Saturday, March 29, 2014

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Aelric Shadowstar, Apparently)

We're almost at the end of The Enemy Within II: Lost in New York so here's an update on the party.

Rudiger Adler, by this time having moved on to vampire hunting as a career, despite the lack of vampires in Altdorf.

Drandruel, the wood elf warrior who seems to have triple-backflipped out of a wuxia film.

Magnar, a lump of steel with a dwarf inside. Somewhere.

Aelric Shadowstar, high elf mutant wizard.

Thorek the Mighty, suicidal slayer looking for a daemon of note to kill.

Having filled themselves with tea and toast at the town house of Gravin Clothilde von Alptraum the party rushed to the temple of Sigmar where despite the early hour a large crowd had already gathered to watch the great and the good of the Empire arrive for the service; Aelric's fine robes and decorative face mask drew some speculation that he was Balthasar Gelt, the supreme patriarch of the colleges of magic.

As it turned out Gelt had arrived earlier, along with a number of other luminaries, including, er, Luminary Mauer, Friedrich von Kaufman, and more than a few of the Empire's Elector Counts, the nobles who held the power to decide the identity of the next Emperor. I cannot imagine why the players thought that some sort of dramatic event might occur at the service.

Colthilde von Alptraum did arrive, and Captain Marcus Baerfaust also seemed to be absent, although some of his Averheim Greatswords were in attendance in full dress uniform. Before the player-characters could get too suspicious, a couple of them spotted the witch hunter Adele Ketzenblum in the crowd and tried to push their way through the assembled nobility to reach her; Drandruel found herself face to face with some sort of Sigmarite zealot, all wrapped in chains and little iron prayer boxes, showing clear signs of attempted self-immolation, and who seemed keen that everyone should REPENT OR DIE, while the rest of the party got tied up talking to a pleasant but somewhat doddery priestess of Shallya. By the time they could get away Ketzenblum -- if it was her -- had disappeared.

The service began and so the player-characters had to choose between taking their seats -- near the back of the temple with the other less important guests -- or making a scene; they chose the former and sat on their hands, eager to burst into action, as the Grand Theogonist -- Volkmar the Grim, also an Elector -- began his long and pious sermon. At the appointed time the temple's great bell rang but instead of the expected clear peal the sound was a sickening warped rumble, a sound that forced people to their knees, clutching their hands to their ears as their balance failed and their stomachs emptied.

The odd zealot Drandruel had met earlier sprinted down the central aisle of the temple, spewing blue and purple smoke as he ran and soon he, the great altar, and the Theogenist were all lost in a noxious cloud. As the bell continued to ring the player-characters leaped into action but found the panicking crowd an obstacle; worse, the zealot's tiny prayer boxes flew out of the smoke and disgorged their impossible contents, a stream of bright pink daemons of the sort the party had seen before.

A desperate running battle followed as the player-characters fought their way through the daemons in an attempt to reach the bell tower, a task made more difficult as the bell's ringing filled some of them with terror and sent them fleeing in the opposite direction. Rudiger was first to the tower and discovered a group of soldiers in the belfry, accompanied by a scarred woman and a figure clad in dark robes and an ebony mask; the Black Hood himself!

Rudiger decided to wait for backup and soon Drandruel and Magnar arrived to even the odds a little. Thorek and Aelric remained below, unable to pull free of the daemonic mêlée; the bell's ringing had an odd effect on the elf's mutant physiology and with each tolling his body warped and changed until he became some sort of tentacled giant, as terrifying as any of the daemons he was fighting. As the former elf staggered up the stairs to the belfry where some sort of magic shielded his companions from the bell's effects, one final peal twisted his body and he hunched over in agony. When Aelric stood once more he found that he had been returned to his former (s)elf, with all mutations gone.

Thorek was not as lucky. Swarmed by daemons and all out of Fate Points the dwarf's, er, fate was inevitable and he was torn to pieces by the giggling, dancing things. All agreed that it was what he would have wanted.

