Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Game So Good, It Could End the World (Monster of the Week Session Three)

Thursday night we added a new player to the Monster of the Week game (well, not new, but he's new to the MOTW game, but is another player from the Werewolf game, who is temporarily home from his game demoing sojourn, and our alpha is still missing).  He picked up the Summoned playbook, which looked like a lot of fun.

It was, indeed, a lot of fun, but I learned a few things from the introduction of the character.  Introducing histories later in the campaign tends to flavor things a bit.  Given that the Summoned is modeled at least in part on Hellboy, having a character present at your summoning who has only recently been dabbling in the supernatural tends to shift some things that might have been assumed to have been "past tense" items into "present tense."

The other thing is, if you don't want to casually wave off the signs of the Apocalypse inherit in the Summoned's use of Luck, then whatever you might thing would be the a campaign arc for your game is probably not going to be nearly as compelling as the potential end of the world, so that might change the landscape a bit right there.

Let me disclaim what I said above unless anyone things it's a complaint or a negative thing.  It really isn't.  I think having a player pick the Summoned and having the end of the world potentially looming really is at the heart of "play to find out what happens," and worrying too much about the directions things might have looked like they were going instead of jumping in and telling a good story together with the new ingredients is missing the point of how the game works.

I also had a plot thread I wasn't actively following really come back to prominence.  It's a potential plot element that could have a lot of millage, no matter how it turns out, and it was greatly player driven, which is great, but was an angle I wasn't expecting to bend back to the fore, so we'll see how this one plays out as well.

Enough vague referencing, here is what happened:

Faye's demon phone continued to send her messages attempting to teach her the full spectrum of diabolic magic, and Brandon's car was still damaged from the duo's last adventure, so Faye decided to see if she could fix Brandon's car.  Her phone provided her with a ritual that would transform a mundane vehicle into an epic Chariot of Power.  Faye borrowed the car, drove into the country, performed the ritual . . .

And Brandon's car was transformed into a large 70s era conversion van complete with paintings of demons, volcanoes, gargoyles, and Brandon, shirtless, driving a chariot for a faceless being behind him.

Inside the car was a large demonic creature sitting on a carved throne of indeterminate material.  The creature knew a lot of basic supernatural information and the general classification of beings  (mortals, demons, undead, spirits, etc.), but nothing about his own actual purpose or why it had been summoned.  The demon in Faye's phone was very happy to have started the countdown to the Apocalypse, but he warned her that the Harbinger might be a bit fuzzy on his purpose and background, and to take it slow with him.

For her part, Faye honestly just wanted to do some magic and fix Brandon's car.

Driving home, Faye attempted to explain to Brandon why his car was now a van and who was in the back of the car.  The demon, not particularly concerned about public opinion, sat openly in the back of the van while Brandon and Faye talked, and when the neighbors saw it, Faye yelled to the neighbors "It's cosplay!"  Whereupon, the demon assumed it's name was, indeed, Cosplay.

While Cosplay did not know it's past or it's destiny, it did recognize that Faye was it's herald and Brandon was it's charioteer.

Faye explained the situation, defensively, to Brandon, who also managed to find out the full nature of what happened, and accidentally taught Cosplay his full name, which caused the first sign of the Apocalypse, as the name reverberated across the Midwest.  Cosplay continued to use Cosplay, since it's name seemed to be difficult for mortals to pronounce.

Faye was also concerned that she might be pregnant with one of her vampire friend's child, because Brandon had researched that a vampire newly flush with blood does briefly retain the mortal ability to father children, and Faye began to worry about that as well.  Cosplay was motivated to find purpose and do great things, to challenge itself, and wanted to investigate one of Brandon's mysteries, so the group headed to Missouri, where teenagers had been placed in a mental hospital after believing that the zombie apocalypse was starting.

Cosplay sat in the van while Brandon and Faye convinced one of the teenager's doctor that they were family members, and Faye spent some quality time touring the doctor's office to keep him busy while Brandon discussed what had happened with one of the teenagers.  Brandon found out that that the teens had seen animate corpses in the local graveyard, and they were afraid that a zombie plague was about to start.  Brandon though the corpses were actually the result of corruption demons animated the dead bodies, and tried to calm the teen and promised him that they would look into the trouble.

Faye found a passage under a mausoleum in the graveyard that led to an intricate series of warrens under the town what appeared to have been dug recently.  The group ran into a group of animate corpses, and Faye's supernatural sight could see the corruption demons within the corpses, and after Cosplay and Brandon had dispatched several of the corpses, Faye crept further down the passageway to find the leader of the corruption demon, with her phone urging her to recruit the Dead King Below, the leader of the corruption demons, for Cosplay's army.

