Thursday, May 28, 2009

Microwave Pantometry (Updated)

I played my Pantsomancer again tonight in another session of Truth & Justice. Click for Recap of the previous session.

The big bad was running us ragged most of the session, but we managed to figure out where his lair was, and arranged an ambush. Time for some more stupid Trouser-Magic tricks. On paper, I'm the weakest superhero in the party, but I didn't let that stop me. I fought dirty.

To make a long story short, I found myself in a kitchen, far from the fight scene, but with an established sympathetic link between a pair of pants I was holding, and the pair of pants the villain was wearing. I knew the villain was mopping the floor with my buddies, and that I'd only get a couple quick shots at him before he realizes the Pantomancy involved in my attacks and strips down to his supervillain under-roos.

Wasting no time, I grab a Kitchen Knife. I shove it into the pocket of the pair of pants I'm holding. Lucky attack roll, too. The blood that oozes out tells me that my Voodoo Doll trick worked. I'm squarely into Anti-Hero territory now.

Then I run across the kitchen to the microwave oven. I throw the pants into it, with the big metal knife still in the pocket, and the magic link between pairs of pants still open. I turn on the microwave, which results in heating, radiation, and a shower of sparks cascading down the knifeblade. Elsewhere, the bad guys pants are exploding and burning around him.

It was all stupidly effective, because the bad guy kept using his big defensive powers on the superstrength punches and other massive attacks he could see coming from the Tank / Brick PCs, and had no defense against cutlery and microwave radiation manifesting in his trousers. Not very becoming of a hero, but it sure got the job done. When all was said and done, I had done more damage to him than the rest of the party did.

Update: It has been brought to my attention, that it's possible my Pantometry / Pantomancy wasn't as effective as I imagined it to be. Seems the bad guy had defensive / regenerative powers that would allow horrible wounds to exist, and then just heal up right afterwords. Which means that possibly when I thought I was doing all that damage, he might have been soaking it up. It still felt darned good to squeeze even a few drops of effectiveness out of something as silly as pants-flavored-magic.

Using Cthulhu Mythos (aka Mythos Lore to us Old Schoolers)

The cliff hanger I left off with in monday's session of Trail of Cthulhu was the realization that a monster was creeping up behind her, and she's got a long hard sprint back to the boat. On the plus side, the PC did spend Cthulhu Mythos to figure out what the monster was, which also clued her in to a possible weapon against it if she can just escape this encounter. It cost her 4 Stability and 1 Sanity to pull that clue out of Cthulhu's butt, and she hasn't even seen the monster yet. Which is creeping up behind her.

Prior to this session, I was a little dubious about the Investigative Ability called Cthulhu Mythos. It seemed to me like a cludge, a way for the Keeper to skip out on making a well-layered mystery with interwoven clues. I understood that some GMs might need that (he says, looking down his nose as if he himself never had a plot hole, deus ex machina, or mystery that was beyond the PCs ability to solve), but it struck me as cheap. Now I understand the real purpose of it, and I wish the rules had spelled it out just a tiny bit more clearly.

As the GM, you never want to set up your mystery so that PCs have to spend Cthulhu Mythos to put clues together - that'd be cruel and unfair since doing so saps their Stability pretty hard. Neither is it intended to let PCs skip doing legwork and jump ahead of the plot. Instead the Cthulhu Mythos spend exists solely as an escape valve for PCs, who have already jumped ahead of the plot by dumb luck or clever intuition.

Normal police procedures involve raids and arrests, but that's not always an option in Cthulhu. Cops just have to figure out whodunnit, then call in the cavalry. A Cthulhu investigator has to figure out whodunnit, whatdunnit, whether or not their weapons can hurt it, how to banish it without going crazy in the process. You're on their own, and you have to work fast - or else the world might end! Once you know whodunnit, there's a lot of motivation to confront them before they can grow any stronger (or summon something stronger). When you've figured out who the villain is earlier than the GM anticipated you would, you may no longer feel any need to track down seemingly unrelated clues. In Cthulhu, though, those unrelated clues are what usually hides the means to foil the the cultists plans, defeat the monster, etc.

If, in your rush to solve the mystery you've put yourself in dangerous proximity to some nasty thing without being properly prepared for it, Cthulhu Mythos is the emergency shut-off valve. Either it gives you the weapon you need, or suggests where you can find that weapon, or points back to the line of clues you skipped over that will eventually lead to that weapon, or it just hits your sanity enough that you faint and don't have to worry about the monster for the moment.

In other words, you don't spend Cthulhu Mythos because you aren't getting anywhere - you spend Cthullu Mythos because you got too far, too fast.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Truth, Justice, and Pantsomancy

Tonight's session at the weekly one-shot group was the second leg of a three chapter short-shot that started at a session I'd missed a few weeks ago. The system is Truth & Justice, a light and flexible superhero RPG (I was quite impressed by the system, to be honest).

One of the existing PCs was Geckoman, like Spiderman with a tongue instead of webs. That encouraged us to be a little odd, too.

Sarah's character, Madame Griselda, is a psychic with temporally-displaced senses. She can smell the future and hear the past, or was it the other way around?

My character is Peter Braccae, aka The Trouser Weasel. Occultist, Reformed Criminal, Tailor. My power is control of pants. I can summon pants, teleport myself to pants, transmute pants, reach into my pocket and pull out your wallet (or car keys, or whatever's in your pants), etc. My signature stunts are the Panteleportation Swap (I go to your pants, you go to mine) and Immobilize From The Waist Down. My weakness is skirts, kilts, and nudists.

