Monday, November 28, 2011

D:tF - A Caving Survival Horror

Well, I realised that I had a whole bunch of topics to talk about with this adventure so I thought I'd break it up into weekly installments as I've run out of Series Posts. I always enjoy doing a bit of a quick summary post first and then following it up with the split up topics. Yes, I know, I could always begin with Part 1, but what are you gonna do? We all have our styles.

And in this case, I'm currently sitting between the two parts of my Survival Horror adventure (where the PCs are the demons) so it's best that I don't give too much away until such time as my players have finished the run.

If you want the actual story premise, you can find it here. You can look out for these articles on Mondays.

So here are the topics for the 15 week Survival Monday series:

1: Running a Survival Horror adventure within a Campaign.
After all, survival horror tends to go one of two ways. It's either a solo game that plays on dread and isolation or it has a high fatality rate. Besides, how do you work in a survival horror's themes into your usual campaign arc? And how do you clue in your players that this isn't your usual romp?

2: Resource Management. Why do it? How do you do it? Not to mention, how do you convince your players that it could be a fun part of the game?

3: Making Random Encounters Scary.
Encounter Cards versus Percentage dice, and when is it worthwhile?

4: Using Maps and Apocalyptic Logs to your Best Advantage. What's an Apocalyptic Log, you ask? Well, tune in to find out.

5: Hateful Enemies and Nasty Environments. You should spend a bit of time selecting your enemies and locations to ensure that it's all thematically appropriate for a true dash of Hi-Octane Nightmare Fuel.

6: Tactical Battle Maps: A Help or a Hindrance? How does it affect players to see the locations in front of them? Will it dampen the survivalicious fun or instead give them an opportunity to truly grasp the full meaning of possible nearby hiding places.

7: Will you let them rest? Nothing helps players realise their characters are human (or at least possessing humans) than when they actually deal with fatigue and other issues, but can giving players so-called pit stops help the horror or damage it?

8: Dealing with Dread. How to build it up without letting it all get a little too much.

9: Madness, sickness, and status cards. How this can all build up to a very nervy ride, all the while keeping secrets between you and one other player at a time. Also, how to tempt players to be jumpy through status bonuses on Adrenaline.

10: Survival Horror Superheroes! How do you deal with super-powered characters during an adventure? What about when you have nine characters and seven players (as I did)?

11: Preparing for a Caving Survival Horror, Part 1. So what happened anyway? How did I pull it all together? How much planning went into Session 1?

12: Running a Caving Survival Horror, Part 1. With all that preparation work out of the way, how did the game itself end up going?

13: Preparing for a Caving Survival Horror, Part 2. So, surely all the real prep-work was finished before the second part. Right? Right? Wrong! It takes effort to make it all stick.

14: Summary for the Caving Survival Horror and also Downtimes in a Caving Survival Horror. What happened, what were they allowed to do, and how did it help build up the tension.

15: Running a Caving Survival Horror, Part 2. And how did the grand finale go? What was the build up? And how to recapture the sense of last sessions' momentum?

So, that should be a nice Series for you. It'll keep me going for awhile, too. I reckon I'll spend my spare time analysing what works in videogames for next year's plots.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Horrific WoD Dungeon Crawl

Well, I've been doing a lot of preparation for the upcoming paired Demon: the Fallen sessions whereby an intrepid segment of the Fallen Court in Adelaide are going to delve into a series of tunnels that begin in Nairne and lead under Mount Barker and then north west toward the CBD. As my players are some of my readers, I won't detail everything about these catacombs (a few already know the reasons behind them due to a prior Vampire: the Requiem game I ran earlier, but not all). Suffice it to say that a minor Earthbound has more recently moved in with the remnants of her cult (only 3, or so they suspect, as the other 7 of the 10 that were brought to Adelaide have been kidnapped by the Infernal Court).

This Earthbound is a Malefactor (a demon that can build all kinds of enchanted objects, play with the earth, and warp existing paths) so you can imagine that a warren of tunnels might be a little concerning to them. Not to mention the fact that she has quite a bit of Death and has actually raised a number of zombies to prowl the passageways (at different states of decay, and thus, speed and mobility).

To prep the rather random nature of these tunnels, I created random event cards that I will make the players draw. They pick five cards, I weave it together into something. Don't worry, they're not D&D-style 3 Wombats and a Dire Kangaroo. No, no, they're environmental things like Crawlspace Passageway (low ceiling means you have to crawl) which don't go away until another tunnel-based card is drawn. Or cards on number (and health) of zombies met. Or ammunition finds from previous, lost explorers. Or traps left behind. Or strange noises.

