TEAM BANSHEE: Pinfeathers, Part 2


I’m using the scenario Pinfeathers from the UA 2nd Edition rulebook for the first adventure in our UA campaign. Now, the book’s been out for twelve years, and Pinfeathers was originally released as a free adventure for the first edition, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


This was an interesting second session of our UA campaign. The characters spent most of the time trying to clean up the mess they made in the previous session. They had chased a woman into traffic, where she was hit and killed, and then grabbed her purse and driven away in their TNI-issued SUV ((That’s enough initialisms for one paragraph, yeah?)). So, their first order of business was to swap the plates on their vehicle.

This led to a caper comedy of our less-than-inconspicuous heroes ((“Heroes” may be the wrong word for UA PCs. It’s certainly highly debatable for this group of characters. But it is traditional.)) prowled residential streets, stole license plates, fast-talked patrolling police officers, and calling on contacts to get a replacement vehicle. After that, they thought they’d go check out the hotel room their ((Kind of.)) victim had been staying in, to see if they could learn a little more about what was actually going on.

They split the party at that point, for some reason that seemed entirely reasonable but, upon reflection, may have been not-so-good. In the hotel room, two of them were taken at gunpoint by an unseen man who bound them and left them facedown on the floor before vanishing just ahead of the other two PCs arriving. The only traces they had of him were the zip ties on the wrists of the ((Very embarrassed.)) hostages, and the word “HUSH” written on the bathroom mirror.

This got Cruz all fired up, because he had, at one point, been a low-level operative of the Sleepers before TNI snatched him. So, he knew that was a Sleeper warning sign, and that the Sleepers are major-league bad-asses in the Occult Underground. With that information, TEAM BANSHEE called in for directions, and were told by Eponymous in no uncertain terms to break off the operation and not to engage further with the Flock, Sid, or the crazy ritual that was going to happen in a few days.

That rankled a bit, so the team decided that, if nothing else, they could burgle Sid’s place and steal the compass they found there – the one that they think belonged to Amelia Earhart. That’s where they ran into the mysterious Angela that their previous victim had been worried about – she showed up and started to pick the lock of the apartment while they were already inside, so they yanked her inside and tried to knock her unconscious to take and interview her later.

Two things really interfered with that: first, it’s very hard to actually just knock someone out without doing enough damage to possibly kill them ((This is reflected in the combat mechanics of UA – if you get really, really lucky, you might be able manage it, but mostly you have to beat your victim into dreamland in an ugly, violent manner, and hope that he or she doesn’t just die from it.)). Second, Angela is a fairly powerful avatar of the Flying Woman, which means it is very, very hard to capture, confine, or restrict her.

A third factor was the fact that I had introduced the idea of Madness checks this session ((None of the players had played UA before this campaign, so I’m building the complexity of the rules at a slower pace.)). In the midst of trying to capture Angela, there were a couple failed Violence and Unnatural checks. I was tempted to throw in a Helplessness test or two as she kept slipping out of their grasp, but I thought that would just be cruel.

So, the team’s first real combat in the game turned into a confused, desperate, panicked, and chaotic mess, just the way it should be. It ended with Angela literally flying away out a mysteriously open window, and our heroes took their stolen compass and skedaddled.

We’re playing again tonight, and I’m not sure if the group is going to cut and leave things in Boston alone, or if they’re going to defy their orders and see if they can observe the Flock’s ritual and see what happens when Sid tries to channel the power of the Flying Woman through his male body.

I’ve got their next assignment ready, just in case. It happens to be another adventure I ran years ago in my first UA campaign, and had a surprisingly high body count for what it was. It may have been – to my complete and utter shock – the deadliest scenario that group ever got mixed up in.

We’ll see how TEAM BANSHEE handles the mystery of… STOON LAKE!

Monsters Wearing Evil Hats!

So, I wrote a few months ago about the game Monster of the Week. The second edition of the game has just been released – today – by the new publisher, Evil Hat Productions. It is, as I noted in my earlier post, a fantastic game, and the second edition has more material that makes it even better. You should go buy it.

To help encourage you to do that, and for those who already have, I’m linking some mysteries that I’ve created for the game. I mentioned these in that earlier post, and someone asked to see them. I checked with author Michael Sands and publisher Fred Hicks, because I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes ((Or illegally distribute anyone’s copyrighted material without permission.)), and they gave me the go-ahead. So, here you go: three ((I have a fourth, but upon reviewing it, I think it needs significant work to be ready for anyone’s eyes but mine.)) mysteries, written up in the note form I use for them.

  1. Unnatural History is a mystery put together from one of the two example mysteries in the book. I fleshed it out a little, and organized it into a structure that I found I liked.
  2. The Desrick on Yandro is inspired by the short story of the same name by Manly Wade Wellman. It’s one of the Silver John stories, and I love it. So, backwoods town with something scary out in the dark.
  3. Project MAROON SPHINX is more of an X-Files kind of mystery, with something going wrong at a government research lab. This may be the loosest of the mysteries, as the Keeper will need to decided where in the countdown the players enter the game, and what the town looks like at that point.

