Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Retired / Conspired

It's been some months since I've updated Total Party Kill. My inspiration ran somewhat dry. I needed a kick up the arse.
That kick had been provided by some friends over at The Illuminerdy, who have invited me to come blog with them.
I've accepted, and as a result am kind of retiring this blog.

I hope you'll join me over there.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

So, what does that stat do again / Coming back to World of Darkness

I've been running Night's Black Agents, a Gumshoe game, for nearly a year now, and other Gumshoe games (Fear Itself, TimeWatch, Trail of Cthulhu) for longer. I've become familiar with  the system, how it works and how to make stuff up on the fly. It's now my 'go to' system. 
It used to be World of Darkness, though. I learnt to GM by running Vampire: the Masquerade. The first game I ran to an actual conclusion was a Hunter: the Reckoning/Mage: the Ascension mash up. I loved the games and the Storyteller/telling systems. 
I still have a great fondness for them, and hold them in high regard. 

So I've been thinking about what I would like to run once NBA finishes. I decided that I would like to run Mage: the Awakening. I've always had a soft spot for Mage, and would like to do something with the nWoD game. 

I play almost exclusively over Google+ Hangouts these days, and we use Google spreadsheets as character sheets. This means that there's a one off exercise of transcribing the character sheet to a Google Sheet format. 
I did that this weekend, and realised that WoD games, and Mage: the Awakening in particular, are really complicated. 
Keeping track of three different types of damage - Bashing, Lethal and Aggravated? Awakening also throws in Resistant damage as well, for four(!) types. 
Tracking Willpower, Morality trait (Wisdom in Awakening), Mana, Gnosis, Paradox, spell tolerance and Virtues and Vices is a massive drain on the player and storyteller before you start adding temporary health, speed, initiative and defense bonuses. 

I don't think I can do it anymore. It just seems like so much effort. 
Which is a shame - the settings and a lot of the game conceits are excellent.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

The Walking Dead / Fear Itself - A Gumshoe Hack

You can run a fully functional, highly dramatic game based on AMC's The Walking Dead using the Fear Itself RPG with no system adjustments.
It's true. Look.

The Walking Dead is a dramatic, character driven show that focuses on characterisation and interaction. It also has zombies. This is often a secondary concern, as the real drama comes from the interaction between the characters and the conflict caused by their different motivations, desires and decisions. The characters move from location to location, looking for signs of life, food, shelter, tools, weapons and signs of walker infestation. They often suffer from severe stress, fatigued, emotional trauma and exhaustion, and their mental health ebbs and flows as a result

Fear Itself is a horror game that creates a disparate group and engineers conflicts between them. It allows you to pull together characters from all walks of life, give them lines to ally along or fall out over and then throw into a stressful scenario.

Within Fear Itself a characters mental health is recorded through the Stability ability. As this drains away and falls below 0, characters start to experience stress disorders - phobias, paranoia, irrational behaviour, hallucinations.
Rick Grimes suffers a massive Stability loss after Lori dies, and succumbs to paranoia and hallucinations as the stress of leading the group alone and the guilt of not being able to protect his wife finally overcome him. 
Fear Itself covers this off nicely.

Talking of Stability, Fear Itself allows characters to define a number of Sources of Stability - People, Activities or Innate Traits that give you some comfort and allow you to retain your sanity in trying times. 
Lori and Carl were Rick's Sources of Stability. Darryl and Carol found support in each other, Glynn and Maggie found they could give each other solace in another way.
Darryl also maintains a badass facade to keep himself on an even keel, Carl tries to maintain his independence and Rick became a leader. Shane makes Lori and Carl his Sources of Stability, then when Rick returns and Lori and Carl are denied to him, Shane begins his descent into madness.
Losing one of your Sources of Stability - either through death, being disproved or betrayed - is a crushing experience. 

We can also look at The Governor - He tried to re-establish some Sources of Stability; Lilly and Meghan and becoming leader of a new band of survivors. When this falls apart,when he sees that Meghan is bitten, he takes a massive hit  to his Stability and attacks the prison recklessly and mercilessly. This leads to his death.

