Saturday, June 29, 2013

Burning Bridges and Various Other Parts of Town (DCC, 6-27-13)

Let me get this out of the way before I mention anything else.  I hate to mispronounce words, but I hate using old boring words when an underused, out of favor word will do.  Apparently I failed my grammar check when attempting to pronounce pussiant.  To be fair, according to the online pronunciation guides I looked up, there are like three ways to say this, and each one doesn't really sound like the other one.  But if the guide is any indication, the only right way it so pronounce this French word with an English accent.

Now that we've gotten my secret shame exposed to the public, shall we rejoin our intrepid adventurers in my DCC game?  Lets!  We'll see what they did in their down time between their last adventure and their new, exciting employment.

The Lay of Groot--Groot trained for a month, and then went on an eight day bender of carousing.  In that time, Groot managed to get injured in a bar fight, join a secret society, get married, and wake up naked in a temple surrounded by approving priests.

Groot is a human ranger raised by trees.  His new wife's parents disapprove of him, because she is a tree raised by humans.  Groot went to a fortune teller  (more on him later) to make sure the marriage would work out, and he was gracious enough to tell Groot that his wife is the type that likes to put down roots.

Also, Groot was fending off arguments all night that he married a little young . . . she still fits in pottery and can be carried around.  He informs the party that trees marry young and mature quickly.

The Mission of Brother Marcus--Marcus needed to complete a quest where he healed various strangers to regain his ability to heal his companions.  It was revealed to him that he should heal three paragons of law and three paragons of chaos, given that he is a cleric of neutrality.

Brother Marcus had to heal three of the Storm Lords who rule the city, who were injured in a riot.  Other clerics had failed to heal them, and Brother Marcus was nearly turned aside, until he was inspired to hand over a large sum of gold to allow him to attempt to heal the Storm Lords of the city.

Brother Marcus healed them, eventually, although he did need to stop by his own temple, donate a good deal of gold, pray for an hour, and promise to come up with a new convert.

Then Brother Marcus headed into the city dungeons to heal three rabble-rousers also injured in the riot, once again utilizing that most holy of tools, the bribe, to enter the dungeons.  Upon healing the three criminals, Brother Marcus then converted the guard that he bribed by convincing him that sometimes crime does pay, but only sometimes, and bribes are okay once in a while, so Neutrality and his deity rocks.

The Short Story of Ham the Burglar--Ham glommed onto the famous, and potentially rich, adventurers when half of the party was entering through a proverbial revolving door, looting the body of a party member that had about 500 gp.  Like many a young rock star, Ham found himself with more money that he could even comprehend, and thus spent it carousing.  Ham's one night of Carousing led him to take more damage than he had hit points, and he died in a bar fight.  The end.

The Ballad of Ricardio the Rake--You would think someone whose profession was rake would have a month's worth of ribald tales barely able to be told in a relatively family friendly blog.  If you would like to think that, please continue to do so.  Ricardio apparently sat in the corner mumbling to himself because he was broke.  For a month.

Whining does not cause the nubile lasses to come running.  That's bad raking right there.

Zardoc of the Variable Adjective and his Tales of Career Advancement--Zardoc studied spells.  Seriously, practice makes perfect.  Wizards are much more exciting in the now.  You don't want to see how sausage is made.

Osborn A'Dwarf, and his Halfling Folk Tales--Osborn the halfling followed other halflings around for a month to learn how to be more like a halfling.  At least part of hanging around with other halflings had to do with complaining about his ex-wife, who is not only his ex-wife, but is also a zombie in the ruins of Calas Port, the PCs old town.

Then Osborn when on a multi-night bender that fell short of Groot's bender, but did net him a sweet new tattoo that wasn't offensive or anything.

The dragon is pure speculation, based on drunken witnesses and possibly the fortune teller's story that he is sticking to

(Insert Name Here) the Fortune Teller--After getting paid for telling Groot's fortune, the fortune teller decided to reward himself with a night out on the town.  That night out on the town ended up burning down most of the trade ward of the city, and while the authorities were not aware of this fact, all of the members of the party knew exactly what happened.

Concurrent Tales of Active Adventure!

Groot recruited his marriage counselling fortune teller as an adventuring intern.  Groot, Zardoc, Marcus, and Osborn, while they were in private moments away from the rest of the party, were all attacked by skeletal hands armed with quills.  Zardoc, Marcus, and Osborn all had a symbol carved into their foreheads, although the symbol on Osborn's head has horrible penmanship due to Osborn's lucky shot that damaged the quill before it struck.

Not the Death Guard we're talking about, but man, wouldn't that be a surprise for the players!

Groot grabbed a piece of parchment and held it over his forehead as the quill wielding hand struck, and after it inscribed the "forehead" of it's prey, it went away.  Groot took the symbol to Brother Marcus and asked what it meant.  The symbol was a symbol used by the Church of Death to tell the Deathguard that the bearer of the mark should be eliminated from the realm of the Living.  By the end of the conversation, the marks faded from the foreheads of Osborn, Zardoc, and Marcus, at least to the naked eye.

Groot decided to invest a considerable sum of gold in traveling from tattoo parlor to tattoo parlor all across Ramas, paying the proprietors and telling them to hand out a free copy of the symbol as a tattoo to the first person to show up that day, so long as they get it on a visible portion of their flesh, thus marking approximately sixty extra people with the mark of execution to the Deathguard.

While the other adventurers were dealing with unwanted tattoos (giving and receiving them), Ricardio and the fortune teller encountered a junior member of the Pussiant Guild of Explorers, "registered" adventurers, and a member of a group that sneers at "unaffiliated" adventurers like the party.  The swaggering adventurer pays off a guardsman so he can put the fear of the Guild in the adventurers, and he knocks the fortune teller unconscious.  Ricardio will have none of it, and even if the Guild bully only knocked out the fortune teller, Ricardio makes him pay for his folly in blood, and runs him through . . . then hides the body really quickly.

Groot gets the idea of starting his own competing adventurer's guild, complete with a constant stream of adventuring interns that could prove their worth by surviving a funnel set up in the guildhall's basement.  Osborn mentions that such a funnel wouldn't have to be lethal.  Groot's response seems to be, "yeah, sure."