There it is. Buy the game. Download the mysteries. Let me know if you run one of them, and how it works for you.

Most importantly, go kill some monsters.

Firefly: Followin’ Yonder Star

The time before Christmas is always busy. I found that, for our last Firefly game before Christmas, I was running short of time, and didn’t have time to do all the prep I wanted on the session. At the last minute, I decided to instead use a scenario that I created for the previous year’s Winnipeg Harvest Charity Game Day, and used again at GenCon at Games on Demand this past summer. Having run it twice before, I figured it would be an easy one for me to run, and I already had all the background worked out.

It took me a few minutes to tweak the set-up to fit the current state of play in the campaign. After the previous session, the crew of Peregrine were kind of on the outs with their boss, Tully, after meddling in job. So, they were reduced to sticking to the Tullymore Run regular stops, not being given any special assignments until they proved that they could be trusted again ((How long would that take? As long as seemed fun in play.)). That meant I had to do a little less-than-believable finessing of their ((Non-existent, in the real world.)) contract clauses so they could accept the job that was forming the basis of the evening’s adventure.

To that end, I told the players that Domino and Price had negotiated a service clause in the crew contract whereby they could use Peregrine to undertake freelance jobs as long as:

  1. It didn’t interfere with the mail schedule.
  2. They were responsible for all repairs and maintenance of the ship necessitated by the job.
  3. They paid Tullymore a reasonable fee for use of the ship, fuel, food, etc.

In terms of real-world logic, that kind of contract provision makes no sense, but what the hell. It got the game going, and I firmly believe that anything that moves the game from boring to fun is always worth it.

The other impediment to using this adventure with the campaign was that it had, as written, a big payday at the end. That sort of thing ((Even in a system like Firefly, that doesn’t track money as such.)) can be a big disruption of the game, and I had to think about whether or not I really wanted that to happen. If I was willing to change the status quo ((Why worry about the status quo? Isn’t change and surprise good? Well, yes and no. The players agreed to play in – and designed the campaign structure – to reflect the game they wanted to play. Unilaterally changing the game to something else is kind of a dick move.)).

Domino had decided that one of her goals was to buy Peregrine from Tully, so that wound up being the deciding factor. I decided that, if they pulled the job off, and if they made the right choices as far as payment went, that could happen ((It helped that I expect the campaign to run only four or five more sessions before we wrap it up. Status quos don’t matter so much in games of limited duration.)).

This is, as I mentioned above, the third time I’ve run this scenario, and it’s gone quite differently every time. The broad strokes are all similar, but the route the characters take to get to the end goal varies wildly. I started this time on Albion, because it’s the one Core world that the Tullymore Run stops on. Domino and Walter met the three principals in a dive bar, and got the pitch: take the three principals ((Along with their aides.)) to St. Alban’s, locate the reclusive inventor who has perfected broadcast power, and get them in to see him and make their pitch.

And then, like a moron, I forgot the scene where they find out the ship is security locked in port and have to get past that to break atmo. Not a huge deal, overall, but the main function of the scene is to tip the crew that there is another interested party involved, and because that party is Blue Sun, they’re quite happy to be underhanded.

I finessed it a bit by using the 1s rolled during the trip ((Plotting a fast course, scanning for followers, etc.)) to put an Enemy Pursuit complication on the board, showing the players that there was opposition, though their characters didn’t know about it. This worked pretty well.

By the time they made it to St. Alban’s, things had been going well enough that I decided to ignore the other bit of distraction – the idea that there was a traitor on the ship. There was a bit of a stall when they tried to figure out how to find where the inventor was on the planet, but they figured out the location, and went to have a chat with him.

Cue the firefight.

There was negotiation going on inside the inventor’s cabin, with Walter and Domino pinned down outside. Price managed to extract them all – including the inventor – under fire using one of Peregrine‘s shuttles. I think there was also a big explosion, taking out the cabin and the prototype and the enemies.

So, they managed to get the inventor and his data, though not the working prototypes of the broadcast satellite or the receiver station. It still earned them enough money that Domino was able to secure a loan to purchase Peregrine from Tully.

I’ve managed to schedule the next few sessions, which may wrap up the campaign. I’m going to have to do some thinking about how the next sessions are going to go, and how we end the game.

We’ll see what I come up with.

RickFest VI

Last weekend was RickFest VI, my annual invite-only mini gaming convention. It’s twelve hours of hanging out with my friends, playing games, and eating way too much food that’s not really good for me. As I did last year, I rented a small community centre hall, because RSVPs showed we were looking at about 35 folks showing up.

