Friday, January 9, 2015

Actual Play Recap - Numenera Fiasco Playset - Playtest #1

I've been a fan of Numenera since its inception, and a fan of Fiasco since +Wil Wheaton featured it on TableTop. Late last year I decided to start working on a play-set for Fiasco based on Numenera.

Last night I had +John Marvin +Andrew Cady and +andrew lyon join me in a Google Hangout to playtest the set.  The following is a brief recap.

  • Isem - a Thief with a cypher capable of controlling the Iron Wind. He was looking to get some cash for it from his usual fence, Nojo. Isem is drinking buddies with Rick. - played by me
  • Rick - A mutant. Rick and Isem are drinking buddies and had a need to purge mutation between them (that played out as Rick having a mutation and Isem having a cure). Rick was the target of an assassin, Rico. - played by +andrew lyon 
  • Rico - An assassin targeting Rick for some killing out at the abhuman village.  Rico was connected to Nojo by his sister who had married Noji and then been killed by him (accidentally). The two were looking to a powerful Numenera to raise the dead woman. - played by +Andrew Cady 
  • Nojo - A fence connected to Rico and Isem, by bonds of criminal enterprise and blood. - played by +John Marvin 
Act 1
Scene 1 - Isem visited Nojo looking to sell his powerful and dangerous cypher. Things went well enough with the pair agreeing to a potential 3-way trade for a powerful healing item held by Isem's drinking buddy Rick.

Scene 2 - Rick and Isem share some drinks and agree to trade the iron wind controller for the healing device. A GM Intrusion by John (a mechanic I had not planned on, but which worked well enough to be included for the next playtest) had the bar's waitress evesdropping on the conversation. This set in motion basically all the remaining bad stuff.

Scene 3 - Rico learns from his girlfriend, the waitress, that a mutant named Rick has a powerful healing item.  Rico decided to ambush and steal the item to revive his dead sister. The GF sought the item for her own ends, to revive her dead mother.

Scene 4 - Nojo and Rico plot to steal the healing item and revive their wife & sister (respectively)

The Tilt
DEATH - Right on Time
[we didn't get the best use out of the tilt, but we were running an abbreviated session, so its something to work on next time]

Act 2
Scene 1 - Nojo is visited late at night by Isem who has traded the cypher for the healing item. They agree to a trade for a phasing artifact and Isem leaves to retrieve the goods. Nojo mentions, offhandedly, to tell Rico "never mind" if Isem sees him.

Scene 2 - Rico ambushed Rick trying to steal the healing artifact but learns that Rick has already traded it for the iron wind device, and is not afraid to use it ...

Scene 3 - Flashback - Rick finds out from his girlfriend, who is also Rico's girlfriend, that Rico is coming for him.  He resolves to be ready for the encounter. He does have a powerful weapon now after all.

Scene 4 - The next morning Isem sees the disaster wrought by the unleashed iron wind and goes to investigate.  He finds both Rico and Rick, and after some confusion learns that they have switched bodies thanks to the iron wind. Rick is now mutation free, which is a win ... after a fashion.

The Aftermath
Things generally went poorly for everybody.  
  • Isem dies because his phasing suit failed first time out and he was cut in half by a wall
  • Rick, now mutation free, loses his GF anyways because she's mad that she cannot revive her mother.
  • Rico, loses his GF and has to live his life as a mutant, a thing he had previously abhorred, Death would have been a better fate for him.
  • Nojo revived his wife to life, but not to original health. She is also angry at him about the fate of her brother. 

Overall I think the session went well. The players all agreed that the playset made the characters and setting really come through as feeling like Numenera. During after-play discussion we came up with a way to codify the GM intrusion for next time.  The shorter than normal game (usually you play two scenes per person in each act instead of one), generated some odd results, but I think it still felt both like a Fiasco and a Numenera game.  

Thanks again to +Andrew Cady +andrew lyon and +John Marvin for joining me and providing good ideas and feedback both during play and after.