I just sent the following email to the other players. The plot is far too complicated for me to explain, but I think this will stand without further context beyond "Dread Wizard Calvin is the badguy, and he has a wild cat as a familiar." Here's the email:
Those of you who wear pants find the following note in your pocket. It's been laminated in hopes that it will survive all the rain, and to make it a little more noticeable when it's inserted into your pants. It reads:

"My esteemed colleagues,

I was walking miss Griselda home from the Trolley ambush, and as we talked, a theory hit me. It's gonna sound pretty ridiculous, and I don't mind if you call me crazy. Dirty looks and funny names don't hurt a guy like me. As you may know, my ancestors were excommunicated for heretical Pantsomancy. In this enlightened age, the science of Pantsometry is finally getting some acceptance, but it's been a long hard road full of dirty looks and funny names. A few more of each won't bother me.

More to the point: Griselda tried to smell the future, and she can't smell The Dread Wizard Calvin at all. Funny thing that - a guy in a fancy suit, who's pet is a wild cat, and he ain't got no scent. You'd expect some fancy cologne, or lacking that, some cat dander and piss. But no, nothing, nada, like a totally normal generic nondescript everywhere kinda scent.

Likewise, I tried to teleport to his pants, and struck out. Wrong pants, wrong guy. These ain't no simple pants, neither. Distinctive. Green Armani. Hard to confuse 'em. They don't sell pants like that in Harbor City. If they did, I'd own a pair. One way or another.

So what kind of guy looks like a million bucks, but's got no pants and no smell? An illusory guy, that's who. He ain't no wizard, he's a scentless well-dressed red herring. My money's on the cat. I bet it's a magic cat, hiding behind a guy who never was. It's some kinda exotic breed, probably related to a Cheshire.

Calvin = Illusion, Cat = Illusionist

That's a tough nut to crack. Like the Pope, a cat's got no pants. Don't know how to fight a pantsless cat. This one's gonna take some out of the box thinking. I'll let you know when I come up with a plan.

In conclusion, I'm really honored that you invited me to team up with you. You're real heroes, the kind I've always wanted to be. Feels good to be part of something. Maybe we should consider a team uniform. I'll sketch up some designs, and send your pockets a memo.

Fashionably yours,

The Trouser Weasel."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Neat idea for a game just hit me while typing up a page on Arcana Wiki about Orthogenesis, a discredited alternative to Darwinian evolution. Orthogenesis proposes linear evolution, instead of branching, so that no two species share a common ancestor. It's kinda silly.

But let's, for the sake of gaming, take it as true. You could run a game with a very limited gene pool, just a few dozen species fighting for survival. Player Characters might be reincarnated, or you just might play an entire species at a time. Point being, each PC is a different species. After every major plot point, the time line is advanced by 30,000 to a million years. When this happens, you spend your experience points evolving your species. I suspect this is going to need a competitive structure - defeating other players in the short term gets you the points to evolve in the future. Eventually, though, the divide between PCs would get pretty big, at which point the GM invokes an external threat to even the playing field (or just hide the difference). Or, perhaps as you evolve to fill niches, your xp awards change. Yes, Mr T-Rex gets points for eating me, but as an r-Strategist herbivore, I get points for hiding, eating plants, and having sex.

At the beginning of the campaign, there's no culture, or language, or tool-use. Those are things you can choose to evolve, along with gills, limbs, venom, camouflage, psychic powers, etc. Obviously, the game system would need to be pretty flexible, yet at the same time have defined options for adaptation.

Ooh, adaptation! How about, at the end of the story arc, you get to propose one evolution for each way you died. He keeps eating me, so I evolve poison and bright coloration in his visual range.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Uncontrolled Decompression (Updated)

Update: Turns out Mythbusters has proven you can't explosively depressurize a plane with just a bullet or two. To match that, I've revised the text below.

I just did a little research, and have decided here's how I'd handle things if I were running a game that involved a depressurized airplane. I'll be writing this as system-neutral, so feel free to insert saving throws for endurance rolls, attack penalties for fatigue, etc.

Such a scenario has a pretty good chance of resulting in a TPK.

Somehow, the plane experiences explosive decompression. Maybe there was a bomb on the plane. Maybe Desmond forgot to push the button. Maybe aliens came to probe you. Maybe the plane was hit by rocket or really large calibre machine gun. Maybe a Megashark jumped out of the water and bit open the fuselage. Whatever the cause, explosive decompression is happening, taking a half second or less to rip the plane wide open.

First, I'd make everyone roll an endurance test. If someone knew the decompression was likely (ie: they saw the alien attack vessel) and indicated they were exhaling, I'd let them make some sort of reaction roll. Success on it would indicate they emptied their lungs before the cabin decompressed, and were safe from the first couple of endurance rolls. Explosive Decompression of the plane takes less than half a second, so it's not something you can do in response to noticing the hole. Anyone who failed the endurance test suffers fatigue penalties for the rest of the scene, and a small amount of actual damage. If they really blow the roll, they pass out.

Then, and only then, do I mention that the fuselage just ripped open like a 500-pound bomb went off, and NPC extras are hurtling out to the dooms. Anyone who specified (before the disaster) that they were wearing their seatbelt is safe. Everyone else must make a dexterity check, probably modified by what's in their hands, whether they were standing or sitting, etc. Failing that check means you're off your feet, and clinging for your life - and must spend your next action regaining your footing. Botching that roll means you're in a freefall. Time to make a new character.

