Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Me And Preparation Time

So the Flashpoint Campaign game didn't happen again last Monday - again due to yours truly not having done all the research. I suppose its in part due to my holidays this week. I just couldn't be bothered doing the hours of prep-work that are necessary for this next session. The trouble with running roleplay games is that sometimes you don't want to do the prep-time but have to.

This is especially the case with Pathfinder.

While, yes, I do have the Dungeon Master's Guide and all of the NPCs contained within, I'm not that flash on the rules behind feats and powers so if I want to do it credit I really need to either craft the NPCs myself or re-read all of the feats and powers before game. Unfortunately, the players are kind of in that in-between stage CR-wise so there wasn't going to be too many choices of credible NPC threats within it anyway.

That's one of the benefits of running World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu games. You can handwavium it a fair bit. It's the rare Storyteller who has a portfolio of NPCs and an even rarer one that frequently refers to them. Oftentimes its just a case of guessing what they might probably have.

Since Pathfinder is, by necessity, a more mathematical game where feats and equipment and racial abilities and attributes all affect even the simplest and most necessary statistics (attack, damage, armor class), then you can't just guesstimate it. This is doubly so because the Pathfinder enemies are more likely to be out to kill the player characters than the average WoD enemy.

So I'm going to space out my prep-work over this week so I'm ready for next session. I have an Inquisitor and some wannabe pirates to write up as well as a cleric they've been meaning to assassinate. Then I also need to update the new World of Darkness conversion rules for Demon: the Fallen for the upcoming campaign.

I think that's my problem. I run A LOT of games and if I'm distracted by other projects - such as my Horrors on the Home Front supplement - than I can find myself fast running out of time.

Oh well, it shouldn't be too often an issue for the Flashpoint campaign now that I have the major plot considerations tucked away.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Every Plot Is Ridiculous

One thing I've noted when listening to people summarising their experiences in another roleplaying game, or even summarising books and movies, is that every plot is ridiculous. At least at first blush it is. It is exceedingly hard to give a short summary of something without making it seem silly, incongruous, or stereotypical because you lack context. Here's some potential examples from D&D:

If its rather unique, it'll likely come off as silly: "Our party involves a group of poets trying to find the best experiences to write war poetry."

If its a blend of the expected and the unexpected, it'll seem incongruous and strange: "Our party fight monsters, any monster we find, but we do it because we love monsters deeply and want to rally them to win."

If its what we would expect than it seems like a ho-hum stereotype: "We get paid to sort out monster problems for the townsfolk."

Its not so bad in print, I suppose, but I know there are many instances where someone describes a game I've run or played in and I'm inwardly wincing to myself, going: "It wasn't that bad!" or "It makes sense in context!" or "Its not that much of a stereotype - they forgot to mention this and this and this."

Does anyone else find the same?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Goal Orientation In Play-by-Posts

Play-by-Posts can be a fantastic medium for roleplaying as you can play with people from around the world at any time during the day or night. You can play in your pyjamas, while slurpily eating spaghetti, or while watching a movie. It also doesn't require much time as most play-by-posts have a daily posting rate. In fact, the fastest play-by-posts I've seen had a posting rate of around 8 - 10 posts a day which, at a paragraph apiece, still isn't a huge whack of time from you.

As a Keeper, it can be tricky as you have to respond to everyone's posts and keep track of movement, positions, clues given, dates, times, and all that Jazz over months of gameplay, but as a player, it's not necessarily that much effort.

The trouble is that even at the fastest rate I mentioned, you're still going to only finish that crime scene at the end of a week. At the more usual rate, it could take a month or two. Therefore, it's doubly important to have identifiable motivations and goals. If players don't know what to do next, they will lose interest and start posting at a slower rate which leads to the scenes taking longer which causes a further loss of interest until it peters out.

So what do you do to prevent this?

Easy. Ensure they always have an immediate goal. They've searched the crime scene but don't know where to go next? Have a neighbour poke their head over the fence causing them to have to either flee or question them. Ensure that the crime scene had obvious enough clues so they know where to go next.

Also, don't just assume that the characters have a goal just because they've got clues. A goal is something they are driven to achieve and randomly dropping by a museum because their is a museum receipt in the woman's handbag just might not be on the cards - or all that interesting to them. So take a look at their posting rate and double check for any "Apologies, real life intrudes" posts on the Out of Character threads (always ensure you have one). You can also often check to see when they last logged in to see if they just haven't been present.

If there's no out-of-game reasons, and especially if they're still posting in other games, feel free to inject a stronger goal into the mix. Don't speed up the posting rate yourself as each person should still have the chance to post, but do add something new to the mix. If it's been a week and yours is the last post, then you can certainly put up another brief post that identifies something new. Perhaps the phone rings in the house or a dog barks out a warning or an NPC points out a coincidence. Hell, their kid sister could call up saying there's someone in the house. Anything that could jump start the game and give the characters a pressing reason to continue.

It takes a long time to achieve anything in a play-by-post so don't waste time letting them scratch their heads. Keep 'em motivated! Keep 'em going!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Game Translation: Prototype

Prototype is an open world sandbox game that follows Alex Mercer, a man with no memories of his past, who must deal with a shadowy conspiracy in order to figure out why he woke up in a morgue and why he can now shape shift into anyone he's consumed, gain the memories of those he's consumed, and shift his body into a variety of gruesomely organic weaponry.

This is a game of epic action and hi-octane thrills that is more suited to games like Scion or high level D&D and Pathfinder. Games like World of Darkness's monster races (for example Vampires, Geists, and Werewolves) would also work well if you give them a lot of experience points and epic attributes (9 / 7 / 5 for attributes and 17 / 14 / 9 for skills with about 20 merit points). It is not such a good idea if you're using systems like BRP which just don't quite capture that powerful combat feel.

This is a gory and violent game so remember to keep combat descriptions fast and visceral. Bones break, blood spurts, and organs are crushed. Don't describe the players characters in pain as they are far too epic (or inhuman) to feel it but do describe their enemies screaming or reeling in pain and horror because the player characters are just that powerful.

On that note, the enemy should be eeevil. As in, take the worst of Nazi Germany's principles, blend with the worst instances of scientific abuse, adds some drops of serial killer mentality, and allow to simmer. The player characters should never doubt that the bad guys are so bad that civilian casualties pale in comparison to letting the enemy exist. Oh, and never characterise any civilian who randomly gets killed.

Civilians should be hard to empathise with. They should run around like ants in confusion, screaming and waving their arms about in terror. If you do characterise them, bear in mind that you're drifting into Action Horror territory which may lead some players to restrain their characters and play them as anti-heroes rather than have to cope with the guilt of slaying realistic humans. You can go this way, it even lines up somewhat with the feel from Prototype 2, but it certainly moves the game further away from the spirit of the first where you're an evil badass up against people who are all the more evil.

Encourage imagination. It shouldn't be about what the rules specifically state you can do but rather what the players have come up with. So long as it's vaguely within the bounds of what their stats support, let them do it. Either that or give them a ton of merits or feats to ensure that if they want to swing off a balcony and decapitate someone, they can.

Also remember that this is meant to be a free roaming game. There should be a sense of the epic that encompasses the setting as well. This is the sort of game that really needs the players to be able to check out an entire big city as well as one that gives them a lot of really interesting places to sneak around in. Aircraft hangars, government institutions, mega-corporation headquarters, security bases, police stations, if its a place that the players would never be able to get into than its precisely the sort of place the characters should have no trouble exploring.

