Sunday, January 31, 2016

[My Geeky Week] Axe Cop Munchkin, more Borderlands, and other stuff...

Swag
My monthly Audible credit came through on Tuesday as expected, so I spent it right away and bought The Cormorant (Miriam Black #3) by Chuck Wendig to finish catching up on that series.

I also got a late Christmas present from James, my Tuesday nWoD GM, in the form of a winged Castiel POP Vinyl Figure, which I'm going to sit on my desk once I've cleared a bit of space for it. I've been told to expect something else as well, which I suspect will be an RPG of some kind.

Finally, I discovered that Leisure Games had copies of Mysterium in stock, so I jumped at the opportunity and ordered it for myself. I've unboxed it, read through the rulebook and even watched a couple of 'Let's Plays' on Youtube, so I'm pretty excited to try it out. Might see if I can do a test game with mum tomorrow, since I have the day off of work.

Achievements Unlocked
I had a half-hour to spare before the weekly Tuesday RP campaign at GUGS, so I played Axe Cop Munchkin with Peter, Ruaridh and Timo (who is also in the nWoD campaign).

We reached a four way tie at 9th level, so the last round or two was a race to see who could kill their next monster and hit level 10 for the win. Peter came pretty close to winning, but everybody ganged up on him to add modifiers so that he couldn't defeat his monster. Timo was next to take a shot at attaining tenth level, but Peter still had some cards up his sleeve, and used them to thwart Timo.

By this point, everyone had exhausted any cards they could use to interfere in combat, so I was free to smite the level 2 monster which I encountered, despite its special ability reducing my effective combat level of 31 to a mere 7, making this my first board game win of 2016. Good game, guys!

Our continuation of Urban Shadows: London had to be postponed due to a couple of last minute cancellations, but we've rescheduled the session to Monday, so hopefully we can get the first session stuff wrapped up then.

Since I had a bit more free time on my hands, I decided to go back to Borderlands and see if I could beat Bonehead this time. My problem last time was that I just wasn't a high enough level to fight him properly, but I couldn't see any way to solve that because there were no other missions at the bounty station. Oddly though, when I loaded up the game this time round there were new missions available, so I went through a bunch of those in Skag Gully and beefed myself up killing some skag. Then I went back and made short work of Bonehead this time around. After that, I did a few more missions, and now I'm on my way to pick up the Mine Key, getting ready to take down Sledge.

I also watched the latest Star Wars Rebels episode, which was okay, continuing the trend this season of digging a bit more into each of the Ghost crew's backgrounds. This one was the second focused on Sabine after Blood Sisters, this time touching on her Mandalorian heritage. This time she shared the spotlight a little bit with Kanan, and the episode had a 'diplomacy versus violence' theme. I enjoyed it, but wasn't especially blown away. Fans of the Mandalorians will probably have been more excited about it, I guess.

Yesterday, I listened to The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig during my shift at work. I actually thought they'd gone and changed the narrator at first, but it's still the same one, her reading of this book is just a lot more sombre in tone than the previous two. That's pretty appropriate, because this story was a shade darker than Blackbirds and Mockingbird (which were pretty dark themselves). Wendig changed up the formula from the previous two a bit, including a series of 'flashforward' scenes in addition to his usual dream and flashback interludes, which served as a framing device for the main story, as well as developing an additional plot arc throughout. It's good to see the author playing about with his usual style like this. The book also marks a pretty significant milestone in Miriam's own personal character arc, forcing her to face up to her past in more than one sense, as well as further developing the mythos surrounding Miriam and her psychic curse. All in all, it's a great climax for this first trilogy of books, even though it's clear from the ending that Miriam's story is not quite over yet. (There are four more books due over the course of 2017 and 2018.)

All that aside, I've been working my way through both The Once and Future King by T.H. White, and Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig. I'm reading them on my Kindle, rather than on Audible, so I'm taking a bit more time to get through them both (particularly The Once and Future King). I'll have more to say about both when I've actually finished them.

Works In Progress
I scheduled the games I'm going to be hosting for the Gauntlet Hangouts community over February, which will include one session of Lasers & Feelings and one of Microscope. I'll also be scheduling the next two sessions of the Urban Shadows: London mini-campaign after we've wrapped up the first session cliffhanger this Monday.

I've been testing out possible platforms for running Microscope online, and I'm probably just going to go with Google Slides. I also looked at GingkoApp, but that seems to require a subscription for the full service. The free version is probably enough for doing one or two Microscope timelines, but I'm sure I'll end up doing a few more than that, and I'll want to keep a record of the session. I wish we'd preserved the timeline we came up with the first time I played Microscope, so I don't want to make that mistake again.

As for Urban Shadows: London, I plan to sit down and work on some prep for that later tonight.

I'll be writing up actual play reports of both Urban Shadows and Lasers & Feelings to post on the blog the day after those respective games. I'm also going to try and post a few RPG reviews this week, but no promises (since I've had to take some more overtime at work this week).

Anyway, that's all for now, later folks!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

[My Geeky Week] Borderlands, Mockingbird, and other stuff...

