Thursday, February 28, 2013

Flashpoint: Siren Academy Performance

And a very belated Actual Play to you guys....  I've had to rest my wrists lately due to neck tension equals strange nerve issues.  Nothing to worry about.  It just means that I have to do loads of stretches interspersed across the day to keep my neck from getting so tight to alleviate pressure off my nerves.  This has meant less spare time at the keyboard because, well, typing isn't great for that.

So anyway, onto the last session.

Firstly, they watched the performance which was broken into three Acts with an intermission between each one.  They were:
  • Act 1: A single performer who was visibly playing a violin while controlling a series of magical instruments made of force magic in a display of complex orchestra-work while a number of pretty (and vague) illusions and lights portrayed a rather abstract mood piece around him.  He was followed by a real orchestra who had a Vulpinal (a type of Celestial) as a flautist that was quite breathtaking.
  • Act 2: Basically, those space domes that you enter where there are illusions and images of space across the ceiling - only BETTER!  An audience who has never seen a television, many of whom have only seen stylised paintings of suns, got to watch an illusion of the sun rumble by their feet, comets shoot overhead, and illusions of asteroids pass as they zipped through an asteroid belt.  It all seemed to match what little they knew of space.  They also got to see a CR 20 angel flying through space, all abstract wings and gargantuan form of colour, whose role it was to chart out flight paths for angelic battalions and to boldly go into dangerous areas of space.  If it were struck by a terrible monster, it could likely survive the hit and then leave to re-forge the flight path elsewhere and avoid that area (or perhaps draw more of its kind to that place, depending).  Lhye managed to make the Knowledge Planes roll.
  • Act 3: A play wherein actors (each with +6 Charisma enhancement tiaras) performed the roles of Calistria, Shelyn, Desna, Cayden Cailean and a lawful evil fellow that is never named and has no specific symbols of Asmodeus (due to the Chelish patrons present) but who most certainly is.  The tale shows the three goddesses daring each other to use Cayden Cailean and trick him into naievely foiling the evil god's plots.  After all, the evil god could likely read them and find a way around their techniques and tactics but how could he read someone who didn't even know what was going on?  While the tale casts Shelyn in the best light, the actor of Cayden Cailean portrays some subtleties to his actions that suggests that Cayden may be the willing ruse who was aware of the purpose all along.
During the final act, Proteus saw a shadowy figure of a male youth standing silent in the corner of the stage, never interacting with the others nor speaking.  No one else saw this figure, which led Lhye to believe that perhaps some shard of Dou-Bral was interfering in their fates, considering some of the heavy religious symbolism and issues they had met earlier.

Once the act was over, they were all present at the After Party wherein Lhye asked the vulpinal a few questions, befriending him, and requesting information on Dou-Bral (which the vulpinal promised to drop off again later) and wherein the vulpinal implied that Lhye might be easier to find in future.  Lhye's player has already decided to get an Agathion familiar so it was fun slipping in that implication.  Lavender Lil simply flirted with some of the other guests.

Archer walked around, eating canapes, and being snarky at the various other player characters while Lunjun Siva starts networking and trying to find connections with rich patrons around the room.

Proteus asked the other actors about the meaning of the silent and shadow-blurred man.  No other actor saw him although the actress who had played Shelyn (a Riddleport woman with a cheap accent off-stage) had been having nightmares about the figure.  She never really disclosed what those nightmares were about though there were implications that she had dreamt about him on the stage at times.  Proteus seduces and sleeps with her.

In the back corridor, Lhye overhears Alyssa, from the Apiary, speaking to an important Shelyn cleric.  Alyssa implores the cleric to help her friend, a fourteen-year-old midshipman and Shelyn inquisitor who had recently been off to sea.  She had raised the boy, a Tiefling, from a baby after smuggling out several babies from the towns by the War Wound where they are normally slain at birth but where desperate parents are willing to find some alternate way.  The boy is alleged to have murdered the crew of a brig quite brutally, spreading their parts around, and nailing survivors to the bulkheads before casting it back toward Augustana and taking passage himself upon a pirate's vessel.

Alyssa assures them that the Tiefling didn't have some simple crisis where he suddenly turned so evil.  He was good enough to become a Shelyn Inquisitor at such a young age, after all, and there was nothing in his personality to suggest that the evil in his blood was so strong.  Augustana, however, have a price on his head.  The temple of Shelyn have no resources to offer in bringing him in alive.

