Friday, November 27, 2015

Wrath of the Righteous: Demon's Heresy Some More

During this week plenty happens with a new PC called Dantalian entering the field (and a new player) who is a Mythic CN Half-Succubus of Calistria Magus/Cleric who is the son of the CN succubus Arushalae (hence being CN himself).  Alphy Hernaste meets him when he assaults the Mythic Vrock who was attempting to perform a ritual to turn Dantalion into a full succubus (and some imprisoned paladins into demons as well). 
The battle with the Vrock goes down easily enough, but not too easily, and Dantalian's half-succubus status and benefits really lets him shine which is good because both player and character are totally new to the campaign and so the roleplay spotlight is more typically centred on Alphy (for now). 

Vorimeraak had a watcher, however.  Two Blackfire Adepts and none other than Xanthir Vang who covered his own retreat with a Mythic Cloud Kill that had even the poison immune Dantalian flying for cover.  It was their first brush with the Worm That Walks.
Alphy Hernaste has to convince the people of Drezen that this new half-succubus totally isn't evil ... which is difficult yet not impossible due to the presence of the half-invidiak boy.  Yes, I know the themes of the game are meant to be one of shock and awe that there's a neutral succubus but a) I've always figured Calistria's CN vengeance demons were redeemed succubi and b) I'm not comfortable with the idea that there's literally dozens of ways to turn a person evil against their will and banish their souls to hell with plenty of corrupted angels and the like in the various game lines yet only one redeemed demon.  Also I knew my players would love it.
They still loved dealing with Arushalae, though her interactions with her son are still pretty awkward.  Dantalian calls her "mother", though, which is cute.  They rescued her from the old Desnan temple during an Abyssal Storm of Vengeance (which I rolled on the weather table) and had to deal with a dozen Warped Ones at the same time.  This kept things interesting for them.  Quantity of enemies, and variety, seem to keep the battles exciting over single enemies which they take out very easily through concentrated fire.  They then contrived a way to bring the bell back to Drezen.  It was all very epic and dramatic and we enjoyed it immensely. 
Proximity to so much demonic energy causes Alphy Hernaste's eyes to glow yellow and his horns to enlarge as he becomes more clearly demonic, slowly shifting toward a half-demon of unknown type (player still doesn't know which demon he's twisting towards).  He gains a few extra abilities, though still doesn't match the half-succubus just yet.
Then they had returned Drezen only to reveal Arushalae (from Demon's Heresy).  They put Arushalae (publicly) through a series of trials to prove to the populace that she has truly repented.  This included having her bathe in holy water (a sight to behold), submit to various spells (including a Smite Evil) and questioning her under various truth spells.  While her arrival (and the half-fiend) did increase discontent, thus far his efforts have prevented a literal riot or uprising.
Then they head out to take down the woundwyrm, after a few failed teleports they locate it in its lair and proceed to slowly take it apart.  It was a fun battle, though reasonably easy, as I'd anticipated but just tricky enough to keep it from being a push over.  I maximised its hit die and that seemed to do the trick though next time I'd be tempted to double it and make them a mated pair as action economy really does matter in this game.
Dantalian is contacted through the Dream Spell by Jerribeth, servant of Baphomet, who lives in the Sanctum of the Ivory Labyrinth and is a Glabrezu in the disguise of a beautiful elven woman.  He's tempted but sure it's a trap so defers a response until their arrival.  Once they get to the temple they happen to go the right way and meet Jerribeth in the flesh.  After a little more questioning, they decide to attack her.  She goes down pretty quickly due to being grappled by a monk and thus unable to do very much, which was probably a good thing, because her full attacks are vicious.

(NOTE: As you may have noticed, a lot of the key moments are being placed in Dantalian's lap at this stage to help the new player gain some investment and enough limelight since Alphy already has deep ties to everything else without any need for effort on my part.)
They take out a few more bad guys and then find a note left on the door of the workshop from the Blackfire Adepts saying they will kindly stay out of the way of the adventurers if they aren't attacked.  The PCs want to barrel in and knock them out.  Aravashniel (NPC tagalong roleplayed by me and controlled in combat by Dantalian's player) wants them to kill the Blackfire Adepts.  Arushalae (NPC tagalong roleplayed by me and controlled by Alphy Hernaste's player) wants them to leave the room alone because if they spook them there's a good chance they'll teleport away -- likely to provide the Big Bad support if they're forced to choose a side.

