Tag Archive | actual play

An Into the Odd Character’s Tale As Depicted in Tokens

I’m playing in an Into the Odd/Electric Bastion game. It’s fun, but has required some rejiggering of my escapist expectations. With D&D or Blades in the Dark you generally play someone with panache from the start. That’s not the case so much with Into the Odd as the below will show.

To start we made two characters and picked the one I liked the most. One of the options was an out of work animal tamer and I thought it would be fun to play as the shepherd kid accosted by the players in the game I ran (it’s the same group and would’ve been a funny in-joke), but in the end I opted for the other character: an out of work canal lock keeper with a robotic eye.

Now to me that sounded like a swashbuckling river pirate type:

Bonus points if you can guess what comic this character is from!

And that’s what I planned on playing, until I looked again at my character sheet and saw DEX: 4. Now a DEX: 4 is not something that says swashbuckling pirate. It says more bookish and uncoordinated, so from swashbuckling river pirate I shifted to local canal crime boss’s in too deep accountant.

Nothing says adventure like James Joyce.

And that worked! My nebbish accountant has found himself stranded with strange companions on a very strange island. He’s diffident and not at all a fighter. Or wasn’t at first. Two adventures in and that’s changed.

Early after his arrival on the island he came into possession of a stuffed cat and now refuses to part with it. Not only that, but the statue has the power to turn him into a man-sized cat at night. This is okay, but not great because there’s a chance when he changes he’ll attack his companions. Thank god, he has the 4 in DEX and not WILL. More to the point of this post, my initial token for his cat-form was this:

It’s your boi, Behemoth!

But again, under all the fur and teeth and claws, he’s still a nebbish accountant who got in too deep with canal gangsters. Once more my expectations had to be changed (and I saw a tweet of some awful 19th century tiles), and so:

It’s your boi, 바보

Let’s see if this remains his final form!

But there’s a notion when discussing Old School RPGs that your character is what happens to them and that’s proving true here. From a collection of numbers (DEX: 4!) to a personality to a history accumulated through play, this character is fun for the simple fact that the whole experience has been unpredictable. It might not be to everyone’s taste, but it certainly feels refreshing and liberating to me. Stuff is happening and not only has it changed my character, but also my character was never who I thought they were in the first place!

That’s neat.

Into the Odd: Actual Play

I recently ran a game of Into the Odd using the scrypthouse write-up from my Mysthead 3 ‘zine (itch.io page here). It was fun. The players were repairman sent to determine why a local scrypthouse had gone silent.

Using the pathetic fallacy generator from the ‘zine, I rolled up a house that craved silence and dampened sounds. For the cause of the trouble I decided the local corps members had come into contact with a void wraith and been taken over by a bad signal. I also stuck a roaming void miasma around the station’s roof and a juvenile pig herder having an altercation with a rival adventurer nearby.

The players arrived. When they got within sight of the house they promptly heard shouting, gun shots, and the squeals of pigs. Approaching with caution, they came upon a scene of dead pigs, angry pigs, a shouting swineherd, and an old man in heavy armor standing atop a rock reloading his rifle. So the players split up. One approached the swineherd, the other approached the old man. Sadly, the pigs caught the latter repairman’s scent and attacked.

Chaos ensued. The repairmen drove the pigs away and took the swineherd hostage. The child proved belligerent and eventually escaped. The old man introduced himself and gave some backstory. He came here to meet a friend. The station’s locked. The pigs are weird. Yadda. Yadda. Time to go in.

One repairman starts work on unlocking the door while the other does a sweep of the building’s perimeter. He doesn’t get far before the miasma attacks those at the front of the house. Fortunately, they managed to get the door unlocked and get inside. Things get worse from there.

The interior’s a mess. The corps technicians are all signal-zombies. Exploration happens. One repairman gets infected with a lexical fungus (mildly amusing, but dropped after a few minutes). They reach the brazen head and find it disconnected. Before they can check it out the old man’s friend walks in and kills the old man with a belch of void static. Cut off from the front door the repairmen have no choice but to flee deeper into the station. They manage to reach the basement and activate the back-up brazen head. It gives them some suggestions, but really the repairmen are as freaked out by it as all the signal-zombie weirdness upstairs. Or downstairs now. The void wraith’s found its way into the basement.

More cat-and-mousing ensues. The repairmen manage to get back upstairs. One’s now for high-tailing it out of the station while the other wants to destroy the void-wraith. High-tailer reluctantly agrees to assist. The void-wraith shows up and the plan’s to lure it into a room full of gizmos and zap it. This works, but doesn’t kill it. High-tailer runs for the door, while the other grabs the old man’s gun.

