Friday, October 19, 2012

Episode 3: Apocrypha

When running games more or less set on Earth I really enjoy when searches for inspiration or direction turn into collection missions. It's like planetary cherry picking, I'll take this and this, include this and this, get rid of that, and throw in some of this. Best of all, the history's built right in... and is often stranger than anything that might just get imagined up.

Crowland Abbey
In the case of my Engel game, I knew I wanted to do something with a floating villagesince those are a thing in Engel. The description in the Engel setting explains that many are from the British Isles, which suffered devastating flooding but was able to save several communities by making them raft villages (link: floating village), but that these communities are sometimes dislodged and forced out to sea by the powerful season hurricanes that wash over the islands every year. Since this would be a British community, I decided to go to Google maps and see if I could find a legitimate name for my wayward community. Crowland was too perfect, too ominous, to pass up. Map view turned to Wikipedia view and what's the first thing that appears but the distinctive, partially ruined abbey at the town's center, Crowland Abbey. What a fantastic looking place, with the ruin of its former nave arching off like a huge buttress and a great old graveyard. I was sold at this point, but then it kept getting better, with a saint beset by demons (Saint Guthlac) and an abbot murdered at the altar by vikings (not to mention his wayward skull). Smitten, my floating village turned into a floating abbey, figuring that if a community was going to save any part of itself, its ancient communal heart would be near the top.

Badge of the HMS Vengeance
Now we've got a setting for my creepy bug-cultist castaways, but I still wanted some way for them to be more in control of their seaborne sanctuary. A boat would be too obvious, but a submarine. So I looked into that and... oh... oh hoho England has nuclear submarines. Cue the diabolical laughter. It's one things for bug cultists to stictch wings on a guy and be disappointed when they don't work, but anything's possible through the power of radiation! Just ask Spider Man. In fact, what if that was the gimmick? What if the lead cultist finds this trove of pre-flood secrets and isn't able to understand most of them except those that are most elaborately illustrated, the ones that distinctly showagain and again—a man bitten by a radioactive spider and given remarkable powers. There aren't comics in Engel's dark future, so how would she know these weren't reports or instruction manuals from a time know for its incredible godless science? So she hops to, and through the efforts of her cult is able to get a pre-flood submarine up and running (handwave, handwave). Again, Wikipedia to the rescue, bringing up the HMS Vengeance, a Vanguard-class submarine of the Royal Navy. Again, perfect name, its obviously martial badge made a great emblem for these creepy cultists, and its nuclear engine sets the stage for all manner of sinister experiments.

Game sketches from the white board
History and research really did the work for me this time around as far as setting went, and having just re-watched The Relic and Mimic already had me in a mood for body horror, so the rest came pretty easily. I largely prepared for this game like I would a Pathfinder game, detailing the main areas, defining the major characters, sketching out a little map, putting together my soundtrack, and throwing in some other nuances I might need (selections from the top 100 British names, for example). I also threw in some of the suggestions presented in the rulebook for Dread (Why don't you own this yet?!), tracking out the general acts and what should occur during them. I'd never included that in a game I've run, so the attempt is a bit weak and it might be obvious that I didn't build the adventure with them in mind. It worked out well enough, but there's really only two acts: Exploring and Shit Going Bad. Having played through now, I realize I did too much work and constructed this far too much like a Pathfinder RPG dungeon crawl. Dread being a much more narrative game, the borders between rooms and encounters don't need to be so strictly defined, and while playing this I found parts I'd intended to be discrete scenes flowing into one another. It's a much more cinematic style of storytelling and I REALLY dig it for horror games like this.

Engel page from my workbook
Now that you've heard about my prep work for the adventure itself, the tools and handouts I used, the characters, and actually playing the game, here's all my notes. Below is the Word.doc with all of my room by room notes, while the picture from my workbook here has my sketches of the abbey, sub, and the other notes I scribbled down researching this and during the game. I don't promise polish in either of these documents, but if you're interested or want to run something similar to this (or just want a simple map of an abbey riding a sub), you're welcome to use them in your own home game. If you do use them and you and your players like it, let your players know about the site and be sure to post about your experiences on this page, I'd love to hear all about it!

Wes's Dread Engel notes and adventure (free download!): DreadEngel.doc

Sketch by Liz Courts
Alright! That brings an unexpectedly full week of Dread and Engel to a close. I will definitely be using the Engel setting again and I expect you'll be reading lots more about Dread on this page in the future. Huge thanks to my awesome players Judy Bauer, Liz Courts, Cosmo Fallacy, and James Sutter for such a fantastic game. Also a big thanks to the residents of Crowland, Lincolnshire, parishioners and clergy of Crowland Abbey, and the crew of the HMS Vengeance for letting me borrow the inspirational tales of their home, sanctuary, and vessel for my night of storytelling. Despite this game's grim theme, I hope my personal respect, appreciation, and fascination show through the dark fantasy trappings.