Swag
I went ahead and bought the first three Mistborn novels (The Final Empire, The Well of Ascension, and The Hero of Ages by Brandon Sanderson) with my last three Audible credits. I've read them all before, but I wanted to try out the audiobook versions, especially since they're narrated by Michael Kramer, one of the narrators for the Wheel of Time series). I wish they were narrated by both him and Kate Reading, like the Wheel of Time was, but no such luck.

Since I've been reading the core rulebook of late, I wound up buying the Agents of Change, Familiar Spirits and New Hires supplements for the Corporia RPG from DriveThruRPG. In addition to those, I picked up a free RPG called Tactical Waifu, which is 'a hack of Lasers & Feelings with anime girl operators', and I figure that'll be fun for a one-shot at some point down the line. I also picked up the last few Fate Worlds of Adventure that I missed (House of Bards, Frontier Spirit, Masters of Umdaar, Nest, SLIP and The Three Rocketeers).

Achievements Unlocked
So, almost a month since Christmas, I finally opened up the XBox 360 Borderlands Collection that Angela got me, and I started playing the first game. I was having fun blasting raiders and mutant freaks up until I got to Bonehead and now I'm kinda stuck. I know my best option is taking cover on the ramp, then shooting him and his goons while popping my head up when they're not shooting as much (they're very rarely not shooting at all). I've even got pretty close to nailing the git, but I always get caught by a stray shot and end up having to respawn. I'm now running low on ammo, credits, and I'm frustrated as hell. Why won't this guy die? Also, why is it I have to worry about running out of ammo in these games while the bad guys never do? I know, I know, it wouldn't be very exciting if the bad guys weren't shooting at me, would it? Still, it's just not fair!

In other news, Star Wars Rebels is back, with a special guest appearance by a younger Princess Leia! The episode was pretty fun, but they did lay on Leia's theme tune a bit too heavily in a scene or two (like, turn down the volume guys). That aside, Leia is great, every bit as haughty as she is in A New Hope, already showing off her leadership abilities, but also not quite as hardened as she will be later on (Alderaan hasn't been blown up yet, after all). There's some more foreshadowing of Ezra's potential fall to the dark side later this season: subtle this time, mostly just him being a bit too enthusiastic in knocking out a stormtrooper and a moment's look of shock from Kanan, but the implication is there all the same. Looking forward to seeing where this is heading later on, especially since the mid-season trailer hinted at some pretty interesting things to come.

I've also started reading the Corporia RPG by Mark Plemmons. It had been on my DriveThruRPG wishlist for a while before I wound up getting it as part of the Epimas bundle which I ordered for myself and James back in December. The concept of reborn Arthurian knights fighting monsters as magic returns to a cyberpunk setting was interesting to me, but I doubt I'd have bought under other circumstances. I've only finished the first chapter so far, but it's already looking better than I expected. While the concept sounded fun, I figured this would be one of those cases of a game where the setting was good, but the system behind it was sub-par. However, while the system isn't anything particularly ground-breaking, it actually looks okay. I'll write up a proper review when I'm done reading, but I definitely intend to run this sometime in the foreseeable future, probably as a one-shot or mini-campaign for Gauntlet Hangouts.

Finally, I listened to Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig yesterday. I enjoyed the first Miriam Black novel, and I'd always meant to get round to checking out the next couple of books eventually. As a sequel to Blackbirds, Mockingbird is exactly what it needs to be. It not only develops the character of Miriam, but forces her to up her game. Miriam spent a lot of the first book running away from the problem until she finally couldn't run anymore. This time, Miriam takes the problem head on, and the stakes are higher; not just one life, but several, hang in the balance as she tries to stop a serial killer. It also makes those stakes more personal for Miriam, which is actually much more important than increasing the scale of the threat itself. On top of all that, the book expands a bit further on Miriam's 'gift' and there are a couple of neat twists later; one of them you might half-expect, but the other is a real wham moment in the story. I'll definitely be buying The Comorant when I get my next monthly Audible credit on Tuesday, and I'll likely be blazing through it next Saturday.

Works In Progress
I had a very productive chat with a friend over Skype this week with regards to prepping Fronts (or rather, a Storm) for my current Urban Shadows campaign. Lesson learned, it can be really helpful to bounce ideas off another person. I can brainstorm well enough on my own, but there's always a niggling doubt when I do that, because I'm not confident enough in my own ideas. So, it really helps to have someone as a sounding board to tell me if an idea sounds good, or if it needs a little work, or it's better off being cut. Which just proves to me that I need to find myself a writer's group to join, so I can have that little bit of extra support while with my writing.

That's all for now, see you later!

Monday, January 18, 2016

[RPG Musings] Playing With Canon

Several of the games I've run over the years have been licensed (or fan-hacked) RPGs set in popular fictional universes. The first RPG I ever ran was the Angel RPG, and since then I've run Doctor Who, Firefly and Stargate. Now that I've recently acquired both Age of Rebellion and Force and Destiny, it seems more than likely I'll be adding Star Wars to my GMing resume sooner or later.

