Friday, February 28, 2014

The Last Express Play-by-Post Game

Inspired by The Last Express, a beautiful and elegant videogame set in 1914 which I did a Game Translation on, I've been running a play-by-post game using the Call of Cthulhu system and setting over here.  You can see the written trailer over here which has a nice set of pictures and introductory statements that I think helps advertise it.

The game is built on a different premise to most play-by-posts that makes it more robust to player attrition, which is good, because so far I have lost about 10 players.  Basically each player develops a character independently of the others and boards the train with their own goals to complete.  These goals might be mundane and sociable or they might be intensely malevolent or even supernatural.

Generally most of the goals have been inadvertently at cross purposes though there's been thus far a distinct lack of lizardmen and a greater number of academics than I thought would happen.  So much for opening the floodgates by making that a possibility!

Basically each individual then boards the train which contains both NPCs and PCs where they are slowly exposed to stranger and stranger details until finally they're hooked into one adventure or another.  Since they're not encouraged to investigate together (though that does occasionally happen), there's less likely to be bottlenecks where one player drops out and the game grinds to a halt as the other players are forced to wait -- often dropping out themselves as they grow bored of waiting.

The main threat to this game's sustainability is that only self-motivating players can get involved.  Those who are easily confused or too timid to take an excuse to involve themselves or talk to people quickly find themselves lost and alone.  I've tried to help that where I can but it's still pretty hard in this sort of game.

On the plus side, no other traditional play-by-post would survive the kind of player attrition I've had.  The game also moves quite quickly (generally 15 minutes passes each week or whatever time interval would take them to the next stop with Time Stamps placed to remind them) which it couldn't do if we all had to wait for the same folks to post.

Especially since there's about 5 - 8 active players at this time (at different rates of activity).

So the first day is done and now the night time antics are beginning, if any of my beloved readers would like to dip their toes in, now is the time!  Mosey on  over here to sign up and get involved!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

A rambling rant on one shots, vampire and my social calendar

I'm getting a real kick out of planning for this one shot. Enough of a kick that I kinda want to run a couple more rather than going with another persistent campaign just yet. As I sit here and go over the various details, little ideas for other one shots keep rearing their heads. Imagine setting up market stalls for a Changeling Hedge Market? Or a Call of Cthulhu archaeological dig? Or about a haunted house? All kinds of ideas....

Plus this article over here kind of sums up my concerns about persistent vampire. My last vampire campaign only lasted two years and that one was full of hope and sunshine, comparatively, with some pretty high humanity vampires run by players who used to declare that they loathed politics and its divisive nature (bit of burnout from an Elysium LARP they had once played, methinks).

Don't get me wrong. Vampire persistent LARPs are a lot of fun and they are relatively easy to run as a Storyteller because the players largely take care of themselves but they also require a delicate balancing act between external troubles to liven up the place and allowing space for internal strife. Plus, most players don't take public humiliation well and that's a really good tactic to use against a political enemy. Add in the kind of character investment you can only really get from a few years in-game and ... yeah. A recipe for some rather painful situations.

So I'm not so sure about running a persistent Vampire campaign. I want to pinch a bunch of ideas from the one I was going to run and maybe use that for another persistent campaign in the future as vampire does lend itself marvellously well toward persistent campaigns, in general, but I'm not sure I want to run vampire, per se.

It also helps that while I have players curiously watching the developing of the vampire game, I don't have much excited banter. This could be because the interest just isn't there but, knowing folks in Adelaide, it's equally possible that they're all nattering with much fervor and speculation among themselves but just aren't relaying it to me.

Even if you're an Adelaide person, you may be sitting there going .... "Right, I'm sure that's it." (Poor girl, how delusional ... why would people keep silent about something they like?)

I don't know if it's tall poppy syndrome or just excessive courtesy (best not interfere in what another person cares about), but past experience has told me you can't just an Adelaide crowd's excitement by its silence.

I almost cancelled my last Halloween party as my every attempt to talk about it either on the Facebook Event Page ended in me talking to myself with maybe one or two comments from people in total. Attempts to talk about it in person fizzled out quickly into an awkward moment or a hasty subject change even though I was only broaching the subject and hadn't talked their ears off in the past. Naturally I figured that for some reason everyone was either disinterested to an incredible extreme (I've had chats to my friends about incredibly dry and boring topics before) or were experiencing some kind of negative reaction to the party.

So I figured that I might either cancel it or, alternatively, just not put in the effort. I already had purchased a stockpile of sweets from a month ago so I figured that rather than bake anything or worry about decorations, I'd just lay that out. Best not to make a big deal of it.

Two weeks before the event a friend confided in me out of the blue and without provocation that *everyone* was talking about the event, that my Halloween parties were considered the big social event of the year in our group, and that some of my friends were eagerly awaiting it. NB: Halloween is normally quite a small, generally nonexistent, event on the social calendar that's just now coming into vogue - likely due to zombie movies and the zombie walk craze.

Cue a quick trip to buy decorations and more supplies!

Twice as many people actually attended that party than any other I'd held.

Now I'm not saying this to pat myself on the back and say I'm awesome. I'm not. If an American came down to see my Halloween party, they'd just smile to themselves and think it lacked a certain amount of effort and appeal. I just happen to be the main host out of my friends with a real love of everything creepy which means I dress up my house more than most.

The moral of the story is more that it's really hard to judge the hype of anything in Adelaide as people have the annoying tendency of expressing their interest and excitement to everyone except the key parties involved! This cultural trait may also be why few others in my social circle host much. No one expects accolades pre-event but knowing if folks want to come is a help.

Anyway, long story short ... I may have drummed up heaps of excitement for the persistent vampire LARP just off my Facebook page alone. Or not. I'm not sure. But the fact that I'm not bombarded with eager messages and comments means that they have given me the opportunity to consider my desires in an unpressured environment - which is probably the cultural intent of that habit. We wouldn't want to impose, would we? We're way too laidback for that.

And in an unpressured environment, I don't know if a persistent PvP and competitive game is what I'm really after. I'm yearning for more collaborative affairs that foster a team environment. I'm also a heavy plotter. I'm no LARP Director, don't get me wrong. My players have flexibility in how they handle things but things *will* have a habit of needing to be handled. That's just who I am.

And that works in vampire one shots but maybe I should be turning my eye to a different type of persistent game.

And maybe I should be gaining further experience in different genres through one shots before doing that at all.

What do you think?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Game Translation: Blood Dragon

Sometimes it's good for a game to not take itself seriously. Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a shooter which satirises 1980s action films. The setting is a mixture of retro and futuristic and it sprawls across an island filled with those who need a good killing. You play eye-patched cyborg protagonist Sergeant Rex Power Colt.

In a game like this, tropes are the thing. This game has cyborgs, Russian - American nuclear war, rogue agents, zombies, literal blood dragons, rescuing scientists and conquering bases. Naturally there's a hot female doctor who assists you in, ahem, more ways than one.

