Category Archives: RetCon

Savage RetCon


Been getting some work done for RetCon 2013. I’ve decided to switch things up this time around and run me some Savage Worlds.

I have to say that the switch felt a bit intimidating at first. I’ve played a lot of systems, but I’ve only ever GMed World of Darkness. That said, I think Savage Worlds is going to be a win.

Once again I am writing my own modules, because it’s one of my favorite parts of GMing. I love getting all of the pieces into place, and then seeing what the players do with them. I have never had a module run the same way twice, and It’s always interesting to see how players interpret the characters they’ve selected and the evidence in front of them.

This year for RetCon I’ve decided to go with a Space Horror story, which admittedly sticks to my horror roots, a pulp adventure story (think Indiana Jones), and for the third I will likely run Super Heroes. Fortunately Savage Worlds has setting books that will accommodate all of the above and I have to say the prices are very reasonable which is fortunate considering as I’ve just moved and have no money left.

The Space Horror is the first one I’m working on. I’ve been playing a lot of Mass Effect and Dead Space lately so I imagine the influence will show. I’m envisioning this one to run pretty dark, but I won’t be in any way surprised when the players turn it into a SyFy Original Motion Picture. That’s the way these things happen sometimes (or most times) and I’m pretty used to it by now.

That’s just how we roll.

 

Mages Make Me Cry

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To PreGen, Or Not To PreGen


That is the question! Or rather, it was the question during last night’s RPGChat on Twitter.

What’s that? You’re not familiar with RPGChat on Twitter? It seems to me like you need to get yourself on Twitter on Thursday nights from 9pm-10pm (Eastern Time), follow the hashtag #RPGChat, and get yourself in on the awesome fun! And not having a Twitter account is no excuse, ‘cuz Twitter accounts is free so GO DO IT DAMMIT!

OK, now that you have that done let’s discuss the topic at hand, shall we?

Typically, if I’m going to play in a campaign I want to make my own character. This is a character I intend to be living with for an extended period, and it helps me to get into that character’s mindset if I go through the character creation process. It also helps me to figure out the game rules if it’s a system that I’m not already familiar with. All of this is helpful if the intention is to be part of a long running campaign. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule, and I did spend several years playing a Dragon Blooded character who was made as a pre-gen for a one shot that we all liked so much that the GM turned it into a campaign for us and it was most excellent. That was the exception though, not the rule. As a rule I like to have more control over a character that I will be playing in a campaign.

For a one shot I throw that rulebook against the wall like a Changeling Module! (Even now one of my readers is twitching from her memories of the first time I played Changeling. You’re welcome, Aenaiyah.)

For a one shot I’m all about the random. Give me random charts and a pair of percentiles (no-cheats of course… or Ye Olde Zocchihedron) that will tell me everything about that character down to hair color, shoe size, and what they ate for breakfast that morning. Bring it! Alternately, hand me a pre-gen. It’s just as random as far as I’m concerned (I didn’t make the character after all), and thus the same level of challenge to step away from the possibility of type-casting myself as a player. Challenge me! Make me play a total idiot! (As witnessed here: Adventurer Misadventures – Haints!) Make me play a fanatical pyromaniac with no regard for his own safety and I promise you I will leap on top of the tank my fellow Space Marines are inside of with a flame-thrower reigning fiery death on the surrounding heretics in one hand, and the cigarette I’m lighting off a smoldering chaos demon corpse in the other. I am with you on this ride. All the way.

Just for love of ALL that is holy DO NOT give me three dots in Athletics with a specialty in “Blogging”. (I’m lookin’ at you “Werewolf the Forsaken” Pre-Gens!) There is an art to building pre-gens for a one shot. It’s something I enjoy doing for the modules that I write.  For me, it isn’t enough to just toss some stats on a sheet and call it a pre-gen. I not only want the pre-gens to make sense on their own sheets, I want them to work well together. So OK, one of the pre-gens is dumb as a stump, but you can bet that pre-gen can pick things up and put them down with the best of them and that will become important to the scenario! Another pre-gen will have Sloth as a Vice and the lack of Physical skill dots to back that up, but they will have every Manipulative dot that I can squeeze onto the sheet because the easiest way to catch some ZZZs is to convince the people around you to do everything for you, and by the gods I vow I shall build ways for the player to abuse those skills into the story!