*click*

The old man hadn’t a chance to reload the gun before getting killed. The void-wraith kills the repairman. High-tailer returns and kills the void-wraith. The corps techs return to their sense. The void miasma disappears. The surviving repairman gathers up the dead.

OVERALL
I liked it. It felt like running B/X D&D without the baggage. Combat took me a bit to get used to. And the lexical fungus proved more a spark for a few table laughs than a solid game mechanic. Now I’m thinking how to run ItO as as a Numenera-esque settlement-building game. My take is that the system’s aesthetic is fueled as much by its illustrations as by its mechanics, and it doesn’t have to be some flavor of Edwardian Paranoia.

Oh, the Places You’ll Go: Krevborna Edition

This is the write-up of the current state of my d&d game for new players. It’s been going since December and the party is now near 5th level. The game’s set in Jack Shear’s Krevborna, a Gothic Horror setting. However, the longer the game’s gone on the more apparent that I can’t do horror well.

A fact you will see if you continue reading.

Inn Keeper

Inn Keeper

THE START: THE RED STAR INN

Three strangers sheltering from a storm at the Red Star Inn wake to screams in the night. They are Caladan and Geb, a half-vampire knight and human soldier, and “Bob”, a spy who has had her name and past stolen by a wandering stranger. They discover the innkeeper and his entire family murdered. Who did it? What did it? This was an investigative adventure where all their fellow guests in the inn were suspects. Caladan was out of his element since there was no clear opponent to kill. In the end it turned out to be an intellect devourer jumping from victim to victim. I wrote it up in detail here, but you don’t need to read that. 

Hommlet

WAKEHOLLOW

After defeating the devourer, Caladan, Geb, and “Bob” escorted some of the survivors to the nearby Abbey of Saint Seska in the town of Wakehollow. At the abbey they met Landar, a foundling raised by the church who seemed to be imbued with divine power. News reached the town that a recent storm washed away the side of a hill and exposed the entrance to an ancient tomb. Landar joined the party in their exploration of the tomb, where they encountered the shade of Bjorn the Bonesinger, former minstrel in the court of the ancient Witch King. Geb died in the battle against Bjorn causing Caladan to descend into despair.

Back in town, the party recovered and made friends with a stranger named Bred, a wild magic sorcerer of shockingly cautious disposition. Bred joined the party and accompanied them west to investigate a tower suspected of serving as a base for a group of raiders.

black tower krevborna

THE TOWER

Very quickly it became apparent that the tower was not the raiders base but they were in fact inhabiting a series of nearby caves discovered by “Bob”. However, Landar believed the tower might hold some secrets and wanted to explore it further. Caladan saw this as a distraction and abandoned the group deciding to explore the caves on his own. Inside the tower, Landar, “Bob”, and Bred defeated a host of shades escaped from Hell and encountered a nothic by the name of Gibberstrike. In exchange for secrets, Gibberstrike told them about the Chaos Priest behind the raids and how a secret passage beneath the tower led into the caves. Meanwhile Caladan defeated a bunch of goblins but got taken prisoner when ogre reinforcements arrived.

caves-of-chaos-assembled-patreon

THE CAVES OF CHAOS

Caladan founds himself locked up with the survivors of a merchant caravan, a deranged gnoll, and a sullen orc named Maulglum. He befriended the orc and together they hatched an escape plan. Meanwhile, Landar, Bob, and Bred must pass through a haunted crypt to reach the secret passage Gibberstrike described. Barely surviving an attack by the crypt’s ghoul inhabitant, they reached the passage and pressed on into the caves. They arrived just in time for Caladan’s prison riot. A huge melee ensued and the party defeated the hobgoblin and bugbear prison guards (as well as the deranged gnoll).

Afterwards came a big information exchange between party members and prisoners. Landar was for using the prison block as a trap to whittle away at the raiders, while Caladan was for going after the Chaos Priest and “completing the mission”. The surviving merchants (including the shifty slave-trading one who assisted in the fighting) decided to return through the secret passage while Maulglum the Orc stayed with Caladan. Bred and “Bob” sided with Caladan and set off to slay the priest. Before leaving one of the merchants told “Bob” about a village a few days west of the tower where everyone is named “Bob”.

The party infiltrated the lair of the chaos priest by disguising themselves as acolytes. They reached the priest’s inner sanctum right in the middle of a ritual to raise a host of undead foot soldiers. Another big melee ensued with Bob and Bred lending spell support and Landar calling upon the power of the saints. The party won the day without casualties and the priest was slain.

well souls

THE WELL OF SOULS

Landar had a dream that a great evil lurks beneath the well from which the chaos priest sought to raise his army. In that dream he also glimpsed the shield of Saint Seska buried beneath a pile of bones. After the party rests Landar convinced them to climb down the well and put an end to the great evil lurking there. They agreed and climbed down to discover a bone littered cavern housing a portal to the depths of the abyss. Between the party and the portal were a host of undead and terrifying maggot creatures. The party managed (barely) to win their way onto a series of ledges that traversed much of the cavern and avoided the threats on the floor.