This is the kind of tongue in cheek affair that many players would love to play, at least once in awhile, and I'd thoroughly recommend horror STs try their hand at it once in awhile. It's a good way to get some escapism, unwind, and laugh at yourself, your hobby, and everything else you're dealing with at the time. The big trick here is to not let it get into cutting satire. You don't want to lambast it as the sorry state of roleplay. You just want to pack so many tropes into a single game that it tips over the border into absurd.

Firstly, remember this is a shooter. The system you use needs to give the players plenty of hit points to play around with and the combat needs to be short, sharp and sweet so that they can mow down dozens of bad guys in between healing up. Pathfinder can work for this, though I'd recommend reducing the hit points of most creatures so that most of them are, at best, paper tigers. They hit hard but they die easy. At least easy compared to the players. There are other systems that would probably work even better (i.e. Tenra Bansho Zero) but that's the most mainstream one I can think of which would work out.

The gameplay should be varied, as well. Throw in some creatures that are more powerful than others! Let them mow down a dozen of the running dead and then throw down with some kind of super-cyborg. And remember to describe all the damage they deal to the bad guys with relish (though not to the point of evoking imagery of pain and grotesquery - think comic book style).

If I were you, I'd recommend including some kind of narrator. The players could occasionally take turns at this or it might be storyteller only. Basically, start each session with a summary that evokes bad blockbuster movie trailers and which drops heavy, yet bizarre, spoilers for the next session. "Last time...." "S/he was just doing his/her job smashing bad guys when...." "Little did they know but things were about to get a lot worse...." "On a mission they weren't expected to survive...." This page will give you some ideas of what to say or, at least, how to say it.

Go Big or Go Home....
To help diversify the bad guys, play around with the idea of called shots. These could be quite narratively done. If you say you hit its eyes, you deal damage normally. Otherwise the damage is halved. No penalty to hit the eyes, though. Of course, if you do use these quirks make them uncommon so that they're entertaining rather than an irritating game of "strike every body part once". Also the players should be able to look at the monster and get an idea of where to strike just by the look of it. In other words, a giant eye or a fleshy mouth that is only open sometimes is just begging for a smack. Yes, it may not be as much of a Blood Dragon thing but it's a pretty big gaming trope anyhow.

Hammy one liners should deal extra damage to an enemy. Make it small but significant so that the players keep making them. If it ends up making everyone laugh, let the damage be a full (but small) damage dice or something similar. Only let each player benefit from this twice a battle, though, you don't want it to grate.

Use the game as an excuse to watch over-the-top movies or shows. Or at the very least, play a trailer of one as the starting ritual to get everyone on the same page. This can also act as handy inspiration for you. As can the web-site TV Tropes.

You should include at least one puns that's really important to the game. It could be a password, a description of a boss, or even a vital clue said by an NPC. C'mon, you know most folks hate puns. Time to get them groaning.

Anyway, a campaign based around Blood Dragon or including elements of it, should appeal to - you guessed it - Action Heroes the most. I could take you through the rest of the list but really most of the other groups will tag along for the entertainment value but probably wouldn't be into it for the long haul unless the satire was really funny to them. Still, that doesn't mean they wouldn't enjoy it as a breather adventure or short campaign. 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 (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Tomb Raider (the latest), Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Deadly Premonitions. If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be Deadly Premonitions.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 13

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist.  He needs to find Sydney Silvers because she had been investigating the eugenicists who may be responsible for the death of James' beloved back in London.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Unwary): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, reluctantly teams up with Martha Collins who lives with Sydney Silvers to investigate her disappearance.

EASTER EGGS: There's a few subtle prods here to point him in the right direction as the poor player is doing this on his own. While this does help reduce the amount of tangents and confusion around, it also means the campaign relies on one man's insights and ability to remember all of the facts.  Hence why I try to guide him to the right insights and conclusions when such things matter for the successful resolution of the plots.  I could leave him to it, but he'd probably just get frustrated.  On the other hand, it's a delicate balance because I don't want to make it too easy.

How do you think I've done?

Also, I meant to do some jive speak with the man at the Cotton Club but after taking a look at the truly atrocious Cotton Club menu I couldn't bring myself to do so.  It felt better to make him a bit taciturn and cautious.

I'll probably have a very jive talking black person using the slang in the Secrets of New York book (even though it'll doubtless be anachronistic, being as this is set in the late thirties rather than the early twenties) at some later point when the person is trying to specifically annoy him.  Perhaps when he pokes around the Ju-Ju House?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Horrors: Player-Viewable GM Content

Player-Viewable GM Content is a pretty handy consideration for me now that I'm thinking again about whether I want to have a core rulebook and a Game Warden's Guide. The trouble with splitting the two too thoroughly is that a person may purchase the core book without thinking to purchase the other and that should be okay. The trouble with including them both in the core book is that players often do read ahead, especially if they are the ones who discovered the system and setting. Heck, some players are notorious system collectors who purchase anything in their favourite genre to read greedily. If they like it enough, they may even convince their current GM to give it a spin. In that case, though, they'll normally stop short of reading any pre-generated adventures and may cast a less intensive eye on the monsters but everything else is fair grame.

There's a number of ways that Game Designers are now coping with this habit, especially as Game Designers generally would like players to purchase a copy because it lines our pockets and provides a wonderful financial excuse to keep producing content (notice I say 'excuse', because it's generally not something you can rely on to pay the bills so most folks do it because they're driven to do it).

Some Game Designers throw it all into the same book. This is appropriate when it really doesn't matter what the players read, when the players are assumed to have experienced the setting elsewhere or when the characters should have a firm understanding of the setting. I particularly noticed that in books based on other properties like Firefly tend to put it all in one. They may then release 'specialty' GM-focused books which target secret areas which players should not immediately know about.

Some Game Designers only put the system in the one book and everything else can be found elsewhere. Even Pathfinder does this -- likely because it's already a mammoth weighty weapon with all the rules packed between its firm covers. If the players only read the core rulebook they'd be likely to pick up on certain cursed weapons, magic item uses, and guess at an NPC's class based off their spells but even in those case they'd need an impressive memory to do so. The rest of the information is packed into 'specialty' books which are divided between Player Friendly and GM only.

Some Game Designers create a core rulebook and then create a player friendly book. Normally both of these contain the rules which is a bit of a repetitive dump of information. The advantage of this is that players normally don't get a lot of advice and have to read the GM advice sections (which is normally, but not always, reasonably player friendly) and then apply the advice backwards to figure out what to do. The disadvantage of this is that normally the same content could benefit both. Normally what actually happens is that the Player's Guide is a cut down version of the core rulebook. Stats, some tips and some setting without any monstrous goodness.

