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Friday, July 12, 2019

Sabina's Castle: Session Five


Spar was sitting in the castle town's tavern, listening to gossip, when a dwarf sat down next to him and greeted him as a fellow dwarf. Spar tried to walk away, but sat back down when the dwarf threatened to tell Caius that he really  couldn't listen to stones, like he claimed. The dwarf claimed to represented someone who had determined that the dwarven furnishings in Argentum Prime were neglected by the humans.  He offered Spar enormous riches to undermine the humans. The offer was rejected; Spar didn't need a bribe to screw over humans.

Spar left the mysterious dwarf at the bar. When he returned to his room Spar found a junky wooden box. He broke it open to reveal a dwarven black marble, hewn deep below the surface, where the sun never goes. On the outside were dwarven runes, but Spar was illiterate. But even illiterate dwarves know the rune for Leviathan, the horrific monster that none had ever seen but was the terror of the dwarves, who had encountered its horrific cults and minions over the millennia; Spar dropped the box in fear. After a moment he opened the box and it slid open smoothly. Inside was an intricately cruel dagger, The Dagger of Betrayal, which was always put in the back of every tragic dwarven hero in ever dwarven tragedy, down the last detail. The crafting was subtle and carved, unlike the more geometric dwarven carving. Alongside it was a a note, of which Spar could only make out "Thank you."

Tara knocked on the door and Spar hid the box and knife behind his nog keg, and let her in. Tara was bubbling, she had just gotten back from talking to the dwarven Patriarch Diamond-Face!.. who hadn't let on a single facial expression, never mind talked to her. Spar knew that her ideas would be ignored, but he decided not to tell Tara that. The night progressed as normal.

In the morning Spar went to see Salt, who could read. Herminus stopped him and asked for advice rather pitifully. Spar sighed and asked how he could help. Herminus confessed that he was madly in love with Octavia, the pregnant lover of of Severus, the studly cook!  Herminus had left her a note. Spar told Herminus that he would have to get back with him later that evening, and Herminus wandered away anxiously.

It was a cripplingly hot and humid day, but Spar managed to make it to Salt's apartment, box hidden on him. Salt was in her room, trying to deal with the heat as best as she could. She was upset that the Kami Guardians' deal was to be rejected. An argument arose between Spar and Salt. Salt argued that the Processors, who were currently employing the dwarves, didn't deserve dwarven trust.  Spar told her that the Processors were in his debt and he could use them. Salt suggested turning the Processors and Kami Guardians against each other by beginning a bidding war for dwarven services. Spar then tells her about the box. She freaked out at the merest peak at it. The note was no better:

Dear Spar,

Congratulations on attracting the attention of the Cult of the Leviathan! Thank you for advancing the cause of dwarven-kind. There is more to be done, however. At your earliest convenience please stab this into the back of Caius. The dagger will take care of the rest.

Salt, terrified, demanded they run. Spar told her that there was someone else he knew about who could "use" the dagger.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

The Giggling Dark: Session Thirteen


Sir Xellous: The main character, played by Ryan, who is the fourteen year old protagonist. Known as The Hero of Khouria, Xellous has crafted his own pair of Behemoth Gauntlets and Pyra, a bow that can destroy practically anything. He just got King Varlur out of a funk just in time for a coup!

King Varlur: The King of the Kingdom of Tala. His wife, Queen Veldora, had drowned their child, Prince Kallus. King Varlur had shut himself into a high tower, refusing to come out of the last few months, throwing the realm into chaos. He's out now, and facing down a coup from Lord Mayor Reven.

Lord Mayor Reven: The man in charge of the city of Broadnough. After months of King Varlur ignoring the governance of the realm the Lord Mayor decided enough was enough.

Telos: A hero from another place, another time. He was badly wounded in the battle with the Behemoth of the Apocalypse and is trying get back into the action a little soon.

The gates to the keep were thrown open and a parade came through, Lord Mayor Reven at the front. As Lord Mayor Reven paraded up the stairs Telos showed up, asking what he could do to help. Telos winced, and Sir Xellous saw how red Telos' bandages were. King Varlur tried to dissuade Telos, but finally left it to Sir Xellous, who managed to persuade Telos to lie down before he really hurt himself. Disappointed, Telos went back to the infirmary.

Lord Mayor Reven was startled to see King Varlur, but then he laughed. He mocked King Varlur, asking if he was done being alone with his feelings over the Queen being a traitor to the nation.  Sir Xellous immediately got in Lord Mayor Reven's face, demanding that he show respect to the king. The Lord Mayor laughed: what use was a king if he abandoned his people when something went wrong?

Two knights walked up from behind Lord Mayor Reven to get Sir Xellous out of the way. Sir Xellous forced his aura upon one of the two knights, who passed out onto his friend. The conscious knight realized it was something that Sir Xellous had done and freaked out, backing up and away from Sir Xellous. Lord Mayor Reven, startled, asked who the hell Sir Xellous was. Sir Xellous told him that he was the Hero of Khouria, which the Lord Mayor denied as even being a real event. That amused Sir Xellous quite a bit!

Lord Mayor Reven got quite angry at Sir Xellous' laughing, and he stepped forward to hit Sir Xellous himself, so Sir Xellous did a quick aura scan on both the Lord Mayor and his entire retinue. Lord Mayor Reven and his retinue's auras were all showing slight signs of tampering; a familiar red tinge was on all of them. So Sir Xellous forced the tampering off of Lord Mayor Reven, causing him to fall to his knees. The Lord Mayor asked what Sir Xellous had done to him; Sir Xellous told him that he and his retinue had been controlled by the Khen-Zai, who Sir Xellous had dealt with at Khouria. The Lord Mayor's actions were not his own. But that didn't stop the rest of the controlled mob, so Sir Xellous pulled out Pyra and fired a warning shot at them. Flagstones were destroyed and flew into the mob and they jumped back. The King's retinue surged forward and the mob surrendered on the spot.

No lives were lost.

Sir Xellous pushed the Khen-Zai away from all the affected people, one by one. After he was finished he heard a scream, familiar and foreboding. Everything went black.

This session netted Ryan a Deed's Point.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The War: Sessions Zero and One


Session Zero

Bleak Spirit advises that you get as specific as you need to when creating the world, because, once the gameplay starts, players cannot discuss the setting anymore. So Kyle and I decided to make setting building for this game its own session. And, while we didn't get into too much detail, we did set up a solid framework to run the first session on.

The setting revolves around the conflict between the God of Light, Ahura Mazda, and the God of Dark, Ahriman. Their conflict was so destructive that the world sealed itself away from them as much as they could, offering sacrifice to the two gods so that they would stay away just far enough so that the world could continue on. The sacrifices were conducted at The Castle of Twilight, a two-keep castle situated over Twilight Gorge, a bottomless window into the abyss, where you could see Ahura Mazda and Ahriman fight. Straddling this abyss is The Bridge of Vigilance, where the sacrifices were cast in to drive away the conflicting gods.

The main character, we decided would be an armored man called Orpheus, with cut vocal cords. He wielded an ornamental sword with a blue stone in the pommel. The blue stone allowed Orpheus to sing spell songs, of undetermined power and scope. The sapphire, when activated, covered the affected area in a strong blue light.

Session One

The Twilight Gorge had a bottom, contrary to popular myth, a swamp that goes on and on and on. But somewhere in this morass is an awful and nasty hole, which leads to the World of Night. It stands unguarded. No one goes in, and no one goes out; who would want to enter and who could leave? And, for untold aeons, no one did. Until one day, when Orpheus crawled out, into the Twilight Gorge Swamp. Lumbering through the swamp in his heavy armor, Orpheus heard a hissing behind him, calling out to him by name.