The thing about running (or even playing) in an established universe is, you need to decide how you're going to deal with canon, which will depend on a few things:

1. How familiar is your group with the setting?
2. How flexible are your group (those who are familiar with the universe) willing to be with regard to established canon?
3. How important do your players want their characters to be in the grand scheme of this universe?
4. (Optional) Is there any way that altering canon can be made into a plot device within the rules of the fictional universe (via time travel, alternate realities, etc)?

You might want to have a discussion with your group to answer the first three questions before the game starts. Once you know their position regarding these points, you'll have a better idea of how to approach canon in your campaign.

The options available to you might differ depending on the setting, but here's a couple ways I've done it in the past, and a couple of other ways I might consider doing it.

Same 'Verse, Different Stories: The game is set firmly within canon. All of the events that happened in the source material are happening right now and your PCs may cross paths with the main storyline now and then. But the focus is firmly on your PCs and their problems, all of that other stuff is just a side-show for them. Not important.

This is the way I ran my Stargate SG-10 campaign back in university. The PCs were part of the SGC, reported to General Hammond (and later Jack O'Neill) and were aware of the exploits of SG-1 as they ran in parallel to events in the campaign. But they had their own nemesis, their own personal issues and potential end-of-the-world scenarios to deal with.

The advantages of this style of play is that by having cameos and references to established canon in the game, you can reinforce the feel that they are a part of the setting. The danger is, of course, that your PCs adventures are never going to be as 'important' in the grand scheme of things as the 'main cast', unless you bend plausibility a little and have your PCs adventures share similar stakes. If you're going with the latter, you're going to need your players to be willing to handwave the fact that these other big events never even got mentioned onscreen in-universe. If you're going with the former, you're going to need your players cool with their stories being smaller, more personal ones set in the same universe as the more impactful adventures of the main storyline.

Maybe the Same 'Verse, Maybe Not: This approach is similar to the first, but you don't mention the major events of the source material at all, and if you do have any canon characters appear, make them supporting characters, not the big names. Make their adventure as high stakes as you like, leaving enough space for the canon events to be occuring off-screen (in case it somehow becomes relevant later on), but never explicitly call it out. If anyone asks if the other stuff really is happening off-screen, tell them it might be or it might not. If it is, it's not important to them, they've got their own problems.

This is how I played it with my Firefly campaign. Sure, the Hands of Blue showed up, they met Badger, Mr Universe and Niska. But I never once mentioned Captain Reynolds or the crew of the Serenity. As far as the PCs were concerned though, Mal and his crew did not exist. The PCs were the stars of this story, featuring a sinister megacorporation and their conspiracy to improve upon humanity through cybernetic enhancement. (As it turned out, I did end the campaign with an epilogue where I played them the Miranda signal and got them to narrate their reactions, but only because I felt it worked well in regards to one of the PCs character arcs.)

The advantages to this method are that you can maintain the same authentic feel with minor cameos, but focus things more solidly on your group of PCs. If you leave enough space in the narrative for canon events to be going on off-screen without your PCs knowledge, then they can worry less about being a B-team, but you can still keep any purists happy with the suggestion that things might still be occurring as they should. Of course, that's as much a weakness as it is a strength of this approach, because it still leaves room for doubt one way or another. It also only works if, like in Firefly, the canon story arc can feasibly be taking place without being noticed by the larger universe.

Wibbly Wobbly, Timey Wimey: Don't worry about messing around with canon; in fact, make the fact that canon is messed up part of your campaign's main arc! This works really well in settings which feature time-travel or reality warping powers. Maybe somebody made a wish, and now the protagonist never existed and it's up to your PCs to save the day in their place. Or somebody went back in time and changed a pivotal event in the canon timeline, creating a world where your PCs are the last best hope.

When I started my Doctor Who campaign, it was just a year off from the 50th anniversary, so I came up with a campaign idea that would work as a nice homage in honour of that event. The stakes of the campaign would be the very existence of the Whoniverse itself, because the Doctor was missing and his removal from the timeline had thrown the universe into disarray. It was up to the PCs - temporal exiles whose own existence was jeopardised by the Doctor's disappearance - to find the lost Time Lord and set things right.

The advantage here is that you have some leeway to play as fast and loose with canon, because the reason that it's not the way it should be is built into the campaign. The problem with that is, it's a gimmick. You can get away with it every now and then, but you can't do it every time you want to run a campaign in an established universe. Well, you probably could, but you might end up pigeon-holed to that schtick. Also, you have leeway to mess with canon, but only insofar as it fits with the inciting event that has caused all the divergences.

Same Universe, Different Time: I've never done this myself, but I can see it as an option that might work. Maybe your campaign takes place before the main canonical storyline and - if you're feeling brave - you might even have your PCs be part of historical events that shape that later conflict. Or you could go the other route, have your campaign set after established events, let the PCs deal with the aftermath of the original heroes' exploits, or have their own adventures in a future shaped by those events.

One upside is that your players aren't 'competing' with the original characters in terms of stakes, since their adventure takes place outside of the main time period. A potential downside is that your players may not necessarily be familiar with the historical setting if they haven't read that tie-in novel series or whatever you're drawing those details from. Or, maybe they haven't seen/read all of the source material yet, so the future setting (which, presumably, has been shaped by events from the main storyline) contains potential spoilers for them.

