Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Blood Hunter: Cleften Arc

After defeating the Baroness and leaving Torndrey, Kieara travelled north along the road. She arrived at the ruins of a town once bearing the name Valador. Crossing the bridge into town, she caught a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye and narrowly dodged a thrown knife! She dashed into the cover offered by ruined buildings, and stalked her assailants until she came face to face with a Dark Elf! They engaged in a furious swordfight; although there was a second Elf, the battle was also joined by a mysterious knight who charged in to help. While Kieara fought bravely, the Elf's skill with his light blade was too much for her, and she passed out from her wounds...

*     *     *

Kieara awoke after dark, lying on the bare earth just outside the ruins, disarmed but not bound. The knight was sitting nearby, and introduced himself as Sir Dustin Albrecht of the Order of the Eagle. She noticed his eyes glowed in the moonlight. He was curious as to what sort of creature she was, as he could tell she was not human, and requested to escort her to see his master, Baron Ormand of Cleften. With little choice, Kieara reluctantly accepted. Sir Dustin returned her sword and allowed her to take a suit of leather armour from one of the slain Dark Elves, but did not return her stakes.

On the road, the pair were attacked by Goblins led by a Dark Elf. Kieara slew those that were attacking her, and darted into the woods while the knight finished off his foes. She used the last of her Vampiric blood to fly through the woods at great speed, leaving Sir Dustin behind. Before daybreak, she was standing on a mountainside overlooking the city of Cleften.

The town was deep in the precipitous mountains, built along the edge of a deep chasm. On the far side, accessible only by a single stone bridge, stood a massive fortress forming a sheer and impenetrable barrier. She explored the mountains, but any way around the fortress would require her to negotiate a series of hazardous cliffs. Unfortunately, she lacked the blood to fly again.

Kieara headed into town for some night-time reconnaissance, and found the town completely silent and unoccupied, apart from a flock of bats flying overhead. Most of the buildings had strings of garlic around the windows and doors. She returned to the mountain and observed the town until dawn, at which point people emerged and began their daily business. Many cast nervous glances towards the fortress and crossed themselves. After watching for a bit, Kieara descended to the road and entered town as though she were a traveller just arriving.

*     *     *

She passed by a large church, and the head priest, Father Uriah, advised her to stay at the inn on the town square. He also expressed his hope that she wouldn't be staying long. She stopped for breakfast at a small tavern called The Winged Rat. The proprietor was a short stocky man named Culvert, who looked as though something had chewed on his face pretty severely. He remained fairly tight-lipped to this well-dressed and well-armed stranger, until she'd eaten a fried breakfast with plenty of garlic. After that, Culvert turned into a well-spoken, friendly, and informative man who was only too willing to fill her in on the ills of life in Cleften.

One of the Winged Rat's regulars was a tall, dishevelled drunk named Bert. For a bottle of wine, he told Kieara the tale of how his daughter had stayed too late in the woods. Bert finally found her, just as she was about to be attacked by a shadow beast. Before it could pounce, one of the Knights of the Eagle charged in and slew the beast. Bert's relief was short lived, as the Knight embraced his daughter and drained her of blood. By the time Bert reached her, she was dead and the Knight was gone.

Kieara learned that the Baron and the Knights of the Eagle protect the town from monsters such as Werewolves and Goblins, but they do so to protect their own food supply - the townsfolk. Anyone caught outside after dark, or not sleeping in a private residence, may be drained of blood. Bert offered to let Kieara stay at his house, as the public inn was not safe from Vampiric predation. Bert's place was a bit of a mess, strewn with broken furniture and bottles, and caked with dirt. Once she knew where to find it, Kieara set off into the town.

She went to scout out the bridge leading across to the Fortress, and witnessed a food wagon preparing for the crossing. The farmers and their wagon were both festooned with strings of garlic, and a group of priests arrived to offer blessings. The wagon rattled across the bridge, and the Fortress' heavy portcullis lifted to allow them entry. Once they were inside, the crowd dispersed. Father Uriah once again warned Kieara against staying in town too long. 

After that, she bought some powdered silver for use in banishment rituals, and also invested in a string of garlic. Returning to Bert's, she whittled some new stakes out of broken chair-legs. After nightfall, Bert still hadn't returned home, so she left a bar of soap on his table and headed for the fortress...