"Orpheuuuuuuuuussssssssss...... Ooooooooooooooooorpheusssssssssssssssssssssss...."

Orpheus ignored the call, and climbed up the cliff, onto the The Bridge of Vigilance. At the top of the bridge stood a figure in full armor, identical to what Orpheus was wearing. Staring at him for a moment Orpheus sang a song that required all that heard it to give him their true name. Nothing happened. A song of abjuring all Nameless things followed. Orpheus doubled over in pain, and the armored figure collapsed.  After a moment of rest Orpheus entered the Keep of Darkness, pain slowly fading. 

The gate doors swung wide onto a scene of absolute carnage. Desiccated corpses of drakes lay upon desiccated corpses of drakes. Draconic heads on plaques adorned the walls of the courtyard. There was one blank plaque on the wall, with an inscription: Arthkurn the Relentless. Orpheus looked at the main entrance to the keep, alone in his thoughts. He looked to his left and saw the stairs to the nearby tower. He took the stairs.

All of a sudden Orpheus was pushing his way through the keep gates again. The corpses were on fire, and the the plaques were all empty, except for the bleached skull on the wall; it was Arthkurn the Relentless's skull. Orpheus came to, slumped against the wall, next to the stairway. He got up and trudged up the stairs.

As he went climbed Orpheus saw winged monstrosities, in the form of twisted dragons, wheeling about above him. The song that followed set these aberrations on fire and brought one of them crashing into the stairwell in front of Orpheus. The stairs began to slowly retract into the wall. Orpheus tried to freeze the flaming form, but nothing happened. He tried to superheat the flaming form with a Song of Light, but the song wouldn't come to him, dying on his lips. Finally a song of heaving cut through the blue light. The burning corpse flung Orpheus over him, into the tower, as the stairs finally retracted into the wall.

As Orpheus got to the top of the tower he looked out at the world around him; the world was one vast, grey fog. There was nothing beyond The Castle of Twilight, nothing at all. Orpheus was not surprised at this and barely paid it any heed. There was a slot in the wall. Orpheus put his sword in the slot. The whole castle shook as the stairs in the walls began to slide back out; Orpheus's sword was being sucked into the slot. Orpheus just barely managed to retrieve his sword, and the stairs slid back into the wall. 

Orpheus looked around. The Keep of Darkness had a few holes in the roof, and Orpheus looked through, into the darkness. In the back of the Keep of Darkness Orpheus saw a desiccated corpse of an enormous dragon, staked down. To the right of the Keep was a small courtyard with a shining fountain.  Orpheus lay down and crafted a song of longing, of loneliness. Something cold and long dead appeared, in Orpheus' peripheral vision. Orpheus did not look at it. A few seconds later he heard the SNAP of the slot taking a sword, and the stairs slid back out. Orpheus got back out; he was alone. He walked back down the stairs the way he came. 

The courtyard was completely clear of everything as Orpheus came back down the stairs. The perpetual twilight of the the world had become a hot and humid high noon. A purple light was shining through the gates that led back to the Bridge of Vigilance. Orpheus looked between that gate and the doors that led into the Keep. In his mind Orpheus made up his mind: he had to stop his past self, he needed to! He threw the gates back open, rust flying off of the hinges and, bathed in that purple light, Orpheus strode out to meet himself, swearing an oath through a now-intact throat that he would would stop himself before it was too late.

Orpheus saw himself on the bridge. There was still a world at this point. He called out to himself, begging him to stop it. The war needed to go on, the world needed to continue, it wasn't too late to stop what he was up to! His past self replied that  it was too late. Orpheus commanded himself to give up the gems, which his past self found confusing. Orpheus wrenched his foe's hands open: there was a blue gem and a red gem. Orpheus told him it could stop. His past self responded back that he would never stop. Orpheus drew his ceremonial blade and cut his foe's throat. Both of them fell back as a huge cut appeared on their throats. His foe grabbed Orpheus and pitched them over the side, into the roiling chaos that was the battle of Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. As they fell Orpheus sang one last song: he broke the red and blue gem his foe wielded, and protected his enemy's fall. The swamp snapped into existence suddenly. Orpheus's  neck broke in the fall. His foe crawled away as the valley coalesced into the swamp. 

Up above the grey fog broke and the world came back into existence, and the swamp broke open, welcoming the return of the slumbering Ahura Mazda and Ahriman. Far away, in the Keep of Darkness, the lone dracolich Arthkurn broke free from his constraints and flew away into the newly renewed world.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Hot and Cold: 1.1



Page 1

Panel 1: There's a tiny town called Taos, New Mexico, and there's a small restaurant called the Taos Diner. Bruce Banner walks into this diner, in brand new clothes and a backpack.

Panel 2: As Bruce walks in everyone looks up, suspicious of the newcomer. A waitress walks up to him and Bruce smiles disarmingly at her.

BRUCE
Good afternoon!

WAITRESS
Well hi! You're new.

Panel 3: They continue chatting.

BRUCE
Yeah, walked on in.

WAITRESS
From- from where?

BRUCE
Oh, I hitchhiked and walked the rest of the way.

WAITRESS
Welcome to Taos then!

Panel 4: Banner looks puzzled. The waitress laughs

BANNER
Wait, what was the name again? I missed it, sorry.

WAITRESS
Taos, New Mexico. I'm Cindy.

BANNER
Thank you, sorry about that! I've never heard of the place.

CINDY
Oh, we get that a lot.

Page 2

Panel 1: Bruce got a window view, and watched as two people rode into the parking lot on motorcycles: a blonde haired man with a creepy grin, and a grim black haired man.

Panel 2: They enter the diner, and everyone goes quiet, uneasy.

Panel 3: Cindy walks up to the pair, uncomfortable.

CINDY
Can I-

BLONDE
Victor, please.

Panel 4: There's a silence, where everyone stares at them, angry. Victor smiles back at them, predatorily.

Page 3

Panel 1: An older gentleman walks over to Victor and "Blackie"

OLD MAN
We don't take kindly to things like you.

"BLACKIE"
What the fuck is that supposed to mean??

OLD MAN
Freaks. Losers. Probably muties.

Panel 2: Three metal claws pop out of Blackie's hand and he cuts off the Old Man's head.

BLACKIE
Well, you ain't wrong.

Panel 3: Guns are drawn by the locals, who quickly find cover and get ready to fire. Victor laughs and Blackie growls.

Page 4

Panel 1: Banner steps forward, towards Victor and Blackie.

BANNER
Hey, c'mon, let's not lose anymore heads.

Panel 2: Victor slashes at Banner

VICTOR
Won't be ours!

Page 5

Splash page, Banner hulks out!

BANNER
I BEG TO DIFFER!

Page 6

Panel 1: Hulk lunges at Victor, who dodges nimbly aside.

Panel 2: Blackie jumps in and takes a swing at Hulk, cutting out some flesh. Hulk tanks the hit and knocks out Blackie.

Panel 3: Victor jumps at Hulk and both try to exchange blows. Both whiff.

Page 7

Panel 1: Victor jumps backward, grabs Blackie, and drags him away. Hulk leaps out of the restaurant, scattering the ceiling, and knocks out Victor. Inset panel of  Blackie waking up.

Panel 2: Blackie grabs Victor, slings him onto the bike and drives like mad. Hulk jumps onto the bike, knocks out Blackie, and kills Victor through the sheer shock of the landing.

Panel 3: Gunshots reflect off of Hulk's skin from behind. The townsfolk have regained their nerve.

Panel 4: Hulk grabs Blackie and smashes him into the ground until his internal organs are jelly.