The other method is to create a core rulebook and then a GM focused book. The GM book has the monsters, secret setting, rules and other special sundry items inside of it. Normally what this boils down to is that the core rulebook has a little bit of everything but the GM book goes into things a lot more deeply. Oftentimes the GM's book suffers from a bit of bloat, either because some information is still being withheld so the Game Designers can sell more 'specialty books' or because the writers haven't learned the art of succinct yet evocative detail-oriented text. In other words, there's a lot of fluff and not much delivery. This doesn't mean it's not a good read, you just don't get as much actual advice and information out of it. (NB: Too much brevity can actually cloud learning as the brain sometimes needs the same detail put three different ways to soak it in and because there needs to be breathing space between each major point which can be assisted by expanding on a single point for at least a paragraph).

I'm not sure which direction I will go with mine. I know that I will include some Player-Viewable GM content even if I create a single core rulebook or a focused GM's book because, well, some secrets don't need to be secret. Hiding information on how to create a crime scene with forensic detail also means hiding information on how to analyse one, after all, and never revealing a single potential monster also means the player has to fall back to expected methods of despatch borrowed from other games which may not actually either a) work or b) involve something a person would actually do.

In other words, drop Slenderman among a group of D&D players and they will understandingly attack it if they don't know any better. They will then die and have to create new characters. This would potentially be a good start to a horror campaign in D&D where the in-game assumptions are turned on its head but would suck as a start for a Call of Cthulhu campaign where the academics really should have fled screaming because that's what an academic would do the first time they were confronted by a bizarre otherworldly being. The main reason the D&Ders *would* and *should* attempt to attack a monster outright the first time around is because that's what they're expect in the rules of the game.

Seeing chapters on "Constructing and deconstructing crime scenes", as an example, could help kerb such behaviour as the players, through reading it, get a better idea of what they should and shouldn't be doing.

Anyway, what do you guys think of the different methods of rules and setting delivery? Prefer a Player's Guide or a GM's one to come out alongside a core rulebook (core meaning one that both can read)? Prefer it all in one?

Sorry about all the formatting issues!

I am so sorry when I forget to include the spaces. Due to the computer I use, I actually have to write my articles in HTML rather than Composing them normally so I have to use pointy brackets and br / to create a space. Sometimes I forget because the text looks normal to me. I do try to check it once it's published but I don't always manage it. Please feel free to leave me a comment when I've done it wrong. I won't be mad at you or anything. It'd help us all out.

Friday, February 21, 2014

In A Game Now

I'm now on the other side of the GM screen in a proper multi-player game. I am a player! A player in a party! One of my former players from the Flashpoint campaign before it folded has obtained a few Pathfinder adventures that he wants to run us through. One of these adventures, alas, was one that I had run before in a solo adventure but the others I know are good through reputation *and* all have a creepy horror vibe from what little I remember of them. Score! Anyway, that's it from me today.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Do GMs need to be Gods or Martyrs?

I've noticed a trend on the web that makes me feel like burning out just reading it. Line after line about how the players are everything, that you are there to entertain and that your own enjoyment is last on the list of every one of your player's needs, and that running games (especially LARPs) need to be considered in a business model of the customer (i.e. player) is always right and that your every effort must be going toward your customer (i.e. player's) needs with your cast rolling in second and yourself last.

Umm, does anyone else see how unhealthy an attitude that is?

Apparently a couple decades ago the GM would treat themselves like a God. Heck, I've even had my players refer to me as 'God' and the 'All Powerful', which always makes me both amused and uncomfortable in equal measures. I know that around these parts its meant to be a compliment so I don't mind it but it's certainly not a perspective I want to encourage.

But on the same note, I'm not a businessperson. I'm not here solely for *your* entertainment. I am a real person with real feelings and desires who is not getting paid for a job that requires a lot of hours of effort and work. I don't like the idea of treating your players like they are entitled to all that blood, sweat and tears, and that you need to feel grateful that they rock up each week. If you treat them like that, they'll start to believe it and all hell will break loose.

And by hell, I mean burnout.

You see, GMs of various stripes are entertainers. They do feel driven to entertain others. They want to spin stories and/or set up encounters which provide a fascinating outpouring of creative energy but that also comes at a price of energy and time (and oftentimes tasks that the GM may loathe like book keeping or researching). The players aren't entitled to that energy. They rock up, sit down with their sheets, and start playing.

Of course, the players shouldn't donate their time and effort to a game that bores them or a GM who uses it as an ego-boosting exercise. The players don't have to put up with boredom, irritation or bullying. If they don't like the game (or the GM), they can and should leave and find something that better suits them.

But that still doesn't make them entitled to the GM's time and effort anymore than the GM is entitled to have players come to the table.

Rather than demanding gratitude and subservience on the side of the GMs or the players, why can't we instead look at it as a two-way street? Be grateful for the joys others bring into your life *and* be mindful of your own needs. If we could do that we would have a healthier attitude.

We'd have players in games they want to play and GMs mindful of the boundaries of their own role so that they don't make things unfun for the players. We'd have GMs running games that they want to run and players mindful of the many energy sucking bad habits they can avoid to ensure that the GM keeps rocking up session after session.

Even in a LARP, professionalism in conduct is a good thing and keeping a businesslike attitude will help when monitoring expenses but thinking like a matyr who isn't worthy of anything, as though you should be endlessly grateful to your players, just makes the hard work harder.

News Flash: Your players aren't paying *YOU*. They're kickstarting an event. Do they want that event to be a success? Yes. Do you take final responsibility for the responsible management of their funds toward an entertaining time? Yes. Do you also have to mind your authority and ensure you don't harm other people's fun in the pursuit of your own joy? Yes. Does this mean you must ignore everything *you* want to do and make the job about as unfun as possible in the pursuit of the ideal game?


So nudge someone else to manage rules for awhile and don that monster costume for a brief skirmish or have that epic NPC death scene if you want to. If that'll recharge your batteries then your players won't begrudge you for it. Players complain about spotlight theft not because the GM should never enjoy a moment in the sun but because it is so easy, so very easy, for the GM to set up events so that they take all the spotlight and all the credit.

With great power comes great responsibility ... but this is a game so go have some goddamn fun while you're at it!

Else the GM seat ends up empty and NO ONE wants that.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Developing a One Shot LARP: Main Event Bookings

I'm going to be using Event-brite for bookings, since I have some familiarity with the system, but I have learned a lot more about the program while establishing the event which I thought I would share. Initially I thought about creating a different Event-brite event per session but that became clunky fast so I looked at having three different sessions on the one event. The only trouble with this is that you can't just have the early bird tickets roll over to the right category so you have to guesstimate how many Early Bird bulk tickets you want to offer and subtract it from the other ticket types.

Luckily I'm now doing one looong event rather than three sessions so this is no longer a problem for me.

I considered creating tickets so people could 'purchase' a character based off a brief line of description but that would lead to a *really* long list of tickets. This wasn't so much of a problem, necessarily, except that the players couldn't really judge each character properly by the small string of spoiler free nouns and adjectives.

When I discovered that you could ask questions of those who purchase a ticket, I had a better idea. Each question asked could lead into sub-questions to allow two level questions. This could be used for people to select their character, though I wasn't sure if I could make it so that the same character could only be selected once. It also doesn't change the fact that it only gives the illusion of player choice -- the real juicy stuff about each one is hidden.

