Ch-ch-ch-changes

“So we wake up in a barn…with Isaac Newton.”
— Heather

That’s the quote that wrapped up last Friday’s Witch Hunter game.  It marked the end of a pretty tense adventure that found our heroes on the losing side of a blossoming Hell Point in northern France and the forces of a Duke Unchained who had been summoned there.  Things probably would have been more tense had we not played in nearly two months, what with conflicting schedules.  Still, in the end, it felt like a satisfactory “season finale.”

And that’s what its going to be.  The last Witch Hunter game until at least July.

Maybe it’s the two month hiatus, the kids’ schedules, or the fact that we’ve been at this campaign for three years.  But my Witch Hunter take is feeling a bit dried up.  It’s been coming.  I felt it back in the early part of the year.  There are still plenty of stories to tell, and I really want to see how they shake out.  But I feel like, as a GM, I’m at the line between phoning it in and running an inspired game.  And my players deserve the latter.

So a month ago I proposed a finite break from Witch Hunter to try out one of a couple of new games sitting on the shelf.  By a very thin margin, we settled on the new 7th Sea.

I’m excited about the change for a whole host of reasons.  For one, as I’ve stated here and elsewhere, I really feel parts of the new 7th Sea are outside of my comfort zone as a GM: the way the core mechanic is structured, the removal of roadblocks, and just the sheer level of improvisation the game really steers towards.  And while I’m very familiar with the world of Théah, I feel like the game is going to be a real challenge to run.

It also makes a great opportunity to shake some old habits.  After all, what’s the point of taking a break from an old game if you are going to do everything the same way you did before?  I’m looking to push myself in new directions and new challenges as much as recharge my creative batteries.

The biggest change I’m making is with prep!  Since my D&D 3e days, my prep has become steadily more heavy.  If you look at my adventure notes, they can get quite elaborate sometimes.  I look back at my games pre-3e and see that most of my session plans took maybe a page or two.  Post-3e, I average about 4-5 pages of prep for 2 sessions worth of play (mostly due to over prepping).

Because of the game’s emphasis on improvisation, I’m going to try something new: the Index Card method.  I’ve shied away from this method in the past because putting 5 pages of historical detail on index cards just doesn’t seem very practical.  In fact, the Index Card approach is almost the polar opposite of how I prep.  What fun!  Let’s give it a whirl!

Another technique I’m hoping to try out is Floyd Wesel’s 3x3x3 method.  In short, rather than request a detailed character background from the players, or have them fill out a questionnaire, I’m going to ask them to provide a number of contacts, allies, and rivals for their heroes.  Nothing too taxing: a name and a sentence or two should do.  Coupled with 7th Sea’s Story mechanic, these should provide plenty of grist for the mill.

So there you have it.  The next couple of months are going to be full of experimentation.  Hopefully, I can bring some of it back to our Witch Hunter game when we resume later in the year.  Hopefully I’ll learn some tricks to improve the game experience and make myself a better GM.  And you can bet I’ll be discussing all of it here.

In other news, for those of you who haven’t wandered through the downloads section lately, advanced prep work for 7th Sea is already well underway.  You’ll find an updated version of the Ship Manifest (with a corrected “death spiral”) and a Villain character sheet (both a simple and advanced version).  I’m working on a few more cheat sheets and references for the game which I hope to have in place before we launch in January.

So hey, that’s what I’ve got.  How about you?  Have you ever done a total audit of your GMing and prep style?  What did you learn about yourself?  What did you keep and what did you pitch?  Share your story in the comments section, please.

Villain Archetypes for 7th Sea

 

This is something I started working on as a shorthand method for creating interesting villains on the fly.  The idea was based somewhat on D&D 3/3.5’s monster templates.  Find the archetype that fits your concept of the villain, and you now have a handful of related Advantages you can apply as desired.  Not every villain who fits an archetype will have all the recommended Advantages, nor are they limited to just those Advantages.  But now the GM has a condensed list of “go-to” abilities for creating villains on the fly, or just as an idea generator.

These archetypes don’t address Arcana or Stats, as those will need to be personalized to the villain.

I hope you find them useful.

