Monday, November 9, 2015

The Spirit of a Setting, Absolutes, and Implied Absolutes

I've been thinking a lot about shared world settings again, given that I just finished the Sundering novels for the Forgotten Realms and am rather enjoying the contents of the Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide, and it's making me cogitate upon shared world settings and how they are used, as well as the reputation they gain over time.

First, I've never been one to say continuity doesn't matter. I like continuity. If some country has never fallen in a war, I don't want some backstory material to accidentally mention that time that they were a vassal state to someone for a century after they lost a war, and I want any new material that shows them getting defeated in a war to be a big deal, because of existing lore.

That said, I've seen people take continuity to massive extremes. If one author casually mentions that a character is left-handed in one story, and it's never been an important detail, just trivia, if later someone makes the mistake of saying that person is right-handed? Not really that important. In the grand scheme of things that really was trivia.

Now, I'm not talking about a character that had to get a sword specially crafted because he was left handed, and picks up a nickname "The Sinister," because of his handedness, and dropping all of that. The rest of that starts to become detail and backstory. But things that get mentioned once, and never expounded upon, in my mind, are fair game for revision later on.

Sometimes I think continuity gets a bad reputation because people apply it for different reasons. The reason I value continuity is because it serves as a shared language regarding that setting. If I mention Red Wizards of Thay in the context of the Forgotten Realms, people that know the setting have an idea of what the discussion is going to entail even before it begins. Similarly, if I mention the ISB in Star Wars, for people that have knowledge of that agency, two fans discussing the setting already start with a common "vocabulary" of sorts.

When running games, that "vocabulary" can be effectively utilized to create a game session that recalls the feeling of the setting. The more vocabulary you have in place, the more subtle you can be with it in order to evoke the feeling of the setting. For someone that has only ever seen A New Hope, referencing the Death Star, Vader, and Tatooine may be the only shared touchstones from which to build a game. However, once more movies and other media are introduced, mentioning pod racing, Hutt crime syndicates, bounty hunters, Mustafar, and level 1313 of Coruscant suddenly call back to the overall Star Wars experience for those that have a shared experience of the setting.

Unfortunately, the other way in which continuity can be used is as a litmus test for "true fans." In those cases, trivialities such as handedness mentioned once and never used to important effect suddenly become important details. Instead of using the shared language of the setting to communicate (and in the case of games, create new story elements), the language is used as a means of separating those that "belong" from those that do not, and of establishing a hierarchy among those that do "belong."

Absolutes tend to really play into this. Once setting material says "only X number of something have ever existed," it becomes a limiter. This is fine if the limiter exists to support an element in the setting. You only have two Sith Lords at a time, fine. They are rare bad guys. You understand that. But what if the limiter was "you only have two people that can use the Dark Side at a time?" What if you have a limiter that is absolute, but isn't important enough in the setting to remember? Over the whole time the Jedi Order has been around, there have only ever been how many people that left? Really? Why was that important to delineate?

But, what's worse about an absolute, such as the above, is that it can imply other absolutes, that people sometimes will then apply in their litmus tests. So, if only 20 Jedi have left the Order, does that just count those that have become Jedi Knights? If so, you still have plenty of room left for people to have left the Order before they became knights. However, there are those who will decry this sort of logic, because from the "litmus test" side of things, it's better to err on the more stringent side than the more liberal.

Reading The Herald (the final book of The Sundering), it occurred to me that having PCs run into a poorly defined section of Myth Drannor could be a very Realms feeling adventure. The region could be within a wild magic region, denoting the damage to the Weave and the Mythal that was detailed in the novels. There could be shadowy creatures that are remnants of crashed Thultanthar, and a crypt guarded by a Baelnorn that might be difficult for the PCs to defeat, but might be convinced to gift them with treasure in exchange for promises to do something important for elf-kind or what have you.

But upon thinking of this, it also occurs to me that I've seen Realms fans that would demand where you located this dungeon complex, would point out that where you put it, while maybe not wrong, is further south than anyone has placed Myth Dranan ruins before. They might point out that the types of shadow creatures you want to use have never been associated with the Shadovar in the past. They may also point out that while not explicitly said, it might be inferred that the Baelnorn in Myth Drannor were all destroyed in the final fight with Thultanthar.

