Thursday, December 18, 2014

Demon's Heresy Random Encounter Table

There are a few random encounter tables for the Worldwound but I feel that they are missing that certain something.  The Abyss should make its presence felt and though the actual Worldwound setting book introduces weather effects (which I roll per days travel) and foraging diseases (hardly a problem once you can get a ring of sustenance), the encounters themselves don't take the environment as much into consideration.  I would also recommend that you re-roll if the dice land on the same random encounter to ensure that things feel fresh for your players.  So without further ado, here are some additional styles of encounters.

01-02 Heavy Gravity (halve carrying capacity, -2 acrobatics, climb, ride, swim, falls deal damage in 1d10s rather than 1d6s) + Roll Again
03-04 Light Gravity (double carrying capacity, +2 attack, acrobatic and ride checks, double weapon range, 1d4s instead of 1d6s for falling damage, double leaping distances) + Roll Again
05-06 Noticeable Erratic Time (day may pass in minutes then a second may take hours) + Roll Again
07-08 Mildly Chaotic Evil-Aligned (-2 penalty to Charisma checks for non-evil and/or non-chaotic creatures; stacks with itself) + Roll Again
09-10 Strongly Chaotic Evil-Aligned (-2 penalty to Intelligence-, Wisdom-, Charisma checks for non-evil and/or non-chaotic creatures; stacks with itself) + Roll Again
11-12 Enhanced Magic (Spells and spell-like abilities with the chaotic or evil descriptor count as if two caster levels higher) + Roll Again
13-14 Impeded Magic (Spells and spell-like abilities with the lawful or good descriptor are subject to a concentration check DC 20 + spell level) + Roll Again
15-16 Lava flows in area (15ft movement per round, DC 20 Reflex save when crossing or be engulfed in the lava) + Roll Again
17-18 Lava Bombs erupt and hit in a 30-foot radius explosion (roll 1d4 - on an even number, DC 15 Reflex save or take 4d6 points of damage; on an odd number, DC 20 Reflex save of take 12d6 damage).  Alternatively a steaming geyser can do the same through a sudden eruption.
19-20 Poisonous Gas - 1d6 Con damage if inhaled (Fort Save 15 negates, DC increases by 1 per previous save).  If visible, impairs vision like heavy smoke, flows low across the ground.  Roll Again.
21-25 2 Incubi Level 2 Rangers CR 8 (Searching for Arushalae)
26-32 Paladin Rider CR 8 (see Sword of Valor, Bestiary 67 and NPC Codex 114)
33-38 1 kithangian CR 9 Worldwound 47 (see below)
39-43 1d4 spectres CR 9 Bestiary 256 in a narrow (4 foot wide) rift
44-49 1d8 thoxels CR 9 See page 86 Sword of Valor
50-55 Demon and the Dead CR 9 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
56-60 1 kithangian + Urannag CR 10 Bestiary 2, p.265 (see below)
61-67 1d10 Abrikandilu Barbarian 3 CR 10 See Weapon in the Rift PFS (Searching for Arushalae)
68-72 Foul Coven CR 10 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
73-77 1d4 warped ones CR 10 Worldwound 62 which leave a cave to reach them (see below)
78-84 1 young red dragon CR 10 Bestiary 98 (see below)
85-87 1 carnivorous crystal CR 11 Bestiary 3 page 45 is embedded into a natural bridge over a narrow lava creek.
88-91 1 The Plagued One CR 11 See page 85 Demon's Heresy
92-95 1 shachath CR 11 See page 84 of the Demon's Heresy
96-98 1d4 fallen CR 12 See page 90 of the Demon's Heresy (see below)
99-100 Mothers of Chaos CR 12 See page 85 Demon's Heresy

The Fallen Encounter
Alfie encountered two Fallen Crusaders by the shores of the lake though their bodies were back in the town he had just cleared whose crypt belonged to his forefathers.  They didn't know precisely where their bones lay but stated that a local haunting recalled the knowledge.  So he had to go and sit on that chair and choose to fail the initial save so that he could be drawn into a hallucination of how the end of the world looked to one grandma sitting on her chair.  He saw where those two crusaders fell and could then dig them up and put them in the crypt.  Doing so unleashed a Swarm of XXX from the otherwise buried well who were formed from those dead Sarkorians.

