Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Basilica Construction Log 1

Side view (Kerberos on the roof)

I'm actually pretty close to the end of this particular craft journey, having started the planning during the 2010 Christmas holidays. I'd recently started playing the Anima: Tactics wargame, and wanted to use our work's newly-acquired laser engraver to make a spectacular piece of scenery - a basilica suitable for miniatures to run around on!

Kerberos welcomes you to the Basilica

I did the design work in Illustrator, mapping everything out in 2D and doing the 3D transformations largely in my head. I replaced all of the roof sections, which would normally be sloped, with stepped shelves. In addition, the ground floor and the upper sections would be completely separate, allowing you to play on the outside or remove the upper works to access the floor inside. The towers at the front (one still under construction) would also be modular, so you can remove each level to access the ones underneath. The towers also contain roughly stepped "stairs" for putting 30mm miniature bases on.

Front view (one tower still to be added)

I did a lot of work in the first eight months, and then after completing the bottom level I stopped working on it for a while. I went back and started the upper works, but I had in mind to put some bas relief sculptures on the facade so there were some parts I couldn't do until I found or created some suitable images. Unfortunately I couldn't find what I was looking for, so work stalled for over a year.

Now, I'm about to move away, so I'm trying to get the rest of the job done before I lose easy access to a laser engraver! I've bitten the bullet and moved on without any sculptures on the front. I figure I can paint or sculpt something later to go on the arch above the door. Today I finished cutting all the pieces for the superstructure, and did a dry fit to make sure I hadn't forgotten anything or made any errors. So far I'm very pleased with the results!

Back view

Overall, the structure is about 600mm long, 350mm wide, and 450mm tall. It's made from a mix of 6mm and 3mm MDF, with some details in thin plywood. I'll be cutting tracery railings and window inserts from plywood, but I still have to finish designing those. Ideally I'd like to sandwich coloured cellophane between two layers of wood for the windows to create a stained glass effect.

View through the front door

The transepts have removable bridges and roofs too, so characters can run from one tower all the way along the side, around the back, down the other side, and into the other tower. I designed the height of various levels with Anima characters in mind, so the lower floor is 4 inches tall (an average character's jump height), and the distance from the balcony to the edge of the roof is 6 inches (a fast character's jump height).

I'll update again when I have some new developments.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

To Kickstart or not to Kickstart?

I'm hoping to get the PowerFrame core rulebook squared away early next year, and have it ready to release commercially. I'm looking into options, and seem to be at a bit of acrossroad: do I Kickstart it, or just put it up on DriveThruRPG when it's ready to go?

There aren't all that many reasons for me to run a Kickstarter that I can see. It would be nice to have an up-front lump sum so I can afford to spend some quality time finishing off the document, and it would be pleasant to get a return on the capital outlay I've made on Adobe CS software over the years. And it might give me an idea of how much interest there is in the game, which would be a useful gauge - do I keep writing and developing things for it, or should I move on to something else? Kickstarters also tend to garner quite a bit of attention and publicity, and I would probably access a wider audience of potential customers than through my current social media channels.

On the flip side, I'm not planning on doing an actual print run. If anything, physical copies will be print on demand. Apart from that, I don't want to complicate a Kickstarter with physical rewards even though custom dice would be cool. And even if nobody pays me a cent, I can keep working away on the document in my spare time until I'm happy to release it. Kickstarters also demand a fair amount of effort to simply run the campaign, and there are logistical considerations such as taxes to take into account. I'm not entirely sure I have enough on offer to actually raise a decent amount.

So my other option is to work on the game until I'm happy with it, and then simply publish it on DTRPG for PDF and POD sales. I would then promote it through my various channels, and probably generate a small volume of sales in the "long tail" model. I could also develop and release additional material if and when I develop it, without being beholden to Kickstarter deadlines.

So, opinions? For a game that's almost finished, and for which my production costs (apart from prior investment in software) are negligible, is it worth running a Kickstarter? Would it simply be easier and just as good in the long run to just publish it on DTRPG?

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Rippers: Prologue

Since our D&D Next DM's on an extended holiday, a few of us from that group decided to get together for a game in Savage Worlds' "Rippers" setting. I'm GMing; there were going to be three players, but James wasn't able to make it for this first session.

Michael had made his character ahead of time, but Annette had been otherwise occupied. We started work shortly before Michael arrived, and managed to get her character organised after a couple of hours. Although she enjoys roleplaying, she's expressed a dislike for character creation, so we discussed the issues around that a bit. Character creation in some games can be a bit of a slog, and while Savage Worlds is not quite as convoluted as the current D&D Next, it is up there a bit. The need to have a good grasp of the available Edges is probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I've also found that, instead of buying Edges and Hindrances near the end, character creation in Savage Worlds is usually best done by starting with the Edges you want and then buying Attributes and Skills afterwards to ensure you meet the Edge requirements.

Annette explained that she dislikes the process of trying to find the right way to express her character concept in game terms. It's one thing to describe them in prose, but another thing entirely to translate that into numbers and game options. "If you want your character to do X, you have to take points in Y" was just not engaging or exciting for her. The pitfalls of the concept-to-mechanics process were also made abundantly clear when Michael's professor of archaeology turned out to not actually have the Knowledge (Archaeology) skill - an omission that was rectified in play by swapping out one of his other skills. The need to manipulate multiple interacting segments takes a certain amount of concentration; not only do you have to know which Edges to take, but Attributes are affected by Edges, and Skills are affected by both Edges and Attributes.

Character creation is often seen as a chore - a necessary evil that needs to be suffered in order to get to the fun bit. Mind you, some people do actually enjoy the character creation process itself, although that probably depends on the game. I talked a bit about some of the other games I'd run lately that approach character creation somewhat differently. Apocalypse World (and the *World games in general) give you a guided package deal where all of the thematic choices have been compiled for you, so you just need to go through a checklist and pick some stuff that sounds cool. Some games such as Fiasco and Annalise build character creation into the session itself. Annalise also starts with very vague character outlines which become fleshed out during play, while Fiasco defines characters only by their relationships and requires you to hash out a consensus of who these people are in freeform discussion before the game proper gets underway. In Fate, a high concept aspect such as "Disgraced Professor of Archaeology from Cambridge" would tend to avoid the problem of forgetting to buy all the mechanical widgets to suit your concept, although Fate still has Skills and Stunts to select or build.

During the session Annette also mentioned that she didn't mind spending Experience Points to buy more things for her character; it's just the huge lump of character creation that's a bit much to deal with all at once. I suggested a system (like Leverage or one suggestion in Fate) where you start out with little more than a broad character concept and then fill in the details as they come up in play. "Oh, we have to get away? Well, it turns out I'm a stunt driver! And I can hotwire this car!" It's something I might look into using heavily in a future game.

Anyway, on to the Actual Play!

  • Annette plays Gregory Pratchett, an alienist with a gift for physically battling the forces of darkness. His encounter with a werewolf led to the Rippers showing an interest in his talents.
  • Michael plays William Baker, a Professor of Archaeology who uses knowledge as a weapon. On his expeditions across Europe he began uncovering signs of the occult. In Eastern Europe, one of his parties was all but wiped out by a vampire. He was kicked out of Cambridge for publicly airing his views on the supernatural, losing his tenure and his marriage. The Rippers recruited him shortly afterwards.

The two recent recruits to the Rippers' London Lodge meet briefly with Johann Van Helsing himself. He welcomes them to the organisation, and immediately provides them with a mission. The Rippers' information network had picked up news of a disturbance at Canary Wharf. It sounds as though it might be Cabal-related, but the Rippers don't have any definite information yet. The pair are sent off into the foggy London night to see what they can discover.

Thick fog rolls across the dockside warehouses. On the other side of the street, the wan light from a tavern is the only cheer to be seen in the gloom, but the place does not boast the raucous sounds normally heard from such common establishments. The pair make their entrance to find the bar nearly empty, with only the innkeeper and a few sullen workers nursing their drinks. A group of three are gathered near the back, two men comforting their obviously shaken comrade - Alf, the man who had been attacked.

The overdressed Rippers interview Alf, gaining his confidence with drink, coin, and encouraging words. He tells them that he was working in one of the warehouses when a long, narrow crate burst open, smashing him in the head with a flying plank and knocking him to the ground. He was dazed, but recalled the scent of roses and had the vague impression of a form shambling away. By the time he came to his senses, his mates had come to assist and drag him away. The men refused to return to work, much to the chagrin of their boss, so the wharves have lain idle since late afternoon. The men aren't sure where the ship that carried the crates had sailed from, but believe it had come through the Mediterranean. Pratchett and Baker ask if Alf will show them to the site of the incident, but no force will motivate him. His friend George, however, is eager to help.

Baker manages to jimmy the lock on the gate, and they enter the docks. George leads them between rows of warehouses. The eerie silence is broken only by the noise of movement some distance to their right, but they ignore it and press on to the warehouse where the incident took place. The storage area stands unchanged since the afternoon, with a devastated crate on the floor and stacks of them against the wall. Baker discovers a scrap of dried cloth in the ruined box, which smells vaguely of perfume and dried herbs. Pratchett breaks open one of the other crates, and discovers a mummified corpse nestled beneath the packing straw! The sound of rattling chains from the front gate cannot deter them from their investigation, and they are loath to go see what it is in case they disturb some night-watchman. Pratchett runs the corpse through with his sword-cane to test it for signs of animation, but it appears to simply be a dry husk. They search for clues as to the crates' origins, but find only a cargo lot number stamped on them.

