Monday, October 31, 2011

RPGS That Scare: The Book of Unremitting Horror (Gumshoe)

Book of modern monsters and horror for use in GUMSHOE system games such as Fear Itself and The Esoterrorists.

Allow me to establish a fact before digging into this review.

I like the horror genre. I like a good horror film- I like the dread of them. I've watched all kinds and except for more recent torture porn movies- have usually found something interesting in them. I started reading Clive Barker through imported British editions. I did my senior college project on consumerism, morality plays and tropes in slasher films. And I've run a lot of horror games. I have people who will attest to my skill with that. I consider myself well-read and have seen many different games try to model horror. I've read all the "Black Dog" mature audience crap White Wolf put out, trying to push the envelope of gore and terror.

All that being said, this book creeps the living **** out of me.

I just want to get that out there.

The Book of Unremitting Horror: Gumshoe Edition (BoUH:GE) comes in at a solid 222 pages, softcover. The cover is awful. In fact, the image I've posted here isn't for this edition. That's the less disturbing cover for the shorter d20 edition. The cover on my version you can see here. Did you go and look at that well-drawn but awful thing? I turn the book over face down when I have it laying around. The d20 cover is creepy...this one's well, jeez- let's just say I wouldn't take this out for "Read an RPG Book in Public Day." That cover's done by Dave Allsop, who also provided the lion's share of the interior black and white art and cow-wrote the book. Adrian Bott's the other writer, and he handled the adaptation of the original material to the Gumshoe system. An early Pelgrane book, it shows the excellence in layout and book design that company's come to be known for. Once again, the amazing Jérome Huguenin, turns in a page design simultaneously interesting and useful. The page edge effects and typography are dynamite. This is a thick book and the only criticism I have of it as an object would be that the lamination on the cover pretty quickly curled at the corner.

The colors used on the front cover offer an evocative mix of grey-green and red. I could talk about that all day. But at some point I have to open the book up again don't I? I have to review this...I'm putting that off.

OK, let's start simply, with a statement of what the book offers. It contains details on 40+ modern horror 'monsters,' fifteen magical artifacts, ten scenario seeds, and two fully fleshed out developed Gumshoe scenarios. It is useful.

There. Are we done? No? More detail. *sigh*

I'm going to try to avoid spoilers- so as not to ruin the surprise and also because I don't want to think about these things too hard. Each creature provide here has a short piece of fiction to introduce it: a story, a report, ramblings of a madman, a witness statement. I'm not one for game fiction usually, but some of these worked for me- hitting me solidly and giving me unpleasant ideas about how I might cut open and jam these into a campaign. After that the book provides modest game stats; the rules lightness of Gumshoe means that you don't need much. Most of the space is devoted to the nature of behavior and special abilities of the various creatures. The book does a good job of offering what's need to actually play out these powers- without worrying about exhaustive discussion. A discussion of the monster's origins, its purposes and intelligence rounds that out. The most useful section for the Gumshoe GM will be discussion of the kinds of clues and evidence left behind by these creatures. Those details make constructing scenarios for them significantly easier.

But what are they like? They're modern horrors. Some of them take classic old stories and twist them in a new way (Clootie, The Drowner), some of them have a Barker-ian or Candyman-like feel to them (Kooks, The Organ Grinder), and some of them are just freaking awful and nightmarish (Dementia Larva, The Blood Corpse, The Blossomer). In particular that last one...guh. These are nasty, brutish and above all visceral monsters. They're also really adults only- some of the stuff is pretty hardcore. It isn't torture porn, but it does echo splatterpunk-style horror, the best of the Hellblazer material, and ideas of writers like Joe Lansdale, Ramsay Campbell, and Kim Newman. It isn't subtle, but it is insidious.

Including an introduction that offers some additions minor Gumshoe mechanics (such as how to handle drowning), the monsters section takes up 134 pages of the book. The next fifteen pages present artifacts drawn from this nightmare world. These are fairly rule-agnostic and several of them tie into specific creatures from the first part. After that, the authors consider how the cosmology of Unremitting Horror and The Esoterrorists actually fit together. That's an interesting section- and one that does an excellent job of laying out the theories behind each settings monstrous entities. Depending on how strictly a GM adheres to the logic of either, they will find this more or less useful.

Next the book presents ten scenario outlines using the Unremitting Horror beasties. Each plot in this fourteen page section is given a useful breakdown: sinister conspiracy; investigating scene; core information; supplementary information; antagonist reactions; climax; and aftermath/veil-out. Some of these are quite good and any of them could make for an evening or two of really gruesome investigation. Finally the book concludes with two extended adventures using the book's ideas. The first offers an easily portable rural setting, and the second an urban adventure for London, but which could also be moved elsewhere. Both offer nice twists and investigative opportunities. In particular, the second adventure, "The Final Case" has great atmosphere, especially one of the free-floating clues. It does have more magical overtones, which may not fit as well with some versions of The Esoterrorists or Fear Itself universes.

I'm picky about my horror- some I just don't like and some actively repulses me, like the current strain of torture-porn horror. On the other hand, many of the old classics have been worn out into sad pale imitations or reduced to jump scare moments. Horror which genuinely bothers or gets under one's skin is harder than ever. The Book of Unremitting Horror manages to hit on many of the things which bother, disturb and scare me. I'm kind of its ideal audience in that it pushes all of my buttons. On top of that it is well written and full of interesting detail. It is dark and awful- GMs should consider their group and game before dropping things from this book into play. Used sparingly, they can really darken a game. If you're running modern Gumshoe horror, you should pick this up.

While there's a d20 version of this, the Gumshoe version does offer a focus on investigation- framing the monsters in that way. I think that makes this more useful. The mechanics here are fairly light. All of the creatures here could very easily moved over to another game system. If you're doing dark modern horror, like Unknown Armies or Delta Green, consider picking this up.

OK, I'm done now. I can go put this book back up on the shelf and not look at it again until I run this kind of game. I'm serious when I say this cover really gets to me. I have it sitting beside me with the monster's red eyes staring at me as I'm typing this review up on my laptop.

OK, I flipped it over face-down now.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Character Sheet Sunday: Wild Cards Elvis

So today a character sheet in my collection from one of my players, Art Lyon. We played a lot of superhero games in the late 80's and early 90's and I went through a spate of short-run Champions campaigns- some of them interesting and some of them pretty trashy. But my favorite of these was the brief Wild Cards campaign we ran, based on the novels and the GURPS Sourcebook. We had a pretty good and overly large crew, many of them well-acquainted with the setting. I had everybody come up with a general idea of what they wanted and then I made their characters up based on those suggestions. I still have the sheets for most of the group- but striking not for two of my favorites.

Most of the group ended up with Ace or Ace-light powers. A couple ended up as Jokers with some significant powers as well (Charles' draining midnight-skinned version of the Michelin Man; Kenny's rat-man gangster). Jim McClain made up a full Joker character- someone without powers. Those points instead went to stats and skills, where he seriously outclassed the rest of the group. IIRC he was a former FBI Agent who had been mutated so that he essentially looked like he was wearing clown make-up. He had a bad temper and took everything seriously. I think Jim only sat and played with us a couple of times, but he was memorable. The other character sheet I can't find is Barry's. He ran a arrogant and wealthy upper class twit from New England. He'd gotten mixed up with the group somehow. His power essentially allowed him to catch himself on fire, like the Human Torch. Unlike the Human Torch, however he could feel the burning and screaming agony of the flames, so he hated doing it.

