Sunday, January 29, 2012

System Shopped: The Cult of the Machine God - Path Finder

The Cult of the Machine God uploads itself....
System Shopped: Pathfinder
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

In the new World of Darkness main book, a repeatedly referenced concept is that of the Cult of the Machine God.  In what I feel is a nod to the role-playing game Kult and the video game Silent Hill, the Cult of the Machine God is an esoteric faith founded on the existence of clockwork angels and other seemingly mechanical divine entities that are broken or lost in the world.   In one art piece, a man is shown having a massive gear tattoo on his back as a computer feed speaks of how the world is coming to an end.

I found the concept exciting and thought it would be a great one to try and adapt to other games as well.  So here, allow me to present the Cult of the Machine God, uploaded into the well-acclaimed Pathfinder game.

The Cult of the Machine God
for Pathfinder RPG
They are among us, joining us on quests, and fighting along-side us to plumb the depths of dungeons, liberate villages and defeat tyrants.  There are many, embracing whatever class they value or show interest in:  Fighters, Monks, Wizards... I have heard of even Barbarians who happened to be followers of this obscure cult.  

The Cult of the Machine God.  

They believe that the world we live in is but a toy.  A box of mechanisms and systems that function all around us invisibly, ensuring that the very events of our lives explore the furthest reaches of adventure and drama.  They believe we are all just tools.  Toys.   Parts of a massive system.  Cogs of an eternal machine.

And they believe if they prove it enough to their unheard of deity, they will be permitted to transcend "beyond the game" they say, and become actual living people.

by Larry Elmore
Yes, it is insane, isn't it.  Why would anyone think that we're just puppets... characters created for a tale meant to amuse great beings beyond the realms of our perception?  Madness.

That is one META concept!
It is, which I feel makes it work so awesome in a Pathfinder game.  A quasi-religious belief held by some NPCs who tell the players they know they are just non-player characters in a story intended to make the players stand as heroes.  They speak of these glimpses the way an oracle talks of fate and destiny.  They think their lives are worthless, unless they find a way to ingrain themselves into the goals of the Player Characters.

Are they really crazy?
Of course they are! After all, why would a 8th level Cleric believe that his powers are limited only by the very systems the Machine God has set upon him.  Surely such limitations are a reflection of his devotion and faith to his deity, right?  And why would the Wizard who quietly whispers prayers to the Machine God talk to himself about how he hates how Saving Throws have all these modifiers now.  What on earth are saving throws anyway?

So the concept is meant to be funny?
No.  It can be.  But no.  Think of it as how conspiracy theorists here in the real world honestly believe that Obama is the anti-Christ who will doom the world.  Or how some people honestly believe gay marriage will bring about the Apocalypse.  As insane as their thoughts are, the reality does exist that there are people who believe such things to be real.  The trick is presenting this to the game with a straight face at all times.  When your Bard NPC who is part of the cult starts talking about how, "We don't really even have any true songs.  Just the ideas of songs.  Our songs have no true melody.  No true lyrics.  Nothing."  The players might in character jest about how the Bard is being stupid.  Throw it back at them and challenge them, "Very well.  Sing me a popular song then.  Sing me the nursery rhyme your mother used to hum to you."  And suddenly, they might find themselves forced to be more creative.

Once the players are getting the hang of such insane people existing in the game, it would then be time to reveal there is a system behind this cult.  For players, once there is a *system* involved, they realize it isn't just some gag or in-joke in the game.  It suddenly becomes even more real.

Cult of the Machine God Domain
Only followers of this Cult can gain access to this Domain.  New members who are inducted must add a level of Cleric class to their character.  Such have one Domain (any appropriate) to represent how they masquerade as, and this as their second Domain.

Deities: The Machine God
Granted Powers:  You see glimpses of the "system" behind the world.   While most of the time these glimpses make no sense, occasionally you grasp enough to utilize this knowledge.

Whispers of the Machine (ex): While this has no real game breaking effects, you can with a with a Knowledge skill check look at another person and determine his "importance" to the game.  You can tell which NPCs have a major story arc unfolding, or which NPCs have no true role to play in the game.  Information can range between "He's just a passing person" to "He holds the clues we need" or even "He's more than just what we see.  The Machine God favors him."

The System is All (sp): After intoning to the Machine God, the follower can petition to see the truth in the events that are unfolding around him.  Starting at 8th level, you can use True Seeming as a spell-like ability for a number of rounds per day equal to you cleric level.  These rounds do not need to be consecutive.