Turns out we only had about 25 people ((There’s a nasty flu going around, so we had several folks who didn’t show. Also, my parents, who were planning to come into the city, didn’t, because my mom broke her ankle just before Christmas.)) over the course of the day, with a maximum of about 18-20 at any one time. I hauled about 50 games, a big pot of the traditional RickFest veggie chili, and a bunch of other food down to the hall ((Assisted by Michael and Sandy, who always do a lot to help out setting up and tearing down. Thanks, guys!)). I had to stop to pick up some ice and the hall keys, so there were already a few folks waiting when I got there. Loading the games into the club took almost no time with everyone helping, and everyone got playing games while I finished laying out the games and food, which was ideal.

Here are some pictures.

The game assortment for RickFest VI

The game assortment for RickFest VI

Tom and Clint playing Zombie Dice

Tom and Clint playing Zombie Dice

Fred, Nathan, Julia, Paul, and Steven playing Tokaido.

Fred, Nathan, Julia, Paul, and Steven playing Tokaido.

Paul, Michael, Tania, and Lindsey playing Ticket to Ride

Paul, Michael, Tania, and Lindsey playing Ticket to Ride

Sandy and Jen playing Ticket to Ride

Sandy and Jen playing Ticket to Ride

Dan, Chris, Paul, and Michael playing Settlers of Catan. Sandy is lurking in the background, playing something else.

Chris, Paul, and Michael playing Settlers of Catan

My first big game of the day: Sentinels of the Multiverse. With Chris, Lindsey, Tania, and Michael. ((We triumphed over La Capitan in the Ruins of Atlantis. The heroes were KNYFE, Wraith, the Visionary, and the Naturalist. The Naturalist's rhino-form tanking ability was crucial in our victory.))

My first big game of the day: Sentinels of the Multiverse. With Chris, Lindsey, Tania, and Michael. ((We triumphed over La Capitan in the Ruins of Atlantis. The heroes were KNYFE, Wraith, the Visionary, and the Naturalist. The Naturalist’s rhino-form tanking ability was crucial in our victory.))

I'm actually in this picture! Playing Elder Sign with Melly, Matt, Tania, Elliot, and Fera. Yig owned our asses.

I’m actually in this picture! Playing Elder Sign with Melly, Matt, Elliot, and Fera. Yig owned our asses.

"We're going to play a game with just the girls," they told me. So Melly, Fera, Sandy, Lindsey, and Tania decided to play Race for the Galaxy.

“We’re going to play a game with just the girls,” they told me. So Melly, Fera, Sandy, Lindsey, and Tania decided to play Race for the Galaxy.

Dan came by Maddy, and played some Zombie Dice. Later, Maddy got to play Werewolf with us, which was a game she really wanted to play, apparently.

Dan came by Maddy, and played some Zombie Dice. Later, Maddy got to play Werewolf with us, which was a game she really wanted to play, apparently.

Melly, Matt, and Elliot playing King of Tokyo

Melly, Matt, and Elliot playing King of Tokyo

Erik, Sigrid, Bjorn, and Soren managed to make it by. Here, they're playing King of Tokyo.

Erik, Sigrid, Bjorn, and Soren managed to make it by. Here, they’re playing King of Tokyo.

Paul, Steven, and Frederic playing Forbidden Island.

Paul, Steven, and Frederic playing Forbidden Island.

Lindsey, Tania, Chris, and Michael, also playing Forbidden Island.

Lindsey, Tania, Chris, and Michael, also playing Forbidden Island.

Another shot of the Elder Sign game.

Another shot of the Elder Sign game.

Battlestar Galactica with Michael, Chris, Elliot, Paul, and Matt. Messed up the rules a bit, because it's been a long time since I played. The cylons won, killing the humans with sadness.

Battlestar Galactica with Michael, Chris, Elliot, Paul, and Matt. Messed up the rules a bit, because it’s been a long time since I played. The cylons won, killing the humans with sadness.

Playing the Archer card/boardgame with Chris and Sandy. I played Cheryl and won through a combination of sex and insults.

Playing the Archer card/boardgame with Chris and Sandy. I played Cheryl and won through a combination of sex and insults.

We finished the evening with a game of Cards Against Humanity. That's me, Tania, Melly, Elliot, Chris, and Dan.

We finished the evening with a game of Cards Against Humanity. That’s me, Tania, Melly, Elliot, Matt, Chris, and Dan.

This was Dan's first game of CAH. He looked like this through pretty much the whole game.

This was Dan’s first game of CAH. He looked like this through pretty much the whole game.

We finished packing up and cleaning up the hall and loading the car. By the time I dropped the keys off and got home, it was after one. I had much less in the way of leftovers this year ((Though I ran out of chili. Need to find a middle ground between last year’s batch – way too big – and this year’s.)) – most of it was chocolate, rolls, and cookies.

But even with lower-than-expected attendance, it was a fun day of friends, food, and games. Thanks to everyone who came out to play with me, and special thanks to those who helped me set up and tear down. RickFest would be even more exhausting for me without you.

