Thursday, January 19, 2017

Blam Blam Epigram: Playing Feng Shui 2 (Part One: System)

CITY STATE ON FIRE
I backed the Feng Shui 2 Kickstarter-- full disclosure. Why? Well back in the day I dug Shadowfist but had already invested in too many CCGs. I skipped it despite the amazing backstory. Instead I flipped through other people’s cards to piece that together. So when Daedalus Entertainment’s full-color Feng Shui rpg arrived, I bought it immediately. Its reality war concept appeal to me. I also liked how Feng Shui used the archetypes to sell the setting. The game offered new approaches to combat. Laws’ discussion of mooks and set-piece fights changed my GMing.

But I never actually ran Feng Shui. We were too wrapped up in GURPS, Storyteller, and Champions. But FS stuck in my head. Cut forward to 2014 and a promised new edition. I backed for the hardcover and a few choice options. I wanted to see the original odd system married to a more modern game design approach. Feng Shui 2 was probably the Kickstarter game I burned hottest for. But somewhere between the time I backed it and I actually got a copy in the mail, my interest shifted. Now I wasn’t sure I could get a campaign out of Feng Shui. Our group’s devotion to long-play also meant f2f test drives weren’t a realistic option.

But running the Thursday night TGIT online series for The Gauntlet Hangouts has opened new options. I’ve been able to get my “boughten & unplayed” rpgs to the table. Spoiler: while it looks like I’m showcasing a wide assortment, I’m actually working through my backlog.

I’ve just finished up two sessions of Feng Shui 2, which I recorded. I ran from the scenario included in the core book: “Shadow of the Future of the Apes.” So there’s spoilers in there. If you like RPG Actual Play, you can check those out here (Session One & Session Two)

WHERE TO BEGIN?
So Feng Shui 2.

It’s a good game. The book looks awesome; it’s well laid out and gorgeously illustrated. It moves you quickly through the rules in a breezy way. The designer’s voice echoes on every page. You’ll find some character to go gaga over. Feng Shui 2 has the massive list of them—each with different powers and a striking picture.

If I’d gotten a copy of this 10-15 years ago, I’d have gone nuts over it.

Today, it’s not exactly what I want. Feng Shui 2 has a reason for its approach: a stunt-descriptive number-crunchy action game. But some of its mechanics and approach doesn’t work with how I play these days. Let me start with the mechanics.

DOES THE RESOLUTION PASS?
Feng Shui 2 has deceptively simple rules. Resolution’s based on a roll + single value vs. static target number. Your margin of success impacts the result. Classic. You only have five “stats”: Defense, Toughness, Speed, an Attack value, and “Fortune,” fate/power resource number. That last one’s given different names depending on the character type (Chi, Genome, Magic, etc). Weapons only have three values- damage, reload, and concealment. Some characters have skills, mostly for out of combat bits. But these are sparse. One archetype has eight and two have five. Most have two. Even the biggest character skill lists consists mostly of different trivias (“Info”).

Shticks complement the minimal stats and skills. They’re the feats/powers/talents that give each character flavor. Each archetype has five or six of these. But even those don’t have dense mechanics. They mostly offer triggered effects, bonuses, or situational options. It’s all pretty minimal. Seems like a clean, clear approach. I like a simple character sheet.
But let me swing back to that that resolution roll. It isn’t simple one.

When you make a Task Check, you take your AV (Action Value) and roll 2d6. The first d6 is your positive number and the second’s your negative. Subtract the second from the first. Generally this die roll will range from +5 to -5. That’s called The Swerve. You add the Swerve to your AV.

But remember that if you roll a “6” on either die, it explodes. Roll again for that die and add it. This can keep going. So while you’re usually going to end up with a zero, it can flail wildly in either direction. I’ve had players who disliked the swingy-ness of Fate dice. They’d flip over this.

Now also don’t forget that if you roll doubles, the final result’s effect is amped up (for better or worse). That’s mostly color in the fiction, but can be confusing. When I explained that to the players they mixed up doubles and exploding dice in the heat of play. They also wanted a concrete sense of what doubles actually meant.

Players can mitigate the Swerve a little. You can spend your Fortune one to add a one die, +1d6 positive, to any check made. You can do that after a roll. This doesn’t explode, so you’d better remember that switch. Also, you can spend a Fortune to add a d6 to your Defense value against an attack. But this time you have to do that before opponent rolls.

ON TO THE TURNS
Each combat breaks down into Sequences and the Shots that make up that sequence. Imagine that each shot is a tic of time. You roll Initiative at the start of each sequence: d6 + Speed. That’s probably going to fall in the 9-12 range. That number’s the “shot count” you get your first action. The GM tracks named baddies individually and mooks as a group. Feng Shui suggests using a visual for this, the Shot Clock. The Kickstarter had a nice laminated one, but you can make your own. I suspect you could get the same effect online with Roll20’s images and tokens.

That’s important because you have to track and shift characters on that clock throughout the sequence. When you perform an action, you reduce your initiative by the number of shots it takes. That’s usually 3. Three shot actions include attacking, picking things up, reloading, a running sprint. A few actions have different costs—performing an active defense only costs one shot and increases your defense by three for that attack. That cost pushes your next action back, making it a hard choice.

But those mechanics and counts change up as you get to the end of the sequence. On shots 2 and 1, characters may take actions that cost up to 3 shots even though there aren’t enough shots left. There’s no penalty for this, and the unaccounted-for shot cost is not carried over to the next sequence. Actions with a shot cost higher than 3, however, do carry over. If you use an interrupt—like defend-- during the last three shots, it reduces your initiative during the next sequence.

