Wednesday, 29 May 2013

TBZ: Guardians of Green River, Acts 0 & 1

I'm running a Tenra Bansho Zero scenario at a local games venue, The Mad Lounge. I was writing it up, and got to the point where I really needed to actually run it to see where it worked and where it didn't. If it plays out alright, I'll refine it and create a good version for public distribution.

The scenario's built for four characters, but I only ended up with three players. We organised to meet up on a couple of weeknights, so it will take two 3-4 hour sessions to get through the whole scenario.
  • Chris plays Crimson Lotus, a male Phoenix Order Buddhist monk who has lived in Green River for several years.
  • John plays Honjo Yoshino, a female samurai and high-ranking member of the Iron Fist Mercenary Company.
  • Sean plays Omayu the Worm, an annelidist doctor of indeterminate gender (possibly female), who's lived on the outskirts of Green River for many years.

Zero Act

Omayu the Worm has long lived near the village of Green River, with a small house on the edge of the woods. After the last war, bandits and deserters began slowly amassing in the hills, until one day they attack and loot the village. Omayu sees two bandits threatening a pair of villagers near the river, including a young woman, Onatsu, whom Omayu feels oddly connected to. Omayu calmly asks if the bandits need medical assistance, but the ruffians demand food and supplies. The annelidist distracts them from the villagers by inviting them to her hut, which they ransack before fleeing.

Omayu's Destiny is Goal: Make the village a safe place to live.

A week or so later, having emerged victorious from the recent war, the Iron Fist mercenary company travels through the hills on their way to their next battlefield. As they descend into the valley, they see enemy soldiers from the last battle attacking and looting the small farming community of Green River. The place reminds samurai Honjo Yoshino so much of her own lost home that she immediately suggests to Captain Souma that they save the villagers. Souma seems amused; their contract has ended, after all, and these men are no longer their enemies. However, he is inclined to defeat the looters for some reason, perhaps as a goodwill gesture towards their former patron, and orders the company to protect the village.

Honjo's Destiny is Goal: Protect the village.

The Buddhist monk Crimson Lotus has lived in Green River for several years, preaching peace and harmony amid war and strife. Now, after driving away a group of bandits, the Iron Fist mercenary company stands arrayed at the edge of the village. The village elders offer their thanks and their hospitality, inviting the mercenaries to winter here. The entire village kneels and bows, apart from the monk who stands off to one side and inclines his head as a gesture of respect. Crimson Lotus feels a deep sense of unease about the flashy samurai standing beside the mercenary commander, but keeps his thoughts to himself for now.

Crimson Lotus' Destiny is Goal: Maintain harmony within the village.

The unplayed character, a Kijin mercenary, does have a Destiny that isn't just about the village. Otherwise, the Destinies are all fairly similar, just with different wording. It would be nice to maybe mix them up a bit more, and tie people more strongly into courses of action that will provoke drama.

Act One: Blissful Autumn

Some of the mercenaries suffered minor injuries in the skirmish. Souma sends Honjo to escort the injured men to see Omayu the Worm. The two exchange a couple of words, and Honjo leaves the men there to get fixed up. Omayu uses medicines and potions rather than reveal her annelids.

Honjo checks out the village, directing mercenaries to go on patrol or keep watch. She notices a group of children following her about, but ignores them. She runs into Crimson Lotus doing morning exercises, and they verbally spar a little. Honjo has no use for religion, and Crimson Lotus is uneasy about the samurai. They play go; Honjo wins, despite not having played before. Crimson Lotus is infuriatingly gracious in defeat. The village children decide that she's okay with them.

A few nights later, there's a big harvest festival with singing, dancing, eating, and drinking! Honjo is worried that, now the harvest's in, the bandits will take this opportunity to attack. She puts most of the men on watch, and patrols the village herself. Omayu takes a bowl of rice and some sake and lurks in the shadows at the edge of town. Fearing that the annelidist will be attacked, Honjo stalks her and keeps close watch.

Crimson Lotus talks to some of the villagers. Some of the men are worried about their daughters being seduced by mercenaries. Crimson Lotus says that virtue untested is no true virtue, but that does little to ease their minds!

Omayu witnesses Onatsu being harassed by an amorous and drunken mercenary, and goes to her rescue. Crimson Lotus and Omayu talk with the village elder, Old Kobunta, about the mercenary presence. The old man thinks that the Iron Fist have, by and large, been a boon for the community. Honjo watches from the shadows.

Late at night, after the festival has wound down, Honjo is still on patrol. She sees suspicious shadows moving near the rice shed, and follows them into an alleyway between buildings. Crimson Lotus just happens to be passing as the bandits near the front of the shed; he greets them, and their leader decides to try and take him hostage, failing to notice the dull flare of soulgems behind him signalling Honjo's samurai transformation.

Honjo cuts down a couple of bandits in the alley, while four try to subdue the monk. Crimson Lotus counters all of their attacks, knocking the swords from their hands without wounding them. Honjo comes up behind the group and scares them off. Crimson Lotus trips one and puts his foot on his chest, and uses the Binding Prayer to stop another from running. The other two flee across the bridge, where they are met by other mercenaries on patrol.

Omayu turns up in time to treat the wounded. Crimson Lotus questions the prisoners, using the threat of leaving and having Honjo question them instead. They reveal the location of their camp, but point out that it will be moved soon if the raiding party doesn't return.

Honjo mobilises the Iron Fist and they fall upon the remaining bandits, wiping them out.

