Thursday, 31 January 2013

Blood Hunter: Linden Town Arc

Kieara rode north out of Cleften, down out of the mountains into a wooded vale. Conifers gradually gave way to broad-leaved deciduous trees as she descended, and she glimpsed wildlife darting beneath the canopy. By her map, she reckoned to reach Linden Town by evening. In the late afternoon, she rounded a bend and was waylaid by a rough-looking woman with a bandana and a longsword in the middle of the road. She paused, and the woman demanded her money, backed up by the threat of archers in the woods along the road. Kieara refused and spurred her horse, evading or shrugging off the arrow-fire. The bandit readied her longsword, but Kieara kicked her in the head on the way past, knocking her out cold.

Kieara arrived at Linden Town just as the day turned to evening. The village was small and squalid, a collection of wooden hovels on the unpaved mud beside a wide and slow-flowing river. Several small boats and long barges were docked at the rickety wharfs. The inn appeared to be little more than a large long-house with wooden trestle tables, and a makeshift bar at the far end. The patrons were mostly transitory river-traders and fishermen, so there was a warm and welcoming atmosphere and Kieara joined in the conversation and high spirits - until a fearsome bellow from outside sent the room silent. Kieara lerned that it was one of Baron Vork's "beasts," and everyone bade her be quiet and not draw its attention. She peeked out the front door to see a hulking, sewn-together manlike creature smash down the door to the smithy and reach inside, pulling out the brawny blacksmith and carrying him off like a doll. As it did him no immediate harm, she followed at a distance to see where it was taking him.

She tracked the beast for hours through the woods, until it came to a branch of the river and a burnt-out bridge. It leapt from the bank and waded across, disappearing into the forest on the far side. In the distance, she could make out the top of a tower jutting above the treetops. After safely stashing any items from her pack that might become water-damaged, she swam across the stream and continued her pursuit. Standing in the middle of a small clearing, the tower was about four storeys tall. Another huge beast patrolled the perimeter; this one appeared to be part man and part wolf, but with a short muzzle like a bat. Kieara leapt from the forest and fought it, managing to subdue it before its massive fists and claws could connect. Leaving it unconscious on the ground, she entered the tower's unlocked double doors.

The ground floor was mostly empty, so Kieara headed down into the basement. There she found the blacksmith in a small cell set into the hallway wall. Without any tools to open the lock, she pressed on into Baron Vork's workshop to see if she could find something to free the captive. The Baron was a small, bald man with circular tinted glasses. He noticed her sneaking around, and engaged her in conversation, telling her about his quest to construct the perfect creature. He did not seem overly perturbed when she told him she'd defeated one of his creations - instead, he became interested in using her to upgrade his next project, which was partly assembled on the table! He summoned his patchwork man to seize her. Kieara attempted to use her garlic-filled waterskin to disable the Baron, but he was apparently immune to its effects. Instead, while avoiding the beast, she struck the Baron a grievous blow with her silvered longsword. He immediately turned to a green mist, preventing her from finishing him off. She managed to escape the room, grabbing a piece of wire on the way out, and barred the door from the outside. While the beast tried to beat the door down, the green mist seeped out from under the door and disappeared upstairs. Kieara freed the blacksmith and they made good their escape.

They arrived back in town early in the morning, to the incredulous reception of most. However, while Kieara was hailed as a hero, there were those who were not so happy with her actions. The innkeeper warned her against fighting the Baron, as it would only cause trouble for everyone else. She argued with him and left; outside, an undertaker in a mud-stained coat and top hat cautioned her that several townsfolk - the innkeeper included - acted as Vork's eyes and ears in the town. He suggested she seek out the Linden Raiders, a resistance group fighting against the Baron, who hid in the woods around the town.

For various reasons, we took a hiatus of a couple of months at this point...

Kieara headed West into the forest, and began searching for signs of the Linden Raiders. Eventually she found some tracks, and followed them to a campsite deep in the woods. She managed to sneak past their sentries, and introduced herself peacefully from behind cover. Their leader, Mabel, turned out to be the woman she'd kicked in the head on her way into town. Since she had been well dressed and riding the horse of a Knight of the Eagle, they'd assumed she was a lackey of the vampires. Once they established that they were actually on the same side, though, they welcomed her into their group. The Raiders had been struggling against Vork for years, but his beasts were too great a threat for them to face without suffering heavy casualties. They knew of Vork's weaknesses - sunlight, holy symbols, and running water. The bridge had been burned out to prevent him leaving his tower, but he was still sending his beasts on sorties for "spare parts." They also told Kieara about collaborators in the town, including the innkeeper and the undertaker. Since this claim contradicted the undertaker's earlier behaviour, she decided to return to Linden Town to confront him.