In other words, depending on the "conversation" or "litmus test" side of things, it might actually be "more acceptable" to some to present a generic D&D adventure in that same region, because you are "safe" from any implied canon violations, than it is to create an adventure that might get some of the "grammar" of the Realms language wrong in order to use that shared language to craft something that feels native to the setting.

Granted, continuity in an ongoing published setting that is primarily about telling complete stories is somewhat different than continuity in a game setting, where the point is to add your own spin on things, but I still feel that continuity can be a great tool for creating a shared language, even if it exists only to convey the starting point from which you intend to diverge.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Games, I've Known a Few . . .

So, just to play around with Excel to keep on top of things, I made up a list of games that I would like to play or run, and ranked them, and came up with a list that kind of looked like this:

It's not in order of my favorite games, it's more a matter of what priority I currently have for every game that I currently want to run or play.

Dungeon Crawl Classics:  Yeah, it's at the bottom of the list, but that doesn't mean I don't love the gonzo game, or wouldn't want to get back to it.  I had fun running it, and while my group playing it was good, I'm not sure everyone was 100% on board with the tone and setting, so I'd love to give it another go with people really enthusiastic about it's weirder aspects.

13th Age:  It's lower on the list because I played it quite a bit, as a player, but I am still interested in giving it a go as a GM.  I really want to try out the "10 sessions/10 levels" campaign structure they mention in the GM section sometime.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition:  Ran it a little and had fun, ran it again and it was not as great as I would have hoped, played it for a while and had a blast.  Would love to give it another shot, but between having played it for a while and because so many other people are running it, it falls a few spots down the list.

Dark Heresy 2nd Edition:  I only got to run two session of this game before time crunched me a bit.  Still have a lot of ideas for the setting, but the crunchiness of the rules  (even though I like them) and the mystery/conspiracy aspect of the campaign mean that I want to put my all into this if I do it again, and I feel like waiting until the stars are right.

Star Wars Age of Rebellion:  I ran a lot of Edge of the Empire, and a fair number of Age of Rebellion sessions, but I've had some good ideas since then for a campaign, I was a bit disappointed with how the last Age of Rebellion game died out, and I love Star Wars.

The One Ring:  I am really intrigued by this game, but even though I've never played or ran it  (which tends to push things higher on the list), I'm kind of intimidated by the game, because it does such an interesting job evoking the setting with the rules, I'm afraid I'd muck it up by making it too much of a standard fantasy campaign.

Force and Destiny:  I have played in a Force and Destiny game, but I still want a chance to run one, and I'm really interested in a game where all of the Force users have no connection to the Jedi, but maybe have some other connections to other Force traditions that may be getting them hunted by the Inquisition.

East Texas University:  Totally +Ryan Porter 's fault that this is on the list.  I really like Monster of the Week for my Urban Fantasy/Monster Hunter RPG of choice, but this one has a very unique feel and a specific niche carved out that I think would be fun to explore.  Also, a little more interested in playing this one than running it.  Maybe I'm just still a bit Savage Worlds gunshy after the infamous Hellfrost implosion of a few years ago.

World Wide Wresting:  Really want to run this.  I've got ideas for a local promotion trying to make it big.  I just want people that are really interested in the topic  (even if they don't watch wrestling currently) before I give it a whirl.  New ideas seem to work best if everybody is enthusiastic about them from the get go.

Worlds in Peril:  I enjoyed my DC Adventures game, and I've enjoyed running various Marvel Heroic events.  For some reason, supers is one genre that I really enjoy exploring from multiple angles, and now that I've done some Powered by the Apocalypse gaming with Monster of the Week, I'd love to try this one out sometime.

Masters of Umdaar:  I want to get some Fate gaming in, but a lot of the genres where there is an interesting Fate supplement (to me), I've got the genre covered with something else.  On the other hand, running a Masters of the Universe style 80s cartoon campaign?  It's young, but it shot up the list quickly.

Soth:  I've got everything to play this printed out.  I think it will be a lot of fun.  I just want to make sure I have a good number of cultists available and enough time to be able to explore a fun story with the rules.

