-plastic shogi screens that demark the rooms.
Best part I haven’t yet mentioned from this scene: when I described the rooms as sort of vaguely oriental, with sliding wall panels like Japanese homes, but with the paper replaced with old, yellowing, corrugated plastic — the player liked that. Later, during the fleeing scene, I started describing the crossbow bolts zinging after his fleeing form, and he jumped in and added the sound of them punching through the plastic screens. Definitely had a meeting of minds there.
Yu, a.k.a. “Slant Wiki”
Stamina: 4 Unnatural Means
Will: 2 Prophetic
Lore: 4 Mad
Cover: 4 Immortal
Price: -1 Uncivilized
Humanity: 3
Telltale: Swears aloud in the dead tongues of the ancients.
Description: A crazy old Japanese man dressed in rags and smelling of stale camel urine.
Kicker: One of his most unnerving phophetic dreams (the death of his entire clan — the remnants of the Japanese race) comes true.
Demon: Mono no Awari (Tears of Things to Come) Possessor, -4 Binding, The spirit of a dark kami. Need is consumption of entrails. Desire is Worship.
Well, win some, lose some. As well as the scene for Reynaldo went; Slant’s stuff went the other way. The problem’s can be summarized some system-frustration (the player blew the demon binding roll and knew it, and then missed the Humanity check dropping it to a 3) on the player’s part, and my own difficulty in working with them to come up with a kicker that (a) interested them and (b) helped me come up with something to do.
Result: a mutually unsatisfying kicker and nothing fun from the GM 🙁
Later (the next day) I thought of a better kicker. Hmm. That’s probably the problem with rushing right from chargen into playing — some of this stuff really needs a few hours to think about. 🙁
Anyway, we went with the Volcano explosion thing, and the player set out across the Salt Flats (formerly the Sea of Japan) toward the more populated lands to the west, (and I like this next bit, which actually came out of something from the player the next day) scratching ?the Prophecies? into the ground as he walks? 1 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 1 1 0 1 0 . . .
I cut forward a couple days and we see him having almost reached the edge of the salt flats, with the pillar of ash rising from the distant verdant plateau far behind him. He?s sun burnt, dehydrated, scraped up, and arguing with himself (or his possessor, who knows?)
We did a little bit with him getting off the salt flats and running into a small group of wagons who are avoiding an area controlled by bandits ? unsuccessfully as it turns out, because someone spots the bandits coming up in the distance.
Ugh. Uninspired and uninspiring ? but as much as the player definitely wasn?t satisfied with their turn (nor was I), they emailed me a short bit of fiction the very next day and even came up with a really good Bang to start their stuff with for “next time”:
New Bang: In the process of fighting the bandits, Slant Wiki discovers that the bandit leader that he?s about kill is one of his descendants ? some exile from the plateau who has (somehow) thrived in the outer world.
So I don?t know ? bad play, but the player obviously found some inspiration despite that. Credit that to the setting and the game?s chargen, cuz it had nothing to do with me.
Stamina: 3 Arcane Regimen
Will: 6 Supreme Confidence, Social Magnet
Lore: 1 Naive
Cover: 6 Princess of Avalon (where?s Avalon? Who knows!)
Price: -1 Idealistic
Humanity: 6
Telltale: Her eyes are faintly luminescent (notable in dim lighting).
Description: A beautiful olive-skinned girl not yet out of her teens.
Kicker: The entire Royal family massacred while traveling somewhere. Phillia was captured and sold into slavery and found herself in the clutches of a CityLord. She woke up with a slaver’s “head” in each hand and the cell door wide open.
Demon: Camus — Parasite, Binding -4
A sentient AI chip imprinted with the personality of an ancient French surrealist and recently implanted in her head. Desire: Power. Need: Adrenaline/Endorphins.
This thing is getting long, so let me sum up a bit? the player ?came to? standing in the jail cell (think of the jail cells in the beginning of Ladyhawk), naked, with the slaver?s head in her left hand and his other head in her right? and the slaver isn?t a mutant.
Yeah. Oww. Don?t blame me? player?s idea. Anyway, an unidentified voice in her head got her moving and gave her directions on how to get out of the jail; ?Run! Turn here! No, Left! Into those shadows now, girl. Now!? She doesn?t know where the voice is coming from, but she?s too freaked out to think about it. Most of the guards she?s able to dodge (by using her Perception: Hearing), but one comes around the corner too fast and she ends up in a brawl against a truncheon-armed guard.
