Wednesday, 27 February 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.5

We actually played on Monday 25th Feb, but I've been a bit slack about writing it up. We've sort of reached the end of a chapter, so we're going to be taking a break from Apocalypse World for a little while.
  • 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.

Having met up with Keeler's forces, Marsh explained to the twenty or so guys that had come from the Bridge (along with Chack, prim's right-hand man) that Prim had authorised them to take over the Tower. Marsh then declared Chack to be a rogue element, and made a horrible example of him. The new guys had no love of Raccaro and the Tower, so they didn't really object to the plan.

The small army returned to the Bridge. Keeler and half the guys hid out in the ruined city nearby, while Marsh, LaFayette, and the other half went into the Bridge holding. LaFayette returned to her workshop to install some newly-acquired medical equipment in preparation for the impending battle.

Marsh took Spatula and III (the Barrier Siltway lieutenant) up to see Prim, ostensibly to explain the situation. However, it was really just a ruse to assassinate Prim. Marsh puppet-stringed Prim's bodyguard, who shot her before being gunned down himself. Keeler took the gunfire as the signal to move in with the rest of the gang.

Marsh rallied the crowd with tales that Prim had been shot down by a Tower spy, and got quite a nice bunch of poorly-equipped bridge-dwellers to swell their ranks. Marsh's forces swarmed out of the Bridge's north gate and began heading down the causeway to the Tower's fortified entrance. Unfortunately this area was a bit of a killing field; some of the civilians were mown down, and most of the rest were routed. While this was all going on, Marsh had returned to the Bridge to seek medical attention for the psychic poison experienced earlier.

Keeler led his pack across the bridge, his heavily-armed jeeps riding roughshod over the Bridge's market area. Their heavy machineguns opened up on the Tower wall, forcing the defenders to keep their heads down as Keeler gunned his motorbike straight for the front gate with his gangers chanting "Door-Buster!" after him. He single-handedly slew the defenders through their own gun ports and used his shotgun to blow the bar holding the gate.

Once Keeler's gang flooded the Tower courtyard, it was nothing but a bloody stand-up battle. However, once more, Keeler's gang received virtually no damage thanks to their superior armour and leadership, slaughtering or routing the defenders.

We didn't actually play through to the bitter end, partly because the odds were so heavily in Keeler's favour, and partly because only Keeler was actually actively doing things at this stage. I guess it's following the game's advice to sometimes elide the action.

Fundamentally though, the session's energy had pretty much died by this stage. I'd had a bad day at work, and my brain wasn't up to much. +Paul was also pretty tired, and I think was experiencing increasing frustration due to a disconnect between what he thought LaFayette should be about, and what Apocalypse World thinks Savvyheads are about.

It seems like Paul wants LaFayette to be a Weird MECHANIC, whereas Savvyheads are pretty much WEIRD Mechanics. Sure, they can build things, but as Paul pointed out there's no dice-rolling involved. If he can't roll dice, he can't gain Experience. Most of their Moves, which you actually roll for, are only incidentally related to equipment. They are, in effect, more like an oracle than a technomancer. He also observed that Apocalypse World doesn't work well for playing "support characters," although I'm not sure that's really true. I suspect it's more of a misunderstanding about the type of support a Savvyhead's intended to provide.

Apocalypse World only makes you roll dice when something's at stake, and when something could go badly wrong. From that point of view, there's not much point rolling to build stuff unless you're open to a catastrophic failure every time you do it. The system's more interested in the social consequences of actions, which is why Savvyheads' rolled Moves are full of divination and advice.

Every time Paul tried to buy a new Savvyhead Move, he was disappointed by its true nature.

He thought Augury would give LaFayette a psychic antenna that would allow her to affect machinery and electronics at a distance, through the psychic maelstrom. In actuality, it's a tool for manipulating the vaguely-defined maelstrom itself. On reflection, I suppose "insert information into the world's psychic maelstrom" could include instructions for machinery.

After adding life-support equipment to LaFayette's workspace, he expected to be able to make "medical rolls" on injured characters. When I explained that there really aren't any healing rolls for non-Angel characters, and certainly not on people who aren't critically injured, it was yet another thing that didn't actually provide an avenue for rolling and gaining experience.

Things Speak was about the closest he had to what he wanted, but even then he was only interested in how to repair things rather than finding out peripheral information.

Paul wasn't with us when we first started the game, and LaFayette's always been fairly peripheral to events just because she's not really a combat-happy character and Keeler is such a force of nature. I suspect the issues may be partly due to a misapprehension of the character type, and partly because of not reading rules-fragments (augury, healing) that were in different playbooks. It's also partly my fault as MC for not having total mastery over all the playbooks; I've basically left it up to the players to be the authority on what their guys can do, because they have most of the specific rules in front of them.

I've started making some notes on a custom playbook - the Scavvy. It shares some mechanical similarities with the Savvyhead and the Driver (primary Stats are Sharp, with a side-order of Weird). It's about improvised gear, jury-rigging stuff in the field, and a little bit of technopathy. If we play London Calling again, I'll suggest we change LaFayette to a character type more suited to Paul's intentions.

Until then, Raccaro and Prim have been replaced with Keeler and Marsh...