We can also look at the character defining moment in Fear Itself - The Worst Thing I have ever Done
Shane regrets leaving Rick behind in the hospital to die. Michonne feels instrumental in the death of her child, partner and friend. Rick looked for every other way out other than killing Shane.

As an example, let's stat up Darryl as a starting character

Darryl Dixon
Concept: Badass biker
Sources of Stability: Carol, Being a Badass, 
Risk Factor: Gung Ho
The Worst Thing I Ever Did: Kill my brother, Merle
Academic Abilities: Natural History 1
Interpersonal Abilities: Bullshit Detector 2, Interrogation 2, Intimidation 2, Reassurance 1, Streetwise 2
General Abilities: Athletics 8, Driving 4, Filch 2, Health 8, Infiltration 4, Mechanics 4, Sense Trouble 6, Preparedness 4, Scuffling 6, Shooting 8, Stability 8
Hit Threshold: 4

By Season 2 Darryl is a General Abilities badass, with extra points in Sense Trouble, Preparedness and Stability (he does suffer a considerable Stability loss during the second season and hallucinates a conversation with Merle). The skills that Darryl Dixon really stockpiles are Shooting and Scuffling, both of which he has in spades by the attack on Woodbury.

Rule Amendments
Simple, really. Walkers are the only supernatural creatures in this setting, and are both common and familiar. 
As such, I would reduce the potential Stability loss of exposure to Walkers by 1 point, and only apply it if the character is taken by surprise or if the Walker is someone that the character was close to whilst alive

Also, you need Walker stats to run a Walking Dead game

Hit Threshold 3
Perception modifier 0
Health 15
Scuffling 6 (Fist -2, Bite -1)

Tireless. Walkers will doggedly pursue prey until they are destroyed. If the prey is no longer visible, a Walker will continue walking in the direction the prey was last spotted in until they find new prey to distract them

Biter Fever. A bite from a Walker means blood poisoning, septic shock and a painful death, unless the bitten limb is amputated within a number of minutes equal to the characters Health rating. If the limb is not removed before this time has elapsed, then the victim is infected and will perish within [12+ Health Rating] hours.

Headshot. Walkers can only be 'killed' by severing their head or destroying their brain. Targeting a head adds +2 to the targets Hit Threshold, whereas aiming for the neck or eye adds +3 to the Hit Threshold.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Hypothetically Speaking / How to kill a man with a time machine

So, you've created a wormhole
Let's say, because we're friends and we're just joking about, that I want to kill a man.
And that I have a time machine.
Now, I'm not going to get into why I want this guy dead, but let's just assume that when he buys it, my name may be mentioned.
I'm also not going to get into how I got a time machine. That's not important. People may be aware that such things exist, though, so I need to cover my tracks. I'm not the only guy with one of these things, you know.
You haven't got one?
They're great. Get one. I know this guy...
I need to kill a guy.
I could just use the time machine to arrange for a water right alibi. It wasn't me, officer, I was shaking the President's hand at that exact moment in front of 300 people, no less.
But that won't work.
Other people have time machines. They can solve murders now just by going back and watching it play out.
I could make it look like an accident. Arrange for some natural disaster to occur, or, better yet, arrange for the guy to be somewhere at the precise moment a natural disaster occurs.
That's pretty good. Could be a bit hard to arrange, though. Not many volcanic eruptions in my town.
So, what if I used the time machine to establish a false identity, amass funds through gambling and investments and hire a hit-man to off the guy?
That's better.
Then, what if I did this multiple times so that I could hire multiple assassins. Then if any time police try to stop the successful assassination, there's instantly a replacement attempt that takes place.
This solution also means that each killer will have a different MO, making each attempt difficult to predict and counter. Plus, they're trained professionals, adept at not getting caught.
So the guy gets shot. Or his car is blown up. Or he's poisoned. Or stabbed in the street. Or has his brake lines cut. Or is smothered in his sleep. Or has a building dropped on him.

The possibilities are endless.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Meet the team / Ready to play Esoterrorists 2nd Ed characters

This post makes three in a row about Gumshoe games, and in rapid succession as well. 

