Friday, November 30, 2012

Skill Under The Spotlight: Politics

Politics is a tricky one.  It can be used like an Empathy roll for social situations, but often Storytellers will simply use Empathy for that.  You could use it to research the political backgrounds and ties of people but in most games it won't come up much and in political games you'll generally have to do the hard work to get that sort of sensitive information rather than rely on a single die roll.  Take a look at the below uses, however, and you can see how the Politics skill can provide you with handy hints and good tips rather than an All or Nothing 'the answers' or 'bust'.

Possible specialties could be Local Government, State Government, Federal Government, High School Students, Academia, Vampire Court, Elections, or even Debate (if your Storyteller is kind enough to let a successful planning roll with Politics add dice to your Persuasion roll for the actual debate).  See below for the actual skill uses.

Deal with the ins and outs of university bureaucracy (Manipulation or Wits + Politics).
Understand cult psychology (Wits + Politics)
How to create a cult (Intelligence or Manipulation + Politics)
Understand cult, and other organisational, arrangements and set ups (Wits + Politics)
Recognise political heavy weights (Wits + Politics)
Bribery on a city, state, or federal level (Manipulation + Politics)
Talk intelligently on current affairs and political issues (Intelligence + Politics)
Use, laws, regulations, and bureacracy against an enemy (Intelligence + Politics)
Cut down the red tape on an application (Intelligence + Politics)
Know how to complain to council to get something done about it (Presence + Politics)
Swing schoolyard politics to your advantage (Presence + Politics)
Gain insight into how to gain popularity (Wits + Politics)
How to create cults or mobilise groups (Manipulation + Politics)
How to humiliate an office holder (Manipulation or Presence + Politics)
Say the right thing in a board meeting (Manipulation + Politics)
Threat assess someone's political might (Intelligence + Politics)
Understand the instruments of the government (Intelligence + Politics)
Know how to bribe an official (Manipulation + Politics)
Understand foreign governments, systems and basics (Intelligence + Politics)
Make an issue popular or unpopular with the people (Manipulation + Politics)
Force a change in administration (Manipulation or Intelligence + Politics)
Get a promotion through office politics (Manipulation + Politics)
Recognise and interpet office politics (Wits + Politics)
Build a platform (Resolve + Politics)
Get something accomplished through political machinery (i.e. heritage listing) (Resolve + Politics)
Keep your cool during a press conference (Composure + Politics)
Recognise major players and what the office rules are (Wits + Politics)
Figure out whose in power and how they got there (Wits + Politics)
Identify a person's political enemies and allies (Wits + Politics).

You can find the core article with all of the other likely links over here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Dealing with a lone wolf

First, a definition.  A lone wolf isn’t a player who simply splits the party for good reason.  A lone wolf is one that sends their character off on their own, often while the other characters are sleeping, and thus prevents the rest of the party from having anything to do while the lone wolf follows their own needs.  I further define it as when the lone wolf’s scene will take a fair while.  A character giving his wife a call during a session isn’t lone wolfing it.  A character running off while the rest of the party sleeps so that they can attempt to locate and kill a villain on their own most certainly is.

Most players will do a ‘lone wolf’ on occasion – perhaps even just once.  A few will do it whenever they have the chance.

My core advice is – don’t buy into it and keep the negotiations out of character.  Don’t attempt to punish the player through their character.  It doesn’t work, makes them angry, and takes longer to resolve the scene.  I’ve seen Storytellers try this angle several times and I’ve never seen it work.

So what can you do?

If it’s a simple scene, run it like a movie scene and ensure that there’s as little faffing about as possible.  Don’t waste air time with boring drives, social niceties or long descriptions.  Get to the action – even if the action is romantic or conversational.

If it’s complex and might take awhile, see if you can do it during an individual session or perhaps meet up earlier during the next session.  If you can’t commit the time, do it at the start of a session so that the other players can socialise for awhile longer before coming into game.  Don’t take more than an hour, though, if other players are waiting.

If it’s complex but needs to be done now, get a consensus.  Are the players happy with them running off on their own?

·         Yes.  Great.  Run it but keep one eye on the other players to see that they’re still enjoying themselves.  Perhaps convince the player who needs to run off that they should do it at a time where you can cut between the two groups to keep them all engaged.  Let the uninvolved players leave the table and do something else, if they like, but still keep one eye on the clock and keep to an allocated amount of time (perhaps a half hour).

·         No.  Politely point out to the player that the scene would be complicated and take too long to run while the other players do nothing.  If possible, offer a dice roll and some quick summaries.  If not, ask them if they can think up ways to involve the rest of the party.

When dealing with a lone wolf, don’t make the assumption that they’re just spotlight hogging dicks who want to bore others senseless with their antics just to get a sense of power and control.  It might be based in ignorance about the time the scene would require or perhaps they just have a need to follow their character’s motivations to the very end.  Some people might smarten up after being told that the scene will take a long time.  They might have thought it’d only be require a few minutes. 

If the player insists that it’s what their character would do, point out that few games enforce strict realism and that everyone must make concessions to ensure that everyone is having fun. 

However, give them a way to stay true to their character while keeping everyone else involved.  Offer them a few IC excuses for not delving into the scene but pitch them on an out of character level as otherwise the player might chafe at being restricted by a series of unrealistic coincidences.

As an example, the lone wolf’s wife was molested by a villain but the other characters aren’t the killing type.  The Storyteller points out that it would take too long to devote a scene to it without the rest of them.  She offers these options:

·         The lone wolf insists on heading out for a confrontation but the villain is nowhere to be seen
·         The lone wolf’s attempts to leave are overheard by the team who follow him and get involved
·         Someone else in the group could decide that perhaps the villain must be killed after all and helps the lone wolf convince the others.  The lone wolf could be granted the right to the actual ‘kill’ but the rest of the team would be involved.
·         A sudden new threat rears its head and prevents the lone wolf from leaving the team for now. 

The player could select one of the above or come up with a reason of their own.  This little bit of control about the character’s word might even help deal with frustrated players who are acting out or even the actual jerk players who like to throw their weight around.

If reasoning with them doesn’t work, reinforce to the player that this is a social and communal activity and that they don’t have the right to monopolise the attention.  It’s like going to a party and insisting that everyone else listen to you talk for an hour.  It’s not going to happen.  You’re not going to let one player monopolise it.  Be polite, tactful, and firm.

You’ll need to deal with lone wolf issues on an out of character level because that’s where the issue lies.  If you try to punish the lone wolf with bad dice rolls, wandering monsters, and escalating action, you’ll just reward those seeking attention, drag it out longer, and offend any other sort of player as players generally don’t take being punished through their characters well.  It also sets a bad precedent and may cause other players to wonder if a certain event only occurred because they somehow displeased you.  Besides, it doesn’t fulfil your original goal which is to keep everybody engaged and having fun.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Game Translation: In Cold Blood

In Cold Blood was a playstation adventure game following MI6 agent John Cord who is captured on assignment and trying to figure out who betrayed him as he is forced to recount his history to his torturers.  Almost every mission - which is positioned as a flashback of an event he struggles to remember - ends with a transitional scene showing Cord being interrogated.  The plot is interesting, the characters nicely acted and interestingly woven into the gameplay, and there's a variety of cool things to say and do.

This adventure game slowly folded science fiction elements of a new power source and robots into an alternate cold war history.  This allowed two distinctive styles to blend together in a way that felt creative and new.  The best way to do this is try to really believe in your game world and think about the flow on consequences of the changes that you bring into your game world.  This doesn't mean that you should force everything to be rigorously scientific (this game certainly doesn't) but a few thoughts on what a certain change in reality would realistically cause can certainly help add a certain amount of depth.

