Category Archives: Uncategorized

Inside Baseball: Campaign Prep

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Time to talk prep.  As I write this, I’m prepping to begin two different games: a 7th Sea game for my regular group and an All For One: Regime Diabolique game for my library program.  Now, if you’ve been following along, you’ll remember that I’ve talked about doing things a bit differently this time around.  I’ve been trying to stay true to that experiment.  So I thought I’d give readers a window into my prep process.

7th Sea

This one has by far required the most discipline for me.  Because I want to feature the player’s stories, I didn’t want to prep too much before we had our character creation session. So instead I started by giving the players some choices in the “themes” the game would explore.  Basically, I wanted to get a vague idea of the type of game they were most interested in playing.  I needed this to begin any type of prep at all.  Théah is a big sandbox and 7th Sea is wide open to all sorts of play.They came back with High Seas Adventure and Secret Societies.  That gave me a place to start.

With Witch Hunter, I had an idea for my uber-villain, the ultimate story arch, and where I wanted play to begin (Strasbourg).  I didn’t want to do that this time.  Instead, I started sketching out some rough ideas for NPCs, using a lot of ideas from Johnn Four’s One Sentence NPCs and 3 Line NPCs.  The idea is to design some nebulous NPC concepts that can then be applied to characters the players encounter once play begins.  I scribbled down 2 pages of ideas in my notebook before realizing that very few of the concepts I had created really fit a seafaring environment.  So I took a left turn to brainstorm a collection of Pirate Town archetypes to give me more direction.  I also started drawing up some rough ideas for a handful of villains that I could introduce.

Things took another left turn while surfing GnomeStew and reading Tracey Barnett’s article on NPC Moves.  Now, I’m not big on *World or FATE games, but the idea of taking passive qualities (personality traits, motivations, etc) and turning them into Actions struck me as genius.  Basically, instead of this:

The Old Dame

  • Longs to recapture her youth
  • Loves to throw elaborate parties
  • Is the laughing stock of the local social set

…you instead have this:

The Old Dame

  • Act Younger than I am
  • Name drop and associate to elevate myself
  • Mistake mockery for flattery
  • Add invitees to the next guest list

THAT seems super helpful in portraying NPCs as unique and different and not falling into a lot of the same bad habit characterizations.  It also seems well suited to the Index Card method.  So while its not the easiest shift for me, I’m doing my best present my NPCs in these terms.

The last thing I’m doing is with my villains.  After Witch Hunter, the last thing I want is a shadowy mastermind pulling the strings.  Yes, 7th Sea has these aplenty, but to push myself I’m working to introduce bold, aggressive, in your face adversaries instead of those hiding in the shadows.

But that’s it.  I’ve tried to keep everything else to a line or two at best.  After all, the plan is to improvise a lot more in play.  The exception to this is a handful of ideas I have for a lost Syrneth ruin (DUNGEONCRAWL!  WOOT!).  But I don’t plan to dig in deep there unless my players express interest in going there.

All For One: Regime Diabolique

While I’m hoping to employ a lot of these same practices when it comes to the library game, here I benefit from more structure.  We generally have a table of anywhere from 6 to 12 teens of varying level of experience.  There is already a LOT of improvisation going on, but these kids benefit from a bit of direction…dare I call it railroading.  That is, if you open everything up to them, nothing gets done.  So here I want to have a solid hook for them to bite on.

As such, I’m going to rely on the matrix adventure design that has served me well here in the past.  I’ve plotted out the first session and followed the bread crumbs a bit in different directions.  So I’m prepared.  I don’t want to go too far, though.

Something I’m considering employing this time around are clue cards, or some tangible aid that the players can refer back to.  Maybe even something as heavy handed as Quest Cards.  There is a bit of a mystery planned, though its much less Sherlock Holmes and more 24 in nature.  So anything to help the kids stay on track will be helpful.

Beyond this, I’ll be recycling a lot of the discarded NPC concepts from the 7th Sea game who fit much more snuggly within the walls of Paris than on the open seas.  Same plan: index cards, rough concepts that can be applied when needed, and actions instead of passive qualities.

It occurs to me that having a timeline of events would be helpful here too, and help drive the action without putting the heroes on a southbound train.

