Category Archives: Uncategorized

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?

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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.

A Storm of Kickstarters

Forget about April Showers and May Flowers.  February has brought with it a virtual tsunami of kickstarters.  It’s a terrible thing really.  Lots of good properties out there vying for your investment, but there is always only so much to go around.  If Kickstarter is going to become the new driver for RPG production, you business managers need to start talking with one another.

If you’re a regular visitor here, you know that I’ve been looking forward to the 7th Sea and the KULT kickstarters.  But I definitely want to shine a spotlight on a couple of other very intriguing properties.

Savage Worlds: Weird War I (Pinnacle Entertainment Group)

Down to its final hours as of this posting.  While WWI roleplaying isn’t really my thing, I gotta put this out their for Savage Worlds.  It’s one of my favorite RPGs.  Shane Hensley and his crew do great work and always bring their A-game to every project and product launch.  They’ve done a fantastic job of turning their kickstarters into events, and Weird War I is no exception with a slew of juicy, delicious physical aids like cards, tokens, dice, hell even a canvas messenger bag!  So check it out and hurry before its all over but the cryin’.

REH’s Conan Roleplaying Game (Modiphius Entertainment)

Dude.  It’s Conan.  Yes, the old schoolers are pissed about the Doom Pool but…it’s Conan.  Everything about this one looks beautiful.  The people behind it seem very dedicated to shedding as much of the 1970’s pastiche as possible and distilling this one down to it’s Howardian core.  So even if you are an old school gamer with no time or patience for those fancy, new-fangled silly narrative mechanics, the lore and fluff should be burning a hole somewhere in your brain. Right now it’s sitting at $317k with 18 days to go.  You can check out the (recently updated!!!) Quickstart Rules here to get a taste.

7th Sea (John Wick Presents)

Biggest Tabletop RPG kickstarter in history (ok, that’s only going back a few years but its still impressive).  $825k (that’s almost $800k over it’s initial pledge goal) with 12 days to go as of this posting. 7,688 backers. On track to break $1 million before it’s over.  This is a new Theah, with shipping routes open to the New World, Africa, and the Middle East (and maybe the Far East before too long).  Backers get early access to the quickstart preview of the rules and John Wick and his crew are listening to comments and criticism, working hard to make a game something we can all love.

Kult: Divinity Lost (Helmgast AB)

The bloody avant-garde.  For better or worst, Helmgast decided to turn this into a real collectors’ showcase, with some 8 different collector’s editions to suit every KULT fan (of every income bracket).  The two basic packages ($25/PDF and $60/Print+PDF) are both quite reasonable though based on what we’ve seen of the production values.  The real downside here is the developers are still playing coy with the rules system.  Sure, it’s based on the Apocalypse World engine but appears to make some very radical changes.  At least Archetypes and Playbooks appear to be similar enough.  Right now its sitting at $126k with 30 days to go. If the Illusion cracks enough to reveal a glimpse at the rules behind the game, you can bet I’ll have something to say about it.

 

 

7th Sea: Deconstructing the QuickStart Heroes

Kickstarter Update: We are 4 days into the 7th Sea 2nd edition Kickstarter and already funding is closing in on $500k with over 4200 contributors.  Several sourcebooks have been “unlocked,” including the New World and the Crescent Empire.  You can check it all out here!

I suspect I’m not the only one interested in figuring out the nuts and bolts of characters in 7th Sea 2nd edition (and aren’t patient enough to wait til October).  So I broke out the various details of the five pre-generated characters and complied everything into lists.  I’ve removed the details in an effort to avoid any legal issues, but I recognize a lot of these from 1st edition, so those of you who haven’t yet backed the kickstarter campaign or subscribed to the 7th Sea email list but do have access to the old 1st edition Players Guide can probably follow along.

Now, this is nowhere near enough information necessary to actually create a character.  But given the ranges, you might be able to eyeball some unholy variation with the first edition rules.

HUBRIS

Each hero has one hubris.

Hot Headed
Loyal
Overconfident
Proud
Trusting

VIRTUE

Each hero has one virtue.

Inspirational
Perspicacious
Uncanny
Victorious
Willful

SKILLS

Each character has between 8 and 11 skills.  Characters have between 14.5* and 20 dice (pips) divided between skills (minimum 1, maximum 3).

