Thursday, March 26, 2015

Game Translation: Vampire: The Masquerade (Bloodlines)

So here's a videogame that is a translation of a roleplaying game that I'm now translating back into a roleplaying game style.  This should be the easiest damn article I've ever written.  I mean, I could tell you to just crack the spine on the actual Masquerade books, right?  Right?  Well, no.  Not at all, actually.  To be perfectly honest, running a mission-based game in a sandbox style isn't as simple and easy as it sounds.

Firstly this game represents solo play.  You could probably manage it with two players, but you're not going to get the same type of game running the usual group of three to four.  Why?  Because a major part of the game involves a character (you) making key decisions while you move through a society and world that seems strange and unusual to you.  When you have a group, these decisions are made by committee and the world around you shrinks in comparison to the other PCs with which you must negotiate.  This is fun, but it is quite different and distinct to the videogame's style of play.

In the videogame, it's all about how the players interact with the world and so to keep with that vibe, if you have two players they should both be from the same clan and have similar and complementary skill sets so that they can work in harmony.  Most players will feel the urge to take widely diverse skill sets, which is encouraged in most forms of game play, but that also leads to diametrically opposed methods of dealing with the enemy.  In other words, if one PC is a conman and the other a brutal thug, then they can take turns at shining but can only rarely tackle the same problem in the same way.  So firmly advise two characters in the same mould.  Perhaps make them siblings even.

Basically reduce the Player versus Player vibes in favour of Player versus Enemy.  You want the PCs to engage with the world and be threatened by the world, not splitting up frequently to tackle things differently or conspire with their respective clan leaders.  That's a very different game and will pull away from this style.

Secondly choose your favourite elements of Masquerade and jot them down.  Is there a cool vampire variant?  An interesting hunter type?  A few minor clans that really draw your eye?  A Sabbat or Anarch or Camarilla conspiracy plan that you truly love?  Make anything at the conspiracy level the grand plot and all those other details can be the minor plots they can pick or discard more readily. 

Figure out which movers and shakers want which minor plots to be resolved - determine if they clash in their preferred form of resolution.  Ideally a few of them should, but only include 2 or 3 such clashes.  You want to keep things reasonably simple and interesting.  You can draw lines from your plot concepts to these mover and shaker names / motives / ideal resolutions so you can remember them.

Next grab a fresh sheet of paper.  Where will the players meet with these individuals?  Pick a place suitably symbolic - that either contrasts or conforms with expectations.  Bloodlines does it's best to play with stereotypes because it's most people's first encounter with the world.  Therefore don't be afraid of stereotypes, but don't be bound to them either.  You can put your Nosferatu in a Fallout shelter and your Toreador in an art gallery, but feel free to juxtapose these symbols by having the Ventrue in an Armani suit track down the PCs while they're clearing out a sewer because the Ventrue's information is that vital and highly secure.

I'd jot down three potential ideas for every NPC and pick the best of three.  Sometimes the first idea that pops into our head isn't the best one.  Sometimes we need to improvise when the players try to get hold of that NPC again.  Also keep your recurring NPCs to less than a dozen so that the players can form genuine impressions of them.  While there's always a temptation to fully populate a vampire court with NPCs the players can meet, that often just creates a tangle that doesn't suit this style of play.

The minor missions are kept pretty simple in Bloodlines, being a videogame, and there's no reason why you can't do the same in your game.  Your minor plots should focus on a single location (abandoned ship), NPC type (security guards), and objective (search the ship without being seen).  You can throw in a major choice or decision point in each location, where possible, and try to tie it into the various recurring NPCs or the main plot.

Remember also to use more combats that you normally would in a Vampire game but have credible alternatives available in most cases so that those people who play non-combatants aren't slaughtered by your storylines.  If you're going to make combat a guarantee in certain sections, like in the videogame, ensure your players have built their characters appropriately.

Expect most PCs will be Malkavian.
People just love Malkavians.

Ensure feeding is part of the game as well.  Include a few different methods of feeding for them to happen across.  A guy waiting for a taxi by his broken down car.  A homeless guy sleeping rough and out of people's way.  An eager blood doll in a nightclub desperate for a make out session.  A flirty person at a nightclub.  Someone just trying to find a shortcut through an alleyway.

Having some form of Masquerade reader, though perhaps not so mechanically ordained, is also a good idea to dissuade people from being too clearly vampiric on the streets.  If they become too controversial, other vampires will start hunting them down and the police certainly will.  Let them know that running out of points represents the court running out of patience and that they should see it the same way as dropping to Humanity 0.  You might be able to portray the end, but that's it.  Game over.  Campaign finished.  With only one to two players, it's much easier to actually follow through on these threats.

