Thursday, April 30, 2009

Revising Action Cards

So following working on my fifth iteration of the Action Cards system I've started working on how I'd put together a complete set of rules for the system. I also need a better name than that. As I mentioned before, I did decide to add dice to this version of the system-- but exclusively for combat crunch in terms of damage. I also added some profession tracks to help PCs focus their character development, and I revised the magic system to simplify it. Some of that will obviously be optional rules/modules when I write the whole thing up.

So below is just a starter outline.

-reasons for system
-what kind of game (high trust, low detail-- narrative based)
-what it does for a game

-Basic system
-Cards and Resolution
-Character Sheet stuff
-Optional Modules

III.Making a Character
-Assigning results
-Unique Cards
-Skills and Talents
-Other Options

IV.Resolution System
-Basic premise
-Talents and Abilities
-Unique Cards
-Softening Catastrophe
-Narrating and Narrative Control
-The GM's Deck

-Just a variation on basic resolution
-Running Combats

VI.Other Systems
-Drama Points

VII.Optional Systems
-Keyword Styles
-Combat Styles
-Dramatic Systems for Damage
-Crunchier Dice-based Combat
-Equipment, Weapons and Armor
-Magic and Powers
-Powered Abilities
-Profession/Class Tracks
-Dramatic Character Abilities

-General advice and overview
-Handling resolution and debate
-Handling NPCs
-Designing Unique Cards
-Freedom and Control

IX.Example Settings
-Libri Vidicos-- school setting, a version of magic, keyword styles
-Spyworld-- espionage, proactive plan points
-Epic Fantasy-- profession templates, crunchier combat, magic
-Firefly version-- powered abilities, a separate deck for the ship

Wednesday, April 29, 2009


So, a probability question for those of you who know the maths...

I'm trying to work out the probability of the rolling the following, if using d10s.

From a pool of 3d10, rolling two 10's.
From a pool of 4d10, rolling three 10's.
From a pool of 5d10, rolling three 10's.
From a pool of 6d10, rolling four 10's.
From a pool of 7d10, rolling four 10's.

and so on...

I, of course, took Formal Logic and Pre-Calc rather than Statistics in college, so I'm not sure how to do the numbers on this. I assume there's a basic formula somewhere.

It does seem a little odd that I didn't take Stats in college, but at the time I thought I wanted to be a Physicist. That lasted until half-way through Pre-Calc, and my ass being thoroughly kicked. The first and only course I dropped and then retook. And retook because I was convinced I could figure it out-- so the second time around I went to tutoring sessions, read extra books on the topic, and bulled my way through. And got a C-. After that, the liberal arts looked really, really good.

Anyway, I should have taken stats if only because I'm a gamer...but well, bad life choices. Like Anthropology as a Major, but live and learn.

Also, The Flaming Lips cover "Borderline"-- here. And that's why I love them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Campaign Brainstorming: City of Ocean

A couple weeks back I posted the campaign postmortem for my old City of Ocean campaign. That was before my overly long examination of the VTM game. Anyway, a recycling day for my blog posting. For high weirdness, here are my brainstorming notes that I wrote up before I started that game. They're scattershot, stream of consciousness, and lack coherency. However hidden among the various ideas there I found some gems, and it kind of shows how different the game ended up being from some of my original concepts.

I recall being emails by someone who was thinking about running Unknown Armies. I'd posted about the campaign on the forum for that game since I'd borrowed heavily from the setting for what I did. He asked for some advice and how I'd approached my campaign. So I sent him these notes. I never heard back from him and I assume he decided I was insane.

Brainstorming for City of Ocean
Notes About the Building
The building they’re inheriting has been abandoned since 1983, 23 years. Although a number were invited, some not available at the reading. Four chairs are present there. Evidence from the papers or envelopes that originally six were invited. Of the three names not there, at least one was killed outside the building.
The building has a small one floor parking garage below ground. There is an atrium in the central . Office Space (complete with cubicles). Electrical Contractor five years ago. Security firm…security system. Several not attending (eight? Chairs here…three here?). All “property”…actually destroyed; exception one warehouse of materials (garbage cans, desks, etc., actually stolen). Fund for replacement materials. Sophisticated ambient sound system. Basement storage area. Lock boxes. Large safe. Lawyers: if the characters have lawyers or accountants, they will forward the information to them. Evidence of gunfire not cleaned up. Dining room/Ball room. Luxury suites/apartments. More continental rooms. Entry area (lobby: walkway around). Limitations on sale of the property. Area as a Feng Shui location

There are Devil Wrestlers.
“Style” as very important to the ethos
Shrine University, the best East Coast School on the West Coast. Includes Britishisms such as Houses or Colleges. Don’t make it sound like Potter. The Sea Station: the Trench. A rift in the Ocean. Rubbertire fire: sometimes the smoke of it hovers over the city. Mountains and the high places. The suburbs? Forested preservesThe Slimey underside of the City of Ocean

# of actual psychics
Horace-Rabinoff testing
Several Unpleasant families
Children’s’ Book
Forty Footsteps in the Bag of Saints
Pine Razor
Site and Logic
Translated materials (write it, translate it and then back)
Three steps
Not letting one* go (*demon/devil)
Four elements (plus) represented in Ocean City. Consider if that or some other thing…like virtues or characteristics. [motion versus stasis…etc]
Would be good to get away from the classical elemental thing

Question: how much of the Unknown Armies conceit do you want to use. Let us say that we use this fully…then the goal/objective of this within the [“sub-projects”???/”sub-pockets”???] could be the ascending of these people. Families could be aware. Entry from these places through ritualized areas (White Lodge?)

Here’s a point…how does God and the Angels fit into this concept of the archetypes? Is it merely a device to keep us trapped in. Is all of this a kind of game from the Demiurge (or something a lot like him).

Two or three kinds of devils: they lost the world?: would there be a place where they didn’t
The twelve pieces of the Invisible Tree: Multi-accessible
Passage Upwards to be the Adversary
Here would be the joke…to be as God and yet one might simply become the Demiurge, a trapped figure which holds the world in check.
Some Families?
Some Groups?

(Did the PC’s already do something? Consider that ala Persona. With that would be a series of visions about what they did the first time. They can follow that alternative or they can avoid it. The more they move away from those choices presented, the more fallible and thin the precognition becomes. Eventually, they won’t even be anywhere near where they were the last time and the visions will stop entirely. The first several visions should be concrete, clear and specific. That should fade over time.)

Question of reincarnation…what separates these “exalted” , the players, in the “game” (not the RPG, but the metaphorical game in the game) from other people. **Christ, haven’t we already done this before** I fear that I’m retreading over areas I hit before. Certainly we’ve seen this competition in the Thursday night game and the RMSS game. I have a solution for this.

What is the connection between the agents here and the people in their “slivers” of Ocean City? On that point what is the role of the PC? Different patrons or the same? I hate to retread in a really obvious way, but it is also a really fertile set of images…especially if it never resolves who this guys is. [What if he just magically put himself into these lives, these roles?]…a fallen angel, a betrayer, a self-indulgent goof, god? Those are all possibilities.

Crucial conflict ought to rest with our world: control over this place…keys to the Empyrum? A thought I had the other night that may or may not work with this: Our world was once the cross path for these other places…the only way they could get from point X to Y to Z. Then someone invented a way to go from one place to the other without the middle. Lasts for a long time…however, recently (how much?) this has collapsed. I think I’m moving away from this conception of things; however, it might be useful for something else.

Have to make it interesting to keep them compelled. Have to keep in non-linear to keep them on their toes. Have to keep it manageable for myself so that the jumps made make sense. They should be able to draw conclusions from their own mapping of the flow chart.

So our own world as the primary battlefield. That elemental conception? Does it work? Various factions locked in a struggle of corruption. To what end? How do they move between? So what are the positives?

I think the UA concept serves as a useful gauge here: (1) Magical Groups trying to gain ascendancy, (2) People from the Slivers—the great souled ones keeping their reality intact and gain power---trying to stop people from ascending, (3) many of the Devils from a whole ‘nother level of this reality, (5) the Angels and the House of Renunciation trying to play this thing out and keep people in the great trap of the Ascending, (6) The evaders who seek the Invisible Tree—the gnostic tree and the potential it has for getting out of this cycle one way or the other, (7) somebody who is going to do something really bad which most of the others won’t see for the game which they are playing.
What are the Angels in this equation?

God Squad…figures from mythology? Ragnarok? Reborn from the very vapor of things.
OK…these other realms, what the hell are they like? Given that I want to stick with conventional shit (rather than terrestrial shit) that shouldn’t matter for a bit.
Isn’t think about who they are here…illuminati-esque?
Third Book of Enoch: translations

Again…assembling the Body of God. At least one VR session or just a shared dream. Something that gives some insight…loyalties, characters and archetypes. [Typed up last session’s notes…character sheets in envelopes]
Seven: Allen, Allyn, Alan, Alaine, Elaine, Elwyn, Ellen.

Need to plot out the first half-dozen investigations and their motivations. Actually write out scripts to walk over.

Here’s a point:
You need to weigh down, bathe in the grimy, stupid, awful, gutterdrawn mundane details of the everyday experiences and characters.

Only by starting from that point can I/we move on to the Fantastic. Start little…make sure the players are unsure of the reality of things…the WTF factor…

Recognize that there is an upper limit of recognizeness,
Binding so what is the Devil’s story? If they do catch em then what?

Three realms: Colors of Power. The Great Souled.
So what are the propelling circumstances…a variety of episodic moments which point to a larger force/aim?

Asking/forcing people to dream certain things. Drawing the powerful and the psychic, the strange and the susceptible to OC. This place means something great and eternal: God’s Footprint, Lucifer’s Fall, Garden of Eden, Something resonant. Consider where it would have been at the time of the proto-continent. Did Atlantis lie in the sea/ocean beside it?

