Friday, March 29, 2013

Dare to Fail Gloriously

Scott the Angry DM made a cool post on Google+ back on Tuesday.  Meant as a rallying cry for GMs, the main thrust is that, as a GM, you should always run the game you want to run so as to avoid burnout, and that you are special for being a GM.

Perhaps this was particularly poignant as I was stocking a dungeon while reading it.

Whatever the case, "An Open Letter to Game Masters" is worth a read.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Four Things

Almost a regular posting schedule again?  Preposterous!

Four things recently caught my attention.

This post from Fuck Yeah Dungeons and Dragons puts forth the proposition that one of an ettin's heads is smarter than the other.

Ken of Ghastria wrote a neat post about roleplaying with his daughter (specifically rpgKids and Marvel Heroic RPG) and parlaying it into the oft-discussed question, "Is table-top gaming dying?"  (A couple of years back, Ken made a post arguing that it is not.  I'm inclined to agree, but then again, I started playing fewer video games so that I could play more RPGs, so what do I know?)

rushputin informed me of this RPG.net thread in which the author constructs a phylogenetic tree of D&D monsters.  Having toyed with the idea myself (Baron Hook has attempted a taxonomic study of Hereticwerks monsters on the Sorrowfell Plains, while Rockulon Prime traces all life back to the Space-God), I naturally found this to be an interesting study.

Finally, this other post from Fuck Yeah Dungeons and Dragons details the so-called Muscle Wizard for D&D 3.5.  This is one of those game-breaking concepts one always hears about, but I rather enjoy it because (1) it's sufficiently weird and quirky and (2) it's a highly tenuous state.  To make a long story short, this posits playing an Illumian, a human subrace with strange, inherent magical abilities.  One such possible trait is the ability to make Strength the ability score for determining bonus spells rather than a mental ability.  While one can easily use spells to boost one's Strength, this character relies on becoming infected with Festering Anger so that she gains daily bonuses to Strength.  To offset the slow wasting of Festering Anger, the build also proposes becoming a Cancer Mage.  While considered to be a munchkin tactic, I rather like the concept as a PC or NPC character because the large selection of spells comes with very significant drawbacks: (1) the Muscle Wizard is covered with boils and pustules, generally resembling a plague victim; (2) the heights of power dreamed by most powergamers is a long way off — it takes a year of persistent anger to get infected with the disease, and adding bonus spells is similarly a matter of waiting; and (3) the Muscle Wizard is now vulnerable to spells such as remove disease, which will instantly strip her of her excess magical power (and now deal damage, too).  Astute observers might also note that "persistent anger" and "a year or more's worth of patience" seem diametrically opposed; I assume the daily Will save to avoid going berserk would be negated by the Cancer Mage's disease host ability, but it's still a thing for roleplaying.  It's not easy being an angry, nasty, pock-marked gutter magus.

I'm sure I'll have to include a Muscle Wizard as an NPC in some future game.

Monday, March 25, 2013

State of the Madicon 2013: Addendum

How could I forget?  As an addendum to my piece on Madicon 22, there were some entertaining license plates at Madicon.  Pictures courtesy of Nicole.

S'up, Gali-brah.
Something tells me this guy runs GURPS.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Deadlands, Part XXXIV

When last we left our heroes, they started planning a party, went to dinner with The Doctor, and all hell broke loose as the city started collapsing.

The lift is between floors — one of which is the ground floor — when it suddenly shudders to a halt.  The group sees Jeb step out of a doorway.  He is wearing ill-fitting clothing and followed by a gaggle of albino children.  The group calls to him and he has enough time to turn and register everyone's presence before the lift is recalled and starts heading back up the shaft.

The lift travels back up and stops before a hallway filled with armed men — Sweet Water constables and automata, all armed.  They are aiming through the grate on the front of the lift, and they request that the group follows them.  With few (good) options, the group complies.

They are led before a door with Egyptian markings on it, and the door is opened to reveal a large, domed chamber with a raised balcony.  The walls appear to be made of the same green stone that composes much of the city (and runs it, as we now understand).  Some device rests at the far end, similar to a gyroscope or orrery.  Several constables and automata guard this room; several of the constables have burn scars.  The Doctor occupies the center of the room, cradling a woman whose skin seems to be swiftly turning into green gas.  He sobs, calling for "Marianna."  The Duchess and Mr. Thane stand calmly in the room, watching the scene.  The Mandragora reclines on a chaise lounge.

