Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Episode 6: Under a Metal Sky - Character 4

The final member of the Cantileverre's crew was played by Jessica Price.

You have left someone behind that you visit every time you're in port. Who is it? Why can't they come along with you?
My daughter—she has a degenerative bone condition and can't handle the rigors of acceleration and deceleration.

You were place abord the ship as the technician because you specialize in what sort of drives?
FTL


You sufferedan injury and now have a cybernetic prosthetic. What is it?
My prosthetic allows me to see outside the normal human spectrum, but I miss normal eye contact.

To give yourself that extra kick during those life-or-death 20 hour long repair sessions, you have become addicted to a stimulant with a somewhat nasty side-effect. What is the side-effect? Do your shipmates know?
Memory loss. I am trying to hide it.

How did your sister die?
I forgot her medication.

In what ways would you be better suited for your boss's job?
I was raised to lead.

You are the first member of your family to go into space. Why?
I'm the only one who escaped the hereditary illness.

What was the worst decision you ever made due to your stim habit.
Leaving home and going into space.

What scared you the most as a child?
Insanity.

What is your filth threshold?
Low. I'm a neat freak.

A ship like this requires a lot of funds. Where do those funds come from? How do you feel about the source of those funds?
My family is wealthy. I feel I have an obligation to lead because of it.

That gets us through the entire crew. Next time: what actually happened.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Episode 6: Under a Metal Sky - Character 3

Fortunately for the crew of the Cantileverre they also had a doctor, played by Erik Keith.

Doctor Roland O'Bloome
Where did you get your medical training? Did you enjoy it?
On an agrarian harvest planet. I grew up there but left for greener pastures.

Where are you in the chain of command on the ship?
I don't have a rank. I do my job and weigh in when I need to.

Normally, you are a paragon of your morals, which isn't always convenient. How, in one regrettable instance, did you need to go against them? What do you regret most about that encounter?
I want to save everyone, but one of the mercs on the ship was too aggressive. I may have had a hand in the accident that claimed his life. It's a shame I couldn't calm him down otherwise.

What can you do that most other people can't?
I know how to program a ship's life support system to cause strange health effects that I know how to treat. I've become exceptional at recognizing health related issues based on system failures on a ship and how to treat them.

I may use this to ensure my position in the crew.

You see a lot of odd things in space. What is the strangest thing you have witnessed?
We can acress a semi-derelict ship that we thought was salvage. Ends up the inhabitants had survived for over three months, but had gone completely insane.

Who is the only one aboard to have ever beaten you at chess?
The ship's AI, it's insufferable good at it.

You have a romantic interest in one of the other crew members. Does he/she know? How does this affect your work environment?
Ship's navigator, but he doesn't know.

What soothes the tension headaches you get?
A little bit of the stim packs I have hidden under my bed. The ones we're pretty sure the merc was stealing before his "accident."

When do you feel most alone?
When I don't have anyone to help.

What is that thing and why do you have it?
It's a multipurpose medical device that can be used to inject things into people, such as adrenaline or sedatives.

You have a somewhat shady past, leading to the acquisition of some very useful skills. What did you do and what skill did you learn from it?
I was stuck on an agrarian transport when the life support system went out. I was the only survivor. It was then that I started doing freelance and joined up with this group.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Episode 6: Under a Metal Sky - Character 2

The next crewman of the Cantileverre is James Jacobs's character...

Navigator Kruger
Normally a navigator of your skill would not be assigned to this sort of ship. Why are you here?
Because I agreed to do the job in return for a reduced prison sentence. I'm the getaway driver/pilot for my criminal heist buddies.

Where did you get that scar?
Some bastard named Gafer took out my left eye and some cheek with a grapefruit spoon in prison.

Why don't you like being the age you are?
Becuase I spent 20 years in prison and misused most of my life.

You are normally very close to your family, but recently you have fallen out of touch. Why? 
I don't know. I've been told to help on this mission or I'd never see them again. My "family" is my criminal pals.

What piece of contraband have you smuggled aboard? Who else knows about it?
A super-poison capsule tucked into my eye socket folds. The medical officer knows. He found it during an exam but kept it quiet.

When do you feel most alone?
In a crowd.

Which member of the crew don't you trust?
The medical officer, because he knows about the pill.

