Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Spider's Web: Chapter One

Dirty, loud, incandescent signs. Loud, rude, people, with far too many colors and smells and everything else that made Peter want to be in his basement, most of the lights off, alone, with his work.  Peter grabbed his inhaler and heaved, fighting the tightness in his chest. He was late to school, but Peter didn’t care. School was worthless. If anything, he felt dumber leaving the building than when he went in.

Every day was the same. Peter walked into Hillcrest High School, past the metal detectors, past the cops, trying to hold his breath over the smell of other people who clearly had been smoking pot, to his locker, which he had locked with a padlock, right along with the standard lock built into the door. But the standard locks were stupid and were very easy to get into. Not that Peter had ever broken into a locker to vandalize them; he was curious as to how to figure them out. Locks were easier than people and much quieter.

Today, Peter had brought a small device in his backpack. Of course that meant checking it in with the cops, but he clutched the inhaler in his pocket as he produced the paperwork Dr. Allen had given him. Peter had built a machine that could alter the weather on a small scale. The cops fingered it, handled it, sniffed it (what the hell were they doing sniffing it??), and then handed it back. Peter sneered at them as he walked past. The cops ignored him. They had seen that look before.
The day went by far too slowly until chemistry class with Dr. Allen. And even that was slow. Dr. Allen would only go at the rate of someone like Flash, who sat in the back, on his phone. He was probably looking at nudes, knowing him. Half the girls in the school had been with him, by his account. Flash had been benefited by puberty, unlike Peter; he was six feet tall, built like a mountain, and had a rogue-ish red curl on his forehead that never seemed to move. It made the girls wet to look at him.  As Peter glowered at him he found himself touching his own, scrawny, leg. He flinched. 

Dr. Allen looked at the machine at the end of class and smiled. “Good work, Peter, good work! But it’s a little flawed. But if I give you this…” and he fished out a metal out of a desk. “But this will make sure that it doesn’t break down. Replace the copper flakes with this.”

“How… how did you get vibranium?” Peter stared down at the tiny bit of metal in his hands. “This isn’t… this isn’t legal, is it, Dr. Allen?”

“Peter, sometimes in order to progress towards your ultimate goal, you have to break some rules here and there. And please, like I said before, when we’re not in class, call me Miles.”

“Oh… OK, Miles. But how will I get the shaved bits off of a metal that redistributes all force put upon it?”

“You figure that out, and you will have a seat at any institution you’d like by the end of the year.”
When Peter went home he ran straight into his basement, locking the door behind him, not even acknowledging the calls of “Peter!” He’d been thinking about the problem all day. Vibranium would need to be rendered less reactive. He didn’t need much, just to whittle this piece of it down enough to place it in his machine. He knew that, in order to do that, he would have to slow it down on a molecular level… which meant cooling… of some sort.

He was back out the front door, vibranium in its protective case. He hopped on his bike, clearing a few blocks before stopping for his inhaler. He biked on until he came to Inglesia, a restaurant that Uncle Ben had donated his last cent to keep open. Their flautas were perfect, or so Uncle Ben said. Peter hated flautas. Well, Peter hated most friend food in particular, it just smelled horrific. But Peter was welcome into this stinky hell-hole anytime, and so he went there.

“Peter! How’s your uncle?” asked Manny, the head cook, who was currently waiting on tables too. Peter gave out the niceties. Manny smelled bad. Always. Peter had no idea how on earth the place stayed open; the Health Board should have shut this hellhole down years ago. But Uncle Ben saw value in this place…

“Hey, Manny! Do you, uh, have a second?” Peter looked around. He’d no idea where the money Uncle Ben had given this fool had gone, but it certainly hadn’t gone towards a shower. But Manny seemed friendly enough, regardless of… whatever. “Do you still have that… that knife?”

Manny laughed. “The knife from ‘Nam? Of course! What else would I do with an adamantium knife? Why?”