So what is the point/purpose of the Oceanographic project?

I’ve rambled off the point now.

The idea is that this is a crucial place sensitive to thought, feelings and rumor. They are trying to get people to think, react or believe in certain ways or things in order to affect things. They don’t even necessarily need lots of people, just crucial people—key players in this; that’s why psychics, sensitives and the great souled are important in this.

Consider Sources of Belief:
Music Corporate Training Television Cults Conventional Spirituality Books Advertising
Posters Magazines Comics Newspapers Video Games Movies Sports Self-Help Stuff
Underground Culture Internet PDAs Schools Colleges Textbooks Museums Coffee Houses
PPV Object Design Extension Courses Radio PSAs Junk Mail Comedy Shows/Clubs
e-mails Chain Letters Philosophy
Pets? (Do I mean pets and fads or what?)

Trying to think about the various groups and their goals. Some people may be acting without full knowledge. No, not exactly for this. Consider what I want as the message for this game. Assembling “Adam Rihari”…each has a different book for assembling the eternal.

So we know the building itself is protected. Blood as a bond. That’s why they couldn’t get in.

(Draft of crucial idea) Here is the deal…there are five Ocean Cities…there are pathways and bleed throughs. Right now our world has the central focus. Five worlds:
Frontier Steampunk (Threat is the Gremlins), Exhalted area, Noir City/Barren Realm/Chinese Renaissance, power in their command…several kinds of power.


So we know that the PC’s and some of the bad(?) guys are of the Greatsouled, meaning that they are split over several people. Either that is a form of the Nephilium or it means Angels who have given up their “divinity”. In any case, the previous group fought against mystical forces of all kinds, particularly those which would disturb or damage the sleeping peoples. They died (?) fighting the incursion of the most recent Splinter back in 1983. They were Greatsouled of another “being” other than that of the player characters.

So this is what I imagine. The Scoobies passed away or got turned or something…perhaps one of them accidentally ascended or got taken to the House of Renunciation. The Survivor, the one who can track the Greatsouled, knows who might be. He seals up their building…including a timelock for the proper time on a particularly potent weapon. However, he cannot see what will happen because of the nature of the weapon itself. With that in mind he is loathe to leave too much information. In any case, the group is called together.

Consider how the plot begins. Obviously there are some who want the item, but it has to be given freely. So the group may become involved. There are several track for this. First they can investigate those who contact them and want this thing. Second, they may try to track the Scoobies, who they were and if any of them live. The chain of contact there may lead them on. Third, of course is general strangeness which comes from their contact with this strangeness. Recursive isn’t it?

The battle is about reality. Some people want to control, it by ascending…some people want to get out of it. This is the status quo of things. The reason for having the two forms is to keep a level of confusion going. In and of themselves, these goals are not evil. What is evil is much of the methodology. The big evil…lost and ignored in all of this…is that someone is doing something which will spell the end of all existence/release a pretty horrific evil. The basic idea is this (I will vary this depending on how I want to integrate the demons). Bottom line: one of the Thrones…the big guy or someone down the line is a psychic. Perhaps he was possessed at some point in his life and his family found a way to remove his curse. In any case he is a psychic and he is subject to the seizures which create a sense of divinity in people. He is not always in that state. However, while there, he is able to create a sense/ manipulate long term, the people around him into sharing his sense of being god. He believes in a gnostic vision of the Universe, that the demiurge has trapped him in the flesh. He believe a number of other tings about his own association with Christ and being made flesh.

He has learned about the 333 and the archetypes. He believes that he has a powerful solution that will allow him to become the last man and return to his state as God to fight against the Demiurge. He has been carefully investing in organic computer technology for some years. He is going to make AI’s from the brains of dead people (possibly from the brains of people possessed) and program them to be the archetypes. This will be horrific. The demons…most of them…who know about it are in favor.
There, that is my big plot.

More information:
Review of one of the Scoobies’ books on the controversy over 3 Enoch.
A look at the Throne family.
A webpage devoted to the VR reality stuff.
A consideration of what the Scoobies fought back in 1983.
How does Atlantis fall into this…the rift found the following year?

Corporate Post Epoch: Clockmakers
Question Authority.
One of the Switches (slivers) happened in 1880s. Some kind of switch.
Was there a split or rather a turnover?…an original reality split?
Our world plus four
Frontier Steampunk
Exhalted Area: Chinese Rein-e-sance
Dark Technology: biological alchemy
Canals, bridges, Hindu mysticism, feng shui?
Duelists, Guns, Contracts, and Mysticism.
Limitations to these shadow realms…closed
The Phantom Mile: Sate Wars-esque Sci-Fi: nearly archetyplal
Methods for passing between.

So what might be good, interesting or useful scenarioes for the group.
Group Based Precipitating Actions
VR based Visions
Getting the Building
Finding and Opening the Safe
“Time Travel” to the Event
Atlantaen Lives: Past Lives
All Things are possible: the Fantasy realm as the MMVRPG

Consider the gnostic idea of the Nephillium.

Again, although I’ve already said this…need to work something more episodic and contained than I’ve done before…building up the tension and the challenge.
So, beyond the obvious things, what will they investigate and how will they come to decide that they want to investigate those things?

Different kinds of power each shadow limited in form and effect of their power: do not function in the other “?” (need better term than shadow…sliver). That power has become solidified. In the “prime” there is more power and it is much more flexible (i.e. it is much more malleable). So all things function in the hub. NO.
What to reduce it all down to a manageable level…having all the bits and pieces is good, but pointless in that there are too many points.

Using the core concepts from UA. Need to consider which of these pieces work. Some of them don’t fit so well. For example, MaxAttack is just silly.
Should be a long, long time before they can see anything behind the scenes. Several stages removed from this: consider
Can we maintain this kind of distance?

The original idea of Moriarty and the “Web of Crime” or conspiracy is someone anonymous who sits at the center pulling strings or somesuch cord. THE PROBLEM IS THE DESIRE TO SHOCK AND STARTLE…SUBTLE…WE DON’T NEED TO SEE THE VILLAIN OR EVEN NECESSARILY KNOW THAT SOMETHING IS GOING ON FOR A LONG TIME.
The “other realms’ should exist only as visions or hint early on. Take a long time before bringing these things to the fore. Ideally they will pick up hints early on…build up their own picture of what these places are all about (VR leakage, metaphor, prophecy, other possibilities that weren’t, someone’s plan to unhinge them).

When (and even more importantly IF) they actually go to these places, it should be a qualitatively different experience…i.e. these visions assume the characters have an intimate knowledge of these areas and ideas. However, people’s reaction to them will be different when they go there as themselves. Possessing someone else…parallel to demonic infestation (maybe even hint at this early on to make them think that is what is happening *THIS IS A GREAT RED HERRING WHICH MUST BE CAREFULLY WOVEN IN*). When attended in person, that does something to their host?
Broadcast (as a drug?)
What goes in 3 Enoch…does it reflect a gnostic message. Reality shifts…artificially inducing significant paradigm shifts.
What kind of background details/ guidelines for character creation should I give to the players? Almost don’t want to write a question for fear of the igniting question mark. Look at how system described before.
Where do they live now?
Who are their three friends…(not nec. Closest, but they ones they interact with the most…)

Public transport, subway, light rail, car pooling, requirements during certain parts of the day.
What else makes OC distinctive. Hot concrete on a warm summer night…goth play. Much shared public space.
This world is the crucible.
Those things are slivers left over from the other place.
They all have their game going.
However, there is something within this fucked up game which threatens it all…something bad.
How soon do we make this clear?
Need to outline in the broadest strokes what the history/background is…
Crisis in the 1880’s
Second Atlantis
What other events? Battles in Prague in the Dark Ages…don’t want too much WoD.
Certainly whatever happened with Atlantis Omega.
Consider the circumstances.
Scoobies die in 1983.
1950’s OC Earthquake.
Discovery of the Triton rift in 1984.
The Event? Tied to Scooby passing.
Threat through implications of a threat.

While the whole of this thing is screwy, the real threat should be a threat not to some constructed thing or to “balance” in the world. The eventually threat ahs to have a real, physical implication.

***Being heroic is a virtue not a sin***

As for PC’s again I’m drawn back to the Nephillium…Great-Souled…reborn…split souled. Resonance..activation of the souls based on proximity.
The first incident should have a complete immersion narrative that gets thrown back. Fourth person…Barry (or Sharon) taking an immediate dislike to? Then absent (actually in the Throne circle?)

The first session: inheritance: lay this out. Outline what they’ll get…
Called in…uncertain of how they were chosen. Just know they have the names.

Need to flesh out who they were: six of them
Paulus St. Paul
Pauline Paolo
Paula Pavel
Paul Pablo
P. Something

Evangelina St. Paul
Pavel Vadren
Pauline Trillow
Paul Shanus
Jeffrey Paulo
Consider the time frame for these peoples.

Should they have access to something which can hurt the “angels.” Should be odd and something different than you’d expect. Cigarette Lighter. Bobby Pin? Swiss Army Knife? Rare or blessed materials.

For neighborhoods need to come up with a list of names…take a look at the picture and come up with some sections. Make sure to reference places named in the orphan myth article…a number were given.