*     *     *

As she crossed the bridge in the moonlight, the portcullis rumbled open and two knights rode out to greet her - Sir Dustin and Sir Franz. She claimed to have come to speak with Baron Ormand, and was escorted to the top of the tower. The Baron himself coalesced out of a swarm of bats. Using Baroness Hartford's signet ring, Kieara claimed to be one of the Baroness' agents, sent to ask for the Baron's help in controlling a rebellious population. The Baron's ego thus swollen, he relaxed his guard and sent the knights away. Kieara uncorked her garlic-filled waterskin, using it as a bellows to blow noxious fumes in his face. Weakened by the garlic, the Baron was completely overcome, and she impaled him to his chair with her silvered sword. As his body crumbled to bloody dust, she considered how best to deal with the two knights.

She persuaded the knights that the Baron had flown away, and had given permission for her to stay in the fortress until he returned. Once in her guest quarters, she lured each knight in one at a time and ambushed them with garlic and sword, quickly slaying them. She then conducted a thorough search of the castle, finding no-one else but a selection of gargoyles along the walls and towers. When approached, they animated and moved to attack, but returned to their posts when she retreated from the top of the wall. A few at a time, she prepared banishing circles of silver powder, lured them inside, and cast out the animating demon within, reducing them to lifeless statues. Her search of the fortress revealed some arms and equipment, but most importantly a map of Alhast. Kieara now knew where to find the Count, in Stieglitz Castle.

*     *     *

In the morning she returned to the town and let the bridge-keepers know that the Baron was no more. Bert was not at home, but she was confronted by a mob led by the priests who were worried that her actions would not only allow other creatures to ravage the town, but would attract the ire of Count von Stieglitz. She told them to stand up for themselves, and that she would press on to deal with the Count herself. A freshly shaved and cleaned-up Bert - using his full name, Albert - appeared spoke in her support. Her acts of kindness and bravery had inspired him to reform his ways.

Over the next couple of days, Kieara moved Culvert and Albert into Cleften Fortress, and helped set them up as the leaders of a militia force. They found many recruits among the younger townsfolk, and an air of hope filled the fortress. The older folks back in town muttered their disapproval, but did nothing. Once she was sure the town and fortress were as secure as they could be, Kieara claimed one of the knights' horses and said her farewells, riding north on the road out of the mountains.

>>> Linden Town Arc

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

TBZ: The Oni of Yamaguchi, Act 0 & 1

I ran our first session of Tenra Bansho Zero tonight! It went pretty well, with the players enjoying the system and exploring their characters as we slowly got to grips with the game. A brief rundown of the session follows.

  • Barb plays Daigo, an Oni Mercenary Assassin.
  • Rohin plays Kobe Takeshi, a Half-Oni Playboy Swordsman Aristocrat.


The small rural province of Yamaguchi is bordered on three sides by mountains, with the sea to the south. It is ruled by Lord Kobe Masamori, whom it is said has a soft spot for the oni people. However, many of the common folk feel uneasy at tales of an oni village hidden somewhere in the mountains.

Zero Act

It is Spring, and the cherry-blossoms fall over the castle at Yamashiro. Kobe Takeshi, the hornless half-oni, womanising swordsman, and younger bastard son of Lord Kobe, is called before his father. With regret, the lord advises his son to leave Yamashiro castle, as he fears times are about to become dangerous for Takeshi. Granted a substantial sum, Takeshi returns to his room to pack. He has a brief run-in with his half-brother Seijurou, and Seijurou's new acquaintance - a mysterious onmyoji with cold eyes, with whom Takeshi feels an odd sense of deja-vu. He leaves the castle that has been his home for the past sixteen years, his heart empty with longing for somewhere to belong.

Later, in the port town of Kawaguchi, the oni mercenary and assassin Daigo calls on his underworld contact Blind Bunshichi, having heard of a job on offer. Bunshichi (not actually blind, but with a reputation for forgetting faces and for turning a blind eye) passes on an important contract - the life of Lord Kobe Masamori, worth 40 gold ryo. Daigo accepts, and leaves with half the money up front, breathing a sigh of relief to be out of Bunshichi's dingy shop - the man has a way of making one feel uneasy...