Peter pulled out the package from his backpack. “I’ve got something that only adamantium can cut.”
“Sure, Peter, sure! C’mon in, I can get that done for you!” Peter walked into the steaming kitchen with Manny. Perspiration spawned on Peter as they walked through. Peter hated kitchens. Too much going on. Manny went into his office, all the way in the back of his grungry hell-hole, and pulled a small knife out of a drawer. It was no bigger than a Swiss Army Pocket-Knife’s blade, but Manny was gingerly holding it. Peter handed the bit of vibranium to Manny, reluctantly. He indicated where to cut, and Manny gave a few quick slices. “There ya go, bud! Want a flauta on your way out?”

Peter refused, flat.

The next day was much the same, except it wasn’t. Peter didn’t mind the noise as much as he normally did, and he proudly placed his device (the “Weather-Man!”) into the cop’s hand. He saw Flash and even found himself smiling at the jock. Even he had heard the news within a few minutes of coming into the school: Flash Thompson, the lady’s man extraordinaire, was dating good girl, straw-colored haired Liz Allan! Apparently something about that hot blonde had turned Flash’s head enough to put up with her conservative nonsense. Whatever. Maybe she would rub off enough on Flash to make him not an asshole. After his English class with Mrs. Lapell he ran back to his locker.

But Peter knew who had broken into his locker before he looked inside. Only one idiot would be resourceful enough to get the proper tools necessary to break the lock and yet still flunk all the tests he took. And there was one spot that Flash dumped all his dirty work, regardless of whether it involved sex or not: behind the bleachers. He ran down the hallway, ignoring the warnings of his teachers, pushing past people, causing his chest to heave against his collared shirt. He got to the edge of the bleachers, and loosened his tie a little.

He stopped when he saw what was left of Weather-Man: just the vibranium. Flash was too stupid to see the value of it, of course.

Peter didn’t stop to talk to… Miles… after class. He went straight home, ignoring the greetings, and went downstairs. He didn’t turn the light on, he just sat. And sat. And sat. Eventually the door creaked and he could hear the groaning of the stairs.

Uncle Ben always smelled of cigars. He had quit years ago (Aunt May had made him), but the smell stuck, somehow. And his voice was a deep, calm, smoky sort of a voice. “Peter. I hate to bother you in your super-science lab, but your Aunt… well… she’s a worrier. And she’s worried about you. You came in upset. Is everything alright?”

Peter shook his head. “It’s all right, Uncle Ben, I just… I… Flash Thompson destroyed something I had made. It was a weather machine. It… took… it took a lot of work. An absurd amount, Uncle Ben. I even had to go to Manny for help, but Flash… He destroyed it.”

“And what are you going to do about it?”


“Peter, what do you plan to do about it?”

More silence.

“Peter, what are you going to do about it? Cause there’s a few ways you can go about this. You could let it be. Flash has his own issues. I know it doesn’t excuse what he did, but are you really going to add to whatever may be going on with him, just because he hurt you? I know that’s not the nice answer. If you want to we can report this to the school, if you’d like.”

Peter sat there in silence for another minute. “No, Uncle Ben, you’re right. I wouldn’t want us adding to it. I think I can forgive him.”

Uncle Ben clapped him on the shoulder.  “You’re a good man, Pete. You’re going to change the world someday.” He left Peter in the basement. The sun would come down before Peter follow him back up the stairs. Peter laughed and joked with Uncle Ben and listened attentively to Aunt May's insistence that he was far too fragile a person for those kinds of jokes. Peter washed the dishes for her, much to her protests. He played Scrabble with Uncle Ben and Aunt May (and let Aunt May win every time) and then went to bed. But Peter didn't sleep. Peter hadn't slept more than a few hours a night for years. His mind would never calm, not without absolute exhaustion. He would have gone out to do basketball for the exercise, but Aunt May protested about how fragile he was. Peter almost believed her.

