Firefly: Deadwood, Part Two

I’m kind of rushing to finish this post ((For the second time, in fact – my computer just crashed, eating the half-finished post, so I’m redoing it.)) because the next session of our Firefly campaign is tomorrow night, and I’m way behind on my blogging. Which is kind of status quo, these days.

Anyway, last session turned out to be our first two-part episode. When we wrapped up for the night, the crew was in some trouble: after an unsuccessful attempt by a criminal gang to blow up Peregrine, and the gang’s successful attempt to kill Lin Shu (the new schoolteacher in Deadwood, and former Peregrine passenger), our heroes had been told that they had until sunrise to knock the dust of Deadwood from their heels. All of this was because Lin Shu and Domino had witnessed another of their passengers, Mitchell Stuart, delivering drugs to a corrupt Deadwood deputy, and the deputy and her gang decided they needed to clean up the witnesses.

The crew, however, decided that, before they left, they would like a little justice ((Or possibly vengeance. They were a little unclear on the distinction at that point. Fair enough.)).

I told them that, if they came up with a plan before the next session, I would let them spend the plot points they had at the end of the first session to create assets representing their plan. This, I thought, would encourage them to come up with an interesting plot ((And, incidentally, prevent me from having to do the heaving lifting of figuring out how they could get their justice/vengeance.)), as well as showing off how handy it is to spend plot points for assets.

They came up with a plan right out of Leverage, which suited me just fine. Calling on contacts, they put some pressure on the corrupt deputy, making her think she needed to come up with some serious cash, fast. That would allow Su Lin to get into a game with her and lose big, giving her a marker on Peregrine‘s service as a drug runner. And, once the deputy came to inspect the ship to set things up, they could transmit her criminal intentions to Ori, the leader of the Quartermasters gang that was one of the powers trying to civilize Deadwood ((Yes, there are holes in this plan. In play, I find it’s much more fun to storm ahead with an incomplete, flawed plan, and plug the holes as they come up by flashing back to preparations made “before” the hole showed up. That’s what plot points are for, after all. And it worked wonders on the Leverage TV show.)).

They spent their plot points freely to build contacts, scout and bug the locations they needed, setup a getaway van, and even to make Ori into Domino’s cousin, with whom she had a somewhat troubled past. They even bought an asset called Plan B that they could call on if things went totally south.

Things went totally south.

Now, I want to be clear that the stuff that went wrong all went wrong because of complications the players rolled while working their plan. And most of what went wrong was fairly minor – just enough to force them to scramble a bit. But two larger complications really changed the tone of things.

The first was the arrival of Billy Shu, Lin’s brother, planning to storm into the casino and take some ill-timed ((And most likely unsuccessful.)) revenge. Price got him under wraps in the getaway van, but he continued to be a problem, right up until Price pistol whipped him into an aggressively calm state.

The big problem came up when Domino rolled a whole mittful of ones while showing Ori the video feed from the casino. It was just too perfect, so I had Ori apologize, lock Domino up, and call a warning in to the deputy and her crew. Suddenly, Su Lin was in the middle of a bunch of armed thugs looking to end her, and only Walter’s timely intervention – he had been disguised as the barman – got them out of there.

This is where Plan B really kicked in.

They decided that they hadn’t fully trusted Ori, so they’d also been transmitting to Petaline, the bigger power in Deadwood, now that Rance Burgess was done with and she was running Nandi’s bordello. And Petaline did not take kindly to men being bullies.

And so the non-corrupt cops arrived to free Domino and round up Ori and the deputy and the rest of the bad guys. And our heroes flew off into the sunset.

They talked for a while at that point about what to name the episode ((They hadn’t named it last time, because they wanted to see what happened this time before deciding what the whole thing was about.)). After some really interesting thoughts about the nature of the titles they were picking, they settled on Deadwood. I like it. It doesn’t give anything away, and yet it still resonates. Kinda like Chinatown.

It felt like a pivotal pair of episodes to me, so I brought up some of my plans for the future of the game. This is going to be a finite series, and this story felt like moving from the establishing episodes into the mid-season phase, where we can start thinking about the endgame and the direction we’re headed. To that end, I asked them to think about what their characters wanted to accomplish in the game, and to send it to me.

I’ve got that list, now, and I’m doing some scheming.

I got me some plans.

Back in the Chi War

I’m still behind on my blogging. I’ve got two posts ((That I haven’t written yet.)) that should be going up before this one, but you’re getting this one because there’s some time sensitivity to it: the Kickstarter for Feng Shui 2 is supposed to go live this week, so I wanted to get my impressions up before that.

TL; DR – Feng Shui 2 is an awful lot of fun, and you should back it as soon as the campaign starts.

Feng Shui is an awesome game by Robin D. Laws from 1996 that captures the style and feel of the early Hong Kong action movies and ((To a lesser degree.)) wuxia. I got a copy of the Atlas Games version of the game, but never got a chance to play it – the approach was different enough at the time that I didn’t quite get it, and didn’t have a group that I could force it on.

Earlier this year, I found out that Feng Shui 2 was in the works. Robin was doing a new edition of the game, and it was going to be published by Atlas, starting with a Kickstarter to get things going. At the time this was announced, there was a call for playtesters, but I really didn’t have time in my gaming schedule to commit to a serious playtest of a new system ((If I’m going to do an “official” playtest, I tend to take it pretty seriously, as evidenced by my posts on The Dresden Files RPG and, indeed, the existence of this blog.)), so I just sighed and resigned myself to waiting for the publication.

Then, Cam Banks started looking for GenCon GMs to run FS2 events. I checked to see if I could fit that into my schedule, and couldn’t. But Cam said that he’d give me the playtest package to use to run the game at Games on Demand, and I jumped at that chance ((Thanks again, Cam!)).

So, I got to run FS2 at Games on Demand, and enjoyed it so much that I wanted to try it again with a group at home, where we could take more time and explore it a little more. Both sessions were a lot of fun, and everyone at both tables seemed to enjoy themselves a lot.

Now, the ruleset I’m using is a playtest document, so I’m not going to go into too much detail about specifics – they may still change before publications, but I’ve got some observations I want to share.


Back when I saw the first edition of Feng Shui, I was kind of taken aback by the idea of choosing an archetype, doing some pretty minimal customization, and playing that rather than building my own character from scratch. Since that time, other games like Apocalypse World and Marvel Heroic Roleplaying and Lady Blackbird using similar ((And, in some cases, more restrictive.)) methods of character creation. I’ve lost my fear of such systems, and have grown to appreciate the way such approaches get you up and playing quickly.

FS2 sticks with the picking of an archetype, but you don’t customize mechanical things about your character ((Not entirely true – swapping out some character abilities is offered as an advanced option.)). Instead, you customize the backstory and motivations of your character, adding life to the numbers that way. There are over 30 different archetypes in the playtest document, so you’ve got lots of variety – pretty much every major character type from the source material is covered ((Though, after rewatching A Better Tomorrow, I found myself wanting a Reformed Gangster archetype, so I could play Sung Tse-Ho.)), plus some interesting variations based on the game’s setting.


The system is pretty similar to the original game, but the mechanics have been vastly simplified. All the information you need to play your character is right there on the character sheet, and you don’t have to deal with large lists of skills and abilities.