Then there was Elvis.

Elvis had been an Elvis Impersonator when he got hit by the Wild-Card Virus. And he became Elvis, as he imagined him. Elvis was super-tough and knew karate. Elvis had many immortal lines, but one lives with the group. I won't even try to give context.

"I always wanted to go kayakin'..."

I'd like to try Wild Cards again, especially now that the really excellent Mutants & Masterminds sourcebook's out there. I'd have to reread the series again from the beginning, though.

For a larger and more legible version of the character sheet, see here.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Last Fleet: Sabotage & Sunforge: Session Eight

Continuing the series of session reports for the Last Fleet campaign; previous entry here.

The group had returned from their expedition bloodied but triumphant. In the rescue of the Dwarven ship, they'd perhaps found a way to escape the In Between and make it through the Stormwall of their destination, where the pull of their linked twins lead them. But a new problem faced them- if the explosion on the flagship had been sabotage, then there might be further threats to the fleet.

The group parted ways, many of them heading off to recovery from their wounds. Whet spoke with his second-in-command, Tomyle Devildream, to see if anything had changed in their absence. While their had been nothing suspicious, the illness gripping many across the fleet had increased. In several cases, victims had been transformed by the magic, becoming violent. They'd injured themselves or others, forcing Devildream to shift the various personnel around the fleet to serve as security. Normal patrols had been canceled. She noted that the Artikhane either weren't affected by the magical ailment or else were speaking of it.

Dweena, relatively uninjured, wanted to begin working on investigating the sabotage. However, the Admiral told her that she needed to turn all of her attentions to aiding Gavesk Sundering. She set her staff to several tasks- primarily aiding the Shield creation. But as well they gathered people who might be able to aid with the de-petrification of the Dragon they'd rescued. But she did manage to find the time to pull all the records for the incident- supplies and deliveries.

Chain Firespinner spent time in the infirmary of the flag ship despite his desire to return back to his own people. The presence of the newly acquired dragon still brought thoughts of murder to his mind. Though the dragon Razeheart had helped to save him, they were ancient enemies of his race. Chain spoke with the orcish healer and found himself scolded when he spoke of his desire to slay the beast. He tried to clam himself, and spoke with the dragon briefly, trying to come to some kind of understanding. That would be made even more difficult later when Whet arrived bearing bad news. Chain's people, the Scalebound, had withdrawn support from him. His wyvern was to be given over to another warrior. Distraught, Chain reacted angrily to Whet next suggestion- that he make a pact with Razeheart as his new flying mount. Chain thought on it and recognized the necessity- his feelings and even the feelings of his people would have to be set aside for the interests of the fleet.

Marreg and Lira healed up and dealt with similar domestic matters. Marreg's twin brother paid him a brief visit, intending to bring words of disappointment from their father. But when he saw the attractive orcish physiker, Rainmouse, his attitude changed. Marreg could tell this would become a problem. Once recovered, Marreg returned to his duties and a surprise. His brother had volunteered to join his work on the hunting boats. The Master of Duties offered to instead have Marreg's brother assigned to cleaning out the nightsoil, but Marreg declined. He would deal with this on his own terms. Meanwhile, Lira looked in on her brother Aden. Like many of the Namiir, the loss of their land and people had struck hard at him. The whole history of their people had been lost. The Great sadness, as the Namiir called it, had already dragged a number down into suicide. Lira found her brother trapped in the depths of that. She shouted and railed at him, eventually dousing him with water to shake him out of it, with some success. Lira noted a clocked figure in the corner observing, Thanos, the Namiir god of death who faded away after thanking her for her efforts.

In the many days which followed, the group found themselves caught between many duties. Each had the tasks and responsibilities of their respective positions. But they also found themselves working on new operations and tasks related to Gavesk's Magical Shield. In order for that to work, the vessels of the fleet would have to be tied and drawn closely together. All of the shifts wold have to precisely match course and speed. The risks of the plan were enormous. The ships were already running their engines hard, trying to get to the swiftly approaching Stormwall as quickly as possible. Many of the flyers in the group found themselves running maneuvers- either flying patterns around the fleet to keep stragglers in line or else flying in between ships watching and trying to make sure they kept a reasonable distance. Ships knocked against one another, but only a handful of crew were lost. The also had to deal with tensions between the Dwarven engineer Gavesk and the high arcanist Rodol Faithjester. Gavesk still found the company of people overwhelming and Faithjester demanded more information on the operation of the shield. Dweena and the others interceded and defused the situation.

With some of that taken care of, they could finally turn their attention to the question of sabotage. They spoke with the various mages who had looked over the wreckage. Those examiners had narrowed the problem down to one of three items crafted on other vessels and sent over to aid with the project. Each had been made to specifications and been checked. However, the pattern of the destruction suggested one of them had an anomaly. The first item was a lens crafted by the Artikhane insect folk. Marreg and Whet traveled there- eventually gaining an audience. Whet could sense some of the disturbance among the Artikhane, worry that they might be accused of a crime and suspecting that their outsider status made them ripe for scapegoating. Whet and Marreg carefully questioned those involved. In doing so they finally gained some insight into the Artikhane people. Clearly speaking about “internal” matters- like politics, homelife, society- was considered taboo among them. Talking of such things to outsiders clearly made them uncomfortable. Whet and Marreg came away a little wiser and convinced that the Hive Ship had not been involved.

Chain, Dweena and Lira meanwhile went to speak with the magical craftsmen on the Nocturne Consortium ship. While Chain entertained the Captain, the Goblin and Namiir, went into the workshops and carefully questioned everyone. The Gob,ins had been commissioned to cut a piece of magistone to specifications. They've even made of set of them cut to the specs and had chosen the one which bets fit. Lira and Dweena examined the stones and could detect no flaw. Given the quality control there, they suspected that the item from the Nocturne had also not been the item of sabotage.

Finally the group as a whole traveled to the human ship of the Straadi. The best appointed of the vessels, the Straadi had clearly maintained their old social structures and hierarchy. Eventually, the group tracked down the Straadi magical engineer who had supplied a particular regulator device. Immediately they detected something was wrong- with the engineer evasive and nervous. Playing bad cop, worse cop, they applied pressure until the got the information. The regulator device which had been requested had been a little beyond the abilities of the engineer- at least in the time frame given. However, one of the Aeolatoi, Poet Shell had visited and offered to assist. He'd done the work and asked for no credit. The group stormed off in pursuit of Poet Shell.

They found him on deck, speakin with another Aeolatoi, Casting Fate. Chain carefully moved her away as Whet engaged in questioning. The Elf realized that he's never actually spoken with Poet Shell before- that the Aeolatoi had avoided him. Surrounded, Shell admitted to what he'd done, but not for the reasons that they suspected. He hadn't sabotages the device to slow the Fleet down. Instead it had been a signal to his master Sunforge. The elemental energies would have finally told the Overlod where the Fleet lay. Poet Shell made to escape but found himself quickly cut down. Even as they did so, everyone could feel a change in the atmosphere- a sense of gathering power. Lord Sunforge was coming.