Villainous Archetypes

Villainous Archetypes are meant to be broad pictures of a villainous character. They are tools meant to speed up the design of a villain. Find the one that best fits your concept of the villain and then apply the recommended Advantages.

Archetype Recommended Advantages
The Betrayer Come Hither (2), Disarming Smile (2), Opportunist (3), We’re Not So Different (5)
The Bureaucrat Friend at Court (2), Indomitable Will (2), Lyceum (4), Opportunist (3), University
The Fallen Hero Connection (2), Fencer, Perfect Balance (2), Quick Reflexes (3), Reputation (2)
The Fanatic Fascinate (2), Indomitable Will (2), Leadership (2), Quick Reflexes (3), Together We Are Strong (5), Trusted Companion (4)
The Fop Connection (2), Friend at Court (2), Inspire Generosity (2), Leadership (2), Reputation (2), Specialist (4)
The Mad Scientist Specialist (4), Spark of Genius (5), Tenure (3), University (4)
The Mastermind Connection (2), Duelist Academy (5), Friend at Court (2), Hard to Kill (4), Indomitable Will (2), Leadership (2), Quick Reflexes (3), Staredown (2), The Devil’s Own Luck (5), Time Sense (1)
The Pirate Bar Fighter (3), Direction Sense (1), Fencer (3), I’m Taking You With Me (5), Perfect Balance (2), Sea Legs (1), Slip Free (2)
The Priest Fascinate (2), Indomitable Will (2), Leadership (2), Lyceum (4), Ordained (3), Tenure (3), University (4)
The Weakling Dead Eye (3), Disarming Smile (2), Psst! Over Here (2), Reputation (Contradictory) (2), Small (1), Sniper (3), We’re Not So Different (5)
The Zealot I’m Taking You With Me (5), Indomitable Will (2), Quick Reflexes (3), Reputation (2), Specialist (4), Staredown (2), Trusted Companion (4), We’re Not So Different (5)

Samhain is for Witch Hunters

Tonight All Hallow’s Eve is upon us, and compared to last year there has been a complete dearth of Witch Hunter material.  Especially compared with last year!  There are a lot of excuses I could throw out there, chef among them being that my group really hasn’t played since August!  But most of it comes down to just being a bit tapped out this year.  I’ve had to focus on a lot of other things, which hasn’t meant much time scratching notes in the old notebook.

But I’m not going to let a Halloween go by without something for fellow fans of the Witch Hunter rpg.  This has been a strange year for us.  No official releases, very little ink spilled about the direction of the game.  The property has changed hands, and while there have been some promises, for the most part it’s been quiet as the grave.

j-_sprenger_and_h-_institutoris_malleus_maleficarum-_wellcome_l0000980Those of you who visit this site regularly know that since my group started play four years ago, we’ve incorporated a lot of “fixes” in our game.  Most of them I’ve posted here in various blog posts spread out over three years.  But if you are one of the two or three people who wish you could get all of our House Rules in one document, well today is your lucky day.  Now you can download the Malleus Maleficarum (the Hammer of Witches) for Witch Hunter: The Invisible World 2nd edition.  This is a compendium of all the house rules and tweaks we use in our game.  I’m adding a link to the Downloads page as well.  I’m understandably biased, but I feel these changes have really fine tuned the Witch Hunter experience for our group.  And until we get an official errata document, this may be the closest thing you are going to find for the game.  I claim no official position here, and obviously none of this is sanctioned by the Witch Hunter: Revelations campaign.  But I really hope this is useful for those of you who have been following this site for your home games.

(Yes, this is a not-so-clever play on the real Malleus Maleficarum, an actual 17th century account of witch hunting and the Invisible World.  Beyond the title, there is no relation between the two documents.)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Halloween Dark Release 2.5

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So yeah, you didn’t think I was going to leave everyone with a broken game for Halloween did you?  With the help of a good friend, Matt, and two surprise enthusiasts, Bruce and Jim, I have a new release version cleaned up, expanded, and ready to go just in time for some serious Halloween gaming this weekend!