As for what's next... I'm really not sure, I was so focused on doing this mash-up that I haven't put much thought into it yet. I should probably get those Mass Effect slackers back in the saddle since they wanted a third session, so once that's wrapped I'll figure out what's up and who's in for episode four! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Episode 3: A Voice Raised to Heaven

The world of Feder & Schwert’s Engel is totally cool, there’s no doubting that. Knowing what I know now, though, I probably wouldn’t have used it as the setting of my first Dread game. The preamble about the campaign world was just too long. If the players had already been familiar, that would have been one thing, but as it was about a fifth of our game time was spent bringing the players up to speed on aspects of a rich setting that had little to do with the plot of the evening’s adventure. “Your angels in a post-apocalyptic future dominated by the Future Vatican” would have probably been enough. The exposition on the Dreamseed (the giant infernal bug-demons of the world) was useful, as those certainly made an appearance, but the hierarchy of the church, the role of the Engel, the history of the world, less so. It’s all vibrant and fascinating, so I don’t feel like it was a waste of time and the players were definitely interested—and were receptive sponges, as quite a few bits of lore and neo-religious dogma crept in throughout the night—but overall, had I to do it all again, I would streamline things.

That said, if we play this setting again, these players are totally primed, so it’s not like it was a waste.

As for Dread, I’ve been excited to play since I got the book a month ago and it did not disappoint. In fact, I’ve been gushing about it since we’ve played. Loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. The way the Jenga-tower feeds into the players’ growing apprehension is easily the strongest synthesis of resolution mechanic and mood I’ve ever seen. Breathlessness, that’s this game’s effect, infecting each player with a totally appropriate dread regarding every extraordinary action. The players started around the table, but by the end, if they could have been closer to the walls, and thus farther from the tower, they would have been. Simple, elegant, brilliant—I might have a new favorite storytelling game.

I was too easy on them, though. First off, the janky Jenga knock-off I got, while aesthetically perfect, seems far less structurally sound than a normal Jenga tower—just look at those uneven bones! So I went easy on them as far as calling for pulls, as I didn’t want the tower to topple after like three attempts. Turns out, though, the tower was a little sketchy, but just fine, and over the entire night it only tumbled once—boy did it, but we’ll get to that. Also, with the engel being superhuman, the threshold of what’s extraordinary is already increased. So feats of strength, using the name of god to shout down a shack, flying, they’re pretty commonplace for engel, so I didn’t require pulls for a lot of stuff. That made a significant portion of the initial exploration pretty safe—though trying to empathically read an item formerly possessed by someone surgically violated by insectile grafts certainly did call for a pull. If the players had been normal humans, sure I would have certainly changed the danger level of the game, but I still think there would have been significantly more pulls. The whole thing worked and it was cool and, especially by the end, very creepy, but without the shield of divine powers, the players would have been much more freaked out. Something I’ll certainly be keeping in mind for next time.

As for setting the mood, I was delighted to finally get to use the band In the Nursery’s Engel soundtrack in a game. For a setting as dark as Engel, the soundtrack is strangely hopeful. Maybe I’m viewing the whole setting through a more cynical lens than is intended and Engel is actually meant to be a world about hope and faith overcoming evil… but I really don’t think that’s the case. But, for the intro, the epilogue, and another spot or two, it worked great. For the really creepy stuff, I defaulted to an old favorite soundtrack, the score to Silicon Knight’s Eternal Darkness. Subtle and ominous, a few select tracks were on in the background throughout most of the night. For the big dramatic fight at the end, a newer take on an old standby rose to the challenge, Castlevania: Lord of Shadows. I haven’t used this specific Castlevania soundtrack terribly much—I’m mostly a Symphony of the Night kinda guy—but certainly will again. Here’s my whole soundtrack for the evening.