So the next day Peter didn't confront Flash. No, Peter waited for Flash to rush into class, five minutes late, before he asked to go to the bathroom. He got up, walked down the hall, stopped and a locker, opened it, and looked into it for a few minutes. After a few minutes he walked away, spring in his step, to the janitor's closet, for which he produced a home-made skeleton key. He pulled a few fluids out of it and then went back to the locker. A few minutes later he put everything back and went to the bathroom. It took less than a few minutes.

Peter was on his way to gym when he was grabbed by his sweater collar by a familiar hand and dragged outside. As Peter looked back he saw Liz, that straw colored hair in a bun, running after them, yelling at the top of her lungs. Of course they went to behind the bleachers. But that was the way the world worked, wasn't it?

Flash was so red in the face that something... unexpected... happened. Peter laughed. He couldn't help it, Flash looked so ridiculous! His red, curly, hair, his red, angry face... Peter didn't give a shit anymore. He was going to be beaten within an inch of his life, he knew it. But Peter had done it. He had hurt Flash in a way far more powerful than anything Flash was about to do to him.

Flash had stopped yelling and was looking at Peter, expectantly. Liz was screaming? Crying? Peter already had a bloody nose. It felt good. The blood tasted good in his mouth, tangy and sour. "Oh, you wanted me to say something?" Flash stared, dumbstruck. He even let go of Peter and stepped back a half step. "You want me to apologize for taking your pweicous widduh neckwace for goody two shoes Whizzy and-"

He felt his nose break and he laughed. His ribs popped and Peter yelped in pain, but the look he shot Flash made Liz freeze as she ran to pull Flash off him.  She grabbed the top of her head with both hands, and that bun came undone. Golden hair cascaded down her shoulders. Her face was framed in gold. Peter chuckled. "See, Whizzy? Poor widduh Fwash hasn't change much, has he?"

The last impressions Peter had was Liz's scream and the bottom of Flash's shoe.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Giggling Dark: Session 1

Xellous, his big sister Genevieve, and his sweetheart Kora went out into the woods in the middle of the night to hunt for deer. While doing this they bumped into a firey little demon boy.

Everyone froze.

The flaming demon jumped at Kora, but Xellous, whose bow was already out, shot the demon boy in the neck. Screaming, the demon boy ran away, leaking burning liquid and burning the grass around him. Genevieve started to run after the little demon, telling Xellous and Kora to get home, that she'll go it alone. Xellous and Kora argue that they'll need her and that she shouldn't do it. Genevieve gripes about it but she concedes that taking on a demon on her own is a dumb idea. Tracking the thing is easy enough... but it turns back, towards Kora's farm. Both Genevieve and Kora go quiet, but Xellous tries to assure them that everything will be OK.

When they get to the farm they see that the little demon is attacking Altus, Kora's father. Threen, Kora's mother, sneaks up behind Altus and hit him on the back of the head with a shovel. Kora then shot him in the arm with her bow. The demon stared, transfixed, at Threen. Xellous shot the fire demon in the torso, confused. Genevieve held Xellous back, telling him to let Kora kill her father. And so Altus died.

Threen and Kora hugged each other, crying in relief. Xellous, overwhelmed, tries to process. But another fire demon came out of the house, attacking Threen. Xellous put an arrow in the demon's head and knelt beside it. Examining the corpse, Xellous realized that these demons were called Flammeous Lads: demonic little boys, summoned to do a task. They're utterly obedient to that assignment and are rather rare. Xellous, being an amateur enchanter, wanted the heart for... reasons.  So he cut out the heart of the demon's chest. He burned his hands to do it, but he did it.