Ambush
Athletics
Deception
Diplomacy
Empathy
Healing
Hide
Intimidation
Know (Fashion, Law, Occult, Poison, Tactics, Sea)
Perform (Dancing)
Profession (Sailor)
Ride
Sailing
Tempt
Theft
Warfare
Weapon (Dagger, Firearms, Sword, Whip)

*Yes, one character has 1 and a half dice in a Weapons skill.  No idea at all what that means, but I’m calling it out here all the same.

BACKGROUNDS

Each character has two backgrounds.

Army Officer
Aristocrat
Assassin
Bravo
Consigliere
Courtier
El Vagobundo Vagabond
Fate Witch

ADVANTAGES

Each character has five or six advantages.

Able Drinker
Ally
Castillian Education
Combat Reflexes
Come Hither
Confidants
Friends at Court
Handy
Indomitable Will
Keen Sense
Large
Leadership
Left-Handed
Linguist
Luck
Membership
Ordained
Poison Immunity
Reputation
Sea Legs
Second Story Work
Small
Psst, Over Here

DUELING ACADEMIES

Ambrogia

7th Sea Quickstart: Initial Thoughts

Man!  It’s like a perfect storm of kickstarters around here.  KULT one day, 7th Sea the next.  The truth is tandem cold viruses have had us under siege here for the last couple of weeks, making it hard enough just to get done what needs to get done around here.  Writing up a blog post feels like a luxury.  Don’t worry, we’ll be getting back to Witch Hunter very soon.  But first, let’s talk a bit about 7th Sea.

First up, if you are the least bit interested and haven’t done so already, sign up for the mailing list.

Update: Since this post went live this morning, the 7th Sea second edition kickstarter has launched and, as of 11 am CST, blown past $148k (of an initial $30k funding) in a matter of hours. The campaign still has 33 days to go which, at this rate, could amount to a lot of PDF bang for your buck.  You can check it out here.

As I’m tying this, we are about 12 hours away from the launch of the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter campaign.  This is a game near and dear to my heart.  Words cannot express my love for the original edition.  Reading Sebastian De Castell’s Greatcoat books really has me hankering to get back into that world.  I know the game has warts.  Swordsman are too weak, Abilities too important, and the advancement system doesn’t really hold up over long term play.  But I can ignore all that for what the game does right.  Panache, Drama Dice, Exploding Dice, Called Raises.  These are the things of roleplaying Nirvana.

Over the weekend, John Wick released a preview of the Quickstart for 7th Sea 2nd edition.  When he did, he stressed a couple of things.  First, don’t repost it.  Second, this is only a draft.  A draft of a quickstart for a draft of a RPG.  So its pointless to bitch or complain about ANYTHING in the rules because the whole thing could change on a whim.

Well, I’m not gonna repost it.  It should be available for the whole world to see soon enough.  I am gonna talk about the rules, knowing full well that these comments could be obsolete tomorrow.  Because why not?!  Plus, I suspect most of what I’m going to say WILL be valid until that big, beautiful, 300-page rulebook arrives on my doorstep.

A quick rundown:

  • The core mechanic is a variation on the Trait+Skill dice pool.  Players roll a dice equal to Trait+Skill and count combinations of dice that add up to 10 (7+2+1, 3+3+4, 2+8, etc.).  Each group of 10 is a raise.  You use Raises to overcome Challenges or Consequences.
  • Raises cancel Consequences on a 1:1 scale.  1 point of damage is a consequence.  So a hero blundering through a trap that does 3 points of damage would have to roll (and spend) 3 raises to soak/ignore the damage.
  • Game play works on bids.  The players and bad guys decide what they are going to do.  Everyone rolls and counts Raises.  Then players either spend Raises to overcome consequences, or “bid” against one another (or the bad guys) to succeed at their INTENT (essentially, what the hero really wants to accomplish at that moment).
  • Players get bonus dice for their rolls for using unusual skills, for adding cool quips and exposition, or spending hero points (hasta la vista, drama dice).
  • The original 5 core Traits are all there: Brawn, Finesse, Wits, Resolve, and Panache.  PANACHE!
  • Brutes and Villains appear to have only 1 Trait: Strength.
    • With Brutes, Strength is how much damage they do against a hero.
    • With Villains, Strength is how many dice they get to roll to do things

My general feelings are that the quickstart poses more questions than it answers.