Kithangian Encounter
These demons are grotesque and truly horrific entities that represent bestiality as much as anything else therefore build up to this event by showing its influence on the world around them.  In my case, I had a horse giving birth to winged and fanged foals that then tried to eat her and then a fiendish two-headed snake that fought itself until it managed to poison itself.  Remember, too, that it can hide as an animal (in this case, a medium desert scorpion) but can revert to its true form as a readied action.

Kithangian Plus Urannag
This works all the better after they have encountered the Kithangian alone as the sight of its action will likely cause the players to become heedless in their hate.  Place the Urannag device in the sand between them and the Kithangian and have the demon taunt them to approach.

Warped Ones
These poor souls once took shelter within a little cave that still contains a tear stained diary written in dwarven that charts their troubles.  They came in here to escape a terrible rift storm but didn't see the pulsing, throbbing vortex open up in a corner that irradiated them with its essence until they died.  PCs may collapse the cave or cast appropriate spells but they must make a Fortitude DC 20 save to avoid losing 1 constitution per round if they approach within ten feet of the vortex and must make a Fortitude DC 25 to avoid losing 1d6 con and succumbing to madness (additional save as with the Insanity spell - Psychosis is always the result) if they touch it.

Young Red Dragon (Exzennikts)
The dragon just wants to talk as it has been promised amazing treasures should it succeed in its quest to locate Arushalae.  It is currently wearing a special paint that makes its scales look gold (Perception check DC 30 to notice chromatic red gaps).  It is angry and aggressive as all red dragons are but it hasn't survived this long by being overly rash.  It is looking for a demoness - will describe Arushalae - and will describe her as an awful monster that needs to be delivered to him.  He will direct the PCs to a particular meeting ground (but not his hoard).  He will then launch off to seek her out again.  The local demons either all know his tricks or can't fly up to reach him.  If the PCs mention the Woundwyrm, he will turn canny as he knows the Woundwyrm will slay him if it gets the chance.  He may form a temporary alliance to defeat the Woundwyrm (keeping himself safe) and even tracking down Arushalae if he thinks he can get away with it but if they take more than 1d4 days they will need to succeed on Diplomacy checks to prevent him from flying off in disgust.  He won't assist them in fighting powerful demons, claiming past trauma, but will happily assist in slaying weaker ones as he knows he'll be forgiven if he succeeds with finding her.

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Slight Detour and Tala Monastery (Pathfinder - Wrath of the Righteous)

Sometimes you need a break from sword swinging action and you just want to give your players (or in my case, a solo player) a bit of a taste of something new.  So one fair day during Demon's Heresy, I had Commander Irabeth suggest that Alfy take his very potent sword to somewhere larger and sell it for the kind of dough they need to refurbish the castle. 

That idea gained traction with the other party NPCs (barbarian Jestak wants a holiday), and soon they were planning to take Asmean (half-Invidiak Expert 1 whose good penances have inadvertently shifted him to temporary neutrality and who had been under the care of the high level witch in Drezen) and the rest of the party to pop over to Absalom by calling upon Pathfinder resources in Nerosyan.  Or at least, trying to do so.

Naturally nothing is ever simple, and after a confrontation with Commander Fraton (yep, *that* Fraton for all ye who have read The Worldwound Gambit) whereby he tried to convince Alfy to sterilise the tieflings rather than abide their taint and possibility of slaying women in childbirth (demoralising points, but ones Alfy brushed off), the party were teleported to Nerosyan.

Asmean used Terendelev's scale to look human.  Alfy used Disguise Self.  Lex used her collar of change self to make her look again like an adolescent elf.  They found themselves in a city under siege but eventually made their way to Starrise Spire.  It took some fighting through a variety of demons (largely handwaived) but eventually they made it and the sole occupant of the Pathfinder Lodge stated he'd get them to Absalom if they helped out the Pathfinders first with a little mission.  He let them stay in a large room that was mostly swimming pool and bunks where time flowed more quickly (as opposed to the world outside) so that they could replenish their spells.

Naturally Lestak took the opportunity to proposition Alfy.  Again.  Even Lestak wasn't brave enough to proposition the half-Invidiak.