Kora screamed: her brother, Michael, was not in the house! Xellous stashed the burning heart away, longingly, and since he was the better tracker between him and Kora, found Michael's footprints. He had left sometime before they had gone out to hunt, judging by the marks, and he had gone into the woods as well! Xellous, Kora, Geneveive, and Threen set out. As they followed the tracks Genevieve talked with Xellous, quietly, about Kora killing Altus. She explained that it was necessary, but that Xellous would have to talk with Kora about it, because it was not for Genevieve to talk about further.

Kora would not say one word about it.

The tracks led to an abandoned cabin, in the middle of the woods. There was a warm glow coming out of the windows. Standing outside the cabin the four began to consider their options, but then they heard Michael scream inside the cabin.  Xellous runs straight in, far in front of the others. Michael was up to his shoulders in blood, kneeling next to a small human corpse, with an ashen-looking Flammeous Lad standing nearby. Michael fell backwards, staring at his hands. Xellous froze, as did everyone else who ran in behind him. But the Flammeous Lad didn't. He jumped at Genevieve, grabbed her by the hair, and smashed her head into a nearby wall, setting her body alight. Snapping out of his fear Xellous shot the Lad in the head, who fell over, but continued to twitch. Xellous fired another arrow into the Lad's head. Xellous smothered the fire that was eating at Genevieve's body, and grabbed some bandages. But Genevieve didn't move, no matter what Xellous did. He cried, he screamed, he wrapped her in as many bandages as he could muster, but it did not matter. Genevieve would not move. Kora ran out of the room. Threen ran for her screaming son. Xellous  took all this in, took a deep breath and, setting Genevieve down gently, ran after Kora.

Xellous found Kora in a nearby clearing, fletching arrows. Xellous stood there with her for a few minutes, not saying anything. Kora explained that she was pregnant. Xellous said nothing. Genevieve had known about it, but had told Kora not to tell Xellous about it, because she didn't want Xellous to be distracted from his enchanting work. Kora told Xellous about how kind Genevieve had been to her, how she had promised that they would find a way to get her away from her father. And now Altus was dead, but so is Genevieve! After a few minutes of silence Kora asked if Michael had been the one to summon the Lads. Xellous was stupid enough to say it probably was, and Kora began to sob. Xellous tried to hug her but is pushed away. So Xellous sat next to Kora as she sobbed. After awhile she grabbed some more branches and continued her fletching. Xellous also grabbed a branch, with his burned fingers, and starts to fletch as well; he'd never fletched before. Kora smiled at him, and told him that he wasn't doing a half bad job. Xellous smiled.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Giggling Dark, Session 0

"Dark Grin" by eyeoftheredking
I've known Ryan since I was 16 years old and have gamed with him ever since. He's a fantastic roleplayer and has an eye for chaos, good plots, and utterly intense characters. And, honestly, he's got a level of emotional honesty in all of his RP that makes him one of the funnest people I've ever gamed with. Every time I don't game with him I feel like I'm missing something. So, when I decided I wanted to do solo campaigns, I realized very quickly that I wanted to game with Ryan again. I had this pitch, an idea I got from reading Fire on the Velvet Horizon in the form of  The Flammeous Lads:

Obviously this isn't all there is when it comes to my Flammeous Lads. And that's what stuck with me. I couldn't unsee what I saw when I read about them. Over the months this idea grew and blossomed into a horrific picture of depravity, something so horrific that I couldn't not say it. I wanted to throw it at a player and see what they did with that level of darkness. And Ryan was that player. And I instinctively wanted Burning Wheel to be the engine that pulled the carriage.

Ryan, in turn, wanted to make a character unlike anything I'd run before: a two life path character, mere child, in Burning Wheel. He wanted to play a child prodigy enchanter. So we sat down and tried to figure out how to do that in the system.

First off, there's the setting: it's based in a setting called Stardust, where there are rot zones: areas where the dead rise and become undead. A few hundreds years ago a star fell and sanctified the ground. Other stars, noticing the positive impact their sister had on the world, joined suit, and the overwhelming presence of Rot Zones retreated into regional territories. The campaign happens in a place relatively far from one of these zones, but it still impacts the world and burial rituals and all that.