On the other hand, the ability to ask questions meant that I could ask questions about player preferences in terms of clans, covenants and play styles. A player who's after competition may like a different character to one who wants to trawl through clues. This also gave me the chance to gauge interest in pre-event ten minute training on the setting or system.

I can also sell merchandise through the web-site, which is pretty neat and a good way to fundraise -- especially if the objects can be obtained / made post-purchase because then there's no net loss if no one's interested in them. Some people love collecting merchandise (i.e. T-Shirts, key rings, magnets and temporary tattoos) especially if the cash is going to a good cause, such as a persistent LARP.

The booking system is not yet live because, alas, I still haven't had the chance to start visiting venues.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 12

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson is seeking out the eugenicists who had slain his buddy whose New York branch was supposedly being investigated by Sydney Silvers.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Camraderie): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist.

EASTER EGGS: I feel like my acting skills were a little rough in this one up until about the midway point.  Did it seem like that to you?  Like Martha Collins seemed a little forced?  I like it towards the end.  And yes, I know, we linger quite awhile on the conversation but I am floating the possibility of her being one of his companions in Masks of Nyarlathotep so I need him to get to know her.

Monday, February 17, 2014

He Who Laughs Last: A Playtest

A couple weeks ago I was invited to playtest and review a Cthulhu Dark adventure called He Who Laughs Last. It was an enjoyable and entertaining read with some really interesting takes on police involvement, style of magical power and methods of PC involvement.

Boy is this a hard review. So many potential spoilers!

The characters are pretty solid and well-rounded, giving the first half of the game a police procedural feeling to it with a few NPC interviews that could get pretty colourful pretty quickly. Regrettably my players leapt on the nudges toward social media and technology that were indicated when they got their hands on a certain mobile phone and because their character sheets were decorated in a Facebook style.

They let their fingers do the walking and quickly determined the most important NPCs, identified prior events that were similar in nature to their current investigations, avoided one witness who looked pretty dangerous once you took a look at him (they later executed him in a *knock, knock* "Hello?" *headshot* kinda way), and leapt ahead to the guy who had all the answers. It was pretty amazing watching them use modern technology to quickly move through the scenario though.

Since they were taking a rather streamlined approach, I ran with it. I could've nudged them back on track but there were even chances they'd keep circling the obvious baddies rather then branch out to interview the red herrings and character witnesses. While it meant the game was a little lean, and they missed out on an epic scene by having the right *key* earlier then they were supposed to, it still all worked out and was a fun and interesting game. Not as scary as it could be, especially since they didn't try to engage the police, but still worked out great.

Their shortcuts cut the game down to three hours, though if they had followed the trail correctly I think it would still have only been 4 hour longs, not the 6 - 8 hours advertised. While you could bulk it out depending on individual play styles and the length of time players spend roleplaying their characters, I would advise folks to expect it to generally take 4 - 5 hours. This isn't a bad thing, though, since most folks' sessions are about that long so there's a good chance it can be done in one night.

So in short, my players played the game in a way it wasn't quite supposed to be played, utilising all of the modern world's technological marvels to discover information that is now more readily available. They enjoyed the chance to do that since most games actively work against that style of investigation whereas this one opened the door a little, inadvertently or not.

The adventure, as a whole, was inspiringly creepy to read and though I didn't manage to play it to its full creepy potential, it's still nice to know it can still take a bunch of dedicated and experienced players leaping toward the conclusion without falling apart.

My only real complaint is that there's not enough advice on the ending. I understand they left it open to the Keeper's discretion, but it really needs some advice or anecdotes to get the creative juices running. I've mentioned that to them and as they're still planning on going through the editing and layout phase, that should hopefully be rectified in the finished product.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Developing a One Shot LARP: Coping With Complexity

Developing a LARP is tricky business but it's also quite simple. I've been getting ready. I've rustled up all the odd and quirky things in my house which I think could have decorative or prop value. I've started collecting coffee jars. Why coffee jars? You'll need to wait and see. I'm trying to use up a few spice bottles in the next month or so as they make good die roller containers (so I bought pizza topper since my husband smothers that on everything). I've cast my eye across potential venues to investigate a few times (though I've yet to actually make appointments and start rocking up).

I've also read a lot of LARP articles (not that there are very many) to better understand different styles of LARP and their issues so that I can better knuckle down on just what I want out of a LARP, the kind of players who would enjoy that, and the kind of traps which would arise. If I can't tell the players exactly what they're signing up for, then I may get some very frustrated players who might otherwise have either avoided the LARP or simply changed their expectations.

Plus certain LARP styles stand at odds to each other. LARPs with great rules complexity (like World of Darkness) really don't suit high combat LARPs (which you want to be snappy). I've arranged to have a Combat Helper stand with the player who's turn will follow the current one so that we can speed up the combat. The Combat Helper is also a player but knows rules well and, most importantly, has no combat skills himself to speak of so will have no real part to play in the grand majority of combats.

Complex rules are also not great with investigative LARPs where you don't want to have to hand hold the players through everything they do but you also want to quickly signpost who can read the Ancient Greek and who can decipher the occult text. Checking to see if you have a relevant skill buried among the powers, combat skills and social skills could be irksome for some players. You also want to make sure the skills divide down enough that anyone with, say, a dot in Academics due to their document analysis skills can't open that Archaeology skill envelope about that obscure Mayan death cult. World of Darkness has skill specialties which help with that but changing the mentality of players used to being able to at least "try an Academics roll", especially if they're heaps excited by what's in that envelope, can be problematic. So with the one shot LARP, at least, I've hidden all the character's skills. They have enough on their character sheet booklet to worry about. Instead of a list of skills that won't come up in this session (i.e. outdoorsy ones like Drive or social ones good for downtimes and NPCs like Expression), they only have a list of 4 - 7 skills, specialties and languages which are on the envelopes. If you have the right one, you may open the envelopes. There's no temptation to argue.

Complex LARPs are also not heaps beginner friendly, which is why I'm making a booklet, rather than just handing out sheets. These booklets are only 2 2/3rd of an A4 page but will be divided up so that you get a nice pocket-sized booklet which contains your Bio, History, Connections, Goals, Relevant Disciplines & Rituals (since rituals now take 15 minutes per roll, I only list the pre-cast ones). The disciplines identify your + Number that is your dice pool. There's even a page that shows your Attributes and your Skill Envelope Skills as well as a page that shows all your combat stuff from Blood Potency to Initiative to Defence to Combat Skill bonuses (divided by type of weapon where you have multiple attack skills). There's also a page on vampiric banes, personal banes and inherent abilities such as the Blood Buff.