The field from The Well is also visible here; green threads crisscross the room.  Father Seward, now in The Well for the first time, is shown to have an ochre braid traveling from him, as well as a black and silver cord connecting him to Rufina.

The Doctor composes himself as Father Seward delivers an impromptu eulogy for The Doctor — evidently having some plan in mind — but apart from a mild shuddering in The Doctor's body, nothing happens.  The Doctor indicates his distaste at a vulgar display of devilry, and has guards take Dr. Morrow to fix and operate his machines.  He then begins flinging accusations at the group; it is clear that he believes them to be in league with the Devil himself.  They attempt to explain that they are as much Cobb's victims as he, but to no avail.  The Duchess keeps whispering to him to just kill the group, but he ignores her.  At one point, the group's claims of innocence seem to overwhelm and confuse him, but The Duchess tweaks a dial on the side of his gas mask and he regains his purpose of thought.  Father Seward concludes that The Doctor is an automaton, and that The Duchess runs this place.

Tremors continue in the background as The Doctor speaks.

Though it is clear that The Doctor wishes to use the group's bodies to repair the city and his machines, he sends them back down on the lift for unknown reasons.

Meanwhile, Jeb looks up the shaft for the lift where his traveling companions disappeared.  Unable to follow, he travels forward.  Seeing two guards, he readies his gun and starts firing.  The guards return fire, but Jeb is the better shot.  One, heavily wounded, begins running.  Jeb points at him and shouts, "BOOM!"  The children run after the man and descend upon him in a frenzy of tiny fists and savage mouths.  Jeb attacks the other man with his knife, punching through his belly.

With the two guards dispatched and only the city beyond, Jeb returns to the hallway and enters The Well proper.  He pokes around until another tremor shakes the room, and in the chaos, loses consciousness.

He awakens to find a figure standing over him.  It is a man in a blue top hat, blue coat, and white pants.  An inky blackness greets Jeb where a face should be.

Not this douchebag again.
Bashiel seems a little surprised to see Jeb without the others.  Jeb references his army of children, and Bashiel gestures to the pile of slain albino children in the room.  His ambulatory babies, armed with knives, advance on Jeb.  Jeb manages to dispatch several before running around the room to avoid the rest of the murderous, baby horde.  He utters a rebel yell as he goes.

The rest of the group hears his cries and goes to aid him.  They see Jeb on the run from Bashiel and his army of children.  The group addresses Bashiel as Father Seward drops and begins praying.  Rufina decides that tangling with Bashiel is a fool's errand, as the greater thing is to investigate what's happening with the city and to find Dr. Morrow.  David and Ruby follow her as they return to the hallways.  Father Seward and Rex remain to deal with Bashiel.

Rex fires on the murderous babies from the balcony as Jeb advances on them with his knife.  The babies have Jeb on the ropes, but he and Rex manage to take enough down that Bashiel withdraws.  As he prepares to exit and wreak havoc elsewhere, Father Seward rises and puts a bullet in his chest.  There is a keening wail and a flash of light as Bashiel is dispelled.

Meanwhile, David, Ruby, and Rufina have been contacted by the ghostly gentleman, who appears leaning against a wall.  He informs them that Dr. Morrow doesn't know what he's doing, and they need to stop him lest the whole thing blows.  The trio finds a staircase and starts descending into the bowels of the tower.  As the tower crumbles, the stairwell cracks and separates from the wall; Ruby manages to hang onto it and start picking her way back up the staircase.

With a green gas filling The Well, Father Seward, Jeb, and Rex start running in the direction the other three were last seen.  An open door suggests their next destination; Rex goes through while Father Seward waits behind to pray over the badly-injured Jeb.  At the last moment, Father Seward's faith falters; a bleeding wound erupts from his chest and Jeb is left unhealed.

As Rex goes down the staircase, Ruby comes up.  He sends her to meet Father Seward, above.

Rufina reaches a room with broken crates.  She dons a gas mask and grabs several more before entering the room below.  She finds Dr. Morrow, wearing a gas mask, smashing equipment.