Alyssa, frustrated, accuses the cleric of abandoning one of their own to a terrible fate (she assumes that he's been possessed or perhaps replaced by an evil demon) and rushes out onto the dock to put her head in her hands and try not to weep.  Lhye and Archer follow.

Lhye, disguised as a merchant, offers to assist her.

"Are you an adventurer?" she asks wearily.  "I can't afford the services of adventurers of a skill able to bring him in alive.  I have 1000 gold pieces."

"I don't want gold," said Lhye.  "I want access to the Apiary."

She looked at him warily.  "Are you some kind of scientist or academic?"

"No," said Lhye.

"I would pay that price even if you were," said Alyssa.  "Very well then."

Lhye drops the Disguise Self and stands there in his full appearance and Alyssa just gives him a noncomprehending look.  "Who are you?  Am I supposed to know you?"

Lhye's shocked and confused.  Has their past been re-written beyond those two years?  It's only once they get aboard the ship that they realise that she was simply trying to protect his cover (and Archer's).  Archer offers the ships services as they are going to the Shackles anyway.

Proteus is confused as to why they're now helping Alyssa but is happy enough to have her on his ship (as Archer doubts he has enough room or whether Alyssa and Kitzy would get along sharing his own cabin).  Proteus does assume that Lhye wants to sleep with Alyssa, though, but Lhye at this stage has little interest or expectation in that regard.

Kitzy / Kitrina is slightly annoyed that they'll go to the Shackles to assist Alyssa but not herself, though she is reassured rather gruffly by Archer that it's because they now have the reputation they need in order to be successful.

The following morning, Proteus and Lhye both gain membership at the Siren's Academy.  Lhye is also offered a number of spells from a Shelyn worshipping witch / stage hand who wants to provide assistance to Alyssa's cause.  If, after all, the Tiefling inquisitor really has been replaced / possessed, he needs to be saved (if possible) and his name cleared.

So there you have it.  The next session will have them heading into the Shackles (more than likely).

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Flashpoint: Time Warp

We've been playing on the slow experience point track and it's gotten a little, well, slow.  They're level five and it takes an increasingly long time for them to level.  Rather than simply put them on the medium experience point track, I decided to throw in something more wacky that also allows all of the boring and very basic reputation grinding to happen in the background.  You'll see what happens if you read through it.

Lhye went to the Apiary where a number of the tieflings in Augustana live together in a sanctuary / commune run by a woman with a mark in the middle of her forehead like a purple stone and purple eyes who claims she's a tiefling but who some people wonder might be an aasimar.  He brought his mother with him, hoping to find a nice place where they can be safe, settled, and accepted.  Unfortunately, he also went there looking for trouble, rejection, and stupidity.

So when he arrived, his tone was tight, hostile, and superior, and his words were snarky and occasionally threatening.  It didn't help that he couldn't see how his own demeanor was affecting things as he was too alert to the NPCs' mannerisms.  This led to a pretty tense scene that only became worse.  All the while his mother, Lavender Lil, remained silent.

It began with Lhye meeting the first tiefling.  When he spoke to her, she startled and stared at him like an animal.  She didn't respond even when he tried the whole speak-slowly-and-louder routine people tend to use with deaf people and those who are slow-witted.  After a few more moments more of staring at him, she turned into a bird and flew off to a nearby tree.

Then he met the next tiefling who had observed all of this.  A man with gold scales scattered across his forehead and golden horns.  He met sarcasm with sarcasm and had a very thuggish demeanor about him that lured Lhye into some rough comments.  I can't remember what led to this (the tiefling said something about showing him 'stuff and shit' or something similar) but Lhye said something that was misinterpreted to mean that he thought the Apiary floors were covered in shit.

At that point, the tiefling told him to "F*** off!"  In his eyes, Lhye was one of those uppity tieflings who got a taste for glory amongst the ordinary humanoids, got himself wealth and a fancy job, and wanted to prove how fantastic he was by taking a look at the "zoo" where the lesser tieflings spent time.  This couldn't be further from the truth but tieflings are a suspicious lot and Lhye didn't present himself very well, figuring that the Apiary would be used to tieflings like him.

In truth, more tieflings were like him ... except for the facts he was rich, powerful and had a growing heroic reputation.