Or at least that's what I thought would happen.  Instead Alphy kicked open the door and they managed to lay everyone out in the first round / counterspell the one effort to Dimension Door that was attempted.  So they now have four Blackfire Adept prisoners.  They did keep one under Arushalae's charm effect so that they could interrogate the person about the Sanctum.  Once they heard about the treasure room, they quickly knocked him out and went looking.  Alphy smashed in the wall and they quickly took out the daemon before retreating to use Mage Hand to bring out a few special items.

I can't remember where they found it -- here or elsewhere -- but they got their hand on a Necklace of Strangulation which they discerned to be an Amulet that allowed both water breathing and protection from gases.  Since they knew of Xanthir Vang's cloud kill, they decided to give it to Aravashniel.  Luckily Aravashniel didn't wear the necklace yet, as he already had a good amulet but kept it just in case.

Dantalian also found within the recess a deck of Harrow Cards and a Starknife from his mortal father -- a Riftwarden whom Xanthir Vang claimed to have killed.  In truth, he hadn't.  His father was the Desnan priest whose dreams Arushalae entered while he lay dying.  In penance, Arushalae aimed to infiltrate Xanthir Vang under the pretence of being a different demonic succubus.  This would be revealed later on.  For now, Xanthir Vang contacted Dantalian telepathically and goaded him into assaulting him in the foyer by claiming to have slain his father.

It worked.  The group headed toward the foyer and at the last moment, after ensuring they had a few buffs on them, Alphy ran out and to the left to strike at Xanthir Vang who seemed to stand alone with two Blackfire Adepts and four Templars of the Ivory Labrynth and ... ran into the invisible leg of a retriever.  The retriever attacked him and cast a ray at him, but Alphy nimbly dodged.  Then Dantalian attempted to back down a set of stairs to the right and ran into another demon.
I had basically had all of the other enemies in the Labyrinth meet in the foyer and had most of them placed into invisibility by Xanthir Vang using a basic spell.  The man they thought was Xanthir was merely covered in semi-sentient demonic worms and was a Blackfire Adept himself while Xanthir hung back in Greater Invisibility.  For Templars I used non-mythic versions of Staunton Vhane -- which gave Alphy's player a real moment of shocked joy as he easily pummelled a multitude of copies of the same character who had given him such pause earlier on.
The battle was fun and interesting and worked out much better than if I had Xanthir Vang stand alone.  Although none of the characters were at real risk (except for Aravashniel), the players felt the tension and pulled out all stops to win.  A single Disintegrate spell from Xanthir nearly took out Aravashniel, dealing massive damage, and he used one of his spells to dart closer to the entrance.  An invisible Xanthir Vang flew over in one round while everyone rushed about, and threatened to kill Aravashniel with a Cloud Kill should he attempt to act.
Aravashniel almost put on the Necklace of Strangulation to survive the Cloud Kill, but before he could act (in his turn), Dantalian struck him with a card which had a Word of Recall spell set on it which knocked him back to Drezen.  He arrived in Drezen, clutching the necklace, but like any good Mendevian crusader he put the object down because, let's face it, you never randomly put on any magical jewellery in the Worldwound without extensive study if you can help it.
I explained to the players what nearly happened, as Aravashniel would mention it later to their characters but the close call would resonate more if the revelation occurred in the same session.  The expressions on their faces was gratifying.  It was all the more satisfying that it didn't kill him, merely almost did.  It showed the dangers of the Worldwound without hampering it with frustration or loss.
They made short work of Xanthir Vang's allies, so Xanthir chased them with the Mythic Cloud Kill (slowly) through the labyrinth but they found a place where they could circle around it so he drew it back to the entrance to keep out the crusaders and disappeared.  He had no chance to succeed at this point, after all.  I'll keep having him plague them as time wears on but he doesn't stand a chance in combat against them.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Wrath of the Righteous: Rebuilding Drezen Part B

The following events will generally have the player present and so rather than it being Loyalty checks, it involves named NPCs and a looser structure as the player must decide what to do and how to do it in order to deal with negative events.  And as winter creeps over the world, he will have many negative events indeed.