Sketch a generic map…
Imagine what
Northern California Winery
Outline the evolution of revelation in the campaign.
We know tow of the three main characters:
Courier involved with bands
Orphan…profession uncertain
City of Ocean Urban Rapid Transport
Consider what “ascension” specialists are operating in OC. What are their aspects? Are the Slivers opposed to them on principle…what got left out to make them? The Dream begetters…how do they fit it? Archons? The Great-Souled being versions of them.
3 Enoch…triumvirate or single person left over…duality m/f.
Nephillium: PC’s how does this fit in?
Need to take a little time to look at the cards. If they are done in PSP, then they can be centered. Image on the back.
Need to look over the UA stuff and consider which of these elements…which of these major archetype guys.
Fake Celts
Darth Sidious
Throne family: father or son figure…goal is becoming or returning?
Truly to establish the ideal for the archetypes: Programming souls
Object in question
Sans Frontieres (without walls?)
Time Lock
Stone Sandwich Layers
Times? 1983.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Thinking About Damage for Action Cards Revision

Mechanics post on my card based system. I did decide ultimately to add dice into the mix for this new version of the system. I think it will work well, but I'm still juggling the numbers on it. Essentially, when you deal a hit, you roll a pool of d10's ala Storyteller and try to hit a target number, usually six plus. That TN can shift slightly. You subtract a target's armor soak from the wounds dealt.

How I presented that in the rules:

Once a character has successfully made an attack, they roll damage using d10's. Damage rolled is equal to the damage of the weapon, plus extra dice for character talents, combat styles, and circumstances. If an attack was particularly successful or well described, the Gm may give additional dice.

Roll the d10's and count each die which rolls 6+. The target then subtracts the soak value of any armor they're wearing. The remaining amount counts as wounds done.

Some circumstances may modify the target number needed on the dice to cause a wound. Better weapons, certain damage types against certain armor, and special abilities may lower the number needed. Better armor may raise the number needed. The GM will track and adjudicate these effects.

Characters start the game with 12 wounds. More may be purchased at character creation or with experience (up to a maximum of 24 total wounds). If a character takes more than half of their total wounds from a blow, they must make a Physical Pull or be knocked down and Stunned.

When a character has 1/3rd or less of their wounds remaining, they apply a -1 drop to all actions. When a character reaches 0 or less wounds, they must make a Physical test or pass out. If they remain conscious, they may Act or Move on their turn, but must continue to make tests at an increasing penalty or pass out.

Criticals and Combat Effects
If a player rolls three or more tens and this is the majority of his damage, then his attack will cause a Combat Effect. If a player rolls five or more tens and this is the majority of his damage, then his attack will cause a critical hit. Both are resolved by the GM pulling a card to check the effect:

Bleeding: the target loses 1 wound each action they take.

Extra Damage: add +1 damage for each 10 rolled.

Stunned: the target may defend and move, but may not take a standard action on their round until they blow an action or spend a point of Focus.

Knockdown: the target is knocked down.

Unbalance: the target may move or make a standard action on the following round.

Funny Bone: a limb is temporarily disabled until the end of combat or he spends a point of Focus.

Crippled: a limb is permanently disabled until healed.

Killed: target dies nastily

However I wrote up a quick version of the weapon and armor tables-- but I'm not entirely sure I'm happy with the numbers. I wanted to lay out all of the parameters and variables for calculation:

1. Numbers should err towards play and playability over realism or verisimilitude.

2. Should be some differences between weapons-- not necessarily that every weapon is unique, but that these a range within the three classes of weapons.

3. Range of weapons within a group should kind of fall in the middle, so more than just describing something as a “blade” but less than listed out a half dozen blade types.

4. No weapon should be the obvious choice within a class, i.e. Why would you use anything but that for effectiveness? The same thing for armor.

5. Should remain fairly simple to read and understand. Should be easy to record and track on character sheets.

System Mechanics Variables
1. Players start with 12 wounds. They can buy up to a total of 24 wounds. It should take several whacks with a weapon to take people (i.e. PCs and Named Bad Guys)

2. Instant kills and additional effects will be handled through the quick checking of 10's on the dice rolled. So weapons don't have to have enough damage to kill someone in their base attack. (That's always something I worry about, but I think it is a nervous nelly thing).

3. Players roll a number of d10's for the damage. For each success they roll, they cause a wound.

4. The number to cause a wound is standard 6+, but this is based on the armor involved. Unarmored requires a 5+ and some potent armor could require a 7+. That's a fairly heavy bonus/penalty since it plays across all the dice, and I'm not sure how it weights vs. adding more dice for damage.

5. The Soak of a character's armor subtracts from the Wounds dealt after rolls have been made. The other way to handle this is to have soak subtract from the dice rolled. However, people like rolling more dice, rather than less. Exalted uses the dice reduction strategy, which ends up with a lot of people rolling a single die.

6. Players can increase their damage through a number of means: a good hit (+1-2 dice), a particular talent (+1-2 dice), a profession ability (+1-2 dice), a combat element (+1-2 dice). Not all players will have any or all of these, but they do have the options available to them.

7. Right now I have the Armor-Piercing modifier halving armor of targets (i.e. their Soak)-- I mean change this so that application of the element (or modifier for spells) reduces the target's Wounds On number.

8. Other modifiers could be applied to weapons and armor: besides dice of base damage, weapons can have an effect which makes them go faster, can have a narrow bonus (like to Disarm), can have limits like not being able to parry heavier weapons, can increase the Wounds On number-- these are just some ways in which one could differentiate between weapons. Though I fear it could get overly elaborate. OOH people usually choose their weapons early on and write them on their sheet, so it doesn't provoke a “look-up”.

9. Armor has Soak and the Wounds On number. It also has penalties based on weight. Medium Armor causes players to lose Dodge ties. Heavy Armor gives a -1 drop to Dodge and causes players to lose Dodge ties. We can also assume that heavier armor gives movement reduction as well as penalties to Athletic tests.

10. Here's how I defined the Combat Effect and Critical Rules: If a player rolls three or more tens and this is the majority of his damage, then his attack will cause a Combat Effect. If a player rolls five or more tens and this is the majority of his damage, then his attack will cause a critical hit.

Given those points, I want to have a weapon table which is both satisfying and balanced. So I have to figure out how to build what weapons/armor with what numbers and what modifiers. The tables in the game are a first pass attempt at that. One thought I had was to have weapons do X damage in wounds, plus a number of dice rolled to see if they get wounds...but I'm still thinking.

What I have now...

Light Armor Soak Wounds On
Unarmored 0--- 5+
Clothes 0--- 6+
Leather Coat/Vest 1--- 6+
Leather Armor Suit 2--- 6+
Rigid Leather Armor 2--- 7+
-1 to Athletic activities

Medium Armor Soak--- Wounds On
Chain Vest 3--- 6+/5+
Effectiveness is reduced against pierce
Scale Vest 3--- 6+
-1 to Athletic activities
Chainmail 4--- 6+/5+
Scale Mail 4--- 6+
-1 to Athletic activities

Characters in Medium Armor lose ties in Dodges.

Heavy Armor Soak--- Wounds On
Half-Plate 5--- 6+
Full Plate 5--- 7+

Characters in Heavy Armor lose ties in Dodges and have a -1 drop to Dodge attempts. Characters in Heavy Armor suffer significant penalties to maneuvering and things like, say, swimming.


Light Weapons Damage
Unarmed 4d
Dagger/Knife 5d
Shortsword 6d
Sabre 5d Wounds On -1
Baton/Club 5d +1 to Parry tests
Thrown Dagger 5d
Slingstone 5d

Medium Weapons
Hand-Axe 7d
Hand-Axe, Thrown 6d
Mace 7d
Broadsword 9d
Staff 7d +1 to Parry tests
Bow 7d
Spear 8d
Spear, Thrown 6d

Heavy Weapons
Battle Axe 13d Loses Parry Ties
War Mattock 10d -1 to Attack and Parry tests, Wounds On -1
Bastard Sword 10d/11d
Greatsword 12d
Polearm 11d

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Blog weekend off. Still busily writing rules and getting details crunched. Our house has begun its easy-bake oven cycle.

Friday, April 24, 2009


Short blog post today-- working steadily on the game for Sunday. Problem is, of course, that it is really too nice outside. I've had trouble focusing on work all week. Now it has actually gotten warm outside. I'm getting a little antsy since I'm home most of the additional distractions today...had some delicious comics sent to I finally got in the mail today some games I'd traded through Boardgamegeek. Actually, I got a bunch of them: Age of Empires III, Senji, Way Out West, Oltre Mare, Cuba, Lost Cities the Board Game, and Colosseum. Now I have to go through and check components in all of them, and read rules...

...sweet delicious rules which will be hanging over my head like the grapes of Damocles while I try to get anything done...

Anyway, so that's why the post's short and filled with nothing today. I blame the environment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Handling Classic High Fantasy with Action Cards (Some Thoughts)

I don't think this will come as a particular surprise to anyone who has followed my internal debate about mechanics, especially in relation to the upcoming Third Continent campaign, but I've changed my mind once again. At first I was going to modify Storyteller, then Action Cards, then I did quite a bit of work on a 2d10 version of Gurps, plus there were other earlier drafts where I tried to work through a version of True20. In the end I've come full circle back to using my Action Cards system for a couple of reasons. The first is that the system is easy to run and pick up. The second is that the amount of work I actually have to do to get that system into shape for this is far less than a crunchier system. I did an inventory of what I had left to work on otherwise and it felt a little overwhelming. Plus there's a certain amount of upkeep mechanics work in a game like this and that would be more involved. I'm trying to keep to my own dictum of worrying less about mechanics and more about story and table experience-- which weights my final decision heavily in favor of using action cards. A final selfish reason does come to mind as well-- I wrote the system so if I come up with anything cool, its actually mine rather than an add-on to an existing proprietary game.

Warning: what follows is obscure mechanics stuff based on my Action Cards stuff.

So here's what I'm doing:

1. I'm using dice for damage resolution, probably the biggest mechanical change to the system. I've chosen this for a couple of reasons. It gives me some of the combat crunch I want without changing the basic mechanics for success and test resolution. Damage serves as a kind of objective measure of success and also a tangible reward for actions at the table. The rest of the system is geared towards player control and description of actions, but damage as a mechanic falls a little outside of that. There's also a certain satisfaction to rolling and fistful of dice for damage, and you can't underestimate that. Also, I think keeping dice to a single area limits the general impact and makes that moment special.