Second off, there's the problem of the cost of the trait Child Prodigy, which made it unworkable to make Ryan's character Xellous an enchanter and a Child Prodigy. After spending an hour trying to get the math to work in the lifepaths (it didn't), we decided that magic would not require being Gifted. But that means that magic is ubiquitous. We had to get around that, as I imagined this as a very dirty, very miserable, thoroughly umagical place. So we settled on what's called Practical Magic; everyone has a little bit of magic, but it's generally for enhancing stuff they already know how to do, and it's certainly not very powerful. Nor is it easy to learn. So, while everyone can learn Uncle Chuck's mending spell, not everyone can learn how to smooth their words in a way that makes them almost impossible to resist. Enchanting is an art taught to almost no one, and few stumble upon it. Xellous' exceptionality would come in the fact that he started the game Grey-shaded. After removing that requirement it was a breeze to make the character.

After figuring out what we wanted to do we made a few relationships for Xellous: his girlfriend, the tomboyish Kora, and Genevieve, the older sister. All three of them liked to hunt, especially at night when their parents were asleep. The opening situation would be that, while they were out one night, they bumped into a Flammeous Lad. Xellous' Beliefs were all about becoming a great enchanter, coming out from under his sister's shadow, and making sure that Kora didn't try kill the Flammeous Lad by herself, which she definitely wanted to do.

Character and situation presented, we were good to go!

The REAL Beyond the Wall Review

Welcome to the definition of a mixed bag. Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures is a unique game, with a great idea: make it  possible to make characters, draw up the scenario, and play an entire story, all within one session! It is a lofty goal. There's only one other game I know that tries to do a complete story in a single session, Tenra Bansho Zero, which I also own. But that game has gotten no actual playtime with me so far, unfortunately, because of the prep work involved in setting up a session; BtW has no such issue. But as you get past the brilliant character and session creation rules you'll find a mess of rules that just do not fit together. It's not enough to completely wreck the game, but it certainly doesn't help the game or elevate it into the smash hit it honestly should be.

BtW's character creation is unique. Most games will use either an archetype system or a class system of some sort. BtW uses both an archetype and a class system, to great effect. The archetype system is actually a background generator, building you up from childhood to present day, with quirks, traits, relationships, and then hooking that into a class. And this system works, really really well. It's simple, flavorful, and effective. It's actually so effective it makes me wonder why no one else has done something like this before! If anyone reading this blog has run into something quite like this let me know and I will gladly play the hell out of that game. Generating the session is equally as good. It's detailed and dependent on what the players generated in their character building. And this whole process can take as little as half an hour! Yes, you heard me right! Half an hour! It's amazing! And what's more the hooks generated are very good, more than enough to get the session started.

Unfortunately the actual rules for the session are not terribly good. There are three (yes, THREE) different systems of resolution in this game: roll under, roll above, roll and add modifiers. Every single newbie I've shown that to scratches their head. Fortunately the systems are simple enough for even noobs to adapt to, but they shouldn't have to: there are plenty of ways to take the simple roll under system that is the mainstay of the game and do it through the rest of the system. Whitehack presents these solutions, as do other games, and the fact that this game took the worst that the OSR has in it is head-scratching, particularly when you consider that the designers had another system in mind but chose the system they did for ease of use. It's not enough to destroy the session, but it is a drag on it. I'm going to houserule a lot of Whitehack into this game, if only because at that point it'll be the perfectly smooth system they were talking about to begin with.

