Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Flashpoint: River Explorations

This was a bit of an odd session.  They were heading down the river north of Kyonin in the hopes of getting down to Andoren and were first beset by a giant (medium-sized) dragonfly and then they ran aground on a large mud elemental.  Not realising what had beached them, Proteus stuck his trident into it in the hopes of shoving off, which obviously and naturally upset the mud elemental which bucked the boat up and forced a DC 15 reflex save not to get tossed.
            Lhye, the familiars and the NPCs (Lavender Lil, Wellard and Arexia) were the only ones knocked loose off the boat.  Lenny tied a rope to herself and jumped in after Lhye.  The others attacked the Mud Elemental though only Lunjun did much damage at this stage.  The Mud Elemental kept slamming the sides of the boat so Archer ran up the tilting mast to try and capsize it off the creature and Wellard ran up to assist.  The Mud Elemental knocked it off and sent it skidding across to the bank, damaged.
            Finally they managed to slay the Mud Elemental and Proteus leapt into the river to swim around and look for some loot.  Instead he found the river cave it was protecting.  The others hurriedly tried to repair the boat which, thankfully, wasn’t too badly damaged.  They were on the Kyonin bank after all and were worried about insular elves slaying them outright.
            Proteus spent ten minutes swimming through subterranean water caves before reaching a large cave half filled with air.  There were three tunnels, two out of reach, one coming off the limestone shelf that was still slick with rich calcium.  As he came out of the water he saw the statue of an elf, weathered by time so that it’s details were worn away, standing and staring out over the water.  He went through the tunnel accessible from the ground and followed it along until it opened up into an immense chasm so large he couldn’t see the ceiling and with a stone staircase of green-black marble that led down a thousand narrow steps.
            It took him awhile to go down there but go down there he did until he reached a hectagonal platform with an elven statue in each corner whose eyes, to Detect Magic, radiated a slight divination magic.  From their hands sprang coloured flame that hovered in place and lit the platform.  In the middle was a plinth with a narrow base and a wide opening that gathered water like a bird bowl.  This plinth had an overwhelming divination / conjuration aura.  Proteus, being a chaotic sort, swirled his finger through the water that had accumulated through the highly calcified droplets falling from the faraway ceiling.
            As he swirled it, it grew more opaque and cloudy until it reflected his face (yes, seems wrong but this is how it looked) but the eyes of his reflection were far more intense, near overwhelming.  He watched his eyes in the reflection fill up with a black smoke that then poured forth in tendrils into his own eyes, filling him up.  It wasn’t painful, merely cold.
            When it finally stopped, he found himself standing in a more blurry version of where he stood before as though everything had a translucency to it.  Figuring he was on the Astral Plane, but finding that he had a weight and the world a gravity, he started up the stairs again.  This time at the top of the stairs where it entered the tunnel he saw two beautiful Triton statues (the mer-people) standing with their weapon Tritons crossed overheard but then they flickered and became Kytons whose barbed chains seemed poised midair to strike each other, forming an arch overhead, and then they flickered back to Tritons then again to Kytons.
            He continued down the corridor and where it broaded into the half-submerged cave he found it entirely dry and it was instead an old amphipheatre.  An elven woman with glowing violet eyes sat at an organ of beautiful design that flickered so that her skin changed and went dark, hair lightening, her fingers going from playing to being drawn out nerves and tendons reaching into the organ, then back again.  As she worked, her lips skinned back to reveal raw cheek muscle, and then again she became a normal elf.
            “Hello?” asked Proteus, ever an opportunist to find out more.
            He was struck with 8 damage to the teeth and, gums bleeding, he turned away and continued to head on the way to the river.  He found at the entrance a beautiful elf woman with black hair that, when ‘she’ turned he realised was just a feminine him with violet eyes and as Proteus watched he saw the elf slowly mutate, black horns sprouting, black wings growing out, a tail falling down.
            Proteus heard footsteps and then a beautiful Marid rushed through him as though he were a ghost and she ran to the devil / demon as though they were lovers, only for the two to land on each other’s swords and turn to salt.  Proteus continued out and as he stepped out through the mouth of the river cave he found himself in a river once more.
            Meanwhile, his monkey’s eyes had turned black and it had started blathering as though speaking in tongues.  Lhye, nervously, used Mage Hand to lift the little thing into the air which didn’t seem to bother it.  Finally, the monkey began to sing a lullaby (I played Sleeping Priestess from Project Zero 3):

Sleep, Priestess, Lie in peace.
Sleep, Priestess, Lie in peace.
If you cry, the boat you'll ride
The last trip to the other side
Once you get there
Sacred marks you'll bear,
They shall be peeled off
Should you fail to lie still

Sleep, Priestess, Lie in peace.
Sleep, Priestess, Lie in peace.
If the Priestess wakes from her dream,
Perform the rite of stakes.
Her limbs pinned tight,
Lest the doors open wide,
And suffering unleashed on all.

Go to the other side.
Go to the other side.
Cast the boat, take a ride.
Cross the RIFT, to the other side.
Further, and further, to the other side.
It must sail, bearing your tattoos
And our offering of tears...

            The characters weren’t really paying attention to the lyrics, though, and wouldn’t know more than the two first lines.  Still it worked to get their attention.  When Proteus returned to this side, his monkey just went to sleep and didn’t seem any worse for wear later on.
            Upon learning about what Proteus had seen, and learning of the value of such an artefact, Lenny demanded that Proteus kiss-breathe for her so that she could return, uproot it (the two made critical successes on their Perception checks and found a fine crack where it had been slotted) and then dragged it back onto the boat.  No one was too keen to have it aboard (other than those two who declared that they wouldn’t share the wealth) and as they headed back they each had strange dreams.
            Proteus and Lhye dreamt of kissing – only Proteus was treated as though he were a woman.
            Lenny had the sensation of profound satisfaction.
            Lunjun found himself in a cave where carvings in the walls held great secrets but he could never manage to remember a small piece of it at a time.  If he could see the whole of it, he would learn great things.
            Archer simply remembered a promise he had almost forgot.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

World of Darkness: Dogs of War Solo Game Summary

Attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1994-009-17 / CC-BY-SA
I will warn you that I ran most of this on the fly and didn’t do much more than brisk Wikipedia research.  It will be riddled with factual errors.