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Skyship Islands 2

This session we had two new members who hadn't played PowerFrame before.
  • Alice plays Amarylis, a female Centaur barbarian with a warhammer and an attitude.
  • Michael plays Engrin, a quiet male Human rogue armed with a crossbow.
  • +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. 

We met up with the new PCs shortly after the beginning of the session.

We reached the island after many days of travel. It was once said to be lush like the surrounding islands, but through some misadventure of the cult of life and death, it had been turned into a barren wasteland, and was now no more than a vast desert with a mountain in the centre. The heart of this mountain held our next destination, and a fragment of the journal.

As we neared the mountain, we were threatened by a massive sandstorm rolling in from the North. Rather than running past our destination and returning in the lee of the mountain, I made a snap decision to save time and pilot the ship into the shelter of a canyon on the closer slopes. We just managed to ride ahead of the storm, and pulled into a tranquil gorge as the storm raged overhead. Reno waited until now to tell me that he'd sighted the masts of a ship, possibly a pirate, moored on a cove on the Eastern side of the island.

We spotted two people descending the wall of the canyon along a steep track. We ascertained that they were not pirates, but fellow journal-seekers who had booked passage here on the ship we'd seen. Unfortunately for them, the crew were indeed pirates, and the two explorers had been abandoned. We teamed up together and mounted an expedition to the temple's back entrance, leaving Reno and Matis to look after the ship.

The path up the cliff wall led to where the canyon narrowed to just a few metres across, with both walls towering above us. We discovered a large group of pirates camped on the canyon floor, just near a cave that was the back entry to the temple. We tried to ambush them, but it quickly turned into a stand-up fight. The pirates were eventually defeated, but the last of their number ran into the cave...

>>> Session 3

The Complex: Episode 1

I burned my brain out yesterday running the first session of Smallville: The Complex (after creating characters during Pathways a couple of weeks ago). After a big night's sleep, I am finally ready to start thinking about writing an actual play post. The session went for five hours all up, although I had some technical hitches with Hangout for the first half hour (and needed to install Chrome instead of using Safari), and +Lloyd's connection started playing up in the last hour. I think about the last 45 minutes was wrapping things up, Tag Scenes and Growth, and discussing the session.

I was worried my prep was a bit vague and wouldn't take up the scheduled three to four hours, but on top of our technical hitches there was a lot of rules-explaining and carefully walking through procedures for Contests and the like. Sarah was a no-show, so I had to re-work a couple of plot elements involving Zoe. As we started running low on time, I had to cut out a few things I was planning to introduce, but it's fine - I can re-work them for a later Episode.

Episode 1: Priorities

Starring (in alphabetical order):
  • +Lloyd Gyan as Aki Enoki, a Japanese grad student on a gap year in Australia.
  • +David Miessler-Kubanek as Tony Pearson, the apartment's maintenance man, and an ex-hacker from California.
  • +Steve Moore as Takeshi Sekiguchi, a retired Japanese hitman whose Penthouse apartment takes up the entire top floor.
Produced and Directed by Craig Judd.

At the Shogun Japanese Karaoke Restaurant, Aki and Aomo are out for a night of singing. Aki gets harassed by a drunk; Aomo is useless, but luckily Takeshi is standing at the bar. He grabs the drunk's shoulder and wheels him around, sitting him down and giving him a beer to distract him. Aki and Takeshi strike up a conversation, with Aomo (who knows both of them) acting as a social intermediary. Takeshi has a sudden niggling premonition of flowing water...

Late at night on the way home from Casey's Pub, Tony sees Zoe, who is scared she's being followed by a couple of thugs in suits. Tony calms her and escorts her home, then goes out to find the stalkers - but they have disappeared. 

Takeshi returns home to discover the Penthouse is flooding from a burst pipe in the kitchen. He puts in a call to Tony, the maintenance man.

When Tony gets back home he senses the ancient yet childlike presence of The Complex entity, which he has named Sheila. She tells him that "something's missing..." and wanders away again. Before he can follow and ask her what's missing, he gets that phone-call from Takeshi and has to organise his plumbing tools.

Aki's writing a blog post on her balcony when she hears a loud argument from the apartment next door. Although she doesn't like to cause a scene, she steels herself to go knock on their door. As she enters the hall, Tony belts up the stairs with his tools. She asks him for help, but he's torn between duties and thinks Aki's just being useless. In the end he quickly bangs on the door and tells them to keep it down, then runs upstairs again. Aki manages to duck back inside before the argumentative door is opened.

After a couple of Tests against Extras, this was our first actual Contest between Leads. Aki asked for help, and Tony said she should deal with it herself. Aki Challenged her "It's my DUTY to be useful to friends and family d12" because she was actually trying to impose her sense of duty on someone else. Against a slew of d12's, Tony didn't have much chance; he became Insecure d12, but Lloyd chose not to Stress him Out of the scene.

It underscored early on that Smallville's core mechanics get involved right in the thick of the roleplaying. What would normally be an in-character conversation in most other games is punctuated by dice-rolling. As I said at the end of the session, a game like Savage Worlds is all about skirmish combat - it has lots of rules for combat, measurements and miniatures and so on, so most of the dice rolling happens during combat. Smallville is about arguments, so there are rules for resolving arguments, and you mostly roll dice during disagreements. Instead of considering tactical options, you have to think about internal motivations and beliefs. It can be a bit of a stumbling block, especially for players used to a more character-immersive style of play, but I hope once the group gets used to the idea the dice will flow as freely as words.