When you hit that next sequence, everyone rolls initiative again and you reset the shot clock. Some effects carry across sequences. If a combat condition lasts a “keyframe,” that means it stays until the same count on the next sequence. Luckily you can only have one of these effects on at a time. The book suggests that fights shouldn’t last more than three sequences. If you go that full distance, you’re looking at 9-12 actions per character in a fight.
I used an app to handle this when I ran. I’ll come back to that.

BUSTING HEADS
To hit someone you roll attack AV versus the target’s defense. If you beat that, you add that margin of success (Outcome) to your attack damage. That total’s called the Smackdown. But the target then subtracts their Toughness from that and takes the remainder as Wounds. Side note: if you want to hit someone and do something else (i.e. shooting and catching a falling idol) you can either declare it after if your Outcome’s 4+ OR declare it before and add 2 to target’s Defense.

Combat Process: calculate final roll, add AV, subtract Defense, subtract Toughness, subtract remainder from Wounds.

Characters have a bunch of Wounds. When you hit 25 wounds you’re impaired and subtract 1 from AVs. At 30+ subtract -2 from AVs. If you hit more than 35 Wounds, they start making “Up Checks” to seeing if you stay standing. The damage track on the sheets goes up to 60 but characters will be out by that point. On the NPC side, you’ll usually hit Enemies in one of three classes. Mooks go down in one hit; named baddies can take damage like the PCs and go down at 35 Wounds; Bosses can take 50 Wounds before checking if they drop.

Let me run those numbers on a named foe. Let’s assume a fairly average successful roll gives an outcome of +1. Let’s say the damage value of the attack is a 9. That’s higher than a pistol, but seems good when I look through the character sheets. So our total Smackdown will be a ten. But our target will then subtract their Toughness from that. Let’s say that’s pretty low-average, so a five. That means with this average check, the attacker does 5 points of damage.

That means, reading things straight, we’re going to need 7 successful attacks to take down that opponent. The sample fights in the book have one named baddie per PC, plus a number of mooks equal to the number of PCs. Let’s leave the mooks out. Some characters have powers that can easily dispense with them in a single action.

On paper that’s a lot of successful hits. A lot of resolutions and calculations. But it characters stats will swing this in different directions, raising the Smackdown. But not by that much. All four of the PCs I ran for fell into this range. Of course you then also have the combat Shticks, but at least among our group they more added effects than pushed this up much. Players can spend a single Fortune point on a check, even after the roll. That adds 1-6 to that final results, but costs a limited resource that often powers their other abilities. You can attack multiple foes with a single attack, subtracting the number of targets from your roll. That reduces your chance of success and your overall damage. Great for killing mooks, much more risky for other foes.

And the dice are swingy as I mentioned above. So a few bad rolls can drag this out and a few good rolls can cut this time. If the GM has the big rolls, they can seriously dish out damage. Bottom line: the fights can take a while, chipping away at opponents’ health. That’s classic for a lot of games, so nothing inherently wrong with that. It just feels dragged out compared to what I’m comfortable with.

WHAT’S THE PLAY?
What Feng Shui 2 offers is a game with a different tactical space. We don’t measure space really—the book only mentions distances in a couple of places. Instead we track time and moments. That’s combined with some number processing which you can affect in few ways. You don’t have a whole suite of options, but you have some choices. On top of that is the idea of big, dramatic narration. But you’d better hold off that narration until you see what you rolled.

In some ways it reminds me most of 13th Age mechanically, though with a more complicated initiative system. I can imagine FS2 working for a lot of groups. And if I’d gotten this book in 2000, I’d probably have run it hard and heavy. But today it didn’t fit with the kinds of games I want to run/play.

This is running a little long, so I’m going to split this into two parts. Next post I’ll talk about running online, using the app, things that I loved, things that bugged, and how I’d try to do a Feng Shui game. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Season Opener: WWW RPG (and the Hooded Luchadore)

BROADCASTING LIVE FROM GAUNTLET CITY
I posted earlier about our new World Wide Wrestling rpg promotion for The Gauntlet Hangouts. A year ago if you’d asked me if I’d ever run a wrestling game (or even watch wrestling), I’d have laughed. But WWW grabbed me and Sunday’s first session confirmed it. It’s a game about different levels of drama: outside the ring storylines and inside the ring collaborative narration. We’ve only just begun, so we don’t see much of the former, but I hope to have that on deck for session two. We’ll have four returning wrestlers and 1-2 new ones. 

We recorded our game, and you can that check out below. The actual wrestling play begins about minute :58. The first hour’s given over to character creation, answering questions, and developing the “Heat Map.” That diagrams the relationships between the wrestlers. You can check my notes and the map here. It’s one of my favorite parts of the game. I love how a coherent picture emerges from the diverse questions. If you’re curious about how PbtA style playbook questions create a world, you might watch just that part. 

Also, The Hooded Luchadore weighed in on that first show. I don’t know if I agree entirely with his analysis, but it’s nice to see Gauntlet League Wrestling get some attention. Also he says sweet too much. 
I've created a playlist if you want to follow these videos (I don't want to post them all on the blog. 

GLW is part of the Gauntlet Hangouts which is in turn part of The Gauntlet Podcast community. You can check out their Patreon here. They have a G+ community here.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Play Anything: Other Side of the Screen in 2016

In 2016 I managed to play (not GM) more sessions in a single year than I have in at least a decade. I played more different games than I ever have in a year. I had 39 sessions spread over 21 games. Most offered solid experiences. At least one I have absolutely no memory of. I had the most sessions with Rolemaster (nine). It could/should have been more, but everyone’s schedules kept colliding. I present my list below, followed by some “awards” for the year.