This is not to say that there isn’t a lot of options for your character. Most of the options are covered by broad skills or abilities and a simple rule for default rolls when you don’t actually have a rating in whatever you’re trying to do ((Example? Sure! The player of the Old Master in our last playtest decided that he was blind, which was fine – it was just character colour, and didn’t limit him. Blind masters are common in wuxia movies. But then he decided that he wanted to use his heightened hearing to check the heartbeat of someone they were interviewing to see if he was lying. I thought that was a cool idea, but didn’t want it to become a defining schtick, so I just had him roll on the default skill level. Took about thirty seconds to figure out how to do that in game, and he got a cool character moment that wasn’t covered by the rules. Easy.)). What it means is that players can rapidly master their characters and resolution is quick and flavourful.

Combat ((Yeah, it’s part of the system, but in a game like this, combat deserves a bit of special comment.))

There are three things about combat you should know:

  1. Stunts. When you do something in combat, whether attacking a foe or dodging a hail of automatic weapon fire or trying haul babies out of an exploding hospital, you are encouraged ((In the original system, in fact, you were penalized if you didn’t come up with a cool description.)) to phrase it as an action-movie-style stunt. So, you don’t just shoot the mook, you slide across the polished bar-top, scattering bottles, and fly off the end ((In slow motion, of course.)) while firing two .45s into the chest of the foe, who staggers back into a giant mirror which smashes and rains glass down on the whole area. Now, the description of the stunt doesn’t have any mechanical effect, but it has a narrative one – it makes your characters as cool as their movie counterparts. It supports the theme and style of the game brilliantly.
  2. Shots. Initiative is handled by the same shots system as the original game ((Though there may be a few tweaks. It’s been a while since I looked at the original, so I can’t say for certain.)), which provides an interesting, fluid structure to the fights. There’s a bit of a risk though: if you roll low and others roll high on your initiative, you could have some folks taking multiple turns before you get to do anything. It’s not a huge problem, because each turn takes very little time to resolve. The longest part of the turn is trying to come up with the coolest stunt you can.
  3. Up  Checks. One of the coolest aspects of combat, in my opinion, is the way characters don’t have hit points the way they do in other games. As you accumulate damage, you become more impaired (i.e., you take a penalty to rolls) and, at a certain threshold you need to start making checks to see if you can stay on your feet. What that means in play is that, once you reach a certain level of injury, your character could drop at any point. Even if he or she doesn’t, you may have to make a check at the end of combat to see if you were wounded badly enough to die ((After a touching scene with your comrades, where you get to utter a few parting words.)). This uncertainty adds a level of risk to combat that I haven’t seen since Unknown Armies, where the GM tracks hit points, and just describes the injuries to the players.


The setting is an adjusted version of the original Chi War setting. You still have your genre-bending, time-hopping badasses fighting for possession of various feng shui sites so as to control the secret history of the world, but the four time junctures have switched up a bit. Now you get to play in the modern era, in 690 CE ((During the reign of the woman emperor, Wu Zetian.)), in 1850 CE ((During a fairly dark period of European domination of China.)), and 2074 CE ((Where

the Jammers have turned the world into a barren, post-apocalyptic wasteland by detonating a Chi Bomb that killed 97% of the population.
)) ((Why is that in a spoiler tag? That bit of backstory forms part of the plot of the intro adventure.)), as well as in the spooky, mystical Netherworld that links these time periods.

The assumption is that you will play members of the Dragons, a Chi War faction that mainly wants to prevent the various other factions from exerting their cross-time tyranny over the common citizen of the planet. They have – once again – been pretty much wiped out, and the PCs are new recruits dragged into the conflict.

If you don’t think that sounds cool, there’s no hope for you.

Play Experience

So, that’s the bones of it all, but anyone can get that from reading the rules. How does it play at the table?

Awesome. It’s fast, it’s flavourful, and it creates great cinematic moments.

Now, the basic structure of the game, like the source material, is somewhat formulaic – adventures are crafted around big, set-piece fights, and then connections are built to help get from one fight to another. That said, one of the things I tried in both playtests ((But emphasized in the most recent one.)) was taking more time with the between-fight stuff, letting the players roleplay more, interact with the world ((In non-fighty ways.)), and generally try the system in non-combat contexts. The simple resolution system let things flow, the characters’ Melodramatic Hooks ((That’s the game term for the aspect of the character’s backstory that drives him or her to do crazy, action-movie things – stuff like “I must avenge the murder of my father!” or “I will find a worthy heir for my family kung fu style!”)) kept them pushing forward, and the style and theme of the game kept them all being over-the-top awesome.


Feng Shui 2 is one of the most fun systems I have ever run. The setting is crazy, the mechanics are both simple and flavourful, and it’s very fast to get a new group up and running. These are all things I look for in games these days, and they are here in spades. We all had a lot of fun playing, and I’ve added the game to the list of campaigns I will pitch to my players when one of my current campaigns wraps up.

The Kickstarter is slated to begin later this week, according to Ken and Robin Talk About Stuff ((Which, incidentally, is a good podcast to listen to if you’re interested in finding out more about FS2. Hell, it’s just a good podcast to listen to, regardless.)). There will probably be some more info once the campaign goes live, so look for that.

And back the project, Chi Warrior! The Dragons need all the help they can get!

Firefly: Untitled, Part One

This episode of our Firefly RPG campaign is currently untitled. At the end of each session, I ask the players to name the episode. This one turned out to be a bit of a cliffhanger, so they decided they wanted to wait until the end of the second session to come up with the name.

This session of our Firefly RPG campaign turned out to be our first two-parter. I hadn’t intended that, but the ending got a little tangled ((Not necessarily in a bad way, though.)) and I felt that, for the story to have a truly satisfying close, we really needed another session. So, when we got to the end, I left things hanging in a bit of a cliffhanger, and said, “To be continued.”

The Peregrine crew were on the last leg of the current Tullymore Run, heading from Heaven to Deadwood. In addition to mail, cargo, and the new schoolteacher, Lin Shu ((Who has been around for the past two episodes, so I decided she should feature more in this one.)), the ship had a special commission to transport Mitchell Stuart, a popular musician, out to Deadwood.

I gave the crew the option of having some sort of previous relationship with Stuart by spending a plot point, and Captain Domino ((I’m glad she’s the one who paid for the relationship. Domino’s player is very much a casual gamer, there more to socialize than anything else, and I’m always looking for things that will get her more immersed in the game.)) decided that, when she was younger, she was Stuart’s biggest fan, and hooked up with him once after a concert. When he came aboard, I had her make a roll to see if he remembered her, and he did. That led to a renewing of acquaintances, and a demand that Price not have bugged Stuart’s cabin.

Everyone was having fun with interaction on the trip, so I spun it out a little bit. Walter was suspicious of Stuart, and rebuffed all his attempts to be friendly; Jin resented him coming too near the engine room when he practiced in the cargo hold; and Lin Shu turned out to be a big fan with a bigger crush on Stuart. Price thought the whole thing was hilarious, and charted a slow, roundabout course to stretch things out ((Domino: “Don’t mess around, Price. We need to get the new schoolteacher to Deadwood.” Price: “Yeah, because Deadwood is all about the education.”)). And Domino just enjoyed her re-acquaintance ((This was all awesome for me, because of the stuff I had planned. You’ll see what I mean.)).

So, they arrived at Deadwood. As a thank-you for the hospitable trip, Stuart gave everyone tickets to his first performance that night. After the show, Lin Shu and Domino went back to his dressing room to tell him how much they had enjoyed it, and found Stuart giving packages of drugs to a woman dressed as a police officer. They backed out quickly, but Stuart’s contact had already seen them and knew what they had witnessed.

