Pandemonium: The Chant

Well. I sat down today to post a play report on the last Pandemonium session, and found that I hadn’t posted one for the session before. ((Apparently, I suck.)) So, because I’ve got the next Pandemonium game coming up this Friday, I will now post a play report from both sessions.

We had only three out of five players at the first session, thanks to some scheduling conflicts. These three decided to continue pursuing Whipser and the Chant in order to shut down the escalating murders that Inquisitor said were the result of Whisper bringing more phage worms ((Nasty extra-dimensional psychic parasites.)) through into Gotham. Phage worms infest normal folks, and use up the hosts’ vitality to power their psychic abilities.

So, anyway, the gang did a little detective work and tracked down a meeting of a new self-help/church group called The Chant, which was the name of the organized phage worm terrorists in the Enclave ((The pocket dimension where Inquisitor was from.)). They were holding a recruitment, “self-actualization” meeting at a community centre, so our heroes decided they better bust that up before they wound up with a whole bunch more phage worm hosts to deal with.

I tried to make the action scene interesting by including a couple of embodied phage worms ((Stole most of the powers from a Marvel Girl datafile. They were tough.)), a bunch of disembodied phage worms ((Much less powerful, but intangible and able to take over corporeal victims and upgrade.)), and a whole crowd of normal civilians. The idea was that, if the heroes didn’t protect the civilians, the disembodied phage worms would possess them, turning into the higher-powered embodied phage worm foes.

It was a very interesting combat. The Heroes of Gotham got the drop on the phage worms, and then completely failed to land any attacks. I had a bout of GM terror, the kind you get when you realize that, because of dice-luck and bad assumptions on your part, you are looking down the barrel of a TPK.

And then the bad guys got to go. All stacked up at the end of the initiative order, so getting to act twice in a row if I wanted them too. And all the plot points that the heroes had earned through their bad, bad rolls saw them counterattack ((My players are big, big fans of the counterattack option using plot points. I worried for a time that counterattack was just overpowered, but then I realize that it encourages the heroes to hit back instead of hit. They are more heroic in reaction to villains’ actions. It means that heroes can spend their turn in the action sequence creating an asset or complication, and still have the chance to do something active and heroic in defense of themselves or others. Heroes never have to throw the first punch against any villain, turning the villains into the aggressors all the time. That appeals to my sense of comic-book morality.)) the phage worms into submission. Basically, the phage worms broke themselves against the noble, indomitable resistance of Inquisitor, Escher, and Warlock.

At that point, though, I had 2d12 in the doom pool ((I’d had them for a while, actually, and knew how I wanted to end the scene, but I didn’t want to rob the players of their triumph after their disappointing beginning.)), and decided to end the scene. So, Whisper appeared and sucked our heroes into a dimensional vortex, while gloating. They woke up alongside Artemis and Maker, on a piece of shattered street floating in a void, with Whisper above them.

This is the picture Inquisitor's player sent me for his nemesis, Whisper. When I first revealed the picture to the rest of the group, they all looked at him and asked, "Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?" I just grinned.

This is the picture Inquisitor’s player sent me for his nemesis, Whisper. When I first revealed the picture to the rest of the group, they all looked at him and asked, “Dude, what the hell is wrong with you?” I just grinned.

Cliffhanger session ending.

We picked up the next session, with everyone present, right there. I asked the two players who had missed the last game what their characters had been doing, and how they had been grabbed by Whisper. I got a nice little story of betrayal and ambush that I’m sure won’t come back to bite anyone in the butt. Right?

For Whisper’s stats, I reskinned the datafile of Thanos from the Annihilation Event Book ((So sad every time I think that I’ll never get a hard copy of that awesome book.)), with a few other abilities pulled in from elsewhere. I thought this would be a very tough fight, especially as I gave the first action to Whisper. He used it to taunt Inquisitor, telling him that this destroyed realm was all that was left of the Enclave, Inquisitor’s home dimension. It hit him right in the emotional stress, as intended.

The good guys went to town on Whisper, then. They quickly realized that Whisper could heal or resist damn near anything they threw at him, except for Inquisitor’s anti-phage worm tech.

And then Inquisitor got to act and one-shotted Whisper.

He dumped a huge number of plot points on the action, including buying more with XP, but he wound up with a result so high that I could have spent all the dice in the doom pool ((Not many; Whisper was having to spend them to resist or heal damage from the other characters. The heroes saw that, and kept the pressure on to keep the doom pool low.)) and still not have prevented Inquisitor’s total from climbing up above d12 and thus taking Whisper out.