Anyway, so they left Asmean in the tower to read some books with the nice wizard (hoping his envy won't get the better of him and make him attack anyone but being a weak little level 1 has its perks), and were teleported to Gundrun to meet with Venture-Captain Jorsal.  We played through the "Weapons in the Rift" Pathfinder Society adventure and he even released the fiendish CN hound archons (whom he will later find in Drezen since they have to atone before being allowed back among the ranks).

Once that was done, he returned only for Venture Captain Jorsal to point out that the Pathfinder Society were planning a fundraising dinner (aka "The Hellknight's Feast" Pathfinder Society adventure) but that visiting Absalom with a wealth of items to sell / auction would be useful.  How to get enough items?  Why, locate Terendelev's hoard, of course!  She would naturally want her hoard to go toward the efforts of the Worldwound due to her death.

Where to find her hoard?  Well, she was known to visit the Tala Monastery, of course.  (See The Worldwound Gambit novel or google around for its history in Mendev).

So they are teleported to Kenabres (via a Teleportation Circle) to the basement of a small Pathfinder holding and given a code phrase that was answered incorrectly by the first person they see and whom they soon realise is an Invidiak in possession of a Pathfinder.  A mixture of grapple, Protection from Evil and Arrow of Law (which wouldn't harm the lawful Pathfinder) got her depossessed and the Invidiak destroyed.

It turns out that Venture Captain Thurl had called her out to a dangerous mission that led to her possession and that she was made to give sleeping draughts to the other Pathfinders in the house so that they could all be possessed that night by more Invidiaks.  The group then returned via Teleportation Circle to report in to Venture Captain Jorsal who directed them to Thurl's personal quarters in the basement of the tower (see "The Traitor's Lodge" Pathfinder Society scenario).  They make their way through a modified version of that scenario and convince a modified version of the madwoman to assist them (after manacling her and dropping a failed smite on her).

The madwoman, still nameless to them, turned out to be a rogue who had broken into the Tala Monastery before (actually the reason why Thurl took her in my version).  She could get them in to the monastery again.

They return to Kenabres and are given magical mounts which helps them make their way to the Tala Monastery.  They have to wait until dawn before the madwoman can find where the light hits right so that she can dig open a hidden trapdoor.  They enter a series of magically preservative cellars, a few of them cooled by ice elementals that also function as traps for the unwary.

Basically it went beer cellar, elemental trapped door, ramped series of alcoves containing various divisions of fish and animals, dual portcullis landing whose portcullis contained an Open / Close haunt that slammed it shut (almost on top of Eliska) and trapped Eliska and Alfy in the same room as a revenant covered in bloody pustules (soon identified as the Blood Veil from "Curse of the Crimson Throne" adventure path).  They defeated the revenant, moved through the second portcullis, and found a variety of bodies laid out across the floor.

Checking one for evidence of the disease, released a "Paralysis" haunt combined with a "Stench" effect as Eliska saw the corpse reach out and grab her wrist, shortly before she started exuding a terrible smell.  Lex destroyed all the diseased bodies after that through the use of her negative energy breath weapon (which can affect undead and therefore hopefully disease itself).

They open another elemental trapped door (thus far springing no traps) and find themselves surrounded by an Obscuring Fog trap as ghosts of the previous inhabitants are seen to run perpetually down the stairs as though to try to get into the basements.  A pile of bloody and desperate bodies are found on the floor by the door.  They head upstairs and both Lestak and Alfy are beset by two Halfling ghosts who each leap on their backs, putting them under the effects of a Slow spell, with an accompanying sensation like they are being coaxed into the centre of the room where two Halfling corpses lie dead.

They do go over there (hearing a Suggestion Haunt whisper for them to stay the night, though they shake that off) and find a Dawnflowers Light and a spellbook containing a bard and wizard spell that makes summoning increasing difficult, aka Anti-Summoning Shield, and a musical sheet that described a bardic spell that nullifies telepathy, aka Telepathic Censor (see Demonslayer's Guide).  Alfy learned the two spells (had a few bardic spell gaps), took the lantern, and they moved on to the rearmost chambers rather than go immediately upstairs.

The first corridor had a spike trap, rusted, but spikes could be vaguely seen dripping blood from the walls (Phantom Trap Haunt with added peril of Blood Veil infection due to a modified Contagion Haunt attachment) but the trap is destroyed through some curative magic.  They find the rooms have various beds attached and they fight a couple more revenants while battered by a Solid Fog spell (again the image of ghosts flitting here and there).

