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!)).


Monster of the Week

I’m not sure if I first heard about Monster of the Week from Fred Hicks’s posts about his game, or from someone at GenCon. I do know that Fred tweeted about his game, and that’s what really brought it into my active thinking. I ordered a copy of the game from the author ((A very nice guy, who shipped it to me from New Zealand.)), and soon had a group who wanted to try it out.

It was about that time that Evil Hat started looking for someone to playtest the scenario in a new edition of the game that they were going to be publishing. Specifically, they wanted someone who had never run the game before to try out the new GM advice and the intro scenario, and I happily volunteered for that. I had also fleshed out a couple of other scenarios myself, and was interested in seeing what a published scenario for the game might look like ((While the original rules had two different mysteries sort-of fleshed out as examples, they were each spread through several pages of the book, and weren’t presented as complete scenarios.)).

So, what’s the game like?

First off, it uses the Apocalypse World engine, and it hews closer to the original than some other games based on AW. That’s neither good nor bad; the AW engine works great as a rules-light system, but some of the innovations of other hacks of it ((Like the Defy Danger move in Dungeon World)) are very good, and I’m always on the lookout for new ideas. That said, the Investigate a Mystery move, which is kind of the centrepoint of the game, is quite neat.

The variety of playbooks for this game is awesome. There’s enough in the book and available free online to run pretty much any type of monster-hunting group you like. There’s some value in following the book’s advice and deciding what kind of group you’re playing before deciding on playbooks – that way, you can make sure that you’ve got the mandatory hunter types covered, and no one’s too far out of line on the concept. That said, it’s not a terrible thing to have everyone pick a playbook and see what kind of group that makes, determining your group concept from the player choices.

From the playbooks I had, it would have been easy to run a game based on any of the following sources:

  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • Angel
  • X-Files
  • Fringe
  • Warehouse 13
  • Hellboy
  • Supernatural
  • Night Stalker
  • Hellblazer
  • Doom Patrol
  • Stargate: SG1
  • The Dresden Files

A little tweaking could expand that list vastly.

Most of the moves presented in the game are pretty typical for AW games. The two really interesting ones are Investigate a Mystery and Use Magic. Both of these are basic moves, meaning any character can try them, and both feed directly into the feel of the game.

Investigate a Mystery is how you gather information about the current puzzle you’re facing. Like most other perceptive moves in AW games, a successful roll gives you a choice of questions from a list to ask the GM. This is, as might be apparent, your go-to move in trying to figure out what kind of monster you’re facing, how to hurt it, what it wants, and where it is. But to be able to ask the questions you want, you have to do something in the game to justify being able to answer that question. So, if you want to ask the question, “Where did it go?” you have to describe you character looking for tracks, or scanning for energy signatures, or whatever. Asking, “What can hurt it?” means you’re doing some research in a lab or library, or are examining the physical evidence at the site of an incident.

This adds a lot of colour to the game, allowing different characters to participate in the investigation without requiring them all to do the same thing. Each character can focus on his or her own style of investigation, and all can contribute to finding the solution.

Use Magic, strangely enough, lets the character use magic ((Subtle and confusing name, I’m sure you’ll agree.)). It’s a pretty simple system, letting the character pick from a list of effects, make the roll, and then possibly have to deal with some GM-chosen glitches. For example, in one game I ran, the characters used magic to interview a dog. They rolled a 7-9, so I decided that they could only speak dog for the next hour or so. The GM can tack on other requirements, too – weird ingredients, bizarre rituals, inconvenient lengths of time, etc.

There’s an option for big magic, as well. Big magic is basically plot device magic – it can do pretty much anything you want, but the GM decides what you need to do it, how it works, what sorts of complications you face, and what happens when you screw it up. It’s fun and nasty.

Now, I got two chances to run MotW. The first time, I deliberately ran the intro scenario. The second time, I gave the players a choice on what scenario I’d run ((After eliminating a couple that didn’t fit the characters or group concept.)), and they chose the intro scenario. So, I got to run it twice.

It’s a surprisingly complex little mystery. Not in that it’s tangled ((Most of them are at least somewhat tangled.)) or difficult ((Though there is that, too.)), but in that there’s a number of threads leading in and out of the main story, a number of side stories that are more or less important depending on what the players latch onto, and some interesting motivations for various NPCs in play. There’s a real depth to the information provided – more than I needed in either of the games, but each game needed different bits of the info, so it was nice to have it there.

Each play-through of the scenario went surprisingly differently. There were some commonalities, as there would have to be, but the freedom of the system and the amount of background information provided by the adventure made it easy for the characters to go in whatever direction seemed most interesting to them and still solve the central mystery.