I want to call BtW perfect, I really do. You can do all sorts of wonderful things with this system and the designers are clearly onto something. And you can tell that they have a really good idea. But all good ideas need some cleaning up, particularly unique ones. Burning Wheel needed it, 4th edition needed it, and this game needs it too. I would highly recommend Beyond the Wall, I would just highly advise to not be shocked if a second edition is made, and I would advise to be even less shocked when it's a clearly superior product to the first edition. These guys are onto something. I hope they chase it down, catch it, and make it perfect.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The Bereaved: Session 2

Mokola woke up, face down, in the snow. He could barely feel his fingers and toes and there was frozen blood on the back of his head. Four of the five orcs were dead, with wounds that matched weapons that were delivered by Midnight Guild members. with no sign of Karl. Mokola checked his pack; in the scuffle that had killed the other orcs his pack had been smashed; he had one day of rations left, from his original 11. Mokola examined his torches and was pleased to find that they were not damaged. He found a hollow tree and lit a fire, but managed to cut himself because of how cold he was.

After successfully applying a bandage Kenin the Ghost showed up. She revealed that it was indeed Midnight Guild members, six or seven of them, led by Yron (the Midnight Guild member who had been encountered earlier) who had killed the orcs, with the other one fleeing. Only two or three had been sent by the Headmaster to look for the missing soldiers, however. They also left Mokola behind, something that the (more-or-less) honorable Guild of Midnight Stalkers would never do. Kenin followed them, trying to see where they went. Turns out that it's only a few hour's walk to Dragonskull Fort. So, after warming up, Mokola set out for Dragonskull, following Kenin. Mokola has a Cloak of Shadows, a gift from a friend that, when properly attuned, helps to make a character practically invisible, but it takes a day to attune. Mokola begins to attune to the Cloak as he travels and finally finds Dragonskull Fort.

Dragonskull Fort was set in the side of a mountain, inside of a massive dragon's skull. The area in front of Dragonskull was hollowed out natural spring, with more water added in from a redirected nearby river. The artificial lake itself is filled with spikes, cemented into the lakebed, and every foul substance you can imagine; rumor has it that if the whole lake will catch fire if a match is lit nearby. Even now, in the middle of the dead winter, one can smell the lake from way up on a nearby mountaintop.  In the area above Dragonskull Fort loose and sharp rocks have been layered, making assault by a large force upon the top of Dragonskull impossible.

Mokola, looking down upon the fort and holding his nose, started to look for a way down the sharp rocks above Dragonskull Fort. Not only did he find a way down, but he also found an enclosed area nearby, which let him sleep unmolested for the night, even in the cold with a fire. He also found a weaker area in the rock formation which, if a rock was thrown at it, would create a rockslide. The next evening Mokola made his move. He gets down the hill because of the Cloak, but he trips and sends a number of rocks down, onto the Dragonskull Fort below, cutting himself.

A group of trained assassins are not going to miss that. About a half dozen or so of them come out and see Mokola with no difficulty. Mokola lit a torch and threw it onto the lake and it lights up, startling everyone. Mokola tried to use the distraction to hide, but couldn't; his compatriots saw right through the ruse, and began to shoot at him with bows as other assassins started going up the hill, after Mokola. An arrow hit Mokola and he fell to the ground, unconscious.

Mokola woke up, chained and in a prison cell, face to face with Yron. They verbally spar, with Mokola trying to appeal to Yron's honor as a member of the Midnight Guild as well as the pragmatic question "What happens when the humans are wiped out?". Yron shuts down these avenues, however, stating that he's with the winner, who is going to be Lord Kuntal, the leader of the orc horde. The orc with a cleaved face from last session is brought in, as a traitor. As it turns out this orc had decided to betray Lord Kuntal, and so therefore he was marked for being the Orc Queen's sacrifice as well.

After a few hours of being alone with the unbound orc Mokola was finally able to get a response out of the orc, who is fiercely loyal to Lord Kuntal and agrees with the punishment that he is given. Mokola tries to figure the orc out, but the Orc Queen comes in... who is a bombshell raven haired human woman. She takes the orc and Mokola out, paints them in feces, and kisses them both, planting spiders in their mouths. The spiders, when spat out, turn into flame. Chanting in a tongue that was unlike any tongue known to men, the orcs cursed Mokola and his orc companion.