Act Two Preview

The bandits are defeated, but the mercenaries remain. As the winter draws on, will the situation become increasingly problematic?

We didn't actually run that final battle between the mercenaries and the bandits; it was pretty much taken as read that a heavily-depleted and hungry group of deserters would be no match for a well-equipped elite mercenary force.

I may need to revise some of the early scenes in Act One that are basically just two characters talking without much impetus to actually interact with each other. Either that, or I need to make it clearer that scenes like this are for demonstrating emotions, impressions, relationships and such - to express your character and develop their relationships through roleplay.

The game went pretty well though, and I think the players enjoyed it. The first session went for about three hours. A lot of time was taken up by rules explanations and figuring out how things worked. Nobody wanted to spend Kiai, for example, until they figured out how Fates are used to reduce Karma. In Act One, we just had a couple of points of Aiki being spent as Kiai to avoid any Karma gain!

With a four hour slot booked for next week, and with everybody now familiar with the basics of the system, we should have no trouble finishing the game in session two.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Ebon Eaves: Chapter III

It's been a few weeks, but we finally managed to get together for a decent session! We actually played a tiny bit a week or two back, but it only went for an hour and not much actually happened, so I've saved it for the start of this post.
  • +Paul plays Father Aaron, a Devout. He is a Presbyterian priest, sent to Ebon Eaves for being difficult and asking too many questions. He wears formal vestments, has an open face with bright eyes, and is of slim build.
  • +Annette plays Amy Hearst, a Librarian. She's recently come to the town of Ebon Eaves to open a new library. She wears a nice suit, has an open face with clever eyes, and has a lithe frame.
Previously, our intrepid pair investigated Manley Manor, and discovered it was being used by the town electrician. Just as they thought the whole "haunted house" thing was a ruse to scare people away, they narrowly escaped the house pursued by two apparitions under the electrician's command!


Amy checks the library, and digs through old civic records. She finds some more information on the men who went missing eight years ago; they were all pillars of the community, their religious affiliation had been glossed over, and the coroner had listed the deceased as "death by misadventure" with no details or specific causes, which smacks of a cover-up.

Father Aaron meditates on the revelations of the previous night, realising that the ghosts are more likely to be warded against with the strange seven-pointed star amulet his mentor gave him than with his cross. He goes through the church records, but can't find any information on the vanished men, as they were apparently not members of the congregation. He does notice that, starting about 50 years ago, there was an increase in both the number of births and the number of deaths. Most of the deaths were of newborns or young children.

On her way to lunch, Amy sees a small truck driving past with "Clark Lewis - Electrician" painted on the side. 

This is about where our first mini-session ended. The start of the next session was a re-cap of all that had gone before, and a reiteration of everything they'd found out about the town's history. I also suggested that in small-town 1920's America, the library hours probably didn't need to be 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, thus hopefully freeing Amy up to do more investigating during the week.

After lunch, Amy muses on the ghost problem. While she figures that the seven-pointed star is probably a ward against them, she also reasons that the Church of the Seventh Star may have books of rituals that might be used to banish them. Mystery enthusiast Marjory Debnam visits after lunch and volunteers to be a library assistant, thus freeing up a little of Amy's time. 

The two investigators compare notes at the church, and decide to go talk to the mayor's son, Johnny Wilson, who saw Old Manley's ghost. He recounts his tale, and Amy says he must have been very brave to approach the haunted house.  Father Aaron asks if he's ever seen a book with a seven-pointed star on it. He doesn't have much to do with books, but he recalls such a star used to be on the front of the big building in town when he was little, before it became Rain House. He's also seen similar stars hidden among the eaves of the Manley Manor.

Next, they go to talk to some of the locals at the pub. For a bottle of single-malt liquor, Julian Marlow the cobbler opens up and tells them tales of Ebon Eaves' dark past - how fifty years ago, the town elders sold the population out to be the subject of government experiments. They poisoned the water supply, which changed folk; they had more babies, but the children frequently died.

Eight or nine years ago, the local Rain twins Taylor and Maximilian, who had become big-name lawyers, returned to the town. They'd uncovered the government conspiracy, and led the population on a crusade against the town elders. Without saying as much directly, Marlow heavily implies that the Rain twins instigated lynch mobs that were responsible for the disappearances.

After that, the twins went on to win a class action suit against the government, and about five years ago they returned to the town and settled in what is now Rain House, from where they administer the fund that pays benefits to all the families affected by the experiments.

From what they've uncovered so far, it seems that the Seventh Star members of 50 years ago were responsible for selling out the town for government experimentation. The pair theorise that the Rain twins deliberately targeted the Seventh Star members, possibly in order to take over the community. They now have many more pieces to the puzzle, but still don't have the whole picture. Still, the outlook is very bleak - it looks as if the Seventh Star and the Rain twins may be two sets of evil at each other's throats.

They return to the church. Father Aaron calls on his faithful Church Fellowship members, led by Anne Vale, to find out if the Church of the Seventh Star is returning.

As Father Aaron leaves the church to return to his cottage, he sees the electrician's truck parked in the street just near his house...

Amy returns to the boarding house as evening falls. She hears Mrs. Partridge address her strange and disturbing neighbour as Mrs. Rain...

Another all-in-town session, and once more I felt the system's gears weren't really engaging. The players made no dice rolls at all (I suppose I could have suggested Read a Person once or twice).