To this end, some form of shape shifting is a boon because a game of epic action will lead to their faces plastered all over wanted posters or televisions about the city and there won't be any downtime or peace in this game unless they can pretend to be somebody else.

Speaking of increased police attention, it is a good idea to figure out how you might escalate the danger. In Prototype, you would fight lone soldiers, groups of soldiers, tanks, and aircraft (alongside the escalating mutant threat). In a fantasy game, you could perhaps have it range from soldiers to undead soldiers on monstrous mounts to dragons whom you can control if you manage to knock off the rider. Either way, there should be a sense of escalating threat every time they run around being epic for too long which both warns AGAINST being too epic and is a reward FOR being that epic. Therefore, such escalations shouldn't lead to instant death but simply complicate matters if they're in the middle of a quest.

Man, that's how I feel on Mondays....

Prototype is very much a game of having the right key for every lock. In this case, those keys are scything blades, shields, and massive bludgeoning strikes. While everyone may have their preference and their favored combinations, there are still times when you have to use a particular ability.

While I wouldn't go so far as to suggest immunity to all but one of each characters' attacks, you can work in certain situations that benefit particular skills. In Pathfinder, you could give an enemy massive damage resistance that can only be bypassed by bludgeoning, slashing, piercing, or elemental attacks (fire, cold, electricity) although that still doesn't help encourage certain attacks simply because most characters don't have access to each type of swing.

While World of Darkness and other systems aren't set up for this, you could invent a sort of Damage Resistance trait whereby damage is reduced by a certain amount unless a certain type of attack is used.

Another option is to give them feats or merits that only come into play with certain attacks. Perhaps their defense goes up unless they use fire or perhaps the enemy will always choose to use a Sunder attack in response to the wrong type of strike. Again, though, this can get clumsy, especially if you don't find some way of letting the players know which one of their attacks would bypass that issue. They may not think of trying a trial and error approach and, even if they did try it, there's no reason why they'd figure out the right approach in any one combat. Still, you could make it work depending on your players and the manner in which you give them the required information.

A campaign based around Prototype, or including elements of it, should appeal to Action Heroes who will enjoy being epic, stretching their powerful muscles, and engaging in high octane battles across the city. Explorers will enjoy being able to get into everything and anything, as well as exploring the powers themselves, and Tacticians will figure out how to use their powers to their best advantage in every situation. Be cautious of letting things get too easy for them as Tacticians like a challenge.

This game isn't as much one for Communicators who will want to explore the psychological and social repercussions of being a creature with so much power and will therefore keep tilting the game in a very different - albeit valid - way. Depending on your group composition, you may have to either accept that tilt or work with them so that they occasionally get to explore those deeper philosophical questions while reminding them that this is generally just a chance to be epic. Investigators will want a mystery so ensure there's the odd conspiracy here and there to keep them engaged. The high octane combats are less likely to thrill them so ensure there are always juicy hints at the end of the combat rainbow so that they will stay motivated. If answers are just around the corner, they may well be quite eager to kick down the walls to reach it.

If you'd like to take a look at the trailer to learn more about this game, you can check it out here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Prototype used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, The Sims 3, Half Life 2, Skyrim, The Last Express, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Dragon Age 2, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Skyrim.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The ST / DM Break

Sometimes, you just need to have a break. I didn't run the Flashpoint Campaign last night because the game took a sudden turn in a new direction and I needed time to think about it. Originally I was just thinking in terms of the next adventure but this very morning I got to think about campaign direction, grander themes, and major revelations. I also thought of some epic scenes they could encounter during their journeys.

Annoyingly enough, all of this is way too advanced to be in the next session, but at least I know how to flavor the more ordinary and mundane matters of them swabbing decks and trimming sails - presuming they don't mutiny straight up and scuttle the boat. Probably not the best idea since lacedon are aquatic ghouls and therefore better fighters in the water and because they will have had time to infect all of the other sailors.

So for all of you players out there, if your DM wants to take a break, encourage it. It can often bring a fresh perspective and more exciting twists to the gaming table and really isn't that what we all want?

As for you DMs and STs and what-nots out there, go for it. If the game is starting to grind down or you haven't had time to prepare or you really need to think things through, there's nothing wrong with taking the occasional session off to give yourself more time to think it over. So long as the general rhythm of gaming sessions is maintained (in other words, don't take too many random holidays) then there shouldn't be any trouble with it.

Anyone else take the odd break to re-think things through? Or are you guys the type to grin and bear it?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Dungeon Crawling with Style

Dungeon crawling can be a fun way to game. Everyone pulls together a group of characters that are skilled in combat, traps, and burglary, and tries to fill all of the roles in the party so that they're not crippled by a lack of, say, area effect magic to take down swarms. Then they head out into an area where they go from place to place defeating monsters. The area may or may not actually be subterranean. The goal of this kind of game is pretty simply: Kill the Creatures and Loot the Area. There may or may not be an overall premise or theme. The monsters might be picked at random and placed on a randomly generated dungeon map. Tastes may vary. But there are still a few basic rules to bear in mind when you're playing this kind of game.

Relax. It's easy to get tied up in a belief that roleplaying must be a story heavy panorama. It doesn't have to be. All forms of roleplay are worthwhile so long as everyone is enjoying themselves. So don't worry if its canonical for two vampires, a werewolf, and a mage to join up and kill a random assortment of beasties in the London Underground. Is it fun? Then go nuts.

Know the Rules. You don't have to know all of the rules but do know what you can and can't do and what your skills and abilities do. If you want to stretch yourself, know the sorts of environmental benefits and penalties you can use to make things more tactical. Nothing grinds these games down to a halt more than if everyone has to keep checking the rule books.

Remember the Golden Rule. When in doubt about an obscure rule, let the Game Master make one up. While knowing how a feat actually works is important because it will come into play numerous times, it isn't necessary to know the precise Acrobatics DC of traversing a narrow and slippery slope.

OOC Conversation is Generally Okay. Since these games revolve around combat rather than IC conversations, it isn't necessarily disruptive to chat during the game. There are a couple of restrictions, though. Pay attention when the Game Master is describing something or when its your turn and don't chat to people when its their turn (hold your thought). Otherwise, it's normally okay to chat.

Know What You're Going To Do. Combats can bog down quite quickly if people wait until their turn to choose spells, look up rules, or figure out what they want to do. You've had everybody else's turns to figure out what you're going to do so be ready to do it.

So there you are. A few basic rules of thumb to help you enjoy your dungeon crawling experience. Hope it helps and happy crawling. May the loot be ever within your grasp!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Musical Cues

Its amazing how certain songs can really enter a player's consciousness. I've always had difficulty finding good songs for Action scenes so in my first Demon: the Fallen campaign I would keep falling back on 'Bodies' by Drowning Pool. I only used it when there was about to be a lot of violence and devastation so the players immediately started getting worried when they said they were opening a door and I'd go pop it on.

In the Troupe Vampire LARP I ran there was a mad Ventrue doctor who liked to perform his experiments to the song 'We'll Meet Again'. They came across the song a couple times, once when I kept making the song skip on YouTube (basically by clicking on a slightly earlier point on the track), and later when it was played in full. It cropped up when he was alive, er, a vampire, and later at a couple points when he was a corrupted ghost and later as a fully-fledged demon. I only played it about 3 - 4 times during a campaign that lasted well over a year but it is certainly remember as Dr. Taylor's song.

