Thursday, October 31, 2013

Adelaide Live Action Sword & Sorcery

Well we've placed our order for weapons and a single leather cuirass and it's going to set us back nearly $1000. Hitting people with fake swords has never been so expensive but oh well, at least it's active and helps with exercise. Unfortunately our weekends have been pretty busy so we haven't managed to go down to do the Marshall training more than once. Marshalls are basically part-moderator and part-that-sporty-word-which-means-you-judge-illegal-actions. Those sessions are the best because they're free!

We've had a bit of trouble playing on Monday nights, in party due to being busy and in part due to cost. We just haven't had the money, especially since we'd need to hire equipment as our weapons and cuirass won't be arriving until late November / early December. This shouldn't be a problem next fortnight but it has been for this fortnight.

The costs are a fair bit less if you pay for ten sessions at once. Basically, $100 for ten sessions rather than $15 per individual session. That'll also be way easier for us as we tend to have more money some fortnights than others.

I'm so excited to get my gear! I'd show you but I can't find the right links at the moment. You might just need to wait until I'm all geared up.

Tee hee!

Next fortnight I will show you my fancy make up. There's a woman who attends ALASS who also happens to be a dab hand with face paint. For a shiny gold coin donation she'll decorate your face. I took some inspiration from Edea from Final Fantasy VIII for the tiefling-esque type character I will be playing when the roleplay side of the game starts up. For now it's just the combat side of it, but I don't mind being decorated for that.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exploring Race, Gender & Sexuality in Masks of Nyarlathotep - New York

OBLIGATORY DISCLAIMER: This is in no way a criticism of the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign. Please do not take it as a criticism. The campaign is designed to engage as many pulp tropes from the era while at the same time avoiding any nasty assumptions about those stereotypes actually being true. At no point does the campaign blame inherent characteristics of any race for any of the Mythosy unpleasantness and there are plenty of examples of every race getting in on the Nyarlathotep action. There are also plenty of examples of nasty people of either race and gender included as well though the 1 named woman to every 9 named men is a bit unfortunate (while still making sense given the tropes and era involved).

I ADORE this campaign and do not wish nor desire for there to be any permanent changes to the campaign book. This is a more an examination of how some elements of the campaign could be changed to create a greater diversity and richness within the characters. I am in NO WAY saying that you *should* make these changes or that you are a bad person if you don't see any reason why these changes are necessary. They're not necessary. They're optional. Play it as you please.  

SPOILER WARNING: There are plenty within. I thought I would create a few more opportunities for important and powerful female NPCs in my version of the campaign. While I have to give kudos to the authors for Erica Carlyle, M'Weru, Nitocris (if summoned), Miriam Atwright, Agatha Broadmoor, Mei-Ling Choi, Nyiti, Bertha Shipley, Natalie Smythe-Forbes, Eloise Vane, Ewa Cowles, and Yaleesha from the core campaign and the companion writers for Fat Maybelle and Helen, I want to have more than 12 key characters out of 92.

Part of this can be dealt with through airtime. Even if only 12 named characters out of 92 are female, if those 12 characters are highly significant than that can most assuredly help mitigate the difference. Unfortunately since most of the cultist bad guys that consistently oppose you are men this is a bit trickier than one might initially suppose.

Still I am assisted by the fact that I am running this campaign nearly twenty years later during World War II and that I am creating a few NPC allies to assist my solo PC in his journeys and some of them will be women who will both fit within the era and yet counter the era's expectations of them. These allies will be introduced during the Half-Moon Cult and will include his apprentice hunter, Charlotte Adams; Sydney Silver's bisexual girlfriend Martha Collins who can help track her down; and Jane Fisher, the daughter of the Byron Fisher who provided Claude Porter with some advice after the monster sighting was leaked to the press.

 I have also gender swapped Sydney Silver from the Half Moon Cult (female reporter working under a male byline) and Jonah Kensington (now Julia) from Prospero Press is now a successful divorcee who had built the company up using her inheritance and who is now officially in charge since divorcing her husband.

 I will also be including some violent female cultists as the Cult of the Bloody Tongue seems a lot more open to female power than either of the other two cults. This will come up as a real issue when James Tyler takes out Mukunga as his chief wife will then step up to take control over the remnants who will meet at Fat Maybelle's.

Another problem James will face will be a female member of the Half Moon Cult (as he will have upset them first) who will prove to be a seemingly helpful femme fatale whom he will probably meet at Erica Carlyle's party. She won't be a mystical threat, really. More of a 'web of deceit and legal machinations' sort of person.

The New York Cult of the Bloody Tongue Masks of Nyarlathotep is an immense campaign that deals with the rather delightful aspects of a bloodthirsty, violent and utterly unsympathetic collection of cults that will do anything to achieve its evil aims. Suitably pulpy, yet with plenty of investigative and social avenues, this campaign deals with that essential human fear that there are some folk out there who will stop at nothing to achieve their awful aims and care nothing for those hurt along the way.

They are blinded by their drive for power, excited by sadistic cruelty, and yet can still blend within society. They are every fear of serial killers, doomsday cults, and vicious criminals that haunt our dreams at night. Now take that and mix in the primordial terror of ancient gods who want only to destroy us alongside a modern horror that our scientific exploits will doom us all (aka the Rocket).

Both cults also have a mixture of white and black cultists, though the white cultists tend to be richer and the black ones poorer. This is likely because the religion was brought over by black migrants who are actively discriminated against by the surrounding society but who target white cultists who have more wealth and influence. Odds are they are mostly middle class but have the kind of bureaucratic positions that can be painful to fight. I do, after all, want to keep them distinct from the wealthy Cult of the Black Pharoah.

Since wealth in any cult tends to be funneled into the cult leader's pockets, it would make sense for Mukunga to become quite wealthy as well. While there is a good chance that he will remain a shadowy figure in the background, knowing James' style he will probably be investigated so I'd be better off answering a few questions for myself. I have given him a residence on Sugar Hill and a couple of wives who are as dangerous as he is and who would take up the position as cult leader should he be killed. His lawful wife would take control first as she never attends the same cult meetings as Mukunga so that if one were killed (or arrested) the other would remain free. His second wife masquerades as his chief maidservant. The third pretends to be the nanny-turned-housekeeper. The children are all enrolled in a boarding school to give them the best possible education.

 This means that no matter what James does, the Cult of the Bloody Tongue will probably resurface in New York later on. Religions are pretty hard to stamp out, after all. If he does somehow manage to put enough effort into it without running out of time before the Big Ritual, so to speak, then the lack of religious influence on the kids may mean that they drift off into ordinary lives. He'll never really know.

Initially this was just going to be about race and gender but after reading The Post-Modern Masks of Nyarlathotep treatment in a Trail of Cthulhu Actual Play, I've decided to throw in some sexuality issues as well as you may have noticed with Sydney Silver's romance with her bisexual live-in lover. I'm taking Aviatrix's suggestions of having Jack Brady and Roger Carlyle be homosexual lovers. This isn't just to 'inject some LGBT-ness' into the storyline. I actually think it makes a lot more sense within the plotline if you inject some romance.

Why would Roger Carlyle suddenly become so interested in a jailbird that he'd even condescend to interview him in jail about the murder, let alone lawyer him up? Why was their loyalty so tight that Jack Brady travelled halfway around the world to save him and turned into a vigilante?

Sure, there are friendships that are that tight and sudden but this is fiction and fiction requires work to make coincidence logical. Romance is a far better shorthand.

As this is Masks, the NPC romances won't be a big part of the campaign anymore than a straight one would be but they do exist and may be referenced within the campaign itself if James is quick enough to pick up the clues.

Happy for discussion in the comments section below on your personal experiences with this campaign alongside any tweaks you may have made to the campaign, in whatever direction you may have done it.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Horrors: Attributes & Derived Statistics

Roleplaying games are interesting creatures. While you can most assuredly play any kind of game using any kind of system, there's no doubt that certain systems lend themselves more readily to different genres and play styles. This means that a good developer needs to ensure that the whole system supports the type of game chosen in order to assist the Game Master with running it. This means that any fiction, mechanics, examples and, ideally, even pictures should all be tightly focused on the type of game concerned.