In alphabetical order:
  • 1%er: The Outlaw Motorcycle Game
  • Belly of the Beast (Playtest Version)
  • Dungeon World
  • Godbound: A Game of Divine Heroes
  • Golden Sky Stories
  • High Strung
  • ICONS Assembled
  • InSpectres
  • Lovecraft Academy (Playtest Version)
  • Masks
  • Monster of the Week
  • Ninja Burger
  • Rolemaster
  • The Shab al-Hiri Roach at Hogwarts
  • The Sprawl
  • Swords Without Master
  • Touch of Evil (Playtest Version)
  • Tweaks
  • Urban Shadows
  • World Wide Wrestling: The Roleplaying Game
  • The Yellow King RPG (Playtest Version)
Game Where I Was Most Out of Sync with the Other Players at the Start
I had a character concept I thought fit with the setting. But I hadn’t listened well or really thought about the set-up. My guy ended up being incredibly difficult for the GM to hook in and I did no favors with my play. I had a lot of backstory in my head I didn’t get to the table, so I seemed more off than interesting. We fixed that for the second session, but I still feel crappy about that first one.

Game Which Made Me Immediately Order the Hard Cover
I don’t know what I thought this’d be when I agreed to play. Maybe fantasy OSR with a couple of additional feats? Instead our characters had the awesome right out of the gate. Not in a power-gamer way, but more play at a different scale. It gave me most of what I wanted Exalted to be. The book itself compounded that. It has great material and amazing campaign generation tools. I hadn’t checked out Kevin Crawford’s work before. Godbound’s the pinnacle, but it got me to look at Scarlet Heroes, Stars Without Number, and eventually Silent Legions. Godbound’s great and if nothing else, you should download the free copy.

Game Where I Used the X-Card
Rich offhandedly said they used teeth for currency. Nope. Welcome to my nightmares.

Game I Had Most Head Canon About
I dug this game about garage bands trying to make good. In particular I liked my character. We had a pushy player in session one, but I finally got some serious spotlight in session two. It took us a long time to grok the mechanics, and even by the end I don’t think we had it completely right. I’d like to go back and maybe tweak this to how I had it in my head. A travelling band game’s one of my “White Whale” RPGs.

Game That Left Me Hungriest for More
Touch of Evil
This collaborative horror rpg has a weird and wonderful scene-framing structure. You move through stages with different structural effects and limitations in each. The designer said it needed several sessions to work. I can see that. You move along a road with branching choices. We only managed the first several steps.

Game I Thought I’d Hate, but Then Dug
I’ve no desire to watch Sons of Anarchy. It has no appeal; the romanticizing bugs me. Even if things go bad for the characters, it offers more gloss than cautionary tale. But that’s my own hang up and tastes. I signed up for this because I wanted to play more Gauntlet City Limits (see below). Despite my reservations, I enjoyed both sessions. I loved the other players’ choices and moves. It had a great PC dynamic, but beyond that the system clicked. That surprised me.

Game Which Ended Up Being Very Different Than I Expected
When I read The Sprawl, I got in my head a vision of a highly abstract mission game. Any particular scene resolved with a single roll. An operation would be a series of narrated obstacles. A single check settled any combat. Don’t ask me why I thought that. When we actually sat down to play I had a moment of cognitive dissonance. The Sprawl is abstract, in the PbtA mode. But it isn’t like- I don’t know- Kingdom or something. I enjoyed the sessions but it weirded me out a little. How could I so misread based on expectations. I went back and found that yes, The Sprawl is more granular than my imagined version. I want to run it now so I can see exactly how it works under the hood.

Game Where I One-Hit the Big Bad
Rolemaster
Let me tell you about my character. [insert long-winded description]. And then I rolled open-ended twice on the Large Creature Critical Table in the Magic Weapon Column. I got a 250+ and blew the giant sorcerous lobster apart!

Game with Best Action Sequence
I can’t really do it justice. But essentially our stealth food-delivery agents got called in to drop off an order in the middle of Die Hard. Awesome office-themed carnage.

Game That Wasn’t My Cup of Tea
Not sure exactly why. We had a couple of players I enjoyed and would play with again. But we also had one who kind of didn’t get it. And had the X-Card been on the table, I would have hit it a couple of times. The play felt fitful; stops and starts that didn’t hold together for me. I know many smart people dig this so I want to give it another try. Does my reaction come more from that session or the game itself?

Game with Most Engaged and Active Play
I played this at GoD Gen Con. Every moment I felt energized and excited to see what came next. Great group who did a superb job of playing off one another. I hope I gave a good impression of myself. I had such a good time I fear I jumped in too often. But that may be my usual social anxiety. Anyway, a fun game with a satisfying story arc.

Game Made of Joy
I’d been wanting to try this out, but I hadn’t looked closely at what you actually did in play. Our role as animal spirits in a rural Japanese town surprised me. As did the conflict resolution approach. But the session sucked me in. We had an enthusiastic GM who kept things moving. It offered a great last game before we headed out from Origins on that Sunday. I’m still thinking about how to do a Harvest Moon hack for this.