So the second tiefling went and got the boss tiefling and exhausted leader of the Apiary, called Alyra, who was already trying to help five new tiefling rogues whom Lhye had freed from the slave ship.  At her wits end already, knowing the havoc a powerful and bitter caster can cause, and concerned that he might really just be there to peer around the zoo, she tried to gently but firmly tell him that, basically, there was no room for him there.  He didn't need them, after all.  He had his ship, his fame, and his crew-mates.  She wasn't exactly gentle, though she was trying to be, as she erred on the side of firmness.  The gentle option was to give him a tour rather than walking him to a table by the gates but she went with the latter.

Outraged that he would be rejected from the one place that could provide him sanctuary, insulted at the suspicious and dismissive way he seemed to be being treated, and disappointed that the one thing he'd been searching for years to find, he threatened to bring Calistrian vengeance upon them and left.  Alyra simply thanked him for the pre-warning.  He rushed off with his mother, thinking about how he had even spent ten years in Cheliax looking for a tiefling community only to find one in Andoren whose doors were closed to him.

So he went to the Apiary's sponsors and approached the government agencies with complaints of discrimination against adventurers, as the Apiary received funding / sponsorship to provide assistance and social support to other tieflings.  They didn't need to provide him with a place to live, as naturally their beds were limited, but he wasn't asking for a place to live.  When Proteus heard this rumor, he rolled a natural 20 on a Profession Oratory roll to spread the tale (and invent much of it) of Lhye's sad journey to find a safe community only to be rejected time and again.

The following morning they left with the tide.

They arrived at Absalom to sell the plinth to the Pathfinder Lodge there and are met by two curators, a gnome and an alchemist, who take them into a transdimensional space to test the artefact by striking it with tuning forks to various gods.  Each turning fork caused a different reaction, including:
  • Gozreh.  They felt like they were encased by water yet still could breathe.
  • Calistria.  The voice of the person they last hurt whispered in their ear (Proteus and Lhye both heard a roaring voice, like a devils, which they figured to be Alyra's - perhaps she was a devil in disguise?)
  • Nethys.  All of the magical items they wore grew warm.  This was most pleasant for Lunjun - the full caster - and least pleasant for Archer - a non-caster.
  • Sarenrae.  A profound sense of ambivalence filled them.
  • Cayden Caillean.  A sense of drunken loss, like a drunk feels when they go for a sad walk on their own.
  • Shelyn.  Everything changed.
They found themselves on the white marble dock that led into the Siren's Academy - an impressive cathedral-like structure situated on white stone in the middle of the Inner Seas that is part temple to Shelyn and part bardic college.  They wore formalwear, as did the others on that white stone dock.  Their two ships were docked there as well and they could hear Haylei doing her midshipman duties on one of them.

By 'they', I mean the three familiars (eagle, cat, monkey), Lhye and his mother Lil (who had Disguise Self going to make them appear human), Archer and his Lieutenant Wellard, Lunjun and Proteus.  Basically everyone who had been in the Shelyn temple.  They conferred a bit before realising that they were real, they were actually here, they had tickets to a big concert, and the date was a year and two weeks ahead of what it should have been.  They also had fake ID that made it seem like they were important businessmen.  They also had rosehip-scented water in their hipflasks, though a couple of them wouldn't have carried that, and Lhye figured out it must have been holy water.  They had also gone up a level though weren't too sure of their spells.  Lunjun had an easy time figuring it out by simply peering through his spellbook.

Kitrina came rushing down the gangplank towards them, wearing a fancy Chelish dress, eager to see the performance.  Apparently she has been with them for just over a year as they built up their reputation on the Inner Seas.  They have yet to go to the Shackles, which has frustrated her.  She has no idea of the time skip.  They also found out that they were here to assassinate someone, but they couldn't remember who.  It took them a bit of time (after a fruitless discussion with Midshipman Haylei where Proteus explained the time jump) before they thought to ask Kitrina who they were here to kill.  The girlfriend of the Admiral of the Gemcrown Bay.

On the plus side, they have experienced crewmen now and a bit of a reputation, though no one seems to be attacking the pirates with the forged ID.  Of course, people aren't supposed to fight each other at the Academy - a fact that no one realised but didn't turn out to be a problem because of the method they used to assassinate the devil.

They located the Admiral by his uniform and Proteus double checked the woman with him was the target.  He did this by putting holy water on his hand and shaking the alleged devil's hand, causing her to grit her teeth in pain and dismiss him from the conversation.  It wasn't so obviously on purpose because this was a Shelyn temple and so there were plenty of holy water fonts about that he could have moistened his hands in by accident.

Proteus / Lhye then used Disguise Self to look like waiters and went down a corridor where the drinks were laid out on trays by other servants.  They quickly scoffed most of the cocktails, pouring holy water in its place. 