So, as per usual, my partner and I decided to have a go at yet another sort of game.  I won’t be writing up further Actual Plays of this one as I don’t want Actual Plays to come to dominate this blog any more than they already have done.  This is a Dogs of War-type game set in World War II with an actual werewolf as one of the ‘dogs’.  As my partner had read a little Sven Hassel we decided that he’d play a German who landed in the army after he was forcibly enlisted by the military (not hit by conscription, technically a ‘volunteer’) when his pack mate’s brother was imprisoned due to a punch up caused over his love interest (a Jewish high school girl) being taken away by the Germans.  To make matters worse, the character owes his life to a Jewish doctor (recently taken away) who helped his mother through a dangerous birth (several times, as his mother didn’t give birth easily).
            So with this in his back story, we start the game with him setting off on a train full of other soldiers after a brief training course that taught him how to become a tank driver.  I figured out his job by making some random dice rolls on a few tables as while the German military was more efficient than Britain I still wanted to get across that sense of controlled chaos that an army mid-war has about it (its early 1942).  So he’s a Panzer tank driver.  His first train ride takes him too far so he has to wait a night (he manages to get a farmer to let him sleep in the wood shed with the spiders) before taking another train in the right direction.  It’s sweaty, humid, and smells rich with man sweat in a train compartment that is standing room only.
            I introduce him to a guy whose a real loud mouth, talking about women around Europe and boasting about his exploits while several other soldiers listen eagerly.  The two talk for a bit, which goes about as well as you expect, with this guy, Reudiger, placing a bet that someone will punch him in the face within a week.  The PC responds with  a bet of his own – that he will lay out the man who tries.  The PC’s words also start off a nearby Nazi on a rant about the necessity of a clean uniform, that makes Reudiger shake his head.
            Eventually they reach the launching off point for Operation Barbossa and everyone spills out of the train.  There’s so many people moving in so many directions that the PC is quite lost.  Then Reudiger comes out of the crowd, grabs his arm, and pushes him in a direction where he can make out the glint of tanks.  The PC heads off as Reudiger plunges back into the crowd to pull out more folks in Panzer uniforms.  Due to Reudiger’s efforts, Reudiger is late but most of the men aren’t.  The captain chews him out and reveals that Reudiger is actually a corporal.
            “Where’s your new uniform, corporal?” demanded the captain.  “Don’t you respect your new promotion?”  It’s obvious the captain doesn’t like him.
            “It didn’t get assigned to me,” said Reudiger.
            The captain rejects the excuse and starts assigning the new tank crews to replace the old (dead) ones and Reudiger gets the dead beats (including the PC – primal urge is a bitch).  Corporal Reudiger works the radio and gives the coordinates for moving the tank gun (blah degrees higher), there’s a tank gun loader and shooter, and a machine gun loader and shooter, and then the driver.  Not sure if they actually had six men per tank but we weren’t going for historical accuracy.  The corporal was quite good at giving the commands in degrees for tank gun positioning although the newbies obviously weren’t that good at it.
            The first mission involved them basically following everyone else into the smoke, brick dust, and screaming shells, but without a chance to really get involved with the combat as they were in the rear.  It certainly freaked out the werewolf to be in an enclosed space relying on humans with shells shrieking around where luck, rather than skill, made all the difference.
            Of course, I’ve sort of painted myself into a corner here.  Tank drivers aren’t the most exciting of roles to play around with dice about.  I suppose since it’s a solo game I could just give him control of the entire tank?  How does one deal with mass combats and tank versus tank?  So many questions!
            I’ve got a few ideas for what they can do outside of the tanks.  From ghostly parents trying to get them to smuggle out hidden children to plain old angry battlefield ghosts to wounds to missions where they must stealth out to enemy territory to gain the lie of the land.  Of course, as you can see, only the last section of the mission deals with ordinary human missions.  I’m having trouble thinking up more.
            You guys got any ideas?