They are then set on fire.

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Bereaved: Sessions 0 and 1

"Angry Orc" by tomcii
This all started because of an apology. I'm running two solo Burning Wheel games (of which posts shall be made as well) and was talking to my buddy Andy about this, and just suddenly felt incredibly guilty. I was the GM who first introduced Andy to RPGs, only to find that I had an unintentionally created a monster. Andy is not kind of a good GM and definitely not kind of a good player: he's one of the best in both categories that I've encountered. But for the last ten years Andy has GMed for me, not the other way around. I generally go to him when I'm tired of GMing and he very nicely lets me play a game.

So, as I was talking to him, I realized I could do a game for him. And then I wanted to do a game with him. And then I was talking about it and realizing that two Burning Wheel games is going to be a lot of work, so adding a third was probably not a good idea. Andy and I are both gaming snobs. We also like exploring new games and enjoying mechanics that no one else has thought about before. I'd been wanting to try Whitehack for almost a year, having bought the game and gotten a Notebook copy of it for Christmas, one year ago. So I suggested it, and somehow Andy decided this was a good idea.

And then I couldn't think of a campaign idea. Nothing.

So I just had Andy start making a character. Because sometimes whole campaign ideas can spawn off of just one random fact about a character. So Andy sat down and began to make a character. He picked his class first. Now, in Whitehack there are three base classes: the Deft (specialists in a field), the Strong (the combat monster and able to harvest special abilities from dead critters), and the Wise (Miracle workers who pay for their spells with HP).

Andy went for the Deft. Deft characters' Groups are not tied to stats, and they also have access to special tricks/mentors/items that no one else does, one active and one inactive (switching between them takes a day). Andy decided his active Mentor would be a ghost by the name of Kenin, who was a rival of his, back to haunt him. His inactive benefit is a cloak that can hide with anything. It's not magical, it just... blends...

Kenin sparked off an idea for a campaign, and I had something to pitch. Kenin had died in a failed assassination attempt of the orc lord Kuntal, who had overwhelmed the country of Crondas and was at the capital city, Terl's, gates. Kenin would not talk about why she failed, but she came back and asked Mokola (Andy's assassin), her rival, to finish the job for her. But in the interval Kuntal had destroyed Terl, destroying it. The royal family had managed to escape, but it's the dead of winter and nobody can last that long.

So the campaign begins with Mokola's talk with the leader of his assassination guild, the Guild of Midnight Prowlers. In the wake of the wholescale slaughter of the Kingdom of Crondas the Guild has allied itself with the crown. A few days ago some scouts of the crown had been sent out to examine Fort Dragonskull, which was neslted a few days away to the east in the Dragonbone Mountains.These scouts have not returned and so the headmaster is sending Mokola out to figure out what's going on. The headmaster has already sent a number of his agents out, but he's worried about their loyalty, and is sending Mokola as a back up to the back up.

After gathering some supplies Mokola set out. After being taunted about how much he sucks and really has no drive by Kenin, Mokola sent her out to check out a nearby campfire.Kenin came back, laughing, and told Mokola they were no threat even to someone like him. Mokola approached the campfire and found five individuals around it who were heartily sick of each other. One of these survivors, Karl, asked to come with Mokola. Karl was a bit grouchy, but he tried to keep up with Mokola the best he could, asking whatever questions he thought Mokola would answer. Mokola kept Karl safe from gigantic eagles and helped him outrun a group of orcs, even burying one of the orc's blades in his face.

They also ran into one of the survivors of the Guild's party: Yron, who clearly was not happy with the headmaster's idea to make them friends of the crown. As they staged a perfectly normal conversation Yron motioned for Mokola to kill Karl, since he was nothing more than a rube civilian. But Mokola refused, and instead asked Yron what had happened to the others. Yron told them that his other compatriots were dead, slain by orcs, as were most likely the king's men. Yron did not offer to journey with them, instead turning back for home camp, telling the pair to watch out, or else they would wind up dead.