I've certainly found the difficulties inherent in doing this while determining the skills and, to a lesser extent, the attributes involved in the game.

My attributes include the tried and tested: Strength (physical might), Agility (dexterity and physical precision), Resilience (capacity to withstand injuries, toxins), Perception (sensory information and interpretation), Charisma (persuasion and charm) and Intelligence (knowledge and mental processing power). I've also added two others that aren't so common. Intuition (subconscious mind, psychic resistance and Extra Sensory Perception) and Tenacity (conscious will and ability to continue despite adversity).

Now attributes are still a bit tricky. They all need to be useful so that none of them become the automatic 'dump stat' which rarely comes up no matter the character concept. You also want to keep from privileging one stat above all others. Tenacity was that privileged stat for me for awhile but I've wrangled it down. They also need to be broader than skills and not just because attributes are something we all have a little bit of while skills are things we can be clueless about. It's nice to be able to make a range of pairings beyond the usual Charisma + Deception range, if you get my drift. Okay, sure, the pairing range isn't necessary in a game but I kind of like it.

I'm also including Derived Statistics which is where a particular aspect of the character is defined by their attributes. In some cases this is easy to define. My health points are based off doubling your Resilience + 3 for the battered range and then equal to your Tenacity for the Misery and the Critical health range. The latter two both include rather simple blood loss mechanics but that's a subject of another post.

Resilience represents how much damage your character can take before things start going wrong. Tenacity represents how much damage your character can take while their body is in a whole lot of pain before you pass out or are otherwise incapacitated.

Some derived statistics are a little trickier to determine.

Just look at Initiative.

I could justify Initiative in several ways:

Perception + Intelligence (ability to see and interpret the threat before anybody else) Perception + Intuition (snap decisions based off subconscious processing of visual / auditory data) Perception + Agility (ability to interpret sensory information and then physically react to it) Intuition + Agility (subconscious aware of danger before it hits coupled with speed of physical reaction)

The tricky is to determine which derived statistics make the most sense in the context of the game.

At present I have:

Intuition + Agility. Intuition represents your ability to realise what is about to happen so that you can react accordingly and Agility represents your ability to actually respond to such threats. This allows for situations where the Game Master suddenly declares that everyone should roll Initiative before describing the danger in front of them. In a game of exploding bombs, sudden assaults in the black out, and imperceptible temperature drops that herald the approach of *something*, this makes a lot of sense to me.

Is this the only derived statistic possible?


But at present it works for me.

What do you guys think?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Arrival: Making Friends Nico-Style

They return to Bob’s Home with plenty of the walking wounded and Jack rushes off to fetch the ambulance as some need a lot more help than can be given at Bob's Home. Nico uses her first aid on them and then tries to do a deal with Bob.

She figures she should get to keep the amulet because of all her good works about the place. Wouldn’t he want to keep someone like her around? He states that her shooting monsters won’t keep him from getting possessed. So it turns out that he wants to keep the amulet, after all.

They then get on to discussing Baccarti. She’s keen on killing him but he reveals that Baccarti’s host used to be a pal of his and that the only thing keeping him going is the little glimpses of his old pal in Baccarti’s eyes now and again. If she can exorcise Baccarti and keep his friend alive, then sure, she can take the amulet and remove the demon but otherwise if she touches him he will hire mercenaries to hunt her down and kill her. She's rather put out by this but she hands over the amulet with a few rough words and heads back to Warehouse 13, leaving Bob's Home in the hands of Gruber's underlings.

Once she reaches Warehouse 13, she soon spots the cowboy who had headed out before her. She gets McCormack (the cowboy) to meet her outside in a dark alley and accuses him of being possessed, telling him her amulet was all a’tingling around him just as it was around the other monsters she had faced. He tells her to back off, that she’s out of her league, and that if she continues down this path she's going to get herself killed.

I think she really surprised him when she immediately...

...turned and went back inside.

It just didn’t seem like the right time to go all guns a’blazing and for all she knew he was just a little possessed by a whisperer or something. Still she knows he might try and shoot her in her sleep since she knows enough to get him lynched so she takes Jack up to her roon for a little bit of old celebratory sex. That way she has her pal in her room with her.

The next morning when she wakes up she sneaks up to the rooftop and checks for snipers. There aren't any.

She gets to spend a lazy day at the warehouse until night falls. That's when the red-lensed glasses guy arrives to take her for a ride in his Prius over to meet the remnants of the last squad that had attacked the bad man. It turned out that the tattooed man lived in a warehouse full of tinned food (damn monsters for guarding food) and that he had several trapdoors through which he’d sprung up and dragged the squad mates down one by one. One squadmate had managed to pull loose from his grip and another ran while the others were distracted.

Nico’s starting to wonder what she’s gotten herself into but is far too tough to back out now. Besides which, she knew a monster would get her number in the end. Might as well keep throwing herself at things and seeing how long her luck holds out.

Because she’s such a lucky person.

As she walks toward the warehouse in question, she gets almost all the way there when she notices a glint of moonlight reflecting off glass in one of the gaping windows of a neighbouring building. Suspecting a sniper (and fearing the gunslinging cowboy), she runs for cover and then sneaks into the building. She heads upstairs and finds a set of binoculars on a table in that particular room and spots stairs going down and two other gaping doorways. She heads toward the binoculars, figuring at this point that it’s just humans, when she notices movement to her right.

Turning her head a little she sees the cowboy, Allan McCormack, standing there and trying to sneak up on her. Figuring that this isn’t the time or the place for a fight (bit dangerous, really), she jumps out the second-storey window (American second-storey so only one floor up) and hits the dirt. Allan comes charging out after her but now his legs are now a skirt of wind and he looks all different and inhuman. He can now fly and moves super-fast.

To make matters worse, he still seems all the more familiar to her!

She charges across the street into the tattooed monster’s warehouse, using Intimidation to goad him into coming out and attacking the demon on his turf. It works and the guy appears out of nowhere and grabs hold of the wind-fellow as his rushes in. The winds rip into him but the guy manages to jab him with a syringe of something that hurts him.

Nico doesn’t stick around to find out what happens next and instead charges up a wooden table and out the window, dropping down just as the wind-demon charges out the window behind her and keeps on going through the air, obviously badly hurt. Nico looks up at the window to see the tattooed-man crouching there, pasty grey and obviously inhuman.

The two get to talking.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Arrival: Brain Theft & the Death of a Spawn Point

Since Nico had a vision revealing Jack's miraculous healing powers, on the following morning she accused Jack of healing his wounds miraculously. Jack quipped that he simply was a fast healer. In frustration she turned on her heel and stormed off. Her amulet wasn’t vibrating but that didn’t mean he wasn’t a treacherous pact-maker or parasitic demon. He chased after her and convinced her to return to their room so he could explain. He stated that he was human, had never made a pact, but was a witch capable of healing himself.

Since she also had regeneration and counted herself as human, she was open to the idea.

They returned to chat to Dr. Gruber who was going to retrieve the monster's brain from its corpse today. Since Nico didn’t have the time to get her posse together let alone to reach the leaper spawn point, she elected to go with them instead and hold off the monsters as they surgically removed the brain. They went out shortly before noon in the ambulance and she marvelled at how quickly one got from place to place in a car. The brain retrieval went relatively smoothly though they had to kill a bunch of feasting leapers to get at it.

Nico got her shiny silver sword out of it which seemed more durable and sharp than she had expected. Jack wasn't so keen on the blade. He argued that keeping monster bane weapons would only attract those monsters. Nico likes the idea of that. It'll cut down on travel time.

Her Infernal Visions about the sword that night involve a comic book Vampires versus Werewolves montage. Oddly enough she doesn’t take that too seriously. Werewolves, really? Bah humbug!

Nico convinced Jack to join her spawn-point killing posse and they went over to rouse a few more people over at Warehouse 13. She stayed the night, planning to leave in the morning, and during the night she was approached by a mysterious man wearing red-lensed glasses who asked for her assistance. He had a contract for her to kill a sewer-dwelling homicidal man who kept targeting the people at a mysterious settlement called St. Helios – a settlement which wasn't publicly known. If she took the job, he could give her a $1000 of Helios money and the right to enter and even dwell there. She accepted but told him to return in three days as she had another job to do first.