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Flashpoint: Locating Lil

Proteus pours a cure light wounds potion into the mouth of the strange gold-dragon-blooded horse.  Lunjun, hearing the battle has ended and knowing he requires Proteus’ blood to leave, returns while feeling like he should re-evaluated his life due to the Charm spell he had been slammed with.  Lenny disappears again as though she had never been there.
            The chatelaine of the castle approaches and as he does so Proteus’ bardic memory springs to the fore and he identifies the history of this noble family.  The island was, at first, the stronghold for a linch champion of Tar-Baphon, the Whispering Tyrant of Ustalav, who was said to have a portal to the Shadow Plane beneath the tunnel-riddled depths of an old volcano.  When the Shining Crusade passed through here, the champion was slain – but not before the volcanic mountain top exploded with an unholy pillar of fire.  The explosion, at least, collapsed most of the tunnels and made it more difficult for the wandering undead to spill out of the tunnels – more difficult but by no means impossible.
100 years ago the island was re-settled by the second son of Baron Vichny, Eddard Vichny, who seemed to undergo such a change in behaviour that people wondered if he were possessed or replaced by a doppelganger.  He took a small village worth of individuals and a dozen mages who were bent by his will, some said to be quite powerful that he kept in line with artefacts, who were forced to forge from the caldera a road, a moat, and a castle.  The effort is said to have slain several of the mages or perhaps he killed them later to keep his secrets buried.
            Over the generations, his sons were said to also be cruel and debauched, though the line between regular debauchery and assumptions that you are evil is quite slight in Ustalav so it’s hard for Proteus to be sure which way that swings.  It does appear that the bloodline grew less evil over the years and the castle has become all but unknown in recent decades.
            So with this in mind, Proteus apologises to the chatelaine and explains that they are willing to heal the castle’s Lord Wilhelm (which the chatelaine dismisses out of hand) and that they are here to seek Lhye’s mother.  The chatelaine demands to know why they brought a devil here, as one had followed them invisibly, of the type likely to report back to the other devils.  That devil has already left, doubtless to seek reinforcements.
            They explained that they were in a rush because they had a prophecy that Lavender Lil will die tonight.  The chatelaine states that perhaps it’s because they’ve led devils here.  He explains that Lil has married a woman, the champion of the castle, who has ridden out to examine the seals to the underdark but would return soon as she would have heard the gong.  They are provided with a clockwork horse to pull them in a cart as none of them can ride and they follow another dirt road past the castle which starts to wind down into the ground.
            Soon they hear the thunder of hooves approaching and Lhye levitates up to see their approach.  A woman with coal black skin and platinum blonde hair (they immediately OOCly think Drow) rides towards them on a white horse with smoking black eyes.  She leads six archers with dual short swords at their hip and six alchemists all in the castle colours.  There’s also about fifteen mages of eclectic races / ethnicities upon largely ghostly horses.
            The champion reigns in and Lhye calls out to his mother.  Lhye, being a suspicious Riddleport sort and not imagining her son as a likely caster, calls out for someone to bring him down with a Sleep spell.  One of the mages attempts a Sleep spell but fails at it.  It’s not until the Champion convinces Lhye to allow her to cuff him with dispellation handcuffs do they believe him.  The Champion, who is quite hot, then convinces the group to leave via a back way upon a small cutter-style boat as the devils will attack the castle and it’s important to get them away.  Apparently Lil has a Protection against Scrying / Detection amulet which will help her.
            Once they’re in the boat there’s a bit of an argument about whether to stay and fight or leave.  Proteus has his blood lust up.  Lhye figures it’s best to fight with the castle’s troops at his back.  Lunjun knows he’s out of spells.  Archer thinks retreat is wisest.  It’s only when Lhye figures out that devils are immune to fire / electricity and his enchantments (well, mostly, as they’re not ‘people’), that he gives in and decides they should leave.
            They head out toward the River Kingdoms.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Flashpoint: Storming the Castle

Lhye levitates up to peer over the curtain walls only to be approached by two apparent gargoyles who hop up onto the crenellations.  He has a conversation with them, paused in his levitation by their "halt" so that he can't yet see above the walls.  They respond to his questions only with: "Who goes there?", "Halt!", "No", and finally "Intruders!"  They could also say "You may pass" but as they didn't recognise them and they didn't say the correct command words the two constructs that appeared to be gargoyles never said it to him.

Proteus tried to distract them by calling up but he only managed to distract one.  Lhye tried to make his way past them which triggered them to raise the hue and cry "Intruders!" while flapping their leather-strapped wings against their backs in a drum-like noise.  Lunjun cast web over them and Lhye cast Obscuring Mist when he spotted the archers reach their slits - their appeared to be no door that led out onto the curtain wall from the guard towers.

The drawbridge began its descent and so he returned to the ground but not before Lenny leapt up onto the edge of the drawbridge and, spying a knight in ashen plate armor with glowing ember-like redness around the gaps riding forward on a horse she charged forward and attached him.  The horse had a flaming red mane / tail and black body (the mane appeared to be on fire at times so Lhye supposed it was a Nightmare).  The knight said little except to command them to leave.

The horse stamped its hooves and a blast of fire surrounded it.  Later it reared and lashed at her with its hooves.  The knight merely cast Charm upon each one in turn while they tried to whittle him down (massive Damage Reduction and a high Armor Class and Spell Resistance).  He had, however, belt at his hip an ice blue Claymore which he wielded effectively when finally forced to dismount by multiple attacks on his mount that left the horse dying (but not dead, it stabilised).

By this point it had charmed Archer who stopped shooting at him, imagining that this place with its shops and peasant smitheries set into the curtain walls on the inside and its market yard which they were currently in and its hedge maze (with wrought iron locked gate) that stood between them and the castle might mean that they had stormed a normal castle rather than an evil one.  He called out to his friends to stop in vain, stopping shooting himself, and then climbed up the gate to peer beyond where he saw a 16-year-old girl and a 14-year-old boy dressed in the castle's colours (red and black) and it's tabard as they cowered partially hidden behind a hedge row.  They had rows of vials belted to them.  Archer tried to talk to them but they merely begged him to stop killing the knight (which he, personally, had done but the others hadn't).  He heard a dog bark and then a dog whose fur had a fiery sheen to it barked, someone begged it to hold still, but it broke loose and he saw it trail its lead as it ran up to the gate and jumped up at him (of course, being a dog, it couldn't jump high enough to get him).

The knight had also charmed Lenny who decided that she still wanted to fight (not strictly what is allowed by the spell but as she is Chaotic Evil I let it pass this time) to prove herself but not to kill him.  She considered a change in her line of duties as she could always choose to work for this impressive man.

Finally the knight charmed Lunjun whose spell shots had been striking him quite well and whose first attack was a Ray of Exhaustion that had deflected off the man (natural 1, critical failure) and struck his friend, Lenny (who luckily didn't see it as she was shot in the back).  He decided that this was all a bit much and so he turned and started walking off and out of the castle.

In the end, it was a battle-furious Lenny, the bard Proteus, and the witch, Lhye, who whittled him down to almost dead though not before the man drew his Claymore and struck Lhye with a blow that dealt only subdual (which shocked Lhye, why would an evil man use a Merciful blade?).  Once he got his chance to act once more, the knight vanished - likely teleporting away.  Somewhere within the castle, a gong rang out.

