Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bright Flash: A Tales from the Loop Mystery

In honor of the Stranger Things Season 2 trailer dropping, let's revisit Tales from the Loop. When I ran three sessions of TftL at Origins I used my own scenario, primarily to avoid spoiling the core book adventures. I had player ask about if I had a write-up of that story, so I've put one together. My set-up’s sketchy, it has a strongly defined inciting incident and then notes on where it could go. I hope others might want to borrow from it or use it whole cloth. It’s open ended and intended for a single session.

1. Present the basic concept and go over the time period & Kids age. Stress they’ll be friends and have a shared clubhouse. They’ll need to that have in mind during character creation. They need to figure out why they’re friends with one another.

2. Quickly walk through the seven points of the premise. (I have a sheet of these taken from the book and I speed through that). Establish a few ideas here: weird tech’s around; the kids can be endangered, but not killed, and adults aren’t going to be much help.

3. Put the playbooks out, name them all, and let the players pick. You can see my slightly revised playbooks here as well as other help materials. I changed some of the names, questions, and NPC details but only slightly. Important: Everything in this outline assumes you’re working from those.

4. After they pick archetypes and while they start making choices, explain the basic die pool system—stressing they just need a single success. Explain the rules and the skills. Pay special attention to defining the tech skills since they can confuse. Also explain Leadership, since it operates oddly and is important.

5. Have players work up to establishing player to player relationships. Stop and have them briefly introduce themselves. Then have each one in turn go through all their questions: PCs and NPCs. Write those down and especially note which NPCs they pick for relationships. You’re going to use that. Since it is a one-shot, have them only pick one NPC. Do more if it is going to be a campaign starter.

6. Ask leading questions, get them to detail their lives, figure out the clubhouse. Pay special attention to whoever picks the Troublemaker. They’re the character most likely to push buttons, get into it with adults, and move the plot. They’re often the one who least fits with the others. Keep an eye on that. Finally make sure they pick their favorite song—it’s a great detail.

Ideally this should take about an hour. Be involved and keep asking questions to make sure they’re plugged in.

Here’s where it gets interesting for the GM. Look at the NPCs they picked. Pay attention to the Janitor, any Scientist, the Singer, and/or the Punk Kid. We’re can tie them into the plot. If no one’s picked any of those, you’ll have to do some on-the-fly substitutions.

Begin the actual play with a home scene from everyone. Have them set the stage. Getting up and going to school’s a good way to frame this if you don’t want it too open. It’s important to give this time to breathe.

Next, we hard frame the group with statement and a question:
“You’re all out together alone in a park, after dark. Why?”

Work their answer into the starting incident. Answers I’ve seen: following up on a report of something strange, shooting off fireworks, meteor shower.

In the distance the Kids see unusual lights, flashing in a strange pattern. When they investigate, they’ll discover a device with lights all around the outside. I usually describe it as a tripod with a box atop it, but that’s up to you. Here are the important details:
  • It looks cobbled together. Some has built this out of scavenged parts.
  • There’s a company symbol on one of the parts that they don’t recognize immediately (unless they ask for a specific check). I used a Z with a lightning bolt through it, but you can change that up.
  • The object has been dragged here and set up. It is portable, but with effort.

If they investigate around, they will spot a PUNK in the shadows also observing the device. It’s unclear if he carried it here or like them came to check this out. If a character explicitly goes engage them, they should get some detail about the punk: general appearance, markings on a jacket, etc. They can use that to follow up later. The Punk will try to not be seen.

The players should get some moments to say what they’re doing, looking at, checking out. Give them space for a couple of rolls. If they go after the PUNK, start that but interrupt it with what happens next. All the PCs should be within reasonable range of one another.
There’s a blinding flash from the device.

The PCs wake up lying on the ground. Have the physically strongest or furthest away kid awaken first. The device is gone. Play up the details: backs wet from lying on the ground for quite some time, stiffness, cold. Let them get their bearings, but eventually someone should realize they’ve been out for hours. It is nearly dawn.

Dealing with having stayed out all night should be their primary concern, but we’ve got some other details to establish: most importantly that they’re now all invisible and silent.

You’ve got a couple of tricks to establish this: if they check the nearby road for tracks or evidence, then they will see a car coming. It should nearly hit them, not slowing down. This is a good opportunity for a check to jump out of the way, with them marking a condition from their stress if they fail. Alternately, a deer or other animal emerges from the forest as if the Kids aren’t there. Their voices can’t be heard, but they can make noise through objects—so stomping around will startle the animal. Another option is to have a Parks officer show up to check the area; that allows them to interact with someone.

This invisibility has limits—they’ll likely move to check these. They can see and hear each one other, but can’t be seen or heard by anyone else who hasn’t be hit by the device. They can physically affect objects—so they can lift things, write in steam, etc. Picked up objects remain visible. If they eat something, it’s hangs in the air for a moment and then vanishes. They cannot see themselves in mirrors or reflective surfaces.

Most importantly, and what they don’t know yet, is that this invisibility turns off at daybreak (and turns back on at dusk). Why? Weird Science!