When Domino confronted him later, Stuart explained that Niska’s gang was forcing him to carry drugs to various contacts on his tours. They were threatening his daughter if he didn’t comply. They followed the officer to another bar, where she gave the drugs to some gang members, along with some instructions ((They couldn’t hear the instructions, but they were orders to find and kill Domino and Lin Shu.)).

Back at the ship, then, Jin and Walter got to deal with some saboteurs. The gunfire brought the police, and the sabotage seemed likely to cause the ship’s engines to overload and explode. Amid the sirens, and the firefight, and the shouting, Price heard Lin Shu screaming off in the distance. He ran to her rescue, and this is where things went south for our heroes.

Price was in the right place at the right time to save Lin Shu. He even got the drop on the gang that was about to kill her. And he really blew the roll to save her, winding up taking an At Their Mercy complication. Even then, there was a chance that he could talk or fight his way out of this situation, but he again blew his roll big time.

And I killed Lin Shu.

We ended the evening with the crew back on Peregrine. They were ordered by the police ((Who are heavily infiltrated by Niska’s gang.)) to break atmo as soon as the repairs were done. But they’re not having any part of that.

They want revenge.

Sundog Millionaires: Jailbreak


Here’s the adventure log for the past session.

Not much there, right? Yeah. There are two reasons for that: first, it’s been way too long ((Like, about six weeks.)) since the session. I’ve been lazy getting things updated, and that means details fade a bit. Second, it was not a great session, and that’s all my fault.

What did I do that caused it to not be a great session? I made the players ((That’s the PLAYERS, not the characters.)) afraid to do stuff. I went too big on the described threats and obstacles, which made the players decide to not engage with them. This led to them mostly sitting in Sundog and slicing the station systems to free Jopsi, and Jopsi trying to make his way through the station pretty much alone, dealing with obstacles on his own.

That made for a sucky, not-very-Star-Wars-like game session. The players were too convinced that they couldn’t be heroic, or that there was too big a risk, to try the fun stuff. There was no infiltration of the station, no diversionary space battle, no desperate leaps into vacuum to escape ((I swear, one day I’ll get them to try that.)), no… Well. You get the idea.

Since then, I’ve been thinking about what I need to do to avoid that problem in the future. Here are the things I’ve come up with:

  • Emphasize the heroic, cinematic nature of both the Star Wars universe and the Fate Core system. Make sure the players know that they can go big with their actions.
  • Make it clear that, when I’m describing how overwhelming the opposition is, it’s partially to help the gang think about options other than combat, and partially so that, when the good guys triumph, they’ll know they’ve done something AWESOME.
  • Talk about how the action in games doesn’t have to be combat. Chases, infiltration, cons, heists, investigation – these can all be rendered as active, interesting things if approached the right way.
  • Make sure everyone’s well-versed in the Fate Core combat paradigm. The system lets you control how much you’re risking in play. Conceding when the fight isn’t vital to your character gets you a setback, not death. Death only enters the play when you decide it’s important enough.
  • Be more careful in building scenarios to make sure there are always action-filled ways forward, and that they are more apparent to the players.

So, that’s what’s on my mind as I think about the next session.

Hopefully, I’ve learned my lesson.


GenCon 2014

Well, it’s been a week since GenCon ended, so it’s about time I posted my report.

GenCon 2014 was a lot of fun. I wound up not playing as much as I have other years, but that balanced with the fact that I got to run a couple of fun games. As usual, Scott, Jarred, and Terry were great to see and spend time with at the Pagan Publishing/Dagon Industries booth, and this year, Clint joined us ((I drive down to GenCon most years with Clint, and then we see very little of each other during the show, as he has usually been working a different booth and staying with different folks. This year, he worked our both and stayed with us, so bonus!)), which was awesome.

Anyway, here are some highlights of the show.

Games on Demand

The past two years, I’ve been spending my evenings at Games on Demand, playing a bunch of new, interesting games that I might otherwise never get a chance to play. This year, I volunteered to run some ((The rumours that I did it just to get a look at the playtest rules for Feng Shui 2 are scurrilous but not entirely inaccurate.)). Because of my time commitments at the booth, and the fact that GoD wasn’t offering games on Thursday evening ((There was an all-hands meeting so that volunteers like me could find out how things work and what support structures were in place to help us out.)), I wound up GMing for two four-hour shifts, one on Friday night and one on Saturday night. I brought a collection of four games all prepped and ready to run: Feng Shui 2, Firefly RPG, Monster of the Week, and The Dresden Files RPG.

Feng Shui 2

The first game I got to run was Feng Shui 2 on Saturday night. We had a full table, and none of us had actually played ((Or run, in my case.)) the second edition rules before. I’d spent the weekend before leaving for GenCon reading the playtest draft sent to me by the inestimable Cam Banks, but that’s not a lot of time to internalize a new game system ((Even one as fluid and easy as FS2.)). Fortunately, having run a lot of demo games and store games, I was able to identify the important bits for remembering. Also, a confident attitude and enthusiasm covers a multitude of system-knowledge deficiencies.

The big downside was that, because of my inexperience with the rules, I spent a little too long teaching the rules and providing background, and was slow running the first combat. It was half-way through the session when we wrapped that first fight, and that meant we had two left to go, plus all the connective tissue ((Honest to god, that’s what they call the bits of roleplaying and investigation and stuff that moves you from one set-piece fight to the next in the game.)) of the investigation and roleplaying. We took a short break ((Not entirely to give myself time to think about this, but it was a factor.)), and when we reconvened, I offered them a choice: we could jump straight to the climactic fight, and narrate the stuff in between, or we could play through the other stuff to show how the rules handled non-fighting things, and narrate the combats. Either way, I promised, I’d make sure they got a whole, engaging story out of it.

They chose to play through the non-combat stuff to get a taste for how that worked. So, they got to interview people, and to spring traps, find out about the Chi War, and so on. At various points – like during the fights – I’d ask the players to describe something cool that the character was doing to help out. That’s how we settled the climactic battle, and then we narrated an epilogue, where the players decided the characters had been thrown through time back to the 1850 juncture. I claimed the last bit of narration for myself, telling them that they regained consciousness to find a wizened old man standing over them, who greeted them with, “Welcome, Dragons. There is much learning to do.” Fade to black.

We all had a blast with it, and I’m really looking forward to release of the final rules.

Firefly RPG

The next night, the GoD host asked me to offer only the Firefly RPG for the session, because they were expecting a lot of people, and Firefly can accommodate nine players for the full crew. I said sure, and had a full table ((Well, I started with a full table, but one of the players wasn’t feeling well and left fairly early.)). I used the same adventure I had created for the Christmas charity game, Followin’ Yonder Star. Different players, and the wonderful complications system of Cortex Plus games, meant that the game went very differently than the previous time I had run it, but the crew was still victorious, and everyone had fun.

Thanks to everyone who came out to play with me at Games on Demand. Thanks also to the hosts and other volunteers who kept things running smoothly. And special thanks to the organizers, who work hard all year to make sure Games on Demand can happen at more and more conventions.

ENnie Awards

I never attend the ENnies, but I always keep an eye on what happens via twitter and other social media. This year, my friends at Evil Hat Productions were the heroes of the show – they won at least a Silver in every one of the eight categories where they were nominated. All the wins are well-deserved, but I was surprised at the sweep – not because I had any doubts about how good the EH products were, but because they were up against some very impressive and daunting competition in every category.

So, congratulations to Evil Hat! And congratulations to all the winners! And nominees!


Hillfolk got some nice awards this year, too. It started by winning the prestigious Diana Jones Award, and then picked up two of the Indie Games Awards for game of the year and best support. Congratulations to Robin D. Laws and Pelgrane Publishing!