The undertaker, Mortimer, explained that his father, the previous undertaker, had once supplied Vork with fresh corpses for his experiments. Once the Baron's experiments yielded success, he had a new means to acquire fresh body parts, and ceased raiding the cemetery. Mortimer found the whole situation distasteful, and had been trying to make amends for his father's failings. As another gesture of good faith, he told Kieara about a tunnel that led from the riverbank to the tower's basement level. Kieara hatched a plan to flood the tunnel and thus have the Baron pass over running water, temporarily robbing him of his power during an attack. She borrowed some excavation tools from the graveyard and rode back to the Raiders' camp.

As dawn rose, Kieara and the dozen or so Raiders arrived at Vork's tower, guarded by both the patchwork man and the bat-faced beast. While Kieara dashed out to engage one of the beasts, the bandits provided covering fire to slow it down. She managed to drop and decapitate the monster just as the second beast turned up. In a fierce battle, she managed to latch onto the creature with her teeth, and discovered that Were-blood flowed through its veins. It was eventually shot, slashed, and drained into submission, and Kieara severed its head. At this point, one of the Raiders who had been digging away the river bank ran up to report that the tunnel under the tower was flooding. Kieara ran inside and headed up, locating the Baron from his distraught cries as the water rushed beneath him. She caught him half in and half out of his coffin, and paralysed him with a stake through the heart. A dishevelled woman, obviously the Baron's blood-slave, tried ineffectually to stop her from killing the Baron. She collapsed in abject misery as Vork turned to ash, and Kieara left the tower to the victorious cheers of the Linden Raiders!

Having destroyed the source of evil, Kieara returned to Linden Town with the Raiders, and left the restructuring of town society up to the inhabitants. She returned once more to her journey, drawing inexorably closer to her vengeance against the Count.

Monday, 28 January 2013

PowerFrame: Revising Mysticism

"Mysticism" is the catch-all term for supernatural effects in PowerFrame, regardless of whether they are caused by magic, miracles, psychic abilities, martial arts, or innate powers. Effects are referred to generically as spells, but they may take on a new flavour depending on the caster - divine revelations, powers, techniques. The original spellcasting system was built on the following principles:
  • Spells have a Level from 1 to 6, which rates their power and difficulty.
  • To successfully Cast a Spell, the Caster must make a Magic Ability roll, with Resistance depending on the Level.
  • You can attempt to Cast any Spell that you know, at any time. Each Spell costs one point of Mana per Casting attempt.
  • The number of Spells a Caster can learn is limited by their Magic Ability, and the Levels of the Spells.

Some Caster types modify these basic principles; some priests, for example, don't learn Spells - they can choose any Spell off a restricted list, defined by their deity. Creatures with Innate Powers usually don't need to spend Mana to activate their effects, although they may need to temporarily spend Endurance instead.

The spell list started out fairly short, but as we played many games over the years, it expanded until it contained over 300 unique spells! When I started working on a new edition, it looked like Advanced Magic, as it was known at the time, would need to be a separate book. This was problematic, as the use of spells to describe some creatures' unusual powers meant that the spell system was already integral to the system. Initially I thought about presenting a stripped-down version in the main rulebook, with just the most commonly used spells. But then, I began thinking about new ways to describe mystical effects.

+Melysa was one of the main contributors to the expanding spell list. We'd often make lesser or greater versions of a spell by adding restrictions or extra features. Each bonus or drawback was worth about a Level, but basic Levels themselves were determined arbitrarily, by comparison with existing spells. The basic array of damage-dealing spells was the most uniform example of this:
  • Level 1: Ignite - Sets fire to one target at range.
  • Level 2: Fire Bolt - Deals damage and sets fire to one target at long range.
  • Level 3: Fire Breath - Deals damage and sets fire to everyone in a cone projected from the Caster.
  • Level 4: Fire Storm - Deals damage and sets fire to everyone in a radius around the Caster.
  • Level 5: Fire Blast - Deals damage and sets fire to everyone in a radius around a point at long range from the Caster.

That progression was repeated for various different elemental effects - acid, poison, wind, and so on. I realised that spells like this could be broken down into their component elements, and then rebuilt in a much wider variety of configurations. This would not only increase the range of spells that could be described, but would also take up fewer pages!


