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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!


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.

I-Con 31 FTW!

I-Con was a blast! Not only did I support the economy by spending far more money than I should have, I got to see some people I don’t get to see nearly often enough, met some new cool people, and oh yeah… there was gaming!

There was lots of gaming.

And the gaming was good. Nay… great!

In my Hunter game alone we had a folks bribing their way through the “indigenous inhabitants” of the undercity with pain pills, fun with flamethrowers, the building of a staircase down to the bottom of a sinkhole using accident wreckage and discarded construction materials, an officer of the law shooting someone in the face for trying to prevent his friend from being possessed by an Azlu, a giant demonic creature being attacked by a crazy woman with a wrench, cleansing fire, an ambulance driver who decided to “stay here to keep an eye on the accident victims… in case, you know… they might need help or something” (his Vice was Sloth), did I mention the flamethrowers?… and these weren’t even the prize winning moments!

Though charging the enormous half-human half-monstrosity with a wrench did deserve an honorable mention!

Ultimately though we all agreed that the Paramedic using her knowledge of chemistry to turn her jury-rigged “flamethrower” into a massive ball of explosive, fiery death (GM Approved!) and the Subway Worker who attempted to flamethrower the face off of someone with a nosebleed because it may (or may not) indicate an Azlu possession in the name of the Lord were simply too awesome to not walk away winners!

Although, honestly, the Paramedic deciding that it would be a great idea to try to dig an Azlu out of someone’s head with an epic sized pair of tweezers was also incredibly entertaining! (Brava Paramedic!)

And that was just one game! That doesn’t even begin to cover the Mastigos who twisted up the meanings of “Vulgar Spell” and “Covert Spell” to try to get a Seer of the Throne to unleash Paradox on himself, the Obrimos who turned gravity on and off to slam the guy into the ceiling and the floor, and then the ceiling, and then the floor… over and over again… or the fact that this time I was the Acanthus, and my Acanthus was the GM! Revenge is mine! Sayeth me baby!

Demons were slain, Canopic jars filled with fresh human entrails were hurled out of penthouse windows (sorry pedestrians!), I told my Cabal Mate in the future to leave a note in my wallet so I would have it in the past and naturally didn’t actually flip the card over to see said note until it was too late to be of use (and I still say it was all that purple-haired Acanthus’s fault we wound up three days ago and not mine but the memory bit was absolutely all Lyric’s fault!),  and sweet sweet stuff was purchased. With all of the tables of gaming going on around me (had to be a few dozen tables) I can only imagine how many crazy stories unfurled last weekend. A successful con indeed!

Now I’m looking forward to doing it all again for RetCon!

Hope to see you there.

Mages Make Me Cry

Letting My Geek Flag Fly

It’s been a busy week getting ready for I-Con 31!! I’m very excited to be GMing at this year’s event.  In fact, I’m all over the schedule, running events for “Mage: The Awakening“, Generic “World of Darkness” (Humans vs Supernatural), and “Hunter: The Vigil“. So yeah, I’ve been busy. Even the adventures I’ve run previously need to be combed through so that handouts that have been previously handed out are replaced, and of course it’s always nice to refresh my memory as to how the adventure is supposed to run.

And then of course there’s the adventure debuting at I-Con 31: “Your Safety is our #1 Concern”. (See Link Above) I’ve never run “Hunter the Vigil” before so it was a bit of a challenge making sure I had everything together properly, and scaling the challenge to the characters. Of course, this being a convention and not a campaign I only have to worry so much about whether or not there is a TPK. After all, even a party wipeout can be lots of fun as long as the fight is worthy of drunken tales in the hotel bar later that evening. I believe that in that regard I have a winner! (Of course, I may be biased.)

Honestly, the bigger challenge in planning convention events for me is one of pacing. In my campaign it doesn’t matter if they don’t get as far as I figured they would in one session. In fact, sometimes that’s a blessing as it gives me a bit of a leg up on the next session. Conversely, I’m all too used to my players going off plan and I can improvise around their weirdness. I’ve grown used to their weirdness. At I-Con I’ll have all new weirdness to adapt to, which should be interesting!