Combat resolution will be handled as usual, with the applications of Skills, Edges and Maneuvers. Attackers pull a Combat result and apply any bumps or drops. The Defender gets a Defense pull-- either Dodge, Parry or Block. I've broken those three out and will probably have people buy those applicable skills separately. A character's Dodge will be affected by the armor they're wearing-- losing ties for wearing medium, and a -1 drop for wearing heavier armor. Parry and Block won't be affected by this, but won't always be useful.

If the Attacker hits, they roll d10's for damage. They get a number based on their weapon, bonus dice for any advantages they have (like Strong), bonus dice for edges on their result or maneuvers used, plus a possible bonus die/dice for great success in their attack (determined at least partially by margin of success). Players roll these dice and count up successes, which are results of 6+. The defender then subtracts his Soak directly from the damage done. If the attack is Cutting, damage done is increased by about 25%, if the attack is Piercing damage done is increased by about 50%. The GM will calculate and announce these results.

A starting character will have 12 wounds. These can be bought up as an advantage, up to a total of 24 wounds. When a character gets to below 1/3, they take penalties.

I'm working on a mechanic for handling critical hits and combat effects. Basically that will be based on the number of 10's rolled in the damage resolution. So if the character has rolled at least X number of 10's, then there's either a combat effect (like bleeding, knock down, stun check, etc) or I pull from a critical hit deck-- probably marked in on my GM resolution deck. This should be fast and easy to calculate.

The damage system I have here allows room for a couple of things. Base damage from a weapon will obviously vary. Likewise, base soak from armor will vary. By adding in a quick (but not too heavy) bonus for Cutting and Pierce damage, that helps differentiate between weapons as well. It also means that maybe some character abilities might shift the damage they do. Having '6' as the damage target number also means that magical equipment and special abilities may modify this. For example a special blade might allow damage to happen on 5+, or particularly resistant armor might make it happen on 7+. That allows for diversity and means I don't have to increase soak just to represent mega-toughness. Having a critical/combat effect system based on number of tens rolled, while not giving double successes, means that some combat abilities might allow players to count 9's as 10's or reduce the number they need to cause a particular effect.

I think generally that will fix my concerns about combat crunch while still keeping narrative power in the hands of the players.

2. A good deal of what I'm working on falls out from that-- a more defined weapon and armor table (but not too defined). I'll put extra combat effects and crit results on the GM cards themselves so that I don't have to add anything new on my side of the table. I have a couple of other things that have to be done to make this work. I need to lay out a clearer list of advantages, some definition of skills (re: combat), and probably reexamine combat styles. I don't think I have to make any real changes there, but I need to go through and spell things out a little more and provide a decent reference list to give people ideas. I need to define skill overlap a little as well,

3. Changeling has contracts, ranked special abilities characters can purchase to create effects. They're not that far off from the old Legend of the Five Rings schools I had with that system. I plan to have a set of these available for PCs to purchase, but simulating class tracks. At the start I'd have a small pool, but these could lead on to other profession track packages-- i.e. that you'd have to have a minimum level in one or more prerequisite professions before taking a more advanced one. These would function like the various classes from the Final Fantasy Tactics games. Since the characters will begin as adolescents I will just provide the starter sets at the beginning: Squire, Hunter, Initiate (Divine Magic, full), Apprentice (Arcane Magic, full), Layman (Divine Magic, partial), Dabbler (Arcane Magic, partial), Urchin (starter to the Thief/Rogue track), Student (starter to Diplomacy track), and Acolyte (if I decide to have Martial Arts as a factor, not sure about that). I'm debating about having a Focus resource which would be used for repulls, activating some abilities, and magic.

4. A minor thing but one of the ideas I've been wrestling with is whether to add a fifth stat to the cards. Right now Perception pulls, one of the most common skill checks in any game, are based on Knowledge (or Smarts as I have it in Changeling). That lumps that fairly potent ability together with a lot of other pulls. My thought had been to add in a stat which would cover Perception and Willpower, ala Presence as defined in old RM or Wisdom as it is handled in d20. I'm leaning towards not doing this, given that it would add another look-up on the card, but I'm not sure yet.

5. Lastly I've got a couple of things I need to do with the magic system as it stands in LV. First, for this campaign I'm working on a basic mechanic which divides Divine Magic from Arcane. I need to decide how much that's built into the system itself and how much of it simply represents special effects. Second, I need to revise and define the costs and skills associated with magic casting. That's a little fudgey and at times too potent as I have it right now in the original version. Mages can buy several things and I'm working on how to break those out: Areas of Knowledge (Fire, Water, Body, etc), Keywords (Powerful, Enduring, Farther), and potency with their magic which determines how many modifiers they can apply to a spell.

My original version of the spell system ends up with a weird amalgam of being an effect-defined system and a spell-defined system. Effect defined systems treat all things as reducible to what they do. Spell defined systems take into account the special effect involved. When I wrote the original rules I leaned heavily on True20 Sorcery-- and broke things up into effect areas, but then I wrote in examples based on levels that don't necessarily fit with those effects. That ended up boxing me in a little.

I think what I might do is keep those categories but eliminate the list of example effects based on levels. Instead, I'd say each “school” has a set of base effects. For example, Fire has Burn (for damage), Ignite (for lighting things on fire), Blind, and Creation (for creating fire and solidifying it into things, like weapons or a shield). But then you have certain affects which are generally associated with a particular areas, but these come from dramatic convention rather than anything else. The best example of this would be Shadowport which is generally considered a Darkness effect. The actual effect is a Movement one, with a Darkness FX and a limitation. But I don't want people to have to buy Movement just to get that. So I'm thinking of adding in something called Emulation as an modifier or a special kind of spell. Essentially it applies to causing a spell effect which might be better defined from another school. So another example might be something like looking into a fire to scry on someone also by a fire. Essentially it'd be more difficult than just doing a Scry spell, but it would mean that players wouldn't have to buy up every effect they wanted to do.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Board Game Clocks

Last night we played Year of the Dragon, a board game we've played maybe a half-dozen times in total. I enjoyed the play, though I lost and lost badly to Mark, and going through made me think about a couple of game dynamics issues. YotD belongs to a group of games that have a transparently obvious number of actions available to each player. The game lasts twelve rounds, with each round except the first two, having a crisis that players have to individual contend with. For example on a taxation round you have to pay money or lose people, on a plague round you have to have doctors to prevent loss of persons, on an invasion round you can get victory points but the person with the least military loses a person. The order of the crises varies from game to game, but all players deal with them at the same time and all players have full knowledge of what events are coming up.

But here's the thing-- on each round you do precisely two things. First, you take an action and second you play a card to add a person to your display. The second part-- what persons you take is somewhat limited. They affect turn order and what abilities you have to play at the moment. In order to take one you play a matching card from your hand. Since you have exactly one card per person type, plus only two wild cards, you know you're going to be taking at least one of each in the course of the game. The question of your actions is a tighter one in some ways.

The seven possible actions you can take are randomly placed into relatively equal sets base don the number of players. So if the four player game we had three sets of two and one action by itself. In turn order, people place their markers on one of the four sets and take one of those actions (but only one even if you place on a pair). However, if when it comes around to you and the action you wish to take already has a marker on it, you can only place and take that action by paying extra gold. Money's tight so that's a fairly extreme effect. Not only that, but if there's a particular crisis which requires an action-- like producing food ahead of the famine or fireworks ahead of the festival, then all players will be competing for that action. So you may have to wait, or you may have to decide to take the hit, or you may have to rearrange your choices. But all that adds complexity and difficulty to a basic issue-- you're only going to be able to take a total of twelve actions, throughout the course of the game. You know what's coming, you know exactly when the end game is, and you have open knowledge of the other player's positions.

I'll come back to that point about limited actions in a moment. First I want to talk about what I see as three basic kinds of mechanics for the controlling the length of a board game. I assume first, that board games, if they work, have an end condition. That is-- at some point the game ends. Usually that's pretty easy to estimate. Some games, of course, have circumstances where they can go on and on and on. For the moment I'll leave out the question of solo or cooperative games. Generally in my experience, games with what I'll call a Race condition have the most risk of stretching well beyond their stated length. By Race condition I mean that there exists some victory condition which a player must reach to beat the other players and end the game. In some cases, reaching that condition doesn't necessarily provide victory, but it usually does. Obvious basic examples of this include Risk and Clue, where one player either conquers the world or solves the crime. Victory conditions may be more or less measurable. Magic the Gathering, Settlers of Catan and San Juan stand as examples of Race games as well. MTG has you racing to eliminate your opponent's life, Settlers of Catan IIRC has you trying to gain a number of...something...I can't recall, and San Juan ends when one of the players has X number of structures in play. A Race condition generally means that you'll never know exactly how many actions (or consider them opportunities) you'll have over the course of the game. Some games try to equal out the number of actions for a Race game. For example in To Court the King, when someone triggers the end, the players who have not yet gone get another action to attempt to match or catch up, and then you do a final round in reverse order to give a last chance to beat the leader.

I'd say the next step out in game design would be End Depletion. In these kinds of games there's a resource which becomes depleted at an irregular rate throughout the course of the game. In Puerto Rico you have two different kinds of End Game resources: Victory Point chips and Workers. You set the number available throughout the game based on the number of players. If either runs out then that round will be the last. Dominion, which is the new hotness right now in BG circles, also has an End Depletion mechanic, where the game ends if any three piles of cards are emptied or the big VP card stack gets emptied by itself. An End Depletion game also generally means that players won't know exactly how many actions they're going to be taking over the course of the game. End Depletion conditions can allow some players to run the clock-- I'm not sure if I'm using the right term there since it is a sports analogy. This means that players can target their actions to end the game sooner or later. Often that's a viable strategy for winning, other times players use it to try to end a game they know they're going to lose. I think one could make a semantic argument for Race and End Depletion being the same from a logical perspective, but from a player perspective you have significant differences.

