Sunday, May 27, 2018

Urchin Character Sheets

Doing a bit of spring cleaning today, I stumbled across some old Urchin character sheets. The character creation rules for the Urchin RPG require you to use a piece of trash for your character sheet, which is why these are on egg cartons, dog food packages, tin foil from left-overs, and old holey socks. In the game you play crazy people living in the rail and steam tunnels under New York City. Each character starts with 3 Talents, which are defined by the player. These talents are very open-ended, and tend to be both humorous and bizarre. Here's a photo of the party:
As part of my ongoing efforts to de-clutter my home and life, I am now going to return these character sheets to the trash from whence they were born.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Hard Drives Full of Ripper Letters

SPOILER ALERT: May contain tree nuts and spoilers for Night's Black Agents / Dracula Dossier.

Last weekend's session of my Night's Black Agents / Dracula Dossier campaign went smashingly well. We started with a battle between a group of PCs and Mina Harker on a helicopter. That led to a controlled crash that everyone survived thanks to quick thinking and aggressive point spends on the part of the players. They hoofed it north from the wreckage to cross Hadrian's Wall and the old Scottish border beyond it, having come to the deduction that Mina might be stronger on her native English soil and might have a hard time crossing a border uninvited.

Feeling a bit safer on the other side of the wall, they decided there was finally time to bring the newest Player Character up to speed on what she'd gotten herself into. So they broke out the Adversary Map and summarized each person, place, and organization on the giant interconnected web of strings and suppositions. This gave me a good feel on what parts of the mysteries the players had understood and internalized well enough to retain despite the two long breaks that have disrupted the campaign. Which meant it also pointed out to me which bits of the mystery were too vague or obfuscated for their own good, and the handful of important clues they had either forgotten or undervalued. So then I chimed in with some refreshers and emphasis where needed. I know I've beamed about it in many previous posts, but I'm just going to reiterate my love for NBA's Adversary Map, the Dracula Dossier's main prop/resource, and other organizational tools this game provides. Most detective RPGs with a long-term ongoing metaplot would have been irrevocably scuttled by the long dry spells that were caused by everyone's busy schedules and some out-of-character drama. That this campaign has bounced back twice pretty much effortlessly is a testament to what Night's Black Agents / Gumshoe System brings to the table.

 We left off this session with the PCs just starting to prep their next Op. They feel responsible for unleashing Jack the Ripper on the modern world several sessions back, so they are planning to track and target him next session.

In preparation, I spent a few hours tonight making Jack the Ripper props for the game. All new letters From Hell to be the trail of breadcrumbs for the Player Characters to detect and follow. Once the PCs find them, I'll post some here. Tangential to that, I just gotta say, the stuff that accumulates on the hard drive of a horror-game GM or DM can get pretty damn crazy at times. Sometimes anxiety-brain questions the wisdom in making and storing such madness, even though it is clearly for gaming purposes.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Clouds of Blood

SPOILER WARNING: The following post contains SPOILERS from fairly deep into the DRACULA DOSSIER campaign for NIGHT'S BLACK AGENTS. If you plan to ever play that campaign, you probably shouldn't read this. SPOILER WARNING

The body of this post are session notes from a recent Night's Black Agents game. I typed these up because one player was absent that week and needed to be brought up to speed on what he'd missed. As such, there's not a lot of context or explanation here about things he'd already know. Mostly, I'm just posting it here as an archive for my players in case they need to refer to it later, and to get me back into the habit of blogging about gaming. I make no promises that this will be of interest or make much sense to a random person without that context.

We picked up where we left off, on the decomissioned oil-rig owned by Edom. Gideon set loose Mina Harker, who proceeded to turn into a sentient mobile cloud of red blood, and who most likely ate the scientist and soldier that were in the dark with him. (Both stopped screaming, and Gideon stumbled across a body in the dark.) A few moments later Mina stepped out of the room in human form, excusing the blood at her mouth as a symptom of her long battle with "Consumption".

Elsewhere on the converted Oil Rig platform, Tzofiya watched as two soldiers and a guy in a suit marched a female prisoner out to the railing at the edge of the deck. They were about to shoot this woman in the head, when the sound of gunfire (coming from Gideon’s situation) distracted them. Tzofiya and the new woman (Batty’s PC, a Russian agent named Nika) defeated the (presumably Edom-aligned) men and headed below decks.