Shadow of the Demon Lord:  Just recently got the PDF, and I backed this at a level where I have a crazy amount of stuff coming in the future.  My read through makes this feel like the kind of grim toned fantasy adventuring I was kind of wanting with DCC, but that the more gonzo aspects of that system kind of played more for comedy.  I have said elsewhere that the game evokes some interesting thoughts in me, because mechanically it feels like D&D and Warhammer Fantasy RPG 2nd had a mutant baby, but tonally it feels kind of like 13th Age, in that it's meant to have epic stakes, but your characters intentionally don't quite feel like they may but up to the challenge.  Want to kick the tires to see if my assumptions hold true at the table.

Fantasy AGE:  The system seems really fun, and I'm torn between wanting to run a Midgard campaign using the rules, possibly using Green Ronin's Freeport setting, or possibly just going crazy and making up a setting for it.  In any event, it feels like it would be a significant time investment to start up a game, so I would want to make sure I was happy with all of the stuff I had lined up for the game.

The Strange:  The rules seem just crunchy enough to keep less narrative players interested and happy, it has a strong core story element, but a strong core story element that allows for a lot of variation, which is good for keeping the GM engaged in the setting as well.

Now just because this is the list right now, that doesn't mean my gamer ADD won't kick in and add or rearrange something when I hear some intriguing buzz in the future about something else.  Also, games I'm running or playing in currently aren't on the list, and if something uses the same system and I'm favoring one over the other, only one got on the list.  Except Star Wars.  Star Wars is always an exception.

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, oftentimes 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 judgment 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 judgment 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 is 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 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 its true name is secondary to its 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.

On Trying Not To Live In An RPG Echo Chamber

I really do get the dangers of living in a echo chamber.  You don't want to cultivate things so much to where you only hear opinions, advice, and conclusions that are already 100% what the voices in your head already whisper to you.  If you are right, you need to challenge your perspective about why you are right, and learn how to articulate why you think you are right.  If you are wrong, you are never going to know it if you are never exposed to anyone that thinks differently than you do.

But, that doesn't mean you have to have a wide open network of everything diametrically opposed to you constantly bombarding your social media outlets.

I'm not sure I can specifically outline what my tastes are in RPGs these days.  They vary wildly.  10 years ago, I loved 3rd edition D&D and the Forgotten Realms, and outside of some d20 Star Wars, I didn't wander very far afield.

Ten years before that, I had largely left the RPG hobby behind, and was trying to be a "serious adult" with "serious interests," and was still desperately clinging to the last vestiges of my geekiness by reading Star Wars novels, watching Deep Space 9, and reading comics, because why quit cold turkey?

Ten years before that, I was just branching out from BECMI D&D, getting into AD&D and the Forgotten Realms, getting into Marvel Super Heroes, Star Frontiers, and eventually WEG's Ghostbusters.

Today, I love some big budget, more traditional RPGs.  I love some indie style RPGs.  I like some "old school" feeling products, and I like stuff that pushes boundaries and does stuff that no RPG really did when I first got into the hobby.  I still like the granddaddy of RPGs, D&D, but it's several spots down the list when it comes to "go to" gaming.

In an effort to actually see other RPG fans, I've got people who's primary interest is old school gaming and retroclones.  I've got people that are full bore into Apocalypse World Engine games.  I've got hard core Fate gamers and Savage World gamers.  I've got a fair number of D&D gamers, fewer devoted Pathfinder folks.  I've got Fantasy Flight Star Wars and 40K gamers.  I've got Mutants and Masterminds, Marvel Heroic, and Supers! advocates.

I've got a lot of gamers who's rankings of various games would vary greatly from my own.  By mainly, I like, and hope to continue to find, people who are passionate about what they love.  When I read about someone running an OSR game, I want to hear about how it went and why they love it and what they want to do next.  I want someone to post how excited they are over an AWE hack that they wrote, or how great a Star Wars game went and what the dice caused to happen that nobody could have predicted.