Cosplay patched up Brandon's wounds before they realized Faye and crept off further into the warren, and Faye was trapped behind a gate in the chamber where the Dead King Below's throne room was located.  Cosplay and Brandon barreled into the room, but Faye was negotiating with the Dead King Below in order to find a way for him to claim his own territory when Cosplay brought about the Apocalypse.

Faye attempted to keep her negotiations secret from Cosplay and Brandon, and negotiations with the Dead King Below began to break down when he explained that he was poisoning the water supply of the town and was going to collapse most of the settlement into the underworld, killing as many inhabitants as he could, animated more bodies with more corruption demons, and then repeating the process across Missouri until he reached St. Louis.  He also was confused when Faye explained to him that the point of Jenga wasn't actually to cause the tower to fall in the most spectacular fashion possible, and a fight broke out.

The Dead King Below's form was destroyed, but not before Cosplay had unwittingly caused another sign of the Apocalypse, causing the shadow of a giant dragon to fly around the world and merge with him as the Dead King Below was seemingly destroyed.

Brandon feared that they did not permanently end the threat, and began looking through his notes in the van, finding out that the Dead King Below could only be destroyed if he was nearly severed from his physical housing and then had an exorcism performed as the last step in destroying him, thus sending him back to Hell.  Cosplay and Faye stayed at the graveyard to finish him off after Brandon had given Faye notes on how to complete the exorcism, and Brandon drove off to the hospital to attempt to find out what the Dead King Below had poisoned the people with.

Brandon was furiously doing research on his phone while driving, and had an accident.  After rolling the car, he pulled himself from the vehicle and suddenly realized what the poison was.  Calling the hospital, he had just managed to tell the doctors what the substance was and how to treat it when he was struck by a car and tragically killed.

The Dead King Below immediately chose Brandon's form to inhabit, and shambled back to the graveyard to fight Cosplay and Faye.  Cosplay called upon it's supernatural might, and unknowingly unleashed a world wide rain of fire as he clashed with the Dead King Below in Brandon's body.  Faye emptied the gun that Brandon had given her into his corpse, saying that it was oddly enjoyable, and then finished the exorcism to banish the Dead King Below back to Hell.

Brandon dead and the monster defeated, Faye received tons of messages from around the supernatural world, not the least of which were messages from her vampire associates, who wanted to meet in St. Louis to discuss what was going on.

Alders, the first vampire Faye had met, was horrified to find out that Cosplay is the Harbinger of the Apocalypse, and told her that he would confer with the court in Chicago to find a solution to the situation, and in the mean time, to keep Cosplay away from people and dangerous situations.  Cosplay then mentioned that Faye was concerned that she had spawned with the vampires, and Alders was amazed to find out that he could still have blood pressure problems and reflux.

Cosplay demanded that the duo set out for Mississippi and a mystery that Brandon was researching, because it's what Brandon would have wanted.  Faye turned her demon phone over to Alders for safe keeping, and the pair went to the parking garage to find the van . . . and Brandon.  Or at least his ghost.

Brandon had no idea that he was a ghost, and assumed he had slept the whole way to St. Louis, and was wondering why Cosplay and Faye hadn't awakened him before they got there.  He was ready to head to Mississippi, and offered to drive.

Upon having his character die, Brandon's player picked the Monstrous playbook and chose "ghost," and then asked if he could play Brandon's ghost, which seemed way too fitting to not allow it to happen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

An Anti-Icon For 13th Age

+Jefferson Dunlap in the 13th Age community on Google+ mentioned that he wanted to add Lolth to his 13th Age games and was interested in brainstorming how one would do this.  I came up with some ideas.  It doesn't look like many folks were particularly interested in said ideas.  That said, I tend to like to preserve ideas that pop into my head one way or another, often times on this here blog.

Yeah, that's right.  If you are one of the 7.346 repeating followers of mine, I just admitted that this blog is a dumping ground of half-baked ideas I don't want to lose because I have a terrible memory and lack the good judgement to come up with some better database solution.

As an aside, this also allows me some plausible deniability.  When I have my typical dumb ideas and somebody has a lapse in judgement and actually uses one of them, I can point to the blog and say, "I have never hidden my varying degrees of mediocrity and/or outright lack of good ideas," and I think I've covered myself pretty well.