Up in the belfry the surviving members of the party confronted the Black Hood, who was revealed as Marcus Baerfaust. The soldier's attempt to win the party over with his grand scheme to destroy the nobility and bring democracy and to the Empire failed to convince them and they charged him and his minions. They managed to halt the ringing of the bell before it shook the temple to bits but Baerfaust was a little more resilient, his impressive combat abilities boosted by some sort of unseen magic. In the end he too fell but before he could be captured a hole appeared in the air and blue tendrils of energy dragged him screaming into some other realm.

The player-characters were heroes!

There were some casualties in the temple below but the movers and shakers of the Imperial political system had all survived so the dread spectre of democracy was beaten back once more. The player-characters were rewarded with big bags of cash and free room and board in the apartments attached to the Imperial Palace, and the Emperor Karl Franz himself, much recovered now that Baerfaust's influence was gone, met them in person to thank them for their great deeds.

Everyone lived happily ever after.

Oh. No. Wait.

A week later, von Kaufman and Luminary Mauer met the player-characters in secret and told them that the portal in the belfry was not quite as closed as everyone thought and that the Empire needed some brave heroes to go through and bring Baerfaust back, dead or alive.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Bloody Chunks of Frazzled Thugs (or, Never Trust a Tilean With a Spider)

(You'd best make a cup of tea; this is a long one, as the actress said to the bishop.)

It was a hot and foggy morning in the Imperial capital as the player-characters set out to clear their backlog of tasks and jobs. Keen as they were to keep in Clothilde von Alptraum's good books they went to the Temple of Drama first to investigate the cancellation of the play that Clothilde was so eager to see. It turned out that the company was missing both a vital prop and their lead man; the former was a giant spider, and that little fact suggested a possible reason for the latter's disappearance. The player-characters ran into Carlo Spinezzi, a furtive and jealous understudy, and convinced -- they are getting quite good at threatening people -- him to admit that he had murdered the lead actor Nikolai di Fortessi and had freed the spider as a cover.

The spider was found stuffed into a box -- and quite angry -- in a store room beneath the theatre; also discovered were three barrels of gunpowder, enough to flatten half the building. Spinezzi claimed to know nothing about the explosives and while the player-characters were certain that the goal was to kill Clothilde they couldn't work out how cancelling the play, er, played into that. Still, they had the matter of a kidnapped elf to investigate and it was almost time for lunch so they took the gunpowder -- as "evidence" -- and dragged Spinezzi to the local watch house.

On the way back they spotted Frederick Grosz ambling down the street towards them, oblivious to their presence. This was notable not only because Grosz was supposed to be in Nuln but also that he'd been named on the Mysterious Note™ that had tipped them off about the kidnapping; they were convinced of his complicity when he spotted them and then legged it down an alley. Even with a couple of stumpy dwarves in the party Grosz couldn't outrun the player-characters and soon they began persuading him -- see above -- to tell them what he'd been up to since they last saw him.

(In hindsight this encounter looks a little too convenient but it was a genuine coincidence; this section of the adventure is based on a strict timeline and had the player-characters taken a little longer at the theatre or watch house they would have missed Grosz and their chance to rescue the kidnapped elf.)

Grosz revealed that he had been working for the Black Hood -- shock, gasp, etcetera -- and that he had indeed organised the kidnap of Eothlir. His associates were lurking on a riverboat named the Restless Spirit waiting for Grosz to return; they had been told to take Eothlir to Carroburg and wait for further instructions from the Hood. Grosz could give no clues as to the Hood's identity as the mysterious villain had been clad in, er, a black hood, but he did tell them where he'd met the Hood-- an establishment known as the Holy Hammer of Sigmar -- and promised to take the party to the Restless Spirit.