All kinds of things, really. I call it my Dread Deck as it puts some of the onus for the Terrible Things that will happen onto the players who have to draw from it. It puts their fate squarely into their hands (at least on the surface, really it's Lady Luck), which since their picking which tunnels to go down actually kinda fits.

I've also made a point of creating Item Cards for everything they're carrying as this will be a Survival Horror caving adventure so what you see is what you get. If they haven't mentioned it early enough for me to make cards (in a pinch, I will just write the detail on a new one if they argue well enough before entering in) then odds are they won't get it. If they haven't mentioned it before entering the tunnels ... good luck.

I am nice, though. I have sat down with them and reminded them about things like light sources, water, and ammunition. Those with higher Survival have been given more hints.

Oh, I will be remembering their weight limits, too, as mobility is a BIG issue in roughly made tunnels and caves.

Tune in tomorrow for the starting course of How To Run Cave-Based Survival Horror where I'll go over each bit piece-meal with some advice of what worked and what didn't.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Well ... been awhile

Well, I've been so busy teaching Child Safe Environments to staff and volunteers, setting up for the Volunteer Lunch, and also preparing and running various games over the past 10 days that I've had neither the energy nor the willpower to do up a post. Soon, however, I promise you all kinds of goodies that I've learned or used or prepared for the upcoming Demon: the Fallen game. A nice, horrific 'dungeon crawl' set in a system of monster-made tunnels under Mount Barker. More on that to come.

For now, enjoy the Carol of the Old Ones.

I know I will.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Changing Swear World

And now for something totally different...

Have you noticed how kids 'swear' so much more these days? The F Bomb is less of a bomb and more of a noun / verb / adjective / adverb and all things in between. Words for defecation, urination, and sex are bandied about like there's no tomorrow. And let's not even think about often blasphemies occur and folk taking the Lord's name in vain. It really makes you wonder where the world's headed.


They're not really swears anymore.

Think about it. Those words just aren't taboo and that's why they get bandied around. A strong word for poo? Whatever! Blasphemy? I'm not religious! Sodomy? Meh!

Yet you just try walking into a restaurant and calling someone an N Bomb (racist swear) and you'll hear the sort of silence that followed the swears of old. The C Bomb (sexist swear) is also a crowd startler. In fact, while other racist and sexist terms don't quite have the same bite when said with a wry I'm-kidding grin in your home, you wouldn't use them in public, and even when you use them at home you make sure not to add strengthening words like 'filthy' to it.

So yeah, people don't really swear much more than they used too. It's just that what counts as swears for the generations before don't for us and vice versa and that culture clash has really made it look like we do. We just don't take those particular words seriously and that's disempowered their verbal punch (unless used around or towards cultural groups, such as our elders, who still care about them).

Interesting, huh?

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stepping Stones to a Demon: the Fallen Apocalypse

So I've been running Demon: the Fallen as a solo campaign for a couple years. Well, originally it was meant to be a party-based game but the players who joined in ended up having to drop out. Basically, it has progressed to the point of an apocalypse when Grifiel, the head of the Devourers and one of the three leaders of the Luciferans, found out that Lucifer could be contacted through the Hunter: the Reckoning types.

Basically, in my canon (which was quite different to established canon with a Kult-like Afterlife where people were scourged of their memories by the Loyalist angels and a missing-thought-dead God) Lucifer had been caged on Earth in the Kamchatka ranges while the other Fallen were sent to the Pit as punishment for both. Lucifer managed to exude him/herself piecemeal through the edges of the cavern sigil into the humans that ended up living in a city of marvels in the area. S/he did this until all that was left behind was his/her bones. Basically, Lucifer rendered his/herself Legion and was in possession of a few thousand humans who, to all intents and purposes, were individual and independent-thinking people. A few of them retained their memories and found the summoning rituals to summon out the Arch-Dukes. After that debacle slew the few Legion members who recalled what they were (they simply reincarnate into new hosts), thousands of years passed with Legion being unaware.