Nico gathered up half a dozen people at Warehouse 13 + cowboy + apprentice + Al who’d fled the ‘Skinless Man’ earlier + Jack and headed off to Bob’s Home. They then picked up the rest of the posse, slept the night and headed out to where the leaper generator allegedly laired. From what Dr. Gruber had told her earlier, there was some kind of plant bulb inside the building that was creating more of them. He had also warned her that if they struck any side of the plant it would summon all of the lurkers nearby.

So they sneak into this office building, working their way up through floors wrapped in purple roots, up staircases, across cubicles, taking out the odd leaper here and there until finally they reach a largely open section of floor with what looked like interwoven trunks and the first traces of leafy vines. Everyone was being very cautious as they went. Quiet and careful steps. Checking to ensure that they don't tread on any roots.

So naturally Al tripped over a root and hit the floor.

A big clump of plants in the middle of the large room quivered and large arachnid-like thing pulled free of the plant. It had four sharp pointy legs with a flexible armoured trunk instead of an abdomen which ended in a tooth maw. It took a lot of concentrated fire to even slow it down but it wasn't until Al redeemed himself by crawling underneath it and shooting lead all the way up and down its trunk before it died. Nico grabbed his feet and jerked him out from beneath it before it fell down on top of him.

Eventually they reached the top floor where a bulb sat upon a leafy nest, pulsing with slowly forming life.

Nico sets up five of the posse to guard the stairwell with the rest of the posse lined up near the rear wall to fire into the bulb on her count.

The plant reacted to the first bullets by extruding a green woman-like protuberance who stared at us in horror before causing a shiver of vines which unleashed a wave of long thorns at the posse. Moments later she animated (or perhaps simply controlled as she could have just been a part of the plant) the branches to attack and constrict the various posse members. Nico escapes this and keeps firing, finally destroying the bulb and causing the female plant figure to slump.

While the others do the nice thing of pulling each other from the branches that constrict them, she simply takes the machete another woman was holding and goes to hack the bulb apart to ensure that it's dead. She then takes the feet that had joined the woman to the bulb.

Why always the feet? Dunno. They’re a good size for the bag.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Wisps: Blue Birds of Playful Serenades

Wisps: Blue Birds of Playful Serenades

(Image courtesy of Juliano Coutinho)
There are 13 Wyrd 2 wisps in this particular litter.  Their mask makes them appear to be literal blue birds but their mien shows them to be pale blue fairies that are about as tall as an index finger with translucent and shimmering blue wings.  They wear dresses in Autumnal and Icy colours with hands covered in a layer of frosting.  Their voices sound like the tinkling of bells and only True Fae can comprehend the language they speak unless some sort of power is used that allows one to understand supernatural languages.  As Jack Frost currently lacks a 'Place' title, they currently reside in a pouch token at his hip.  They all have the same attributes and skills but their powers can vary.

Virtue: Hope
Vice: Gluttony

Seeming: Fairest
Kith: Playmate

Intelligence: 2
Wits: 3
Resolve: 2

Strength: 1
Dexterity: 4
Stamina: 1

Presence: 4
Manipulation: 3
Composure: 1

Academics: 0
Computer: 0
Crafts: 4 (Painting)
Investigation: 0
Medicine: 0
Occult: 0
Politics: 0
Science: 0

Athletics: 2
Brawl: 1
Drive: 0
Firearms: 0
Larceny: 1
Stealth: 3
Survival: 0
Weaponry: 0

Animal Ken: 1
Empathy: 1
Expression: 4 (Singing)
Intimidation: 0
Persuasion: 3
Socialise: 2 (Playful flitting)
Streetwise: 0
Subterfuge: 0

Wyrd: 2
Willpower: 3
Size: 1
Health: 2

Striking Looks (****)
Faerie Healing (**)
Hedge Gate Sense (*)
Siren Song (***)
Brownie's Boon (*)
Enchanting Performance (****)

Their powers differ depending on the wisp so see below to see which ones have which powers.  Unless otherwise marked, these powers come from Changeling contracts.  Those with another genre marked refer to powers that come from that particular species, as suggested in the box out on page 95 of Equniox Road.  Although they literally have one mind when outside of Arcadia, they still manifest different personality traits.

Matilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Majesty 3 (Vampire), Hours 2.  Excitable, artistic, easily bored.
Rosafilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Auspex 3 (Vampire), Hours 2.  Curious, patient, dreamy.
Gemmanilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Celerity 3 (Vampire), Smoke 2.  Sneaky, sulky, deceitful.
Alissarilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Dream 5.  Gossipy, childish, loves stories.
Terisasilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Hearth 5.  Studious, bossy, maternal.
Fionakilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Communion (Ice) 5.  Aloof, impatient, demanding.
Carachilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Smoke 5.  Crude, tomboyish, loves fart jokes.
Moiravilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Moon 5.  Moody, changeable, distracted by the moon.
Beccazilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Darkness 5.  Grumpy, mean, hates apples.
Dorapilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Artifice 5.  Attracted to bright lights, loves cats, collector.
Richayilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Reflections 5.  Flirtatious, sultry, eager for attention.
Norinally: Elements (Ice) 5, Forge 5.  Lonely, socially awkward, hopeful.
Hattirilly: Elements (Ice) 5, Animation 5.  Soulful, expressive, talkative.

Fae Weakness: Other than being split from the whole, they are each vulnerable to being killed on Earth (and thus destroyed) and can be unmade by a child forcefully banishing them from their lives / bedrooms.

Interruption to your usual Scheduling

Since I'm exhausted due to lack of sleep that I believe may be due to all of the temperature spikes (who knows?), I'm going to be lazy today and instead of providing you with the expected articles on emotions I will be posting an older article I had kept in Drafts that describes another one of Jack Frost the True Fae's titles. His Wisps: Blue Birds of Playful Serenades. The usual schedule will continue from tomorrow onwards. Sorry for any inconvenience!

By the way, do you have any preference for a particular emotion for me to look at next week?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Game Translation: Project Zero

The Project Zero series (aka Fatal Frame) are survival horrors which focus on therather terrible situation of having to perform an awful ritual to prevent some great catastrophe from occuring. Unfortunately in each incarnation such a ritual was improperly performed and so the catastrophe did happen. You play a poor young woman who stumbles into this situation. In the first game you are a girl looking for her brother who disappeared on a paranormal investigation. In the second game you are one of a pair of identical twin sisters whose twin starts to behave strangely before disappearing during the course of the game. In the third game you are a depressed young woman whose boyfriend died in a car accident while she was driving.

The game revolves around one primary mechanic. You can't fight back. You can't hide. You can only sometimes run as the doors will often seal around you when setpiece ghosts attack. What you can do, however, is use a mystical device called a Camera Obscura which is capable of injuring (or at least dissipating) the ghosts which you photograph. There are a few ghosts who are immune, at least until the final battle, but you can normally rely on your old trusty camera to see you through. You can even take pictures of ghost-touched doors or puzzles to get hints of what to do or where to go next.

There are puzzles in the game which are a little odd but the spiritual aspect to the game means they still make sense. Yes, you may need to arrange dolls on a particular platform to get through a door but that might be a religious observance backed by hidden mechanisms OR it could be a genuine appeasement to the ghosts which gets you pass. Either way, it works.

There are a fair few notes written by the dead which can be found about the place. Some are written by people before they died. Sometimes it's indicated that the notes were written after death. There are also ghost-stones which provide short audio logs that give a glimpse into the ghost's thoughts now that they are dead.

The main problem you will face in attempting to translate this videogame into the roleplaying medium is that there are few pen and paper games that can accurately model the use of the camera obscura. While you could simply provide the PC with the object, say that it deals a certain damage dice and go from there, it doesn't really capture the spirit of the thing. After all, you'd want the combat to be a little more interesting than "Roll Attack, now Damage, roll Attack, now Damage" to represent whether they take a picture of the ghost and how close the ghost gets before being pushed aside. It would also be  problematic to model the ghost's approach as in the game you can avoid damage by attacking. Having the ghost and the PC sit there attacking each other until one is whittled away to nothing isn't very fitting.