An unusual and brutal fight then followed as everyone got into a bit of a scrum around the boat's small cabin door and Aelric tossed lightning bolts into the tiny space behind; soon the cabin was packed full of bloody chunks of frazzled thugs and a small number of terrified survivors, all of whom were keen to surrender as soon as possible. Also present was Eothlir, tied and gagged in a corner and staring in wide-eyed terror at Aelric, whose head was engulfed in eldritch flame once more.

More persuasion -- see above -- followed as Magnar and Aelric were convinced that Eothlir knew why he had been kidnapped and that Grosz knew who the Black Hood really was and that both were being evasive on purpose. Neither belief turned out to be accurate and Grosz's cooperation was rewarded with a trip to the bottom of the river; there was some debate over whether the elf should also take a swim -- something something something dark side something something something complete -- but in the end he was allowed to live. As he hopped off the boat, Eothlir mentioned that he had an appointment with Friedrich von Kaufman to discuss an expedition to the Southlands that he had sponsored; as a long-forgotten plotline screeched into view the player-characters blinked at each other for a moment then pursued him to find out more.

The elf had been the captain on the voyage to the Southlands that had resulted in the discovery of -- among other things -- the jade mask that had later been stolen by skaven and melted down to make the tainted bell clapper that had been causing so much trouble. Eothlir thought there was something dodgy about the mask and wanted to warn von Kaufman of the danger; with their two major tasks for the morning completed the player-characters decided to accompany the elf to his meeting.

Along the way they couldn't help but notice a commotion at the theatre. Upon investigation it transpired that the performance had gone ahead as a result of their efforts earlier in the day but during the play Clothilde von Alptraum had been stabbed by two assailants, employees of the theatre company; the Gravin had survived and was recovering at her town house and the would-be murderers were in custody at the watch house.

Somehow the player-characters managed to convince the guards that they had the right to see the prisoners and recognised them as two members of support staff for the Tilean actors. After more persuasion -- see above -- the player-characters not only had confirmation that the Hood wanted Clothilde dead -- the stabbing was improvised after the discovery of the gunpowder scuppered the original plan -- but that the Hood was indeed based at the Holy Hammer of Sigmar. They were rather more surprised to discover that the Hood was -- according to the failed assassins anyway -- a woman, information that if true threw all their theories of the villain's identity out the window.

Upon meeting with von Kaufman at last they learned nothing new about the mask -- indeed, it was the noble who learned the most as they'd been too paranoid to tell him about the skaven and the bell clapper back in Averheim -- but they did note that von Kaufman had done very well out of the recent war with the Chaos marauders and that he had become a bit of a rising star in Altdorf; as such he was due to attend a special service at the temple of Sigmar the next day alongside a number of other muckety-mucks, and he invited the player-characters to attend as his guests. The players know a set piece encounter when they see one so the characters were enthusiastic in their agreement.

They also took the opportunity to report back to an exhausted Marcus Baerfaust on their less-than-successful mission to find out what Adele Ketzenblum knew about the Black Hood, and then visited an addled Konrad Mauer to deliver the purified bell clapper and report the death of his friend Robertus von Oppenheim; both Averlanders seemed worse for wear as a result of their duties at the ailing Emperor's bedside and neither seemed to relish being the heroes of the day.

Having done their rounds of the prominent non-player-characters and being no closer to pinning down the Black Hood's identity -- frontrunners at this point were Baerfaust, von Apltraum, and Ketzenblum -- the party decided to investigate the Holy Hammer of Sigmar and see if they could catch the Hood. Waiting until nightfall -- and with the Chaos moon Morrslieb high and full in the sky -- they gained entry to the insalubrious establishment but found that the Hood and his or her henchmen had scarpered earlier in the day leaving behind no clues other than a forgotten piece of plate armour of good quality. The staff were persuaded -- see above -- to reveal that a woman with a scar on her face had left in the company of a number of burly, militaristic-looking men that afternoon. Could this scarred woman have been the Hood?