In the Shaitan campaign I'm currently playing in, Shaitan gave up his host to Belphigor believing that the 17-year-old optimist that had salved his own psychological wounds might heal Belphigor's broken mind. As Shaitan sped off to find itself a new host, it landed in the body of burgeoning new metal star, Nick Sanderson, only to find the host currently being experimented on by a thrall of Shaitan's old nemesis and now Malefactor Earthbound. The song 'Change' by the Deftones was playing in the background.

In the game world, the Deftones songs were what my character invented (makes it easier to play a singer when you can just put on real songs and claim them as your own) so I've learned to associate Deftones with that game. Having recently just listened to it, I'm totally keen to play some Shaitain. Funny how things work, huh? Do you guys have any similar songs that linger close to heart?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Game Translation: The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead is an adventure game that is broken up into parts which aresold separately as episodes. It revolves around a man accused of murdering his wife's lover who has to survive the zombie apocalypse with a little girl he finds alone the way. Most of the mechanics are quite simple and revolve around choosing dialogue options, clicking on objects or a part of the enemy when prompted, so this translation will mostly talk about the world building considerations rather than on how to translate the mechanics into a roleplaying game.

One of the major elements of this game is that the reactions of the protagonist will change the outcome of the story - affecting who lives and who dies as well as which people like, or dislike, him. Even better, the choices aren't about taking the good, neutral or evil route as your choices are all rationalised by the same sort of personality. Sure, there are mean options and nice ones but at no point do you get to throw babies behind you to distract the walking dead. This game isn't about you, the player, creating your own character and roleplaying their decisions (as if three choices per dialogue point could allow you to do that). Rather it is a game about how the choices Lee makes will affect his life.

This almost seems to be more a case of a videogame imitating roleplaying than something a roleplaying game can mimic from a videogame. Really, the only thing I can suggest here is that Storytellers allow a character's decisions to have in-game repercussions. It can get pretty dull if the NPCs treat you the same way no matter how you treat them or if you're railroaded into taking certain actions or dealing with enemies in a certain way.

The Walking Dead also makes use of weather to give some of the situations an emotional resonance. While episode 2 begins during a calm and sunny day, it grows cloudier as the episode progresses, only to have low, ominous thunder towards the end capped off with rain during the final scenes.

Using weather to influence the mood of a story isn't unknown in roleplaying games but it is a little harder to make the most out of it. It isn't enough to simply say 'Its cloudy' and 'oh, its raining now'. You have to fold it in so that they don't simply forget those few words. You could do this on a real world level by dimming the lights, putting on rain sound effects and even spraying them with water from a mister (if they'll let you). Or you have the difficult, yet more accessible, option of remembering to mention how the weather affects the world around the. Or do both.

Let's say that your player has expressed that they're going to step out in front of their ex-wife's car to stop it. You could describe what happens as: "It's a rainy day when you run out before her car and, when it squeals to a halt, you stare at your ex-wife through the windshield. What do you do?"

Or you could describe it as: "You run out across the rain slick road, and the car comes to a halt with a squeal of brakes and a splash of water. You stare at your ex-wife through the rain dotted windshield in a silence broken only by the motion of the windshield wipers." The last option is far more evocative.

Do remember not to over do it, though. Mention it only when it matters or when the characters would notice it. You can mention the sunlight drifting through the cracks in the beams or the way the sun flashes off the rearview mirror at sunset, but there's no point mentioning how sunlit everything is during a routine description of an NPC. The more subtly the weather descriptions fold into your general descriptions, the better it evokes the mood.

Don't you just hate uninvited guests?

Zombie games are generally not about the zombies. Not really. I mean, having to kill someone you love before they bite you is an integral part of the genre, as is the risk of an infection so bad that you will hurt the people you care about, but it's not what the game is generally about. It's mostly about the threat of starvation, surviving on limited resources (such as ammunition), the break down of civilisation and how bad times can make evil people out of us all. It's about tough decisions as well as moral and ethical questions to which there can be no right answer.

So sometimes you need to be a Jerkass Storyteller. Sometimes you need to put the characters in situations where there is no right answer. They can save one person but not both. If they try to do a heroic rescue, more people die than are saved. If they come across food supplies, it may belong to someone else and they may have to either steal it or leave it behind - perhaps without ever knowing if the owners are still alive or not. These shouldn't be over-used or else the players will get frustrated but they should come up.

It's best to just let your players know beforehand about why you're going to be a Jerkass Storyteller so that they don't think they screwed up by not being clever enough -- which could slow down the game as the players try to iron out every crease. Throwing in some time sensitive choices also helps, to an extent, but players whose characters have high intelligence could justify more time to figure it out by claiming that their characters' brains are faster than their own. Considering that their characters are pounding with adrenaline and in imminent danger while the player may, at best, be experiencing a low level of anxiety, this is a debatable point, but still a good way to reward those who chose intelligence over strength.

Also remember that man's inhumanity to man is a big trope here as well. Survivors can go axe crazy, suicidal, paranoid (sometimes justifiably), and often grow steadily more callous as the game progresses. This can reduce the players' caring potential as they end up travelling with a group of coldly hostile killers who are little different from the bandits they rail against. The trick is to tread this line with care. No matter how bad the players' group gets, they need to be better than at least some of the survivors they come across. Otherwise, the players really won't care if the people around them dies and some of that horror potential disappears. Heck, the players might even be hoping that some of those characters dies or that their entire group gets wiped out.

So there you have it. A campaign based around The Walking Dead, or including elements of it, should appeal to Communicators who will get a lof of enjoyment out of simply playing a normal person trying to cope with a horrible situation, as well as seeing how their treatment of other people affects the group. Explorers will enjoy being able to sneak into almost anywhere and the very real need to voyeuristically poke about other people's belongings to get what they need. Action Heroes will enjoy being able to fight against obvious evil in guiltless combats and so long as you give them the chance to stealth kill the odd zombie, they should be happy. I would recommend giving them a crossbow so they can get their violent kicks without drawing a horde right to their door step every other day.

Tacticians can get a lot of mileage out of this sort of campaign but they'll likely get stuck on the idea of perfect food runs and this can be a major problem since zombies are primarily an environmental hazard designed to reveal how human stupidity, recklessness, and emotionality can be our undoing. Treat the situation with intelligence and insight and you'll probably survive. Investigators won't generally have all that much to do but you can always include the Mystery of the Stolen Rations to keep them interested.

If you'd like to take a look at the trailer to learn more about this game, you can check it out here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that the Walkind Dead used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, The Sims 3, Half Life 2, Prototype, Skyrim, The Last Express, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Prototype, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Prototype this time, I promise.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Flashpoint: Lacedon Attacks

Proteus hopped into the water and cast Mending on the anchor chain while Lenny held it together. Lhye revealed himself as a tiefling and threatened the sullen crew into obedience while Captain Archer ordered them to make ready the ship and start after their own ship. Proteus searched the dead captain and found a strange dagger, potion, and an oil.

Lunjun Siva searched belowdecks and found a treasure chest with 100gp in the captain's compartment before heading into the hold where he found several hammocks swaying and a door set into the forward bulkhead that was chained closed and padlocked. He could hear a banging coming from the other side and went to fetch Lenny to break the chains though a quick search of the captain's compartment revealed some keys in his pillowcase. Siva was hoping to track down the tablets they had been sent to find, after all.