"I'm gonna tickle you...."
What you could do is only give the ghost an attack when the PC misses. In other words, if Mary misses her attack roll using the camera, the ghost can then get close enough to attack in turn. Otherwise the  ghost is repelled and must await an opening as it slowly glides forward again. This raises the tension a bit with the attack rolls as you now really don't want to miss but it doesn't make the damage roll any more fulfilling. So get rid of it. You could just have the camera deal a certain amount of damage, say, 1 point. Both the PC and the ghosts each have a certain amount of hit points. Most ghosts only deal 1 hit point worth of damage when they touch you but others deal more. Some will even instantly kill a PC though you need to be sure that the player gets clues of that level of danger beforehand. This technique reduces the number of die rolls, speeds up combat, and increases focus on the attack roll as it's really your attack / damage / dodge all in one. Now you *really* don't want to roll low.

So mechanically this game would be rather simple. In fact, you could possibly get away without skill rolls and simply assume the PC's actions succeed if it's possible, fail if it isn't and then build on the natural consequences of that. Perhaps simply leaving those very dangerous skill rolls to utter chance if a roll is needed at all.

As an example, roll 1d20. If you get a 10 or higher, you pass. Expressing decision making through gameplay can be a tricky thing outside of social situations. We're so used to having to roll for anything that might fail we forget that the consequences of success can be just as interesting. As an example, being able to climb a chain link fence should generally not be in any doubt. What you will find on the other side most assuredly is. If the player has to decide whether hopping the fence or approaching the gate is the best bet, it shifts the emphasis from the dice - "Can I climb it?" to the decision "Should I climb it?". When they clamber over the fence and are immediately set upon by a guard dog it adds extra weight to that decision than if the sudden guard dog was due to a failed stealth roll.

Of course the Game Master has to take care to not appear arbitrary. If every situation would bring the same result or, alternatively, the Game Master has no idea of the consequences until the player has made their decision, then the results become rather arbitrary and it loses some of its mystique.

Naturally in your plotting phase you will also need to create some terrible ritual which involves cruel actions against vulnerable innocents who are usually willing participants. You will also need to figure out what the awful consequences of any failures in that ritual actually were and what horrible thing the PCs may need to do to put it all right. Sacrifice a loved one? Sacrifice oneself to a fate worse than death? Force a victim back into their graves? It's this final gut wrenching moment when you realise that the best thing you can do is to duplicate the horrors of the past that really twist the knife in these games.

Anyway, a campaign based around the Project Zero series, or including elements of it, should appeal to Explorers who will get a real kick out of moving through such an eerie location, checking through each drawer for new notes and wondering what new situation is around the next corner.

Investigators will love the mystery and will eagerly put together all of the clues to try to piece together an understanding of what happened in the past, who was to blame, and what needs to be done to repair the situation.

Tacticians might not like how vulnerable they are and how difficult it is to make forward planning work as so much of the situation is both out of their hands and difficult to predict.

Action Heroes will find the lack of action to be more than a little frustrating. The combats will be simplified. At best they might have a chase scene to indulge in.

Communicators will enjoy the character development opportunities but will find the lack of opportunity to manipulate, politic and develop relationships to be a little dull.

If you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation, you have a choice of these: Left for Dead, Beyond: Two Souls,  Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Realms of the Haunting, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, The Cat Lady, Outlast or Dishonoured. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll be Zelda: Ocarina of Time.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Fantasy Lands 'R Us

I've read the Tough Guide to Fantasyland and I've got to say that it would make a neat premise for a fantasy game. I don't know about running an entire campaign where the entire point is to point out and play with a bundle of fantasy tropes but several adventures or a short campaign could be a lot of fun. I mean, I might invoke a lot of those tropes in a Changeling game or Cyberpunk VR vs Real World game or even Fantasy World vs Fantasy Land where the contrast between the real world and the fantasy world can keep these tropes fresh and exciting, but I probably wouldn't do it as a straight up fantasy.

Mostly because without that contrast the line between satire and simply joining the satirised is quite a thin one.

Still just thinking about it can really provide a new perspective on your own fantasy campaigns and give you an idea of where you stand on the Unique ----> Shared Trope scale as well as the Realism ----> Stereotype scale. What would you need to change in your fantasy campaign to make it Trope Central? Not just Tropes Included but Tropes Placed Center Stage. How would that change the gameplay?

For Flashpoint it's kind of simple. I'd re-make all the pirates to be quite jovial. I'd probably make them sing. It'd be all "Ayes" and a delight for rum and a mishandling of women who aren't captains of their own vessels. The pirates would all be either happy or "mutinous". Most treasure would be in chests. It would also be all gemstones and gold. No stealing bolts of silk or barrels of cider. Oh no, merchants would inexplicably be carrying lots and lots of gold.

Whenever I think of the Chelish I think of Nazi tropes, but that would be no good here as I want fantasy tropes. So I'd need to make them all cape-wearing evil nobles with incompetent guardsmen and foreign accents who are intent on global domination and spreading the cause of evil. Moustache-twirling villains the very lot of them. The peasants would be all subjugated, largely silent and would be all gentle spirits rather than willing participants because that's how peasants roll. Unless they're soldiers. Then they're faceless mooks dedicated to stupidity and evil and willing to run off cliffs if their commander told them to. They would stick to rank and file attacks even against casters. There'd be no need to avoid killing large swathes of them and no moral ambiguity.

The evil nobles might cause the death of hundreds of thousands of people but that would all be off-stage. Largely they wouldn't be doing anything worse than most fantasy aristocrats in the game but they like to talk about supporting evil as a concept and they love devils so they therefore *must* be evil.

Barkeepers and merchants would all be inexplicably high level retired wizards to ensure that the players didn't get any ideas.

Everything the PCs did would be justified. Their treacheries are all okay but anyone who turns against them, for whatever reason, will be vilified to almost comical levels.

Hmm, I'm not getting into the stereotypes as much as I should. I'm sure there's ways to be more ridiculously trope-y. What do you folks think? How would you Tropeify your own game? Or mine?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Masks of Nyarlathotep: New York Timelines

Such a helpful resource even when for the 1940s.

This is where my Masks (or rather Half Moon Rising) preparation gets tricky. I'm going to use the 1938 New England hurricane as the justification for how Mogens' experimental test subject got loose but that will likely occur after James arrives in New York. Unfortunately this means working out the timelines for all of the events in the scenario as there's no real series of "This happened three days ago, this happened yesterday" in the scenario itself. I did figure out how I would do it, however, and how to distract James so that he doesn't get ahead of himself and get too involved in the newspaper agency before the journalist goes missing.

James Tyler will wake up in hospital as a human being on the 30th August which gives him about a week to set himself up and reach the point where he can hop an ocean liner by the 10th (at the latest) to get to New York by the 18th (at the latest).

September 18th
James will be almost out of money. He'll need to find a place for him and Charlie to rest up for the night. Introduce New York docklands. I found some menus from the era using the New York Public Library's "What's on the Menu?" project. This gives the player a bit of an idea about prices in that era and it gives me a chance to drain his coins all the more as I really want to play with the reality of near homelessness

September 19th - 20th
Settling in. I imagine James might try to con / gamble his way into money. This might work out for a bit but if he relies on it I will find ways to bankrupt him. It'll keep him busy at least. He may also seek out an illegal gun. I have a short conflict for when he starts looking at moving into a rental apartment since it'd be cheaper than a hotel. There's a very cheap place that's $3 a week in Hell's Kitchen where he could get away with just paying two weeks in advance and having an otherwise nice enough place at that rate (normally would be $4 a week) if he kicks out a violent couple of men who are terrorising the apartment building and forcing the owner to give them most of the rent money. If James can evict them, James can keep their furniture as well.