Bonus: Cool Idea
Gauntlet City Limits
Rich Rogers created a “shared universe” city for his Tuesday night online games for The Gauntlet. Players in any session make up a neighborhood, building it up piece by piece. He’s run a bunch of games in this setting: ICONS, InSpectres, Don’t Rest Your Head, Cat, and more. It’s a smart approach that makes use of the medium. You have an episodic structure where players can drop in and out. But there’s a reward for those who play several games. They pick up on the references and connections. They can also bring in elements of their created neighborhood. A good thing that he’s continuing in 2017.

Any awesome, ambiguous, or absurd games you played in 2016?

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Gauntlet League Wrestling: Road to the PPV

CUT A PROMO
The gaming I’m most excited about is Gauntlet League Wrestling. I’ve mentioned World Wide Wrestling on the blog before. I picked it as my favorite game of the year in 2016. And that’s from someone who never cared for wrestling growing up. But it’s a tremendously fun rpg. It took one session at Origins to hook me.

Because I dug it so much, I wanted to set up a full season campaign online. I decided to do that as part of the Gauntlet Hangouts. I’m doing eight sessions, culminating in a PPV event. I wasn’t sure if the Sunday morning slot would work, but we’ve got all the sessions filled. We have a dozen different players over eight six-person games. That means we’ll get an awesome mix of wrestlers and stories. I only hope I can do it justice.

I need to thank Joe Zantek for giving me some advice when I first started thinking about this.

GAME OPTIONS
We’re using all the WWW gimmick playbooks available right now. That’s twenty-five options. To make it easier, I assembled a one-page listing with their blurb descriptions. I marked those from * to *** for their challenge at the table. (You can check that out here). I also put together a quick cheat-sheet, based on things I picked up after a couple of plays. It’s incomplete. For example, I didn’t have space to get into the Announcer rules. I’d appreciate any feedback from WWW vets.

Besides the new wrestlers, we’ll be using a couple of options from WWW: International Incident. They’re pretty simple. The first is The Hunt Protocol.
“Ignore the Advance option “gain +1 to a stat.” Instead, if a player wishes to raise one of their wrestler’s stats, they need to use “take a Move from another Gimmick” to find an appropriate Move. Each Stat has multiple Moves that raise it by +1 distributed amongst the Gimmicks; this way there’s some specific flavor built into the decision that can impact the wrestler’s concept.”
That’s a cool idea and I like how it has you look over other playbooks. As the Creative, I’ll also be using the new options for match types and audiences (Deathmatch, Indie, etc). They’re nice arrows to have in my quiver of Creative moves. I’m not using the Mythic Moments option, but only because I’m already complicating things.

But the big idea I’m using from International Incident is that promotion have Tags & Troubles. These show the promotion’s character and give inspiration for moves during play. The book has some great suggestions. Storyline events can change these elements during play. I dig that the “Over” wrestler gets a chance to change up those tags at the start of a session.

OUR PROMOTION
Gauntlet League Wrestling has gone through several transitions and has multiple smaller local branches (GLW: St. Pete, GLW: Houston).  The promotion’s just coming off a big shake-up, with injuries and incidents shifting the roster. To know more about the current state of things, you can check out The Hooded Luchadore’s recent fan video talking about the last PPV. He names names and doles out rumors.

TAGS: Cable Deal, Large War Chest
TROUBLES: Chaotic Writers’ Room, Shadowy Masters
BELTS: Tag Team, Demolition Master (The DM Championship), and the big one: The Gauntlet which is given to the MC: Master of Conquest.

ON THE ROAD
I’m super stoked about this. Despite being a wrestling newb, I’ve loved every WWW game I’ve been part of. I’m looking forward to running for vets and new players. I plan to record sessions and maybe do highlight video summaries. Or I could just post the Hooded Luchadore’s updates. 

WRESTLE ALL THE THINGS!
CONQUER ALL THE ARENAS!
SEIZE THE GAUNTLET!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Silent Legions: Doctor Explosiones vs. The Mad Painter

I ran two sessions of Silent Legions as my last game of 2016. That’s Kevin Crawford’s OSR Loftcraftian toolbox game. It has a simple system, mostly the same one powering many of his other releases (like the amazing Godbound). But Silent Legions isn’t just a CoC-style investigation game. Instead it’s a toolbox for creating your own Mythos -- elder gods, aliens, cults, relics, tomes-- and using them in a sandbox horror game. It also isn’t a Cthulhu game, instead it provides amazing random generators to build an experience that feels like one. That means even CoC vets remain uncertain about what they’re facing. Crawford's smart use of walk-throughs for many the many tables keeps the book together.
  
And at the back of Silent Legions there’s a one-page set of Luchadore variant rules. They’re one of several bonus pieces that came from Kickstarter backer requests. These rules make the characters closer to Godbound’s heroes. Heroes can dish out and take serious punishment in combat. They’re still limited on skills, saves, and sanity but they can go toe-to-toe with the baddies.

To run my two sessions for The Gauntlet’s TGIT Hangouts, I worked through all of the book's tools. That splits into two parts. First, generating the Mythos itself. That includes the pantheon, an alien race, an otherworldly place (called Kelipots), a cult, and an alien artifact. The second part, adventure creation, builds on that. Silent Legions is intended to be a sandbox game. You generate a region, a set of locations, and then troubles in those places. Then you can drill down to generate ideas for a specific scenario for the evening.

Below you’ll see what I generated. Most of it’s the raw material I created.  Crawford’s book covers fleshing those details out. But since I’d only be doing two sessions, I just generated the basics for outline and inspiration. At the end I sketch out the my scenario built on this. There’s a ton of unused material. I really only worked with two the nine locations generated. I could easily run a longer weird investigation game from this. You can check all that out below. If you want to see the Actual Play videos, I’ve posted them (Session One, Session Two). If you just want to hear the group’s thoughts about play, we take couple of minutes on that at the end of S2 (2:11:30 time-mark).