Halfway to the portal they each heard a voice in their head drawing them towards a side passage. Caladan was for exploring the passage but Landar was skeptical. Bred said that if anything the side passage might be more defensible than the ledges, so the party decided to explore it.

Down the passage they found an ancient shrine to the Queen of Shadows built in the era of Witch Kings. It had been profaned by the abyssal powers and the party was soon confronted by the undead occupants now lurking in the shrine. The party managed to defeat them and set about resting. The voice, however, convinced Caladan to perform a ritual, bonding his weapons to a shadow spirit. Landar doubted any good would come of this.

The party reached the portal to the abyss where they saw the shield of St. Seska embedded in a nearby tree made from human bones. They crossed over while no undead were nearby and managed to wrestle the shield free from the tree. This woke the guardian beast hidden within the tree. Battling the demon creature to a stand-off, the party led by Landar managed to retreat back to the cavern with the shield before the portal closed (although Caladan was all for battling on with the beast and “Bob” nearly got trapped on the wrong side as the portal closed).      

crossroads

THE PARTY SPLITS UP

Out of the well the party recovered in the temple. Caladan was for assisting Maulglum in leading the orcs against the rest of the caves’ inhabitants. Bob was for going west to check out this village full of Bobs. And Landar and Bred were for returning to Wakehollow. So the party split up, and this bit was played out via messenger using a very rough version of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins rules, a PBtA game.

ork-art-fentezi-voin-topor-984

ORC WAR

Caladan and Maulglum returned to the orc-held caverns and managed to impress the orc leader Strak. The orcs agreed that now that the chaos priest was dead it was time for the orcs to reclaim the caverns. They proclaimed against the hobgoblins and their allies. A series of pitched battles were fought in the canyon with Caladan lending his support to the orcs. The orcs nearly claimed the caves early on, but an ambush of fell beasts forced their lines to crumble and allowed the hobgoblins to claim the upper hand.

In the middle of the night Caladan led a raid upon the strongest of the fell beasts with the aid of a squad of orcs and three barrels of gunpowder. Drawn by all the noise a new battle ensued and Strak and the hobgoblin king managed to confront each other in battle. But at the last moment the orc’s shaman (a hobgoblin in disguise) murdered Strak. Maulglum attacked the shaman and Caladan went to do battle with the hobgoblin king. It was a close one, but in the end Caladan won. However not many orcs survived the war. Caladan set about training the remaining orcs into a fighting legion to be employed in protecting the road.

I should say I’ve made the vampires of the setting something like the Roman empire with the orcs having been a regular part of their armies. That Caladan is half-vampire gave him an in when dealing with them.

Mxyzptlk

THE BOBS OF WALLBURG

Bob traveled west staying in remote villages, earning her keep by telling stories. She eventually reached Wallburg the village of Bobs. There she found a much deserted village save for three inhabitants all named Bob. From them she learned that all the villagers lost their names and identities to a wandering stranger named Bob. Bob learned there are more inhabitants in an old building in town and discovered the rest of the villagers have all melted together into one gibbering mass of eyes and mouths. Turns out if Bob doesn’t get her name back she too will be afflicted by the same gibbering disease. Before the gibbering mouther managed to eat her, Bob’s rescued by an extradimensional frog wizard named Zasgam. They’re after the Bob for stealing Zasgam’s prized gemstone. Zasgam offers to help Bob find Bob if she and her companions will retrieve the gemstone. Bob agrees.

murkmire

MURKMIRE

Landar and Bred returned to Wakehollow where they split up because Bred wanted to go to a big city. Landar presented the shield to Mother Disaine at the Abbey and learned that a Witchfinder was in Wakehollow pursuing a heretical outlaw. Landar joined the Witchfinder and his group as they tracked the outlaw to Murkmire, a nearby seaside ruin. They found Murkmire overrun by sahugin and discovered that the outlaw hoped to awaken a great evil submerged off the coast with the help of the sahugin queen. Much bloodshed ensued and only by the Witchfinder’s sacrifice was the outlaw slain. Landar however was shaken. He returned to Wakehollow and decided it best to remain as the town’s protector than wander the roads as an adventurer.

shakespeare-in-love-usbr-1998-martin-clunes-and-joseph-fiennes-date-1998-photo-by-mary-evansmiramaxuniversalbedford-fallsronald-granteverett-collection

THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 1)

While on his own Bred wanted all the culture he could get and nothing says culture like the theater!