Job Offers

Professor Blunth of the university seeks out Brother Marcus with a job offer.  He wants the group to help him explore an ancient elven ruin from the previous age to find some of the secrets of the powerful, mysterious, and aggressively arrogant race.  When the group meets, he offers to pay them with a scepter from a collection of the crown jewels of a fallen kingdom that he "acquired."  He warns them that it is likely they will have to fence the scepter in Reaver's Rest, across the sea in the Wild Isles, since it will be too easy to recognize in town.

Knowing that a party member has caused a massive fire and knowing that the Deathguard might be leaving a lot more corpses than they were originally going to create, heading to Reaver's Rest after the adventure doesn't seem like a bad idea.  Professor Blunth mentions that he has the scepter hidden, and it's not with him, just to dissuade the adventures from getting any Chaotic ideas.

Life is a journey . . . that often ends in death

The party picks up a cart and heads out on a two week journey which takes them three weeks because they allow Ricardio to navigate them, and he has no idea how to read a map.  It rains constantly for two weeks straight, and somehow it feels like it's following the fortune teller.

The party runs into a crazy old man wielding a huge sword.  He jumps on the wagon and nearly kills the fortune teller, who hides behind a shield.  The shield is shattered, and the party is triumphant, although Groot sits back and watches the "interns" to see how they comport themselves, trees being a big believer in survival of the fittest.

Ricardio claims the sword.  The fortune teller, not for the first time, mentions that Groot may actually be insane.  The trees tell Groot to ignore the fortune teller and his concerns.

A few days later, the party runs into a group of bandits.  But not any group of bandits.  The bandits that accost the party are the same bandits that the group ran into weeks ago, that left the party alone because they convinced the bandits that they are a group of serial killers on a camping vacation (which, let's be honest, isn't that far off).

The bandits, upon realizing who they ran into, begin to back off from party.  Ricardio and Osborn attempt to sneak up on the group, and the fortune teller growls and threatens the bandit.  Osborn successfully sneaks behind the group, but uses his surprise round to distract the party from the fortune teller, who attacks.

Ricardio cuts off the heads of two of the bandits, and they run like Hell.  Ricardio and Osborn loot the bodies, while the fortune teller chases the running bandits for about four rounds before they get away, after one of the bandits cunningly stole the fortune teller's dagger by catching it with his shoulder blade.

Professor Blunth was busy reading a book, and thus never saw the "serial killer reputation" at work.  He just assumed that the bandits attacked, as bandits are wont to do.

And finally, the party, in the middle of the night, ran into a coven of three witches.  The witches offered the party a bargain.  They would "borrow" the luck of an adventurer, and when it returns, it will go up by two points  (maximum of 18).  However, if they borrow too much luck, it could kill the adventurer.  For one day, the adventurer's luck score would be reduced by the amount rolled on 3d6, and if it goes to 0 or fewer, a horrible calamity kills them.  But then after the day is over, their luck goes up by two points.

The fortune teller was struck by lightning, Brother Marcus had a heart attack, Ricardio tripped and fell on his sword in such a manner that he decapitated himself, and Osborn seemed to be just fine.

Are We There Yet?

At the ruins, Professor Blunth notices a perfectly arranged circle of hedges around the mound that should house the elven outpost.  Just before the group can get any closer, Chad, Champion of Chaos  (a Chaotic paladin) and Montaron, a thief, show up, having been tracking the sword Krazag-Hrodoz to claim for Gozer, Steve's god.

Chad also introduces Montaron as his squire, which Montaron vehemently disagrees with.  The rest of the party begins to address Montaron as squire, which starts an argument between Chad and Montaron, but Groot notices that the bushes are arranging themselves in some form of spontaneous topiary display, which he thinks might bode ill.

Groot hands Krazag-Hrodoz to Chad of Gozer, just in time for the party to be assaulted by lions, tigers, and bears, or at least topiary bushes of said animals, animated with fell purpose. Groot attempts to speak to them in tree, but they only offer a recorded message that any non-elf should leave the premises.

Montaron, Chad, and Osborn all fall in the fight, but their injuries are not fatal, and Chad intervenes with Gozer, assuming the the party is capable of great destruction.  Turns out Gozer has seen them in action, and Chad heals various party member, just in time for them to discuss what to do next.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Impossibly Awesome Campaigns

Think back to when Iron Man first came out in theaters, and Nick Fury walked out during the stinger after the credits.  While it was neat to think that all of the upcoming Marvel movies might be set in the same universe, there were a lot of us that didn't dare to hope that they would actually manage to set all of the movies in the same universe and bring them together, culminating in the Avengers.

It's that kind of thinking that keeps the hope of the Impossibly Awesome Campaign alive.  What is an Impossibly Awesome Campaign?

In my mind, it's the kind of campaign that has this insanely high concept running in the background that years later, while running something else entirely, the two campaigns tie back together and it become obvious that everything in all of the campaigns were part of a bigger meta-campaign arc.

I've never seen this happen, but at times, the thought of it haunts my dreams.

"Hey, We Know Those People!"

I think the earliest inkling I've seen of this sort of thing was way back in high school, when my friends and I were playing D&D and various and sundry other RPGs constantly, mid week, all day Saturday, and a half day Sunday or so.  Once we branched out and more than one of us was running games, we picked up multiple campaign settings.

Then it happened.  When our characters would travel the planes to other prime material worlds, or when we started playing Spelljammer, our PCs from other campaigns would have cameos in the other DM's games.  It was great, even if it was extremely minimal.

But that was just the larval form of the idea.  We weren't creating a huge meta-arc to tie our campaigns together, just kind of giving a wink and a nod that each other's campaigns existed in the larger scheme of things.

The actual Impossibly Awesome Campaign didn't start to really haunt my dreams until I became older, more ambitious, and far less likely to have the time and energy to pull it off.

A Long Time Ago In A Campaign Far Away . . . 

While the idea has rolled around my head in various game systems over the years, the first time it popped back up in my "modern" gaming brain was likely when I was running Star Wars Saga Edition.  I had really grandiose plans of seeding information about a Sith plot that was thwarted by in the Old Republic era during one campaign, that might embroil some smugglers and outlaws on the run from the Empire, not fully realizing what they had gotten themselves into in the Dark Times era, and finally, the threat that was squelched way back in the Old Republic era would come back to life and need to be addressed and defeated during the Legacy era.