The group may investigate the area before moving on. The device was dragged away to a nearby road while they were knocked out—someone clearly put into the back of a truck. If they ask to make checks, they can find a distinctive feature (find bits of broken plastic from a taillight knocked out during loading; unique double-back wheels, etc). It can be a good linking clue to find the PERPETRATOR later, but isn’t vital so don’t worry if they skip this. 

If they check where the PUNK was, they can see from the outlines in the grass that he too got knocked out. They can trace his path back to moped tracks by the road. If you want a linking clue to him, have them find a Dead Kennedys patch from his jean jacket. That’s important if they didn’t get a good look at him.

Right now their panic should be about getting home. Remind them: today is a School Day. Play these scenes out and put pressure on. Hold off on the reveal that they will turn visible at dawn. Switching towards the end of the home scenes helps change the dynamic and tempo. These bits are a great opportunity to see the characters’ family life and potentially their Problem.

Here’s where the story opens up in several directions. At this point that you need to make a choice as a GM: Who did this? You can choose earlier, especially if you want to connect that to on-site evidence. But generally you can select now based on which NPCs they mentioned in character creation, time remaining in the session, and direction the players seem like they’re heading.

Right now the players have the following details to chew on: The nature of their condition (i.e. who might have researched it), the design of the device itself, the label on the device, and some detail about the PUNK. They may also have PERPETRATOR vehicle links. The company marker on the device should lead to a small local lab that burned down a few months ago. If the kids check that out, it can be a linking clue to the PERPETRATOR. They had some connection to the lab, were spotted scavenging in the ruins of it, or bought the equipment from an estate sale or at the junk yard.

This rest of the story is freeform, but will likely start with the school day and/or a meeting at the clubhouse. The Kids should be tired—if you want, make them mark a condition. This can push them to their anchor and/or get someone to user Leadership.

We have a few possible combinations of PERPETRATORs and PUNKs. Ideally these should tie into the NPCs chosen during character creation:

SCHOOL JANITOR JEFFREY: You have a couple of modes for him. He could be a crazy garage-based weekend scientist and this was an accidental test. In this case, he doesn’t realize anyone got affected when he picked up his equipment. He’s still working special goggles to see the invisible (which they could find later) or doesn’t realize what the device does. If the Kids confront at school, he won’t know sitch with the Kids and will lie badly.

If someone has the missing librarian MARY as an NPC, you can connect that. In this case, Jeffrey accidentally turned her invisible and has been working on a solution. But doesn’t want to get in trouble. He may be holding her somewhere (the final conflict site). A good linking place for Jeffrey is his garage lab at his weird house. He’s not there, but that could lead to where he’s testing.

Alternately if you want to go high weird, then Jeffrey is using the device to reveal alien intruders. The Kids will find weird science conspiracy material at his location. This gives an interesting hook-- you can have the Kids spot strange figures and eventually the aliens themselves. Unaffected humans can’t see them, but the kids can. If someone’s chosen her, this can connect to the npc LEANNE’s story about aliens at the cooling towers.

In any case, the kids either need to get zapped by the machine to reverse the process or need to make a modified version of the machine to fix things. If Jeffrey’s hostile to this, they may have to work around him. Either way the problem lies in getting stuff. If they don’t have a strong tech character, then lean in the direction of just getting ahold of the device.

How does the PUNK fit into this version? The Punk has been following the Janitor. He thought he could lift keys to the school or that janitor was up to something. The Punk’s a good wild card. He could try to interrupt or steal the device later. Alternately, if a day or two passes, the kids might hear about a series of weird robberies as the PUNK takes advantage of his condition.

The punk could be PETER from the NPC list or someone entirely new. Maybe they’re part of LISA’s Wildlife Club. In any case, he can be used as a spoiler or a linking element,

FORMER SINGER MIKEY HAYES: You can sub him in easily for the Janitor role, especially if a Kid thinks he’s weird. It works less we if he’s a friend. You can combine him with the Janitor if both relationships are on the table. They could be rivals or partners. The kids can check out the Lake House to find a lab or weird conspiracy stuff (as per the Janitor).

THE SCIENTIST: We have two of scientists mentioned in the NPC lists DIANE PETERSEN (fired from the Loop and/or someone’s aunt) or OLIVIA MARTINEZ (asked to do experiments on the sports team). They can be connected to the burned out lab mentioned above (linking clue from the marking on the device). You can play this a few ways:
  • She’s an amoral researcher who wants to discover a way to move across dimensions. She doesn’t care how they test this. You can add the threat that the kids need to get this reversed before they “fade away.”
  • She’s seeking revenge on the Loop or another lab which fired them. In this case she’re building a larger version of the device to affect the entire town.
  • Aliens. She’s fighting against them (makes the scientist sympathetic), trying to capture them (makes the aliens sympathetic), or their in league with them (no one’s sympathetic).