Lhye finally paid some attention to the horse and made a Knowledge Planes roll as Lenny and Proteus discussed if the horse was worth anything.  Lhye assured them it was, as it was likely to be a Nightmare, but on second thoughts upon seeing it up close and how it bled and struggled to breathe, he realised it was no planar creature.  They rolled Knowledge Nature and determined that it was, in fact, the equivalent of a unicorn of the Storval Plateau - a beast descended from a fire elemental and a gold dragon in it's distant past.

Proteus responds by tipping a Cure Light Wounds potion in its mouth.

Now they are all confused.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Game Impressions: Fall Out New Vegas

Fall Out 3 New Vegas wastes no time in letting you off the leash.  Once you have created your character (a rather in-character process) you are then unleashed onto the world and while there is a primary quest to follow and several easier quests in your starting location, there’s nothing to stop you from trying you luck in going off the beaten path.  Sure, the enemies might be massively overpowered compared to you but you can still try it and with a little luck you may even get past those Deathclaws defending that road.  The whole place is saturated with an atmosphere of another world you’re exploring – one that is post-apocalyptic where a nuclear war has irradiated America and left its prior proud (yet corrupt) civilisation in shambles.

In case you didn't think of it, here’s a reminder that there will be heavy spoilers for the first hour of gameplay.  This is an analysis, after all.

Starting Screen
Starting screens in videogames are like a well-designed character sheet (the design of it, not the stats on it).  It gives you a sense of what the game is about.  In this case you first see a member of the Steel Brotherhood (futuristic suit of armor) holding a western-style revolver (wild west old-fashioned technology themes) with the New Vegas sign behind him (themes of greed and rivalry).  The other screens shown involve 1950s-style posters with little hints of exposition on them and screenshots of derelict roads.  This is a pretty good primer for the sort of technology you’ll see.  Most of it is backward but some of it is far advanced of what we have available to us.  This helps us ease into a game that will pare DOS-style computers with lazer rifles.

Introductory Clip
“War never changes.”  This tagline gives a real sense of theme for the games.  There’s people all fighting over resources and championing their own ideals and this leads them into clash and competition with each other that sometimes leads to murder or even massacre, in the event of all-out war.  The clip itself also highlights the various conflicting forces from Caesar's Legion to the Steel Brotherhood to the Lucky 38 police robots to the NCR and the various tensions between them all.  Following this is a brief history lesson on a flickering screen like an old-fashioned documentary with a voice over and then a short cut scene where you are in the first person of a man whose hands are tied together who is shot by a rather cocky man in a suit flanked by two thugs who are apparently Khans.

Character Generation

You begin in a doctor's office after having been shot in the head by a guy called Benny for the poker chip you were carrying.  His various assessments give you a chance to decide your gender, appearance, SPECIAL skills (Strength, Perception, Endurance, Charisma, Intelligence, Agility, and Luck) and certain extra traits.  This is a pretty neat way of doing it and it's kind of funny that I've never seen character generation pulled into the first hour of gameplay in an RPG before -- likely because most character generation systems are so long-winded!

Once you've proven that you're able to walk about, you can then search through his home and potentially steal all of his things (which for some reason aren't marked as stolen goods as they are in everyone else's home) and then you can head out into the sunlight.

Goodsprings ... not derelict at all.

The setting of Goodsprings is exposition in its own right.  You can see dirt-logged roads whose asphalt is being wittered away by the desert.  You can enter homes whose furnishings are in variable states of disrepair whose wardrobes have broken glass panes within their doors (no idea why folk haven't removed the shards).  The place itself, however, does look a bit like a tiny town allowed to go to ruin with a few farmhouses, a schoolhouse, a general store, a saloon (quite large, all things considered) and a defunct petrol station.  That’s not all. There's more clues to the kind of world we're in:
  • The clothing everyone wears hearkens back to the 1950s but with a wild west vibe occasionally obvious from some of the hats and the leather armour you can see.
  • You’re given a Pip-Boy (advanced tech on a wrist-mounted computer which is where you access your inventory, stats, quest logs, etc. and it warns you of radioactivity by crackling) and a Vault uniform which clues you in to the whole underground survival aspect of the nuclear war that occurred years ago.
  • A talking cowboy robot shows that AI, while still most assuredly artificial, is more advanced than today.
  • If you drink the water, you gain a little radiation poisoning which gives you a hint about what’s happened beforehand.
  • The roads are being retaken by the desert – suggests no more maintenance programs.
  • The Brahmin are two-headed cows.
  • Lots of sandy dirt, rock, and desert plants reinforce where you are.
  • There’s a pet dog, which highlights the fact that these people are still people.
  • The schoolhouse has been overtaken with large insects that attack you when you approach.  The fact they haven’t been cleaned out shows that there aren’t many kids around.  In fact, the general absence of kids always makes me think of radiation-induced sterility.
Other Characters
There’s a number of different people you can speak with during the first hour and each one has their own perspective.  While you are nudged against, say, the Powder Gangers who are threatening Goodsprings (as Goodsprings’ doctor set you right, after all), you can actually side with the gang and help them take out the guy hiding in the petrol station.  In fact, you constantly have such choices to make.  By assisting one group you can improve your reputation with them while hurting the group with harm your reputation with them (sometimes this leads them to give you gifts or shoot you on sight).  You are going to have to take sides in a few instances but in other ways you can keep a relative balance of reputations here and be accepted in most places.