They hear a strangled scream from the street, and finally call off their investigation to rush to the front gate. They see a drunk man sitting against a lamp-post with his neck at a fatal angle, and catch sight of a stiff form shambling away into the fog. They pursue it, and the figure turns to confront them - a mummy, risen from the tomb, with blazing green eyes. It prepares to attack, but Pratchett speaks to it in Ancient Egyptian and persuades it that they have been sent to help it in its task. In a dry husky voice it hisses "the Eye of Osiris" and motions for them to follow.

Their undead friend leads them through a series of back alleys, thankfully sparing them from any more run-ins with the public. However, it becomes apparent that the mummy's destination is a soiree at an inner-city town house. They try to persuade it to wait until the party is over, but its master compels it inexorably towards its goal. Since they can't deter it, they are reluctantly forced to fight it. Pratchett whips out his sword-cane, and Baker attempts to put a couple of ruonds in it from his pistol. The mummy tries to shrug off the attacks and make for the garden wall, but Pratchett pursues it and stries it down. As it falls, it crumbles into a pile of dust and bones. Pratchett is unimpressed, as he was hoping to keep it as a pet. Baker Rips some powdered bone from the crumbled corpse to turn into extracts.

The pair gatecrash the party to attempt to gain control of the Eye of Osiris, but just as Baker is about to make an announcement to clear the crowd he spots Johannes Van Helsing among the guests. Van Helsing heads for a side-entrance, and the two wayward Rippers take this as a cue to withdraw, encouraged by the doorman. Before they can be escorted off the property, Van Helsing catches up with them and sends the doorman away. They move to a secluded garden courtyard, where they debrief Van Helsing on the mummy and the Eye of Osiris. Van Helsing explains that the party is being held by his associate, a minor aristocrat who is an avid collector of Egyptian artefacts. He will investigate the Eye of Osiris personally, and instructs the two Rippers to return to the Lodge, get some manpower, and return to the wharves. He also expects a full report in the morning.

Unfortunately, by the time they return the site has been cleared. There's no sign of the dead man or the crates of mummies. Even the broken crate has been cleared away. Their investigation frustrated, they return to the Lodge, where Baker creates two extracts from the mummy's remains.

>>> Chapters 1 to 3

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ongoing Development

Here's a review of the development work I've been doing lately on my games Neon Burn and PowerFrame.

Neon Burn

For the last couple of weeks, since the Neon Burn playtests, I haven't been doing much actual writing. Instead, I've been letting some ideas about Neon Burn percolate through my brain. They are just about at the point where I can consider putting together a revised framework for the game.

So to recap, the main issues I found during the playtests were:

  • Awarding Sparks to players when they portrayed their characters' Passions felt like a cheap bribe, and led to some undesirable "button-mashing." Since Passions don't change much, I also get the feeling that this would lead to repetitive sessions since you can always be rewarded for the same things.
  • Talents weren't enough to keep people engaged during the Event. They simply didn't take much mental effort, and from the amount of Sparks we had, there was no incentive not to spam them whenever they made sense - so, no tactical decision-making.

Taking out the Passions > Sparks > Talents pretty much guts the core of the Build-Up, and also leaves the character creation process a little bereft. Therefore, something else needs to take its place. Here's what I have so far:

  • Characters
    • Roles still exist.
    • Talents may change into a single Special Ability for each Role, or maybe a choice from a limited list.
    • Sparks have currently been removed; instead, Talents may have some other restriction on their use. They may be reintroduced somehow.
  • Scenes
    • The Lead can flexibly define their own mechanical goal for a scene by declaring what they hope to increase, and what they are willing to risk losing. The Gain and Loss elements will combine to determine the Difficulty and Width for the roll.
    • The Lead will also need to frame the situation to explain how it makes sense. For example, trying to increase Performance at the risk of losing Sponsorship may be because the vehicle modification might require the team to remove parts supplied by a particular sponsor, or add parts supplied by a competitor.
    • Gains on task rolls add to the Tension Pool, which replaces the old Challenge Pool.
  • Tension
    • If left unchecked, Tension will add to the Field, making the Event harder. Tension can be reduced in a number of ways:
      • By introducing Complications that make rolls harder;
      • By introducing Stakes that are resolved depending on the outcome of the Event;
      • Possibly by introducing or resolving Drama between the player-characters. I've yet to figure out exactly how that would work, mechanically speaking.
    • Perhaps Sparks will come out of resolved Tensions somehow.
  • Motivations
    • Instead of multiple Passions with their own Burn ratings, each character will start a session with 1 Burn, giving them 1 die to roll.
    • When a potential Motivation comes up during a scene, players can claim it by writing it down.
    • Each Motivation that's relevant to a situation grants 1 Burn, adding an extra die to their pool.
      • Perhaps limit this to three Motivations of any kind, and up to an additional 3 that have Stakes attached?
      • Perhaps the prize on offer will tend to count as a Motivation attached to a Stake?

That's most of the structure so far. It's a little looser than the previous version, but I like the freedom that gives player in defining what a scene's about, and what gets their characters fired up. I've realised that there's an advantage to leaving a "fruitful void" for the players to fill in.

At the moment, the role of Sparks is uncertain. Perhaps if they're only generated in small quantities through dealing with Tensions, they might still make a good power-source for talents. +Nathaniel also suggested using them to assert authorship over certain elements or to define outcomes; given the fairly loose control the Lead has over the narrative, and that anyone else can already suggest stuff, I'm not sure if it's necessary. Perhaps if Sparks were still flowing in large quantities, they could be used to "pay" for new fictional elements or narrative control or something.

As far as keeping people engaged during the Event, it looks like the best way to do that is to give everyone a dice pool to manage. The basic ones are of course the Team's Vehicle and the Field. In addition, any Rivals were introduced during the Build-Up make for obvious candidates. There are a couple of options for any "left-over" players:
  • Introduce additional Rivals; perhaps not major ones like the story-defined Rivals, but a sort of baseline competitor, maybe with a custom Vehicle.
  • The Field could be split into more than one pool. I'm not that fond of this approach, since the Field runs pretty much "blind" and sets the basic competitor difficulty.

The main issue with having players run Rivals is that controlling them while still wanting your own Team to win is a conflict of interest. Players could make poor tactical choices for the Rivals and leave them at a disadvantage. Because of that, I need to come up with some basic "programming" for them to ensure they behave like they are trying to actually win. The basics of NPC racer programming are:
  • Start with their highest Gain, and assign it to the Width slot that has the highest other result in it that it will beat.
  • Repeat this process until you run out of Gains or Width, or until none of your remaining Gains can win any slots.
  • If you can place dice to create matches and eliminate someone else's Gain, do so by favouring matches to Vehicles with the best Position, or that will result in a Gain for a Vehicle in a worse Position than the one you're cancelling.
  • If you still have Gains to assign but they can't win or cancel any slots, just put them wherever you want.


Also this weekend, I realised that I don't have an awful lot left to do on my PowerFrame generic RPG. I've been filling in some of the details and scratching things off my to-do list. The main areas remaining are:
  • I need to write the "How to run PowerFrame" chapter.
  • I need to finalise the Magic chapter and decide whether I want to include as many Spells as I can, or strip back the list to the basics and put the more esoteric Spells in a PDF supplement.
  • I need to create a whole lot of illustrations and diagrams.

Altogether it looks like it's coming along nicely, even though I've spent a lot of time questioning the way the game works on the most fundamental levels. But my friends and I have played and run it for over fifteen years in one form or another, and even though I've tired of it lately, it's still the closest it's ever been to a finished product.

I'll probably release a pretty comprehensive bestiary as a separate PDF, because the creature statblocks will take up a fair amount of space and I don't want the core-book to bloat too much. I'll be including several pages of example creatures to use as examples, but it's largely meant to be a toolbox game where you can develop your own content. 

I guess the Spells are an exception to the toolkit mentality, though, since the core of a Spell is an atomic exception-based mechanism that causes a specific effect. Each of these "Major Arcana" need to be spelled out, and the process of creating your own is not rigidly definable.

Rather, the Spells themselves are versatile because you can combine the Major Arcana (the "what" of a Spell) with various Parameters (the "where and when") and Minor Arcana (the "who") - as described in a previous post on the subject.

So, things are going reasonably smoothly at the moment. I'm going to be moving house at the end of the year, and I hope to have a few employment-free months of domestic bliss that I might be able to use to get these games into publishable shape.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013


This is just a quick note to let my readers know I'm about to activate banner ads on this blog.

Normally I dislike online advertising, so I hope you'll appreciate this isn't a decision I've taken lightly. I'm preparing to move cities so I can live with my partner, but at the moment I have no job waiting for me there. I'm attempting to secure some additional revenue sources so I can support myself for longer.