Unfortunately, we only got as far as taking down the apprentice of the Sith Lord whose actions would have such far ranging effects on the galaxy before I had to take a hiatus from running games, and the Impossibly Awesome Star Wars Campaign ended right there.

Modern Fever Dreams

Once I started playing, and running, the Warhammer 40K RPGs, I started having those same fevered dreams about an Impossible Awesome Campaign, where Rogue Traders found out about some artifact that pointed towards some dark secret of the Imperium, Deathwatch space marines fought to secure anything related to the secret  (and later guardsmen would fall into that category as well), and finally Black Crusade heretics would desperately infiltrate Imperial holdings, learn the secret, and have a chance to unleash the Imperium's worst nightmares upon it.

This Impossibly Awesome Campaign would also benefit from have Black Crusade as the capstone, because characters that might have fallen to corruption in Rogue Trader, Deathwatch, or Only War could end up coming back as characters in the Black Crusade game with a little bit of readjustment.

Another idea I had involved tying together a Dungeon Crawl Classics campaign with an Adventurer Conqueror King game, with the DCC game taking place about a thousand years after the ACKS game, with the players finding familiar kingdoms and bits of lost history as they realized that every few thousand years magic becomes less stable, and cataclysms and multiversial inversions are more likely, changing the ACKS baseline to match the DCC one, and allowing the DCC characters to pick up plot threads about ancient evils first laid down in the ACKS camapagin.

Reality Bites

In the end, it takes a lot of time and effort to run the campaign at hand.  Planning for future campaigns that may or may not ever happen doesn't always seem worth the effort, and having a group that remains stable enough to have enough players to recognize the payoff of the meta-campaign seems unlikely in this day and age.

I'd love to hear from other gamers that managed to actually pull off an Impossibly Awesome Campaign in this sense, the sense of a meta-campaign that tied the narrative of multiple other campaigns together, and in a deeper manner than just being set in the same campaign setting.  I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully realize one.

But years ago we never thought we'd have an Avengers movie either.

Into the Odyssey--Engine Publishing's Newest GM Advice Book

I recapped what stuck with me from Never Unprepared because I wanted to point out why I jumped onto Odyssey as soon as the PDF became available.  I really like discussions of the nuts and bolts of running a game, and Never Unprepared was enjoyable and useful enough that I wanted more discussion in that vein.

It took me a bit longer to read through Odyssey that I had originally intended.  My first thought was that I would get it, load it up on the old tablet, and burn through it as quickly as I could so I could start yakking about it.  The reality of work, playing in an Only War campaign and "managing"  (to get used to the term from Odyssey) a Marvel Heroic campaign and a Dungeon Crawl Classics game, undermined my ability to "burn through" the book quickly.  But it was worth the time it took to finish up.

While Never Unprepared was about the prep work that you do to specifically lay the groundwork for running the next session of your game, Odyssey is about the work you put into the campaign as a whole.  Some of the big highlighted sections of the book are on starting a campaign, managing a campaign, and ending a campaign.

Starting a Campaign

There is some really great stuff in this section.  A lot of it I tend to do already, but not because I'm a genius.  I've been gaming for around 30 years, and some of these lessons have only fairly recently worked their way into my skull. Even at that, seeing some of the checklist items that you should know up front when you are getting ready to start a campaign is a good thing.

Key things in this section?  Getting player buy in, setting your overall rules for how you handle things, and sticking to them, and making sure you know what kind of campaign you want to run, from tone, to setting, to rules, to length.

Managing a Campaign

In some aspects, this is probably the part of the book that overlaps the most with other GM advice type articles and books that I have read, but it does push out into areas that those style essays don't always tackle.

Also, one slight caveat, and it may just be me.  I really enjoyed Never Unprepared, and I enjoyed this book as well, but in the section on Risk and Change management, there is a bit more digression into the greater meaning of Risk and Change management from a project management standpoint than I think is strictly necessary.  Not much, just a bit.  Your millage may vary.

In the People Management heading of this section, there is a very interesting discussion of problem players.  For years we've seem player types broken up into the various types of archetypes you might see at the game table and what motivates them, but this section looks at this from a separate angle, categorizing potential problem players and what they bring to the table.

What is also good about this section is that despite talking about problem players, the emphasis isn't on that the problem players are wrong or bad, but how you can manage what they bring to the table to bring everything back around to a good campaign.  Plus, any of us that have been on either side of the screen should probably spend a few minutes thinking about which of the problem player archetypes we've fit into when we've been on the side of the screen without the charts.

Ending a Campaign

Yeah, I needed to read this section, and I'm glad that it was in the book.  In the last few years of gaming, I've only really ended one campaign as intended, which was my DC Adventures game, which ended in a climatic battle against Darkseid after the heroes had already saved their corner of the Multiverse from the Time Trapper.

Other than that, I'd had to end two Pathfinder campaigns more or less mid stream because I just didn't have the time to keep working on them, a Hellfrost campaign that just wasn't working out and never really got off the ground, a Rogue Trader game that I just couldn't continue to make time for, even though it was going brilliantly, and most recently a Star Wars game that I took over from someone else that I was having a hard time creating larger story arcs for, especially in light of the fact that I let the experience level of the campaign skyrocket early on.

Every time I felt as if I had let down my players, and that I was a bad GM. Turns out I shouldn't have felt quite so bad, but I should have put a bit more effort into creating some form of closure, and this section of the book gives various ways to make that work.

Worth the Trip?

I'd certainly recommend the book.  If you are fairly new to GMing games, there is invaluable advice in the book.  If you have been gaming for decades, you may have come up with some or most of what's in here, but I can almost assure you that you haven't come up with everything in this book, and that a lot of what you have learned you often notice in hindsight, rather than before it becomes a problem.

Pre-Odyssey Retrospective: What Kind of Impact Has Never Unprepared Made On Me?

Last summer I picked up Never Unprepared--The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep by Phil Vecchione, published by Engine Publishing.  I really liked the book, and had almost entirely positive things to say about the book.  Recently, Engine Publishing has put out Odyssey:  The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management.  Before I go into what I thought of that new book of Game Master advice, I thought I'd review how Never Unprepared has impacted me in the time since I read it.

I really liked how Never Unprepared spelled out the steps to session prep in a deliberate fashion, and intentionally separated some steps that you might be tempted to mash together, so that you are more likely to deliberately think about the individual steps and put the proper amount of work and thought into those steps.