Story Seed - The Narrow Way

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I stood at the outcropping staring at the tiny bridge. The wind whipped my hair and cloak, streaming them behind me like tethers to my old life. Across a chasm that seemed as physically immense as it was spiritually was the Tower of the Dreamer, and etched into its side a narrow cut that watered my eyes to see it.

The tiny bridge seemed to narrow to a thread as it sought that opening. I blinked my eyes, forcing the tears to spill down my cheeks and dry up in the wind, evaporating like my past as I stood on the cusp of tomorrow. All I needed to do was cross that bridge and leave the world I knew behind. The Tower of Dreams could make my heart's true desire manifest, but at the cost of my past.

Was the price one I could pay? Was the reward worthy of the price?

I knew not these things as I stood, the wind beating at me; pushing me away at times, as if to say "
do not forsake all that you are," and at other times pushing me toward taking that fateful step and whispering, "go, now, and take what you crave most!"

I rolled my thumb over the crude ring on my left hand, my mind wandering back to the woman who had given it to me.  My lost love. She whom I desired most. Could I throw away my past with her to regain our future together?

I lifted my foot ...

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Back Issues #13: Recipe for Disaster

As I wrote this, I was making spaghetti sauce. I have a recipe, but what is written down and what ends up in the pot are pretty much never the same. For instance I usually add some onions, carrots, and celery to the pot, but yesterday I didn't have celery at all, and I did have some parsnips. In they went, along with some celery seed to make up for the missing stalks. It'll be fine, I'm following the recipe mostly ...

Issue #13: Recipe for Disaster

"Double, double toil and trouble; Fire burn, and caldron bubble." - Macbeth, William Shakespeare

Potions, salves, poultices, balms, and more are all pretty much staples of the fantasy genre, and can sometimes be found in modern or Sci-fi RPGs. Potions require ingredients, recipes, and the proper tools of the trade. Quests have been made of searching out rare ingredients, locating long lost recipes, and even making use of a brew to de-buff or otherwise make an invincible enemy capable of defeat.

But what happens when the recipe isn't followed properly? When an ingredient is incorrect or substituted? When the equipment is makeshift? Which isn't to say I'm advocating that every misstep or cut corner result in a bad thing; quite the contrary, happy accidents do happen. Of course, so to do bad things happen.

In part, what happens to alchemy gone awry is going to depend on the needs of your story. Is the proper execution of the alchemical brew a main plot point, or a side aspect? If the characters depend on the potion to save a teammate, or defeat an otherwise indefatigable foe, or some other matter of primary import, then the improper interpretation of the recipe or brewing needs to be likewise central to the game, by necessity the players need to be given a fair shake unless it it your intent that things go awry in order to segue into another aspect of your story. Having players spend four weeks gathering the proper ingredients for the potion that will enable them to defeat the monster only to penalize them for not chanting the proper phrase when they gathered the demon's blood isn't fair. If they willfully ignore the instructions they were given feel free to stick it to them, but if it slips their mind go easy on them, it's only fair to either have an NPC question it, or to have the potion work anyways.

For secondary concerns, be they potions to buff the PCs, de-buff enemies, or for other reasons that are not critical to the plot of your game you, as GM, have more freedom to interpret the effects. Incorrect preparation can result in potions that work better than intended, differently than intended, or not at all. Likewise things can backfire during the process; a cauldron explodes, released foul gases, or summons a creature.

Effects that work better than expected will likely result in the alchemist attempting to verify the new recipe, after all, he has made something greater than expected, it is natural to wish to quantify and repeat the feat. Effects may find their durations increased, their effects made greater in scope, or a beneficial secondary effect stacked upon the first. A flight potion may allow greater speed, longer duration, or even allow the user to see greater distances like an eagle.

Brews that are flawed, that is they function but not as intended, can be flawed in more ways than I could possibly recount here. The effect may be opposite, have the desired function with an undesirable method, or even provide some entirely different effect, or a side effect added to the normal. The aforementioned flight spell may cause the user to grow wings for the duration (or longer), may instead result in a digging/tunneling or swimming effect, cause the character to float uncontrollably at the whim of the winds, force the character into the air by turning them into a bird (and thus leaving their gear behind), or other effects.