As a complex LARP, the game also involves expendable resources - health, blood and willpower. Health is represented by a set of marked squares. Since storytellers mind the combat quite precisely, we have the pencils and we can mark off their health or provide them with a pencil and instructions to do the same. But what about blood and willpower? They can be gained and lost very quickly. Well, I went with stickers. I used Google Images to track down a blood spatter mark and a brain image, shrunk them down, and printed them off on envelope labels. I used a stanley knife to score the edges so that each icon can be more readily removed.


I will paste these sections on onto their pages, including the label backing, so that you can remove them, replace them, and remove them again without ripping off any paper.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Developing a One Shot: Am I digging my own unmarked grave?

Oddly enough for a game that is set to re-launch an existing campaign, I've decided to go with a historical session. "Are you mad?!" I hear you saying. The players will change things! There will be unexpected divergences in the timeline.

For fear of giving anything away, let's just say that I've already factored in that possibility and look forward to it. I'll give you guys an update after the session to show how I managed any changes (if any came). Of course, knowing my players there's every chance that it'll all go according to the historical plan.

So that's the detriment. What about the benefits?

Historical sessions allow dress ups. Need I say more?

No, really, a lot of folks who want to play vampire really see it as an excuse to also wear historical clothing. That's why you might see the vampiress in the Victorian dress and even the man in the Medieval wear. Does it make sense to have a few anachronisms to walk about? Especially if the fashion is clearly skewed towards black street wear?

Maybe not, but it's fun.

In this case, everyone is strongly encouraged to wear historical clothing that matches a particular era. The clothing they wear and the ideas they have can really put together a very fascinating visual scene and so long as I pick an era that is post-1920s it's not too hard to dress for if you're willing to check out a few opportunity shops. Hell, a high-necked blouse and knee-length woollen skirt could work for multiple eras, though it might not be the high fashion for them.

Besides, it may attract folks who are interested in the historical nature of the game, even if they wouldn't normally LARP. It provides a firmer connection to murder mysteries, as well, which isn't a bad thing considering some of the plot lines (and no, this isn't yet another Who Killed The Prince game).

And most importantly, I want to see folks dressed up and looking brilliant.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Developing A Persistent LARP: Starting with a One Shot

When aiming to launch a LARP when you don't already have a ready player base, you need to think a little bigger. In my case, I think the best way to recruit for my LARP is with a LARP. Yep, you heard that right and I don't mean an already existing LARP. I will be running three interconnected yet largely stand alone sessions that will be advertised as a largely separate event.

Why do this?

It will give folk a taste of my LARP ST style, give me some extra practice, and help publicise the word of my persistent LARP.

Why do I think this will work?

Well, it's easier to advertise once offs. Players don't have to worry about whether they might like to commit in the long-term. The fact that it's a limited time offer (by it's very nature) also encourages people to give it a try *now* rather than waiting around ... and maybe forgetting about it. The fact that it's an enclosed session also promises a more exciting session. In other LARPs there's a chance you'll just sit around and have nothing to do all session. If you have goals in a one shot, you need to accomplish them now!

The pre-generated characters most folks will be playing also means that I can introduce them to the various PCs and NPCs from the old chronicle while still giving them a chance to dive in without having to worry about how well their character would gel with established characters and, again, whether they'd have anything to do. I can also guide them on the kind of campaign they can expect to play through the goals and revealed plots at work here.

Plus a one shot gives me opportunities that a persistent campaign does not. In large part this is the Preparation Time to Game Time ratio. I have months to prepare for the one shot while in a persistent campaign even if I earmark one particular session to be special in the months to come, I still have to invest part of my Preparation Time into the persistent campaign's next session and the downtimes in between.

I can also be experimental and trial things that don't need to appear in the persistent campaign if they don't work out well. It's far less confusing to change a few rules between the clearly marked one shot and the clearly marked persistent campaign. It's far more annoying to have those rules change for some reason between Sessions 4 and 5. Yes, it happens. No, it's not fun for anyone.

Anywho, I have a couple more articles on this that will take me through the weekend as I have no further Dystopic posts just yet. At the very least this should give you all more information on LARPs and LARP creation.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

What To LARP?

Isn't it terrible when you have two or three equally cool persistent campaign ideas where all three run at cross purposes to each other? Especially when it's a LARP game. It's not like you can just end the LARP after a few sessions because "it's not quite cool enough" and then start running the other style. That loses you a bit of credibility. And as they're persistent styles of play, it's not like I can do a few one shots and pick the one that suits my interests the best.

As I have learned while developing my one-shot introductory "The Dark Before Dawn" game in preparation for the persistent LARP game which will follow on from it, a one-shot and a persistent LARPs are two very different beasts in style, delivery and preparation. For starters, you have loads more time to develop a one-shot and that extra Time to Game ratio allows for more intricate planning and propwork.

So what are my three LARP ideas, you ask?

The Court & The Coterie Game

Every month there is a court game (which everyone attends) and a coterie game (which is restricted to members of a certain clan or covenant). The monthly game involves all of the politics, deliberations and court-based information sharing. The coterie game allows for politics (i.e. Invictus board meetings), lived experience (i.e. LARP a "Dark Mass" followed by Lancea Sanctum deliberations) and plot (i.e. Ordo Dracul go and clear out a wyrm's nest). This system allows for a little bit of everything, maximum player choices and creates quite a deep and immersive VAMPIRE experience but gives me fewer horror story moments to shine and creates the possibility that some players will have no other clan or covenant members to play with. Balancing everyone's needs in such a diverse play space can become more difficult as conceivably the game should suit everyone ... just at different times ... and thus there's more encouragement to play a game of tug-of-war. Also, even allowing for two coterie sessions a month people are looking at a 10 week turn around between coterie games.

The Covenant Game

The game is broken up into separate covenants who occasionally meet every three months. Since I'm only one little Storyteller, this would likely involve only two covenants (Circle of the Crone and the Ordo Dracul) though other Storytellers might want to come along for the ride eventually and run the other covenants. This means that everyone gets a more focused game, finally you can play in covenants with all of their positions filled out (even with only 15 players most would be full) and you can experience what it's like to truly be in a covenant. As a more heavily occult game, I can intersperse the lived experiences and political spaces with investigations that most folks can participate in to some extent. While covenant politics would still be a thing, most folks understand that killing off other covenant-mates or playing too hard with those in your same posse is a bad idea (especially as the covenants wouldn't be big enough for semi-anonymity) so it would be less of a brutal political game. Unfortunately players would be more limited in their character ideas, though there would still be space to have someone with dual covenant status due to the nature of the Adelaide setting - a Carthian might take sanctuary with the Crone or the Ordo Dracul. Still such characters would have to be rare. As a benefit and a detriment, only certain types of players would be best served by this style of game which again allows for more focused play but also limits the prospective pool of players potentially.