Domain spells: 1st - Sanctuary, 2nd - Augury, 3rd - Locate Object, 4th - Discern Lies, 5th - Commune, 6th - Find the Path, 7th - Symbol of Stunning, 8th - Discern Location, 9th - Miracle

Note:  Members of the Cult of the Machine God are OBSESSED with a certain Magical Treasure:  The Portable Hole.  When word of a Portable Hole having been found reaches members of the Cult, its followers immediately do what they can to try to get their hands on it.  They would bribe, steal, offer to purchase, or even challenge the Portable Hole's owners if in the end they can get their hands on the treasure.  They believe that the Portable Hole, when used correctly, can open a rift to the real world where the Machine God exists.  Some say this is achieved by placing a Portable Hole inside ANOTHER Portable Hole.

Kinda makes you wonder, eh?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Passion of The Christ - John Debney

The Passion of the Christ
Composed by John Debney

I will have to admit that due to my love for gaming, whenever I watch a movie now a part of my brain is keenly taking note of what kind of scoring the movie uses.  When I caught this Mel Gibson film on the big screen, I was impressed at how visually the story of Jesus Christ was brought to life.  I was more impressed, however, with how moving the score was.

Chronicling the events leading up to the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his subsequent resurrection, the soundtrack has a wide spread of emotional notes that one can use to enhance a game.   While some soundtracks have musical tracks that flow from one to the other, this soundtrack nicely has each piece seemingly self-contained within its time limits, fading in or out as appropriate, making them all easily loop-able for a long running sequence.  The tracks also have a thematic similarity to one another, making this soundtrack an excellent accent to a game since it can give the story it is used in a notable signature impact.  Save using this soundtrack for a story arc of epic dramatic proportions and that point in the game will often be remembered in the years to come.

As expected, the highlights of this soundtrack are the tracks Crucifixion (track 11), Raising the Cross (track 12) and Resurrection (track 15) which all have an intensely powerful release of pathos, bringing to mind one final act of heroism before the darkness falls apart.  Key this track in just as the heroes bring an epic battle to conclusion, and you'll have your players standing up from their seats and cheering aloud.

On the flip side, the song that plucks the most emotional drawstrings to enhance drama would have to be Mary Goes to Jesus (track 09).  The song plays with a angelic voice accompanying the music and brings to mind moments where secrets have been revealed, betrays are admitted, and regrets bring the coming of tears.

All in all, this soundtrack is worth the purchase.  I have yet to find a non-comedic game that does not benefit from this soundtrack.   Even a game based on a show with a signature sound, such as Battlestar Galactica, will find this soundtrack fits in very nicely.

The Passion of The Christ track suggestions
WTF moment: Simon Is Dismissed (track 07), Peaceful But Primitive/Procession (track 10)
Introspective/calm moment: The Olive Garden/Night Sky (track 01), The Stoning (track 05)
Tense/mystery moment: Crucifixion (track 11), Raising the Cross (track 12), It is Done (track 13)
Combat music: Jesus Arrested (track 03)
Hopeful moment: Bearing The Cross (track 02), Flagellation/Dark Choir/Disciplines (track 08)
Drama/sad moment: Peter Denies Jesus (track 04), Song of Complaint (track 06), Mary Goes to Jesus (track 09), Jesus is Carried Down (track 14), Resurrection (track 15)

Best Used In: Any game where immense sacrifice and tragedy is key to the theme.  Genre doesn't matter.  I've used this soundtrack successfully on a modern day zombie game, a dark ages vampire game, a science fiction story based on Battlestar Galactica, and even an attempt by Browncoats to evade some Reavers.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

System Shopped: The Cult of the Machine God - Serenity

The Cult of the Machine God uploads itself....
System Shopped: Serenity
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

In the new World of Darkness main book, a repeatedly referenced concept is that of the Cult of the Machine God.  In what I feel is a nod to the role-playing game Kult and the video game Silent Hill, the Cult of the Machine God is an esoteric faith founded on the existence of clockwork angels and other seemingly mechanical divine entities that are broken or lost in the world.   In one art piece, a man is shown having a massive gear tattoo on his back as a computer feed speaks of how the world is coming to an end.

I found the concept exciting and thought it would be a great one to try and adapt to other games as well.  So here, allow me to present the Cult of the Machine God, uploaded into Serenity, the Margaret Weis Productions, Ltd role-playing game adaptation of the t.v. series Firefly.

