Friday, February 20, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #19 - Cinco con Queso - Session 1 - The Recap!

So Quattro con Carnage may be over but the experiment continues; enter Cinco con Queso! Two weeks of sessions run by me using Green Ronin's Dragon AGE (with some modification). I came up with the idea about two sessions in to run and AGE based segment to this experiment. In hindsight I think it would have best fit right after BFRPG, or DCC, rather than tacked onto the back end. AGE has a much more stripped down feel aside from the Stunt mechanic which really makes it shine (at least when the dice work). Still it was an opportunity to demo AGE for some folks who I know had been interested, and a chance to let +James Walls play for a couple of weeks.

Given how the prior session had ended with Drogos dead, and reborn as a new god I knew that I'd be seeing two new characters, one from Andreas, and one from Jim (who declined my offer to play Lomman in my stead). I ultimately decided to have this first session pick up immediately after the last and engineered some ideas on how to exit Lomman and introduce the two new Dwarves....

I'm no expert at recaps like Jim is, so this'll be brief (I hope).

Dramatis Personae con Queso

Umbrin, played by Jeremy (warrior)
A guard-for-hire from Tannryth once in the employee of a wealthy Archon

Rydian Ornitiar, played by Andy (mage)
An Aarenian relic-hunter who longs to recover a lost family artifact

Jorin Everlast, played by Craig (rogue)
A pilfering initiate to the Embrace who just "made bones"

Kaezoh, played by Jim (warrior)
A dwarf, brother to Callidan, and new disciple of Drogos

Callidan, played by Andreas (mage as cleric)
Kaezoh's brother, gifted with a vision of the dwarven god Drogos' birth

The Dawn of a New AGE

Lommán heals the party before explaining that he needs to do some soul searching on his own about his continued worship of Ogmios in light of recent events. He gives a fragment of Drogos' armor to Umbrin and then tells his friends thats they should head northeast.

Heeding their his advice Umbrin, Jorin, and Rydian head northeast through the forest. That evening they come across two dwarves, brothers, who were on a pilgrimage to find the birthplace of the new Dwarven God Drogos; apparently Callidan had had a vision weeks before about the recent creation of a new deity, and brought his brother Kaezoh along.

Callidan recognized the fragment of Drogos' armor as a holy relic and soon conversation turned to their quest. The two dwarves learned that their guests knew the location of the shrine of Drogos and convinced the group to show them the way in the morning.

Dawn seemed to come strangely early but the group made no note of it until partway on their walk to Drogos' statue they realized that the glow had not been the sun but a massive fire. After some discussion they decided to delay their quest and investigate the fire.

Coming to the edge of the forest the group found that the fire had been the burning of a farm. Before they could investigate further a pack of hellhounds came out of the grain and ambushed the group. The six beasts stood little chance against the group and soon their numbers were reduced by four and two others had fled in terror.

Regrouping they found that some of the bodies had signs of being attacked by some kind of clawed creature, but something other than the hellhounds they had dispatched. Kaezoh suddenly dashed into the nearby barn, one of the few buildings still standing and soon came out with a wounded woman. The ministrations of Callidan and Umbrin succeeded in bringing the woman around.

She explained that she was part of a hunting party, and they they had found a ruin in the forest. One of the group had fallen under the influence of some demonic power and destroyed the being's prison. Freed it possessed the hunter, making him its vessel before setting to corrupt the other hunters. Esshara was able to flee in the confusion with a piece of the demon's prison, a broken link of silver chain as big as a hand.

Unsure what to do next the group laid the wounded huntress in a wheelbarrow and brought her to the nearby village. There they broke up a heated argument between the townsfolk and two tribesmen from Esshara's tribe; Haran and Kelsa. Kelsa thanked the group for saving Esshara, while Haran explained that their camp had been attacked by demonic creatures; they had fled and may have been the only survivors. The demon creatures had also attacked the village before the group's arrival but the disorganized attack had been repulsed; for now.