In the Penthouse, Tony discovers that the pipe was apparently forcibly pulled apart or sheared through. Takeshi lets drop that he's put in an offer to buy the building. After that, the complex settled down for the night.

*     *     *

In the morning Tony is stopped by Bruce Longridge, one of the couple who were arguing last night. He's a large, muscular gorilla of a man, with darkly tanned skin and hairy shoulders. He complains that their shower head has broken and is spraying water. Tony sends a message to all residents, and shuts the water off before heading out to buy plumbing supplies.

Aki's working a shift at "Coffee Cigarettes & Cake" (CCC). Takeshi buys some cigarettes and a coffee, and takes a table. Tessa Longridge, one of Aki's arguing neighbours, comes in to buy cigarettes. She's wearing sunglasses, but can't hide a large black eye. Aki sells her the cigarettes cheaply, and Takeshi tries to take her aside to talk... but she protests, and her husband Bruce comes in and sees them together. Bruce takes Tessa outside and Takeshi follows, confronting Bruce and decking him with one punch. However, Tessa doesn't appear grateful, and tries to help Bruce. Takeshi goes back inside to finish his coffee.

Tony arrives back at the apartments and runs into Bob, who's come to see if he wants to buy some jewellery he got off a guy at the pub. He ribs Toy about his "interest" in Zoe, but Tony declines his offer and suggests he try Aki, since Bob likes her. Bob agrees, and heads off to CCC.

Back at CCC, Aki innocently asks Takeshi what his job is. He's caught off-guard and awkwardly explains that he's a retired businessman, which she would have readily accepted... except that she caught a glimpse of one of the pistols inside his jacket. She immediately walked off and ended her shift.

This was an interesting Contest, which Lloyd didn't originally intend to be a Contest, but we talked him into it. Aki was just making conversation, and asked Takeshi what he did for a living. She would have been perfectly happy to buy whatever answer she gave him. Steve and I recognised it as a potential Contest because Takeshi was likely to become stressed by having to come up with a cover story.

While most Contests are initiated by the Lead telegraphing an intent ("Tell me who you really are!"), this was a more subtle and meta-level Contest that was fundamentally initiated by the player. Aki as a character had no idea she was inadvertently subjecting Takeshi to an awkward moment; a Complication on his part led to Aki seeing his handgun. The Contest in this case allowed us to play up the dramatic irony of Aki unwittingly hitting on a dangerous truth. Given that at least two of the Leads have secret identities, I think this sort of Contest is valid and important to allow those characters to show the audience who they are.

Tony investigated the plumbing in a couple of problem apartments. In one, he was watched indifferently by a teenage girl of Arabic extraction who was home alone, and he discovered that a pipe under the bathtub had been pulled out of its fitting even though the floor around it hadn't been disturbed.

As he entered the Longridge apartment to fix their shower head, Tony interrupted a burglar who tried to flee further into the apartment. Tony hit him in the leg with a flung length of metal pipe, but when he chased after the guy he'd apparently vanished into thin air! Tony began to suspect that the burglar had a power that allowed him to travel through water pipes.

Slightly freaked out, Aki was on her way back to the apartment when she ran into Bob in the street. She tried to brush him off, but short Japanese girl vs. lanky Aboriginal man meant he easily kept up with her. He showed her the jewellery, and she immediately recognised it as her own! Bob gave it to her, and said he bought it off a guy in the pub. Aki jumped to the conclusion that Tony must have used his maintenance access key to enter her apartment and take it!

Tony returned to The Dungeon to discuss things with Sheila, who cryptically revealed that since something was missing, some of the prisoners were starting to leak out. Before he could find out more, Aki knocked on his door, demanding an explanation about her stolen items. Tony realised that the burglar he saw must have stolen them, but as he had no proof, he invited her in to discuss the situation. She refused, threatening to go to the police. Before anyone could do anything, however, there was a bang as something in The Dungeon fell over. They ran to Tony's workshop, where the burglar was attempting to bandage his leg with a first-aid kit. He had knocked over a stack of tools. Tony tackled him, and Aki threw something at his head, but the criminal simply phased through the solid concrete floor and disappeared! He left his backpack behind, in which Tony found some other stolen goods, and Aki's laptop.

Takeshi was riding up to the Penthouse in the elevator when he felt the "whump" of a small explosion. He stopped the car and prised the doors open, hearing a door banging and stomping footsteps before he climbed into the hallway. The door to the Longridge apartment was open, with a trail of footprints burned into the hall carpet, leading downstairs. Takeshi discovered the charred body of Bruce Longridge inside the flat, and pursued the arsonist with his guns drawn. He heard a manly voice yelling "WARDEN! WHERE ARE YOU?" - although it sounded like it was spoken by a woman. Leaping down the stairs, he startled the Arabic girl that had been watching Tony earlier, although she looked fairly startled to begin with. Takeshi's age caught up with him, and he didn't manage to catch up with the murderer before they reached the foyer.