The Cult of the Machine God
for Serenity RPG
Out there in the Black, some whisper of a Reaver ship that seems unlike any other.   Make no mistake, them Reavers are dangerous, them all.  But some whisper there's this ship that travels in the outer fringes of the Verse, with its engines unshielded and its bulkhead exposed.  

They say as the ship comes into view, the comms start picking up sounds from the Reaver ship.  Clicking sounds.  Hissing.  Grinding.  Like sounds from a massive machine that just won't quit.  Gorram Alliance folks say it's all just stupid talk from common folk like us.  But we know better.  You see, here in the Outer Rim, we don't make up stories like this unless we have a reason to.  And this ship, boy we did.

It came to our moon, you see.  Flew in from the shadow of the setting sun and parked itself right there.  There near the windmill and the protein converter the Serenity sold to us the other summer.   Now, we're used to them raids, you see, and locked ourselves up in our homes with our pistols and rifles ready for blooding.  The hatches of the ship slid open and the Reavers that emerged ain't looked like anything we've seen before.  They had gears and wires sticking out of them.  They had oil running through tubes in their necks.  They had steam rising from their nostrils.  They moved like trained soldiers, feet matching steps as they marched to the protein converter and began disassembling it.   You heard me right, dis-assembling it.  Not tearing it apart.  Not throwing it around.  They broke it down to its tiny pieces, then began swallowing what they could.  And without another word, they marched back to their ship, fired up their bird, and left.

We didn't know what to make of it then.
We still ain't know what to make of it now.

We just don't let anyone bring any new converters to our moon now.
We just keeping it simple, from now on.

taken from here.
The Borg?
No, not really.  The Cult of the Machine God are Reavers who have stared out into the Black for too long, they began to realize their ship was the very thing that was keeping them alive in this vast sea of blackness.  The ship was literally their savior and through it, they were allowed to live their tiny pathetic lives.  They began devouring smaller machines in hopes of becoming.. perhaps evolving... into something like their ship.  Perhaps generations later, they did begin to change.

Or perhaps that story is all a lie.
Perhaps the truth is, the Cult of the Machine God was another Alliance experiment gone awry.  Perhaps the Alliance attempted to infuse technology onto some captured Reavers in hopes of transforming them into perfect killing machines.  Perhaps they completely lost control of their subjects, and these Reavers escaped, but not before registering the traumatic event they experienced as one where they stood before their Creator (with all the bright lights and strange smells).  Perhaps now, the Reavers have indeed found a religion, with its word shared by this initial escaped group.

Or perhaps the Verse has things we will never understand.
Let's just be happy the Verse is a pretty big place.

So what stats do these things use?
Cult of the Machine God Reavers
Agi d8, Str d10, Vit d10, Ale d8, Int d6, Wil d10;
Life Points: 24
Initiative: d8  + d8
Traits: Tough as Nails (Major Asset), Fightin' Type (Major Asset), Sadistic (Major Complication).

New Traits: "Vegetarians" (Major Complication) - These Reavers seem to act as if human flesh was irreleevant and tend to focus instead on any active machinery that they can feast on.  They do not, however, attack machinery that is clearly part of the ship.  This mechanically functions like the Hooked complication.

Mechanically Inclined (Major Asset) - While these Reavers are unable to do wonders with Engineering the way someone like Kaylee would be able to, they are, however surprisingly intuitive in how to disassemble any machinery they seek to consume.  Even while a machine is running, these Reavers can apply their Brawling skill as an Engineering roll to disassemble a device safely.

Deadly Enemy (Minor Asset) - These Reavers do not register as Reavers to others.  Reavers of the Cult of the Machine God are treated just like any other person by Reavers that notice them:  Meat.
Traumatic Flashbacks (Minor Complication) - Bright lights cause these Reavers to drop to the ground and cower in fear (or adoration).  Perhaps the light reminds them of something...

Skills: Athletics d6, Covert d6 /Stealth d8, Discipline d6, Guns d6/Pistol d8, Perception d4, Melee d6/Knives d10, Unarmed Combat d6/Brawling d10.

Special Note:  While just like other Reavers, these Reavers feel no pain.  They ignore the effects of  Stun damage, and do not suffer Wound penalties for injuries.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Parents are Always Welcome

by Gill Penny
Parents are Always Welcome
by Tobie Abad

In any game, be it Dungeons and Dragons, Castle Falkenstein, White Wolf or whatever game you are playing, there are always opportunities to throw something unexpected to give the players a challenging new twist to deal with.

For this entry, we're going for The Parent.