Finally they reach a large dining area where a Bastion Banner to Shelyn flutters over the fireplace.  There were three haunts at the fireplace, the first being a Suggestion to light the fire which would lead to a trail of other haunts (see Haunts for Houses 3rd party supplement), but Alfy shrugs that one off.  As he gets too close to the fireplace, a female ghostly image (another haunt) appears and splits black blood at him, which draws the ire of two unique allips (using the stats from The Weapon in the Rift) who promptly tear Alfy's Wisdom down to 5.  Once defeated, Alfy touches the mantle as he grabs the banner and promptly fails his save against an Insanity haunt that makes him Phobic about demons.

Cautious about expending their Restoration potions and unsure about exactly what happened to Alfy, other than that he got touched a lot by the allips, Eliska tried to simply get him to rest but not before he kissed her, trapped her in a hug, and said that she was pretty.  She didn't pull away (being very much in love with him, though due to her stoic Nidalese nature he is entirely unaware of this) but did convince him to rest a bit until his nightmares woke him up again and she gave him the restoration potion that restored his senses (leaving him feeling very embarrassed).

The rest of the place was relatively easy to explore and they found a bunch of Yath worshippers (who'd gone mad from their dreams) dead from starvation in the old Abbesses bedroom (where they had been locked by the saner inhabitants until such time as a cure could be found).  Three circular orbs (imperfect as they were) had been removed from a nearby dresser (saturated with the hauntings' might).

They located a barrel of Abjurant Salt, barrel of Grave Salt and two barrels of Tala Oil (latter is pretty much akin to protection from evil with a little protection from mind control thrown in that lasts for 6 hours a dab).

They also find notes on Terendelev's potential hoard in another desk which they take to mean a certain waterfall along a tributary in Mendev of the West Sellen River (based off the Silver Dragon's hoard in Dragon's Unleashed).  They also find a lecture list in the main lecture hall that mentioned the name of a new visitor to the monastery they had allowed in for his impressive medical knowledge - a man named Rolth (also from the Curse of the Crimson Throne).

I'm using a few references to the Curse of the Crimson Throne because I have those books in hard cover (therefore easy and cost effective to re-use) and because the books are damn creepy.  Rolth has been resurrected (as has Fraton) and was given the job of corrupting the orbs and removing those who could make the Tala Salve (though he left a few barrels of it behind, not realising what it was).

Terendelev's hoard will be protected by a Hezrou and a Gibrileth demon rather than the dark fey found in the Demon's Unleashed version, who is hoping to befoul the waters running downstream.  It's a bit too much for the PCs to take on at once though so they will need to use cunning, stealth and guile -- and likely an invisibility potion or two -- before heading into the dragon's head entrance (in this case, it is trapped with a Holy Word from a 14th level caster).  The trap resets itself each day and it's the main reason why the first demons who came to try to re-take the hoard disappeared.  Once Yath was destroyed, the main person with information on the hoard also died, therefore none of the other demons are aware of it.

Once the PCs get inside, they'll have no further trouble as no one else has disturbed the hoard.  The hoard contains much of the listed items in the book but there will also be some evil items and nasty statuettes that she claimed but couldn't -- or wouldn't -- destroy.  Since much of her wealth was tied up in Mendevian interests, she could mostly keep those items that either wouldn't sell or wouldn't sell well.  Of course, with a Purity Forge, the evil magics can at least be swapped to something worthwhile.

Friday, December 12, 2014

LARP Structure aka What Do We Do Exactly?

One of my chief concerns with the Dark Before Dawn LARP was whether there would be enough for the players to do.  In a 6 1/2 hour game you really want to make sure that no one's bored, or at least, that they're not bored for long.  Naturally a particularly social bunch eager to explore their character's psychological vulnerabilities could take any LARP pitch and roll with it for even ten or more hours, but most players need a little more structure than that.

My first consideration involved the characters' goals.  Give them goals that tie in with each other and suggest alliances, rivalries, and enemies, which were straightforward enough to understand but complex enough to intrigue.  The larger the web, the more entertaining these goals can be, but with a small group of 11 players I guessed that these goals would give them 2 - 3 hours worth of entertainment, tops.