Of course, the angels were watching even as they slowly went mad without God's guidance and with the need to gather up the souls of their beloved mortals, torture them, and send them back into flesh that would be tormented and tortured by Caine's progeny, dealing with the 'spirits' that were the descendants of the multitude of layers of reality that were torn from Earth with the destruction of Eden, and all the other horrors that ended up sneaking through the cracks in reality to ravage humanity. In the end, most of the angels prayed for the end but only one end could come. The very end that Lucifer had averted by keeping his/her head down through Legion. When they detect that Lucifer had escaped his/her cage, Michael is to defeat him/her as a Final Punishment decreed by God as Lucifer's dying moments would involve the knowledge that the world would be unmade once he was destroyed.

Lucifer knew that the End of Days would come eventually and so had hatched a plan in his cage. She would plant flat stones of lapis lazuli containing notes in 'Hunter Code' (as it's later called) that would be found by Legion once humanity had reached a level where they could finally combat the Enemy. Legion has been stirring, finally re-developing some small level of their powers, as humanity's power over science grew to the point where they could finally stand a chance (a small chance, but a chance). Some found and studied the stones and plans for a Kamchatka Expedition were brought to bear.

One Visionary known as Daniel Carter, an Irish school teacher who fled Ireland for Berlin after an arson attack on a vampire caught police attention, and who gained himself a new identity and worked his way up the corporate ladder in Ophidian's PR Department. Ophidian was a company that dealt with the media and he ended up getting them on board as the documentary filmers (with a demonically possessed co-host called Urza / Alvin Gruber who he'd been having a Redeemer watch / subtly convert over a decade).

Unfortunately, once Urza and the other Fallen (whose players ended up dropping out over time) started looking into things it became more complex. Only a few Fallen, those with low Torment, could sense Lucifer's syllable of his True Name upon those stones, and they gravitated toward the expedition as cameramen, scientists, and researchers (there were some strange events surrounding that particular mountain like fungal insects, and, of course, the tablets that only a few could decipher whose symbols could never be remembered or matched pointed to a city at its peak).

During this time, Lucifer's bugeoning consciousness within Legion caused a manifestation over Las Angeles that knocked all of Legion unconscious. A good distraction to keep the other Fallen looking elsewhere.

After awhile of kicking around and getting drawn into conspiracy after conspiracy, Urza ends up telling Grifiel some of the truth of the mountain range as Grifiel was planning to pre-empt the human expedition with a Luciferan one of his own.

However, all that did was caused Grifiel to figure out how to contact Lucifer using one of the Reckoner Hunters - Daniel Carter, in fact (not realising they were Legion but thinking they were thralls of some sort). The first time, everyone blacked out and suffered aggravated damage as a terrible pain whipped over them and a single word howled through their mind: "Change."

Urza, being of so little Torment, came through it with only a few lethal and one aggravated damage and he woke up sooner than the others. Being a Cryptic (albeit one with staunchly Luciferan undertones who adores and worships Lucifer in his own way), he tells them never to do it again. At the same time, he's rather smug (Pride as a flaw) as he was less injured than almost everyone else and thus figures he has less that he needs to change.

A couple weeks later (weeks packed with investigative goodness that even took Urza into the edges of the Underworld), Grifiel tries again by kidnapping another Hunter, a set in her ways Defender called Caitlin (whose brother was a Mage and thus she had a little Mercy - Innocence to her rating). Urza attempts to come to the rescue using a team of Raveners who had previously killed themselves to possess a Spetsnaz team (they'd previously enthralled them) only to find themselves suddenly a lot more lawful and decent then when they'd started out. The Raveners are too late, however, and the building is annihilated through the brief manifestation of Lucifer. Unlike the manifestation over Las Angeles, this was undoubtedly him, and it truly awoke that piece of Legion, and tripped the Apocalypse.

The Angels that guarded the edges of the Abyss (and everywhere else) came roaring to the surface which allowed all of the Fallen Angels to escape the Pit as well. The force of all the onrushing entities ripped holes in the Realms and the True Afterlife which sent so many of the undead rushing to the surface as well. Since there are only a finite number of souls, a good 50% of our 7 billion people were Nulls - soulless individuals of zero faith and no divine spark that simply existed because the birth rate said they should. This caused the appearance of a Rapture as 3 - 4 billion people suddenly vanished.

Both Angels and the Fallen knew one choice though it was a choice many ignored. All could become physical once more as they truly had been and revel in their power. OR they could be inspired by the screams of help from the dying moments of humanity and reach out to them (thus coming to possess them as regular Fallen). Few Angels heeded the call (Urza assumed none would but he turned out to be wrong) while some of the Fallen who had been in possession chose to take to the skies and others from the Pit (or even a few Earthbound) chose to possess someone thus taking advantage of the suddenly richer intermingling of energies that allows them to safely possess a person.

