Sunday, August 25, 2013

Taking FATE for a Drive

Not long ago, I finally got to check two boxes on my RPG to do list: I ran a game in the City of Markaz, and I ran FATE Core. It was awesome!

As far as running the setting - I have to say that I was hugely excited and a little nervous. After all, this is a world that has been living and evolving in my head for many years. The time has just never been right to run it. Pre-game jitters had me worrying about every sort of disaster, but in the end, everyone had a great time, and I feel like this creation of mine got the breath of life.

What worked:

1) I made it a point to try out as many different mechanics as possible. I planned a few different combat scenes to cover multiple unnamed NPCs, a single strong NPC, and a mix of named and unnamed NPCs. I worked in a couple challenges and a contest, too.

2) The players, as I had hoped, brought new dimensions to the setting. These are, after all, the most robust characters living there. It was really cool for me to see the different angles that they each brought to the world. That was the highlight for me.

What I muffed up:

1) I didn't really get the FATE point economy flowing. Yeah, this is a huge oversight, but I was so occupied with making sure all the mechanics were straight and spending the NPC's FATE points, that I only made a few compels throughout the game. The players didn't offer any either (only one of us had ever played FATE before), but in the end it falls to the GM to make that work.

2) As this was the first time playing the game, it was hard to size up my players for the challenges they faced. In two scenes, I realized that what I had planned was completely beyond their level, so I had to reign it in. Then, in the last scene, I pulled it in too much, and they decimated the baddies at the climax. Meh. It all worked in the end, but I felt like a student driver pounding on the gas and the brake.

3) This next thing I chalk up to Murphy's Law: Not only do I have reams of notes about NPCs and interesting places and factions for the players to interact with, but I have all kinds of pictures that I always planned to whip out in session. Unfortunately, the day I ran this game I also sat in Virginia traffic for six hours. I didn't mean to do that, and it kinda messed me up. In the ensuing chaos so I dashed out the door with only my game notes. All my background stuff stayed behind.

All you can do is laugh. In the heat of the game, I totally forgot the name of one of my major NPCs... so on the fly I named him after my Freshman year philosophy professor. But that's the beauty of gaming, right? Here he is: Master Kerlin.

Master Kerlin: it's not my fault Charles
Darwin looks like a wizard. (John Collier)

And here are a few other pictures, (besides those at the Markaz page) that I could have thrown out there.

On the way up the hill.

Looking out of town.

A typical room in a typical house.


It's a vertical city...

...very much so.



Monday, August 19, 2013

Cool Map Site

This article leads to this site, which has some pretty awesome maps.

Clearly, there is plenty to explore here, but the pic Slate republished is the one that caught my eye. It reflects travel times in the United States at various points in history – one week from New York City to North Carolina in 1800, for example – and numerous routes of travel. I really dig the panel on navigable rivers.

"Rates of Travel, 1800-1930." Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States, by Charles O. Paullin, ed. John K. Wright, published by the Carnegie Institution and the American Geographical Society, 1932.
David Rumsey Map Collection.

A quick look shows David Rumsey has a lot of potential for inspiration and game use. Here's another awesome illustration of the Black Hills.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Crayola Dragons

I had a terrible idea the other day while playing with my daughter and her crayon set. We all love those crazy and obscure colors of the Crayola box... so why haven't these provided more inspiration for chromatic dragons?

The answer to that question is probably because that's a terrible idea... but it's one you can't unthink. So here you go: six ridiculous Crayola chromatic dragons.

Burnt Sienna Dragon

Classic D&D has an ochre jelly and an umber hulk. Why not a Burnt Sienna Dragon? This was clearly an oversight, if not a misprint. Well, now the error is rectified. The Burnt Sienna Dragon is an earth-based creature that lives anywhere it can borrow. Its breath weapon is a cloud of dust that chokes and suffocates, and has the potential to incapacitate on a failed saving throw.

Rembrandt painted in ochre, umber, and burnt sienna... and slew dragons like a boss.