Final Words

I’ll revisit all of this after about a month of play and we’ll see how it goes.  As of right now, I’m pretty happy with the results and excited to.  Both games have plenty of room to surprise me, and that’s something I desperately want right now: the flexibility for everything to take a sharp left turn at Albequorque.  Nothing is safe, nothing is too sacred, and no one will be spared.

See you next week!

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Merry Christmas

Everyone has a favorite Christmas song. Here’s mine.

But these are the two that really bring me back to my childhood.

Yes, I grew up weird. Shocking.

Merry Christmas from me and mine to you and your’s, and heartfelt good wishes and hopes that 2017 is…easier on all of us than 2016 has been.

High Seas Holiday (Reprise)

What?  You thought that was it?  A bunch of ship names you could have gathered yourself?

How about I raise you one Uncharted Island Generator?

Again, not claiming sole ownership on this one.  I’ve cobbled it together from several nice resources floating around out there.  I’ve included my sources and links.  So show these guys and gals some love this holiday.  They do great work!

Happy Holidays, everyone!

 

 

 

Oh, ok.  And here’s an Anatomy of a Ship and Nautical Terms document, too.  Merry Christmas!

More Halloween Dark

So after letting my issues uncovered by the Halloween Dark playtest percolate a bit, I’m very close to releasing a revision.  I’m hoping to have it all done by Friday, just in time for a fun weekend of Halloween gaming.  But before I put it out there, I could use some feedback.  So today I’m going to recap the issues and supply my proposed fixes.

Issue: The game needs a better refresh mechanic than “play a card, draw a card.”

Fix: A player may draw a new Trick or Treat card when she investigates a new Location.  This could be one she has never investigated, or one she has investigated before under different circumstances.  Characters that hide away in fortified bunkers do not get rewarded.  A player may never have more than three Trick or Treat cards in her hand unless specifically permitted by another card.

Commentary: This will hopefully solve the deck cycling issue and, to some degree, the lack of investigation.  Plus, it keeps players from hunkering down in the bunker and waiting for the action to blow over.  In addition, I’m going to add a handful of T/T cards that directly affect the refresh.  Here’s a preview:

Instant Karma (Trick): Exchange your hand of cards with another player at the table.  Your hands do not need to be equal.

Issue: Combat needs tightening up.  Monsters need to be much more threatening, and the choice of fight or flight needs to be much more definite.  

Fix: Fighting monsters works slightly different than other tasks.  Encounters with monsters are frightening affairs.  When a monster is encountered, compare its Threat Rating to the character’s current Panic level.  If the monster’s Threat is equal to or higher, the character immediately suffers a level of Panic.

When a character attacks a monster, the player rolls dice as usual but then must discard a number of dice equal to the Monster’s Threat Rating, starting with the highest rolls.  Any remaining dice results of 5 or 6 are considered “hits”.  

In combat, a monster can take a number of “hits” equal to it Threat score.  So a Threat 3 Werewolf can take three hits before being beaten.  What happens when the creature reaches 3 hits is entirely up to the Game Master, but usually it is forced to retreat or is killed.

If a character scores no hits in an fighting exchange, the player may choose to suffer a level of Panic OR Exhaustion.  If the character has no dice remaining due to the Monster’s Threat, he suffers a level of both Panic and Exhaustion.  Furthermore, some monster Schticks increase either or both the amount of Panic and/or Exhaustion suffered in an exchange (ie. Violence and Gore increases the Panic suffered by 1 level).

A character that is driven to 5 levels of either Panic OR Exhaustion (or both) is essentially dead.  They either lack the strength to fight further or are so mad with panic that they become easy prey for a determined adversary.

Commentary: This should model “fear checks” nicely without a lot of fuss.  Plus, as off the rails as play gets with dice and card play, taking away dice AFTER the roll seems a lot easier than doing the calculations before the roll.  I think having to discard your highest rolls will make the monsters seem a bit more terrifying psychologically.  Players get to drive the narrative a bit by choosing the type of “damage” their characters receive.

 

Issue: Panic and doing something Rash need some fine tuning.

Fix: When your Panic reaches 4, you are Panicked and roll one less die for any task. You may reduce your Panic level by Doing Something Rash. You break off from the group alone to do something quick, interrupt the ritual, destroy something sinister in the group’s possession (or a member of the group!), or wander into the dark room without a light source. Doing Something Rash always involves putting yourself (or someone else) at risk.  Each time you do this, roll your Fear Die. If you get less than your current Panic, decrease your Panic by the difference between the two.  So if you rolled a 1, you would reduce your Panic by 3 levels.