Most of my work was in simply trying to provide as much information as I could through the channels available to me, to help them gain a better understanding of the situation. I'm not even sure if that's a Keeper Move; the closest it comes is "announce trouble elsewhere" (with "elsewhere" being mostly "in the past") or "foreshadow future trouble" (by letting them know what they're dealing with). Without enough information, they've been feeling a little lost and unsure what to do.

The only moves I consciously made were "offer an opportunity, with or without a cost" (Marjory offering to be a library assistant), and "make them buy" (Marlow requesting a drink to loosen his tongue). Actually, I did make a couple of other moves right at the end, which will hopefully set things up for a more involved next session.

On reflection, I should probably come up with more immediate "deal with this" stuff to put in their path if they spend too much time investigating or can't figure out what to do next - give them situations that demand an immediate reaction and may lead to their own revelations. Some dark thoughts are already bubbling to the surface of my mind for next time...

>>> To be continued!

Sunday, 19 May 2013

The Complex: Episode 6

It's over! This week's episode wraps up Season 1 of The Complex. It's been a hell of a ride, and a great experience with a great group of players. Part of me is glad (relieved?) it's over, though, because it does take a fair amount of work to prep a session properly.

Night-time, in the Penthouse's roof garden. There's the sound of helicopters, and spotlights playing from above. Black nylon ropes unfurl, and paramilitary troops in black gear, armed with sub-machineguns, rappel down - to be met by a hail of bullets from Takeshi's pistols. He dives behind the bar as the full-length windows shatter in slow motion, and resurfaces with an assault rifle. He fires a grenade at one of the helicopters, and it crashes in a flaming heap into the roof-garden.

Meanwhile, Sheila's cave is dark and empty. Tony calls for her but she doesn't answer. He follows his heart to a spot in the middle of the floor, and digs down a little way to reveal part of an ancient skeleton. He senses the approach of a powerful entity, and prepares for spiritual warfare.

In the foyer, Aki's using her force field to prevent a squad of armed troops from entering the front doors. Suddenly, Tony runs in and yells "Stop! Your power's going to go out of control! You'll destroy the building!" Before she can react to this, Takeshi comes bounding down the stairs and shoots Tony!

Episode 6: Metamorphosis

Starring (in alphabetical order):
  • +Lloyd Gyan as Aki Enoki, graduate student of biological anthropology on a gap year.
  • +David Miessler-Kubanek as Tony Pearson, the apartment's maintenance man, and an ex-hacker from California.
  • +Steve Moore as Takeshi Sekiguchi, a retired hit-man trying to keep a low profile.
Produced and Directed by Craig Judd

Special Thanks to Sarah Kaplan for introducing Odyssey Tech into the game.


Tony takes the elevator to the Penthouse, and lets Takeshi know he survived the collapse of Odyssey Tech's outback compound (see Episode 5 - Ed). He also asks if Takeshi would be willing to sign the building over to him, or become partners, because Tony's found his calling as guardian of the sacred site.  The door opens and Sheila enters, leading Aki by the hand. Sheila tells them that they are all her Guardians. She has to go to sleep for a little while, and she needs them all to make sure she's safe.

Sheila disappears again as Aki and Tony start to argue. Since he promised to tell her things after they got back, Tony tells Aki a bit more about the powers and spirits. Aki thinks that putting people in cells locks away their power, but you don't need to keep the person locked up once the spirit's incarcerated. She's also worried that her force field powers might be because of a prisoner possessing her, and wants to test it out by having Tony put her in a cell to see what happens.

As they leave to go downstairs, Takeshi's phone rings. Blake tries to hire him to kill Tony, and threatens Brett's life to ensure his co-operation. He wants the job done by tonight. Takeshi says he'll consider it.

Down in the prison, Aki knows each cell is for a specific prisoner, and tries to find out which is "hers." Tony doesn't know of one that's free for her, so he uses his power to steal her genius and points her at a random cell. While she bumbles about, Tony asks Takeshi to help him "dispose of" somebody - he wants Takeshi's help to get rid of "Tony Pearson," because he wants to cast off his secret identity and stop running. Tony returns Aki's intelligence; she decides to study the prison and move some of her gear down here.

Tony starts work on a 3D replica of himself, or at least his skin, so they'll be able to fake his death somehow.

In the penthouse, Zoe's almost recovered from her ordeal. Takeshi tries to talk to her, but she's terrified of him. He tells her he's a reformed man, but she says she knows about the "jobs" he used to do for Martin. In all honesty, he can't tell her that he's stopped taking those kinds of jobs.

Aki lets Tony know that Zoe is recovering in Takeshi's apartment, so Tony goes up to see her. Zoe says that she's been so confused for so long. She now remembers clearly, the person she saw being sacrificed in England was herself! She was "sacrificed" to an entity in an Odyssey ritual, but Tony has broken that bond. They share a touching moment, and Tony helps her down to his apartment where she'll be more at ease.

Aki shows Aomo around the prison complex, and Aomo stumbles across the passage into Sheila's cave. Aki is amazed by the cave art on the walls and ceiling, which culminates in a radiant woman attended by dolphins. She also finds footprints and signs of someone leaving the cave, but not of anyone else entering it.

After Zoe and Tony leave, Takeshi heads into his garden to meditate and try to gain a precognitive vision that will help him locate Brett. 

Takeshi rides a motorbike into a warehouse guarded by half a dozen corporate goons; he takes them out in style, and rescues Brett who's tied to a chair in the middle of the floor. As they hurry to leave, Brett says Tony was there, and taunted him that he'd never discover Tony's true identity now! Takeshi gets a precognitive flash that something bad's about to happen on top of the apartment building, and that he should get his arsenal ready.