I tend to think of my One Shot Modules like B Movies. Maybe the characters are a film crew shooting the first episode of a new series for the Occult Channel called  “Truly Terrifying Tales” at a long abandoned asylum. Or perhaps the characters are a bunch of rich kids being sent of to a remote boarding school to learn how to be productive members of society. The characters might be a Hunter Cell trying to track down a missing subway train. (And yes, I see what I did there.) The character shells are suitably stereotypical to the setting, making it easier for the players to pick them up and run with them. These are characters most people will have some sense of familiarity with. You don’t need a 13 page background story when two or three sentences of inner monologue will do. Of course the player can always opt to play the personality differently than I suggest (what am I going to do, fire them?), but I find that it’s helpful for new players who maybe aren’t sure how to roll play to give them those couple of sentences to illustrate the character. I also find that more experienced roll players tend to enjoy the challenge of playing them as written.

While obviously playing the pre-gen personalities as written isn’t a requirement, I do make an effort to build them with fun personality conflicts in mind to help the RP. For example, the camera crew includes one jaded camera operator who just wants to shoot some footage and get this over with and god help the producer if he stuck me with some newbie operator on the second camera, and of course the other camera operator is the obligatory newbie who is a big fan of the first and totally into the supernatural! The show’s host actually has some minor supernatural abilities (whether the other characters care to believe that or not) but no physical skills whatsoever, and the producer is just trying to keep everybody in line and make this thing good enough for it to get picked up as a series so they can all get a steady gig out of it. The boarding school kids include a schoolyard bully and toady, a charmer who can get away with anything, a brainy hacker, and a stoner. The Hunters have an electrician and a construction worker who might be able to fix the train, a go-getter medic who wants to make sure that no one got hurt (Heaven Forbid!) with a somewhat less industrious ambulance driving partner, an MTA employee who knows the tunnels inside and out and has a secret hoard of “discarded stuff” nearby (it’s AMAZING what construction materials get left behind after a project), and a police officer in case they run into any unsavory types in the dark tunnels under the city. It has been my experience that the players rise to the occasion and bring these potential conflicts to all new levels. Once a character tossed someone out of a third story window. Good times.

The thing of it is, when you’re at a convention you’re playing outside of your normal group. You might never see these players and this GM again, and there is a limited amount of time on the clock. I don’t want to spend that time building a character. I want to create a story, and I want it to have an ending that’s more satisfying than “and then we ran out of time.” Your mileage may vary, but I have seen someone spend THREE HOURS making a Savage Worlds character for a one shot.

Three!

Hours!

SAVAGE F@&# WORLDS!

Folks, it was not pretty.

Mages Make Me Cry

Straight as an Arrow


Arrow came to our Cabal through way of RetCon.

Aenaiyah’s player was running a Doctor Who adventure, and Arrow’s player was her Captain Jack Harkness. He was fabulous! We had to assimilate him.

So he dreamed up Arrow. Arrow is a Thyrsus Mage, and when he was initially described to me White Collar’s Neil Caffrey immediately came to mind. Like Neil, Arrow is a lovable miscreant. He isn’t a bad guy really, he just doesn’t let little things like the law stop him from having a good time. In fact, the very first thing he did was pick Argus’ pocket and steal his badge. Now, he didn’t look at Argus’ badge mind you, he just took it because he wanted to prove that he could do it.

And then he wondered why Argus wasn’t sold on the idea of him moving into the Sanctum right away.