Commentary: This should make doing something rash a bit less haphazard.  Plus, with the new “fear check” mechanic, I expect the panic levels to be swinging around a lot more.  Doing something rash now has the potential for a much better pay off.  I’m not sure I’ll stick with the “roll low” aspect, though.  Maybe roll a d6 and reduce your Panic by half the result.  That would have essentially the same effect.  And yes, the only way your Panic level can be completely restored is with a T/T card.

If you have more elegant ideas or can see gaping holes in any of these approaches, please leave a comment.  Otherwise, watch for Halloween Dark v2.5 to hit this site later this week!

Halloween’s a Great Time for Clowning…

The following story is fictional and does not depict any actual person or event.

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RIPPED FROM THE HEADLINES!  Clown hysteria has gripped the United States.  Creepy clowns seem to be showing up in every state, every city.  Did we just leapfrog over the zombie apocalypse?  Has Trump v Clinton driven people to the extreme?  I can’t tell you that.  Funny thing, the same thing happened back in the 50’s, in a little town in Missouri called Carthage…

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Joyland is a short, one-night scenario for Halloween Dark. Set in the early 1950s, a rash of disappearances coincided with numerous mysterious clown sightings.  Despite local law enforcement denials, many felt the two were connected.  The characters have come together to investigate an abandoned carnival park that seems to be at the center of the clown sightings.  But what they find is far more horrific than they can possibly imagine — if they survive Joyland, that is.

The scenario includes a complete location key of the fairgrounds, a map, as well as bonus trick or treat cards to tie into the killer clown theme.  Like the game itself, it’s a witches brew.  See something that doesn’t make sense?  That’s because you need to make up your own effect.  Why are they characters involved in the adventure?  All of the Pre-Gens have a reason, but you can just as easily come up with something on the fly.  How do you kill the big bad in the final encounter?  Let them figure something out.  You should be asking yourself how your players survived all those clowns!

Penny Dreadful: A Retrospective

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So it should be old news by now that after wrapping its third season, the curtain falls and the lights go up on Penny Dreadful.  There is something cool and liberating about these limited run series (limited run in that they tell a finite story rather than dragging things out for 6-7 seasons of 20 episodes each).

One of the things I’ve begun to experience with Walking Dead specifically but even Game of Thrones is the futility of investment.  When characters you care about die in the narrative, characters that you’ve become emotionally invested in, it shakes the narrative to its core.  Now, so far, Game of Thrones has done well to build on those deaths.  (Crap!  How do I do this without spoilers?) The executions, the assassinations, the atrocities, they still reverberate throughout the narrative.  Characters who died in the first novel/1st season are still impacting the story as it moves forward.  In that sense, you’re investment in the character isn’t completely lost.  Walking Dead is a different matter.  The writers may claim to be doing dramatic service to the narrative, promoting the idea that no one being safe raises the tension of each season.  Yes, I suppose it does.  But when a character dies on Walking Dead, their impact is gone after 2-3 episodes.  It becomes spectacle; a gimmick.  This is especially true of last season’s finale.  And its become old hat and annoying.  It’s like profanity.  If you curse like a sailor, those words have no impact.  But the guy who never curses swears once and EVERYONE is suddenly paying attention.  So when the body count in a show reaches a certain level, it doesn’t impact you in the same way anymore.  At some point, your perspective changes from who is going to die to who is going to live.  At that point, you stop investing in anything tangible about the narrative.

What was that Stalin said?  One death is a tragedy; a million deaths are a statistic.  (At least a lot of people attribute that quote to him.)

Wait.  Stop with the Stalin quotes.  What does ANY of this have to do with Penny Dreadful?!

Sorry.  Let me put my soapbox away.

The point is that a short, defined narrative makes it easier to do the former and blunts the latter.  If you only have 10 episodes to tell your story, it’s easier to have a death or twist reverberate through the narrative longer.

Alright, so let’s get to Penny Dreadful.  First, some spoiler space for those waiting for the DVD collection to binge watch the season.  You folks just go ahead and bookmark this and come back later, k?

spoiler space…

Still with me?  Ok.