David soon joins the two of them, and Rufina gives him a gas mask.  At the ghostly gentleman's behest, he explains the problem with Dr. Morrow's plan — that an explosion and widespread death will result either way.  Dr. Morrow thinks, and decides it may be possible to melt the city over top of the reactor to form a copper pot.  As such, the pressure will be contained and a massive explosion will be averted.  Rufina sets to assisting Dr. Morrow in this task.

Rex soon joins them, having jumped the gap left by the broken staircase.  As the situation is explained, he and David decide to return to the surface to regroup.  To their surprise, they find the broken staircase is repaired.

Meanwhile, Ruby meets with Father Seward and Jeb.  Jeb tells them to flee; that he will hold off whatever comes.  They wish him the best and leave the tower.

The city outside the tower is crumbled, but apparently starting to rebuild itself of its own accord.  Just as they start to leave the front steps, a mechanical pterodactyl with two constables riding — one piloting, the other armed with a gun — tries to swoop over them.  Father Seward fires at the thing as he and Ruby retreat to The Well.

Once inside, they meet with Jeb again and explain the patrol outside.  As they do so, the lift descends to reveal Mr. Thane.  Words are exchanged, and he pulls a gun.  Ruby fires and takes cover as Jeb, Seward, and Thane exchange gunfire.  In the shootout, Jeb falls and Thane shoots out much of Seward's midsection.  Realizing that Father Seward is a revenant — and revealing himself as the same — he starts aiming for the head.  Father Seward does likewise.

Despite blowing off a piece of Seward's skull, Thane decides that it is not worth it and flees.  Father Seward runs to the lift to deliver a parting shot, but misses.  He returns to check on Jeb as David and Rex arrive.  Father Seward prays over Jeb to no avail.

It appears that Jeb is dead.

**********************************

No real dramatic irony in this game.  A lot of strange things happened without full explanation.  Why did The Doctor let us go?  What was Bashiel's plan?  Where has Jeb been?

There is a rather unfortunate chance that we'll learn what precisely is happening next session, when we all die and our GM explains the plot of the game to us.  I'm not planning for a TPK, but things are grim enough that it's in the back of my mind.

I've pretty much made my peace with the idea that Father Seward won't survive this, though.  If you know anything about Deadlands combat, know that Father Seward has one wound in his right leg, three wounds in his right arm, five wounds in his guts, and four wounds in his head.  One more head wound will kill him (that's any one attack dealing five or more points of damage to his head, because he's Scrawny).

Although I've been expecting Father Seward to die (permanently) for much of the game now, so we'll see.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

State of the Madicon 2013

Stay classy, Harrisonburg.

I usually try to stay focused on gaming, but this post will ramble a little bit.  It should all make sense, though, so just bear with me.

So, from March 8-10, Nicole and I were in beautiful and exotic Harrisonburg, VA for Madicon 22.  For those not in the know, Madicon is an annual convention held at James Madison University and organized by the JMU Science Fiction/Fantasy Guild.

I previously attended Madicon 18 in 2009, but I didn't know a lot of people back then; I was with PST Productions most of the weekend, although I did find myself at Glen's Fair Price Store (more on that in a bit) and at J. C. Lira's panel on the end of Pimp: the Backhanding.  As such, I didn't really experience the convention proper back in '09.

Where else can you see Ness, some woman from Elder ScrollsLink, and Fire Mario?

I did a little better this time.

Friday night we went to the Madicon LARP, a Cthulhu LIVE event set in the fictional St. Harold's Asylum during the Victorian era.  Despite using the Cthulhu LIVE ruleset, it wasn't heavy on traditional Lovecraftian elements — one of the plots involved a member of the Gentry (played by Nicole, actually) seeking out one of her former changeling slaves.  Another plot involved a criminal mastermind attempting to escape the asylum (he had himself committed to avoid going to jail).  There were a couple of expected elements, though — some horrific monster lurked in the tunnels under the asylum, and one of the doctors (played by rushputin) was synthesizing an antipsychotic from human brains.  It was a standard comedy of errors: the mastermind's gang locked everyone inside while the mastermind and his cronies tried to break out through the back.  The asylum staff quietly supported the breakout once it was clear that there was no other way to leave.  Some horrific monster lived in the tunnels underneath the asylum, and all hell started breaking loose as people tried to fight for their freedom.