Hearing the ruckus and the calls for the Warden, Tony and Aki came up from the Dungeon. In the foyer, they saw Tessa Longridge transformed - her skin was black, charred and cracked, but inside the cracks they saw not blood but a fiery glow. Upon seeing Tony, she unleashed a stream of fire from her mouth. Takeshi finally arrived, aiding Tony by spraying Tessa with bullets. Aki deflected the flaming blast with her force field power, and Tony used a pipe to lever one of the mains pipes off the wall. He was struggling, but then the pipe just sheared through. He saw the Arabic girl hiding in the stairwell, and she'd gestured towards the pipe just as it twisted free. Tessa was engulfed in a deluge of water, apparently exorcising the fiery entity and returning her to her unconscious but normal self. As the water subsided, everyone just kind of looked at each other. The Arabic girl quietly disappeared upstairs.


Tony and Takeshi bonded by disposing of Bruce's body in the building's incinerator, so Tessa wouldn't get in trouble. Tessa was devastated, but Takeshi gave her some financial aid so she could start a new life far, far away.

Takeshi changed his Challenged Value to "JUSTICE by any means."

Aki was pretty shaken up by the whole thing, but she finally has something interesting to write about on her blog that nobody reads. Sitting on her balcony, she decides to get to the bottom of all the weird stuff that's been happening. As she publishes her first post, she stares off into the distance and smiles...

Aki rewrote her Challenged Value to "Everyone has a DUTY to be useful to their family and friends."



Pan down through the foyer, and the Dungeon, and lower still, through concrete and earth, to a sandstone cell beneath the foundations. In the dim light of a mobile phone, the burglar pushes himself desperately against the cold walls, but to no avail. "Why won't it work?!" he wails. "Help! HEEELP!" The camera pulls back, the room a tiny island of light in the middle of a sea of darkness. 

Cut to black.

Next Episode...

David won't be able to join us in a fortnight's time, so I'll be planning an episode that focusses on the fractured relationship between Takeshi and Aki. I'm also planning to involve some connections from beyond The Complex itself, since the building is largely Tony's (David's) domain.

The first session was a blast, and I really enjoyed running it. I'll know next time to not prepare so much stuff! It looks like I can rely on these players to pick up the ball and run with it; they're more than capable of generating their own content.

As the players become more comfortable with the system, I'll be easing off a bit on suggesting when a Contest might be appropriate. It's technically the players' responsibility to call for a Contest, but it's easy to forget in the heat of the moment when you're used to resolving disputes by talking through them in character, with no dice involved.

>>> Preparing Episode 2
>>> Episode 2

Friday, 22 February 2013

The Complex: Preparing Episode 1

Since a lot of people are curious about what goes into preparing and running Smallville, I'd like to talk a bit more about Pathways, and how I've approached the prep-work for the first session.

I think the very premise is key to creating a tightly knit group. After Pathways, our Leads have a shared space (the apartment building) and a shared experience (their newfound powers), but they have no history together. This has been a trend in my two games so far, so I can only theorise, but I think if the PCs had a deeper connection and an established history together, it might be easier for the GM to see the "status quo" and figure out ways to push it out of shape. When the status quo hasn't been established yet, it's harder to see where to push, because we only have vague or first-impression Statements. Maybe in this case I should be concentrating more on Value Statements instead...

I made sure that everyone had a character concept ahead of time, but I think it may be useful to go one step further before hitting Pathways. If everyone also has a solid idea of the Extras and Locations everyone's bringing to the table, then they can tie their characters together in more intimate ways. For example, rather than Odyssey Tech emerging piecemeal through Pathways, we'd know to begin with that the company is an element in play, allowing other players to think of connections ahead of time rather than making random connections on the fly. If someone says "I want my character to be an ex-Odysey employee, hunted by the company", then another player could say "In that case, how about I work for Odyssey Tech?"

General advice for players - in a small group, you pretty much want to aim for having one other Lead be an ally, and one be an antagonist. The roles may change over time, but if you only have allies you won't get involved in many arguments, and if you only have enemies you wont have anyone to help out with Stress recovery.

*     *     *

Okay, so on to actual prep work. I started out by drawing an Episode Map with just the Leads on it, wrote on their current Relationship Statements, and summarised them with a keyword reflecting their opinions. I was a little hampered by having two of Zoe's Statements missing. What I've gleaned so far is a general respect for Takeshi, and general suspicion aimed at Tony. Aki currently has one "affection," one "dismissal," and one "interest" opinion, so she may form the core of something that challenges the standing attitudes.

I also drew up a spreadsheet to summarise the group's conflicting Values. I used larger font sizes for higher dice values, and used a red-orange-blue-green colour code to reflect negative to positive attitudes. So far Truth is the most important shared Value, followed by Justice. These are probably the Values I should aim to provoke Challenges for. While it might be good to Challenge and rewrite a d4 Value, you don't get much in the way of Growth, and you can't actually increase its rating without stepping back a higher Value first.