Page 8

Panel 1: With bullets still ricocheting off of him, Hulk picks up Blackie's body, and throws it in front of the puny humans. The cops are running up.

Panel 2: Hulk gestures at the body. The bullets don't stop.

Panel 3: Cindy runs out of the remains of the diner with a Colt Magnum and tries to blow Hulk's brains out.

CINDY
Get away, you abomination!

Page 9

Splash page. Hulk jumps four miles in a single bound, away from the wrecked diner, along with the dead bodies of Wolverine and Sabretooth. He left his backpack, extra clothes, and wallet.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Bleak Spirit


In explaining the system Chris Longhurst, the creator of  Bleak Spirit, states: "Bleak Spirit is a tabletop roleplaying game inspired by the empty, haunted worlds of video games like Dark Souls, Hollow Knight, and Salt and Sanctuary." Now, I totally watch VaatiVidya, so for me this meant a whole heck of a lot... and literally every single person I tell that to as a selling point gives me the same blank, confused, look, including fans of Dark Souls and Bloodborne! Turns out that people, when they think of Dark Souls, do not think of the incredible lore and stories that are buried into the code of the game. Which is quite unfortunate. Of course I called my brother-in-law Kyle, who had introduced me to Dark Souls in the first place, and that's where I found out that by saying "stories like Dark Souls" means absolutely nothing.

So I described the basics of the game to him: there's one Player Character, the Wanderer, who walks into an area and attempts to take out the Big Bad of said area, all in one session. No dice are used, and there is no randomization beyond an *optional* set of cards. Nobody owns the Wanderer, and nobody stays as the GM. The three roles, Wanderer (the lone PC), the World (kinda like the GM of other games), and the Chorus (not available for two player games, helps the World), rotate each scene. The scene economy is relatively strict, allowing everyone to lean onto the structure and be as creative as they like.

But the key of the whole game is that you're not allowed to talk about what you think is happening and no explanations are allowed of any action. This absolute lack of information, which I'd normally abhor, makes the game incredibly tense. You are supposed to Leap to Conclusions, which is where you follow a series of prompts after every scene to write out what you think happened during that scene. These Leaps to Conclusions are meant to be wild, speculative, and utterly unsubstantiated. Well, unsubstantiated yet, at least. Because you then take what you think is going on and play it out against what everyone else thinks is going on.

And, since the roles switch every scene, that means that this almost baffling narrative unfolds, as the other players block your moves and you adapt your fiction, pushing your point with the narrative as it has played out.  This is where the *optional* cards fit in, because they break the rules in unexpected ways. For instance, in the game where Kyle and I played, he introduced a card that let him get two scenes in a row! I was completely floored, as he attempted to take even more control of the narrative and push his ideas as hard as he could. The joke was on him, though, because my plan was completely different than he'd thought it was, and so the extra push on his part was wasted. And this creates a unique tension, unlike any dice game I've ever played where, because everything is canon, you are not wondering if something is going to be successful, but what you're going to do about it.

I plan on making Bleak Spirit a part of my regular rotation, joining Burning Wheel, The Marvel Universe RPG, and Hearts of Wulin. It's fun to not have to GM, but to be involved in a struggle to make a story about one person trying to make a difference in a world that has forgotten itself. If you love having mystery and intrigue and shadow wars in your RPGs I really suggest backing Bleak Spirit. It's been a brilliant time for me. Even my brother-in-law, who normally doesn't like rules-lite games, found himself having a lot of fun.

Praise the sun indeed! And yes, that's the name of one of the cards. Dead serious. It's an awesome card too.

Sabina's Castle: Session Four


Spar: Andy's character, a dwarven con artist. He's convinced the stupid humans he can listen to stones and hear everything said around them. Yeah. He's full of crap, in far more ways than one.

Tara: Spar's human lover, and a prominent member of The Kami Guardians, the magical agricultural guild.

Herminus: The lawful stupid head of security, that never ceases to amuse Spar.

Germana: The Head of The Processor's Guild, who employs Spar to spy on everyone in Sabina's Castle.

Caius: Germana's son, who Spar had saved in the first session.

During another sleep-over Tara told Spar of the plan that she'd concocted to raise the dwarves in the slums out of poverty; the Kami Guardians would help the dwarves raise rare veggies in their district that they could sell. The Kami Guardians would then get tax revenue from the sales. Spar tried to find a way to tell Tara how patronizing the plan was, but couldn't find the words. He just smiled and nodded.

The next morning Spar was summoned by Germana, who knew of Tara's plan. She was furious, because the dwarves were currently working for The Processors and she didn't want to lose the cheap labor! Spar said that the dwarves needed the quality of life boost, not to mention an independent dwarf state within the city, which German and The Processors should be willing to provide and help out with. Germana tried to change the subject, but Spar was insistent. She tried to insult Spar and the dwarves, but he wouldn't take the bait, sticking to his point. Finally Spar loudly dismissed her as a bigoted idiot. It is here that I am obligated to say that Spar totally beat Germana. No compromise was possible. I, deciding to be a good loser, chose to try to murder Spar. So there's that. Germana flew into a rage and pulled a knife on Spar, who jumped out a window (they were on the ground level)! He ran and ran, ignoring someone who called out to him with a "Hey! Dwarf!"

Spar tried to find Herminus, only to find Germana had gotten there first. She tried telling the truth about Spar, that he was a dwarf she had planted in Sabina's Castle as a mole. But she was so unhinged that Spar easily discredited her. Herminus dragged Germana off.

Caius found Spar later. Germana had snapped. Agrippa and Aelinus had made bail and had been threatening her, as well as taking (very effective) action against The Processors. Tara's plan had been the straw that had broken the camel's back. So Caius was now in charge and he promised to help the dwarves because of the debt he owed Spar. For the first time a human had actually earned Spar's respect, not to mention gratitude.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Giggling Dark: Session Twelve


Xellous: The main character, played by Ryan, who is the fourteen year old protagonist. Known as The Hero of Khouria, Xellous has crafted his own pair of Behemoth Gauntlets and Pyra, a bow that can destroy practically anything. Komas, Prime Minister Archibar's assistant, had let him into the King's Tower and left the key to the inner room with him.

King Varlur: The King of the Kingdom of Tala. His wife, Queen Veldora, had drowned their child, Prince Kallus. King Varlur had shut himself into a high tower, refusing to come out of the last few months, throwing the realm into chaos.


Xellous stood, facing the door, key in hand. He took a deep breath and walked in. The smell hit him like a falling tree as the door cracked open. The King's greasy hair fell in grey locks upon his shoulders. He sat before a window, looking out over the city of Broadnough, shadows barely present in the noonday sun. Xellous forced himself to breathe in the full stench of a month's seclusion. King Varlur didn't turn to acknowledge Xellous, and indeed Xellous didn't think the King even heard him.

So Xellous went out, grabbed the cart, and wheeled it into the room. He returned to a gaze that was as dead as it was wrathful; the King's aura shone with a muted rage. Xellous told the King he had to come to help him, that he knew of the King's loss because of the loss of Kora. Xellous spoke passionately of his own heartbreak and his wish to help King Varlur in his own dark hour.

King Varlur yelled that those who disturbed him were to be sentenced to death. As King Varlur jumped, his aura shifted, which distracted Xellous long enough for the King to wrestle Xellous to the ground, hands on Xellous' throat. Xellous pushed King Varlur off and grabbed the sheet concealing the preserved Khen-Zai and pulled it off, shouting that this was the thing that had taken King Varlur's child from him. King Varlur fell back onto the filthy bed, stunned. Xellous explained his horrific history to the King: how the Khen-Zai manipulated women into drowning their children, only for them to be reborn as the flaming revenants known as Flammeous Lads, and how the Lads ate their mothers, creating a vicious cycle that kept the world going. Incredulous, King Varlur asked Xellous if that meant Queen Veldora was innocent, which Xellous emphatically confirmed.