This combat was interesting simply because the character wasn?t really that combat-savvy and had to improvise a lot ? the group learned how full defense gave +2 dice, aside from tactics and role playing. She got a little clipped by the club at one point and the demon started shouting orders ? at one point it told her to ?just relax and let me handle it?, which led to a Will contect (+4 in the demons favor) that the player, incredibly, won. After a few exchanges (in which Psychic Force made an appearance), she managed to get Total Victory on a full dodge and trip him within arms reach of the prisoners along the hallway ? she ran while they tore at his clothing and hair.
When faced with a spiral staircase, the player decided to try going down in hopes that they wouldn?t look for her there. She found ancient catacombs beneath the prison (which themselves lie beneath the city that Reynaldo and Player 4 are currently in) that reminded me very strongly of? I want to say the Scarlet Citadel? The Conan stories with the big snake in the wizard?s dungeon. Anyway.
The PC gets in an introductory argument with her demon, still trying to figure out what?s going on. She bioluminesces in response to the darkness around her, and tentatively continues into the catacombs, looking for a way out.
Stamina: 3 Just healthy
Will: 5 Zest for life, Lover
Lore: 2 Apprentice (to the sorcerer Markov)
Cover: 5 ‘Business’ Owner
Price: -1 Unlucky in Love
Humanity: 5
Telltale: ?Arcane? tattoo on her behind.
Description: Blonde hair, blue eyes, tanned skin.
Kicker: A man shows up at her “business”, asks to speak to owner — enters the office with Grace and immediately greets Desdin by name.
Demon: Desdin. Inconspicous. -2 Binding. A ?shapeshifting? metallic bracelet on her wrist.
GM Note: Desdin is the most ?traditional? demon of the bunch? as such, he?s the hardest to figure out in terms of the ?rules? of demons for the Clicking Sands setting ? the player?s thinking of a shadowy inconspicuous demon that lives in the bracelet (and which he uses to project armor over his master when necessary by ?growing? it out over her) and who can come out when he wants to ? it?s that ?coming out? thing that we?re having problems reconciling with the ?technology sufficiently advanced? view of sorcery in this setting.
So the guy shows up. He?s bearing an odd metallic staff, engraved in a way not unlike Desdin-bracelet. He says something directly to Desdin and then tells Grace that Desdin belongs to him, that the thing? left him (here I suddenly tucked my left hand inside my sleeve to make it look like a stump and the players all grin) and he wants it back. Grace demurs, and the guy freaks out ? cue sorcerer battle inside a flammable room.
And let me tell you, when two sorcerers face off, each with Special Damage Lethal attacks (she has a radiation/microwave beam and his staff projects fire), it?s a DAMN SHORT FIGHT.
Grace tried to keep it ?polite? for a bit ? knocking the staff aside, kneeing him in the groin and going for submission holds, but he kept going for the ?big guns? to take her down. Desdin was curiously (player: you mean ?suspiciously?) reluctant to fight the guy, but after a little negotiation Grace got him to join in with his own Special damage, lethal (disease/rot) microwave beam that dropped the guy to exactly double stamina (AFTER getting half back at the end of the fight). I rule that the office is on fire and the guy is unconscious and probably dead in the middle of the room (and I?m already making his Will check to come out of it and make his escape when Grace flees the fire).
I never got the chance. Grace wasn?t willing to let her ?business? go up in flames, so she used Warp to seal up the windows and shutters as best she could, grabbed the staff, ran outside the room, sealed the entrance, and basically kept people dousing all the interior walls and the building?s roof until the fire smothered itself out ? the room was gutted, but the building was intact ? and no one could have escaped that room.
A few thoughts:
— Players went for more extreme stats in this setting than they did in the modern setting.
— Wow, the demons have a whole lot of dice on their side from the Bindings. No sorcerer has an advantage.
— The ‘setting mods’ were interesting — people didn’t quite want to go to the extremes of ‘thousands of years in the future’ idea and kept it within, probably, a couple hundred years of the “Great Fire” (which Slant Wiki, being Immortal, actually remembers — or he thinks he remembers it — or his demon has fooled him into remembering a false history — or he’s crazy — who knows?)
I?ve got more to write about this, but for now I?m just going to get it posted and perhaps put some thoughts in a follow-up post.

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