I don’t mind, though. Having Inquisitor go all-in to take out his nemesis and avenge his destroyed home was pretty awesome. And then the dimension started collapsing ((Whisper was a load-bearing boss.)) and Maker, Artemis, and Warlock were mindlinked by Escher to build a gateway home. There was a wonderful moment when it looked like Inquisitor wasn’t going to return to Gotham – going down with the ship, as it were – but in the end, he did.

The fight wrapped up much more quickly than I had anticipated – having only a single GMC in the battle seems to speed things up, but also allows the heroes to all concentrate on him, which put him down sooner than expected. We spent a little time talking about next steps in the game ((First of all, did they want to continue? They did.)), and they decided that they wanted to pick up the thread of the Orrakachu gun-runners in the short term, and look at improving the quality of life for everyone in Gotham City.

Then we finished off the evening with some Cards Against Humanity, and expunged all the heroic goodness from our souls.

First session of Act II of Pandemonium begins on Friday. I’ve got some plans.

TEAM BANSHEE: Stoon Lake, Part 2


I’m using the scenario Stoon Lakefrom the scenario collection Weep. Now, the book’s been out for some time, 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 some time since the last session ((I canceled a session since then, because of work load at the day job. Very unfair, I know, but gotta pay the bills.)), so this may be a bit lacking in detail, but the next session of our UA game is tomorrow night, so I better get something up, right, folks?

The centerpiece of this past session was having a guest player, stopping in for a few days before he had to return to the wilds of academia. I had talked to him a bit about what kind of character he wanted to play, and it basically came out as “Nathan Explosion in a suit, with a brain, and some heavy-metal magick.” ((I’m paraphrasing. That was the upshot of a longer conversation.)) Now, I had just listened to a Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff podcast where they were riffing on the idea of bone music, and suggested using that as our guest-star’s magick. I asked him to pick four heavy metal tunes that he had etched on X-rays of his own body, and then came up with a magickal effect for each of them.

I didn’t map it out like a whole school of magick; just assigned some simple mechanics to an idea suggested by each song. So, he wound up with a big blast power, a concealment power, a persuasion power, and a lesser blast power. No charges or anything; he just needed to have the X-ray with that tune with him to use the power ((No, this is NOT balanced, nor did I do ANY prior playtesting. I used to run a lot of UA back in the day, and I’m pretty good at eyeballing things in the system, so I relied on that. Plus, the fact that he would be appearing in only one session.)).

The character was essentially a pro from Dover, sent in to assess the team’s performance and loyalty ((Also, to pick up the Earhart Compass the group had nabbed.)). I set it up to build some tension and mistrust, but not too much, because I wanted everyone to have fun. It went pretty well, as TEAM BANSHEE tried to answer as few questions from him as possible ((He cornered Cruz, the team leader, and used his persuasion powers to get some truth from him, but not overly prejudicial stuff)) while figuring out what was going on with this whole Bigfoot thing. There ensued several strange interviews, multiple break-ins, the robbery of a Bigfoot Museum, and a high-publicity video made with the mayor.

Things finally broke for our heroes when Leggy used a bit of videomancer magick to make the guy who reported being attacked by Bigfoot to confess the truth. He told them that the broken leg was caused by the dog ((The gang was suspicious of the dog right from the start, to be fair. There was a strangely lengthy discussion early in the session about stealing it, and the phrase “carry the dog” became a euphemism for pretty much anything for the rest of the session.)) knocking him off the ladder as he cleaned the gutters at his mother’s house. He told the Bigfoot story to try and mess up plans by the mayor to capitalize on Bigfoot sightings for tourism ((Yeah, there was a whole weird childhood rivalry between the guy and the mayor.)). ((The way this spell works, the target confesses as if he or she were on Jerry Springer or similar – lots of shouting, lots of bleeped-out words. I put a little too much into it, and almost lost my voice.))

I was just relaxing into the wrap-up of the session, when one of the players remembered a loose end ((Really, it was a red herring that they’d never followed up, so I had kind of written it off.)) – a weird recluse who owned land said to be a Bigfoot burial ground. He was unwilling to let them in past his high-tech security perimeter fence, so they conned their way in posing as the Sheriff. Once on the grounds, they found the house was pretty much a fortress, and their target sealed it up and hid in the panic room. He also called for help, which came in the form of a couple helicopters full of black-ops NSA teams.

