Friday, November 15, 2013

Better Than Any Man: Unknown Armies Conversion Notes

I'm not going to post everything as yet, but here are a couple of my scattered notes.  I'll probably put them in a pdf or something when I'm finished running Better Than Any Man in Unknown Armies.  Obviously, these notes assume familiarity with both games.  The following notes also reference the Unknown Armies books The Ascension of the Magdalene, Hush Hush, and Postmodern Magick.

Willibald Schwartz

Obsession: Conquering death.  Death is a form of spiritual alchemy.  By controlling the doorway, you control that potential.
Wound Points: 45

Rage Stimulus: Pointing out that he might be insane or deluded.  Schwartz might be a murderous psychopath, but he really doesn't enjoy being reminded of it.
Fear Stimulus: (Isolation) Dying of old age.
Noble Stimulus: Helping children.  Willibald crafts art of the bodies of young children because that's the highest gift he can bestow to one killed so young.  He can't help it if his glass tiger gets confused from time to time.

Body: 45 (Living Well)
General Athletics 25%, Hold Your Liquor 20%, Struggle 25%, Work Without Rest 20%
Speed: 50 (Steady Hand)
Dodge 20%, Horseback Riding 25%, Initiative 25%, Taxidermy 35%
Mind: 75 (Learned)
Conceal 35%, Notice 40%, Occult Correspondences 60%
Soul: 90 (Transcendent)
Avatar: The Magus 60%, Charm 30%, Lying 50%, Magick: Thanatomancy 70%

Violence: 7 Hardened 2 Failed
Unnatural: 7 Hardened 3 Failed
Helplessness: 2 Hardened 2 Failed
Isolation: 6 Hardened 1 Failed
Self: 4 Hardened 5 Failed

Possessions: Rapier (+3 damage), dagger (+3 damage), various fine clothes and ritual components

Notes: Occult Correspondences is Willibald's General Education skill.  It also covers his general knowledge of folklore and occultism.
Avatar: The Magus originally appears in The Ascension of the Magdalene, page 53.  Magick: Thanatomancy originally appears in Postmodern Magick, pages 111-115.
In addition to his own magickal prowess, Willibald Schwartz has access to the rituals Song of Ancient Days (detailed below) and Fires of Pure Will (Hush Hush, page 47).

Schwartz's Glass Tiger

Wound Points: 120

Body: 120 (Savage)
General Athletics 50%, Rip and Tear 65%
Speed: 80 (Swfit)
Dodge 35%, Initiative 40%, Sneak 70%
Mind: 30 (Cunning)
Notice 50%
Soul: 50 (Weird)

Notes: The Glass Tiger's exceptional Body stat grants a +3 to all melee damage.  This is in addition to the beast's teeth and claws, which also grant a +3 to damage.  The glass tiger reduces damage equivalent to heavy armor, removing the +3 damage for sharpness and the +3 damage for heaviness in hand-to-hand combat while also reducing rolled damage by three-fourths.  Guns are deal hand-to-hand damage, but aren't reduced but the tiger's armor.  Magick deals damage normally, although it's not made of flesh, so Magick: Epideromancy blasts do nothing.

Song of Ancient Days (significant ritual)

Note: This is the Unknown Armies version of Schwartz's Journey to the Past spell.  In my version of Better Than Any Man, Schwartz was kind enough to give the PCs all the components to enact the ritual, including a copy of the Fires of Pure Will ritual (a charge-building ritual).  Your Schwartz may not be so accommodating.

Power: significant

Cost: 7 significant charges

Effect: The caster and a group of up to eight individuals participating in the ritual are sent back in time to July 14, 10,000 B.C.  They are sent to the same point in time, although they appear in the same geographic location they left.  (So, if the caster casts this ritual in downtown London, he'll end up in the middle of downtown London...before it's ever built.)  To the outside observer, no time appears to pass — the ritualists appear to flicker for a fraction of a second after the ritual ends.  However, the casters are cast back to 10,000 B.C. for an amount of time equal to ten times the sum of the dice.  As such, a caster rolling a 45 will spend 90 minutes in the past, while a caster rolling a 12 will only spend 30 minutes in the past.
Being sent to the past is a rank-7 Unnatural check.