Lhye had noticed Alyra in the room so he went to provide her with one such a drink, hoping to Beguiling Gift her into accepting one to test if she were a true devil or demon.  She passed her save but still took the drink with a little body language pressure from Lhye (and the fact she was talking to a rather chauvinistic and bombastic Taldan man).  She looked a bit confused at the water she had drunk, then annoyed as the rose hip registered.  Probably not the first time someone had tricked her into drinking holy water.  Still, she didn't comment or cause a scene.

Proteus used Beguiling Gift on the Devil, who passed her save, but the Devil needed no encouragement to drink and took a glass.  I ruled that consuming holy water would hit it with the full 6 hit points worth of damage.  As she startled, hissing, Proteus reacted like a shocked waiter and pulled back suddenly, spilling the tray of holy water onto her.  I ruled that it was equivalent to four glasses of holy water and decided to be kind and let him roll damage on all four.  He dealt a solid whack to her and the skin on her face and hands disintegrated to reveal red scales.  Lhye followed it up with anxiously coming over and feigning a trip, knocking more holy water onto her.

She died, disintegrating into nothing but a pile of clothing and goods, and the Admiral made a comment about interesting magic tricks and stepping away from the scene in case any might connect him to the figure.  Who knows what he's planning to do in retaliation in future, however?

Proteus scooped up all of her clothing and objects like a confused waiter, mentioning a need to return it to lost property.  Of course, they kept it instead as much of it was magical.

Be interesting to see what they do during the next session.  I promised Proteus and Lhye that I'd give them half an hour's grace before the alcohol hits them all at once (instantly drunkeness) and they all may choose to watch the concert rather than leave, which may be a better or worse idea.  Hard to say, really.

I imagine they'll stay.  Lhye and Proteus' players need an excuse to join the Siren Academy faction anyhow for the juicy factional bonuses.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Dystopic Form of the City of Tokyo

This multi-tiered metropolis of skyscrapers and technology is filled with noise, motion, and advertising.  Almost anything that can be co-opted for advertisements has been taken over by electronic billboards that note the interests downloaded and collated from passing users (from their shopping histories) so that the advertisements in the local streets match the majorities.  Cutesy video screens call out to passersby by last name and have limited programming that allow people with the right mobile application to converse with the A.I.’s about their products and about random other conversational items and thus allow the customer to actually talk to the smaller e-screens that dotted the blank spaces on walls.Still, this is a Tokyo that can be recognised from yester-year.  Festivals and cultural customs are still observed.  Traders on certain streets still call out to entice customers into their tiny shops to purchase certain goods.

Japan has an aging population with around 25% of the population being above the age of 60 and thus people now work until the age of 80 or 85 and there’s a thriving nightlife for the over 50s where before they might have stayed behind.  It is expected that there will be a massive plummet in Tokyo’s population over the next fifty years.

The city’s culture has darkened since the masquerade breaches brought monsters into the limelight and people have reacted by declaring the supernatural ‘technological’ with a firm belief that vampires are ‘ghost hackers’ capable of remote-hacking video capture technology and that fuzzy reflections in mirrors are actually caused by e-screens with video technology masquerading as mirrors.  The only real supernatural belief that is taken very seriously by people in Tokyo revolves around actual ghosts and a vampire who blurs, a werewolf who horrifies, or a Changeling that drops the mask will all later be recounted as hauntings.

The reason for this is simple.  Tokyo is a terribly haunted city.  In fact, it is quite the haunted city in an otherwise haunted country.  No one quite knows why.  Perhaps the nuclear bombings in America resonated with Nagazaki and Hiroshima – but then why is Tokyo the one that has captured so much ghostly attention?  Ghost hunters and other paranormal experts are listened to with great care by Japanese people these days and afforded a fair amount of respect so long as they don’t start going on about impossible things like vampires, werewolves, and demons.  A number of old customs have been resurrected and while these traditions have helped the situation they haven’t solved anything and generally seem to simply suppress a haunting briefly or shunt the ghosts elsewhere.

Japan has acknowledged that the dead walk.  It would be foolish to claim otherwise when there is so much going on in America.  However, they subscribe to the belief that zombies were the result of a nanotechnology spill in a biotechnology firm in Western America in or around Las Angeles (which is where epidemiologist place the start of the zombie apocalypse).  Luckily, the nanites get to work so quickly that any plane that takes off with an infected creature will shortly crash or, in a few cases, be easily quarantined with the pilots safely locked inside the front portion.  Several biotechnology companies have confirmed detecting the nanites – which has caused other experts to claim the same lest they appear less technologically savvy.