The group desperately raised the alarm, calling all ships to alert. Everyone made for their flyers- hearidng the fleet into ready position. In the distance behind them, they could see the sky shift and warp. Soon Sunforge's legions would pour through. While the others raised the hue and cry and got flyers into the air, Dweena rushed to the Dwarven vessel. She broke the news to Gavesk. He nodded slowly and told his assistants nearby to alert the Admiral that they would have to activate the emergency plan he'd spoken of. The fleet would have to draw in quickly as close as they could. Gavesk dismissed Dweena and his bodyguards, who reluctantly withdraw from the Dwarven ship, leaving the last of the Dwarves to his machines. Meanwhile the first wave of assaults began, even as the group desperately herded the fleet's ships like cattle- heedless of the crashing together. Then suddenly the Dwarven vessel exploded with electric fire. A field suddenly expanded around most of the fleet. As it had done when escaping the Stone Queen, the vessel fired off arcane energy propelling everything at breakneck speed. The fleet slammed into the Stormwall and passed through, protected by the shield. The gaps crackled close behind them, even as the Dwarven ship imploded from the strain.

The Fleet had made it through, had escaped from the In Between. But what lay before them in this new and unknown world?

Friday, October 28, 2011

RPG Game Changers

There are six editions of Call of Cthulhu. Really? I've played CoC over the years and honestly, I can't tell you what's changed between professions? skill consolidation? Looking at the versions, I'm pretty sure a person time-traveling forward with a CoC 1e character sheet could sit down and play in a game run today. The cell-phones at the table might throw them. And the varieties of Mountain Dew...sorry "MTDew."

In my list-post about edition changes I talked mostly about those our group balked at or changed our play significantly. Another blog, The Iron-Bound Tome, independently hit on the same topic- with an even more in-depth examination of their group's shift. As well, after I posted my list on the Geek, user Aramis added an incredibly comprehensive overview of the Traveller and GDW House rules family trees...making me thankful for the minor problems and throw-away books I'd had. Paranoia, a great game went through many changes as well. I only ever played the first edition with its innovative skill tree system. But I understand that later editions made fairly drastic changes to tone and mechanics. That being said, many edition changes have worked for me- I mentioned being pleased with the various changes to the classic World of Darkness lines. As with CoC, I never had the feeling that the changes invalidated earlier forms. They felt like minor adjustments and fine-tuning. I couldn't begrudge those.

Of course, now we have access to high-speed commentary, a noise-machine of insight, and the ability update FAQs daily. The blogger Geek Ken points out WotC behind-the-scenes changes to the 4e engine- creating constant new editionS. I guess if you're trying to emulate an MMORPG you might as well have bizarre weekly updates. Games can easily get changed and fixed after publication, especially if they're purely electronic. One the one hand that's cool, on the other hand I'm not sure I want to be that engaged. But then again, I'm not the target audience for that. I'm one of those fairly picked veteran gamers who isn't looking for a game with that kind of crunch and electronic interactivity. We do enough tweaking and rules changes in house that I'd be a little nervous about bringing someone in who has played the system or even trying to run some of these games at conventions. After I wrote to my wife, I mentioned Rolemaster and that's we'd enjoyed playing it at the time. "We never played Rolemaster," she replied "we played some bastardized game that stripped out things like complex initiative, experience calculations, spell limits." And she's right- and I have to wonder how much one group's version of a system resembles another, especially with complex games.

If you do a new edition of your role-playing game, I expect the following things:

1 An explanation- IN THE BOOK- of the differences between this and the previous edition. It doesn't have to go at the front, it can be in an appendix. It doesn't have to justify those changes- just tell me what the big differences are. If you don't acknowledge the existence of a previous version IN THE BOOK ITSELF then I can only assume A) you haven't made any real changes and you're screwing me out of my money and/or B) you don't care about bringing along players of the previous version...Games Workshop.

2 Rules for converting characters between the two editions. These don't have to be in the book. You can have these online, but you'd better have them. Just saying conversion should be easy is a cop-out.

I've rarely had to do that kind of conversion, but when I have to I want some help. The most recent example was moving characters from M&M 1e to 2e. Somehow my players had all managed to pick powers that didn't translate over directly or required major jumping through hoops to get to work. Also, when you do come out with a new edition of a game, please leave electronic versions of the previous edition material for sale. Don't be awful and remove those from circulation to encourage players to "move on."

On the other hand, sometimes transitions between games can be self-imposed. A couple of times we've dealt with inter-system conversions. One difficulty is lies with different games have different base-level assumptions. In the 1990's I'd been running GURPS Fantasy for a while- several campaigns on the same continent of my game world. GURPS characters exist within a fairly narrow range- with differences usually based on quality of skills and slight variations in stats. At the same time, I'd been playing in a couple of Rolemaster campaigns. Each time I sat down, the chrome of that system sang to me: tons of distinct weapons, the most obscure classes, charts, criticals, thousands of spells, open-ended percentile rolls. At some point I decided that I would run the next campaign in that same setting using Rolemaster. And of course I used every supplement available, including the over-powered Elemental Companion.

Let's say that didn't turn out so well. What had been a kind of heroic fantasy campaign, with magic and monsters as significant threats suddenly blew up. It was like dropping Doc Savage into a realistic Call of Cthulhu campaign or Elminster into an Ars Magica game. It reshaped the tone, with the kind of power players could throw around. Where magic had been interesting before, it suddenly became commonplace to fit the needs of character building. I'm sure I could have done more to keep that in line, but it hadn't occurred to me before we started playing. I hadn't realized the implications of level-based characters running around in a point-based world. Eventually I decided to switch systems, going back to GURPS.

There is no good or consistent way to do that. It ended up an absolute mess- trying to model characters such that they still felt powerful in their GURPS versions. The game crashed and burned pretty quickly.

I hit a different reason for rules switching came when we played a few sessions of Fading Suns. The group had been playing through several systems, mostly variations on Storyteller. I opted to use the base mechanics in Fading Suns. If you're not familiar with that, you roll a d20 under a target number. That number's based on stat + skill. You want to roll under that target, but then you determine success by having the highest possible roll under that. Plus you have several other modifications and considerations to that mechanic. For a group used to just rolling low (for GURPS), rolling high (for Rolemaster), or just counting successes (for Storyteller) suddenly every roll required counter-intuitive reading. I'm sure we would have gotten the hag of it eventually, but after two sessions of players getting frustrated and things taking twice as long as they should have, I stepped in. I scrambled up a quick Storyteller adaptation to that and rewrote everyone's sheets. After that players seemed to enjoy the game much more.