So here you go.  Halloween Dark version 2.5 is here and more terrifying than ever.  And what could possibly be more terrifying than every one of your fellow players callously pushing you towards your inevitable death scene?  No, this is not the creeping doom of Graham Walmsley’s Cthulhu Dark, though it certainly owe his its inspiration and DNA.  No, this one is for people lining up to be a hot lunch over a cold beer and a bowl of chips, pretzels, or candy corn.  And don’t forget to download the Joyland horror story scenario while you are at it.  Together they’ll give you all you need for a fierce, hilarious night of spook-tacular gaming with friends.  And that is what it’s all about, right?

Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts and experiences.

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!

7th Sea: Expanding NPCs

Two weeks ago, the preview copies of the Heroes and Villains decks went out to backers of the 7th Sea 2nd edition kickstarter.  It gave us our first real look at how the JWP is planning to handle NPCs in the game.  I’ll save my thoughts on the decks themselves until their final release.  But lets talk about NPCs.

Under the 7th Sea core rules, there are really only one class of NPCs: Villains.  Villains have two stats: Strength and Influence, which combine to form their Villainy Rank.  The Hero deck proposes that NPC heroes have only one stat: Strength.  Ok, fair enough.  But for me that seems awfully limited in scope.  After all, different NPCs serve different roles to the players.  I think it makes sense to expand things a bit without going crazy.

Here’s what I’m proposing — for my games, anyway:

There are Five CLASSES of NPCs.  Each class defines the role of the character to the Heroes (the PCs).  It isn’t about what role the NPC serves in the world, but how they relate to the player characters that matters.  Each has a different array of stats depending on the needs of the NPC Class.  But ultimately, there are only three stats:

  • Strength: The character’s personal ability, intellect, charm, skill with a sword, ability to use magic, etc.
  • Influence: The character’s money, resources, minions, political power, allies, etc.
  • Favor: the faith the character has in you and the resources you can draw from. (Yup, just like secret societies).

The Classes of NPCs are as follows:

Villains
Just as explained in the Core rules, Villains have a Strength and Influence score that forms their Villainy Rank.

Patrons
Patrons are influential NPCs who can provide the heroes with means, wealth, and additional influence.  Patrons have two traits: Influence and Favor.

Allies
Allies are other noteworthy NPCs the heroes can call upon for aid or assistance from time to time.  Allies have two traits: Strength and Favor.

Extras
Extras are NPCs that have a neutral relationship with the Heroes.  In most instances, there is no need to give these characters any statistical detail.  But when you do, they have only one trait: Strength.

Brutes
Brutes aren’t proper NPCs.  They are generally underlings, goons, faceless mercenaries, and other threats that they wield against the heroes.  Brutes have one trait: Strength, determined by the number of individuals in the Squad.

I expect you can already figure out how this works.

Patrons are measured in their influence, because unless they are villains the players shouldn’t expect to come to blows against them.  How much and how often a Patron will exert this Influence on behalf of the heroes is measured by their Favor trait, which is handled just as one would with a Secret Society.  Favor is a resource.  Doing things for the Patron builds it up.  Calling in favors depletes it.  Simple as that.

Allies work almost the same way.  Except rather than bringing their Influence to bear for the Heroes, they exert their strength.  How often they willingly do this is measure by Favor.  Abuse an ally too much, and they won’t be so inclined to help you out in the future.

Now, I’m sure this all seems pretty elementary, so why bother?  Because this information is worthwhile when it comes to the players and how they interact with the world.  Not all Patrons are created equal.  Earning the patronage of a cardinal of the Vaticine church should have more potential ramifications than that of the Duchess of Charsouse.  But what point does Strength serve either character?  Likewise, its helpful to know how much Captain Berek of the Sea Dogs is in debt to the heroes, favor-wise, and how much muscle he can lend on your behalf.  But beyond a few key contacts, no one expects Captain Berek to have wide reaching influence.  (Actually, Berek is a bad example.  He could potentially be an Ally OR a Patron.)

This also suggests that Patrons could have schemes.  And why not?  This gives one more story hook for GMs to dress up for the players.