The Japanese government still retain powers although many politicians are openly, and sometimes covertly, connected to various megacorporations.  In theory they are meant to announce any such conflicts of interest but this is rarely the case unless they believe it may earn them more votes as megacorp employees are expected to vote along corporate lines.  While they theoretically can’t determine if you haven’t, most people don’t take that risk.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Flashpoint: Fitting The Ship

Our intrepid team of wannabe pirates and privateers realised that they hadn’t looted the woman they had handed over to the religious authorities of the small town.  Proteus became a little, well, obsessed with the idea of looting her and was willing to send his monkey in to loot her unconscious body even if it meant losing the monkey (he kind of figured he would rescue the monkey if need be but I’m still unsure on whether he really meant it). 

One rather interesting play of lines went something like:

“Are you willing to lose your monkey?” asked Lhye.

“They would have defences against familiars,” said Lavender Lil.  “Being that they might need to arrest casters occasionally.”

“My monkey’s willing to risk it.”  Proteus smiles at the monkey.  “Aren’t you?”

Monkey nods.

“Maybe your monkey just trusts you,” said Lavender Lil.

“Pshh!  Monkey knows me.”  Proteus turns to look down at the monkey.  “Do you trust me?”

Monkey nods all the more enthusiastically and then throws out its arms to hug him.  Proteus hugs him back tightly.

In the end, Proteus figured he might as well ask the paladin of Iomedae and cleric of Cayden Cailean whether they could loot the woman for their troubles.  He hops out of the boat as he isn’t a tiefling and determines to go find them.  Lhye, however, thoroughly offended that even after his good deeds he couldn’t enter the town, starts shouting at the populace to eat an abyssal dick.

Lhye is quite mature, as you can see.

Proteus is aghast at the position Lhye has put him into and has to do some quick Diplomatic footwork not to have the townsfolk turn against him.  I made Lhye roll Intimidate – not that he was trying to be Intimidating, but to see just how threatening he manages to accidentally appear.  Proteus then had to roll a Diplomacy using Lhye’s Intimidate as a DC.  Luckily, Proteus makes the DC but only just by telling everyone that he just had to leave the boat because of the demonic dick onboard. 

There are mutters that he is a ‘Rusalka’, or river witch, but no one attacks him.  They’re Taldans from a large town, not Ustalavic, and therefore they’re not nearly as superstitious about strange humanoids.

The Cayden cleric re-approaches.  “Now, now, what seems to be the trouble?”

The crowd, who are now disdainful, disperse.  Proteus and the cleric get into a conversation about travel passes.  The cleric, being from a Chaotic Good god, isn’t fussed about whether Proteus obtains one or not but states that it might be a good idea.  Proteus goes to the watch to obtain one but finds that he’ll need to provide either two character references or 400 gold pieces to waive the requirement for the references.  It is Taldor, after all.  Gold can provide a reference.

Proteus decides to pass and asks for the price of being a merchant here.  There is none.  He can travel freely within the town for about a week before requiring a travel pass – which is mostly for traversing the countryside.  This isn’t Cheliax, after all.  They don’t stymie trade with too much paperwork.

Proteus then decides to take the Cayden cleric aside and outright ask him if he might loot that unconscious girl to help pay his way now that he has separated from his old group.

“Sorry, but her property remains her own until she has been declared guilty,” said the cleric.

“And after that?” asked Proteus.

“All of her property will go to the crown,” said the cleric.

Proteus thanks him and departs to head back to the docks, saying farewells to the disgruntled locals before dropping off into the river and not re-surfacing until he gets back onto the boat.  He then starts putting the moves on Lavender Lil and manages to get a date at Augustana but is then distracted by purchasing duties.

This particular session largely focused on spending gold to outfit their two ships, the Exodus (Sloop of War stolen from the Chelish pirate) and the Egress (dark wood pinnace found on Piccolo Island when they were rescued from the Nidalese by Tritons and merfolk).  They bought short swords and leather armour for all of their sailors (100, all told).  Fancy courtier’s outfits (half price due to the amount of silk they’d stolen) for them all to make them look pirate-like.  Masterwork armour and weapons for their officers.  A gun for Wellard to start her on her way.  Lunjun Siva bought some utility spells using the ship’s wealth – like water breathing.

