Monday, 28 May 2012

SamuraiVille Episode 5.2

  • Barb plays Okitsu, a fox-spirit who often possesses a shrine maiden.
  • Matt plays Taro, an apprentice blacksmith under Master Tetsu.
  • +Paul plays Yushin, a Buddhist monk recently returned to the town.
  • Rohin plays Yuriko, the owner of a tea-house who is also a ninja.

Well, SamuraiVille has come to a close. Yushin's player has been off sick for the last three weeks, and Taro's player had an unfortunate personal emergency to deal with, but I wanted to push on and get it done rather than leave the end trailing for yet another week. Unfortunately, that made things a little lacklustre.

Yuriko got a coded message to meet her clan master at the waterfall at sunset. He warned her to stay away from the untrustworthy fox-spirit, but more importantly, told her that a rival Lord, Kageshima, was poised to invade the province. Although the clan worked for Lord Morinaga, they realised that the battle would be lost, even with the gain of a new musket design, so are planning to change sides. He instructed her to acquire the new muskets, but to pass them on to the ninja clan rather than letting them fall into the hands of the local Lord Morinaga.

Okitsu was at the tea-house, and started impersonating Yuriko. Akira turned up for a drink, and mentioned that he had been sent to seek out his brother, the pirate Kenji (whom Yuriko was to get the muskets off). Okitsu tried to drug him, but he refused alcohol and managed to brush off her attempts to feed him random herbal teas. He left just as Yuriko returned; Okitsu filled her in, and Yuriko followed him invisibly in her young male form.

Being followed made Akira a bit twitchy, but he didn't manage to find out who it was. He began patrolling the coast, towards the smuggler's bay. Yuriko intercepted him, claiming to be a messenger from the castle come to tell him that the daimyo was in danger. Although he resisted the explanation at first, he eventually gave in and returned to the town.

Yuriko arrived at the smuggler's cove, where she met up with the pirate Kenji. She traded the bottled tengu for several sample muskets. Kenji gave the trapped spirit to a black daoist, who seemed satisfied with it. Yuriko headed back to town to hand over the muskets to her ninja contacts.

And... yeah. I ran out of conflicts, and that's how the game ended. I should have done some more exposition at the end (the back-story between Kenji and Akira, the reason the daoist wanted the spirit), but I'd forgotten some of my notes, and I was trying to figure out how to wrap the story. Also, Kenji was showing some Japanese reserve in front of his crew.

All up, my first attempt at Smallville was a mixed success. I made plenty of bad calls, and I still have to stop and think over whether I should contest something or give in. Even so, I'm quite bad at predicting what will happen to the dramatic flow, and I'm still somewhat resistant to tweaking events just for the story. For example, at the end I thought it would make a good climax to have Akira confront his brother while Yuriko was making the deal - we could have had acrimonious exposition, and she could have picked sides. I was hoping Okitsu would be there as well (although my original plan was to have Akira drag Taro along). However, since I got Akira talking to Okitsu, she knew what he was up to and Yuriko turned him away from the path which would have led to that final confrontation. It kind of dramatically deflated the situation, so I probably should have just had him take stress and keep looking for Kenji. Problem is, I'm pretty sure Yuriko's next move would have been to take him out - which meant I shouldn't have tipped them off that he was looking for the pirates in the first place. I was just trying to keep Okitsu involved, but it made things go flat.

It's a little depressing, but I did learn things too. I'm priming to run a political game set in a fantasy renaissance Venice with a slightly different group, so hopefully I can apply what I've learned.

Note: I did a bit of work setting up a new Smallville game called PiccoLaguna, but when I tried to organise a new group not enough people showed up. I still haven't had an opportunity to run it.

Sunday, 27 May 2012

Interface Zero: Vegas

Since Rohin fell in love with the Interface Zero setting for Savage Worlds even more than I did, he decided to run a game based in the Free City of Las Vegas, located in the Northeast of Baja Mexico. The city was controlled in equal parts by corporate and organised crime interests. The party would all be working as security and troubleshooters at a strip mall owned by corporate magnate Bob Ho.