The game itself begins in a search for a man called Kiefer in an alleged uranium mine but as you continue through the location you start to see hints that all isn't as it appears - particularly when you come across a large futuristic laser machine.  It turns out that the mine isn't for uranium and the workers are instead experimenting with a compound / power source called tri-nepheline.

I liked how the science fiction elements were slowly discovered in-character rather than whacked in front of the player characters almost at once or during character creation.  It creates a sensation of layers and revelation which is generally a more interesting method of providing information on how a game world differs from our world.  It wouldn't have worked out so nicely if Cord had been there to see if tri-nepheline existed. Consider whether certain elements of your game world might best work in shadows to await character discovery rather than revealing it to them all at once.

The locations are also richly drawn with a certain logic to the room placement.  While you can always use some wacky locations for a game, it's a good idea to try to ground the game in reality by planning out the areas, where necessary, in a way that provides some real world consistency.  It's generally more interesting to feel like you're exploring an actual mine, after all, then just running through a ramble of locations that you could have just as easily dreamed up.  You can look for floorplans or maps on Google Images as they're ever so often uploaded into the internet.  You could also do a little real world research to add a few touches to make it feel like you've researched the whole lot.  Simply sitting down and considering what such a location would need to be viable (like toilets) can help as well.  Don't get too stuck on the research, though.  It's a tool not a requirement.  You're not writing a book.  Your players would prefer a less stressed Storyteller than guarantees of deep research.

It may also help to map it out so that you can refer back to the right room positions if it's an adventure that's likely to see them going back and forth.  You don't necessarily need the map so they can clear it room by room (although you can do that using a mixture of stealth, infiltration and combat options) but just so you can evoke a sense of place and help them feel like they're exploring someplace new.

A lot of the dialogue holds hints of the main plot to come and a number of sub-plots surrounding it which lends the story a certain mystique which really adds to that spy feel.  I, personally, love when games use ambiguous spy talk so describing a location as a place "where ships go to die" certainly piqued my interest.  Using appropriate metaphors and being a bit poetic can really bring this on board.  You just need to watch a few spy movies, especially 1960s ones, or read books on espionage to pick up some interesting turns of phrase.

When in doubt about adding a touch of science fiction,
pick a bright and shiny colour.
The game mixed up infiltration, stealth, and shooting enemies, and that's a pretty fun mix to bring into an adventure game.  You'll need to put a little bit of thought into the various locations so that there's plenty of scope for a diversity of different actions.  Too much combat and it ceases to feel like espionage.  Stealth is where you just keep your head down, stay quiet, and ensure you use surrounding equipment and architecture Infiltration requires the odd locked door, guard, or trap to bypass that requires a bit of forethought, planning, and a bit of cunning.

Oh, social options and conversation work a treat as well.  There's a section in In Cold Blood where you pretend to be someone else and that gives you a grasp of what the mine is like as people, and interactions with them, generally lend a deeper feel to the whole situation.

In Cold Blood generally keeps the puzzles rather easy.  You could script some easy bypasses yourself, or let the players rely on dice rolls, but in a roleplaying game your best bet is to simply be more open to the off the wall antics and plans that players sometimes come up with.  This is the game where a particle accelerator is used as a glorified crossbow, after all.  If the plan seems like it could theoretically work with some good old-fashioned handwavium, then go for it.  The players will feel clever, the game will maintain its flow, and you'll get some stealth and interrogation for your buck that'll be enjoyable for players who don't want to strain their brain while playing a game (enough rhyme, for you?).

A campaign based around In Cold Blood, or including elements of it, should appeal to Tacticians due to a diversity of issues, problems and possible solutions that they can apply to the various situations.  Action Heroes can work out only if they can appreciate that diversity.  Simple run and gun Action Heroes will find it difficult to have fun engaging with the game without spoiling it for the other players / Storyteller as they will generally prefer full on assaults that don't suit this style of game.

Explorers will like the well-drawn locations and the chance to explore exotic locales.  They're also the ones most likely to require a detailed map so that they can peek into every room and will need some interesting diversions to keep them having fun with some of those rooms.  Investigators will doubtless enjoy the intrigue if you play it well not to mention the chance to get involved in some espionage.

Communicators won't find it as enthralling unless you switch focus occasionally to the more social encounters - forcing them to interact with people, forming alliances and uncovering affiliations during conversation.  Not only interrogations, mind you, but also through general day-to-day conversations.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. There's no TV Tropes page, unfortunately, so you'll need to play it yourself or seek out an Actual Play.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or Cold Fear. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be either Left For Dead or Cold Fear.

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, November 27, 2012

Flashpoint: Lovely Island

The team rejoined at a tavern and headed to the Calistrian temple and paid for a room to sleep as they were being hunted by devils and it was best to be out of sight.  Arexia, Wellard, and Haylei explained what they had learned.  There's rumors that a Cypher Mage married an important tiefling prostitute.  The Cypher Mages have recently gone to ground - thought to have something to do with an earlier expedition to Lenore Island.

The following day, as Lhye and Lunjun studied to regain their spells, Proteus headed off to find out some information about the missing Cypher Mages and learned that they used to hang out at a club run by an aged sailor known as Higgins.  This chubby old sailor turned out to be an old captain of Proteus and so he went to visit the club only to find the doors smashed open, two dead dwarven looters with their faces and chests eaten open, strange pawprints like disfigured hands leading away in the bloody prints, and a ransacked bedroom with a warning on the wall in Abyssal and ledger notes ripped out of the desk and defecated on.  The defecation was bloody and had a ribcage in it - Proteus thought it might be a baby, though in truth, it was a dog.  There was a ship in a bottle (a smuggler-type vessel) which Proteus took.

Proteus took out a piece of charcoal and copied down the Abyssal words onto a plank of wood.  He headed back to the others and Lhye translated it as: "Since you came here, we know your scent.  We can find you.  Meet us at the broken belltower and tell us what we need to know or we'll kill you."

So they headed straight for the docks and dunked themselves in the icky dock water.  As they went, Haylei worked on opening a secret compartment in the ship without destroying it.  They bribed a boat over to Lenore Island.

Lhye had been on the island fifty years ago with his mother when she had hidden from her pimp for a short while in what had felt to him to be an extended camping trip.  He knew there was a small version of a monolithic site (basically, a mini Stonehenge) somewhere on the rather flat and monotonous island.  They passed through rocky reefs covered in barnacles and saw in the distance a Thassilic Behemoth splashing into the water and were given a greater sense of their place in the world.

Haylei finally gets the secret section of the ship open and pulls out a flat piece of white string with gold thread sewn into it.  Using a jeweller's glass, she can point out a line that Lunjun recognises as sylvan.  Lunjun can only do a poor translation as he knows Elven and rolled a reasonably Linguistics check but lacked the time for real study.  It said: 'The gift of afar brings undeath glory land'.

There were narrow crevasses and ravines amongst the reefs, through which those with Darkvision could see the edge of reefclaws crawling.  They paid the boatsmen 10gp and requested them to return by the evening for a further 10gp and the boatsmen poled off.  As they clambered out onto the dry barnacle covered rocks, they could also see a shark-eating crab 90 yards away, plucking a reefclaw out of the rocks, shattering and eating it.  As they go along their way, Arexia and Wellard slip and scrape their legs on the barnacles - doing themselves some damage.  One of them also kicks a bit of shell across and a chunk of rock disperses - revealing that they were actually baby reefclaws (a medium swarm) - and disappeared through the gaps in the rocks.