They removed the padlock, pulled loose the chains, and were attacked by a series of lacedon who soon filled the room. Proteus came down to see all of the commotion and the three of them swiftly attacked the lacedon. Unfortunately, Lenny was paralysed by their attacks pretty quickly, Proteus summoned a badger that managed to soak a lot of attacks through artful dodging, and Siva was soon cornered and taken down. There wasn't much room in that compartment so there were 'only' four lacedon at a time. All three went down but they took down 4 out of the 8 lacedons. Only 4 attacked them at a time, mind you.

Basically, I'd used the 4 - 5 tier again since last time it had been so successful. My players are generally pretty good at dispatching foes and it requires multiple low CR creatures to faze them. I don't want every battle to be life and death, by the way. They're just so good that it's often a one turn wonder unless the creatures are either quite clever or the encounter is their CR + 2.

What I didn't realise is that the lacedons (basically, ghouls that can swim) aren't really CR 1. They get three attacks that each cause a risk of paralysis. Heck, their bite attack also holds a potential disease though I ended up handwaving that away. I don't mind letting the dice fall where they may but I don't like punishing players for my own foolishness.

So anyway, three of the last four went upstairs and attacked Lhye and Captain Archer who nonetheless managed to kill one and badly injure another before they were taken down. I reassured the players that this wasn't a Total Party Kill (though it could have been) and instead was a Total Party Knock Out.

I'm figuring on weaving in the first adventure from the latest pirates Adventure Path now but updating it so the enemy are all ghouls. Should be fun and kooky! I certainly won't be having any of the players die up front for DM silliness and I'll be working extra hard to make it fun to make up for it.

Anyone else had to think fast to avoid a Total Party Kill?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Autopsy Report Template

A while ago I designed this for the use of my players for when they did a blow-by-blow autopsy. Yeah, that's the kind of way I roll. Unfortunately, I never had a chance to use them as there was rarely a good point to take them through it step by step. So I figured I'd give you all a chance to use it. Feel free to share it around - just mention who did it and where you got it. Also, please let me know in the Comments if you used it, how, and if it worked out.

Autopsy Report Template Page 1.

Autopsy Report Template Page 2.

Autopsy Report Template Page 3.

Autopsy Report Template Page 4.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Characters I Like To Play

It's always a good idea to have a clue about what makes a good character for you to play so that your Game Master, Dungeon Master, Storyteller, etc. can have a pretty good idea about what you want and what you need to have a fun game.

I like being investigative and intelligent, using guile and social skills to trick my way out of problems, and don't get much of a thrill out of being able to slam my way through problems. Don't get me wrong, I like being able to win a confrontation and being combat capable is awesome, but I'll try to stealth, talk, and trick my way out of it. I love being successful - though I wouldn't mind having a chance to crack out some whoop ass or intimidation on occasion.

I also like playing folks that are nicer than they seem. I like playing nice guys, good people, what can I say? But I like giving the impression that I'm an evil monster, whether by race or dress or reputation, or all three. Why? Because I always loved those scenes in the movies where a character realises they could be the victim of the protagonist at any moment -- and the protagonist is either blissfully unaware of the signals they're giving or is actually there to help. I think it's the relief factor. It's nice to be able to inspire relief and gratitude in folks just because you're decent rather than having it be assumed and expected. It's like you rescued them from a bad situation just by existing as an okay person.

Also, it lets you feel like a badass without having to hurt anyone.

Having said that, I will play irritating jerk asses, especially in a group with other players, but I think that is because I'm easily bored unless I have something to do. Goading and poking other characters gives me that something. Besides which, most group games lend themselves toward combat and simpler gameplay paths that gives me little to think about in between. So not only can I not monopolise the Game Master's attention like I would in a solo campaign, but I also don't have anything to think about in between my turns.

So my choices are either to think of little jabs to give other characters, put up with being bored or find something to distract myself - which I know I shouldn't do. It's also a bad habit because in such situations I find myself trying to goad the other characters because, well, we can all contribute equally and consistently in a conversation and it's harder to extract themselves out of a conversation when they have been sufficiently goaded. It's also harder for the Game Master to draw our attention back to the game because the other character feels the urge to argue with me or engage in banter.

Now this isn't to say that my Game Master's are particularly boring. I'm just particularly hyper. I'm one of those people who always has to be doing something. I'm a problem player that needs to be managed by my Game Masters. When I try to manage myself I'll inevitably end up daydreaming, dancing quietly in the corner, or reading rules books so I'm less disruptive.

Yeah, I know I'm a terrible player.

When well-managed, I'm not so bad. I do pretty well for myself in LARPs as I figure out ways to keep myself and other people entertained. I also share information, assist other PCs without demanding harsh compensation, and I roleplay pretty well. In play-by-posts my writing skills come in handy and I've been a Storyteller too long to not try to help other players get the spotlight they crave. It's just hard to manage me in a tabletop (sound like I'm self-justifying, much?)

My game tastes tend toward investigation, stealth, trickery, social interplay, and tactical combat where you have to think about your next move before you do it. My preferred genres are horror (especially apocalyptic horror) and I prefer the modern or near future games with fantasy as an okay second. I'm not a fan of most science fiction genres unless its apocalyptic or horror. Otherwise, I'm just not readily inspired by games in space.

Hmm, well, that was a fun execise. What characters do you enjoy playing?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Old From Salt To Sand Demon the Fallen Campaign

So one of my old players tracked down an old LiveJournal I kept with my first major campaign, the Demon the Fallen WWII game that last for about one or two real years (and about three weeks in-game). You can take a look at my posts over here if you like. I know I'm going to have to go back over there and take a walk down Nostalgia Lane.

Game Translation: Deus Ex: Human Revolution

Deus Ex revolves around Adam Jensen who is a security officer in Sarif Industries - a company that invents and builds augmentation technology. After an alleged terrorist attack on one of Sarif's buildings, Adam is badly injured and the CEO of his company, David Sarif, orders surgical teams to implant mechanical augmentations into Adam. In fact, he orders more augmentations than are strictly necessary for Adam's survival so that he ends up being more augmentation than human flesh.

The game is quite open-ended in how you go about things, allowing social, stealth, technical, and combat (both lethal and non-lethal) resolutions to many of the challenges.

In some cases you can talk your way past an enemy through a tricky social combat system where you have to say the right things in order to get past them. If you choose enough of the right options, they will assist you. If you choose too many of the wrong actions, they may attack you or simply refuse to help.

Translating this into pen-and-paper isn't as hard as it sounds if you use a character's social skills to determine responses. In important conversations, simply use a system where players either pick one of several skills on their character sheet for use in a conversation OR the players converse with the person and you pick which one of their skills most apply to their current conversational strategies. If they choose the right option, good results happen. If they choose the wrong option, bad results happen. Have them roll the skill to either mitigate bad results or boost good ones.

As an nWoD example, say a player wants information out of a street thug NPC. He picks Intimidate as his skill, slams the NPC against the wall and threatens to smash both his knees if he doesn't give in. The player rolls two successes on a Strength or Presence + Intimidation roll. Unfortunately, Intimidate wasn't the right tactic to use on this guy as he instinctively rises to any aggressive challenge and meets violence with violence. Luckily, he mitigates some of the damage done by the wrong choice so the NPC merely swears at him rather than attacking or refusing to talk about it anymore. If the player had gained five successes, the NPC might have been so impressed that it counts as a success even if it was a bad tactic.