We played several sessions in 2012, but didn't manage to resolve the main storyline.

+Andrew played Gerald Rigg, an android security guard.
John played Mr. X, a blind mouse-hybrid hacker.
+Melysa played Kuma, a genetically modified security dog with near-human intelligence.
I played Devlin Monterey, a dog-hybrid rentacop of French-Canadian extraction.

The game started with a couple of us pulling security duty in the mall. A few kids started a food fight, so I intimidated them (and drew my stun-stick) and they ran away. During the ruckus, a virtual graffiti artist dropped a hyper-reality tag on the wall. I think he got chased off by Mr. X.

We were soon called into our boss' office, and given a mission. The daughter of a friend of the company had gone missing, and we were asked to find her. The situation was big and complex. The reference photos for the daughter had been doctored, but we managed to hack her school and find security footage of her. She'd disappeared from an alley in a Triad part of town during some turmoil with rival Hispanic gangs, but we learned she had friends in the Mafia and had probably gone with them. We tracked down the car she'd been taken away in, but it was booby-trapped and exploded. It began to seem as though she might have run away rather than being kidnapped.

We were sent video footage from the kidnapper showing her being sexually assaulted. The man in the video had a class ring. Her father was a member of the same class; we tracked down three other members who were currently in Baja Mexico - a scientist working for a bio-research facility, someone with connections to the European mafia, and an ex-General now working as a fight promoter and manager for a cyber-gladiator.

We ended up at a bit of an impasse, trying to untangle the various webs of stories and connections, and trying to figure out the best way to gain leverage and information hile exposing ourselves to minimal harm. Luckily, we had some other things to keep us occupied...

We received a tip-off that some gangers were going to raid one of our stock warehouses. We waited nearby in our AV, swooping in once they entered corporate property and our jurisdiction. We engaged them with deadly force, killing most of them and destroying their van as they fled using our vehicle-mounted cannon.

We'd been hearing rumours of a Bio-Horror prowling around the city ever since the start of the game, but we finally got a call that it was rampaging through one of our company malls.  We arrived to find it - a mutated giant tiger-like creature - prowling around an upper-storey food court, eating things and people. Some of us engaged it head-on to draw its attention, while the others guided the civilians to safety. It was a tough fight, but we eventually managed to subdue it.

As we transported it to the roof for extraction, a second Bio-Horror, like the first one but twice the size, climbed up onto the roof and, using  voice synthesiser, demanded the return of his "brother." It charged, and I faced it down as the others hurried for the AV. Miraculously, I put one shot into its head and it went down. My elation was short-lived, as it began to regenerate and showed signs of moving. We cleared out as fast as we could.

That was as much as we got through in 2012. My first impressions of playing Savage Worlds are that the dice did tend to feel "swingy" quite a lot of the time. In particular, I had a hard time trying to get decent damage rolls, and it was frustrating to not have the option of spending a Benny to reroll. I spent four or five rounds shooting the little Bio-Horror to no effect, only to completely drop the larger Bio-Horror with a single shot from the same gun. From what I've read about the system since, we probably could have used a few combat manoeuvres other than just repeatedly making attack rolls.

Deciding what to increase with an advance does tend to take a little while, unless you have it planned out. To start with, I guess there were a few Edges on my wish-list that I hadn't managed to pick up at character creation. I found that Skills only start to feel really competent at d10 or higher; starting with d8's, I flubbed more rolls than I would have liked.

Overall it's a serviceable game. I think we spent a lot of time trying to plan our approaches and minimise exposure to danger rather than just diving in, which given the way NPCs tend to fold like card-houses, was probably largely unnecessary. I think we were still in a Cyberpunk 2020 mindset to some degree, where a single bullet can lay you low. While that's still true in Interface Zero, characters are by and large somewhat more resilient.