What I don't want to hear is about how some gamers label and dismiss whole other sections of the gaming community.   I don't want to hear how X personality is what's wrong with gaming and should be tarred and feathered.  I don't want to see people fighting proxy wars on social media by snarking at folks that used to work for someone or is working with someone else on some project, so by association they "clearly" should be taken down a few pegs.

I don't think that trying to cull abject dismissive or destructive negativity is creating an echo chamber, but I'm willing to entertain the notion that it is.  I just hope it isn't.  Because despite wanting to have an open mind, I primarily want to enjoy my hobby and not get riled up and stressed out by whatever daily drama is developing.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Down to Earth, Again (Mutants and Masterminds, 8-12-15)

Tonight I got to play Velaurial, my chronicler angel that may have accidentally gotten involved in Earthly affairs and may be just a slight be worried about going back home and facing his supervisors.

You see, the way the job is suppose to work, Velaurial is suppose to be watching super heroes, chronicling what is going on around them, and report any infernal or godly intervention in their natural path.

In other words, if it doesn't involve demons, devils, or deities, the Heavenly Prime Directive is in place.  Except Velaurial was so fascinated by the events around the Silver Storm and the heroes and villains arising in Emerald City, he may have accidentally introduced himself to his subjects, and may have gotten involved in their affairs.

Spoilers for the Emerald City Knights Adventure Path  

I couldn't be there last session, so Velaurial was busy borrowing Strobe's credit card so he could buy an earthly tablet to record his reports on, as well as some Earth clothes to help me be a bit less conspicuous.  Upon returning from the suburbs, Velaurial found out that his allies, Metalhead, Strobe, and Miss Fit, had picked up a quirky martial artist, Wildstyle, as well as finding out that there had been an intentional prison break of many of the Stormer super villains the team had helped apprehend so far, and the team's patron was kidnapped to boot.

Velaurial anxiously lept into action to help watch and totally not participate in the rescue of the team's patron CEO, following the bad guys to a fish packing plant on the east side of town, which turned out not to be a fish packing plant, and to have a tunnel leading to the sewers, and an old super villain lair under the city.

Under the streets, the team encountered the Big Brain, a floating brain in charge of the villain team FOE, who was lamenting the stormers ruining the racket that FOE had going in Emerald City, using the town as a place for super villains from elsewhere in the country to lie low and spend their ill gotten gains.

The Big Brain was accompanied by Deathtrap, Chronos the Master of Time, Kid Karma, and Killshot.  Given the number of foes with Kill or Death in their name as well as the number of villains who had "lots of guns" as a power, the team quickly surmised that Chronos the Master of Time  (one singular name, of course) must have transplanted them back in the 90s.

Because of Kid Karma, Miss Fit tripped over several chairs and began to assume that he had some power over office furniture.  Metalhead got to test his new subsonic frequency that slowly knocked his opponents out with a sound they couldn't hear, but was just strong enough to make their ears bleed.  Stobe was sidelined by Chronos the Master of Time early on, went invisible, and then rejoined the fight after she had shaken off the temporal jet lag she suffered.

Me?  I wailed on the giant brain, until Killshot was blinded and almost accidentally hit Max with a sword, at which point I used my wings to push her away from our CEO friend.  Everyone but Killshot and Big Brain went down, Big Brain teleported away, and Killshot surrendered.

We set up Wildstyle to actually draw a paycheck from Max, got new communicators, and Strobe went to school, Wildstyle checked on his sister  (who is still in the dark about his real job), and I went to the hospital, gave my angelic mantle to a little girl waiting for a heart transplant so she would have an easier time surviving the procedure, and was really, really hungry when I suddenly was (temporarily) mortal.

I also may have talked Max into paying her hospital bills and setting her up a college fund since we saved his life earlier.

Back at headquarters, we talked about whether we needed, or could, track down what remained of FOE, Miss Fit called the Freedom League to warn them that Big Brain might be looking to break more villains out of jail to serve as members of FOE, and Wildstyle and Velaurial got nominated to set up patrol schedules and monitor duty schedules.

Thankfully, before things got too boring, we got word that a train was being attacked by robot dinosaurs.  Lots of smashing of robodactyls and roboraptors later, and Strobe found that an AEGIS crate had been looted before we arrived.  Calling our local AEGIS agents, we found out that there were agents, now missing, on the train, and that there was a computer component on board that AEGIS was hoping to decrypt.