Consider the following guidelines when it comes to Patrons and Favor (modeled after Secret Societies, of course):

Earning Favor

  • Selling Information that is of interest a Patron is worth 2 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Aiding or acting as an agent of the Patron in a scheme that comes to fruition is worth 4 Favor. Acting as part of an unsuccessful scheme that does not fail do to your involvement is worth 2 Favor.
  • Selling a Secret that is of interest to the Patron is worth 6 Favor. Information of this type is a closely guarded secret, such as the secret bastard son of the Count or the identity of an Inquisition assassin.

Spending Favor

  • You can call upon your Patron to spend Wealth on your behalf, at a cost of 1 Favor for each point of Wealth spent. The Patron can spend up to half of his or her Influence in Wealth in this manner. Patrons will not spend beyond that unless there are special circumstances.
  • Buying Information that the Patron possesses costs 1 Favor. Information of this type is not commonly known but not a closely guarded secret, such as a merchant’s previous failed businesses or the name of a privateer’s wife.
  • Requesting an Agent of your Patron to save you from danger or help you accomplish a mission costs 3 Favor. Agents dispatched in this capacity are typically Strength 4.
  • Patrons will not typically dispense in Secrets unless the information is relevant to an assignment the Heroes are undertaking for that Patron.
  • Betraying the trust and confidence of a Patron has a cost in favor as well.  Typically the cost in Favor will be either 2 (minor breech), 4 (moderate breech), or 6 (major breech).  On minor breech of trust, the Patron may be willing to extend a second chance to the hero, depending on their relationship.  A moderate and major trust will usually result in refusal of any further involvement by the Patron.  Furthermore, if the loss in Favor results in reducing the Hero’s standing favor to 0 or less, the Patron may become an Adversary, actively working against the hero.  This could jeopardize the heroes’ relationship with other Patrons as well.

Of course, you can expand on this list.  Just as each Secret Society has two or more unique was to earn and spend favor, so should Patrons.  The Courtly Intrigue rules in the old Montaigne book would be a great place to draw inspiration.

And none of this additional definition adds weight to the game.  It simply uses the things that were already there.  So if you feel NPCs in 7th Sea are a bit on the threadbare side, try this out and see if it suits your needs better.

Halloween Dark: Post Play Report

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Monday night I turned the kids in my library program lose on my Halloween Dark scenario, Joyland.  As I suspected, the game was light on actual terror and BIG on MAYHEM.  Maybe a bit too much mayhem.  It’s clear to me that while the general concept is fun as hell and works (for the most part), a few things need some reigning in and tweaking.

Here’s my list of things that need some work:

  • Card play got unwieldy, especially with eight players.  Some of the kids would just play cards to cycle through the deck as quickly as possible.  It’s clear to me the game needs a better refresh mechanic than “play a card, draw a card.”
  • Players had trouble identifying when it was appropriate to play certain cards.  Free wheeling as it is, a lot of the T/T cards are pretty specific when they should be played.  It would be helpful to add either an icon or something that identified when a card could/should be played.
  • Combat was a mess.  This part really needs some tightening up.  Monsters need to be much more threatening, and the choice of fight or flight needs to be much more definite.  Especially since combat is entirely player facing.  The *W kludge did not work as well as I had hoped.  So yeah, combat and escape need an overhaul.
  • No one investigated anything.  They were too busy throwing monsters and handicaps at each other.  Which is fun, but it feels like the game is lacking one of the core tent poles of Scooby Dog horror.  To remedy this, I’m thinking of adding some Investigation-specific cards.  I may also make play a bit more regimented.  Maybe add an “Investigation” round.
  • Panic and doing something Rash need some fine tuning.  There was some confusion about this.  I think I’m going to change the Panic from six to five ranks, mirroring Exhaustion.  With the last two ranks as “Panicked” with a similar effect (lose one die).  Once you are Panicked, you can “do something rash” to relieve the effect.  But instead of the roll under/over, I think I’ll just simplify it to Roll a die, relieve 1 rank on a 5, 2 ranks on a 6.
  • Listen up, educators!  Kids need to learn what a metaphor is BEFORE they get to college.

But other than that, the game worked VERY well.  It was insane at times.  Definitely good one-shot material.