Sepia Dragon

The sepia dragon is semi-aquatic and its head looks a bit like a cuttlefish. It adamantly refutes any relation to the Sepia Snake Sigil. Its breath weapon is a thick and sticky, brownish ink that impairs movement. The ink is likely to suffocate victims or cause blindness or disorientation if gotten in the eyes.

Periwinkle Dragon

The Periwinkle Dragon is beautiful, but deceivingly deadly. Its friendly demeanor is enhanced by its magical aura that calms and pacifies all within range. Its breath weapon is a sweet-smelling vapor that puts its victims to sleep. The Periwinkle Dragon is rather passive aggressive, and doesn't like to eat food that fights back. It is fire-resistant and can regenerate.

A friendly dragon for the Bronies. (ShopiStar)

Chartreuse Dragon

The Chartreuse Dragon lives in wooded mountains. It largely avoids humans, finding them distasteful both to the palette and in their demeanor. The Chartreuse Dragon's breath weapon is a line-shaped sonic blast.

Mahogany

The skin of the Mahogany Dragon very closely resembles the bark of trees allowing it to conceal itself flawlessly in its natural habitat. Here it can wait patiently for a meal to meander by before striking. Its breath weapon is cone of venom that has the consistency of pine sap and can cause paralysis and blindness.

Fuchsia Dragon

Of all the fabulous creatures, the Fuchsia Dragon is the most fabulous. Its lairs are pristinely laid out with the most stylish contemporary treasure available. Its breath weapon is a rainbow-colored cone that has the effect of color spray (immature dragons) or prismatic spray (mature dragons).

Don't act surprised.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

In the Big House

Not long ago, this fascinating piece aired on NPR. It's about a prison in Venezuela that is run by the prisoners themselves. Yes, there are guards - but they only guard the outside to make sure no one unauthorized gets in or out. On the inside is an entire system of politics, economics, and hierarchy controlled completely by the inmates.

I was going to do a post, speculating about the different setting in which this could work, but then my regular gaming group started a discussion about our next game setting. So, this is what came out (with some minor edits).

CU-5028 is one of the Galactic Empire's remote penal colonies. It is a destination for all sorts of criminals from all ends of the galaxy. All sorts end up here, from cold-blooded killers to political opposition to lousy poets to tenant farmers who can't pay their debts. 
Several things make CU-5028 an ideal location for a penal colony. It supports a breathable atmosphere that can support standard forms of life and agriculture to sustain them. It also has a wealth of minerals that benefit both the local populace and the Empire at large. Most importantly, its highly charged ionosphere makes it impossible to get on or off except via the space elevator that connects to a single space port. 
While there is a contingent of government officials, the planet is run by the prisoners. A small garrison is present to protect the space port, and the number of prisoners on planet at any given time is tightly regulated. 
Touchstones: Firefly, Star Wars, any dystopian future, Australia's criminal history, Venezuelan prisons. (I was tempted to toss in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, but I feel that our group would naturally take it there anyway.)

I'm dying to add more detail, but as a group we agreed to limit world-building until we decide on a setting and can do it collaboratively. I would love to hear what anyone else thinks about this, though.

Monday, June 24, 2013

An Amazing Moment


It is also not often that a campaign lasts for a decade. It's not often that a campaign reaches its conclusion. Yet, this past weekend we had a final session of Slaying Solomon, a game which had run with the same core players for over ten years.

Slaying Solomon was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer RPG campaign that took place in Solomon, Massachusetts in the years immediately preceding Buffy Summers becoming the Slayer. Thus, at the outset there was a time limit. But for six game years to be played out over ten real years is remarkable.

Now, I have to note that I am a newcomer to this campaign. I joined up with this group a mere three years ago. BTVS follows the convention of dividing the story into episodes and seasons. My first session in Slaying Solomon was four episodes into the final season (Episode 6.4), which pretty much makes my character the Cousin Oliver of this Buffy prequel.