They fought some more soldiers on the way to the boat. Raul intercepted drone launches and radio traffic. Thankfully, Dov had disabled the missile launcher on the platform, and everyone was able to slip away before enemy reinforcements could arrive. According to intercepted transmissions, there was a helicopter and a warship on their way, ordered into position by a woman’s voice identifying herself by a name that sounded something along the lines of “Can Has”, “Ken Ads”, “Kehnazz”, etc.

Whenever Mina crossed a “border” she experienced some difficulties, ranging from inconvenience and distraction up to incapacitation or possibly involuntary liquidification. This included passing through doorways, moving from boat to boat, landing or taking off, flying over Hadrian’s Wall in a helicopter, etc. At one point is was so bad, they had to use the bilge pump to relocate her from one boat to the other.

(And it should be noted that the GM stated that Mina spent a few points of Health or "Soil" at some of these border crossings. Feel free to draw your own conclusions about what that means mechanically about how my Vampires work. Night's Black Agents monster chapter is a toolbox, not an encyclopedia: no two campaign's versions of Vampires work exactly the same way.)

The players wanted a safe place to interrogate Mina. Mechanically, there are a lot of ways to create a safe haven for the PCs. You could assign Network to retcon into existence contact that owns a safehouse. You could assign Cover to retcon into existence a false identity that owns a remote property somewhere. You could make a Supply Cache roll via Preparedness to retcon into existence a safehouse that you’d set up in your previous spy career. You could assign a Familiar City from one of your points of Urban Survival to have a place you can crash in that city. Or, you can improvise. Chris made a Digital Intrusion roll to search the dark web to find a horrible person who owned remote property that Raul could break into without feeling bad about any repercussions it might have if this lead Edom or Vampires to raid the asshole’s cabin at some future date.

As such, the place came with some baggage. Implications that the owner of the place was involved in crimes such as homicide and human trafficking, and might have actually been a serial killer, etc. All of which Mina seemed to smell about the place pretty much as soon as they’d bilge pumped her onto the island. She intuitively knew how many months it had been since the most recent murder on site.

There was a long scene where the PCs interviewed Mina. She claimed to be a patriot, and alluded to sacrifices she’d made for crown and country. It’s clear she’s a prisoner of Edom, but it seems she might also be an Asset of Edom that’s done at least a little field work. She indicated that the Dracula manuscript you have (which the PCs claimed wasn’t on them) was marked with the blood “of The Man Himself” and could be used by people with the right training to control or influence Him. The implication being that maybe Edom previously controlled Dracula, but he’s been on the loose since the book went missing. She was fairly evasive and at times the PCs knew she was outright lying about things. I think it's fair to say the players where a bit divided about how much to trust her. Eventually she revealed that Dracula was trained at the Scholomance,, the devil’s school in Transylvania. The body that had been on ice in London was revealed to be "Red Jack", aka Jack The Ripper. On a whim, Nika asked her if Rasputin was a Vampire, and Mina said there was a jar with his name on it inside the Scholomance. Mina gave up some useful intelligence, so despite still seeming untrustworthy to at least some of the PCs, they agreed to transport her via helicopter to English soil. The enemy of my enemy is… hopefully not going to eat half of England?

All this time, Tzofiya was intentionally making herself seem like a deliciously tempting target for Mina’s darker impulses. Exposed neck, shared deep glances, holding hands. I’m not sure if this was a variation on "good cop" to get her to talk more freely, or an effort to provoke her into attacking to expose Mina’s true evil, but it effectively achieved both in the end. Once she made up her mind she was going to eat you all, maintaining secrecy was a lot less important.

Leaving Dov to sail the boat to a later rendezvous, the rest of the party boarded a chartered commercial helicopter and left the island cabin behind. They flew over Scotland and then south over more traditionally English soil. As soon as they were definitively above England, Mina made her move.

I told Kaylin “You feel icy fingers rifling through your mind. If you want to resist, you can make a Stability test.” A few unfortunate die rolls later, and Tzofiya has shot the NPC civilian commercial pilot in the head. That’s our cliff-hanger: most of the PCs are on helicopter that is falling from the sky, there’s a murderous vampire in their midst, and one of the party’s best fighters is struggling against mental domination.