Finally, Proteus took Lhye and Lunjun Siva aside.  Not sure what they discussed as the three players went elsewhere.

That suited me just fine, however, as I needed Archer alone.  Archer received a summons to the admiralty and was shocked to find ‘Kitzy’, the apparent mass murderer, cheerfully talking to one of the Andoren Admirals. 

Kitzy, now going by Kitrina, thanked him for kindly giving her the chance to clear her name and produced a writ from the Iomedaean paladin stating that she had passed her trial.  She stated that she worked as a milkmaid for two weeks to gather up the funds she needed to help make her way south through Taldor from Galt.  It was a hag who had taken her appearance and butchered those people.  She stated that she recognised Archer’s accent when they spoke on the boat (when he said, “Fire” really) and thought that perhaps someone who was so dutiful about the law, and an Andoren especially, might like what she had to offer.

You see, she is a Calistrian worshipper, quite devout, and she wishes to utterly destroy her ex-boyfriend who used to work a ship for a Chelish ambassador who travelled often to Taldor.  Her ex-boyfriend got into trouble and had to flee to the Shackles to become a pirate – taking with him a wealth of sensitive information.  She wants revenge upon him for unspecified reasons and believed that selling that information to the Andoren Navy would qualify for that.  The Admiral produced a paper declaring that she had passed their battery of tests.

She returned with Archer to the ship, much to everyone’s shock.  Everyone was immediately suspicious.  Kitzy hardly recognised them but showed some level of disturbance at being confronted by Lhye (who’d been disguised last she saw him).  Then she tried to recover and offered her hand to him to shake, which just made him dislike her more.

Proteus made a comment indicating that they’d had sex and Kitzy looked at him blankly for a moment before realising dawned and she clapped a hand to her mouth, giggling.  “You?  With a Hag?”  Still chuckling, she headed into the captain’s office with Wellard.

The others then discussed the situation, still quite suspicious.  Archer provided her proofs which didn’t reduce Proteus’ suspicions at all.  Proteus was tempted to simply toss her overboard once they found out who the man was they were after, even if he had to quit the Navy to do it.

“You’re not in the Navy,” said Archer.

“What?!” said a confused Proteus.

“You never received a commission.  You’re just hired by me.”

That changed everything for Proteus.  He now had to prove that the Andoren Navy should hire him.  Suddenly the writs were all that mattered and if the Navy wanted them to do it this way then they had to do it this way.

I have got to say.  Proteus really reminds me of Porta from Sven Hassel’s novels.  That’s exactly the sort of logic that Porta would use.

Monday, February 11, 2013

How Social Politics Can Help With Running Large NPC Groups

One of the difficulties in any form of media involving a large cast is that screen time breeds familiarity and familiarity breeds attachment (if not actual liking) and attachment breeds concern.  The larger the cast, the harder it is to give everyone meaningful moments so people start fading into the background and out of sight, becoming extras no matter how hard you work on it.  Sure you could introduce them slowly, but that just means that they slowly become less and less important to the overall plot.  On the plus side for slow one-by-one introductions, at least your Players will remember them when they come back onto the stage for their brief moments.

I'm very aware of this at present as I'm running a solo campaign with twelve expedition members but the additional player.  It's even harder in roleplaying games because it's one thing to act out one person faithfully, another to have whole conversations between yourself with two to three people which means that the screen time is generally a mere spotlight on one person at a time.  It's also a shame because often we learn a lot of people by seeing how they interact with different types of people.  We all wear different faces, at least slightly different, when dealing with others.  The simple addition or subtraction of a single group member can change conversations and social interactions quite dramatically.

So what to do?

Well, I've sat down and picked out three traits for each of the twelve NPCs and then I turned those three traits into three lines and that's helped a bit.  I killed off two NPCs, which means I only have to deal with eleven now, and their deaths have also given me a chance to flesh a few NPCs out through their reactions.  Another one was reduced by 8 Constitution by moving plants (plants can be terrifying in Pathfinder, great horror fodder) and his wife has been trying to keep him alive although she had lost 5 Constitution.  That man would have died if not for the PC providing him with a Cloak of Endure Elements and that gave a slight dimension to the two characters that would otherwise be in the background.

Still, Game of Thrones and, to a much lesser extent, the Walking Dead handle large casts reasonably well.  How do they do that?

In a word: Politics.

Maybe you're groaning right now because you want an action-packed expedition with multiple members (like I'm doing) or you want to highlight a hamlet's population or survivors of a sinking ship and you don't want to resort to ... ugh ... politics.  This isn't a political game, after all.