I try to celebrate every week.

Saturday saw an actual foray into the city proper.  We found some amazing, CNR-inspired suit (no pictures yet) at a place called Granny Longlegs.

And then there's Glen's Fair Price Store.

Madicon is just the place I go when I'm not at Glen's Fair Price Store.

Glen's is the mashup of that store in Napoleon Dynamite and the magic shop in Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. They sell a little bit of everything — photography, antiques, novelties, Halloween costumes — but the draw for the LARPing crowd is typically the novelties and costumes.

Stay classy, Glen's.

Strangely, my only gaming-related purchase of the con came from Glen's.  I purchased a set of six-siders with orca whales instead of 1s:

That makes sense, right?

And I purchased a set of spherical six-siders:

That also makes sense, right?

I probably made the wrong dice choice, though.

I clearly should have gone with the giant, Confederate d6.

In the afternoon, I finally had the chance to run a pick-up game of James Raggi's infamous Death Love Doom.  (Shameless plug!  I wrote a review of said module a while back.)  It ended surprisingly well: six PCs and four NPC thieves entered the Bloodworth Estate.  All ten returned, laden with treasure.  Basically, they snuck in the estate, started looting, defeated the Dead Sign trap on Miles' body, found Agatha, killed her (out of mercy), cracked a safe, left the house, and set it on fire.  They were lucky and smart; they avoided any of the nastiness in the estate, instead leaving when it became apparent that something was terribly wrong.  Of course, being a Raggi module, there are still plenty of consequences for success...

Afterward, rushputin ran Elder Sign, essentially a rules-lite Arkham Horror.  We won against Nyarlathotep (albeit by the skin of our teeth), so it was an all-around successful evening of gaming.

There were a few things I missed at this convention — I usually purchase something from the Dealer's Room at a convention, but I didn't this time.  For such a small convention, the Dealer's Room is pretty well-appointed — there's a pretty big dice/board game/RPG book vendor, as well as some clothing, art print, and Magic: the Gathering vendors.  Sunday sees an art auction that I didn't attend because Sunday is for laziness.

Chell was in the Dealer's Room, though, so that was pretty cool.

Additionally, I would have loved to play in the Isle of Dread being run at the convention.  (That likely just means I'll have to run the damn thing myself sometime.  There are worse fates.)

If you're ever in the area, I'd recommend it.  It is quite small, though — organized events tend to be less prevalent than pick-up games, so if you want to try something, you may have to initiate yourself or see if you can organize something ahead of time.  Also, my focus on gaming means there is a bunch of stuff I almost totally ignored — there's a lot of anime stuff there, and the 501st was hanging around.  So, that might make for a more ready-made convention if that's more your style.

(Finally, credit where credit is due: Nicole took most of these pictures.  I took the group shot of Ness & Co., as well as the pictures of the orca d6s and the spherical d6s.  She took everything else.)

Addendum: I neglected the neat license plates at Madicon.  Check out the pictures in this post.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Things for your Monday

It's been a while since I've done one of these.

hatefulping brought this RPG.net thread about Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures to my attention.  The basic design characteristics are that it's to be a simple OSR game that models the activities of kids going on their first adventure.  Extra kits have been added to include the typical Tolkien-esque supernatural creatures (dwarves, elves, and halflings) as starting characters.  The playtest documents are free, so you should check 'em out.

rushputin (and I'm linking directly to Warpstone Pile for reasons) brought The Terrific Horrific Ultimate Monster Name Generator to my attention.  I've gathered gems such as Mile-Long Linda the Vexing Snail, the Grotesque Hidden Intestine, and the Prince that Whispers about the Beyond.  Perfect for random villainous sobriquets.

Finally, I try to keep this gaming-related, but I might as well share the Thumbs and Ammo blog while I'm here.  Movie scenes have been photoshopped to replace characters holding guns with characters giving the thumbs up.  It's a good way to waste a couple of minutes.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Deadlands, Part XXXIII

When last we left our heroes, Rex tangled with some assassins (and exploded), David and Ruby spoke to Dr. Morrow about losing their memories, and the group discovered (quite unexpectedly) that they're planning a party for the society folks of Sweet Water — the implication being that they planned to assassinate The Doctor at this function.