So, now that I've warned you this isn't so great, for some reason I kind of like it, and maybe someday I can use it in a manner that isn't groan-worthy.

The Spider Queen

The Spider Queen is the daughter of the Elf Queen of an age lost to the mists of time and of her era's Diabolist.  She inherited the beauty and grace of her mother and the destructive plots of her era's Diabolist, and for the destructive and manipulative web she wove in her time, she was banished to the Abyss, for such was her power that she rivaled the Icons of her age.

The Spider Queen appears to be a beautiful dark elf, but she can appear to be a great, venomous spider, or a hybrid of elf and spider if she wills it to be so.  It has taken her thousands of years to climb back from the depths of the Abyss, but this is not her first attempt to return to the world, and if she is thwarted, it is unlikely to be her last, unless some hero were to put a permanent end to her threat.

Upon drawing near to the mouth of the Abyss, her demonic power is almost always sensed by the Great Gold Wyrm, who knows better than to allow her to escape. The current Diabolist is also wary of her return to the world, for fear that the demons under her influence would turn against the Diabolist and her established power structure.  The current Elf Queen knows of the Spider Queen, and while the shard of her soul that she shares with all previous Elf Queens grieves for her lost daughter, she knows the danger she represents.  As a powerful demonic presence, she is naturally an enemy of the Crusader, and the High Druid resents her corruption of spiders and venomous things.

No Icon is truly positively disposed towards her, but in some dark corners of the world, some may have heard whispers that the Prince of Shadows is willing to deal with her, just a bit, to help with a little matter concerning the Dwarf King.

The ultimate goal of the Spider Queen is to escape the Abyss and begin to subvert as many Icons and their power bases as possible.  While she draws too much attention when she attempts to escape bodily, her demons manage to slip through from time to time to further her machinations.  One particularly dangerous breed of demons under her sway are the Queen's Hatchlings.

The Hatchlings appear to be demonic, wholly unnatural giant spiders.  Their goal is to find and infect dark elves with their venom.  While poisonous to most, dark elves that would otherwise die instead are transformed by this venom.  Some merely become servants of the Spider Queen, but somewhere in the world, there is said to be a dark elf that can bear the essence of the Spider Queen.  That dark elf, if infected with a Hatchling's poison, will eventually transform into the Spider Queen, in the flesh, subverting the gateway blocked by the Great Gold Wyrm entirely.

Purpose in the Campaign

The Spider Queen is a sort of "anti-Icon," a creature that can serve as the ultimate villain of an entire campaign, to be defeated at the end in order to save the world and maintain the natural order. In fact, if you want an excuse for multiple Icons and their agents to work together, and you don't want to pit your player characters against one of the Icons for your big campaign moment, the Spider Queen is your monster, because she's got some history and "feels" like an Icon, while not quite being one herself.

Tracking down demons loyal to her, especially the Queen's Hatchlings, can be a recurring theme, and finding a dark elf that has been infected and assessing the threat can also make for another thematically important adventure.  If you feel really cataclysmic, you could have the Queen herself finally break out of the Abyss, perhaps even finding a way to poison the Great Gold Wyrm, and the only way to reseal the rift is to throw her huge carcass back into the rift and perform a powerful ritual, either to purge the venom from the Great Gold Wyrm or to change the Spider Queen into a catatonic reflexive gatekeeper herself.

Thematic Flourishes

Personally, if I use this idea, I'm likely to go with the name the Spider Queen, rather than Lolth.  She's got all of the earmarks . . . ties to dark elves, spiders, and demons, secret shame of the elves, trying to manifest fully in the world and cause chaos.  But by using a title, that kind of sets her up there among the ranks of the Icons, of something so important that it's true name is secondary to it's singular mantle.

It also means that her unique elements can be played up if you want her to really be more tied to the 13th Age setting, with just a wink and a nod to the source material.  You can go full on Yochlol demons and driders, or you can just use regular demons, giant spiders, and custom built Queen's Hatchlings and dark elves about to undergo apotheosis.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Roleplaying Tools Written As MHR Milestones

I really enjoy writing Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Milestones for characters.  I like the clear guidelines for how the reward follows the behavior, and I think it makes playing an existing character more rewarding, because there is the challenge of seeing what you can do with that Milestone that makes it trigger in new and interesting ways, which still play into the concept of the character.

Another mechanic I really like comes from Dungeon World, where the alignment you choose isn't so much a wide open philosophical statement, as much as it's a declaration that "this alignment + this class + this specific behavior = marking XP."