Parameters form the framework that defines the space and time that the spell operates in. Four types of Parameter define how long it takes to cast the spell, at what distance from the caster it takes effect, what area is affected, and how long the effects last.

Parameters are written in curly brackets and/or italics.

Major Arcana

Major Arcana form the core of a spell, defining its actual mechanical effects. Major Arcana define the basic syntax of a spell, by defining which Parameters can and can't be used with it, and by specifying required or optional Minor Arcana (see below). 

Major Arcana are usually written in all CAPITALS.

A Spell may usually only contain one Major Arcana, but there are exceptions. My first draft attempted to say "you can string together multiple Major Arcana if you want, in any combination" because there were some old spells that had this sort of structure, but it became too complex and difficult to adjudicate. Instead, there are some limited circumstances where certain specific Major Arcana can be used together.

Minor Arcana

While Parameters define the where and when, and the Majo Arcana defines the how, Minor Arcana provide the what, specifying the subject of a spell. Not all Major Arcana require a Minor Arcana, although some need more than one, and some are optional.

For example, the DAMAGE Major Arcana provides the syntax DAMAGE [damage-type] (condition). Square brackets list required Minor Arcana (you have to specify what sort of damage it does), and those in parentheses are optional (you can choose to also inflict a condition such as Acid, Burn, or Prone).

Minor Arcana are written in all lowercase.

Spell Resistance

Each spell fragment has a Resistance, which indicates its casting difficulty. It's a simple matter of adding together all the relevant Resistances to get a total Resistance - the number that needs to be beaten with a Magic roll to successfully cast the spell. This value can be converted into an old-style Spell Level, for ease of use with some of the variant caster types.

This is not to be confused with the Resistance roll that targets may be able to make to resist the spell's effect, although in practice the two are similar; if a target gets a Resistance that's equal to or higher than the Magic roll, then the spell fails to affect them.

Spell Syntax
So that old Fire Breath spell now looks like this:

Action:limited, Range: touch, Area:cone1, Duration:instant DAMAGE energy BURN: Spell Resistance 5 (Level 3)

In fact, apart from Ignite which just uses BURN by itself as the Major Arcana, all of those example spells use "DAMAGE energy BURN", but with different Parameters.

Arcane Academy

We're about to launch a mini-campaign to test out the new spellcasting system. We'll be seeing if there are any problems assembling or interpreting spells, or if any Arcana need to be reclassified, broken down, merged, rewritten or removed, or if we need to make new ones to fill any gaps in the repertoire. Reports of that campaign will be filed under the Arcane Academy label.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Skyship Islands 1

Rohin's begun a new campaign as a fresh 2013 start for one of our groups. I wasn't present when the others brainstormed the game setting, but we've ended up with a fantasy world of mostly tropical islands (some flying), with several large continental civilisations nearby. All of our characters have some sort of investment in the journals of an archaeologist who explored the archipelago; he has died or disappeared, along with most of his apprentice collaborators. Many journal fragments are lost or scattered around the world, each containing fragmentary clues as to the location of a great ruin.
  • +Andrew is playing Inigo Yonez, a Dwarven archaeologist.
  • +Melysa is playing Annona, a Jungle Elf shaman.
  • I'm playing Zanne, the Human captain of a small skyship. As a trader, her main motivations are to protect her ship and crew (Reno the engineer and Matis the sailor), make money, and discover the fate of one of her relatives who wrote some of the journal fragments. 
This blog series will be presented as Zanne's captain's log.

By combining our current knowledge, we were able to glean the location of a treasure that would lead us to another journal fragment. It was concealed in a giant ruined fort on an isolated island, which is now home to a large tribe of goblins.

We flew in by skyship under cover of morning fog. Reno and Matis took the ship aloft to avoid potential goblin arrows, and we proceeded on foot. We entered the ruins via a sandy pit that led into a tunnel, although we had to fight our way through a colony of giant crabs. Beyond, the passage began to show signs of stonework, although at one point the floor was little more than a crust of powdery sandstone. We determined the solid areas and proceeded to a great, heavy door leading into the ruins proper.

Inside, we heard the sounds of goblin activity nearby - they seemed to be camped rather than patrolling. We eventually decided to take them by surprise and negotiate from a position of strength. In return for a good supply of crab meat, and our assurances that we weren't there to kill anyone or take the place over, they allowed us to search the ruins - so long as we did not stray too far.