Oxygen masks drop from the overhead bins. There's no longer any force emptying the cabin, but there is a hell of a wind near the hole that might still take Dex checks if your close to it. We're gonna assume a competent pilot who starts taking the plane down gently - if the pilot's dead or an idiot, the TPK is all but guaranteed.

If for any reason people want to start taking competitive actions, we'll roll for initiative. If it's just PCs, we'll probably let everyone take actions, one at a time, roughly simultaneously.

The correct action on your first turn is to secure your oxygen mask. Anyone who does something else (including regaining stable footing from having been nearly sucked out of the plane) must make another endurance test to resist further fatigue penalties. Of course, once you've put on a mask, you're pretty much anchored to a location and can't dodge very well, so let's hope there's no fight going on.

Of course, that's not much fun, so let's assume there's at least a scramble to see who gets the parachutes. If the game doesn't already have rules for pushing others around on the battle grid, I'd state that anyone who's not in a mask can forego damage on an attack to throw someone 5 feet closer to the hole. If they're already within 5 feet, they're now gone. Suffice it to say, you don't want to botch that attack roll.

Two full rounds after the depressurizing event (sooner if the system uses really long rounds), a thick fog forms inside the plane. Like the contrail following a jet - except inside the plane. Visibility is shot, and attack rolls are penalized until the plane drops altitude and speed.

Should make for an interesting fight scene. Like I said, the potential for Total Party Kill is pretty high. With that in mind, it might be a good idea to craft the scene leading up to the struggle in such a way that the best solution is to avoid blowing a hole in the plane in the first place... but what are you gonna do, negociate with a giant shark that can jump 20,000 feet into the air? I didn't think so.

Coming up for air amidst all the zombies

I just spent the past several hours rounding out the Arcanawiki page on Zombies and various sub pages of zombie categories, types, and tropes, along with inspiration, ideas, and GMing advice on how to utilize them. If I never get bit by another zombie, it'll be too soon.

Update: That made me curious how many pages I'd made over at Arcana Wiki. I know my productivity has been up, and I've been writing a lot lately, but it's meant less here (and at my other blog).