Now it may turn out that the ads are just too annoying, or that the income they generate isn't worth the trouble. I am definitely hoping I can focus the content to gaming-relevant stuff that my readers might actually be interested in. However, I won't know any of that until I try it.

If the ads have a negative effect on your reading experience, please do let me know.

Thanks for your patience and understanding!

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Neon Burn Alpha Tests 2 & 3

In the last week I've held two Neon Burn playtest sessions online; one by audio-only over Skype, and one over G+ Hangouts. In both cases, we used a spreadsheet to track shared game information.

I'm not going to write up a full "actual play" of either session, as the point of the playtests is more to figure out where the rules function as intended and where they need work. Here, though, is a brief summary of the two games.

Pax Suprema

In a Roman Empire that never fell, lethal races are held between living brass steampunk flying machines powered by the hearts of fallen heroes, known as Bronze Lions. We established that this single-race event, the Pax Suprema, was a tournament in which only the winning team would emerge victorious - all of the losing teams would be executed on the sands of the arena. Our team was made of gladiator-slaves, racing for the glory of our Master and for our own lives.

  • +Nathaniel Robinson played Vatiatus the Champion of Neo-Kapua, a proud gladiator-racer (Driver/Gunner)
  • Luuk Mouton played Sellularius the Cheap and Lazy, a man enslaved to pay for his gambling debts (Mechanic/Dealer). 
  • I played Trixus the Scar-Crossed, a grizzled ex-gladiator (Coach/Pit-Crew)

We started off with a vicious ram installed (Chain-Blades), but spent most of the session acquiring and installing a cannon that would fire gladii at our rivals (Autocannon). Our chariot was also heavily tweaked for speed above all else.

During the race we quickly pulled away from the pack, and only broadened our lead as the race went on. By the end, we achieved a clear victory, thus ensuring the glory of our Master and sparing our own lives.

Neo-Rio Invitational

In a bright and hopeful high-tech near future, the weaponised Formula Sigma league races sleek angular antigrav vehicles all around the world. The Neo-Rio Invitational is an exhibition race, held at night on a transparent neon-walled track that loops around Rio de Janeiro. The final stages of the course spiral up the Sugarloaf Mountain and launch a jump to the finish line off the shoulders of Christ the Redeemer.

  • +Cavin DeJordy played Kael Sundar, reckless hotshot driver (Driver/Gunner).
  • +Chris Stocker played Hans Gnuuden, a retired driver turned coach (Coach/Pit-Crew)
  • +Lloyd Gyan played A.B.I.un, the A.I. installed in the vehicle (Mechanic/Copilot).
  • I played Meryl M., an enthusiastic mascot/track girl but also an able bodyguard (Publicist/Security)

We started off with a Carcatcher ram and a Mine dispenser installed, but really wanted to acquire an Energy Shield. Kael identified an old rival, Inara, in a bar, and established an Afterburn of the desire to beat her in the race. Although none of us were Dealers, we managed to get hold of an Energy Shield for the standard price. In the second-to-last scene, A.B.I. managed to install it single-handedly despite the complexity of the task, boosted by the team's desire to win and some encouragement from the sidelines.

During the race Kael quickly shot to the head of the pack. Our energy shield was invaluable, absorbing multiple attacks over the course of the race and allowing us to concentrate on gaining position. A.B.I.'s copiloting skills also helped evade any attacks that got past the shield, with Hans' pit-crew supervision standing by in case of serious need. By the time Kael hit the finish line, we had a comfortable lead over Inara (who was nursing a beat-up vehicle around the track) and the field was well behind.


+Cavin wrote his own blog review of the Neo-Rio playtest session if you'd like to see an outsider's first opinion of the game's current draft. Below are my thoughts and musings, mostly identifying areas that worked well and those that could use improvement.

So far I've had mostly positive feedback from the players, and everyone's said they enjoyed playing, so that's encouraging me to press on and fix the problems so it can become the game I want it to be.

Session Time

I'm a little concerned about fitting the game into a three hour slot. For both playtests we basically had an hour each of Approach, Build-Up, and Event.

The Pax Romana game was really rushed at the end because we had to wait multiple "scenes" before our purchase was delivered. That led to us trying to cycle through scenes as fast as we could so we actually had time to install the weapon, which meant characterisation suffered. That was also a problem in my initial playtest, so I've removed the delivery time altogether; Add-Ons are now available at the end of the purchasing scene.

There were things we didn't get anywhere near doing in either test, such as Qualifying. Both tests also only ended up with two Afterburn out of three. However, since we spent about an hour on making the world, the characters, and the vehicle, I suspect this problem would largely go away after the first session since you'd get 1.5 to 2 hours for scenes instead of a cramped 1. Therefore it's probably simply a matter of attempting to streamline the Approach (League, Team, Vehicle) as much as possible, and adjusting expectations about what's achievable during the Build-Up. The Event is still going to need an hour the first time, even using a shorter course, because people will be getting to grips with the racing rules.

I really need to do a full-session test with multiple players face to face, and also try a two or three session League. I think the the race in particular will be much easier when you're sitting around the same table and can physically pick up and move the dice. Entering the values into a shared spreadsheet was functional but slow.


In the Pax Romana game, we assigned a Lead and a Referee to each scene. However, figuring out who was who took a little while, and by the end of the session it had become apparent that the Referee position was probably unnecessary. While they were charged with assigning NPCs for people to play, introducing Complications, and awarding Sparks, in practice we ended up distributing those responsibilities among ourselves. Luuk even framed a scene for his character which included a complication right off the bat, which I thought was cool.

For the Neo-Rio playtest, I'd written the Referee out of the rules. I didn't miss the position; we still managed to introduce Complications and set one-another up to play NPCs, and with everyone on the lookout for other players using Passions the distribution of Sparks worked well too.


With the position of Referee gone, the Lead pretty much became the GM of their own scenes. Lead choice was based on the player with the fewest Sparks, since that would give them more opportunities to generate more Sparks and catch up.

In practice +Chris came out of the first scene with a large number of Sparks, and since he gained some by being in other players' scenes while some of us were spending Sparks for off-track performance, he never ended up framing a scene of his own.

I'm considering some alternatives to make sure everyone gets a chance to have creative input and decide what's important enough to frame a scene around. I could just go with a simple turn-taking order where we go around the table, which definitely makes sure everyone gets a fair go. However, with the way some scenes are required before others (such as getting the Dealer to make a purchase before the Mechanic can install a new Add-On), I think a more flexible system is warranted.
  • One possibility would be to have the current Lead choose the new Lead at the end of their scene, from among those who have an idea what they want to do next. This may or may not also use tokens to make sure everyone has had a turn before going through the group again.
  • Another possibility would be to ask which players have an idea for a scene, and then vote on which will become the new Lead. I think that might take a little too long, though.
  • A third idea would be to have the responsibility for scene-framing go around the table, but when it's your turn you can nominate anyone as the Lead (including yourself) and frame a scene for them. This would make sure everyone gets to offer some creative input, but is also flexible enough that you can make sure important things get done even if they don't involve you. It might result in awkwardness though, if you have a scene framed around you that you don't really want.
Passions and Sparks

I'm not sure if I'm entirely happy with the use of Passions to earn Sparks. It's based on Tenra Bansho Zero's Aiki awards, but it occasionally feels a little "dance for your reward, player!" It's also a little awkward to award online, and might work more smoothly around an actual table.

The Passions themselves worked okay, once I realised the divide between "Passions used to give me dice on rolls" and "Passions used to provide Sparks."

The number of Sparks is currently also an issue. Until I ran a couple of tests, I had no real idea how many might be available for the race. As it turns out, 5 to 7 per player seems about average. With each use of a Talent requiring one Spark, at the moment there is no challenge. Any problem can be overcome by spending heaps of Sparks on it, and players still usually have several Sparks left over. 

The effect is compounded by the fact that multiple players have their own supply of Sparks, and they are all being spent on the same Vehicle to achieve victory. I'd rather there was some threat of scarcity, so you had to consider whether now is the right time to use your Talent, rather than just how many Sparks you need to spend to make the problem go away.

I've had a couple of ideas for reining in Sparks:
  • Limit the number of Sparks a player can hold at once, or limit the number that the team as a whole has access to (drawing from a central pool of 10 or 12, for example). The second option would scale nicely for different group sizes, too.
  • Increase the number of Sparks it takes to activate Talents. This could simply be a linear cost (2 or 3 per Talent instead of 1 or 2), or each Talent might have its own unique Spark cost between 1 and 3, or maybe the Spark cost during the race increases: the first use of a Talent costs 1, but the next costs 2, then 3, and so on. That wouldn't line up with the costs before the event, but it would result in escalating tension and discussion about what's really important.
Engagement During the Event
This is one area where the current draft isn't delivering. I originally wrote Talents with the idea that they would give all of the players something to do during the Event. The Driver would drive, someone would roll for the Field, someone else might roll for a Rival, and anyone else would offer input from the sidelines and look for opportunities to use their Talents.

Unfortunately, it doesn't quite work out like that in play. In the Neo-Rio race, three of us had the Vehicle, the Rival, and the Field, but the last guy didn't have much to do - and even worse, most of his applicable Talents were overshadowed by better ones from elsewhere. The huge quantities of Sparks didn't limit usage, so we never had to go for a choice of "use this one or that one?"