September 21st
A full moon AND the Autumnal Equinox. Also Hurricane Day. Haven't figured out whose magics will be partly responsible for this, if anyone, but I am considering the possibility. At this stage I'll stop distracting him and let him start researching Eugene Vanderklei, attempt to get in contact with the lawyer who busted out Jack Frost (can get an appointment next week), or try to speak with Sydney Silver at the office (Sydney is off investigating, the receptionist can take a message).

Researching Eugene Vanderklei will reveal his university degree in biochemistry, his marriage certificate, and birth certificates for their six children of which Jack Vanderklei is the youngest. If he does quite well he'll also see that Jack Vanderklei won the 'Better Babies' contest of his youth as being a perfect baby. Naturally he'll have to go through the New York Public Library newspaper stacks or the Hall of Records for information. Probably a mix of both.

From about 10AM he'll notice a strong wind from the north.  At 11AM, the wind will shift east and soon blow almost a gale from the North East with heavy rain but that's expected this time of year.  At around 1AM he may be near a radio in which ase he will hear that "The West Indies hurricane is in the Mid-Atlantic".  From 2PM: Winds switche from the east.  Clouds race by the sky.  2:30PM begins the white water storm surges.

Extensive street flooding due to blocked drains and very high winds will make the hurricane obvious even in New York. The East River will flow three blocks and flooded a Consolidated Edison power plant at 133rd Street which causes power failures all the way north of 59th Street and in the Bronx for several minutes to a few hours. I'm still uncertain on the exact timeline for that so I'll do it at around mid-afternoon and just avoid giving an exact time for it. I doubt James will spend anytime north of 59th on that particular day so he'll probably not have to worry about power failures so much. Railroad and ferry services will be suspended just as bridges and tunnels connecting Manhattan to the outer suburbs will close until the following afternoon. This might make an impact on him if tries to go to Sydney Silver's offices as I've moved them to Brooklyn Heights since Fleet Street is no longer as much of a thing by 1938.

That night the creature gets loose and is spotted by one of the sanitation workers brought onto the late shift to help clear up the debris. He mentions it to his friends and it spreads like wildfire.

September 23rd
Sydney Silver hears of the "monster in the sewer" and interviews the sanitation worker.

September 24th
The "Monsters in the Sewers" article runs. The sanitation worker is threatened during the day and then kidnapped overnight by Mogens crew. His hotbed friend is convinced that he ran away from the hostile media attention due to a letter left behind. Sydney Silver is threatened by Mogens crew who try to grab her when she returns home that night and it's only by fleeing on foot and hopping between subway trains that she gets away. This means that even if James is straight on top of it he won't be able to contact the sanitation worker or Sydney. During the daytime, both will just be busy doing other things and therefore be hard to reach.

September 25th
This is the time when I'm hoping James gets drawn into the middle of things.

September 28th
Mogens 'Half Moon Ritual' will occur. I'm not giving him much time as I know the player well enough to realise that a four day timeline is all he needs to follow these breadcrumbs more than likely.

Ahh, research. I love doing it. And I really love when natural events happen to coincide with plots.

Monday, October 21, 2013

HotHF: Order of Creation

Creating your own core rulebook is a funny thing. You don't necessarily start where you think you would start. Horrors on the Home Front began as a setting monograph that I was going to submit to Chaosium as part of their Call of Cthulhu line but it just didn't feel right. It was mostly like a rather weak history book that just didn't tie in as much as I would like so, on the advice of a dear friend of mine, I considered self-publishing it as something else. The moment I really thought about it is the moment I realised that I could do something really different with it.

I love horror, afteer all. Why not use that love of horror to create something a bit more unique to me?

Despite this, the last thing I've truly looked at has been the supernatural aspects to the game. I brushed up some more on the history books and wrote up reams and reams of information that I would find handy were I to run a game in that setting. I then realised I should bite the bullet and start looking at what rules I need for it.

The rules changed as I dealt with things. At first it was very simulationist with rules for everything but then I decided they were getting in the way. So I worked on more fluid works that work better for a more narrativist approach but were still gritty and painful to deal with. I introduced alternatives to death because I find that when you want to really scare the player it helps if they've got high stakes in the game (i.e. a beloved character you can maul). My attributes went from 1 to 10 down to 1 to 5 so that skills (which remained at 1 to 10) would add more to your dice rolls than attributes. Thanks to Shimmin Beg and Dan H for that pointer.

The skills themselves changed as I realised that there were certain basic things you couldn't do in my original system. Simple things like playing a guitar or fixing a car. Once Crafts became a skill, the latter was sorted, but once I threw in Performance I had to think about other uses for it beyond: "I can play guitar good".

Fear tokens, which were rather shabbily implemented, became morale points - which fit better with both the tone of the game and the setting. People were now encouraged to have their characters behave in those silly, realistic ways that real people do because morale points are so very important yet can so readily be stripped away. You can't control their loss but you can control (to a certain extent) their gain.

I gave more latitude to the Game Warden to come up with target numbers and damage dice for natural situations and just gave some information on realism. How much damage does fire do? Well, that depends on a whole lot of variables in real life so the only logical question to ask is: How much damage does the Game Warden want fire to do? I give ideas, advice, and point out which variables can make fire more dangerous so that the Game Warden doesn't make a wood fire in a fireplace deal more damage than one that's had a whole lot of accelerant put onto it.

I also worked on obstacles as a way to simulate natural dangers like blitz-damaged roads and burning buildings. Rather than mechanically modelling the spread of fire through a building, with this many feet being consumed in this many rounds, I looked at how a Game Warden could implement a narrative flow of events which the players must overcome. This necessitated a bit more research into fires and such. A mixture of skill rolls and decision making can get you through dangerous situations with hit point damage or worsening situations as the penalty for failure.

Now that the setting (trimmed down) and rules (refocused) are pretty much in, I took a look at general advice and situations for the mundane side of the home front. During this time I started researching monsters, myths and the theories that underlie them. I jotted down bits that interested me. I discarded the rest. I had written a bit of a bestiary earlier on in the piece that nothing that really drew me in.

A few days ago, I came up with the setting behind the supernatural aspects of the game. I won't go into it now as metaphysical discussions on the supernatural causes behind entities don't do well in an elevator pitch. Something about 25 word elevator pitches kinda removes the scariness of it. I'll dedicate a post to it in future, though. I will say that once I had the metaphysics down alongside the style of horror I loved and wanted to evoke, it became a whole lot easier to come up with suitably disturbing monsters.

Oddly enough, my personal fave at the moment is the Barghest. Not normally the type of monster that you would think of in terms of 'disturbing' and 'scary' but it certainly pushes my buttons. And as many of the horror masters say, if your own creations don't scare you then you're not doing it right.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Arrival: Ice Sirens & Heroic Strangers

Found at Wikimedia © Copyright Peripitus and licensed for reuse under
this Share Alike Creative Commons Licence
On the way to Warehouse 13, night fell so she found a building to sleep in. As serendipity would have it, someone set themselves up a few offices down the corridor and set themselves a nice warm fire. Just one person, mind  A muscular shaven-headed man with a shotgun nearby. As her amulet didn’t so much as twitch she went in to introduce herself.

While she was wary to begin with, the man passed muster and the two got to know each other a bit though she still wasn't sure of the cleverness of setting a fire.

The man (Jack) explained that he had travelled all the way from Washington on the west coast but conversation was interrupted by a sudden cold sweeping across the room, quenching the fire.

They heard a woman singing and when they went out to the external window they saw a beautiful ice blue woman skipping and dancing down the street, surrounded by an aura of cold. Her song pulled at the mind, calling people out onto the streets, but Jack made his roll and Nicky spent a faith to be temporarily immune to that particular mind affecting power.

Another woman who had been hidden further down the street wasn’t so lucky.  She was siren-called and came running out onto the street.  The creature advanced on her and screamed at her, knocking the woman down from the blast.

Nico responded the only way she knew how. With rifle shots from her carbine.

The creature cast a blue shield around herself which soaked some of the power from the bullets, whipping around afloating straight toward them. Several bullets later and it was right in front of Jack and Nico but before it could scream, Jack leapt over its head and tried to shoot it with a shotgun – missing but drawing its ire. It screamed at him, deafening him. Nico shot the heck out of it from behind and it soon collapsed.