Prelude: Engel, Angelorium
Exploring the Exterior: Engel, Pandoramicum
Exploring Crowland: Eternal Darkness, Black Rose
Ashby & Library: Eternal Darkness, A Journey into Darkness
Exploring the Vengeance: Eternal Darkness, The Somme
Congregation: Eternal Darkness, Gateway to Destiny
Dreamseed: Castlevania, Lord of Shadows, Carmilla

Easily the high point of the game was the climax, and through no direct decision of mine—which was the best part. Judy’s character Israfel had spent a good portion of the evening watching the team’s back, largely because they’d come to fear attack by the Dreamseed. As her engel’s power was the voice of God, the ability to damage creatures and substances with the power of her voice, she was serving as artillery. So, when Rogziel and Zophiel got attacked (and Pahadron was euthanizing a 10-year-old; why yes, she does get younger every time I mention it), she needed a moment to get to the scene. By the time she did, though, a gigantic, irradiated damselfly had burst loose and was stampeding through the claustrophobic confines of the boat’s bowels. Entering the area, she was the first to act, and chose to use her voice on the demonic creature. She surely could, I explained, but it’s huge, armored, and angry, so her words probably wouldn’t hurt it much. She could, however, wound it by making a pull. She might more than wound it, though, by making two pulls.

She opted for two and cautiously scooted toward the wobbling tower. Cosmo, being absolutely in the moment, caught what unfolded. You can see me in the background using my iPhone to slowly crank up the music (yes, I’m still loving my Bose Soundlink speaker, which I gushed about in my last Mass Effect write-up).

Though you can probably infer, THAT means she dies, but still dramatically succeeded, sacrificing herself to defeat the beast and save her friends from a drawn out and surely lethal battle. Perfect. Absolutely perfect. Her devastating hosannas and hallelujahs ripped into the thing as it tore her apart, but her death cries ultimately blew away that living heresy.

And that’s where we ended it. There wasn't any point to explaining how the characters got out, or reported home, or whatever. The climax was so strong and so satisfying I ended it right there, with no question that the engel had won, despite the tragic cost. Phew! What a finale.

Tomorrow I’ll post all my notes from the game if anyone wants to do something similar to this, or just wants a sketch of a cathedral riding a submarine. I’ll also talk a bit about how much of this was fiction, and how much came straight from the real world… which might be more than you’d think.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Episode 3: Dread Engels

That. Was. Totally. Awesome.

If you don't own Dread, go buy Dread.

We played last night, using the setting of the Engel RPG, as I discussed in my previous post. Everyone filled out their Introductory Inquisitions--the little handwritten survey journals I put together for the game--and after an overview of the game, the setting, and reconciling a few character powers, we hopped right into it.
This time around, my fantastic cast consisted of:

Rogziel (Liz Courts)
* Who has skin like stars.
* Who shines like the sun.
* Who debates with fists.
* Who bears the Eye of Iblis. (Whatever THAT meant!)
* Who stands in front.

Zophiel (James Sutter)
* Who knows the thoughts of mortals.
* Who got a face full of bug swarm.
* Who speak English.
* Who carries old women into danger.
* Who smites traitors.

Pahadron (Cosmo Fallacy) 
* Who knows the fears of men.
* Who perfected fly-by soul searching.
* Who swings a mean yo-yo.
* Who gets bored on guard duty.
* Who isn't afraid to choke out a 12-year-old.

Israfel (Judy Bauer)
* Who fears no belfry.
* Who knows the deceits of the Sons of Albion.
* Who has her own sneaky methods.
* Who shouts down both buildings and bugs.
* Who sacrificed herself to save the day!

As for what got us these characters, Dread uses a survey method of character generation. These were the Engel themed ones the players got in their survey journals.
Introductory Inquisition
The Urielites are the eyes of the Angelitic church and aloof guardians over His flock. Despite this, what part of human life do you secretly wish you could share in?

If you could live outside the Urielite Himmel at Mont Salvage, where would you live?

Why are you the first person your brethren turn to in a crisis?

How are you better than a human?

What weapon or instrument do you practice daily?

Despite it being heresy to possess such an item, what is the one piece of pre-Flood technology you always keep on your person? Why?

Although greed, lust, and envy are damnable sins, what do you constantly crave?

Last week you skipped mass. Why?

When was the last time you bled? Why?

Your potestates, the tattoo-like manifestation of His power in you, grant you a remarkable ability. What is it?

You are blessed to share a name with a legendary engel who you seek to emulate. What is your name?

Oh, and I found appropriately themed cider.

So that's the gist on the characters. Tomorrow I'll get into the details of the game itself.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Episode 3: Dread Engel, Still of the Flesh

With Episode 3: Mass Effect going into overtime, I've decided not to wait to try out something totally different. Having heard fantastic things about the Dread RPG, I ordered that recently and was totally impressed. I expected it to just be storytelling with Jenga. It is not. The rulebook might use pulls from a Jenga tower as its core resolution mechanic, but its survey based character generation method, the depth in which it defines (and offers) various types of horror experiences, and the invasive questions running endlessly along the bottom are more than just perfect at creating mood, they're super cool. I was cackling the majority of the time I was reading its elegantly minimalistic 168 pages.