So, because they had given away too much about themselves, they killed the fellow ((A high-level NSA decryption coder, with a number of emotional issues, including agoraphobia.)), and tried to get out as the helicopters came in over the trees. It wasn’t looking good, until Mr. Explosion lived up to his name: he used the big blast thing I had developed to target one of the helicopters and tried to buy the rest of characters a chance to escape.

Escape they did, as their assessor fought a hopeless battle to keep off pursuit. A big explosion as the team slammed their SUV through the closed security gate and out onto the highway, and fade to black.

Next session, I’m not using a canned adventure. I’m bringing the team to the site of my old UA campaign to recruit ((Or eliminate.)) a potential TNI asset. They probably won’t run into any of the characters from the old game. At least, not if they’re careful and quiet.

What are the odds, huh?

International TableTop Day 2015

This Saturday, April 11, is International TableTop Day!

I’m going to be at Imagine Games and Hobbies all day, from when they open at 11:00 AM until they kick me out at the end of the day. I’ll have a large dufflebag full of board and card games, and a smaller backpack with a few RPGs, and I’ll be demoing, playing, teaching, and talking about the games for anyone who’s interested ((To be fair, I’ll probably talk to people who aren’t interested, too, because I’m kinda pushy.)). There’s always a pretty good crowd at these game days at Imagine, and there will be others there with games that aren’t mine ((A very strange concept to me.)), doing the same kinda thing I am. So, if you’re interested in games, I urge you to come on down and play a few.

I just finished packing my bags, so here’s a list of what I’m bringing:

  • Castle Ravenloft
  • Lords of Waterdeep
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse
  • King of Tokyo
  • Tsuro of the Seas
  • Tokaido
  • Dixit
  • Mysterium (Tajemnicze Domostwo)
  • Sheriff of Nottingham
  • Stone Age
  • Forbidden Island
  • Betrayal at House on the Hill
  • Infiltration
  • The Resistance
  • Race to Adventure
  • Elder Sign
  • Escape from the Aliens in Outer space
  • Mad Scientist University
  • Cthulhu Dice
  • Love Letter
  • Star Fluxx
  • Skippy’s Revenge
  • Berserker Halflings
  • D&D Starter Set
  • Fiasco
  • Monster of the Week
  • Dungeon World
  • Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game


Firefly: Rubicon

This past session of our Firefly RPG campaign, I finally got to use the job creation tables published in the Things Don’t Go Smooth supplement. They worked beautifully in setting up the situation, and gave me several ideas for the game that I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Seriously, the whole Things Don’t Go Smooth book is golden, but that job creation section is worth the price all on its own. You should buy it.

The job tables showed some family entanglements, so I brought in Price’s Triad family to hire the crew for the job, which turned out to be picking up and delivering a person. The hitch in the job led me to decide that the person was Mitchell Stuart, who caused such fun the last time he showed up. And the locations I rolled – Planet in the White Sun System and Underwater – led me to flesh out some details about one of the planets that had no exposure in the show or the sourcebooks.

So, Rubicon became a vacation site ((The advertising slogan was “Rubicon. There’s no going back.”)). Most of the planet was covered by water, with tall spires of rock and coral that poked up out of the sea. These places were crafted into dramatic hotels and estates, catering to wealthy visitors, with a few of the larger spots made into resorts for the less-affluent to visit. Because surface space was at a premium, most of the staff who live on planet lived in underwater habitats, connected to their above-water place of work. These underwater arcologies had originally been designed as friendly, welcoming spaces, but as time went on, less and less was spent on maintenance, so they looked like malls that had sunk into the sea, with tiny leaks, water stains, rust and algae everywhere. Narrow corridors ran from the larger communal areas to residential suites; these looked like they belonged in a U-Boat. I thought this gave a nice contrast between the haves and the have-nots of Rubicon.

I also generated the antagonist for the scenario: an ex-soldier bounty hunter and her crew. I buffed this antagonist – Ada Wilson – up a fair bit, because I find that the system lets the PCs really pull some astonishing stuff off with good description and working the plot point mechanics. To make sure the enemy was a real threat, I needed to make her a real threat.

Here’s how the disparate bits of the scenario came together in my notes:

The crew is paid to pick up a person on Rubicon and deliver to Albion. That person is Mitchell Stuart, now fallen from fame, and needing asylum after his involvement in events on Deadwood came out. He has info on a branch of Niska’s cartel that the Jiang Triad would like, and he has agreed to share it with them in return for safety from Niska and enough money to start a new life in luxury and secrecy. The Jiang Triad has, of course, tapped Price’s crew to make the pick-up and delivery, partly to see if their reliability has been as compromised as rumours ((After the issue with the indentured workers.)) have indicated.