Some day, I will convince my group to let me run a Hillfolk season. Some day.

The Dealers’ Hall

GenCon is getting bigger. Over 56,000 attendees this year. The Dealers’ Hall has expanded, too. This year, it had about 20% more floor area, as they opened up another section. Even with this expansion, it felt very crowded. Part of that was the large number of people ((Really?)), and part of that was the hall layout. I noticed, and several other people also commented, that the usual straight-line main avenues that let you cross the hall easily were broken up by the larger islands of big exhibitors or by other twisty detours. It made moving around in the hall quite difficult, especially when you’re working with limited time. I don’t think I saw more than about a third of the entire hall.

Cool Games

I did manage to find some cool gaming stuff. Here’s what I brought home:

  • King of New York – Clint and I got a chance to play this on the way home from the con. It’s got a lot of the same cool stuff that made King of Tokyo such a great game, with some elaborations that change the strategy completely. It’s a ton of fun.
  • Shinobi Wat-aah! – I haven’t had a chance to try this game, yet, but it looked interesting while I was standing in line for King of New York, so I grabbed it. Not sure how well the game play will capture the theme of the game, but I do want to give it a try.
  • Mythos Expeditions – Dangerous journeys and explorations for Trail of Cthulhu? Hell, yes!
  • The Book of Loot and The Shadows of Eldolan – I’m not even running 13th Age, but these looked too neat to pass up.
  • Noteboards – In the absence of Beth Lewis ((I missed you, Beth!)), Cat Tobin upsold me on these again. They’re just so useful! She even showed me the prototype of the 13th Age custom version of the Noteboard. It looks awesome.
  • The Quiet Year – I hadn’t even heard about this one until the Indie Games Awards. Once I had, I went looking for it, and found a neat little bagged version, with the cards, dice, and markers that you need for the game in a little burlap sack. I’ve just started reading it, and I’m dying to give it a try.
  • Carolina Death Crawl – This one, I had heard about, and went looking for it specifically. And I found it. I also later met Jason Morningstar ((Jason Morningstar also gave me candy.)) and told him that I had bought it. He said, “I hope you have fun with it. Well, for certain values of fun.” It looks a little… dark.
  • Dungeon Attack – The one evening I got to play games rather than running them, Jarred trotted out a couple of dice games. The first one wasn’t very good, so I’m not going to mention it. But the second one was Dungeon Attack and we had a lot of fun with it. I meant to go get a copy during the con, but with the difficulty of crossing the hall, I didn’t make it there. So I ordered a copy when I got home.
  • Northern Lights – This is the codename for the section of Delta Green playtest rules that the Arc Dream folks had at the show. I managed score one of the limited number of copies they had at the show for someone in Cell E.

Cool People

I got a few moments with some of my GenCon friends: Amanda and Clark Valentine, Ken Hite, Robin Laws, Cam Banks. I also got to meet Rob Donoghue face to face for ((I think.)) the first time. And of course, Greg Stolze, John Marron, and Shane Ivey were over in the Arc Dream half of our booth.

I missed my chance to game with Saladin Ahmed and Jessica Banks at Games on Demand. The timing just didn’t work out. Next year, I think, we’ll need to schedule something more definitely.



So, that was GenCon this year. It was a ton of fun, though exhausting, as usual.

Now that I’m back, I plan to work through my blogging backlog at one post a day until I’m caught up. Because otherwise, I just seem to keep getting farther behind.

Stay tuned.

Pandemonium: Against the Maggot

I am waaaay behind on the blog. There are five posts that I want to get up before GenCon next week, so things are going to be busy here the next several days. It also means that some of the play reports may be a little sketchier than you’re used to seeing here. That’s a product of both me rushing to get things done and the fact that some significant time has passed since the actual play session.

Sorry about that.

Now, here’s the first post. One down, four to go.

There was a big gap between the first session of Pandemonium and the second ((Thank you, heavy work schedule, and life schedule, and leaky bathroom ceiling, and bronchitis.)). On the one hand, that sucks because it’s easy for games to lose momentum with big gaps in play, especially in the early phases. On the other hand, it gave me some time to build in reasons for the stuff that happened in the previous session so that, when our heroes started investigating what was going on, I’d have stuff for them to find and learn.

First thing I needed to do was decide who the incursives ((“Incursive” is the word that came up during setting creation to describe extra-dimensional beings who have entered Gotham City via a dimensional incursion. It was a nice example of natural development of terminology, so we kept it.)) selling the tech were. Also, what they wanted, and what the tech was.

It was around thisabin-sur time that I found Names: The Story Games Name Project ((This is an absolutely great book for coming up with a bunch of names for games, as you might imagine from the title. I heartily recommend it to gamers and writers.)), and started looking through it for good alien names. There’s a section called Orrakachu that had names with the right sound to them ((Also a table entitled Weird Honorific that’s just awesome.)), so I decided the incursives were from the Orrakachu Hegemony, and started pulling names from those lists. A bit of web searching led me to a picture of Abin Sur from the Green Lantern movie that I liked for the look of the Orrakachu.

As far as the tech goes, I thought it would be interesting to make it three suits of Orrakachu battle armour, so that’s what I did.

The background on the Orrakachu was pretty basic, but I needed at least a little in case the heroes went looking for it ((And they did, so well done me!)). I decided the Orrakachu were controlling, but not necessarily warlike or evil, incursives. Their MO was to come to a new world, destabilize it, and then persuade the controlling powers of the world that they need to join the Hegemony as a junior member, ceding control to the Orrakachu.

I also came up with why they were selling this stuff to Magus the Maggot and his Styxx gang, and why Magus was co-operating with them, but the characters haven’t figured that out, yet, so I’m not talking about that here. You’ll just have to wait to find out when they find out.

So, with the backstory figured out, we were ready to go. When I ((Finally.)) got the players together in a room and we got to play, they started digging into the mystery of the previous session.

One of the cool things they started doing was co-opting elements of the setting, such as one of the dirty cops from last session, into resources for themselves. I love when characters start interacting with the setting they created and using it for their advantage – not only does it help make the world seem more alive and vibrant, but it also gives me tacit permission to use the things from the setting to make their lives interesting ((Which often means “more complicated.”)).

Anyway, they found out the above information about the Orrakachu, and they did some testing of the Orrakachu tech ((Netting them some nice assets, as well as potential new powers if they decide to go that way.)). They even arranged for a meeting with Magus the Maggot to find out what was going on. That’s where things went a little wrong for them.

Sure, Magus was happy to meet with them. He even set up a location in the Catacombs to do so. But Magus was still a little miffed about not getting the tech he paid for, and also not getting back the money he paid for it. Our heroes had both, and didn’t seem at all inclined to give any of it to him. Thus, the best course for him was a nasty ambush.

I played a little dirty with this fight, partly because the fight in the previous session had been deliberately easy so as to let the players get used to their characters and the system. One of the players had created Magus and his gang as part of her background, and some of the stuff she created made me think of the Purple Man‘s abilities, so I re-skinned him for Magus. I re-skinned a couple of other Marvel characters for Styxx enforcers, and gave them all a few assets in place to reflect their preparation for the fight. Then, I opened with Magus breaking down Escher’s control over her telekinesis ((Activating her Uncontrollable limit. I rolled really well for his attempt, and then gave the player the option of rolling a reaction, or letting him activate the limit, for which she would gain a PP. She chose the PP.)), which blasted all the heroes into different corners of the room.