Don't let the PCs become too defensive.  They get a haven, to represent the ordinary aspects of their nightlife, but they're not going to build their way from grunt to manager within the course of the campaign.  It's not a resource management game.  It's not even a political game.  It's a mission-based grunt campaign where you live in borrowed resources.  Heck, don't let them spend in merits like Resources or Haven.  Make them steal what they need or be given it.

Finally pay attention to the pacing of missions.  Most should sit around and wait for the PCs to get around to them, if they even do, but having a few clear deadlines is a good idea as well, especially for major Campaign quests.  Also be sure that after awhile new missions are only unlocked once certain Campaign quests are accomplished, so that they don't get side quest bloat.  We're not going for a Skyrim feel, after all.

The rise and fall of tension should also apply to the major campaign quests themselves.  Place a few social ones at judicious moments to control the energy levels and be sure to include increasingly difficult quests as the end of the campaign approaches.  You want the final few quests to feel dangerous, breath-tasking and conclusive so that by the time they hit the ending, they really feel like they've accomplished something.

Anyway, a campaign based around Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Communicators who will find that the personal interaction, decision points and social elements with the myriad intriguing and inhuman NPCs keeps them interested.

Explorers will be pleased if you remember to use a diverse range of interesting locations and really characterise them.  They want to see something new, experience something strange, so give it to them.

Action Heroes will enjoy the more videogame-y aspects of the game, though they may find that the action elements are a little weaker than they're used to, namely because most of the events will be rather subtle.  It'd be a rare mission that requires car chases and burning buildings, after all, though they may come up.

Tacticians are always looking for the most optimal manner to complete a task and deal with a situation.  While they could certainly get behind the mission-oriented aspects of the game, they may miss the overarching point which is that this is meant to be an experience the players sculpt with their decisions rather than a series of scenarios with an ideal way to meet all the Win Conditions.

Investigators may find most of the investigations to be rather simplistic, if you keep to the style of the game, and the actual conspiracies between elder vampires may be nothing but frustrating hints and annoying implications.  The missions are generally tacked onto the main campaign to give them a greater sense of breadth and scope to avoid over complicating the central campaign.  Of course, with a few twists you can easily turn this style into a more entertaining romp for them that they can really sink their fangs into.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here, and a list of tropes can be found over here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, Dead Space, or Elder Scrolls Online.

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Dental Shenanigans

Sorry about the lack of posts recently but I fell sick just before I had to Chief Bridesmaid a wedding and then had dental surgery on Monday to prep the gum for a dental implant.  I've got some more Demon: the Fallen Lore posts ready to go but the next Game Translation will, alas, need to be next Wednesday.  I'm also planning on putting up some more of my Pathfinder - Wrath of the Righteous stuff and some information on the last few sessions and general style guide and How Tos for my vampire LARP.  I'm also about an inch away from being able to release some more of those Masks of Nyarlathotep audio logs.

Is there anything else you guys are super keen on hearing about?  Now's a good time to say.

Friday, March 6, 2015

WoTR: The Demon Within Module

Eager to get to the good stuff, I chose to make it relatively quiet in Kenabres for the couple days it takes for Queen Galfrey to organise the additional teleportation circle with Lady Darchana - using the Painted Man from Absalom to cast from the scroll to increase its chances for success.  I also chose to just have it work rather than make a roll for him as the plot potential of permanent teleportation links between Kenabres, Nerosyan and Absalom is too high to waste on a single roll.

The excitement is in Kenabres, at the moment, since the demons are too busy playing havoc in the Mendevian farmlands in preparation of winter.

So the non-humanoids wait in the Starrise Spire while the humanoids made us of their tents in a ruined square nearby.  Some of the ex-slaves and prisoners could make a break for it now as they have equipment and the right to leave but it's a little too threatening to do so.  Many of the stone walls are slowly being repaired by clerics and the whole place looks worse than the London East End in some of the nastier stages of the Blitz.

Once everything it settled, one of the circles is set in Nerosyan while the other is set in a repaired Clydwell Cathedral in Kenabres.  You see, the old Shelyn temple that repaired itself after being rescued in Demon's Heresy wasn't the only God-Touched temple in Mendev.  By triggering the self-repair (well, celestial repair) of one, he triggered the repair of the other one.

Mainly I just wanted to run "The Demon Within" and it's a little harder to do that without a cathedral.  Plus the chance to have Alphy walk into the cathedral from Kenabres only to be welcomed by the Prelate Hulrun Shappock who was responsible for many of the bonfire deaths of suspected cultists and tieflings should be pretty golden.  Prelate Hulrun had died during the main attack on Kenabres and was later seen worn as a suit by a Vermlek demon but why should PCs get all the resurrection fun?


