Archive for the 'I Need an Exit' Category

Meat Lightning: Campaign Creation, Part 1

2009 Jun 29

The Stormchaser (formerly HMS Investigator) is a decommissioned and officially condemned 118-foot ice-strengthened merchant barque formerly of Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s Royal Navy. While searching for remnants of the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in 1853, she became frozen in the arctic Canadian waters near Lancaster Sound. Only a small fraction of the crew survived the long nine months of being frozen in until the summer thaw broke the Investigator free. The ship limped home to England barely held together, having narrowly escaped being crushed and sunk by the expanding ice. The arctic death of Captain Warren and unproven rumors of cannibalism among the few survivors led to the decommissioning of the ship and its illegal sale into private hands, despite being condemned. According to official navy records, the HMS Investigator was intentionally sunk in the North Sea in 1855.

Did you eat the bodies of your dead crewmates in order to survive?
Did you kill any of them in order to eat them?
Did you kill Captain Warren?
Did you eat Captain Warren?

The decommissioned Investigator was sold, as is, to a research group led by Dr. Francis Caldwell and secretly funded by the Royal Society for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge. Caldwell had conducted pioneering work in the scientific study of animal magnetism and had sought to expand his research to include the magnetic field of the earth itself. Consequently, he hoped that the newly renamed Stormchaser would ferry himself, a handful of assistants, and a deviously ingenious magnetic engine of his own devising to the arctic, as close to the magnetic north pole as the weather and ice would allow. However, Caldwell could find no proper crew in England willing to sail north on a “cursed” ship whose true identity was readily apparently to any able British seaman. In the end, Caldwell was forced to make grand promises to the Investigator‘s survivors so that they would return to their former posts and scrounge for the rest by hiring foreigners and ne’er-do-wells with no knowledge of the ship’s history.

Do you know that the ship is cursed?
What has Francis Caldwell promised you, that you would make this journey?
What do you hope to find or escape from out in the arctic?
Who will miss you while you are gone?

In October of 1857, the Stormchaser is frozen in for the winter 20 miles off the east coast of Boothia Peninsula, where Sir John Ross discovered the magnetic north pole in 1829. On November 12, Dr. Caldwell is in the midst of preparing to sledge his magnetic engine over the ice — and eventually all the way to the magnetic pole — when mutiny erupts. A dozen of the Stormchaser‘s crewmen are secretly servants of the archon Asmodeus and have been charged with destroying Dr. Caldwell’s machine and killing all other members of the expedition.

Which side do you initially take in the mutiny, Caldwell’s or the mutineers?
Whose side are you really on?
Who leads the pro-Caldwell forces defending the good doctor and his infernal machine?

Okay, that character now begins their first mission. Your objectives are:
1. Protect the doctor and his machine.
2. Capture, kill, or drive off the mutineers.


More Art for Bliss-Robed Lie

2009 Jun 6

George continues to outdo himself.


The light is taking me to pieces.

Spot-Checking the Lie, Part 3

2009 Jun 4

Final thoughts on the Bliss-Robed Lie playtest from yesterday.

Dev agreed with me that the names of the PCs / NPCs in the Meat Lightning example campaign need to be changed from Matrix-y names (Glitch, Cascade) to period appropriate names from fiction (like Dodger from Oliver Twist, or Tiger, Pirate Jenny, and Macheath from Threepenny Opera).

The role that Anchors have during missions is so small (I didn’t even mention them in my description above), that they aren’t really necessary, even in a sort of Operator role. Far more important is dialog and other expressions shared between the characters on a mission together (which doesn’t really happen in The Matrix or Bliss Stage much). There’s probably a “machinist” back on the icebreaker running the galvanism machine, but I don’t think you can contact them unless you’re near a lightning rod or open space where lightning can reach you.

As with the mesmerism / The Shroud of Death discussion, the setting needs to be playtested a bit more just to work out little logistical kinks that’ll impede storytelling and what the players actually want to be doing. Sure, in play, Raven handed over some scraps of cloth that the owner of the opium den took as money (because of mesmerism), but there need to be fairly clear guidelines about what those capabilities are, mostly so the players can forget about them and focus on the important stuff.

It’s not entirely clear to me yet how much information I should include about PCs and NPCs, where the line is between not enough and too much. Definitely, there should be a list of example missions to riff on or even some missions assigned to individual characters, to be brought into play at certain points in the game. Also, when I mentioned to Dev that one of the example PCs was a traitor, Cipher-style, trading information about the crew to Asmodeus, Dev wondered how that would work in play. I said I was just assuming that that player would hotshot objectives based on keeping their cover and getting information to Asmodeus, but assuming isn’t really enough. I should clearly but that on that character’s sheet.