King Varlur asked how a mere child such as Xellous could have survived an encounter with the Khen-Zai. The Hero of Khouria's tale was known by him, and the thought of a fourteen year old boy taking on the Behemoth of the Apocalypse  and these Khen-Zai was hard for the King to take in. Xellous told him he was an enchanter and showed him Pyra, as well as his Behemoth Gauntlets. Astounded, King Varlur asked where Xellous had learned how to do such things. Xellous abashedly told him that enchanting came naturally to him, that he had always known how to do it. King Varlur told Xellous that he'd had more life experience in his fourteen than most greybeards, if not several at once! If King Varlur had been in Xellous' shoes, he would have retired already. Xellous replied that he needed to get his wife home before that happened. Rising, King Varlur commanded Xellous to kneel; confused, he did so. The King knighted him Sir Xellous and made him a part of The King's Bodyguard!

They left the tower, to find utter chaos at the bottom. A page boy recognized the King and  ran up to him, but nobody else seemed to. Sir Xellous yelled for everyone to stop and kneel for their king, but nobody recognized the king after his seclusion. King Varlur whispered to Sir Xellous to shout "LONG LIVE THE KING!" Sir Xellous did, and everyone started. Finally seeing the King, they all knelt before him. The King asked the page who knelt before him what was going on. The page explained that Prime Minister Archibar had vanished, along with half the court, and Lord Mayor Reven was coming, right then and there, to be crowed King!

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Hot and Cold: Session 0



So I am really excited about this Marvel Universe RPG, so I decided that I wanted to GM a game for it... now. Yeah, that's probably a bit rash on my end, but I'm not known for my patience, or my prudence. Fortunately Shmitty was more than happy to try out the game, with a few caveats: he did not want to be in the current Marvel Universe. He was pleased to find that I wasn't a great fan of the state of modern Marvel either. I basically pitched my article at him and he was happy enough to play in.. whatever it was we came up with? I'm sure that'll be defined over time.

So I asked Shmitty what he wanted to play, and he said he wanted to play the Hulk... who is possibly the most powerful character in the whole book, in terms of action economy. 21 red stones to play with once transformed? AH! I mean, I can handle it... I think. It's going to be a bit of a wild ride, but I think I have a good enough idea of how to handle the regen rate this guy's going to be doing. Shmitty was surprised that I said yes, but the Hulk's Shmitty's favorite character, why on earth would I tell him no?? To the deep end of the pool! Let's go!

The pitch that I threw at him from there was the Bruce Banner wandering around the American Southwest, desperately trying not to get caught by the authorities and running into weird small towns. We'd start in New Mexico, and I'd pick a random town for us to start in. The plan is to use Google Maps to navigate the town and get a good feel for it. I decided, for the lulz, to start in El Rito, NM. Obviously I don't know anyone there, so if anyone from there reads the blog HELLO! Please tell me if I'm getting the town... somewhat correct? I just needed a backdrop.

Anyway, we'll be wandering around places like that for the whole campaign. I pitched the idea of one town an Issue, which gives some time to get to know the inhabitants and do a few fun things and then move on. Shmitty seemed pretty fine with this. Fortunately I've got a lot of profiles I can use before ever needing to make anything.

EDIT: I usually have a song in mind whenever I GM a game.... and Andy sent me this. It... works. A dark game about PTSD, mental illness, and horrors beyond imagining deserves Katy Perry.


The Marvel Universe RPG: A Marvelous Manifesto


Last week I wrote up my review of The Marvel Universe RPG, along with the play report of Andy's and my Daredevil session. I have ranted and raved to my family and friends about this game, probably to a rather unhealthy degree, but such is life. An entire campaign centered around Daredevil popped into my head over the weekend, which I immediately pitched to Andy. Hopefully we'll get to play even a fraction of what I had in mind at some point. As I worked through my campaign idea, filled with themes, characters, and plot hooks, I realized that I had a particular way of thinking of the Marvel Universe, one which modern Marvel runs counter to, so I thought I'd put it up here. I am quite aware that what I'm writing is my opinion and really have no illusions about it. I'm sure anyone who's a lover of cosmic Marvel or the Avengers could answer me, point for point. Marvel is decades older than I, and I truly cannot pretend to have read it all, even in the default 616 universe.

The Marvel Universe Should be Local

Once upon a time Marvel was about what would happen if super-powers occurred in our world. I would argue they abandoned that concept, opting to insert magical realms, aliens, multiple realities, and other things that completely invalidate that concept, in favor of fan-service feel-good nonsense. Gone are the days when the Marvel Universe felt like the real world, and one could argue that they abandoned that feel rather quickly. Books like Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man should have been the norm, not an exception, in Marvel's history. If I do so much as leave Hell's Kitchen in the Daredevil run I'm planning then I have done something wrong.  This means that my version of Hell's Kitchen will be worked out in pain-staking detail. It is its own world and will be so full of life that even going a block away from it will feel like going to another planet.

The Marvel Universe Should be Weird

Early Marvel tales were cautionary fables about messing with nuclear power and scientific concepts that challenged the nature of reality itself. Super-powers were just as often heavy burdens or outright curses as they were incredible boons to the people who possessed them. The themes of the best early Marvel stories were adapting to sudden and (at times) horrific change, the moral limits of science, and the thoughts of the common man on the nature of the world. This means that my  version of Hell's Kitchen will have all sorts of weird things happening to its inhabitants as the result of new super-sciences. Gang wars will end because some kid can exhibit calming pheromones... only for one of  gang leaders to kidnap the child to use on potential victims. Mutations should be a common thing, especially after exposure to toxic waste, nuclear power, and really any sort of freak accident, even if it's as simple as getting struck by lightning. 

The (Real) X-Men are the Backbone of the Marvel Universe

Up until about a decade ago the X-Men, and the little guys' reaction to them, was the Marvel Universe default: the vast majority of the super beings in the Marvel Universe were hated, feared, and vastly misunderstood, with the mutants making the heroic decision to protect those that hated them, regardless of the consequences. The Avengers, up until about ten years ago, while they had many a good run, were hardly A-listers, and not even C-listers. This is because, a lot of the time, characters like Iron Man and Captain America were thematically incompatible with characters like Spider-Man and the X-Men. The world of the Avengers is a vast and magical place, filled with gods, vast alien civilizations that may actually be helpful, and cosmic beings that are just as wondrous as they are terrifying. The X-Men's world always seemed to have a creepy science vibe, from aliens like The Brood to space pirates that were as liable to kidnap you as you were to find out they were your father.  And that's before we get into The Phoenix Saga, which shows the lengths the X-Men were willing struggle even against their own selves, in the form of Dark Phoenix and Cyclops. The point always seemed to revolve around doing the right thing, even if it meant your own life being sacrificed in the process. I never seemed to get that vibe from the Avengers, or not as much at any rate. Sure, characters like Hawkeye and Black Widow are amazing, and Iron Man's foibles pushed him to greatness a number of times, but the emphasis seemed to be on a more "heroic" fantasy, which always struck me as wrong, considering Marvel's origins in weird science gone wrong.  The theme of the X-Men was so evocative, so good, so selfless, that it could not help but be popular, regardless of political under (and over!) tones.