Of course these same mishaps can be similarly applied to botched rituals, improperly built magical items, incorrectly written scrolls, or even spells cast improperly. Similarly in modern games the effects of poorly researched super science, or badly designed gadgetry may have the same kinds of mishaps when implemented. Imagine the result of an poorly performed genetic graft or nanites whose programming is improperly coded. The sky's the limit.

What have your GMs done with an improperly prepared magic brew? As players what kinds of effects do you like to see when something goes awry? DO you try to keep good humor when the effect is humorous? What of your feelings when your hard wrought labors prove for naught because of a incorrect preparation either as an IC or OOC factor?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Story Seed - Ambush

The following is a story set in the game world of Palladium Books' Nightbane RPG. It's a setting that I really enjoy, though I cannot say as much of the game system. The art today doesn't go with the story, but it's the cover art of the Nightbane core book. "Red Hand" by BROM was the first thing that drew me into this setting.

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Sam crouched on the edge of the roof like a gargoyle, watching the street below and trying to ignore the pain in his knees. He wasn't in the best shape, at least not when we hid under the human skin of his facade, but the monstrous true form of his morphous was something altogether different. He was the group's strongest fighter, especially from an ambush, and so there had been little debate about positioning him here. He tried shifting his weight but to no avail, his human knees were just not up to the punishment of a two hundred and thirty pound man crouching in place for the better part of an hour.

Below, the street was quiet. The city, like all others since Dark Day, was far less active at night, and this neighborhood was already largely abandoned.  Where drug deals and prostitution would likely have occurred once there was now only sad broken faced buildings, darkness, and silence. It would have been peaceful had it not been so damn terrifying. Sam knew better than most that monsters waited in the darkness; he was a monster himself. The world had been invaded and the average schmuck didn't even realize it on a conscious level. Sure, people saw the darkness getting worse, but they had no clue that the people who ran the world weren't people at all. Those who knew retreated from the old world and joined the fight, or were replaced by doppelgangers, or simply vanished.

The door of the building across the way fell forward, its last remaining hinge simply giving up at the push of the black metal hand. Standing in the doorway was a skeletal creature of darkness and black steel. A second followed the first, each carrying a long black spear with a wickedly curved blade affixed to the end. Sam recognized them as Hounds, the foot-soldiers of the Nightlords.They didn't look like much but they were nearly solid metal, and supernaturally powerful.

Behind the creatures a man followed, he looked normal enough; middle aged, doughy, wearing a suit that spoke of wealth. Sam recognized him as the mayor. Sam knew it was a doppelganger. Behind the duplicate another hound emerged from the building a white crest atop its head stood out among ebon spikes, and told Sam that this was no ordinary Hound of the Nightlords; it was a master. The black blade gripped in its thin fingers seemed to want to swallow the light itself.

The creatures advanced down the steps and Sam prepared for his ambush. he embraced his true self, and rode the wave of pain as his body transformed. White-hot pain seared away half his skull, and muscle cramps like none other took hold as his limbs twisted. Sam had not yet fully transformed when a sphere of darkness lanced from a nearby alley and slammed into one of the hounds.  A strange figure, a man's torso fused to a small set of caterpillar treads and topped with a obsidian black skull, suddenly rolled out of the darkness and mode off down the street.

The Hound Master sent his two minions after the Nightbane leaving itself alone to guard the doppelganger. Sam was about to celebrate his luck when yet another figure burst from the shadowed alley, leaping for the doppelganger. The Master's blade met it first, impaling the man. As soon as his feet hit ground however his used the master's weapon against it, swinging the creature around and sending him sailing into a nearby building.