Other games that I enjoy have a mechanic for awarding something for a predetermined roleplaying trait or story role that a character might have.  I have noticed, however, that some of these mechanics, despite being made to engender roleplaying, sometimes don't get used as often as they could.  I think this may be because, even in very clear circumstances, some of these guidelines call for some degree of interpretation, and many players either don't want to ruin the flow of the game by asking the GM for a "ruling" on if the benefit should come into play, or they just don't want to assume that they know what qualifies if there is any doubt.

That leaves rewarding the mechanic solely on the GM, which can be problematic, because it's one more thing the GM then has to track in his head on top of everything else he's doing.

Thinking about Marvel Heroic and Milestones and Dungeon World and alignment, I started to think about what some of the "roleplaying for additional benefits" rules would look like if spelled out in a more "cause and effect" manner.  Here are some of the examples I came up with.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

The following uses background elements from the Refugee background found in Goodman Games Glitterdoom adventure.

Personality trait:  I refuse to quit no matter how difficult things may seem = When you advocate moving forward when more than one of your companions advocates retreat, gain inspiration.

Vigilance:  One must constantly be on the lookout for danger or difficulty, and swift to intercede before it comes to fruition = When you volunteer to take watch or go on patrol even when something else might be easier or more advantageous to you, gain inspiration.

Bond:  A kindly soul helped me when I most needed assistance and I’ve vowed to return the favor whenever possible = When you provide assistance to someone that obviously cannot repay you for your deed, gain inspiration.

Flaw:   Having been bitterly disappointed in the past, I’m reluctant to trust others = when you refuse to accept help from someone that you do not know, gain inspiration.

While the above may not be quite as open for gaining Inspiration as leaving the individual traits and they stand, they do clearly show what the PC should do in order to earn their reward, and it makes the process of asking the GM what qualifies a lot faster and more efficient.


The following uses the Demeanor mechanic from the Deathwatch game as an example.

Calculating:  The Space Marine’s mind is highly analytical, constantly aware of the pros and cons of
any decisions he faces = whenever the Space Marine allows his allies or enemies to go before he would normally act in order to more fully assess the situation, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Gregarious:  The Space Marine is a charismatic and talkative sort, one who puts his Battle Brothers and even normal humans at ease = whenever the Space Marine is clearly not taking any other actions other than attempting to communicate in an amiable manner, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Hot Blooded: .The Space Marine is quick to temper and aggressive in all things = whenever the Space Marine's actions are a surprise even to his companions and are not discussed before they are declared, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Studious:  The Space Marine values lore and learning, preferring to think his way through a problem = whenever a Space Marine spends an action making a Lore check to recall a situation similar to the one currently presented to him, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Taciturn:  The Space Marine is a brooding individual, little given to conversation = whenever the Space Marine takes an action and communicates his intention non-verbally and without consultation or advice, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Pious:  The Space Marine cherishes faith in his Primarch and the Emperor above all = whenever the Space Marine extols the virtues of their Primarch or the Emperor and relates why their action exalts the same, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Stoic:  No test of endurance is too much for this Space Marine = whenever the Space Marine attempts a check that may cause him to suffer detrimental effects after he has already done so in the same encounter, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Scornful:  Pity has no place in this Space Marine’s heart = Whenever the Space Marine continues with a course of action even when extenuating circumstances might make others hesitate or reinterpret the situation, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Ambitious:  This Space Marine’s gaze is ever-lifted towards his goal = whenever the Space Marine attempts a course of action that results in a negative penalty to his check, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Proud:  Dignity and honour are important to this Space Marine = whenever the Space Marine attempts an action that he can tie directly to another prestigious action that he was involved in, double the benefits of triggering this Demeanor.

Star Wars--Edge of the Empire

This example uses Edge of the Empire and it's Motivations as an example of "Milestoning" an element.

Specific Ambition--Friendship:  The character seeks to be liked by others and goes out of his way to make a good impression. He may or may not be gregarious, relying on his actions and deeds to foster friendship = Whenever a character takes makes a test to improve the reaction of an NPC solely for the purposes of making that NPC like the character  (i.e. no other benefits are sought from the character), gain 1 XP.  Only 1 XP can be gained per scene in this manner, and no more than 5 XP can be gained per session in this manner.

As the GM, you probably aren't going to want to go through every single roleplaying descriptor style mechanic in the game and redefine them in the "milestone" format.  There are going to be tons of elements your PCs may never even touch.