The Highly Focused Covenant Game

As before but just focus on one covenant and have the other session free for whatever needs to happen. This would most likely involve the Ordo Dracul as they mix a highly structured covenant with obvious work divisions, internal politics and an external focus on orchestrating change. This would allow for sessions where a coterie of guardians checks out a wyrm's nest while the other available and interested players assist with NPCs, storytelling and scene changes. The trick would be ensuring everyone has their chance for involvement as a core PC in this. Also, it's the most restrictive style of game, though that's not necessarily a bad thing because every game doesn't have to be for all players. There should be a multitude of LARPs for a multitude of players. Still, it's an issue that needs to be considered, especially as it would be difficult for some of the previous characters to continue their participation in the game. Not impossible (see dual covenant status - though this time only for characters from the previous campaign arc) but still a problem.

So yes, this is the dilemma I am currently considering.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Game Translation: Dishonored

Dishonored is a stealth action game that relies on the rather innovative method of teleporting out of sight at the right time.  Sure, it has other powers available to you but that's really the most important one. You play the Empress' bodyguard, Corvo, who was falsely accused of murdering the Empress by the rather corrupt government officials. Luckily a mysterious and threatening entity, the ambiguous trickster 'god?' known only as the Outsider.

While cover is important, really it's all about line of sight. Luckily the NPCs don't ever 'look up' just like real people don't so you can always teleport onto a lamp post or a ledge and go on from there. Naturally there's also hidey holes, vents and holes in the wall, but let's look at the unique difficulties of teleportation.

Firstly, this game lends itself to the basic style of tabletop wargames which field individual units. If you have a lot of terrain, you could give the players a cut down ruler to represent the distance they can teleport and go with that. Unfortunately, since the odds of you having as many terrain pieces as the videogame has levels are quite small ... you will probably need to either make each level so ridiculously complicated that you can get a few hours of playtime from it or take another angle.

The other option is to keep it all to the imagination. Just like in a regular game where you can leap a certain distance, so you can do the same thing here - you just don't physically cross the intervening space. You might use floorplans and miniatures. You might not.

While this method can work to come up with some very unique outcomes, the game will either descend into more purist narrativism (player states they teleport onto a ledge above the cops thus there is a ledge there) or they scrutinise the GM's descriptions for phrases that indicate possible places to go (a more railroady narrativism).

Narrativism, you say? Why not just add in some dice?

You could do that. If you want to randomise the distance the player can actually travel, have a pass/fail system and then explain why they can't re-try the teleport and must instead sit on their bottoms or find somewhere else to go or have a pass/fail system where failure dumps them in plain view of everyone. While all of these work, none of them work well for a reliable system that fits in with Dishonored's style.

Don't worry. As always I have an answer for you. Make teleportation automatic. Give it a set distance. Then make the various places they can use more or less difficult. Imagine teleporting over a ledge and trying to hold onto it without slipping off and falling on your foes? Not as easy as it sounds. Make the players roll Athletics or Stealth or whatever to stay where they are quietly. If they fail, they start to fall and might even grab on (making noise) or teleport elsewhere. Or they hold their position but scare off a bird they didn't see or knock off some pebbles, drawing attention. The player must then select a new landing pad which may not be as beneficial. They might also need to roll a Perception check to ensure that the landing point can even take their weight.

Anyone else get a few too many dodgy PCs?

Floorplans are still a good idea in this, if you have a large enough table. Being able to move miniatures around to show their marching patterns. Demonstrating why certain pieces of terrain are more beneficial landing points then others (i.e. it's right above their head) and being able to model how people change their positions in response to sound are all good things.

This can be especially interesting for the players when they're dealing with 'Weepers' or other such twisted plague-bearing victims who might rush over to the lamp post and seeing them starting to bunch up could become quite an issue.

If there is more than one or two players, you should especially avoid making normal stealth checks for ducking around furniture or creeping along or else there's a very good chance that Stealth will stop being a viable option and the players will start storming places. Leave the stealth checks for the teleport landings and even then don't have it be a pass / fail. Have it be a pass / alert-oh-dear-best-teleport-away.

Anyway, a campaign based around Dishonored or including elements of it, should appeal to - you guessed it - Tacticians and Action Heroes the most.
Wow, a lot of videogames I've been translating have been good for those two groups which is unsurprising. What is surprising is how it's only been my recent of Game Translations that has shown such a bias towards those two groups.
Tacticians will love being able to find the perfect path across the terrain without getting spotted.

Action Heroes may be more prone to assassinations than simply passing unseen, though the adrenaline twitch of a good stealth scene interspersed with outrunning large robots or hordes of weepers should prove a good mix for most. Just be sure they have some patience. Dungeon crawlers and hack & slashers will find it dull..

Explorers will find the exotic yet familiar city of Dunwall to be quite interesting to them. It's so akin to our Victorian cities yet so different. Simply the cultural nuance and the descriptions will pique their interest, especially as they get to sneak into people's homes.

Investigators will likely the little hints and tips as to the grander conspiracy and may become very driven to prove their guilt. Give them the chance to piece it together and make a few physical handouts and you should be able to get them onboard.

Communicators will probably want to spend their time pitting the enemy against itself, driving in wedges, and raising internal paranoia. You could let them, just move it down an action-oriented route. If they steal this thing from this person, they will assume their nominal 'ally' did it.

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 (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Blood Dragon, Tomb Raider (the latest), Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Deadly Premonitions. If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be Blood Dragon.

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

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 11

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson has left a message with the New York Weekly Messenger that Sydney Silvers should get in contact with him. He then went back to Manhattan and spent the rest of the day - despite the hurricane which brushed Manhattan - researching Eugene Vander Klei in the Hall of Records where he located that his son, Jack Vander Klei, got a very high score and won the Better Babies Competition.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Missing): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, gets annoyed at the days which have passed since leaving a message with the New York Weekly Messenger and decides that Sydney Silvers must be dodging his calls. It turns out to be a wee bit more complicated than that...

EASTER EGGS: Poverty, booze and frustration with potential allies ... all the hallmarks of a private investigation case.

I'd thought I'd edited the lunar map to work buuuut no such luck. The dates were still wrong.

At the very end you will hear the cameo of our flatmate coming home from work.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Cthulhu Dark Adventures with Unknowns

So a week or so ago, I got a request from a Cthulhu Dark adventure writer to do a playtest + review of their new Cthulhu Dark scenarion: "He Who Laughs Last." As I haven't run it yet, I can't really talk about the actual adventure but what I can say is that I'm looking forward to running a game for some honest to goodness Cthulhu players. I've posted a Request for Players on both and the Adelaide Roleplaying Facebook group and managed to cobble together a five player party.

I've gamed before with two of them (one of which being my husband) but not with the other three so I'm both excited and a little nervous.

Most of my roleplaying history is with players I knew quite well socially. Even the convention game I once raHaving to wear my purple striped hat to the public venue so folks know who I am is a pretty different experience for me and one I'm looking forward to.

I'll let you know how it went sometime next week.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

And now for intermission....

Also known as ... no recent gameplay sessions to write up.

So instead I hereby provide you with cute cat pictures of my pet, Desna.

Completely irrelevant to the blog, I know, but cute.