First up, I thought the season was incredible.  At least as good as last season.  I really applaud the way they handled Renfield and Dracula’s spawn.  When they revealed Dracula’s identity in episode 3, I wasn’t shocked, but I was disappointed for Vanessa Ives.  Ethan’s storyline wraps up nicely.  The Creature gets a ray of sunshine, only to have it tragically jerked out from under him.  Man, that guy can’t catch a break.  Doctor Jeckyll doesn’t really get to come into his own, but I liked the spin they put on him. Yes, it feels like by season’s end, everyone has turned a corner in character development.  Except…

Vanessa Ives.

Her fate is the lone, big, fat, red, nasty, pussy pimple on the whole season.  It isn’t bad enough to ruin the season for me, but it is enough to make me throw up my hands and say, “really?!

Now I haven’t seen any of the first season aside from 1 and 1/2 episodes.  I saw Van Helsing get knifed by a street thug and Eva Green get her first solo episode where we wax poetic for an hour about how she betrayed her friend and spiraled into the grip of the devil.  Pure Victorian Melodrama.  Also, pure crap!  If that’s what the show was about, I didn’t need to watch it.  Goodbye.

I did give it a second chance with the Season 2 and, without Vanessa being the sole focus of the show, I came along for the ride.  That’s what you get for trying to jump in mid-season.

But it’s been my complaint about Vanessa all this time.  Her sense of self-loathing just rolls on like a Sherman tank ignoring any obstacle in its path.  And it’s damn irritating.  “Oh, poor me.  I did something bad once and now I am irredeemably evil.  No, don’t try to tell me otherwise.  Lalalala!  I’m not listening to you!

But you helped feed poor orphans in the London underground? Nope.  Sorry.  Evil.

But you were there when the creature needed a shoulder to cry on.  Evil.

You help send evil things back to hell on a regular basis.  You’d love to think that but…evil.

But isn’t forgiveness a tenant of Chri… Ok, would you stop already?  Don’t make me prove how evil I am.  I speak witch!

So after 8 episodes of gearing up to put the screws to Dracula, with everyone behind her, knowing that anything less is to doom mankind, one monologue by our sharp dressed villain and Vanessa “accepts herself” for the evil, self-loathing bitch that she is.  Really?!  

Now you can say that she did it for love, for acceptance, for passion.  But no.  Vanessa did it because at her core she is a selfish, self-loathing lemming whose courage and determination amount to exactly shit when the chips are down.

Which is to say her decision feels totally forced and out of character to me.

And since her decision could be construed as directly related to the death of the Creature’s son, I was terribly disappointed that Mr. Claire was not the one to rip her fool head off.  No, instead we get Ethan who proves once again that Vanessa left her spine in episode 7 somewhere.  Because honestly, if her sacrificing herself so evil couldn’t win was the right move, someone should have suggested that in Season 2.

And this twist of fate is doubly annoying because it robbed me (!!!!!) of a proper finale with the Dracula v the Wolf of God.  Yes, I wanted to see Ethan wolf out and throw down with Dracula.  I wanted them to paint the walls!  Who didn’t?!  But no, Vanessa is the reason we can’t have nice things.  And as the curtain falls on her death, she becomes the story of Penny Dreadful, and that cheapens the whole run.  Thanks a lot, John Logan.

Other than that, it was a great ride.

What did you think?

Lieutenant Brute, Reporting for Duty

Having played Savage Worlds for years, and now running an old school B/X D&D game for teens, I’ve gotten used to players wanting to hire retainers, hirelings, mercenaries, and other hangers on.  When prepping my adventure for 7th Sea, it seemed obvious that the ship’s crew was going to go on the adventure with the Heroes.  But other than Brutes being opposition, there really isn’t anything about using them for support.  A couple of us brainstormed some ideas over on the 7th Sea 2nd edition forums and I cobbled together some optional rules regarding brutes, focusing on players commanding them in the field.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Brutes should never outclass the Heroes; there should never be a time when it is to the Heroes’ advantage to let the brutes do the heavy lifting.
  • All things being equal, two brute squads of equal strength will each do 1 wound to the other each round.
  • If a squad outnumbers an opposing squad by 2 or more, the squad will do 2 wounds each round.
  • Players whose Approach allows them to command brutes may use them as any other weapon, and may spend a Raise for the brutes to do an additional wound to an opposing brute squad.

The rest is here.