The VR/HR elements of Interface Zero were also a bit hand-wavey at times; the setting book gives a glimpse at an awesome vision of hyper-reality, but doesn't have solid enough grounding principles to allow for us to extrapolate logical outcomes without relying on GM fiat. Also, the rules for hacking and controlling other people were a bit vague.

I'm actually writing this blog post in April 2013, and I've recently put in for the Interface Zero 2.0 Kickstarter at the PDF level, so it will be interesting to see if the new version addresses any of my concerns with the setting-specific rules.

Monday, 14 May 2012

SamuraiVille Episode 5.1

  • Barb plays Okitsu, a fox-spirit who often possesses a shrine maiden.
  • Matt plays Taro, an apprentice blacksmith under Master Tetsu.
  • +Paul plays Yushin, a Buddhist monk recently returned to the town.
  • Rohin plays Yuriko, the owner of a tea-house who is also a ninja.

Turns out "Yushin" was just coming down with the flu that's been going around, leading to tired crankiness, so it looks like we'll probably go another session or two.

I'm not sure which enemies in particular "Okitsu" wants to permanently knock off; possibly the tengu, although as GM I'd probably be inclined to Give In to having it die if they seriously trap or beat it into submission. I don't think anyone has a permanent relationship to it, and there are plenty more mischievous tengu out there if I ever needed another.

If I run Smallville again with this group, they'll have a better idea of what to expect, and have realised how important it is to tie the Leads together strongly from the start. One piece of advice for new players joining existing groups - if someone has to join later, I'd get them to make their character with everyone else present so the group can help work the character into the game world more comfortably, making suggestions and agreeing to any potentially controversial tie-ins. We made one Lead separately later on, and a few of the connections we came up with sort of chafed with how the established players saw the world and their characters working. Openness and collaboration is key in all aspects of Smallville.

Taro and Akira fight the Giant Gaki with the aid of Okitsu in fox form. The gaki pulls in all of the smaller ghosts to heal itself, but it is defeated anyway. Okitsu steals away the spirit-flame that drops from its remains. She realises it could be used to restore the valley's damaged fertility, or she could give it to Yuriko to trade for the new muskets.

Taro, Akira and Tetsu drop by the tea-house to wind down, while Okitsu and Yuriko go back to patrolling the mountain looking for the tengu. Akira excuses himself so he can return to the castle and report the gaki's defeat to the daimyo.

Taro and Tetsu are returning to the forge when Tetsu has to stop to relieve himself in an alleyway. Mariko appears in the street and talks to Taro - she tells him that Yuriko's spirit-tea WAS responsible for Tetsu's possession. She also tells him that she captured the tengu with the help of the townsfolk, but decided to show mercy and release it. Okitsu interrupts the conversation by running through town as an invisible fox, projecting an illusion of the tengu. Taro runs to the castle to find Akira.

The Okitsu-tengu stands on the roof of the tea-house squawking, but Yuriko shoos her onto the next building so she doesn't drive even more customers away. The townsfolk flee the streets. Mariko hops up onto the roof and confronts Okitsu, telling her not to try anything or she'll harm "the girl." Convinced that Mariko is possessed by the tengu, Okitsu leaps straight at her and attempts to re-possess the shrine maiden. The tengu resists, but gains stress. Before it can throw Mariko's body from the roof, Yuriko leaps from the tea-house next door and pins Mariko down. The tengu is stressed out and flees Mariko's body, and Yuriko captures it in a spirit-bottle.

Things went pretty well, although the confrontation with the tengu was a bit disappointing as it didn't manage to roll very well on either Contest. I could have presented it a bit better dramatically speaking, but mechanically the outcome would have been the same. I could have had tengu-possessed Mariko confronting the illusion tengu on the roof in view of townsfolk witnesses, or even better in front of Taro and Akira returning from the castle, but I only thought of that after the event. Maybe the opening scene of next episode will have Taro and Akira turning up just in time to witness the confrontation on the roof; that should sow a bit of confusion.