Nico dropped down from the building (joys of le parkour) and checked to see that Jack was okay before chopping off the thing’s head and feet, wrapping the feet in cloth. They then went to check on the injured woman who lay unconscious and bleeding from the eyes and ears. Not a good sign. So Jack and Nico used a door as a makeshift stretcher, strapped the woman to it, and headed back for the university doctors.

On the way back they were attacked by a few leapers.  Again Jack missed with his shotgun but this time got himself bitten.

Nico wasn’t sure how the hospital (as she’d come to think of it) would react to having a new patient dumped on their doorstop but she had nowhere else to take her. Dr. Gruber immediately took the patient into their makeshift surgical theatre and got to work trying to alleviate the pressure on her brain. Nico watched the surgery, still suspicious of Dr. Gruber but it all appeared to be above board as far as her limited first aid knowledge was concerned.

Afterwards Dr. Gruber offered to take a look at Jack’s wound since the man had a torn and bloodstained shirt. Jack lied and pretended it wasn’t his blood. Nico supported his claim, figuring that Jack was as suspicious of Dr. Gruber as she was.

That night they slept at the university in a spare classroom. Jack warned her he slept naked and she told him she didn’t care and to prove the point she immediately closed her eyes, snuggled into her own sleeping bag and went to sleep. She kept her gun by her hand, though. More out of habit than anything else.

She had the strangest dream (Infernal Visions – Castigation merit) where she saw a smiling demon who seemed eerily familiar who stood in the room with them (which was now better lit than before). The demon had a fixed expression with a wide grin showing sharp teeth.  It's expressions could flick from one fixed look to another but without any motion in between (think Hexadecimal from ReBoot). It had a sharp-tipped tail gently waving behind it (think Geiger Alien tail), claws on long slender fingers, curved horns atop its brow, and torn wings that dripped blemished golden blood. Somehow it still managed to be handsome. Its skin was a dark bronze, its blue eyes bright with malice, and its hair a rusty brown.

Seeing it, Nico couldn’t help but smile but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. A tense smile, sad smile, angry smile, every type of smile was open to her except for not smiling.

It taunted her for not seeing things properly or clearly and showed her Jack undressing to reveal his unblemished muscular skin. His wound had healed! When she demanded to know who the demon was, it responded by saying that she already knew. It also remarked on the strangeness of being in this position, gesturing to both her and itself. She asked what Dr. Gruber’s real name was (thinking him also a demon and hoping to get some benefit from this dream), and the entity opened its mouth to reveal a blast of nonsensical syllables like a sharp blast of static. Finally she fell back asleep and dreamt nothing at all.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Arrival: Accusations & Strange Acquaintances

Found at Wikimedia © Copyright Andrew Balet
and licensed for reuse under this
Share Alike Creative Commons Licence.
So Nicois being taken to meet a bunch of scientists by a possessed gunslinger and his seemingly unaware apprentice. It turns out the scientists are hanging out in one of the few intact buildings within a university campus in the boroughs. Heading inside without being halted, she soon spots a dozen folk lurking about the cafeteria who respond to their entry with shock and grabbing at their weapons. Naturally Nico surmises they have no real defences and not that the defences customarily don't bother McCormack (the possessed gunslinger.

Nico is taken into a laboratory where several scientists bustle about but her attention is immediately drawn to a German man in his middle twenties with a multitude of facial piercings (eyebrow, lip, ears), little black horns and little claws instead of nails. She immediately accuses him of being a demon to which he blithely responds that they are merely coral implants from pre-Arrival times. She doesn't buy that. After all, the Arrival was twenty years ago. Unless they implanted him before the age of ten it just couldn't be possible. Upon finding out that he trained as a heart surgeon before the Arrival.... Let's say that the only reason why she didn't shoot him right there was because she was on his turf.

The obvious demon, Dr. Alvin Gruber, shows her a recording of his documentary from Germany where he debunked supernatural phenomena and it does show his 'implants'. All this does is convince her that there must have been demonic possessions slipping under the radar pre-Arrival.

Allan McCormack seems thoroughly amused by her declarations though he's not uncouth enough to laugh outright.

Finally, Dr. Gruber explains that the scientists have another mission for her after the destruction of the Snuffleupacus. They want to get the creature’s brain using their refitted ambulance but the noise would likely draw some critters. Gruber offers her a silver sword for her assistance.

Nico offers to provide cover by drawing monster attention to the destruction of the nearby leaper nest. They were next on her agenda, after all, and with the Snuffleupacus dead there'd be nothing to reduce their numbers anyhow. She elects to go gather up a posse from Bob's Home and Warehouse 13. She heads off on her own while the cowboy does his own thing though they plan to meet up again later on at Bob’s Home.

Nico drops by Bob’s Home first and brushes off his queries about the amulet, saying she hadn’t gotten what she needed to make that deal with Styx yet. She figured that with a bigger reputation she might be better positioned to bargain her continued assistance in exchange for the amulet. She drummed up some support for the leaper nest clearing out and then headed off to Warehouse 13 to finish gathering her posse.

Of course she needs to sleep out in the field but that's a whole other post.

Friday, October 18, 2013

The Necessity of Emotional Distance - Hate

(Sorry about the lack of formatting in this post.  On certain computers I can only type in the HTML form and sometimes forget that I need to manually enter the formatting rather than just hitting Enter.)

Related to anger and yet distinct from it, hate is a very potent emotion that should theoretically be quite easy to use in a campaign. After all, many campaigns have some form of Nemesis figure that needs to be taken down a few notches. A fair few also include evil organisations, armies or nation states that the characters wish to dismantle.

Yet how often do PCs really hate the enemy? How often do they act out of a driving need to see the enemy taken apart rather than simply doing so because "it's the right thing to do"?

Sure, it happens, but not so often as you would assume considering their PCs are motivated to destroy something with violence which is a shame as it's relatively common for people learn to hate the things they seek to destroy even if that hatred wasn't the initial impetus for the destructive impulse. In other words, even if a person aims to destroy something for intellectual reasons or monetary gain, they generally come to hate it because, at the very least, you feel less guilty destroying something that you hate.

So why is it such a hit-and-miss affair with some campaigns getting the PCs invested to such a degree while others have PCs who really don't care much?

Partly it would be due to PC motivations. PCs are generally mercenary types. This is their job. Just like soldiers from various armies, they don't necessarily hate the things they fight. They don't really need to because the fact both they and the enemy are trying to kill each other so it's a bit Quid Pro Quo. It'd be almost hypocritical to hate them. Of course, most of the soldiers on the ground aren't also choosing their enemies. It's decided by politicians, nobility and generals. They're just along for the ride and the pay packet. 

Partly it's because the bad guys haven't been given a chance to commit any evil actions. So the PCs are assaulted by bikies a few times. So what? Sure that makes those bikies an enemy, but is it really worthy of hatred to an equally violent group of individuals? Especially if the PCs have killed a few of them and haven't lost any of their own. Fantasy campaigns are especially guilty of this with most PCs happening across wandering monsters from a demonic army or groups of brigands that set upon them when encountered. Sure, rationally you know that regular civilians would have been brutally killed by such people but that doesn't really mean anything when there's no evidence of it.

Partly it's because even if they are committing evil actions, it's often occurring out there somewhere. Even if it's happening around the PCs, the tragedy of the affair is generally avoided as tragedies and traumas are unpleasant so folk often (but not always) skirt around the issues. Sure you might have a dragon killing villagers but that doesn't really impact on players because those villagers are just nameless NPCs. They can't even see them beyond an occasional imagining based on the Storyteller's narration. Even if the Storyteller attempts to characterise the villagers, they might then feel loathe to kill them off so brutally. Those that do might be a little too trigger-happy which means the players see any interesting NPC as a step away from death and so purposefully don't invest in them. They're not real people, after all, they're just plot devices with a ticking clock inside them.