One of my Christmas presents was the new second edition of The Esoterrorists by Robin D. Laws. 
I'd already got the 1st edition (reviewed here), which I got after having a look at Trail of Cthulhu. 
The second edition polishes the rules up a little, now that Gumshoe has been used to power a subsequent seven games (including the forthcoming TimeWatch and Gaean Reach), adds more detail to the Ordo Veritis and Esoterrorist organisations, has an expanded bestiary and includes an alternate setting - Station Duty.
It's still very affordable, and great for quick play at short notice.

Which brings me to the official point of this post - Recently a member of the Pelgrane Press Google+ community put out a call for some ready to play PCs for an Esoterrorists 2e game.
I, not having too much work that I wanted to avoid doing, knocked some up.

If you would like to use them, then they're here:
Esoterrorist 2e Characters

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What have prehistoric butterflies done for us recently, anyway? / TimeWatch

TimeWatch main rules

I've been playing a lot of Gumshoe recently, so much so that I've failed to post anything to this blog of any import. 
One of the Gumshoe games that I have been playing has been TimeWatch, written by Kevin Kulp. 
It's not out yet, I've been taking part in the playtest cycle for the game, running it for my weekly group and laughing my ass off. 

Now it's gone to Kickstarter, and I have broken my KS virginity on this book. I even paid $40 for the privilege. 
I don't regret it. 
I feel more of a man now. Like I can look other men in the eye...

You can go on the Kickstarter page and see why the author and publisher think you should back TimeWatch... In fact, do that. Watch the video and read the updates and consider the cost. 
Now, let's talk about cool shit. 

Ezeru - alt history radioactive mutant cockroaches from a false future
Ezeru - Shapeshifting mutant psychic
radioactive cockroaches from a false future
Cool Shit
I like cool shit. Love it, in fact. And this game has so much cool shit in it that ... um... look, I'm not going to dive deeper into this metaphor. You'll thank me for it. 

Instead I'll put this into context... I, as a teenager and as a 30+ year old 'adult' have spent actual hours discussing the temporal paradox resulting from the Terminator movie. 
How can Skynet possibly think that ganking Sarah Connor is a good idea? If John Connor isn't born, then a there will be no resistance so Skynet won't need to send a Terminator back in time, so John Connor will be born...
Then Terminator 2: Judgement Day introduces the fact that Cyberdyne Systems used tech from the T-800 to create hardware that would later be used to create Skynet, meaning that Skynet propagated itself.

Any game featuring time travel is going to have this problem - players or NPCs change history, a paradox results and people start getting shirty just because they've ceased to exist or are now their own father. 
A TimeWatch agent activates an Autochron
by Andy Mason
There are ways to approach the problem:

  • Ignore it, like Dr Who normally does and like Terminator did
  • Have history slowly assert its new form by deleting people like Marty McFly in Back to the Future
  • Have people go a bit mad as their memories change, like Bruce Willis in 12 Monkeys
  • Go completely the other way and revel in the possible chaos like in the Futurama episode Roswell That Ends Well - become your own grandfather, blow shit up and screw with people
TimeWatch wants you to screw with time - either to fix it or to make it better. It wants you to alter events that you have just seen happen, to appear next to yourself in a fight and help defeat the foe, to save a colleague from death by flying in the opposite direction of the Earth's rotation at  the speed of light, to murder Hitler or convince him to breed hamsters instead of go into politics.

To do this it gives you three pertinent stats:

  • Chronal Stability - How real and stable you are. If this dips below zero you start remembering alternative histories or fading into nothing
  • Reality Anchor - The ability to focus yourself and others on 'reality' and restore lost Chronal Stability
  • Paradox Prevention - A technical skill that allows you to mitigate paradox through cunning and knowledge. 

A TimeWatch team - a gunslinger, a neanderthal, a Mongol princess,
a psychic Sophosaur and a 22nd Century space pilot
The game takes the stance that due to an infinite number of branching timelines, alternative realities, parallel dimensions and sentient beings with time travel capability screwing with stuff, anything can and has happened. 
Therefore you can play just about anything, and the rules support them. 