After dark, Takeshi defends the rooftop from rappelling assailants. As the helicopter crashes into the garden though, it and the dead bodies shimmer and melt away - an illusion! Takeshi glimpses someone near the Penthouse's front door, and pursues them. As he enters the hallway, he sees the elevator doors closing. Inside, Blake smirks at him, and his appearance changes to Tony just as the doors shut and it departs for the ground floor. Takeshi curses under his breath and takes the stairs...

In Sheila's darkened cave, Tony sets up for a battle with the approaching spirit. He unlocks the spirits of the prisoners and binds them to his will, using them as a weapon to try and corrupt and shut down the hostile entity. He also feels the other Guardians' powers activate, and links himself to them telepathically.

At the front of the building, the mercenaries shoot out the glass but can't get through Aki's force field. "Tony" runs in and tells her to stop, but Takeshi arrives via the stairs and shoots him in the head. Aki is taken aback, and is about to push Takeshi back with her force field, but Tony's voice in her head makes her stop. She looks again, and sees that the body is actually Blake.

The soldiers take this opportunity to try and get inside, but Aki pushes them back out again. The troops pull back, and there's the ominous revving of an engine. An assault vehicle tries to ram the door, but Aki uses her force construct power to disassemble it from the inside. The van disintegrates, its ram sliding to a halt harmlessly just in front of the door.

Tony senses that the entity has arrived, and Aki hears the slow step of hard-soled boots approaching in the sudden silence. Martin Houndsly steps into the light and tries to simply walk through Aki's wall of force, but she wraps it around him and holds him in place. Tony realises that the hostile entity he felt is not attached to Martin, but is in fact Martin himself! His body is host to a powerful spirit, and any trace of humanity has long since been burned away.

Since the front entrance is blocked, the troops try to get in via a back entrance. Takeshi calls the police and then tries to stop them, but gets pinned down in a small room. Tony wins the spiritual battle with Aki's help; Martin's entity is extracted by spirit-prisoners and dragged down to the cave, leaving his human body a drooling vegetable. Tony wants to crucify the entity and make an example of it for all who would do harm to the site, but Sheila reappears - not as a girl but as a young woman. She calms his vengeful impulse, and he realises he was about to become as bad as those he is fighting. She takes the spirit and tells him she'll make sure this one goes back where it belongs, before walking away through the wall.

Aki confronts the troops, holding Martin's body in a force bubble. She suggests they might want to leave before the police arrive, and with sirens wailing in the distance they call a retreat.

Tony and Takeshi dress up Blake's body in Tony's replica skin, and put the gun in Martin's hand. Tony hides while Takeshi and Brett deal with the police.

Tag Scenes

The next day, Aki passes Takeshi in the foyer. She stops and asks why he had to kill Blake instead of just disabling him. He admits that old habits die hard; in the end, he gives her his other pistol and asks him to destroy it. If he still has it, he knows he's going to be tempted to use it.

Aki continues downstairs to visit Tony, and discovers the door ajar. She knocks and enters, to find him clean-shaven and with a new hairstyle and smart clothing. He introduces himself as Carl Webber, and says he's not sure where his work as Sheila's Guardian will take him. She wishes him good luck. He praises her newfound mastery of her powers, and says she has demonstrated control and self-confidence. As a gift, he gives her a wi-fi router to use while researching the underground complex.

That evening, Carl and Takeshi meet up at Shogun Karaoke for drinks, and discuss the future.


And that's a wrap!

I think the whole "twelve hours earlier" thing worked out okay. it's not the sort of thing I would attempt in most games, but Smallville gives the GM the right of hard scene framing, and it helps to have the right group who'll collaborate where necessary to reach a certain outcome. For taking liberties with their characters like that, I also gave everyone an extra Plot Point.

That said, I think some of the connectivity was a little tenuous. I started with the desire to have Takeshi shoot Tony at the end of the flash-forward, and had to work backwards from there to create a logical reason for him to actually want to do that in the story when the time arrived.

The middle of the session was a little bit loose; I spent a lot of prep-time figuring out how to get from the start to the flash-forward, and only managed to give Takeshi a solid storyline to follow. The other two I sort of left to their own devices, and I think it showed - we didn't actually have any PC vs PC Contests in this episode at all. And although Martin put up a decent resistance, against two PCs he was unable to hold his own or inflict any consequences or Stress.

The final was really about resolving outstanding storylines and external threats. I tried really hard to come up with a way to force Tony and Takeshi into conflict, but apart from asking one to kill the other (which I didn't really expect him to do), I couldn't come up with anything. They are just too agreeable! Their Relationship statements aren't really conducive to drama, and I couldn't even come up with a good conflict based on the established fiction.

Anyway, it's all a learning experience, and I'm sure I'll be able to bring more to the table next time I'm involved in a Cortex Plus Drama game.

All up, it's been a very cool and enjoyable campaign, and I'm glad I've been able to give a few people a chance to try the Smallville RPG.

Thanks for reading!

Monday, 13 May 2013

Caught up on 2012!

I've finally cleared the backlog of posts I wanted to make about my game odyssey - the year of trying out new and different systems in 2012. I really should have started this blog last year, but I've diligently gone back and written about all the games I ran, and some of the games I played.