Finally, hatred can be a draining emotion. It's intense and it's the kind of intensity that can burn itself out. No one wants to spend several months burning for revenge against a particular person so generally even if hatred is piqued on occasion, it'll either dissipate or be put on the back burner for awhile when the Enemy isn't front, row and center. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this element. Generally once a player has declared a burning passion for the destruction of the target, that's that. That NPC is marked for death short of a really amazing chain of events.

So knowing all of that, what do you do? What if you really want your players and their characters to really hate someone?

Well, make it personal. It shouldn't happen to someone 'over there'. It should happen to them or someone close to them. Ideally someone both players and characters like - which can be different to the NPCs the Storyteller wishes they would like. If you want to get them to hate the local thieves guild, have the thieves steal from them. If you want them to despise an army, introduce them to a few villages along the way until they find the one they like and then have them find the village burned to the ground on their return. You don't need to wipe out all of the villagers. It might even be more effective to turn the villagers into refugees and encourage the PCs to escort them somewhere.

Make it matter. It's not enough to do something petty or, alternately, too broad and overwhelming. A monster that wipes an entire country off the map is scary but the players aren't going to feel the impact from it anymore than they would if the thieve's gold stole five copper coins. Ensure that the event is large enough to affect them, such as by stealing all of their gold or selling them dodgy healing potions on the black market which don't work, but make sure that it's not so large that they can't quite conceive of it. If you do go with a truly large event, keep it personal by including a few key details for them to latch onto. Perhaps they knew a few people in that country who disappeared or their favourite tavern lay within it.

Make it believable. Tie it to something that might happen in the real world. Rather than having your mage unleash a demonic horde upon the world and expecting that to engender hate, have them research and unleash a magical plague to terrify the local populace and tap into fears of disease research. Sure you can include the demonic hordes, but unless you find some way to really tap into real world anxieties than it may not flip the triggers you expect.

Finally, make hatred worthwhile. Let their passions inspire other people to help them. Let their enemy be something that can be combated with violence. Show them the hatred that other NPCs feel so that they don't feel like they're over-reacting but also include people who really think the enemy is fantastic so that the PCs have to convince them otherwise. Perhaps even allow an in-game resource such as willpower be regained due to the burning power of that hatred.

You can also tip the balance by subtly altering your descriptions of the person by using hateful terms though take care not to descend into melodrama with a moustache twirling villain who is too silly to be truly hated. "The noble stands at the parapet before you, slender fingers gripping the railing like talons, yet he smiles at the crowds as he speaks in peaceful terms of a united nation. It is only as he turns away that you notice the sneer on his lips...."

To be honest, I've never tried to make the players hate any of the NPCs although I have always taken notice when they do. It's often easier to simply latch onto things the PCs feel strongly about rather than trying to coax them to care about other situations.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adelaide Live Action Swords & Sorcery

Here are the display and for sale weapons on the ALASS stall.
Well I've been trying something a little different.  Adelaide Live Action Swords & Sorcery - or ALASS - is one of those foamy warfare games where people put on armour and lightly tap on each other with foamy swords, spell balls or special arrows in fun sporty 'battles'. 

It's not exactly the cheapest hobby but it sure is nice getting new stuff.

Both my husband and I have spent $500 apiece and that's just on one leather cuirass, short sword, long sword, and two-handed sword.  At some point we'll be ordering a $280 shield, more than likely.

And that's not mentioning the various outfits that I want to get just because they look cool.

We may have gotten a little carried away but hey, we like the pretties.

We've been to one game thus far as it is still quite new and played as Mages since we don't yet have our swords.  We'll be Mages or hiring swords for the next couple months as we won't get our things until early December due to putting in our order just after the latest shipment was sent for.

The group's quite a good one and we have about thirty people attending each time with plenty of room for anyone else who might want to attend in the Adelaide region.  At present we use a sports oval so there's space to run around and get our geeks on.

I was a bit nervous heading out the first time, especially as a female, but everyone was really welcoming and not at all condescending or hostile.  None of that chauvinistic bull you worry about encountering.  There were some other women on the field as well though the majority were male.  Need to recruit some more women!

Anyone in the area who is interested in learning more can visit the ALASS forums here.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Elements of Magic Systems That Do Feel Mystical

There are some games that do have a certain level of mysticism which can be both evoked and encouraged in certain ways to keep it from ever becoming mundane. After all, the trouble of anything highly magical is that it could turn magic - something that can feel special - into something as routine and mundane as turning on a light bulb. Since I talked about weaknesses last week, I thought it was about that time that I point out some strengths in existing systems.

Mage: the Awakening

Mage does magic well in that you have powers based on core elements of magic rather than individual spells which allows a person to be quite innovative in how they use their magic. A person with the Forces Arcanum can do anything using Forces up to a certain amount of versatility dependent on how many ranks in Forces you actually have. Individual spells, called rots, are magic uses that are more specialised and which you have practised enough to get down to a fine art form. Rotes can therefore be given as rewards for exploring locations, studying grimoires and helping out fellow mages without interrupting the levelling process. You could make them free, in order to really motivate the players, or allow experience point purchases of things that you would otherwise guard access to. One of the great things about Mage magic, too, is that the downside for magic involves the magic going haywire - which can inspire stories in and of itself.

Vampire: the Reckoning, Werewolf: the Forsaken and Geist

These genres all have a form of magical ceremony on top of their innate powers. Since their innate powers (some of which need to be purchased separately like Disciplines) are both specific and powerful they give a real sense of being mythic. A Gangrel who unsheathes their claws and a Daeva who captures attention with Awe are both really emphasising the themes and mood of their respective clans which can give a scene involving them an added potency. The actual ceremonies they each have (Cruac, Rites, Ceremonies) are also richly drawn and generally require some sort of ceremonial action to utilise that reinforces the type of magic invoked. Cruac requires the sacrifice of one's own blood. Ceremonies which require the use of a scrying mirror that has once reflected the target of which involves giving a cigarette (or flask of liquor) to someone in order to get them to really open up about the deceased provides power to certain archetypal tropes which really gives a sense of a more urban and modern form of magic.

Pathfinder and Dungeons & Dragons

The main thing I like about these systems is the use of verbal, somatic and material components. I once created a sorcerer where I listed out all of her spells and came up with a fitting Latin phrase as a verbal component for each spell. Pathfinder goes one better by listing out the material components for each and every spell which helps those trying to describe their spell casting. The main problem here is that most players aren't going to make that kind of effort nor will most Dungeon Masters, which is a shame, since it's a brilliant way to evoke casting in these systems.

Call of Cthulhu

The spells in this game all come with a heavy cost. As the mundane laws of our world are what helps keep us sane and awareness that such laws are false, fragile and easily broken can damage our puny little minds, so can bending those laws ourselves injure our sanity. In some cases the spells even have a cost in POW. Some of the spells describe ceremonial activities or relics that are required and that just adds to the sense of occultism. Due to the spells' power and cost, they are unlikely to be used by players with any degree of regularity and so each spell use feels important and memorable.

What about you guys? Dealt with magic systems that seemed to capture that occulty feeling more than others? If so, what made them feel so good?

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Masks of Nyarlathotep: Early Campaign Preparation

My Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign will begin with the excellent New Moon scenario from the Secrets of New York book. In order to set everything up I asked myself several questions.

How Will I Adapt Vampire to Call of Cthulhu?

This is worth a whole article in and of itself but as I'm still ironing out the little details I will give you the basics. I decided to pop my Walsh-plot and have it that all of the recent strains and conversations about returning James Tyler to humanity had culminated with growing insanity and therefore power within Walsh as his two selves began to separate, allowing greater access to power at the expense of his sanity. Much of this slipped by James, much to his chagrin later on. Walsh's several hundred year old plot to save an old changeling friend of his / hers by cutting Jack Frost's bonds to its titles and reintroducing a recombination of soul fragments gathered over the centuries also would come to fruition in a great big ritual that required the murderous sacrifice and painful destruction of almost sixty vampires in the London court.