So he spent some time hanging with the Werewolves. Being somewhat silver tongued he managed to convince the Werewolves’ Alpha, Aldous, to let him have some Werewolf fur. Arrow then proceeded to contact his retainer and have him post notices that he had some Werewolf fur to sell. This was Arrow’s first session with the group.

Now, as GM, I had to come up with a buyer for this fur. On a whim I decided to Google the word “Angmar”. Go ahead… Google it… I’ll wait…

Did you Google it?

Did you see how 99.999999999% of the entries are about The Witch King of Angmar… aka The Leader of the Nazgul? (Remember kids, my Adamantine Arrow NPCs have a tendency to name themselves after Tolkien weapons.) Did you notice that one other link snuggled in there about a Home Healthcare Facility, acting all warm and fuzzy like?

Folks: WE HAVE A WINNER!

And so Dr. Blair was born. Dr Blair is Arrow’s customer, and he isn’t about to insult Arrow’s intelligence by offering him something gauche like money. Oh no. Dr. Blair offered to teach him the Mind Arcana. Of course, that meant Dr. Blair would wind up with some access to Arrow’s mind, but that’s a small price to pay. Don’t let the fact that his medical company is named after a prominent figure in Saurons’s army bother you. So what if Dr Blair is deftly ducking the question of what Order he belongs to? He’s buying Werewolf fur on the black market he must be on the level!

Seriously though. He runs a healthcare facility. He has devoted his life to caring for the elderly. He’s trying to figure out how it is that Werewolves can heal so rapidly. If he can harness that regenerative power he can really help people!

He can also make an army of Awakened Werewolves to carry out his every whim, but would he do that?

So we’re in the dream space of Damien’s ex-wife, and Arrow is blissfully wandering around naked, and yes I absolutely had him roll against Damien to see who was better endowed. (Damien’s ex would know. Sorry Damien.) The Mages are conversing with that part of Sara’s mind which enjoys telling secrets. Damien is totally going all lawyer on her ass, and since this is a childish part of her she’s having none of it. So then Aenaiyah gives it a shot, and talks to her like a children’s book author (a subject Aenaiyah is familiar with), so she and Sara’s desire to gossip totally hit it off! The conversation goes something like this:

Aenaiyah: So, tell me Sara, do you know who the head of your Seer group is?

Sara: uh-huh! (Shakes head yes vigorously)

Aenaiyah: Good! that’s very good, Sara. (Sara beams with praise.) What do you call the head of your group?

Sara: I call him Grandpa!

:::Aenaiyah shoots a dirty look at Damien, who shrugs as if to say “I didn’t know!” and then turns a smile back to Sara:::

Aenaiyah: You call him Grandpa….

Sara: Uh-huh! (More vigorous nodding)

Aenaiyah: What does everyone else call him?

Sara: Lots of things!

Aenaiyah: Lots of things?

Sara: Yeah, he has lots of names he uses.

Aenaiyah: Is there one particular one he’s using right now?

Sara: Ummm…

Aenaiyah: It’s alright, you can tell me. You can whisper it right in my ear.

Sara: (Whispering, but loudly) Dr. Blair

:::Arrow slides down in his seat – I try very hard to not notice this but I really can’t stop myself:::

Aenaiyah: Dr. Blair… that’s good, that’s very good Sara…

:::Aenaiyah notices that Arrow has slid all the way down in his seat and is trying in vain to hide under the table:::

Aenaiyah: ARROW! WHAT THE BLOODY HELL DID YOU GIT DO?!

And that is why Arrow was wearing RED at the Pyramid.

Mages Make Me Cry

This Was A Triumph!


I’m always nervous going into a convention game. Call it “stage fright” if you like. With my regular troupe I pretty much know what I’m getting into, but GMing a group of players you’ve never met before… well it can be a bit daunting. I have all my story lines ready, all the clues that they can find are plotted out, the PCs are fully statted and given some personality nudges, but no amount of planning on the GMs part can determine what kind of players you get at your table.