In any case, this can lead to her house, former lab maters, etc. That should in turn lead to the new, secret lab the Scientist’s at. If the scientist is misunderstood, the kids might arrive and interrupt an alien kidnapping or assault. If the scientist’s a villain, then she might have someone kidnapped (Mary, if she’s been mentioned). The scientist’s lab offers a great opportunity to introduce a robot. She’s using it as a worker, a defense system, or a portable version of the device. This gives tech-based characters a chance to mess and/or re-program something cool.

How does the PUNK fit into this version? The PUNK has been working for the Scientist. They’ve been bragging about that work. But they’ve also gotten suspicious and followed the Scientist when they set up the device that affected the kids. In this version, they didn’t know what she was doing.

Alternately, the Punk’s more involved. In this case, the Scientist has already used the device on the Punk. He’s been committing a series of invisible night-time robberies to secure parts for her. In this case, newspaper reports and research will reveal a linking clue: items stolen correspond to things they saw on the makeshift device.

That’s the basics of the scenario. It has a likely pattern: character creation—daily life--- inciting incident—panic—daily life—investigation—linked investigation—confrontation—daily life epilogue. It doesn’t exactly follow the pattern presented in the Tales from the Loop book. Instead I’ve gone with a structure I’m more comfortable with. The end scene should present itself naturally, with a mix of action, tech, and other skills to deal with the problem at hand. Ideally the kids get the process reversed and reveal any villain to the authorities.

This is sketchy, so if you have questions, send those on. 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Age of Ravens: A What the What? Overview

If you’ve come here from the ENnies voting page, you may think “what’s the deal with this graphically lame blog?” Rich Rogers put together a smart Episode Zero for his +1 Forward podcast (also nominated and awesome). So this is my “Episode Zero,” providing organized lists for the blog. With a few exceptions, I’ve focused on content from 2016 & 2017. I’ve shown admirable restraint and kept my lists to 12 items or less…

This is Age of Ravens’ ninth year. I started this one-person show January ‘09; I’m just shy of 1200 posts today. I cringe at some of my early, bloviating pieces. There’s good stuff there, but I want to mercilessly slash & burn it. The first couple hundred posts need a good edit and sharper focus. I’m much happier with the last several years: histories, hacks, at-table resources, talking about games from actual play, general overviews of whole systems.

I (usually) post twice a week and cover games from trad (Mutants & Masterminds) to trad-indie (Mutant: Year Zero) to story game (The Veil) to OSR (Silent Legions). I’m part of The Gauntlet Podcast. Right now I’m on the round-up episodes and do a monthly interview show. I’m also part of the irregularly scheduled Play on Target podcast. As part of the The Gauntlet Hangouts, I run two online sessions per week. Each Thursday I run oddball two-shots (REH Conan, Godbound, Coriolis, etc). On Sundays I run four-part mini-campaigns (Mutant: Year Zero, Changeling the Lost, World Wide Wrestling, etc.). That gives me a lot to talk about. You can also find actual play videos for many of these sessions on my YouTube channel.

If you have questions or feedback, please leave a comment or send me a private message. I hope you’ll consider voting for me in this year’s ENnies.

For the last several years, I’ve examined the publication timelines of role-playing games in different genres. I started with Horror games, and right now I’m in the middle of both my Cyberpunk and Universal rpg lists. I have a Patreon to support that work.

Sometimes you want to get into a big game, but don’t know where to start. I’ve put together guides to help new players—going over the basics and the major supplements available.

My collection of things you could use for your campaign. Some fit very specific situations (supernatural business offices), while others have more general utility (names).

I rarely do in-depth reviews, but I have put together play impressions for many games. I run at least three new-to-me rpgs a month. That’s broadened my horizons and I’ve discovered several new favs.

These posts come from longer campaigns. They’re a mix of game frames, overviews, and post-mortems. It includes an original AD&D module from 1985 (spoiler: a not very good one…).

This includes my general thoughts about gaming, crazy new rpg projects I’ve tooled around with, and ideas I’ve never gotten off the ground.

Thanks for reading through. I hope you’ve found something interesting, useful, and/or entertaining. If you’ve dug this, consider voting for me in this year’s ENnies (voting ends July 21st).

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Breaking Vegas: Godbound, OSR & Scion

I’ve always dug Scion’s premise—modern day children of gods fighting corruption and monsters. It has signature magic items, fate-binding, and cool powers that ramp that up. But I’ve never been happy with Scion as a system. I ran an extended campaign of it, but the “battle wheel,” dice pool fatigue, and tracking so many abilities & rules wore me down. I had fun, but felt like the system and I fought one another.

Later I tried a Fate adaption (pre-Fate Core). I borrowed from Strange Fate to manage scaling. It wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t that great. I went too literal with my conversion. I included everything rather than stepping back to think about changing the mechanics to make them smoother. If I re-wrote that hack I’d do it differently, armed with new game tech like DFAE’s mantles.