The last kind of game has, like Year of the Dragon, a Countdown Clock. At the beginning of the game all players know exactly how many turns the game will take. The Countdown moves in regular intervals, moving inexorably towards the end. No player can affect that, instead all players have to keep that in mind. It also means that all players will (generally) have equal opportunities for actions. Some games may have internal mechanics to affect this-- like say some of the Risk variants. Risk 2210 has a Countdown Clock of X turns, but how many things you want to do on your turn is measured by the resources you have available to you, rather than X number. Countdown Clocks show up in Pirates' Cove, El Grande, Yspahan, Alhambra Dice Game, Notre Dame and a number of other games-- most often Eurogames. Carcassone is an interesting case of a game which has a Countdown Clock, but feels like an End Depletion game. Each round players draw a tile to place from a bag-- when the bag come up empty, the game ends. If you knew ahead of time how many tiles were in the bag, you could calculate when the game would end and how many opportunities you would have. Some later variants mix that up, allowing players to place more than one tile or randomly removing some, but in the basic game the tiles provide a possibly unequal Clock, depending on the number of tiles and players.

Countdown Clock games tend to be pretty competitive and a good deal of the pressure comes from a lack of forgiveness for bad choices. That's another way of restating my original point about limited actions. A missed opportunity uses up a percentage-- often significant-- of your ability to affect the board. If you get behind, you often can't catch up. It becomes strange when you combine a Countdown Clock with a random resolution mechanism. For example, in Pirate's Cove, you only have twelve actions IIRC. But often you butt heads with other players, resulting in a ship to ship battle which relies on dice. The Alhambra Dice Game can be unforgiving as well-- again you have a limited number of placements and actions, but you have to make the most of your dice rolls. If they go badly for you, no amount of strategic planning will aid you. Some games do a better job than others in concealing the Clockdown Clock. Year of the Dragon pretty much brings it front and center. Agricola, another new hot commodity our group doesn't like so much, does so as well. Both require every action you take to be meaningful. But another game, Goa, we like in the group also has a Countdown Clock, but for some reason it doesn't feel like a spectre haunting the game until the very end. I'd say Carcassone avoids the problem nearly entirely.

All that being said, I'm not sure if I have a preference, except to say that I'm less fond of Race games. Those are often the most nakedly competitive and often highly interactive. I like a little interaction, but not face to face knock each other player down, where aggressive actions reward themselves. I'll have to go back through my blog and see if I've already written up what things I like in BG's. I think I may have...if I haven't then, woot, there's a future post. If I have then I'll simply be saddened by my earlier inspiration.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


I came to classical music through a perfume commercial.

Growing up we had some music in the house, a decent turntable my father has set up in the front room. He'd run wires through a hole in the wall into his study. We each had our own little record player in our rooms as well. I remember my Dad's record collection having Evita, Willie Nelson, a strange Janis Joplin album with a Robert Crumb cover, and a bunch of things I never listened to. Myself, my fondest albums were some Beatles late-period stuff, the soundtrack to Pete's Dragon, and a Saturday Night Live comedy album. I think the closest I got to listening to classical was Hooked on Classics. My musical idiom stayed pretty close to alt rock up through college-- They Might Giants, Adrian Belew, Laurie Anderson, Elvis Costello, Midnight Oil, Timbuk 3, etc. We ended up with a couple of classical albums I listened to on and off. However for a time we also had a German ND grad-student border who insisted on playing Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”. I don't think it was entirely a surprise when she joined a Christian Cult, accused my mother of being a CIA agent, and ran off with her guru who'd renamed himself “King David”. She also thought Americans made too much of the Holocaust.

In any case, I'd had some exposure to classical music by the time I got to grad school. I'd known a couple of musicians when I was in foreign study at American University Cairo. I'd gone to a couple of excellent performances there. I'd also seen Amadeus on stage and in the theaters. know...the usual.

When I headed off to Baltimore, I arrived a few weeks before the semester began. My sister was already there, having finished her MA the previous year. While we were waiting for the rental we would live in to get finished up, I was trying to work through the stack of books they'd sent me in preparation for teaching Contemporary American Letters, the freshman required course through the Writing Seminars Program. This class was clearly a money-maker for the department-- a fixed class students had to take, a cheap labor pool of graduate students, and no real pedagogical approach. The mix of books we had to teach from at the time was a mess-- and I spent much of my time trying to figure out poetry, meta-fiction, and how to successful use the anthologies and stand-alone books (of course written by instructors in the department).

And I watched a lot of TV since I had little else to do. So I couldn't help but be slammed in the face by the advertising campaign for Egoiste by Chanel. You can see the commercial here. The music you can hear in the background is Sergei Prokofiev's "Dance of the Knights" from his ballet Romeo and Juliet. I don't know what is was about that music, but it really stuck with me. The freaky imagery of the commercial probably helped. Phil, my ex-brother in law, knew quite a bit about music. He told me what the piece was and pointed me to an exclusively classical music record store at a nearby mall. I tracked an album of the music and was pretty well hooked. At first I picked up more pieces by Prokofiev, then I started to see other multi-disc cheap compilation sets of other composers. Somehow, in that I found Dmitri Shostakovich, my favorite. I listened to some of the Romantic masters-- Brahms, Dvorak, etc-- but I found myself preferring early to mid 20th Century pieces, like Hindemith, Martinu, and Mahler. I dated a violinist for a while who had some impact on my tastes as well, and I got to see a number of live performances.

I buried myself fairly deeply into this-- and into modern poetry. I'm a goober at heart and when I find a hobby or interest, I tend to overdo things. There's an acquisitions mentality I've been trying to break for years that I can't quite handle. It works for the good when it is a hobby that I stick with and get a good deal of enjoyment out of, but in many cases I end up wasting money. I steer away from CCGs and CMGs for that reason-- the need to be a completest. For things like a particular genre of film, a writer, a musician, that indulgence can get out of hand. In the end I have a bunch of things I either have looked at once or not at all. When I went to Johns Hopkins I think some of this indulgence was a reaction to my general unhappiness. I tore through various book series-- like all of Spenser for Hire and everything Roger Zelazny wrote. At least for classical music, my interest stuck. I raided the university library for books on music and tried to figure out what I liked and didn't like. We didn't have the internet as we do now, so tracking things down was hard-- a pleasure, but hard. I wonder if, in part, all of this ended up being a sublimation for the fact that I wasn't playing or running any rpgs.

When I moved back to South Bend I kept up my interest. I went to Chicago a couple of times to check out the Tower Records downtown. I chased down particular albums via mail order. When Best Buy first opened here it had an extensive classical music collection. I raided that more than I care to say, building up my collection. I drove down to Bloomingtom a couple of times for Opera performances there. Eventually through my mom I got the opportunity to write reviews for the South Bend Tribune. I covered the Lake Michigan Symphony, the South Bend main and chamber series, Indiana Opera North (during its short run), and some other bits and pieces here and there. I quit doing that when the paper changed to a fully morning edition. At that point they wanted reviews in by 10-11, the night of the performance. Given that most things I went to didn't end until at least 10 plus driving time, I couldn't manage that.

I still love classical music, and again, especially 20th Century stuff. Some more modern pieces I still don't like-- too much dissonance even for my ear. I've also come to appreciate good soundtrack music-- some for the real lyrical quality and some of it for its evocative nature. I'd say a good part of that comes from soundtrack music's utility at the game table, a topic I'll hit on in the future. All that being said, I should point out-- I can't read music, I couldn't easily identify a composition reliably, I can't put names of techniques to what I hear except for the most obvious, but I do know what I like and enjoy.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Male vs. Female RPG Table Dynamics (Rethinking)

So a brief follow up to yesterday's post (not more about the Vampire game, finally finished with that riff). I mentioned my thinking about group dynamics and my original association of that with gender dynamics. About 4 1/2 years ago I wrote up a post with some assessment of that for The Village board. Some of my thinking came from running some games with more balanced male/female ratio, and of course running the all-female player supers game. I'll present that post below and then make a couple of comments after about the change in my thinking.

Male vs. Female Dynamics
« on: January 27, 2005, 10:51:18 AM »

Before I begin I should say a couple of things: first, what I say is anecdotal. I’ve played in games with or run for about two dozen female gamers and a significantly larger number of male gamers. That’s still a pretty small sample size. Second, broad generalizations are dangerous; I don’t believe any conclusions I draw here apply 100% (or less) of the time. I'm also ignoring the issue of cross-gender play. Now that I’ve properly punked out...

I think the key in examining this is to look at group behavior based on the ratio of male/female gamers:

*All Male Group: I’ve found that in general, an all-male group is fairly competitive. The level of competition is based on the age, relative social maturity, and number of games they’ve played in. There are exceptions to this as some male players never grow up, instead perceiving games as a competition between players or between players and the GM. The longer a group has played together, the weaker this sense of competition becomes, but this takes a while. Except in Cro-Magnon gamers, I don’t believe that these players consciously or explicitly compete with one another. Subjects of competition: bragging rights, loot, character advancement, play time at the table, GM attention, exclusive NPCs. This competition can be expressed through not listening when other people have their scene, becoming irritated when players talk to “their” NPCs, stepping into other people’s areas of skill, inter-party killing or combat, and so on. All male groups are likelier to have players try to hose other players. In my experience, all male groups dislike planning except in the most tactical sense. Problem solving that doesn’t involve either a combat board or a map of how to break in doesn’t appeal as well. All male groups have fewer interesting “in character” moments at the table. Romantic sub-plots are more difficult to deal with.