Alas, I have to admit, I don't follow all of those steps all of the time.  There are times when I really get on a roll, and I just can't stop and force myself to hit all of the steps along the way, or I'll lose what it is I want to capture in my outline for the next session.

So, does that mean the session prep steps are wasted on me, or don't provide enduring advice?  Not at all.  I've found that slowing down and deliberately going through the steps whenever I've been stumped for actually starting my next adventure has been a great way to center myself and get some ideas in order.  Turns out, when you deliberately go through these steps, you often find out you aren't out of ideas so much as you have to put in some effort to get them to connect.

So while I don't follow all of the prep steps every session, having them available has really helped me on those off weeks when I just can't get the floodgates open.  Even when I am on a roll, while I might not stop and do the steps separately, I have often caught myself thinking that I just moved from one phase of prep to another, and sometimes back again, when I get going.

There is one specific part of the prep process that has really stuck with me, and that is having a specific Review phase.  I am much more likely to force myself to stop and think about how I've presented an adventure, and look for what I might have missed, than I was in the past.  I've caught myself a few times thinking "I never put in here where they were suppose to find that key, but I'm assuming they have it for this section," which was the kind of thing that threw me into heavy improv mode in the past.

While there is nothing wrong with heavy improv mode, I'd much rather fall into that mode because the players do something completely off the wall than because I forgot something really simple and mundane that should have been part of the plot from the beginning.

Another thing that the book helped me to realize, that has stuck with me, is that using the right tools for how you work is important.  For a long time I was using only electronic tools to prepare my games.  In many situations, that was because I was running much more rules heavy systems like Pathfinder or Mutants and Masterminds, and since I was already on the computer, I keep working on the computer.

I've realized since reading Never Unprepared that, while some electronic prep is fine  (printing out stat blocks from PDFs that I own, for example), a lot of my creativity comes to me when I'm writing in a notebook using a pen.  Working on the computer almost makes me feel like I have to write for some third party that might review the adventure, but writing in my notebook, I feel like I have permission to just use whatever short hand I'm going to understand to get the ideas across to myself.

So in the end, while I may not be a perfect disciple of the techniques, I will definitely say that I picked up some useful traits from Never Unprepared that have stuck with me, and that I am glad to have developed.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

I Bought This Game and I'm Going to Play It Day at the Gopher (June 22, 2013)

Today was once again "I Bought This Game and I'm Going to Play It" day at Armored Gopher Games in Urbana, Illinois.  For anyone that hasn't caught these entries before, this is the day that the FLGS sets aside, usually about once a month, for people to come in and play the games that they haven't gotten to play, even though they just had to buy it when it was all shiny on the shelf staring at them.

Today I brought Sentinels of the Multiverse and Elder Sign.  What's that you say, I've played Sentinels of the Multiverse plenty of times?  This is technically true.  However, I have yet to play all of the characters that were included in the expansions that I purchased, so I'm calling this one legal on a technicality.

We played Elder Sign first.  I love the Elder Sign app that I have for my tablet, and I have to confess, I picked this one up because I watched the game on Tabletop:

We had a lot of fun, and one of my friends lost his respect for Cthulhu because we defeated him. Of course, earlier in the game I got turned around on when monsters should show up and how terrors worked, so I'm pretty sure the early part of the game we got off easier than we should have.

Still, looking forward to getting to play it again, now that it seems like we got the rules down towards the end of the game.  Plus, that gives me an excuse to pick up the expansion at some point in time.

We moved on to Sentinels of the Multiverse.  With four players, we took Fanatic, Legacy, Expatriette, and NightMist versus Apostate in the Pike Industrial Complex.  It was a fairly lengthy fight.  Legacy went down.  Way too many artifacts came back into play.  I ended the session  (playing Fanatic) with 1 hit point, and Legacy's player granted Expatriette's player one extra power, which killed Apostate just after we wiped out his artifacts.  Man that felt like it went down to the wire.  Still loving this game, and I can't wait to use the Shattered Timelines cards.

Next we played the Spirit of the Century Board Game, Race to Adventure.  For some reason, my brain was not processing the rules, although they are very simple, and even once I picked up on them, I just couldn't force myself to actually apply them.  I did horribly, but we had fun playing the game.  I'll admit, it didn't do enough for me for me to want to pick the game up myself.  I'd play it again if someone else wished to do so.

Finally, we played the Evil Baby Orphanage card game from Wyrd Miniatures.  This game went by really fast.  As before, it took me a while to pick up on exactly what I was doing, but it started to fall into place for me just about the time that the game ended.  This one was just weird enough that, should I try it one more time with my head in the right place, I may end up snatching it.

We Really Should Have Known (Only War--June 20th, 2013)

Our team landed on the manufactorum that was our objective.  We were all ready to go.  We were attacked right at the outset, by things that had piston driven jaws.  I'm not entirely sure how that went, because Brother Cervantes failed to set them on fire at the outset, and then was promptly dropped into critical damage, and immediately failed his check to avoid bleeding out.  Very short career that one.

I could have spent the Fate Point, I guess, but it seems odd to spend the one and only Fate point in this manner, especially when I'm not spending it to remain with a group I've been operating with for a while.  I'm not sure, maybe I should have, but in the long run, it really didn't matter all that much.

The rest of the group stalked into the Manufactorum, following suspiciously opening doors and well lit corridors.  None of our characters knew this, but the Sarge was being urged on by his sword, which was inhabited by a Daemon of Slaneesh.

I made up a Tech Priest Engineseer who was amazingly tough and friendly, and not as smart as you would expect from an Engineseer.  The group fought off some minions of Chaos, and then they freed my character, who was apparently from an earlier unit deployed to this site.  They kept my Engineseer alive to question about the workings of the Manufactorum.

My Engineseer also had the "Joker" trait.  I figured it went with the high Fellowship.  Essentially, somewhere down the line the Tech Priest had been informed that humor could be effective in maintaining morale for a military unit, and attempted to access humorous comments.  Generally this didn't work too well.

The Engeineseer was also trained in Medicae, which meant that he had a theoretical knowledge of how to attempt to apply repair techniques to organic tissues.  In practice, he rolled really badly twice, attempting to bolt one guardsman's wound together, and misapplying his hot glue unit for another wounded ally.

Eventually we ran into a Hellbrute, although none of our characters had any idea that we had run into one.  In fact, all but two of us were incapacitated with fear, and several of us were so incapacitated with fear that there were multiple rounds of vomiting going on.