All of that was in my head as I played Godbound, a high-level OSR game from Kevin Crawford. In it, youre fantasy character empowered by the divine bleed off from gods destroyed when humanity stormed heaven. Your world may vary. The bottom line is you roll a fairly standard OSR character and then pick from awesome and devastating powers (Alacrity, Night, Sword, etc). The rules scale your abilities—you do damage not in HP but Hit Dice. To represent your lethality, you get a free strike each round (called the Fray die) against lesser or equal level foes. Squads of minions will fall before you.

Godbound has an interesting sales pitch. You can go get it now, free and pretty complete. That version’s artless and lacks some of the advanced options from the full version, but it’s robust and playable. Seriously—if you’re at all intrigued by the concept or mechanics, you should go and pick it up. I ordered the full hardcover after one play—I dug it that much. The actual physical product’s gorgeous: great art, solid page design, and a ton of resources.

I’ve looked at several Kevin Crawford rpgs and dug all of them so. Each of the core books (Stars Without Number, Other Dust, etc) contains OSR-inspired rules, setting/campaign material, and some of the best random game generators. I talked about this in my earlier Silent Legions review. These books are amazing toolboxes. I especially love some Star Without Number supplements (like the alien ruins and espionage campaign ones). Other Dust has dynamite tools for any post-apocalyptic campaign. Godbound includes awesome tables for creating different kinds of fantasy courts, ruins, challenges, and foes. Great stuff.

In short a game worth picking up. There’s so much here. When I went to reskin Godbound to Scion, I ended up seriously cutting. Or maybe I should say I left things out—like the great Influence system. Since I knew I’d only be running two sessions I tried to keep things light.

You can see the Actual Play of these sessions here (Session One, Session Two)

I figured I could run Godbound as Scion with few rules changes, just trimming. I’d stick with basic systems and mechanics. Doing pre-gens would make the task easier. Secondary mechanics, like Dominion, Influence, and Worship, I’d leave out. To keep things grounded, I decided that while the characters would be second level (giving them a few more resources), I would limit their divine gifts. Usually at Level 2, PCs would have eight points to buy gifts. I gave them five. I thought that would help them absorb what they had. If I went back, I might even cut it down to 4 points.

Additionally to keep things simple, I gave each character just two unique Purviews (Words in GB). In Godbound you begin with three distinct areas. In Scion you can have a bunch, depending on your divine parent. Those gifts can be stat foci (divine its, manipulation, strength) or purviews (animal, fertility, prophecy). There’s also sorcery. Godbound has a parallel system for, but I left that out since it added complexity.

I knew I had four players and I wanted to give a broad range of pre-gens. I decided on eight, which is probably too many. I opted to give each pre-gen a choice of three divine parents, so the players could select a pantheon or concept they dug. That meant going through the list of all the gods from Scion to find overlaps. I also wanted to represent each pantheon a couple of times. All that took a spreadsheet to work out. It ate up a lot of time and was probably a dumb spend. I ended up with the following options; the first four are the ones the players picked for their characters. 

  • Artemis (Greek, Goddess of the Moon and the Hunt)
  • Dian Cecht (Celtic, God of Healing)
  • Hachiman (Japanese, Lord of war, fishing nets, and fertile fields)

  • Alacrity Base
  • Health Base
  • Faster Than Thought (Alacrity, Smite, Instant)
  • All Directions as One (Alacrity, Constant)
  • Merciful Gaze (Health, Action)
  • Vital Furnace (Health, On Turn)

  • Tezcatlipoca (Aztec, God of Fate)
  • Izanami (Japanese, The first woman and Queen of the Underworld)
  • Hades (Greek, God of death and Lord of the Underworld)

  • Night Base
  • The Darkling Stairs (Night, Constant)
  • A Familiar Face (Deception, Action)
  • Impenetrable Deceit (Deception, Action)
  • Knives of Night (Night, On Turn)

  • Ares (Greek, God of War)
  • Sun Wukong (Chinese, The Monkey King)
  • Tyr (Norse, God of Victory)

  • Endurance Base
  • Might Base
  • Defy the Iron (Endurance, Instant)
  • Amaranth Vitality (Endurance, Constant)
  • Fists of Black Iron (Might, Constant)
  • Loosening God's Teeth (Might, Action)

  • Shennong (Chinese, Second Sovereign)
  • Loki (Norse, Trickster God)
  • Shiva (Hindu, The Destroyer)

  • Fire Base
  • Luck Base
  • Consuming Gaze (Fire, Action)
  • Nimbus of Flame (Fire, On Turn)
  • Salting Away the Luck (Luck, Instant)
  • Spun Fortune (Luck, Instant)
  • Unmarred Beneficence (Luck, Constant).

  • Guan Yu (Chinese, Current Jade Emperor)
  • Isis (Egypt, Goddess of Magic)
  • Parvati (Hindu,The Incarnation of Shakti or feminine energy).