Talents don't require constant engagement, they just need you to stay alert for any triggering conditions.

In the post-game discussion, the idea was floated of having all of the players roll dice for something during the Event. This could be achieved by creating more Rivals, or perhaps having a sort of lesser rival which might be upgraded if you choose to pick a specific Rivalry Afterburn with them. It might also be possible to subdivide the Field into multiple pools.

However, in a cooperative game, all of the Rival and Field pools would need to place their results by some sort of formula to make sure the players controlling them don't make poor choices to help "their" Team win. I have a few ideas for automated Rival behaviour, so I'll run some tests and see how it functions.

Competitive Play

Another option was the possibility of redesigning the game for competitive play. In this approach, each player would basically represent a Team of their own. They may have friendly or not-so-friendly rivalries, relationships, and history with the other teams; they may form alliances, or be implacable enemies.

Unlike the cooperative game, players would not have a conflict of interest in playing their best and trying to win. The competition would be fierce and intense because you're playing against other human minds, and each has the same mechanical potential to bring to bear. Sorting out the results of multiple dice pools would add more depth of strategy as well. With everyone running their own vehicle, everybody would be fully engaged during the Event.

Turning it into a competitive game also removes the need to have a Challenge Pool that artificially inflates the Field if you don't cause trouble amongst yourselves. People would already have motivation to interfere with each other.

The only reason I shy away from a competitive angle is because it sets up winners and losers within the group. People who can't play the racing mini-game as well may feel dejected if they keep losing. However, over a League I could introduce different progress tracks for winners and losers. Those who lose might get a mechanical boost next time, or deepen the strength of their rivalries or something. Winning makes you soft; losing makes you hungry.

A competitive approach would require a complete rewrite of the front-end, although the racing system could remain largely as-is. Even if I don't decide to adopt this approach officially, I'm strongly considering writing it up in parallel to the collaborative game just to see how it works and what its problems are.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Fiasco: The Ice

Barb, Rohin and I got together for our first game of Fiasco. We were going to have a fourth player, but he unfortunately had to cancel. The other two hadn't read the book, so I acted as facilitator.

The Setup

After a bit of discussion, we chose The Ice Playset, situated around McMurdo Station in Antarctica. After rolling dice and choosing details, we ended up with the following relationships:
  • Barb and Rohin were "the ones who found the body," and shared the seal research camp on sea ice, out on the Weddell Sea.
  • Barb and I were ecological extremists, and shared the need to get laid in exchange for something we need.
  • Roh and I were Search & Rescue volunteers, and shared five kilos of explosives and a detonator.

It took a little while to figure out the specifics and solidify our characters. Trying to tie things together and have stuff make sense was a bit of a challenge for first-timers with no real idea how things would play out, and to be honest I got pretty frustrated at one point because I felt a responsibility to keep things going but my brain was grinding to a halt. Luckily we started getting a few good ideas into the mix, and sorted it out eventually. All up, I think the Setup took us a bit over half an hour.

The other two picked their names first, so I had to pick a name that started with "Ja-" as well, just to make this Actual Play more confusing. :P
  • Barb plays James Edwards, a young student researcher and animal activist.
  • Rohin plays Jack McReedy, a Search & Rescue volunteer.
  • I play Jane West, a PETA extremist who's undercover as a scientist.

Act One

I outlined how we took it in turns to be in the spotlight and either Establish or Resolve scenes, although the rules didn't say who got to be spotlit first. After looking at the details on the table, Barb eventually came up with the idea to frame a scene focussing on Jack and James discovering "the body." Off-screen, we decided that Jane had probably killed a Marine with an ice-pick for abusing one of the seals.

Seal researcher James discovered the body of a US Marine lying face-down on the ice. He'd got as far as going over to the body and noticing blood, plus a canister of explosives, when Jack came upon the scene. Although James wanted the explosives for his eco-extremist activities, Jack used his position as S&R team member to take command of the body and equipment. Jane showed up soon after, and helped Jack move the body and gear back to base.

Jack and Jane take the body back to an empty shed on the edge of Mactown. Jane takes the explosives, ostensibly to return them to the military, but Jack keeps the detonator.

Later that night, Jane shows up at Jack's room and seduces him. While they're in the sack, she reaches down and finds the detonator in his jacket pocket. Jack notices her taking it and they argue about it; she convinces him she just wants to "blow some stuff up" and he thinks she just wants to blow off some steam by making things go boom. So now Jane is in control of five kilos of explosives and a detonator.

In the mess hall, James has a quiet word to Jane. She tells him about the explosives, and wants to use them to cripple the base. She wants to stop humans from coming to Antarctica and spoiling its purity, and if that means dooming them all to an icy death for the sake of the animals, that's a price she's willing to pay. James convinces her that the authorities will rebuild damage to communications or the airstrip, and that they need to send a clear message that it's because of the animals, by blowing up the seal research camp. Jane agrees, so long as they can conduct an ecological assessment and make sure the explosion won't negatively impact the seals.

Meanwhile, Jack visits the doctor who's performing the autopsy on the dead Marine. The doctor determines the cause of death to be a blow to the back of the head from an ice-pick.

Jane heads out on the ice with the explosives via skidoo, to conduct her ecological impact study. However, the camp and the ice is swarming with Marines searching for clues about their murdered colleague. They question her and refuse to let her anywhere near the camp, so she speeds back to Mactown. Panic starts to rise, as she realises the investigation will likely close in on her. She needs to act fast before she's busted and loses her opportunity!

The Tilt

Barb and Rohin got to inject a couple more elements into the story. We got "A stupid plan, executed to perfection" and "A sudden reversal (of status, fortune, sympathy).

Act Two

The military investigation gets underway. James is taken to a small, clinical room and interviewed. He points the finger at Jack for taking the explosives, which are still missing. The Military Police advise James not to leave town.

The MPs turn up at Jack's quarters. One questions him while the other searches through his stuff. Jack points the finger at Jane, who was supposed to have returned the explosives. However, it looks like Jane's already pulled a fast one on him - the soldiers find the bloody ice-pick among his things, and he's placed under arrest.

On her return from the ice, Jane's desperate. She gives four kilos of explosive and the detonator to James, telling him to go out to the camp and wait until her distraction pulls the soldiers away so he can blow it up. She makes an IED out of the remaining kilo, dangerously rigged with a car battery, and throws it over the military compound's fence into a pile of diesel barrels. Miraculously she pulls it off, and the explosion creates a massive cloud of black, greasy smoke. 

I interpreted "A stupid plan, executed to perfection" to mean "I can't believe that actually worked." Barb thought it sounded more like a stupid plan should be executed perfectly stupidly, but hey.

The soldiers withdraw from the seal research camp, so James moves in and plants the bomb. Unfortunately, he runs into a couple of Marines who were left behind, and has to flee! The soldiers are caught in the explosion, and the ice shelf breaks off and starts to drift away. James is stuck on the new iceberg.

Unbeknownst to James, Jack was actually in the camp at the time, too. The two Marines had escorted him there so he could show them the murder site. He was on the other side of some crates and got caught in the explosion, but just got banged up and was also stuck on the ice with James.

Jane flees on foot across the icy wilderness, hoping to make it to a nearby French base. She miraculously evades the Marine search parties and manages to successfully flee Mactown!

The Aftermath

James (White 9): As a minor (17 years old), he came out of the situation relatively unscathed. He returned to the States, where a few years later he was imprisoned for suitcase-bombing a cancer research clinic.

Jack (Black 6): Arrested for the murder, and probably the bombing too. He returns to the States where he gets to stay in prison for a very long time. Ironically, the guy who wasn't guilty of anything paid the price for everything.

Jane (White 1): Although she made it away from McMurdo, she didn't quite make it to the French station. Somewhere in the blinding white, she falls face-down and never gets up. She's discovered a couple of years later, one arm protruding from a snowdrift.

The End!

Once we got over the initial creative hurdles and into the swing of things, it was a pretty fun game. Barb did note that it seemed like the sort of "party game" that might do better once people have had a couple of drinks to loosen things up a bit.

The game rules don't seem to come into contact with the story much, mainly just when you choose white or black dice to suggest a positive or negative outcome for a scene. Apart from that, the rules are mostly a set of procedures for creating story elements and deciding who's in charge of framing and resolving scenes.

The story elements have no mechanical weight, though; they're more like evocative springboards for the players to gain inspiration from. The system as a whole requires strong player buy-in to the type of story it wants you to create, because if people don't play towards an unmitigated disaster then the Aftermath results will likely not make much sense.

However, with people who agree what sort of story they're producing, human ingenuity and imagination seems more than capable of connecting the dots and coming up with explanations for the end results. I suppose it works as well as it does largely because everything in a playset is geared towards helping you create this sort of outcome.