With our way clear, it was a simple matter to locate the gem in its concealed wall-space and depart. The gem has directed us to a desolate island a couple of weeks' travel to the South, where we'll find the journal fragment concealed behind the third eye of the statue of a yellow god in an abandoned temple, once home to a cult of life and death. We'll stop off at a nearby port to take on supplies before flying into the the heart of a blasted wasteland, rumoured to be rife with the undead...

Thursday, 24 January 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.2

  • Barb plays a Brainer called Marsh, a creepy psychic concealed in androgynous medical-wear.
  • Rohin plays a Gunlugger called Keeler, a wild-eyed scarred man with a collection of firearms and the skills to use them.
  • +Paul wplays a Savvyhead called LaFayette, a somewhat kooky young woman with a greater affinity for machinery than people.

Keeler, Marsh and LaFayette sought an audience with Raccaro, the Tower's 'holder. The guards at the gate gave them a hard time, but let them in under armed watch. In the courtyard, they noticed that there were many more armed people than last time - it looked like the Tower was recruiting and gearing up for action. Raccaro agreed to see them if they disarmed first; Keeler left his ganger, Spatula, in the jeep with a machinegun to make sure their property was still there when they got back.

Raccaro received them in his audience chamber, seated upon an antique, ornately carved, high-backed chair with loose stuffing. The leader of the Tower forces is a man in his thirties, with a mane of long curly auburn hair, small round tinted glasses, and an impressive russet-coloured overcoat. The characters were under constant armed guard. Keeler spilled the beans about the river contamination and its effect on the Barrier Siltway. They pointed out that, as Hackney Marsh is north of the river, it was Raccaro's responsibility to deal with the contamination. After some posturing and wrangling, Raccaro agreed to check out the marsh. He also attempted to recruit Keeler to his cause; he claimed that it was Prim's duty to look after the farm, and his duty to go forth and acquire new farms. However, Keeler refused due to still being under contract to work for Prim. Marsh cast aspersions on Raccaro's intentions and usefulness, and was generally annoying, so Raccaro kicked them out.

Next, Keeler pulled his entire gang together, and along with Marsh and LaFayette they formed a convoy to explain the contamination to the people at the Siltway, and offer to take them in as refugees. However, just past Dog Island they saw the telltale dust-cloud of a Siltway raiding group. Keeler quickly arrayed his gang around a "killing field" and waited until the Siltway slave raiders were inside before opening up. Apart from disabling their lead jeep, the raiders suffered no major casualties. Keeler's guys attacked with such speed and ferocity that the raiders' convoy was stopped dead in its tracks, demoralised and surrounded, despite outnumbering their attackers.

Keeler negotiated with their lieutenant, explaining about the poisoned river and offering to take them in as refugees if they'd help in an attack against Raccaro. Fed up with their leader, Newton, who was insisting on maintaining an increasingly untenable position at the Siltway, the slavers agreed to the deal.

Next time, it looks like Keeler and the gang will be mounting an assault on the Tower in an attempt to topple Raccaro. Marsh has been itching to take Prim down for some time now because she's made some calls Marsh doesn't agree with, and there may soon be a perfect opportunity. LaFayette has several projects on the go, but I'm not sure if she'll get the chance to finish any of them in the middle of a turf war.

Even after probably more than half a dozen sessions, I'm still spending a lot of time analysing whether something counts as a Move for the PCs or not, and still don't seem to be able to keep all of the MC Moves in my head. I either end up forgetting to use anything unusual, or I spend ages poring over the list to see if I can find something interesting to do, which tends to disrupt the flow of the game. I also worry that I may be making uninteresting choices or accidentally shutting things down instead of opening them up.

I've let the players know they shouldn't think in terms of Moves all that much (although many of the Playbook Moves do kind of require direct engagement), but just explain what they want to achieve and how they want to go about it. Last session I kept having little brain-flashes when a Move was called for, but not so much this time... I think maybe there wasn't that much Move-worthy stuff going on, just lots of people talking and making decisions according to their natural tendencies.

I also think I need to provide more non-combat stuff for people to deal with, since it's mainly only Keeler getting to make rolls during large engagements at the moment. I really need to flesh out the holding's population and work on some other pressures and concerns.

That said, I think everyone's enjoying the game, and that's the main thing!

>>> Session 2013.3

Saturday, 19 January 2013

My Gaming Odyssey Begins!

Welcome to my humble roleplaying game blog!