  • Command Base
  • Sword Base
  • Contempt of Distance (Sword, Constant)
  • Know the Inner Truth (Command, On Turn)
  • Shattering Hand (Sword, On Turn)
  • A Thousand Loyal Troops (Command, Action)

  • Izanami (Japanese,The First Woman and Queen of the Underworld)
  • Osiris (Egypt, Lord of the Underworld)
  • Baron Samedi (Voudon, God of Death)

  • Death Base
  • Earthwalker (Earth, On Turn)
  • Mantle of Quietus (Death, Instant)
  • Obduracy of Stone (Earth, Constant)
  • Rebellion of the Soil (Earth, Action)
  • Scythe Hand (Death, On Turn)

  • Frigg (Norse, Queen of the Gods)
  • Quetzalcotl (Aztec, God of Beauty and Art)
  • Susano-O (Japanese, Lord of Storms and Sea)

  • Sky Base
  • Disclose the Flaw (Knowledge, Instant)
  • Sapphire Wings (Sky, On Turn)
  • Stormsword (Sky, On Turn)
  • The Best Course (Knowledge, Action)

  • Apollo (Greek, God of the Sun and Art)
  • Atum-Re (Egyptian, God of the Sun)
  • Baldur (Norse, God of Light, Beauty, Love and Happiness)

  • Sun Base
  • Body of Burning Light (Sun, On Turn)
  • Follow the Threads (Passion, Action)
  • Snuff the Heart's Candle (Passion, Action)
  • Sunstrike (Sun, Smite, Action)

In Scion, each pantheon has a unique purview representing its approach or special purpose. That meant that the choice of parent could affect a character’s gifts. They’re important flavor so I adapted them. Four of these purviews have gifts that are new to or modified from Godbound:
  • Arete (Greek): Commit Effort for Scene. You gain an “Escalation Die” for yourself. Each round after this you gain a cumulative +1 to your attack rolls (up to a +6). This goes away at the end of the conflict.
  • Itztli (Aztec): Once per day you may roll 1d12 damage on yourself to immediately regain Effort committed for the scene or day.
  • Cheval (Voudon): Commit Effort. You can communicate from afar with any person whose location you know to within a mile. You can borrow their senses if they permit it. Persons who have spent at least a week in your presence or have been Fate-Bound can be reached wherever they are.
  • Tsukumo-Gami (Japanese): Commit Effort for Scene. You can communicate with an inanimate object, seeing and perceiving everything it has witnessed at a certain time of your choice. The spirits of these objects do not think as humans, but they can perfectly relay all the sounds and sights that took place in their presence. You must specify a particular time to focus on, however.

For the others, I simply used existing Godbound gifts. For Enech (Celtic) I used Deceiver’s Unblinking Eye from the Deception word. For Taiyi (Chinese) I used A Second Spring from Fertility. Heku (Egyptian) I used Heart of the Lion from Passion. For Samsara (Hindu) I used Nine Lives from Luck. Finally, for Jotunblut (Norse) I used Link of Unity from Beast.

ORIGINAL FLAVOR: My experience with Godbound isn’t just these two sessions. I played in two online games and I’m running it f2f for our Sunday night group. We’d just wrapped a year+ Middle Earth game with our Action Cards homebrew. It’s a striking shift to move from that limited scale to epic actions. And I haven’t yet introduced the concept of Dominion and Influence, ways in which the PCs can spend to change the world. They’ve hit level three so I’ll introduce that next time.

OVERSIGHT: In those sessions, I spotted a couple places where players get lost. First—Effort. That’s the energy the Godbound use to fuel their gifts. It takes a bit to understand that unless a gift says to commit energy for a certain period (a scene, a day), you regain that Effort after using it. It’s a limit on how many things you can have going rather than a mana system. Second, most Godbound Words have a default benefit which players can miss. Third, players sometimes disbelieve what the powers can do. They’re deliberately powerful, but they’re also a sledgehammer when sometimes you need a scalpel. Show them the awesome.

BRING THE BOOM: On the flip side—as a GM you may be shocked at how potent the Godbound powers are. Remember that just gives you license to throw more awesome shit at them. The book has some conversion guidelines for existing monsters and foes. I’ve dug out all my ld Monster Manuals and bestiaries to look at what I can unleash.

IT'S A MIRACLE: Make sure to spell out the mechanics for Miracles, improvised divine powers. They open up choices and push players to commit effort for the day. I like those kinds of resource-drain options. It’s easy to overlook these mechanics in the book.

HOLY SHEET: For the Scion game, ran online with Roll20 and Hangouts. I’m still having audio/video issues with Roll20, despite being a fully paid high level subscriber. I have to use alternate tools for that. There’s a Godbound character sheet—however be warned that it calculates and rolls some things incorrectly. You’ll want to check that if you opt to use it.

NEW GOD CITY: I ran the game in Las Vegas. The core Scion: Hero book has an adventure set there, but I’ve always ignored it. I have a gimmick that the gods can’t go to Vegas because of all the chaos of fate and chance there. They have to send in Scions and other supernatural agents to do their work. It means that Vegas has been a gathering ground for all kinds of forces trying to evade divine attention. I really love that backdrop for this. I might not dig Vegas in person, but it’s probably my favorite modern campaign city. Other folks loooove New Orleans, I dig Vegas.