Oh, and I'm sure there would be different group dynamics with four or five players. I was impressed with Relationships and Details not belonging to one character, but creating a connection between two characters. While in theory you could play out a nice, civil story of people behaving reasonably and negotiating for what they want, the nature of the relationships and details on offer do tend to create situations in motion where some of the wheels are almost guaranteed to come off in play.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Neon Burn: Alpha Test One

I've been getting a bit behind on my session reports lately, mostly because I've been spending all of my spare time working on the alpha draft of Neon Burn. I just about have enough of it together to start playtesting, so tonight John and I had a bit of a go to see if there were any obvious issues. The following is a bit of a rambling analysis of that initial playtest, most of which probably assumes you're familiar with some of the game terms. Apologies for that; this is just a stream of consciousness as I process the experience.

Since there were only two of us we each picked one Primary and two Secondary roles. I went with a Mechanic/Pit-Crew-Coach, and John chose a Security/Driver-Gunner. I'm not going to post a blow-by-blow account of the session, but in summary:

We spent maybe half an hour coming up with the League (a single-event demolition derby race), the Team, and the Vehicle (good Speed and Integrity; low Handling and Lift). We only had half an hour for the Build-Up before the Event started, but managed to cram in a number of scenes and get some things done. The time limit definitely did build a sense of tension, which was good! I think the number of Complications we had to cram into a short time was a bit much though, so I may look at either revising the points you need to winnow down based on the time you have to play, or else try to come up with a different way to motivate the Referee to introduce complications.

In the end, the race went badly due to several factors and we ended up coming dead last. Without a Primary Driver Role, John was missing out on rolling a d8 in his pool. Our Vehicle also ended up with pretty flat tuning, mostly punctuated by poor Lift (I'd corrected its Handling problems at the expense of Speed). We didn't gain very many Sparks during the Build-Up, and spent a lot more of them before the Event than I'd anticipated, so neither of us could affect the outcome very much.

I think half an hour for the Build-Up was not quite enough time. We could have benefited from some additional scenes to establish more motivations for the Event. Mind you, some of the scene goals still need to be written up, so we were a bit limited in what we could choose to do. I also think another player or two would make it easier to share the load.

Maybe it was because we didn't have much time, but I didn't feel that the Passions were really being played out well. We pretty much used the same ones all the time - "The Vehicle is my baby" and "I need to win the Event." I need to consider how Sparks are assessed and awarded. Since we didn't have many other characters to interact with, our descriptions were pretty sparse. The post-justification of some of our Passion usage felt a bit tacked on, and I also noticed the conflict of interest in the Referee being the arbiter of what constitutes a "good enough" use of a Passion, with their desire for the team to do well. I think I either need to come up with clearer guidelines for how Passions must be worded, or how they have to come into play, or else I may need to strip out and revise the entire method of generating Sparks. Maybe it just requires a deliberate call-out in dialogue or description during the scene, rather than just "OK, I roll for this... Oh yeah, and I totally bought this gear so I can Win The Event." However, I'll reserve judgment until I've both played it with a larger group, and with a bit more time to play out the scenes.

So, it was interesting to see a whole session in motion, and gave me some food for thought. I'll keep filling in the blanks in the document, and reviewing what's already there to see if it needs any changes in the light of this test. I'm eager to try again with some more players, but I'm not sure when I'll get the opportunity.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to let me know either in the comments here, or in the Google Doc. Just highlight the relevant text and right-click to leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Eternal Contenders: Oblim, Round 2

John and I finished off our Eternal Contenders game in this second session. Here's a link to the first session Actual Play. If people want to discuss the game in general, the author +Joe Prince  is on G+, along with an +Eternal Contenders page.
  • I play Talisa, a Dark-Friend street urchin who's caring for a young orphan boy. She hopes to gain fame and glory so she can provide him with a better life, and fears that he might end up as a good-for-nothing like herself. As a fighter she is quick and lithe, focusing on Mobility and Guard. Her dark power comes from a mysterious shadowy entity that inhabits her body, although the details remain hazy.
  • John plays Stefan, a Rapscallion with aspirations to run the local assassin's guild. He hopes to climb through their ranks, and fears being run out of town by them - or worse. As a fighter he focuses on the long haul, with high Guard and Stamina.
Since there's no GM, players take turns framing scenes for their own characters, which fall into various categories - I'll mark the scene types with bold in the narrative. As I want to talk about the session structure and both of our choices, I won't be writing the entry from my character's point of view.

After her ignominious defeat by Stefan in the Rusty Chain, Talisa's spirit is close to breaking. She moves to the outskirts of the city for a bit, working hard as part of a construction crew, and actually manages to earn some honest coin. Among the camaraderie of her workmates, she actually starts to feel like there might be some hope after all.

Stefan connects with his contact at the Assassin's Guild again and pays them a significant amount from his winnings. However, he feels like he's not making any real progress towards his goal. It feels a bit like the Guild is stringing him along.

Talisa trains her manoeuvrability by running and leaping from rooftop to rooftop.

Stefan works as a standover man for the Assassin's Guild. His threatening presence and growing reputation motivate the business-owner to pay up, and Stefan receives his fair share of the profits.

Talisa visits a black-market trader, and trades the poison she stole from Stefan for a set of long black leather boots with grippy soles, enhancing her manoeuvrability even further.

Stefan goes down to the beach, and in a gruelling training session he pushes through the pain barrier to improve his manoeuvrability and strength by running through chest-deep water.

We weren't sure if you were allowed to "Push Through the Pain Barrier" to train Traits, or only Techniques. I gave him the benefit of the doubt. It turns out "Pushing Through" is only supposed to work when learning a second Technique in the same training session.

Talisa confronts Stefan at the beach, and challenges him to a duel, but he refuses!

John mostly did this to gain the point of Pain that comes with refusing, although he lost a point of Renown as well.

When Talisa walks back towards town through the dunes, Stefan follows and robs her! She is totally blindsided by the mugging; although she doesn't have any money, Stefan steals her knife and her shiny new boots.

Bitter from the robbery, Talisa tracks Stefan back to the Rusty Chain. She grabs a tankard off the bar and throws it at him, then leaps to the attack! Despite her anger and desperation, Stefan takes the upper hand in the brawl and beats her badly. After her dirty tactics in the previous duel, the crowd at the Chain is against her too, and she's soon thrown out into the street.

In the Rusty Chain's doorway, with Talisa crawling away bloodied and beaten, Stefan challenges all comers, but none can rise to answer his call.

After the Brawl, Talisa's Pain had finally crossed the limit (it normally can't be more than four points higher than Hope), which meant that her next Scene had to be "The Pain Revealed." Since answering Stefan's Challenge would have placed the Duel in Talisa's already-committed next scene, we decided that she was unable to accept the challenge. I've since learned that if there is a scene-scheduling conflict like that, the Duel can take place during the Challenger's next scene instead.

Talisa struggles back to the hovel she shares with the young orphan-boy, Rogan. The boy tries to care for her but she brushes him off and retreats to the far corner, the pain revealed in her heart. The dark forces that dwell within her have risen to the surface. She thinks to herself, "wouldn't it be easier to just kill the boy now and spare him from this life of misery and pain?" She refrains, however, and instead dedicates herself to destroying Stefan at any cost. The shadows around her shift and crawl with malevolence as she embraces the pain.

Shortly after, Stefan tracks Talisa down in the slums and makes a point to brawl in front of Rogan, once more beating her down. As he leaves, he points threateningly at the boy. On the ground, Talisa fixes him with a death-stare as her shadow seethes.

In a bid to regain what Stefan has taken from her, Talisa goes to work - this time ambushing a rich merchant in his sedan chair. She scuffles messily with his guards, and manages to make off with some money and jewellery.

Stefan hears about Talisa's heist. Determined to prove himself the better thief, he works out a plan to rob a city official. Unfortunately the job does not go smoothly, and he ends up wounding the tax collector (perhaps fatally) and is witnessed leaving with only some of the loot.

Talisa connects with her darker side, training her shadow to reach out and inflict wounds with its Infernal Touch.

After his previous job went badly, Stefan must face his own pain revealed. He embraces it, walking the streets shouting like a madman to everyone that he's an assassin, he's going to destroy the city, and they'll all burn!

In a back-alley deal, Talisa trades the remainder of her coin for a crude shiv that she soon hopes to introduce to Stefan.

Stefan's once more walking around town challenging anyone and everyone to a fight. Talisa steps forward and accepts, and they agree to six rounds in the middle of the Pentangle, Oblim's town centre!

As soon as the duel begins, both fighters bring the full power of their considerable pain to bear! Stefan charges forward, while Talisa plays dirty; her shadow blurs and slides, obscuring her true location. The two fighters come together - Stefan lands a mighty head-butt, which drops Talisa to the ground. On her way down, however, she thrusts upward and lands a vicious blow with her shiv. Stefan stops in his tracks and crumples to the ground. Talisa slowly picks herself up, dazed but elated by her sudden victory!

The conflict beteen the two warriors has become such a major event and a disruption to the city that the underworld decides it's time to put an end to the feud once and for all. The Assassin's Guild will host one final match.

Stefan burns his bridges, "connecting" with the Assassin's Guild by getting up in the Rusty Chain and admitting his status as a member. He even goes as far as to point out other Guild members in the crowd, thus making himself really unpopular!

Since he deliberately spent little money and thus performed really badly, this move allowed John to generate a lot of extra Pain to bring to the final match.

Talisa goes on one final trading expedition, spending all of her duel winnings on a bag of caltrops and a nasty "scissor-blade" qatar.