Karl finally had to rest, after going all night without rest because of the relatively clear weather. Mokola, who needed to scout, warned Karl not to rest unless he thought he could do it safely, and stepped out to re-orient himself. But the temperature dropped significantly and the winds howled, driving Mokola to reconsider his course of action.

Which is when Mokola found himself surrounded by orcs, including an orc with a deep impression of a blade in his face. Mokola could hear a captured Karl behind him, begging him to run, that the orcs were trying to cut off his escape routes.

Mokola fled. Karl's shouting stopped abruptly. Mokola realized that he was almost completely cut off, so he tried running right at one of the orcs, elbowing him in the face as he went by.

But the orc grabbed Mokola by his head and slammed his head into a tree.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Whitehack: Read-Thru Review

I've always had a bit of a fascination for the Old School Renaissance. There's something about the uncompromising, focused play that I find alluring. While I generally disagree with the level of nostalgia and dogmatism that the movement gravitates towards I've always wanted to try one of the movement's games. And, after paying attention to the movement for years, I've decided to try out Whitehack first. The things that have drawn me to the game are its simple, flavorful, and emergent gameplay.

Whitehack's gameplay is simple. This is generally the opposite of what I go for in games, mostly because complexity can lead to a greater amount of richness in the narrative of a game. Rule-lite generally strips things down too far and forgets that, first and foremost, RPGs are games that make stories, not make sessions of shared make-believe. There needs to be systems that can trip up the players and that can complicate the narrative in ways the players do not expect. Whitehack solves this problem by making sure what systems do exist generate complications. Players are defined by Groups, which can be either races, affiliations, or vocations, not your Class, which is merely how you accomplish your goals, not what you are. These things are determined by group decision. You merely say that you are an elf knight and you get a greater chance at succeeding when doing things that pertain to those aspects. You simply say what you do and the rules give a framework to challenge you in the way that you defined.

Whitehack's simplicity lends itself to flavor. When Andy and I sat down to come up with a campaign concept I couldn't think of anything for a campaign. So Andy looked through the classes and decided he wanted to play a Deft character, someone who is a specialist in his chosen field. By the time he was done making up stuff I had a campaign idea, as he had come up with a ghost who helped him in tight spots and had a cloak he could do fun tricks with. I started asking questions about the ghost and the assassin's guild that Andy was a part of... and we just took off. None of these elements design have a whole lot of mechanical weight, yet. Whitehack runs off of group fiat, and what the group says is permanent. This means that, as time goes on, the mechanics are reinforced differently as one's understanding of the world evolves.This in turn creates more flavor that you have to circumnavigate.

All of this adds up to what Whitehack promises: emergent gameplay. The ruleset is intentionally sparse; most of the game rules can be summed up within 20 pages. You wouldn't know that the game has this element from its spartan ruleset, but this is where Groups come in. Groups are sources of your characters' expertise: affiliations ("groups" you belong to), races (I hope I don't have to explain), and vocations (which are things like woodcutter, knight, assassin, etc.). Every time you are faced with a task that you think a Group applies to you must state how it applies and then roll 2d20, taking the better of the two (the game calls his a double positive roll). You get two of these groups to assign to your stats (one Group per stat!) with and, as the game progresses, you get more. And that's the thing: you get more. As the game progresses you get more flavor and mechanical weight, which means that the game fundamentally changes with the addition of each Group. Each of these Groups fundamentally alters the setting, which alters the story, which alters your player. Most of the classes end with 5 Groups. That's 3 seismic shifts per character (except the Deft, they get 6! And their Groups aren't tied to Stats! So powerful!) It doesn't look like much, and that's the trick.

I'll be posting more as I play, but these are my initial impressions. Can't wait to write more!