One final thing: I’ve been calling RickFest the eleventh most wonderful time of the year. Some ((Especially Tania.)) have disputed that. So, this year, I had everyone rate the degree of wonderfulness for the event. Now, using an advanced algorithm called “averaging,” I have scientifically determined that RickFest is the sixth most wonderful time of the year! Yay for RickFest!

‘Twas the Night Before RickFest…

…and you don’t need to worry. I’m not gonna bother trying to do up a whole RickFest version of the poem.

Tomorrow is RickFest, the Eleventh ((Though I’m doing a poll this year to see if we need to adjust the wonderfulness number up or down.)) Most Wonderful Time of the Year. RickFest is a day between Christmas and the new year when I gather all my friends together to play games. It started as a very small event, just a few of us, but last year saw it grow large enough that I rented a community centre hall to host it, and this year looks to be even bigger.

What happens at RickFest ((Should probably stay at RickFest, but it doesn’t.))? I haul down a whole bunch of games, make a pot of vegetarian chili ((I’m not vegetarian, but I like this chili recipe better than pretty much any meat-based chili I’ve made. Plus, several of my friends ARE vegetarian.)), put out some other snacks, and people come and play games. It’s a drop-in, come-and-go affair, lasting from noon to midnight. Really, it’s an excuse for me and my friends to hang out, play games, nibble, play games, catch up, eat, and play some more games.

This is the sixth annual RickFest, and I’m planning on keeping it going until I run out of friends or die.

I’ve finished packing the three large dufflebags full of games. Here’s the final list:

  1. Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. B-Movie Card Games
  4. Beowulf
  5. Betrayal at House on the Hill
  6. Carcassonne
  7. Cards Against Humanity
  8. Castle Ravenloft
  9. Concept
  10. D&D Starter Set
  11. Discworld: Ankh-Morpork
  12. Dixit
  13. Dungeon World
  14. Durance
  15. Elder Sign
  16. Eldritch Horror
  17. Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space
  18. Fiasco
  19. Firefly Boardgame
  20. Forbidden Desert
  21. Forbidden Island
  22. Fortune and Glory
  23. Fury of Dracula
  24. Infiltration
  25. King of New York
  26. King of Tokyo
  27. Legendary
  28. Letters from Whitechapel
  29. Lords of Waterdeep
  30. Machine of Death
  31. Mad Scientist University
  32. Monster of the Week
  33. Pandemic
  34. Pieces of Eight
  35. The Quiet Year
  36. Race to Adventure
  37. Rampage
  38. The Resistance
  39. Sentinels of the Multiverse
  40. Shadows over Camelot
  41. Shinobi Wa-taah!
  42. Star Fluxx
  43. The Stars are Right
  44. Tokaido
  45. tremulus
  46. Tsuro of the Seas
  47. Ultimate Werewolf
  48. Zeppelin Attack
  49. Zombie Dice

So, yeah. That’s a lot of games. I’m looking forward to it.

Happy RickFest, everyone!

TEAM BANSHEE: Pinfeathers, Part 1


I’m using the scenario Pinfeathers from the UA 2nd Edition rulebook for the first adventure in our UA campaign. Now, the book’s been out for twelve years, and Pinfeathers was originally released as a free adventure for the first edition, so it’s gotta be past the statute of limitations, especially with the third edition on its way. Still, don’t read any farther if you want to make sure you avoid knowing too much about the adventure.

In UA, knowing too much will save your life but damn your soul.


It’s been a while since I ran Unknown Armies, so I decided to go with a canned scenario for the first stage of the campaign. Looking through the books, I waffled between a few, but finally settled on Pinfeathers from the rulebook. The reasons:

  • It’s a cool scenario.
  • I’ve run it before ((Though it ended in a very strange confrontation and the death of a major canon NPC.)).
  • It’s a very flexible scenario that lets me respond to player actions.
  • It holds off on the weirdness, letting the PCs find their way into it slowly ((Unlike, say, Bill in Three Persons, the other intro scenario in the book.)).
  • It offers a variety of motivations for the different NPCs, so you can tweak the adventure to suit your group.

I did up a mission briefing for the group ((They’re playing a TNI wild card squad.)), and handed it out at the start of the game. It gave a bit of background, along with the transcript of a vision one of the TNI seers had which started the whole thing off.

We spent a little time with the group reading over the briefing, me answering some basic questions about working with for TNI and the system, and letting everyone meet the new member of the team ((One player was unable to make it to the character creation session, so we finished up her character – Skye, a woman with the Sight, on the run from the folks who wiped out her little cult – just before this session.)). Then we got down to the actual adventure.

They went off to Boston and to the Circle’s Edge bookstore, where they met the owner, Sid. Skye did most of the talking, being familiar with the kind of New Age philosophy Sid and the Flock espoused ((On a personal note, I was both surprised and a little disturbed how easily and fluently I could spin that line of blather. Vestiges of reading a lot of crap researching different kinds of magic for games.)). She got a good pitch on the Flock, and an invitation to one of their meetings in the cafe above the bookstore.