Notable (read: amusing to me) Quotes:

Marc: Describe your mood in one word
Jim: Handsome
(I'm not sure if handsome is a mood, but Rydian seemed to understand)

Andy: I have some friends over there.
Jeremy: Let's not be too hasty
(Apparently 8 sessions of adventuring does not a friendship forge)

You coulda called me Nachos instead ... Nachos and Kaezoh (Andreas was thinking about a name change before even introducing himself)

Do you also stand outside during thunderstorms with a sword over your head? (Apparently Jeremy wasn't enthusiastic about running toward a fire)

Jeremy - It was a twelve foot tall naked dwarf...
Jim - What was it made of ?
Jeremy - Dwarf? (A mason he is not)

I don't know, our moral compass left. (Jeremy lamenting the loss of Lomman)

I feel like an Umbrin (after failing a spell Andreas decides that failure has a new name)

*sound of an eagle* (somebody having fun with Hangouts Sound FX)

So I stunted .... why the fuck now?! (after several rounds of stunt free combat Jim wasn't as happy about his perception stunt)

Oh, good, a towfer, we just lost a dwarf and a cleric .... (Jeremy observes that one of the new party members fills two vacant roles)

Listen, it was on fire in my head. (Jim was making things more dramatic than they really were)

Might they have been dark and or spawning? (Andy was thinking that this was a Dragon Age adventure or something)

I'm only good at becoming Columbo for some reason (Jim, commenting about Kaezoh, the detective warrior)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Back Issues #19 - It's The End of the World - Part 1: Hot, hot, hot!

DOOM! Or not. Who knows really? Well, maybe the Mayans, they determined that the current age would end in 2012 and didn't bother to write down anything after that leading all kinds of wack-jobs to assume there won't be anything beyond it. Looking around at the news lately it does make one wonder. Earthquakes, storms, wildfires, volcanoes ....

Issue #18: It's The End of the World - Part 1: Hot, hot, hot!

Below you will see what looks like something out of a science fiction movie. It's not however, it is a phenomenon called volcanic lightning or a dirty thunderstorm. I've seen photos of similar before, but it's still an awe inspiring sight, and one that was probably extremely frightening to our ancestors who didn't comprehend it. Vulcan and Zeus warring in heaven perhaps.

Volcanoes get a bad rap in most depictions. I get why, they kill people, destroy forest and farm lands, and sometimes wipe entire cities, and islands, off the face of the earth. Pompeii was lost for 1700 years. Krakatoa was blown off the map almost entirely. Theories even put the island of Atlantis on the real island of Santorini which suffered a catastrophic volcanic destruction at some point in antiquity about 3600 years ago.

Of course the flip side is that volcanic soil is often richer than any other, and idea for crops. That volcanic eruptions are responsible for many islands around the world including many that continue to grow. Volcanoes are as much a force of creation as they are of destruction. A cycle of death and rebirth. Bet you've heard that before.

In a fantasy RPG the threat of a volcano is probably going to serve as either a backdrop to the story, or as a historical event. When magic, especially elemental magic, is present it is possible for a powerful being or beings to create and control volcanoes. Sometimes in scope limited and suitable for use in combat, other times as tyrannical rulers over the lands in the shadow of the mountain.

Plot Idea #1: A thousand (or more) years ago the great volcano wiped out the last great Elven (or whatever race) civilization. In the time since a new empire has sprung up, one that the character's live in and rather like, but the priests and priestesses have foretold another eruption that will destroy the empire unless it can be stopped. There is time and a group of heroes can be sent to gather the relics/magics/wizards/McGuffins needed to save their nation.

Plot Idea #2: The heroes, explorers of the world that they are, come to a land where the local volcano has been harnessed by a master of fire and earth elemental magics. The evil mage uses it to extort riches and virgins from the local peoples. Being the good guys they vow to stop the mage before the next "harvest".

Sometimes the volcano itself proves an important setting for the story. The Lord of the Rings had Mount Doom, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant The Unbeliever had Mount Thunder, The Elder Scrolls has the Red Mountain of Morrowind, and I'm sure there are others. In the former, Mount Doom, and specifically its lava chamber called The Cracks of Doom, was the goal of the story, the only place where the One Ring could be unmade and the world saved. In the latter, Mount Thunder served as the location of the Ritual of Desecration, the resting place of one of the Wards of knowledge, and the site of Lord Foul's eventual defeat in the second trilogy. Mount Thunder was integral to the setting and the events of the series. It was connected directly or tangentially to many other plot points, and given the setting's emphasis on earthpower its easy to understand why, few things in nature hold the kind of raw power that a volcano can.