They moved onto the actual land where a green peat-like material gave the ground a spongey feel.  As they walked along, a goat-headed demon (a schir) ran around the corner, jumped onto the rock and bounced off, twirling its halberd.  Lhye cast Unnatural Lust on it toward the shark-eating crab and it ran towards the huge vermin but didn't quite reach it.  Proteus then used Fascinate on the schir to hold it in place and then shot the crab with a bolt to anger it and cause it to rush forward.  It killed the schir in three attacks over two rounds, thus clearing up a problem for the team.

Monday, November 26, 2012

How much preparation do you do?

I find that I prepare differently across the course of a game.  Sometimes I write out character statistics, available items in shops (with NPC information and pictures), detailed adventure synopsis, clues, and sort out scene by scene playlists.  Other times I have a vague idea and some dice.  Sometimes I have an idea of what's likely to happen and a few pregenerated enemy sheets.  Sometimes I haven't a clue and just hope something comes to me.

Since I run multiple games at any on time this preparation can also vary every few weeks.  At the moment, I prepare a lot for Dystopic with clue cards, lists of leads, NPC stats and basic descriptions, individual sountracks for the likely locations and scenes, research into mechanics, and print outs of all the player character's merits and lores (because they're spread over soooo many books).  In the first few sessions I winged it with a bare idea.

When I first began Flashpoint, I sorted out a whole bunch of information on Andoran, made a map (really must post that at some point) of Augustana, did up some shopping sheets, found possible factions they should join, and designed several NPCs and enemies.  I also did a lot of research on Westcrown, read up on weather effects, printed out paper miniatures, and worked out how five very disparate characters might wind up together in a very interesting and distinctive way.  No mere tavern connection for them.  Now I've got a vague idea and a few Bestiaries full of Devils to work with.  It's not completely winged, though, as I have a fair idea where I will send them.

In truth, since there's no real trap smith amongst the Pathfinder PCs, Dystopic will likely need more prep work than Flashpoint for an average adventure but that doesn't mean Dystopic will always get a high level of prep.  Sometimes I'll just rely on my intuition and improvisations.  Sometimes I'll focus on the solo campaigns to the exclusion of all else.  Sometimes I'll tell them to go read a book and I take a week off.

How about you guys?  Do you do a certain amount of prep work per session?  Does it vary considerably or not a lot?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dystopic: Hotel Doihara

Nomad 6's player was unavailable for this session.


So the team now return to their lead in Room 1517 in Hotel Doihara.  Hotel Doihara is a 35-storey-building whose front windows have screens over them that show a number of pictures of happy women's faces, sometimes holding puppies up by their face.  A doorman in a creamy golden suit and bow tie stands by the revolving doors, smoking a cigarette that he flicks away at their approach.  He asks if they're visitors or hotel patrons checking in and whether any luggage will be coming.  They say they're visitors and head on through.

The lobby is shaped like a backwards L with creamy walls and golden carpets and a large curved desk behind which stands a Hispanic woman whose name badge identifies her as Rodriguez and who speaks Japanese and English with a Japanese accent.  The bump of the L is divided by an aquarium in the shape of a curvy line filled with jellyfish that Leningrad identifies as largely harmless.

They speak to Rodriguez and state they'd like to visit Room 1516.  She asks for the name of the guest they'd like to visit.  Tokyo quickly hacks the room registry with her neural device and comes up with the name 'Michelle Warwick' - British National and Le Reve saleswoman.  Rodriguez nods and patches a call through to see if Michelle with accept guests.  Tokyo hacks into the phone (which is an Internet phone anyway) and does a poor duplication of a British accented woman's voice speaking Japanese.  As she only says Yes and No, though, it'd be hard to catch.

Rodriguez gets her permission to send them up and gives them all guest pass cards, warning them not to lose them as it'll be hard to leave otherwise.  They head into an elevator (it only opens when a card is inserted) and head up to floor 12.

Tokyo hacks the security cameras and gets a still of Michelle Warwick from her check in time to send to the others PDA.  The recording shows Michelle taken to her room by a bellhop.  They go inside her room.  A couple minutes later he leaves, she calls him back flirtatiously, flashes her phone against his image code on his I.D. badge to pay him a bonus, and he leaves.  She has long black curls and a bright smile.

A few of the team instantly figure her for dead.  Especially when Tokyo hacks the key card registry and finds that her key card was last used regularly on 06/07/2052 and then twice more on 08/07/2052 to enter and leave within an hour.

Tokyo hacks Michelle Warwick's credit card account which is unfortunately with a British bank and immediately sets up against a sysadmin.  She manages to win (it was very close) and delay the sysadmin while she picked up the credit card records which showed that she purchased a flight to Japan back in March amongst other ordinary purchases in Britain.  She purchased lunch from the Sheffield City Airport on 01/07/2052 and then a late dinner in Haneda Airport.  She made a few purchases about the town but these purchases stopped on 06/07/2052 at around mid-afternoon with a taxi ride.  Some of these purchases may have been in the post as there is a cost included for a shipping company.  From that point on, there has only been British utility and rent transactions and Doihara Hotel Room hire that has been withdrawn on 07/07/2052, 14/07/2052, 21/07/2052 and likely tomorrow as well.  In three more such transactions, she will have maxed her credit card.

Room 1516 is a room of creamy carpets with a double bed flanked by IKEA cabinets topped with lamps.  Rich purple curtains are pulled back over the glass sliding doors that lead out onto a short balcony that overlooks the laneway below.  A large screen on the wall before the bed that stands over a long, low cabinet that also contains a mini fridge.  A small section of the room by the entrance is taken up with a bathroom / toilet. A makeup case is in the bathroom, a travel suitcase by the long narrow cabinet is mostly empty (clothing redistributed amongst the cabinets), and a British design laptop sits in the corner.  There are a few shopping bags from Japanese retail outlets that includes a fluffy robot kitten and a robot fish.  She has no handbag or I.D. anywhere in the room.

Miami uses his CSI kit suitcase, luminol and UV glasses.  No bloodstains detected in likely spots - even on the balcony.  He also takes a copy of the fingerprints from the make up box and finds a loose hair in her hair brush to run a DNA analysis.  Of course, he'll need a copy of the original to truly make a comparison.

London calls his newfound contact in British Intelligence (remember his cover is true - he had to purchase three dots in Sworn Officer for that) as they didn't want to try and hack the police database of a super paranoid country.

"Hello this is Bellevue Psychiatric Institution," says a smooth British male voice.

"Hello, London calling," said London, making the appropriate call-and-answer.

"Ahh, how can I help you?"

"I need to speak to Records."

"One moment.  Transferring."

Another voice picked up.  This one female.  "Records.  How can I help you?"

"I need the file on Michelle Warwick."

"Very well.  Please confirm your coordinates."

Tokyo told London their longitude and latitude.

"Confirmed," said the voice.  "Please connect us to a secure computer."

Tokyo offered her PDA, refusing to make contact using her neural network, but when they started hacking into other sections of her computer she repelled the intrusion.

"A secure computer, please," said the voice.

London offered up his smart phone.  A program started downloading onto his phone.

"Thank you, I have installed CASEY and give you the record.  Please return the file when you have no use for it."

"Thank you," said London, hanging up.  He spoke into his phone.  "Hello CASEY, can I see the file on Michelle Warwick?"

Much of the file was rather ordinary but it did provide a fingerprint and DNA sample (the latter necessary for international travel) and that did match up with the fingerprint and DNA sample found within the hotel room.

Tokyo figured the body might be in a dumpster in the laneway below the balcony.  London expresses doubt that a person would try to hide a body by dropping it fifteen floors.  The two headed downstairs to bust open the padlocks on the two dumpsters that were overlooked by the staff doors.