After the store closed, Leggy ((Formerly Cooper – after seeing the video for Bad Romance, the player decided to rename her character Leggy Dada. Watch your overcoat!)) and Skye followed the woman who worked in the cafe, while Cruz and Neon followed Sid. They found where each lived.

This is where things really started to fall into the UA style of play. I had been a little worried about getting the style and feel that make UA such a fun and distinct game. None of the players were familiar with the game, and initial discussions made me worried that they were looking at it like a Charles deLint story ((Nothing against those; I love Charles deLint stories. I’ve read pretty much all of them. But they ain’t UA.)), but I needn’t have worried.

So, Leggy and Skye decided to break in to the woman’s apartment and searching it while she was in the shower. That ended with them sneaking away from the cops with the help of Neon’s magick, and no useful information gained ((Well, they found a little shrine to the Divine Feminine in her closet, but what else do you expect in a devout neo-pagan’s closet?)).

They also had a little run-in with a mysterious woman, tried to follow her, and wound up confronted by her. Again, no really useful information, but some fun roleplaying.

Next day, they did a little more B&E, this time at Sid’s place while he was at work. They managed to find an old aviator’s compass that resonated with power, as well as a copy of the big ritual that the Flock was planning for the next week or so. They left everything where it was, hoping to use their knowledge as leverage if they needed it.

When they went back to check out the bookstore again, they saw the same mysterious woman from the night before in a coffee shop across the street. Again, Skye went to confront her. They had a conversation almost entirely at cross purposes, with neither understanding the hints and references the other was making, and then there was a gun, and people started running, and the mysterious woman was run down by a car in the street.

TEAM BANSHEE then employed the sophisticated TNI-approved strategy – “Cheese it! It’s the cops!” They regrouped at their hotel to try and figure out what was going on and what they should do next.

Which is where we left it.

I’m going to be setting up the next game for early in the new year. So far, we’re having a lot of fun.

You did it.

Pandemonium: Chasing the Chant

I’m behind on posts again ((Well, still, really.)). We’ve got the next session of Pandemonium tomorrow night, so I need to get the post of the last session up tonight.

Now, in my last Pandemonium post, I talked about how I was looking at restructuring some of the gameplay to help speed up the combats. I did the extra prep ((Coming up with pre-rolls for the non-starring characters, with totals and effect dice for the standard things they do.)), got it all typed up, and was feeling both smug with getting it done and eager to see how it would work in play.

And, of course, my players decided to go chasing after a completely different thread that I had mentioned the session before kind of in passing ((That’s not quite right. It’s a thread tied to Inquisitor’s backstory, and I had been neglecting it, so I gave him some info about it as a side thing in that session.)), a thread that I hadn’t prepped at all. I thought for a brief moment about saying that I wasn’t prepared for that and asking them to continue with one of the other threads ((Which I think is a fair thing for a GM to do. And I just erased five more sentences from this footnote, so I think this may merit a post of its own.)). I didn’t really want to do that, though, because I’m trying to revive the game after a long dormancy, and that means getting the players interested and excited again.

Instead, I told them that I hadn’t prepared this part of the game world, and that I’d be improvising madly while I ran it. I asked for their indulgence if things went a bit off the rails, or if I needed to ask for a short break to look something ((Like, say, a datafile that I could reskin to be an appropriate villain, for example.)) up. They agreed, so I took a deep breath, and jumped.

I learned something interesting in doing that. I learned that MHR is not nearly as hard to improvise in as I had thought it would be.

The thread they wanted to chase was a series of murders, each with a larger number of victims, that sounded very like the psychic parasites – phage worms – that Inquisitor had chased from his dimension to this one. They’re called the Chant, and their leader is a creature called Whisper. Phage worms burrow into living creatures, and use the lifeforce of their hosts to power their psychic abilities. When they wind up fully depleting the host, they find another one, leaving behind a withered, aged husk.

Whisper had been using his abilities mainly to pull more phage worms across into this dimension to help build an army that he can then lead back to conquer his home dimension. Inquisitor had come here to make sure that didn’t happen. When he saw the murder files with a pattern that only he recognized ((Obtained by Artemis, who has joined the GCPD in her civilian identity.)), he brought the other members of the Guardians in on the case.

Through some investigation ((Honestly, I don’t remember all the details of what they did, but they did stuff that worked.)), they managed to track down the latest batch of phage worm hosts to an abandoned tenement in the Narrows. Our heroes managed to clear most of the squatters out before things went to hell, but things did, in fact, go to hell. There was a pitched battle that started a fire, and lots of collateral damage, but the heroes were true heroes, making sure that the innocents in the building all got clear.

But things were not really going their way and, when I finally ended the scene with 2d12 from the doom pool, I brought the building crashing down on them, with Inquisitor winding up in the basement with a shadowy, huge, misshapen figure gloating at him – Whisper.

That’s where we left the game.

We’re adding a new player tomorrow night. His backstory has given me the hook for the session and a way to get everyone involved. It should be fun.