Of course my bigger concern is that at a convention game there is no next session. You have to make the one session count! It has to have enough going on to fill the time slot without feeling like filler, and you have to reach the final challenge before the session ends. I tend to like planning a bit more than I think we can cover, with modular areas that can be dropped if we’re running short on time without negatively impacting the story’s flow.

One of my favorite things about planning a one-off convention game though is the researching. I’m kinda weird like that. I love wandering aimlessly through internet searches for keywords like “abandoned building”, or “subway urban legends”.  I’ve found some incredibly inspiring things that way, that help me give the scenario that splash of reality that I like to bring to the World of Darkness. It may not be exactly like the world we know (especially if I’ve messed up my physics a bit since I haven’t had to calculate breaking distance in… well in quite a while let’s leave it at that!) but it should be close. A splash of realism makes the event hit that much closer to home, which is always creepier.

See you on the gaming track!

Mages Make Me Cry

Of Mice and GMs

As GMs we were faced with a problem. On the one hand we had a lot of great material to work with that was nothing short of brilliant. I do not in any way exaggerate when I tell you that hearing about the events of the second session from the other GM’s perspective made me laugh so hard that tears streamed down my face, I couldn’t breathe, and I couldn’t stop! How do you not abuse that? What kind of GM would it make me if I let that go? I have a responsibility to make the PCs miserable at any given opportunity, and this one was given on a silver platter with a side order of steel toed boots and an invitation to kick hard and often.

The problem is that all those hilarious things went down in the second session of the campaign. Sure, now I’m not against a TPK, but at the time I had only just invested in a bunch of books to GM this bad boy and I wasn’t sure I was quite ready for a TPK in the third session.

How the times have changed!

As a result we decided to teach these people a lesson about being discreet, while leaving at least some of them alive to play another session. And so we decided that the news guy who had been at the club that night, the one who got sent home from work the next day ranting about monsters, did his ranting in front of a Hunter who also worked at the station. This particular Hunter is not of the “all monsters must die!” variety. This guy is a member of Network Zero: The Secret Frequency. (See: Hunter the Vigil) The fine folks at Network Zero are all in favor of vicious uncontrollable monsters meeting violent ends, but they understand that not all “monsters” are monsters. Mostly what Network Zero wants is to prove that they aren’t insane. They want to prove that the monsters are real.

And so, when they heard about the events at the club they saw a golden opportunity to not only meet some monsters in a social setting but maybe get some Werewolves on film!

And so they made some fake invitations. And they made a fake club (heck, these guys work in TV Production they know how to build a set), and they got the cameras and the sound equipment in place and they waited.

One of the Hunters posed as a bouncer outside of the “club”. The previous night the Werewolves transformed when they were refused entry into the club. This is why their bouncer was, under no circumstances, to allow them to enter the club.


She stroked his arm, she flipped her hair, she cast Perfect Moment and he let her in. If he hadn’t allowed himself to be so distracted by her maybe Matteus wouldn’t have gotten the drop on him so easily. If he hadn’t been trying to show off what a big tough man he was to her maybe he wouldn’t have decided to let Matteus get the first shot in free.

If he hadn’t been trying so hard to show off maybe he wouldn’t have gotten his ass beat before using that silver sword cane he was leaning on to trigger a wolf-out like he was supposed to!

Ultimately the Hunters ran out as fast as they could leaving some of their camera equipment behind. The Mages and Werewolves, instead of ripping each other’s faces off and roasting each other on spits like we had hoped, used it to discredit them by filming an attack by “fake” Werewolves. How did they do this? One of the Werewolves went into Gauru form and Rex, the Matter Mage, made a fake zipper to stick to his back like it was just a costume that looked real good from the front, and real ludicrous from the back.

They then posted the videos online and headed to the bar for a few brews together.

I ask you, what did I do to deserve this?

Mages Make Me Cry

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