I've also always wanted to run a game in the world of Feder & Schwert's Engel RPG and finally put my Sword & Sorcery Studios' translation of the German originals to use. I've only owned my Engel books for a decade, so now that the new book smell is thoroughly worn off, they should be good to use.

Tonight we're playing Dread Engel*. I've got a few props (as per usual), a great soundtrack planned (including In the Nursery's Engel CD), an appropriately themed (French?) "Jenga" tower, and little Engel character survey journals. I have also informed multiple players that survival is not to be anticipated.

I've included a few images of what I'm prepared with, but the game starts in moments so I have to run. Once it'sover I'll post more details about the players and the scenario I put together if you're looking for your own Dread Engel story to play through. More to follow!

* This band name free on a first come, first served basis.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Episode 2: Robobugs and Cybervoyers

After a DEPLORABLE five month gap, we dove back into the Mass Effect universe this week for the second session of what started as a mysterious [Classified Sci-Fi Adventure]. The gap's been so significant that I forgot to take any pictures, so I'll be illustrating this post with handouts from the game--but I'll get into that later. Otherwise, the interim months have been rather kind in regards to new tools to run this specific game.

Mission Brief: Schematic 1
The first, flashiest, and freest is the Mass Effect Datapad app for the iPad, a sleek app that utilizes Mass Effect's in-game menu treatments to present the series's hundreds of fantastic recorded and written codex entries--among other inconsequential options. As I've told each of the game's players that he has an omitool with access to an encyclopedic galactic database, this app manifests that resource at the game table with both the perfect info and aesthetic. Those features, combined with the iPad's already futuristic flair, makes this easily the highest tech player handout I've ever used in a game. The only down side is that the adventure itself is far enough off the beaten path and we have enough people familiar with the Mass Effect universe that there hasn't been overly much reason to consult the datapad. When we do, though, it's @#$%in' cool!

Mission Brief: Schematic 2
The other, far less free tool is the Bose Soundlink Wireless Mobile Speaker. I picked this treasure up a few months ago after Erik got one as a birthday present and totally raved about it--and rightly so. If you don't have one of these or haven't played with one, you are missing out on one of the perks of living in the future. This light, unassuming rectangle easily connects to any Bluetooth device and pumps out room rattling sound. I'm all about using music and soundtracks in my RPGs, especially for this game since Mass Effect has such great (and readily available) music. But for my last few games its meant toting about a defunct computer's speakers and sub-woofer and shackling them to my iPhone or laptop to get the sound I want. No more! The Soundlink magically connects to my iPhone, makes flipping through songs a matter of a thumb flick, and has the power to drown our conference room game space in sound. GMs take note, the technology to conduct your game's behind the scenes orchestra is finally, unobtrusively here.

Okay, so that's what's new from before the game even got started. Here's what's new from the game itself. I forgot to take any photos, so instead I'm going to post every clue, data point, and virtual handout the party has collect thus far. If anyone has any interested in running this game themselves down the line, I'll post my complete adventure notes and the rest of the handouts once the game wraps up...

Oh yeah. So I'm breaking my established structure with my second game: I'm running a third session of this. After two players came to me asking when we can play again and a third noted on his Facebook that we have one session left, it seems like the interest to wrap this one up is totally there. I definitely wrote more than two sessions of adventure for this one, so I'll have to watch that in the future if I'm going to keep to my totally arbitrary two-session structure. So, expect a recap of a third Mass Effect session, hopefully by the end of the month even (doubly so as I'm really getting amped up for the next thing... but more on that in due time).

Mass Effect Session 2 Highlights!

Captain Eiger, Human Gunslinger (James Jacobs)
Mission Brief: Partial Transmission
* Why's there a weasel on my character sheet? A leech weasel?
* Seeing all the hidden pictures* in the schematics--the one-armed frog, the Batman rooms, the sad robot, etc. (*hidden pictures may or may not be an actual thing.)
* Lots of great theories based on hacked e-mails and handouts. Cerberus might NOT be nice people.
* Raiding the liquor cabinet.

Sathar Vrusk, Turian Monk-Zen Archer (Rob McCreary)
Blue Suns Drop Team Readout
* Breathing in a hot lung-load of "The Smoke." Following that up with a deep bleaching of his insides to clean out any potential/probable invaders
* Showing real concern for that sick chain letter girl.
* Getting fed up with all the computering and charging down the middle corridor, guns drawn.
* Totally getting the hivemind robo-corpses' attention, both with a flung keycard and bullets.
* Shooting the gooey gray filling out of the corpse-ooze remains of the station's crew.