Forgive me this next failing, but there was kind of an orgy of death and destruction that followed, and I can't completely remember what happened next.  I know my Engineseer was destroyed by the Hellbrute, and I remember a lucky shot actually setting the Hellbrute's internals on fire, and a stray projectile killing the "pilot" of the thing.

Now, I know that Sarge had passed out, and that the psyker had taken cover behind him, and picked up the sword.  I know the sword was really fond of the psyker.  I know that we ran into something else in another room, but I cannot remember what that thing was.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter, because here is what happened.

  • The psyker charged the thing, with his sword telling him that it was going to teach him something useful in this fight.  The psyker charged in, didn't really do much, and ended up between the Ogryn and the thing that the unit just engaged.
  • The Ogryn took out the Chaos sonic weapon that our group found, and fired it at our new opponent.  It worked spectacularly well.  It destroyed everything in it's path, including the psyker and his sword.
  • The entity in the sword was a Keeper of Secrets.  It was now free.

The surviving party members were all pretty much struck catatonic by the Keeper of Secrets when it arrived, and since the whole party was catatonic, it was pretty clear what was going to happen.  

At this point, we decided that with two TPKs and just about every player having had multiple characters, the Shadowcocks were pretty much a cursed regiment.  Next session we're either going to make a new regiment, or pick an existing one, and start over from there.  Good bye Shadowcocks . . . you may have been failures, but you were epic failures.

The Road Wears Ever On (Marvel Heroic Civil War, Session Two--June 17th, 2013)

Last Monday was our second session of the Civil War event I'm running for Marvel Heroic.  We were missing the player who has the Thing and Yellowjacket in his troupe, so our potential team consisted of Captain America, Luke Cage, Daredevil, the Hulk, Moon Knight, Hawkeye, Tigra, Ms. Marvel, Thor, Iron Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Doctor Strange, and Spider-Man.

If you are interested, the video can be found here:

The quick version?

  • Doctor Strange whipped up a powerful ward to make it harder for anyone to claim Enderstahl, now that it fell outside of Broxton, Oklahoma, and Reed Richards and Hank McCoy rigged up some scientific whosits to help guard it, and Tony provided the power supply.
  • Banner woke up in an abandoned military base, which was being ransacked by Hydra, and he called in the Avengers.  Banner made a makeshift blaster and took a shot at one of the Hydra Dreadnaughts, and then called "Avengers Assemble" as everyone arrived.  Spider-Woman tried to take aside one of the Hydra agents, Ms. Marvel absorbed the blast from the Hydra Bot Transport, and Tony shut down  everybody's equipment with a big EMP blast.  Also, Hawkeye harassed Captain America about taking out more Hydra agents than Cap did.
  • Banner was happy to make it through the fight contributing as Banner, but then he got frustrated treating Spider-Man's wounds, and turned into the Hulk.
  • Cap and Iron Man caught wind that Congress might be discussing the SHRA again after years of it being abandoned, and Spider-Man and Daredevil heard rumors about a massive hit being put out on Hammerhead by Kingpin when Hammerhead arrived at the airport this evening.
  • A mob of thugs enhanced with Mutant Growth Hormone charged Hammerhead's limo, and they beat the crap out of Spider-Man before being subdued by Hulk and Thor.
  • The limo that was suppose to contain Hammerhead went out of control, and Hawkeye fired an adamantium arrow through it to herd it toward Tigra, who jumped on top of it and yanked the driver out of the driver's seat, ending the threat of the runaway limo, and finding out that "Hammerhead" was actually a Life Model Decoy set to explode.
  • Thor flew the LMD out into space so that it didn't hurt anyone.
  • Captain America, Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk, Spider-Woman, Tigra, and Spider-Woman visited Wilson Fisk (the Kingpin) at Ryker's Island to discuss the hit. Fisk denied that he was feuding with Hammerhead or that he had hired the thugs, and mentioned that he had heard about an increase in MGH on the streets. 
  • The thugs confirmed that they were hired by a mysterious cloaked figure that disappeared after he gave them some cash and the address of the lab that the Serpent Society guarded before the Hulk destroyed it.
  • Cap took Hulk out for pizza and ice cream, and owed the rest of the team a beer.
It was a fun session, but it was far from perfect.  I will say that I am glad to be able to pick up on feedback from my player so that I can attempt to zero in on where I could improve my efforts at running this event.

Tone--There has been some concern that I've let the tone get a little to wild and out there in this first act.  Originally I wasn't too worried about this pre-Stamford, as it makes sense that people don't take "near misses" quite as seriously as they might after the tragedy, but if there is concern, I definitely need to revisit my thought process.

Team Management--We've been cycling through everyone in most scenes, which is a plus, but we've been  cycling through them only just.  It's something that moving in the right direction, but isn't quite there yet.

Doom Pool Management---I've been trying to make sure that the Doom Pool doesn't get to insane sizes, and I also wanted to make sure that Hulk gets a chance to be out without rampaging.  To this end, I spent the Doom Pool, but probably in fairly frivolous ways that didn't work out as well in the narrative as they should have.  I need to get better at managing but still telling a logical story with those spent dice.

Mechanical Transparency--Last session I used the timer mechanic from Annihilation at the same time I was using the Scene Complication mechanic from Civil War, and I didn't do a particularly good job of explaining how I was using them or explaining how they interacted with one another.  I need to do a better job of explaining this sort of thing up front, and doing a second pass on my adventure prep to make sure that I couldn't accomplish the same thing in a simpler manner.

Reviewing the concerns and going over where I think I made some missteps has given me a few ideas, and I'm going to see if the group is alright with implementing them.  If they work, I'm hoping it will help with the tone and opportunities to roleplay, and hopefully, everyone will continue to enjoy the campaign, and it will only get better from here.

Sometimes Players Get The Bigger Bodycount (DCC 13th, 2013)

The only thing left for our intrepid adventurers to do was to make it back home and claim their reward from the merchant that had sent them after the vampire making chalice.  Of course, both wizards were badly spellburned, and the party halfling had wandered off.

The trip home was long and arduous, in part because the dice really hated the party last Thursday.  A one week long trip ended up taking 41 days, and included eating one of the party horses.