If instead, the player picked Socialize, he saunters up and offers the thug a smoke with a wry joke attached about the graffitti, and broaches the question he needs answered. The thug, not really giving a damn about keeping it a secret, is happy to start dropping hints about it. If the player makes a roll and gains two successes, then those hints are bigger. On an exceptional success, the thug is so charmed that he tells him outright or even helps out in some small way.

Alternatively, the storyteller could assign the roll based on the player's actions. The player who chooses to slam the thug against the wall is forced to roll Intimidate while one that offers a smoke and a smile is forced to roll Socialize. This is a good way to force players to raise the social skills they rely upon the most AND helps them realise what they're doing. Sometimes players can get confused and think they're being persuasive when they're actually being threatening and this can give them a wake up call, causing them to ask to try something different instead. If they request this BEFORE the NPC reacts, then I'd generally let them do that.

In Pathfinder, you'd generally use the Bluff, Diplomacy, and Intimidate skills though you might swap one out with an appropriate Knowledge check. In new World of Darkness, it could be any social skill, really.

In the videogame, if you get a special augmentation, you can see whether your current line of questioning is helping or hindering your efforts. You get a short personality profile of the target. You also get the opportunity to pick a special pheromone and line of reasoning that would work on an Alpha, Beta, or Omega personality. During the conversation, the target's own choice of words will be rated as either Alpha, Beta, or Omega, giving you further hints as to which category the target falls under.

Alphas are dominant, enjoy flattery, and will not suffer challenges well. Beta are neither overly dominant or submissive and simple reasonableness will often work. Omegas are submissive and suspicious of flattery but they are prone to obeying orders and dominant directions.

The Sense Motive (Pathfinder) and Empathy (World of Darkness) skills could give you an idea of whether it's successful or not. It certainly could be used to give players a basic personality template (such as Alpha, Beta, or Omega) to give them an idea of how best to approach people. It can also be used to give a bonus to your social rolls. I wouldn't make the player roll Empathy checks all the time but if they ask for one you could simply ensure you give out relevant information.

Okay, so that's just some ideas about using the social techniques to talk one's way out of difficulty. Now onto stealth. The same techniques for allowing Knock Outs and Stealth Kills that I mentioned in the Assassin's Creed Game Translation are relevant here. Also required is a cover system to help players bypass the enemy. Make sure to include plenty of well set up counters and unrealistically large vents for characters to make their way through. Electronic alarms and forms of surveillance also need to be hackable - perhaps by way of a remote-link-up palmtop that allows characters to use their computer skills. The enemy also shouldn't be too clever in their search patterns - at least not in your average area.

As for combat, this game uses a cover based combat system. Most systems make some form of allowance for using cover - whether miss chances or subtracting Durability from successes - so make sure you find out what the cover rules are and encourage their use. The easiest way to encourage it is to model it by having the first few enemies utilise cover constantly. In later sections you could have the enemy forget cover simply to speed up combats. Otherwise, be prepared for long and drawn out combat scenes as people keep missing each other.

You could use the system for upgrading augmentations by coming up with a game premise in a Cyberpunk world that says the characters are already riddled with such technology but that the tech can't be activated until their bodies become accustomed to existing switched on technology. How do bodies become accustomed to them? Through use and excitement, of course! Then just give them an experience point cost in the World of Darkness or add them to the character sheets at important points in the story.

Technical resolutions involve locking enemies in rooms, hacking gun turrets to attack the enemy, or perhaps dropping a crate on someone from afar. Also let them think tactically by throwing a ceramic dish to make a noise elsewhere to draw the enemy's attention - leaving them in a good position for a non-lethal take down.

A campaign based around Deus Ex, or including elements of it, would certainly appeal to all of the groups in equal measure. The Explorers would have a lot of fun getting excuses to go places they shouldn't, visiting other cities, and taking a peek under the cover of how a cyberpunk universe operates. Tacticians will love mixing up stealth with violence and will joyously hack turrets at all the right times to make the enemies scamper and sow confusion within the ranks.

Action Heroes will giggle with glee over the various toys and the chance to get up close and personal and basically be a badass augmented human. Investigators can be kept quite happy by the conspiracies and crime scenes and will ensure that there's at least some chance for the players to figure out who's the enemy before they die. The Communicators are still important due to how Deus Ex really makes conversation change the gameplay, the options, and the outcomes. In fact, communicators can really shine with the odd boss battle that is entirely social.

Funnily enough, you kind of need a group of very versatile players with this one as players that don't allow others their moments to shine will have problems. On the other hand, a lopsided party of Action Heroes, for example, will barrel through without so much as noticing the conspiracies or miss the tactical opportunities to really play up their cyberware. If you have less of a mix of types, it may be worth coaxing the Investigators to use violence or having your Communicator explicitly agree to dangerous mission objectives rather than expecting them to come to those conclusions on their own.

If you'd like to take a look at the trailer to learn more about it, you can check it out here. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Deus Ex used, you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, The Sims 3, Half Life 2, Prototype, Skyrim, The Last Express, Gears of War, Mass Effect, Realms of the Haunting, The Walking Dead, and pretty much any survival horror or horror game. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Prototype.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Pathfinder mechanic for a gas / environmental hazard

I created a gas based off carbon monoxide but in this case non-flammable for Pathfinder. It could be identified with either a Knowledge Nature, Survival or Knowledge Dungeoneering as it was a natural gas on Golarion. It also could be identified with a Craft Alchemy check as it was a byproduct of certain alchemical concoctions.

The first time it was encountered I made it a Fortitude Save DC 15 or fall unconscious without any Constitution damage. Not totally realistic, but it was meant to be more of a warning of an environmental condition then a punishment. They were level 2, after all.

Just like carbon monoxide, it's an odorless and colourless gas so be sure to give prior warning if you're using it. Also, be aware that this was meant to be more of an environmental hazard and was thus more of a house rule / mechanic for an aesthetic rather than a hard core mechanic so it best suits a more story-driven game than a mechanics-based game as it doubtless isn't balanced.

In this instance, I raised the Fortitude saves and changed the possible outcomes of a failed roll depending on the saturation of the gas in the air.

At a high saturation it causes Unconsciousness and 1 point of Constitution damage each round on a failed Fortitude Save DC 15. It would also extinguish open or contained flames at this level (gives them a way of noticing it).

At a lower saturation it simply deals 1 point of Constitution damage on a failed Fortitude save each round without risk of Unconsciousness at a Fortitude Save DC 12. It weakens open or contained flames at this level which basically leads to a halved light radius.

Either way, since you can't smell it or see it, you can only recognise it by seeing dead animals, failing two rolls and then making a successful Heal check (as the symptoms feel like lethargy and weakness rather than choking), or making a Perception DC 40. In other words, lay clues around them before they stumble onto it unless they're of significantly high level.

This gas is also heavier than air and thus tends to stick close to the ground, allowing pockets of safe air to form.

Check out the wikipedia entry for the symptoms.

You can find the session write up where I used this mechanic over here.