What did I learn from that? I learned system does matter. Ideally you ought to be able to pay anything with a game, it ought to be fairly transparent. But that's not true- and the reasons may not lie in the mechanics alone. Systems determine optimal builds- and the more specific rules there are, the more optimal builds those become. The designers of the upcoming Adventurer Conquerer King rpg have a really excellent piece on the phenomena. In Champions*, for example, players really needed to have at least one point of resistant defense. That one point allowed players to apply their full defense to the Stun done by a Killing Attack. Otherwise, they could get take out very easily. So you have a world of superheroes where everyone has to wear a little bit of armor...which would explain the comics of the 1990's.

Likewise, DC Heroes had an interesting idea, but one that in play caused weird problems. In that game characters have three set of stats- Physical, Mental and Magical. For each you had an effect value, a resistance value and a HP value. That's cool- it means you can have a group with several different foci and areas of expertise. In play, however, it meant that players did damage on each track separately. So a Brick, a Mystic and a Mentalist will all be doing different kinds of damage. In practice, if a target had a weakness, the person with the right attack would take them out. The same thing held for the PCs- so what you saw over time was everyone buying those HP and resist stats in parallel to avoid those problems. Rather than creating specialization, the system encouraged and rewarded generalization.

And sometimes you don't see these things until you get well into play. That's another danger of doing game conversions or edition switching...what if you do all of that work, spend all of that money and discover there's some fundamental flaw? Not a house-rule-able thing, but something basic to the game. Is that why we need online DDI-style services to fix our game on the fly? I'm skeptical about that given how many edition shifts I've seen "fix" things that weren't broken.

*Note that I'm talking about Champions up through 4e...since I have no idea if this has changed in 5th or 6th edition...

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Hollowpoint: Review & Some Thoughts

I have a review of Hollowpoint up over at Diehard Gamefan. Of course I manage to screw up VCSA/VSCA in the header. It models violence between skilled parties carrying out specific objectives, and it is pretty amazing game. Hollowpoint sets itself a tight set of design objectives and meets those. The execution matches the ambition, which is more than I can say for a lot of games. It's worth mentioning how smartly the authors provide examples- copious but not overwhelming, providing answers to some of the corner cases of the system.

I've been thinking about how Hollowpoint could be used to do particularly visceral one-shot takes on my favorite "machine guns vs. the darkness" games- Delta Green and Conspiracy X. I have a couple of other thoughts I didn't put in the review...

There are places where I almost wonder if Hollowpoint is a parody- the smartest, most subtle parody of certain kinds of base gaming desires. Is it a comment on those games where the players all just want to be the coolest and sweetest ninjas flippin' out and chopping off heads without any consideration of morality or consequences? That's not power gaming, but more a power fantasy. I've seen campaigns devolve and collapse into that because of bad players, with World of Darkness games being particularly susceptible. Games where the players spend half of character creation picking out the most awesomest gun from the weapons manual. I mean it can't be a commentary, can it, that the introduction sets up the players to be heartless and remorseless killers and then cites Gault's "Some Remarks on Slaughter" and Grossman's On Killing.

Put that aside for the moment- there's an interesting double-bind the authors put the players in. They give them the coolest stuff, free access to anything, and the knowledge that their characters stand above the rabble. They rule. But then that's tied down and restricted. There's a mission. The mission must be completed. There's no questioning the validity of that mission- they have to take orders. They're superior, but their power and autonomy's still limited. They're lone wolves who have to work together- and even the mechanisms for going solo potentially cost themselves as much as their teammates. And betrayal's allowed- but only if as a swift exit from the game. Turn on your fellows and you move on. Fulfill the player's power fantasies and then take away their means of imposing that power on their peers. It's a brilliant little design element, and one that arises naturally from the game itself, rather than feeling like an artificial leash.

So in the review I mention that my veteran rpg gamer wife liked the game but said she didn't want to play it. She described it as the same kind of admiration she had for an elegantly engineered fighter jet. Yes, she could agree it had been designed brilliantly, but she wouldn't want to fly it and blow things up. Needless to say we don't play first person shooters together. (Disclaimer: I suck at FPS games on the console and only marginally less on the PC so I don't play them that often...).

But aside from the focus on violence which didn't interest her, she also said that the structure of the game wasn't appealing. Hollowpoint offers the tight, compressed experience of a movie- she prefers the more extended (and digressive) pace of something like a novel. On the other hand, that's particularly what makes it work as a pick-up game. Hollowpoint suggests a session as a complete story- with characters lost throughout. So we talked about ways in which you might reskin the game to make it something she would want to play. And could that be done without making radical changes to the set up?

Any reskinning would have to function with the following assumptions- a group of peers both allied and with some personal agendas; a larger society those characters belong to; a set of well defined and agreed upon objectives; access to multiple characters if one gets removed; a clear opposition. With that in mind, we came up with three versions-

Ars Magica: In Ars Magica, players already control multiple characters (magus, custos and grogs). They belong to a Covenant. Magi are powerful, unique and decidedly independent. Yet at the same time, they rely on each other for support and safety. Even their custos are usually a cut above the ordinary folk. A version of Hollowpoint could be used to handle interesting situations in which the characters of the Covenant have to go out and negotiate. The most obvious of these would be the Grand Tribunals of the Hermetic Order. Players would be given a set of objectives to achieve at such a gathering, like ensuring a supply of Vis or gaining judgment over a particular disagreement. The opposition could be a rival Covenant within the same Tribunal. Players can choose to begin with their Magus or Custos, each with a slightly different ability. Later if they run through those they could bring in their grog. DIPLOMACY, CRAFT, GUILE, MAGIC-- for example could be used as skills. This approach could be used as a quick way of resolving in between season scenes if a GM doesn't want to play out a full session. It could also be used as a general introduction to the Ars world. Expeditions to other Covenants or dealing with the affairs of the "mundane" world could also be handled in this way. Instead of COOL, the desirable quality would probably be it's stodgy cousin PRESTIGE.

Staving off a Turkish invasion, anyone?

Changeling the Lost: Like the previous example, Changeling would also focus on a form of Courtly politics. The players would take the roles of members of a particular Court, trying to carry out operations against their rivals of the moment. If you were to do a series of these, those rivals could change from session to session. Perhaps the PC's Court want to foment a conflict, uncover a secret or gain a hidden alliance. Its actually a little more open for story possibilities than the Ars. Moving on in these stories would require the particular character to recuperate between sessions- it wouldn't necessarily have the finality of straight Hollowpoint. Characters might have skills like BARGAINING, CONTRACTS, SUBTERFUGE, CLARITY.

Samurai Clans: You could easily do a samurai or even Legend of the Five Rings game with Hollowpoint. I mentioned Takashi Miike's 13 Assassins in the review, others like Samurai Assassin, 47 Ronin, or Sword of the Beast might be done like this. On the other hand, you could broaden out the conflict types- as Hollowpoint does- to make for a game which might combine battles, intrigue, and courtly competition. You could use a version of John Wick's Blood & Honor mechanics to build a clan. Then the players would have to carry out the goals and ambitions of the clan at that moment, glad to sacrifice themselves to the greater cause. Skills might include SINCERITY, HONOR, WARFARE, and BLADE. A series of games might chart the advancement of the clan over generations. As a straight Hollowpoint alternative, consider doing some of the same things, but with sweet ninjas, like Wu Xing: The Ninja Crusade sets up.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Am the Weary Veteran of a Thousand Edition Wars

I've seen a lot of talk on various blogs and boards about editions. And usually I've witnessed flame wars burning bright, to be followed by the inevitable question of why anyone would be fighting over that. Shouldn't people just play what they want? To which the obvious answer is: yes.