RetCon, once again you did not disappoint!

Hunter: the Vigil: I had three modules to run this weekend, and the schedule had me starting off with my “Hunter: the Vigil” adventure: Quit While You’re Ahead. I had decided to do something slightly different this year and set my modules in the same game world as the adventure I ran for RetCon 2010, Asylum. In that adventure, the players are a film crew hired to shoot the pilot for a paranormal TV series called “Truly Terrifying Tales”. The crew arrives on the scene, shit gets real, and hilarity ensues! For this year, I decided to look at those same characters after the events of Asylum. They have been through that experience, and now they are aware of the supernatural. Their footage (and that first group of players came away with incredible footage!) was not taken as seriously as they would have liked and it is instead being turned into a low budget horror movie, but life goes on. They have now been hired to shoot a series called “50 Shades of Play” about the wonderful world of strippers.  Since this is the World of Darkness they will be crossing paths with the supernatural once again! I was in a “1950’s Horror Movie Theater” state of mind, and so I decided to base this particular scenario on the film “The Brain That Wouldn’t Die”.

Highlight of the Hunter Session for the GM: The film crew’s decision to interview the decapitated head! I had given myself a detailed run-down of how a poor young woman mere months from her wedding day became a severed head attached to a dialysis machine and a respirator waiting for her husband-to-be to arrive with a suitably attractive replacement body for her (because a dialysis machine wouldn’t be nearly as much fun as a stripper body on the wedding night), but never in my wildest dreams did I dare to think that I would actually get to play out an interview with her! She was, as one would expect under the circumstances, stark raving mad and the film crew was able to convince her that they wanted to interview her fiance because what he was about to achieve was too momentous to not be preserved for posterity. I was expecting a big fight scene with the group of Hunters, a bunch of animated headless corpses being controlled by the will of the severed head, some animal mix-ups that the good doctor was practicing on before he got to human experimentation… you know, good times! Instead not a single drop of blood was shed, two strippers were saved (one pre-surgery and one post-surgery), and whoever suppressed that last bit of footage these guys got is gonna have even more fun with this one! It’s a wrap people!

World of Darkness – Innocents: I had never run this system before. In fact, I’d never even played this system before. The basics are all typical “World of Darkness” which I have years of experience with, but Innocents does have some differences. For the record, I greatly prefer “Assets/Faults” over “Virtues/Vices”.

This particular group of 12 year olds had just been dropped off at their new boarding school by their disgustingly wealthy families. Naturally the school has a diabolical plan for these poor youngsters. The kids are all miscreants. They are little con-artists, hackers, pranksters, thieves, bullies, and partiers.  Their parents really don’t feel like putting up with them, so they are willing to pay this school ludicrous sums of money to turn these kids into model citizens. The school has unsurpassed results! This is mostly owing to the fact that they are removing the kids’ souls from their bodies and replacing them with the souls of disgustingly wealthy old people who aren’t quite ready to die yet. Naturally, these disgustingly wealthy old people pay an exorbitant fee to the school for this service, so the school wins on both sides of this transaction. The old people are young again. The families get well behaved and respectable heirs… everybody wins! Except the kids of course. The kids pretty much loose.

Highlight of the Innocents Session for the GM: The person playing the party-girl decided to pull out all the stops this game! That child coached her classmates into milking the nurse’s office for every last ibuprofen they could get, scored all the mouthwash on the floor to mix cocktails with, and had tears of laughter rolling down my face pretty much the whole game. This was a tough act to keep up with, but when my con-artist (played by the only person at the table that I knew before the game started: Aenaiyah) asked the group if someone could possibly create a diversion “like, if the nurse thinks someone has a back injury they won’t want to move the person so they’ll have to come to you!”, and my bully replied “I think something can be arranged” I knew no good would come of it. I had given him the fault “cruel”.

Defenestration is the act of throwing someone or something out of a window.