The group  (wisely) decided not to camp out in the Lost Graveyard, but spending 20+ days in the hills nearby to help out the wizards didn't free them from running into some truly dangerous random encounters.

I now must admit something.  I'm a bad judge.  I only say this because I lost track of exactly when and where various party members died, because there was a lot of death.

I think, but cannot swear to the fact, that the dire porcupine took the life of the graverobber/archeologist that the party found in stasis in the tomb.  Chip summoned two dire porcupines of his own, cleverly thinking that he would convince the dire porcupine to make with one of them.  However, he wasn't able to ascertain the dire porcupine's gender, so he summoned two dire porcupines, one male, one female, ready to mate . . . and both initially ignored the hostile dire porcupine in camp.

When the group ran into a troupe of bandits, who happened to have a night watchman kidnapped and strung up, Groot and Chip told such disturbing tales of potential inter-party murder that the bandits decided to lighten their load, throw the night watchman to the adventurers, and leave.

The party wizards were attacked by a species of vampire bat prone to attacking spellcasters, whose entrails could be studied to learn spells from the other wizards upon whom it had feasted, except that after the fight Groot ate the bat.

Eventually, the party started moving again, and on the long trek home, the group got lost . . . twice.  It rained a lot.  The night watchmen was killed by something.  It's all very hazy.  A bard joined up, having gotten lost and separated from his adventuring party as well, and then a flash flood came and killed him  (character with the worst luck rolled a weather check, rolled a natural 20, and the bard failed a reflex save, a swim check, and a fortitude save).

In no particular order, on the way home, the party faced a flock of ravens drawn to the chalice's necromantic energy, as well as a swarm of carrion beetles drawn by the same.  They also ran into a bear.  I'm just going to say this.  You may not need to use monsters in a game when you can just throw angry bears at the players.

Finally, the evil necromancer that was attempting to wrest the chalice from the Church of Death scried the party  (again, bad luck check on the unluckiest member of the party, that being Groot), and a ghoul assassin came to collect the chalice.  Everything gets to be a bit blurry here, but the ghoul paralyzed half the party, they gave him the chalice, Groot un-paralyzed, and killed the ghoul.

By the time the group had reached the city gates, Chip the wizard was dead, leaving only Groot the Ranger, Marcus the Cleric, and Zardock the Magnificent  (Wizard) alive from the original group  (well, and the halfling, wherever he wandered off to).  Oh, and Marcus needs to go on a quest to heal lots of people to prove to his god that he's not abusing his talents.

Outside of the city, the party ran into two more adventurers looking for work.  Always happy to find more human shields to put between themselves and danger, they recruited them, and then they promptly attacked and killed one another.  I think there was another instance of an intern murdering another intern as well.   As I said, it's all a blur, and my stack of 0-level characters was flying out of my hands.

In the city, the Watch cleared out when a band of adventurers challenged our heroes, a fight ensued, and Groot threw some coins at the biggest guys in the street and told them run interference for the party while they went to the merchant's mansion to collect their pay.

By the time the fight was over, I think there was another intern fatality as he turned on the party, and then one of the hired adventurers turned on the rest of the adventurers that had been hired to kill our  (increasingly misnamed) heroes and joined up with them right before they made it to the mansion.

The merchant pointed out that his heirs caught wind of his bid for immortality and wanted to kill his would be saviors to claim the chalice.  The adventurers sagely advised the potentially soon to be nosferatu that killing off his heirs would probably be a good thing.  The party received their pay in platinum coins, and they left the mansion to rest, and to indoctrinate their new members in what would be required of them as members of teh group.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

You'll Believe a Man Can Trash a City! (Man of Steel)--Spoilers!

You ever notice how, when you have lots of good things to say about something, it seems harder than when you get your back up about a given topic?  When I realized Iron Man 3 wasn't working for me, I actually had to sit up after the film and work through my issues with the movie.

I've been thinking, and talking, a lot about Man of Steel.  Just not here.  The movie gave me a lot to think about, and I think it did a lot of things right, but I've wanted to make sure that I can see the potential warts as other people see them as well, so I've been reading a few less flattering reviews of the movie to "ground" my own opinion.

Let me just get this out of the way--I though Man of Steel was great.  I think it's easily on par with Nolan's Batman movies  (not as good as Dark Knight, but even the rest of the Nolan Batman movies weren't), and one of the better super hero movies that I've seen.

It's not perfect.  Not unlike the Nolan Batman movies, the serious, stylized storytelling isn't as "light" to watch as the Marvel movies.  This isn't a condemnation of the Marvel movies, or a statement of superiority one way or the other, but the tone of the movie, as with the Batman movies, almost requires you to pay attention to the movie, and rules out lightly watching the movie in the background.

Sometimes it hits those thematic beats a bit too hard.  While I think the film makers had to really nail down just how much power is involved when you have multiple Kryptonians flying around, there may have been a skyscraper or three too many that didn't need to be leveled.  I also think that Jonathan's emphasis on Clark hiding his powers until "the time is right" might have gone just a bit farther than it needed to go.

What Worked For Me

Yes, Superman is really strong and can fly and has lots of powers.  You get that from any media you've seen him in.  What you haven't really gotten is just how powerful Superman is, and how far above the mundane his powers scale.  Between Snyder's "violent flight" technique, the ability of the Kryptonians to utilize multiple powers at once in the big fight  (can you say flying while using super strength to punch someone utilizing super speed?), and the fact that our world doesn't hold up well to Kryptonian power, you can't help but really "get" what Superman was talking about in the Justice League animated series when he talks about a world made of paper.

I've never been a fan of the Space Messiah take on Superman. You would think that I wouldn't like the obvious imagery that invoked just this very concept, a connection between the messianic and Superman.  But the touch was very light and very specific.  The stained glass window that evoked specifically Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane worked very well, because it specifically underscored that Clark was agonizing over sacrificing himself for the well being of others, and that he had to have faith that it was the right path to day.

The Space Messiah Digression

Forgive a slight digression.  In some ways, I really enjoy the 1978 movie, and in some ways, I think it saddled Superman with as much baggage as Adam West's Batman. The Space Messiah theme in the 1978 movie and its sequels went a little more like this--Krypton was perfectly evolved, and Jor-El was all knowing and all wise.  Even though he was clearly saving his son by sending him to Earth, Jor-El also knew that his perfect son would do perfect things on Earth to teach the silly apes there how to live the right way, so long as little Kal-El wasn't stupid enough to consider himself one of them, sullying his perfect status as a Kryptonian.