Leningrad felt a sudden chill in the air as he gazed out over the balcony and, guessing it was a ghost, he activated his Lore of Ghosts and turned around to see her passing through the glass balcony doors and searching around the room.  Her body was translucent and it faded off down the calves to nonexistent feet.

"Where am I?  Where did I put it?  It has to be around here somewhere," she murmured.

"Hello?  Michelle?" asked Leningrad.

Miami glared at him, realising that he could speak to ghosts which was a talent that his host once held but which he no longer had.  He started seeking out an anchor but found it difficult as he had no supernatural ability to do so.

Michelle ignored them.  "I don't know where I am.  I'm missing it.  How can I go back home without it?  I can't return."

"You're missing a body as well," said Leningrad.

Michelle continued to ignore him.

"Michelle, what are you looking for?"

She finally looked over at him.  "Oh, hello.  Who are you?"

Leningrad thought a moment.  "Dave.  What are you looking for?"

"Myself.  I need it or else I can't go home.  Have you seen me?"

"Michelle, you're dead."

She continued to look around for a bit.


"Oh, hello.  I'm sorry.  Did I let you in?"

Miami, hearing second hand what she was looking for, guessed that she were after her passport which would have been in her handbag.  It would be hard to get back into Britain without it.  He headed downstairs to see if it were in the dumpster.

Leningrad used his Lore of Ghosts to grant her sentience but his abyssal Torment twisted it at the last moment and she recoiled as if slapped and cowered by the wall.  She told him that she remembered going onto the balcony for some air and there was a sting, like a bee sting, and she couldn't breathe.  She also asked after the bellhop, Takahiro, who she thought was cute.  "I'm dead, aren't I?" she asked a little weakly.

Leningrad took this moment to leave, knowing that she would soon become hostile to the living.

Downstairs there was no luck with the dumpsters although London did find a tooth that had rolled under a dumpster.  Miami sought the violence of the landing through Lore of Patterns, purposefully opening himself to the Torment to reach further into the past.  As her death caused a ghost, I allowed him to reach further back than he normally would do so.  He heard her making a choking sound as she fell and hit the laneway.

Tokyo hacked the security cameras and checked the approximate time and found that the doorman was by the security doors smoking when she fell.  He fetched an older couple in business suits and they dressed her as a homeless bum and called the police who took her away.  It looked like they took advantage of her death to keep drawing on her card.

They asked at the desk for the bellhop and met him behind the aquarium where they were asked to wait by the receptionist.  There was some privacy there as it was around 3.00AM and the receptionist was just out of the line of sight.  Takahiro arrived and offered to help them with their luggage when it arrived.

"Like you helped Michelle with her luggage?" asked Leningrad.

They tried to get him alone but Takahiro refused.  "For all I know, she fell off the balcony because of you."

They learned from him that a woman was found dead, swollen around the neck, who looked like she had taken a tumble from the balcony.  The hotel manager called her in as a Jane Doe so they could keep claiming the rent from her account - or so Takahiro assumed.  He'd noticed the room remained booked out but he never saw Michelle again.  She had a nosy long-term guest, Mrs. Takashi, who had told him that she hadn't been there for weeks though some rough men went in there once at night.  Mrs. Takashi also said that Michelle was a fool because she let in a technician, an adrogynous looking woman, into her hotel without checking with reception.  The woman wasn't Japanese but she was "some type of Asian - Korean, Vietnamese?  They all look alike."  The date was 06/07/2052, sometime after dark and before 11.00PM.

Searching the footage again, Tokyo got a picture of the woman heading to the hotel room and Tokyo used FaceBook's system to track her down to a page for Muoi Kai that hadn't been updated for the past 7 years. The last serious of comments were based around a motorcycle crash that left her invalided and put her Martial Arts and Stunt Driving future behind her.  She wanted to be a stuntwoman in the Japanese movies.

They then headed out the front to meet the doorman who had so callously discarded Michelle's body.  They were hopeful he'd stolen her handbag and so had the ghost's passport.  Leningrad tried to knee him in the nuts as a greeting but London was trying to pull him into a grapple and so he kneed his leg and as he stumbled out of London's grip, Tokyo missed a tazer grab on his shoulder (her fingertips have Tazers in them).  In other words, they all failed to get a single success.

He tried to pull away from them, but Leningrad stabbed him in the leg a glancing blow, Tokyo dropped him with her tazer hands, and Leningrad threw him over his shoulder and took him back into the laneway.  London cuffed him to the dumpster's wheels.  The doorman had pissed himself from the tazing and was quite shocked.

"We're here about the woman you bundled up as a Jane Doe," said one of them.

"Which one?" asked the man, shocked.

They soon found out that this had happened three times over the past few years.  If the individuals fell, he'd assumed that they were already dead so what was the harm in quietly getting rid of them?  They didn't want that kind of reputation for their hotel, after all.  If they kept drawing from the credit cards, did it really matter?  The team threatened to kill him if he didn't have something more for them.  He told them he'd made a deal this time to cover up the body for an Asian woman for money and for footage from the last few incidents to disappear.  She'd come on a motorcycle and he'd taken a picture of her license plate.  Tokyo took the pictures off his phone and took the phone with her.  They said they'd come back for him if he didn't inform the families of the deceased and turn himself in to the police.

Tokyo ran the license plates through a database her company had purchased access to and got an address.  Hopefully it was the right one.


By the way, in this game the upgraded nWoD variants of the lores are a little different than the originals.

Also, in all of these instances the individuals could speak Japanese and English so all of the players got to be involved in the interviews.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Dystopic: Searching For A British Woman

While the others were investigating the New Yorker hotdog stand, Miami was taken to the large storage facility / parking garage in another building that was connected via an underground tunnel to the Bio-Connects Headquarters.  He took a look at the wreckage of Helicopter TKI-746 and quickly noted the pair of pinpricks near the autopilot chip which suggests something was plugged in and then removed from the wreckage.  He asked Chief Mechanic, Hideki Sawa, who had access to the chopper after it crashed.

He was informed that the helicopter was requisitioned by Kurosawa Bio-Connects within an hour of Criminal Investigation Bureau police from Precinct Ninety Six arriving on the scene.  He called up the company contact from CIB and found that the police had only managed to secure the area, remove the bodies, and take photographs before the vehicle was hastily removed.  He was given a list of names of those at the area (the parking lot outside a large supermarket just outside Tokyo is where it crash landed) but was advised by CIB that a loss of evidence is to be expected when civilians without appropriate chain of evidence procedures are allowed access.  After all, if someone tampered with the chip it was likely to be an internal affair as only Kurosawa staff would have access to the helicopter before and after the incident.

Miami checked with the Chief Mechanic, Hideki Sawa, and learned that there were twenty seven assistants brought in from likely roles across the company who had helped in analysing the aircraft.  Miami got the list of twenty seven names and thought up the MICE system for figuring out a short list.  The MICE system is a list of motivations often looked for by secret services, etc. for methods of turning a person and it stands for Money, Ideology, Compromise (blackmail), and Ego.

At about this point, the others returned.  London suggested checking along the flight paths to see if they wanted the helicopter to crash anywhere in particular but didn't find anything to suggest that there were a secondary purpose.  Tokyo checked HR records, employee police checks, and hacked into their banks to find out the credit card records (lower difficulty just to look, harder to change anything as I decided sysadmins look for that).