Alternate Universe: This is another option I've never really tried myself, but I've heard it mentioned in regard to Star Wars RPGs lately. Take an established setting, pose a 'what if' question about some aspect of its timeline, work out how the timeline would diverge if that 'what if' had occurred, and then play in the alternate universe that forms from that.

The upside to this is, since you're already drastically changing canon, you can worry a lot less about being true to the original timeline. Also, even though it is gimmicky like the 'Wibbly Wobbly' option, it's a bit more of a repeatable gimmick: you can continue to play within this new timeline you've created, or you can create another 'what if' universe and explore new possibilities with it. The downside I can see with this is that it might such a drastic shift from established canon, some players will feel it's not 'proper' Firefly/Star Wars/Stargate/etc.

You'll have to weigh the potential pros and cons of any of these approaches against the answers to the earlier questions about your group's attitude towards canon.

Specific approaches to campaign setup aside, there are a couple other things you should be aware of when running games based on an established setting:

Canon Buffs: There is a chance that your group will include one or more players who know their trivia about your chosen setting better than you do and, will be more than ready to correct you if you get stuff wrong or miss out a detail they know about. This can be both good and bad. On the one hand, you can see these players as a useful information source to help fill in some of the blanks in the universe and enrich your roleplaying experience with extra detail. On the other hand, having players interject with interesting trivia every time it comes up can be a distraction which slows down the actual play for everyone.

You'll need to reach an agreement with such players, asking them to keep such information to themselves unless specifically called upon to help you with details you know you're fuzzy on. Beyond those moments when you call upon them, ask them to save any corrections or extra information until after the session and discuss it then.

Quotes/References: It's unavoidable that those of your players who are fans of the source material are going to want to make the occasional quote or reference to it. Heck, you as the GM may even throw in the odd call-back or reference of your own as a bit of fan service for the players. The problem is, it's likely not all of your players are fans (or not as big fans as others are). These quotes and references are probably going to make them feel a bit excluded, maybe even annoy them if they become common enough to be a distraction from the game. (And, again, if they plan on actually checking out the source material, there's a risk of spoilers.)

If the references are getting to to the point that they're more of a distraction from the game, then that's something you'll need to discuss with the players in question: just ask them to tone it down a bit. As for the less-invested players, try to encourage them to check out the source material. If it's a movie or TV show, maybe arrange a night for the group to watch it together. That way, it's more of a social thing, rather than feeling like homework for the player. Of course, if the player is resistant, for whatever reason, to checking out the source material then there's not much that can be done. You'll just need to take extra care as a GM to make the game accessible to them despite their unfamiliarity with the universe.

Well, that's all the insight I have into the matter of dealing with canon in roleplaying games. Bit long and rambling, but hopefully it'll be of some interest or use to you. If you have advice or thoughts of your own regarding the topic, please feel free to share them in the comments as I'm always interested in hearing from fellow GMs about topics like this.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

[My Geeky Week] Star Wars, Games Night, and other stuff...


Swag
While on our way back from seeing The Force Awakens (the second time for me), my friend David and I stopped by Waterstones, where I happened upon a copy of Sheriff of Nottingham. Having seen it on Wil Wheaton's Tabletop, I debated whether to get it or not, but decided to just get it.

Later in the week, I happened across a couple of limited Star Wars t-shirt designs on Woot.com, one was a Doctor Who/Star Wars mashup which I just had to order right away. The other was a quote from The Force Awakens written in the style of the Star Wars logo. I wasn't so quick to order that one, but eventually I gave in to the dark side and bought it anyway.

Finally, I spent another of my Audible credits to get Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig, the sequel to Blackbirds (which I finished listening to yesterday).

Achievements Unlocked
As mentioned, I went to see The Force Awakens for a second time and actually enjoyed it even more this time around. Having already seen the film once before and found nits to pick about it, I was better able to switch off my inner critic and just enjoy the show. I intend to do a proper review at some point, but for now I'll just say that it's probably not the best Star Wars film of all time (though I'm sure others will disagree on that point), but it is at least a good Star Wars film.

I also ran my first session of Urban Shadows on Wednesday night, which I posted an actual play report of previously.

On Friday night I went to a games night at a friend's place. I brought along my recently purchased box of Sheriff of Nottingham, and we tried that first. Although we were reluctant to snap the pouches shut properly, as the buttons seemed a bit stiff and we didn't want to accidentally tear the pouch fabric. That aside, once we got the hang of how turns played out, the game was pretty good fun. People even put on silly voices and hammed it up as the Sheriff. I wasn't great as the Sheriff (I'm not naturally a very pushy person, or good at telling when people are bluffing), or as a smuggler (I'm also not great at bluffing), but I did rack up a fairly decent sum through honest trade.