Flashpoint: Seeking and Boarding the Hydra's Fang

Our intrepid heroes track down Lubor's home through the Underdocks and note a ladder heading up into a trapdoor. The home sits on a bit of a U shaped retaining wall with a single support strut holding it up on one side. As they approach, they see a large rat sit up, sniff the air, and fall over. Captain Archer heads over and takes in a big breath of the air to see what's up and promptly passes out. A series of Heal checks revive him and a series of Knowledge Nature and Craft Alchemy checks determine that there much be a bubble of a gas akin to carbon monoxide that has likely seeped out of the bottom of the house.

Lenny chops down the support strut as the others back away, knocking the house down on one side, then she throws Proteus up onto the docks and leaps up herself. Archer climbs up the side of the wall. Siva and Lhye find a ladder to get up. By the time they do so, Archer has had to frighten a bunch of kids off with tales of poison gas and danger.

Lenny kicks in the door and Proteus sends in the monkey to poke the two bodies spotted lying against the other wall (which is at the bottom of the slope). He ties a rope around himself and gives it to her. He was going to test out the air to see if it's still filled with bad gas by taking big breaths but Lhye (who's the resident medic and Know Nature boy) tells him that carbon monoxide is a silent killer. (Yeah, yeah, in those days they wouldn't refer to it by its molecular structure but we couldn't be bothered giving it an alchemical nickname).

The thickest level was in the bottom-most section of the house (nor one corner / side due to the slant) and with a thinner level that stretched from a table that was bolted down on the sloped floor up to about three feet from the doorway. Proteus slides down the slope and pauses at the table, noticing that there's an open crate from some kind of university (had something stamped on it) that was partially filled with straw. He also notices the drying blood spattered on the floorboards.

Siva has an idea and calls him back up before providing a lantern, Archer provides the oil, and Proteus provides the Spark spell to set it on fire. Then Proteus slides back down and when the lantern's flame burns smaller and weaker, they realise that there's still dangerous gas inside. Proteus plays with the line of carbon monoxide, moving it in and out of the 'bubble' and watching it dip and rise up, then he headed past the table and searched the bodies by hand as the lantern went out.

One man wore canvas trousers with rope bracers and a sackcloth shirt who had a single gold tooth. The other man wore cloth trousers with a cotton shirt who had three gold teeth, a pouch of 100 silver coins (that hadn't been stolen by the killers) and had a receipt from an Absolom Museum in a hidden pocket against his inner thigh. Both men had their throats slit. Both men had their shirts drenched in blood but didn't have very much on their legs from their knees downward. Lhye figured that they'd been executed on their knees and kept from falling.

Proteus also picks up a ripped mottled grey-and-black bag of holding, now punctured by a piece of fallen wood, that has a small symbol sewn on the inside that looks like an assassin's calling card, though they lack the appropriate Knowledges to figure out who.

They head out into the maze of rafts and spot the Hydra's Fang anchored beyond the sea wall. They spot two Consortium officers and their sea cub pet. Lhye stealthily casts Sleep but only the sea cub passes out. Proteus and a Lhye who has used Disguise Self to appear as a Katapesh man approach with alleged snuff (sneezing powder placed inside an Alchemist's Kindness tin) and they are convinced to snort it off the tin. I increased the duration to 1d6+1 rounds because of how it was administered.

While they were sneezing uncontrollably, the group subdued them, stripped them, and Archer and Lenny both put on the uniforms. Lhye used Disguise Self to also appear as a Consortium official. They approached the Hydra's Fang demanding to speak to Du Moire about his debts but are responded to with a hail of arrows. I used the levels 4 - 5 enemies, rather than the 1 - 2 ones, as this party tends to be clever enough to be quite successful. Proteus cut the rudder chains. The group won without any casualties.

Then they spot their own ship sailing out past the sea wall.... Their rudder chains are cut.... There's chum in the water.... And they need to recapture their ship!

By the way, you can find the gas mechanics used in this game over here.

Monday, July 9, 2012

British Home Front Call of Cthulhu Supplement

For the past several years I've been working on a Keeper's Companion / Player's Companion for playing Call of Cthulhu in the British Home Front. I've been doing this off and on for about a month at a time and thus the project has drawn out quite a bit because, well, let's face it. It's a LOT of work tracking down all of that information, writing it in, laying out the pages, and even drawing my own pictures. Especially as I'm not the greatest whizz with a pencil. Not too shabby, but not all that great for I lack the patience to just sit there and keep working on it.

Anyway, enough of my faults.

I'm pretty excited about this project because I love the British Home Front. I adore it. There's a lot of story potential there as it's both quite a familiar environment (the 1940s wasn't that long ago) and yet quite an alien one. It's also almost post-apocalyptic in vibe and I really quite enjoy that. It also certainly has the hope and horror mood going for it as there's a whole bunch of people working together to try to make it through ... as well as a bunch of jerks trying to spoil it for everyone.

Also, blackouts, air raids, and busy bureaucracies really add together nicely to make for a really cool horror game. Imagine this: you're sitting at home drinking tea around the radio with your family when the air raid sirens sing out. Unfortunately, the warning is too little too late and as you run out to the backyard Anderson Shelter, you can hear planes charging overhead in dogfights and bombs are soon dropping all around. Yet as you head inside, you notice that someone seems to be asleep in your shelter and they're not responding when you try to wake them. You realise their throat has been slit and there's a torn off fragment of a book clutched in hands that have been tightened by rigor mortis. What do you do?

I keep wanting to run another game in this setting so I figured why not produce a supplement for Call of Cthulhu so everyone else can as well. I'd have to do the research myself, after all, why not share it with everyone else? It's especially good because Chaosium will actually buy the book off me. It's not a lot of money, but it is something, and it ensures that a lot of other people will have the chance to see it and hopefully play it.

And maybe other people will produce supplements of their own in this era. Juicy little adventures that I can rush home and devour and run with evil Keeper relish!

So I've started working on it again and have been impressed in a surprised kind of way of how good the draft was, if I may say so myself. It doubtless has its faults and the jam-packed-with-facts style may not suit everyone, but I think it contains just about everything you need to run a game in the era - from playlists to adventure creation advice to encounter ideas to adventures to new equipment and plenty of historical detail. Heck, I'm even including an Index!

I'll keep you posted once I've completed it which should hopefully be by the end of this month.

Link for Why Adventure Games Suck

So for all of you who are curious as to why the Grumpy Gamer thinks adventure games suck, go on over here to check it out. I don't agree with all of this person's points, but it is a good look at the various mechanics and techniques used by certain adventure game companies.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Another 25 Westcrown Nobility Secrets

Because you really can't have enough secrets for your big, bad nobility. By the way, the first 25 Westcrown nobility secrets can be found here.

26. Keeps old history books (meant to be burned).

27. Has an illegal printing press (and distributes pamphlets in secret).

28. Has committed rape.

29. Falsely accused another of a crime, leading to excruciations (public torture and execution).

30. Family hates each other more than anyone else and attack each other first (but in secret).

31. Male heirs must kill off all other male contenders in this family.

32. Females House members are expected to get pregnant to their relatives, to keep their bloodline pure.

33. The family is in debt.

34.The family has conspired against House Thrune during the revolution.

35. The intimidating Patriarch and his closest relatives are actually of a good alignment, simply pretending to be frightening to keep others from suspecting the truth.

36. The Patriarch's daughter is an aasimar who is encouraging her father to do good things.

37. The family is trying to kick off a war between Andoran and Cheliax because they have the ability to smuggle contraband into Westcrown in the event of a blockade.

38. There is a diluted amount of elf blood in the family but they consider themselves to be elves, politically, and wish to do all they can to forward elf goals.