So he heard about several upcoming plays in nearby cities and decided to see The Exuberance of Pinfolo as performed by Wiswym Nonce & Players in the city of Creedhall. Bred hoped to audition for a part, but unfortunately when he got there he found Wiswym to be drunk and depressed because his actors had all abandoned him. It turned out that two great cosmic events were unfolding in Creedhall at that time and no one gave two shits for the theater.

First, the archfey Queen Maeve was celebrating her procession and her devotees thronged the city with their floats and parades. Second, the star Amalfi was oscillating along the chromaspectral wavelength an event of such celestial import that half the city had become amateur astronomers. Undeterred, Bred managed to convince Wiswym that the show must go on and the two hatched a plan to put on a play so sensational that all of Creedhall would be forced to notice. To this end Wiswym decided to put on a production of the infamous play The Queen in Lavender. And to avoid the play’s habit of driving its actors mad, Wiswym chose to cast inmates from the local asylum for disturbed individuals in most of the parts.

A whirlwind rehearsal ensued, and several dangerous mishaps occur. On opening night Bred started to have second thoughts. Especially after half way into the performance he noticed all the fake stage knives had been replaced with very real sacrificial daggers.

Muttering his battle cry (“One. Two. Three. Fuck it!”) he stepped onto the stage. The show must go on!

klaus nomi

THE QUEEN IN LAVENDER (PART 2)

(Around here we got back to playing D&D 5e)

A few days before Bred’s big night, Zasgam the Frog Wizard and Bob dimension doored to the tower where they met Caladan as he trained his orcs. Caladan appointed Maulglum as chief while he was gone and joined Bob and the Frog Wizard. Landar, however, decided to remain in Wakehollow as he believed the town would benefit more by his continued presence. Bob and Caladan bid him well and continue on with Zasgam to Creedhall. As they get closer Zasgam informed them that a cosmic disturbance prevented the Frog Wizard from getting close to the city and Bob and Caladan would need to go on alone.

They managed to reach the city and learned where Bred was, arriving at the stage just at the climactic sacrifice scene unfolded. The sacrifice was a success and a rift opened to where the Queen in Lavender and her star spawn horrors dwelled. Mayhem ensued. Most of the cast was slain or in league with the star spawn horrors and an audience member proved to be an archfey in disguise (Prince Vorash, Lord of Misrule) come to watch the play for the lulz. Caladan and Bob attempted to rescue Bred. Bred attempted to stay alive. Wiswym Nonce got his face eaten and Prince Vorash was so amused he decided to polymorph Caladan into a gorilla. More mayhem ensued, but in the end the star spawn and cultists all died (except one, who escaped giggling and laughing into the night…)

A day later Zasgam was able to enter Creedhall, and asked if the party was ready to retrieve the gemstone. They said yes, and so zimzamallakabam Zasgam transported them to the stone’s current location on the astral plane.

Which is where we will begin next time!

Green+Slaad

The Red Star Inn

Had the first session of a new D&D campaign. I’m running it with 5e using Jack Shear’s Krevborna setting. Like all good campaigns do, the first session started in an inn…

Inn Keeper

I pretty much rely on three opening scenarios to bring an adventuring party together: escape from jail, shipwreck, or solve a murder. Here I was using the latter. Having read some on the Gumshoe system I used the simple rule that the players will always find the clue. Their dice rolls will only determine how clear the information they learn is.

So far there’s only three players. There’s the fighter from a (vampiric) family of Lamasthu nobles who had once been the vessel for a demonic power. Another former soldier from Lamasthu who had witnessed his village destroyed. And a bard escaping the criminal underworld of the nearby city Piskaro. In the middle of the night a murder occurred. The innkeeper and his family brutally slain. The culprit? A guest in the inn. The suspects:

  • A gambler and his body guard
  • A farmer and his son
  • A much less likable farmer
  • A merchant
  • A beggar woman prone to visions
  • An old priest and a young acolyte

Most everyone had a secret. The merchant was having an affair with the innkeeper’s wife and had been seen going downstairs in the middle of the night. The unlikable farmer was a lookout for a bandit gang. The beggar woman had the serving girl’s crushed skull in her bag. The young acolyte was actually a woman in disguise on the run from her family. And there was a dead soldier in the barn.

Things happened. Unexpected things.

The gambler and his bodyguard were designed to be a bandit/thug encounter, but the party negotiated with them. Sort of. One of the fighter players came upon the pair robbing the inn’s till and instead of trying to stop them let them go. The other fighter got attacked by the devourer without knowing where it was coming from. And the bard did a decent job playing detective.