Cerise 7, Asari Bard (Erik Mona)
E-mail: Yvette Rodriguez
* Coming out of no where with serious science know-how--picked up lots of clues with this (especially in the nano-engineer's chalkboard room and with the homemade V.I.).
* Formulated the theory that the base's first floor is totally a sham. Gathered significant support for the theory.
* Conversing with a pile of 30 not-so-dead station staffers.
* Out performing a robocorpse chorus.
* Opening the door for that nice dead krogan.

Gippy Consuelo, Salarian (James Sutter)
Transmission Log: Hui Napier
* Discovered that fire and gray smoke are not friends. Flamethrowered a smoking corpse to contain its billowing ick--and did so without scorching any teammates!
* Found a hidden password by breaking open a bunch of sports memorabilia.
* Experimenting on the corpses and smoke with all sorts of biotic effects.
* Nice job squirting all over that one corpse.
* Distinguished between the wussy fire bombs and hardcore fire grenades

Talos, Quarian (Andrew Vallas)
E-mail: Zioa Mashir
* Continues to pretty much be the master of the "Tech Check."
* Avoided setting off something terrible in the chief tech's office.
* Hardly any locked or jury-rigged door has kept closed in the face of his hardcore hacking.
* Revealing the schematics for a ridiculously advanced nanomachine... too bad about 50 billion had all ready spooled off the nano-robot printer.
* Firebombs FTW. Especially the lob that took down the last zombie.

Note About Handouts
E-mail: Marshall Hutruger
I've been displaying all of these handouts from my laptop using a projector (check out at the previous Mass Effect post for a glimpse of how this looks in operation). On the technical side, I wanted this to have a look suggestive of 80's sci-fi and Apple 2E interfaces. I was able to get this using a bare bones, free word processing program called WriteRoom using its Terminal display setting and the Glass TTY VT220 font. If you're interested in recreating what you're seeing here, use these. You can also download plain text versions for each of these messages and PNG files of the schematics from the following links (right click and "save as" to download): Schematic 1, Schematic 2, Partial Transmission, Blue Suns Drop Team Readout, Yvette Rodriguez's E-mail, Hui Napier's Transmission Log, Zioa Mashir's E-mail, Marshall Hutruger's E-mail.

We left off with the crew descending into the underground second level, facing off against a robotic corpse orgy, and then opening a door that brought them face-to-face with a charging, eyeless Krogan in shattered Blue Suns mercenary armor. Check back in a few weeks for the startling conclusion: "Blind Came the Krogan!" (Also known as: "Berth of Death!" or "Song of the Smokeasites!")

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A Most Unusual Episode: Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai

I've been thinking about doing this for some time now, shopping for what I'd want to make it happen, imagining how I'd plan it, I've even mentioned it to a few of you. Getting caught in the rain during this morning's walk brought all of the pieces together, so now I'm putting it out there -->and there's no going back.

I'm hosting a Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

Some of you might recognize the word "kaidan" in there, Japanese for "ghost/horror story." That's at the root. The following text from Wikipedia explains:

Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai (百物語怪談会?, lit., A Gathering of One Hundred Supernatural Tales) was a popular didactic Buddhist-inspired parlour game during the Edo period in Japan.
The game was played as night fell upon the region using three separate rooms. In preparation, participants would light 100 andon in the third room and position a single mirror on the surface of a small table. When the sky was at its darkest, guests gathered in the first of the three rooms, taking turns orating tales of ghoulish encounters and reciting folkloric tales passed on by villagers who claimed to have experienced supernatural encounters. These tales soon became known as kaidan. Upon the end of each kaidan, the story-teller would enter the third room and extinguished one andon, look in the mirror and make their way back to the first room.
With each passing tale, the room slowly grew darker and darker as the participants reached the one hundredth tale, creating a safe haven for the evocation of spirits.
However, as the game reached the ninety-ninth tale, many participants would stop, fearful of invoking the spirits they had been summoning.
So it's that. But I'm adding a few additional rules. I plan to invite three to five serious guests to thisadditional critics, hecklers, and audience members will detract from the atmosphere, so storytellers only. Every guest is expected to have five stories in their repertoire prepared in advance and ready to tell right away. These can be folktales, dramatic summaries of short stories by your favorite authors (though the more obscure are preferred; we've all read "Murders at the Rue Morgue"),  decades old plots from episodes of The Outer Limits, heck, even plots of old RPG adventures, anything you can tell without even thinking about it, but that won't necessarily be recognizable to the entire group. Each story should fill about 3 to 10 minutes.