After Sheriff of Nottingham, we sat down to play Firefly: the Game, since Peter had recently got the Whole Damn 'Verse Game Mat for his birthday, and had also picked up the latest expansion over Christmas, so he wanted to try out the game with all the extra material thrown in. The goal for this session was to be solid with the most number of contacts in a limited amount of turns (which still took four hours to complete). As seems to happen every time I play Firefly, I got hit by the Reaver Cutter at a pretty crucial phase. I was transporting passengers (a Forced Exile mission from Harken) when it happened, so they all died and I had to go back for more, delaying my second mission success for several more turns.

Ruaridh won both Sheriff of Nottingham and Firefly, even though he was only half-paying attention to the latter (he doesn't like the game, so he was watching anime while playing). Well done that man!

Finally, yesterday I listened to the audiobook of Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig during my shift. I'd read the Kindle edition before and I enjoyed it, but I wanted to try out the audiobook since I decided to read the next two books in the series that way. I wasn't too sure about the narrator's performance as Miriam Black, but she grew on me as I listened, even though I still think she sounds a bit too light-hearted a lot of the time. Miriam is not a cheerful woman; she can pretend to be, but it's just as a facade and it's not even meant to be a very convincing one. Still, it was a decent listen, and I still went ahead and bought the next audiobook afterwards.


Works In Progress
At the moment, I'm working on putting together Threats for the Urban Shadows: London campaign, although I'm not sure I have enough information to work from, since we didn't get a lot of actual roleplaying done during our first session (due to tech issues and time constraints). I think I'll have a better idea how to assemble the Threats and maybe even a Storm after the next session.

I'm also going to try and do a writing exercise from The 3 A.M. Epiphany every day for the next week and see what comes out of it.

That's all for now, see you later.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

[My Geeky Week] Shadow Police and other stuff...

Swag
On Monday, I received my Kickstarter copy of the Time Cellist RPG 'activity book'. Now all I need is a chance to run it and a face-to-face group (because this one really does need to be done in person, I feel) willing to play it with me.

The same day, I ordered a River Song-style TARDIS journal to keep notes on my work for the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfiction with. Like with the handmade leather journal I got for my original writing, I figured I'd greet the new year with fresh journal to symbolise a fresh start with the story. Probably a bit of an over-investment for fanfiction but, well, what the heck?

On Tuesday, I spent some Audible credits on another couple of audiobooks, The Severed Streets by Paul Cornell and Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.

Then yesterday, I got The 3AM Epiphany by Brian Kiteley, which is yet another writing advice book to try and help me with my current 'inspirationally challenged' nature.

I also bought some roleplaying books which included the digital edition of The Society of Dreamers by Matthijs Holter, the print and PDF bundle of Microscope by Ben Robbins, and a preorder of the upcoming Microscope expansion, Microscope Explorer.

I almost didn't get The Society of Dreamers because its subject matter bears some similarity to concepts that I'm looking to explore in my own novel idea and I didn't want to risk it influencing me. However, I decided that rather than worry about being influenced, I might look at the game as a potential source of inspiration. Besides, the game places players in the role of a 19th century society of occultists, and my own story is set in the present day.

As for Microscope, I've played it before, but never actually got around to buying it until now. With the new expansion book, Microscope Explorer, recently being released as a PDF and soon to appear in print, I decided I'd go ahead and order them together.

Achievements Unlocked
I had a bit of a lazy week this week, so I spent it mostly listening to London Falling by Paul Cornell. I decided to listen to these books, in part, to get me in the mood for running a London-based mini-campaign of Urban Shadows this coming Wednesday. I liked the book enough that I went ahead and got its sequel, The Severed Streets, which I read the bulk of in my first shift back at work yesterday.

These two books, part of Cornell's Shadow Police series (the third of which is due for release this June), are about a group of London coppers who stumble upon the supernatural underworld of London in the course of a murder inquiry and take upon themselves to investigate this strange, secret side to the city.

If you know me pretty well, you probably know I enjoy both police procedurals and urban fantasy, so that particular genre mashup was always going to appeal to me. And it is pretty well done here; if this were a TV show (and it should be), then I'd definitely watch it. It's dark, it's gritty, and the supernatural side of things has an air of authenticity about it. Also, while the series does touch on the subject of Hell, it largely avoids tying its mythology to any particular religious ideology. The supernatural world is tied more to the city, its history, and the collective views of its population. Plus, it features a team of protagonists who - despite being well-trained investigators - are very much out of their depth with all this weird crap, and I love stories about underdogs.

I also read the first issue of Worlds Without Master which I got as part of the Epimas bundle I ordered for myself and James, my nWoD GM. It was okay. The stories were interesting, the comic was somewhat amusing and the micro-RPG (Enter the Avenger) could be fun to try out sometime if I need a quick game to facilitate on the fly at some point. For the most part though, I suspect I'm not quite the right target audience for the e-zine. I didn't read a lot of the sword and sorcery stories that - according to the editorial - the 'zine was inspired by, so I don't have the nostalgia for it that the creators are working from. So I just found it okay, and not much beyond that, sadly.

Works In Progress
With my mini-campaign of Urban Shadows due to start this Wednesday, I've been reading through the book to familiarise myself with the rules and best practices before we get started. I've also been reading Julia Nienaber's blog post on 'How to run Urban Shadows' and been watching/listening to the mini-campaign she ran for Rich and the rest of his Intercontinental Group of Awesome on Youtube to help me get a feel for how it runs.