The duplicate was already running, and Sam was moving to intercept.  He never got a chance as the interloper tore a sewer cap from the street, and slung it at the mayor's doppelganger with killing force. Sam watched as his target was sliced in half by sixty pounds of steel Frisbee moving faster than most cars. He cursed, that was going to make it difficult to execute their own plans.  Whomever these two idiots were, they had ruined the true government's best chance to get a mole into the Nightlord's forces in the past year. Below him the Master had regained its feet and it and the newcomer squared were off to battle. Sam watched, quickly running through his options with regard to this new third party.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #12 - Blogger Roundtable #1 - Inclusivity

Starting this month I'll be taking part in a round table of sorts with other bloggers who work within the Cypher System. It's all organized by +Lex Starwalker and with luck it'll be a really cool "discussion" of sorts each month.

This Month's Topic:
How would you, as GM, encourage role-playing in a player who doesn't role-play as much as you'd like, whether it's role-playing with NPCs, being more descriptive in combat, or referring to themselves in the third person. If you want to take the role-playing at your table to the next level, how do you get your players on board?

Hmm, how to encourage a player to role-play more? Well in my mind I can see a couple of ways ...

Set some ground rules/expectations up front

This works well if you do it for the whole group, even if the other players are already on board, and if not it reminds them as well and sets things up. If you are going to run your game a certain way and expect a certain degree of role play this is probably the right way to start. This let's you set the stage for the next couple of suggestions as well.

If you are going to treat table talk as a in character talk unless the players call a halt that sets an expectation, it will probably tamp down on the goofball comments and lead players to be a little more on task but it might also kill some of the fun and be a little too "all in" for people new to the hobby. Likewise is you expect the players to speak as their characters and elaborate on in character actions and tasks telling them up front helps to prime the pump.

Lead by Example

This probably (maybe?) goes without saying, but players will take their cues from the GM. If you are telling them what an NPC says they will tell you what their character says, but if you speak as the NPC (stutters and accents optional) that will help encourage players to act as their characters and speak to the NPC rather than to the GM.

Similarly if you want more detailed descriptions of combat actions then providing the same for the monsters will only help. "The orc hits you" is not the same as "[bellow of triumph] the orc's maul crushes in your breastplate and sends you reeling backward!" Putting the effort in on your end should encourage the players to do the same.

Co-opt the Other Players

Players take their cue from GMs, but they also take their cues from the other players at the table, for both good and ill. Most GMs probably have seen how certain players can sway a game to greatness, or drive it straight to the land of Monty Haul. If you have access to one of the former ask them to help you get the rest of the group (or a specific player) to step up and role play more.  If they are already inclined to such play they may already be on board without being asked, and if they are on the fence you might be able to sway them simply by asking nicely (or you can resort to the tactic below).

Regardless if you have four players and three are heavy into the RP that will help the fourth to find their footing.  It may not be instantaneous but hopefully with time and encouragement from you and the other players it will happen.

Encourage Through Rewards

When all else fails try a little bribery.  Offer a bounty of bonuses or experience (depending on the style of the game and system) for good RP.  Grant small amounts of extra damage or bonuses to attack for well described actions.  Give small discounts for good interaction with NPCs and vendors. A little goes a long way, but make sure that the rewards are immediate and tangible.  A 1% discount wont cut it but 10% will.  Depending on the system a +1 might work, or and extra die, or some other such bonus.  Given them out for good examples of what you want to see and as the group responds up the ante on what it takes to earn the bonus to help drive them to improve. 

Unfortunately bribery has a cost and it's that in the long term you will be stuck giving out such bonuses and discounts, but if the players are role playing better for it, it's still a win.


Want to see some other blogger's takes on this subject? Check out:

+James Walls - Love 'em or Leave 'em - RPG Players who Don't RP at

+Scott Robinson - Encouraging Role-playing at Your Table at

+Lex Starwalker - How to get better roleplay from your players at

+John Marvin - How to encourage roleplaying at

Monday, January 5, 2015

Story Seed - Key

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Kyle came to half buried in snow. Everything hurt, but nothing especially so, against any kind of reasonable odds he appeared to have survived the fall without anything being broken. High above the jagged opening of broken ice he had fallen through was little more than a distant mote. "Hello! Hey, Dave, I'm alive! Dave?" Only his voice, echoing against the ice, answered him.