The fight was pretty tough for the heroes, and I seem to recall almost taking out two of the characters ((Well, at least one.)). In the end, Magus and one of his enforcers fled, all his low-level thugs were taken out, and the heroes managed to capture one of the enforcers ((That’s right, isn’t it guys? You caught Sparky?)). So, the heroes were victorious, but it wasn’t an overwhelming win. And the grudges on both sides have a chance to grow.

And just as I’m writing this, I have remembered that I promised to send some e-mail to a couple of players who want to rework their Milestones ((Character creation in MHR is really easy, but it lacks the kind of structure a lot of players expect from an RPG. The trickiest part of character creation is coming up with Milestones, because they have to both suit the character concept and the campaign. So, that means we need to tweak them sometimes.)). That’ll happen tonight, folks. Sorry about the delay.

Anyway, Saturday is the next game. I’m looking forward to it.

Firefly: St. Marcus

Last Friday was the latest session in our Firefly RPG campaign ((Third session overall.)). I promised myself that, this session, I wasn’t going to wait until the last minute to prepare an adventure, so I actually sat down with my Leverage RPG tables ((Seriously, the job creation tables in the Leverage RPG toolkit chapter are great for this. You’ll have to tweak the results a little for the different setting and the fact that (depending on your crew, of course) you don’t want every job to be a caper, but they rock for giving you a basic skeleton to work from.)) the night before and rolled up the basics.

I was a little leery about what I had rolled up, because the centrepiece of the whole thing was another wrongly accused criminal, which we had done the last two sessions. But one of the issues the players created for the campaign was the corruption, lawlessness, and injustice of the ‘Verse ((Especially on the outer planets.)), so I kept the idea, but tweaked the focus a bit to make it play differently, with a different angle on things.

We opened with a little roleplaying, letting each character do some solo stuff ((Which let me bring in Will Yunick, the depot manager that hates the characters, and does his best to make their lives miserable.)) before winding up at Tiny’s, a local watering hole on New Melbourne where Su Jin can always find a game. Once I had them all gathered, I threw in the hook: a rather desperate looking man dressed as a shepherd came through the doors, and immediately started pushing through the crowd towards the back of the bar. When Walter asked if he could help him, the shepherd asked about a back door – information that Su Jin was able to provide. As they walked the shepherd towards the back, a federal marshal showed up and called out to the shepherd to surrender. He ran, and the marshal shot him.

As the story came out, the shepherd, Marcus Garcia, was wanted back on New Kasmir for his part in defrauding a charitable institution that was supposed to be building orphanages, hospitals, and schools in the newly settled communities. He’d made off with a great deal of money, skimmed from the grants provided by the New Kasmir government, and thus the Alliance. The marshal, Judith Lewis, tracked him to New Melbourne after he fled. She took the crime pretty personally, and admittedly may have overreacted when it looked like Garcia might get away again.

Three of the four PCs ((Su Jin was currently being inconspicuous behind he piano.)) attracted enough attention by administering first aid, calling an ambulance, and gossiping ((Yes, it was too gossiping.)) about the marshal with the itchy trigger finger. Marshal Lewis invited them all down to the local police station as material witnesses. There followed a short interview of Domino, Walter, and Price, wherein I did my best to play the marshal as hard but reasonable, and very professional. The different reactions I got from the characters helped me shape her character so that she became a slightly contentious figure among the characters.

After a little more business, letting the characters do some research and prepare the ship for the next leg of the journey ((And spy on Shepherd Garcia as he lay near death in the hospital.)), I brought in Will Yunick, with a big grin on his face, to tell the crew that they’d just picked up a new contract from the Alliance Marshals’ Office – transporting a marshal and her critically injured prisoner to New Kasmir. This wasn’t too far out of their way – the next stop on the regular run was Heaven, and both Heaven and New Kasmir are in the Kalidasa system – so it was all gravy as far as Will was concerned: money, reputation, and a chance to make the crew’s lives difficult.

Price and Jin pretty immediately bugged the cabin Lewis and Garcia would be using, while Walter went to retrieve Lin Shu ((Yep, it’s the same run as last episode, and Lin Shu is going all the way to Deadwood, so she’s still around. I got to have a little fun with her this session, and I hope to bring her in as a more central character before she gets off the boat.)), the other passenger, and let her know their departure time had been moved up and a detour was taking place. I was pretty happy they had come up with the idea to bug the cabin, because it gave me a good opening to provide some of the backstory and let the characters find out what was really going on ((Or so I thought. Turns out they only looked at the cameras a couple of times in play, usually while Lewis was out of the cabin. But anyway.)).

We played through the three-and-a-half days from New Melbourne to New Kasmir ((Despite using the map of the ‘Verse that I have, travel times are still plot-determined. In-game rationale is because of the very complex orbital mechanics of the systems – which makes sense from a real-world perspective – it’s not always the same distance between any two planets or moons.)), mainly to give the characters a chance to do some snooping and dig into what was going on. It allowed for some good scenes between the characters, and it let me bring a few complications into play.

The most telling one turned out to be the Following Ship d8 that showed up. Price had managed a good navigation roll, giving Peregrine a nice, quick course to New Kasmir, and they noticed a ship following pretty much their exact trajectory, though at a distance. This ship really bothered them ((As it should, right? It’s a complication!)), and they seemed to concentrate more on it than on the marshal and the shepherd ((I should probably mention here that the shepherd was confined to a medical bed with a full life-support system in the cabin shared with the marshal, and no one was allowed in that cabin except the two of them.)). This gave me some pause, but I didn’t worry about it too much. Cortex Plus games always provide openings for the GM to introduce new information, usually in the form of complications and/or assets.

So, the crew came up with a cunning plan. Price plotted a high-burn course change, backed by some engine tweaking by Jin, to lose their tail. Just before they made the change, they would ping the ship’s transponder to get some identifying information from it. They had held off on pinging the transponder because they didn’t want to reveal that they were aware of the ship.

The ship following them was The Jade Monkey ((Stolen directly from the core rulebook intro adventure.)), a refitted Viper-class courier still sporting both cannons and warheads. It was registered to a man named Stark, who had some property outside the small town of Dry Well on New Kasmir. Then Price made his course change, and rolled pretty well, but came up with a couple of jinxes.

I used these immediately to break the marshal’s leg. She had to get up to help Garcia, who was having trouble breathing through the hard burn, and, when there was another change of vector, fell with one foot trapped in the undercarriage of the hospital bed, where she had lodged it to help keep her balance.

Why did I do this? It was the opportunity to hint at deeper things going on between the marshal and the shepherd. With the marshal disabled, she had to confide in someone, and she chose Walter. She told him the following things:

  • She had never heard of Stark.
  • She needed someone to come with her after the trial to get her daughter from some unspecified people.
  • She would really prefer to see her daughter before the trial.

The hint of a kidnapped child got everyone motivated. Price and Domino went through the archived recording from the marshal’s cabin, and managed to piece together the following story.

  • Shepherd Marcus Garcia was hounded off New Kasmir in the wake of the embezzlement scandal. He protested his innocence right up to the time he disappeared.
  • Marshal Judith Lewis, who has a very good reputation on New Kasmir, was dispatched to find him and bring him back.
  • Along the way, she became convinced that Garcia was innocent, and then uncovered evidence that Cordelia Tate ((And this was the first time that name came up in the game.)), Minister for Expansion on New Kasmir, was the actual guilty culprit. Her department administered the grants, and she was the one skimming money, while making it look that Garcia, who was in charge of actually putting the money to use, was guilty.
  • When the marshal reported her concerns, Tate had Stark kidnap her daughter, using the eight-year-old as leverage to make sure Lewis actually brought back Garcia.
  • Overcome by guilt at shooting Garcia – whom they both know isn’t going to live long, despite the medical intervention ((If they had gone inwards from New Melbourne to one of the Core planets, he might have had a chance. But they didn’t.)) – she confessed what she had done, and Garcia, knowing he was dead anyway, agreed to plead guilty in order for Lewis’s daughter to be returned.