MYTHOS CREATION
PANTHEON
Theme: Malevolence and Violence
Five Deities, all connected to the same pantheon. Aspected: The gods each have multiple aspects with different apparent personalities.
  • Ungycrig Kegil: Empty Sky Diviner
  • Sharp-sided W’thoth: Sultan of the Greys
  • Cxidaoath: Bloody Thirsting Serpent
  • Burning Rnyc’mu: Smoking Disease Seer
  • Yaim-Zu: Ravening Feaster of the Wastelands
ALIEN RACE: GLAC’TELEKE
  • Arrived within the past thousand years or so.
  • Not known because some humans work to assiduously clean up evidence.
  • A selection of alien technology kept by human heirs remains.
  • They were colonists seeking to expand their species’ influence.
  • Humans are wondrous and utterly fascinating to them.
  • Some animals are secretly under their control.
  • Their human minions ran wild and slipped their control.
  • They lost influence when those human minions ran wild and slipped their control.
Dark Ways of this Race
  • They prefer to work through human agents and catspaws.
  • They have an advantage through knowledge. They know what others have forgotten.
  • They’re in this region because this location provides ideal spawning material for them.
  • They fear rivals. Some other aliens threaten their destruction
  • They control minions through bribery. The pay is far more than minions can earn.
  • They admire devotion and blind worship by those beneath them.
  • They hate faith and piety, hating human religions and having none themselves.
Physical Form
  • Congery of geometric shapes: roiling mass of infinite tubes. Parasitic eggs, poison, viciousness, slenderness. Weeping sores.
  • Digitigrade arms. Small mouths on hands. Mantis-like head. Flayed skin. Obese torso. Fanged Jaws. Metallic Tentacles.
  • Liquefies its food. Shrill and piping voice. Moves as if to strange dance. Feeds on the Sick and Weak.
  • They inject an enslaving ichor in prey, forcing a Mental Effect save or the victim becomes their helpless thrall.
ALIEN PLACE
Thuagn, The Monstrous Underhaunts
  • An Earthen Swamp which is a Home for Dark Things. What flora there is resembles animals. What fauna there remains is insectile.
  • There is a population here inspired by a twisted version of Pre-Columbian New World (Aztecs, Incas, Mayans). They’re frozen at this technological and cultural level, the very nature of the Kelipah keeping them locked in place.
  • The people only exist in settlements scattered around the region.
  • Despite that rigidity and dwindling populace, they possess a striking technology, indistinguishable from magic. They hide any real magic they possess from strangers.
  • Thuagn is ruled over by an autarch. His reputation keeps any and all in line.
  • As a culture they possess hatred for any who show weakness. The rulers desire more strength and throw themselves into strange rituals and sacrifices to gain the attention of their dark gods. Outsiders bring a panic to the people- they fear their presence may disturb prayers and supplications or even bring the wrath of their gods upon them.
  • Ritual Tribute to the leaders dominates their production.
CULT
Pact of the Illuminated Messenger
  • This cult was founded within the past few decades, being a recent formation. An artist driven by visions of something vast created it. It met resistance from the common folk and rural peoples who dreaded their exactions and sacrifices.
  • The earliest recruits numbered the desperate, wretched, and outcast of the society. They had violated the laws and customs of their communities and families and had been cast out as a result.
  • The original artist who founded the cult was a washed up hotel landscape painter. He wanted to be the next Thomas Kinkaide. Instead he found mystic truths he used to blast the reason of cultists. So far they’ve managed to hide in plain sight as a seemingly harmless group of artists and craftpersons.
  • The cult itself is coldly rational, using the cult’s powers as a mundane tool. They meet in a repurposed school used as an arts center for the region. While the founder once held control, it has become an acephelous group, acting according to alien compulsions. They have cells which share agendas and purposes.
  • The cult wants to create an enormous atrocity or disaster. They have vast amounts of mundane wealth. That’s come from a relentless network of market manipulations for their eerie paintings and crafts. Ebay provides their backbone.
  • The most knowledgeable cultists serve an avatar of their patron, almost uncontrollable in its terrible power and summoned only in dire need. It is summoned through paintings. They have at their disposal a reporter who pretends they’re really just investigating.
ARTIFACT
Mask of the Unchanging Shadow
  • What do the legends say? Nothing. It is completely absent from occult literature. Despite that, it was was part of the defeat of a great eldritch abomination.
  • It was created roughly a thousand years ago by an outer deity for nameless ends. It is said even its creator has no idea why they made it. But it was hurled from its maker in a magical accident.
  • Like all such objects it bears a curse. But this one is more minor and annoying than destructive. It causes users to be especially weak against the undead. But that triggers seemingly at random. It is said that magical spells of dispelling will end the curse’s effects.
  • The item itself is a mask. It is said to be able to soak up a massive amount of harm. But that protection is limited, being only effective against blunt weapons and fists. Still it projects all of the wearer’s body from such harm. The potent magics can only be used once a day, for about an hour. When struck, the body lands with no visible effect. In order to use recharge the item after a use, the bearer must spend their own HP.
SCENARIO CREATION
Region: South New Mexico
THREE URBAN LOCATIONS
Alamagordo
Senseless Violence
The locals can’t seem to get enough of killing each other. The homicide rate is enormous for a site of its size, and the local police seem largely incapable or uninterested in checking the violence. The bloodshed might be largely restricted to a certain class of people or certain criminal groups, with the local cops indifferent to who kills who among them. At other sites, it might be endemic through the population, or even the product of a corrupt police department.
  • Enemies: Police chief-slash-gang boss, Illicit arms supplier, Homicidal criminal warlord, indiscriminate vigilante
  • Friends: Police internal review investigator, Outside government inspector, Local peace campaigner, Local being hunted by killers
  • Schemes: Seize a cache of military weaponry, Get their enemies disarmed by the law, Kill a troublesome politician or cop, Make a near-military assault on an enemy-held neighborhood
  • Secrets: Firearms are stringently regulated for the law-abiding, The gangs are proxy armies for feuding politicians, The cops are just one more gang with restricted turf, The gangs are seeking to seize full control of local government
  • Places: Heavily-trafficked gun shop, Emergency room full of bodies, Constantly-active funeral parlor, Scene of a random drive-by shooting
Carrizozo
Buried Power
A blind and terrible power is buried or otherwise sealed away at the site, and a cult desires to remedy this confinement. The power may be an unnatural wound in the fabric of the world, a gate to a strange Kelipah, or an alien intellect that chafes at its imprisonment. The power has drawn a group determined to liberate it, even if they don’t fully understand their own strange urges, and their efforts may range from physical digging to the enactment of rituals.
  • Enemies: Obsessed archaeologist, Cultist construction company owner, Maddened local occultist, Alien minion of the trapped power
  • Friends: Owner of the land over the power, Rare book collector, Curious geologist, Heir to the family keeping the power sealed
  • Schemes: Physically excavate the entity’s prison, Perform the rite that will break the ancient seals, Arrange the bloody deaths that will awaken the power, Foolishly seek to bind the power to their own purposes
  • Secrets: The power creates a subtle but unnatural effect on the surroundings, The power is sealed by several important objects, The power grants gifts to those who seek to free it, The locals retain legend of the last time the power was free
  • Places: Ancient buried chamber, Park with strangely charged atmosphere, Hidden ritual room, Tightly-secured digging site
Artesia
Crushing Despair
The locals have given up. Whatever the cause, they no longer have any hope for the future, and seek to numb themselves with transient pleasures and destructive distractions. Corruption, crime, loss, and oppression are seen as inevitable facts of life, and they will resist any attempt to persuade them otherwise as merely a cruel attempt at deception.
  • Enemies: Purveyor of chemical distractions, Predatory loan shark, Political machine boss, Heartless industrialist employer
  • Friends: Crusading preacher, Embattled community leader, Successful expatriate returned home, Local determined to break free
  • Schemes: Quash a troublemaking local leader, Spread a profitable addiction among the locals, Shut down a project that risks empowering locals, Discredit a source of hope as a mere trick