They came up with four suspects (HR = Human Resources, CR = Credit Records, PC = Police Check):

Kei Ichimuru (HR: hard working, CR: nothing unusual, PC: two counts of possession of marijuana and one count possession of Hyper - ecstasy / LSD-like substance - as a youth)
Koji Yukichi (HR: anxious, resentful, insomnia, 20 years of service, CR: recently taken out a large bank loan to pay for mother's medical treatments, PC: clean)
Tsuda Masao (HR: arrogant, has problems with authority figures, CR: spends a lot of money on online gambling and has a terrible credit rating, PC: clean)
Hazegawa Hideki (HR: suspect communist leanings, on a socialist mailing list, trying to form a union, CR: clean, PC: picked up at several union rallies and protests for disturbing the peace)

They focused on Koji Yukichi and first tried to see if he even had a mother.  A quick check found that when the company's health insurance was increased for their employees to cover nearest kin, an oversight had led to his insurance not being updated and so his mother wasn't covered for her kidney failure.  He took out an enormous loan to cover the surgical installation of one augmented kidney that was a poor performer compared to the original.  She was in a nice private hospital and had been upgraded to a nicer individual hospital room - which is possible depending on their space requirements, stranger things happen. 

They looked at his debts and found that he hadn't been paying rent out of his account and that while there'd been no lump sum deposited in either his account or his mother's, his mother's superannuation pay outs were now a lot larger and yet the stock market hadn't soared recently.  Checking her superannuation history, it seemed that someone had hacked the account and inflated the superannuation history so that it would justify a much larger amount than someone on her wage should have had.

(Superannuation is an Australian thing that Japan may or may not have.  Basically, your employers pay a percentage of your salary into a special account for you that you may only access once you are retired and over a certain age.  This helps you through your retirement years.  The employers would calculate it as part of the wage they intend to give a new employee but it isn't part of the advertised salary as, well, you can't access it anyway)

FaceBook showed a lot of friends showing support and trying to raise money.  It also showed pictures of the ward.  Finally, it showed some supportive comments from Hazegawa Hideki encouraging him to go out for a drink to talk things over and some sleight-of-hand bitchy comments about the company that wouldn't be easily spotted by those not well-versed in political (especially unionist) discourse (Politics roll).

They checked his phone records (their company subscribes to the Telecoms which gives them access to employee phone records even on their personal mobiles) and found that he received the most known calls over the past three months from Hazegawa Hideki.  Tokyo tried to hack Koji's phone and found it full of spam and viruses that immediately tried to attack her back.  His personal computer was much the same.

They decided to approach Hideki first.  As they went upstairs they arrived at the doors to a lab where a dozen individuals in lab coats soldered and otherwise worked the various bits of electronica on their counters.  

Surveying the scene, and seeing Hideki bent over with safety goggles and a tiny soldering iron, London says to Leningrad: "Five bucks says he runs."

"You're on," said Leningrad.

As they headed in, everyone looked over at the three white men and the CEO's once-thought-deceased daughter.  Hideki looks up, reads the situation, throws down his soldering iron and turns to run.  Miami rushes up to him and throws him into a police grip, slamming him against the counter (no fighting style, but he rolled 4 10s so I wanted to give him something special).  London cuffed him.

Leningrad tells the watchers that this was a HR matter and would they please go to the break room.  They dispersed.

They took Hideki to a spare office whose usual occupant (an engineer) worked day shifts.

Hideki immediately claimed that: "I didn't do anything!  I had nothing to do with it.  I know you're just looking for a scapegoat to pin this on."

"A scapegoat!" snapped London, appalled.  "This is the CEO's daughter you're talking about and you think we're just looking for a scapegoat."

"Yeah, well, with the stock market like it has been I wouldn't be surprised," said Hideki.  "There's been no movement on this case."

They argue with him a bit but he basically states that he wouldn't want any employees to get hurt, that he wants a union to help the employees look out for each other and not to destroy the company, as the company is their livelihood after all and it's one of the best companies in the industry in how it treats its employees.

They bring up Koji.  "We know you've been helping out Koji and giving him a lot of money.  We know he's in a lot of financial trouble because of his mother.  You've been meeting up with him."

Hideki pauses, considering it, then apparently decides that he'd rather not drop Koji into it without further proof so he deflects.  "He's only in trouble because of an oversight.  HR made a mistake, or maybe they're been taking the money that's meant to be spent on health insurance.  They haven't let any of us see our own health insurance statements.  I tried to raise the money, rallying the employees.  $50 from the 100 people in this area would mean a lot, right?  But the line manager said that was 'organising' and that we'd be fired if we did that.  He's good friends with HR.  He was probably covering for them.  I tried to go higher, see if the company might work something out since he's been here so long, but the line manager refused it all the way."

Tokyo sent a report to her father using her neural chip and decided to mount a full internal investigation against the HR department.  "What's the line manager's name?"

He told her.

London appealed to his greater sense of decency considering that this was a murder investigation after all and asked Hideki if he knew anything about Koji that could help.  Hideki mentions that he'd seemed energetic a few days before the crash and dejected afterward.  He also states that at the pub once, he'd picked up Koji's phone when he'd gone to the toilets and a British voice speaking clear Japanese asked him a simple question like, "Where are you?"  Hideki gave her some kind of pick up line and she hung up.  When he'd asked Koji about her, he refused to talk about her.

They called Koji up and he seemed rather stoic.  Not afraid at all.  He answered the first few questions with "Yes" and "No" and as few words.

Then Leningrad cut to the chase, "We know everything about the British woman and the deal she gave you."

Koji looked at London and, having heard his British accent, believed him.  "You know about her?"

"Yes," said London.  They pointed out the medical payments, the inflated superannuation, and other such details.

"You should start from the beginning," said Tokyo.

Koji bowed his head.  "When my mother was diagnosed with kidney failure, I was worried for her but I knew that I had the right health insurance and that she should be fine.  But then I found that HR hadn't updated my contract and she wouldn't be covered.  I borrowed as much as I could from the banks.  Things just seemed to get luckier.  I thought perhaps I had spent all my bad luck with the health insurance contracts. A good doctor was assigned to her case through an accident at the hospital.  She happened to get a good room.  The super payments increased.  What do I know of super and accounting?  I didn't know anyone was helping me.  Perhaps I suspected ... I just ... I didn't want to believe."

He sighed.  "The British woman contacted me over the phone.  She told me that I would have to help her steal a helicopter by installing an auto-pilot over ride.  I never thought anyone would die.  I should have but I didn't want to think about it.  I found the chip on my pillow when I went home one night.  The woman told me that if I refused, she would reveal the money as bribery through sideways means and I would be fired and perhaps arrested.  She would then simply get someone else to do it and it would happen all the same."

"What do you think will happen now?" demanded London.

Koji gave him a tired look.  "I will be executed by the CEO or I will be sent to the prison.  I imagine I will be sent to prison."

"After trying to kill his daughter?"

Koji shrugged.  "Perhaps he will kill me.  It doesn't matter.  Either way my mother will die.  I realise now that she was always going to die.  It was destined.  Fated.  When I tried to prevent it, all I did was cause others to die and now my mother will die and so will I.  It is how things are.  It is how things should be."

On that note, Nancy had him arrested by security and told her father not to touch him as Koji was 'hers'.

Kurosawa sent a short memo as a response: "If you say so.  Are you sure?"

Leningrad speaks quietly to Nancy about how she should ensure that his mother is taken care of for while the son committed a crime, the mother didn't, and it was an oversight that led to this whole situation.  Nancy agreed.  She also stated that she would deal with the HR department.  When they mentioned this to Hideki, he was simply thoughtful rather than elated.  He had other things on his mind - such as a friend who turned into a murderer and a traitor to the company.