*whistles nonchalantly and heads out to play more Dystopic*

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Arrival: Kidnapping Children

The mission ended up being pretty simple. Nico took Malkiah, the Daeva, and Rochelle to Warehouse 13 where Nico made some discreet enquiries with the Warehouse 13 brothel keeper to learn more about the woman's abusive husband. After all, Nico had no confirmation that the guy was actually abusive.

Besides, the fuel supplies were getting low at the university and she needed to know if there were any likely fuel trucks or gas stations that they could siphon. She offered to give Warehouse 13 a piece of the action.

As for the abusive husband ... turns out the guy was a mean piece of work. He was also the guy in hat and suit whom Nico had been considering would make a good newspaper printer. Nico had never learned his name before so she hadn't put 2 and 2 together.

Once she was alone with her crew again, Malkiah mentioned that he could appear to be anyone so Nico sent Malkiah into the man's home while he was away and had him pretend to be the kids' father. He came out with the kids, gave them a quick speech, and passed them on to Nico in the dead of night before walking away.

Nico then headed off for the university with her pals (Malkiah now appearing as his semi-normal self) and the kids in tow.

Luck was with her.

Nothing bad happened.

They arrived just fine.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 10

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: Thus far James Paterson woke up from a week long coma after being thrown through a window by an alleged gas main explosion.  He tracked down one of the other two survivors (the non-janitor one), hoping to find his beloved private investigator partner alive but instead found a lad he remembered being a True Fae from his history as a Society Vampire. 

Now James is perfectly human, the alleged True Fae (Jack Frost) is a 14-year-old lad with schizophrenia stuck in Colney Hatch Mental Institution.  A conversation with him goes nowhere with vague promises of further information if he gets Jack Frost out of the place (an aim which requires an investigation into an abusive attendant).  Naturally before that happens ... Jack Frost gets spirited out of the country by his alleged father's lawyer.

Jackson Elias, keen to get the eugenicist story (from a prequel adventure), meets up with James at a wake, and sets up a meeting with a British Intelligence Agent who encourages James to follow Jack Frost across the ocean to America in order to track down links between these secretive eugenic cults. 

In exchange for an exclusive with Prospero Press, Jackson then helps James and his teen sidekick, Charlie Adams, to get to New York and even gives him a contact with someone investigating it from the other side - someone called Sydney Silvers.

James reaches New York but finds himself flat broke.  He has to scurry to gather some money, get into some shady eviction business and then go looking for Sydney Silvers in hopes of a paid case in helping her.  Unfortunately a storm is brewing and Sydney Silvers isn't available and that's where we are right now.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Hall of Records): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, tries to track down information on Eugene Vander Klei on his own and starts to question whether his initial assumptions about Jack Frost is correct.

THOUGHTS: I think I need to vary my tone a bit more. Some of these sections seem to drone on a bit, even the weather effects.  On the other hand, I also certainly feel like I've established the basic mundane atmosphere and locations quite well.  Here's hoping I managed to capture the rising tension in the next few sessions.

Which is the good / bad thing about Actual Plays.  Going over them again enables me to see the good and bad in my craft.

Masks *IS* Cursed

Not the tree branch that hit me....
What is with this campaign?  So many delayed posts because of various other issues.  There was a windstorm in Adelaide on Sunday night stretching down to Monday morning that knocked a variety of tree branches down, killed electricity (in some places for 24 hours) and brought in a refreshingly cool change for about half a day.  Naturally this happened in time for me to prepare the sound file for uploading (which I normally prepare Monday night and upload Tuesday morning).

On Tuesday morning, bright and early, I set out for work and enjoy the driving wind as it brushes my face ... only to have a tree branch come down on me.  You see, gum trees lose their branches almost like a dandelion loses its fluff.  Since I was walking down a tree-lined street with reasonably short branches, the branch didn't fall very far, and since I was walking toward the middle of the narrow street, it mostly hit me with its twigs.

All I have to show for it is a long scratch on my neck, beneath the hairline, and a few scabs on my hands.  Still, worth it for the chance to tell my boss that I was an hour late in for work because a branch fell down and hit me.

Why an hour late? 

Well, I scurried home after pausing at a few crossroads and pondering my chances at a) getting home safely versus b) getting to the bus stop safely.  The former seemed likelier than the latter.  The wind died down after an hour.

My workplace is on the other side of town and therefore didn't get hit as hard by wind as we did.

Oh, a tree branch also fell into our backyard (see above) though it didn't destroy anything important.  It has taken a fair while to even begin sawing through, hence my slowness in getting my next Masks post up.  Ah well, soon it'll be uploaded.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Horrors: Gaps Are Good For Learning

Even when you take a break from your actual project, it's often a good idea to take a little time doing things that are still somewhat related to it. As an example, right now I'm reading and running Tenra Bansho Zero (a delightful English translation of a high action Japanese RPG). I'll soon be receiving Call of Cthulhu 7th ed. (hopefully), re-reading portions of Achtung Cthulhu, running a Cthulhu Dark adventure (which should teach me something about rules purity), playing a little Pathfinder and tinkering around with Blood & Smoke until I get a LARP out of it.

I'm also playing horror videogames (Deadly Premonition, Outlast, Haunted Memories), a dark action videogame (latest Tomb Raider) and have finished Beyond: Two Souls (a neat psychological drama with horror and science fiction elements).

This is a very important part of the process because if you keep tinkering with the same thing with no external inspirations, tests or understandings, your focus can narrow again and again until you lose sight of what you initially intended.

Naturally I'm still playtesting my system with Masks of Nyarlathotep though I haven't run a session in a little over a month. I'm also playtesting the feel of a Horrors campaign as well, which is ironic, because it's a) something I didn't realise I had set out to do, and b) not something you expect to do with a massively pulpy pre-written campaign. But there you go. There's the backdrop of mundane action and character rich setting with through-lines that can be both mundane (find a home), criminal (prologue: stop the eugenics cult) and paranormal (prologue: cultists have magic powers and mutant humans, though this hasn't taken center stage yet).

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Arrival: Vampire Deals & University Explorations

After returning to the real world, Nico had a bit of a chat with Malkiah and determined that he was telling the truth (for now, at least). Nico pointed out that she would make a better blood supply than a werewolf as her human blood would have no drawbacks and her ability to regenerate would keep him well-fed. They searched through the place, taking the books for Gipontel's mountain enclave, revealing the magic door which even Gipontel couldn't open, and finding a room filled with portraits which happened to contain ghosts inside so that one of the kindred who had been brought here could feed.

They finished looking over the place and Nico showed Gipontel both the magic door (which he couldn't open) and the three sarcophagi (which he had nothing to add about). Malkiah identified the three sarcophagi and listed off their names. One was a haughty Mekhet elder from a rather hierarchical faction. Another was his rather cruel childe. A third was some young Daeva who had been sent here to try to bust out the Mekhet only to be caught herself.