Plot Idea #3: The Sword of Kings has been broken. The how may be important, or not, but the key to restoring it is reforging it in fires hot enough to melt the enchanted metal. That means either a dragon or a volcano usually, and in this case the heroes get saddled with not only a dangerous quest to a volcano, but also babysitting the master of the forge who knows the technique needed to repair the great weapon.

Plot Idea #4: "I just need one more thing ..." Yup, the old "shopping trip quest." In this case the character's need to retrieve and return with the molten lava of a volcano for their master/patron to finish a magical ritual. It's not as easy as it sounds though because in this world the volcanoes have been going out one by one (which is causing an long and dangerous winter). The PCs need to find an active volcano, get there before it goes out, and return with the lava that will allow the ritual to be completed and restart the world's volcanoes/heat engines. Too bad there is something that wants very badly for them to fail and bring about an age of frozen winter.

What about you all, how would you use volcanoes in a game? What ideas spring to mind when looking at these pictures?

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Story Seed - Fortune and Glory

Image Source:

As we traveled further to the south the coast slide to the east, forcing us into a course nearly fully south-east in direction. The fullness of time saw an end to the ice clad shores of beyond the wall and at last to a great bay. The captain used a numenera device and declared that we would continue directly eastward across the bay rather than follow its natural curve to the north. When I pressed him for his reason he pointed out that moving northward would likely mean seeing more icebound shores and little chance to replenish the ship's stores.

We made good time, covering an estimated seven hundred miles over seas in a few short days thanks to a strong wind at our backs. At last the long-eye called land in sight, and sure enough the curve of the horizon soon bore the uneven ridge of land.

We approached in the early morning, the sun was still hidden behind the mountainous terrain, but the sky was aglow in shades of yellow and orange. The shore was unlike anything I had seen before or have seen since. Enormous masses of blue-green material sparkled in the pre-dawn light. At first it seemed some strange colour of ice, but we were able to disembark onto the nearest island for further study.

A small outcropping, the island was less than a hundred paces from leewards to windward, it seemed nearly entirely made of the strange material. We quickly determined it was not ice, for it would not melt under the heat of hand or fire. I harnessed the concentrated light of the now visible sun to create a beam that I had thus far had success at cutting all materials with. The substance took the heat slowly and cutting a sample proved a longer task than I expected, but soon we had a lump the size of three fists. It was still hot, and soft from the heat, but we were able to load it into a gravity field and bring it back to the ship.

While the crew made shore, and scouted for water and supplies I set to studying the material. It took hours, but by the time the sun was at noon I was certain, it was stronglass. Just the small island's worth of material would make the captain and crew rich beyond reasoning back in the Steadfast, that the island was but the smallest fraction of what was to be found on the shore boggled my mind and set the crew to dreaming of fortune and glory.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Nuts & Bolts #18 - Quattro con Carnage - Cypher System/Numenera RPG (a look at gaming across systems)

This blog references the Quattro con Carnage experiment being run by +James Walls and specifically the seventh and eighth sessions featuring the Numenera/Cypher System RPG segment, and my prior blog posts discussing my thoughts on Basic Fantasy RPGDungeon Crawl Classics, and Savage Worlds.

After six sessions and three game systems Quattro con Carnage enters the Cypher System. Compared to the three systems before, in which I had a total of one session's worth of prior experience with Savage Worlds only, I know the Cypher System well having had played it for the past year and a half.

Coming into the system was an easier transition than in prior weeks, I was able to create the Cypher version of Lommán myself with minimal effort. Lommán Senan is a Honorable Jack who Works Miracles. We were using Numenera types for this game and I felt that the jack presented the best cross between fighting capability and mystic like powers/abilities that would make for the closest approximation of a cleric from the prior systems. For his healing abilities it made the most sense to Work Miracles, and after six weeks of play Honorable was clearly the best fit for Lommán's descriptor given his approach to handling his companions and the people they had encountered.

Picking up where the prior session had left off we found the party treading water in a hole deep below the Ever After. Which is where the Jack's Flex Skill ability showed itself useful. Numenera has what I'd call an open skill system, with skills being a broad or as narrow as the player and GM are willing to agree upon. I decided that Lommán would be trained in "spelunking" for that moment, allowing him to help the group in getting out the current situation. Of course that didn't go as planned, as the Elfin queen who had sent us to this cavern showed up to thank us, and then betray us.