The next day the party rose early and went to visit Clothilde von Alptraum. While weak she was pleased to see them and didn't seem to mind when they insisted on examining each of her maids and servants for scars. As the breakfast meeting came to a close, the Gravin expressed her intention to recover enough to attend the service at the temple of Sigmar later that day, causing a suspicious Rudiger to proclaim upon leaving the town house that "If she doesn't turn up, then she's clearly the Hood, and we should kill her."

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Trenchcoat Cyborg Murder

Some time ago there was a game called Syndicate. It was a sort-of-strategy game in which you controlled a squad of trenchcoat-clad cyborgs in an attempt to force your corporate rivals out of a number of futuristic cities. It played a bit like a more complex Cannon Fodder but with less comedy. Except when you sent your agents running around with flamethrowers. Or squeezed forty people into a car then blew it up with a laser.

There was a sequel that wasn't quite as good and in 2012 a remake, but because the video game industry is being invaded by the sorts of dull, unimaginative idiots who infest the film industry it was a first-person shooter Doom-clone, because there aren't enough of those yet. It makes one want to put a Persuadertron to one's head.

5 Lives Studios are producing a game called Satellite Reign. It's not a Doom-clone but it does look a bit familiar, in the best possible way.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

A Time For Forgiveness

After aeons of waiting -- for which I'm sorry, because they were my fault -- my adventure for Lamentations of the Flame Princess has been released!

Those who backed the Indiegogo campaign should be getting their copies in the next few days and will have been sent instructions to download the pdf version at some point today. Anyone else with an interest can buy the adventure from either the LotFP shop or DriveThruRPG.

That's enough self-promotion from me! I'm a couple of sessions behind on my WFRP recaps so expect at least one of those in the next couple of days.

Saturday, March 01, 2014

March Madness 31 Day Obscure Game Blogging Challenge Ex Plus Alpha

I didn't get involved in the February Dungeons and Dragons blog event meme thing because I didn't want to clog up the blog -- blogclog? -- with half-hearted recollections of a game with which I have little connection. Then someone pointed out Tedenkhamen's non-D&D version and so here we are.

You're getting it in one big chunk because I don't think you need me wittering on at you every day for a month.

1 What was the first roleplaying game other than D&D you played? Was it before or after you had played D&D? 

The first role-playing game I played was the multiplayer version of Fighting Fantasy. I remember my friend Gareth introducing me to the book and I think we ran through a fight using the rules but I don't know if we got any further than that. I didn't play Dungeons and Dragons for the first time until a good five or six years after that, although I was aware of the game.

2 In what system was the first character you played in an RPG other than D&D? How was playing it different from playing a D&D character?

I'm pretty sure we used the sample characters from the example of play -- Armstrong, Bigneck and Crystal -- in that first FF not-game so I'm not sure that counts. If not then the first character I created would have been Mister Majeika, an ork street samurai in Shadowrun. At the time I still hadn't played D&D but Majeika was an ork on a motorbike and he had a submachine gun so I like to think that I had some sort of nascent awareness of the differences.

3 Which game had the least or most enjoyable character generation?

I did not like Traveller: The New Era at all but I enjoyed the way characters entered the game complete with this little biography telling the player where they'd been and what they'd done. I haven't played any other versions of Traveller -- not because TNE put me off but because no one I know plays it -- but I understand that they all take a similar approach.

4 What other roleplaying author besides Gygax impressed you with their writing?

I'm not that impressed with Gygax's writing to be honest but perhaps I've not read enough of the classics to appreciate his prose. +Chris Hogan's Small But Vicious Dog is a delight to read and I'd love to see more role-playing books follow his lead and move away from the technical manual style that seems to dominate the hobby.

5 What other old school game should have become as big as D&D but didn’t? Why do you think so?

This is a tricky one but given the fact that Star Wars turned up at around the same time as the role-playing hobby was taking off I'm surprised that Traveller didn't become more popular. It is popular, I know that, but it seems like it should have been able to capitalise somehow on Star Wars and so rival D&D in popularity.