After a little discussion, the crew decided to use their lead on The Jade Monkey ((About six hours, I said.)) to land at Stark’s place near Dry Well and search it for the kidnapped girl.

The raid was… interesting. I sketched out a quick map of the area, showing the landing strip for Stark’s ship, the barn/hangar, the house, and a smaller shed. The crew split into two groups: Walter and Domino, and Price and Jun. We kept cutting back and forth between the two groups as they went about searching for the girl.

Now, Walter and Domino are both ex-soldier types, good in a fight. Price is really good in a stealth engagement where he can get some surprise on his side, but not that great in a stand-up fight. And Jin’s primary weapon of choice is her gambling savvy. So, while Walter and Domino were mowing down every bad guy they came up against, Price and Jin had a good first round, and then proceeded to get the crap kicked out of them ((Walter: Next time we split up, we each take one of those guys with us. Domino: Yup.)).

In the end, it was more gunplay than had featured in both the previous sessions combined. Both Price and Jin were in pretty bad shape ((Price, at one point, fell off the top of a water tower. But he got better, thanks to GM jinxes and some friends who were generous with plot points.)), the house was on fire, the girl had been rescued from the shed, and they were all back on board Peregrine and in the air before The Jade Monkey hit atmo.

We played through a short epilogue ((It was a little later than I had planned to play that evening. I had cautioned everyone at the start that this one might turn into a two-parter, and Sandy said, “Challenge!” So, I pushed on a little later than intended to keep this to one session.)), where Garcia died, Tate was impeached but managed to avoid any real punishment through money and connections, and Lewis was stripped of her badge and recalled to the Core worlds for sentencing with her daughter. The (mostly) recovered funds were given to the newly renamed St. Marcus Garcia Development Fund ((They’re a mite casual about canonization out on the border.)) to get the orphanages, schools, and hospitals up and running.

The crew picked a name for the episode – St. Marcus – and we called it a night.

So, was this better than the games where I did the prep at the last minute? I think so. Because I was able to take more time to flesh out the various threads of the adventure, it was easier for me to improvise and change things on the fly. I knew how all the pieces fit, so the changes were easier. It also let me focus more on adding colour to scenes, and managing pacing, making this ((As far as I’m concerned.)) the strongest episode I’ve run of this campaign yet.

How much more prep did I actually do? Well, I made my rolls on the Leverage RPG tables, then I did up stats for both Lewis and Garcia as Major GMCs, and stats for Tate and the kidnapped girl ((Her name, if anyone cares, was Jun.)) as Minor GMCs. And I stole some stat blocks I had done previously for random armed goons, which I wound up using for the bad guys at Stark’s place. Then, I jotted about a half-page of ideas for scenes down. So, overall, about an hour’s worth of prep. The main advantage, though, was the chance to sleep on it before the game and think about it through the day. That let me get very comfortable with the basics of the adventure, and it let some interesting ideas percolate up from my subconscious.

In thinking about my future games, it occurs to me that I also now have a small stable of characters that can recur. Most of these are villains that are still above the dirt with grudges against Peregrine‘s crew, so that’s really handy.

I think I need to schedule the next session soon.

Sundog Millionaires: Pirates of the Mollek Nebula, Part Two


Here’s the adventure log for the past session.

We had a bit of an awkward change of characters in the middle of the adventure: Hal’s player wasn’t able to make the previous session, and Jopsi’s player couldn’t make this one. To deal with this, I rather heavy-handedly changed the last moments of the previous session, and said that Jopsi was arrested by station security when he was trying to sneak back to Sundog ((I’ll be giving Chris an extra fate point next session for messing with his character like this.)). As for Hal, I gave his player the option of just joining the group where they were on Kyra’s Wheel or having spent the last session infiltrating the pirates the group was seeking and starting aboard The Shadowed Hand. With visions of Lando Calrissian hiding in Jabba’s retinue at the start of Return of the Jedi, he leaped at the undercover option.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t very good and communicating this stuff to the rest of the group. The gang spent some time debating how to get Jopsi out of jail until I came out and said that I had done it just because the player wasn’t here. And then there was some discussion about whether they should be trying to catch the pirates in a complex sting, or just try and buy the box from them. This went on for a while before I clued in on two things:

  1. The group took my statement about how the pirates totally outgunned them to mean that they could not confront the pirates or else they’d die.
  2. I hadn’t bothered to tell anyone else that Hal was now undercover on the pirate ship, and Hal hadn’t mentioned it.

This is the old, old problem of GM perspective. The GM has more information than the players, and knows how it all fits together. Giving too much information to the players can ruin their fun – they like to earn their victories, and figure things out in play ((Your mileage, of course, may vary. I’m generalizing here, based on my experience as a player and my player groups.)). So, GMs are parsimonious with information, trying to provide just enough to let the players have fun figuring things out and point them in the right direction. But the information we give the players doesn’t have the same context for them as it does for us – we see the whole elephant, but we’re only letting them feel the trunk.

So, I clarified things a bit. First off, I restated that the pirates totally had the PCs outgunned – in a straight-up, head-on conflict. But no one said that any confrontation had to be a straight-up, head-on conflict. Second, I told Hal’s player to let the others know where he was and what he was doing.

You could see the lights go on behind everyone’s eyes. Within minutes, they had a plan to locate the pirate ship, dock with it, and steal the MacGuffin from under the pirates’ noses.

That’s when things began to rock and roll. Some highlights:

  • Stealth docking with The Shadowed Hand in the middle of a nebula.
  • Slicer battles to keep the fighter bays locked down and the power systems off.
  • Creeping through the dim corridors trying to dodge pirate patrols.
  • Trask igniting his lightsaber for the first time in the game, the blade burning through the piece of rebar he had attached to the hilt to hit people with.
  • Jowkabukk valiantly holding off the pirates so Trask could duel with Jyn Starfell ((I should have written this sooner, because I cannot for the life of me remember is Jyn Starfell was defeated or if he scarpered. I think he scarpered, but I can’t be sure. Erik? You remember?)).
  • Hal deciding to start firing Sundog‘s guns at The Shadowed Hand while they were still connected to each other.
  • The discussion between the players about maybe the best way for Hal and HK-86 to rescue Trask and Jowkabukk would be to blast a huge hole in the hull and then catch them in the Sundog as they were blown out into space ((Which sounded awesome! Note to my players: if you come up with a cool enough plan, no matter how bad an idea it would be in actuality, I will give it at least a chance of success. Think about what the movie scene would look like and, if it makes you go, “Whoah!” then it’s worth a try.))
  • HK-86 showing up in full-on maniac-killer-droid mode, shredding the pirates to rescue the critically injured Jowkabukk.
  • Sundog flying away into the nebula, leaving the crippled Shadowed Hand to the tender mercies of the Imperial cruiser that Hal had called in with a distress signal.

After the escape, the gang decided to open the box to see what the MacGuffin was ((I had told them it was just a MacGuffin, but that I also knew what it was. And it was not Marcellus Wallace’s soul.)). It turned out to be Mace Windu’s lightsaber. This had pretty much the effect that I hoped for – they stared reverently at it for a bit, then locked it back up for delivery to their client ((I had some ideas of what to do if they decided to keep it – consequences are important in my games – but they decided to stay honest. Not that that doesn’t have its own consequences.)).