I've posed some worldbuilding questions to my group in advance of Wednesday's session, and got responses from all but one of my players, so I've already got a few NPCs to work with for a few factions. Looking forward to seeing how it all works out in-game.

That's about it for now, I'll be back later in the week with the Masks planning post and the Canon in Roleplaying post I originally wanted to post this week, and probably an actual play report from Wednesday's Urban Shadows session after it's done. See you later!

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

[Actual Play] Dungeon World - The Company of the Three Kings: Castle of the Dreaming Doors, Part 2

GM: Jason Cordova

The Party
Fillion Don Dillion, the Thief (Isa Wills)
Fiona the Volatile, the Fighter (Robert Ruthven)
Ibid the Adaequatum, the Wizard (Dylan Knight)
Shar the Insatiable, the Barbarian (Timothy Bennett)

Fiona manages to cut herself a path out of the rat swarm, but has to rescue the others with a length of rope. All of them are suffering a little from rat fever after this encounter, but some quick doses of healing potions poultices or some magical healing gets them right as rain again in no time. Shar arrives during their escape from the rat swarm, which abates soon after they've cleared the room.

Shar's been on the trail of the Reekeesik cult for some time now, and informs the party that the cultists outside are celebrating the awakening of their god, Reekeesik the Rat King, and the rats are a sign of his approach into the mortal realm. He also knows that the door the rats are pouring from was made by the vampire Urbina's sister, Lugana, in order to face the Rat King and defeat him. After hearing this, Fiona shakes off an insane urge to go out and slaughter the cultists (courtesy of the cursed stone).

Fillion questions Urbina and learns of a weapon that her sister was able to create in the course of her research into Reekeesik; a weapon that could be used to destroy the Rat King himself. While this is going on,  Instead of doing that, she accompanies Shar to the chapel and together they descend the steps into the family crypt, where Fiona finds a sword in a leather scabbard with an image of a salamander embroidered on it, the sigil of Nestor 'the Salamander' Castafiel. (Later, she find that it lets out a gout of flame whenever she draws it from the scabbard.)

Just then, Fiona hears a scream from Shar and runs to check on him. She finds him trapped in a death grip by one of the mummified Castafiels and pries it off him, but ends up stuck wrestling with it herself. Shar chops at one of its legs with his axe, knocking it off-balance. Unfortunately this unbalances Fiona too and allows the mummy to get a choke-hold on her. She headbutts it to break its grip, severing the strangling limb from the rest of it with the force of the blow. Then she draws her sword and smashes it into powder.

Fillion and Ibid hear the commotion from upstairs and come down to see what's going on. They chide the two warriors for not running away and regrouping. Fiona rubs absently at her neck and claims she had it under control, before taking a gold ring from the remains of the mummy's finger. The ring has what appears to be a dial on it, which actually turns, and there's a button on it. Some sort of mechanical marvel, but she can't work out its function. Pressing the button does nothing by itself. From upstairs, they hear the cultists voices rise as they call out to their god. Fillion and Ibid search the alcoves and find a long jagged javelin-like weapon, with the name 'Rat Stabber' engraved on it. This is the weapon that Urbina told them about.

Returning to the portcullis, they see that the cultists are sacrificing owls and various other predators of rodents, building themselves up in anticipation of the Rat King's arrival. Fiona once again holds herself back from slaughtering the cultists in a mad spree.

Shar is determined to face the Rat King, which needs to be done on the astral plane to ensure the death is permanent; if they kill him on the mortal plane he'll just return to his own realm. The rest of the party decides to go along with him, and Ibid takes them to a tower room of the castle, where he prepares the ritual for entering the astral plane.

When they fall asleep, they find themselves lined up in front of the door to the tower stairwell, which has a message scrawled above it: 'Never look behind you.' Just then, they hear scratching on the stone floor behind, but choose to ignore it. Instead, they walk through the door and descend the tower, noticing that, in this astral plane, the castle seems to be suspended above a silvery void.

In the room where Urbina was, they see her in her true, Nosferatu-like, form chained, asking to be released by Fillion, as they had apparently agreed. Fillion, disturbed by the sight of Urbina, scurries off on his own, while the rest continue to investigate. Fiona finds another of the dreaming doors with a forge carved into it - behind the forge in the castle, no less - but decides not to touch it. The party returns to Urbina's cell, to find that Fillion has disappeared through another of these doors. Then Fiona feels fingers brushing her neck and draws her sword as she turns and...

...finds herself adrift in a silvery void with a silver cord attached to her torso and an astral hunter behind her, snapping at her cord to try and sever it. She hears Ibid calling for her to 'focus on the castle' and sees the castle hanging in the void before her. She swims towards it, evading the snapping of the creature and crashes back towards the castle, finding herself back in the room with the others. Fillion has returned from wherever he wandered off to at this point, looking about as shaken as she probably does. Fiona is sternly reminded 'not to look behind her' by Ibid, to which she tersely replies: 'Yeah, think I got that.'