*All But One Male: I’ve seen a couple of different versions of this mechanic. Now before I start, I have to delimit a particular situation here. This dynamic alters dramatically if the female is unattached, non-psychotic and even vaguely attractive. The definition of psychotic here will be stretched liberally as many gamer males lack the radar to pick up on certain cues that indicate a person with severe emotional baggage. The situation changes even further if the GM is attracted to said female and the GM lacks social skills. Anyhow, it is creepy to watch. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

Assuming that the female is attached and everyone has gotten that message-- [Side tangent: gamers sometimes don’t get that message. Again you might find it surprising that gamers at times don’t catch social cues. I had one female player who didn’t want to play in certain games because another married male player was continually inappropriate with speech and physical contact. It says something about my dimness that I hadn’t picked up on this dynamic.]—then the female player has a difficult path. This depends on the number of players. If the female is the only one is a group of three or four, usually she there are less problems. In a larger group, male players will tend to ignore female comments and talk over them. I’ve seen this happen many times, even in groups where players have played together for years or know and like each other. This is especially true where a female player moves to area of less interest for male players (and perhaps even GMs): social interactions, non-combat problem solving, planning, romantic sub-plots and “in-character” speaking. Again, I don’t think this is necessarily deliberate; I do think it is habitual. I’ve seen it in very different groups.

Now, to this I’ve seen several reactions on the part of female players. The three most common are: Crazy, Quiet and Direct. The crazy reaction means that the female just does whatever she wants: inappropriately attacking NPCs, stealing things in dangerous places, demanding to play character types explicitly forbidden by the GM and so on. I believe this is a way for the female player to make themselves heard and in some cases, to passive-aggressively respond to the snubbing at the table. The drawback to this strategy is that the player can gain a reputation as thoughtless and unwelcome at the table. The quiet reaction means that the player simply goes along with what is happening. She rarely initiates actions on her own, feels detached from the progress of the story and even when the GM puts the action in her lap, has trouble deciding what to do. Unless a female moves out of this role, she will likely give up on gaming. Direct…in the direct route, the player will call male players on interrupting her, will point out lack of planning, and will make sure she has equal time at the table. This seems to be a viable strategy, but it can earn the female player a reputation as a bitch and in some cases encourage male players to shut down and sulk whenever things like “planning” or “discussions” come around.

I really think one of the key things a female in a bad situation like this has to do is to make the GM and at least one other player aware of this dynamic. If they don’t believe or dismiss their suggestions as whining, then they should be playing with another group.

*Split Group: In the several split groups I’ve seen, there can be a fair balance between planning and dynamic operations. Females can support each other, so that even if the nature of the game doesn’t interest or include them as much, they can make the game engaging by interacting with the other PCs. I ran a game that switched from being one female, four males to two females and three males. That change shifted the level and kind of engagement of the players at the table. The lone female player began to play more and clearly felt more comfortable about doing things, expressing her opinion and just “playing”. On the other hand, I’ve also seen lone bad apples who, even in a split game, don’t interact with the female players. In the Exalted game in play in one player doesn’t listen when the female players are speaking, addresses his comments and discussion exclusively to the GM, and only chats game stuff with one of the two other male players. He noticeably interrupts the female players but never the male ones. I hate him. I hate him bad. My perception is that he clearly sees rpgs as boys night out; he is also highly competitive and I think that plays in as well. In another game split game I played in one player rarely interacted with the female players and usually sulked when they had scenes. It was very strange.

*All Female But One: In both games that I’ve run with this ration the emphasis has been on non-combat planning, interesting interactions with NPCs, building up and developing resources and drawing out the elements of the story. Now, both of these games that I’ve run have been modern so that may impact this. The female players are active and vocal and the command of the direction of the game seems to be shared. Plans that I would normally expect to be pushed forward in a male group get shot down. For example, NPCs whom I’d usually have the PCs screaming to kill or running into bad situations to attack simply get written off. It is harder to bait a mostly female group into attacking someone stupidly. On the other hand, it is much easier to paralyze their decision making by presenting them with a variety of options. The male player in this instance may feel awkward or isolated and may react in the same patterns as those mentioned in the all male but one section.

*All Female: As above but even more so. Quite honestly and if may be the people I’ve run for, but an all female group will never do exactly what this male GM expects them to. I’m just not wired that way. If find that all all-female group makes sure that everyone has their time at the table, revels in the little details of the game world, and shares well. On the other hand…they move the story forward slloooooooowwwwwlllllyyyyy.

This is a start of observations, I'd be curious of other people's perspectives. I know it may sound that I'm partisan to one style or the other in this, but I think both are interesting to run for...but as a GM and player I think it is important to be conscious of dynamics at the table that potentially exclude or isolate players.


So, what do I think several years later. Well, more recent experience has shown me that gender may have a role, but it certainly isn't the whole of it or even necessarily the major factor in player interaction and play style. As I mentioned yesterday, I'd seen some female players in the far past who certainly didn't hold to my original conception. I think I didn't give that enough consideration in my original assessment.

Instead what I saw not long after this original post in 2005 was that it was heavily determined by individual preference. And though, while I do think society often reinforces certain approaches, the comfort level of a good table can and usually does erase those differences. Unless a particular player is so imbedded in those modes that they can't adjust. In this case, I had a sole male player in a group of female players who wanted to act unilaterally. The dynamic at the table worked against that, causing him frustration.

I assumed that might be a gender-based role/problem. However, when I increased the male female ratio in the next campaign he remained dissatisfied. He asked for a certain male player to be added when the original other male left, and then proceeded to trash talk that new male player. That, I believe, was based on the fact that the new player didn't operate unilaterally and instead enjoyed the cooperative aspect of the table. So that ended up a mess.

In any case, I think a lot of what I originally said was superfical-- and assigned causes where they didn't necessarily exist. I think better to create a general typology of individual player styles, player wants, and the kinds of campaigns and see where those perhaps overlap.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Vampire (Part Five)

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five

We wrapped the campaign up up about a year and a quarter+ plus after we'd begun. At least that's my estimation, I may be off a little in that. So around 25-30 sessions? I'd have to check Shari's notes on that-- she manages to keep excellent track of those things.

I'll admit my recollection of the last couple of session remains a little fuzzy for a couple of reasons I'll come to later. We had all the bad guys and good goods arrayed and arranged by this point. Notably, the actual other Vampires of the city played a fairly minor role in the end game, with a couple of exceptions. We had a fairly major showdown at the party's haven, which led to the scene I honestly consider the finest of the game. Shari had been caring for her father, speaking with him and trying to insulate him from the worst of the awfulness going down. The other NPCs had pitched in as well-- a device that allowed some of them to have their own redemption. However, in the final battles, Shari's father passed away, tending his garden in the rebuilt greenhouse. That death scene and conversation between Shari's character and her father-- him extracting a promise for her to try to be good, well it made the whole game worth it. We had a whole and complete narrative arc with that NPC that mattered to the story, especially with what came next.

I should stop here and say that the end of the campaign did fall into one of my classic narrative patterns. Throughout the game I imagine the party building up several kinds of resources. On the one hand, the PCs improve through expending experience. That's a very real and tangible reward for the players. Likewise, they gain material goods-- items, wealth, and even places. That's easy to measure as well. But as importantly, I usually count up the friends and allies the group has made-- since often they'll be called upon to aid in the end struggle. Certainly my fantasy campaigns often have that as a central trope-- the Steambuckler campaign, the Red Emperor campaign, the Pavis campaign. All of those came down to a fairly climatic showdown where they called upon everyone they knew to assist them. Honestly, the friends you make-- by my reckoning-- help really judge your success. The benefit does have a hidden thorn as well-- by asking those characters to aid, you also put them at risk. The nature of this depends greatly on the flavor of the campaign. In the Vampire game, while we have the assembly of allies, the characters would, ultimately make their final play on their own (which I'll come to). In Will's excellent Hunter game, the last session had us stripping down to the bare essentials, little equipment, few resources, and no allies, to face the final evil. That worked well-- emphasizing the theme of our characters' isolation from other people and our need to keep our humanity by not endangering those we cared about. There's a subtle arc in Will's campaign of the group slowly building up allies and then running the reverse course as we headed towards the end, of those allies falling away one by one. I don't know how much of that he planned, but it had enormous impact.

Following the big battle, the group made their way through the dreamscape of the sleeping Vampire, giving him a reason to redeem himself. From there they, just the four of them, made their way back to the empty spirit city of Metropolis. They fought against the last agents of the Dark Empire of Jade-- preventing them from usurping Chicago's spirit realm with their own. And then they faced the returned Godhead, who gave them a choice-- they could remain as they were or be redeemed, and receive back their lost souls. Sherri, of course, immediately took it. Brandy did as well, but greatly out of practical considerations since she'd found life as a Vampire constricting. Chris hesitated, and ultimately decided to take the offer. I'm still not sure of his reasoning. Shari in my mind, had the most chance of not choosing humanity. She'd found a new and more empowering life, but her last conversation with her father heavily impacted her choice and ultimately made her follow the others in the decision. It was nice to see all of that play out.

OK, wrap up time-- final assessment.

*The play and course of the campaign generally pleased me. I look back on a number of the sequences there with some pride. I liked a lot of the ideas and images I played with. I enjoyed tangentially adapting in material from other sources. That having been said, I gave/traded away nearly all of my Vampire rpg materials immediately after I finished running the game. I'd played in a game which had hit on the core thematic of that setting to my satisfaction, and now I'd run one. I intend never to play or run in it again. I'm done unless something that completely changes up the central ethos comes around.