Now, for a bit of musing.

One of the things I discovered as I ran MHR as a seat-of-the-pants improvised game is that I’ve been thinking about the way the system works a little incorrectly. At least, a little incorrectly for me.

I have a tendency, when running MHR, to fall back on the mechanical aspects of it a little too readily. I ask for a lot of rolls, and let the players use their effect dice to build assets and stunts and resource dice that they can use later. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it does lead to a lot of rolls. And rolls in MHR can be slow.

Running with fewer solid stat blocks meant that I called for fewer rolls, because every time a character builds a dice pool to roll, I have to build one to roll against them. Not having the stat block meant that I was reluctant to call for a roll because of the slowdown it would cause as I figured out the Watcher character’s dice pool.

And it worked just fine.

When I did need to make a roll and I didn’t have a solid stat block, I eyeballed things and grabbed a handful of dice based on stuff I made up right at that moment. I pulled in stuff already established in the game – scene distinctions, the nature of the character, etc. – but then I just tossed in a couple more dice – usually d8s, sometimes d10s – to make it a respectable pool.

And it worked just fine.

Now, I wouldn’t do these things in important scenes – fighting the adventure’s big bad, for example – because that cheapens the victory for either side. But for lesser things – mooks, minor actions, stuff like that – it’s something to keep in mind to keep the game flowing.

But the really interesting thing that I learned by doing this improv session is that the powers aren’t necessarily mechanical constructs of the game ((Of course, they are mechanical constructs of the game, but they’re not just that. At least, they don’t have to be.)). They are more in the nature of narrative cues for both the player and the Watcher. Same thing with the SFX – actually, same thing with pretty much any die on the character sheet.

What does that mean? It means that I need to remember Vincent Baker’s brilliant advice: “Say yes or roll the dice.” The dice are there to provide the flavour for the characters’ awesomeness, and as long as the player is holding to the spirit of the character, it doesn’t really matter if the rulebook description of the power says that it can or can’t do something. If it’s something that would look awesome on the page of a comic book, and it makes sense for a character like the one being played, then go with it. Don’t get mired down in the minutiae of the building of the dice pool – get excited about the narrative and description the player is building into the game.

It’s a valuable attitude shift, I think. We’ll find out tomorrow night if I can maintain it and use it effectively.

Winnipeg Harvest Game Day 2014

As they’ve done for the past many years, Imagine Games & Hobbies is holding a charity game day to gather donations for Winnipeg Harvest this Saturday, December 6. And, as I’ve done for the past few years, I will be running a Christmas-themed RPG session.

There are events all day long at the store, but my session will be starting at 1:00, and will run about four hours. Price for admission to anything and everything is a non-perishable food item dropped in the bin. For every $5.00 of food you donate, you also get a cheat token, which you can use during play ((Whatever you play.)) to skew things in your favour. That’s important, because there are prizes for most of the events. And they’re tasty prizes.

There will also be snacks.

And my game? It’s a Firefly RPG scenario, like last year. The good people at MWP have once again provided some support for the event: everyone who plays in the Firefly game will get a code phrase that they can e-mail to MWP to get a code for one of two .pdf books: Thrillin’ Heroics or Things Don’t Go Smooth ((Both of these are great books. You want them.)).

What’s the scenario this year? Glad you asked!

Firefly RPG – The Feast of Stephen

Some jobs are hard. Some are dirty. And some don’t let you sleep much at night.

This job ain’t nothin’ like that.

Seems there’s a bunch of old ships that hitched themselves into a kinda skyplex up in the orbit of Tyrins. Fancy folk on that moon don’t like it there – it’s full of refugees from failed colonies on the Rim – and they’re in the courts tryin’ to get it towed away somewhere.

Meantime, you got a call from the Tyrin chief of police. He and his men are feelin’ charitable, and want to pay you to take a care package up to the ‘plex. Food, clothes, toys for the little ones, stuff like that. It bein’ a festive time of year, and things lookin’ bleak, they want to do somethin’ nice for them poor folks.

Of course, it’s gotta be by the hush. They got their jobs to think about. That’s where you come in. Flesh, wine, and pine logs, you’re bein’ paid to bear them thither.

What could go wrong?

There’s a sign-up sheet at Imagine that lets you reserve a spot in the game. It also lets you reserve your favourite Serenity crewmember. The earlier you sign up, the more choice you have.

C’mon down and play with me, and help support Winnipeg Harvest!

TEAM BANSHEE: Recruitment

Around last September, I was asked to run a game for a friend whose husband was going off to the wilds of Queens University to finish his doctorate. I sent her a list of games that I could run for her, along with a brief description of each, and asked her to pick one out, and to let me know who else she wanted to invite to the game. She narrowed the list down to six choices, and the four people ((Plus me.)) who signed up for the game voted on which one sounded best to them.

The winner was a game very dear to my heart: Unknown Armies.

