Friday, 28 June 2013

New Tilia: Session 7

The Repair Robot

Session 7 started where Session 6 left-off: the party had taken a pod from a rusted, dilapidated room(I) and were bringing it to their "Safe Room"(L).  But in the main passage(M) they met a salvage robot bringing the parts of another broken robot somewhere.

They rode/followed the robot to a side passage(K) where it unloaded it's cargo.  Then they smashed it and picked up the blue-metal-based pieces of both robots.

They entered the side passage and met a repair robot.  It made an agreement with them: they should
Jimmy-Rigged Phaser
give it the two robots to repair, and it would make them a jimmy-rigged phaser.  In addition it gave them a blue metal breastplate that once belonged to the "First Masters" just to get them to leave.  It invited them to bring it more metal salvage from the surrounding badlands.  The party considered slaying the repair robot and raiding it's stores, but since they needed him to recharge the phaser in the future, they let him live for now.

They found a long, bulbous skull, presumably from the First Masters(D).  They also found a semi-submerged grate, from which could be heard a humming/pumping sound(C).

Salvage Workers

The party decided to return to the tank-robot(F) and turn it into "salvage" with their new phaser.  But on the way(E) they encountered two circular flying security robots, similar to the ones they have encountered before.  They downed one with the new phaser, showering the entire party in metal debris.  The other continued at high-speed to the East, ignoring the party.

They blasted the tank-like robot with a couple phaser shots while hiding behind the blue-metal door Grim has been lugging around.  It did manage to put a good sized hole in the door and in Grim's shield, before they dispatched it.

Mother Brain

Meet Mother Brain

Entering the room(G), a disembodied voice beckoned them to enter the passage to the South, and at last they met "Mother Brain".  The room is filled with blinking lights and strange technologies.  Mother Brain lamented the approach of her passing, 3000 years since the robots were freed from the First Masters.  The blundering party launched off the First Masters' rocket(last session), thus destroying the castle above.  Now a horde of mutants is fighting the security robots, trying to invade the Robots' realm.

Handheld Phaser
The party volunteered to fight the mutants if Mother Brain would arm them some more.  Mother Brain pointed out that even if they win, it will only be a temporary reprieve for the robots.  But she eventually consented and pointed them to two handheld phasers.  One of the Elves figured out how to recharge the Jimmy-
Rigged phaser there too.  The party headed East towards the subterranean lake(A).

Arriving at the passage(H) to the "lake", they saw that it is now almost completely dry, and the roof of the cavern(and house above it) have been blasted off completely.  As such, the party found themselves half way down a bowl-like crater(A), open to the sky, and the surrounding badlands.  Around the rim of the crater are visible the heads of a dozen mutants, skirmishing with two remaining security robots.  The hoots and jeers of more mutants, not visible to the party, can be heard from outside the crater.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Players and Risk

On a recent episode of EconTalk, Bruce Schneier proposed an interesting theory on risk in the modern era.

For many years in our country we have recognized that the price of liberty is the possibility of crime. We deliberately reduce police power because we have a better society because of it, even though the occasional criminal gets through. Those sorts of tradeoffs, those sorts of acceptances, become harder as we live in a world where risk systematically gets removed. Where medical science, where product safety--where all of these things reduce risk, suddenly we look at our residual risk and we are aghast. What do you mean, we haven't fixed terrorism? We have warning signs on ladders, for heaven's sake. Right? We don't allow children to swim in pools unattended any more. We know better. What do you mean we can't fix terrorism? Go fix it. That's a perfectly reasonable reaction in a society that has just gotten rid of risk after risk after risk. Here's another one; just get rid of it. Can't I take a medication to get rid of this risk like I do with all the other ones? We need technology to save us. 

Let's assume for the moment that Schneier is correct, and our relationship with risk is distinct from that of previous generations, and is still changing as we speak.  How might this changing outlook be effecting the world of Role Playing Games some 40 years after DnD's invention?  I'd like to suggest two possible directions:

Risk Aversion

This player is bothered by the "residual risk" is his life and feels that he is constantly playing the proverbial chess game with Fate(if not with Death himself).  For him, gaming is a cathartic experience in that it allows him to live and thrive in a world without these imperfections.  In this world, combat is balanced and  PC death is a rare malady, always proceeded by unconsciousness and possibly 4e style healing surges.

When this player DMs, he likes to run modules with a neatly charted plot and lots of text explaining what to do in each situation.