Michael now stalks the Earth, seeking all aspects of his sword (two of which poor Belphigor, head of the Faustians holds), so that he can wipe out each aspect of Legion before finally destroying Lucifer's bones. The Prime member of Legion, what is left of Caitlin, has her own plans, however. All the while a battle rages in the sky between angels, demons, and the human military, which sees a surprising number of technologically unaware angels and demons to their death.

After all, other than those who had possessed but relinquished their bodies, few fallen or angels would recognise a missile and there's only so much armor can soak as they have both been greatly diminished. The Fallen because they were stripped of their powers. The Angels because they have been stripped of the God that fueled them. Both sides rely on ambient faith ... except for the few that are cunning enough to turn to gather human worshippers out of the broken remnants of this land.

Next up, I'll talk about how this ended up being a dream for my Tactician solo player (and fianc`e) and how Urza has managed to cope with this world.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Carrion Crown Craziness

So, I have to say that if Pathfinder is making a point to diversify their campaign styles so that everyone can have a favorite, mine would be Carrion Crown. I've run Crimson Throne but it just can't compete with the kind of fun that can be had with gothic horror. There's a certain stylistic cool factor that can be had with cults, ghosts, haunted PRISONs (way better than a haunted house), and ghostly serial killers. A cool factor I positively adore.

Last session was also pretty damn cool. We managed to:

* explore the ground floor barring one locked door that nobody managed to unlock so we've assumed there's hopefully a key we can find somewhere,

* re-stock from their infirmary (it creeped my character, Miranda, out that no one had gotten that far to loot it before),

* get ourselves branded by floating irons (Miranda and Ezio did, anyway),

* beat up Ezio rather than let him run away in terror from a poltergeist into the depths of the prison (well, I tried to trip him up - it was Ruttiger, our NPC rogue, who waved at him to distract him in his terror and then tried to clock him one upside the head),

* try to lighten the mood with an intermittent dialogue about the best brothel in town (Miranda's fault, that one, about elven worshippers of a certain goddess who would animate their hair... Boy was Ruttiger annoyed because we'd journeyed near that jungle in back story.)

* and, of course, we actually managed to find toilets. I mean, toilets! When do game designers ever bother to include toilets in an adventure? We were thrilled! We were literally going to break out a bottle of wine to celebrate. But two of the players were P platers who had to drive home later. So we settled for coca cola.

Not much of an Actual Play, I know, but it'll do for now. Maybe next time I'll make it into a story.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Hand on the Wheel, STs

Okay, let me put my Player's Hat on for a moment as this is a topic that I can only talk about from a Player's Eye View. One thing I've been noticing more and more as a player now that I've seen a few different Storytellers and Dungeon Masters at work is that I very much want them to keep control of the game.

Sure, I want to be able to immerse myself into the world and if there's an unguarded and unlocked door I want to be able to go over and open it (though I respect there may be consequences). No invisible clip brushes, thank you very much. And I certainly don't want a Storyteller to tell me 'No, no, your character thinks this' or 'Well, now your character loves him' unless there's a magical effect in play because, hey, all I have is my character as a vehicle for everything I do and if my character becomes a mere puppet then what's there left for me to do?

But I do want the Dungeon Master or Storyteller to retain control. I want them to lead us all into the game world, keep us focused, silence our OOC chit-chat with a glance, and rap us on the knuckles if we're being silly. They're the Alpha. For the game to work, there word has to be law. I want them to be comfortable and confident, able to take issues in their stride (bitching never works and just adds to the problem), and I want them to be able to take charge through tricks of the trade or even through grown up discussions on how this is a HORROR game or a HACK AND SLASH game and how we might be completely floundering and violating the very tenets of the game we so wanted to enjoy.

After all, no one wants to destroy their own toys out of stupidity.

But of course, I want them to do this with kindness, patience, and an understanding that it's really, really haaaard not to be stupid sometimes as a player. That the urge to be silly does come up, especially if there's a moment of boredom (which isn't necessarily anyone's fault - two minutes is a long time for me to do nothing) and that frustration can cause me to button mash in the hopes of somehow hitting the WIN button.

But yes, it's a big ask. I know that. But I certainly will thank you for it!