Ritual Action: This ritual requires a simple stone hammer, particularly of the sort that would have been used in the Neolithic.  The caster should use this hammer to break a sandclock, shouting, "Ula atolnay!" with each hammer blow.  When the clock is smashed, the caster should use the hammer to draw the seal of Prince Seere (a goetic demon) in the spilled sand while reciting a chant in Latin depicting a litany of the demon's praises and epithets.  Once finished, the caster should then use the hammer to smash a sundial, deface a calendar, and destroy a seal of King Philip II Augustus.  Again, with each hammer blow, the caster should shout, "Ula atolnay!"  The ritual completes with the final hammer blow.

Note: For easy reference, Prince Seere's seal looks like this:


Unknown Armies: Early Modern Magick

I finally made a homepage for the 1610 Unknown Armies campaign.

Check it out!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Better Than Any Man, UA edition Part 2: Never Bring an Antlion to a Robot Fight

We actually got into Better Than Any Man this time.

So, last time, some mysterious guy told them that they needed to deliver a note to someone in the past, and if they talked to a guy named Willibald Schwartz...

Laaaaaaaaaaaadies.
...that he would lead them where they needed to go.

At this point, my players seem to adopt the same strategy whenever a dungeon crawl/James Raggi adventure occurs and proceed very cautiously.  They have enough food for a couple of days, so they avoid towns.  They don't talk to anybody.  They meet some Swedish soldiers on the road, but Goffhilf — himself Swedish — manages to avoid any nasty entanglements.

The PCs find the Mound without incident, and having been warned about the oil pit, don't light themselves on fire.  They approach Willibald cautiously and courteously (more or less), and walk away with a time travel ritual and a lead on several ducats' worth of ruby ant statue for their trouble.

The caves and insect shire on Goblin Hill similarly go hilariously, because they avoid random encounters and have a map of the complex.  Once they're sure they have everything they need, the PCs cast Journey to the Past (rebranded as Song of Ancient Days, a UA-style ritual requiring enough significant charges that Goffhilf went whole hog and sacrificed his hand for a major charge).

Once in the past, everyone learned that Maksymilian is a clockworker, because his "bodyguard" Aleksy is actually a gear-powered robot.

Pitting one robot against a bunch of ineffectual prehistorical cultists went something like this:


Upon their return to the present, they managed to kill the antlion guarding the ruby ant statue through a combination of robot punches and magic.  Goffhilf dealt the killing blow with a critical hit blast spell, reducing the giant antlion to so much hemolymph.

As with most of my dungeon crawls, massive player casualties were avoided through luck and skill.  Also noteworthy is a trend I've noticed in supernatural games: weird things don't give the PCs any trouble (giant antlions, crazed sorcerers, etc.), but mundane things give the PCs major headaches (soldiers, constables, etc.).  It was like that in Deadlands, too; we tangled with a Rattler in one of our first sessions, and were routinely clashing with The Devil Himself, but we were terrified of being arrested.

Where will the intrepid time-displaced 1611 occultists end up next time?  Stay tuned.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Kentucky Route Zero

I try to keep my video game talk minimal around here, but I keep coming across video games that seem relevant to table-top gaming.

Besides, every moment you spend not playing this is a disservice you do to yourself.

This one is called Kentucky Route Zero, and it's a point-and-click adventure in five Acts.  As is the style with some games at the moment, it is being released in installments; currently, only the first two have been released.

Kentucky Route Zero revolves around a truck driver named Conway and his dog as they try to make a delivery to Dogwood Drive.  As the adventure progresses, it becomes obvious that Conway needs to find his way to the Zero, a strange subterranean road, to complete his delivery.

KRZ is a linear experiment in much the same vein as Goichi Suda's killer7 — it's not terribly innovative in terms of gameplay or graphics, but it does play with how the player identifies with the main character(s) in the story.  The only meaningful choices the player makes involve how the characters interact with others; the game seems as though it plays similarly no matter what choices you make, but what is the mood of the game?  Tired?  Wistful?  Hopeful?  You help influence that by way of your dialogue.

In terms of story, I'd particularly recommend it.  It falls within the slippery genre of "magic realism," placing it among the works of artists such as Tim Powers and David Lynch (when the latter isn't out-and-out surrealist).

More relevant to this discussion, it oozes mood for Unknown Armies.

Without getting into the metaplot of Unknown Armies, the Zero is clearly an "Otherspace," any one of a multitude of alternate realities that bleed into our own.  Some claim that they're the leftovers of potent or repeated magic, while others claim they're the remnants of dead realities.  Whatever the case, sometimes it's possible to find a place where the rules of reality run a little strange.  The Zero is clearly such a place, running on symbolic and narrative rules rather than physical laws.  Likewise, the area of Kentucky surrounding the Zero clearly has been influenced by this strangeness — an abandoned church plays a tape recorded sermon to no one (strangely enough, mirroring a similar church in Act II), while on the other side of Route 65, two guys push a propeller plane up the road.  For that matter, you come across an accident that may have happened years before, and the person who leads you to the Zero might be a ghost (or at least, has a particularly fluid relationship with reality these days).