Why are you also in charge of inventory?
Good question. Due to a government clerical error.

What hobby do you have that occasionally comes in handy?
Meditation. Helps me focus and contain the beast.

What disease do you fear the most and why?
Anything that causes blindness, but in particular onchocerciacis.

What did you do during your last shoreleave?
Got involved in a casino heist and got caught... 20 years ago.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Episode 6: Under a Metal Sky - Character 1

I managed to pull together another Dread game a few weeks back, this time using one of the adventures out of the Dread rulebook, the sci-fi scenario Under a Metal Sky. I gave it a bit of a techy twist to indulge the genre, but we'll get into that a bit later.

This time around our players were:

Gabriel Rosas as Captain Albrecht Skinner
James Jacobs as Navigator Kruger
Erik Keith as Doctor Roland O'Bloome
Jessica Price as Technician Naamah

To give a bit of insight into our players, I'll post their character questionnaires and answers. First up...

Captain Skinner
As captain of your ship, what part of your manegment style upsets your superiors?
I report actions after the fact. Too many hoops to jump through to go through.

Who was your ship named after?
Cantileverre, the elder pioneer of the colony first founded outside allied space.

When your last ship was destroyed, what did you risk your life to save?
The nav files.

What class did you enjoy most at the academy, and why didn't you excel at it?
Hyper-space theology. Slept with my professor.

What food that most people like can't you stand?
Algae noodles in BASIC broth.

You have a phobia you developed during your first mission. How has it interfered since then?
Asteroid hit our ship, broke atmosphere. Almost drowned. Small ticking-tacking gets on my nerves.

Because of a terrible injury you had to have part of your body replaced with cybernetics. WHat was replaced and what are the capabilities of its replacements?
Lungs and inner ear; breathe less oxygen, also get dizzy when away from my control bracelet for longer than 24 hours.

Even though the record was wiped clean, what haunts you from your past?
My family was responsible for the disease outbreak of 0-88-A.

You often find yourself envious of what other character? Why?
The rich one. Said family is well liked and they are regarded well by "The Man."

How are your quarters decorated?
With fluid screen murals of star coronas broken by planets.

You ship docked with a seemingly abandoned space hulk. Why are you there?
It was there. It's my job to explore... even if I'm mostly transport.

That's character number one. We'll get to the others in the coming days, along with a few videos I took, my take on the plot, and a rather unusual handout.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Episode 5: Editors Only!

You wouldn't think that a game of Hero Quest would be as hard to get together as it has been, but that speaks to how busy its been at the Paizo offices this past year. So we're going to call episode four at one session—in my past experiences Hero Quest only has one dungeon anyway—and move on.

And what a perfect month to move on into!

It's the second week of October and the second week of my totally spur of the moment decision to run a different creepy RPG every week this month. Last week I kicked it off by running Paizo's editors through the first pages of Dungeon #146's "Meenlock Prison," reinterpreted for the Pathfinder RPG and set on the western shore of Druma in the Inner Sea Region. The group is insane, so I don't actually expect horror to overcome high jinx, but we'll see—and we're already having a blast playing! The Paizo Editors Only! Game is:

Judy Bauer as Caw the raised by crows gnome barbarian
Chris Carey as Saling the bagpipe playing halfling bard
Ryan Macklin as Blacktear the goth dwarven cleric of Pharasma
James Sutter as Oy McKrakin the weasel wrangling dwarven witch

So far, our first levelers have made it from the coastal village of Tarrob to the prison island of Prophet's Vineyard with writs for the release of two prisoners, Lyle Benedict and the "Blessed of Shelyn." After almost capsizing in their quarter mile crossing to the island, the party reached the prison and nimble deduced that the crew claiming to be the warden and his guards probably aren't who they say they are. They turned an ambush around on one of the good ol' guards and nearly subduded him, when something from the ajar door leading into the underground cells nabbed the defeated tough and yanked him inside.

The adventure is fun, but I'm doing a lot of on the fly revision to make things work with the Pathfinder RPG and to make it feel a bit less rail-roady. Fortunately, when good sense would typically fold an adventurer's curiosity doubles down.

"Meenlock Prison" is on track to wrap up on Tuesday the 5th, so watch for more from Paizo's warriors of words early next month!