Since we're going to be fast-tracking the second half of Pathways, one step after each Episode, I should also keep in mind that the loose theme of the Episode should be "Priority" - what is most important to these characters? Perhaps I should consider testing the Leads' highest Value statements - is it more important to Takeshi to keep a dangerous TRUTH concealed, or to administer JUSTICE at the end of a gun? Will Aki choose DUTY to her family and friends over finding her own TRUTH? Can I find a situation that will force Tony to pick between a TRUTH that is not just what he makes it, or admitting that not everyone has a DUTY to pull their own weight?

For a while, I kept trying to knot together a very personal and involved story, but it became increasingly uncertain whether Zoe's player was still participating. Her character sheet still remains unfinished. In the end, rather than stress about it and try to come up with multiple contingencies, I decided to develop a more flexible plot structure. To test priorities, justice, and truth, I came up with a small collection of individual power-users who would cause chaos around the building and give the Leads something to deal with and argue about.

I won't go into specifics since some of their details have yet to be revealed, but my basic process was to come up with a list of things these characters would do, and the order in which they should occur. Once I'd come up with individual lists, I knitted them together into a schedule of likely scenes, and gave some thought to which Leads were required. I sorted the scenes into an order which was not only chronological, but which alternated between Leads to make sure everyone got a fair amount of screen time. The actual situations and Leads required some flexibility of application during the actual game, as I had to adapt to changing circumstances, but for the most part such a schedule acts as a checklist to make sure you haven't forgotten to drop in something important.

Once that was done, I just needed to write some details for the Extras (Rating and Specialties) and Features. I used the Quick and Dirty Features guidelines from The Watchtower Report to stat out a one-shot antagonist, and made some rough notes for The Complex Feature; I'll make sure she adds up nicely at a later date.

Normally I'd make a little reminder list of the conflicts I'm trying to push in a particular episode, but this one ended up being more general. So long as I was pushing for people to question their Justice and Truth, that was pretty much it. Putting people in situations where they had to choose between one thing or another was also desirable.

>>> Episode 1

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Smallville Resources

A while ago, I posted some resources for my SamuraiVille and piccoLaguna hacks. Since I'm just gearing up to run an online Smallville game, The Complex, I thought I'd share some more general Smallville resources I put together. These are of course offered for general use, no strings attached, since I don't have any connection to Margaret Weis Productions.

Pathways Worksheet

Because I've had players try to race ahead or go back and change their minds, I made a Pathways Worksheet to keep track of choices during character creation. This also lets Watchtower audit the sheet and make sure the player's taken the right number of steps. I combined this with an online character sheet, which I could also post if there's any interest!

You put your decision at each stage up the top. Every time you get a new thing, you put its name on the left and put a "1" in the column for the stage you picked it up. Add 1 each time you step something up. The die rating gets calculated automatically (stop when you get to d12!).

PDF Character Sheet

I found that the official character sheets didn't give a lot of room for writing Statements or Specialties, so I created a version with longer lines.

If you space Distinctions and Abilities with two blank lines between them, you can put each Trigger or Special Effect on a separate line.

This is pretty much just an online version of the PDF character sheet, designed for use on Google Drive.

Game Mechanic To-Do List

A simple checklist of Smallville's mechanical functions, designed as an aide for those who want to learn the ins and outs of the system. Once you've done all of these and understand how they work, you pretty much know all of the mechanical functions of the system (let me know if I missed any)!

Monday, 18 February 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.4

It was a very hot day today, but my place was relatively cool enough to allow thought and gameplay. We had a full house tonight, with all three players present. The PCs were all at the recently conquered Barrier Siltway holding.
  • 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.

LaFayette headed out into the poisoned fields to survey the Barrier and see if she could find a way to open it up and restore the river flow to drain away the toxic waste. She was accompanied by Marsh, and Keeler sent along a few gangers to look out for them. LaFayette opened her brain to search for a solution to the drainage problem, and discovered the pylons between barrier plates were mostly hollow. She figured that demolishing a couple would make at least one dam plate fall away, causing a silt-slide and opening up a drainage channel.

Meanwhile, Marsh noticed two of Keeler's gangers, Last and Twice, acting aggressively towards III. Apparently there was still some tension between the Bridge gang and the newly-absorbed Siltway raiders. Marsh touched Last on the arm and strongly suggested (on pain of psychic death) he and Twice go find sledgehammers and knock down one of the pylons.

Keeler was finishing up mounting the Barrier's heavy machineguns to his jeeps when Twice and Last came back looking for hammers. Curious what was going on, he followed them out to the fields and met LaFayette and Marsh coming back. They discussed plans to improve drainage, and all returned to the holding because LaFayette had realised it was probably part of the original Barrier system, and might connect to the pylons by underground access tunnels.

Marsh tried to get a read on the situation at the holding, and noticed the tension between the two former rival gangs bubbling below the surface. Marsh tried opening their brain to identify any impending threats to this holding, but an unfortunate fumble resulted in a mysterious case of toxic waste poisoning. Marsh decided to return to the Bridge with Spatula to seek medical attention. The experience was taken as a premonition that maybe the water table had been poisoned. Marsh also eventually released their hold over Last, and he and Twice gave up their hopeless task.