The Triad intends to test the crew in the most direct way possible – by feeding information on Stuart’s whereabouts to a bounty hunter working for Niska, and seeing how the crew handles it.

We were all a little scattered and unfocused for this session, which led to a kind of distracted play. Still, we had some fun. Price got tasked with the job, and persuaded the rest of the crew to go along with it. Now, it’s important to note that Price was not told that the person he was picking up was Mitchell Stuart. That was mainly for my own amusement.

It was a short trip from Albion to Rubicon, and the gang was somewhat interested in the description of the planet. They decided to send Price and Walter down to pick up the passenger, while Domino and Jin stayed with Peregrine ((Now that Domino owns Peregrine, they’re even more paranoid about someone messing with her.)). I got the incredible pleasure of watching everyone’s face when the door down in the underwater residences opened to reveal a haggard Mitchell Stuart to the crew ((That alone was worth everything. Everything.)).

Of course, that’s when things had to start going wrong. There were a couple of thugs lurking in the corridor, but our heroes made short work of them, even scavenging a grenade from them. This almost came in useful, when Price tried to use the grenade to force Ada Wilson and her squad to let them into the tube train back to the surface. Unfortunately, Price rolled a lot of 1s on his intimidate check, and I decided that meant Ada had her tech specialist just defuse the grenade remotely. This, of course, led to some shooting, and eventually a big explosion, but the gang managed to get Mitchell up to Peregrine and break atmo.

On the transit back to Albion, Peregrine was caught by Jasmine Angel, Wilson’s ship. There was a bit of a stand-off, as Jasmine Angel used an EMP device to shut down Peregrine’s systems. But thanks to some fast-talking, clever shuttle use, and Su Jin’s impressive repair skill, the crew managed to blow out Jasmine Angel‘s airlock with a breaching charge, fix their own systems, and escape.

Back on Albion, I had one last obstacle for them: a sniper in the docks, with a high-powered rifle trained on the ship ((“How did they know we were coming?” “Yeah, weird, right? It’s almost like someone told them.” “Stupid Triads.”)). This almost took Mitchell out as they were escorting him to the delivery point, and it kept them pinned down in the dock away from the ship for a while. Then, though some clever trickery ((That I don’t properly remember right now.)), they filled the area with obscuring smoke or steam, and made a break for it.

And so, Mitchell Stuart was delivered safe and sound to the loving ((Kinda.)) arms of the Jiang Triad. Price scored some points with his family, and everyone else got a nice pay day.

We’ve got two or three more sessions in this game, then the campaign wraps up. Because it’s been a very episodic kind of game, I’m not aiming for a big, tie-up-all-the-loose-ends finish, but I am seeing a lot of opportunities for callbacks to the early adventures, and I’m going to be bringing some of those in.

Stay tuned. We’ve got some fun left to come.

The Quiet Year

TL;DR: The Quiet Year is a deep, interesting, fun map game. If you like post-apocalyptic story-style games that aren’t RPGs, you need to own this game.

Last year at GenCon, I wound up pretty much by mistake ((It wasn’t by mistake, really. I was at a meeting for Games on Demand, and the award ceremony was held there.)) at the Indie RPG Awards ceremony. As I recall it, the game The Quiet Year seemed to be nominated in pretty much every category, and it won the Most Innovative Game award. That made me curious, so I went out and found it the next day on the exhibitor floor.

Now, you can get a .pdf version for eight bucks, but Indie Game Revolution had a great little bagged set that had almost everything you need to play:

  • Rules
  • Deck of specially printed cards
  • Reference card
  • Little skull beads to use as contempt tokens
  • Six d6s to use for project dice
  • A funky-cool burlap sack that holds it all

The only things missing were something to draw on and something to draw with.

The drawing is important – the game is all about trying to build a post-apocalyptic community ((Really, it doesn’t need to be post-apocalyptic, but that’s the default. And you get to decide how soon after the apocalypse it is, and how wacky things are. Is it Road Warrior, Thundarr, or Adventure Time?)) in the one quiet year you have between major crises. And to show the community building and the progress of your little group of folks, you draw it all on a map.