Heck, the theme of almost every movie was that the more distant and "above" humanity Superman remained, the more he could accomplish the impossible.  Bryan Singer almost perfectly completed this thematic beat when he showed that, if Superman just remembered that he could never ever be with his son or the mother of his child, he could even lift an island of Kryptonite into space without killing himself.

So how is this baggage as bad as Batman being associated with Adam West for decades?  To this day, people have it in their head that Superman is this guy that was, from conception, perfect, and that the only way he can do the wrong thing is to act like a human being.  While a lot of versions of Superman have done very well by actually showcasing how human Clark Kent is, and how much his humanity makes him who he is, the biggest media portrayal of Superman for decades was of a perfect Space Messiah that acts like a bumbling, two dimensional fool when he masquerades as a human.

While I still have a certain affection for the 1966 Batman and for the 1978 Superman, they both have very specific quirks, and with that one media version of those iconic characters dominating the public imagination for so long, those quirks get blown way out of proportion, rather than being incorporated into a averaged whole.

Er . . . More Stuff That Worked

The emphasis was firmly on Man of Steel being 1)  a science fiction story, and 2) a super hero story.  There are all sorts of undercurrents and themes you can come up with to put in the story, but if the story isn't primarily those things, I don't think it's going to work.

Jor-El's opening scene was epic, and firmly painted this as a science fiction movie.  Krypton isn't this sterile, sacred utopia.  Thank goodness there wasn't a crystal in sight.  Krypton was alive, and seemed like a real place, because it had colors and geography and native animals.  It had a history that went beyond, "we were perfect, excpet for Zod and his bunch, and then we blew up."

I was also happy that Snyder and company seemed to be able to pull of what DC has been struggling with for a few years now. How do you create tension between the military and the powers that be and Superman, without undermining Superman as the best of the best good guy, or making The Military as the bad guys.  At DC, failing to answer this question well has pretty much led to Sam Lane turning into Thunderbolt Ross.

In this movie, it makes perfect sense that the military is worried about Kal-El, and it makes perfect sense that he's worried about what the military will do if he turns himself over to them or trusts them.  The fact that the movie actually spend time on making sure that you saw this convergence in the middle was the best resolution to this situation that they could have come up with.

Another "coming together" moment was that while Jor-El clearly saw Kal-El as someone that could lead humanity and guide them to something better, he also recognized that Krypton made mistakes, and that Kal-El's greatest strength was going to be learning from the mistakes of Krypton and Earth and finding a better way than both.

What Could Have Worked Better

I think by the time we saw Smallville trashed, and saw what the World Engine was doing to Metropolis, we had a good idea of the stakes of the movie, and how seriously the Kryptonians could trash a place.  There was a bit of overkill with the number of buildings that fell during the Zod and Superman fight.

I guess at this point in time, I'm so used to the Superman origin that it's a given to me that Jonathan and Martha taught Clark to be a good man, and that it's because of them that he had that drive to help people whenever he could.  The movie didn't spend a lot of time on this.  It did show us that Jonathan and Martha loved Clark and cared for him, and it really emphasized that Jonathan was worried about Clark using his powers publicly.

While I assumed that the message from Jonathan was always, "be a good man and do the right thing, but never let anyone see you use your powers until you figure out your grand purpose," I can see how some people may not have taken it as a given that he ever taught Clark that first part.  I've seen people criticize the movie because they felt that Jonathan was only teaching Clark to hide, and it's a valid point, but I think it was  more a matter of what they were emphasizing to tie into the larger story.  In other words, I'm not assuming that everything important that Jonathan ever taught Clark was shown in the movie, but I get where you could acquire that idea.

I do think that the scene where Jonathan died could have been done better.  It felt too much like Jonathan was intentionally sacrificing himself to force Clark to realize that his life (Jonathan's) wasn't as important as Clark's destiny, "and by gum, I'll prove it by making you watch me get killed by this tornado that you can't do anything about."

I think it would have been possible to pull off that same concept by having Jonathan go somewhere else to save someone, and never come back, while telling Clark not to risk it himself, and had the same impact on Clark, avoided the weird "hey Clark, look me in the eyes while I die saving this dog to prove a point" moment.

The big reveal of Clark showing up at the Planet was great to close out the story, but doing something, anything to look less like Superman wearing glasses would have been good.  His hair, posture, and mannerisms all looked the same as Superman's.  I know he doesn't have the greatest cover for a super hero, but several sources have shown him at least slicking back his hair and holding himself a little differently.  Maybe next movie.

Crisis on Infinite Movies

I like that Superman gets to be the big reveal, the thing that changes everything.  He should be.  But it does mean that any hero that comes after him doesn't get the same treatment that Snyder wanted for Superman, meaning that their movies have to reference the events of this movie.  No one else's movie can be 100% only about them, because the world knows, in a big way, there we are not alone, there are super heroes, and there are really big threats out there.  None of that can be credibly ignored.

That having been said, I'm a lot more optimistic that we'll get to see good DC Comics based movies that don't involve a rich vigilante from Gotham City.

Hm . . . I wonder if that Guillermo del Toro "DC Supernatural" movie will be set in this universe?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Everything Else that Wasn't The One Foot In the Grave (Only War, June 6th, 2013)

Our guardsmen, badly wounded and shy a medic, got word from HQ that we were getting reinforcements.  We shimmied up to the top of the fortress and waited for our brand new sanctioned psyker and his attendant, and our new ratling sniper and his aide.

After we secured our new troops, as we were heading down into the fortress again, there arose such a clatter.  And we couldn't really see what was making that clatter.  The rest of the team went down to the courtyard while the sniper and my heavy weapon guardsmen stayed up top with our long range weapons.

The sniper thought he saw it, and took a shot.  I fired a frag missile in the same general area, which didn't hit. Eventually the rest of the crew closed on it and engaged it in melee, which caused me to rethink my strategy. I didn't really want to blow up my friends, so I used the grav chute and jumped down into the thick of it.

Everyone else retreated, and I pulled the shotgun.  Eventually the Tech-Assassin went down, and the main injury that anyone took was my guardsmen from her drop from the sky.