SUCCESS? Does Godbound work for Scion? Yes and no. It did a good job in the constrained version I put forward. But I did trimmed and refocused. Doing a full scale conversion would be a ton of work. I’m not sure how you’d handle some of the most cool elements (merits and fatebinding for example). Scion itself has a weird power creep. You’re potent, but still kind of low-powered in the Hero range. Godbound bundles together abilities that individually would be equivalent of Scion’s gifts and knacks. But there’s a jump in power and complexity when you move to Scion’s Demi-God and God level. I think that’s probably closer to Godbound.

OR NOT? But Hero’s what I’m most interested in. Empowered characters, armed with strange powers, but still vulnerable and connected to the mortal world. Get too powerful and those things start to matter less. So the Godbound reskin I did wouldn’t—in the long run—create the campaign I want to run. It might work for people wanting a more potent campaign. I had a great time with the sessions, but the power scale wasn’t too high.

MORE STUFF: That being said, my reskin is a rough, quick patch job. Kevin Crawford’s provided an insane amount of additional material at the back of the Godbound book covering different campaigns: mortals, martial arts, Exalted-style themed PCs, fantastic war machines, cybernetics. But I haven’t really sat down to explore those since I’ve been more worried about getting the base game under my belt. I suspect if I go through there I’ll find ways to rescale Godbound to the level I’m looking for.

MORE ROOM: One thing I do want to mention about the online sessions if you watch them. At the end of session two we do a short assessment of the game. Jump there if you want to know the players’ reactions. In looking back, I realize I made a big mistake with the final fight. In it, the group assists a member caught by a bunch of Titan-empowered baddies. This takes place in the basement of an abandoned medical clinic. I absolutely should have blown that fight open and widened the terrain. As it is they fought in a large room and at the top of a staircase. An epic fight like this needs space and elaborate sets. I could have had the floor collapse into an underground cavern. More smartly, the powers being throw around should have destroyed the ceiling. Then they could have fought inside the whole of the abandoned clinic—with walls being smashed, movement, verticality, improvised weapons, and so on. Missed opportunity. I thought too small screen.

Godbound’s fantastic fun. It’s more than a little niche—you have to want to explore potent characters and high level play. For that it does a great job. It’s well-written, has great artwork, and delivers great campaign tools. Even if you’re not usually a trad or OSR player, it’s worth checking out if that concept grabs you. If you want to hack something like Exalted, Scion, or even Rifts, you’ll find ideas you can use. I backed the Scion Kickstarter, so I’m curious about what that brings to the table and if it’s more or less adaptable.

I should  mention the Godbound core book contains a fully-realized fantasy setting. While you can use the rules for generic fantasy (as we’re doing f2f), there’s a whole world presented. Crawford provides strong sketches and ideas rather than over-elaborating the material. He’s released a region sourcebook for that, Ancalia, about a country overrun by undead. More interesting to me, he’s released two “modules”: Ten Buried Blades & The Storms of Yizhao. These offer great sandbox plots, but more importantly they’re some of the best Wuxia adventures I’ve ever read. Their backdrop’s a riff on Imperial China and they feel like ‘80s-‘90s high fantasy martial arts films (Storm Riders, The Bride with White Hair, The Duel). It makes me want to run that kind of campaign again. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

The Fall of Summer: 36 Freehold Threats for Changeling the Lost

The “Threat Generator” from Mutant: Year Zero is one of my recent fav pieces of game tech. It’s an old technique, but they nicely repackage it. It doesn’t hurt that MYZ has a cool card deck version. I dig pulling a threat just before a session and quickly brainstorming ideas. It’s a good way to keep myself from over-prepping or throwing too many incidents at the players.

So I’m creating these for other games. I’m in the middle of running my Changeling the Lost PbtA hack, so I started with that. Below I offer 36 short threats facing the Freehold. Though I don’t say it, these should connect to the PCs, putting them in harm’s way, endangering something they love, or giving them a chance to solve the problem. They contain a few questions, but not much detail. Some are obvious, but I think I have a few novel ones. If you want to check out videos from my current CtL game, check here (Session 1, Session 2).

1. Sabotage
Someone or something ruins the resources of the Freehold. Vindictive Hobs? A traitor within? The Gentry? Things disrupted or stolen could be things, places, or people. Can the motley protect their own resources—allies, tokens, hedge-fruits?

2. Hobs on the Warpath
The Hobs trade with the Changelings but they don’t like them. They’re tricky and nasty, living for a chance to get over something on the Lost. Now the Hob community is enraged. They shutter the Markets and begin attacking those who enter the Hedge. What happened and how can they stop it?

3. Goblin Market Changes
The Goblin Market moves, imposes new laws, adds strange new shops, offers a sale on ‘special’ merchandise they need to move, bans certain changelings, splits, or “re-brands” itself in some way. This occurs suddenly and without warning.

4. Hob Takeover
Someone takes over and begins to direct the Hobs: a strangely potent goblin, a rogue changeling, something from the Hedge, or a figure behind the scenes. What are they making the Hobs do and why? Alternately, a split and internal struggle among the Hobs reveals factions.