The experience certainly opened my eyes to new possibilities. I bought a lot of games I haven't got around to playing yet. Some I read, but decided I didn't really like parts of (Trail of Cthulhu, some version of HeroQuest, In Flames), I also bought a couple of games with interesting ideas which I may yet try (Bliss Stage, Leverage), and all of them have shown me new mechanics and new ways of approaching roleplaying games.

Since starting my odyssey I've introduced my girlfriend to roleplaying with a tailored one-on-one campaign (Blood Hunter), and started playing by Hangout with people in other countries (so far, just The Complex using Smallville).

This year I've picked up some more new games (Army of Darkness, Dungeon World, tremulus, Microscope, One Shot), some of which I may run and some of which I'll probably just read.

I'm also getting behind more Kickstarters, although I'm trying to be reasonably selective. I helped proof-read Golden Sky Stories (which as of this post has about a week left), and I've just put in for the Deluxe Exalted 3rd Edition.

All up, last year was a blast for my gaming table, and this year looks to be just as good, if not better!

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

AW: Spring Hill the First

This week I started a one-on-one Apocalypse World game with John. We usually meet up on Tuesdays for wargaming (Anima Tactics) or board/card games, but I thought it might be interesting to try something different. I also wanted to exercise my *World brain-muscles to improve my tremulus Keeper-ing.

  • John plays Uncle Mike, a Hardholder  He's a man with a mix of casual and junta wear, an aristocratic face, commanding eyes, and a wiry body.

Uncle's Holding is the walled town of Spring Hill, built around a natural spring on a hill in the middle of fertile plains. The town has a large population, but owes protection tribute. Its walls are tall, deep and mighty. (1-barter hunger disease reprisals, +2armour when fighting in its defence).

Uncle's personal gang is small, but well-disciplined and with a sophisticated and extensive armoury (4-harm gang small 1-armour).

There are several other settlements on the plains around Spring Hill, most notably the holding of Bad Stump, ruled by a warlord who commands large raiding parties of motorcycle warriors. It is to Bad Stump that Spring Hill (and most other local towns) owes tribute. In the hills to the East lies the irradiated ruins of a town from the before-time. Downstream some distance from the hill's spring lies the crater swamp, and the small village of Fishwallow.

Uncle 'missed' on his initial Wealth roll, so as the curtain lifts on Spring Hill, the Holding is suffering from hunger, disease, and imminent reprisals for not paying tribute...

Uncle discusses the situation with his lieutenants, notably his gang leader Bridget and his PR officer Johnny the Voice. He initially puts out an edict for the population to work harder in the fields, but this unpopular order meets resistance from a hungry and unwell workforce. He instructs them to work inside the city walls instead, tending market gardens rather than the farms outside - the sort of things that may support the city in times of siege.

Ganger Tom-Tom, on sentry duty, announces the approach of a small motorcycle pack. Uncle meets them at the gates, welcoming them with a table and jug of wine under a flag of truce. These bikers are emissaries of Bad Stump, led by Gnarly, come to demand recompense for the late tribute. Uncle offers them training in the use of heavy weapons, but they are more interested in getting actual heavy weapons that Uncle is unwilling to part with. Instead, they demand tribute in the form of slaves - twenty-five members of his population, to take back to Bad Stump. Uncle says he'll only hand over volunteers, and goes to see if he can find any.

The Voice suggests Spring Hill offload some of their sick onto Bad Stump. Uncle gathers some reasonably able infected and asks them to go voluntarily, with the promise of a better life or at least more food. His speech is unconvincing, and nobody is willing to go along with the plan.

Uncle missed a roll to Manipulate the infected; I really should have pulled a hard move here instead of just saying they were unwilling to go along with his plan. They might have rioted, or spread nasty rumours, or revealed a worse stage of the infection. Something for me to keep in mind for later. At the very least, it did keep things moving by forcing Uncle to come up with an alternative solution...

Back at the city gates, Uncle has his gang assault the raiders, cutting off their retreat and impressing them with firepower and discipline. Some of the bikers are killed, but eight are captured including Gnarly, along with their bikes and gear. Uncle has them chained and put to work in the Holding. The population derides them, and throws things, but Uncle's gangers prevent any lynchings. 

Uncle walks through the town; many of the sick are still working, so he suggests they spend their time indoors to limit the spread of infection. At sunset he gives a rousing speech to the population, blaming Bad Stump for the hard times. He throws Gnarly to the crowd, who beat him to death.

The next day, Uncle personally leads some of his gang on the stolen bikes to the tiny settlement of Fishwallow; with their high mobility and superior firepower, they slaughter most of the population and rout the rest. They take all of the food and a small amount of loot, and return home.

This raid was resolved in a single Seize by Force move, as the villagers were massively outgunned. I'm not sure if I actually made a move of any sort once the raid succeeded; Uncle and his gang just took everything and went back to Spring Hill. I could have had him run into a raiding gang from Bad Stump (which now I think about it would have been pretty tense, given they were on stolen bikes). I did ask how he planned to feed a town of over 200 with a small village's fish supply, though.

He had the fish turned into soup and stew, enough to keep the population fed for a couple of days. He then decided to send 30 or so citizens to go occupy Fishwallow and turn it into a colony of Spring Hill. This began a general easing-up of the population pressure the city was experiencing; in addition, around 10 people had died from the disease.

After feeding the people, Uncle walks through the town to show his concern for the population, but is bodyguarded by Jimbo the Tough. Young rebellious townsfolk ask him how he's going to feed them once the fish runs out. He drafts the youths into a new gang, outfitting them with looted weapons from Bad Stump's bikers, and sends them out to hunt in the forested hills under the command of Tweet and other younger members of his original gang.