Been awhile since I drafted the first part, so I've now run the session and I can report that Alphy was pretty diplomatic and reasonable about it.  I'd pre-warned the player of Alphy, though, as he was getting a bit down on all the fantastic racism and lack of headway he felt he was making in terms of increasing solidarity.  Things will be better on the home front but I felt that by briefing this as a final obstacle, it should help the player cope with it ... and it did.

Prelate Hulrun demanded the right to invite all of the humanoids into the temple for a grand speech.  He would have put the half-orcs and tieflings to the back but as the teleportation circle was toward the front of the venue and there were enough people to fill the temple, there wasn't much chance of shifting them into a more "appropriate" mix.  General Alphy Hernaste and his chief companions are allowed to sit on the front bench.

Events unfolded not dissimilar to the Demon's Heresy module with an assault on the church.  I layered the attacks thick and fast, with the next encounter occurring two rounds later, which made the whole thing into a far more difficult uphill battle that ended in the first character death! 

Alphy Hernaste fell to the Glabrezu and my player had to run the NPCs to the end of the fight before we snapped over to see Alphy standing in line in Pharasma's world prior to his resurrection.  While normally he wouldn't get to remember such experiences, being Mythic I figured he would.  I basically described the location, his sighting of Groetus, and a glimpse of a creature creeping around the tombstones.  Once returned to life, he pulled Eliska to lay beside him and demanded five minutes peace, which concerned the head priest, Nestrin Alodae, who wanted to get them to clear out Clydwell Keep.

Basically Clydwell Keep fell to the demons a few weeks ago and they've been trying to clear it since to regain access to the Demonscope.  They're not sure why it fell, since it had been the last bastion to be protected by the wardstone effect (being as it doesn't actually contain a wardstone).  Kenabres has recently sent in some troops (who are the various victims found in the keep) but none have successfully rescued those few individuals who are known to be still alive and still attempting to defend its inner recesses. 

Nestrin Alodae, also resurrected, oversees the service at the temple which hasn't yet been fully repaired while Eterrius Sunnestier, demon-hunting priest, is the arrogant priest of the cathedral itself.   General Dyre and General Marcovina are busy at the moment dealing with their own problems and will later be found at loggerheads regarding the tiefling refugees streaming in from the countryside, but for now Alphy Hernaste only has the Demon Within module to worry about.

So yes, already with their resources dented, but fully restored via cleric spells himself, Alphy Hernaste leads the party onward.  He leaves a somewhat redeemed barbarian Jestak behind in favour of his paladin pal.  His party is therefore made up of himself (Mythic Rank 2, 10th level tiefling monk with the bardic performance rounds of his full level and the special abilities and spells granted to a fifth level bard), Ollysta Zadrian (11th level human paladin of Sarenrae with Mythic Rank 1 wielding Radiance) Eliska (10th level dhampyr oracle with five levels of rogue special abilities and Mythic Rank 2), and Lex (Very Young Umbral Dragon who initially had only one level in ninja but was upgraded to two since her lack of loot meant her ability to attack and deal decent damage was starting to fall behind).

This might seem like a pretty overkill type of party but they all run off one player's admittedly impressive processing power so it all balances out in the end.  Generally the battles are *reasonably* easy with occasional spikes of surprising hardness, which fits the epic feel we wanted for the game.  This module is the largest combat crawl he's done and it's time sensitive so he'll be trying to trounce it in one, maybe two, goes.  Be interesting to see if he can do it.  He also doesn't have access to any Mythic Spells, as yet, because I said so.  I may allow access to them later.

The little quasit got spotted immediately via Eliska's Blind Sense (finally her sightlessness became cool) and it got blasted out of the way quite rapidly.

Thus far I have also made a couple changes in the lower bailey area.  I got bored of babau (so many babau!) so I put three babau and four brimoraks, rather than six babau in the infirmary for some glorious fireball action.  When they were all blinded, they teleported away (well, the ones that hadn't been killed).  The three babau then appeared invisibly beside the three chatterer swarms that popped out of the horse in the stable, right when Eliska dropped a Holy Smite spell on the area, slaying them all as they were already injured.  My player loved it!  Since the chatterers don't have any ability to deal damage upon exiting an animal, I left the horse alive so now it can soon become Ollysta Zadrian's bonded animal since I don't want her bonding to Radiance as I'm hoping Yaniel gets resurrected.

The other change I made was to put three tiefling necromancers rather than one in the shadow hour glass area.  One necromancer just seemed too easy to kill!  I also gave them demonic wing and eye grafts, though the saves for the eye grafts was so low as to be pointless.  They took two of them hostage (monks and subdual) but the third one died.

Now I have to think about what happens when that hourglass of shadows meets the Purity Forge as that's Alphy's plan.  I'm thinking it might be usable to purify soil of Worldwound taint that'll last up to six months, maybe?  Not sure.