The next session is tomorrow, and it will involve freeing Jopsi from jail, and possibly taking some revenge on Yan Retwin, the smuggler that sold them out.

Should be fun.

Firefly: Switch

A couple of weeks ago ((I started writing this review much closer to the actual date of play, but then life got in the way, and I’m just getting to finish it now.)) was the second session of our new Firefly RPG campaign. Because of reasons ((Trying to catch up at work, making dinner, and poor organizational skills.)), I wound up starting to prep the game about twenty-five minutes before the players were due to arrive. And then they showed up ten minutes early.

The math on that works out to fifteen minutes of prep time. Now, I was using the same Leverage RPG tables that I had used last session to come up with the adventure framework. That meant that fifteen minutes was enough to get the core problem defined, and a few of the NPCs picked from the archetypes in the book, but not enough to really build scenes or plan anything.

Everyone showed up, and had a nice dinner ((Barbecued pork tenderloin, roasted potatoes and vegetables, and grilled pineapple and pumpkin pie for dessert.)), and then we settled down to play. I started with a little talk about what I had done wrong last session – mainly, not pushing things towards action and conflict – and asked everyone to help me do a better job of moving past the boring stuff to the interesting stuff.

So, here was the basic set-up:

  • The crew were on Albion, picking up cargo and passengers for the Tullymore Run.
  • One of the passengers, Nicholas Tate, was on the run from a businesswoman named Arabella Stanford.
  • Nicholas Tate has been framed. Arabella Stanford thinks he’s carrying confidential data stolen from her business. He’s not.
  • Arabella Stanford has sent Zeke Michaels, her personal off-the-books enforcer, to bring back the data. And also Tate, if feasible.
  •  The Triad are involved somehow that I hadn’t the opportunity to work out yet.

I started with a scene of all the passengers coming on board ((At this point, I realized that I needed to have a passenger not tied in to the plot, both for verisimilitude and to provide a little confusion and potential complications. Thus, I created Lin Shu, who was headed out to Deadwood to be a schoolteacher.)), and turning in their weapons ((Interesting to me is that the crew didn’t search the passengers to see if any were concealing weapons. Then I thought about it for a second, and realized that of course they wouldn’t. They were paying passengers, after all.)). Then, Su Jin said, “This is Albion, right? The place they grow cocoa? Why are we not buying chocolate?” So, I gave her a flashback where she bought a Cocoa d8 asset. I figured I should give the rest of the crew a chance for a flashback, too, to reflect what they’d been doing with their time on Albion before breaking atmo.

Price Jiang wen to visit his parents for dinner, and then paid a courtesy call on Uncle Fung, one of the local bosses for the Jiang Triad. This gave me the opportunity to bring the Triad influence I had  previously rolled buy hadn’t figured out what to do with, as Uncle Fung first praised Price for his work on Heaven, then asked for a favour: bring another Triad operative ((Cousin Martin.)) from Albion to Heaven.

Walter Yu went to visit the local Alliance Marshal’s office, and looked over the various available bounties, saying this was his standard procedure when he came groundside. This, I figured, was as good a way to bring the central issue of the session into play – Walter spotted a poster with Nicholas Tate’s face on it, and the name Alexander Lowe. The bounty was good but not overwhelming, and was being offered privately by Arabella Stanford.

Now, it may seem a little odd that I gave this whole speech about pushing towards the action before play began, and then just ask the players what sort of futzing around they want to do before the story kicks in. And that’s a valid point. I did this for a number of reasons:

  • Having a short, everyday life section of play helps lend some verisimilitude to the narrative. Not every second of person’s life is spent responding to action-movie-style crises, so it makes sense to show the calm before the storm, at least a little bit.
  • It also allows the players to spend a little time rounding out their characters, deciding who they are, and showing the rest of the group. Yeah, that happens in the middle of action scenes, too, but the non-action scenes let the players be more thoughtful and deliberate about it.
  • Mechanically, letting the characters have a chance to make a few rolls helps beef up the story by providing some assets and complications before everything hits the fan. This is especially helpful if you’re a little short on prep for the session.
  • I wanted a little time to think about what other scenes I was going to put in the adventure, and what sorts of drama and action I could pour in.
  • I still didn’t have a clean way to open the door to the adventure for the characters – some reasonable and elegant way for the characters to find out about and involve themselves in what was going on. Fortunately, Walter provided that with his little scene.
  • Su Jin’s player asked for a little side-scene while Peregrine was in port, and it seemed reasonable that I should give the option to the rest of the players.

So, that’s why I did it. And why I’d do it again in similar circumstances.

After the solo scenes, there was a little more character interaction, mostly centred around Cousin Martin meeting the rest of the crew, and Walter deciding to keep the bounty on Tate/Lowe to himself. When things slowed down a bit, I jumped to the lift-off, and a day or so of quiet travel. None of the characters was doing much to push things – they were waiting to see what developed. So, I had a bloodcurdling scream reach the Captain one night shift as she was looking for a snack in the galley.

They all raced ((For varying values of the term “raced.”)) to the source of the scream ((Which necessitated a bit of a discussion of the floorplan of the ship. At least one of the players and I had been searching online to find a good ship layout that we could use for Peregrine, but were stymied by the fact that the Roadrunner-Class Blockade Runners stand on their tails, and are laid out like a rocket ship, rather than the more sea vessel/aircraft layout that pretty much every set of starship deckplans I’ve found on the net assumes. We sketched out a quick division of decks, labeling each one. I’m planning to take some time to create a set of deckplans using Cosmographer. Unfortunately, I suck at art, so that’s gonna take a while.)), and the Captain arrived first to find Lin Shu screaming about a ghost that had attacked her in the dark as she was returning to her cabin from the galley. Some quick work by the Captain let her spot someone wearing a stealth suit lurking in the shadows, and she drew her pistol and ordered him ((Or her.)) to surrender. The figure decided to rush her, and wound up with a bullet in the eye.

The body was revealed to be Zeke Michaels, and he had a small pistol and a pouch containing a hypo spray and a selection of coloured liquids on his belt. Upon seeing this, Walter came clean about the bounty on Tate/Lowe, and the crew started interviewing folks and searching their cabins. They came to the conclusion that Lin Shu was not involved in the mess, that Michaels was looking to take Tate/Lowe out non-lethally, and they found Tate/Lowe’s locked cortex tablet hidden in one of the air ducts. Price did his best to crack the encryption on the tablet, but all managed to do was load a worm into Peregrine’s ship network.

Interviewing Tate/Lowe got him to explain his situation – framed for datatheft, on the run from Arabella Stanford, his life destroyed. He gave Price the code to unlock the tablet, and played them a message he had received from someone who looked kind of like him apologizing for framing him and telling him to start running. This convinced pretty much everyone that his story was true ((I had toyed with the idea of flipping things as a twist, so that he was actually guilty and using the story to get the crew on his side, but we were nearing the end of the evening, and I still had some things I needed to happen to wrap up the session. So, as far as I know, he was telling the truth.)) ((Sandy said as I was thinking about this, “So much for making the game episodic. This one’s going to take another session.” That sounded like a challenge to me, so I was determined to wrap up in one session.)).

All this time, I’d been putting about every other jinx into an unknown complication I was tracking on the big board, marked with a question mark and a die type so that the players knew it was there and growing, but not what it was. This was my solution for having Michaels’s partners show up in their ship to retrieve Michaels and Tate/Lowe. I figured that, if the characters checked for other ships in the area, they’d find it, and the die size at that time would be a surprise complication. And if it reached a d12, then the pursuing ship would get a sneak attack on Peregrine.