Keeler and LaFayette discovered a hatch leading to a storage cellar, and an access tunnel which led to the base of the first Barrier pylon. The tunnel further on had collapsed, but they were able to climb the inside of the tower and lever open an unused door at the top, which Keeler plans to use as a back door if they ever need to retake the holding. LaFayette was eager to return to the Bridge to install some newly-acquired medical gear, so the entire gang mounted up and drove back to the West.

Meanwhile, Marsh had arrived back at the Bridge. After a brief visit to the nurse (and rejecting the offer of debilitating narco-stabs), Marsh went to pay a visit to Prim, claiming that the raid on the Siltway had gone well, but that they needed more manpower to drain the poisoned river. Despite Prim's conservative nature, Marsh was persuasive, and Prim gave the go-ahead for a dozen men so long as they were back in a day or two. Marsh provided assurance of this, then went and puppet-stringed Chack, taking twenty men in a convoy of motley vehicles. Marsh threw up, taking more Harm but clearing the psychic poison from their system.

Marsh met up with Keeler and LaFayette around Dog Island, with an hour or more until sunset. They plan to return to the Bridge in force, although they have yet to decide whether to take over the Bridge or the Tower first.

So, their total forces number around fifty, but they are from various factions - the Bridge farm guards who became loyal to Keeler, the Siltway slave-raiders who were persuaded to join, and Marsh's newly-acquired Bridge guards. It's questionable where some loyalties lie, but even if the Bridge guys acquired under false pretences don't want to join up, they are at least isolated and outnumbered, and their departure has depleted the Bridge's defences.

As long as they decide on a plan, next session should finally see them attempt to conquer the Tower or the Bridge, or both!

>>> Session 2013.5

Monday, 11 February 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.3 Intermission

Barb, Rohin and I met up tonight, but instead of a regular session we engaged in a little Apocalypse World-Building. Since it'd got to the point that Barb was wondering what the rest of the world was like, we decided to flesh it out a bit more. Our first session hadn't been all that informative about life in post-apocalypse London and beyond. With a little flavour and context established by our playtime so far, we started looking around at the world beyond the characters' immediate concerns.

Barb made a short list of questions to start things off. Marsh is 31, favourite food is dandelions, prized useless possession is a dejected Rubix cube. Marsh thinks there was no apocalypse; it's always been this way! Keeler's 33, likes to eat rats, possesses a tin whistle for sentimental reasons, and thinks that the old governments were somehow responsible for the apocalypse.

Last time, I'd asked both of them to come up with an NPC each, someone they knew at the Bridge holding. These didn't end up being defined until last thing tonight, but Barb had done a stellar job developing some back-story for her Brainer, Marsh.

Marsh's father was a doctor named Stimmon who took advantage of a woman and ended up keeping her in an abusive relationship. Marsh's elder sister Chester was much older, and died somehow... Chester's friend Edenbra works with a gang of scavengers in Central London; Edenbra resents Marsh for not being closer to Chester when she was alive, even though Marsh was just a child at the time.

Marsh eventually fled the abusive family situation by joining up with a gang that Dr. Stimmon was working for. From there, Marsh drifted from gang to gang, but always remained on the outskirts and never really fitted in. In time, Marsh developed a reputation and became widely known, but has never made any close friends or lasting connections.

Keeler, on the other hand, seems to have started life on the barges plying trade up and down the Thames and old canal network, and has literally drifted to the Bridge. Beyond the city, the hinterlands seem to be in reasonable ecological shape, although England is warmer and drier now than in the Golden Age. The barges are pulled upstream mostly by cattle, or by teams of harnessed slaves. Civilisation beyond London seems to be similar to that in the city - fortified and isolated Dark-Ages holdings separated by wilderness where nomadic tribes and raiders roam. Travel is dangerous, and Keeler got an early start manning a mounted machinegun on his family's barge.

We decided Keeler needed someone to get his copious quantities of bullets off, so we created an armourer called Dustwich who has a shop in the Bridge's North Tower. She can be abrasive at first, because nobody much respects the craftsmanship required to make bullets these days, but Keeler appreciates her work so they have a reasonable trading relationship. He brings her various scrap metals she can use to make ammo and repair weapons.

Although Barb had already created many NPCs, most of them were now dead, and none of them lived at the Bridge. She came up with Roger, a hairdresser whose only tool is a straight razor, and whose only style is a clean-shaven head. Marsh uses his services to keep a smooth scalp. He otherwise works to keep the hold free of head-lice.

>>> Session 2013.4

Arcane Academy: First Lesson

I ran a brief test for PowerFrame's new approach to mysticism yesterday. It only went for a couple of hours, but worked fairly well so far.

  • +Andrew played Bractus, a water-themed sorcerer.
  • +Melysa played Nadia, a mind-controlling sorcerer.
  • Rohin played Zarhell, an archer using enchanted arrows.

The student sorcerers were sent into a dark tunnel, with the briefing "get out a different way than you went in." The tunnel led into a large cylindrical chamber, 20 metres across, the floor of which was a pool of water 10 metres deep. Six tall, sheer, stone columns rose 10 metres out of the water in a circle in the middle of the pool, forming stepping-stones between two ledges at the same height on opposite sides of the chamber. Both of the ledges led into tunnels, but one was closed off by a barred gate.