Anyway, after many months of trying to fit the game in ((One downside the game has is that it is only for 2-4 players. That means it doesn’t fit at a lot of my game nights, because we often wind up with too many people.)), I got a chance to play it last night, and we had a blast.

Here's our blank map and the pieces of the game laid out before we begin.

Here’s our blank map and the pieces of the game laid out before we begin.

Now, I tend to put together little kits for games like this, so I can just grab the organizer pouch I keep them in and bring it to an event, so I stocked it with a cheap coilbound book of sketch paper and a set of coloured markers, along with a few index cards (not shown) and some writing pens.

While you need index cards and something to write/draw with and something to write/draw on, you don’t need to go as deep into this as I did. But I figure that if we’re going to be drawing stuff as a major part of the game, let’s do it right.

Anyway, the rulebook is written in such a way that the facilitator – there is no GM for the game – reads the overall description of the game, and then everyone takes turns reading the rules sections. This works very well, takes maybe 15 minutes, and keeps everyone involved and thinking about the game. To start, you decide where your community will be situated – seacoast, forest, abandoned shopping mall, an old military installation, ruined subway tunnels, whatever. This is one of the few communal decisions of the game. Once you have a very general idea, each player takes a turn drawing one detail on the map.

The way this happens is kind of important – each person decides their own detail based on the general location, and draws it on in turn, explaining what they’re adding to the others. There is no discussion, no debate, no consensus – when it’s your turn, it’s your decision. You’re not allowed to ask for help or suggestions, and others aren’t allowed to offer. This is a theme that carries through the entire game, and I’m going to be coming back to talk about it a bit later.

After the basic map is drawn with each person’s detail, each person decides on one resource that will be important to the community. This can be basic stuff like food, arable land, clean water, shelter, etc., or it can be something a little weirder – old books, scrap metal, energy crystals, mutant hogs, whatever. Then, in your second communal decision, you pick one of your resources to be abundant, and all the rest to be scarce. This gets written down on an index card, and each player then draws a symbol on the map to represent their resource and its abundance or scarcity.

So, here's our starter map. details we added were the cove on the seacoast, the neaby caves, and the abandoned cottages along the road. Resources were abundant old books (a bookmobile up on blocks), scarce shelter (holes in the walls and roofs of the houses) and scarce clean drinking water (nearby freshwater source is an almost-empty pool in the nearby cave).

So, here’s our starter map. details we added were the cove on the seacoast, the neaby caves, and the abandoned cottages along the road. Resources were abundant old books (a bookmobile up on blocks), scarce shelter (holes in the walls and roofs of the houses) and scarce clean drinking water (nearby freshwater source is an almost-empty pool in the nearby cave).

And now the game begins.

Each game turn represents a week of your year, and is represented by a card you draw on your turn. The cards are divided into seasons – hearts for spring, diamonds for summer, clubs for autumn, and spades for winter. You shuffle each season separately, then stack them in the above order. So, you’ll draw all the spring cards, then all the summer, then all the autumn, and then the winter cards. One of the winter cards ends the game, so you may draw only a single winter card in your game or, like us, you may draw the game-ending card as the last card in the deck. The point is, you never know when the game is going to end, once winter begins.

Each of the cards has instructions, usually a choice between two things that happen or two questions to answer. These help flesh out the story of your community, sometimes making good things happen, sometimes bad things, and sometimes neutral things. After picking your event from the card you drew, you add a little drawing to the map to represent it, if applicable. Then, each project on the go advances towards completion by one week, and then the player gets to take one of three available actions:

  • Discover something new. Tell a little story about something new the community has discovered, and draw it on the map.
  • Start a project. Say that the community is going to start working on a project and what the project is. Discuss with the other players to determine how long the project is going to take, from one to six weeks, and set a die on the map showing the number of weeks left in that project’s duration.
  • Hold a discussion. Ask a question or make a statement. Each player gets a chance to weigh in with a sentence or two. Then it’s done.

Discovering something new adds an element to the map, and finished projects also add elements to the map. After a season, the map starts to fill in, as does the story of your community.

Here's our little community at the beginning of summer. There's been sightings of ships at sea, and a bad omen comet, and we've had a soldier move in. We've also fixed up the houses (still one week to go on the last one), found a generator and got it working, built a way to get to the birds nesting on the cliffs, and met the neighbours one town over. in addition to the house repairs, we've got two projects on the go - a scouting expedition down the coast, and a watchtower being built on the cove.