Most of the time, players don't consider where their character's parents would be in the game world they are playing with.  To be on the safe side, a large percentage of players would opt for the "Orphan/Parents are Dead" option to reduce the need of wondering what their fictional parents are doing given the game period.  After all, if you were playing a deadly multi-skilled Assamite assassin in the World of Darkness or a lore-obsessed researcher of arcane lore in Call of Cthulhu, would you really want to burden yourself with thinking of what the parents of your dark brooding character concept would be doing at that point in time?

That, however, is the very REASON that a storyteller SHOULD consider throwing the parents into the game.

Parents, based on how the real world generally represents them, are people who truly care about their kid, regardless of what the kid has decided to take his or her life towards.  Whether their child is a priestess of a forbidden god in Exalted or a suave swashbuckling pirate who sails the Seventh Sea, a parents would be someone who absolutely and unconditionally loves their child.... or totally loathes and hates what their kid have become.  And these are precisely what makes them perfect as additional non-playing characters to add to any game session.

Parents are the people who will always believe they have every right to meddle, interfere, help, and inject themselves into the lives of a player character.  And best of all, deep down all players will realize that they can't exactly just ignore them.  These are the factors that can make them the best unexpected short-term antagonists if not amusing story-developing interactions in a game.  Can you imagine if a Jedi Consular in a Star Wars game gets a visit from his non-Force-sensitive mother who insists that he stop practicing these "weird things" and instead focus on finding a wife?  Or perhaps the devoted Paladin of Tyr finds herself being reminded by her father that, "Tyr has all the priests he needs.  We need grandchildren!"

These would be fun complications to explore that can't exactly be dealt with with a spell or supernatural skill.  One, after all, wouldn't feel too comfortable about throwing a bit of Dominate or telephatic Mind Control to make a caring but annoying father stop wondering about when the character will consider visiting more often.    And even better, if they choose to do so, maybe you can even surprise them by throwing a few of the elements below to see how they'd respond:

The somehow are IMMUNE to your supernatural/special abilities
You don't even have to explain why.  Whether it be genetics, fate, or some other reason, it can be perfectly acceptable in a story that somehow the parents are shielded if not outright immune to something the character has as a power.  If the character's non-natural abilities were something received from a third party, or outside event, their immunity immediately becomes a whole new story arc of its own!

by Dr Xeno
They aren't immune, but now, the GUILT comes
Whether or not they care about their parents, know you can capitalize on the eventual guilt players will feel about so freely manipulate their parents.  Even better, have the parents sit down with them at one point and confess how much they are proud and happy of having a child that trusts them with everything! Go the whole nine yards and even have them admit to have sacrificed something for their happiness.  And watch the plot soar to new heights instantly.

They always KNEW
Now this is harder to pull off well, but if you do, it just makes a game incredibly crazy and memorable.  The parents come out of the blue, and whether the player character is a vampire pretending to be human, a half-elf that has sought to master arcane lore in secret, a psionic who has been hiding the fact his body is riddled with taint, or an angel of Michael who has been pretending to still be its mortal host, the parent shows up, tries to help make the character's life "better" and throws the bomb at them and reveals, "I always knew you were special.  Actually, back when you were still young..."  and make them realize that sometimes they can have an ally who truly cares for them and is willing to die for them that they never considered.  Give yourself a month's worth of congratulations if you find a way for the parents to sacrifice him or herself to save the player character and confesses he or she knew just seconds before she dies.

Parents.  Can't live without them.  Can't really live with them.
But add them to a game and your players will know one thing for certain:  Your games will catch them off-guard.  And when it happens, it will be fun.

Monday, January 16, 2012

System Shopped: The Cathedral of Flesh - Houses of the Blooded

Cathedrals of Flesh Everywhere...
System Shopped: Houses of the Blooded
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

This article is the third variant of the classic World of Darkness' Cathedral of Flesh; a place so infamously disturbing it is mentioned in the Dark Ages setting, the Modern setting and even in the Time of Judgment books as well as the Bloodlines Redemption videogame.

This time, I'm trying to bring the same intrigue of the concept to John Wick's Houses of the Blooded.

For this entry, allow me to present:

The Cathedral of Flesh
for Houses of the Blooded

Everyone knows the allure of a Puzzle House.

The grand Parties that are held within.  The countless corridors and winding ways.  The archways and chambers with secrets and danger.  The excitement and thrill of finding the right rooms.  Or getting lost in its passageways with only the music and laughter of the ongoing Althua to guide them.  But there are those of the Serpent who have heard that sometimes, not always, but sometimes, on a night of revelry and Romance, the Puzzle House is more than just a Puzzle House.  It is a Cathedral.    A Cathedral of Flesh.