So what NPCs do you meet in this first hour:
  • Powder Gangers who escaped from an NCR prison facility and took the prison over.
  •  The residents of Goodsprings.
  • A man by a caravan who begs for your help to aid his wife against the geckos – only to attack you once you’ve cleared a path for him.  Treachery is a fact of life here.
  • The caravan guard hiding in the Goodspring petrol station.
Enemies / Difficulty Curve
The game allows you to explore the place and slam into things well above your current ability but it doesn’t leave you completely without guide rails if you choose to use them.  You begin in a relatively safe town where you are directed to speak with a woman who can teach you how to shoot at bottles before taking you down to clear some geckos away from the water supply.  Goodsprings has some relatively easy quests within it as well which you can accept, turn down, or return to later at your leisure.  This is something you could do in a pen and paper RPG, you would need to include some sort of time frame for certain quests as it stretches credibility for the party to return a month later to assist a woman who’s been assaulted by geckos all this time.
  • The large insects aren’t clever and don’t need great tactics to take down.
  • You can enjoy some safe gunplay exercises with Sunny Smiles.
  • You can reduce the difficulty of the encounter with the Powder Gangers (and are encouraged to do so) by encouraging the town members to rally together.  This requires the use of non-combat skills (Barter, Explosives, Speech, Sneak, Medicine) which allows those who aren’t that great with a gun to better their odds.
  • The geckos are problematic but you’re given prior warning and can attack them at range before they reach you.
There are plenty of different things you can do and the skills which you level play into this (just like in a roleplaying game).  In fact, this is such a good example of it that if you’re stuck on how to keep different skills relevant within the course of a high-combat game (such as D&D or Pathfinder) you should either play the game or examine the walkthroughs for clues.  Here's just a few examples below:
  • Hacking computers to unlock safes.
  • Or breaking into a safe through larceny.
  • Convincing people to assist you in a combat.
  • Noticing enemies from greater distances (Perception).
The moods this game evokes are those surrounding exploration, wonder and curiosity, as well as a touch of discomfort that this could be the future (partially averted by the fact this is a divergent history where the world didn’t progress from the 1950s except in a few key technological ways before the nuclear war that undid it all).

Game Expectations
You can really sense how much exploration will be pertinent here, especially when you open your Pip Boy map and see new locations light up.  This is further evidenced by the sight of roads or some of the broad vistas when you climb up onto the hill at the graveyard and peer out at the wide expanse.  You also expect to have a real impact on the game world as you can choose to undermine Goodsprings or the Powder Gang or simply lead Goodsprings’ citizens into a fight they can’t well win and then pick them off yourself.  You soon come to expect also that there may be another route to success and that skills other than combat ones will also play important roles to come.

If you’re going to run this sort of game, you’re in luck, because it already uses some of the systems of roleplaying games.  All you need to do is get them to log the objectives they accept (if they’re planning on roaming about) and include some sort of a map upon which you mark new places they’ve gained the coordinates for.  Oh, and do remember to give them a nudge when another skill could be a possibility.  The best nudges, of course, are part of the first impressions so giving them a quest like in Goodsprings where they have to use other skills to gain the assistance of the citizens is a good idea as well.  Especially if your players are fresh or come from games where their other skills just never got much use.

If you want to read most Game Impressions, you can find them here.

If you want to read the Game Translation, you can find it here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Flashpoint: Castle Approach

Lenny's player put in an appearance but only for the day so I decided that some mystical strangeness would go down a treat as an excuse for her arrival considering they're in Ustalav.  Knowing that there were zombies milling about the town and doubtless following (slowly) behind them, the party crossed the drawbridge and then argued about whether they should encamp on the unnatural valley floor (steep sides, flat bottom, relatively level) or go up to the one of the mini-keeps (about ten foot diameter and ten foot high) that perced on the top of the two cliffs.

Proteus wanted to stay down in the valley (which Archer termed the 'killing field') but they managed to convince him to go up when Lhye floated up and determined that it was empty and rather ruined (though still solid enough to provide protection from the rain).  A silk rope was dangled down for those who couldn't climb on their own or levitate.  Once up there, they saw Lenny start to materialise but as all they saw at first were translucent hands, Proteus panicked and thought there was a ghost so he slid down the rope to the bottom.

Lenny, finding herself slowly disappearing and growing translucent on the quarterdeck of their ship back in Augustana, raced down to the orlop deck where she desperately drank some rum (figuring she wasn't drunk enough for this).  Finally figuring that it was all still too weird and she wasn't getting drunk enough quickly enough, she tried to kick off the spigot but her foot had already gone and merely passed through.

It was a strange sight for the others as the ghostly female figure knelt down and seemed to be slurping at some non-existent substance before leaning back and snapping out a kick.  Finally they could see enough of her to know it was Lenny and Lenny could see Ustalav superimposed over the decks before finally she was sucked through to where they stood.

At this time, Proteus noticed the raven and sent his monkey to go and talk to it.  They did, indeed, speak, but only about the weather from what Proteus could surmise.  It made sense, considering that he hadn't told the monkey what to ask about.  So he asked the raven what it wanted and it cawwed at him to 'fuck off'.  It flashed its tail feathers at him insultingly so he shot it with an arrow, which did very little but sent it flying off.

Proteus was told that the ghost was only Lenny (who was thirsty for rum) and the others headed into the mini-keep.  Proteus tried to climb up the rope but failed so badly (critical failure) that the rope snapped and dropped down beside him.  Proteus called out for help but thunder and lightning kept cracking every time he tried to speak (damn bird).  So he picked it up, tied it to the end of the arrow, and shot it ... only for another natural 1 to send it flying up and over the cliff with the rope and into the distance.

Lhye took pity on the missing Proteus and went down to check if he was still alive.  He then tried to assist Proteus up the cliff by levitating behind him and steadying him.  Proteus rolled yet another natural 1 and dislodged a lot of rocks.  The two hit the dirt, thankfully unhurt, but a larger boulder rolled loose and smacked into the winch which sent the crank circling and dropped the drawbridge over the moat.