When asked if AEGIS knew of anyone that might use robot dinosaurs to attack a train to steal something high tech, we found out that we may be facing . . . Cerebrus Rex!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Monster Of The Week Again This Week! (Session Two)

To celebrate my summer finals being over, we gamed!

I got to run Monster of the Week for the second time, since our Werewolf band still isn't quite back together yet.  We have but a pair of monster  hunters, but I'm pretty sure I've seen some show somewhere that only had two of them, so it should work out fine, right?

This week our intrepid investigators Brandon (the Expert) and Faye (the Spooky) looked over a few reports of children being committed to a mental hospital over similar delusions in Missouri, and younger children disappearing from an Indiana town, as well as some monstrous things eating people rumors from Kentucky.

Faye's demonic phone wanted to go to Missouri, but Brandon was fairly certain that young children being kidnapped were in more immediate danger than kids in a mental hospital.  Faye and Brandon debated a bit over who got to drive and who got to do last minute research during the drive, and Brandon ended up driving.

Faye became completely convinced that the children disappearing was the work of aliens, because the internet said so, and while she was imparting Brandon with this information, the two took a detour into the small town in Indiana where they were about to investigate, and their car was swarmed with field mice, rats, bats, grasshoppers, and crows.  Brandon rolled the car and was hurt, Faye had some minor injuries, but thankfully, Brandon remembered that he had just purchased some bomb suits for some experiments he wanted to do in the back yard and left the suits in the back of the car.

Faye and Brandon wandered into town wearing the suits, and then had to convince the local police that they were both drunk, because the constabulary was concerned that Brandon was sober and taking advantage of an incapacitated Faye.  They eventually made their way to the local hotel.

Faye's demon possessed phone has been texting her new abilities to try, and so she attempted a hex on the surly woman working the overnight shift at the hotel lobby.  The woman went outside to smoke and read her novel, and she accidentally set fire to her book.  Then Faye decided just to make sure she was actually the one responsible, she hexed Brandon so that he would develop a cold, unbeknownst to him.

The next morning, Faye met up with John Longmire, who just came to town, purportedly to investigate the strange animal behavior that began happening around the same time as the child abductions.  Faye and John had breakfast, and Faye entertained John in his room while Brandon did more research on their potential supernatural opponent.

The night before, Faye had caught a glimpse of a man wearing animal skins, furs, and feathers that was commanding the animals that attacked the care, and referred to their unnamed assailant as Kraven the Hunter.  During Faye's interaction with John Longmire, she found out that Longmire wasn't really an animal behaviorist, and that he was somehow linked to "Kraven."

Brandon found out that Longmire was colleges with a man named Anthony Dismond, and both were anthropology professors out west.  Brandon also associated the pelts and feathers that "Kraven" wore as being connected to myths about evil spellcasting skinchangers of Native American lore.

Brandon and Faye decided to investigate a farmhouse near the center of the animal attacks that had been reported in the area, with Brandon investigating the house, and Faye investigating the barn. Brandon found tire tracks that led into the fields and off road, and Faye managed to find an enraged bull controlled by the skinchanger's magic.  The bull gored both Faye and Brandon, and Brandon attacked it with a ceremonial knife he was carrying while Faye attempted to hex the creature to death.  Eventually the knife and the injuries it sustained from running into a fence an wrenching  it's neck killed it, but not before Brandon and Faye were badly injured.

Faye and Brandon spent the night in the hospital, and then in the morning headed back to the farmhouse, ready to set a trap in the barn whenever the skinchanger came back to use the workshop there.  Before they could spring the trap, however, Longmire arrived, and Faye attempted to find out what he knew and why he was there.  Brandon and Faye both left the barn, and Longmire noticed Faye and began to explain to her that the situation was too dangerous for her to be here.

Dismond's van returned to the site, and he had the 10 year old abducted child drugged and helping him as he was about to perform a ritual that would boil down the twin toddlers he kidnapped into components for his bone powder.