*I have a tendency to over-complicate plots, which I've alluded to in my earlier comments on this game. A good chunk of the plot materials the players never really came into contact with. That's OK-- I can use those elsewhere. If they didn't get to it or if they came into contact with it but it didn't make an impression on them, then really it doesn't exist for them. I believe part of the GM's responsibility is to not over-talk too much beyond the tabletop experience. There's a difference between a game and a David Lynch film where you have to go to a Wikipedia page to understand it. Part of that lies in the amount of time invested by the players in what's going on-- so if you undercut that to much-- by info-dumping or talking too much about what they didn't get, then you reduce their experience. I've been trying more recently to provide clearly information about things-- allowing NPCs to reveal more-- with the idea that such a revelation doesn't destroy the plots or secrets, but instead allows the players to actually interact with them. That's a tough decision for a GM to make-- you don't want to give away the good too early, but the longer you take from what we might call the “initial point of impact” the more risk you have of alienating players, discovering they've forgotten about the element, or even forgetting your own purpose in the original plot.

*As I mentioned at the start of this series, I still haven't come to a good decision about handling morality at the table. That's a difficult problem. I think the Gm has to strike a balance between being the moral arbitrator and the person who let's things simply happen. The trick to to spend time thinking about the consequences of particular actions in the real world, and making sure they happen. Making any responsibility organic to the situation removes some of the burden from the GM. At least it feels more like the GM is playing fair, rather than simply imposing arbitrary rules. Hence a strict mechanical system has real problems. That was witnessed in the classic moment in the Vampire game when Shari got a reward for moral action in the form of a raise to her Humanity. Brandy asked how that was possible and I explained the system. She asked if she could have her Humanity rating raised. I asked what she'd done to earn that. She thought for a bit and answered: “When my character was in that hospital nursery, I didn't stab the babies.”

*In games where characters are either really potent or morally ambiguous, I try to set up an artificial system whereby the players can't directly hurt one another. That ended up being hugely important here.

*I mentioned the structural problem of switching between settings in the course of the campaign. Two of the players were relative newbies to my style of running. While they tried hard, I kind of overwhelmed them a little. I should have been more aware of that and taken things down a notch (or two). One of the results of that information overload was that they tended to act impulsively. Uncertain about exactly what was going on, they tried to avoid having a real grip on it. Instead they simply acted. That caused some problems. I mentioned moral consequences above, but there are plot consequences as well. One of the most difficult problems in a game is how to hit a player with the fallout stick but manage not to strike the other players. If actions that a player takes ends up endangering the group as a whole, or getting favored NPCs killed, or screwing up what another player's doing, then you shift the burden of policing bad play to the players-- which no one at the table enjoys and can only create friction in the long term. It can also become a deliberate modus operandi on the part of some players, a way of acting out if they don't like what the rest of the group is doing.

*One of my regrets for the campaign was not really bringing the Vampiric politics and court dynamics to the forefront. I did a great deal of work with that, but only lightly touched on them in the course of the game. The plots I had didn't make as much contact with those issues. Given that, I could have spared myself some work. Or I could have shaped the plot differently to bring that in more. Again, the structural problem exacerbated this.

*Finally, there's an elephant in the room in this discussion. Those of you who've managed to get through all of this have seen me hint at some problems with the group dynamic at the table. For some time I wondered if that was a difference between gender approaches to conversation and decision-making. Certainly at the time, I ascribed it to that. I think, on more distant reflection that it is more a reflection of the individual than necessarily arising from gender roles. I do think that society does tend to promote different approaches-- rewarding 'appropriate' ones and punishing others. I'll point to Deborah Tannen's work on this topic. In this case we had a real difference between players who valued consensus building at the table and those who valued unilateral and individual action.

As I said, I originally believed this to be gender-dependent. However more recent campaigns have cured me of that notion. The mixed group in Libri Vidicos plays together as well as any I've ever played with. They respect each other's decisions, they talk just enough to solve the problems, they assign expertise for certain situations to different players, and when one player has the lead, the others listen and enjoy the show. I've also seen in the distant past some really horrible female players-- selfish ones who didn't respect anyone else's actions at the table and who had their feathers ruffled when anyone else seemed to be stepping on their “turf” or NPCs. I actually sat out of a game for a long time because I couldn't handle interacting with one of those players. They eventually quit, and I think a goodly part of that would be a dissatisfaction that the game wasn't centered entirely around them (of course they did this after we spent many sessions dealing with their plots-- so extra shitty).

In any case we had one player who clearly disliked talking about things. They had a general dissatisfaction with things not going their own way, yet couldn't articulate what they wanted. Or if they did articulate them, they changed their mind by the next session. This blew up in both this and another campaign. They shouted and got really shitty with other players when they tried to make plans. There's more to that, but let's leave it at that. Basically what I learned is to be on heightened alert for that kind of play. Consensus building doesn't always fit with the situation, but when the group but one has decided to work in that mode, then the other player needs to respect that. If I notice that, then I need to talk to them. If they become possessive over certain NPCs-- resentful when others interact with them-- that's an early warning sign GMs should be aware of. On the other hand, also good to watch out for players who do slow the game down with too much analysis paralysis. Managing that is a hard trick and likely requires out of game conversations which may be difficult. Watch for games and situations where one player seems to be out or the loop or operating in a different mode. Nd then you have to communicate with the player about that-- or even vice versa, if a game you're playing in seems to be going in a different direction. I've said this before-- look around and see what the other people are getting out of things. If the others are enjoying it then figure out why or why not.


That's it-- I liked the campaign...or else I probably wouldn't have written as much as I did about it. I made some mistakes that I need to watch out for in the future. But I think I'm stronger for having done it.

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Game Thinking: Libri Vidicos Session

Not a day of getting a great deal done-- I actually passed on boardgaming this evening, which much like skipping cake, should be symptomatic of a serious problem. Actually I just banged my elbow really well at some point which made me generally grumpy throughout the day.

We had an interesting session last night for Libri Vidicos for a couple of reasons. The session before I'd had a pretty massive fight-- combined with some fairly intense action sequences before that. I'd ratched up the tension pretty high and when they teleported back to school, they found it in flames-- which is where I ended.

I had a slight dilemma ahead of me there-- on the one hand, I could have moved a few things into place and headed for a big confrontation with one of the bad guys. It would have been the School Year capper-- with a session of two afterwards of picking up the pieces and essentially ending volume two. It had a certain appeal for a couple of reasons. Narratively, we would have moved from a nigh tension level to an even higher tension level-- the group came into this week's session knowing only something awful had happened. We've also been playing Year Two for about a year real time. So there's a nice parallel there. Finally on a more prosaic note, I'm almost to the end of my notebook. There would have been a certain poetry to doing that and starting a new notebook for Year Three.

On the other hand, we still had a number of outstanding plot points and character development issues outstanding. Kenny still has some social conflicts to resolve, Steve and Sherri have tutorial sessions with new instructors I haven't had a chance to flesh out yet, Shari's in charge of the school play, Scott has a plan he hasn't yet put into operation to take revenge on his rival, and we've only lightly touched on Wickets and Imps and the progress of Dave's team. Beyond that, I had a number of more subtle plot details I hadn't gotten full use out of yet. I don't want to say exactly what, but if I didn't get to them they might just feel like odd dangling threads later.

So I decided to move forward, but not jump to the conclusion for the year. I went through a couple of different approaches to how I wanted to handle the scene I'd set up. When I'd described the burning school at the end of the last session, I had some ideas. However, when I actually went to sketch out what I wanted to do, nothing really worked. I went through about three drafts, rejecting each in turn. Finally I kind of knew what I wanted to get across-- essentially what the purpose of the scene would be, but I ended up stuck on how to present it. When Gene has commented on scripts for me, he invariably points out places where I could do more visually-- use the medium itself to show what's going on, rather than relying on dialogue or having additional scenes. With a little over an hour to go before the game, it finally hit me how I could do something like that with the scene I wanted at the table.

One of the open questions of the game has been the purpose of Libri Vidicos, the history of it, and its relation to the other schools like it. They'd met figures last year who seemed to be the founders of the five houses of the school. However, that didn't make sense, given the other parts of the history they knew. Essentially, if Libri Vidicos had been built by the Makistani Empire, why were a foreigner, a Dwarf and some kind of Elf, founders of the houses? So I wanted to give them a brief vision of a major historical event that would answer some of those questions. However, that raised the obvious danger of the info dump scene. I didn't want the players interacting directly with the vision of the past, as that would had created additional problems (and given away a couple of things). But there are few more awful moments at the table then having to watch the GM have an extended conversation between multiple NPCs with the players just sitting there. Like having to watch a one-man show involving a debate between the fathers of the Reformation.

So, following Gene's advice, moved to a different context, I wrote up the conversation the group would see as a brief (two-page) play. I gave three of the player's copies and assigned them roles. It went over pretty well-- creating multiple voices and involving the table in the process. It was also different enough from anything else that it forced people to pay attention. One thing I would do a little differently next time would be to either reduce the odd names and terms or else spell them out phonetically. I'd also proof-read more carefully. But I was pretty please by the whole thing and everyone seemed to enjoy it. We're hitting a few of the historical/past game references buried here that I want to skim a little over-- they should serve as color but not inform the plot as otherwise it can get too convoluted.

I've seen similar at table techniques work before, but nothing exactly like what I did. One of my fondest memories was a trick Paul used in his Wheel of Time campaign. He had a separate session for each player before the campaign really began. In it, the other players played npcs from that character's life-- and each session would cover a major changing point for that PC before he or she actually met up with the group. IT worked beautifully on a number of levels. First, it spotlighted everyone's characters and gave each player a chance to reveal some of their dark backstory. Second, it invested the other players in that person's PC. By giving them, indirectly, a hand in that character's past, it gave them ownership. Third, Paul laid out plot points and connections which would surface later in the game.

I've done similar things at the table-- a couple of times, I've prepped the group by giving them some notes on a scene and preparing a signal ahead of time. Then when one player suddenly has a flashback, the other players jump into the new characters and start playing. Done well, this can have a great disorienting feeling. John Chenoweth had a character with a mysterious past he didn't remember and a couple of times I used this trick to reveal details about it.