But at the same time, I've thought back about how editions changes over the years have actually impacted my gaming and my gaming group. The lure of the hot new thing can't be underestimated. And when we were younger, we'd move on more quickly to the new hawt than we do now. Support of game lines by publishers does matter- and if they move on to an incompatible edition then you end up with an orphaned game. Sometimes that's not a big deal...but usually you want more product. You want the new shiny...and we have to admit to that instinct. Mercifully these days it has become easier to get ahold of older game stuff. On the other hand, at least in my group, its harder to get them to adopt something new.

So below is a list of places where the shift in an edition caused a significant change in our group's play, my play or even just my thinking about games. I'd be curious about other people's experiences.

1. Dungeons & Dragons
I got my first taste of D&D from the three booklet set. I remember playing with that and adding in things like Supplement IV: Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and Supplement III: Eldritch Wizardry. At some point the Dungeons & Dragons Basic Set (First Edition) took over as the go to book, but at the time I didn't quite realize that the rules didn't exactly synch up. When the Players Handbook came out, then I knew we'd move to a new, more "Advanced" level. Later, when I picked up the boxed sets, I think I finally grasped that there was a pretty radical distinction between Basic Dungeons & Dragons and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (1st Edition). But by that point people had begun to migrate away. We played AD&D up until about the time of the Wilderness Survival Guide. We added a lot of house rules and used secondary sources, like the Mayfair stuff, but we saw everything as a continuum rather than any kind of changes of editions.

Dungeons & Dragons (3rd Edition) changed all that of course- it made explicit the split. Some people in our group tried it and some new players came into the hobby through it. But generally it didn't stick. I tried running a d20 game late in the cycle, but it had too much crunch, too many factors and too much to worry about. The few people in our group attached to these ideas have moved to either True20 or Pathfinder.

2. Villains & Vigilantes
V&V was the first time I really hit a problem with edition change. We played the first edition with the white cover for several years. I won't say I ever grasped the rules, but it was the first game that offered a solidly playable supers system. V&V second edition, with the green cover came along and drastically changed the rules. Characters couldn't easily move between the two editions and it felt like a whole new game. I liked the second edition better, but it did mean leaving behind a lot of work. Edition shifts often push people to clean house- discarding old concepts or campaigns or even giving up on the rules. Champions certainly became the supers game of choice then.

3. Champions
Champions came along and pushed out V&V among the younger generation of gamers. It went through several different editions, but the basic game remained consistent throughout. None of the changes ever seriously negated previous character builds. Instead they added new options, tweaked costs and kept the same basic engine. HERO became the go to game for years. There was some gnashing about Variable Power Pools and the new Drain-style powers, but nothing that required a reboot. Probably the biggest disappointment among our group was the changes to martial arts that eliminated Danger International's gooby doubled up maneuvers (Grabs & Throw on one action! Block & Strike at the same time!). Champions remained a mainstay up through 4th Edition, the definitive edition for us. A couple of people delved into the Fuzion/Champions hybrid, but quickly backed away. But then HERO System (5th Edition) came out- one edition too many for the group. A few people picked up copies of it, but no one ran it. No one wanted to buy new books retreated the old ground and that made even the newer things unattractive. Though some people in the group still speak fondly of Champions, they're talking about the older editions. Everyone else, the dozen+ extended members of our gaming group dropped it.

I've probably played and run GURPS more than any other rpg out there. We played Man to Man when it came out as an rpg, andf picked up the first GURPS box when it hit the shelves. Over the years we did just about every kind of campaign- horror, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk, cyberpunk, gangsters- with it. The exception would be superhero, because of course, it sucked for that. Everyone in the group bought core books, and important supplement books, like GURPS Magic (Second Edition) and GURPS Compendium I. GM's picked up many other supplements, pretty much anything that looked interesting. Then came the switch to GURPS (4th Edition). I even bought the nice leatherbound & signed copies of it. And I pretty much hated it from the minute I tried to read it- badly organized, hard to follow, requiring more calculations. I bought a number of the other supplements, hoping they'd offer something new, but I didn't like the game. Other people bought or borrowed the core books and had the same reaction. Pretty much the entire group gave up on the system en masse. Its weird to see that kind of switch- some have gone back and run GURPS 3e, but most have moved on to other games.

5. Rolemaster Fantasy
Rolemaster was the game that slowly creeped in and pushed out D&D in our gaming circles. If people wanted crunch and detail, then they went there. Most of our really impressive and epic fantasy campaigns in the late 1980's and early 1990's used this system. Even when we started to seriously use GURPS for fantasy, Rolemaster remained to fall back for doing things over the top. Plus they kept putting out stuff for it- an endless line of new Rolemaster Companions and supplemental magic books. No new editions here, just a grab bag of crazy rules and options- unbalanced and unhinged- that the GM could pick and choose from. Then Rolemaster finally made the leap- they would clean things up and consolidate into a core, clean revised system: Rolemaster Standard System (RMSS).

And we went along with it. To be fair, RMSS was a far superior game and seemed to actually make sense. We bought all of those books and put away the old ones. But then more and more RMSS books began to come out- creating the same kinds of problems that had begun with the old version. There was a moment, towards the end of the last Rolemaster campaign, that I looked down at the scattered charts, binders, and rulebooks in front of me and thought "What the **** am I doing?" It was like waking up from a drunken stupor. At the end of that campaign, I packed up everything and eventually gave it away.

6. Top Secret
A sidebar comment on the various rewritings to TSR over the years. I remember Top Secret and Gamma World fondly. I enjoyed those games- old school as they were. Over the years I would get nostalgic and check in on how they'd been rewritten and treated. Every time it felt like change to suit some game designers cool new idea rather than changes that made the game a better game. The latter Gamma World's especially were a mess. I suspect my reaction to those editions was more curmudgeonly. So I can understand a little when I do see edition wars spark off online. People have a certain fondness for a game. But I have to recall that this fondness isn't universal. It is personal. I mean I'm a guy that didn't like Star Frontiers even when it first came out...

7. Ars Magica
This is an odd one. I picked up Ars Magica early on, with the second edition. I'd say that was a fantasy game about wizards that happened to be set in the middle ages. It was about a Mythic Era and a consideration of the society of wizards. It offered a great sourcebook for players wanting to actually do a wizards only campaign. In particular the Covenants and The Order of Hermes books were excellent. Then the game bounced between WotC and White Wolf, with a third edition which- while excellent- really shifted towards the medieval simulationist approach. We played that for a while and enjoyed it. But the editions kept moving on, with a fourth and fifth edition. All are interesting, but they do have significant differences. Part of the problem lies in knowing what is new and what has been reprinted in another form? How much duplication is there between things?