Final verdict? We all had a tremendous amount of fun with the game. It was a blast to run, and generated some neat stories. I hope we play again.

After all, I’ve got four more mysteries ((Including one based on a Manly Wade Wellman story.)) all typed up and ready to run. It would be a waste not to use them.


C4 2014

This coming weekend is Central Canada Comic Con ((Affectionately referred to as C4.)) here in Winnipeg. As is my habit, I will be trundling a couple of huge bags of boardgames, card games, and RPGs ((Though I have yet to demo an RPG at C4. Came close a couple of times.)) down to the convention centre and spending the weekend teaching, demoing, loaning, and playing games with people for my good friends at Imagine Games and Hobbies.

Normally, I’m a little more on top of things for C4, but I’m just catching my breath after a bit of a marathon run at work, so I don’t have all the particulars. I know that we’re in a different spot than previous years, and I think it’s on the main level, and I’ve been told that we have four tables near the JimCon folks. Other than that, I’m going to have to search.

I don’t even have a final list of the games I’m bringing to show you. That said, there are some particular ones that I’m guaranteed to have there:

So, I’ll have those 19 games at the con for sure. I’ll probably have a few more. I’m trying not to duplicate the list of games JimCon has posted that they’re bringing, and I’m debating whether I should bring the D&D Starter Set. If you’re planning on coming by C4 to game, and there’s a game you’re particularly keen to try, give me a shout in the comments, and I’ll see if I can’t oblige.

Either way, come play some games with me.

Pandemonium: Swarm

Things have been kind of busy around the old homestead, here, with pressure and stress coming from both the personal and the work sides of life. It’s meant I’ve been neglecting… well, a number of things, but the Pandemonium campaign is the one that most needs addressing.

This particular session of the game took place back near the beginning of August. Since then, I canceled one game due to illness and just haven’t gotten around to scheduling another. Now, a two-month gap in play is a danger sign for a campaign ((Campaigns have momentum. If you lose it, it can be very, very hard to get it back.)), so I want to get this post up and try to schedule the next session ASAP.

The play summary for this session is, because of the gap, a little sparse on detail, so I’m going to lay out the events I remember in point form. I invite the players to add to ((Or correct, if I got something wrong.)) this list in the comment section.

  • Things started with our heroes interrogating Sparky, the prisoner from the previous adventure, at Artemis’s apartment ((And what could go wrong with one of Magus the Maggot’s minions knowing where Artemis lives?)).
  • They didn’t seem to make much of an impression on the cocky ((Also brainwashed.)) young kid, so they let him go. Not without putting a ((Mystical, I think?)) tracking device on him to follow him home.
  • Warlock scried on Sparky’s meeting with Magus, and saw a couple of his other henchmen there. One of these henchmen was decked out like a vodun priest, and he seemed to be able to detect the magical spying. Warlock, however, reached through the the link the priest was creating, and rendered himself undetectable by the priest. EVER ((It was a really, really good roll.)).
  • Artemis and Inquisitor used some of the Orrakachu tech to create a device for detecting dimensional incursions ((“Hey Rick, can I make a device to help us find dimensional incursions?” “You mean an Adventure Plot Detector? You bet!”)).
  • They used the detector be on the scene when an incursion happened on one of Gotham City’s bridges, unleashing a horde of insect-like incursives ((I used the stats for the Annihilation Horde from the late, lamented Annihilation event book that almost got published.)).
  • There was some crossed communication during the fight, when Artemis was able to shut the incursion down, but had to hold off because a couple of the others had – willingly or unwillingly – gone through the rift to the alien dimension.
  • On the other side of the rift, they found lots and lots more of the insect creatures, as well as some giant bugs that seemed to be controlling the actions of the smaller ones, in a cliched-but-effective insect hive mind kind of deal.
  • Vastly overmatched, they retreated, shut down the incursion, stabilized the bridge ((Which was near to collapsing at this point.)), and got the surviving civilians to safety ((Escher had got an early start on this bit, using her mind control almost as soon as she arrived.)).
  • The very public operation, saving people from alien bugs and preventing a bridge from collapsing, prompted the gang to use some XP to cement a Heroes of Gotham d6 permanent resource for the team.

So, that was pretty fun.

Now, let’s talk about some of the difficulties I’ve had running this game.

For all the parts of it that I love, MHR has two main flaws as far as I’m concerned: combat can be slow to run, and it can take a significant amount of time to prep for a game system.

I’ve talked about the speed of combat before. Because villains and heroes share the same stat makeup and mechanics ((For the most part, anyway.)); and because each turn requires the creation of two dice pools, two rolls, and two sets of calculations; and because of the way the initiative system works; there can be a significant ((Over an hour, at one point.)) time period between a character’s turn. This is just an artifact of the system. The fact that there are active defense rolls can help mitigate that, but if a character is just not a target, that doesn’t really come into play.