This was just half of what we got through in this session.  They really got into the flow of the game and investigative games have a whole bunch of ins and outs worth describing.  I'll post the other half soon where they go to the Doihara Hotel which is the lead given to them by the Red Tiger Gang.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Skill Under The Spotlight: Occult

Occult seems like a simple skill but in practice it has complications all of its own.  Generally, Storytellers won't be willing to let you "roll Occult to solve the plot".  If there's an occult mystery involving spirits, there's no way they're going to want to let you unravel all their efforts with a single die roll - no matter how successful - anymore than they'll let you walk into a crime scene and roll Investigation to figure out that the Great Aunt twice removed did it.  Occult isn't a repository of pure facts, either, and is filled with legend, myth, conjecture, and outright misinformation.  Having plenty of occult, or an understanding of a number of supernatural creatures, helps you wittle out truth from falsehood but in most occult worlds, what seems fake might not be.

Some good specialties would be a particular supernatural group (werewolves), particular powers so you can recognise or identify them (lores, disciplines, rotes), spirit bans, hauntings, demonology, ley lines, arcane archaeology, myths, etc.

Know the theories, myths, and legends (Intelligence + Occult)
Convince occultists to follow you (Manipulation + Occult)
Impress occultists (Presence + Occult)
Discern likely facts (through correlations between stories in far flung places) from fiction (Intelligence + Occult)
Identify gaps in information - what else needs to be known (Wits + Occult)
Identify strategies for learning more (Intelligence + Occult)
Identify a supernaturally caused injury (Intelligence + Occult)
Notice when things have gone weird, i.e. tells of a ghostly manifestation (Wits + Occult)
Have a good idea of what not to do (Wits + Occult)
Be warned about likely occult risks (Wits + Occult)
Discover ways of treating supernatural injuries (Intelligence + Occult)
Find hints of the supernatural through the media (Intelligence + Occult)
Have a deeper understanding of religion and the bases of religion (Wits + Occult; also falls under Academics)
Design and conduct experiments on supernaturals (Intelligence + Occult; often other skills as well such as Medicine or Science)
Identify relics (Intelligence + Occult)
Gain hints on how not to approach a supernatural or what not to say (Manipulation + Occult)
Learn various supernatural philosophies (Intelligence + Occult)
Locate and identify psychics (Wits + Occult)
Locate and identify occultists (Wits + Occult)
Guess at likely threats (Wits + Occult)
Design occult risk assessment plans (Intelligence + Occult)
Learn (or teach humans to conduct) abjurations, seances, banishments, and exorcisms (Intelligence + Occult)
Find a gate to another world (Intelligence + Occult)
Learn a way to close a gate to another world (Intelligence + Occult)
Understand cult mentality (Wits + Occult)

You can find the core article with all of the other likely links over here.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Hunt Campaign Summary

Since I won't be doing a write up for every adventure, I thought I'd just collate it all here into a quick summary.  Some of these episode names will have links attached to them.  They'll be labeled with what they're for.  Actual Play for a session summary.  Review for a review of the published adventure (if used).  Article if I have an article inspired by, and about, that particular session.

You can find the basic background information on The Hunt Campaign over here.
  • 1949.  Anti-Nos Murders.  James Pattison (not yet a Tyler) arrives in Chicago with his sire, Peter Walsh.  They meet a little orphan girl, Charlotte, who has a razor sharp memory when she demands a hefty $100 bribe (and gets $10 in the dark) for information on the rather OCD killer who's been killing well-dressed gentlemen who first come into a certain pub to 'pay their tab'.  It turns out that they're rich homosexual young men with Trust Funds behind them who are from a Ventrue's gay nightclub and who are being killed in a manner that implicates the Nosferatu.  They decide to take Charlotte with her to groom her as a hunter - which is what she wants.
  • 1949.  Harpy Orphanage.  Charlotte leads them to an orphanage where kids have been going missing.  A trip into the mysterious basement finds a gateway into 'somewhere' that seemed to sparkle slightly but which neither Peter or James enter.  Instead they go onto the rooftop of a nearby building to spy on the matrons and they find them each sitting at prayer in identical postures in their night gowns.  Their faces show their age but their bodies are all young and nubile.  One notices James and there follows an attack where James leaps across the building's gap and uses Vigor to crash through the window, attacking the leader.  Eventually, all of the Harpy-like women (judging from their use of birds) are killed and the three leave.
  • 1949.  James tries to break it to Charlotte that they're vampires.  Charlotte feigns surprise but isn't very good at it.  They're not exactly subtle once you know what signs to look for.
  • 1950.  Puppet Shows & Shadow Plays (Delta Green).  James is dragged out to Arizona by Peter after Peter noticed a string of connected murders and suicides following a meteorite shower.  Peter thinks its aliens as meteorites were involved.  James thinks its more likely to be some kind of omen following or preceding an event.  They feign being FBI agents by happening to arrive just before dawn, being 'out' during the day, and dealing with the cops at night.  Funnily enough, not that hard in this particular scenario and it actually helps that they have to skip time a fair bit as it'd be weird to examine a scene at midnight.  They take out the baddie and high tail it out of there - leaving a radio call out for assistance for the survivors.
  • 1950.  James makes a point to meet a Chicago kindred as he wishes to learn Auspex.  He mentions his House and the Daeva sets up an introduction with a House relative, Jeremiah Tyler, whose puritanical beliefs and Lancea Sanctum perspective make him an odd Tyler and explained why he left for America hundreds of years ago.  Nowadays he seems like the usual sort of Tyler but is interested in training James and makes the offer in such a gentle way that James tentatively accepts.  After all, he can always flee Chicago if he needs to, right?  Besides, Jeremiah says that the training can also teach coils which is something that Peter umms and ahhs about.
  • 1950.  James undergoes his first three months of Tyler training to become the ultimate courtesan (usually you begin with 50 years of ghouldom but Jeremiah could tell James didn't undergo that).  He is taught rudimentary musical instruments, French pronunciation lessons (he already speaks the language), rudimentary Italian, improved ettiquette lessons for dealing with vampires,
  • 1951.  Who am I?  (Insylum).  James awakens in the CArlton COunty Schizophrenic Annexe as an amnesiac schizophrenic who checked himself in two weeks ago due to memory loss and hallucinations.  He has been violent a couple times already.  No one seems to know he's a vampire.  Even he doesn't recall it.  Insylum Summary. 
  • 1953.  Delta Green (Chaosium).  This adventure was pretty much like Supernatural.  James and Walsh (now in the form of a white man) pretended to be FBI agents and flashed their forged credentials as they took a look around.  They were initially interested due to the preternatural strength displayed by a service station thief and accidental murderer.  They soon discovered a monstrous conspiracy to experiment upon those living within a small backwaters town.  They still don’t truly know what they faced but they did manage to undo it by burning down some of the flammable substances inside the barn.
  • 1954.  James, Charlie, and Walsh arrived in London and James got the chance to meet with the coterie who had experimented upon him and forcibly taught him more coils.  Joy Tyler seemed dismissive about the entire thing as she really expected him to understand the importance of it.  Wilhelm, on the other hand, simply sat and listened to his complaints and offered up little defence.  That seemed to calm James down, who was mostly upset about the emotional manipulation of feeling his emotions blossom and then die.
  • 1954.  Tatters of the King (Chaosium).  This is an entire campaign and you can find out more about what it’s about over here.  If you’d like to see the various materials I’m posting up about this campaign, including how I will be running it in the World of Darkness, you can find it here.  I won’t be doing an Actual Play for it as I’m doing far too many as it is.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Game Translation: Castlevania 64

Castlevania 64 was very evocative to me and I think its inspired a lot of my love of gothic fantasy.  You play either Carrie Fernandez, a young orphan girl who throws magic seeking balls of energy, or Reinhardt Schneider, whip-wielding heir to the Belmont clan.  The character arrives outside of Dracula's grand estate in order to defeat him and destroy his horde.  Its an action-adventure platforming game with a lot of epic moments that really played the monsters up for all they were worth.  I still remember the statue that cried tears of blood that became an enemy, the Cerberus hounds in the garden and the vampire that attacks you in the mirror room quite clearly.