The real culprit? An intellect devourer that was using its ability to hop from skull to skull. It made an attack or two against the party without them realizing what was going on except they felt their skulls being crushed. Its goal was to get inside the priest’s skull and leave the inn. But to do that it had to leave a trail of dead bodies behind it. The merchant, the two adult farmers, and the priest all wound up getting taken over by the devourer with the requisite scenes of player character interrogating one of them only to have the suspect’s head suddenly explode as the devourer fled to another occupant.

Combat against the devourer proved rough. One fighter got knocked out and the other failed a fear check and proved less than effective.* In the end the bard’s spells proved more valuable than either fighter in fighting a creature resistant to so many attack types. Now the player’s have agreed to replace the priest as the acolyte’s escort to a nearby abbey in the marsh.

Next game scheduled for Sunday.

* Invariably the player who writes the longest backstory about what a bad ass they are will not roll above a 10 on a D20 for at least 75% of the adventure.

 

 

Blades in the Dark, but badly

I’ve run a few sessions of Blades in the Dark (BitD) now and am going to outline some of the problems I’ve encountered trying to teach D&D players a new game.  Your mileage may vary, but seeing the potholes I’m hitting might clue you in to what pitfalls to expect when leaving behind “the world’s most popular roleplaying game”.

One big problem is that my players don’t have a common language for RPGs like they do for board games.

Now I don’t think Blades is any more difficult to learn than D&D. But when I sit down to play a board game I’ve never played, my pal can employ a language I can quickly understand. She can say, “this uses a dice mechanic or an auction mechanic or a bidding mechanic” and I’ll know a good bit about how to approach the game. RPGs have less of that. And while you can suss out a board game’s mechanics over the course of a game, roleplaying games require more time and personal investment to learn, especially for inexperienced players. Yes, there’s talk about system mechanics (you use a d20, 2d6, prehensile dice), along with the more esoteric talk about Theory you need to be clued into, but when I sit down to play/learn a new RPG the ways those Theory and mechanics operate and mesh together aren’t often readily apparent. And D&D does you no favors here because its system mechanics (getting good at killing stuff) are at odds with what it claims to be about (creating stories).

One thing a friend suggested as a good way to show D&D players the wider range of game mechanics is to use either The Quiet Year or Fiasco to teach other play styles and things like narrative driven mechanics. All so’s to get away from the sword and sorcery style play. That makes sense. Next time around I’ll do that.

On to the problems. . .

Solid Crunch vs. Memory Foam

  • An example: ghost punching versus Attunement: It takes a bit to wrap your head around the agency you as a player are given in BitD. In D&D you’re a ghost hunter and get a +5 whenever you punch a ghost. In Blades you’re a Whisper and get a bonus to attunement and have a special link to the ghost field and when you’re like “Cool! What does that mean?” your GM will look at you and say, “Well, you tell me?” Some folks will have their eyes light up here. Other folks will stare blankly at the GM and gulp audibly.

Organic development vs. Mechanic development.

  • In Blades advancement triggers arise from play and not from killing monsters.
  • No builds. If you’re used to a game having the level of crunch where you can go online and find an optimized build, Blades is not that game. Even outside whether or not it’s easy, being a Cutter that rolls 5D6 take-the-highest skirmish is a lot less satisfying then optimizing a guy to do 10D8+10 damage every time he hits someone with a sword.
  • On a side note, I hate builds. Sure if the game’s super crunchy and I don’t want to deal with learning rules I’ll hop online and follow a build if that means I get to play the game comfortably. But simultaneously if I’m in a game where a player builds the best killing machine possible, I will intentionally Nerf my character. “What you’re optimizing your thief to be an elite killing machine using some tactical progression you read on an online forum? Fuck you, my barbarian’s now multiclassing as a wizard.” (This raises the question of whether I’m the problem. I can be a shit person at times.) But I hold by the notion that RPG characters should grow organically through play and not be optimized like the Terminator. I also recognize that this very optimization might be someone else’s jam, so I don’t know. Hopefully we get along, because otherwise maybe the best thing would be that we never play games together.

Adventure Design

  • Players looking around for the boss monster.
  • This is likely more about my own bad habits when it comes to adventure design and trying to get out of the habit of encounter-based adventures and more towards heists, but there needs to be a comparable change in player mind-set. If D&D fosters one kind of play style and gives you the tools to play that way, you might see all games as having the same style.
  • The heist mindset as opposed to the party exploring mindset. An example: The score is to break into the soul vault beneath the temple of the Empty Vessel and destroy the soul of a cruel factory boss. You hear the high priest has a fondness for blood sports. So PC 1 sets up as a fight promoter causing a distraction, while PC2, a sniper, finds a spot on a nearby rooftop, while PC3, the whisper, breaks into the vault. Except the Whisper PC played D&D and knows you never split the party and go off alone, so he sticks to PC1 and sits at the table checking his phone while the decoy fight goes on instead of being a daring scoundrel.