In reality these goals became a subtle backdrop to the character's actions rather than holding star position - likely due to the possessions and mysterious location.  The goals did entertain, at least, but they didn't chew up time for long.  This was always a possibility, just because you give someone an enemy doesn't mean they won't put it aside for now and focus on what's in front of them, especially if there's no obvious and subtle way to deal with them otherwise.

My second consideration was to involve a mystery for the characters to solve.  They were in an unusual place.  They all disagreed on the exact date.  They didn't remember arriving at this location and had expected to walk in elsewhere.  This consideration took up an hour or two of actual game-time, interwoven throughout the six, as people queried each other for further knowledge and poked the various props about the place.  I discovered that mysteries were pretty unbalanced ... they gained weight as the game progressed and the little hints started tumbling together into an avalanche.  It certainly worked a treat and coloured everything else but it would have been pretty bare on its own.

My third consideration was to throw in some antagonists for the characters to butt heads against.  Initially I was going to draft in some cast but since the game attracted far fewer players than expected, I went back to basics and instead asked a few of the players if they wouldn't mind being possessed for a bit.  Since I didn't want them to lose their characters, and since relying on combat would be a bit of a drag, I threw in several exorcisms about the place that they could theoretically use and made it so that each exorcism targeted one person and that if the wrong person was picked, the Strix would become immune to that technique. 

I also made it so that the first two possession victims would be the ones with the necessary skills to use two of those forms of exorcism.  This ate up the lion's share of four hours, especially when the first possession victim took so long to dispel.  The third, ironically enough, was immediately exorcised on a whim by a character who didn't realise that the technique would lose its potency if performed on the wrong person.

My final consideration was the capstone plot ... everyone needed to cast their vote for one entity or another, or abstain completely.  This took up the last 30 - 45 minutes.

All told, we had just enough structure and plot to keep 11 people occupied for all but 15 minutes of the game (the bit shortly before the ending plot struck).

Naturally this was in part due to the low number of players, the mystery set up which tweaked characters to focus on solving puzzles (i.e. possessions) and the way external threats tend to put a dampener of internal politics and intrigue.  Part of it is doubtless due to local style and the desires of the various players involved, but it does make you think.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Sometimes LARPs Do Need Pre-Planned Endings

Chess will always provide some distraction in a game.
As with all things, there are a multitude of recommendations of how various events should, and should not, be run.  One pearl of wisdom is that LARP designers should never, ever, ever design an ending for the game.  Now depending on how you define the word ending, this is *mostly* true. 

There are very few LARPs that can benefit from an utterly pre-generated "ending" where everything is set in stone.  It *can* work, so long as the ending is a final curtain on a one shot that resonates strongly with the players ... such as if the apocalypse LARP is guaranteed to end with the location falling to zombies or where the game ends with the prisoners assist those soldiers arriving to free the prison camp from the enemy.

So it *can* work, and work brilliantly, but generally you want a looser *ending* than that.  Such an ending has a real sense of resolution, has been pre-planned, but must allow a meaningful choice to be made and have room for variation.

For awhile I sputtered and worried over the ending.  How to cap it all off?  My initial plans had 30 players whose chaos might be enough to keep the game running smoothly and whose antics might finally form into a suitable resolution.  But 11 players?  In a dice-based LARP where you can't simply throw in a final combat and expect excitement?  (Unless your idea of excitement involves a dozen players standing around and waiting for their turn to roll a dice.)

So I went back to basics and tried to figure out what an ending was.  The law of rising tension meant the most tension should come at the end which is what made me think of playing an NPC briefly as I can be quite strident and pull tension along.  Of course, just having an NPC rock up wouldn't be enough.  It had to affect the entire gathering so that no one missed out.  It also needed to raise the stakes above previous situations so I looked at a city-wide effect.  It should be tied into the prior sub-plots and thus I made it touch on Dr. Jonathon Taylor's rituals, its results, and the subsequent loss of Nurse Cassandra to the city's infrastructure.  Finally it needed player involvement.

And that was the kicker.  Any puzzle would necessarily require only a few players input.  Even a complex one could theoretically be solved by a couple people and there'd doubtless be a few who wouldn't know what to do even if there were a dozen pieces.  Plus I couldn't think up a good puzzle.