Still, three years is long enough to form a bond with the group, even if my character had not been around for very long. And I think that is what made the moment so special. When the campaign came to its climax, I and another newbie had a few rolls to make, but the drama belonged to the core players. We were able to sit back and watch 10 years of drama unfold among a group that was uniquely attuned to one another. This was plain in the way that the end came about in a way that no one had foreseen, but that everyone worked with seamlessly.

I must say that it was an evening that I will probably never witness the likes of again, but I am honored to have been a part of.

R.I.P. Sam Kessler. She saved the world. A lot. First.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Kreekou

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I recently stumbled across another cool source for bestiary art: the speculative evolution community. Here scientists and artists team up to imagine what future species might be like or what species could have evolved in an alternative evolutionary history. It's cool stuff. The first pic that caught my attention was the moora, which is imagined as an arctic-dwelling bird.  So, I gave it some D6 stats and a story. Thus, I give you... 

The Kreekou


The kreekou: Because your campaign needs a vicious bird to roam the tundra. (Osmatar)

The kreekou is an extraordinarily large, flightless bird that inhabits the tundra and permafrost. It is uniquely adapted to the frozen lands. Its greasy and matted feathers keep it warm, while the fatty hump on its back allows it to survive for weeks at a time between feedings. The kreekou prowls the tundra, feeding on whatever it can find: animal or vegetable, living or dead. While it is primarily a scavenger, it can also be a ferocious hunter, especially when hungry.

I had been without food for three nights before the blizzard finally abated. The morning sun brought hope and relative warmth. But when I suddenly heard that hungry call – kaaarrreeekooo! – I knew one of us would eat that day.


        – From Tales of The Frozen Wastes

The kreekou itself is not a particularly bold creature. Under normal circumstances, it would just as well avoid a fight in favor of a meal that won’t fight back. Yet it can be persistent when sufficiently hungry. When forced to fight, it will close as quickly as possible, using its massive body to its benefit. Its bony, claw-like wings are normally used to prod frozen carrion, but they are equally good at pinning prey to the ice while its sharp break snaps away large chunks of living flesh.

Agility: 2D: dodge 3D, fighting 6D
Coordination: 1D
Physique: 6D, stamina 5D
Acumen: 4D: search 5D, tracking 5D
Charisma: 1D: intimidation 6D, mettle 1D+2, persistence 5D

Strength Damage 2D

Hit points: 30

Slam – 1D a successful attack has a chance of knocking the target to the ground
Stab – 1D+2 the kreekou will attempt to stab any prone target and pin it to the ground. Any attack that does X damage to a prone target
Bite – 2D while it will first try to eat anything it has pinned down, the bite can be directed at any target

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Wild Spaces in Civilization

Several nights ago, we were driving home through the Park when we were forced to detour. A half dozen police cars with lights blazing had converged, closing the road and diverting all traffic through another neighborhood. It was obviously not a fender-bender or a kitten stuck in a tree; something serious had gone down. All of this happened just a few hundred meters from our home, which got me thinking about the juxtaposition of Civilization and Wild Spaces.

This is about as Jungian as an archetype can be: Civilization is the safe place and Wild Spaces are where bad things live. This has been done a million ways, and there are a million new and interesting ways to do it. Hill Cantons, for example, has a dramatic and interesting take on it.

What the detour got me thinking about is how close these worlds can be while being completely distinct. There are borders between these realms, and the Wild can live right there in the middle of Civilization. It could be a matter of leaving the city walls, or passing the last light in the park. Crossing those borders means one world bleeds into the other. And when the words collide, adventure happens.

So here are some Wild Spaces to inject into your Civilization without the need for players to travel for days to some remote Lost World crater.


Park

A beautiful park, where no one can hear you scream. (Beteabondieu)

Cemetery

Even in the day, it's still filled with dead things. (Trey Ratcliff)

Sewer

Sometimes, the wild comes for you. (Sunpig)


Abandoned building

Trespassers welcome! We're hungry! (Jan Bommes)


Other side of the tracks

Sometimes you just end up pretty far from your turf.


Under the bridge

Under the bridge downtown, that's where I drew some blood. (BriYYZ)


Alley

Yeah. Don't go there. (lordlucan)