Back at his residence, his secretary and sweetheart Miss Annabel has begun showing symptoms of the disease. He gets Doc Jones on it right away.

Lastly, he decided to send small groups out in all directions to make diplomatic contact with other towns, in the hope of creating an alliance against Bad Stump.

>>> To be continued?

Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Complex: Episode 5

Today's session was a blast - I had a loose plan, but the players really took things in an interesting direction for what is the penultimate episode of this season of The Complex. We'll be heading to some sort of resolution in the next episode.

Please note, although I've done a little research on Aboriginal mythology, the spiritual elements depicted in this Actual Play have been warped through the lens of TV logic, and bear little resemblance to actual mythology or beliefs.

Episode 5: Outback Odyssey

Starring (in alphabetical order):
  • +Lloyd Gyan as Aki Enoki, graduate student of biological anthropology on a gap year.
  • +David Miessler-Kubanek as Tony Pearson, the apartment's maintenance man, and an ex-hacker from California.
  • +Steve Moore as Takeshi Sekiguchi, a retired hit-man trying to keep a low profile.
Produced and Directed by Craig Judd

On the top of Uluru - Ayers Rock - a naked, dusty, and slightly sunburned Tony struggles to get his bearings. He senses the presence of a powerful spirit entity within the rock itself, similar to Sheila but different, and tries to make contact with it. He starts chanting and singing, and feels the spirit of the rock awake and acknowledge him. As he stands triumphant, he sees a figure sprawled on the ground near the base of the rock - Zoe! 

Tony scrambles down off the massive rock, but before he can get to Zoe he sees two Odyssey Tech vehicles approaching her. An Aboriginal man in tribal gear appears from behind a rock and says, "This way! Hurry!" Tony leaves Zoe, and follows the man.

*     *     *

The previous night, Aki and Takeshi free the Lizard from his cell in the old Prison, and take him upstairs to the foyer. They question him about what he remembers, and he claims to be a graffiti artist who uses the tag Zone, not Lizard. He can't remember much of what's happened for the past couple of days, but Aki turns out to have recently studied hypnotism, so she puts him in a trance and extracts the full story. He was tagging the back of the building when he felt a strange force enter him; he gained the ability to climb walls, but when he used it to tag an inaccessible location he wrote the tag Lizard instead. After that, he became trapped in his own mind as the Lizard took over. The Lizard wanted to leave this place, but it needed the Warden to free it. It felt it had done its time, and just wanted to be free. At the end, Aki implanted some hypnotic instructions not to tag, and to get a job, and brought him back. Takeshi offered to call him a cab, but apparently he lives upstairs.

Aki starts to question Takeshi about her behaviour in the struggle over the Lizard; she suspects she's used some sort of force field power, but hasn't admitted it to herself. Takeshi denies it (badly), but before they can get into a full argument Bob arrives in a panic and tells them that Tony and Zoe have literally vanished from the pub! He's really worried, but Aki says good riddance, so Bob gets annoyed and leaves. Takeshi follows him and asks to see where it happened, and Aki comes along too. There's not much physical evidence, but Takeshi thinks to check the security footage. They see Tony and Zoe struggling to flee from something and then disappearing, but the footage is interspersed by bursts of static and they can't see the entity that Bob described. Takeshi has a premonition of where to find Tony, and hands Bob a wad of cash to get a plane ready...

*     *     *

Back at Uluru, Tony is led into a cave with ancient rock art on the walls of people, animals, and a great spirit-man with yellow lines radiating from his head. There's a circle of men around a fire, and a white-bearded elder with blind white eyes. He welcomes Tony, and motions for him to sit. The others file out of the cave, and the elder explains to Tony their shared roles as Guardians of the spirits. Zoe is similar but different - her great spirit has been torn from the land and bound to her by Odyssey, and they are trying to find a way to do the same to the spirit of Uluru and probably the Complex as well. The only way the Elder knows of to unbind a spirit is to kill the Guardian, but Tony wants to find another way to free Zoe. The elder wishes him luck; after all, people should be bound to the spirits, not the other way around.

Takeshi wakes Aki as their light plane comes in to land at a remote airstrip. There's nothing but flat, red, scrub desert all around, with the bulk of Uluru standing in the distance. They take a trail bike parked against a tin shed, and roar off towards the Rock.

Having finally gotten some clothes, Tony is being guided to the Odyssey Tech compound by a couple of Aboriginal guys, who have likewise changed into everyday clothes. A dust-cloud approaches from the North, and he spots the trail-bike. Everyone meets up. Tony greets them with a smile, and announces that he's glad they're here - he needs their help to destroy Odyssey!

Aki demands to know exactly what's going on, but the others ignore her. Tony tells Takeshi that he might not be coming back from this one. Aki puts her foot down and demands to be told about everything, but Tony says he'll tell her after it's all over. She thinks it's a stupid plan, because they don't really have one, but she eventually decides to come along so she can make sure they don't kill anyone. 

They take a brief look at the fenced compound during the day, and Takeshi assesses their security. There are some guards on patrol, and a couple of prefab buildings. There's a garage of jeeps, and a helicopter parked on open ground. There's a breach in the fence where animals have dug underneath.