  • Do dice still explode?
  • Does Panache still affect initiative?  Does Initiative still exist?
  • Can I still call Raises and does it still get me cool effects?
  • What does an actual group fight look like?
  • What does a fight with a monster look like?
  • What does a fight between a group of heroes, multiple villains and hordes of brutes look like?
  • What does a fight between two swordsmen of different styles look?  (In the original edition, it wasn’t that dramatic.)
  • Will counting groups of 10 be faster/easier than adding up kept dice after a bottle of wine?  Two bottles?  Rum?!
  • How the Hell am I going to do any of this on Roll20?!?!

But my biggest concern is this: Our jobs as GMs is pretty reactionary.  Players want to do something.  They roll the dice and we interpret the results.  The “bid” aspect of the new system appears to turn that on its ear.  I can’t wait to see how good or bad the player rolls to interpret the results.  Instead, I list Consequences up front and the player decides how they want to spend their Raises.  It’s a constantly fluctuating resource management game.  Do I spend all my Raises to make sure I accomplish what I want to do, or do I hold back in case the villain tries to do something obnoxious to me.

It may sound subtle, but its not.  It’s a pretty big paradigm shift.  And I’m just not sure how its going to play out at the table.

While you chew on that, I’ll leave you a preview of the new cover:

7sea-mockup

Update #2: Well this day just keeps on giving.  What is that?  Could it be?  Yes.  It is.  A map!  A new map!  Of Theah.  Here it is:

7sea-map

Kult: Divinity Lost Update

We now have a cover image!

kult DL

Apparently, the original was deemed to risqué.  Because…nipples.  Right.  I don’t think it loses anything for covering up.  The original cover design can be seen here.  It sounds like the Kickstarter will have an option for the alternate cover.

It looks good.  But nothing beats the original for sheer macabre.

illusion_cover_back

Now if we could just get a look at the character sheet (or playbook, or whatever the kids are calling them these days…)

KULT:Divinity Lost — A Glimpse Behind the Illusion

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Today’s KULT update comes from Head Writer & Designer, Robin.  It provides a bit more insight into how the new game system works.  For those of you who haven’t been following along (here and here, too!), the original premise was a hack of the Apocalypse World system.  This didn’t sit well with your’s truly or a lot of other old school KULT fans.  Nothing kills a horror game faster than Monty Python quotes and handing over the narrative to the players.  Oh, you can disagree with me on that note all you want to.  I have plenty of backup on that score.

ANYWAY! Needless to say, that news item was quickly followed by assurances that the *World hack K:DL was using had morphed considerably into…something else.  But no one was coming forward with specifics.  Well here comes Robert to give us taste of what we can expect system-wise.  This was all posted on the Kult: Divinity Lost Facebook page.

The number one goal of KULT: Divinity Lost is to wake this universe up from its slumber and give it back to you, old and new Kultists, with all the love, respect, and twisted imagination you could hope for. We think we have an awesome game and we want to share it with you.

The most important philosophy of KULT: Divinity Lost is to have context, to have rules and background materials about the world that supports playing stories deeply seated in the vast and complex KULT universe.

For me that can be summarized in five statements:

  • The game should support the players creating interesting and unique characters.
  • The game should support the narrator creating terrifying horror stories.
  • The game should support stories of characters that see through the Lie and therefore are cursed (or blessed) by Awakening.
  • The game should support stories with multiple dimensions and entities: make them intelligible and horrifying for the players, and manageable for the narrator.
  • The game should support suspense, drama, and action without breaking the flow of the story.

RULES

When I play KULT: Divinity Lost, I want the rules to fade into the background. The number one rule during development is that all rules must support the ongoing immersive story, instead of breaking the flow or draw attention away from the story. The players should focus on playing their characters and the narrator use the rules as tools to advance the story. When dice are rolled, something is happening! The story moves forward. The result can be good or bad, but it will always be something exciting that pushes the story and forces the characters to make fast and hard choices!

The most defining rules concept in KULT: Divinity Lost are moves.

So what is a move? First, before explaining each mechanic, here is an example of a basic move in KULT: Divinity Lost.