The hedge maze, style of manor house, and the devil that sells you items have all appeared in a number of my stories and role playing campaigns.  The whole thing just oozed 'cool factor' that was doubtless only increased by the fact that it was early in my gaming history and therefore it all felt new and exciting.  So take a moment to think about what sort of style you're trying to evoke and what might be the best props to do it in.

A lot of the actual encounters also work quite well for Pathfinder dungeon creation.  Spend some time thinking up the most interesting method of introducing the monster to the players the first time.  Introduce the odd NPC in a revealing manner that shows off an eccentricity that matches the atmosphere you're looking for such as a strange woman watering white roses with a 'red water' that turns the roses red.

Mix up the narrative devices with some interesting set piece battles.  Caged matches where portcullis drop down to trap you there or where the garden gates lock makes things interesting.  Throw in a descending ceiling that will kill them (or cripple before dropping them into a floor below) if they don't defeat the enemy in a certain number of rounds - and be sure to describe it's slow descent each turn and cumulative penalties when it's most of the way down.

You could also throw in a moment where they have to chase an NPC while avoiding enemies that seriously out-rank them to throw in the odd sense of hi-octane vulnerability.

This game style also works with Pathfinder and D&D as you can introduce a touch of horror with monsters that can 'infect' the player characters with their supernatural disease.  If they don't track down or purchase a Remove Curse and/or Remove Disease potion, the game will get significantly harder for them and they may even need to be taken out of it.  Castlevania does this by throwing you up against vampires who can infect you if you don't shake them off in time.

While the game is linear, it does have a real sense of exploration about it with some Easter Eggs that provide additional items if you manage to find the hidden platforms or other such places to go.  This is pretty easy to include when you're starting to work on the map.  These Easter Eggs don't have to be extra equipment.  Some players might prefer a letter, a diary or a chance to eavesdrop or spy on an interesting NPC or enemy.

Some games throw a boss battle at you at the very start.
One cool thing that Castlevania 64 did is that it doesn't rely on throwing the Big Bad at you at the end of the level and instead might place it at the beginning (such as the giant skeleton towards the start) or in the middle.  This gives the whole thing a greater sense of tension and joy because you can't just know when it's coming AND it means you can place the Big Bad where it's cooler and not where it's most 'appropriate'.

The game also provides an in-game clock with certain NPCs available or unwilling to talk at the wrong side of the solar cycle.  There were also doors that are marked with a Sun or a Moon door that only unlock during certain times of the day or night.  Vampires in the game are also more powerful during the night than the day and that's something else you could do - perhaps providing a +2 or a -2 to certain attributes depending  on the time.

A campaign based around Castlevania 64, or including elements of it, should appeal to Action Heroes and  Explorers because there's a real effort to ensure a lot of interesting battles and some cool set pieces worth taking a look around.  The locations themselves need to be well-evoked but they should also be blended into combat to help bring out the most in the enemies.  Investigators will find the odd mysteries to explore compelling if you really make an effort to, again, evoke intriguing NPCs and strange events surrounding the various monster entries.

Communicators will get something out of the odd NPC encounter but might not find enough to go with unless their co-players are quite keen with rich characterisation and interesting development.  If so, they may be able to sink into the action and exploration well enough.  If not, they may be bored witless.

Tacticians will be neither here nor there in this one.  There'll be chances for combat but not much of a chance to pre-prepare.  Having a chance to use day and night cycles to their advantages may pique their interest however.

I couldn't find a good trailer but here's a clip that shows Reinhardt have to deal with his reconciliation with his darling Rosa. If you'd like to read the sort of tropes that Castlevania 64 used, you can find a very short list here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, In Cold Blood, Project Zero, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, or In Cold Blood. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be In Cold Blood.

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, November 20, 2012

Flashpoint: Devil Alert

The team arrived at the warehouse, fully aware that it was likely a trap, and opened the front doors of McCoughin Mortuary.  The foyer was filled with Darkness and Obscuring Mist.  Proteus cast Grease into there and they heard someone slip over and swear - calling them to come inside.  Proteus then summoned an octopus to creep through in the direction of the voice only for it to be rapidly destroyed.  As they watched, a glowing red large louse (Hell Louse - there are more 3.5 devils of the right CR than Pathfinder ones) charged out of the Mortuary and rammed into Lunjun Siva and poisoned him for a little Dexterity damage.

They finally destroyed the Hell Louse and then explored the foyer once the mist and darkness dissipated.  There was a stone central bench with a bowl of greenish fluid and powdered salts in glass vials that Lhye later figured out with Alchemy were infernal drugs.  Proteus opened one of the doors to see what lay behind it and came face to face with two Legion Devils.

"Umm, sorry, wrong door," said Proteus, succeeding enough on a Bluff check to get the door closed and back away before the Legion Devils came in.

The door opened and the Legion Devils rushed in.  One even managed to summon yet another Legion Devil.  The characters focused their attacks on one and were horrified to realise that not only were they hardly damaging it but when the third one was summoned it seemed largely healed (they share hit points).  They finally managed to kill the Legion Devils and went down into the mortuary large storage room.  There was a reddish glow towards the end of the room and over to one side in an alcove.

A Spinagon stepped out and tried to reason with them.  "Come with me, Lhye, and I will let your mother go. You're destined for Hell anyway as if we killed you your soul would fall to us.  You might as well make a positive impression and we will let you go afterwards."

Lhye, understandably, argued the case.

Finally the Spinagon explained that, "I just want a little of your blood."

Lunjun laughed out loud at that, knowing what sympathetic magic can do.

"Blood?  Why?" asked Lhye.

"We just want to see the secrets in your soul," said the Spinagon.  "That's all we want to do."

"That sounds like it's gonna hurt a little," said Proteus.  "Maybe we should just kill him."

The Spinagon startles and tries to summon another of his kind but fails.  Seeing this, the characters all attack at once and with some good rolls manage to kill him in one round.  They notice the glow at the end of the warehouse was starting to die down and hurried forward to find what looked like a dentist's chair with a number of barbed wire-like restraints, pincers on wires, and serrated prongs.  Much of it was magically created as it sat there over the chair, slowly fading away.

"So they wanted more than a little of my blood," said Lhye.

Lunjun's Spellcraft noted that the spell was quite powerful and previously unknown, certainly of a divine and evil origin, perhaps caused by a prayer that was particularly favoured.  We go with the rule that in times of need you can roll a d100 and on a 100 you get divine intervention.  Sometimes, or so it is said, your odds are improved because the gods are willing and able.

Proteus, as he approached, felt a strange urge to touch the chair as the bone in his hand vibrated like a tuning fork that also felt so cold that his entire arm was in goosebumps.  He reached forward and touched the chair and immediately a red glow emanated from his chest and his eyes.

Proteus got to see a little vision to himself.  His vision coasts along a world of boiling seas becoming steam, volcanoes, plains covered in blood, teeming Abyssals crawling out of the various holes while lines of devil legions clash as angels fly in from the sky that feel more like invaders than the monsters.  He recognises the Storval Plataeu and realises that this is Golarion.  His vision sweeps in to see a beautiful man whose appearance changes each time he considers him but who he is forever beautiful.

The evil creatures suddenly are seen to flow from Golarion as though the world were exuding them, as though the world were a giant aberration growing tendrils that appear as demons and devils, and the man was the only thing untouched.  And then tendrils are starting to wrap around the man's feet and his skin peels loose in tatters that whip around violently before slipping back into place in a disgusting rhythm.  Then there is a sound like chains breaking....

