Category Archives: Uncategorized

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!

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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.

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…)