Arcane Academy: Assignment 1 Map

Bractus used a couple of spells right away to allow himself to breathe water and swim faster. He scouted out the deep pool, easily evading a slow aquatic lizard and discovering an underwater tunnel in one of the far corners. He surfaced to guide the others through.

Meanwhile, Zarhell fired a couple of arrows at some lizards that were perched on columns or ledges, but didn't have much effect. He set one on fire, but it dove into the water. Nadia used a "suggestion" spell to command one of the lizards to help her across the pool. When it looked like Zarhell might be in trouble, she cast an area-effect version and persuaded all three lizards to help her.

At the tunnel entrance, Bractus cast a spell that allowed anyone adjacent to him to also breathe water, and began to lead the group through the tunnel. Since the lizards had helped Nadia across the pool, the command spell expired and she tried to suggest they ignore the group instead. Unfortunately her spell failed, and the lizards began attacking her on the way through the tunnel!

The group began fighting the lizards as they surfaced, and discovered that the corridor curved around and up to reach one of the ledges at the side of the pool. Nadia found a lever in the wall, which opened the gate on the other side, from which an armed homunculus emerged. She began leaping from pillar to pillar, but failed her second jump and landed back in the pool below.

At that point, Rohin had to go home, so we called an end to the lesson. Most of the characters were running low on Mana and Fortune, and they'd had very little success in neutralising the lizards (let alone the homunculi who had just been released). I think their instructor will probably call an end to the exercise there, although they can press on if they really want to. They may have better luck on a new run-through after some additional training.

The spell system itself worked fairly well, although I need to make sure I've explained clearly in the rules how Reserve spells work when they affect targets other than the caster. Normally, Duration:reserve must be paired with Range:self, and such a spell only affects others while they are inside the affected area. To place a spell on a target and have them be affected at any distance once cast, you need to use durationX to specify a number of Turns.

Andrew had several spells fully written up for Bractus with Parameters and Resistances already worked out; these were very simple to use, and also to modify. If he wanted to take longer to cast them, or increase the area, it was a simple matter of modifying the Resistance accordingly.

Rohin had a selection of equipment with pre-made spells Imbued into them, which also worked fine. Melysa had not assembled any spells as yet, so we had to make some quick calculations when the two of them wanted to cast new spells. With four Parameters and the Major and Minor Arcana, calculating spell Resistance on the fly does take a little work counting on your fingers, but it could be worse. It's certainly a lot easier to start with a fully-assembled spell and tweak it according to your current needs, than to build a spell from scratch every time.

On a couple of instances, Spells with Range:touch failed because they require an Unarmed vs Avoid roll to actually touch the intended Target. A miss means the spell fails and the Mana is wasted. I remember this being particularly annoying when I played AD&D 2nd Ed in the 90's, especially when you have a poor ability to hit and failure wastes resources, so I'm going to revise this rule. Range:touch spells will automatically affect Targets at a range of one Hex, which brings them in line with Spells that operate at range or in an area. I'll probably change the descriptor "touch" to "close." Time will tell if there are any unintended consequences of this new ruling.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Complex Episode 0: Pathways

I've been persuaded to run a Smallville game online, using Google Hangouts! Over the last couple of weeks we've been using a private Community on Google+ to discuss character concepts and the basic structure of the game, and yesterday we ran through Pathways!

This was my first time participating in a Hangout with more than one other person, and it turned out my tablet was not up to the challenge. I ended up having to use Hangout on my Mac, but without a webcam I was limited to audio only. It worked out OK in the end, but I'll definitely be investing in a webcam and a proper headset before Episode 1.

The setting is modern day. On Australia's Gold Coast, there is an apartment complex which is gathering people with strange powers... or perhaps, the building is a catalyst causing these powers to manifest. It does appear that The Complex itself is an entity of some sort, with its own agenda. The game will run fortnightly for about four sessions, and then we'll see whether we want to continue or wrap it up.

We ended up with four Leads:
  • Sarah plays Zoe Elliott, a former researcher for Odyssey Tech in Britain, who fled the company after discovering they were performing strange occult rituals. She's hiding from them while investigating their Australian operations.
  • +Lloyd plays Aki Enoki, a graduate student of Biological Anthropology from Japan. She decided to take a gap year after spending her whole life living up to other people's expectations, and a friend suggested she visit Australia.
  • +Steve plays Takeshi Kitano, an ageing, retired hitman with a heart of gold who used to do freelance work for the Yakuza and others. He's trying to lie low, but his big heart may drag him back into the fray as he finds people worthy of his protection.
  • +David plays Tony Pearson, the maintenance man at The Complex, who shares an almost symbiotic relationship with it. He's a former hacker from California, who's hiding out Down Under with an assumed identity.
With one former Pathway session under my belt, things went relatively smoothly (once my technical issues were sorted). We used a shared folder on Google Drive, using spreadsheets as Pathways worksheets and character sheets, a drawing for the Pathways Map, and documents for character concepts, rules and expectations, and a summary of the connections from the Pathway Map.