Take a look at this list:
Romero Zombies N 19 May 2009 - 15:03:55
Rage Zombies N 19 May 2009 - 15:02:48
Voodoo Zombies N 19 May 2009 - 15:01:13
Zombie Pirates N 19 May 2009 - 15:00:12
Zombie Pirate N 19 May 2009 - 14:44:07
Voodoo Zombie N 19 May 2009 - 14:24:27
Zombie Legion N 19 May 2009 - 13:56:53
Rage Zombie N 19 May 2009 - 13:20:53
Romero Zombie N 19 May 2009 - 12:39:17
Zombie Gait N 19 May 2009 - 12:00:00
Zombie Infectee N 19 May 2009 - 11:39:23
Punishment N 19 May 2009 - 10:31:13
Bilboe N 19 May 2009 - 09:21:43
Pirates N 18 May 2009 - 16:17:48
Pirate N 18 May 2009 - 16:02:52
Piracy N 18 May 2009 - 14:56:53
Golden Age Of Piracy N 18 May 2009 - 14:39:34
Criminals N 18 May 2009 - 13:53:33
Social Bandit N 18 May 2009 - 13:51:40
Criminal N 18 May 2009 - 12:58:33
Cats N 18 May 2009 - 12:39:17
Wild West N 18 May 2009 - 11:55:19
The Old West N 18 May 2009 - 11:54:06
Bloody Benders N 18 May 2009 - 11:45:19
Polychlorinated biphenyl N 15 May 2009 - 10:39:20
Pan Prior N 14 May 2009 - 15:05:09
Kenya N 14 May 2009 - 14:21:54
Olorgesailie N 14 May 2009 - 14:18:49
Characterization N 14 May 2009 - 12:56:28
Accent Tropes N 14 May 2009 - 11:34:54
Bootlegging N 13 May 2009 - 15:27:35
Miombo Woodland N 13 May 2009 - 14:23:52
League Of Extraordinary Whatevers N 13 May 2009 - 13:49:01
Homer N 13 May 2009 - 12:38:56
Disaster looms with rising sea levels: islands N 12 May 2009 - 16:28:53
Guns And Gunplay Tropes N 12 May 2009 - 14:41:18
Evil Weapon N 12 May 2009 - 12:47:10
Artifact Of Doom N 12 May 2009 - 09:40:18
The Net (substance) N 11 May 2009 - 16:17:31
Alchemy N 11 May 2009 - 15:35:48
Conspiracy Theories N 11 May 2009 - 14:12:35
Coded Myth N 11 May 2009 - 14:08:08
Isaac Newton N 11 May 2009 - 12:33:26
Angel Of Death N 11 May 2009 - 10:32:13
Red Right Hand N 11 May 2009 - 09:58:05
Prehistoric Insect N 9 May 2009 - 21:15:42
Plastic Continent N 8 May 2009 - 12:18:54
Chinese Laborer N 7 May 2009 - 15:47:18
Cryptid N 7 May 2009 - 10:02:15
Kardashev Scale N 6 May 2009 - 16:38:16
Seacouver N 6 May 2009 - 14:15:36
adventure town N 6 May 2009 - 12:28:53
Dungeon Forest N 6 May 2009 - 12:20:55
Nan Madol N 6 May 2009 - 11:01:02
Ice Age N 6 May 2009 - 10:02:52
Artifacts N 6 May 2009 - 09:15:25
Role Playing Game N 4 May 2009 - 16:43:09
Somali Pirates N 4 May 2009 - 15:12:14
DUKW N 4 May 2009 - 15:08:11
EMP/SFM N 4 May 2009 - 14:22:22
Seattle Center N 4 May 2009 - 13:42:11
Space Needle N 4 May 2009 - 11:33:58
Washington N 4 May 2009 - 10:54:22
El Rey N 4 May 2009 - 09:30:23
Experience Music Project And Science Fiction Museum And Hall Of Fame N 2 May 2009 - 08:49:25
Public Domain Artifact N 1 May 2009 - 14:40:09
Phantom Time Hypothesis N 1 May 2009 - 13:45:15
Speculative Fiction Trope N 1 May 2009 - 11:25:07
Magic A Is Magic A N 1 May 2009 - 11:19:13
McGuffin N 1 May 2009 - 10:01:09
Tropes N 1 May 2009 - 09:14:59
Redirect to Trope.
Big Bad N 30 Apr 2009 - 20:49:23
Astrophysics N 28 Apr 2009 - 17:12:30
con artist N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:43:37
con men N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:42:00
World War Two N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:34:40
WW2 N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:33:17
WWII N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:29:10
Testing my redirect template for the first time.
Redirect N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:26:41
Dragons N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:08:00
Redirecting to Dragon
time traveler N 28 Apr 2009 - 16:01:31
Redirecting to Time Travelers.
Scaled Composites White Knight N 28 Apr 2009 - 15:38:08
Scaled Composites SpaceShipOne N 28 Apr 2009 - 15:27:48
Atmospheric Reentry N 28 Apr 2009 - 14:43:39
Space Is Cold N 28 Apr 2009 - 13:53:47
Temperature Of Outer Space N 28 Apr 2009 - 13:15:25
Space Exposure N 28 Apr 2009 - 12:27:57
Space Does Not Work That Way N 28 Apr 2009 - 10:47:25
Cyber Punk N 28 Apr 2009 - 10:21:09
You Cant Fight Fate N 27 Apr 2009 - 15:11:20
Vehicle N 27 Apr 2009 - 14:23:04
Genre Savvy N 24 Apr 2009 - 13:21:17
Temporal Physics Professor N 24 Apr 2009 - 08:46:06
Mythological Characters N 23 Apr 2009 - 18:47:59
Me Squad N 23 Apr 2009 - 16:44:19
Instant Guitar Lesson N 23 Apr 2009 - 15:47:13
Changed My Jumper N 23 Apr 2009 - 15:06:59
Future Google N 22 Apr 2009 - 17:43:18
Veteran Chrononaut N 22 Apr 2009 - 17:10:33
Bewildered Time Novice N 22 Apr 2009 - 16:04:53
Popfinition N 22 Apr 2009 - 15:22:09
Zeerust N 22 Apr 2009 - 14:23:42
Jimmy Carter N 22 Apr 2009 - 12:35:43
President Jimmy Carter's Sighting Of a UFO N 22 Apr 2009 - 10:57:49
Legend N 21 Apr 2009 - 13:10:28
Unidentified Flying Object N 21 Apr 2009 - 11:11:26
The Road To Area 51 N 20 Apr 2009 - 16:30:36
Raven Rock Mountain Complex N 20 Apr 2009 - 15:33:54
Post Apocalyptic Decay N 18 Apr 2009 - 20:52:31
Dragon N 18 Apr 2009 - 08:57:03
The Dragon N 18 Apr 2009 - 08:28:21
Sci Fi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale N 17 Apr 2009 - 15:17:46
Verisimilitude N 17 Apr 2009 - 08:43:32
Future Slang N 17 Apr 2009 - 08:07:10
Starfish Aliens N 16 Apr 2009 - 17:43:40
2010s N 16 Apr 2009 - 17:05:53
1896 N 16 Apr 2009 - 16:37:11
Seattle N 16 Apr 2009 - 16:06:38
Julius Beethoven Da Vinci N 16 Apr 2009 - 11:54:24
2012 N 16 Apr 2009 - 11:11:17
Mesoamerican Long Count Calendar N 16 Apr 2009 - 10:46:41
Mayincatec N 16 Apr 2009 - 10:00:30
Ancient Astronauts N 16 Apr 2009 - 09:08:15
Campbell Country N 16 Apr 2009 - 08:16:16
Glim Dropper N 13 Apr 2009 - 08:06:34
Pyramid Scheme N 13 Apr 2009 - 07:36:45
Intangible Time Travel N 12 Apr 2009 - 10:05:50
Mad Scientist N 9 Apr 2009 - 08:25:03
Manslaughter N 8 Apr 2009 - 16:35:20
Homicide N 8 Apr 2009 - 16:22:16
Murder N 8 Apr 2009 - 16:16:22
Godwins Law Of Time Travel N 8 Apr 2009 - 16:06:13
Tongs N 8 Apr 2009 - 15:45:20
Triads N 8 Apr 2009 - 15:30:23
Los Zetas N 8 Apr 2009 - 15:10:53