What Should Be vs. What Is


For me, Marvel has always been about the friction between the human and superhuman, ideal and need, personal and communal. This struggle is universal; I don't know of a single person who doesn't connect with the concept of wanting to do the right thing and not being able to, or finding the right thing repulsive. The point is not to look at any one hero and say "They represent me!", but to say "Boy, I get what they're feeling". If anything the point would be to connect with others that you are not like because the both of you see something in a character that you communally admire, even if you admire them for differing reasons. 

And I think that a Marvel RPG would take this as far as it can go. You take on a character that you like, without the intent of putting yourself into the character but to play out the character as you understand them, while allowing them to develop and to change to their own internal logic, as you understand it. RPGs in general attempt to do this, but a Marvel Campaign would have to do it more explicitly. "Would I gut that dude? No, but Wolverine would, because they're in his way, and Wolverine has a very short fuse on things like that", even though the action might be something you actively don't want Wolverine, a well known comic book character, to do. And that objectivity is an important thing when playing a well-established character. Wolverine isn't going to bring flowers to someone he loves, as healthy of an action that would be. No, he's probably going to shut her out and make sure she gets as far away from him as possible! 

And sure, during a person's playtime, the character will change; your Wolverine may eventually bring flowers to a woman that he loves, it's totally possible! You are putting your own spin on it, after all. But, no matter what happens, that character is still a character that you did not make. That's part of the fun: you are putting your own spin on something that others will as well, in their own time. As dumb as an interconnected multiverse is in Marvel it is attempting to answer a need we all have to see ourselves in modern day mythological archetypes.

Marvel is Tragic

Marvel is, at its core, about failure. Science fails people. People fail each other individually and corporately. The people of the world fail to appreciate the X-Men. Spider-Man failed his Uncle, Gwen Stacy, and literally everyone else in his life. The Avengers fail each other. Bruce Banner fails to find peace with "The Big Guy". All of the great Marvel stories feature this element of tragedy. For all their power the characters of Marvel are powerless to stop the fundamental issues of humanity: heartbreak, loneliness, and death. 

Conclusion

Anything I do in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying game will feature grounded settings, weird science, with super-powered people consistently hated and rejected, constant friction between what is desired and what is, and heart-wrenching tragedy. Superpowers can only fix so much, and sometimes not even that. I don't know if anyone else sees the Marvel Universe this way, but when its firing on all cylinders this is what I see Marvel doing. It's awesome. And I'm sure as hell not going to leave it.

Friday, June 21, 2019

The Marvel Universe RPG Review


When I was younger my mom used to let me go into Borders to read whatever I liked while she went into Whole Foods, which was next door. I would browse the shelves of unlimited knowledge, usually stopping at the art books or the graphic novel section. And, of course, the RPG section was right next to it. While it would be a number of years before I started playing RPGs this section was always very interesting to me, particularly the non-DnD stuff. The game that caught my eye the most was The Marvel Universe RPG. In between reading graphic novels and checking out the weirder RPG titles I would stare at this game. It was the only diceless game in the whole shelf of a (relatively) diverse shelf of games, and that piqued my interest! What was this thing like? Why did they decide to go diceless? I had no answers.

Years went by, and I finally began to play DnD. Eventually I jumped ship to Burning Wheel and, to be honest, they ruined most dice RPGs for me. Burning Wheel's engine appears finicky but, once the learning curve has been mastered, it is a masterpiece. It is complete and utter control, at least as far as dice systems can go. I found myself "selling" my other dice games back to Half-Price books, mostly because I knew that I didn't actually want to play them. The bar had been set, for better or worse, at Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, and Torchbearer (Urban Shadows is still sitting here, needing playing!).  There was a bit of a heavy feeling in my stomach as I gave the extra games I had away, but I wanted others to be able to use what I wasn't.

Of COURSE this was sitting at Half Price Books.
Of course.
WASN'T I TRYING TO CUT BACK??
Yeah yeah yeah, I picked it up.Yes, I rolled my eyes at myself as I did so. It had been about eighteen years since I'd last seen this game, so why even bother now? I had Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, Urban Shadows, and Torchbearer, why did I need of any other games?
Yes, I backed it. So what? I like Chinese film!
I CAN QUIT WHENEVER I WANT!
ONLY GOD CAN JUDGE ME AND THIS ISN'T EVEN AN RPG!!!!
OK, that's just spite.


So, after the usual self-loathing I encounter was played out in a manner everyone else finds funny (comedy is tragedy remembered, after all!), I began to look through the book. The system is simple: if you have the stones (resources) to spend on the action, you can do it. There's a Difficulty and Resistance chart that you helps set up the minimum number of stones necessary to start the action and the number of stones necessary to complete it. A lot of the time those two numbers are the same, but not always. In the case of the Resistance being higher than the Difficulty the action could take multiple panels to complete. What's a Panel, you ask? A Panel is the standard increment of time in the game (30 seconds if it's a question of timing, although most of the time the actual timing of Panels is incredibly open), with a certain number of stones regenerated at the top of each Panel. An undefined number of Panels making a Page. An undefined number of Pages makes for a Mission, an undefined number of Missions makes for an Issue... not incredibly well defined, any of that, nor is there any actual mechanics attached to this names. They're just there. The rulebook is also filled with editing errors of a structural and rules nature, making some things unclear and necessitating some research to verify how often Stones recharge and the structure of sessions. My armchair designer senses began to tingle. Where was the tension in this game? Why was it so badly edited? How on earth was I going to GM it or play in it? I called my buddy Andy and we went over it, but the more we went over it the more confused we got. A playtest was in order.

As we began the playtest I found that the session organized itself into a natural comic book script format. I have reproduced what we wrote, in a semi-script form, which can be found here. And... we had a blast. None of our questions seemed relevant, not one! Andy was always scrambling to pay for the actions he wanted to do, and there always seemed to be a clear idea of when to end a page. We're both fairly analytical people when it comes to RPGs and we had no idea why what we did worked. Oh sure, we both thought the idea of constructing a comic book page could be taken a whole lot further than what the game did, and that recharging stones could be hooked into a splash and double splash page economy. But we had such a blast playing that we found ourselves hardly caring, at least at that point. I awarded him a Line of Experience, which is basically a blank check to the player, allowing them to write down an experience and attach it to an Action. Whenever you use that action you get to add a stone for all the Lines you have that apply to that situation. Ten such bonuses nets a permanent +1 to that action, those Lines are erased, and you start all over again. And that was great too! Andy wrote down "Dodged automatic gunfire". He chose how the character advanced. I'm a huge fan of the player getting to define the experience and what's important to them about it, and it did my heart good to see such a freeform reward mechanic.

I gotta say, The Marvel Universe Roleplaying Game was way ahead of its time, and it's a shame too. Had this game come out today it probably would have killed in the Indie RPG market. But it released in 2003, when DnD was really the only thing that dominated the market. I'm really glad that I found it, though. Some things really are worth the nostalgia you attached to them as a kid. Not a whole lot, but man, when it lives up to those shiny moments from childhood, when the world was still an awesome place and when you still had hope, it's worth holding onto that as tightly as possible.

I will, trust me on that.

I'm going back to that Half-Price Books and I'm getting the rest of this game's books, ASAP. I highly recommend everyone else do it too.

The Marvel Universe RPG Review: Daredevil Playtest Report


Preamble: Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson are representing Vincent D'onofrio and yes, I had to explain to my Best Man who Vincent D'onofrio was and why it's funny! One day I shall forgive him for being a lesser man. One day. One More Day.... I need to take a shower. D'Onofrio was the head of the Italian crime family in New York, and had been captured by the vigilante Daredevil. But, shortly after being captured, the Italians began a gang war against the other gangs... and were operating just as efficiently as when D'Onofrio was free, if not better! Matt had sat with D'Onofrio while questioned by the police concerning the possibility of his involvement with the gang war while in jail and could practically taste the lie on D'Onofrio's lips as he told the cops he wasn't involved. It was time to get proof.