Umm, actually, it is.

The moment you get large groups of people in a room you get social politics.  Their clashing and competing motivations and personalities will lead to a web of mixed feelings and considerations.  The simple difference of 'who likes/dislikes who' can make as much of a difference to the group dynamics as creating a person who has a weak/strong temper.  People are more likely to trust those they like and have mixed feelings if they do happen to trust someone they don't like very much (such as if they're good at their job).  Also, when two people who don't like each other clash, it can add some extra spice to an otherwise boring scene.

That impatient and brittle character you created?  Yeah, you'll reveal them more and in a dynamic and more memorable way when the brash character brings them close to tears.  Even if you talk about the clash in third person rather than play acting it out, it'll *still* have a big impact.  People naturally take note of social interplay and since it comes up more rarely in roleplaying games they're more likely to notice it, even if it's about as tangential to the plot as the blacksmith bitching to the player characters about how they can't trust anything they buy at the general store because the owner doesn't understand good workmanship (because he doesn't like the blacksmith's wares and said so once).

So yes, think about how the different characters relate.  Pick any two characters and ask yourself what they think of each other.  Create at least three options and pick the most interesting one.  Consider reversing the connection or having their own feelings clash without realising it. 

Billy thinks Tom is a brash idiot who'll get them all killed but Tom thinks Billy is his friend because he listens.

Or perhaps:

Tom thinks Billy hesitates and is too cowardly but Billy actually likes Tom because he gets things done and believes they complement each other's styles quite well.

Then while you're roleplaying, figure out how the characters might reveal their feelings.  Even if they're trying not to reveal anything, they're bound to have noncommital responses where others might enthuse or they might visibly grit their teeth or roll their eyes when the other person speaks.  Sometimes it's incredibly subtle and is in what they don't say and the facial expressions they don't make when talking about that other person.

In short:
  • Social politics allows for dramatic moments between combats
  • People can be revealed for who they are by what/who they like/dislike
  • People can be revealed through how they respond to each other
  • People can have different relationships with each other (one likes the other who dislikes them)
  • People behave differently when around different people and that can round out the character
  • Seeing interactions between other people can help the PCs get a better impression of them, but you don't need to act it out by swapping roles in an conversation with yourself.  You can just summarise the encounter.  That works as well.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Dystopic: Fallen Court

For those who would like to know more details about the Fallen Court I'm using in my Dystopic Campaign....

Obsidian Star Court
·         40+ Fallen
·         Predominately Faustian values
·         Rival Court to the Stolen Shame Court (20+ Fallen, predominately Ravener)
·         Rival Court to the Fate (largely mysterious)
·         All three Miami courts report to Baron Craigsen who maintains the state of Florida.

Tyrant Chakraborty
The Tyrant’s role here is more that of a Queen requiring spoiling and placating.  Much of the court revolves around her role including ceremonies steeped in pomp and invented traditions to show off the wealth of the tyrant.  While the Tyrant holds absolute power she is happy to delegate most decision making to the various Ministries and leaves them to squabble amongst themselves.

·         Female Faustian Fiend.
·         She is fond of breaching mild taboos involving sexuality, danger, and promiscuity.
·         She has sampled many drugs and enjoys trying new ones.
·         She thrills at being thought of as ‘naughty’.
·         She has the position due to her connections with the Stolen Shame Court of Raveners and since her ascension to power there have been no fatal confrontations.
·         She acts in self-produced movies where she holds the starring role.
·         She doesn’t read much and prefers to watch shows instead.
·         Traditionalist in the way of oaths, jewels, tithes, and noblesse oblige.

Ministry of Dust
This Ministry is responsible for manipulating the people – largely to ensure the success of their burgeoning show business and the encouragement of certain business and redevelopment proposals.  It is mostly about influence in these spheres and here is also where they are most prone to clashing with rival courts – including that of the vampires.

Minister Medina
·         Male Reconciler Malefactor
·         He gets smug easily.  Feed into it where appropriate.
·         When nervous, he makes mistakes.
·         He takes his responsibilities very seriously.
·         He thinks he is doing a much better job than he is at herding and manipulating the human populace.
·         He prefers to buy Shakespeare but he reads fantasy – generally sword and sorcery.