Drug Cartel N 8 Apr 2009 - 14:45:49
Anachronism Stew N 8 Apr 2009 - 13:25:29
A Little Something We Call Rock And Roll N 8 Apr 2009 - 12:49:31
Crimes N 8 Apr 2009 - 12:22:12
La Cosa Nostra N 8 Apr 2009 - 11:52:32
Mafia N 8 Apr 2009 - 11:21:41
r/K selection theory N 8 Apr 2009 - 08:44:04
How We Got Here N 7 Apr 2009 - 16:54:15
DarkMarket N 7 Apr 2009 - 13:57:21
With Great Power Comes Great Insanity N 7 Apr 2009 - 12:41:27
The Unpronounceable N 7 Apr 2009 - 09:16:10
Antikythera Mechanism N 6 Apr 2009 - 16:33:31
Out Of Place Artifact N 6 Apr 2009 - 15:07:46
Ultimate Evil N 6 Apr 2009 - 10:27:09
Sealed Evil In A Can N 5 Apr 2009 - 08:38:35
Cant Take Anything With You N 4 Apr 2009 - 19:33:39
Sharpened Spikes at Green Lake N 4 Apr 2009 - 16:34:12
Time Abyss N 3 Apr 2009 - 16:08:54
Chinese Launderer N 3 Apr 2009 - 15:53:46
Random Crimes N 1 Apr 2009 - 17:02:05
Town With A Dark Secret N 1 Apr 2009 - 16:24:00
Mind Rape N 1 Apr 2009 - 16:06:35
Melon Drop N 1 Apr 2009 - 11:53:19
Kid Sidekick N 1 Apr 2009 - 11:35:26
Alternate History N 1 Apr 2009 - 11:19:25
Mister Sandman Sequence N 1 Apr 2009 - 10:36:56
The Barber N 1 Apr 2009 - 09:52:50
Determined Homesteader N 1 Apr 2009 - 09:25:47
Rancher N 1 Apr 2009 - 09:11:58
Railroad Baron N 1 Apr 2009 - 08:42:17
Carhenge N 1 Apr 2009 - 08:19:12
Cattle Baron N 31 Mar 2009 - 16:22:39
The Pioneer N 31 Mar 2009 - 16:14:48
Mountain Man N 31 Mar 2009 - 16:03:15
Hunter Trapper N 31 Mar 2009 - 15:54:29
Camp Cook N 31 Mar 2009 - 15:41:51
Fastest Gun In The West N 31 Mar 2009 - 15:30:44
Posse N 31 Mar 2009 - 15:14:21
The Clueless Deputy N 31 Mar 2009 - 14:56:14
The Sheriff N 31 Mar 2009 - 14:33:08
Town Marshal N 31 Mar 2009 - 13:56:43
Hanging Judge N 30 Mar 2009 - 13:16:16
Circuit Judge N 30 Mar 2009 - 13:05:34
Young Gun N 30 Mar 2009 - 12:46:47
The Wannabe N 30 Mar 2009 - 12:24:14
Outlaw N 30 Mar 2009 - 12:03:37
The Rustler N 30 Mar 2009 - 11:30:57
The Drifter N 30 Mar 2009 - 11:08:04
Cowboy N 30 Mar 2009 - 10:31:24
The Gunslinger N 30 Mar 2009 - 08:12:21
Born In The Wrong Century N 27 Mar 2009 - 14:35:20
Medicine Man N 27 Mar 2009 - 11:47:09
Magical Native American N 27 Mar 2009 - 11:22:41
US Marshal N 26 Mar 2009 - 16:43:13
Prospector N 26 Mar 2009 - 16:21:53
Forty Niner N 26 Mar 2009 - 15:51:55
Motif Of Harmful Sensation N 26 Mar 2009 - 11:42:30
Deadlands N 25 Mar 2009 - 16:13:50
Wayback Trip N 25 Mar 2009 - 13:03:44
Time And Relative Dimensions In Space N 25 Mar 2009 - 12:39:13
The Western N 25 Mar 2009 - 11:31:29
The Wild West N 25 Mar 2009 - 11:07:33
The Man They Couldn't Hang N 25 Mar 2009 - 10:50:34
Big Bad Evil Guy N 25 Mar 2009 - 10:20:42
Go Mad From The Revelation N 25 Mar 2009 - 09:11:07
Gangs Of Old New York N 24 Mar 2009 - 13:27:48
Eldritch Abomination N 24 Mar 2009 - 10:06:14
Mental Time Travel N 24 Mar 2009 - 09:01:19
Remittance Man N 24 Mar 2009 - 08:00:42
Wasteland Elder N 24 Mar 2009 - 07:49:19
Glamour Failure N 23 Mar 2009 - 14:51:47
The Puppet Masters N 23 Mar 2009 - 13:42:41
Meek Townsman N 23 Mar 2009 - 13:06:44
Retired Gunfighter N 23 Mar 2009 - 12:36:41
Bucket Of Ears N 23 Mar 2009 - 11:57:31
Mirror Monologue N 23 Mar 2009 - 11:31:04
Coin Rolling Scam N 23 Mar 2009 - 10:58:47
Beethoven Was An Alien Spy N 23 Mar 2009 - 10:17:32
Pinkertons Agent N 23 Mar 2009 - 09:38:58
The Fill In The Blank Kid N 20 Mar 2009 - 17:11:36
Psychic Surgery N 20 Mar 2009 - 16:09:03
Alien Geometries N 20 Mar 2009 - 12:40:24
Ignorant Leveler N 20 Mar 2009 - 11:12:34
Time Travelers N 20 Mar 2009 - 10:23:05
Time Travel Tense Trouble N 20 Mar 2009 - 09:38:07
Soiled Dove N 20 Mar 2009 - 08:36:00
Rubber Band History N 19 Mar 2009 - 17:00:54
Out Of Time Out Of Mind N 19 Mar 2009 - 15:47:48
Timey Wimey Ball N 19 Mar 2009 - 15:25:14
Wild Stallion Rule N 19 Mar 2009 - 14:53:24
Pancho Villa N 19 Mar 2009 - 13:10:28
Bandito N 19 Mar 2009 - 12:51:10
Delayed Ripple Effect N 19 Mar 2009 - 11:43:15
My Own Grampa N 19 Mar 2009 - 11:23:26
The Dark Times N 19 Mar 2009 - 11:07:51
Lovecraft Country N 19 Mar 2009 - 10:11:04
Future Me Scares Me N 17 Mar 2009 - 17:28:43
Ontological Paradox N 17 Mar 2009 - 17:11:38
Autoinfanticide N 17 Mar 2009 - 16:32:07
Grandfather Paradox N 17 Mar 2009 - 15:50:42
Boom Stick N 17 Mar 2009 - 13:54:47
This Is My Boomstick N 17 Mar 2009 - 13:18:04
Fish Out Of Temporal Water N 17 Mar 2009 - 12:53:40
Lagrange Points N 16 Mar 2009 - 14:39:25
Novikov Self Consistency Principle N 16 Mar 2009 - 14:00:22
Movement of the Earth N 16 Mar 2009 - 13:28:14
Our Time Travel Is Different N 16 Mar 2009 - 12:58:35
Arc Number N 16 Mar 2009 - 12:06:23
Arc Words N 16 Mar 2009 - 11:49:44
Shill N 16 Mar 2009 - 10:31:19
Con Man N 16 Mar 2009 - 10:18:39
Badger Game N 16 Mar 2009 - 09:06:48
Big Screen Tv In The Back Of The Truck Scam N 16 Mar 2009 - 08:48:54
Thai Gem Scam N 16 Mar 2009 - 08:36:36
Pig In A Poke N 15 Mar 2009 - 15:57:30
1883 No Cents Liberty Head Nickel N 15 Mar 2009 - 13:51:19
Goldbricking N 15 Mar 2009 - 13:30:59
Internet Dating Scams N 15 Mar 2009 - 13:15:41
Romance Fraud N 15 Mar 2009 - 13:02:39
Spanish Prisoner N 14 Mar 2009 - 13:35:23
Wire Game N 14 Mar 2009 - 11:03:25
Televised Infomercial Scam N 14 Mar 2009 - 09:21:12
Money Box Scheme N 14 Mar 2009 - 08:43:52
Salting The Mine N 14 Mar 2009 - 08:25:01
confidence game N 13 Mar 2009 - 10:22:58
In Spite Of A Nail N 12 Mar 2009 - 15:32:44
For Want Of A Nail N 12 Mar 2009 - 15:18:09
Temporal Paradox N 12 Mar 2009 - 15:07:19
Time Paradox N 12 Mar 2009 - 15:03:42
Clock Roaches N 12 Mar 2009 - 14:33:35
Butterfly Of Doom N 12 Mar 2009 - 14:09:22
Ontological Inertia N 12 Mar 2009 - 13:46:57
Hitlers Time Travel Exemption Act N 12 Mar 2009 - 12:57:08
Continuum N 12 Mar 2009 - 12:12:03
Troy N 11 Mar 2009 - 17:05:29
1809 N 11 Mar 2009 - 12:39:00
Theodore Gericault N 11 Mar 2009 - 11:55:15
Gyrojet Weapons N 11 Mar 2009 - 09:09:07
LeMat Revolver N 10 Mar 2009 - 15:24:40