5. Season Comes Early
Mysteriously the changing of the seasonal Courts comes early. Omens and portents appear. Everyone feels it in their bones. Why is this happening? What does it mean for the local politics? Who gains and loses? Consider connecting it to strange shifts in weather, changes at court, or new arrivals.

6. The Exile’s Return
Changelings rarely impose imprisonment or death as punishment. Instead exile clears away severe transgressions. An exile returns, having served their lengthy sentence. They may upset the local power balance, dredge up old animosities, or present opportunities for revenge. Where have they been? How have they survived? Is the exile’s crime known or secret? Were they justly punished? What unfinished business do they have?

7. Exiled Illegally Returns
An exile somehow manages to pass through the wards and return. They’re spotted, there’s no proof of their location, only rumors. Why have they come back early? Did someone collude to gain them entry? If this is someone know to the motley do they owe debts to one another?

8. Strange Changeling(s) Seen
Rumors fly of one (or more) unknown changelings seen in the Freehold. Often new escapees from the Hedge run wild for a time before being met and brought in. But these strangers have deliberately evaded contact. Are they Loyalists? Refugees from another Freehold? Bridge-burners? Someone has to track them down and find out.

9. Changelings Go Missing
Known members of the Freehold have not been heard from. These person(s) should connect to motley members. Does the motley know their den or hollow is? If the vanished are courtless who might they have contacted or confided in? If they’re from a court, why hasn’t anyone followed up? Perhaps this signals the coming of a new supernatural threat.

10. Fetches Vanish
The Freehold tracks fetches within its borders. They’re strange and dangerous things. If a fetch is tied to a member of the Freehold, then final judgement remains in that person’s hand. If they’re not, they indicate a stolen and unreturned life. Now several fetches have suddenly disappeared, leaving their pseudo-families and lives disrupted. Is a changeling doing this? Is there some conspiracy among the fetches? Is there a mortal hunter after them? Is one of the fetches that of a PC?

11. Treasure of the Freehold Stolen
A prized token or relic has been stolen from the Freehold or one of the Courts. What strange details have emerged about the thief’s methods? What perils await if the object is not returned? Has the finger already been pointed at someone, perhaps the motley or one of their allies?

12. Supernatural Monster
A mysterious monster appears, striking humans and changelings alike. Is it completely new or are there legends surrounding it? If it hasn’t emerged from the Hedge, where has it come from? Does it point to other supernatural sources and agents? Does a member of the Freehold know more than they’re saying?

13. Occult Investigators
A group of paranormal investigators arrives in the city and begin poking around. If they’re mundane, they stir up attention making life difficult. Changelings already have a hard time blending in. Will someone direct the researchers towards them? Is there an opportunity there? Alternately these might be serious Hunters, pursuing supernatural creatures to capture or eliminate them. Perhaps one identity’s a cover for the other.

14. Maddened Family Member
A close family member, related to someone from the motley or an ally, cracks. They’ve encountered their changeling loved one. Now experience of that seems to have snapped them. Their actions threaten do harm to themselves or even threaten the Freehold. How can the PCs fix this? Is there something more sinister behind this breakdown?

15. Hedge Fruit Bounty Found
Someone discovers a massive hedge fruit garden and now factions compete to learn the location, seize control, or simply steal what’s there. The fruit rush threatens existing relationships and debts within the Freehold.

16. Resources Run Out
Something vital to the Freehold or the motley runs out: money sources are cut, ID forgers get arrested, hedge fruit supplies dry up, or potent places of glamour run dry. Is this a natural occurrence or enemy action? Can these sources be restored or will something new have to be discovered?

17. Changeling Jailed
The police catch someone from the Freehold and jail them. What are they accused of? What did they actually do? Why can’t they escape from jail—is something stopping them or do they want to be there? What obligation does the Freehold have and what debts might the motley have to the incarcerated changeling? Will something happen if this person isn’t freed?

18. Changeling on the Run
An ally of the motely falls under a judgement: accused of a crime, convicted of an offense, threatened with a debt. The circumstances are murky and mysterious. Who is in the wrong? Should they stick their necks out for them?

19. Another Freehold Destroyed
News comes that the closest Freehold has been destroyed. Was it a subtle vanishing or did something oud and obvious happen? Was anyone warned? Were there any survivors? Does this threat still remain, and if so, will their Freehold be next?

20. Old Secrets Uncovered
Documents, testimony, relics, images—something from the past-- rises back. It could concern a particular court or the Freehold as a whole. That might be evidence of a crime, questions of succession, ties to a changeling’s kidnapping, a treasure map, or an ancient ritual. Now several factions seek to control the secrets—to reveal, destroy, or change them.

21. Illness or Curse
Something begins to take a toll on the Freehold- a magical malady. It could be a bout of fever dreams, a sleepless malaise, or a curse to lost items. Was this deliberate, accidental, or something released through sheer stupidity? It is contagious and is there a patient zero? Alternately, the illness strikes the mundane world and the fallout impacts changelings.