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Episode 4: Hero Quest Part 2 Incoming!

We've been so busy making games at Paizo over the past several months that there hasn't been a lot of time for actually playing them. Although a few of us did get in a fantastic session of Ryan Macklin's hate-letter to world folklore, Mythender (a total blast, click the link and download your free copy), the word "hiatus" has come up more than a few times in reference to some of our  regularly occurring games. But one game surely be returning soon is session two of Hero Quest! Even though I think the party might only have something to the tune of 75 gold pieces to their collective names, there's going to be a quick shopping trip and then we're foraying back into the dungeon. Things get way deadlier in the second level as well, with traps making their debut.

So keep an eye on this space, not just for more Hero Quest, but for what comes next. Having taken the easy route with this game, I'm ready for something a bit more... unforgiving.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Episode 4: HeroQuest, Part 1 Picture Show

I'm going to mostly let the pictures do the talking for this last session. We tackled the first dungeon in the HeroQuest quest book and dang was that more difficult than I had expected. The party took precisely the deadliest route through the dungeon, face challenges of increasing difficulty as their resources decreased. They also pulled like one treasure and 80 wandering monsters. In the end though, they pulled it off--Jessica's wizard one-shotting the gargoyle boss with a genie spell, though it won her more than a brush with death. That was about it for the night, but coming up next our heroes will be venturing into deeper, far deadlier dungeons. A huge thanks to Erik, Jessica, Sarah, and Sonjia and stay tuned for more HeroQuest soon!







Thanks to Jessica for all the fancy captioned photos!

Already I'm looking forward to something a bit more elaborate. This has been a good break, but there's much scheming to do something a bit more grandiose. More on that later...


Monday, February 4, 2013

Episode 4: Impromtu Episode!

This week on Erratic Episodes it's time for an Impromptu Episode! All weekend I was debating what to run next: Something planar? My favorite adventure from Dungeon? Another Dread game? Option paralysis ended in indecision and I ran out of weekend trying to decide.

But Project Lobotomy was super complicated, so I deserve a bit of a break right? Right. So I was thinking maybe something more on the board game side of the roleplaying spectrum, which would allow me to get some players into the game who don't usually go for all the word math and funny voices.

You know what would be perfect?! Dragonstrike! Let me see if that video is online...


You know what would be perfect!? NOT Dragonstrike! Ooof is that rough.

If that's not the way, then what? How about something that I actually loved as a kid. Something that I played until the color wore off the dice. Something that started me down the road of painting miniatures. Something that I spent a whole summer coming up with new adventures for and, though I didn't realize it then, was the start of my game design career.

How about HeroQuest!

Tomorrow is the first adventure in a two-part Erratic Episode, delving into the deadly dungeons of the HeroQuest world. It might not exactly be an RPG, but there's a screen, monsters, magic, and character sheets, so it's close enough! This time around we've got an entirely new crew of Paizo players:

Erik Keith
Sonja Morris
Jessica Price 
Sarah Robinson

Check back later this week to see how far Barbarian, Dwarf, Elf, and Wizard make it in session one; who survives against orcs, gargoyles, femurs, and worse; and, most importantly, if the nostalgia holds up! Tomorrow

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Episode 2: Project Lobotomy Download

As promised, here it is: Everything.

Every single thing I put together for my Pathfinder/Mass Effect adventure, Project Lobotomy.

The zip file below includes several things:

Project Lobotomy Adv.docx: This is the adventure itself, which is really to say my super elaborate notes for this adventure. More than a decade of writing game stuff means that I can't really help but write my notes in the house styles I use most frequently, which of course means this document looks akin to the way we currently style adventures at Paizo. (Not exactly, but Pathfinder Adventure Path readers should find pleanty of familiar formats.) If you're interested in playing this adventure, which really means taking my 6,000+ words of notes, suggested ad-libs, scripts, plots, statblocks, suggestions, etcetera, and making them yours, this is the place to start.

Level 1 and Level 2 Tags.png: The tagged maps of the station. These maps are actually edited maps from Doom 2. This turned the work of mapping the whole base into a few prunes with with an image editor's erase tool. Handy thing that Google image search.