The Rack Mini-Game

In my vampire: the requiem LARP, because I just love accounting or perhaps just love to torture myself, keep a separate set of calculations for each of the Racks which show how many points are necessary to raise or lower the rack to the next level.  These Racks are represented by suburbs and have two values - one for animal blood and one for human blood.  The North Western Barrens, for example, is good for animals but bad for feeding on humans.  Each Rack has a particular Rack value which also represents the number of vampires it can freely support without losing any points due to humans growing suspicious, animals become skittish, or the overall vibe of the area changing.

                It takes 10 points to raise or lower a Rack with a value of 1.

                It takes 15 points to raise or lower a Rack with a value of 2.

                It takes 20 points to raise or lower a Rack with a value of 3.

                It takes 30 points to raise or lower a Rack with a value of 4.

                It takes 50 points to raise or lower a Rack with a value of 5.

                Consider the Rack value as a range of feeding checks it can take before losing any points.  So if the CBD Rack has a 2/2 rack value, 2 feeding checks can occur there without any problem.  If there are three OR four feeding checks, the rack loses a single point.  It's only when a fifth feeding check occurs there that it would lose an additional point.  So long as a rack is being groomed, it can take a few hits without faltering.  Each downtime spent on boosting or damaging the Rack typically provides a single point though additional points may be added or taken away for truly spectacular actions.

                Methods of boosting a rack include:

·         Increasing tourism.

·         "Safe" supernatural encounters or expectations (i.e. ghost tours).

·         Scandal.

·         Drugs that increase risk-taking behaviours.

·         Drugs or events that reduce helpful bystander actions.

·         Encourage public use of "owned" security / medical personnel on the streets.

·         Encouraging homeless populace to settle in that region.

·         Keeping said homeless populace out of the public eye.

·         Festivals and nightclub strips.

·         Summer season (for beach Racks).

·         Late night shopping.

·         Late closing.

·         Ennui and indifference to other people.

·         Indifferent police.

·         Parklands that are not dry zones.

·         Car parking in dark and out of the way places.

·         Animal farms (for animals).

·         Rubbish strewn streets (for animals).

·         Access to more Barrens (for animals).


                Methods of damaging a rack include:

·         Recent murders.

·         Public violence.

·         Visible criminal activity.

·         Winter season (for beach Racks).

·         Sobriety programs and designated drivers.

·         Encouraging people to stay in groups.

·         Terrifying supernatural encounters.

·         Effective communities and neighbourhood watch groups.

·         Active hunter cells.

·         Uncontrolled security guards and cameras.

·         Early closing of shops and clubs.

·         Motivated and reliable police.

·         Pest control programs and stray catching (for animals).

·         Feeding check mishaps.

·         Overfeeding.
Thus it encourages a rack mini-game among the players to sink in enough downtimes to off-set the huge amounts of blood they have to draw off the locations in order to heal, use their disciplines and otherwise deal with all of the monsters lurking around the Adelaide plots.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Beats in a Blood & Smoke LARP

Blood & Smoke is the latest edition of Vampire: the Requiem and it works out experience points a little differently than most.  Rather than earning a full experience point for an action, you instead gather partial XP called beats that combine into a single experience point on a 1 for 5 basis allowing you to slow down its accrual and reward multiple aspirations and conditions rather without flooding your players with experience points.

Naturally in a LARP of 20 players it starts to look a little complicated so here is an example of my LARP's excel spread sheet which I update several times a month to reflect my player's actions.  After every session I tally up the experience points and award them (typing them up in people's Downtime threads) and then I tally up the remaining beats and add them to the next month's Roll Over column.

Since people are also capped at earned experience points equal to Campaign Months x 2 (i.e. you can only earn a total of 12 XP by the end of the sixth month), I also need to pay attention to such caps though no one has ever met that growing cap yet.