Sadly one of the players wound up really needing to leave by 11pm, whereas I had been scaling things to reach a story milestone at 11pm (either an escape attempt or the players stocking up for a fight with the administration… or both!) such that we could end by 12am – the scheduled session end-time. As a result the ending of the story was more rushed than I had wanted it to be. Instead of having school security snag the kids attempting to escape the grounds and drag them back to perform the soul-swapping ritual early, I decided to simply have them chased by dogs and let them escape if they could climb up the fence fast enough. A fight simply would have taken too long. The party girl decided that she was too scared to leave, but don’t fret. I’m sure the administrators treated her very well and gave her all the pain killers her little heart could desire right up until the big moment.

Mage: the Awakening: This session was also tied to the Asylum session that I ran during RetCon 2010. You see, that film crew escaped with all that awesome footage of supernatural creepiness, and somebody has to suppress it and keep supernatural baddies in check. Enter the Mages.

While the Guardian of the Veil Mastigos Narsil from my campaign world deals with the film crew, and Gladmring, the NYC Head of the Adamantine Arrow, is dealing with some horrors stumbled upon by the campaign Mages, someone needs to find out what drove that film crew from the Asylum grounds, and deal with it. According to a well placed source, the problem appears to be zombies. It’s time to send in the B Team.

Highlight of the Mage Session for the GM: I completely expected my favorite moments of this session to involve the use of Post-Cognition. This seemed even more likely when two of the players who played Asylum at RetCon 2010 signed up for the game, since it was their run through that I had based this scenario on. (A later run-through saw a very… different… outcome.) While describing the events of the zombie-raising ritual as seen by a Mage using Post-Cognition was indeed amusing (and yes, I decided that the spell granted a much longer vision than it normally does for purposes of hilarity) it actually turned out to be not my favorite part of the session after all. The best part: My Very First TPK!

Making a Note Here: Huge Success!

How did this happen you ask? Paradox. When I asked the players if they would like to mitigate their paradox rolls, and started to explain how they could do that, they tapped their chins and said “go ahead… right here… I can take it!” And so I rolled. And I got successes. And it was good. And had the Moros Mage not turned himself into a zombie-magnet so that they wouldn’t need to bother looking for the zombies they might have even survived. Had any of them thought to end the scene by turning off that spell and running into the nearby crematorium the adventure may have continued. Had, when one of them did think of ending the scene by running into the crematorium, they actually done that and ended the scene I might not have had nearly as much fun as I did. But these guys, they told me to bring it. And verily, it was brought! The Thyrsus Mage (aka: the healer) was not in play, and the Moros Mage was looking a little beat up. As a result my Acanthus Mage asks if he can speed up time in a bubble around the injured Moros Mage so that enough time will pass for his bashing damage to heal. Gotta love those Acanthus Mages, am I right?! So, being a sick and evil GM, I say of course you can do that, but it will be vulgar you know. It will be 6 glorious dice worth of vulgar.

Are you sure you want to do this?“, asks the GM.

“Kick me in the Jimmy.”, says he.

And I roll.

  And I roll a Temporal Anomaly.

    And the radius of this anomaly shall be 80 yards.

      And the players tell me: Don’t hold back. Enjoy it.

And enjoy it I do!

The Moros becomes a 2 year old. The Acanthus becomes an 86 year old. The Obrimos is suddenly an awkward teenager. The 2 year old Moros Mage is still attracting zombies from all over the site, and he’s what’s for dinner in no time at all. The first round of attacks leaves him with one hit point, which leaves him wanting his teddy bear, which makes him think it’s a great idea if the nearest thing to him would happen to turn into a teddy bear, which turns the Acanthus Mage into a teddy bear.