They descend to the basement and enter the rat door, finding themselves in a large cavern. Fillion scouts ahead and a bit later they hear him returning and talking to someone else. Fiona takes cover behind a rock to lie in ambush for the newcomer - a high priest of Rakeesik - but Shar charges on ahead, ruining the element of surprise.

The rat priest sacrifices a python he was carrying to summon a swarm of rats to cover and protect him, becoming a sort-of construct made of rats. Shar drives the spear through the mass of rats and gets swarmed by them. Fiona joins the fray and slashes away at the priest's armour of rats, leaving his head and midsection exposed. With his 'rat armour' removed, Ibid takes the priest out with a magic missile blast to the face. The rats go after Ibid as the priest dies, but he manages to scare them off and they disperse.

As they progress through the cavern, they find themselves walking on a living carpet of rodents, and the closer they get to the pit at the heart of the cavern the deeper they're wading through them, until they're almost - but not quite - waist-deep in rats. Ibid spots a shelf of rock they can grapple to in order get above the rats, and Fillion hooks a rope to it just above the pit area. He climbs up it and has a good view of the pit, where he sees Reekeesik crawling up and freezes.

The rest of the party see the titanic form of Reekeesik rising up from the pit. Fiona (under the influence of the cursed stone) snatches the Rat Stabber from Shar and charges at Reekeesik. Shar jumps after her and rides her back as she charges. Fiona falls just short of its head but deals a slight blow, gaining its attention. Shar yells and jumps on the arm it's using to lift itself from the pit.
Reekeesik opens its mouth wide to snap at them both. Shar scurries up onto its head, while Fiona gets lifted up into its maw and stabs it in the palate, taking a serious wound but wounding it enough for it to drop her.

Fillion tries to leap at its head and blind it, but ends up plunging right down its gullet. Shar mounts the head and stabs it in the eye, getting it to rear up and giving Fiona a chance to get in below its jaw and ram the javelin into the soft tissue there. The two of them hold on desperately as Reekeesik thrashes wildly to shake them off. Shar gets in front of the other eye and makes sure it sees him before he blinds it completely. On the advice of Ibid, Fiona tosses the Rat Stabber up to Shar, who drives it through Reekeesik's eye socket and into its brain. Fiona leaps out of the way as the massive beast falls, Char jumps out from the eye socket and has to leave the rat-stabber lodged there as Reekeesik falls back into the pit.

At the Black Gates, Fillion meets Death in the form of a beautiful woman holding a sword in one hand and a handful of coins in the other. She offers to let him live, if he promises to slay Urbina and release her soul back into Death's clutches. He graciously accepts the offer, takes the sword, and is next seen cutting his way free from Reekeesik's gullet just before it falls to the depths.

The party are able to collect the Doors from the castle and transport them to the Citadel. Fillion has a game of chess with Urbina, taking a 'moment to think about his next move' to sneak behind her and stab her in the back. During a drinking session at a tavern on the way back, Fiona confides in Ibid that she thinks something is wrong with her, and asks for his help in figuring out what.

THE END...FOR NOW

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

[Actual Play] Dungeon World - The Company of the Three Kings: Castle of the Dreaming Doors, Part 1

GM: Jason Cordova

The Party
Fillion Don Dillion, the Thief (Isa Wills)
Fiona the Volatile, the Fighter (Robert Ruthven)
Ibid the Adaequatum, the Wizard (Dylan Knight)
Mange Dirt-Eater, the Druid (Eadwin Tomlinson)

Our party had been sent to a castle by our adventuring guild to try and figure out the secret behind a cave of doors in the citadel we use for our guildhall. On the way, they were set upon by an ankheg. Fiona engaged it, briefly losing her sword and having to pull off some acrobatics to avoid acid vomit from the creature. Luckily, Fillion was able to toss the sword back to her and she slew the beast, unfortunately rupturing its acid sac in the process and getting slightly singed by the resulting spray.

They soon reached the castle, finding the portcullis shut on them. After a bit of recon (during which she found another mystery door hanging in the air outside the castle's west wall), Fiona decided to just pull the portcullis open with her amazing strength (and a bit of aid from Ibid). Inside, they caught up to Mange, who had transformed into a beetle to get inside and had come across a screaming baby manticore. The manticore's father soon arrived and started screaming at them. Mange set fire to the bushes near the baby, hoping the elder manticore would be distracted by the danger to the baby while the party made their escape. Fiona had another idea however.

Drawing her bastard sword, Ruin, Fiona charged the manticore and engaged it in battle. Deciding not to leave her to face it alone, the rest of the party returned to join the fight. Ibid got hit by a couple of poison spines and Fiona took a direct blow from the manticore's tail before the furious warrior lopped off the offending appendage. She and Ibid made short work of it after that and, after shaking off the manticore's venom, Fiona kept the severed tail as a trophy. After some arguing over Ibid's cowardice (or Fiona's recklessness and needless violence, depending on who you ask) the party started exploring the castle.