The sergeant decided that we had cleared out the fortress, despite the fact that we hadn't even seen half of the place yet.  As he got ready to send the all clear, the rest of us began to wonder just how much trouble we were going to be in if something jumped out at a higher ranking officer, so Sarge had us head back into the side of the fortress we hadn't explored yet.

Let me just point out that our group had insane luck this night.  Most of this side of the fortress was clear, but we did find a room occupied by three Juggernauts of Khorne.  We pretty much should have been dead at this point in time.  I fired my missile launcher at them, and it did nothing.  Our weapon specialist's krak grenades did some damage, so I took one when he got knocked out and threw it at the beasties.  The psyker hit them with confusion and bought us some time, then buffed all of us nearby.

As it turned out, the Juggernauts all took very minimal damage, but they took damage.  Because they all have Warp Instability, that means there is a chance they phase out if they don't cause fear or injure a creature after they take damage.  Two of the three missed our Ogryn, and both of them went poof.

The rest of the fight was a blur, but somehow we took out the last Juggernaut, and survived.  Hey!  That means we'll get out of this alive and having successfully completed a mission!

Then, as we were on our way out of the fortress, a massive horde of cultists stormed us.  Oh, and a badly placed smoke grenade  (is there any other kind) made us blind to where the bad guys were.  Before the grenade went off, I managed to hit with my last frag missile, and threw a few frag grenades blind.  I was the last line of defense before the cultists crashed into my friends, and I did so by taking so much critical damage that the blood slick I left behind slowed down the horde.

In the end, the cultists died, everybody else got extracted from the site, and I started rolling up my Ministorum Priest, Brother Cervantes.

Brother Cervantes was assigned to the regiment because they might have been exposed to Chaos, and the higher ups were concerned about the moral fiber of the group.  Brother Cervantes was a bit zealous about pointing out Sarge's mutterings, we got our next assignment, and we got ready to head out.

The team got their mission gear, and found out that they accidentally received a box meant for the Inquisition.  And they opened it.  And found a neat sword with symbols that we have no idea belong to Slaanesh.  And a big old Chaos sonic weapon.

Thankfully, I was busy following a false lead that Sarge gave me when they were plundering Chaos.  The ratling is strongly thinking of turning over the crew, and the psyker is encouraging others to carry the gear without touching it themselves.

Did I mention that my Ministorum Priest has Hatred (Psykers)?  There is some tension.  I said a prayer over the regiment as we were about to ship out, and he tried to loudly out pray Brother Cervantes.  Oddly, Sarge seems much more reverent now that he got his new gear that Cervantes knows nothing about.

Thus we land on the roof of our next objective, armed with Chaos  (at least the Ogryn and the Sarge), and with a psyker that kind of wants me dead and likes leading others into temptation.  I am sure nothing will go wrong on this mission.

Marvel Heroic Civil War Session One (June 3rd, 2013)

And now for the main event.

One of our players wasn't able to play, based on his internet connection, so we weren't going to have more than seven characters, with the following Avengers available for the various scenes:

Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Daredevil, Moon Knight, Tigra, Wolverine, Spider-Woman, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, Thing and Yellowjacket.

Everyone was going to start out in Avengers Tower, with a crisis just around the corner.  Essentially I wanted to give the group a little head's up and a transition scene if they wanted to create resources before they dove into the first action scene, but as has been pointed out, here and a few other places in the night, I let things lag just a bit too much.

Almost out of the gate, things slowed down quite a bit, and we didn't start with a bang like I would have liked.  It was my fault.  I waited a bit too long to pull the trigger and was hoping the players would do something big from a cold start, which in retrospect is pretty silly.

That said, once things got moving, the night moved along fairly well, and the action seemed to be pretty descriptive and action oriented.  In the first scene the group had to deal with a MGH drugged Goliath, where they used a combination of complications, intimidation, and a big Iron Man delivered sucker punch.

Then the media showed up.  I wanted this scene to go well, and my players delivered.  The tension of the press asking pointed questions made most of the heroes uncomfortable, and they were scrambling to get away for the most part, and boy did that Doom Pool grow.  The media creating a tense atmosphere seemed appropriate for the opening scenes of Civil War.

The group got a pair of leads, one that led to a front lab producing MGH inhabited by the Serpent Society, and the other requested guard duty in Broxton, Oklahoma, due to some object falling from the sky.  They went to the lab first, since it was in New York.

The scene went pretty quick.  Due to the media, the Doom Pool rose to such a state that Hulk was going to rampage, so instead of taking time off for Hulk to savage the team, I spent the 2d12 to have Hulk destroy the lab and all evidence therein.

I wasn't quite sure I should have kept Hulk from rampaging.  The first time it happened in the campaign, I probably should have just let it happen, but I really wanted to vent a bit of the Doom Pool after the success I had with the reporters.

Regardless of whether Hulk should have gone wild or not, Moon Knight really stepped up, nearly killing Diamondback while interrogating Cobra.  Iron Man was so upset by Moon Knight's interrogation that he started charging his weapons, Moon Knight gave him a tongue lashing, and Iron Man took off with emotional trauma and left the scene.  More or less in a manner orchestrated on purpose by Iron Man and Moon Knight's players.

Finally, the party headed to Oklahoma for guard duty, and eventually ran afoul of Doctor Doom and a whole slew of Doombots.  Doom held his own, but I didn't get too tricky with him.  After a pretty drawn out fight, with the rest of the team trashing the army of Doombots, Wolverine tore through Doom himself . . . and found out he was a Doombot as well.

The session was good.  It was actually a great session.  It wasn't perfect, and I learned a few things, and hopefully I'll be able to remember those lessons in the future.

  • I need to pull the trigger on action quick whenever people don't have a strong preference to describe what they are doing in a scene, or when decision making is taking a while.  
  • I need to be careful in how I'm managing the Doom Pool.  I want it big, but I also want it to help me tell some memorable stories.
  • I need to do a better job communicating Watcher to player.  I had a player that probably should have had more of a head's up on who he could have used for the scene, but I didn't take any time to specifically ask about that especially well suited character.
  • Especially in the middle fight, I didn't cycle through all of the players and their characters as efficiently as I would have liked, in part because I pulled the trigger on the Doom Pool just a bit early to avoid Hulk's rampage.

Despite needed to learn those lessons, I'm thinking this really got off to a good start.  The group seems to be excited, we have some good characterizations going on, and our Road to Civil War seems to be right on track for some serious conflict.