When James awakens, he is not only a human patient in a hospital but he seems to be back in the past. It's no longer 1956. It's 1938. Charlotte Adams is cagey about whether she knows anything about 'supernaturals'. Any suggestion that he was a vampire is met by consternation on her part. She will declare that something in his investigations with Walsh caused him to go insane and start believing in that delusion. Largely she will avoid the subject, not wanting to draw his attention back to it. It wasn't a vampire gathering that was destroyed. It was a gathering of Society types and the influential middle classes at an art gallery. A gas main explosion levelled the building and set fires that burnt a few individuals in an unusual manner (suggestive of Fire Vampires, but he lacks the knowledge to identify that). There were three survivors. James (who was thrown through a window by the explosion), a janitor (who was protected by a falling wall) and some other person (who was sent to Colney Hatch - Friern - Mental Hospital shortly thereafter).

Walsh was killed instantly and had been buried while James was in a coma. Her wake is scheduled for after James wakes up and Charlie will arrange that in James' private investigations office. I expect this'll hit Walsh hard.

The other person is the high functioning schizophrenic "Jack Frost" who can both endorse James' view of the events but who simultaneously rememembers his childhood as Eugene Vanderklei's son and the youngest child of Mogens' experiment. He is another link to the New Moon scenario as after James makes contact with him, "Jack Frost" will be picked up by Vanderklei's lawyers and brought back to New York. James can find out about this familial connection but will need to go to New York to investigate further. Which he will do since "Jack Frost" might well be the only person who can vouch for his believed timeline.

Basically the point is to give James enough clues that he's probably mad while leaving it open that he might somehow be right. While time tavel is impossible in the World of Darkness, it is certainly a possibility in Call of Cthulhu. On the other hand, the God Machine could theoretically 'reset everything' if the situation was growing dire enough that reality was about to have a hole blasted into it, such as perhaps if a cult were going to use modern technological advances in nuclear technology to create a more powerful rocket. Is James mad? Was he mad all along? Is he sane now or more mad? Or is just layers of insanity and neither reality is really real? This is something I want to play with. The division between sanity and reality.

How Will I Draw My PC From London to New York?

This was quite easy as James had previously brought to the media's attention a Nazi-run eugenicist experiment in London. Funnily enough, I'd run that before I'd read New Moon so it wasn't that I was clever enough to embed that connection. It was just my good fortune. I had, however, used this as an opportunity to introduce him to Jackson Elias who was one of several journalists called upon by Walsh to take a look at the place. The British government, fearing embarrassment, shut down the media's attempts to reveal this experiment to the general public. Jackson Elias, being an American writer, knew that he could always write about it later and publish it in New York but lacked enough information to publish a book. He offered James and Walsh a cash incentive to provide him with any further information they might find out about the organisation.

Jackson Elias will return at the funeral to have a chat with him and, if he notices James Tyler's avid investigations of any connections to Walsh's death (which he will doubtless do), Elias will connect him to a British Intelligence agent called Threepenny Jack. He will also point out that there's a journalist in New York who is examining some sort of eugenics movement down there as well - Sydney Silver. I made a point to avoid referring to Sydney's gender as, in this instance, Sydney Silver will be a girl reporter whose skilful enough to get some good reporting roles but who writes under a masculine byline to maintain respect from the readership.

Threepenny Jack will be happy to have the assistance as his hands are tied when it comes to foreign soil. While they do have assets in New York, there are none who could be quite as flexible as a desperate PI. So he will offer to pay James' way to New York, especially since the investigations in London need to be of a more ... delicate nature due to some of the influential families involvement. To this end Threepenny will provide a copy of a telegram found in the London experimental chambers that was sent via a New York telegram office and which required additional shipments of some chemical listed only by initials and numbers. Naturally I have a little typewritten prop for that. I've also created a slip of cockney slang and phrases that Threepenny Jack is likely to use during this conversation.

Next week I'll talk about the September 1938 timelines for the 'New Moon' scenario and how I will be using a historically accurate hurricane to justify the escape of Mogens' creation.

Monday, October 14, 2013

HoTHF: Providing Historical Information

Writing a roleplaying game set in a historical era sure does make you grateful to libraries. I'm also quite lucky at the moment as all of my libraries are going on a One Card System so I can do inter-library loans with greater ease and can return such books to whichever library I choose. Very handy.

While there are plenty of web-sites around, I've found that they never give you the dirty details like books do. It tends to be overviews again and again and again, though the BBC web-site has a nice collection of written anecdotes from folks who lived through World War II so that has been pretty helpful in coming up with those little touches that will make the whole thing more interesting.

I have read a lot and researched a lot and have gotten to the point where I can comfortably write whole paragraphs on various subjects without having to go over my notes every time. Sure, I always double check my facts but thus far my double checks have largely been confirmations of what I had already thought was true.

The less fun part is massaging enough information into the core book to allow players and Game Wardens (aka Game Masters) can comfortably enjoy scenarios that have that Home Front feel without forcing them all to slog through dozens of books themselves. Now I'm not saying that my 15 - 20 pages of setting material is equivalent to dozens of books. Not at all. But it's a comfortable start and right now I need to ensuring that my overviews need to allow gamers to have a historically accurate core upon which they can hang all kinds of adlibs, improvisations and out-and-out fakery. There's nothing wrong with deciding that YOUR version of the Home Front has some anachronistic detail but it is important to know a few core details, such as the blackout, rationing and bombing raids, because without those details you're not really playing the British Home Front.

I'm up to the stage of cramming all kinds of juicy details into 20 pages of text in a way that gets across plenty of information without making it all list-like or boring. Since some people won't want to read twenty pages of anything and others only really want to read the rules, I've come up with a few different ways of making the information more accessible.

Firstly, I've included sub-headings so that people can get a clue about those facts just by flicking through the pages: Air Raid Precautions, Black Out, Air Raid Shelters, Blitz, Farming & Victory Gardens, Make Do & Mend, Censorship & Propaganda. Just reading these sub-headings point out a few of the essential differences of war life.

Secondly, I've included a paragraph of up to 120 words written in the style of a young widow musing in her diary about that particular topic. This is to serve those people prefer getting their information in a more friendly 'fiction' style or who might like some information on how people from that era might have viewed the situation.

Thirdly, I've included up to five paragraphs (generally four) that give out factual information about the topic at hand in a way that both gives a good sense of context for the topic and delivers a lot of information without being boring and list-like.

Finally, I will be including a few newspaper-style comic book strips and informative pictures for those who can't be bothered reading but might look at a picture.

Here's an example of a topic (minus any pictures)


What passes for a crime these days is appalling! Sell food without coupons to someone alleging to have been bombed out? Criminal! Blackout curtains fall loose due to a nearby bomb? For shame! At least the profiteers and the fraudsters deserve to be hit by the law. What about the rest of us? They should be focusing their efforts on looters, bag snatchers, and those rather rough looking fellows waiting in air raid shelters to take you for what you’re worth. And selling hooch as genuine liquor! It’s one thing for someone to go blind due to foolishly purchasing hooch on purpose but it’s hardly fair if it can happen to anyone without warning.

The war created whole new areas of criminality and reinforced the old ones. Thieves stole handbags in shelters, looted bombed (or abandoned) buildings and sold what they stole on the black market. Prostitutes found themselves in high demand among sailors. Killers hid bodies among the rubble of bombed buildings in the full knowledge that the coroners likely wouldn’t look at them. Fraudsters and conmen found new insecurities to exploit and more money to embezzle.

Gangs of youths (termed blackout gangs) would assault people in the streets or demand passersby hand over cash and jewellery under the cover of the blackout. The Italian mafia were soon interned, paving the way for other gangs to step into control. Jewel thieves drove their cars alongside jewellers’ stores, smashing windows and grabbing everything off the display windows as they go.

It was a time of high crime but it was also a time when the average person could find themselves arrested and fined for something they hadn’t known was illegal. Such as a man who was fined for smoking a cigarette outside during the blackout. Or the rescue worker who was arrested for taking a half empty bottle of liquor from the rubble of a bombed building and passed it around his helpers after a particularly gruelling night only to be arrested for looting.

Food wastage became a crime. Buying or selling rationed items without coupons was a crime. Forgetting to put up blackout curtains was a crime. Being so depressing that you spreading information bad for morale was a crime. It was easier than ever to become a criminal in World War II.