ME Races.docx: Easily the document people have been asking after the most, this is my build of six Mass Effect races using the Pathfinder RPG: Advance Race Guide's race builder. The races included are the asari, humans (a variation from the Pathfinder RPG core), krogan, quarians, salarians, and turians.

Starting Handouts: This folder includes the handouts the PCs start with--untagged schematics of both station floors and a mysterious partial transmission from 2175 Aeia.

Handouts: This folder includes all the rest of the game's handouts (even one or two I put together but never worked into the text). These are all .txt files, which I suggest opening using the program WriteRoom with the Terminal theme (green text on a black background).

So that's what's in the following file. If you want all of that, all you have to do is click the link below.

Download: Project Lobotomy.zip (173 KB)

Additionally, everything that I created for this, which is to say, everything that isn't a proper noun from the Mass Effect series or a Pathfinder rule, I'm releasing via a Creative Commons license. I'm still getting acclimated to many of the aspects of these licenses, but in short, if you want to use anything that I created in this download for any non-commercial venture, please do so (and tell us all about it here!).

While we're talking about downloading things, the Mass Effect 3 Datapad easily wins the award for coolest game handout I've ever thrown on a table. The app takes the codex from the Mass Effect games--your character's ever available encyclopedia to the game's rich universe--with its polished graphic design and the calmly read entries (yes, it reads all the primary entries for you) and ports them to your iOS device. Which really should be to say, your naked iPad, because the marriage of this program with the iPad's sleek glass instantly make you forget it isn't a device from the future. The Mass Effect 3 Datapad app is a free download, available here and if you're going to futz with any one thing from this page it should be this. This app was kind of the reason I put Project Lobotomy together (well, that and I thought the Project Overlord missions for Mass Effect 2 were amazing). The window into that world that this complete codex offers made such an enticing handout that I just had to have a game that used it. Check it out and I'm pretty sure you'll see what I mean. And, if you've gotten this far without knowing anything about Mass Effect, you can change that right now too. Hit he link and download Mass Effect on Steam immediately.

That's it for Project Lobotomy. Putting this together totally satisfied the mad scientist part of my brain and it was a total blast to run--entirely thanks to all my awesome players. I hope that anyone who downloads the notes gets to run the game and has just as fantastic a time as we did.

As for what's up for Erratic Episodes next... I'm not sure yet.

Probably something with swords.

Creative Commons License
Project Lobtomy by F. Wesley Schneider is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Episode 2: Space and Time, Lessons from a Sci-Fi Mystery

I’ve had a game in the back of my head for a little over a decade now. Something modern, disturbing, and detailed enough to leave the players wondering, how much of this is actually made up? Something with downloaded police reports, stained manila folders, and gory images from the bowels of the internet. Something with gruesome murders, a big map of a city, and links to real websites. The sort of game that ends with the takeaway “I’m so glad I’m not really a cop.”

I haven’t run it, despite having a number of the handouts made, because I know it’s going to take a lot of effort to create and a significant amount of time to run. And after this week’s game, maybe even longer than I thought.

I set up my Pathfinder/Mass Effect game as a mystery, and a pretty linear one at that. The clues in low-numbered areas fed into clues in high-numbered areas, the first floor’s mysteries got deeper on the second floor, room 2 doesn’t necessarily reveal the secrets of room 1, but it’s not far from that. Things went really well and the party gobbled up and digested the majority of the first course's clues before heading into later levels' second course.

But it was definitely a bigger meal then I’d anticipated.

The way this Mass Effect game panned out taught me two related lessons, which I figured I'd share with anyone planning on running mystery RPGs (for any game system).

Lesson One: Simpler Mysteries
But not for the reason I usually give professional adventure authors. I’ve seen plenty of adventures collapse under the weight of their own elaborateness—and I was definitely wary of mine veering onto that course. When a mystery adventure demands the players find every clue—or worse, find every clue in a rigidly specific order—it’s easy to frustrate players. They know there’s pieces of a thousand puzzles scattered before them, but without the GM's guidance they have no idea what sort of picture they’re trying to put together. Directionless players quickly find themselves asking, why bother? Additionally, if clues prove contradictory—whether purposefully or through a GM mistake—it’s easy for players to dismiss the mystery as either beyond them (usually in interest, not intellect) or impossible.