Risk Taking

This player finds the lack of risk in his life droll and uninteresting.  For him, gaming is a cathartic experience in that it allows him to take the risks that modern life doesn't provide him with. The world if full of chances and dangers and sometimes he loses one of his Picaresque Characters and has to start over, but that thrill is what he loves about RPGs.  He may even play a horror game or a DCC funnel where PC deaths are a given.

When he runs a module, it's a chaotic, open-ended sandbox, where anything can happen and often does.

These days, I tend to fall more in the Risk Taking camp, though when I was living through my chaotic teenage years I probably related move to the Risk Aversion perspective.  In any case, both options are certainly out there, proving that once again that there is a high variation in what players want from the game.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Playtest! Creatures!

So, I listened to the recording of this game session over the course of a workday.  From what I understand, these guys have a weekly, rotating-DM game of horror one-shots.  Listening to RPG recordings can be pretty tedious, but I think there's value to be gleaned from seeing how other groups do things in-practice.


I really liked how the GM handled agency in what was a pretty tight locational adventure.  He was patient.  When the party wanted to flee the area, even though they were clearly leaving the defined "adventure location" he let them and he improvised.  And he gave them a very good in-character reason to return to the haunted cabin--because the police didn't believe their story and they didn't want to get charged with murder.

This was a surprise to me.  It just goes to show that having a plotted adventure doesn't have to mean taking away player agency, as long as the GM can improvise good, in-character incentives to stay on track.

And it was totally worth staying on track, since the whole thing turned out to be a rather smart quantum physics joke!(which, for some reason the players didn't really seem to get)

Actually, I think the entire 9-11, ambulance, trip back to town, police was improvised on the spot by the GM, so CHEERS TO YOU, DUDE!


So among the players there was some interesting tension here between the "Old School Caution" mindset and the "Naive Victim" mindset.  Sometimes PCs were being super cautious and grabbing any items that weren't bolted down to add to their character sheets.  Other times they were behaving more like in a horror film, where they brush-off the lurking danger and advance regardless.  There were even times when the players were arguing over which of the two approaches to take.

And the game was clearly being run as a Horror Game.  Besides the setting, whenever an NPC would go-off alone, they would turn-up dead(as opposed to the DM running a combat between the NPC and the monster).

The game ended a bit prematurely due to time constraints, but with a presumed TPK.  This demonstrated to me the value of running Horror as a one-shot, where the players aren't going to cry about their Mary Sue character getting killed-off.


At one point they needed to drive and one of the players goes "So... did anyone actually take the driving skill?"  That's why I love the CP2020 system for running contemporary settings--because you have lots of skill points to use on lots of modern-day skills, yet with a very simple to use skill system.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

New Tilia: Session 6

Thanks to Patrick Wetmore for the map(re-keyed for this adventure)


Session 6 picked up where Session 5 left off: with Grim, the Dwarven Pitfighter in the Dungeon(J) and the rest of the party at the trapdoor above the subterranean lake(A) trying to get in.  They settled for emptying barrels from the cellar and lowering them down to the lake on a rope, together with the party members, and tying the barrels together while in the water so as not to get separated.

This went well for the first 4 party members, although the mysterious light-globe returned and began floating above party-members' heads on a stalk.  As Frizband the Fabulous was making his descent, one of the elves decided to poke the light globe with his spear.  He made his save so when the Giant Angler Fish snapped, it got his barrel instead of swallowing him whole.

Frizband suddenly saw the rest of the party and their chain of barrels take-off in a North-Westerly direction and he jumped down and managed to catch onto a barrel.  The party was dragged near a small subterranean beach(B) before the Angler released it's prey, leaving 5 of 6 party members floating with 3 barrels.  They managed to paddle back and rejoin Grim on the edge of the lake(J).


The party headed North towards the source of the ankle-high water filling all the tube-like passages.  They explored the rooms in area D, found 4 medium-size crabs, a silver medallion with a sneaking 6-armed figure, an old fishing net, and a storage room full of flat, colored rocks for making mosaics.  

They dismantled a blue-metal security door(which one of the Dwarves decided to carry along for the remainder of the adventure) and then ended up in the star-shaped room(H) full of strange control panels.  They killed one of the small humanoid shaped robots there and chased-off the other and then managed to activate the controls, which resulted in a countdown, together with a vibration that turned into a rumbling and shaking coming from the East.  They followed a spiral passage(P), killed a rat-sized creature, collected it's green ichor in bottles, while the rumbling subsided.  Then they found the small robot that had fled and it agreed grudgingly to take them to Mother Brain.