Act One

Early Summer. Beside the main road running through Yamaguchi sits a large tea-house; almost an inn, it boasts an upper storey, and a large common room. It is run by an obasan and staffed by several young ladies, two of whom are drinking plum wine with the young well-dressed swordsman. At a nearby table, a small group of footsoldiers drink and talk loudly. A shadow darkens the door as a traveller enters - a large man in the clothing of a warrior, but with a subtly decorated oni cape. The soldiers fall quiet and mutter to themselves, while the young swordsman nods to the newcomer. The oni orders food and drink, but as he begins to eat his pickled vegetables the soldiers stand and circle behind him. The oni offers them a pickled radish, but their leader ignores him and loudly says, "I've heard Lord Kobe is soft on oni, but for one to just walk in here!" They continue to heap scorn on the traveller, incidentally badmouthing the lord for his lenience on the oni, until the young swordsman speaks up.

Claiming to be the son of Lord Kobe, he asks the soldiers to leave the oni be. Taken aback, the leader demands proof, and is reasonably convinced by the house mon stamped on the swordsman's soulgem shortsword. Nevertheless, he's gone a bit too far, and claims he doesn't fully believe the boy. As his family has been insulted at least twice by this time, Takeshi challenges the captain to a duel. Unable to back down, the soldier agrees and they take the fight outside. It only takes a couple of exchanges until the captain is defeated, falling to his knees in surrender. Takeshi goes back inside to talk with the oni, and the remaining soldiers help their captain limp away.

"Are you really the son of Lord Kobe?" asks Daigo. "What do you think of this plot to assassinate him?" Daigo claims that the story is all over the countryside, but Takeshi of course hadn't heard of it and is shocked by the news. Daigo claims he was offered the contract, but refused because Lord Kobe is kind to the oni people. Instead, he decided to travel until he could find someone who would pay him to assassinate the person responsible for the contract, thus stopping any other potential assassins from being paid for the job. Daigo's hoping Takeshi or his father might be willing to pay for this. Takeshi suspects his half-brother Seijurou, or the mysterious onmyoji. As Takeshi's money-box has been sadly depleted by a couple of months of partying on the road, the two decide to pair up and head towards the capital, Yamashiro.

Coming Up

Danger on the road?
Confrontations at the Capital?
The True Enemy Revealed?

>>> Act 2

Monday, 15 October 2012

Tenra Bansho Zero: First Thoughts

In mid-to-late 2012, I got into the Tenra Bansho Zero Kickstarter in a big way. I'd only been following it for a couple of years of its seven year English adaptation journey, so I had time to get excited without running out of steam waiting the whole seven years!

Since I put in for one of the advance copies, I got to start reading the game earlier than most, and began diligently reporting any proof-reading errors I found. +Andy Kitkowski, the game's translator, ended up recruiting me to collate all of the errors people were reporting, which turned into a massive undertaking for a couple of weeks! It was worth it, though, just in being able to see a much more polished version of the book emerge. It doesn't hurt that my name's in the credits now, too!

My advance copy arrived on 15 Oct 2012!

What originally drew me to the game? Well, it's a sci-fi version of the Japanese Warring States (Sengoku) period, with over-the-top samurai action, mecha, cyborgs, ninja, onmyou mystics, set on an alien world during a period of constant war. There's a whole lot more information over on the TBZ website and blog. So, the sheer style and visuals of the game were enough to pique my interest.

But then, there's the system. I read a lot of forum posts and blog articles, gleaning information about how the game actually runs. There are a lot of really cool-sounding features - that the game is set up to resemble a Kabuki play; that characters get more powerful as they become injured; and, especially, the Karma system.

Karma in Buddhism is bad; it represents attachment to the material world. If you become too attached, you lose yourself and become a monster who will destroy everything they care about - an Asura.

Karma is tied into many parts of TBZ's system. Firstly, you build your character out of Karma; the more powerful your character, the more Karma they start with. When you play the game, doing cool stuff or roleplaying well nets you Aiki chits. During the intermissions between Acts, you turn Aiki into Kiai, which is a currency you can use to boost your performance or do various other tricks during play. The catch is, when you spend Kiai it accumulates and turns into Karma. If you end an Intermission with more than 108 Karma, you become an Asura and are relegated to NPC status.

Luckily, there's a way to reduce Karma too. Characters have Fates, which are things they care about or ways of feeling - goals, taboos, relationships, quirks. As the game progresses, you can increase your Fate ratings. If you need to lose some Karma, you can choose to discard or rewrite a Fate; you either don't care about it any more, or you're changing your mind. Severing these connections to Fates reduces Karma, but also changes the character's outlook on the world.