Proteus wakes up and the characters nervously eye him off and train their weapons on him, wondering if he might be evil.  Proteus tries to convince them that he's not and eventually succeeds.  They head back to the meeting tavern to meet up with Haylei, Arexia, and Mellarius to find what they've learned.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Dystopic: New Yorker Hotdog Stand

Nomad 6 comes through the operation just fine.  He lays down on the operating bed in the theatre which pipes traditional Japanese music through the speakers and where two attractive, young women sedate him with gas and then get to work.  Two and a half hours later and he's on his feet again and feeling no worse for wear.  He can now read and speak Japanese just fine.

The players head down the street on foot since traffic in Tokyo is pretty bad (although a fair bit better down these business streets) toward the coordinators to the New Yorker Hotdog Stand which is on the curving road between a major Business section of the street which contains a number of corporate headquarters including Kurosawa Bio-Connects and a quiet residential area with major company apartments where the employees live.  There's a shuttle bus that connects the two areas but a number of people just walk.

It's getting onto 11.20PM due to Nomad 6's operation (they arrived at dusk) and so the streets outside of the business headquarters are semi-busy with people sitting underneath the trees or on the lawn of the mini-gardens set into the foot of some of the businesses, meeting with people from non-rival companies or simply smoking outside.  Mostly they're still talking shop however.  One woman has a mechanical dog that follows her along.

The team discuss being in Japan and what sort of food Japanese people eat.  London also expresses confusion as to why he can't see anyone wearing neon tattoos as he thought they were all the rage hear.  Tokyo just narrows her eyes at him, not impressed. 

Nomad 6, in a rare display of cultural understanding (which he's been showing since he came to Japan, in truth), chides London by saying: "If you hear something about another country and when you go there, no one's doing it, maybe what you heard was wrong."  It's funny.  As much as he plays the redneck in America, he has Ingratiating Wanderer and a number of other merits so he's not as crude as he makes out to be (though he has Ghoulish Sense of Humor).  In truth, he knows just how to step so that he can be polite even when he doesn't quite know what he's doing.  It's just that he doesn't bother to do it when he's in his country of origin (or at least when dealing with the rest of the team).

 Upon hearing London's accent, two young women rush up.

"Are you English?" asks one of the young women.  It turns out that they don't get many British people here (as the totalitarian British government is loathe to hand out VISAs) but their taught British english rather than American english and so meeting one is relatively exciting.  She takes a picture of him which automatically scans Facebook and she identifies him by name, "Oh, you're a police officer!  Your cousin has entries about you." 

She also asks London to say something like a British police officer into the phone where she has nine other women teleconferenced.

It turns out British people are exotic in the future.  It was also a nice way for me to point out the fact that in the future, it's oh so easy to shatter your sense of privacy.

Anyway, they come to a quiet bend in the road where the cars are hustling past, there's no parking, and few pedestrians this time of night.  Tokyo hacks into the New Yorker Hotdog Stand using her hand interface device (which sends out wiring to seek out closed circuit computers).  I handed out a small card with what she finds written on it so that she would have to explain it (or read it out) to the other players rather than being able to gesture to me and say: "What she said."

Installation Date: 04/07/2052
There are two entries for pickle.  The second entry is inserted into the bun before the dog only if a particular chit card is used.  The chit card is one recognised as a company chip from Kurosawa.  These numbers would be easy to find from company records of those whom Bio-Connects has purchased from or from the Tokyo Bank.
I also gave her the Connect-the-Dots challenge before she finished hacking it, once her rolls had shown sufficient successes, and she very quickly put together the seal (about 12 dots) and then added a ball and a circus ring.  In other words, she had fun so it worked.  They figured out that the machine was installed only a few days before the fateful helicopter crashed.  Suspicious, much?
Three thuggish individuals came out of a laneway after they had a moment to discuss their situation.  They all had baggy pants, one had a red T-shirt, another a long red jacket, and a third had a red baseball cap with a tiger on it and a red shirt.  They all had sneakers with a red tiger on them.  One of them, the one in front, had an obviously metallic hand.
"Hey, what you doing?" asked the lead man, flicking a cigarette to one side and throwing a punch.
Everything happened at once (or seemed to).  London shot the guy with the augmented arm but it was a grazing hit.  Nomad 6 grappled one of them and then London speed cuffed him and had him on the ground, prone.  Tokyo disabled one man with the tazer inbuilt into her finger tips.  Leningrad stabbed the augmented guy a couple times with his sheathed blades and went to finish him off but Nomad 6 rushed over and started bandaging him up with his own bandanna to stabilize him (three agg, all lethal).  Tokyo wanted to heal him back up just a little and got her wish with only 1 success on an Awakening check.
They threw one of the guys up against the wall but went a little overboard with the intimidation.  The guy, soon identified as Ienaga Nobuo, just became confused and freaked out until Nomad 6 had them change their tactics with a little advice from London.  Nomad 6 played the 'good cop' and Tokyo later on came in as the unimpressed 'bad cop'.
"Do you know who I am?  Who we are?" demanded the guy.
"The Red Tiger Gang?" asked Nomad 6, hazarding a guy.
Nobuo stared at him in shock and awe.
Nomad 6 tried to convince them that they were hopelessly outmatched but did well enough.
"We didn't know you was commandos," said Nobuo.
He pointed out that this was obviously not a simple mugging.
Tokyo expressed her disbelief at how easily they were taken down.
Between Nomad 6's flattery and Tokyo's goading, they found out that the three were Ienaga Nobuo, Maruyama Arinori, and Kanda Tsukihara.  They were hired by a woman who spoke fluent Japanese but with a British accent.  She spoke to them over the telephone first and outlined their various crimes before making an offer.  They visited her in a hotel room, considering whether to just beat her up, but instead they got to speak to a screen that simply showed a globe.  They figured it was like something out of a spy movie.  The entire gang took turns staking out that hotdog stand and were each getting paid the equivalent of a $1200 altogether per day to watch the hotdog stand with an additional $5000 each for interrupting anyone attempting to interfere with the machine until they got called off.  The hotel room was 1516 of the Doihara Hotel.
It ended with Tokyo calling her father to send security down to round them up and hold them somewhere away from the company for a time while they checked out this lead.
 Other Thoughts
My players followed the clues brilliantly thus far and are pretty well on track.  We also had difficulty keeping on topic in previous sessions but we all made an admirable attempt to stay in character and therefore the game cruised on quite well.  It was a bit of a slow start as I had a massive info dump and I doubt many of them are quite sure what was what (so hopefully they read this).
The combat sequence was a welcome relief for many of them as I generally don't include much combat in my games.  I am planning to include more and I have something juicy up my sleeve for them for the next session.
I am very rusty on combat, though.  We all were.  Nobody remembered Defense or Armor.  Most of the combat rules weren't really followed.  London should have had a penalty for shooting into Melee.  Things like that.  I need to remember to bring out the Paizo Initiative Pad for next time as that makes it far easier to keep track of things than on a tiny piece of paper.  It was pretty touch and go with Nomad 6 grappling (not a Brawler) but when we remembered to subtract Strength it worked out.
The scene-by-scene playlist worked out nicely.  I used one song with lyrics, though, and it had such the wrong associations that one of my players had to try his hardest not to laugh until I switched songs.  Kinda an ambience killer....  Next time I need to stick to lyric-less songs unless the lyrics really REALLY work for it.
The Hacking Mini-Game worked out this time but I'll need to remember not to over-do it.  It shouldn't be used every time and is better as a way to keep the player engaged when time is at a premium.  Also, if I use it too often it'll lose its novelty.