Secretary Dorinda

·         Female Faustian Malefactor.
·         Easily shamed by any errors she’s made.
·         She can be short with folk.
·         She is prudish and easily embarrassed by crude or rude comments.
·         Intuitive and capable of leaps of logic.
·         She is an artist in her spare time – combining painting with sculpture using human methods.
·         Other Malefactors do not understand her art as it favours form over function.
·         Her interests lie in paranormal thrillers and science fiction.

Ministry of Aurochs
These are the secret police of the Obsidian Star Court who gather evidence on Fallen crimes and provide them to the Minister for adjudication in closed courts.  The Accused must represent themselves at any trials.  A masked Auroch whose mask renders their physical form and voice ambiguous stands as the prosecution.  Only the Tyrant has the ability to sit in on these cases or overturn a sentence.

Minister Ortega

·         Female Luciferan Scourge.
·         Brutally efficient.
·         Highly secretive.  She believes that transparency in governance only leads to rule by popular opinion and therefore only allows her Ministry to conduct closed courts.
·         Only she knows the names and details of her underlings, some of whom are rumoured to also work for other ministries.
·         She is one of the oldest Fallen to walk the Earth who still resides in Miami and therefore has the most post-arrival Eminence.

Ministry of Dragons
This Ministry cleans up everyone else’s mess by smoothing over ruffled feathers and otherwise trying to keep outright war from breaking out.  Other than this, they are responsible for ensuring that the traditions are kept, tithes are made, and festivals run smoothly.  Glorified party planners.

Minister Chang
·         Male Reconciler Defiler
·         He wants to make big changes and feels strangled by all of the restrictions.
·         He tires of having to deal with the annoyances of the rival courts or the petty demands of the Baron and is bored with is job.
·         He is seriously considering relocation.
·         He is interested in books of other supernatural creatures but is forced to obtain books on traditional etiquette, speech making, and foreign pageantry throughout the eras.

Ministry of Eagles

Minister Khosravi
·         Male Faustian Devil
·         He is popular both within the court and without due to his positive attitude and classic poise and should the court’s tyrant fall, the majority will hope that he will take her place.  Unfortunately he lacks the post-arrival Eminence to do so.
·         Rumor has it he may have the highest pre-arrival Eminence in the court although perhaps he does not recall it.
·         He is one of the youngest Fallen within Miami but his popularity catapulted his success.
·         He will not fall apart under pressure.
·         He has no time to read for pleasure.

Media Adjutant Hall
·         Male Faustian Devil
·         Skilled at appearing innocent and above suspicion with a wide-eyed innocent demeanor
·         Sharp as a tack and very perceptive.
·         He can be unintentionally rude at times ... or is it unintentional?
·         A typical newsie (news blogs) – incisive, analytical, combines blogging with vlogging.  Held to high standards by his readership.
·         He reads autobiographies of locals’ relatives, political satire, microfiche of old newspapers, and medical thrillers.

Ministry of Lions
This ministry is in charge of defence of the court’s key sites and provide bodyguard duties to the Tyrant and any important visitors.  They have a lot of turn over when the three Miami courts chafe against each other as they are always the first to die.

Minister Garcia

·         Female Faustian Defiler
·         Irritable as she tires of the machinations of the court.
·         She is kinder than she appears as she has had to harden herself to complete the missions assigned to her – even when she doesn’t believe those decisions are correct.
·         People like her for her honesty and sincerity but do not respect her.
·         She does not take fools gladly.
·         Bureaucracy annoys her.
·         She reads books on military strategy, emergency protocols, and natural disaster management.


·         Male Cryptic
·         Not a bad guy, but still a thug.
·         He is deeply in love with [Classified] and it pains him that he can’t keep his beloved’s photograph on him.
·         While he is grimly determined during his missions, in truth he remembers the face of each person he has killed.
·         He mixes caution at work with thoughtlessness in his home life.
·         He reads periodical romance novels and military fiction – especially action-based thrillers – and books on foreign cultures.
·         His hose used to be a sniper on the Wall to kill zombies as part of the Green Berets.


·         Female Ravener Fiend
·         She is an intelligent individual who is treated as a thug due to her Factional and Ministerial affiliation and the fact they misunderstand what a corporate security detail can really mean.
·         She is not a violent woman at heart and merely wishes to protect.
·         She desires a way to leave her faction but knows that she will be banished to the pit if she tries.  As the Raveners are content to leave her as an honorary member, she retains that position.  Still the few encounters she has had with them pains them.
·         She is skilled with Portals and prefers to trap her enemies for capture or despatch.
·         She has a deep abiding interest in crime fiction and romantic dramas (not formulaic romance).  She generally only reads for pleasure.