But these won't be enough to get you through the night. Even with five guests, every participant will have to tell 20 stories if we're going to get through the full 100. Those remaining 15 or more are meant to come completely out of your head, created entirely at the event or developed from seeds you've had rattling around for a long time. In a way, these stories should be as much a surprise to you as they are for the listeners.

So far there's been a lot of rules, but rest assured, this is meant to be funbut also memorable. First off, I plan to have this event catered. There will also be drinks, especially sake. Following with the tradition, there will be candles, and everyone will get to keep any candles they blow out. Additionally, at the end of the nightwhether we get to 100 stories or notthe guests will choose which story they liked the best (no voting for your own). The teller of the story voted best gets to keep the blue andon lamp and the candle inside from which all of the night's other candles are lit.

There will also likely be more.

Who's invited? I've already sent out three invitations. If you've received one, you're someone I think will enjoy this and would be particularly well suited to this sort of impromptu storytelling. If you haven't received one, there's a chance I might want to talk to you in person about it, didn't realize you'd be interested, your invitation slipped my mind, (I don't know you personally), or whatever. If you're a friend or acquaintance of mine, particularly turned on by this idea, live in the Seattle area, have some flexibility in your schedule, and have stories to tell, give me a yell and we'll see if I have any spots leftno promises though. I love many of you dearly, but you are not all gothic storytellers. Also, I am purposefully trying to keep this small, both to keep the experience as rich as possible (in terms of food, drink, take homes, and—possibly—setting) and so not to detract from the mood.

When are we doing this? That's going to be left up to the spirits and the guests, in that order. It's supposed to rain for the next several days, and then we're headed into the Northwest's typically cheery summer months. Generally poor territory for terror. After this series of showers, I'm not going to set a date until the next time we get five consecutive days of rain. When we do, that's when we'll know its time for the Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai.

Okay. It's all out there now.

This is happening.

There's no going back.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Episode 2: Mass Effect Codex Entries

Since I couldn't get a lot of the audio codex entries to work at the game table, I've linked them here so any players interested can check them out before next session. Enjoy!
Council Races: Asari, Salarian, Turian
Non-Council Races: Batarian, Geth, Krogan, Quarian
Humanity and the Systems Alliance: The state of humanity
The Citadel and Galactic Government: The Citadel, Citadel Council
Planets and Locations: 2175 Aeia
Organizations: Cerberus, Blue Suns
Technology: Biotics, A.I., V.I., Omnitool

Friday, March 9, 2012

Episode 2: Revealed

A: Turian, B: Salarian, C: Asari, D: Krogan, E: Quarian
It's Mass Effect.

We played the first of two sessions last night of the formerly a mystery, sci-fi-skinned Pathfinder game set in the Mass Effect universe. I've been tinkering with this idea for a few months now and was delighted when we settled on this week (the week of the new game's release) for the first game. Folks showed up, characters made, got the reveal on the setting, and then dug into equipping, refining characters, and finding out more about the setting.

There was a pretty major hitch there, though. One of the major reasons I wanted to run this was because I always thought the codex entries (largely voice acted encyclopedia) in the various Mass Effect games (and some other Bioware games) were a rich way to present tons of in-world information. So I was very pleased to find that the Mass Effect Wiki included a significant volume of those codex recordings. With personal computers like omitools in the Mass Effect universe, giving any major player access to that database, I figured I could turned that whole site into a giant, awesome player handout. Adding in the projector we have at the office and my laptop full of displays, schematics, terminal interfaces, crew logs, etc, we had the set up for an appropriately high-tech game. One problem. I couldn't get an internet hookup in our meeting room. So after all of this, no access to the Mass Effect Wiki. Lame.

The set-up this time around
Fortunately, I could get a connective via my iPhone, and running the codex entries for all the races and some major topics like Cerberus and biotics worked. Add additionally, since all of the players also had iPhones, I just told them to look up the codex entries on the wiki and Youtube and use their phones like the omnitools their characters' had been provided. That worked, serviceably, but ultimately the integration was not what I'd hoped for. Cest' la vie.

All that said, once we got past the preamble the technical snafu largely faded into the background. Our team of Cereberus operatives revived their cryptic mission details, landed on 2175 Aeia and set to work infiltrating the research base there, one already compromised by Blue Suns mercenaries. From there, high jinx ensued--though I have to give them credit, the team was largely more commando about things than I'd anticipated.