PAGE ONE

Panel One
 We're at the offices of Nelson and Murdock, as Foggy and Matt go through bunches and bunches of files in the late evening. Matt's pulled up information on an Angelo Bottecilli, D'Onofrio's former number two. He runs things now.

FOGGY
We really need a secretary, Matt. 

MATT (CAPTION)
Lead one. Now to step two.

Panel Two
 Daredevil's cornered some nameless thug in an alleyway and is beating the tar out of him with his billy club.

SFX
THUNK! WHUD!

DAREDEVIL (CAPTION)
Ugly business, but it'll work.

Panel Three
Thug crying.

THUG
I don't know nothin'!

SFX
THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP THUMP.

DAREDEVIL (CAPTION)
Well that's an obvious lie.  Shouldn't take long.

Panel Four
The thug is on the ground, still sobbing from the beating he's gotten.

DAREDEVIL (CAPTION)
Ten minutes does wonders for a guilty soul.

THUG
*cough* Botticelli's just a patsy! He claims to be running everything, but who believes THAT??

DAREDEVIL
Where can I find him?

PAGE TWO

Panel One
Inset panel of a finger pulling a trigger. Daredevil is dodging gunfire from three sources in the main panel.
ANGELO BOTTICELLI
You don't need to look far.

SFX
BRRRAP BRAAAAAP! PT PT PT PT PT PT!

Panel Two
Botticelli pitches forward off the building he's on as Daredevil's billy club hits him square in the face.

SFX (GUN)
BRAAAAAAP BRAP BRAP!

SFX  (BILLY CLUB)
THUNK!

BOTICELLI
Uuuuuh....

Panel Three
Daredevil, with bullets glancing off of his kevlar suit, uses his billy club to bounce up into the air and catch Botticelli. Above the panel are three insets showing the billy club at work.

SFX
BRAP BRAAAAAP BRAP!

DAREDEVIL (CAPTION)
RETRACT. ANCHOR. SWING.

Panel Four
Daredevil is swinging as fast as he can, away from the goons, Botticelli in arm.

THUG 1
Don't shoot! He's got the boss!!

THUG 2
Damnit!

PAGE THREE

Panel One
We're inside an abandoned warehouse, at the docks. Botticelli is waking up in the background. He's grabbing a wooden board to defend himself. Daredevil is silhouetted in the foreground. The rest of the scene is bathed in the  blue of Daredevil's radar sense.

BOTTICELLI
Huuff... huff... bastard... will show him.

DAREDEVIL (CAPTION)
Seconds awake and this guy is already acting like an idiot.

Panel Two
Close up on Botticelli's fearful face as he hears a weird scraping noise. We cut to an inset panel of a crate crashing into the wall behind him!

BOTTICELLI
AH! ENOUGH! ENOUGH!

SFX 1
SCRAAAAAAAAAAPE.

SFX 2 (INSET)
KURASH!

Panel Three
Botticelli takes out a burner phone, chucks it, and runs like hell.

BOTTICELLI
TAKE IT! TAKE IT!

Panel Four
Daredevil carefully picks up the phone, a grim smile on his face.

Sabina's Castle: Session Three


Spar: Andy's character, a dwarven con artist. He's convinced the stupid humans he can listen to stones and hear everything said around them. Yeah. He's full of crap, in far more ways than one.

Tara: Spar's human lover, and a prominent member of The Kami Guardians, the magical agricultural guild.

Herminus: The lawful stupid guard that never ceases to amuse Spar.

Herminus was promoted to the head of castle security. He called a meeting of the staff. Herminus told everyone he was going to do a background checks on every staff member of the castle. Ranus, the head cook, was clearly unhappy about it. The rest of the staff wondered about Ranus, which Spar, not wanting to be discovered as a dwarf, stoked this suspicion to a fever pitch. He also poked around to find out whatever he could about Ranus from each of the people he was manipulating.

Spar checked in with Herminus later that night. Herminus enlisted Spar as his eyes and ears, despite Spar's feigned protests to the contrary. I mean, who else would be a better look out for the head of security but the unassuming janitor? Herminus asked Spar what he knew about Ranus. Spar told him what he had learned: Ranus was related to the Duke of Reinus, he had formal chef training at The Academy, and he was probably a noble (or at least a former noble) himself. Herminus told Spar that Tara, who was sleeping with Spar on the side, seemed to know Ranus as well, and that information could probably be gotten out of her.

So when Tara came to visit that night Spar warned her about Herminus wanting to investigate her. Tara was amused and laughed at Spar's concern that Herminus would be trying to use him to get information out of her the next day. And that's exactly what happened: Herminus wanted Spar to question Tara. The two of them faked a conversation, and Tara baited Spar into asking why Ranus had left his family. Tara considered it a tragedy. Ranus had accidentally killed his cousin's -The Duke of Reinus' - wife. Tara had helped set up Ranus with the job here, at Sabina's Castle. Confused, Spar went to his daughter Salt for guidance. Spar didn't want to hurt Tara by hurting Ranus. Salt told him he needed to stick to his guns, and to get Herminus to go after Ranus. Spar agreed.

The next day Spar and Herminus met up. Herminus had decided on his own not to investigate Ranus; some things needed to stay buried. He wondered aloud if he should investigate Tara, which Spar quickly said was a bad idea. Later that night Tara told Spar he was happy he'd gotten the heat off of Ranus, and that he had a good heart!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #7


I am still bitter about One More Day. I doubt I will never not be. But there come times when Marvel lets Spider-Man be himself again. The quietly confident, quippy, adult that Peter had grown into sometimes gets to shine back through. And that's the guy I see in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man again, and man! I missed this guy. 

It doesn't hurt that Tom Taylor is a fantastic writer, with an eye for characters and plot that's pretty hard to match up anywhere else. I mean, c'mon, don't tell me you don't get a chuckle out of the following:

"ARE you mugging him?"
"No! But... I  can see how it would look exactly like that."

"Are you robbing the place?"
"I'm not! But I can see why it would look exactly like that"
Little things like this in plots please me a whole heck of a lot. It means the writer is paying attention, and it's just plain old funny to boot.

The story itself is exactly what I want out of a Spider-Man comic. Don't give me soap operas about the super-villain of the week, focus on the characters we already have. And Taylor uses these elements to incredible effect. I love that May has reopened F.E.A.S.T., and, while I dearly wish if they were going to kill Aunt May they would just leave her dead already, Taylor makes the best of editorial's inability to conceive of anything where Aunt May is dead and gone. I love how the narrative takes full advantage of her health plight, injecting a fair bit of pathos into the story.

Taylor's narrative had been moving a little slowly in the first six issues, but this issue takes all the things that I had been loving about those issues and amps them up, creating an issue where Spider-Man is exactly where he needs to be: near the ground, with the rest of us. Spider-Man is, at his core, an Incarnational hero, a god amongst us. And it's great to see Taylor not only recognize this but take it in new directions.

The Giggling Dark: Session Eleven


Xellous: The 14 year old Hero of Khouria, Slayer of the Behemoth of The Apocalypse. He wield the bow Pyra and owns a pair of gauntlets forged from its tusks, which make him unmatched in personal combat.

Telos: A hero from another place, another time. He was badly wounded in his battle with the Behemoth, but is recovering extremely quickly due to Xellous' enchantments.