And on such a night, had you been one of the guests, you might finds yourself going down a corridor where the walls seem to breathe.  And the curtains reach out and caress you.  You might find yourself entering a chamber where a massive bed invites you to lay down.  And sleep intoxicatingly swirls in your thoughts.

And you awaken, refreshed, ready to celebrate the night further.   Unaware that you have been changed.  

Surely such rumors are merely that.  
Only a dolt would believe in such tales.

How Do I Use This In My Game?
Once per year, a Puzzle House used to host a party may instead be deemed to have been a Cathedral of Flesh by the Narrator.    During the party, the Narrator is to describe that some of the winding passages and corridors that the Players go through are seemingly made of flesh and bone.  Faces and human features seem to be embedded in these organic walls.  If touched, the walls breathe.  If caressed, the walls shiver.  If cut, the walls bleed.  But strangely, the walls seem to have no cares about how much damage they are dealt.  They, for all intents and purposes, seem to simply still be just walls.   The Party should be filled with wonderful events and memories.  All should still seem well save for that momentary strangeness.  And if possible, end the party abruptly, without telling when the guests decide to leave, or how they headed home.  Have the party end with an almost drunken swirl of half-forgotten memories and laughter.

Signorelli, Luca - Resurrection of the Flesh:
Image via Wikipedia
From that point on, the game continues to progress as normal.   Occasionally, however, a player character get a glimpse of deja vu.  Or a moment of feeling like he is being warmly embraced.  Perhaps even suggest at times how an Injury feels very faint.  How food seem to lack the fullness of their flavour.  Even worse, if they try to have children, they for some reason can't.  (Still let them roll a die with the partner, but always say the result is a failure.)   Whenever you throw these dreams and moments at the player, give them a Style point for their troubles.  If they even start role-playing curiousness towards these moments, you can give them two.  But don't be too generous.

Then finally, after enough time.  Maybe they've forgotten about the Party.  Maybe they've had even bigger and more memorable ones.  Maybe they've conquered lands and lost loves.  Maybe they've hunted orks and  unearthed incredible artifacts.

But at a point where they are now old enough to age to the next Phase... or if they ever find themselves tasting the bitter taste of true death...

They don't.

Their body crumbles into unraveling meat and bile.  Their skin unweaves into strands of fat and tissue.  Their bones crumble, shattering into small thin fragments with jagged edges.  Closer inspection reveals them not to be bones at all.  Antlers.  White polished fragments of elk antlers.

And somewhere, in someone's Province where a Party was once held, the same man awakes in an empty Puzzle House.  Alive.  Well.  Healthy.  And will full knowledge of everything the Tulpa that acted in his head had been doing.

Because for all intents and purposes, prior to his awakening, he WAS the Tulpa.

Where did the Cathedral of Flesh come from?
The origins of the Cathedral of Flesh can be traced back to the ancient magicks that were practiced by aelva danna - the sorceror-kings - one of whom once attempted to create a massive holding that was intended to ensure her survival regardless of her treacherous friends and family's plans.  She crafted her Sorcery using, of all things, the blood of siblings who had entered Solace and carved the foundations of her Cathedral using the pure white antlers of thirteen khanurdante.

They say the Cathedral arose like a hand reaching for the stars.  The pillars and walls were covered in flesh.  The whole thing was gilded with bone.  And the doors of the Cathedral opened, beckoning its mother-creator inside.  She stepped in, curious to see how her Sorcery had succeeded.

And never returned.

But serious, how does it work in the game?
Well first of all the character that was embraced during the Party in the Cathedral of Flesh was coaxed to sleep, and in his sleep was actually placed in a state much similar to Solace.  The Cathedral then gave birth to a Tulpa that had his exact likeness.  And dressed it in everything the character was wearing.    The Tulpa, for all intents and purposes, was the character and would be what the character would unknowingly use from that point on as his own body.

His body, on the other hand, remained eternally sleeping and safe within the Cathedral of Flesh's bed-like womb.  His body and the Tulpa would then share a link, allowing him to feel, feed, and get injured in every way that the Tulpa experiences.  Through some power of the sorcery the aelva danna once casted, everything was carried to the body, whether it be food, poison or pain.  The reverse was not true, however, and so, the Tulpa was sterile and unable to bear children.  Nor able to age onto the next Phase.