That made me very happy, but UA has significantly more upfront work than something like, say, Apocalypse World or D&D. The first thing we had to come up with was the campaign frame.

I pitched them a couple, and we discussed it online, and the group was split. They were interested in playing a team of agents for TNI or the Sleepers, or playing a group on the run from one of those groups. I thought about it for a bit, and then gave them this pitch:

Chain Gang
You thought you were smart. You had the world figured out. Maybe you had the inside track on weird stuff in your neighbourhood, or were a consummate bad-ass, or maybe you even had a little mojo yourself. Whatever it was, you thought you were large and in charge.

But something went wrong. Something bad.

And, just like magic, someone showed up and made the problem disappear. Unfortunately, you had to disappear along with the problem. Now, you’ve got a new name and a new job. Your name is an alias, and your job is doing whatever The New Inquisition tells you to do. Yeah, they saved you, but they have no intention of letting you go. You owe them. You’re useful. And now, they own you.

When you own someone as completely as TNI owns you, you give them all the shit jobs.

Some of the things you’ve done for TNI don’t sit well with you. And they’re getting worse. They know they have you over a barrel, and they’re taking advantage of that. You’ve committed crimes for them, committed blasphemies for them. You’ve sinned against the law and the church and humanity and reality itself. You need to get out before you lose what’s left of your self.

Yeah, they own you. But not every part of you. And not forever.

You’ll show them.

Because the UA universe has a particular flavour, and the players weren’t really familiar with it, I pointed out some important considerations for this campaign frame:

  • I’ve tried to mix the feel of the TNI/Sleeper team with the feel of the fugitives/outlaw frames.
  • The fact that you have all been rather forcefully recruited means that it’s cool to have disparate backgrounds, and even ties to other cabals. So, if you want to be, e.g., a Grail Knight still focused on your quest, but now roped into doing TNI’s dirty work, or a member of a mystical outlaw biker gang working for TNI to avoid going to prison forever, that’s totally cool.
  • In a frame like this, you’ll have to come up with one extra piece of background for your character: what went so horribly wrong that the only out you had was disappearing into TNI.
  • The idea in a set-up like this is that the first couple of adventures will be doing nasty stuff for TNI. At some point – not too soon, but not too late, either – you’ll make your break from TNI, and then the game turns into a fugitives frame.
  • Because the idea in this framework is for you to really chafe at working for TNI, I will not be gentle with your characters while you work for them. I will do my best to hurt them – not necessarily physically, but I will certainly gut-punch their souls and consciences.

They decided they liked that pitch, and so we moved forward.

We got together about three weeks ago for character creation. I planned to use the session to create characters, instill some of the UA feeling in the players to shape their expectations, and build some more detail into the campaign using Backstory Cards. There was a bit of a glitch, as one of the players had to cancel, but we decided to go ahead anyway, and work something out with our missing player after the fact.

Character creation was fun. We got all three characters worked out, which takes a while for first-time UA players. The passions and drives take some fiddling to get right, and the skill system has some nuances to it that can take some time to explain and grasp. But, in the end, we had our characters:

  • Cooper, a videomancer obsessed with Twin Peaks, that TNI hunted down and forcefully recruited once she started messing with network executives to get the show back on the air.
  • Cruz Gibson, an ex-special forces, ex-Sleeper agent who managed to burn ALL his bridges behind him, and took TNI’s offer of “employment” rather than get snatched by a Sleeper hit squad.
  • Neon Shadow, a kleptomancer hacker and thief, who ran afoul of the Five Families in magick-free NYC by using his mojo to try and steal the Kimberly Diamond, and thus was amenable to a new job offer.

Then we trotted out the Backstory Cards. I backed these on Kickstarter, and had the print-and-play basic set. The horror or noir expansions would have been nice, but the basic set worked just fine for us. In short order, we had enough background worked out to see the dynamic of the team: the bromance between Neon and Cruz, Cooper’s unrequited love ((Or maybe lust.)) for Cruz, and Neon’s general manipulation of everyone and everything, and Cooper and Neon’s rivalry. Also, it brought Eponymous into things, as the one who prevented Cooper from attending Comic Con where the Twin Peaks miniseries was announced, and the big stick that keeps Cruz and Neon in line.

And they came up with their own unit name, in keeping with TNI practice: TEAM BANSHEE.

I’ve compiled a setting bible for the team and sent it out for their review. It’s incomplete, mainly because it doesn’t include anything about our fourth player’s character, because that character is just a concept right now.

I’ve given the player some options for her character: she can be the newest member of the team, with minimal connection to them ((So, no connecting Backstory Cards.)); she can be a standard member of the team ((So, we’ll do her Backstory Cards at the first session.)); or the team’s first assignment can be to recruit her character for TNI. I told her to think about that stuff, but not make any decisions until she had seen the setting bible.

I’ve sent it out, now, Fera. I’m going to start pestering you for decisions, and trying to set up a time to create your character.

So, that’s it. We’re almost set to start playing. I’m looking forward to it.