Shortly after killing the Behemoth and Khen-Zai Xellous preserved the body of the Khen-Zai and part of the tusk of the Behemoth, so that he could prove what had happened.A few months later he heard about Queen Veldora drowning her firstborn, Prince Kallu, and about how King Varlur had shut himself away into seclusion. A civil war was now brewing. So Xellous resolved to go. The monks gave Xellous a cart and a horse to store the remains and Telos, who insisted on going with Xellous.

It took a month to travel to Broadnough, the capital city of the country (which is known as Tala, for the record). Broadnough was a city surrounding a motte and bailey castle, which had a moat around the bailey portion of the castle. Xellous drove the cart straight through the city, right up to the gate of the guard house in the motte to see King Varlur.  A few guards were sitting at the gate, huddled around some cards, with some women huddled around them. The senior most officer walked up to Xellous and Telos, asking them what they wanted. Xellous identified himself as The Hero of Khouria and requested to see King Varlur The guard had a good laugh until Xellous showed him the preserved Khen-Zai. The guard went white as a sheet. he went and got his superior, who also went pale.

They took Xellous over the bridge, over the moat, into the bailey, to see Komas, the assistant of Prime Minister Archibar. Xellous' rough and rude behavior was almost a problem with the smooth and civilized Komas, but Telos managed to help him smooth things out. Komas asked to see the artifact his aura barely shifting to show his complete and utter surprise at the body, tusk, and Xellous' bracers, which were also made from the tusks of the Behemoth. Komas made sure Xellous and Telos' horse and cart were taken care of, and the remains were transferred into a small handcart. Komas asked if the remains would survive in the handcart up a flight of tower stairs and Xellous confirmed they would. So Komas summoned a large manservant, Turmo, to pull the handcart up a nearby tower's steps. THUNK, THUNK, THUNK, it went, all the way up. Telos stopped about midway, grimacing from his wounds. Komas asked if he needed to have his wounds tended to. Turmo was sent back down. He came back up with two young and pretty nurses. Telos lumbered back down with the two of them. THUNK THUNK THUNK went the cart.

At the top of the stairs Turmo was dismissed. Komas and Xellous entered the tower. Komas told Xellous that King Varlur was in the next room. He walked out and left the key to the next door, the inner room of the tower.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Sabina's Castle: Session Two


Spar: Andy's character, a dwarven con artist. He's convinced the stupid humans he can listen to stones and hear everything said around them. Yeah. He's full of crap, in far more ways than one.

Germana: The head of The Processors, a magical guild dedicated to cleaning up sewage. She put Spar into Sabina's Castle to listen to the stone. Yup.

The Unemployed (Shadow's Sons): The totally legal assassin's magical guild. They totally do not exist.

Germana told Spar that Severus, the studly cook, had been kidnapped and she wanted Spar to find out why. A few moments after Germana left Spar to investigate it became discovered that Severus was kidnapped by the general public. Spar went to Severus' room under the pretense of cleaning. The room was locked from the inside, so Severus hadn't been taken out from there. Severus was known for being extremely clean, but the books on his shelf were strewn about, the shelf itself knocked over. But the window (which was several stories up) was not forced open. As Spar left the room he walked directly into Olivia, one of the maids. she was angry that Spar had been in the room and walked off in a huff. Spar noticed she had a key to Severus' door, in her hand.

Spar then went into the castle town and found fellow gambler Lucius. The two had a game over a ruby ring. Spar won. Lucius told Spar that the Shadow's Sons (Unemployed) had been paying handsomely for people to case Sabina's Castle. Felippe was one such gambler, who had been milking the Unemployed for all they were worth. Spar went back to the kitchen for a bottle, which he filled with a couple of thimblefulls of Dwarven Nog, known for knocking out a human with nary a drop. He found Felippe and presented him the bottle. Felippe, always eager for a drop of something new, was unceremoniously knocked out. Spar brought Felippe back to his daughter Salt's place. She was annoyed that Spar had brought a human to her place.

After a few hours Felippe woke up, feeling pretty rough. After a quick bribe Felippe told Spar that there was a spot the Unemployed negotiated with people, at midnight. Spar went to the spot. Severus showed up there at midnight. Octavia showed up and began to argue with Severus, who explained what had happened. Severus had been "kidnapped" by Arianna, his childhood sweetheart. She had been thought dead for decades, only to show up out of nowhere and spirit Severus away. It turns out Arianna had been abducted and trained by The Unemployed. She had showed up at Severus' window once she was able to escape. Octavia, furious, stalked off. She was carrying Severus' child...

All of this, of course, was reported to Germana.

The Giggling Dark: Session Ten, Trait Vote the First


For those of you not in the know, the Trait Vote is possibly the best thing about Burning Wheel. Don't get me wrong: I love, I adore the rest of Burning Wheel. But what sets this and the Burning Wheel family of games apart (to the best of my knowledge) is the Trait Vote. After a significant event in the campaign the players take stock, go over the events of that arc, and then start voting on traits and reputations. There's generally a time skip between arcs, so we also figure out what the PCs did in the meantime. Normally this process takes about the length of a small session for 3-4 players, usually no more than two to three hours.

This trait vote, for one player, not two, not three, not four, took eight hours.

How did this happen? How did this monstrosity of a Trait Vote happen to me?

Part One: the Trait Vote


First off, let's review what traits Xellous had at the start of play:

Character Traits
 Single-Minded
Superstitious
Hard-working
Blunt

Dice Traits
Prodigy

We decided that, after we had given him the trait "Chosen of Ikuinen Lampo" to represent his ability to see auras and to communicate with Ikuinen Lampo, that we would take away the Superstitious trait (which was a cultural trait) and give Xellous character trait "Bereaved" and the Call On Trait "Aura of Determination". For those of you who don't know what that does, Aura of Determination allows you to either re-roll a mass Steel test that your group makes or for Xellous to re-roll a test that a group of people are helping him with, once a session. Given Xellous' habit of trying to get everyone to keep their crap together when they were losing it.

The Reputation Vote
The slaying of the Beast of the Apocalypse netted Xellous a "2D Hero of Khouria" reputation. He's pretty well-known across the lands, even if by distant reputation.

The Affiliation Vote
Becoming the Chosen of Ikuinen Lampo netted Xellous an affiliation with Celestial Knights, rated at 1D.

Part Two: Aura Manipulation

So... Kurlak invented a magic system in session eight. Y'know where he went and manipulated the auras of everyone? Yeah, that wasn't me suggesting anything. Kurlak just said "I do this" and I... looking at the fact that there is no Gifted trait required for magic.... facepalmed. And made up something on the spot. And had to continue to do so. Enough of that nonsense. Here's what Kurlak and I came up with for Aura Manipulation. We used the Magic Burner System in the Revised Magic Burner book. I managed to get all the Revised books about a week before they went out of print. I found the Burner extremely useful.

Concept: Manipulating the auras of living creatures to modify its behavior and understand it better than simply having Aura Reading. Think of the more empathic abilities of The Force from Star Wars. 
Technique: The user must take time concentrating and focusing upon the aura of the target.
Cost: Regardless of success or failure a Forte test must happen. If a test is failed by three or more a horrific failure is visited upon the user and he gains infamy for doing so.
Effects: May be used to:

  • Force a Steel test on anything with an Aura.
  • Force Obstacle penalties on a target. +1 Ob up until three over the obstacle, +2 Ob up until six over obstacle, and so on.
  • Suppress Traits: +1D for Character, +2D - +4D for Die Traits, +3D-5D for Call-Ons.
  • Add Traits: Ob is point cost of Trait, +1 Ob if target is unwilling.
  • Mask Aura: +2D to target if unwilling.
  • Mimic Aura
All tests except for Add Traits are VS Tests, with the target using Will.