Here’s our little community at the beginning of summer. There’s been sightings of ships at sea, and a bad omen comet, and we’ve had a soldier move in. We’ve also fixed up the houses (still one week to go on the last one), found a generator and got it working, and met the neighbours one town over. in addition to the house repairs, we’ve got three projects on the go – a scouting expedition down the coast, a way to reach the birds nesting on the cliffs, and a watchtower being built on the cove. Oh, and there’s big bitey sharklike things in the cove who will eat us if we’re not careful.

Each season has its own rhythm and flavour. Spring is all about learning who you are and what’s going on. Summer is about putting down roots and getting things done. In autumn, things get harder and tenser. And winter kicks the crap out of you.

So, that’s the way the game goes. But let’s talk about some of the subtleties.

I mentioned before that most decisions ((The exceptions are project duration and when to add or remove an abundance or scarcity, based on events in the game.)) in the game are made by the person whose turn it is, without discussion or debate or consensus. I don’t know about you folks, but that kind of limitation on table talk is tough for me, and for a lot of my group. Especially because, in this game, we all want our little community to succeed. So, building consensus and making group decisions seems like the way to go, right?

But, as the rules point out, that’s not how communities work. Parts of communities make decisions that affect the entire community, often without discussion, engagement, or approval. That’s what happens in the game. If the card you drew gives you two choices, and they’re both bad, you get to pick the badness you prefer. Others may not like your choice, or the choice of a project that you started, or the fact that you didn’t listen at all to what they said in the discussion you called.

This allows factions to form in your community, and disagreements to enter the story. When someone feels that something someone else has done is upsetting to part of the community, or ignores you, or just basically pisses you off, you take a contempt counter – one of the little skull beads. These show that part of the community is not happy.

These have no mechanical effect ((I thought, upon reading the rules, that some of the cards might trigger on certain numbers of contempt tokens or something, but nope.)); they’re just visual indicators that all is not milk and honey in your little town. And I found myself considering my contempt tokens, and the reasons I had taken them, when making decisions, meaning that they fed back into the game, but not in a directly mechanical way. This, to me, is very cool.

Things are progressing. We're trading with the woodcutters to the south, and paying tribute to the Sea Kings. There's been a scandal in town as our soldier ran off with one of the town girls, abandoning our half-trained militia. We've got a garden in, found a ruined hospital down the coast, and set up some fishing nets, as well as our watchtower and our egg and bird source.

Things are progressing. We’re trading with the woodcutters to the south, and paying tribute to the Sea Kings. There’s been a scandal in town as our soldier ran off with one of the town girls, abandoning our half-trained militia. We’ve got a garden in, found a ruined hospital down the coast, and set up some fishing nets, as well as our watchtower and our egg and bird source. A set of three flags appeared mysteriously down in the southwest, but then some yahoos put up flags meant to represent us. They had the the bad-omen comet on them, though, so we burned them down. That uncovered a pit of flints. We’ve also found some useful ores and an abandoned listening post in one of the caves. The projects on the map right now are repairing an old warehouse for shelter and building a fence around our garden. It’s been a busy summer, and now we’re moving into autumn.

Another interesting thing is that it is totally possible to “win” this game by gaming the system. In our game, we spent a lot ((Like probably 70%.)) of our turns starting projects. We shored up the weaknesses of our community, worked to acquire more resources, and all the reasonable gamerly things you do make your community the best it can be.

Here’s the thing, though: there’s no victory condition. Every game ends the same way – the Frost Shepherds arrive and the game is over. You don’t know if you survive the encounter. You don’t know if you can survive the encounter. You don’t even know what the encounter is, except that it ends the game and the story of the community. There’s no way to “beat” the Frost Shepherds. They show up, and the game is over.

Thus, it became apparent during play that the real way to win is to make the most interesting story of the community. You follow the storylines that emerge from the events of the game, and use them to add interesting challenges and dilemmas to the game. It’s all about the story you tell before the game ends. And that means that, like an author, you will decide to do horrible things to your community, because that’s where stories come from.

Harvest is in, and the Grange is fortified, thanks to the efforts of the Parish. We lost a lot of folks in a vicious storm at the end of autumn, and we also found a shallow grave with the body of the girl we thought had run off with the soldier. Currently, we're working on using the flints and wood we've traded for to make some weapons. We've also substantially improved our water source.