Well, no one even so much as looked out a window, so it reached d12, and I added the complication Peregrine Disabled d12 to the table. This got everyone moving pretty sharpish.

The scramble to get away was pretty impressive. Everyone pulled together to get the engines turning and the hull patched ((The Green Livin’ distinction came in handy here, with it’s Organic Life Support trigger.)), and to keep the ship from being hit again or boarded. Once the engines were back up, the rest was pretty much a foregone conclusion – Peregrine is fast, and Price is a pretty hot pilot. They left their pursuers in the (space) dust.

We wrapped up loose ends with Cousin Martin saying that Uncle Fung had use for someone with Tate’s skills ((Whatever they were. I dunno. I hadn’t had him do anything special or clever, but I wanted his story wrapped up without a lot of other futzing around. Now, I can bring him back as an expert on whatever I need in a future episode.)), and had an identity all ready for him to assume on New Melbourne.

The last order of business for the evening was picking a name for the episode – obviously, they went with Switch – and going over character and ship advancement once again.

We’ve got our third session scheduled for this Friday, and I plan to actually prep the session a couple of days in advance. It’ll probably carry on this run, New Melbourne to Heaven to Deadwood, and we’ll see if I can’t work Lin Shu into it somehow.

Until then, keep flyin’!

Pandemonium: Gun Bust

Last Friday was our first session of my new Marvel Heroic Roleplaying campaign, Pandemonium. We had previously done a setting creation session, and a character creation session, and now we were finally getting to play.

In between the completion of the character creation session and the actual play session, there was a fair bit of work getting the characters finished and tweaked, and getting the setting bible finished ((If you want a copy of the final setting bible, you can download it here.)). I am really pretty pleased with the way the setting and characters turned out. And I’m especially pleased that we got the feedback loop going. You know what I’m talking about – ideas from the setting inform the characters, and the development of the characters fleshed out the setting.

You’ll notice that, in addition to the actual setting elements, I’ve added a few extra sections to the bible:

  • Milestones. These are simultaneously one of the coolest and one of the slipperiest elements of the game. Using them is absolutely great in helping characters bring up the issues that they are most interested in during play, but coming up with good Milestones is tricky. So, I created a couple specific to the setting, and stole several others from various published MHR products, tweaking them as necessary. The plan was that the players could either pick from the list or use the ones in the bible for inspiration ((They wound up doing both, so score.)).
  • Experience. Unlike most other RPGs, experience in MHR is best spent, not in “leveling up” your character, but in unlocking various campaign resources ((In my opinion, of course, which I will defend. First, the source material doesn’t generally have the heroes getting stronger, or faster, or whatever – the heroes change, but mainly they weave themselves more into the world, learn more, make contacts, etc., rather than leveling up. Second, bigger numbers on your sheet don’t mean the same thing in this game as they do in other RGGs – the way the balance works in play, there’s just not the huge benefit to big numbers that you see in, say, D&D. Third, it’s just more interesting to have your character be owed a favour by a pandimensional deity than to go from Flight d6 to Flight d8.)) ((That was a really long footnote. There may be a whole blog post lurking in there. Have to think about that.)). This section spells out how to spend experience points, including listing an assortment of campaign resources at various levels of expense and utility for characters to spend their XP on.
  • Pushes, Stunts, Resources, and Assets. One of the things that I had a lot of trouble keeping straight in my head during the Civil War game was the differences between all the ways you could get an extra die to roll in your die pool. I wound up playing very fast and loose with it, and that really contributed to the power-bloat that caused me problems in the game. So, this campaign, I spelled things out so we were all ((Except there were a couple of times in the session that I couldn’t remember how one of them worked – whether it lasted for a single action or for the scene – and just glossed over it because I didn’t want to take the time to look it up. But I can brush up on that before the next session.)) on the same page with how these things worked. I also added the idea of Flashbacks, stolen from the Firefly RPG, to allow the characters to fill in some backstory in order to boost the die they get for what they’re doing.

Eventually, I’m going to get this stuff up on a wiki, but at least I got it out to the players in time for them to read it before the game.

Anyway, when people showed up, I spent some time running through the basics of the mechanics for the game. Once that was done, I dropped them right into the action scene.

With the time spent at the start of the game talking rules ((Two of the players were veterans of the Civil War game, and the other two hadn’t played since I had run the playtest when the game was first released. The fact that I had been doing some things wrong in Civil War meant that everyone – including me – needed to be taught or retaught the rules.)), and the fact that the initial session of a new game is always going to be slow as people learn the system, I picked a very simple first action scene. They had found out about a weapons buy by the Styx, a local street gang, at a warehouse in the Narrows. A group of Styx gang members were meeting some mysterious weapons sellers, with local corrupt cops providing security.

To help learn about the way that Resources and Assets work, I told the characters that, though they were at the warehouse and the buy was about to go down, they each had a chance to set something up retroactively. So, Warlock conjured a ring of tiny watcher lights to keep an eye on the warehouse, Escher put together a pouchful of sleep gas bombs, Artemis ((Who decided she had infiltrated the warehouse while the rest of the heroes were outside.)) sealed up the main doors with her telekinesis, and Inquisitor wired some nightvision goggles into his helmet. Once that was done, I explained how the turn sequence worked, and let them choose who was going to start.

Opposition-wise, I had put together simple stat blocks for the gang members and the police. There were five in the gang mob, and two mobs of three cops each. For the sellers, I used the Kree soldier stat blocks from the Annihilation event book ((I am so glad that I at least got the .pdf of this book before the line ended. It’s a brilliant book, with lots of useful stats and some great new pieces of rules, like vehicles, timed actions, and racial power sets.)), and threw in the Kree Captain as a boss. Now, I didn’t describe the sellers as Kree ((In fact, I really didn’t describe them much at all, except to say, “Yeah, you can tell by looking at them that they’re not from around here.” If they are interesting enough for the characters to pursue, I’ll have to come up with some details.)), but people could see the stat blocks I was looking at, so I explained that I was just looting the stats, not the details.

I also added a short list of things that I could spend Doom Pool dice on, ranging from reinforcements for the various factions to an explosive dimensional breach occurring. This was to make the Doom Pool more threatening to the players, which in turn increases the tension of the action, and seemingly raises the stakes of what’s going on. Also, it lets me spring some cool stuff on the heroes.

The heroes sprang into action and, through good planning and being awesome ((As well as through the fact that I deliberately created fairly easy opposition for them.)), they managed to triumph. All the cops were taken out – including the reinforcements that got called in, the gang members were all mind controlled, and the boss seller got chased back to his home dimension. Pretty much right at the moment the warehouse collapsed into the water. Everyone scrambled for safety at that point, though Artemis took the time to try and snag the bag of money they gang had brought to the buy ((She succeeded, by the way.)).

We wrapped the evening up at that point. I went over the XP stuff again, because it’s easy to forget to track such things during the game. Overall, I was really quite pleased with how quickly everyone got into the swing of the game. Not just the way they picked up how to build dice pools but, more importantly, how to do crazy, cool, awesome stuff – stuff that you’d see in a comic book or action movie – and use the system to support that. So, kudos to my players for that.

I sent them e-mail a few days later, asking them to think about what loose ends from the first session – or from the setting bible in general – they want to pursue. That’ll give me some direction for building the next session’s adventure.

Next session is in about two weeks. I’m really looking forward to it.