  • Secrets: The local elites rely on a crushed populace, The locals were once rich and important but lost it all, Faith and community were ruined by a sequence of betrayals, Constant plans for renewal always disappoint
  • Places: Abandoned church, Decaying crack house, Riotous illegal drinking hole, Street with half the houses empty
THREE RURAL LOCATIONS
Cloudcroft
High End, Gated Community. This is what I focused on.
Massive Ritual
The site is being primed as the location of a truly enormous ritual. Building geometry, street layouts, concentrations of people and industry, and other features of the location are being brought into harmony as part of a tremendous work of occult power. Some rituals may require the entire physical geography be molded, while others might only need the right masses of people enlisted. The resulting effect may be subtle, but its successful execution is bound to result in some sort of terrible summoning, lasting curse on the land, or warped apotheosis for the high priest who enacts the rite.
  • Enemies: Crazed Masonic architect, Occult-wise tycoon, Mayor-cum-high priest, Diabolical performer
  • Friends: Resident displaced for rite, Relative of new cult enthusiast, Engineer concerned over senseless digging, Conspiracy theorist who's right
  • Schemes: Arrange carefully-coordinated local disasters, Seize a local building that's a linchpin of the rite, Destroy a local structure that interferes with the spell, Create a large-scale "celebration" that triggers the magic
  • Secrets: The ritual has already failed with impending dire consequences, The ritual’s preparations cause echoes of eldritch anomalies, The ritual is embedded in part of a public celebration. The ritual masquerades as a performance or public art piece
  • Places: Baffling tangle of streets, Strangely-gutted building, Defiled church, Huge concealed ritual chamber
Weed
Has a Dollar General
Migrant Tensions
The site has recently received an influx of migrants. Some might be looking for better jobs, while others might favor the local climate, low taxes, cheap land, or some other point of allure. For small communities this influx can change the character and culture of the town overnight, provoking fear and anger from locals who see themselves suddenly becoming political, cultural, or racial minorities in their own homes. These tensions can easily provoke antipathy or outright violence.
  • Enemies: Bigoted local reactionary, Colonization-minded migrant leader, Ruthless native social elite, Migrant political machine boss
  • Friends: Resident with ties to both groups, Cooperative group leader, Peacekeeping police chief, Local religious leader
  • Schemes: Migrants seek to take over local government, Natives try to effectively outlaw the migrants' culture, Migrants try to drive out natives from "their" neighborhoods, Natives seek to terrorize the newcomers
  • Secrets: One group considers itself plainly superior to the hick / infidel / one-percenter / atheist / prole others, The migrants have no other real choice of places to go, The natives are being swamped by newcomers, The migrants want to make the place the same as the one they left
  • Places: Newly-built migrant social club, Native-only bar, Old house full of new people, Shop catering to a different language or culture
Orogrande (SR 54)
Kratos Defense & Security, Middle of Nowhere RV Park, Trader Jerrys
Vast Graft
Theft and corruption are a way of life among the site’s leadership. Every ambitious local knows that the fast track to wealth and power is to get a position with the local authorities. These men and women methodically plunder the taxes and government grants they receive, keeping the lion’s share for themselves and passing out smaller tastes to those businesses and people who cooperate with their wishes. Even heinous crimes can be hushed up for a bribe.
  • Enemies: Glitteringly corrupt mayor, Cynical neighborhood alderman, Political machine bagman, Graft-enriched construction company owner
  • Friends: Distressed government accountant, Frustrated tax collector, Suspicious outside investigator, Cheated local business owner
  • Schemes: Loot a charity for personal profit, Cover up the dangerous corners cut in an important local infrastructure building, Buy off or kill a persistent troublemaker, Protect a murderous lackey who makes them money
  • Secrets: The locals feel no outrage over the graft and consider it only normal, The machine steals from one disfavored group in order to finance amenities for another, Local criminals are untouchable as long as they pay "taxes", Most civic construction is somehow dangerous due to malfeasance in building it
  • Places: Crumbling stadium, Impure water purification plant, Building stripped of its interior fittings, Luxuriant government building
THREE ISOLATED LOCATIONS
Sierra Blanca Peak
Located on edge of the Mescalero Reservation
Darkened Door
There is a portal to a Kelipah somewhere at the site, most likely to a particularly unpleasant one. Something may be creeping through the gate, or it may be under the care of a devoted cult, or the portal may be sealed for now but weakening under the effects of time or a cult’s machinations. The Kelipah beyond may not even be miscible with human existence, and whatever comes out is certain to be unwelcome among the locals.
  • Enemies: Escapee from a hellish world, Seal-breaking cult zealot, Local possessed by a will from beyond the gate, Blindly reckless sorcerer
  • Friends: Heir to a seal-guarding family, Local aware of illegal digging, Victim of a Kelipah escapee, Scientist picking up odd readings
  • Schemes: Reach a precious artifact in the Kelipah, Escape from the Kelipah into a delicious world, Widen the door to absorb a building or whole town, Infect local reality with some aspect of the Kelipah beyond the door
  • Secrets: The door is not to a Kelipah but is to a different time or planet, Opening the door will cause great local destruction, The door is accessible only when the stars are right, The door is one-way
  • Places: Mossy overgrown arch in the forest, Abandoned subway tunnel that sometimes isn’t, Alleyway that twists in alien ways, Nexus of cabalistic streets and monuments
Sunspot
Lost town off of the Sacramento canyon
Black Altar
A place of dread holiness is present at the site, a locus for the power of an outer god or other ineffable power. This altar may predate human settlement of the area or it may have been constructed more recently by devout servitors. It forms a place of pilgrimage for the faithful and tends to warp local residents in ways pleasing to its patron deity.
  • Enemies: Demented cult leader, Dream-driven native, Awakened alien high priest, Otherworldly avatar of the deity
  • Friends: Afflicted local resident, Concerned native clergy, Relative of a new cultist, Archaeologist who’s discovered too much
  • Schemes: Destroy a structure that’s sealing away the holy site, Perform a mass ritual around the altar, Recover a removed piece of the altar, Summon an avatar of the patron deity
  • Secrets: The altar has innocently been incorporated into an important building, The faith has infected a local church, The altar is calling cultists from distant places, The altar is changing the natives in subtle ways
  • Places: Ill-litten unnatural cavern, Desolate glade, Hidden conjunction of tunnels, Secret chamber in a major building
Wofford Lookout
Overlooking White Sands Proving Grounds
Disaster Site
The location was the site of a major disaster. A recent calamity can still be felt, while older disasters were so profound as to permanently scar the site. The locals have tried to accommodate to the new conditions, but many find it difficult, and much that was important here was destroyed or damaged in the event. Fires, floods, earthquakes, plagues, hurricanes, or droughts might all have marked the site.
  • Enemies: Religious zealot blaming the sinful, Local official using the disaster as a power-grab excuse, Slum lord housing evacuees, Greedy "collector" of damaged goods and land
  • Friends: Determined aid worker, Local trying to make a new life, Disaster relief official, Wearied medical worker
  • Schemes: Plunder wealth left unguarded by the disaster, Mobilize the unhomed for a dark cause, Blame an unpopular group for the catastrophe, Use the trouble as cover to eliminate existing authorities
  • Secrets: The disaster was man-made, Local elites are stealing the aid, The aid or reconstruction officials are incompetent, There's reason to think the disaster will happen again
  • Places: FEMA camp, Neighborhood scarred by the disaster, Ragged reconstruction site, Ruined monument from before. 
CULTS AND ALIEN RACES
The Iron Society
They serve Cxidaoath, the Bloody Thirsting Serpent. They’re more openly malefic and destructive. They sacrifice and rather than transform or indoctrinate. They’ve adapt bastardized Aztec rituals and use that as a kind of cover for their work. They’re at the root of violence in Almagordo.
Pact of the Illuminated Messenger
Cult in the service of Burning Rnyc’mu, Smoking Disease Seer. The cult described above. Primary antagonist for the first adventure. They’ve made the arrangements in Cloudcroft, building the community that way for their ritual.
Glac’teleke
The alien race mentioned above. They serve Yaim-Zu, Ravening Feaster of the Wastelands. They’ve been infiltrated into this area for generations. The Roswell incident arose from their conflict with their rival alien race. Tied to the incident at the Wofford Lookout.