He sat up with a grunt, and set about making sure that his limbs all moved and that he really hadn't been seriously hurt.  He was cold, but clearly hadn't bee unconscious for long,  Aside from that and a tender lump on the back of his head, he was actually unhurt. "Some kind of miracle," he muttered to himself as he got his feet under him and stood.

Dusting snow and ice from his clothing he verified that he still had his pack, and his gear. He grabbed his radio but got no response from Dave. A thought occurred to him and he finally really looked around him.  The area was covered in broken ice and fallen snow, but a half dozen yards away he saw a lump under the snow that suddenly made him anxious.  "Oh no, no no no ..." he covered the distance quickly and started clearing snow away, confirming that Dave had also fallen into the crevasse. The other man was clearly dead, his neck bent at an angle that wasn't natural.

Kyle rocked back onto his heels as sudden sadness and anxiety flooded over him. His best friend was dead, and his lifeline to the surface with him. He wanted to weep, but if he gave in and gave up he would end up dead like Dave, and neither of them would ever be found. Kyle buried his grief and his worry and focused on the situation and how to survive it. He reached out and closed Dave's eyes, and then planted a bright red flag next to his body to make it easier to find later.  Later, when he came back to retrieve his friend.  Later, when he had gotten out of here alive.

He stood back up, still pushing down all those feelings that wouldn't help keep him alive. Instead he looked around, really looked for the first time. They had fallen into a deep crevasse, but it was far wider down here than he expected, and at the far end he could see the darkness of rock behind the ice. He started forward, figuring that if this was a long buried cave he might be able to make his way out, otherwise he would have to try and climb up and out, which would be dangerous given that the ice had given out and dropped them in here in there first place.

Kyle's boots crunched through stiff snow drifts as he neared the narrowing end of the ice. He smiled, he'd been right, there was rock here, and an opening. He grabbed the small collapsible shovel from his pack and dug the opening out, widening it until he would be able to crawl through.  Beyond the opening was another cave of ice and stone, lit from above by blue-tinged light from the sun filtering through ice. Kyle stowed his shovel and wriggled through. The passage opened into a narrow pass that wound away to his left, it was filled with snow and icicles as thick as his arm but he could pick his way through.

The passage sloped gently downward and Kyle tried his best to keep his mind on the depth and his position relative to the crevasse. Anything to help him survive. Anything to help him keep his mind off his dead friend. The folks at McMurdo wouldn't miss them for another several hours, and even if they found the snowmobiles, finding the crevasse was unlikely as he and Dave had been on foot for a quarter mile on the unstable ice. Still he was fairly certain he was moving toward the south, and thus away from the ocean, the rock suggested as much.

Lost in thought Kyle missed his footing as the tunnel suddenly grew steep, and he tumbled, sliding down the ice into a new chamber.  "Twice in one day Kyle? Really?" he chided himself.  He stood up and just stopped. There was a door, twenty feet high, set into a stone wall, across the chamber from him. A door that bore graven symbols and an intricate locking mechanism, parts of which were clearly visible, doubling as decoration.  It was surprisingly free of ice, despite the cavern floor before it being heaped with snow and ice, like it refused to allow ice to form on its surface.

He approached slowly, eyes barely leaving the door.  It had a look of something ancient, but looked like nothing he had seen before.  Briefly, Kyle wondered if all of those kooks who said that Antarctica had been home to some lost civilization were right. The idea was as preposterous as the idea of a door buried under the ice, and yet unless he was delirious he was staring at some convincing evidence.  Up close the door felt slightly warm, though not nearly enough to lend meaningful heat to the chamber, it did explain the lack of ice on the thing itself.

What he had thought of as a single door was also clearly a pair of narrow doors joined in the middle by a complex mechanism of gears.  Kyle reached out and pushed on the doors, they yielded no more than he expected. He banged on them with his gloved fists and his ice hammer with little effect aside from a dull echo in the chamber. Exhausted and cold he slumped against the door trying to take in any of its heat that he could. He felt a sharp pain in his cheek and reeled back.  There was blood on the door where his face had touched it, and the doors' mechanisms began to turn.