They return after dark, evade guard patrols and security cameras, and slip through the breach in the fence. They find a conveniently unlocked and unguarded back door on a shed, and go inside. It's mostly being used for storage, but they find some maintenance coveralls in a locker and disguise themselves as personnel before riding a freight elevator down into the heart of the facility. Tony reaches out with his mind and senses Zoe's entity deep underground, and they head down to try and find her.

On Floor 17, Tony hacks a computer terminal and locates a map of the facility. He pinpoints Zoe's location in a holding cell, but also alerts security to the breach in their computer security. He manages, though, to convince them that the alert is for another floor. The group splits up - Tony tells Takeshi where to find Zoe, and says he's going for the main lab. Aki decides to go with Tony, because she trusts him least!

Takeshi arrives at the holding cell. Through the outer door, he sees Martin Houndsly, an Odyssey executive with whom he has had prior dealings. Martin is watching Zoe through a one-way mirror; she's sitting sullenly at a table in the room beyond. Takeshi enters and tells Martin that he's taking Zoe with him. Martin doesn't try to stop him, but does warn him that she's confused and unstable, and needs Odyssey's help. He can't say what might happen if she leaves. Takeshi enters the room to rescue her, but she resists him, summoning the glowing entity to push him back. Takeshi struggles against it, and coerces Martin to persuade her to leave. After her frantic exertion, though, she collapses and Takeshi carries her out.

The main lab is a large open room of brushed steel and white plastic, but with a large circle recessed into the floor inlaid with silver tracery, creating some sort of mystical symbol. In the centre, there are four sets of cuffs on retractable chains. Aki takes photos, and Tony asks her to chain him to the circle so he can form a spiritual connection to Odyssey, free the bound spirits, and destroy the base. She's a bit weirded out, but does as he asks. She then starts hacking a computer but is distracted when  the mystical circle starts glowing and Sheila visibly manifests above Tony. Sheila tells Tony this is a bad place, and he tells her he wants to destroy it. The ground starts shaking, and the spirit of a tall, older Aboriginal man with a radiant aura around his head appears beside Sheila. 

Takeshi turns up, with Zoe over one shoulder and a gun in Martin's back. The whole base starts to shake, and they set off an evacuation alarm. Aki tries to persuade Tony to leave, but he needs to stay to act as a conduit for the vengeful spirits. He tells her it's her responsibility to make sure everyone else makes it out safely. She starts to leave, but then returns and punches him squarely in the face. "You'd better not die!" she admonishes him, before taking one of the computers and leaving with the others.

Martin leads them to an executive elevator that will take them straight to the surface, but Aki needs to make sure everyone will get out alive. Most of the staff are leaving quickly and efficiently, but there are some people trapped in a nearby room by a fallen support beam. Aki summons her concentration (visualising Tony's face blocking the doorway) and uses her force field powers to blast the obstruction across the room, opening the way.

On the surface, they use Martin to access the helicopter and take off. They see people streaming out of the compound and running across the shaking ground, before the earth opens up and the compound collapses into a dusty hole. Aki and Takeshi look down from the chopper, its blades whooshing in slow motion, as they spare a thought for Tony buried in the wreckage...

Tag Scenes

Back in Takeshi's penthouse, Zoe is recovering in his bed. Takeshi and Aki discuss what to do going forward. Aki leaves, and Takeshi returns to look after Zoe.

Takeshi didn't Challenge anything this episode, so his Statements remain the same.

Aki heads down to her room, and starts uploading the photos of Odyssey's lab to her blog - but not publishing them yet.
Lloyd changed Aki's Truth to "Seek out the TRUTH," her Relationship with Tony to "TONY may be a fanatic, but he means well," and as we completed the final step of Pathways he had the opportunity to shuffle some stuff around. As he'd never used it, he swapped Aki's Relationship with Zoe to one with The Complex at d10, with the statement "There's something more to THE COMPLEX, and I'm going to find it."

Tony slowly returns to consciousness, with a feeling of being somewhere warm and secure. He feels Sheila is there with him. When he opens his eyes, he finds himself lying in a high-vaulted sandstone cave with rock art on the walls, but a different cave than the one under Uluru. The whole place is suffused with a warm golden light, and Sheila is floating in the air, looking more solid than he's ever seen her. She tells him that he did good today, and she's glad to have him as her Guardian. She gestures at a natural stone stairway that's blocked off by an old stone wall. The wall is crumbly and Tony easily pushes it away, revealing the old prison beneath the apartment complex. He takes Sheila's hand and steps through the threshold. He puts his arm around her shoulder, and she smiles up at him.



The previous day, while everyone was out...

Brett Leeding returns to his apartment, opening the door to find a man standing in the loungeroom, looking out the balcony window. Blake Thompson turns around. "Mr. Leeding. I believe you're eager to learn about Odyssey Tech! I think it's about time we indulged you..."

Brett tries to hurry back out the door, but it's blocked by a pair of Odyssey heavies in suits. One brandishes a stun-gun and Brett's shoulders slump as he admits defeat. As the goons lead him away, Blake smiles humourlessly.


Wow, this session was intense and action-packed! I'll really have to step it up to deliver a satisfying finale next time, but I know I have a great group who can really bring the dramatic moments when it matters.

I had a pretty loose running-sheet this time, and while I did hit most of the points in the end, many of them didn't happen the way I'd envisioned. Which is great, of course. I was not expecting Takeshi to access the security cameras, or fly to central Australia, so it took the story in an unexpected direction with wonderful results. Since I wasn't hide-bound to a prepped series of events (apart from a couple of opening scenes), I was fairly easily able to adjust to the developing situation, and let this be a really player-led episode. Even though some things came out of left field, I never felt lost or unsure how to proceed.