Brandon earlier had found a ritual to create a simple medicine bag that would temporarily enchant his shot gun in a manner that would hurt the essence of a skinchanger, and while Dismond was distracted with the arguing couple, Brandon fired and injured him, but did not kill Dismond.  Dismond released a sack of bone powder poison that Faye, Brandon, and Longmire managed to avoid, but the 10 year old was in the path of the supernatural poison, and Brandon caught a lung full pushing the child out of the way.

Brandon shot the skinchanger again, but not before he turned into a mountain lion and pinned the man, knocking him unconscious.  Longmire explained to Faye that Dismond was an associate of his who found out the dark rituals to speak with evil spirits that would teach him to become a skinchanger, and that Longmire had tracked him down to end him.  He told Faye he didn't expect her to understand all of this supernatural stuff.

Faye then let her hair swirl around her and gave Dismond the "creepy eyes," and his own bone powder, which he should be immune to, caused his mountain lion form to wrack in pain and coughing.  The badly injured skinchanger changed to crow form and flew away before he could be killed, ending the immediate threat but allowing Dismond to live to potentially take his revenge.

Longmire, surprised at Faye's ability, helps to revive Brandon, and offers to take them to breakfast after they drop the now safe children off with the authorities, and he mentions that Dismond will eventually have to be found and dealt with, as he has become a truly irredeemable monster.

Side Notes:  Having a lot of fun running this system, and my two gracious players +Christopher Osmundson and +Kathryn Rumer seem to be digging the game as well.  They of course surprised me by not investigating the child abductions so much as going after the animal attack side of things, which made the night interesting, but definitely didn't derail anything.  Also, I could have killed Christopher's character, but inflicted multiple effects and knocked him out instead, at least in part because the way the group is burning through Luck, they may not be around for very long to begin with, and in part because I made the Bone Powder Poison really, really nasty, and the bull did a bit more damage than expected earlier in the night.

Faye also picked up an arcane reputation with Vampires, Organized Professional Wizards, and Demonologists.  That could be fun.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

In Doom We Trust

I'm reading reviews of the new Fantastic Four movie, and I'm not feeling overly positive.

You know why Doom is an awesome character?

Doom is arguably the greatest scientific mind on the planet, but also believes in and utilizes magic, and is certain his mother's soul is in Hell, and that he can use science and/or magic to communicate with her.  I don't care if Hollywood thinks that's crazy, it's infinitely more interesting than "I'm a rich guy with the hots for Sue."

Doom rules a small eastern European country, and they have had such bad leaders in the past that Doom iron fist, since it's evenly applied for the most part, actually kind of makes him popular in his home country.  Additionally, as the leader of a country, there are all sorts of crazy ins and outs to why heroes can't touch him here or there and political maneuverings going on.

Doom actually does the right thing from time to time!  Sure, he may be willing to kill lots of people to ensure he's in charge of the planet, but if something actually threatens the planet, he's the first one to side with the good guys to repulse the threat.  Nobody gets to take Doom's planet away from him!

Doom's signature gotcha moment is for the heroes to find out that they were really facing a robotic duplicate the whole time, so much so that "It was a Doombot" is actually a trope, and yet it's a trope we've never seen from the character in any of his movie incarnations.

Yes, Doom is cheesy and over the top, but gloriously so!  So was Willem Dafoe's Green Goblin, Tom Hiddleston's Loki, and Hugo Weaving's Red Skull.  People are chomping at the bit to see Thanos, and so far the character has been made of equal parts CGI and Ham!

Doom has so much nuance, he's like a nuance roller coaster, but it's all weird and wonderful, and not the usual complexities that a villain normally has.  Oh, sure, he's got issues with his parents, but those issues stem from being the bastard son of nobility and trying to find his mother's soul in Hell.  Romance?  No time for love, Doctor Doom!

At this point, Hollywood types need to stop fixating on Doom being in every FF movie.  They missed the perfect opportunity to use someone like Annihilus who actually is more of a force of nature that just wants to destroy things.  I mean, using Doom in every single FF movie to date is almost like having Wolverine and Magneto be the focal point of almost every X-Men movie . . . oh, yeah.  Nevermind.