How does it actually all run during play? I'm glad you asked! The next few posts will be a series of session reports from our first TBZ game - The Oni of Yamaguchi.

Monday, 1 October 2012

AW: London Calling 2012

I don't recall exactly when I started running Apocalypse World, but it was some time in late 2012. I'd read many interesting things about it, and wanted to try it out to see how it handled.

Barb, Rohin and I got together and decided on the setting - central London, at a holding in the Tower Bridge, which was allied with a holding in the Tower of London on the north bank. The river was running a bit higher than in the Time Before, and the suburb of Hackney Marsh was an actual marsh again.

  • Barb made a Brainer called Marsh, a creepy psychic concealed in androgynous medical-wear.
  • Rohin made a Gunlugger called Keeler, a wild-eyed scarred man with a collection of firearms and the skills to use them.
  • +Paul wasn't present for the first session, but joined in shortly after things kicked off. He made a Savvyhead called LaFayette, a somewhat kooky young woman with a greater affinity for machinery than people.

Get Sun

The players wanted their characters to be working for someone else, so they were both in the employ of Prim, the Tower Bridge 'holder. Chack, Prim's "fixer" and the PCs' handler, told Marsh that Prim wanted to acquire a guy called Sun from the Tower holding. Apparently Raccaro, the Tower 'holder, had refused a polite invitation to send him over. Chack suggested Keeler go along too, but cautioned against making too big a mess...

The two talked their way into the Tower, where they discovered that Sun was an engineer helping Raccaro outfit a small army. LaFayette joined them, and used her access to the Tower Keep to persuade Sun to come out to her workshop in the courtyard by seducing him. Unfortunately they had to dispose of Mimi, captain of the Tower Guard. Marsh used In-Brain Puppet Strings on one of the other Tower Guard, compelling her to run around telling everyone that Sun had shot Mimi. In the confusion, they slipped out the back way through the garage and returned to the Bridge with Sun in tow.

Siltway Raiders

Prim wanted Sun to help bolster the defences of the exposed southern fields against raiders from the Brick Fields to the south, and the Barrier Siltway holding to the east. She also put Keeler on field duty, as raids had been increasing. LaFayette helped out with the planning and installation of some of the defences. Marsh hung around with Keeler in the fields.

A dust-cloud to the east signalled a raid. The field guards holed up and waited for the attack, but Keeler and Marsh went out to meet them. Keeler sprayed the convoy with machinegun fire, breaking their charge and sending them scattering into side-roads. Marsh used the painwave generator and violator glove to wipe out a jeep-load of raiders, causing one guy's head to explode from accumulated psychic damage. Keeler captured and questioned Rover, the only survivor, learning that they were slave-raiders from the Barrier Siltway, sent to steal more workers as their labour force had been dying from a mysterious illness.

The field guards were so impressed by Keeler's display of combat prowess that they basically said they were working for him now, not Prim. Rover also became part of the gang, under Keeler's protection.
Brick Field Battle
Tired of waiting for raiders to come to them, and tooled up with a new gang, Keeler and Marsh headed south onto the eerie Brick Fields to hunt down the "Brickheads" bike gang. The Brick Field is a vast, circular area where all of the old buildings have been somehow pulverised into a flat field, paved with bricks and dust. Some judicious brain-opening led to them discovering that the Brickheads had a large camp set up some distance away... and that some of them were coming this way, attracted by the convoy's dust cloud!

Clarion, one of Keeler's gangers, took the jeep and drove it back towards the Bridge while the rest hid out behind the only available cover in the field. As the bikers rode past, the gang ambushed them and wiped them out. The sole survivor was puppet-stringed by Marsh to return to the others with the message "you're next."

Having put paid to both major threats for now, the gang returned to the Bridge and reported to Prim. They also discovered that emissaries from the Tower had visited demanding recompense for Mimi's death and Sun's abduction, and that Prim had agreed to supply them with a crate of firearms. Marsh lost all respect for Prim due to this decision.

These first few sessions of Apocalypse World were mostly pretty good, but it did take me a while to wrap my head around some things. Figuring out which Move had been triggered was sometimes problematic; deciding between Seize by Force or Go Aggro can take a bit of mulling over, but I'm slowly getting the hang of it. In the first session I called for a Manipulate roll which probably didn't follow the form exactly. The first big fight between Keeler, Marsh, and the Siltway Raiders was great, but the next battle against the Brickheads didn't "sing" quite as much.

>>> Session 2013.1