ADVENTURE TEMPLATE
Default scenes of the Hook, the Introduction, the Investigation, and the Resolution.
Beginning from resolution: A hidden Place contains the key to a Scheme. The Place’s existence and the nature of the key is revealed by the investigations, and the PCs must reach it and obtain the crucial object by overcoming the Enemy’s vigilance and concealment.
Three Investigation
  • The Actor has been killed or kidnapped, and an agent of the Enemy is serving as an impostor to ensure that any inquisitive troublemakers are aimed in the wrong direction. Overcoming a challenge will clue the PCs that something is wrong.
  • The clue is tied up with a local Secret, such that finding it means discovering the Secret and drawing attention from those that don’t want the Secret revealed.
  • A Friend is actively trying to get the clue to the PCs or other related allies, but their attempt is being hindered by the actions of the Enemy or some intrinsic challenge to the exchange.
Hook
A Friend from the site sends word asking for help due to intimations of a Secret or a recent Crime involving them.
Ambush
The PCs have screwed up very badly and angered the wrong Enemy. A small group of professional assassins is stalking the PCs and will strike at the most inconvenient time possible, but are more interested in dropping them all than doing control shots.
Conflict
The Enemy is massing their physical forces to stop the PCs, visibly gathering thugs, cultists, followers, or other agents.