They had to defeat the zombies that shambled over but then Archer dropped a rope over the side and they all climbed up and rested in the keep until the storm passed and they could re-set their spells.  During the night, they levelled up.  The mysterious bone in Proteus' hand pulsed and vibrated a strange tune that taught him new songs.  Lhye had strange dreams while the lightning and thunder sand in the air around him.  Lunjun had some interesting epiphanies that helped him figure out how to cast a few new spells.

When they awoke at around mid-afternoon, Archer scraped some guano off the roof and found sulphur deposits in the crevices of the walls.  Combining that with some charcoal off the fire that Arexia and Wellard had built the night before, he uses his Gunsmithing kit to make 12 charges of shot for his gun.

They then headed back down in the valley and continued along until the valley became like a caldera (a round depression in the rock) with the flat road continuing around a large circular curtain wall around 700feet in diameter.  The wall also was surrounded by a moat filled with red-eyed piranha from the River Kingdoms.

The drawbridge was down so Lhye tried to levitate up and over it.

So that's the first half of the session done.  I've run out of time to type it up but I'll do the second half the day after tomorrow.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Flashpoint Preparation

For those who are curious, my Flashpoint preparation today has been a few images (an armoured figure on a wall), the gatehouse, the gardens before the fortified manor, a few low level traps from the GM's Guide and a handful of monsters that I've sourced from the Bestiaries (undead, naturally).  There's a few other things I could have done for preparation but at this stage I feel like it's enough.  Throwing traps at them will be a bit interesting because they have no rogue but I'm not planning on putting any big, bad traps in their way.  For starters, it's just not cost-effective considering what the castle is used to guarding against.

Oh, I also have plenty of NPCs in mind.

This will be an interesting game.  I only wonder if Proteus will get far enough along to see it before fleeing for his life.  I know that if stubborn Lhye has anything to say about it they will continue until they've found their way through.  Not sure where they'll go once they've accomplished the "Find Lhye's mother" quest.  Back to Riddleport by the stones or to Andoren via the rivers, more than likely, but where after?

Oh, who am I kidding?

They have a likely treasure map.

Time to research the Shackles.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Game Impressions: Cold Fear

At least the first hour of Cold Fear is entirely devoted to setting up anxiety and apprehension as it slowly drip feeds you information on the bad guys.  Although I moved pretty quickly and did manage to encounter the parasitically driven zombies within the first hour, they were still mostly treated as set piece events rather than random encounters as they were always highlighted against the background, perhaps showcased against the human soldiers.  Some of the main points of the plot are also revealed involving experimentation into strange parasitic organisms that can revivify dead corpses to their own ends.

Also, bear in mind, there will be heavy spoilers for the first hour of gameplay.  This is an analysis, after all.

Introductory Clip

  • First clips showing the original soldiers despatched to investigate dying with blurred camera shots of some glowing eyed humanoid.  This is intended to show the dangers that you're up against.
  • The second half of the clip establishes your arrival and your lesser status (rather than a tactical assault team trained for this you're Coast Guard) and the fact that you're separated from your fellow men. 
  • The Storyteller could duplicate this effect by using framing exposition to explain that the last team is MIA and that the new team must go out there and fix things.  This is best used in a briefing, perhaps with camera footage from the last team, although some groups may be happy for you to describe scenes they're characters couldn't hope to have seen.
The ship rocks back and forth, rain beating down on the deck as you first regain control of your character.  As few games attempt this, it really cues you in that environmental hazards are a distinct possibility.  The player is further cued in when he finally gets up onto the main deck and sees a large crate swinging wildly across a deck that is burning in a few places.  Some of the hazards met within the first hour include:
  • Tilting ship can splash waves on you, causing you to gain Fatigue, possibly washing you overboard.
  • Tilting ship can cause you to slide through breaks in the railings.
  • Swinging 'hooks' and swinging crates might hit you and damage you.
  • Flooded corridor - electrocuted if you shoot out the fuse box.
  • Fire on certain parts of the deck - avoid.
  • Fire blocks corridors - wash it out with the sprinkler system.

Other Characters
This game has thus taken care to keep the Russian soldiers from appearing sympathetic which is important in a game where you're expected to kill them all.  The fact that they don't attempt to hail you or work with you against the greater threat also doesn't work to endear you to them.

  • Corpses of soldiers are the main people you'll meet.  Often twitching, jaws moving, which gives a hint that they're not quite as dead as you would like.
  • Scared Russian soldiers assume you're an Exocel and will attack you.  No civilians or whalers yet seen.
  • Lansing is dead on the toilet.  His head falls off when you disturb the corpse by taking something from his pocket so at least you don't need to worry about him reviving.
  • A man crawls toward you, trailing intestines due to his removed lower half.  Zombie?  No, he reaches for you in a plea for help.  Then an Exocel drops behind him and kills him.  This is how you meet your first Exocel.
Russian soldier meet Exocel (off-screen)

Enemies / Difficulty Curve
The game focuses on environmental hazards before moving on to the first couple of actual enemies.  I know there are more kinds of enemies but I only came across two and neither were too difficult which is pretty good for the first hour.

  • Russian soldiers armed with guns who don't take many shots before going down.
  • First Infected soldiers will fall down when you shoot them but require a head shot to take them out.

Scare Moments
This game uses a few twitch 'Wham!' moments but also plenty of slowly building up moments where the player is relied upon to come to their own realisations.  This certainly makes it a whole lot scarier.