I did have vague plans that Aki would fall into Sheila's cave if they spent any extra time in the prison, but revealing the cave at the end as Tony's place of return gave this episode a nice symmetry. I had thought he might appear naked in the Penthouse garden, but Steve and Aki decided to start their tag scenes there. So, flexible to the very end.

Stay tuned for the final episode!

>>>Episode 6

Friday, 3 May 2013

Ebon Eaves: Chapter II

Our second Hangout session lasted about two hours, due to technical issues. Still, we got through quite a bit! One thing I've noticed with *World-based games is the fast-flowing nature of the narrative. The rolling barely slows down play, and always makes sure there's a development in the story.
  • +Paul plays Father Aaron, a Devout. He is a Presbyterian priest, sent to Ebon Eaves for being difficult and asking too many questions. He wears formal vestments, has an open face with bright eyes, and is of slim build.
  • +Annette plays Amy Hearst, a Librarian. She's recently come to the town of Ebon Eaves to open a new library. She wears formal garments, has an open face with clever eyes, and has a lithe frame.
Previously, our intrepid investigators were trying to find a way into Manley Manor as darkness fell. The house is supposedly haunted, but evidence so far points to a generator in the basement powering a variety of "haunting effects," maybe intended to scare people away.

Monday (continued)

As night falls and the light of a fungoid and gibbous moon spills eerily across the town, Amy and Father Aaron consider their options for entering Manley Manor - the nailed-shut front door, the booby-trapped back door, or the grimy and narrow cellar window.

They decide to go search a nearby dilapidated tool-shed, hoping to find something to help them get into the house. Father Aaron digs about inside in the dark, while Amy hovers near the door, somewhat unwilling to enter for fear of spiders and sharp things. Aaron finds a rusted wood-axe with a solid handle, but before they can leave Amy sees a figure approaching the house through the trees. She swiftly ducks into the shed and closes the door. Aaron opens it a crack as a man walks past, and recognises him as the electrician who was fixing the lights outside the tavern in town. The man walks to the back door, activates a hidden mechanism, then unlocks the door and goes inside.

The two go over and look through the window, seeing a shadow moving up the stairs. They decide to go in and try to find the cellar. The back door has been left unlocked, and the hidden switch has turned off the current to the handle, so they enter and begin finding their way through the darkened house. The lights flicker on and off in only a few rooms. In the hallway, Amy finds a bookshelf with only a couple of books on it. One is a leather-bound tome with a seven-pointed star symbol on the cover - a symbol matched by an amulet Father Aaron's mentor gave him before he came to the town. By moonlight they read the cover - "Church of the Seventh Star" - but the scratchy handwriting within is too hard to read in the dim light.

The two of them hear chanting coming from upstairs, and decide now is a good time to find out what's happening downstairs. They find the cellar door somewhat ajar, but it's pitch black within. Father Aaron goes looking for a candle or lamp, while Amy pokes about looking for a light switch. Aaron locates an oil lamp in good condition, and Amy finds the switch for the cellar lights without tumbling down the stairs. She flicks them on and off to confirm they work, but they decide to use the lamp.

They head down the stairs to find a large basement under the house, with a few shadowy alcoves piled with junk. Most of the central area is clear, and a few brick pillars hold up the mansion floor above. In the far corner sits a small new generator, humming away to itself. Nearby there is a stack of gasoline cans, with lids matching the one Father Aaron found outside. At this point, Aaron is convinced it's just someone playing haunted house, and he's willing to forget the whole thing and head back to town. Before they leave, they realise that they now have a light source to read the book by, so they sit down near the generator and leaf through it.

The book appears to be the chronicle of a church or cult, going back nearly a century. It has records of memberships and events, although much of it is in a sort of coded shorthand. Checking the more recent entries from about ten years ago, the "church" had seven members, six of whom were the missing men from the newspaper articles. The only member who didn't go missing was a "C. Lewis."

Suddenly, footsteps on the floor above their heads bring them back to the moment. They douse the lantern and hide under the stairs, witnessing the electrician walk past their hiding spot flanked by two horrific and ghostly apparitions! Amy recognises them from the newspaper clippings as Pope Manley and Vincent Miller. The electrician starts refuelling the generator, and the spectres hover silently in the middle of the cellar. Our investigators take this opportunity to sneak out of hiding and up the stairs; Amy gets away cleanly, surmising that the electrician is the seventh cult member, C. Lewis. Father Aaron, shaken by the ghostly encounter, looks back and is spotted by Lewis. As Aaron flees, Lewis shouts for the ghosts to go after him!

As Amy runs through the corridor, one of the ghosts slowly comes up through the floor in front of her! She tries to leap over it and keep running, but it reaches out and its hand passes through her leg. Her leg turns to ice and she stumbles, dropping the leather-bound tome. She manages to right herself and run for the back door despite her numb and aching leg.

Father Aaron reaches the top of the stairs and is confronted by the fully-emerged ghost of Manley. He wields his cross and smites the unholy entity, causing it to recoil and allowing him to flee past it with only a minor scrape from its flailing arm. As he passes the ghost, it implores him to "free me!"

Both of them make it to the back door and escape the house. Once the door is shut, Amy turns on the switch to electrify the doorknob again. The two of them hurry back to town, where they can recover from their ordeal in the safety of their own beds...

>>> Chapter III