Music Notes
The new Decemberists album is a Changeling Rock-Opera. It is like they said, “hey Lowell, we'd like to make an album that will appeal only to you.” If you like alt-Indie music, then you might like The Hazards of Love. Maybe. I love, love, love it. I like the new Neko case Album, The Middle Cyclone, but not as much as her last album. Sherri says that it is resolving for her.

Brian Tyler did the soundtrack for Constantine, Fraility, and Bangkok Dangerous. The first I quite liked, the others I just enjoyed. However, I was skeptical when I heard that he'd been given the job on the new Dragonball live-action movie. Shudder. He rises above the material and absolutely hits a home-run for action epic. Also The Venture Brothers soundtrack by J.G. Thirwell is worth a listen for its masterful strangeness. It will be going into the Changeling campaign mix.

I got a Facebook account because Gene has one and posted a couple of preview images from a little thing he and I have done. Of course it says something that I haven't really bothered to put a profile together.

Tomorrow the last of the Vampire PM. This week will either be light or perhaps some notes as I get ready for the first session of the new Sunday campaign.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Campaign Postmortem: Vampire (Part Four)

Sigh. This game postmortem has ended up taking longer than I expected. I just don't want to go too long with any individual entry. Today I start describing the actual play. Tomorrow blog day off. Saturday I'll finish the summary and make a few last comments.

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five

After I did the Embrace and return as Vampires scenes for each character, I moved on and brought them together. They had a shared vision, including meeting each other, of an abandoned city. In the distance they could see fire consuming the realm itself. They traveled, finding themselves on a great open dais with a throne and a cracked inscription reading either “God is no where” or “God is now here”-- a bit stolen from elsewhere. My intent was to show the placed called Metropolis, the horrible gnostic underworld of the evil angel figures from Kult. However, this place had been emptied and was being destroyed. It would serve as a metaphor for the battle over the spirit and dream realm that I knew would be the key turf battled over by the bad guys.

They woke up in the real world, each of them in what appeared to be some kind of suspension and feeding system. Their pods had been damaged either by time or an earthquake. This would be one of the places that the Mage Prince of the city had established to keep safe dangerous creatures for a time. However, as it transpired, he and his people had been mostly destroyed by the events which wiped away most of the other magical beings on the planet. So they had been lost and forgotten for five years.

The first couple of sessions were about acclimating the players and the characters to their situation. I focused on the need for hunting and the consequences of it in these sessions. If they killed someone, they had to clean it up and deal with it. If they needed to keep themselves sane through blood, we played out when and where they were going to hunt. They had to figure out about money, about safe places to sleep, about their basic needs. I tried to emphasize these things early on. As the game progressed, I abstracted these issues more. Instead of taking time to do scenes, I would allow them to make hunting rolls and eventually I'd take care of some of the issues of shelter and money. But I had to set up the costs and consequences early on so that I could move to that stage to prevent players from taking those things for granted.

We spent some time on this-- figuring out their routine, where their past lives had ended up, and what had happened in the meantime. Eventually they would come across another Vampire-- this led to their being brought before the Prince of the City. This created the first big switch in the game-- giving them a sense of the broader scope of the Vampire society, some answers to what had happened in the last five years, and a starting place to establish themselves with mentors and rivals. The next step would be one of the members of the Court pushing them to look into the estate of the late Mage Prince of the City. They'd discover that unlike most other Vampires, their group could enter the grounds, making it-- despite the weirdness a perfect haven for them. So we'd evolved a little and removed some of the more prosaic problems from the table.

At this point we had three major threads I started juggling-- and my memory might be a little off on this. First, they dealt a little with the Vampiric politics-- meeting the various factions and trying to gauge where they could learn some of the more advanced disciplines. I kind of set up at least one NPC with each of the player characters. However, that never really went all that far. We did a few encounters, had a few email exchanges, but I don't think the group every really wrestled heavily with this. I think I did a couple of things here that kept them away from that. First, the players perceived such enough threat and ambiguity from the other Vampires that they never felt comfortable moving beyond basic interactions. Second, early on the PCs made a couple of faux pas with some of the NPCs-- I'd intended these as plot points-- trying to figure out why X person reacted so strongly to Y situation, but instead they shied away from further contact. In the case of Palladino, the other Vampire Prince, that meant that they dealt less with one half of the Court structure of a long time. Third, I began moving quickly forward into other plot developments-- episodic mysteries and eventually the larger plot such that they had less time for this. Fourth, by about the mid-point of the game I established a number of non-Vampire NPCs which the group took to. That took up time devoted to interactions and also meant that the group felt a little defensive, worried that the other Vampires might threaten them, and so kept the two worlds apart.

The second thread would be the little bits and episodic adventures I set up. They tracked down someone who'd killed a Vampire, only to discover he was the son of a retired Hunter. They looked into some mysterious visions which led them to their first encounters with Ghost People. They found a group of school-kids who had managed to kill a Vampire-- ala Monster Squad. Eventually they'd track back a series of murders and animal kidnappings to an imprisoned Tzicmce flesh-shaping vampire. They encountered some of the Jade Emperor's spirit soldiers and tried to figure out what that was about. They clashed with Irish Traveler clanfolk to some of the city's werewolves. Some of these things played into the larger plot, but more of them stood alone-- as a way of giving them a fairly direct purpose.

The third thread involved the group being flung back to the Victorian era-- slightly changed in dress to match the period, but otherwise appearing identical to themselves. They had to orient themselves and figure out what had happened. I split this out, to start, across enough sessions that for a long time they weren't sure if they had actually traveled in time (through the weirdness of the house) or something else had happened. They saw some of the characters they knew (or knew of) in the present day as they were back then. That gap, and what had happened to change those NPCs served a major function in the game. Eventually they would figure out that this world showed a potent imagination-- when they tried to make major changes to the events, the story reset itself. Over time, they would begin to feel the presence of one of the major enemies of the game, the forces of the Dark Kingdom of Jade, trying to subvert and usurp this dream in order to use it as a conduit for entry into the real world.

I have mixed feelings about this portion of the game. On the one hand it worked really well for me in terms of story logic. I loved the concept as it played out. It also gave me a chance to show a few of the current NPCs as they had been-- which opened them up for some of the players. Showing a potent Vampiric Court from the time before Gehenna created a nice contrast. I also liked the chance to show off my knowledge of that historical period (which served double duty with the Steambuckler game I was running for at least part of the same time-- background reading worked for both). I also liked the chance to reference Kim Newman's Anno Dracula-- and to look at the Colonial-era relation between the Western Vampires and those of the East, the Kuei-Jin. On the other hand, it also meant a very particular split in the momentum of the narrative. Assuming that a session would most likely take place wholly in one world or the other, it could be multiple weeks between trying to follow up on something in either situation. It also meant that the players had to keep track of many, many more characters and NPCs-- which I think at least a little contributed to the PCs not creating close bonds with certain groups. Finally, the Victorian-era ended up being a severe info-dump. I had to explain the setting, the situation, the politics, the people, and finally, since I introduced those concepts there-- the idea of the Kindred of the East, the “other” vampires. In the future, they would be subverted by the Dark Kingdom of Jade so the group needed to see them before that. Plus, Colonialism in the supernatural world has always been an interesting concept to me.

So a mixed bag on that count.

By the late mid-point of the campaign I had begun to juggle many plots. Most of them tied together, at least tangentially. I had also forced the players to confront some of their past lives. Chris confronted his character's history of abuse, uncovered how he'd been set up in his being turned into a Vampire, and discovered that he'd fathered a child just before he vanished. Brandy worked to track down her Anarch “brother” who had turned her. She also discovered that her former roommate had taken the various photographic work she'd done and claimed it as her own. Shari had the most interesting arc, in my opinion, trying to build an online life and seeing how much her “death” had shattered her family. Eventually she'd bring her broken and suffering father to the house in order to try to nurse him back to health. That set up a string of great scenes. Sherri, on the other hand, tried to keep herself away from her old life. She made contact with the detective who had turned her over to the Mage Prince. But more than anything she tried to figure out how to minimize the group's impact on the populace.

Most significantly at this point I'd begun to introduce some of the Orpheus concepts into the game. As I look back on the few sketch notes I had (posted previously) I see that I'd already decided to integrate some of the other World of Darkness products-- Kindred of the East, Dark Kingdom of Jade (from the Wraith line), and Victorian-era Vampire. However, after I started the game I picked up the first Orpheus book. That was brief experiment by White Wolf, set in the World of Darkness, it had a strong overarching metaplot spread across a main book and six supplements. The core concept was that the players were agents of a corporation who used the PC's ability to project as “ghosts” to carry out jobs. White Wolf did a great job with these books and I really regret losing them in the fire since they're (of course) well out of print now. I knew I probably wouldn't get to run a campaign of this anytime soon, so instead I borrowed those ideas to use in this campaign.

When I read sourcebooks for characters and campaigns I'm not going to directly use I tend to imagine how these ideas would look to a complete outsider. PC's have deep knowledge of the logic and background of the kinds of roles they play-- but what do they actually look like to someone who doesn't know them. A good Hunter campaign, for example (like Will's), plays off of that lack of knowledge and reinforces it by changing things up. The group began to encounter ghosts in various places, some actual corporate agents and some their opposition from the Dark Kingdom of Jade. Eventually they'd realize that the two actually opposed one another. The PCs intervened when a cell of the Orpheus group came under fire and rescued several of them. These “ghost-walkers” became important NPCs for the group. They had the added complication of at least one of them being dead, and several others being bed-ridden and only able to act through their ghost selves.

Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part One 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Two 
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Three
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Four
Vampire Campaign Post-mortem Part Five