Captain Eiger, Human Gunslinger (James Jacobs)
* Played a human! Humans get to be captain!
* Showed off his keen piloting skills, buzzing an alien jungle and making a feather soft landing.
* Sniped a sniper through the sniperscope with his darling sniper rifle "Lana."
* Manned the laptop/computer terminal multiple times, tinkering with files, schematics, and reading hacked e-mails.
* Contributed the rules for tech, weapons, armor, future gear, etc, from his massive and awesome Unspeakable Futures post-apocolyptic Lovecraftian horror game. Couldn't have had a game without these!

One of the Station Schematics
Sathar Vrusk, Turian Monk-Zen Archer (Rob McCreary)
* Instantly memorized the entry for turians and totally threw himself into the race's personality and mindset.
* The crew gun bunny, eager to help himself to the Blue Suns' Elanus Risk Control Services Banshee assault rifle.
* Immediately picked up on and made a beeline for the industrial power loader.
* Discovering the etymology of the Venus flytrap mid-game.
* Voted most likely to mutiny.

Cerise 7, Asari Bard (Erik Mona)
* Composed the team Cerberus theme song: "Three heads, are better than one..."
* Quickly got into the detective element of the story and picked up on quite a few of the more subtle clues hidden in the data and on the bodies recovered so far.
* Uncovered or solved such mysteries of the plasticized eyeless corpses, why the mercenary "Cat Man" got his call sign. Oh, and "No one clones a fatty."
* Always kept an eye on the heirloom family length of rope.
* Totally going for a Gender Equality in Gaming Award with his portrayal of his first-ever female character.

Debates... in Spaaaace!
Gippy Consuelo, Salarian (James Sutter)
* Demolitions expert and total commando guy. In front, has a plan, and blows stuff up... even if that stuff is delicate manufacturing equipment.
* Sneaky lizard who also uses his biotic powers to punch in mercenary heads from a distance.
* Full of cagey ideas for setting off motion-detecting turrets (even if they're not there). The flashlight trick was pretty brilliant.
* The rich Latin accent is a nice touch. Makes me imagine that he's playing Rango.
* Commando lingo!

Talos, Quarian (Andrew Vallas)
* Utterly destroying nearly every hacking and tech check thrown his way. No passcode or security lock out stands in Talos's way.
* Attempting to rig the Blue Sun's dropship to remotely self destruct and Sathar's motion detector to not pick up machinery (so another innocent factory machine doesn't get firebombed).
* Figured out that the station is emitting a communications jamming screen.
* If it's been a clue and in a computer, he's found it.
* Giving tit for tat with our mouthy turian.

And the whole thing wrapped up with the PCs opening a secured door and coming face to face with a station receptionist or low tier coms officer... with no eyes!

So that was the first one. I'll put my notes for the adventure and the tons of handouts I generated for this up after the second, concluding session. I think I'll also put together a list of important links to the Mass Effect Wiki for any of my players who want to dig into a bit more with relevance to the adventure. But for now, its time to figure out when we're playing next, and to see if our lethal crew can survive the terror of the Planet of the Eyeless Receptionist!

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Episode 2: The Crew

Our mystery sci-fi episode has its first session tomorrow night and our doughty crew, the pros that they are, have their race/class combos in already. Here's who's on the crewlist.

James Jacobs: Human sniper
Rob McCreary: [Mystery Race A] gun kata expert
Erik Mona: [Mystery Race C] bard
James Sutter: [Mystery Race B] sorcerer/tech
Andrew Vallas: [Mystery Race E] alchemist

There's a LOT of firepower in this crew. I think I might need to bump up a few CRs... or at least ad a few more targets.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Episode 2: Character Creation

Now that all the races are out there, it's time to make some characters. Using the basic class guidelines presented a week or so back, I'd like all the players to pick a race, spend their 3 class levels, and generate  stats using the point buy system on page 16 of the Core Rulebook. Players have 20 points to spend.

Go ahead and choose feats and skills as well--don't neglect skills like Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion), Ride, Spellcraft, and Use Magic Device that seem like fantasy-only abilities, as with the sci-fi skin overlaying this game, these skills--respectively--will probably be things like, Knowledge (technology), Knowledge (sciences), Pilot, Tech (using tech as its meant to be used), and Improvised Mechanics (using tech as its not meant to be used). (While we're on this topic, think of Disable Device as "Hacking.")

With that, go ahead and mostly make up your characters, but don't spend any cash yet. We'll handle equipment second thing on Thursday. I'd like to have written in clay ideas of what everyone is playing by Wednesday night so I can post them here (and so I have some idea of what I'm in for). And, if you have any questions about any of this, come talk to me.