Unfortunately, there's a lot going on during Pathways, and I failed to realise that Zoe's Extras and Locations were more like antagonists for her than resources to call upon - her former boss from Odyssey Tech who wants her found, an outback facility she doesn't have official access to, and a mysterious glowing entity she's scared of. They're all great story elements, but they don't fill the role of Resources. Normally you'd end up with these sorts of antagonistic connections if one of the other Leads was employed by the company and made these things as their Resources, and you decide that their company is at odds with your Lead.

I've suggested that Sarah reposition Zoe slightly; maybe she's still employed by Odyssey, but has started to realise that things are not quite right. That way she can call on company resources while investigating them from within. Perhaps the glowing entity has been forced upon her as a sort of guardian, so even if she doesn't want it or understand it, it might turn up and help her sometimes.

Episode 1 will be in a couple of weeks, so I have a while to sort out final details with the players and wait for some plot possibilities to percolate through my brain. Running Pathways again was a blast, if somewhat draining, and I have a great group who all showed up on time and demonstrated enthusiasm and engagement with the game. Thanks guys!

I'm not one to act as a corporate shill, but from conception to recruitment, discussion, actual play, and even blogging about it, this entire game has utilised Google's amazing suite of free web products. While it would have been possible to organise otherwise, using all of Google's interconnected products certainly made it much simpler and more convenient!

>>> Preparing Episode 1

>>> Episode 1

Monday, 4 February 2013

AW: London Calling 2013.3

  • 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.

Before we began, Barb talked to me a little about some minor problems she was having. Because of the morally grey, sandboxy, anything-goes nature of the game, the pressure to make hard decisions, and the fact that so much of the world is undefined, she was finding it mentally taxing on occasion to figure out what to do, or even evaluate their choices properly. I said if she's unsure how part of the setting works, or why something is a certain way, or what might be an appropriate response in a particular situation, that the players should bring it up - either I'll give them an answer, or ask them what they think, and we'll nail down the important stuff as we go. Apocalypse World really encourages the MC to access the versions of the world that exists in the players' heads, rather than using their own version as the only "official" one. The world is very much built by collaboration.

Rohin mentioned at the start of the session about changing marked stats, but when I asked him directly if he wanted to call for a re-marking he didn't say yes, so he missed out on about six XP from running around shooting everything as he had Sharp and Weird marked. We changed it up at the end of the session, and I had him mark XP as a consolation prize.

Having just doubled the size of his gang by bailing up and recruiting the Barrier Siltway's slave raiders, Keeler decided to press on East to see if they could deal with the remainder of that holding. According to the slavers' lieutenant, III, there were probably less than a dozen guys still in the Siltway holding with Newton, plus maybe five or six acting as border guards.

The convoy roared up to the edge of the silt fields, and looked out upon a flat, sodden expanse of dead, pestilential farmland. Not a living thing moved between the crumbling city and the Barrier wall, and only a few dead black plants remained where once had been lush crops. On the southern edge, in open ground, stood the heavily fortified Siltway holding.

The group flushed out an emaciated scout by name of Missed. Marsh gave him a silenced 9mm pistol and messed with his head, compelling him to go to the holding and shoot Newton. They watched Missed run across the fields and into the fortress. A minute later, they heard a shot ring out, and then the walls were manned by dark, scurrying figures.

Keeler led his gang on a direct frontal assault, laying siege to the hold but not doing much more to those inside other than keeping their heads down. Marsh got Spatula to ride their bike up to the foot of the wall and lobbed the Pain Grenade over, causing much anguish and disabling some of the defenders. The gang set up behind parked jeeps for cover and kept the walls under fire as Keeler single-handedly blew the fortified doors open, leading the rush inside.

Keeler found Missed dead in the hold's main room, with a shot and unconscious Newton receiving attention from a medic. Keeler just strode straight in and pasted both of them with his heavy machinegun. Meanwhile, his gang poured up to the roof and massacred the remaining defenders. They celebrated by mounting heads on the hold's battlements, and followed that up with a vigorous round of looting.

It looks like the former slavers have been bound together with Keeler's original gang in a frenzy of blood and vengeance, proving their worth in battle by turning on their former comrades. It was a great victory, with no serious injury or loss of life despite the unsubtle tactics. Keeler has earned their respect as a worthy and fearless leader.

Rohin rolled a 10+ for every single Seize by Force move Keeler made, which was a lot. His gang's 2-armour, plus the fact that his gang was larger, contributed to the lack of casualties even under 3-harm machinegun fire.

With an advance, Keeler chose Merciless - which, on top of his Bloodcrazed gives him +2 harm. Using one of his larger guns, he'll physically destroy an NPC who's not wearing armour. Since Marsh also has Bloodcrazed, this is really turning into a steamroller group - any problem they see, they can obliterate it with overwhelming force. There's been very little Going Aggro, as they can generally Seize by Force with little risk of actual harm. I'm going to have to see what else is going on around the place that they can't fix with sheer damage output.

I felt better this time about Moves and judgment calls, even though I had to pause and think a couple of times. I just gave myself permission to take the time and think things through.

Just before they left, I asked Barb and Rohin to each come up with one or two NPCs at The Bridge; people they know from their everyday life, just regular people or those they get something from. Hopefully that'll flesh out the holding a little, make it feel more alive, and make up for the somewhat slipshod first session of following them around I did.

>>> Session 2013.3 Intermission