39. One brother has married his other brother's woman and that has sparked a long-standing but hidden feud.

40. The Patriarch's heir isn't his son. It's the son of a Hellknight.

41. A family member has been killed and replaced by a disguised devil who hopes to manipulate the family in methods beneficial to the devil's superiors in Hell.

42. The family collects the ghosts of the dead relatives of other nobles so that they may learn their enemy's secrets.

43. A minor noble has great divination powers and has been using them to scry on her enemies but she lacks the political clout to get away with it if it becomes known to the other nobility.

44. An important nobleman is a closet homosexual and his / her spouse isn't aware of this.

45. A noblewoman has committed suicide six times and been resurrected at great expense by her husband each time. He isn't abusive, she's simply suicidally depressed. He would do anything to cure her depression.

46. A noble has grown obese due to his / her love of sweets and has to use a magical item to disguise his / her weight. If anyone found out about it, they would have a great blackmail tool.

47. A minor noble has had to dress his daughter as a boy in order to be able to continue his hereditary line. He's afraid, due to his illness, that he may pass on soon and without an heir his power and money would go to her husband's line.

48. After being bitten by a wild dog while hunting, a minor noble has begun to suspect that he has contracted lycanthropy. In truth, he is simply developing schizophrenia.

49. A poetic bard obsessed with love and loss is actually a sociopath incapable of emotion. While not actually a bad person, it would destroy his artistic credentials if he were found out.

50. A man is thought to be a violent abuser toward his wife but it turns out that she has a condition that makes her bruise and bleed easily. They maintain a charade because they fear that others would connive situations for her to get cuts and bruises if they knew how easy it would be.

Andoran Ship Building / Tactics

Andoran: There are a number of reasons why the Andorens have focused so highly on seafaring technology and it's not all about equality and alliances. It's because most of their trading allies are across the Inner Seas (Absalom, Osirion, Riddleport, Mana Wastes, Geb) while their enemies are landlocked around them preventing easy travel via roads. Even some of the other Avistan neutral countries require river transport as the easier route. Thus their mercantile interests required long-ranging vessels. They also have a history of setting out across long distances by ship, such as their failed colony on a far-flung country.

Their keen hatred of slavers also gives them reason to expand their naval strength with an eye to speed, and the slavers' hatred of them also means they need to be able to easily protect their roaming merchant ships over long distances (particularly since Chelish privateers also target them). They have several major port cities and it is arguably easier for the Chelish to simply land troops along their coast line then to traverse the rocky ranges of the Aspodell Mountains that separate them from their enemies.

Historically, they're also ship builders as during the time where they were part of the Taldan Empire, the region was actually established in order to provide the imperial navy with ships; lumber harvested from the Arthfell Forrest was transported to the shipyards at Augustana so the infrastructure, history, and resources were all there.

So there's the motive.

If you want some decent links for your own Age of Sail campaign, you can find a few wikipedia links below!

Naval Tactics in the Age of Sail.

Sailing manoeuvres.

Non-Horror Players in a Horror Game

One thing I've come to notice is that there aren't many players who come to roleplay horror. Generally, they come for wish-fulfillment, for empowerment, for a sense they are making a difference, or simply explore what it's like to be in another person's psyche. Sometimes they even come to roleplaying games to switch their minds off after a hard day at work.

These motives can run contrary to the desire to play a vulnerable person who is slowly (or abruptly) being traumatised by a changing world that cannot be controlled where the best they can hope for is a return to the status quo. Even those who simply wish to explore another's mind may not enjoy exploring the mind of a person who's sanity is slowly being reduced to a burning wreckage.

I get around it somewhat by playing with the Hope and Horror aspects of the horror genre. I tone down the relentless nihilism of the World of Darkness where everyone is a bad person and I introduce them to good people who are trying to make a difference - and even succeeding! I give them a chance to make an impact - to be heroes - even if they have to suffer first. I also tend to situate true horror scenarios where they are vulnerable victims of circumstances beyond their control within a greater campaign framework of heroism and success. This gives the horror scenarios greater contrast, gives them greater attachment to their characters and to NPCs, and keeps them from burning out.

But still it remains apparent to me that I don't have any full on 'horror' players in any of my tabletop games. Some enjoy tragedy and others adore darker themes, but none of them seem to come to game looking to get scared - at least, not on a regular basis. I could be wrong (I so often am) but that's how it appears to me.

It's fine by me, in truth, because they're open to the genre enough for me to get my horror jollies while still forcing me to expand my range. I find, though, that it's worth keeping in my mind the reasons why most of my players attend games so that I don't get frustrated if a player keeps breaking the tension or another player tries an action movie response to a clearly horror movie monster. They don't always do this, but the more a campaign turns toward horror, the more likely these antics become.

So remember when this happens to you in your preferred genre. It's not players being bad or inconsiderate people. It's just players trying to get back to what they enjoy most about the campaign. We would do the same.

The trick I've found is to clearly signpost in game that this is a horror scenario and allow it to remain an enclosed game. That way the players can relax into it while knowing that their favourite aspects of the game will return soon. Do you have any tricks to the trade?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Links About Horror Games

Since I've been researching what makes horror videogames tick, I thought I'd share the links with you all. Happy reading!

What makes horror games scary?
Survival Horror Level Design.
What makes survival horror work?
So you want to write a survival horror game.
Survival horror versus action horror.
How to be scary in the survival horror genre.
Fight or flight: The Neuroscience.

Game Translation Timing Screw Up

Well, I did do the latest Game Translation, Dark Corners of the Earth, but unfortunately I started it a couple weeks ago and forgot to copy / paste it all onto a new post so its time stamped for when I originally started writing it. I've included the link in case you want to track it down.

Gawd, its irritating how blogger does that. Would be nice if it gave you the option to use the current time stamp or the original one.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Too Many Plots Spoil The Game

I have a confession to make. I have a really irritating habit as a Storyteller. Generally, I have this really cracking adventure going which is working out really well but then I throw in some plot seeds for other adventures and they get picked up on as new leads. After awhile of chasing these 'new leads' that are actually plot seeds for different adventures, the players resolve one and then sit around scratching their heads and asking: 'How was that related?'

Erm, it wasn't.

This post is basically just a friendly reminder to keep your plot seeds out of the adventure. Sure, sprinkle them around before an adventure when the players are picking one, or put in 'little white clouds' that are vague hints that things aren't quite what they seem, but don't throw in plot seeds just for the hell of it.

Don't, for example, ruin an entirely good investigation into a haunted house by pointing out the suspicious behaviour of a local teacher that, upon investigation, reveals the teacher to be a ghoul peddling vampire blood for an Invictus Ventrue who has his hands bloody after assassinating the Mayor as he'd discovered too many masquerade breaches due to his Silver Ladder boyfriend who was trying to uncover a Seer conspiracy.

Well, I guess, you could *do* that but ensure that the players don't investigate, say, the teacher until after they've checked out that haunted house. Otherwise, they'll end up scratching their ends and asking what a Seer conspiracy had to do with a haunted house. Yes, in any campaign you'll get the odd adventure run off in new directions after a more exciting plot lead (especially in sandbox games) but try to make it a little more obvious that it's a whole new adventure they're entering.