Now, admittedly, a number of those (especially ones from mid-march) are basically mirrors of pages at the TV Tropes Wiki (but even those involved coming up with a bunch of ideas on how to use them in an RPG), or redirect pages (especially near the top of the list). Just the same, I'm kinda pleased with myself. That list doesn't include any of my many edits and revisions, just new pages I made.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Don't Try This At Home

You know it's a good Cthulhu session when, 15 minutes after the session wrapped up, your wife takes great pains to specifically spell out, without prompting of any sort, that there's no chance of any amorous contact that night because she's way too creeped out.

The session in question had featured a sequence where her character went to great efforts securing her home from intrusion, only to discover that the crazed cultist / would-be rapist was already hiding in her bedroom. She fought him off (and eventually got to her gun and put two bullets in him), but I sure didn't make it easy, nor sanitary. The light mechanics of Trail of Cthulhu helped keep the battle narrative, and the scene really captured the feel of a horror film or urban legend. As I said, it made for a great Cthulhu session, and it was a worthy experiment in staging a scene. Mind-rending horrors from beyond time and space just aren't as horrifying as the threat of the fate worse than death.

Just the same, it's probably not something I should ever repeat. Also definitely a no-go if you don't know your players really damn well. Some players get very caught up in their characters being an extension of themselves - and it's really easy to misjudge where someone's comfort zone ends. Having explored it once, may advice is don't try this one at home, kids. Luckily, I knew exactly where to draw the line. That sofa gets cold and lonely at night. :)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Familiar Territory

Yet another post about my current Deadlands campaign.

Given my druthers, I'd have been happy to have the answer to "Where is Shallow Gulch?" be answered with no greater level of detail than "In the (Weird) Wild West". After all, when you watch a bunch of westerns, you realize one town is pretty much like another. If a western isn't in Deadwood or Tombstone, it's set in Generic Western Town #187. And that's just fine with me.