Here's an image of the spread sheet columns to give you an idea of its complexity though naturally it's far longer as there's 20 different players at present (click it to enlarge):

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Vampire: the Requiem (Status Perks)

Since status isn't something purchased but earned during gameplay, it can be difficult convincing people (especially Australians) of the value of seeking out such status.  After all, if you keep getting invited into the back rooms, your status is ranked at a higher level anyway so why push it?

 So here are some of the perks of city status: 

The current city law entitles vampires to a block of feeding grounds per rank of status which is enough to provide a feeding check bonus on the Valued (+1), Respected (+2), and Admired (+3) levels.

The higher ranked kindred become sensitised to their underlings and so get a number of points equal to their Status -1 to learn tidbits about their underlings on a successful Wits + Politics roll.  The cost to gather this information is also dependent on the target's status.  The cost per hint is equal to the target's Status so none can use this strategy to learn details of the Admired Kindred in the city.

Finally kindred are innately hierarchical in order to keep the Beast at bay.  The nature of those hierarchies and the meanings behind them may vary, but they still form a vital structure.  Therefore Kindred regain a point of willpower whenever they accept a valid order from above or when the order they give is accepted.  If the Kindred is already full up on willpower, they instead immediately spend it on an action or a tip to how best to fulfil or assist with the fulfilment of the order.  This doesn't count for boon trades unless the lesser ranked vampire accepts a far more trivial boon than what the task is worth.

I'm trying to think up a few more small but interesting ways to attract interest in city status itself because it provides an information struggling point.  It doesn't just encourage politics in a PvP sense.  Simply by revealing your successes and accomplishments, taking charge of difficult situations and successfully resolving issues between rivals, you can increase your standing so even in a deeply PvE game there are benefits to an urge for hierarchy.  

Otherwise there's surprisingly little incentive to share plot other than being a good gamer since letting others know about particular plot lines you are following means that it may be changed, warped or even stolen away from your character.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Feeding Checks in my Vampire LARP (Take Two)

Since the main way to trouble a vampire is to lay the pinch of it's blood supply, I have been giving each character a feeding check prior to each game.  These feeding checks take in a lot of information to come up with a fair analysis of different people's abilities.  There's an article somewhere within this blog about how it works but it's become all the more complicated so I thought I would regale you all again.

First you begin with the amount of blood they had from the last session.  Unless they need to feed off vampire blood, it is assumed that they are capable of maintaining their current blood supply minus any healing required.

Then we move onto the typical Attribute + Skill roll to reflect their hunting technique and gain the successes in blood.   Record both the bonus and the actual number on the dice to check for feeding mishaps.

Add the bonuses from certain disciplines that synchronise with that skill (+1 blood for the use of Majesty, Dominate or Obfuscate).

Subtract a -2 penalty for any feeding restrictions taken (not including animal or human basic restrictions but does include attempts to avoid the Daeva bane triggering).

Add the Rack bonus (ranges from 1 to 5 with all racks beginning at 2 at the start of the campaign) as a single use blood bonus.  This encourages PCs to build up their own racks and perhaps undermine the racks of other people.  Since my Adelaide is divided by gloom patches which crisscross the city and can wipe out an errant vampire attempting to cross them … rack accessibility becomes very important.

Add +2 bonuses for the custom Coil of Ascetic at both the Binge Drinking and the Carrion Feeding levels (presuming they can eat their victim's carrion).  Having to use Feeding Below One's Beast overwrites the use of Binge Drinking as they cancel each other out.

Add the feeding grounds bonus as a single benefit for the first feeding check.

Use Herd only if there's a need for it.  Otherwise do not use Herd so that they can sell them later on or call upon them during the session.

If more blood is required, ask the player if they would like to spend further downtimes on feeding.

A very complex system but one that makes the Rack Building Mini-Game, Herd and Feeding Grounds more important.   Bear in mind, also, that the current city law entitles vampires to a block of feeding grounds per rank of status which is enough to provide a feeding check bonus on the Valued (+1), Respected (+2), and Admired (+3) levels.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Engaging LARP Players to Help Immersion

While some LARPs prefer to keep most matters on the level of player imagination, some attempt to re-create elements of the game world to engage their player's five senses to help them better connect with the situation.  Since most LARPs don't earn enough of a profit to utilise top-notch venues or purchase epic props, and most LARP GMs don't have either the personal finances or storage space to provide it themselves, it's important to tap into the resources of your player base to get that higher end game.