Investigator Challenge
Infiltration: The site is set back with little cover for an approach to it.
Finding an Object: It’s buried beneath a drift of unimportant objects.
Scholar Challenge
Information: Information written in a rare ancient language.
Hidden Fact/Needed Skill: Repair the object that hides a vital clue.
Socialite Challenge
People Want: They want a thing, and someone else stole it from them.
People Fear: They fear their professional negligence will be shown.
Tough Challenges
Hostile: A victim of occult powers transformed into a monster.
Environmental: Toxic dust or residue taints tools or objects within.

MY SCENARIO
OK, so here’s what we’ve got based on those notes:
The Pact of the Illuminated Messenger have been working to craft their plan, a mixture of illumination and madness. Eventually they hope to enact a ritual to spill that madness across the region. To that end they have spent years in a couple of operations. One of those has been the creation of their paintings. They’ve created a regional phenomenon, based on the art of Gabriel Zoido. He’s a Thomas Kinkaide-like figure, the secret master of this particular faction.

Zoido has become a kind of avatar for the infectious madness of his master, Burning Rnyc’mu. He’s become transformed- which has become a problem in some respects. It means that Zoido has become a kind of recluse, still churning out his “masterworks.” These are accessible, lovely, and compelling Southwestern landscapes. They’re super-appealing and have a collectible aspect to them. His Am-Way like network operates to sell and distribute these.

But these paintings conceal something more sinister. Many of them are painted over dangerous works of art: done with special pigments and a vision of the abyss. Then others go through and paint these appealing landscapes upon them. They conceal much but work in some of the original colors and elements. Many of these paintings are actually portraits of what Zoido has become.

In order to do this work however, Zoido’s crew needs artists. They’ve begun to burn through them at an alarming rate. So they’ve turned to kidnapping in some cases and art recruitment in other places. They’ve offered scholarships for low-income art students, they sponsor contests at local schools, and generally cast their net wide.

It was not this net that caught Alana Rubio. Instead one of the cultists spotted Rubio’s talents. She’s a grade-school teacher, but on the weekends goes to local art fairs and shows to do sketches and caricatures. At one of these, a cultist forced on her a Zoido painting, even though she regarded it as trash. She took it home on a lark, hoping to use the frame. The cultists then used the picture to track and kidnap her.

Alana’s father, Arturo Rubio, discovered Alana’s absence. He’s contacted the police and raised a ruckus. In a stupid move, one of the cultists tried to run Arturo off the road—convincing him that something more sinister was afoot. And so through a friend of a friend, he heard about the Luchadores and their skills. He suspect’s he’s being followed or watched—so he surreptitiously goes to the PCs dressing room during their match to leave a note. He then goes to his daughter’s small house.

There he’s ambushed and killed. He’s replaced by one of the Painted Ones, a doppelganger with limited skills and abilities. The cultists are engaged in other activities and will come later to pick up the body. The Painted One’s merely a distraction. He can summon other painted horrors should he need to.

Leads
  • Alana Rubio’s vanishing
  • Arturo Rubio’s efforts
  • The Strange Paintings—one of them standing out as weird. Perhaps the body of Arturo Rubio painted in it?
Next Steps…
  • The Cultist Who Gave Her the Painting: Isaac Huff. Works as a salesperson for the Zoido Galleries.
  • Attack on Arturo Rubio: Police notes. Not taking him too seriously. Semi-corrupt cops. Tracing damaged vehicle back. Able to link it to the Ziodo Arts Center in Alamagordo.
  • Vanishings of Other Artists: Strange pattern in the area.
  • The Zoido Group: Philanthropy
  • The Zoido Workshop: Just outside of Cloudcroft. Chemical evidence.
  • The Cloudcroft Community: Suburban area. The Zoido Estate. Center of the location for the group.
  • Location a tome of unspeakable knowledge: The Sketchbook of Cristóbal de la Cavallería
  • Dominica Barnett, Faithless Reporter and Agent for the Cult
Threats
  • The Painted One and Children’s Painting Nightmares
  • Attack by Rudo and associates, hired anonymously. Street Toughs.
  • Nameless Painting Horror.
  • The Cultists. Zoido as Sorceror. The Avatar of their God.