And yes, I know today is meant to be This Is What Happened During Pathfinder day but as I didn't run Pathfinder yesterday and my partner didn't run his Pathfinder today, there is no Pathfinder to report on. Hence, a new and different article. Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, July 2, 2012

Shadows Campaign: Shadow Hound Statistics

Intelligence 2
Wits 4
Resolve 1
Strength 3
Dexterity 3
Stamina 4
Presence 3
Manipulation 1
Composure 2

Skills: Athletics 3 (Running)(Leaping), Brawl 2 (Bite), Survival 1, Stealth 1, Animal Ken 2 (Dogs), Intimidate 2 (Growl)

Merits: Fast Reflexes 2, Fleet of Foot 1

Willpower: 3
Initiative: 8 (5 when struck by a beam of light)
Defense: 7 (3 when struck by a beam of light)
Speed: 13 (Acting Speed / Species Factor 8)
Size: 4
Health: 8
Weapons/Attacks: Bite +2(L) 9 (7 when struck by a beam of light)

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Spreading Corruption Act III: Bad Dog

James and Hassan follow the tracks from the figure who had fired the gun, presumably at the time the other three died, hoping to find someone who knows more about this situation. They reach the fence line of the houses and see the tracks continue on but decide to see if they can find any more clues inside the house. They open the back gate (basically corrugated iron on hinges, like the rest of the fence) and step into the yard.

In the rear left of the yard sits a large dog kennel where they can hear a dog growling and a buzzing sound similar to the buzzing of flies. Despite using Heightened Senses to improve their vision, they can't pierce the shadowy darkness inside. They give it a wide berth and head to the back door.

Hassan uses his lock picks on the door and heads inside while James Tyler (a Zelani) can't enter without an invitation and so hangs back, outside, alone, in the yard with the creepy dog. He's also feeling exposed because like most places in Adelaide in 2025, they have sensor lights installed which means the rear light has come on while he's standing there (ironically enough making him safer).

Hassan can hear tinny music (A Perfect Circle) coming from upstairs as though someone were wearing earphones. He stealthily climbs the stairs to the lit room and peeks inside. A teenage girl lays on top of her bed spread in Hello Kitty pyjama pants and a white singlet, listening to music through earphones and reading an Avengers! comic book. He heads back downstairs and tells James that there's probably no use asking her for more information. Her father probably just went out camping nearby.

They go to follow the tracks when the dog in the kennel starts barking angrily. They get out the back gate fast but hear the upstairs window slide open and the girl call out: "Shut up, Casey! Goddamnit." When the dog doesn't stop barking, she says: "Fine! I'm coming." She then shuts the window.

James and Hassan look at each other. James' player wondered out loud for a moment what to do as he hadn't played James in awhile. Knowing his characters' motivations pretty well, I asked him: "What would Dean do?" Dean being one of the protagonists in the Supernatural series. The player then stated that James will head back into the yard (he is a hunter, after all, albeit a kindred one). Hassan is having bad feelings about this (also known as sympathetic fear for others) so he agrees to help.

They sneak up to the kennel. James Tyler trains his shotgun on it (he had it under Touch of Shadow) while Hassan blood buffs. As in the Troupire game, Blood Potency depended on the age of your characters rather than experience points spent, and could be added to with merit dots as well, James had Blood Potency 2 (being 90) and Hassan had Blood Potency 5 (being over 100 and having spent merit dots on it). As the extra 15 years had almost popped them into the next 50 year age category, I had granted them both a free Blood Potency. So Hassan had BP 6 and could blood buff for an extra +6, which he needed because he's not very good with Brawl (total dice pool of around 3 without blood buffing).

So Hassan kicks in the kennel and they see through the splintered wood a shadow-blurred black labrador, whose fur writhed with buzzing shadow. They pulled out all stops to try to kill it but since neither of them thought to hit it with a flashlight first (which made sense, being as it was their first encounter with the shadow possessed), it had a total defense of 7. Hassan was on a chance die to hit it unless he blood buffed and James had a pool of three dice with his shotgun. Hassan blood buffed a few times until he only had 2 blood left and was left quite hungry. James did a little better using Serendipidity to help himself when he went full defensive on occasion (though it could still hit him, just with far few dice).

The girl came out onto the back yard in the last round and the rear light popped on but the dog was too far away for it to have any effect. She held a mobile phone to her ear and yelled at them to stop. That was when they finally killed the dog and came hurrying up to her, limping but trying to look all official.

She threatened to sue them and told them she had a friend on the line so they'd better not do anything to her. James told her that she should have called the police first if anything like this happens again. That made her somewhat more trusting as surely a bad guy would never give that kind of advice, right? So he got to get off his Entrance and the two explained to her that they were private investigators who'd been investigating the mysterious death of a local man to rabies. They were merely passing by when they saw her dog had all of the same symptoms. James asked her if she'd played with the dog recently or been bitten. She said she hadn't been and wanted to know if the council would reimburse her. Hassan said she'd have to ask the council but that the two of them had to go to the hospital now.

Then they turned to limp away and heard her say into the phone: "Yeah, I know, it's horrible. You should see how cute those two guys were, though. Wait, let me get a picture." They let her take the blurry picture of their backs as the darkness and their movement meant it wouldn't be so Masquerade-breaching for it to end up a bit dodgy if she even bothered to take a picture of them.

The session continued but the last of it was really Act I of the next section so I'll describe it when I start on that session.

You can find all of this adventures' articles over here if you'd like to start at the beginning or find another article in the series.


A Perfect Circle (starting with The Package which has very suitable lyrics for those two characters).


I could've had the dog attack them right away but it built up more suspense to let it idle as a background threat. By allowing them to avoid it this time, while still pointing out the risks involved in leaving a monster unchecked, I let it remain a viable tactical option. If I'd done otherwise, they probably would never try to avoid a monster again. After all, why hide or avoid something that you know is going to attack you the minute your back is turned? Besides, who's to say that the third encounter they have won't refuse to be ignored? Uncertainty increases tension.

I also ensured the first creature encountered was a difficult one while still choosing something that had little moral ambiguity. This gave them the chance to fully realise the danger of the situation without detracting too much from the overall plot by bringing up the morality of killing a living possessed human being.

I also ensured the characters had the option to keep going and leave that girl to her doom. When they instead chose to heed the Call to Heroism, the characters themselves bought into a more heroic style of game which is what I was going for with this one. It's not the typical Vampire game, which is another reason why I chose to have a side effect of the city being that they now have sincere human emotions (even if it's somewhat less intense comparatively).

I also included a clue as to the dog's weakness though it didn't end up coming up. If they had gone near the rear door at any time, the dog wouldn't have been able to approach them and they would've been able to pick it off (though it would've retained its high defence). Unfortunately, they chose the more moral option of staying away from that door, thus keeping the dog away from the girl when she came out. The benefit of this is that I can keep the tension high by hiding the bane a little longer.

Finally, in the event of a Total Party Kill, I already had an idea of a few potential rescuers who could grab their torpid bodies. This ranged from the person they had been tracking or a Lucifuge hunter turned Mastigos or the Protectorate werewolf pack. I hadn't decided yet, but I ensured there was somebody. After all, the protagonists aren't meant to die yet. Having said that, because the primary player has two other characters in the background, it wouldn't be Campaign Over if James Tyler did die.

I thought it was funny that they both had Striking Looks 2 and therefore were kinda like Sam and Dean from Supernatural. James Tyler being Dean, of course (deeply intolerant of 'monsters', including most vampires despite his apparent politeness) and Hassan being the better educated Sam.