Combat, as mentioned beforehand, can be a real drag in a game and while it adds necessary spice even in dice LARPs, it's generally not suitable for an ending unless masterfully handled with several miniature  battles and I didn't have time to brief enough Floor GMs for that.

So I went back to the even more fundamental basics and realised that in the end games are all about the choices we make.  That's why combat needs so many rules to be exciting and why in a game with quick resolutions (or fewer players like in tabletop) it can be exciting - high stakes, multiple decisions to make.  So if games are all about choice, maybe that's all I needed, one big choice with huge stakes that would affect everyone and where everyone could be involved by getting their own choice.

And so my Dark Before Dawn one shot, the LARP ended with an angel arriving at the game with a box of rune-inscribed stones.  She gave a little speech regarding the merits of her god, contradicted by the pleading requests of a ghost who spoke via written text on a data projector, and bid each person take a stone and choose to set their will to either banishing the ghost from the machine (and potentially destroying her) and giving control to an alien God OR supporting the usurper and keeping the machine away from God.  She finally described it as a choice between Order and Chaos, which is bound to resolve in people even if they don't care much for either NPC.
(On an aside, they would choose by putting the stone in either an antique soap box that had previously contained an abjuration amulet or a velvet lined carved box that had previously contained phosphorous shotgun shells, so that involved some added metaphor.)

The third option, where the characters chose neither side, was valid though wouldn't weigh as strongly as those who voted in one direction or the other.  No matter what the players did, the angel wouldn't commit violence.  It wouldn't supernaturally compel them.  And once it had spoken, it retained the same position (a half bow) until the assigned ten minutes were up and stayed silent unless explicitly questioned.

So this was a pre-planned event.  No matter what the players did during the game, the angel would arrive and offer the choice.  The players had flexibility within how they engaged in that time but they couldn't gain more time and they couldn't vote for, say, power over the device to be transferred to one of their own.

The one piece of last-minute flex involved the elder occultist banishing the angel after a few votes had been cast and once everyone had a chance to discuss the matters among themselves.  The player kindly floated the idea past me first, got my ideas on what might work and how, then brilliantly roleplayed it after those who had an opinion had voted and those who were torn had either chosen to abstain or were moving toward that choice.  Therefore that *change* was more of a capstone piece to the event than a literal change to the ending.

Not only did this final choice work, it worked well, and if I had simply allowed the players to interact for those several hours with nothing to mark an ending, the LARP would have fared quite poorly indeed.  About ten to fifteen minutes prior to the ending events, the players ran out of plot, finished their individual goals and were left to discuss the metaphysics of the game world - something that excluded and confused the new players who were unfamiliar with the World of Darkness or who didn't control occultist characters. 

An additional thirty minutes of such conversation would have been a big let down and left a bad taste of confusion, helplessness and a sense of failure as the players contemplated whether there was something they *should* be doing.

The ending plot directed some of that conversation when it was realised, though until the angel walked through there was still some confusion.  Once it was all outlined and placed in front of them, people could finally have a final decision to sink their teeth into and once that decision was done they could face the final transition (leaving the hall via the back exit) with a sense of purpose and trepidation.

After all, the campaign LARP will deal with the fall out of their decision to largely abstain from the Choice and chart their own destinies -- with a slight weighting toward leaving Nurse Cassandra in the machine.

NOTE: I am *not* saying that all LARPs need ending events.  There are no absolute rules in LARPs so long as everyone has fun.  I had an 11-person investigative LARP in the adventure style so I needed it more than most.  My initial plans had a 30-person LARP which would have needed either more time for a "Choice" ending *or* could have resolved well simply by throwing another football for them to fight over in the ring whose resolution would have counted.  Heck, some political LARPs work just fine with people struggling over positions until the timer runs out.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Game Translation: This War of Mine

Generally its a rare game that goes the full simulationist / slice of life route.  The grand majority of games are plotted.  There is some major conflict that you need to weave your way through, defeating a succession of obstacles of increasing drama and tension to defeat some Big Bad (or more rarely to merely survive and escape).  Therefore I have little experience, but loads of ideas, for how to accomplish This War of Mine through a roleplaying lens format.

In This War of Mine you don't play elite soldiers out to cleanse the city nor do you play rebels seeking to overthrow the government.  You're not even a single Action Hero Father trying to rescue your kids.  You could well be an old teacher, handyman, and sneaky girl from the wrong side of town.