8. The World of Darkness (nWoD)
I suspect there's some question about how we should think about that switch from World of Darkness (cWoD Modern) to The World of Darkness (nWoD). Edition shift or complete reboot? White Wolf had plenty of edition changes and revisions within their own lines- but I never felt like any of them completely threw away the last version. The later editions of Mage the Ascension and Changeling the Dreaming were stronger and fixed problems with certain mechanisms and with presentation. Even when they revised splat books, the later approaches usually worked better but didn't completely invalidate the earlier work- provided you didn't look too closely. But eventually layers of patching and the need for a sale reboot caught up with them.

I have to say more often than not, the nWoD presented a chance for players in our group to leave, rather than find a new niche. We had some fairly strong Werewolf the Apocalypse devotees. I don't know any of them who picked up the new Werewolf. The same thing with Hunter and Vampire. Mage had been my favorite of the old lines, but the new Mage: The Awakening really exemplified the problem I had with the new stuff. The old Storyteller system had been pretty generic. But it had worked and been simple. We adapted it to a number of other games. The new system wanted to be crunchier- to add rules to avoid arguments and offer many more guidelines and details. It really put me off. The sole exception for us has been Changeling: The Lost because the revised premise and setting is so much stronger than before. But even in that case we jettisoned the rules in favor of a homebrew.

9. Exalted
We played several different versions of Exalted, Lunar, Solar and Dragonblooded. While I won't say it was a perfect system it ran pretty well. The sourcebooks were messy and needed work. People in the group bought into the game and I invested heavily in the line. When Exalted 2e came out there was some hesitation. Most people didn't want to buy into something new. We held off on it for a time. Then we had a chance to try out the new combat system and mechanics by playing them in their other form, Scion. At first we enjoyed the game but after a few sessions we started to see the major holes and gaps in the combat for us. We didn't enjoy it very much and certain basic approaches really overwhelmed others. That pretty much sealed the deal for the fate of Exalted 2e in our group.

10. Mutants & Masterminds
Mutants & Masterminds was a hard sell for me. I wasn't happy with Champions, but of the other supers games I'd seen (City of Heroes, Aberrant for example), it still seemed the best. But the learning curve on it remained high, and I'd had several new players turned off by it. At the same time, I didn't care that much for the glut of d20 games. But I ended up talking with random guy at Origins who'd just played in a game of M&M and really liked it.

So I picked up and tried it with new players who hadn't really played in other supers systems and they had a great time. Then I tried it with veterans who, while not completely sold on it, did enjoy the game. So I invested pretty heavily in the game, buying just about every sourcebook and running games. Then they made the leap to the second edition- with enough dramatic switches in mechanics to make conversion involved and the books incompatible. It actually rendered a book I'd just bought obsolete. I held off on buying the new system for a while. But after a pdf I'd bought got switched with a 2e version- I went ahead. And Mutants & Masterminds 2e is a better game. So I bought into it and pushed it. Some players really objected to having to buy another edition- given that they hadn't quite settled into the first. But the new books had plenty of advantages. And Green Ronin produced a lot of interesting source material. Who cared if all of the Superlink stuff I'd bought from RPGNow was useless?

So now we come forward to today...with Mutants & Masterminds 3e out, for some time. I haven't bought it. I don't know if I'm going to buy it. I did buy DC Adventures, but only because I like that setting. I still haven't been able to make it through a reading. I don't know if I want to switch and I'm pretty sure I won't be able to convince others to follow along on yet another edition shift.

10/28: A couple more thoughts added in another post here: RPG Game Changers.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Robot Zero Tuesday: The Horrors of Prof. Doctor, Part II

Previous Entry here.

“OK…I need you to give me a moment.” The Prof. fiddled with her Evil Blackberry. “Hmmm…that kind of limits things.”

“What do you mean?” She was shaking her head which gave me not great confidence boost.

“Minus the storage costs and the costs for upgrading your body—and including the trade in on this body and whatever those weird sticky samples are attached to you—…I only have a few things that fall into your price range.”

“So discounted, reject powers.”


“Rejected from your own robot super-team? Ugh.” This was one of those moments where my processors and filters went on of synch.

“And what is that supposed to mean? My team is effective and efficient.” She jabbed with one finger, causing my right arm to drop off. Undingnified, but I still held the moral high ground.

“Please name one mission you’ve undertaken that hasn’t required one or more of them sacrificing themselves to save the group.” I thought my reply had merit.

She frowned. “They’re very giving. Plus I like seeing robots blow up.”

I decided my merits had been overstated. “In any case…those powers your brilliant mind conceived?”

“OK, first up…Insect powers.”

Could be good– “Armor, flying, stinging maybe…” I saw the look on her face. “I’m thinking not.”

“More precisely Beetle powers. They make up the largest percentage of the Earth’s animate biomass you know and now you can have absolute mastery and control over them.”

“Control. Like summoning them? Instantly?”

“Oh, they’ll come instantly at full battle beetle speed.”

“Which means?”

“About five minutes to generate enough for maximal minion irritation.” She tried to sell if at least “Haven’t you seen The Mummy…scary scarab beetles?”

The allure of flesh-rending did not blind me to an immediate problem. “Unless I carry a large box of scarab beetles, it is unlikely I will have an amble supply of Egyptian scarab beetles at hand.”

“We could work that into a back unit—like an ant farm…Ok, next. Shapchanging.”

“That sounds promising. Wait…rejected shapechanging…and the catch?”

Prof. Doctor got a faraway look. “You have seen Gumby, perhaps? You change shapes like that. Make yourself into like gum.”

“That show was spooky. But I don’t think Gumby changed shapes. And I don’t think he was made of gum.”

“His horse was.”

“In any case, when you say like gum, you mean…”

“The consistency of chewn gum, with the corresponding adhesion factor.”

“Let’s put that aside. My next choice.”

“Mind control.” She corrected herself quickly. “Limited mind control.”

“How limited?”

“One emotion. Anger. In a radius. Around you. At you.”

“You’re serious? Who would come up with that?”

“It was a custom job for some MMORPG-inspired supers.”

The thought of Dark Elf superheroes bothered me. But I was willing to play this out, “And…”

“They aggro’d Celestius the Unrelenting, master of the power cosmic and nurser of prolonged grudes.” She made a gesture that I suspect implied the splattering of a team of heroes by a giant space boot.


Prof. shook her head. “I only have one more. Dimensional Trapping.”

“Which does…?”

“Creates a beam of specialized particles that shifts your target’s dimensional frequency, sending them to a hellish realm of torture and pain.”

“Sounds promising. And the catch?”

“They reappear in the same spot about twelve hours later. Usually they’re unhappy about the experience. Life-scarringly, epic villain motivation-level unhappy.” She smiled.

I was a reasonable robot. “OK…maybe we can just modify my existing powers…”

“That we can do….BWAHAHAHA…*koff*…hahahaa…sorry, allergies…” And she set to work.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Kerberos Club (FATE Edition): Review and Thoughts

I have a review of Kerberos Club: Fate Edition up over at DieHard Gamefan. I'm liking Fate more and more as I read the different treatments of the system. The Kerberos Club I first encountered when I bought a ding & dent copy of the Wild Talents version. I liked it, but only skimmed it. When I got the Fate version, on the other hand, I read it from cover to cover. It's a compelling setting combined with a neat set of mechanics. I love that we're in an era of electronic publishing where we're seeing more games done in multiple systems- in completely different books. I was never fond of jamming two systems together in one book (for example most of L5R 2e putting together d20 and classic rules in one book). So I'm pleased to see things like this, Adventures into Darkness and Day After Ragnarok. Kerberos doesn't just change up the NPC stats between editions. Both versions I've read offer alternate mechanics and ideas to make the system better emulate the setting (collateral damage, skill building and conviction aspects in this version for example). .