  • The moment you realise the corpses are still twitching.
  • Lights going off in one of the rooms.  Nothing happens but still.
  • You take something out of a floating corpse's pockets and when you turn to leave it rises up and smacks you.
  • You turn on the sprinklers and a burning soldier runs through the fire, possibly burning you.
  • The dead monkey in a store room near the empty cages that just lies there.
There aren't many different things you do in this game but that isn't uncommon for this sort of videogame.
  • Killing.
  • Locating objects and using them with things (namely keys).
  • Avoiding death from environmental effects.
  • Exploring rooms.
The moods this game evoke are ones of dread, anticipation, and adrenaline.

Game Expectations
You don't really sense a mystery brewing but you do know that there are going to be shocks and scares aplenty alongside issues of timing, quick reflexes and pinpoint aiming.  Even though this is an action game, it's slower than usual pace builds up the expectation that this is still a horror game and that horror tropes with overshadow action tropes every time.  This means that wasting ammunition, flinging yourself headlong into battle, and otherwise showing off how epic and cool you are might just leave your battered and broken body bleeding on the ground.

This is important because you can imagine how frustrating it would be if it acted like an ordinary shooter and then punished you for responding accordingly.  Since part of the gamer contract is dealt with through self-selection (don't like horror?  you're unlikely to buy it) whereas roleplayer contracts are more inclusive (you like to roleplay in my games so you're here), some element of out of character discussion beforehand can be helpful. 

You're in a better spot you if you're planning to run a new system designed for that type of game as your average D&D players can be easily clued into the fact that Call of Cthulhu runs differently.  Otherwise you may also have to smack the players over the heads with the game style as it's not like they've had a chance to read reviews, view a cover, and watch a trailer to judge your campaign on. 

Still, if you drench your game with enough indicators as this game did within the first hour than you'll end up with a very immersive, slick, and above all defining experience that should help the players set their expectations.  A few hints about ammunition conservation and high damage outputs also wouldn't go astray if your players are used to unlimited ammo and low damage-to-hit-point ratios.

If you want to read most Game Impressions, you can find them here.

If you want to read the Cold Fear Game Translation, you can find it here.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Flashpoint: Protected Path

Lhye returns to the ground and the group has to come to a decision as to what to do.  Lhye is adamant they go forward and holds his own blood to ransom.  How would they return without him anyway?  Proteus is terrified by Ustalav and has never been so far from sea before and is desperate to return to Riddleport.  Proteus is out-voted, however, and they begin by following the remnants of a cobblestone road that had been overgrown with plant life. 

They have a few strange encounters.

They find a semi-submerged fishing boat half drawn up to shore that contains crates of clattering poisonous centipedes that they almost open but choose not to do so after a successful Listen and Knowledge Nature check.  The crates are marked to go to a university in Absalom and are marked as having been from a Mwangi expedition.  Something that could have rang a few bells for them but didn't.

They noticed a sign by the side of the road indicating that they should turn back because death awaits.  Death being a giant skeleton apparently.  Lhye assures everyone that such a thing would be impossible.  How could such a thing lie in wait anyway?  They'd hear it coming a mile away.

They notice they're being watched by a raven.  Proteus finds the whole thing very disturbing and when Lhye uses Detect Magic on it and finds that it is, indeed, magical Proteus fires an arrow at it which seems to glance off it's feathers.  They attack it a few more times but it remains alive as it flies away.  Thundery clouds materialise in the sky above them, unfolding out of nothing, and the fog is parted by heavy rainfall.  A lightning bolt strikes a toppled log before them, causing them to back away from those who had show at the raven.  No one gets struck by a bolt so they continue.

They arrive at a small bridge about ten feet long that goes over a dry stream bed.  Several skeletons are trapped beneath the bridge by iron bars, almost like portcullis.  The group are cautious, suspecting a trap, but quickly find that there is no trap.  The skeletons are simply there.

They cross through a tight hamlet of about ten hours lining the overgrown street, mostly boarded up, and are attacked by a number of zombies.  They take out a couple and then leave but not before Lhye finds his mother's lavender scented shawl.

They find a large stone wall drawn up from the earth as if by magic that draws along either side.  A giant set of wooden gates is sealed by a magical stone plaque that the group promptly destroys.  Now unsealed, the gates creak open to reveal a large grass-covered landing overlooking a chasm that separates this side from the other (a raised half-drawbridge stands on both sides with a mechanism for lowering it on either side).  As they approach, a giant skeleton pulls itself up from the chasm, wielding a massive club.

The group suspect their days are numbered and that now they will die but soon find that skeletons of that size may be more dangerous than their smaller ilk but not by as much as they thought.  They destroy it and it crumples into bones, falling back into the chasm, mostly due to a fire elemental summoned within its rib cage.

Proteus uses the end of his trident as the winch and they lower the drawbridge so that now, finally, they could get to the other side to approach the castle that looms in the middle distance.  Feeling more confident, they stride forward.

The howling of wolves rattles their confidence a bit, however.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Insylum: Day One

James Tyler awakens in a white room with no memory of himself.  He discovers the intercom but learns from a nurse that it's not 7:30 yet so it's not time to get ready.  As he is an amnesiac, he has no reason yet to be anxious about the situation.  Instead he makes a pillow body and dresses it in spare clothes out of boredom.  He also notices that the windows have been replaced by paintings of the outside world with light bulbs placed around the frame behind the glass.  The orderly arrives and takes him alongside five other men to Bath 2 for a group shower and then into the room adjacent to Bath 2 to brush their teeth.  James noticed he had a blurred reflection in the mirror and muttered: "The mirror's not working."  No one else seemed to notice.  He learns that he's an amnesiac on a schizophrenic ward from the orderly whom he stirs up a little.