Hit points and Healing

  • Hitpoints vs. Harm-Armor-Resistance-Stress asset management. Hit points are straightforward. You have 30 hit points. It’s right there on your character sheet. The orc hit you with an arrow. It did 5 points of damage. You now have 25 hit points. When you reach 0 hit points you are dead/unconscious. This is simple. BitD does this instead: Harm-Resistance-Armor-Stress-Asset Management. You’re stabbed through the lung and take 3 Harm. Your armor can reduce that to 2 harm, cracked ribs, but you can reduce that to 1 harm, bloodied, by rolling your prowess and taking stress, which from the looks of it might mean you end up traumatized. GM says “What do you want to do?” Player says, “ Can’t I just take 5 hit points damage?”
  • I like Blades’s healing mechanics. The rolls and the de-stress mechanics, they add to the gritty, grinding feeling the setting is designed to create, but also it feels gritty and grinding, and if your players aren’t ready for that they’re not going to be happy. Especially if they’re used to short-rest/long-rest, have a healing spell/potion, start the next adventure at max HP. This means their initial reaction to Blades’s healing mechanic is not going to be a favorable one.

The Crew Game in a reactive setting

  • My players are having a hard time wrapping their head around the crew game and how that puts them in the setting. No one’s really excited about it. Partially my fault, I suggested they play as vigilantes and everyone agreed to that without having much knowledge of what that meant. But overall the crew game is viewed as an accounting chore and not as a way to generate story momentum.
  • With 5e the setting dial is very loose. How much the Forgotten Realms reacts to the characters can be dialed way down or way up without too much change to at table play. If players are used to a game style where they can stomp around a make believe land without too much push back or even organic impact, then the whole faction game is going to be alien.
  • So when the setting reacts to players in ways that should be obvious to them, and the players aren’t aware of or picking up on how they could shore against those setting reactions, it can start to look like the setting is out to get the players. If your players aren’t picking up on how reactive Duskwall is to their actions, and how they can be impacting other factions, Blades gives the impression of being out to get the PCs. This is part of its design and why I like it, but my players aren’t used to such a reactive setting and I think this leads to paralysis on their part. “We can’t do anything without pissing off somebody and I’m uncomfortable taking risks.”
  • Solution: have the players make characters but hold off crew creation until after a few sessions. For players unfamiliar with how the game operates the crew level game might be the advanced game or the goal of the entire first season. At least give the inexperienced player time to get their feet under themselves. I definitely think the Crew game is 3rd level, expert blue book kind of stuff. Once the players get a feel for the setting, they’ll be in a better space to start an enterprise.

A last point about buy-ins and touchstones

  • Your friends will lie to you. You’ll say, “It’s like Penny Dreadful meets Watchmen.” And they’ll say, “Cool.” But when you get to the table and two adventures in it’s not that they’ve never watched Penny Dreadful or read Watchmen. It’s that their default game style is Teen Titans Go! And they’re not going to change that. This is fine, I guess. My player pool is not deep. The other option is that we don’t play a game.
  • But what do you do? The players said they’re into what the game’s about, but two three sessions in you can see they’re not really onboard. Part of that is my fault. I could’ve done a better job in the early adventures showcasing the series from the start. I tried, but feel like I failed.
  • Also a bit about theme songs… no matter what ambient acoustic ethereal blues crunk you say your game’s theme song is, when you sit down you have to work hard to prevent your theme song from becoming Yakety Sax.

Those Oscar Gordon Days: Who’s That Knocking Under My Floor?

you-chose

The End of Boulder

Adventure the Last: Who’s that Knocking Under My Floor?

The summer was nearly over. Folks had to go back to work or their home countries.

The adventure opened with Oscar, Boulder, Micah, and Jenny the serving girl from Adventure Four at home in the former haunted house from Adventure the First, when the floor cracked open and a bunch of zombies stumbled out.

These were quickly defeated, but the hole remained and it turned out the party’s headquarters had a whole unexplored level beneath it holding who knew what horrors. The crew (except for Jenny who stayed upstairs) headed down to investigate and found various undead menaces, sacrificial altars, and tombs all controlled by the reconstituted ghost of the necromancer they had defeated all the way back in the first adventure. Only now it was stronger and meaner. In the end the ghost was defeated, but not before cursing Boulder and making him age 70 years.

And that’s how Boulder stayed, since this turned out to be the last adventure. It was kind of nice coming full circle that way, but if we had gone on I would’ve had the party try and find some way to heal Boulder.