6 What non-D&D monster do you think is as iconic as D&D ones like hook horrors or flumphs, and why do you think so?

It may be a bit of a cheat but I'm going with Cthulhu and I'd say he's more iconic than most D&D monsters. More so than the flumph anyway.

7 What fantasy RPG other than D&D have you enjoyed most? Why?

I love Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I like the simplicity of the system and the wonderful career-based character development, but it's the sense of humour that I like the most. I know a lot of people consider it to be dark fantasy or even horror but I see it as a comedic game, sort of Blackadder does D&D.

8 What spy RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details. 

I haven't played any spy games, at least not in the strictest sense. I enjoyed aspects of the first edition of Conspiracy X but I'm not sure that counts. Cold City and Hot War are excellent games that both involve espionage to a certain extent but I don't think they could be called spy games either. I really want to play Night's Black Agents.

9 What superhero RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

My superhero gaming experience consists of one session of the 1980's Marvel rpg so I suppose by default that's my answer. In fairness it was good fun; I played Death's Head in a team with Deadpool, Cable, and the Human Torch and we nuked St. Petersburg. It was an accident. Sort of.

10 What science fiction RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I enjoyed running Rogue Trader even if the campaign spluttered to a halt. I had great fun playing Shadowrun in my teens -- see 2 -- if the presence of magic, elves, and dragons doesn't discount it. That said, Rogue Trader has elves, orcs, and magic too.

11 What post-apocalyptic RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I know it's one of the classic genres but I don't think I've ever played a post-apocalyptic role-playing game. I did play Twilight 2000 a couple of times but the GM was using the rules to run an X-Files pastiche so that probably doesn't count.

12 What humorous RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

See 7.

13 What horror RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

I love Call of Cthulhu more than any other role-playing game. I first played it some time after being introduced to Shadowrun and Star Wars and it was so different; we were playing normal people with no special abilities -- beyond an aptitude for accounting or natural history -- investigating a haunted house. It opened my eyes to the possibilities of the hobby and to this day it's the only game that's scared me and the only game with which I've scared players. I also consider it to be one of the most heroic rpgs; you play librarians pitting themselves against nigh-omnipotent alien space gods that they cannot hope to defeat but they try anyway.

14 What historical or cultural RPG have you enjoyed most? Give details.

I can't say that I've played any such game. Call of Cthulhu is historical but the alien space gods probably disqualify it.

15 What pseudo or alternate history RPG have you enjoyed most? Why?

Again, I'm not sure I've played one of these unless Call of Cthulhu counts. This exercise is making it look like I've only ever played about five games in my entire life.

16 Which RPG besides D&D has the best magic system? Give details.

I wouldn't say D&D has a good magic system, let alone "the best" but that's not an answer. I like the way that magic in WFRP2 is so unpredictable and even the smallest spell has a chance of going wrong and causing a mutation or summoning a major daemon; it's also a nice simple spellcasting system based on rolling a small pool of dice and adding up the numbers. Easy.

My favourite magic system though is probably that of Shadowrun circa the second edition. I like the little details; spellcasting is limited by the caster's toughness and so a mage can be exhausted or even killed if she pushes herself too far.; spells leave a trace in the astral plane so can be tracked back to their casters; urban shamans can conjure spirits made out of rubbish; it's packed full of fun ideas but they've all been thought out and make sense within the context, or as much as magic can make sense anyway.

17 Which RPG has the best high tech rules? Why?

Technology in rpgs tends to translate to "stuff to buy" in my experience and I don't really care about equipment lists. I will say that if a game has construction rules -- for starships, vehicles, robots, and so on -- then it has an above average chance of winning me over.

18 What is the crunchiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

Traveller: The New Era had rules for calculating the effect the gravity of various planets would have on the range and damage of bullets fired upon said planets. An admirable attention to detail but in no way enjoyable.