Kerberos Club also does a couple of things I think every good rpg sourcebook ought to do. First, it provides strong insight and advice about what campaigns in that world look like. What are the stakes? What could players be striving for? How do you give the PCs a structure to work from? But in addition to that, because of the sweep of history, Kerberos offers several different distinct campaign frames and types, depending on what era you settle on.

As I mention in the review, Kerberos Club doesn't shy away from the issue of gender, race and class disparities in the setting. Class is a fixation that helps determines a person's place in the world. Other games take a different tact. Castle Falkenstein embraces the "romantic" view of the period. Class exists as color. Gender roles can be broken out of, but only through panache. CF still talks about female character swooning. That might seem amuzing, but at the table I bet that would get old for some players quickly. Though I wouldn't call steampunk an aesthetic with any political connotations, some connect it with an egalitarian ethos. For those the gender issues don't exist- at least for PCs. Kerberos Club's more honest about the period and the difficulties women face. And they aren't small. Women characters face enormous difficulties- one's that can't easily be overcome. And barging through one set of these obstacles doesn't free the character up- those will always be there.

And as my wife said, that's not a particular rewarding or attractive prospect at the table. It is a structural disadvantage of the period. And I'm not sure how one gets around that, except to white-wash and file the edges off. Because given the variety of possible game universes to, the one where your gender is a massive unrewarded disadvantage is likely not to get your vote. That's knock intended as a slight against Kerberos Club or Victorian-era gaming in general. But it is something to consider- especially if you hope for an inclusive game and a diverse table.

Beyond the difficulty of making a historical game attractive to players, alternate histories have a couple of other hurdles to overcome. Obviously they need to have a degree of verisimilitude. They need to look a like the period, or at least the idea of the period in people's minds. A game that tried to right the wrongs of people's imaginings of a time would be a hard sell. Even the most nuanced historical rpg sourcebook has to make allowances to play. History rpgs have to combine look and feel. I recommend looking at the evolution of Ars Magica as an example of slow and careful development towards a "realistic" and playable version of history. The earliest editions, first and second, have a lot more fantasy feel to them. The art looks anime in many places and some of the later excised story and background elements suggest a much more high fantasy approach than the later solid and even staid approaches to the society of magic.

Alternate histories also have to been consistent or at least make sense. I still think anyone wanting to do something with alternate history owes it to themselves to read Howard Waldrop (for fiction) and Ken Hite (for rpg concepts). Some alternate history books get things really right. Last year I reviewed as many of the Roman-based rpgs as possible. Some, like Cthulhu Invictus, added elements but didn't create another timeline. Fvlminata, on the other hand, posited a basic change, the early discovery of gunpowder and built a solid and consistent world on that concept. It made sense from the initial premises. On the other hand, Roma Imperious seemed to take a kitchen scene approach, which felt inconsistent. It felt like a Roman setting retooled through the lens of old school D&D; to be fair that may have been part of the intent. For the Victorian era, Kerberos manages to keep things together. Like Castle Falkenstein it juggles many different elements which could easily end up feeling like a crazy mish-mash. I enjoy those games that work with the Victorian period as is, rather than moving the timeline forward and suggesting that Neo-Victorian fashions and tropes somehow remain the same. Consider Etherscope and Unhallowed Metropolis, the first of which is set in the year 1984 and the second in 2100. I understand the desire to have those trappings, but I think in both cases, the same settings could have been built with a more less insane timeline.

That timeline also has to be open for the players. Kerberos Club takes the risky step of providing a detailed history that runs from the beginning to the end. I say risky because more than once I've read game histories that remind me of bad film trailers- "OK, I've seen the movie now...don't need to go to the theater." In the case of rpg settings, it feels like the interesting stuff has already been done. It also seems that the results have been absolutely written. Obviously that isn't the case- but game material works better when it invites readers to imagine a place for themselves in that. Kerberos manages that because in part it stays fairly generic when talking about the activities of the Club itself. With a few exceptions (such as dealing with the Jack-the-Ripper murders) it avoids mentioning which Kerberans dealt with which problems. I don't get the sense, as I have in other books, that another party of PCs has already played through and set the tone. You see very few "Mary-Sue" former PCs in this book. Where the book does define events heavily, it presents them with enough room that a GM could easily construct an adventure using that material- and one that actually matters. There's room behind the scenes for the players to make a difference, even at the tragic end of the Club itself.

The Kerberos Club's especially notable for running from the beginning of the 19th Century on. Most Victorian games are planted firmly in the later part of that period- either specifically by the date established or more generally by the tone. The early part of the century presents a host of challenges and details usually not dealt with in pop culture- post-Napoleonic fallout, Regency and Edwardian England. Obviously some recent fantasy fiction (Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell; Naomi Novik's Temeraire series) do cover that period.

The bibliography at the beginning of the book is pretty light. I'd recommend the following books and sources not mentioned there:

The Making of Victorian Values: Decency and Dissent in Britain: 1789-1837
by Ben Wilson. Far and away the best insight into the period before Victoria took control of the hearts and minds of her nation. Does an excellent job of how we arrived at the classic and unbending picture we have of the times.

The Birth of the Modern by Paul Johnson. One of the most readable histories of the early 19th Century. Dense and full of interesting ideas.

GURPS Steam-tech: I like the GURPS Steampunk book, but as a sourcebook for high strange and ideas for mad science to throw into a game like this, you can't beat this volume. The bits and pieces here can be dropped independently into many different Kerberos campaigns.

Pyramid Issue 23- "An Assignation With Her Exaltedness" an article providing inspiration on how to combine the paranoid world of Over the Edge's Al Amarja with steampunk. Would definitely fit in any Kerberos campaign and make for a great foreign destination.

Whitechapel Gods
: An example of how not to do Steampunk. Ugh. Basks in the trappings and clearly wants to be part of the scene but goes overboard.

Kim Newman's Anno Dracula and Mark Frost's The List of Seven. The former's a pretty rolicking fun ride which presents a take on the supernatural out in the open in Victorian England. The latters just weird and all over the place but might offer some inspiration for certain kinds of horror games. I'd also suggest Dan Simmon's Drood for pure atmosphere and uncertain narration. Lastly Steve Brust & Emma Bull's Freedom & Necessity takes place in mid-century England and combines the philosophical with the fantastic.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Changeling: Contracts of the Merciful Hunter; Contracts of Sentencing

In my last Changeling the Lost post, I talked about the new Court in our campaign, the Court of Judgment. Here are the two remaining new Contract sets for that Court. These are written in the rule-lite version our homebrew uses.


No Red Shirts (*)

The Changeling may reflexively take the damage from a physical strike done to another nearby target. This must be declared before damage is determined. The Changeling may apply any armor or other effects to the damage. The Changeling may only do this once for a particular target in a scene, but may use it for different targets in the same scene.