You also don't shoot up bad guys unless you want to risk an easy road to death.  Instead you sneak through abandoned (and not-so-abandoned) locales picking up spare parts so you can spend your daytimes constructing various appliances, gardens, and water purifiers to allow you and your friends to survive a few days while occasionally thugs and desperate civilians make armed raids on your home.

It's a different sort of game.  It's a touch depressing.  And it would make for a very interesting roleplaying game.

If you have Narrativist players, then you probably already  know how you can run this.  You could simply focus on the relationships with some moments of rising tension, perhaps randomly drawn from a deck of cards to represent what is heard on the radio or what occurs during the night or on scavenging runs as a launch pad for ideas.  Players could then interject with what they think would be most entertaining - "I've caught a cold...."  "A sniper wings me...."

Simply watching the various characters interact as things slowly get worse and they struggle to put together enough to make it through the war could be perfectly entertaining for one or more sessions with the right crowd, but if you're a full Narrativist who have played a number of games in this style you probably don't need much advice on that front and as I've never run that sort of game I'm really not in the position to advice you on it.

So what if you're used to running the more common sorts of games with a GM in full control of the world around player controlled characters used to dealing with GM created obstacles while interacting with each other and NPCs in character?

Well you'll need to make sure that everyone plays pretty low-powered and ordinary characters.  So think small, think weak, think hopelessly out-gunned just like if the average office worker suddenly had to survive in an urban environment without proper stores.  Ensure the rules work with that and be sure the players are open to it.

You can play "This War of Mine" with more capable folks, say ex-emergency services personnel, and you can play the setting within a different style - even slice of life it with emergency services dealing with call outs within a besieged city but as that doesn't focus on the style of the videogame, just the setting, we won't be looking at that.  So make sure the players are onboard with creating utterly normal people with one particular specialty - good cook, good craftsman, etc.  I'd recommend each player make three such characters so that they can replace them quickly.

Ensure that wounds won't heal without medical attention and that sicknesses get progressively worse without warmth, food and rest.  When the characters get too hungry, too sick, too wounded or too tired, their movement speeds should be cut to a walk and then a stagger.  Every effort should take them longer and they should no longer be much use scavenging.

As with any good sandbox game you could get a map showing identified locations which they can travel and some basic rumours about them.  Danger levels, likely lootables, and possible NPCs should all be described.  You could even make it a bit of a hex crawl if you like by allowing PCs to spend a night in different blocks looking for places that haven't been revealed to them yet.

Unless you're willing to have a full group traipsing about to every location (increasing the chances of a TPK and reducing the sense of desperation), you'd need to keep the missions themselves quite short and sharp to allow players to guiltlessly split the party.  Ten to fifteen minutes per supply run should generally be enough.  Twenty to thirty if everyone seems enraptured.  Let the players know that they will need to split the party in advance so that they can protect their homes in case of looters.

I'd use a randomised system - like dice or card draws - to decide whether they're attacked.  You can either roleplay the attack or resolve it with dice or simply matching the defences against the attacker's skill and desperation, if you like.

Be mindful the PCs may crave revenge after a successful raid on them.
Inventory management is important as well in any game based on scavenging.  Firstly you'll need to determine the build phases - what they can build and what they need for it - then you can decide what they find.  You could do this board game style by putting tokens on a map and making them navigate the location or you could just decide it on the fly.  It's up to you.

During the build phase, you need to decide how many items they can build and if time will factor into it or simply what they have in their inventory.  Bear in mind how long you want it to take for them to purify water or grow crops.  You won't want this to occur in real-time as it would be very dull to have to get through fourteen days to make things happen so maybe have each phase represent a week of activities.

What they build should also have meaning during the gameplay and roleplay parts as well.  You could assign bonuses or penalties depending on what they have but other than slowing the PCs down when things get too rough I would focus on adding roleplaying pressures.  Describe the aches and pains of sleeping poorly ... describe the taste of dog food when they lack vegetables for soup ... describe the pangs of thirst ... describe the aching cold ... describe a day spent with nothing to read and nothing to do ... describe the maddening lack of information on how things are progressing for lack of a radio.  Each day, no matter what they have got and what they have recently built, describe what they lack and make it ache.