My players chose:

  • A Wild West Gunslinger
  • A sentient cyborg T-Rex (Prof. Doctor Thaddeus Rex M.D.)
  • A Viking
  • DB Cooper, posing as a legit TW agent
  • An evolved, sentient mathematical algorithm housed in an artificial robot body
  • A 1930's wise guy 
I've run four sessions with these characters, with the fifth due on Monday, and they've all been hilarious, tense, challenging and creative. 
In the first session, in prohibition era Chicago, one of the players opted to use time travel to move all other cars out of a street two minutes before they arrived 'in game time' to ensure that they got the best parking spot outside of a speakeasy. Later on in that session another player teleported to five minutes ago and just outside the back entrance to the speak easy so that he could catch the bad guy by surprise as she made good on her getaway sticks.
As soon as you introduce time travel into a game you force everyone participating to think in an additional dimension, and that makes for some weird and unusual fun. 

What would be the repercussions of going back and stopping the villain from killing that small child just now? Maybe they were 'supposed' to die...
Maybe there's a whole moral quandary to work through before you kill an infant Hitler.

Maybe you should fund the book and find out. 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Night's Black Agents / Tap That

I continue to enjoy Double Tap, the Night's Black Agents expansion from +Pelgrane Press Ltd

By 'enjoy' I mean 'be continually inspired and engaged by'
It is one hell of a book.

The first half (90 pages) is player facing, and expands on the wide range on cool things that players can do, use or blow up.
The book would be worth the cover price alone for this section.

The second half (30 pages) is director facing, and offers a range of pre-made people, places and perils (OK, monsters) as well as story ideas and tips.
I would probably have paid money just to get 30 pages of quality this high.

If you play Night's Black Agents, I urge you to get this book. There is not a wasted word or filler paragraph in its 120 page count.

Excellent work +Kenneth Hite, +Will Hindmarch, +Kevin Kulp, +Christian Lindke, +Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, +John Adamus, James Palmer, Will Plant and Rob Wieland.
Please keep producing work of this calibre and then take my money.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Mage Noire

Let's skip the brain trust explanation and get right into it.
You used to be normal. Now you're not.
You used to have a normal life. Now it's anything but.
One day you had this dream, an I right, about signing your name somewhere and all of a sudden your brain is tied to this other place where the scales are tipped in favour of mad crap and if you pull on the strings, you can make crazy stuff happen as well.
And then sometimes you pull hard and the string breaks and you fall on your ass. Or something falls on you. That smarts, yeah.
Maybe you joined one of them nutty secret societies with handshakes that fry your brain or stop your heart dead, or maybe you didn't. Your business anyhow.
Where we are now is that we could both kill each other with a word, and none of these chumps would even know it. Hell, everyone of these guys could be a corpse already, and the world just ain't cottoned on yet. You coulda done it. You probably didn't. Maybe I did.
But here you are. In my place. And I know who you are.
Your move, kid.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Allow your darlings to be murdered / Knowing when to let an NPC go

There's a decision that shapes a GM, one that separates the men from the boys, the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad.
You've put in time and effort creating a Non-Player Character for your game. You've not just statted them, you've woven them into the very fabric of your game world. They have a name, a back story, concerns, interests, a personality, goals, hopes and fears.
This is a recurring antagonist. A nemesis. Someone who your players love to lock horns with, who they curse in the day and ally with in darkest need.
Then the players just kill them. Usually in a summary fashion that in no way hints to the greatness of this character.

What do you do? Let the character die? Move on? Start again?
Or snatch them from the jaws of death, resurrect them off screen or retcon their survival?

This is the test.

I recently had to make this decision, twice, in my weekly Night's Black Agents game.

I created the first actual vampire the players were to meet, who was supposed to thrash them within an inch of their lives before dying himself or fleeing or driving them off.
They pretty much cut his head off in the first round of combat with him, dropping him instantly.
OK. That's fine. He has healing powers and is supposed to be hard to kill and fucking scary. Fair enough. Let them have their victory.
Their surveillance cameras picked him up walking around and killing Mafia henchmen with his bare hands some ten, fifteen minutes later. That put the wind up them.