And so, it ended…

Like I said the campaign felt very episodic and didn’t have any big storyline pushing it forward. I didn’t mind this, especially since a neat setting was starting to emerge as the players interacted with the world around them. Mancuzo, the Maddling, and the Volod Brothers all would have made great recurring antagonists. If the game had gone on I would have added more politics to it by having the authorities and various factions take note of Oscar Gordon start interfering.

And despite my complaints in regards to running an open table, I did like the variance of different personalities showing up from week to week. Of course now I’d only be able to get one of the core players back since almost everyone else has left town, and we’re already playing other games so I’m resigned to let this lie and smile when I think of where the Madling is now.

Those Oscar Gordon Days: Every Ghoul Has Her Day

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Adventure the Sixth: Every Ghoul Has Her Day

Fun fact: I’m lousy at doing voices and basically every one of my NPCs sounds like Tom Waits. And so this adventure…

The party was hired by a woman who sounded a lot like Tom Waits and planned on running off to the swamps to live with her ghoul boyfriend. Her family of course had other ideas, as did another family of ghouls that wanted to disrupt the marriage.

This was the only adventure without the core players of Oscar or Boulder. Instead it was Ahtera, Micah, Wilson (who at this point was almost full Wendigo), and new characters Fellborn and Ekniv. Fellborn’s player was the same guy who ran Nibless and Geth, and Ekniv’s player was the one that made me refer to an open table as one susceptible to pests as he was just there to heckle and annoy the Fellborn player. Without Oscar and Boulder the rest of the group didn’t really cohere (they were also the ones with the least game experience.).

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The swamp roads were full of all sorts of odd things, plus potential sites for dungeon-crawling if the party wanted to come back and do so. There was a mad hermit (who sounded like Tom Waits) and some weird slime tentacles all around. The party managed to avoid the girl’s family, but ran afoul of the hermit and the rival ghouls. There was a showdown on a bridge, and Wilson failed a saving throw against eating one the ghouls. His player was a sport about this, although never really followed up on what was going on.

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I did enjoy how Wilson’s arc was like some after school special about the small town boy who moves to the big city to fulfill dreams only to get transformed into a horrible flesh-eating monster.

But they reached the ghouls they wanted and the woman paid them and there was a wedding, but I don’t think anyone, except Wilson, stuck around for the reception once they saw what was on the menu.

Those Oscar Gordon Days: Our Dinner With Mancuzo

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Toddlerpede by Jon Beinart

Last adventure Oscar Gordon and crew escorted a box of bones across town and while doing so bumped into a drunk wizard named the Dread Mancuzo.

In this adventure, the Dread Mancuzo invited them over for dinner…

Adventure the fifth: Enter the Maddling!

So the Dread Mancuzo invited the party over to his tower for dinner, vaguely remembering meeting them but unsure of the circumstances. Oscar, Haragrin, Micah, Boulder, and Geth accepted.

Of course Mancuzo had another motive. He’d betrayed another wizard, Rendak the Absconder, and now feared Rendak’s revenge. Mancuzo hoped by having the party around they would give him some protection.

But before Rendak showed up the party hung out with Mancuzo and his aged mother, and they gave vague answers as to how they met each other. Finally after his mom went to bed Mancuzo took the party on a tour of his workroom. And it was there that Rendak showed up with his four-armed ape sidekick, the two of them riding giant bats. Not only was this bad, but Rendak had led the inter-dimensional monstrosity, the Maddling, straight to Mancuzo’s door.

The Maddllllllllllllllig!

I loved this adventure. Although it was less an adventure and simply a horrible situation with the party stuck between two feuding higher-leveled NPCs (Rendak and crew were there to steal a McGuffin from Mancuzo) while an horrendous beast rained destruction down upon everything. And while the Maddling was simply a reskinned white dragon very much in the PCs power range, I showed them that picture at the head of this post and they were terrified.

In the end the Maddling survived, Mancuzo fled in a metal orb, and Rendak and crew got whatever they came for, while Geth and Haragrin died and everyone else fled with Mancuzo’s valuables stuffed in their pockets. Fun times!

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Regarding reskinning, I’ve played with both GMs and players that won’t do it, because they think it’s unfair. In their minds: the players should know what they’re up against and all that. A white dragon should be a white dragon, and recognizable as such. Needless to say I don’t buy into that at all, but I can see the point of the counter-argument.

I don’t know, but if you have thoughts either way, I’d be interested in hearing them.

(But I mean, c’mon, when you see a picture like that at the top you have to stat it up!)

Those Oscar Gordon Days: Part the 2

Oscar and crew fought a ghost, bought a house, and set up shop as monster-therapists.