Harvest is in, and the Grange is fortified, thanks to the efforts of the Parish. We lost a lot of folks in a vicious storm at the end of autumn, and we also found a shallow grave with the body of the girl we thought had run off with the soldier. Currently, we’re working on using the flints and wood we’ve traded for to make some weapons. We’ve also substantially improved our water source, trained up a militia, and got the houses wired to the generator (which is running out of fuel). Now begins winter.

So, The Quiet Year was a very different play experience from pretty much any other game we’ve played. It built an interesting story for the community ((And we all agreed it would be an interesting world to run an RPG in, once we’d built the community.)), and created an interesting, colourful artifact of the game – the map.

The restrictions on table talk – designed to make sure that each person makes their decisions without input or influence from the others – were especially tough on me. I talk a lot during games, bantering and expressing my opinion, and doing my best to help people, because I’m usually teaching whatever game we’re playing. A few times, I had to clamp my hands over my mouth when I realized I was trying to persuade someone or suggest something. But the result of the rules is worth the effort.

The Frost Shepherds showed up on card 52. They can appear on any of the (potentially) 13 winter card draws, but we got the whole season out of the way before they arrived, just before the next spring. So, a full Quiet Year.

The Frost Shepherds showed up on card 52. They can appear on any of the (potentially) 13 winter card draws, but we got the whole season out of the way before they arrived, just before the next spring. So, a full Quiet Year. Things were going well, with food and power and a smelter and fortified building. We even had uncovered old songs and music to help the winter pass, and were going to be hosting a summit between us, the Sea Kings, the Woodcutters, and the Biker Consortium next year. Oh, and it turned out the dead girl’s father killed her to keep her from running off with the soldier, so we put him in jail. Outside.

And that’s how our town ended. We had an amazing time playing, and want to play again. The two choices on the cards – as well as the wide-open starting state of the map – gives the game great replay value. And because it’s card-based, it would be simple ((Which is not the same as easy.)) to set up a different set of events for each of the cards and add variety.

The big catch for me is that four-player limit. To be fair, I can completely understand why it’s there – this game would get unwieldy pretty quickly with more players. But it does mean that this game may not get the time in our game rotation it deserves.

One of the coolest aspects of the game is that, at the end, you’ve got the map to remember the game by. Here’s ours.

For some reason, we did not name our settlement. We'll have to remember to do that next time.

For some reason, we did not name our settlement. We’ll have to remember to do that next time.

I recommend this game very highly, if you like games that generate stories and post-apocalyptic settings. You can order it here. And you should do that now.

TEAM BANSHEE: Stoon Lake, Part 1


I’m using the scenario Stoon Lakefrom the scenario collection Weep. Now, the book’s been out for some time, 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 session was really about half-and-half Pinfeathers and Stoon Lake. The team had a few loose ends they wanted to wrap up in Boston, so I let them do that before giving them their next assignment.

One thing I forgot in my last post was the cliffhanger I ended the session on ((To be honest, I forgot to include it in the post because I forgot that I had done that. I don’t really know how I forgot; I was inordinately pleased with myself when I pulled it off.)) – the team showed up at the Circle’s Edge bookshop to meet with the Flock ((Against the specific instructions of EPONYMOUS.)) and found that everyone in the room was dead.

Fade to black.

We picked it up right there this session ((After the group reminded me of where things stood, and I pretended that I had known all along.)), and the squad did a quick investigation of the scene, finding that everyone had been herded together and shot. There were no casings around, and no reports of noises, so the gang thought that weapons like their hush-puppy pistols.

They fled the scene just ahead of the police sirens, and sat in the car for a little while eavesdropping on the police using their police scanner. They didn’t learn a whole lot more, as the cops became very careful in what they broadcast once the scope of the crime became apparent. Luckily, Leggy had used her videomancy to create a video record of the scene, and they decided to find a safe place to hole up overnight and see what else they could uncover.

First, though, they headed over to Sid’s place, because his body was not at the bookshop. There, they found Sid dead, shot execution style, at his open floor safe. A business card in the trash led them to the hotel where the mysterious Angela ((The Flying Woman avatar who kicked their asses the previous session.)) was staying. Still ignoring EPONYMOUS’s orders to stay away from the whole situation, they figured they could make one more try at salvaging something from their mission ((Besides, of course, Amelia Earhart’s compass, which they had already stolen from Sid’s floor safe. And the text file of Sid’s ritual plans.)).

The video they had didn’t reveal much more information, but they managed to scam the room number of Angela’s room in hotel from the night clerk at the front desk. When they broke into her room, they found her dead, as well, spiked to the ceiling with the words “Hush Hush” carved into her belly. More Sleeper work.