The Caltrops give +3 to Manoeuvre, and the Qatar gives +3 Power.

The duel takes place in a smoky stone arena, a circular bricked pit deep beneath the city. The crowd seethed with expectance and malevolence, eager for blood.

At the first bell, both warriors erupt from their corners, going all-out. Both bring the full weight of their pain to bear, pulling out all the stops to try and end the fight quickly. However, the collision of fury almost cancels itself out; after the exchange, Stefan manages to inflict a small wound.

With Traits, Tactics, Items and Pain, we ended up drawing about 21 cards each for the attack!

Stefan brings the pain again, so Talisa goes on the defensive. This time Stefan manages to overpower Talisa and knock her down, and it looks as though he will dominate the match.

Talisa uses her dark powers, blurring in and seriously wounding Stefan with her shadow. She leeches off some of his health, restoring her own wounds in the process.

Stefan attempts an aggressive advance, but Talisa dances to the side and uses her shiv to stab him in the leg, slowing him down a little.

Both warriors are starting to wear down, and both go on the defensive. They briefly connect with each other, but neither manages to have much effect.

In the final round, Stefan charges forward aggressively. Talisa manages to trip him, and he smashes face-first into the floor!

At the final count, Stefan has 3 VP to Talisa's 5 VP. Talisa is declared the champion, much to her surprise and relief!

Now that Stefan has proven himself unworthy and a liability, the Assassin's Guild members leap upon him and tear him to pieces, throwing his body into the river.

Despite the riches and glory that come with victory, Talisa catches sight of Rogan in the crowd. The orphan, whom she had tried to protect from the horror and violence of her world, is watching her with enthusiasm and pride, the gleam of admiration in his eye. She sees Rogan's shadow blur and shift as hers does, and a feeling of anguish grips her as she realises her victory has only maintained the cycle of darkness and despair.

In the end, our characters sacrificed all they held dear in order to achieve ultimate victory. Both of our characters' Hope was many times lower than Pain.

Having gone through and figured out which scenes result in what changes, it's very easy to accumulate Pain and very difficult to gain Hope. The game's Hope/Pain economy is pretty much set up so that, unless things go perfectly for you, having Hope higher than Pain probably means you'll be lacking the resources required to actually win fights. Embracing Pain is a quick and easy way to gain power, but using this tactic all but guarantees that you'll get a "bad ending" and realise all your worst Fears for your Connections.

Eternal Contenders is a fun and interesting game. I need to work more at creating and embellishing descriptions of what's happening. There are many areas of the rules that say "this should be narrated appropriately" but there is almost nothing specifically tying the narration to the mechanics (apart from justifying Item use). It would be possible to play through a game by referring entirely to the mechanics, with no descriptions other than "I train my Power" or "I hit you, dealing two Wounds."

I suppose that this sort of descriptiveness depends entirely on the group. Having run Apocalypse World, though, I can see how descriptions in that are required in order to feed into the mechanics, and that the mechanics also feed back into the fiction. While it's awesome the way it does that, I'm not entirely sure how I can apply a similar structure to Neon Burn. The racing part of the game is pretty much all mechanical, feeding into the fiction insofar as it provides a result for the event (shot down, drop out, place, win). However, as it stands, it doesn't really matter how you describe your driving style, the dice aren't going to be affected. During the "roleplaying scenes" there's currently not much procedural incentive for adding descriptions apart from personal preference. I haven't quite finalised the procedure for playing out scenes though, so I'll look out for places where the fiction might be able to direct the mechanics.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Eternal Contenders: Oblim Harbour

After my two-player game with John, I got together with Barb and Rohin to try a three-player game of Eternal Contenders. We played a short game over two sessions, but I didn't have time to blog the first session straight away, so the entire account is in this post. I'll try to keep it brief!

  • Barb plays Alchё-Morei, a Dark-Friend cultist, worshipper of the dark god Xuxanadora. He wields an iron sacrificial stake. He hopes to build a temple and establish his religion firmly in Oblim, and fears that his cult might slip into obscurity.
  • Rohin plays Rudolf the Red-Guard, a Militant ex-mercenary. He's equipped with a tower shield. The Red-Guard company has fallen on hard times, with their remaining members scattered. Rudolf hopes to rebuild the company, and fears that their name will be forgotten to history.
  • I play Cadence Bell, a Rapscallion sailor whose father's shipping company has fallen on hard times. She's equipped with a small anchor-like grapple on a rope. She hopes to gain the funds and support to rebuild the company, and fears that her father will die a penniless and broken man.

Cadence works at the docks, moving crates around. It's modest work, but the paymaster short-changes her and she only earns half pay for her effort.

Alchё works by taking on an assassination contract. While he's successful, he's witnessed fleeing the scene and earns only half pay for a sloppy job.

The business colleague of Alchё's victim is on his way to pay for a hit on Alchё  when Rudolf goes to work by attempting to rob him! Unfortunately he fails, and is pursued by the city watch.

As Alchё returns to his abode in the poor district near the docks, Cadence robs him, getting away with some of his money!

Alchё challenges Cadence to a duel at the docks! It will be fought over five rounds, with no special rules.

The Watch eventually caught up with Rudolf, but he forms a connection with their Sergeant who recognises him as a veteran. Rudolf hopes to gain a position in the Watch, and fears being rejected and chased out of town.

Cadence and Alchё duel at the docks! Rudolf is among the spectators. The duel drags out into the full five rounds, with both warriors giving it everything they have. In the end, Alchё emerges victorious on points!

Alchё increases his Manoeuvre by training in the waters off the docks, trying to catch whiting with his teeth.

Rudolf works for the Watch, cleaning up drunks around the waterfront. He earns his wages, but one of the ruffians he cleaned up must have lightened his purse.

Cadence connects with her father, Yarvin Bell, and gives him some of the money she's earned. He's grateful, and Cadence feels hopeful about the future.

Alchё works by selling some of the fish he's caught at the docks. He doesn't earn much, and manages to spike his hand on a sharp fish-fin.

Rudolf works on his muscles, training his Power up.

This is where we ended the first session.

Cadence attempts to rob Alchё again, but he sees her coming and warns her off.

Alchё challenges Rudolf to a duel; it will be four rounds, with no special rules.

The duel between Alchё and Rudolf takes place at the docks, with Cadence observing. Alchё bets a little on himself.
Round One - Alchё comes in hard with his stake and Darkness techniques, and stabs Rudolf through the shoulder! 
Round Two - Both warriors bring the pain! Alchё manages to slip past Rudolf's tower shield to inflict a minor wound.
Round Three - Rudolf goes on the defensive, but Alchё comes in strong. Rudolf does little to slow his opponent down, and Alchё wins with a knockout!
As Alchё's collecting his winnings and leaving the docks, Cadence slips past and robs him of a little money. He has no idea where it went!

Alchё connects with his cult by investing in some building materials and starting work on the foundations of his Temple to Xuxanadora. Hope fills his dark heart.

Rudolf challenges Cadence to a duel! It will be to first blood, in a Godless arena.

Cadence and Rudolf meet for their duel on a narrow jetty. The loser will be the first person to be knocked in the water! Rudolf goes on the defensive, trying to skip out of the way. Cadence barrels straight past him, catching a glancing blow on the way. Her grapple trails behind her, latching onto Rudolf; with her momentum, she pulls him off-balance and sends him into the water!

Alchё tries to rob Cadence at the fish markets, but fails and the tables are turned. She teaches Alchё a lesson by taking his iron stake off him.

Rudolf does more work for the Watch, clearing up drunks around the docks.

Cadence works by lugging cargo around the docks. It's menial labour, but honest and happy work.

Alchё tries to rob Cadence again at the docks, but one of her dock-worker buddies warns her to watch her back and Alchё is forced to withdraw.

Rudolf starts a brawl with Alchё, but Alchё wins. Rudolf is forced to crawl away, humiliated.

At this point, Alchё's Renown reached the Endgame Trigger, and Rudolf's Pain became high enough to trigger his Pain Revealed.

Cadence returns home and gives all of her money to her father, gaining hope that they'll soon be able to rebuild the shipping company.

Alchё heads to the markets and buys an iron fire-poker, because it's really hard to find a place that sells sacrificial stakes of Xuxanadora.

Rudolf confronts his inner pain and gives in to it, becoming consumed with self-loathing and the desperation to prove himself.

The grand Tournament is declared, with fame and glory for the winner! The warriors all agree to a single three-way match, in an Enlightening arena.

The Arena conditions mean we each picked up a new Technique for this fight only.

The Tournament begins! Alchё and Rudolf both bring the pain, but Cadence holds back and goes on the defensive. Rudolf mirrors her defensive stance. There is a mighty exchange of blows; Alchё goes wild on Cadence with his poker, knocking her out cold and reclaiming his sacrificial stake. Although Rudolf manages to land a couple of blows, nothing can quell Alchё's fury. By the end of Round One, Alchё s knocked both Cadence and Rudolf out clean! The cultist is declared the winner, and riches and glory are showered upon him.


Cadence's father is still OK, but they aren't any closer to fulfilling their dream of restarting the shipping company either. It'll take a lot more hard work to get things off the ground.