The next time they meet him, some four sessions later, they were sufficiently wary of his recuperative abilities to nuke the site from orbit. They wheeled a bomb disposal robot, packed to the rafters with C4, into the building he was in and remotely detonated it.

I spent the next week agonising over what to do.
He was a vampire with supernatural speed, reflexes, resilience and healing. Of anyone could have survived, it would be him.
But that would be a spit in the face to the players. They'd put everything they had into making sure that they killed this guy dead. It would be unsatisfying to deprive them off that kill.
But what about the narrative function that the NPC was supposed to serve? And what about all the effort I put into building him?

Let me tell you a story.
Back in the late 90s I played in a Vampire: the Dark Ages game. I was playing a 7th Gen Brujah based on the Crusader Tancred de Hautville, who was a lot of a bastard. One of the other players was a 7th Gen Tremere who specialised in the Thaumaturgical Path of Fear. This becomes important shortly.
For some reason we were fighting a horde of flesh eating zombies in a tunnel network beneath London. It turned out that the source of all of these
Undead was a Celestial Chorus mage (don't ask me why, I still don't know to this day). He told us to stop killing the zombies, or he'd have to stop us.
So we attacked.
Our tried and tested tactic was for the Tremere to use the Path of Fear, which reduced the targets dice pools by a sizable amount, often preventing them from acting, and then the rest of us would beat the shit out of them.
So, the Tremere used Path of Fear and rolled well, reducing the Mage's dice pool by 9 dice. This pretty much guaranteed his death. The rest of us surged forward.
At this point the Storyteller starts panicking and tells us that the Mage is teleporting out of the tunnels.
Well, this is patently impossible, not unless the Mage has an Arête score of 10 (Arête is the measure of a Mage's magical might. A score of 3 let's you throw fireballs. A score of 10 literally makes you an actual God), which is highly improbable.
But the Storyteller informs us that, yes, the Mage is a God and can create a fully functioning universe in 6 days or less.
He rolls his one dice, gets a success and has the Mage escape.
Fucking atrocious! 

To this day I find this deeply unsatisfying. I'm getting that empty, gnawing, hollow feeling in my stomach just thinking about it.
If only I could roll back time and punch the storyteller in the gut and shout "how d'ya like them apples?!"

Back to Night's Black Agents...
Should the vampire escape?
They found his severed arm in the rubble of the building, and the rest of him stuck in a collapsed bolt hole in the cellar.
Their play paid off. They get the rewards. My NPC gets to be interrogated, and if they're sloppy he may escape (sans arm). He'll probably die. That's fine.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Horror tropes / Cabin in the Woods and Fear Itself

Once again I'm late to the party - I watched Cabin in the Woods for the first time last night.

The thing that makes it an enjoyable film, in my opinion, is the clear love of standard horror movie tropes throughout. My wife and I were both delighted by the gas station in the beginning and it's treasure trove of creepy genre signposts: fish hooks, bear traps, animal skins, pickled creatures, hunting goods etc. I wondered aloud if they'd modeled the cabin on the one from Evil Dead. The scene where the victims choose the transgression for which they'll be punished is wonderful, as is Fran Krantz' line "I'm drawing a line in the sand, no one is reading any fucking Latin!"

The part that tied the film up to Fear Itself, for me, is the statement of specific roles within the genre:
The Whore / slut
The Scholar / egghead
The Warrior / jock
The Fool / burnout
The Virgin / good girl

Fear Itself uses these stereotypes to define character roles within the game with much the same effect as in Cabin...

The overall plot of Cabin is a nice fit with the classic Fear Itself Ocean Game setting: a mysterious and incredibly powerful consciousness horrifically manipulates reality around unsuspecting stereotypes for their own amusement and benefit / a mysterious and technologically advanced organisation manipulates unsuspecting teens into falling into stereotypical roles and controls the environment around them for their own amusement and benefit.

You could run a straight Cabin in the Woods game using Fear Itself with zero effort or adaptation, and you could overlay the Mystery Men and their Ocean Game onto Cabin with only a few tweaks.