So instead of trying to get out, we were thrown into a pitched battle in a not entirely shallow pool of water with some ghostly elves. Stuck with a weapon turned to glass Lomman focused primarily on support, but was able, with some effort and an increased difficulty, to fling a few ranged "smites" around. Cypher system encourages players to use abilities in not-so-obvious ways and also allows players and GMs to stretch abilities beyond their given use by increasing the difficulty of the attempt. So a normally melee only ability like Bash (standing in as a Smite power) could be flung into a ranged attack with a little Effort and an increase in difficulty.

Of course Effort is probably where Cypher differed most from prior systems. Being able to improve our odds of success, or the outcome (read: damage) of our efforts made things more predictable, and allowed for actions to fall under player control a little more often. Effort is a risk/reward proposition however, reducing your "hit points" from use.

Effort made the final showdown with Magrizt the old god a lot more interesting. With each use the characters could ensure they hit, or add to the damage they could deal (helping to push past his formidable armor), but they weakened themselves in the process. The group's warrior even went so far as to reduce himself to disabled with a single point remaining between life and death to deal a massive (nearly) death blow to Magrizt. The action was heroic and cinematic and is probably the perfect use of "epic".

I'm surprised that after eight weeks and four game systems that the characters still felt very much themselves throughout the entire process. The gained a little more power after leaving BFRPG but between DCC, Savage Worlds, and Cypher there wasn't nearly as much a power curve as I expected. Likewise I came into this experiment expecting to enjoy the Cypher sessions the most, but I find that for what we were trying to accomplish I think that DCC might have been the best fit, though SW and Cypher were by no means un-enjoyable, there was just something about DCC that felt like it fit better.

DCC isn't a system I would play all the time, and I wouldn't even use it for all my fantasy games, but if the tone and feel of the game is one where the characters are very much mortal, but still capable of great feats DCC seems to fit the best. Savage Worlds characters felt very capable, and extremely though, while Cypher characters were similarly capable but more mortal. It all depends on what you want from tone and feel, and there is a fine line indeed between the three systems.

After 8 weeks I'm done as a player, +James Walls portion experiment has come to a close and I got a good look at 3 RPG systems that were almost entirely new to me. But the experiment isn't done, for the next two weeks I will be taking these characters (minus Lomman) through the AGE (adventure gaming engine) system from Green Ronin. It's an opportunity to see how that system compares, and to demo it for people who have not played. So sometime this week and next (hopefully, otherwise next week and the following) I'll be posting some actual play summaries, and with luck maybe Jim will share his thoughts as well.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Story Seed - Jade

Image Source:
The first thing you'll see is the glow. Visible from miles away at night, and even in daylight from a good mile, the green glow that seeps between the jagged peaks, over the broken hills, and around the jutting spires of rock announces that there is something there. Once you crest that last stoney hill you can see it, and hear it. It sounds like a clock and a water pump, both of which function, but neither of which work. It looks old; a complex from some forgotten time when living meant more than ensuring subsistence.

The glow doesn't come from the complex though; it comes from the pools and crystal growths that dot the rocky ground. Pipes from the complex create a web of steel around the area before plunging into the earth. It is unclear if they are drawing from or draining into the ground  below. The green pools, and the massive crystals that surround them, seemingly grown from them, could be product or resource.

What becomes clear as you approach is that there is none but the simplest and hardiest of life within the rocky cradle formed by the broken hills. Short grasses and lichens, stunted scrub brush and withered looking vines. The air smells odd, and a miasma rolls from the pools with the wind. The locals say the complex is dangerous, but they also prize the strange green crystals for the continual light the shed.

What lies at the heart of the complex? What purpose did it serve in time forgotten?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Last Week Today - Week of Feb 8-15 2015

+Ryan Chaddock suggested to me that my posts might get lost in the shuffle for some folks so I'm going to try posting these weekly recaps for the next few weeks to see how it goes.

The Spine - A look at a crumbling relic of a forgotten past by a father and daughter.

This week's Nuts & Bolts took a look at Savage Worlds as I experienced it during Quattro con Carnage.

Story Seeds took a day off so I could recap an actual play of my in-work Numenera Fiasco Hack.

Throwback Thursday brought a new Back Issue, asking why so many alien worlds are such nice places to visit.

The Rings is a Story Seed in the older style, less a narrative, and more a short description of a weird locale for use in Numenera.