Despite winning the Tournament, Alchё's cult is still forced to lurk in the shadows. Although he's made a start on the Temple to Xuxanadora, he, too, has a long way to go.

Transformed into a dark and twisted individual, Rudolf hunts down and personally puts an end to all of the surviving members of the Red-Guards. He's eventually arrested and executed for his crimes.

Cadence could possibly have won the final Tournament if I'd opted to Bring the Pain as well. I decided to hold back and try to just survive the first round, mostly because I had Hope at 4 and Pain at 3 and I wanted to try and come out of this game with a positive result. Unfortunately, losing the match meant I gained Pain, and so I got an ambivalent ending. If I'd Brought the Pain as well, my Pain would have equalled my Hope - but if I'd won the Tournament I could have both lost a point of Pain and gained a point of Hope! You live and learn.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Eternal Contenders: Oblim, Round 1

I've been thinking a lot about the GM-less part of Neon Burn, and although I think I have a fairly good handle on the way I want it to work, I've decided to try out a couple of GM-less games to get a better feel for them. I've read through a few such games, and read reviews of others, but there's nothing like a bit of practical experience.

Last night, John and I made a couple of fighters for Eternal Contenders and managed to get through quite a few scenes since there was just the two of us.

The game uses playing cards for scene resolution, more detailed round-by-round fights, and for random events. Generally, red cards are successes and black cards are failures, but whoever drew the highest black card gets to narrate the outcome of the scene. Normally the player to your left represents the Forces of Adversity; as it was just the two of us, we provided adversity for the other.

Character creation was pretty quick; there's only a few points to assign, and only a handful of Techniques to consider rather than an expansive list. The hardest part was coming up with a good concept and a suitable Connection - the thing or person your warrior's hopes rest on.

  • I play Talisa, a Dark-Friend street urchin who's caring for a young orphan boy. She hopes to gain fame and glory so she can provide him with a better life, and fears that he might end up as a good-for-nothing like herself. As a fighter she is quick and lithe, focusing on Mobility and Guard. Her dark power comes from a mysterious shadowy entity that inhabits her body, although the details remain hazy.
  • John plays Stefan, a Rapscallion with aspirations to run the local assassin's guild. He hopes to climb through their ranks, and fears being run out of town by them - or worse. As a fighter he focuses on the long haul, with high Guard and Stamina.

Since there's no GM, players take turns framing scenes for their own characters, which fall into various categories - I'll mark the scene types with bold in the narrative. As I want to talk about the session structure and both of our choices, I won't be writing the entry from my character's point of view.

We decided to set the game in the provided dark fantasy setting, the port city of Oblim.

With little wealth on hand, Talisa decides to work the crowd at the Pentangle crossroads by lightening some purses. Unfortunately, as she moves in on a mark, someone bumps her from behind and she is pushed into her intended victim. There is a hue and cry, and she is grabbed and dragged away by the city guard to spend the night in a cell. She manages to give them the slip before being thrown in the dungeon.

The very first scene went really badly, as I drew no successes against one success from the job. Utter failure!

Stefan seeks out a back-alley dealer and trades coin for a potent poison.

Talisa, still destitute and having heard about Stefan's purchase, wants the poison for herself and decides to rob him. She jumps him in a dark alleyway and manages to wrest the bottle from his possession before darting away into the night.

Stefan refuses to give up so easily, and gives chase to teach her a lesson. The two engage in a vicious back-street brawl, but neither can overwhelm the other. They are forced to break it up and flee in opposite directions as the alarm is raised and the Watch draws near.

John only realised he could add a bonus success to Threat scenes due to his "Ominous" Technique after we'd resolved the robbery. Both Robbery and Brawl are Threat scenes; it was only with the bonus success that he managed to draw even in the brawl.

Talisa still desperately needs coin, so she takes on menial work as a courier delivering a package of illegal goods across town for a crime boss. Unfortunately the city is crawling with guards, no doubt on alert after all the back-alley fighting that's been going on, so she's forced to take many detours to avoid patrols. She delivers the package eventually but is late, so receives only half the promised pay and a clip around her ear for her trouble.

Stefan takes on work from the Assassin's Guild - a minor contract to assassinate one of the city guards who's been a little too zealous in his duties. Although he manages to complete the deed, he is witnessed doing so, and the authorities know his face. He manages to escape, but only receives half pay for a messy job.

John realised that it's more profitable to set a large payment (which makes the job more difficult) and hope that, with at least one success, you'll earn half the pay and a point of Pain. Taking smaller jobs increases the chance of outright success (and a full, but small, payment), but it doesn't much alter the chance of you failing utterly by getting no successes at all, as I did in the first scene. If you get no successes, your only hope is that the job draws no successes either.

Talisa connects with the young orphan she's caring for. The two of them are basically camping out in a ruined building, and Talisa's trying to prevent him from becoming involved in the slum society. She spends all her wealth to bring him food. While he's OK for the moment, though, he's still no closer to putting his life on the streets behind him.

Neither I nor the Forces of Adversity got any successes on this scene, so the outcome was "ambivalent."

Stefan connects with his contact at the Assassin's Guild, apologising for the messy job and offering a tithe to smooth things over. His contact is pleased, and it looks as though Stefan's career in the Guild is on its way up. 

Talisa sought Stefan out in the dingy tavern known as the Rusty Chain, and challenged him to a duel! She taunted him about thinking he's a big-shot now he's killed a Guard, but that didn't stop her stealing his poison vial earlier! He accepts the challenge, and they are swept downstairs to the basement arena by a crowd eager for blood!

We drew randomly for the details of the fight. I had a choice between a 2 or 4 round fight, and chose 2 as it was getting late and Talisa doesn't have the Stamina for long matches. We also ended up with a Healing Arena which would automatically remove a Wound at the end of each round; we kind of forgot about that, but as it turns out it wouldn't have had any effect on a two-round fight because of the Wound allocation timing.

The duel begins on the dusty, sawdust-strewn basement floor, surrounded by a crowd of onlookers. Stefan bets all of his remaining money on himself; penniless, Talisa can only hope for a victory to fill her purse.

This is an all-or-nothing match to see who can fight their way out of the gutter, so Stefan comes powering out of his corner and Talisa is forced to go all-out to match him! She ducks low and fast, manoeuvring past his buckler and inflicting a minor wound with her poisoned wrist-blades!

In game terms, John opted to Bring the Pain: once per fight, a Warrior can add their Pain rating to their attack, and if they hit, half their Pain to damage. I did the same and just came out on top, inflicting 1 Wound; however, I not only forgot to add half my Pain to the damage I drew, but I also forgot to draw the 3 extra damage cards Talisa gets when Bringing the Pain because of her "Faith in Pain" Technique... so I could have done a lot better!

Stefan continues his rampage, bearing down on Talisa to crush her with his mighty fists. She tries to throw dust in his eyes and take his feet out from under him, but he barrels straight through and smashes his fist into her head. Talisa is knocked to the ground, her ears ringing. Although she stands, the match is over.

Due to his "Blackguard's Faith" Technique, Stefan can Bring the Pain twice in one fight. Since Talisa was unable to do so, I chose Dishonourable Devices in an attempt to maximise my defence and offence. Although the judges didn't spot the trick and penalise her, the tactic didn't help much.

Stefan wins the match, with 2 VP to 1. He gains wealth and accolades, while Talisa earns a pittance and must slink off into the shadows. She has been pushed to the limit, and is now on the edge of doing something desperate to improve her situation.

Stefan gained 2 Wealth, plus another 2 from his wager, plus 2 Renown, and lost a point of Pain. Talisa gained 1 Wealth and a point of Pain, and would have gained 1 Renown except it was cancelled out because I used Dishonourable Devices and then lost the fight!

I had a really fun time, and it's been great to write up as well. Apart from needing to frequently look up procedures and clarify rules, the game was quick, light, and easy. Now we've played a couple of hours of it, things should start to play more smoothly.

I can't say the cards were particularly kind to me, but it was still fun to see my character being ground down and nearly overwhelmed with the pain of her existence. I'm looking forward to seeing if Talisa will resist the spiral into darkness, or turn into a hopelessly lost monster. So far we're about half-way through the game, so another good session ought to finish it off. Once a Warrior reaches a certain Renown score (depending how long you want the game to last) it triggers an End-Game tournament which determines the overall champion and resolves all of the Warriors' hopes or fears.

It worked pretty well just with the two of us, but I'm really looking forward to trying it out with a larger group!

>>> Round 2

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Savage Devonport 5

Last time, our heroes pursued a group of orcs into the twisted landscape of the Shattered Mountain in search of the Lost Library. Having overcome the orcs, they began exploring the ruins...
  • +Annette plays Snowfall, a Human Paladin whose family owns an apothecary in Stormhaven.
  • David plays Ret Inas, a Human Thief from the village of Dryfield.
  • James plays Angus Arrowbeard, a Dwarven Archer/Rogue from a hold to the North.
  • Michael plays Novim, an Elf Ranger who has sworn fealty to the Lord of the Jagged Coast.
  • Sasha plays Kae Swiftfoot, a Monk/Rogue who owns a corn farm North of Stormhaven.
  • Shane plays Typhus, a Wizard who seeks to make his fortune.