On our annual trip down to GenCon this year, Clint and I were talking about this, and he suggested that, for the non-boss villains, it might be faster to give the character a set roll and effect die for the stuff they do. That would cut down a lot of the time the Watcher uses to build dice pools, many of which are just the same from turn to turn, anyway.

Now, coming up with the the average for the kinds of mixed dice pools used by MHR is complex. Sitting down with dice, scratch paper, and a calculator, I could probably have roughed things out eventually, but then I discovered this Firefly RPG Dice Pool Calculator. It’s not ideal, because it doesn’t take into account the idea of the effect die, but it’s close enough for my purposes.

I’ve been struggling with how to assign an effect die ((Necessary for the basic mechanics.)), how to adjust the total based on spending doom dice ((A nice-to-have requirement for the mechanics.)), and how to assign 1s to the roll ((Not crucial, but some powers key off the opportunities represented by the 1s.)). I know just enough about probability math to recognize that the simple ideas I have for this won’t be accurate reflections of the actual probability, but not enough to be able to properly model these elements simply and elegantly.

Then I realized that this was a game, not a math paper or computer program, and I could stop sweating it so much.

Thus, I have come up with the following simple rules to address these issues:

  • Effect die is the second largest die in the pool. For a pool of d10 + d8 + 3d6, effect die is d8. For a pool of 2d10 + d6 + d4, the effect die is d10.
  • Adding a doom die to the roll increases the total rolled by a number based on the die type. d6 = +1, d8 = +2, d10 = +3, d12 = +4. This is far from accurate ((For most dice pools, the straight bonus is a significantly larger boost than probability dictates.)), probability-wise, but it’s simple, quick, and isn’t too nasty for the PCs. We’ll see how it goes.
  • 1s will be assigned based on the Average # of Jinxes on the calculator. For example, a dice pool of 4d8 has an average number of jinxes of .50, so every second time I roll that pool, it will be assigned a 1 for the characters to buy, recorded as 1/2. This means that there won’t be multiple 1s in these pools very often, but again, it’ll speed things up without unduly screwing over the heroes.

So, that means that, for a troop of Orrakachu soldiers with a dice pool of 1d10 + 5d8 for their attacks, the attack line will look something like this:

Orrakachu Soldiers Attack Pool Total 14, Effect Die d8, 1s 2/3.

Again, this is not mathematically sound as far as probability goes, but I really care less about that ((A lot less, in fact.)) than I do about making things run smoothly and a little more quickly in combat. Things are a little weighted in favour of the villains this way, but I figure that will balance with the fact that the players will quickly figure out the numbers they have to beat for their rolls, and will use that knowledge to finesse things a bit as far as spending PPs and other tricks go.

And, of course, I won’t be using this method for the big bosses or for smaller fights. Just to help me run larger, more complex combats.

The downside to this approach is that it feeds into the prep time of the game.

Prep time for MHR is not overwhelming like D&D, but it’s also not trivial, like Apocalypse World. Because it’s a comic book game, one of the assumptions is that there will be interesting superhero battles, and that can involve some fussing about ahead of time. Mook-type opponents are very simple to stat up, but any real opponents requires some thinking and tinkering to build something appropriate.

For the most part, I look through the large number of stat blocks available both in the MHR books and online, find something that fits, and reskin it. On occasion, I use the random datafile generator that MWP released to create something brand new. Both these methods are somewhat time-intensive, though; it’s not like I can throw together an impromptu session quickly.

Now, to use the average roll method outlined above to speed up play, I will have to put in some more prep time, converting the stat blocks to have the averages reflected. That’s not a huge deal, but it is an extra demand on my time which, right now, is at a premium.

The way I try to address this is by prepping some utility stat blocks and fights whenever I prep a session’s stats. I make a scene or two that I don’t think will get used in the current session ((But which might.)) and can be easily repurposed for another session. This usually means I tie it to one of the side plots, and produces the useful effect of creating a stockpile of themed scenes that I can later turn into a primary plotline for a session or three.

It doesn’t make things faster, prep-wise, but it does mean it’s a little more efficient in producing results that can help reduce prep down the road by front-loading the work.

Anyway, that’s the kind of stuff I’ve been thinking about with Pandemonium. I’m going to send out some e-mail to my players to try and book the next session – that’s when I’ll find out for sure if the game has lost too much momentum, or if we can salvage it.

I’m hoping it’s not dead yet. But if it is, it’s my fault for leaving it hanging.