And, for the record, Backstory Cards absolutely rock.

Firefly: FOCUS

I’ve had this post half-written about three times, and each time, there’s been a crash and I lost the saved draft ((Also, once, I was writing it on the iPad, and relearned that Ctrl-Z doesn’t do the expected thing on an iPad.)). So, this post is going to be kind of short and general, both because of me being tired of rewriting it and because of the time that has elapsed since the session.

Anyway, the last Firefly game had our crew with an unpopular assignment – they were to carry a group of newly indentured workers from one border world to a moon ((I don’t seem to be able to find the name of the planet and moon in my notes – I remember they were in the Red Sun system, but I don’t seem to have written down which ones.)) where the local governor was re-terraforming in order to turn it into a lush showcase, similar to the Core worlds. That part was bad enough for the crew to be unhappy, but they ran into some more problems.

First, as they were loading the workers aboard, a young girl came running up to beg them not to take her daddy away. The armed guards went to chase her away, but Domino intervened, and took the little girl back to her other father, from whom she heard that the worker in question was supposed to have another couple of days before transportation, and that they had to indenture one of them because a home invasion left them without means to pay their debt.

Next, the armed guards refused to give up their weapons upon boarding the ship ((The crew established right from the start of play that passengers don’t get to keep their firearms on board Peregrine.)). This led to a confrontation between the crew and the broker, about how the guards could not surrender their weapons while they were guarding the workers for fear of escape attempts. Negotiations ((Well, the argument, anyway. I don’t think you can fairly call “No weapons!” “Yes weapons!” repeated ad infinitum a negotiation.)) reached the point where they unloaded all the workers and broke atmo, abandoning the job, until Tully got in touch and told them to stop screwing with his livelihood and do their damned jobs ((The downside of not owning your own boat.)).

So, back down they go, and on come the armed guards, as well as the workers and the broker. And off they go for the moon. There are exactly zero problems with the trip, but the crew is pissed off with being forced to back down ((And Domino keeps working the word “focus” into her conversation with the broker, which is apparently a rude acronym.)), and also a little suspicious about what they were told by the worker’s husband, so they keep an eye on the broker ((Who spends most of the trip in his cabin.)) and Price starts digging on the Cortex to see what he can find out about this operation.

By the time they unload the workers, and have a little chat with the governor, they’ve got a fairly solid picture of what’s going on. The broker is buying up a lot of indenture contracts to provide the governor with the workforce she needs to create her little border paradise world. He’s doing by buying the debts of marginal settlers for low cost, and then ensuring that they can’t get out of debt by raising interest rates and using a small gang of toughs to destroy their property and push them farther into debt. When they can’t pay, they are forced to indenture themselves to him, and he sells these contracts ((At a significant mark-up.)) to the governor’s office.

Thus, the broker is both lining his own pockets, and proving himself to be a valuable resource to the governor. If her star rises, he plans to ride her coat-tails into a more lucrative position.

From all they can tell, the governor seems honest – or, at least, better at not getting caught. They can’t use the stolen data to prove their claims, because it’s obtained illegally, so they decide they need a witness, and set about kidnapping the head of the criminal gang and convincing him to spill the beans to the governor.

This subtle plan results in a brawl that escalates into a shootout at a local saloon, but they manage to get the gang boss into Peregrine, where they convince him that he’s been hung out to dry by the broker, and is going to spend the rest of his short life doing hard labour in a terraforming project. He says that can’t happen, he’ll take his complaint straight to the governor.

Which he does.

He spills the whole story, turns over his own Cortex records of conversations with the broker, and provides a list of everyone his thugs threatened, burgled, and harmed. The governor, though embarrassed by the whole incident, files charges against the broker and the gang, and begins a review of all indenture contracts to make sure they’re all uncoerced. One of the first back to his family is the man with the daughter who started this whole thing.

That’s not quite where the story ends, though. Things are still tense between the crew and Tully because of the trouble on this job. Some of the crew think that Will Yunick ((Tully’s factor, with whom the crew has an ongoing squabble.)) deliberately set them up with a job he knew they couldn’t stomach so that they would refuse it and get fired. Tullymore Cartage’s reputation has taken a hit because of the crew’s actions – no one wants to hire a company that they can’t trust to do a simple transport job clean and clear.

So, for the next little while at least, Peregrine‘s not going to be going to the Core. That’ll be for other Tullymore ships.

As a side note, this is probably the last episode where I will be using the Leverage RPG tables to come up with jobs for the crew. Why? Because Margaret Weis Productions has released the .pdf of Things Don’t Go Smooth, a supplement for Firefly RPG. And this new book has its own set of tables for generating jobs. Oh, it’s got lots of other things, too – lots of antagonists, reavers, new distinctions, and two full adventures, for example.

But the episode generator is worth the price of the book alone.

Check it out ((Unless you’re one of my players, in which case, KEEP YOUR FILTHY NOSES OUT OF THAT BOOK!)).