After exploring the doorway to the left and defeating a brood of giant spiders, the party returns to the main chamber and unlocks the doorway to the right. Kae manages to avoid a poisoned needle trap in the lock. Beyond, they discover only a series of derelict rooms and hallways, with most of the books long since mouldered and rotten. They manage to find a stairway up, and come out on the walkway surrounding the main chamber one floor up - the stairs down to the ground floor had long since collapsed.

Always willing to walk straight into danger, Kae steps out first, and is nearly hit by a stone gargoyle plummeting from the upper galleries! Three more circle downwards on rigid wings, and battle is met! The gargoyles' tough hide makes them difficult to put down. One manages to engage Novim in close combat, and requires some cross-fire to defeat. Soon the gargoyles lie shattered into piles of rubble, and the party has suffered no major injuries.

In an alcove, they discover an enchanted longsword. The blade is covered in mystical sigils that Typhus identifies as a Shapeshifting spell. Ret claims it as he desperately needs a stronger melee weapon, having only been armed with a knife.

From the balcony here, they can see some alcoves very high up on the opposite side of the chamber, among shattered stone walkways. There seems to be something in one, but they can't tell what. Also, directly above them is a great jagged hole in the stonework leading into the mountain. They head upstairs, Typhus leading the way through a maze of corridors and hallways, until they reach the chamber that opens out onto the central chamber through the broken wall.

The large chamber has a single door from the passageways. Three of its walls are solid and strong, but the fourth facing onto the central tower chamber has been bashed or broken through, leaving a large jagged hole. The floor here is covered with the dried and dismembered carcasses of many creatures; this is obviously the lair of some fierce beast, although they can't immediately identify it.

From here, the walkway around the central chamber is broken and intermittent. In an alcove opposite, they can see what looks like a shiny suit of mail. Rather than risk jumping across the gaps, Ret uses his new sword to transform into a hawk and fly across. On the other side, he finds a mail hauberk, and also discovers a black leather-bound spellbook with pages of woven metal cloth.

Before he can secure the items and return, the group hears the beating of powerful wings approach. They call out to Ret, who has time to throw the armour and the book off the ledge onto the floor far below just before a wyvern flies through the cracked dome! It screeches as it discovers people in its lair, and swoops to attack Typhus! He backs away as Kae, Snowfall, and Angus step forward to engage it in close combat. Ret turns back into a hawk and flies towards the wyvern's back, attempting to attack it in the back with his longsword by changing back after making it to the other side. Unfortunately his blow is turned aside by its thick hide.

Lashing with tooth and poisonous tail-sting, the wyvern rages against the heroes. It inflicts several near-misses, but good luck saves the adventurers from harm. After an epic battle it succumbs to their blows and falls dead, with Kae striking the final wound!

They take the time to dig through the bone-litter, uncovering some coin, and then head downstairs to investigate the treasure flung from the alcove. Typhus identifies both items. The armour is known as the Hauberk of the Mage-Slayer, and grants the wearer great resistance to magic. The book is a Tome of Zombie, which Typhus keeps even though the spell is as yet beyond his capabilities.

Having scoured the Library for all that it now holds, the party makes their way back to the village of Dryfield to rest, resupply, and consider their next adventure.

That was the last session of Savage Worlds we'll be playing for a while. Not a particularly conclusive end, but at least the fight with the wyvern was a nice "boss fight." The campaign is going on indefinite hiatus while Sasha starts running a game of D&D Next using the current playtest rules.

>>> To be continued..?

Sunday, 21 July 2013

Neon Burn: racing game development

Okay, so it's been about four months since I posted about my idea for an RPG based around an antigrav racing league, which now has the working title Neon Burn. I hadn't thought about it much or made any progress since I made the first post about it, but last week I started fiddling about with dice and managed to come up with what is hopefully an interesting core mechanic. As far as I can tell at this stage, it meets all of my requirements.

Please note, most of the terminology hasn't been finalised. I'll brainstorm some more concise, punchy, evocative terms.
  • Tracks may have an environment modifier - a special rule or effect that applies to the whole race.
  • The Track is made up of Segments.
    • A whole Race will probably encompass 6 to 12 Segments, although the Track itself may only be 3 to 6 Segments long if a number of laps are required.
  • Each Segment has a Difficulty (0 to 5) and a Width (1 to 6). Some may also have special rules or restrictions.
  • Racers roll a pool of d6'es.
    • I haven't yet figured out how the size of the pool will be determined.
    • Racers have the option to roll fewer dice; it reduces the chance of getting Successes, but also reduces the chance of Failures. In this sense, the size of the pool represents how much the Racer is willing to put on the line.
  • There's a general Field pool, representing generic unnamed Racers. This will usually be larger than the PC Racer's pool.

For every Segment, each named Racer and the Field roll their pools.
  • Any dice that roll under the Segment Difficulty are Failures.
    • Failures reduce your resources (Fuel, Integrity, Position, Focus, Vehice stats). Depending on the resource, this may penalise your ongoing performance, or bring you closer to being knocked out of the race.
  • Any dice that roll equal to the Segment Difficulty are Basic Successes.
    • These Successes only go towards negotiating the Track successfully, and don't usually provide any other benefit. This is the minimum required for safe driving.
  •  Any dice that roll greater than the Segment Difficulty are Bonus Successes (Bonuses).
    • Bonuses are used to compete with other Racers for Position or other advantages.
    • Each Segment has a number of slots for Bonuses equal to its Width. 
    • Starting with the best-Positioned Racer, each Racer takes turns to assign all of their Bonus dice into the available Width slots.
    • When all Bonus dice have been assigned, go through each slot and:
      • Eliminate any matching numbers (pairs, triples etc.).
      • Keep only the highest die in each slot; eliminate the rest.
    • After the elimination, Racers who still have Bonuses may spend them to benefit themselves or penalise their opponents.
      • Typically these are used to increase Position.
      • Depending on the race type, they might be used to reduce opponent Integrity or other resources with weaponry/ramming/special manoeuvres.

That's the basic resolution system. It looks a bit long, but in practice it's pretty quick and simple. I've been sorting three or four pools and assigning results by myself in a reasonable period of time. It's abstract enough that it could easily apply to various types of racing (boats, cars, bikes, even horses). It's complex enough to allow for some strategies, and has plenty of opportunities for special rules to modify or expand on the basics. I also really like the way it's possible to succeed while failing spectacularly and building up consequences. I hope to make this pool-comparison system the resolution mechanic for off-track rolls as well.

On top of the basic system, characters will get to choose dice tricks they can apply during the race, such as rerolling, modifying, or reassigning dice results, trading one resource for another (Fuel, Integrity, Focus, Position), or generating off-track effects (strengthened relationships, increased sponsorship).

So, the above works as-written for a basic multi-vehicle race. Whoever ends the race with the highest Position is the winner, with ties decided by a roll-off. Let's take a quick look at how it can be modified for different types of races.

  • Rally - When there's only one vehicle on the track at any given moment, you're not jostling for position. Instead, the focus is on technical driving and overcoming the track itself. The rules work as for a regular race, except:
    • You don't eliminate Bonuses against other Racers; any Bonuses you can assign to the Segment's Width, you can keep.
    • You can only spend Bonuses on your own vehicle; you can't use them to penalise other Racers.
  • Combat - In a regular race, you can spend your Bonuses to reduce an opponent's Integrity if they are on the same Position, which represents ramming or muscling them into the barrier
    • In a Combat League, various weapons may allow racers to spend Successes against opponents in front of or behind them, or increase the amount of Integrity loss, or cause some other penalty.
    • I've yet to work out how dedicated Gunners will fit into the resolution system.
    • I've yet to determine how to weaponise the Field of generic Racers.
  • Street Racing - I haven't thought about this too much yet, but there are a couple of possibilities:
    • Increase the Segment Difficulties (or modify them randomly?) to represent interference from civilian traffic.
    • Roll a separate Traffic pool that doesn't gain Position but which interferes with Racers. Perhaps it can ebb and flow? Perhaps Traffic Failures result in penalties against the Racers? Perhaps too much fallout may result in the authorities giving chase?
  • Drag or Circuit Racing - In these sorts of events, the focus isn't so much on the track as it is on the skills of the drivers and the tuning of their vehicles. It's a fairly simple matter to:
    • Drop the Segment Difficulty to 0 or 1, and take off the Width restriction.
    • This will turn the race into a batle between two (or more) Racers. More Bonuses means more focus on the direct competition between the Racers.

I'm cautiously optimistic that this approach will net me the results I want. I also have some ideas about the off-track scenes that make up the pre-race game, but I've yet to figure out how I want to approach this end of the game mechanically. Since the race itself has been my major sticking point, I'm just glad to finally have something with potential.

I intend to tie in some aspects of the off-track scenes into race performance, so I'm deliberately leaving some areas vague so I have somewhere to plug things into.

Hopefully I'll have more progress soon! I'm already compiling tables for random Track construction, and brainstorming ideas for character dice tricks and such. I also hope to demo the basic mechanics with another person soonish, to see if they can pick it up easily or if there are any rough spots that need revision.