Once the whole thing comes out, I'm sure I'll adapt some parts to Unknown Armies, because seriously, how could one resist?

If you head over to the KRZ site, you can find the game available through Steam and Humble Bundle (the Humble Bundle version gives you Steam download codes as well as a DRM-free version).  I believe that grants you access to the new Acts as they are released.

If you're not quite so sure about all this, you can also check out Limits & Demonstrations, a free mini-game featuring three characters wandering around an art museum.  This side story details the artwork of a minor character in Act II, and grants a little more insight into the setting.  It plays just like the main game, so if you feel comfortable with the point and click interface of Limits & Demonstrations, you'll be fine with KRZ.

Monday, November 4, 2013

On Game Design and Kink

I recently read an interesting article comparing aspects of game design and BDSM.

Given modules such as Tomb of Horrors and The Grinding Gear, the parallels are pretty obvious.

Read boundaries of play: game design and kink.

(Also, the most important thing to come out of reading this article was likely the game Asphyx.  A simple side-scrolling platformer, your job is to move your character through the world.  There's only one rule — while your character is underwater, hold your breath in real life.  If you take a breath while underwater, press ESC to drown.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

Money Conversions

So, in the previous post, I discussed my early modern Unknown Armies game.

However, I neglected to share a useful thing I made.

The Ascension of the Magdalene gives a conversion statistic for Venetian ducats to D&D gp.  I also found a reference document converting the various currencies found in 1632.  (That document also relates old currency to modern United States dollars.)

Since all statistics indicate that early modern British pounds, shillings, and pence are roughly equivalent to Warhammer's gold crowns, silver shillings, and copper pennies, I also put those in the conversion.

Using all these statistics, I made a chart that converts Venetian ducats, Dutch lions, Dutch guilders, Dutch stuivers, gp (with a separate entry for the extremely valuable gold pieces in LotFP), sp, cp, WFRP gc, WFRP s, WFRP p, and modern USD.

Hopefully this is useful to you.  View the "1610 UA Currency Chart."

1610 Unknown Armies: Better Than Any Man

So, a week ago, I started to run Better Than Any Man using the Unknown Armies rules.

However, the PCs still haven't started playing Better Than Any Man, because hilarity happened.

In the first session of the campaign, the PCs went through The Ascension of the Magdalene.  For the unfamiliar, the adventure takes the PCs into Emperor Rudolf II's secret, artifact-filled Wunderkammer.  (As it's dual-statted for Unknown Armies and D&D 3.x, it's basically a dungeon crawl, albeit a history-filled, weird-ass dungeon crawl.)

The PCs were unsuccessful in the main thrust of the adventure, but they still managed to leave with a couple of occult artifacts, and 11,500 ducats (approximately 4,600 gp, or 5,750 gold crowns if you're a Warhammer fan) worth of stolen treasure.

Unfortunately, said treasure was stolen from the Emperor, and they fought a couple of guards who saw their faces and fled.

Fast forward to two weeks later, when they've fled Prague and are recuperating in Eger.  In the meantime, those who are not injured have been working, and they've sold one of the stolen tapestries to net 125 ducats (50 gp).  One of them catches sight of some soldiers and warns the others that Imperial soldiers are in town.  Before they can flee, however, one of the PCs is arrested by a contingent of soldiers headed by Jan Mydlář, Master Executioner of Bohemia.  (I know that doesn't make a whole lot of sense, but know that Rudolf sent his chief executioner to apprehend the PCs for symbolic reasons.)

The other PCs take their cart and stolen guns and loop around, making it to the guard station before their friend Goffhilf is led inside.

The PCs open fire on the guards.

In the chaos, Jan Mydlář is wounded and withdraws, Goffhilf gets away, Ross gets away with the cart, but Nicholas is killed by a volley of musket fire.

It's over a week later, after the group has fled the city, that they find the mysterious stranger who sends them to 1631 Würzburg...

As such, no real update on Better Than Any Man, but the PCs have received exposition.  (They've been told to find Willibald Schwartz and complete a task for him.  So that's bound to be entertaining.)

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