Adventure the Second: Tooth Soup

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Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Ahtera, and Micah (now Micah) investigate the horrible deaths at a local bathhouse. They discover a secret passageway into the city sewers and learn the bad way that the tunnels serve as the lair for some magic-warped monstrosity. This adventure was a way to point towards the undercity as a potential area for dungeon-delving. The party encountered hints to other things such as a Midian-like community in the sewers, but never followed up on it. There was lots of running around, slipping into dank water, and jokes about poo gas. The monster was basically the creature from The Host. No one died.

Adventure the Third: The Mold Dwarf’s Due

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Arkady Volod

An Elfin prince exiled to the city hired Oscar Gordon to rescue his mortal child from the evil Volod Brothers, a trio of mold dwarfs. The Volod’s have plans on selling the child once they return to the Twilight Realm, and some ancient truce prevented the prince from openly stopping the dwarfs. The party consisted of Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Micah, Ahtera, Wilson, and Nibless (Nibbler?).

First the party had to enter the fairy realm via a portal in the city park (Micah got charmed by a dryad and had sex with a tree, when he wouldn’t leave the tree Boulder punched him out), then they had to traverse a corner of the Twilight Realm (Wilson the Village Hero ate some cursed food and unbeknownst to him slowly began to transform into a wendigo over the next few adventures). Finally they caught up with the Volod Brothers and their thrall-borne carriage. The kid was rescued but the Volod Brothers survived, and Nibless, got killed in the fight. I only remember this because the guy that played Nibless was two for three with his character fatalities.

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Also this was the adventure where the Beyond the Wall playbooks became tragic like an After School Special. Not that this was a bad thing.

Nibless and Wilson had the backstory of being childhood friends that had a small village adventure and now have come to the big city together. And what happens on their first adventure: Wilson gets cursed, and Nibbless killed (although I think his fate was even worse than that. He was incapacitated in the fight with the Volods, but had stabilized at 0 HP. Unfortunately he was too far away to be rescued when the rest of the party ran, so… it’s best not to think of his fate, left for dead and abandoned by his best friend in the Twilight World.)

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Those Oscar Gordon Days

I found my old notes from the game I ran back in the summer of 2014.

That’s like a century ago in RPG campaign years.

This game went on after the end of the Vaults of Ur game (Dennis Laffey at What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse did a great job documenting that game) and was a real live face-to-face game. Most of these players have left Korea since then, one of the problems with running a game for migrant workers expats. Trying to remember who played who from the initiative rosters scrawled in the margins has been fun.

THE SET-UP

We met once a week at a local coffee shop and used Beyond the Wall as our system. It was a city campaign and I riffed heavily on the 1st edition AD&D Lankhmar supplement, the map from the Mongoose supplement, and Trey Causey’s Weird Adventures. One of the regular players ran a cleric (Oscar Gordon) that wanted to be a therapist to monsters, and that provided the tone for the adventures: very episodic, monster-a-week flavored, using small self-contained dungeons. Sunday night, I’d post five potential clients offering Oscar Gordon and his crew various jobs, and they’d decide which one to take. Often a client or two stuck around for a week or two.

It was an open table game and I run hot and cold on that format since an open table isn’t really tenable as a format for a long term campaign. It’s more a stage the campaign goes through as it finds its legs. Ultimately, the game will coalesce around a core of regular players and the openness as a trait will fade away. Also, you’ll have situations where players who have invested time in the game over weeks will resent when one of the non-regular players shows up with a buddy, and the buddy spends the whole game being a pest for their own amusement. In the end we had two or three core players who showed up week-to-week and a roster of maybe five or six other potential players who would stop by if their schedules permitted.

The roster was something like this:

Oscar Gordon (a Devout Acolyte), Boulder (a Templar), Ahtera (The Nobleman’s Wild Daughter), Micah (the Young Woodsman), and Wilson (the Village Hero) were all fairly regular. Nibless, Geth, and Fellborn were all some variety of magic-user run by the same player who had awful luck, and Haragrin and Ekniv were fighter-types and random drop-ins for a session or two who were friends of other players.

As with everything else in life I’d do it differently now, but that said I’d resume this campaign next week if I could.

Anyway, over the next week or so I’ll post write-ups of the adventures we ran. They were a lot of fun.

Adventure the First: Every Haunted House, a Home

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Oscar Gordon, Boulder, Ahtera, and Micah (although he was named something else early on) arrive in the big city and decide to look into reports of a missing noble last seen exploring a haunted house. They spend half the adventure doing a careful room-by-room search of the house, find the noble (dead), and then accidentally activate the haunt when not-Micah tries to rob something. Neat gimmick with this adventure was to have the players explore the whole dungeon, encounter nothing at first, then have the monsters appear once they were deep into it (zombies, skeletons, a living statue, and the ghost of the necromancer who originally owned the place). Everyone survived, and Oscar Gordon used his reward money from the dead noble’s family to buy the house and set up shop as a monster-therapist in the city.

And so it began…