                Note that I don't mean you should start handing out invoices or demanding people purchase various goods and if no one has what you're looking for than you just need to go without.  Expecting players to pony up the funds for items you want isn't fair either.

                Oh no, what I'm talking about are using communication and gratitude to ensure that players have the opportunity to assist with game immersion and are rewarded for doing so.  If you need something for your game and you have a steady membership, ask if anyone either has the prop or has ideas for how you might cobble together a basic version of the prop.  If no one responds, that's fine.  If they do, fantastic.  Thank them and take their ideas on board.

                This is a really good idea for small things that may still be costly to have to keep providing.  If you need something to represent herbs, seeing if anyone has a lavender bush that they're willing to cut bundles off is much more cost-effective than going off and purchasing lavender yourself.  If a toy version of the item can work, such as a stethoscope, you could always put out a call out for that as well in case people have the item in their toy chests.

                Sometimes players may be able to loan you larger items as well so don't fear asking if someone has a portable barbeque, trestle tables, table cloths or Christmas trees that they don't mind bringing to the game for a night.  You'd be surprised what people have knocking around in their sheds and if you have the storage space, you might find they're willing to literally give you extra chairs, tables and the like.  Many players want to invest and feel like they're a real part of the LARP's success and will go to great lengths to help the LARP if you give them the chance.

                When you're running a LARP campaign, I'd also recommend being flexible and inventive with the items they bring.  In other words, if a player is super excited about making an edible jelly heart, find a way to include that in the game.  Don't make the session rely on it if they haven't done it before as no one needs that pressure, but consider it for either atmosphere or a standalone puzzle.  If you keep saying "no" or being uncertain about offerings, your players will stop making those offerings as they may start to feel like the offerings themselves are unwelcome and that's not a good place to be.

                You want to get the players used to thinking in terms of how they can pitch in with you, give them a sense of ownership of the game and you want to help them get their creative juices going.  If they're only ever responding to lists, they'll either switch off or even just forget to mention their own creativity abilities.  Plus it can be a really good way to get your own inventiveness going when a player brings something nifty to your attention.  You'll be surprised by what you can come up with.

                Where people donate or provide items for game, you should certainly make a point to thank them by name on occasion.  It doesn't have to be a public thanks every time, especially if the player doesn't like such public commendations, but certainly show your gratitude on behalf of the game.  This is far more important to most players than any experience point burst and I have had success in my game going by this alone.  This isn't to say that you can't reward people with experience points as it's a nice and tangible way to say thank you, but you shouldn't rely on it.  At the very least, a more public reward makes the other players realise that it's an option and helps create an "All In" mentality where the players themselves feel like partial owners of the game rather than passive consumers and customers.

                And this last point is equally important.  As a LARP organiser, you are almost certainly a volunteer and while their assistance is helping you realise your vision, your vision is meant to be a framework within which they can design their own characters arcs and play their own paths.  Sure, feel sincerely thankful for being part of such a great community full of wonderful players that want to pitch in, BUT don't take on a humble, submissive, I'm-Not-Worthy mentality unless you want a quick road to resentment, bitterness and burn out. 

                It's hard to feel good about something when you sink unpaid hours into it and yet expect yourself to beg for scraps of player assistance.  It's a destructive and unhealthy habit encouraged by too many GMs online to combat the old school and equally unhealthy God GM arrogance.  You are a volunteer.  It is good to ask for help.  It is good to delegate.  Don't be mean about it, respect your players limitations in time, money and investment, and you'll be fine.  No one likes an unnecessary martyr.  Breathe and ask!

                Building a LARP community around your games where everyone is welcome and able to contribute is a far better model than using a customer service model where volunteers must sink in hours of service provision at the beck and call of consumers.  But that's a whole other tangent worthy of an article of it's own.