Nico had the sarcophagi lids pushed down a bit before lowering a flaming torch inside, roasting the kindred within their stone boxes. All except the Daeva, whom she figured they would take but keep in her rather comatose condition as it hadn't done anything wrong (that she knew) and she was still pretty sore about killing her conversational partner all the way back in the Nosferatu's lair.

So Malkiah threw the Daeva over his shoulder and they hustled out, barely managing to avoid a bunch of men in black suits. As the men came rushing out after them, Gipontel threw down a localised earthquake which knocked them all to the ground (and re-confirmed how dangerous Fallen Angels really can be). Unfortunately, the Daeva hit the dirt and woke up from the force. The woman asked Nico for help a few times, Entrancing her to try and get her close enough so the Daeva could feed. Malkiah, feeling a bit territorial about his blood supply, grabbed the Daeva by the scruff of the neck and jerked her backwards.

In the end, they all made it back to Gruber's domain at the university. Gruber was, unsurprisingly, not happy to see them arrive with two Kindred in tow and had the vampires put in the cells for now while Gipontel went around with him repairing various machines and electronics and perhaps Enhancing the odd device. Nico had volunteered his services. When Gipontel returned to them, he seemed quite harrowed. Apparently Gruber had kept him well-informed of all those who had died while Gipontel hid.

Gruber finally managed to prod Nico into stating that she would stay for the winter and declared that she therefore had to know about his bastion. She was quite happy (in fact, preferred) to bunk down on some random floor rather than go down there but apparently it would make the locals nervous if they were never brought down there. Something about acting like an outsider....

The bastion entrance was in one of the sub-basements and it opened out into a massive place (bigger on the inside) that was about the size of a school oval with luxuriant crops in the middle around a small lake. The walls were honeycombed with homes, two layers thick, with stairs leading up to balconies on the front homes and corridors snaking down the middle, dividing one layer of homes with the next.

Nico found the whole thing rather uncomfortable. It was beautiful, an oasis, but she was an outsider. Since being evicted from her own home on pain of death, she didn't think she could ever come to think of any settlement as a 'home' again. A ruined building, sure. But this place? Besides which, it was imbued and protected by a demon, Fallen Angel or not, and that just made her doubly uncomfortable. So she let them take her to the shared three-room apartment that she would be sharing with her crew which was in the second layer (one without a view). Four flop mattresses on the bedroom floor. A rough wooden table and stools in the living room. A wooden bathtub in the bathroom. Oh well, it was a place to store her gear.

While looking around she was visited by Malkiah who had misted out of the cell to come looking for her. She soon came to an arrangement with Gruber that the vampires should be allowed out so long as they were with her. It did make her a babysitter of some deadly predators, but what are you gonna do? It gave her an excuse to avoid the oasis anyway.

During a conversation with the Daeva, she convinced her that perhaps she might be able to make a place for herself here. Once the people got used to her, she could become quite important indeed. Nico also convinced Malkiah that the Daeva might be handy to have around, rather than just another fang to feed. The two proved interested in St. Helios though they were tempted to take out the vampires inside (whom Nico had taken great care to paint as quite controlling and unlikely to let in foreign vampires).

Later, while the vampires were asleep, she went back into the oasis to check on the woman blinded and deafened by the ice-demon on that fateful night where Nico had met Jack. It turned out that Gruber had healed her senses and now she had taken up a role as a gardener, though she dearly missed her children (pre-teen girl, 8-year-old boy) who were in the hands of a certain suited and hatted fellow at Warehouse 13 who was an abusive husband to the woman who feared him coming here. Regrettably, it was the very person Nico wanted to connect with as a possible media publisher. Nico figured the kids would be better off in the bastion, anyway, and offered to fetch them in while leaving the father unawares of their location (though knowing that they were, indeed, gone). It was only later as she left that she realised that she only had the woman's word on the father's abusiveness.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Arrival: Fluffy Wings

They arrived on the largest mountain in the world which apparently fit inside his cigar case which he kept in his pocket (canonical, by the way) and which used to be a place only his kind would have access to. He led them across the snow to a ski lodge of all things that sat near the summit. Thankfully the air was a lot more oxygen rich than most mountain tops.

They went inside and discussed the Malkiah situation. Jack figured an expendable vampire would be useful. Johnny wasn't so sure. Rochelle found the whole idea of vampires shudder-worthy. Perhaps some repressed memory from St. Helios? Nico didn't want Malkiah along. She also didn't want to kill him since the last time she betrayed and slayed a vampire left such a bad taste in her mouth. She also wasn't too sure about leaving him here where he might attack the next people who came along to force them to open the door.

It was quite a conundrum.

Nico decided a distraction might be nice while trying to figure out a solution so she turned to the question of the AK-47. She passed it over to Gipontel, hoping he could make heads or tails of it. Gipontel declared that it was non-magical and then started pulling the bandages loose to see what was underneath. After the first few layers were peeled back, a golden glow was revealed. As the final layers pulled loose, a glowing golden feather could be seen strapped to the grip.

"Oh, this is yours," said Gipontel, passing it to her.

As her fingers gripped it, the feather began to absorb into her hand. Nico yelped and tried to dislodge it but it was already gone, drawn inside her hand. Moments later, wings erupted from her back, sharing that same golden colour. In panic and confusion, and lacking any true understanding of what wings are meant to *do*, she sat very still with one wing fully extended its nine foot length (knocking some stuff over) and the other wing mostly closed. She looked a bit like a drunk bird.

Moments later her eyes glowed blue (Castigation: +5 Empathy for a scene followed by a mild derangement involving Innocent Delusions) and since it was the first use both the derangement and the empathy co-occured. After all, the derangement was more a mechanism for coping with the increased insight into other people's minds and emotions. She saw Johnny's shock in his eyes plus his desire to pretend everything was still okay, the fear in Rochelle's eyes, and you didn't need magical powers to know the instinctive horror on Jack's face when he turned Dalu (mostly man, part wolf) and leapt to his feet. With the derangement fully in place, she started crying: "Why are you all so mean?!"

Johnny took the moment to berate Jack for his meanness, deciding perhaps that he might as well go all in, and he came over to console her and feel her feathers. Which were apparently ridiculously soft and ever so warm, like sunlight and happy memories. Johnny naturally convinced Rochelle to feel the wings, which she did, though more reticently and so shocked she seemed a bit in a daze.

Gipontel, on the other hand, was over the moon. He proudly announced that it was her feather, Shaitan's feather, and that she should go out onto the mountainside to fly about. He seemed a touch sorry to see her sadness but didn't seem to realise what a shock it would actually be.

Naturally Nico didn't believe she was a Fallen Angel. Even in her delusional state, it seemed positively insane to believe that a Fallen could be born and live a life like a human. Nope, it was probably a trick played by Gipontel. Or maybe just an aspect of the Lucifuge condition. There was a castigation she'd read about which involved wings, after all.

She decided that instead of worrying about the wings, perhaps they should just talk to Malkiah and see if he can be brought out with him. In her innocent state, she was sure she could make it work.