Investigate

When you investigate something roll +Intellect. On a success, you get all open clues.

  • (15+) In addition, ask 2 questions from the list below.
  • (10-14) Ask 1 question, but information comes at a cost.The narrator decides: You need someone or something to get all answers, you have put yourself in danger, or have sacrificed time or resources.
  • (-9) You get to ask 1 question anyway, but you expose yourself to dangers or costs. The narrator make a soft or hard move.

Questions:

  • How can I find more information about the object of the investigation?
  • What do my gut say about the object of the investigation?
  • Is there something weird about the object of the investigation?

The basic moves includes skills and abilities that the characters in KULT: Divinity Lost use when confronted by the world, and to defeat obstacles in their way. All are built in the same way with an activation phrase, roll, and effects.

The activation phrase tell the players what actions in the story that can activate the move. For example, “When you investigate something” means that the player can roll for the move when the character investigates something, and if the narrator agrees that a roll is needed. Perhaps there is nothing to be found or that clues are so obvious that it isn’t necessary to roll dice, or that the situation does not lend itself for investigation—such as in the middle of a fight. In KULT: Divinity Lost, it is always the Narrator that decides if dice are rolled or not.

In KULT: Divinity Lost you always roll two ten-sided dices and add the results. The roll tells the player what attribute will modify the outcome of the roll. For example Roll +Intellect means that you will modify the outcome of the roll with your modification in Intellect (which generally range from -2 to +4).

The effects explain the possible outcomes of the move if the player roll a complete success (sum of 15 or higher), a success with a complication (sum between 10 to 14), or fails the roll (sum of or below 9). Based on the effects the player and narrator get to make choices, and the narrator eventually describes the end results of the move in the story context and how it affects the characters.

There are 11 basic moves that all players can use and a lot of unique moves for advantages and disadvantages that the players choose between for their characters during character creation, and when the characters realize new abilities in between game sessions.

ADVENTURES

KULT: Divinity Lost has rules that support for playing both prepared and unprepared stories. If you, like me, dare to tread the dark universe of KULT without any knowledge of what will happen before play, the rules will give you extensive tools for the creation of creepy, bloody, and agonizing stories. If you want to prepare the stories before play, with pre-made characters, scenes, story arcs, etc, the tools for unprepared stories will still be very useful for inspiration, improvised events, and for making the universe seem real.
What we would really appreciate is if you can help spread the word about the coming of KULT: Divinity Lost, on websites, forums, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Please suggest to like this page, and/or sign up for news on http://kultdivinitylost.com. Please share the update on forums. And if you know of bloggers or influencers, please let them know about us, or give us feedback so we can seek them out.

Alright.  So.  Thoughts.  I’ve never been a big fan of what the *World games term as “Moves.”  To me, it takes something organic to play (“I listen to the door.  What do I hear?”) and turns it into something boardgamey (“What’s behind the door?  Can I Investigate?”).  I’m not even sure that’s a fair criticism.  I just feel there is a slight difference between an Action (something you MAKE) and a Move (something you DO).  I just can’t quite put my figure on it.  Maybe it’s because it takes something players have always done (drive the action) and slap some new terminology on it.  Hey remember when Gygax got all that flack for changing the term “round” to a Critical Turn?  Or an Activity Block Count?  Anyhow, I do agree with the principle: I WANT the rules to fade into the background.  Say what you want to do, roll a couple of dice, and see what happens.

I’m a bit worried about the roll results scale.  2d10+Attribute, with a roll of ≤9 being a failure.  Not being familiar with the Attribute scale, that’s almost a 50/50 chance of failure. I’m not a big fan of 50/50 systems.  But, without seeing what a starting character in K:DL looks like, its hard to gauge.    At least they are keeping the modifiers low for us math adversed types.

Don’t misunderstand me.  As much as I love the original KULT (1st edition from Metropolis Games), it wasn’t because of the system.  I’ve always felt something super stripped down (a lot of people suggest Over the Edge, which might be a touch too light for my tastes, but a good start) would serve it better.  So I’m keeping an open mind here.  Most of their statements have more to do with the GM than the system, but it never hurts to have a system that doesn’t work against you.  I’m honestly not familiar enough with the mechanics of *World games to tell how big a departure they are describing.  But I feel the info is worth passing on.