While exploring the castle tower, Fiona spotted a large group of people with torches approaching the castle from the other side of the bridge and informed the others. Mange transformed into an owl and flew out to do some recon on the newcomers, and Fiona and Ibid jammed the portcullis shut to secure it against the approaching mob. They came back to find Fillon in conversation with a lady called Urbina Castafiel who was occupying a cell/sitting room in the castle. Though the cell seemed unlocked, she was evidently incapable of leaving. She made Fillion a wager: if he could beat her at a game of chess, she would give him something she had in her pocket and also explain the secret of the doors to him. If she won, then she would be allowed to feed on him. (It was at this point that she revealed herself as a vampire by baring her fangs.)

They initially turned her down, but after Fiona returned from further recon of the castle, she found Fillion sitting in the cell playing chess with the vampiress after all. Vexed at this foolishness, Fiona sat herself in another seat in the cell and made a show of sharpening her blade while she watched them play. The vampire scoffed at the veiled threat, but also seemed to recognise Fiona's blade: a bastard sword with geometrical patterns etched into the blade and ancient writing on the hilt, which Fiona had recovered from the abandoned castle of the vampire mage known as Eldrad the Eternal.

Fillion defeated the vampire, and she gave him a stone that created a black hole in whatever it struck, sending whatever entered it into oblivion. She also handed a red stone with the word 'bloodthirsty' carved into it to Fiona, claiming it would help her become an even more fierce warrior than she already was. (Jason explained that he now had 3 hold on Fiona, which he could spend to encourage her to excess violence. If she followed through on the suggestion, the hold would be spent and I'd get an XP. If not, he would get another hold.)

Around this point, Mange returned, having identified some religious symbols on the approaching mob and also that they were here to find a specific 'dreaming door' they believed was located beneath the castle. The vampiress identified them as the cult of Reekeesik, the Rat King.

She also explained the secret of the doors. They could only be accessed from the astral plane, and in order to use them the party would need to perform a ritual involving some incense which would put them to sleep and allow them to enter the astral plane. She directed them towards a room in the castle basement which had the proper incense and also housed one of the doors. Upon entering the room, we found the incense and another dreaming door, this one depicting rats crawling all over it. Before we could do anything else, the door burst open, unleashing a flood of rats which soon filled the room...

TO BE CONTINUED...

Sunday, January 3, 2016

[My Geeky Week] Firefight, Dungeon World and not much else...

Swag
Last Sunday I ordered a handmade leather journal to use as a fresh writing journal in the New Year.

Then, on New Year's Eve, I pre-ordered the Welcome to Night Vale Tarot Deck, and also ordered a copy of Greenlight from Drivethrucards.

Achievements Unlocked
This week, I listened to the audiobook of Firefight by Brandon Sanderson, the second book in the Reckoners trilogy.

While the first book reminded me a bit strongly of the first Mistborn novel, this one felt more its own story. The Reckoners get caught in a cat-and-mouse game with an Epic tied to their leader Prof's past, while protagonist David begins to question whether the way they've been doing things is truly right or not.

This book expanded on the Reckoners setting established by the first book. We get to explore Babylon Restored (formerly New York City) which is a very different place from Newcago, meet a new Reckoners crew, and a new group of Epics for them to face.

More important than the new stuff that's introduced is the development of the main character and a couple of the other major characters we already know. We see David's attitude towards Epics shift and the conflict it creates between him and the other Reckoners. We get more background on Prof and Tia. We even learn more about how the Epics' powers work and where they come from.

All of it builds towards a finale that is game-changing for the Reckoners in a couple of different ways, and has left me eagerly awaiting the release of the final book, Calamity, next month.

On New Year's Day I played in a game of Dungeon World run by Jason Cordova as part of the Gauntlet's Company of the Three Kings living campaign. I created a Fighter called Fiona the Volatile. (For those of you who've played The Red Dragon Inn board game, yeah I took the name and look for her from the character in that game.) The scenario was split into two parts over Friday and Saturday. Instead of going over the details of the adventure here, I'll post actual play reports of it on Monday and Tuesday. Suffice to say, I had a great time and - while I'm not normally available to play most weekends - I hope I'll be able to join in on further adventures with the Company.

Works In Progress
I'm still in a sort of hibernative state following the holiday period. I'll get back to work on my writing and my GM prep starting tomorrow. Not only have I got the continuation of Masks to prepare for, but I also need to re-read the Urban Shadows book and do a bit of research on London for the mini-campaign I'll be starting up for Gauntlet UK next Wednesday.

I don't have any concrete plans for what I'm going to work on writing-wise at the moment, other than the Doctor Who/Evangelion fanfic, but I've decided to commit at least an hour a day to writing something that isn't a blog post. Hopefully, a bit of freewriting every day will help me figure out a direction of some kind to take with my writing.

Blog-wise, other than the two-part actual play report for Dungeon World on Monday and Tuesday, I'm thinking of doing a 'Behind the Screen' planning post for Masks on Wednesday, and I wanted to do a post on 'Dealing with Canon in Roleplaying' for Thursday, since it's a subject I've been thinking about lately, now that I'm getting into the FFG Star Wars line of roleplaying games. I don't have anything planned for Friday yet, but I'll see what I can come up with between now and then.