When the characters don't eat, simply progress them through categories that are easy to understand.  Slightly Hungry.  Hungry.  Starving.  Starving.  Dead.  Same thing with a lack of sleep or creeping sadness.  Reinforce the sensations of it most of all by describing the physical issues within each problem.  That will be the most galvanising thing for the players. 

When it gets cold, you could make one of them them draw from five cards to see if they get sick - increase the number of illness cards if they are exhausted, starving or if the temperature has gotten quite low.

So that it doesn't just become a depressing spiral of angst, ensure that there are some moments of levity as well.  People request for help and offer it.  People repay their debts when the PCs help them out.  Some of the locations are open to trade.  Some are robbed.  Some are cruel.  Most are just trying to survive.

Anyway, a campaign based around This War of Mine or including elements of it, should appeal to -

Communicators who find personal interaction and psychological horror interesting may enjoy it quite a bit though anyone who's main desire is for politics may find it sorely lacking unless they can affect alliances and recruit NPCs over to their way of thinking.

Explorers may enjoy the voyeuristic thrill of poking through people's homes and businesses while on scavenging missions so play it up and ensure little secrets are found here and there.  Keep it lively and keep the descriptions full of unqiue moments.

Action Heroes will stick a target on some of the bad guys and want their revenge.  If they succeed, they will love it.  If they fail, or fail too often, they will become frustrated.  They may be able to do it for a session as a favour to other players but this is not a good game for them long-term.

Tacticians will find it irritating because there's no win condition other than base survival.  Every decision they make is as bad as it is good.  Oh you built a cage to trap animals?  Well now we don't have a heater ... or a vegetable garden ... or an upgraded machine shop.  Some may enjoy this, plenty won't.

Investigators won't have much in the way of questions to solve and cases to follow.  They, like the action heroes and tacticians, could enjoy the setting but not the style of This War of Mine.  They may well find it dull.

So if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Wastelanders 2, Wolfenstein, Dead Space, or Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines).

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

How The LARP Went

When I initially planned my LARP back in January, my plans revolved around an expectation of between 25 - 35 players.  I don't know why I was so ambitious.  I suppose because I knew I had a ridiculous amount of both interactive and decorative elements and I knew that hundreds of folks in my home city have LARPed before over the years.  If they had gone to LARPs that had fewer (sometimes even no) props, phys-reps and interactive elements that you could touch and discover, surely they would be eager to come along to my LARP simply to bathe in the ambiance if nothing else.

No such luck.  Whether due to LARPer burnout or a lack of interest in vampire, or the shortcomings of free advertising, we ended up having only 12 tickets purchased.

Or should I say, loads of luck ... because this ended up being a really awesome LARP and it could only have happened with a small but wickedly awesome bunch of LARPers, first timers and experienced.

Sometimes things work out for the best when they don't go according to plan.  After all, a 30 player adventure-style game is difficult indeed, especially when you're using dice and therefore going more down the path of murder mystery style clues than boffer weapons and swinging traps.

Still the realisation that I had fewer players meant I couldn't put all my reliance on simply giving a bunch of players opposing goals and letting them "have at each other" for 6 1/2 hours.  A dozen players can easily make amends or choose to quietly hold a grudge after a couple hours.  While thirty folks will get in each other's way often enough to make peace (or at least a new status quo) hard to grasp, a dozen individuals will get enough time to resolve their differences if they need to.

And yes, this is a vampire game, but without crazy levels of escalation, you also run out of things to do.  There's only so many folks you can give a rumour to and so many ears to whisper "Don't trust him" in before you've done it all.

So I needed a plot framework *and* I needed a capstone ending. 

And I only realised I needed these things two weeks before the LARP began.

Naturally I only discovered what the framework would be on the Monday before game and I only discovered the ending on Tuesday.  And yes, yes, I've heard that you don't need to come up with endings in LARPs because the players will all mystically come to a fitting conclusion that is mutually satisfactory and needs no GM involvement and HOGWASH I say.  Pure hogwash.

Creating a game with no ending in mind works for *some* LARPs but not for *all* LARPs and it certainly would've rung a death knell for this game which was otherwise great but really needed something to keep it from trailing off into speculation and confusion.  But I'll discuss that more tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Worthy Link: Play-by-Post

In place of reading more stuff from me for the week, check out this awesome Paizo Thread on running a decent Play-by-Post!