Spot-Checking the Lie, Part 2

2009 Jun 4

Continuing from my post last night.

Dev’s captain, Raven, and her first mate, Karma, had just walked their way into an upscale opium den and asked for a private room in the back. While being led there, I described the two ladies passing by the doorway of another private room, outside of which stood several thugs who eyed them suspiciously. Inside they could hear the judge talking quietly and a woman giggling.

Dev suggested that Karma go cause a distraction in the hallway while Raven burst through the thin wall dividing the two private rooms and grabbed the judge. Karma ran over to the hallway screaming that the judge was her husband and had to come home immediately. Dev rolled for the second obstacle “Avoid the judge’s bodyguards.” As the GM, I threatened Karma, which made sense, since she was the one putting herself in danger by drawing attention.

Dev ended up overcoming the objective but having to place a minus (-) in Karma, removing her from the mission. Sweet. I decided that some of the men had carried her off, struggling, but were sufficiently distracted that Raven burst in on the judge and grabbed him. He looked up at her. “Why, hello, Raven,” I had him say.

Dev then rolled for the next objective, “Kidnap the judge,” succeeding and narrating dragging him out of the opium den, throwing him into a carriage that happened to be waiting outside, elbowing the driver down into the street, and whipping the horses into gear, tearing off through the streets of London. The judge’s bodyguards were, of course, hot on their heels, firing pistols at Raven (the damage she took from these being partially responsible for her increasing Terror and Trauma).

For the fourth objective, “Deliver the judge to the angelic underground,” I pulled out the new shot-framing guidelines that I’m suggesting players use for fights, chase scenes, heists, and other complex objectives that you might want to describe step-by-step rather than stuff happening all at once. The way this originally worked is: the rolling player (Dev) places all their dice in categories (one for each relationship/trait being drawn on, one for “exposure,” one for mission, plus dice for any threatened categories resulting from Trauma) and then these dice are read in order as individual “shots” in a piece of moviemaking, pluses (+) described by the rolling player, as badassery by their character or other crew members; blanks (   ) described by the other players, as either good or bad things; and minuses (-) described by the GM as obstacles, setbacks, and failure. When shot-framing in this manner, each shot does not necessarily need to be associated with the category its die is placed on, but there’s a reason that “exposure” and mission come last, as they sum up the sequence and present appropriate results based on the roll.

This was a bit awkward in playtesting wth Dev, partially because it was just the two of us (there were no “other players” to describe shots for blanks) and also simply because Dev would also have to describe a bunch of shots in a row (since players obviously want to place pluses if they can), leading to that Wushu-thing where you have to describe badassery on top of badassery, which can become silly, tiring, and/or repetitive after a while. So I’m rethinking the way the shot-framing works. (I’m now thinking that the GM always leads off every shot with a description of opposition — someone’s shooting at you, you encounter a problem, etc. — and then the appropriate player describes how this opposition is overcome or not, based on the die, with the GM describing both the opposition and your failure to overcome it on a minus. In any case, something like that where there’s more guidelines for what the players are describing in shot-framing).

So, in the playtest, we had a semi-awkward chase scene through the slums of London, ending up with Raven beating the shit out of her pursuers, throwing them into the machinery of an underground millworking factory. Then she delivered the judge into the hands of the angel, a very disturbing individual who had a cover as a groundskeeper at a local church, holding court in the belltower.

After that scene, we decided that the action was over and that it was silly to make Dev roll again to get out. So we had some discussion about whether the “Get in” / “Get Out” objectives were always there or if they were added at the whim of the GM, depending on what was happening in the mission. (Currently leaning towards the latter).

If we had run a second mission, it could have clearly been about the trouble that Karma was now in, having been accosted by some of the judge’s bodyguards and maybe not have been able to get out like her captain did.

Next post is about post-game discussions with Dev.

Spot-Checking the Lie, Part 1

2009 Jun 3

Ran a demo of The Bliss-Robed Lie for Dev today, which he seemed to enjoy. Also got some great feedback from him on things to make more explicit in the text. He wasn’t 100% sold on the shot-framing mechanic I have for reading placed dice during fights, but agreed that it might be helpful in some circumstances. Clearly needs to be one of the things looked at during alpha playtesting.