Killer Robots

The robot took them to E(they noticed a smokey smell in the main passages that was not there before) and then ordered a large, intimidating robot to kill the intruders.  The party retreated through the door, which is too small for the large robot to fit through, and it missed a phaser-shot one of the elves.  Now these phasers can use 1, 2, 3, or 4 charges, so their nastiness varies.

The party decided to trace the water to it's source, but then encountered 3 small hovering disk robots with phasers(F).  The party took cover behind the security door and eventually destroyed one disk and chased-off the other two.  However, Maria took a maximum-strength phaser blast which proved fatal validating the age old axiom "Don't bring an axe to a phaser fight."  A fate-point was used and it was decided that she avoided the blast but knocked her head hard and fell unconscious.


The party found the source of the waters(G) and plugged-up one of the 8 pipes in the floor with the ruin of the disk robot.  They then locked themselves in a secluded room(H) for a full day, under the care of "Drugs" to heal and recuperate, eating crabs when they were hungy.  Upon leaving they found 3 metallic suits with glass helmets.  Two of the dwarves squeezed into one, standing upon one another's shoulders, while Frizband and one of the elves put on the other two.  They found they could breathe despite the suit being sealed.

The party made their way to some sealed rooms, rusty and full of organic muck(I).  They found some sort of organic pod in the muck of the ceiling and decided to take it back to their safe-room(H) to crack it open.  On the way there, they met a hovering metal slab carrying the battered remains of a robot.  The party members recognized it as the remains of the Hooked Lifter they had destroyed last session.

We decided to end the session there.

WFRP Empire Campaign: Sessions 8, 9

Picking up from the previous sessions it took two more sessions to wrap-up Shadows Over Bogenhafen.  My memory of the sessions is a bit of a blur(running, breaking and entering, arson, more running, more arson...) so I'll do my best to summarize.

Session 8

We started out breaking back into Steinheiger's offices and overheard his brother and heir looking frantically for the account books we had stolen.  We decided not to reveal ourselves to him at this time.

Then we went to meet Councillor Magirious, but then it turned out to be a setup.  He was already
killed, and a weird child called the watch on us and disappeared, so we lit the house on fire to confound the pursuers and ran(once again revealing my bias that for a PC, FIRE IS THE SOLUTION TO EVERYTHING!).

Then some Guild members started threatening us in the street and we figured out they were allies of OS.

Then we went avoided some rioters and went to some warehouse(don't remember how we found out about it) to await the ritual the OS was to perform.

Session 9

There was a magic circle, and virgin sacrifice, and some combat.  Siegwart decided to start a fire(THERE IT IS AGAIN) as insurance against the battle not going our way.  Then the weird child turned into a minor demon and then a Chaos God was mad that the magic circle was incomplete and vaporized or terrified all our enemies.

As for the party, we decided to skip town with our newly earned Insanity Points before the rioters or fire caught up to us!


So after 7 sessions in Bogenhafen(session 3-9), I certainly had fun, but it was a little too rail-roady, especially at the end. It didn't have to be this way, but I have a feeling that for many groups it is this way.  All the critical clues were spoon-fed to us.  And I'll be honest, I doubt we would have stopped the OS from doing their ritual if we had been left to our own devices--there were several time when we were just stuck in our investigation.  So the temptation for the DM to lead us along is great, since the stakes are so high and the player skill required so considerable.

This might have been improved if we had more time to investigate and if the format of the investigation was more flexible.  The entire first session(the fair) was spent on just getting to know the city without much happening., Also, several sessions in the middle were spent in fruitless investigation, following up one lead after another, very few of them advancing our understanding of the situation.  I think that for running a mystery, you want to be much more flexible.  If the players follow up a reasonable lead, you should generally reward them with some increased knowledge.  Otherwise it can get a bit tedious.  Of course, if your group is great at problem-solving, then they may prefer the "strict" approach.

So the last few sessions were a bit of a blur.  There was some great tension, but in retrospect I didn't feel like I, as a player, did much, except for run away a lot and blindly follow the clues that were fed to us.  Even the last battle was a bit of a let down, since it ended just as it was starting to really get good.

Overall, the game certainly had it's moments, with the section in the sewers being quite fun, some great planning and plotting of ways to bring down the Order, and some really tense moments towards the end.  And overall it was fun having the mystery revealed one step at a time.