Limits: The user must use hand gestures, similarly to a Jedi using Mind Tricks and lifting heavy objects. The time in each test is equal to the Obstacle of the test. The duration of all tests is one scene,+3 Ob for the rest of the session.

Part Three: The Red Ethergaunt


Kurlak had ensured that a red ethergaunt, the foot soldiers of the Khen-Zai, was killed. During the Trait Vote he asked what the Traits of the creature were. I realized that I had no idea, not really. Ug. We needed to fully burn it, because he wanted to taxidermy the darn thing. So here's what we came up with, using the Monster Burner which, again, I was very fortunate to have. Yes, this is me very bluntly stating: The Monster Burner works. Reprint it, whatever you need to do, Luke Crane and Co, do it. This was awesome

You think if I put that with bold, underlined, and italicized they'll read it and friggin' do it already??

Anyway. Here's the monster

Beliefs
1. The material universe is ours and all else will be exterminated.
2. The hierarchy must be obeyed strictly.
3. Nothing else is as intelligent as the Khen-Zai

Instincts
1. Always destroy all temples I see.
2. Always refuse a Duel of Wits with non Khen-Zai
3. Always have my etherblade when on expedition.

Traits
 Tall
Thin
Hyper-Intelligent (C-O for Perception)
Planar Phasing (DT, May go back to Ethereal plane, may take passengers, 10 actions)
Horrific Face (DT, when revealed forces Steel test)
Strongly Influence (DT, may attempt mind control, which forces Steel test +15 hesitation)

Skills
Khen-zai Hierarchy-wise G3
Read G3
Write B5
Intimidation G5
Meditation G3
Observation G5
Orienteering G3
Khen-Zai Supremacist Philosophy G4
Khen-Zai Technology G5
Etiquette G4

Stats
Will G6, Per G7, Pow B3, Spd B4, Agi B4, For B3

Attributes
Steel B8, Health B4


Part Four: Practice Time and Enchantments

So Kurlak went nuts here. He made Gauntlets of Brawling from the skin of the Behemoth of the Apocalypse, giving him G5 Brawling whenever he wears them, until the end of time. He also made four Amulets of Healing from some of the organs of the Behemoth, which helped Telos recover from most of his wounds! Telos went from mortally wounded to mildly inconvenienced in the space of six months. Kurlak also finished training Command, Persuasion, and Ugly Truth, as he went and bossed around the monks and fed hard truths about the state of their situation, along with trying to get other people to trade more with the monks. So this guy who was pretty inept socially before is now quite a bit better. That'll help him out next arc!

Oh man, that's done.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Sabina's Castle: Session One


Spar was approached by his boss, Germana Corvus, head of the Processor Guild. Her son, Caius, had attacked a dignitary. Germana was convinced her son was being set up. So Spar went back to the castle and started looking around. During this investigation he bumped into Herminus Luzi, an abrasive and dumb guard, who didn't like that the lowly janitor was poking around Caius' cell.

Continuing on, into a crowded room filled with dignitaries, Spar discovered that two members of The Unemployed (the totally not existing magical assassin guild), Agrippa and Aelinus, were plotting to kill Herminus. There was a Death's Head, which forced someone to attempt an assassination, placed on Caius. Agrippa and Aelinus weren't able to get the Death's Head off of Caius before he got put into prison. So this time they decided to put a Death's Head on Tara, Spar's human lover and member of the agricultural mage's guild The Kami Guardians, so she would kill Herminus and Caius. They would then remove the Death's Head from Tara. But they decided to try and get past Herminus, who was Caius' guard, one last time, before they went and did something as drastic as putting another Death's Head on another person.

Of course Jasper lost no time in telling Tara, who then ran down to the jail cell. She surprised Agrippa and Aelinus as they cased Herminus, spilling their whole plan at the top if her lungs. Agrippa and Aelinus, embarrassed, began to try to get away from Tara, but she followed them, yelling at the top of her lungs.  This called in other guards who, out of respect for Tara and her position with the Kami Guardians, arrested Agrippa and Aelinus.

Spar contacted Germana and told her everything he had learned. Agrippa and Aelinus vanished very quickly. Spar patched things over with the overenthusiastic and lawful stupid Herminus, who offered to help Spar whenever he needed it.

Sabina's Castle- Session 0


Andy and I were doing a Whitehack game, which was a bit doomed to fail, I suppose. Andy has never been a fan of DnD and I found that Whitehack's world-building mechanics work better with more than... well... one player. So when I started talking with Andy about the Burning Wheel setting that I've been running in for years, he perked up. I threw my pitch for the setting Kakusaretta Sekai at him: at the center of the planet is an enormous blue flame, surrounded by water.

This flame is the source of all the goodness in the world. A long time ago the world had rejected this flame, and it went out. The God of this world came back, incarnated as each of the 8 races- human, elf, dwarf, orc, spider, roden, wolf, and troll. Each time He incarnated He was inevitably betrayed by those of His race, and was finally killed as a human child by an angry mob. Each time He was betrayed He refused to let go of the Flame He possessed by right. By refusing to reject Himself the Flame of the Earth was re-lit.

I then went and outlined the one continent I had played in the most, the northwest one: Helmi. This had two kingdoms in it: The Iron Kingdoms and the Argentum Empire. I had done most of my campaigns in the Iron Kingdoms, but had only ever done one short campaign in the Argentum Empire, and didn't have much of a handle on the place. Naturally, Andy wanted to play there. Oh, and he didn't want to play a human, the dominant race of the Argentum Empire, but a dwarf, who have their own things going on, below ground. So, y'know, Andy was being Andy.



At this point I revealed that I hadn't really worked out anything else for anyone but the humans, mostly. Andy laughed and we began to get to work. We discussed the planet's primary villains: the Inimicai, who are a being from each race who set up their own anti-Flames, against the Flame of God. Andy loved the concept... and was disappointed that I'd no idea what the dwarven Inimicai was like. In the my previous campaigns I'd centered around four Inimicai: the head Inimicai Eous, the elven Inimicai Kenodoxius (also known as The One in the Deep), the human Inimicai Golau, and the orc Inimicai Rahbarl, but when Andy asked me about the dwarven Inimicai I think he could hear me hanging my head and blushing in shame over the phone.

Some of the most impressive worldbuilding I'd ever heard just jumped right out of Andy's mouth. He went off for a good long time, on and on about the Inimicai he named Leviathan. Unlike the other Inimicai, Leviathan had never been seen before, and in fact it was not known if he ever actually existed. It was rumored that, should Leviathan show up, everything would end. But even the other Inimicai scoff at Leviathan's existence. And yet there are those who think it does exist.

You have to understand that I was in complete and utter awe, but we had to move on.

We decided to go with the Dwarven default of stone-listening, turned up to 11. Dwarves can interact with the Flame inside the stone, given they have the sufficient skills and magical aptitude. This, of course, has led to the folk tale that dwarves can talk to stones.

Andy's character,a dwarf named Spar, decided to take advantage of this universal human ignorance. He took up a job with The Processors, a magical guild that got rid of the garbage in the Argentum Empire. He was hired by The Processors to snoop on the other guilds that frequented a neutral ground called Sabina's Castle, which was on the very outskirts of Argentum Prime, the capital of the Argentum Empire.Spar, a greybeard amonsg the dwarves, took up the position of janitor, pretending to be a human named Jasper. While there Spar took a human earth mage known as Tara as a lover. She figured out pretty fast he was a dwarf and kept the secret. The tone of the campaign was intended to be a lighthearted, episodic, campaign.



Yeah, that went well.