To begin, I had Dev read the short premise I wrote for Meat Lightning, the example Victorian campaign:

Meat Lightning is an example campaign in which the nineteenth century obesssions of galvanism, mesmerism (often called “animal magnetism”), and spiritualism are all aspects of the true science that can free humankind from their fleshy cages. Amidst the appalling poverty and squalor of East London — Whitechapel, Bluegate Fields, Shadwell, Wapping — the Archons mesmerize the lost and forgotten, turning them into agents of the Lie. Meanwhile, aboard an icebreaker far away in the polar north, a few liberated individuals use steampunk science to broadcast their souls into the bodies of the recently deceased, revivifying them in the manner of Dr. Frankenstein and using these animated corpses to fight the Archons and spread the freeing truth.

Dev played “Raven,” the captain of the icebreaker, whose daughter was killed by the archon Asmodeus. We decided that Raven’s crew had recently uncovered information about one of Asmodeus’ key lieutenants, a judge who apparently had a secret opium habit. This judge was the target of the sample mission we ran. Originally I suggested simply taking the judge out, but Dev said he’d rather deliver the judge to one of the angels in the underground (not the subway, the seedy criminal underbelly of the city). Rather than have Raven hotshot that addition during the mission itself, I adjusted the mission outline to include that objective (I think, in future playtests, captains or mission leaders will set the mission objectives and then the GM will add consequences for failure and add unexpected objectives during the mission itself). The objectives looked like this:

1. Get In & Arrive at Opium Den
2. Avoid the Judge’s Bodyguards (suffer harm for not succeeding)
3. Kidnap the Judge
4. Deliver Him to the Angel (if failed, you have to kill the Judge or he gets away)
5. Get Out

So I narrated a bit… Raven being strapped to a metal table like Frankenstein’s monster, firing up the machine, punching the lightning home to London, and then Dev rolled for the first objective. Generally we stuck to the pattern of roll first, then narrate, but there were little interstitial bits of narration that also happened between rolls. I need to do more thinking and playtesting to figure out exactly how to structure a turn (maybe re-read Ben’s instructions too).

Dev jacked in fine and described Raven and her first officer, Karma, sparking to life in the back room of a pharmacy. Cool. I added that some pharmacist had hoodwinked some street people into trying some nefarious drug cocktail and then dumped the bodies in the back room. Dev had the pair sneak out the back and then head down the street towards an opium den catering to upper class clients.

That’s when we hit our first bump. Dev had trouble imagining, fictionally, how the two undead street ladies were going to waltz into this fancy joint. Ladies don’t go to opium dens much. Especially not street ladies. Especially not if they’re undead. But that’s clearly what badasses resurrected by galvanism should do: waltz right in. So we spent five minutes talking about mesmerism and how that works, ultimately deciding that there’s a residual magnetic aura from the galvanism that causes your average mortal to not pay any special attention to crew members unless they unduly call attention to themselves. Basically, those they encounter typically see what they expect to see, until a fight breaks out or crew members make unusual demands, etc. (Now I’m also thinking that maybe it’s actually a supernatural aura, called “The Shroud,” that clings to resurrected bodies, clothing them in mystery but also fancy funeral attire, so characters can be dressed in a sufficiently badass fashion. That would leave mesmerism as a special skill, not something everyone has.)

More notes later.

Page 1 Semi-Final

2009 Jun 2

This is a low-res version of the page that resulted from the earlier mockup, with art by George Cotronis (northerain, who also did work on the Geiger Counter cover). I’m really excited about how Bliss-Robed Lie is turning out, which is somewhere between a supplement like Blossoms Are Falling or Dictionary of Mu and the newer short, campaign-design mini-games like Lady Blackbird.


Mockup of First Page

2009 May 27


Neo circa 1910

2009 Apr 27

I’ve been looking for old photographs to illustrate the “steampunk Matrix” playset I’m making for Bliss Stage, and I’m pretty sure I just found the best Neo illustration ever. Even has that Chinese-style short collar, confused expression, and some badass shades. Guess he didn’t listen to Morpheus about staying off the freeway.


Steampunk Matrix for Bliss Stage

2009 Apr 23

Pages from a campaign guide I’m working on.



Captain Neo

2009 Mar 18

This morning I wrote a structured freeform scenario based on Captain Eo. My mind is currently vexed with ideas about combining it with The Matrix.

NEO: “I know how to dance.”
MORPHEUS: “Show me.”

Morpheus is liberating folks from the uncool Matrix and freeing their minds by teaching them to dance. Smith disparately wants to learn to dance (the agent analog of King Louis) and is filled with rage that he’s so square. Can ya dig it?