They spent the night cleaning up the mess and disposing of the body, then hit the road. About that time, EPONYMOUS called them, asking where they were. Cruz told him that they were just about to head back to base, and was told to head to a nearby Kinko’s to pick up their next assignment.

That assignment sent them to the small town of Stoon Lake, Minnesota, to investigate a report of a Bigfoot attack. Their initial investigations haven’t yielded much, yet, though they met the mother of the man who was attacked, plus her very large dog, and the reporter who wrote the story.

The meeting with the reporter didn’t go well. They had hoped, what with her history with strange stories, that she might be a valuable contact with useful information about the occult underground. But the reporter had been burned pretty badly ((Figuratively.)) by her contact with the weird stuff, having lost her job in the city and being stuck out in a little weekly regional paper, so she was less than welcoming. She was downright paranoid, and somewhat abusive, and she really pissed off Skye, who had been hoping to use their common interest in journalism to leverage some co-operation ((Sorry, Fera.)).

That was when we called the game for the evening. It wasn’t a very conclusive session, but it moved them from the last assignment into the new one.

I ran Stoon Lake for my previous UA group many years ago, and it turned out to be the deadliest scenario in that entire campaign. Not necessarily because of the enemy; we lost one character and almost lost another to friendly fire incidents ((That’s what you get with heavily armed, but decidedly urban, bad-asses wandering around the bush at night hunting for Bigfoot.)). Only the epideromancer rolling his bones with a deliberate car crash saved them – he got enough juice to rewrite the previous half-hour or so.

I don’t think this time through will be quite so bad. But you never know.

Next session is tomorrow night, and we’ve got a guest player for the evening. He’s going to be a TNI honcho come to check on the PCs, because they seem to be keeping secrets and playing pretty loose with TNI rules.

Should be fun.

Pandemonium: ICARUS

I’m not going to point out how far behind I am on blogging, anymore. It’s pretty much a given. I’ve got four more game reports to get up after this one, and a new Pandemonium game this Friday, so I want to get the report of the last session up before that.


We added a new character last session: Maker, a young man who developed nanotech, loaded himself with nanocolonies, and then had his tech stolen by Chimaera Systems. I figured that a good way to introduce the new character would be to have him approach the others ((Famous as the Heroes of Gotham after they saved all the citizens on the bridge a couple of sessions ago.)) and ask for their help in getting the ((Very dangerous.)) nanotech back from Chimaera.

Maker was able to tell them that his lab was at the Bleak Island Research Facility ((Colloquially known as Monster Island.)), so the group started plotting a way to get in and find the tech. They built up a number of assets to use in play, and managed to make a moderately stealthy entry to the site.

After dealing with some minor complications on the upper levels, they made their way down to the lab where Maker’s research was being examined and exploited. The project had been labeled ICARUS, and they found ICARUS PRIME, the first Chimaera test subject, ready and waiting for them.

I had reskinned an Iron Man datafile to act as ICARUS PRIME, with a few minor tweaks. This made for pretty tough character, and I gave him some assets and resources based on him being on his home turf. In addition, I had a pretty full doom pool – eight or nine d8s and d10s.

And here’s where I learned the secret ((Well, A secret, anyway.)) of the doom pool. Big dice make the players feel time pressure – if I’ve got a d12 and a d10 in the pool, the players pull out all the stops to make things happen now, before I manage to get the 2d12 I can use to end the scene ((I don’t always just end the scene when I get the 2d12 – it can be too easy to rack up the dice and that makes it just feel cheap.)). But, with a large number of smaller dice, you can make the villains you’re running just nasty! Lots of d8s and d10s mean that I effectively have a whole heap of plot points to roll more dice, get higher totals, make counterattacks, and generally mess with the heroes.

Now, I’m sure that this isn’t revelatory for everyone. I mean, I speculated about using the doom pool for pacing in a post way back here. But this was one of the first times I really started getting it. The shape of the doom pool – number and size of dice in it – creates different kinds of concerns and pacing for the heroes, and suggests and allows different kinds of tricks and benefits for the Watcher.

The upshot of this is that I’m going to be looking for different ways to use the doom pool to create interesting pacing and challenges in the game. I’m curious to see how it works out.

So, this Friday, it looks like it’s going to be a small group – three out of five heroes – and they’re going to resume their hunt for Whisper, the Phage Worms, and the Chant.

What could possibly go wrong with that?

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.