22. Location Threated
The commons for the Freehold or a particular court comes under fire. Alternately it could target the motley’s hollow, den, or gathering space. The authorities or neighbors could examine it too closely or the owners have gone broke. If the structure’s abandoned, perhaps developers consider renovation or demolition. If the location has some supernatural power, a group seek to control it for their own ends. Maybe something dangerous has made its nest there. If stopping the threat isn’t possible, then the group may have to deal with evacuation or just finding a new place.
23. Supernatural Cabal No Good
Non-changeling supernaturals arrive in the Freehold city and set up shop. Consider a workshop of Prometheans, Mummies on the run, an Orpheus franchise, Demon surveillance operatives, or a Hedge Mage chantry. Even if they don’t cross paths with the Freehold, they bring their own problems and foes. They also complete for magical resources and sites. Can a beneficial agreement be made or are these to be unrelenting rivals?

24. False ID’s Compromised
Individual courts or the Freehold as a whole usually provide false identities, cards, and paperwork. They do this via magic and mundane techniques. Now that process has been compromised and all of those identities have been blown or are threatened. Can the motley reverse this? Can they find their own sources to cover their ass? What are the consequences of this loss? Will foes take advantage of this?

25. Murdered Courtier
A titled courtier has been killed. Old schisms and tensions flare up. An open conflict may erupt if the murder’s not found. Or perhaps there’s a quiet cover-up suggesting more sinister forces at work. Maybe someone’s already been chosen as a patsy-- a member of the motley or a close friend.

26. Loyalist Revealed
Someone uncovers evidence suggesting a changeling has strongly colluded with a Keeper for some time. How is this discovered? How badly did they damage the Freehold? Are the accusations true? Changelings have a difficult time with punishments, given their own experience. How does the Freehold deal with this? Who are the competing voices about responses?

27. Bounty of Hot Goods
An ally or associate drops off a bundle of “hot goods” on the motley’s doorstep. Will they keep or return them? If they try to return them, will they drag their friend into in? What if some of these items belong to enemies? Consider if the loot consists of magical, mundane, or mixed items.

28. Overthrow
Someone overthrows a Prince. Was it a long time coming or a sudden shock? How do other members of the court react? How does the new Prince solidify their power: contracts, debts, kindness, force? How do the other Princes react—do they accept happily or look for potential usurpers in their own houses? What has happened to the former prince?

29. Schism Between Courts
Tensions burn hot between two courts. Does it come from the top or rank & file? Does this divide the motley? How will they take sides? What claims does each side make? How openly does this conflict break out? Is someone manipulating things behind the scenes or is this simply the way of things? How will this affect the Freehold’s protections?

30. Romance Gone Sour
The Freehold is a web of social interactions which can be rent asunder by the smallest things. Two well-regarded and well-connected changelings have been a passionate couple. Now they’re bitter social foes. How did the break up start? What does each say about the other? What’s the truth? Ideally the two figures should both be connected to the Motley. Both persons involved want others to take sides. Third party changelings may sucked into this whirlpool.

31. Virtue/Vice Overwhelms
The Changeling core suggests GMs assign Freeholds a virtue and vice. . The “default” has been the Seven Deadly Sins and Seven Heavenly Virtues, but these can be mixed up. For this threat one of those elements begins to overwhelm or run amok. Perhaps they’re seen small signs, but now it is out of control. If tied to emotion it may impact glamour for the Freehold.

32. Horde of New Arrivals
From somewhere, a large number of changelings arrive: escapees from the Hedge, refugees from a tyrannical Freehold, wanderers coming in from the wilds. The Freehold can take in one or two at a time, even a small motley taxes resources, cover, and patience. How can the courts cope? Will they send them on? What dangers might be hidden by these numbers?

33. Hedge Weirdness
Something shifts massive in the Hedge. Well established trods, hollows, or other sites vanish or transform. Is this a natural phenomenon or someone’s working? What does it herald? What has been lost and how can it be replaced? Alternately could this be an open or hidden assault by Bridge Burners?

34. Motley Vanishes into Hedge
Motelys happen rarely. To truly bind a group must escape the Hedge together or arrive in the Freehold at nearly the same time. They provide a community of trust most changelings can’t experience. Now one of the few motleys besides the PCs goes missing. They walk into the Hedge on a secret quest and none hear from them. Why did they go? Did someone sabotage their preparations? Will they be rescued? Can they be rescued?

35. Revelation to Mortal
Truly revealing yourself to a mortal runs great risks. You can tear away the Mask, but many will deny your Mien s to preserve their sanity. They retreat to the commonplace world and label incidents as madness. Some seem to hold it together but then snap from the strain. Now someone seems have to come through stable and reconciled to this new reality. But how long will they stay that way? Who is it? What would move a changeling to take this gamble? How did they prepare?

36. New Holidays
Someone establishes a new ritual for the Freehold: games, a celebration, and grand party. What’s new and novel about this? What’s the motivation behind it? If a contest, what prizes might they offer? Perhaps the motley has to help with preparations or planning. For some more thoughts on Changelings and holidays, see this post