The Acanthus Mage reflexively attempts a Shifting Sands spell to prevent this whole turn events by preventing himself from casting that accursed time bubble in the first place, but he’s in the middle of a temporal anomaly and only gets one success. I rule that he arrives just in time to see a version of himself turn into a teddy bear but whether it’s past-him seeing future-him turn into a teddy bear on arrival, or future-him watching past-him turn into a teddy bear is far too confusing for me to be sure of.

Next round ZOMBIE BABY! Because the 2 year old Moros Mage was killed by a bite attack he turns into a zombie, but is quickly dispatched by his erstwhile friends. One down, two to go.

The Acanthus Mage manages to successfully cast Acceleration on his teenaged Obrimos companion, who in turn tries to convince the Acanthus to get the hell out of Dodge and report back on what’s happening. The Acanthus does not do this. The Obrimos rushes in and fights off several zombies before being turned himself, and then it’s player against player as Zombie Obrimos tries to eat the Acanthus’s brains!*

More zombies are pouring in… Zombie Obrimos is doing his best to chow down on the Acanthus… and ultimately he sucks out that final Acanthus hit-point! The GM wins!

The GM WINS!!

Mages Make Me Cry

*Clearly only enough to be an appetizer. He’s an Acanthus after all.

Session Scheming


Tonight on #RPGChat* we were discussing the virtues of session planning, and how some of us like to go about it. This feels appropriate to me for two main reasons, this first of which is that I have a new chapter starting up soon for the Mages (the blog is behind the campaign’s timeline but we’ll catch up to them eventually!), and the second being that RetCon is rapidly approaching and I’m in convention game planning hell.

For reasons too asinine to go into here I committed to running three brand new adventures this year: Innocents, Hunter, and Mage. I have a vague idea of what these sessions will be, which you can check out for yourself if you click through the links. RetCon is in two weeks.

No good can come of this.

There is a lot of flying by the seat of my pants that I do with the Mage campaign. With seven players tossing around god-like powers I’m pretty much forced to. My convention games however are much more solidly put together. There are packets with background info on the characters and their basic attitudes toward life and the current situation to be put together. Naturally the characters all need to be fully statted. The packets also include a brief explanation of certain concepts so that if I have people who are new to the system they will know how things work, for example how the Virtue/Vice selections come into play. I am absolutely a fan of having things to hand out during game sessions and that all has to be put together too.

I like to give my convention players as much of a sandbox environment as I can, but the fact is that I’m running for people I don’t know and may or may not see again. This means coming up with specific goals for them that will keep them in a reasonably predictable area, and then giving them free reign to interact with that environment. I also love to give them free reign to interact with each other. This is where those character “attitudes” come into play. I make every effort to give the PCs things to argue about. Some will totally believe in the presence of the supernatural all around them, while others are skeptics. Some will be bright eyed, bushy tailed, and enthusiastic to learn something new from their team mates; while some of those team mates are just hoping they haven’t been saddled with some brown-nosing, over achieving, suck up. of course having a “Brainey Smurf” around is always good for inter-group tensions. When folks play up those personality types hilarity is sure to ensue.

The story has to be short enough to run in the time allowed, but it can’t run too short either. To that end, I try to plan out things that will be fun for the players to do yet aren’t necessary for the storyline to make sense. I plot out filler scenes. The trick is to make sure they don’t feel like filler scenes. I always give myself a way to trigger the finale in case they don’t get through all of the ‘necessary events’ with at least 30 minutes left in the session. I don’t want things to feel forced, but more importantly I don’t want the players to leave the table feeling incomplete. That isn’t good for anybody.

So, basically, I still have a lot of writing to do, and I have a rapidly diminishing amount of time left in which to do it. It’s all good though. I have my trusty coffee and the day off. I can do this! So, if you’re in the New York area I urge you to check out RetCon this year. There will be chances for me to kill your character! There will be prizes! There will be cake!!**

RetCon: Long Island's Gaming Convention

*It’s a Twitter thing, and if you aren’t there at 9pm on Thursday nights then… well… you should be there is all I’m tryin’ to say!

**The cake is a lie.

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