Given the revelation regarding the party, the group decides to go pick decorations.  Rufina will stay behind to watch Jeb's chalk drawing.  David, Father Seward, Rex, and Ruby will go to the ballroom to begin preparations.  If it comes to it, Ruby will feign hysteria to attempt to find out information regarding the party.

When the group arrives in the ballroom, Rex starts investigating to get an idea of the layout as well as the entrances, exits, and windows.  Father Seward casually looks around.  David and Ruby start addressing the various stewards and sales representatives, and with the help of a little hysteria and some fake laudanum huffing, David and Ruby manage to learn that the party is in three days hence, and they never specified the type of party (there's a brief moment when the group thinks it's going to be a wedding, but that turns out to be a misunderstanding).  Ruby explains that it's merely a social, getting-to-know-the-city sort of affair.

After decorations and such are selected, Ruby receives word that her solicitor has delivered some items for the party, and they will be delivered to her when they clear customs.  Armed with this knowledge, the group retires to their rooms to dress for the party.  As the time approaches, they head to The Well.  They are lead through the main hall and into a great lift.  The lift operator takes them up — with only a cage for a door, the interiors of the rooms they pass are clearly visible.  The first room they pass appears to contain the skeleton of some terrible, winged beast, vaguely recognizable as some manner of dinosaur — Father Seward recognizes a pterodactyl.  However, the creature's skin has been partially reconstructed with canvas, and there is an unnatural bulge in the belly.

The room above reveals the likely source of the bulge — more dinosaur fossils are here, partially rebuilt with mechanical parts.

What The Doctor is doing with an army of robotic dinosaurs is anybody's guess.

Another room contains several crates — the Richmond shipping addresses on some of the items suggest that this is where items wait before being processed by customs.

Finally, the group arrives at the top floor.  Partially open onto a great balcony, the room overlooks the entire city.  A long table seats several guests; Bella, Dr. Morrow, the Duchess, Mandragora, and the police inspector who helped Rex with his cousin's affairs when the group first entered town are all present.  The group is seated.  David is seated between Father Seward and Rex.  Father Seward is seated next to an empty chair (ostensibly for Jeb).  Rex is seated next to a journalist by the name of Sam Stone, a female reporter from out West.  Ruby is seated next to Rufina; on her other side is a sinister-looking man with a sickly pallor and black veins named Mr. Thane who is evidently working with the Talmud Corporation.  In addition to Ruby, Rufina is sitting next to an older gentleman with an interest in energy.

Some members of the group notice that the help staff is packing.

Just as dinner is about to begin, The Doctor addresses the group.  He says that the five who have just joined the table are among the new breed of those in the West, those who —

And then all hell breaks loose.

There is a sickening lurching sensation as the building begins to move; next comes the awful sound of the city's gears grinding.  Several people tumble out of chairs.  The city has ground to a halt, and many of the buildings cannot handle the strain of a sudden stop.  In the distance, some collapse.  The Tower and The Well remain standing, but structural integrity is critically damaged.  As the dust settles, the group assembles themselves.  The Doctor is ushered away.  Of Bella, there is no sign.  Dr. Morrow looks to the group, and as everyone decides to leave, he follows.

The group finds their way to a lift, and heads back down to ground level.

**********************************

And now for a bit of dramatic irony.  (Especially for those who notice this session is a bit shorter than normal.)

Our GM has been doing some solo sessions with Jeb's player while Jeb has been away.  This session, our scenes were intercut with Jeb's scenes.  So, this session, we got part of his story out of context and without the characters' knowledge.

He's currently climbing out of a deep pit, faintly glowing green and filled with machinery, followed by several naked children.  The implication is that he's in the uranium pits underneath the city, and when he fired his gun at a glass tube and broke it, the entire city started to shake and grind to a halt.

We're pretty certain we're going to meet with Jeb as both parties are leaving The Well, only we don't know that in-character.  (Several characters suspect that we will, based on the fact that only Jeb can cause this level of widespread destruction.)

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