Some advice: I know a lot of you really want to have cool back stories and details for your characters so you can really get into their heads, details that are difficult to pin down when you don't even know of you have skin or feathers. In part, suck it up, adlibbing is definitely going to be a part of this game's gimmick. At the same time, look at the context clues you're getting. If you want to build a heavy hitter, use a race with a Strength bonus; if you want to build a shooter, go for an agile race; a dashing character, look at human with that heroic trait. Checking out the Advance Race Guide to translate the race descriptions' short hand will help. In general, pick a fun sci-fi concept and use your abilities, class, and race to build toward that. If you find out Thursday that your race doesn't fit perfectly with what you wanted, well, that can make for some really interesting characters (and you're only playing these characters twice, after all).

Also, try to name your character, with the understanding that there is a common language in this universe, so try for something pronounceable.

Thanks all and good luck!

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Episode 2: Race #6 - [Mystery Race E]

This is it! The last player race for this Thursday's mystery sci-fi game! This is a weird one, especially as it has a few unusual traits that will also remain a mystery until Thursday's game.

Race E
   Humanoid (half-construct)                            7 RP
   Medium                                                          0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                                           0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Specialized (–2 Con, ­ +2 Int, +2 Wis)            1 RP
   Linguist                                                          1 RP
Racial Traits 
   Defense Racial Traits
      Bond to the Land ([Classified])                  2 RP
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      Scavenger                                                   2 RP
   Senses Racial Traits
      Low-light vision                                         1 RP
   [Classified]                                                  –1 RP

Total                                                               13 RP

That's all the races now, and all the hints you're going to get on what universe we're playing in. But guessing games aside, now it's time to seriously start talking characters. More on that tomorrow.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Episode 2: Race #5 - [Mystery Race D]

Another reptilian race, but this one's significantly less... squishy.
Race D
   Humanoid (reptilian)                                 0 RP
   Medium                                                     0 RP
Base Speed
   Slow ­–1 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Paragon (+4 Str, ­–2 Int, ­–2 Wis, ­–2 Cha)  1 RP
   Standard                                                     0 RP
Racial Traits
   Defense Racial Traits
      Natural armor                                          2 RP
      Desert Runner                                         2 RP
      “Race A” Immunities*                           4 RP
      Improved Natural Armor                        1 RP
   Offense Racial Traits
      Ferocity                                                  4 RP
      Relentless                                               1 RP
Total                                                            14 RP

*Same as duergar immunities

One more to go... and that's probably going to be the one that gives it away. But that's why I'm putting it up over the weekend--so you jackal's can't discuss it until Monday.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Episode 2: Race #4 - [Mystery Race C]

Now, a little something for the ladies.
Race C
   Humanoid                              0 RP
   Medium                                 0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                  0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Flexible (+2 Int, +2 Cha)      2 RP
   Linguist                                 1 RP
Defense Racial Traits
   Stubborn                                2 RP
Racial Traits
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
   Gregarious                             1 RP
   Integrated                              1 RP
Magical Racial Traits
   Elven Magic                          3 RP
   Envoy                                    1 RP
   Seducer                                  2 RP

Total                                        13 RP

Tomorrow, a little something not for the ladies. Unless you're into that sort of thing.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Episode 2: Race #3 - [Mystery Race B]

I'm seriously enjoying the hail of guesses each new race post incites. Not that I'm going to tell even if someone guesses it right. Though a Captain Power, He-Man, Bravestar, Dune, Star Fox crossover is starting to sound pretty inspired.

Here's the new race. Squishy, as promised.

Race B

   Humanoid (reptilian)            0 RP
   Medium                                0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                  0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Flexible (+2 Dex, +2 Int)      2 RP
   Linguist                                 1 RP
Racial Traits
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      Silent Hunter                      2 RP
      Shards of the Past              4 RP
   Movement Racial Traits
      Swim                                  2 RP
   Other Racial Traits
      Amphibious                       2 RP

Total                                       13 RP

Tomorrow... something else.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Episode 2: Race #2 - [Mystery Race A]

And the first really real alien race is.... Well, it's clawed, and has armor, and sees in the dark.

That should totally narrow down what universe we're playing in, right? 

Race A
   Humanoid                               0 RP
   Medium                                  0 RP
Base Speed
   Normal                                    0 RP
Ability Score Modifiers
   Flexible (+2 Str, ­ +2 Wis)       2 RP
   Standard                                 0 RP
Racial Traits
   Defense Racial Traits
      Natural armor                      2 RP
      Resistant                              2 RP
   Feat and Skill Racial Traits
      Quick Reactions                  2 RP
   Offense Racial Traits
      Claws                                   2 RP
   Senses Racial Traits
      Darkvision 60 Feet              2 RP
      Low-light vision                  1 RP

Total                                         13 RP

So two down, four more to go. Tomorrow expect something... squishier.