For the fifth session in a row, Yuriko has steadfastly failed to gain any Stress - she has come out on top of every Contest she's been directly involved in!

Since we are only getting two hour sessions at the moment, I decided to split Episode 5 in half. Episode 5.2 will be next week. The Trouble Pool and Plot Points are not re-setting, and I've allowed Growth Pools to carry over if people want. I'd been getting the feeling that things were just starting to ramp up and then the session would end, so I'm seeing if this will help the mechanical pacing. Of course, I was hoping the tengu would still be around, but I can move on to focus on other concerns.

>>> Episode 5.2

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

SamuraiVille Episode 4

  • Barb plays Okitsu, a fox-spirit who often possesses a shrine maiden.
  • Matt plays Taro, an apprentice blacksmith under Master Tetsu.
  • +Paul plays Yushin, a Buddhist monk recently returned to the town.
  • Rohin plays Yuriko, the owner of a tea-house who is also a ninja.

Tonight's session was a bit of a bust. I had a cold or flu over the weekend which I'm still trying to throw off, although my energy levels were fairly reasonable. However, Yushin's player might be trying to fight off the same illness - he flaked out and had to call it a night only an hour in. It sort of petered out after that; there were no Contests, and only one Test. No Challenging, no Stress, no Recovery, no Growth.

Yushin let the tengu go, and persuaded the actual shrine maiden Mariko to accompany him back to the castle to talk to the abbott.

Okitsu stayed at the tea-house overnight. Yuriko received a midnight visit from her contact the pirate captain. He offered to trade her a new model of foreign musket in exchange for the soul of a yokai, but he needed an answer within 24 hours.

Yushin wanted to point out to the abbott that Mariko was being controlled by an outside force such as an evil spirit, since she couldn't remember what happened for most of the previous day while she was possessed. She claimed to be under the influence of Inari. Yushin's player was flaking a bit by this stage, and I found it hard to discern what the aim of the scene was.

In the morning, Tetsu and Taro were visited at the forge by a young samurai, Akira, who'd been sent by the daimyo to investigate the tales of spoiled rice and ghosts. Taro took him to the tea-house to drink the special spirit tea, allowing him to see the spirits.

Yuriko and Okitsu headed up to the shrine to get the tengu and trade it for the muskets, only for Mariko to tell them that it had been released by Yushin. Okitsu assumed the form of a tengu and, followed by an invisible Yuriko, they began searching the mountain for it.

Akira managed to slice a little ghost in half when he and Taro were on their way back through the town, to Taro's surprise. Taro then led Akira and Tetsu to the waterfall, where they discovered that the bags of rice he'd left out there had been completely consumed, and a trail of green ooze pointed towards the valley's rice fields. Okitsu and Yuriko also reached the waterfall, and secretly followed the three men to the edge of the rice fields - where an enormous gaki has started eating the rice harvest.

I think illness and lack of energy took their toll. There were some pacing problems, and Yushin's player was lacking focus before deciding to leave early. He'd displayed some general grumpiness towards Okitsu's player, as their characters have become antagonists; I'm not certain if weariness led to grumpiness or if grumpiness led to leaving early. I'm hoping that people aren't taking things personally, but those two do have a tendency to bump heads a little IRL.

I think the game might possibly go another session or two, or we might call it a wrap there depending on how Yushin's player's feeling. The rest of us discussed how the game was going, and it had a mixed response. "Okitsu" doesn't like that it's all but impossible to permanently defeat something, and that decisive results aren't always forthcoming. "Taro" has some issues with pacing, which was admittedly a bit too lumpy this episode, but otherwise enjoys the system He also lacks much knowledge of feudal Japan, so there can be a bit of a cultural divide in this current game. I don't remember any strong opinions from "Yuriko" (who was starting to pass out on the couch), and I'll talk to "Yushin" later. There was also a general feeling that Growth is too slow, although I think that's a combination of short sessions and not enough familiarity yet to "game" the system for Growth dice.

>>> Episode 5.1