However, once your players start to chose these elements, if everybody is game, talk with them about defining the elements in "milestone" format to make things clear for everybody.  Let them give it a try writing them out as milestones, if they want, or you can if they aren't comfortable, then agree, together, on of the final milestone sounds workable.

I haven't had a chance to use this in a game yet, but it sounds as it if might be a really interesting way to get some of these roleplaying boosting elements to see more active use in a campaign.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Annihilation Bits

So in the course of running the Annihilation Event for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, despite the fact that I'm running the event to cut down on prep time, and we're using established characters to cut down on campaign work, I still ended up making up a datafile and a a couple of sets of milestones.

I have one player that may be playing Adam Warlock when he gets the chance, so I made an Adam Warlock circa formation of the Guardians of the Galaxy datafile, and then later came up with some milestones for him.

In addition to Adam Warlock, in a move that should not have surprised me at at, +Christopher Osmundson took me up on the "play anyone not available in the event for 20 XP" unlockable, which I was expecting to be used to transport Spider-Man or Deadpool or somebody across the galaxy to participate in the event.

Instead, he switched to playing R'kin, the little Skrull that hung out with Super-Skrull during Annihilation.  So I made up a few milestones for him as well. On the WAY outside chance that you have a player that wants to play as that cosmic powerhouse R'kin, you are all set.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Ducking the Forces of the Annihilation Wave (Marvel Heroic Roleplaying--Annihilation Event Session Two)

When last we left our cosmic heroes, Gamora had just accepted the Xandarian Worldmind into her head, and Gamora, Ben Grimm, and Sue Richards had been captured by Super-Skrull, because Commander K'lrt has decided he needs some help to protect the Skrull garden planet of Aks'lo.

It turns out, the Skrull Empire is a bit unconvinced that the Annihilation Wave is as awesome and destructive as has been reported, and that outer planets of the Skrull Empire have been told to dig in and repulse the invaders rather than evacuate.

Ultimately K'lrt hopes to lure Reed Richards onto the scene, because for a primative human he has shown a remarkable ability to think of solutions that fail to occur to anyone else.

K'lrt also managed to save another prisoner on the Kyln, who turns out to be Howard the Duck.  Initially Super-Skrull ignores Howard, but Howard slowly begins to attempt to subvert Super-Skrull's companion, R'kin, in part by using alcohol.  Essentially, Howard doesn't like being coerced into doing anything.

Ben attempts to shut down the ship's automated weapons, agreeing with Howard that he doesn't like being coerced into saving anyone, and Sue attempts to explain to the Super-Skrull that they will be willing to help on their own terms.

Unfortunately, Super-Skrull doesn't like losing control, a fight ensues, and the ship's hyperspace bubble starts to degenerate, threatening to crash the ship.

Howard wins R'kin to his side, and Howard and Sue work together to cover Super-Skrull with coolant and force fields to restrain him so that he will be more "pliable" to listen to his captive's plans.  Super-Skrull changes shape to taunt Howard, but fails to smash the small bird creature, which devastates him, and allows Sue to finally trap him, while Ben manages to keep the ship from crashing.

Sue and Howard are attempting to convince the local Skrull military to evacuate the worlds on the edge of the Skrull Empire while Ben flies by the artillery beetles sent forward from the Arthrosian host, attempting to bomb them with the Skrull gunship they are on.

K'lrt, still furious with Howard, decides that it's still better to save as many Skrulls as possible, and gives his security clearance to the military representatives to help convince them to listen to Sue and Howard.  R'kin modifies Howard's armor to make him sound more like Darth Vader as he attempts to convince the Skrull military that he is actually Lord Commander Mallard, final survivor of Duckworld, which was ravaged by the Annihilation Wave despite their proud and powerful space fleet.

Howard attempts to convince the Skrulls by talking about the Biblical plagues and how the massive capital ship coming through hyperspace is like Moby Dick, and the Skrulls are greatly confused.  Ben jumps out of the ship to take on the last of the beetles hand to hand, and Sue, Howard, R'kin, and K'lrt finally convince the Skrulls to sound the evacuation order and to issue an evacuation order for all of the outlying worlds.

The planet is successfully evacuated, but as the team is retrieving Ben, the Harvester of Sorrows, a massive super weapon that converts matter in this universe to Negative Zone compatible energy sources arrives in the system and captures the Skrull gunship and our heroes, and Admiral Salo and his host attempt to take them prisoner so as to experiment on them to better know their enemies.