For me, I try to think of clues as the steady I.V. drip keeping the mystery alive. In the case of this Mass Effect game, the mystery was one of “What happened?” not, whodunit. This simple sort of mystery is pretty easy to keep rolling, as the clues become a series of handouts and cut-scenes, revealing more of the story behind the story. Normally I wouldn’t consider doling out background details piecemeal a mystery, but when it’s treated like a puzzle, when it reveals the reason behind unexplained set pieces, and—most importantly—once the players start theorizing, it becomes a mystery. In our game, the clues seemed to keep the players engaged and I was pleased both that their theories were typically on the right path and that their revisions constantly strengthened their previous assumptions. If they were totally off base, that would have been much more my fault then theirs. 

In this case, I’m advocating simplicity because mysteries balloon—big time. The content I generated for night one spilled well into the third session. The finale I planned to conclude the adventure on night two we only got to two-thirds of the way through last night’s third session. This meant that in the last hour I was having to throw in some pretty heavy handed guideposts (“Did anyone look at THIS”), flubbed at least one clue, and had to cut or skim through sections entirely.

Had I to do the whole game over, I would have made things simpler, as the script far exceeded the stage time we had. Much of the group seemed to really enjoy examining the clues and amending their theories, which was great, but this more than anything took time. As much as that sort of investment is worth encouraging (I'd say it’s even one of the main points of running an RPG) it’s also worth accounting for timewise. This wouldn’t be a big deal if we were a bi-weekly group getting together to play, but with limited time and availability it created a problem. The end result was that, even after going into overtime, the final session turned into a race for details and the expected big reveal to tie everything up. As this happened less naturally then the slow build of the rest of the adventure, the horror was drained out of the final revelation, transforming the climax into just a big set-piece fight. I wouldn’t say the end was ruined, but the compacted timeline gave it the feel of a long-running series forced to wrap-up prematurely. Spending another session on the ending would of solved much of this, but that solution would have exacerbated another problem (see Lesson Two).   

Ultimately, the lesson here is that if you’re going to run a mystery adventure, make sure you have the time to run it all the way to its conclusion. You want to give the PCs the time to feel like sleuths, and  definitely want to make sure the adventure comes to satisfactory reveal and conclusion. If you’re worried about the time that might take, go for a simpler mystery. A good simple mystery that feels like a mystery beats an elaborate mystery with a forced climax.

Lesson Two: Timing is Relevance
Cliffhangers are the perfect way to keep up tension between game sessions, but anyone left hanging too long falls.

There were five months between sessions one and two of this Mass Effect game, then four months between two and three. Even after a detailed recap, there were plenty of “I think…” and “Remember you thought this…” moments. When the GM is reminding you of your awesome theory from four months ago, it doesn’t really feel like your awesome theory anymore. In this game, the long pauses between sessions caused several nuances to fade and even I, holding all of the notes, lost a few threads. Apparently RPG mysteries share something in common actual detective work: too much time between new discoveries causes the trail to go cold.

If you’re going to run a mystery, make sure it remains relevant to your players. Everyone in this game seemed to honestly enjoy playing, but with more than half a year passing in the interim, the urgency worked up during an individual game didn’t transmit to the next one. There’s bound to be some of that with any break (it’s one reason why televison series do weekly recaps), but after a month—maybe even after two weeks—the GM isn’t just fighting to spark the player’s memories, he’s fighting to spark their senses of relevance and interest. Additionally, if the main plot has to fight for significance, the players’ connection to their characters suffers even more, causing nuances, character quirks, and personal goals to shift or evaporate entirely between episodes.

My big take away here is to schedule every session of a short series at once. It would have been better to push back the first game and find multiple weeks the players could devote to playing rather than fight schedules for a year, ultimately to the game’s detriment. I plan on taking this as a lesson for all my games from here on out, especially when it comes to more complex adventures that rely on pacing and revelation.

Next Time
Those are my takeaways from our Pathfinder/Mass Effect game, but my next post is going to be all about your takeaways. I’ll be putting up all of my notes, handouts, maps, and the Mass Effect races I created using the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game: Advanced Race Guide for anyone who wants to run this adventure or tell their own stories in the Mass Effect galaxy.

And who knows, if I ever get the time and a group able to commit a whole weekend to playing it, maybe in the next year or two you'll see that dark detective game I've been plotting show up right here.