He goes to the Day Room for Breakfast but isn't hungry.  The food smells nice in the same way that sawdust smells nice.  Not a bad scent but certainly one that doesn't make him hungry.  An attractive young woman comes to sit next to him and he discovers that he never eats because he thinks he's a vampire.  This young woman introduces herself as Molly and states that she has Al Capone as a boyfriend and has been put here because her mother doesn't like the relationship.  Apparently she has a direct phone line to him in her bedroom.  Other than that little detail, she seems just like a fun loving ordinary woman from what he can see.  She encourages him not to take his pills when they're handed out and once the breakfast tables are packed away, she takes him over to a couch and turns it to face the corner.  She then proceeds to talk him into letting her give him a hand job.  He blushes of life instinctively.  It gets all the more tawdry when an orderly notices just as he, err, finishes.  Molly is returned to her room for a week as punishment.  

Two of the women gossip, one of whom is known as Hester, is totally outraged and bitches about James to another woman who seems more disappointed that she didn't get to perve at him.  James, feeling deeply ashamed and therefore doubly defensive, confronts Hester as a prude and the other woman walks away. The two have an argument with Hester reinforcing how stupid and vulgar he is though luckily James' defensiveness doesn't give way to a frenzy.  

James also meets Nora, a catatonic schizophrenic who just moves where she's taken and sits where she's placed, who nonetheless is brought out daily and gently moved around by the other patients.  He also plays cards with a paranoid schizophrenic who thinks the government has inserted robot neighbours to watch the civilian populace so that they don't realise that the Nazis infiltrated America when the Third Reich temporarily collapsed in Germany.

Just before bedtime he is fed a blended meat shake due to his psychological issues surrounding food.  In truth, it's luke warm blood but the orderly and nurse swears that it's not.  It's alleged to be simply blended meat with vitamin supplements.  It tastes good but not fantastic.  Drinking it makes his fangs slip out but when he shows the orderly and the nurse both of them say that he has normal teeth.


The first in-game day took up about half of the first session and was mostly filled with conversation and introductions to the various NPCs.  I hadn't done much preparation on the NPCs but was quite proud with how I wove in symptoms of schizophrenia into human personalities - even if the individuals were a bit stereotypical at first, such as Molly the sexually rebellious flapper-style girl and Hester the prude. 

With each character I would start with rather two-dimensional individuals and slowly added new aspects to them as the session progressed which kept them interesting and the conversation engaging.  This led to the player keeping his character in conversation with them in a bid to learn more about the human inconsistencies that started arising and how it all melded together, such as how Hester wasn't just prudish but insightful and goading her led to tiny revelations about himself. 

This was important as I wanted to hold the game's secrets close to my chest and I wanted to keep the supernatural elements quite subtle, almost invisible, at first.  As action heavy plot-focused games keep a players' attention more easily, I had to make do with some of my weaker storytelling skills of characterisation and conversations.

As a back up, I also could capitalise on the fact that it was a whole new world that the player was exploring.  The player had never been into an asylum but he'd encountered a lot in fiction.  The fact that this one was a clean and well-funded location with mixed-gender Day Rooms and lots of (kinda dull) activities that varied from day to day ended up being more interesting to him than if it had been a creepy place full of cruel psychiatric treatments.  The more he talked to people, the more the asylum defied the player's expectations.  Even by today's standards, the place was pretty nice and progressive (if dull, rigid, and highly scheduled).

The final element that kept things interesting was that he played with a character who shouldn't be there (a vampire in an asylum should raise eyebrows and how did he become an amnesiac anyway?).  Since the core mechanic of the game involved gaining fatigue tokens that could be spend on lucidity tokens (promising dreadful hallucinations) that could be spent on memory tokens (giving him answers), simply by experiencing the game world he could progress his character, in effect, leveling it through conversation and exploration toward his ultimate goal: Understanding.

So yeah, hope the day breakdown helps you if ever you choose to run a social and subtle session, or part thereof.  See you next week with the rest of that day's session.

You can go back to the main article here for the Insylum mini-campaign within the James Tyler campaign.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Game Impressions

As there's only so many games I can play on a weekly basis around all of my other hobbies, my social life, and my job and because there's so much extra other videogames can teach us I thought I'd like to add to the Game Translations style of articles.  Game Impressions will do things a little differently than Game Translations as it will focus on breaking down the first hour of gameplay to pick out how the game designers created the sort of atmosphere they were after and cued the players into the sort of game they should expect.  It'll also give you a number of scenarios and bare bones elements that you could always plug into your own game sessions and adventures.

Therefore some Wednesdays will have a Game Translation article and others will have Game Impressions article.  There won't be a set alternating schedule or anything like that as it'll depend on my interests and current experiences.  Odds are you'll be getting a few more Game Impressions and a few less Game Translation ones for awhile simply because I have translated most of my favourite games already but have yet to analyse the first hour of them yet.
I can hear some of you asking: "How will this help us run, or understand, good games?  We're roleplayers.  Our games work differently."

Absolutely they do.  A videogame *isn't* the same thing as a roleplaying game but there's a lot it can teach us as it's more experiential than movies and has to accept player diversions into it's pacing.  The other benefit of it, as opposed to actual plays, is that it's far easier for you to go out there and experience what I've experienced.  You can always purchase the game, take a look at the first hour of gameplay, and see what I mean.  While I can analyse my own game sessions, it's exceedingly difficult to encapsulate the experience so we might not be on the same wave-length.

On a slight tangent, another great source for roleplaying includes How To Write novels as they can help Storytellers with plotting, descriptions and characterisation.  Especially characterisation.  Very few roleplaying game books really delve into how to develop deep and meaningful interactions with complex characters.  Sure, you can't script dialogue like you can in a novel (at least, not very well) but you can get some pretty good advice.  Every so often I'll do articles on these as well but you're really better off picking up a few books yourself.

Of course, movies, books, and television series also help fantastically with pacing and big ideas but I've personally found it easier to analyse videogames in terms of how certain aspects can port into roleplaying games so I'll keep with it.

I'll list out the various Game Impressions here as I write them.

Cold Fear.
Fall Out 3: New Vegas.