One of my players, however, appeared to need more detail than that in order to enable willing suspension of disbelief. During character creation and the first session, he kept asking questions about where Shallow Gulch was, what the nearest big city or army post was, etc. I tried to dodge such questions at first, but it would have been a mistake to ignore his repeated requests for verisimilitude, especially in a game with a chase plotline where knowing the terrain ahead can be beneficial. So, Shallow Gulch was placed in the Dakota Territory, rather West of Fargo. Cobb's trail was leading into Indian Territory.

Somewhere along the way, a card got played (by a player) that turned an old Indian burial site into some sort of spatial portal. Cobbs trail lead into it, and following in his wake meant the PCs didn't lose the time the NPCs had spent cracking open the gate. It being a magical portal, I wanted things to feel like they'd gone a good distance, which meant environmental changes. That left 3 options. We could leave the Wild West completely. We could end up at the shore, still within the Wild West, but now in California or the like. Or we could end up in the desert of the American Southwest.

So I start describing cactus and hot sun, 'cause I know that kind of terrain better than California, and because I didn't want to stop the game while I read up on what The Big One did to Cali in the official setting. I'm relying on visual cues from the area around Albuquerque, 'cause I used to live there and can improvise it well enough.

Players see Cobb from a distance, a card gets played that makes him mistake them for someone else and set up a parley. Two sessions ago, that's where we ended. The next scene was pregnant with possibility. There was a good chance a fight would happen, and a very good chance that fight would result in one or more players needing new characters. Which meant I needed to be prepared for how they'd draft new PCs. The existing ones lacked the money to hire mercenaries. They were chasing after death himself, which takes a particular breed of character to do. I didn't want to just wreck another town to make more embittered survivors. So I needed a place where fearless monster-hunters would logically congregate.

Conveniently, I'd just described visuals based off Albuquerque, and I used to run a LARP set in Albuquerque over a 60 year arc (from 20 years before to 40 years after the Deadlands era). A version of Albuquerque frequented by monsters and monster hunters. Familiarity with that Alb on the part of 4 out 5 players meant if things went badly, they'd be able to easily whip up replacement characters with established backgrounds by just referencing the old campaign. No need to pull my punches when Cobb regrows his body and round two of the showdown starts up. The benefits go beyond that...

When Sapphirra Cobb's last words were "the Clock Tower might be able to stop him" my players didn't stand around scratching their heads. They knew that old LARP had a creepy magic Clock Tower (which the real Albuquerque lacks) that was known for sucking souls, entrapping ghosts, harboring a torpored Salubri Methuselah, etc. Instant recognition, even though they'd only ridden through the tower's shadow but briefly in Deadlands.

Likewise, they knew the names Jean Luc Martell and Cristos D'Anconia. Both bore the same weight as if I'd told them "On behalf of Lord Dracula, Mayor Renfield welcomes you to Albuquerque, affectionately known as Little-Transylvania-On-The-Rio-Grande".

Things were just falling into place, and I am pretty pleased with myself. There is, of course, some danger involved, as I mentioned in the previous post. That old LARP:
  • Was set in the World Of Darkness (well, an alternate World of Darkness), not the Weird West. Deadlands Vampires are far less numerous, but also more powerful than caitiff neonates. The political system will be rather less complicated here.
  • Had two thirds of it's plot set after the 1870s. The players may make assumptions based on things that haven't happened yet, and/or which likely won't in Deadlands.
  • Lacked many details that Pinnacle's Weird West brings along. New Mexico is part of the Confederacy. House Iron Horse was a big player in the Railroads of HOD LARP, but it's not one of the major lines in Deadlands. Fear and rumors manifest, and a place like Albuquerque's gotta have a pretty hefty horror level.
So, yes, this alternate-alternate-Albuquerque has got some drawbacks. From a certain point of view, however, those drawbacks are advantages. I get to try out elements of an old campaign a second time, and do differently the things I made mistakes on in the first pass.

It also means that I have my answer to "What do I do when and if they beat Cobb, and the main plot of the campaign is resolved?" They don't have to wander the wilderness anymore, as they've stumbled across a place that has a two campaigns full of evil for them to put down.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Albuquirky Resonances

In my Deadlands game, the PCs are currently in Albuquerque, where they met a feller named Jean Luc Martell who works for another feller named Cristos D'Anconia. They passed through the shadow of a clock tower on their way across town.

My readers here who played in my old HOD LARP will recognize some of that. In that campaign, D'Anconia was the first PC Vampire Prince of Albuquerque. Martell was his right-hand ghoul. The Clock Tower was a major location / plot point. 4 of the 5 players in this campaign played at that LARP. I think John (the one Player who didn't play in that LARP) has the advantage, as I've already noticed the others being blinded by the parallels. This isn't the same world / setting as that game, even if certain elements are reflected.

For that matter, I made a reference in-character during storytime yesterday to The Gun being a Spikard, but we clearly aren't in Amber.

The Red Right Hand (vs The Adventure Deck)

Yesterday's Deadlands game ran long, but it was well worth it. The PCs caught up with Cobb and "possed up" with him, ostensibly to capture his fugitive wife. So, having a moment to talk, I turned on fanaticism and symbolism nobs to 11.

The party had 4 horses and a flying machine. As part of their approach plan, though, they left one of the two white horses behind. (Legos keep being a real boon. Everyone had, several sessions ago, chosen between three colors of horse.)