Cost: One

Catch: The target is a subordinate of the Changeling

Gesture of Mercy (**)

If the Changeling performs an act of mercy, they gain a free aspect, “Known for Mercy,” which can be invoked freely against witnesses for a time afterwards. The duration and number of times this may be invoked freely depends on the Changeling's Wyrd. The changeling may not have obviously engineered or set up the situation for this purpose. In other words, the threat and the mercy must be sincerely given.

Cost: Two

Catch: The character granted mercy struck or attacked the Changeling in some manner during the scene.

What You Have Done (***)

The Changeling locks eyes and calls back into the target's mind a memory of the thing they feel most guilty about at this moment. This is a contested Social pull. If successful, the target recalls the event vividly and may believe that the Changeling has some knowledge of that incident (depending on the margin of success). This is a Clarity attack, with damage equal to the Changeling's Wyrd. This may be modified by the target's conscience and bad acts. If the Changeling gets spin, they my apply a free aspect in addition to other bonuses.

Cost: Two

Catch: The Changeling heard some form of confession in the last twenty-four hours.

Benefit of the Doubt (****)

The Changeling marks a target with his blessing. This target must have committed some public or private offense and/or be hunted by someone. The target is marked as being under the Changeling's protection- alerting him if any attempts to harass or harm the target. This effect gives the target bonus armor against attacks. It also provides a free “Under Protection” persistent aspect when dealing with allies or acquaintances of the Changeling. If the target breaks any oaths with the Changeling or his friends, the effect immediately ends and the Changeling is altered.

Each target granted the benefit of the doubt, up to the Changeling's Wyrd, may be invoked as a free aspect once per session.

Cost: Three

Catch: The target has previously been punished by the Changeling and has sworn an oath with them.

Mercy's End (*****)

The target of this clause must have broken an oath with the Changeling, his Motley, or must have visibly broken their oath to the freehold. The Changeling becomes a bane to that target. Any successful rolled damage counts as two wounds. Additionally, the Changleing gains a free “Vengeful Fury” aspect against any who come to the aid of the target.

Cost: Two

Catch: The Changeling has applied a beneficial contract to the target in the past twenty-four hours.


Gravity of the Moment (*)

When the Changeling invokes this clause, the speech or address they are making may not be interrupted by other conversation or social attacks. This allows them to make their full declarations. The announcement may still be stopped by non-social means. Among non-Changelings this can allow the user to hold forth for some time. Among changelings, it grants them a few moments of leeway.

Cost: One

Catch: the Changeling has papers in hand which he shakes violently.

Evenhanded Adjudicator (**)

The Changeling may take a Clarity or Social hit in place of a target. This may be done after the damage has been imposed. The Changeling may heal enough stress boxes to raise the damage up one line on the track. This will clear associated tags, including persistent ones. Note that the Changeling can only do this once per target per stress track.

Cost: Two

Catch: The target has employed the Changeling in some manner.

Sweeping Statement (***)

The Changeling may make an attack that affects more than a single target, even if it normally would. This may effect up to three targets, within relatively close proximity. The Changeling only has to resolve a single attack on the most agile character (to keep the goob down). If successful, then the other two targets take damage as well. This may be done for non-physical attacks but only passes along stress and not other effects.

Cost: Two per additional target

Catch: The Changeling throws two-three identical objects while making the attack. Reduces the cost to one per additional target.

House Arrest (****)

This clause may be used in one of two ways. In its basic form, it can be used to define a boundary for a target. If the target leaves this boundary, the Changeling will immediately be aware of it. In its advanced form, it can be used to slow a target through the weight of their crimes. This is done as a contested Smarts pull. If successful, the target goes last in the round and moves at half speed. Outside of combat, this can be used to slow down someone’s speech to put them at a disadvantage, make their labors more difficult and so on.

Cost: Two

Catch: The Changeling wraps a physical chain around the target.

Contempt of Court (*****)

The Changeling may call into question another Changeling's adherence to the terms of a Contract. Effectively this prevents the target from using a particular Contract set for a period of twenty-four hours. The Changeling must declare the specific set to be restricted. This is a contested Social pull, modified by the characters' Wyrd. The Changeling may not restrict more than three Contract sets at once. This target is aware of the restriction and the source.

Cost: Two

Catch: The Changeling possesses the restricted contract set at a rank equal or greater than the target.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Character Sheet Saturday: AD&D Exorcist

So here's a xerox from the legendary AD&D character sheet packs, those of the orange paper which I can only assume was an attempt to keep them from being photocopied. I love all of the detail and tiny, tiny lettering. I ran some AD&D- a couple of campaigns that lasted for a while. But by the time that Unearthed Arcana came out, various groups in our area had started to migrate over to GURPS and Rolemaster to do fantasy. So I only really have two characters I remember from this period, the one I played in a long-running campaign...

...and this guy. Who I maybe played for a session.

What made this character memorable was the set up. I played with a number of different groups- and some of them were a few years older. They were of my sister's generation or gamers or a little younger. By the time I became a gamer worth playing with, i.e. not an ankle-biter, some of the groups had moved on and the rest shuffled around and reformed. I ended up with a decent crew and we played in the garage during the summer in the Northern Indiana humidity and in the basement in the winter. One summer, a veteran gamer returned fro the Army. He'd been a kind of legendary GM and he wanted to finish out his campaign- one or two players in my group had been in his game. So he asked about using the garage, helped rebuild one of the tables and set the thing up.

I got to make up a character for the game which was going to be the epic wrap-up of the various plot threads and stuff. Of course, given the nature of the time, the game had a ton of house rules mana instead of spells per day; new classes & races; additional stats and so on. And for those of us joining in, we got to make up higher level characters. So you can see my 12th level Elven Wolf Rider Exorcist on the sheet below. I only scanned the first page, on the second page there's something about my character having lost and arm and it being replaced with an ape arm. I don't remember the details of that. And of course on the back of these sheets there's a space for the characters to write in their will.

Anyway, the game started running- I think they were planning on a full weekend of intense gaming to wrap everything up. I was kind of excited- a chance to play in a legendary game with some legendary characters- to add my story to that. But pretty quickly it became apparent that wasn't going to happen. The game was going to go on, but my character and those of the one or two other fill-ins- well, we really didn't matter. We couldn't affect anything, we couldn't get any scene time, and pretty much were left clueless out in the cold. Now I can understand that to some degree- this was a campaign with a rich history that had gone on for a long time. But I'd hoped to do more than just sit there and get to roll my sword. It the first time I experienced a game squarely aimed at one or two players; the GM intended them to be the stars of the show and anything else was unimportant. I hit that a few more times over the years, but this was almost the most blatant. I recall at one point asking a fellow veteran player who had a number of legendary artifact swords if I could use one for the upcoming fight since I didn't have one. Such a request was clearly beyond the pale and offensive. So no sword. At some point I got tired of the whole thing and left, I went upstairs to bed and they kept playing in my garage. I think the game broke up at about dawn. I don't think I ever heard how it wrapped up.

Good times.