19 What is the fluffiest RPG you have played? Was it enjoyable?

I assume this means the rpg with the most setting and fewest rules. Fighting Fantasy uses 2d6 for everything and has a wealth of setting information if you count the fifty-odd gamebooks. Was it enjoyable? Read on, Macduff.

20 Which setting have you enjoyed most? Why?

This is tricky. My favourite rpgs each have their own settings -- Call of Cthulhu has umpteen -- but I can't say that I have any particular attachment to them divorced from their associated rulesets. That said, Cthulhu Invictus is amazing but who doesn't like Romans?

If I do have a favourite setting then it is probably Titan, the world of the Fighting Fantasy books; I haven't played a game set in Jackson and Livingstone's jumbled patchwork world in many years now, but I spent many happy hours bashing GOBLINS there and I'd love to return one day.

21 What is the narrowest genre RPG you have ever played? How was it?

I'm not sure what this question is getting at. What's a narrow genre? I suppose it's referring to something like Pendragon where you all play male, English knights in Arthurian Britain and there's not a lot of wiggle room; the game doesn't support Sir Cedric of Slough going dungeon crawling or getting in a boat and sailing off to discover America, or of being Lady Cedric instead.

If that is what the question is getting at then Pendragon -- despite its narrow focus, or perhaps because of it -- is an excellent game and is in my top five rpgs.

22 What is the most gonzo kitchen sink RPG you ever played? How was it?

One of my great regrets is that I've never played Rifts, a game which must be near the pinnacle of gonzo gaming. I have played Feng Shui though, and that's not only bonkers but also a great deal of fun.

23 What is the most broken game that you tried and were unable to play?

I recall trying to play the Mutant Chronicles rpg once. We gave up and drank cheap whiskey instead.

24 What is the most broken game that you tried and loved to play, warts and all?

It is clear that the first edition of Advanced Fighting Fantasy had almost no playtesting whatsoever but even so I remember running and playing a long campaign using the rules that was bonkers and brilliant and only stopped when the rules couldn't support it any more.

25 Which game has the sleekest, most modern engine?

I think this may be two questions masquerading as one. I find Chaosium's d100 system to be quite sleek as it's intuitive and light and gets out of the way but it also originates in the late 1970's so is not in any way modern.

26 What IP (=Intellectual Property, be it book, movie or comic) that doesn’t have an RPG deserves it? Why?

I am astounded -- astounded, I say -- that there isn't a series of Final Fantasy tabletop rpgs. It seems like such an obvious thing to do. I'm no fan of the franchise but I'm also surprised that there's no Harry Potter game.

27 What RPG based on an IP did you enjoy most? Give details.

See 7.

28 What free RPG did you enjoy most? Give details.

I don't think I've played a free rpg. I've got a few and they're stacked on the shelf ready to be played but the opportunity has never arisen. When it does I'd like to give Lady Blackbird a try.

29 What OSR product have you enjoyed most? Explain how.

This is an odd question. I'm not supposed to be talking about D&D in these answers -- it's the whole point of the exercise after all -- but the OSR is dominated by D&D so I'm not sure what to say here. If people in the OSR are producing swathes of material for WFRP, Shadowrun, Call of Cthulhu, and Pendragon, they haven't told me, the blackguards.

30 Which non-D&D supplemental product should everyone know about? Give details.

I really want to say Vornheim here because it's one of the most useful and innovative rpg products I've ever seen but it is sort of D&D focused. Instead I will go for the d1000 random mutation tables from either the old Realms of Chaos books or the more recent Tome of Corruption; both are for Warhammer but can be used with any game with just a bit of work and they're so much fun to use.

31 What out-of-print RPG would you most like to see back in publication? Why?

This is perhaps a bit of a cheat as it's D&D-derived but Dragonlance: Fifth Age was a fun and promising game that got sucked into the demise of TSR and I would love to see a new edition with the Dragonlance stuff left behind.