When I was at university in the 90's, I played and ran a lot of different roleplaying games. Around 1996 I started working on my own game, "PowerFrame" - and I didn't look at any other games for over a decade. In fact, I pretty much missed the entire "indie RPG" boom. Around 2010 I discovered The Forge and, and began to rediscover what was going on in the hobby. After a lot of reading and intellectual "wandering in the desert", I decided to spend a year trying out a variety of new, innovative systems.

This blog will serve a few purposes:
  • I've been developing, writing, and playing my own game "PowerFrame" for a long while now, and I want to keep a record of the development process.
  • I'd like to go back and analyse the games we played during my 2012 odyssey, and reflect on how I and my players found them. I'll also be posting our impressions of any new games we try.
  • On and off, I've been writing session reports of the games I've been running and playing in. It'll be handy to record them in one place and link to them, rather than copy-pasting them across various sites.

Edited to add:

I just discovered I can massively back-date posts! Since a lot of my initial content is going to be archived or recalled material from the last couple of years, I'll date posts according to when they happened, not when I actually published the blog entry.

So, 19 Jan 2013 is when I started the blog. Any posts dated before then are from my archives!

Monday, 14 January 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.1

I ran our first Apocalypse World session for 2013 on the 14th of January. It's been a couple of months since we last played, so it took a while for everyone to remember what was going on!

  • Barb plays a Brainer called Marsh, a creepy psychic concealed in androgynous medical-wear.
  • Rohin plays a Gunlugger called Keeler, a wild-eyed scarred man with a collection of firearms and the skills to use them.
  • +Paul wplays a Savvyhead called LaFayette, a somewhat kooky young woman with a greater affinity for machinery than people.

Over on G+, Seth Blumberg suggested I should have given out "Love Letters" to provide some impetus after the break - you get the players to roll and pick some random stuff that's happened with their characters during the down-time. I'd forgotten about the concept, since I only read that page once several months ago and promptly forgot about it. I'm keeping the idea in mind, though - if one of my players doesn't turn up to a session, they'll find a "Love Letter" waiting for them when they get back.

The group's working for a holding based in the Tower Bridge in the middle of London, which is allied with a holding based in the Tower of London itself. Last year they were mostly concerned about marauding bikies from the Brick Field, slave raiders from the Barrier Siltway holding (who were on a "recruitment drive" because their workforce was dying of a mystery illness), and that the Tower's holder looked like they may have plans to fully annexe the Bridge or start a war.

This session they uncovered another problem. A large number of giant rats (about 2 feet long, not including the tail) started swimming upriver past the Bridge, almost certainly fleeing Dog Island for some reason. Many of them bolstered the local food-pots.

The three PCs drove with some of Keeler's gangers on an expedition to the east to see if they could scout out the Siltway, but as they neared Dog Island they noticed a large number of dead rats, both in the river and on the bank. LaFayette tested the water, and discovered it contained a toxin. Keeler took a look at some of the dead rats, to find they'd been bleeding from the soft tissues and vomiting before death. LaFayette spotted an ancient water filtration plant on Dog Island, but getting to it would require a boat, or a swim across the poisonous water. They abandoned the Siltway plan, and headed back upriver, finding that the toxin became weaker as they moved back upstream - it hadn't reached the Bridge yet.

LaFayette stayed behind at the tower to find or build a boat and analyse the water samples, while Keeler and Marsh crossed to the north bank to check the river on the other side. The contamination was about the same, until they reached the brackish, overgrown streams flowing into the river from Hackney Marsh. Keeler made Rover, a captured slaver from the Barrier Siltway, wade into the mud to secure a sample of the water. The toxin levels were several times higher than those seen in the river. On the way back to the Bridge, Rover started vomiting blood, so Keeler shot and abandoned him in case he was infectious.

LaFayette couldn't find the materials to make a boat, and had even less luck trying to co-opt the only river-craft she did find. Overnight, she confirmed that the contaminant is chemical, not biological, so there's little chance it's contagious. It seems that some sort of toxic waste is leeching into Hackney Marsh and contaminating the river. Because the Thames Barrier was closed before the end of the world, it's built up a massive silt deposit that makes for great farmland, but has also caused the river to rise and slow. So, the contamination is slowly spreading upstream, and will eventually affect the Bridge's farmland, leading to sickness and death as seen at the Siltway.

They're working on a plan to get the Tower to deal with the toxic leak, while they assimilate refugees from the Barrier, and use their extra numbers to take over the Tower before it takes over the Bridge. Hopefully the Brickheads will hold back on their attacks until everything's under control!


>>> Session 2013.2