Cobb had a red right hand, just as Belial describes God possessing in Book II of Paradise Lost. This started significant theological debate. Cobb indicated that between his horse, and the three the PCs brought, they had four horseman, and exactly one horse was pale. He confessed a recent crisis of faith, but that their arrival and joining up with him now convinced him that he was indeed following the correct path. He'd been just a touch worried that he was unwittingly serving the devil, but now, thanks to the PCs, he was certain that all the signs were right and he was God's punishment for the wickedness of man. The debate raged for several scenes, the two blessed in the group arguing quite vehemently against him, while the least moral PC negotiated a power deal with him. Eventually, it ended with an understanding that the Blessed would lead him to the river and baptize him.

Turns out the water they blessed was like acid to him, and thus the fight began.

It was the nastiest battle I'd run in a while. Cobb's very first action was to rip the face off one PC. One character in particular was saved from death three times. Two cards from the Action Deck were used on him: Lucky Break and Out Of The Frying Pan, both of which cancel an entire attack. The third time he was shot by The Gun, he spent every bennie he had to soak up the wounds. Two PCs sat at three wounds for most of the fight (and one of them had some fatigue as well). Several characters had to take cover in the blessed river. They went to all sorts of trouble to reach Cobb's wife and get her help in the fight, too, and she died.

They blew off Cobb's head, and he kept fighting (it's good to be a Liche). In fact, he put on the face he'd stolen from a PC at the start of the fight. The PCs spent every power point available to them, then played cards for more. The two blessed used miracles every round. 4 out of 5 PCs ran out of Bennies at one point or another, and all 5 spent their Adventure Deck cards. The Mad Scientist wrecked his flying machine taking Cobb out. They fired quite a few magic bullets. In the end, all that was left of Cobb was his red right hand, still clutching the cursed pistol. The hand spent most of its remaining power points to escape and regrow his body. They did kill "Skin'n'Ash" his mount / familiar / boneless horse husk. There's also a pile of demon corpses in the Rio Grande.

The PCs now have the Necronomicon. It'll only take 7 hours of work to get the flying machine mobile again, but 120 hours for Cobb to get back all the power points he spent. They have breathing room, a couple leads on more effective weapons against him, and a window of opportunity if they figure out what to do with it. Wish 'em luck.

Friday, May 8, 2009

2 out of 3 have climax

Heavy gaming week for me. Wednesday night I ran Trail of Cthulhu. Last night I played in a Savage Freeport game. Sunday I'll be running Deadlands.

Wednesday night's Trail of Cthulhu for my wife was mostly a wrap-up session. Campaign's not over, but that story arc was essentially post-climax. I'd been tempted to just jump ahead to the next story, but there was still some possibility for her to screw it up and let the bad guys off the hook (she didn't), so we kinda had to go through the motions. I kept it short, and freely dispensed with relevant facts in the few minor areas of inquiry she had to track down. Having effectively disarmed the villains, she was able to hand them off to the police without having to expose the authorities to any supernatural elements. Good moves on her part.

Thursday night's game I played in (at the weekly Game Feast) was a one-shot that turned into a two-shot due to getting started a little late. Pirates are fun, as is the notion of the Wizard-Lizard. Not much more to say on it till I see how it wraps up next Thursday.

Sunday's game is hard for me to predict. PC's are either posse-ing up with, ambushing, or getting ambushed by, the Big Bad. Way ahead of schedule, to their credit. But that makes getting the balance very tricky. Make him too weak, and it'll be cheap and anti-climactic... which might burn-out the campaign despite significant plot that will survive his defeat. Make him too buff, on the other hand, and they'll feel railroaded or ineffectual. The ideal scenario is probably PC success, at the cost of 20%-40% PC casualties. The plot would then continue into the city they're approaching, where the dead PCs could be replaced by new characters (provided they don't get "lucky" on Harrowed draws). There's a palpable tension for me as GM, as I can either bungle and implode the game, or make what follows far more interesting.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Hadn't seen this in a long time, and it still makes me laugh. "So you're walking through the dungeon-forest..."

Dexter's Laboratory - D & DD
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Anachronistic Music

I was thinking a lot about Continuum the other day, and I remembered this mistake I made during that campaign. The inverse/solution to that mistake should have made it to the "Making History Real" section of my Continuum GMing tips.

Basically, when choosing which elements to use to "sell" the past, it's really important you not choose elements your players know better than you do. On a related note, it's important to know when you're being subtle, and when you're not.

Should someone catch you in a mistake in an area they do know, it's not for me to say whether it's better for you to bluff or just own up to it. A successful bluff means more verisimilitude, but a failed bluff means you've lost their respect. Probably, honesty is the best policy... but it depends a lot on your play group. If you're gaming with the sort of folks who will start challenging you once you a mistake - well, bluff this time, and start looking for a better group to game with next week. In my case, I was lucky enough to have a really good group, and screwing up one very minor detail (and stupidly lying to cover it up) didn't have any major ramifications down the road - just a momentary panic and embarrassment, which I now dredge up as an object lesson.

I'd tried, foolishly, to switch up my background music as we moved through the eras. I made no mention of it in-character, I just quietly double-clicked on a new playlist the first time the party went back a few hundred years. I thought it was cute, almost clever. I wanted this to be barely noticed, just a way I could subtly shift the mood of the game as they time-traveled in an earlier era. However, it was apparently jarring. Not surprising, in retrospect - one moment the background music was Classic Rock, the next it was Classical. Of course they'd notice.

Mid-scene, about two quarter-notes in to the music switch, one of my players drops character, looks me in the eyes, and asks: "You do realize this song wasn't composed until roughly 170 years after the era we just spanned to?"