System-wise, everything worked as normal.  All appropriate Tags, Injuries and the like worked as normal save for pregnancy (which always failed).    Death and aging to the next phase was always ended the Tulpa's existence.

However, upon reawakening, the real body would then find itself having still experienced EVERYTHING save the actual death or aging that had transpired.  The body would have developed in ways he had trained, and would have scars from Injuries where the blade was twisted after stabbing.  If released by a killing blow, however, the body would emerge with a massive scar in the site of the killing blow.  A beheaded Ven would have a scar around the whole the neck.  One killed by the blade would have a scar where the mortal wound was dealt.  Suffocated Ven would show a bruising dark shade to their lungs.    In the case of poison, would forever mark the body in a manner appropriate to the poison used.  In all cases, the scar is one that can be tagged when appropriate.

But the body was reawakened by the turning of a Phase, things are handled differently.  The character did not age to the next Phase.  The last 1-6 years of age were not "gained" and therefore keep the character from hitting the required 60 years to move to the next Phase. While the delay is not that great, it at times may be enough to keep the character younger for a few more years.  For some, that may seem as enough.

Arsenic: The victim's skin is now forever pale.
Cyanide: The victim seems to always be gasping for air.
Hemlock: The victim seems to move slower and heavier than he should be.
Oleander: The victim's eyes are always dilated.
Strychnine: The victim's movements have jerkiness to them.  A tick-tock quality of a halted dance.

But even with the scars, the fact the Ven has escaped death... or delayed the coming of Solace is a blessing that cannot be found anywhere else.   And for some, that is well worth the price of a scar.

Why add this to my game?
Because it adds a layer of mystery and mystique to what sort of things the sorcerer-kings could have been busying themselves with.  Because it allows one to dramatically have a character return from what everyone else clearly witnessed to be a final, undeniable death.  Because it can become a wondrous new obsession for  knowledge-seeking characters to consider.  Because it adds an element of the unexpected to Season Actions.  Because it can make the game more interesting, if not more fun.

And lastly, because I never said there had to be only ONE person who was embraced by the Cathedral of Flesh.   You can let your players go wild in their attempts to kill each other in the most beautiful way, and not have the game end just yet.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

System Shopped: The Cathedral of Flesh - Exalted

Cathedrals of Flesh Everywhere...
System Shopped: Exalted
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

This article is the second variant of the classic World of Darkness' Cathedral of Flesh; a place so infamously disturbing it is mentioned in the Dark Ages setting, the Modern setting and even in the Time of Judgment books as well as the Bloodlines Redemption videogame.

Wouldn't you, as a storyteller, want to have something similar for your games?

For this entry, allow me to present:

The Cathedral of Flesh
for Exalted

In a hidden valley deep within the desert in the South, lies a town that defies explanation.  No, water does not burn in this town.   No, people do not live forever in this town.  No, the Unconquered Sun is not the worshiped deity in this town.  No, Exalted inhabitants are not the norm in this place.  What makes the town of Castellar different is how they protect themselves from any threats that come to their assault their walls.  

When the Fair Folk raiders pound upon the town's walls...
When the Wyld beasts stalk upon the town's people...
When the Dynasts flash their banners and demand service...

The town of Castellar realizes the threat has come and as one, call upon their faith to aid and protect them.   United in their valor and empowered by their compassion the townsfolk feel their love for their town embrace them and gift them with the ability to defend themselves.  They move, scaling upon each others arms, gathering into towers, into spires, into walls, and become a living Cathedral of Flesh and with a united front face the threat as one massive champion.
A living Warstrider made of the people themselves:

The Cathedral of Flesh.

Isn't that too fantastic?
In a world where a swordsman can slice apart a storm, or a thief can sneak past a guard by timing his movements to his eye blinks, I don't think so.  The town of Castellar benefits from an ancient pact that exists upon the very ground their town stands.  Amusingly, no one in the town is still aware of this long forgotten lore.  They only know that when a threat comes, and they choose to defend it, the town itself somehow empowers them to do so.   In many ways, the town embodies all four Virtues in an incredible balance and for some Silver Falcons, this very balance may be key to what allows them to do this incredible feat.

The truth, however, is far more fantastic.
The very ground the town is built upon is an ancient Fair Folk that had fallen in love with an Exalted of the Twilight Caste.  And the very foundations of the town were shaped with the late Exalted's ashes.  During a time when the South still mostly engulfed by the Wyld, the Exalt and the Raksha faced off in a competition of Lore and Legend.  The two traded stories, each one attempting to out-do the other in sharing tales of the triumph of Virtue over Vice.  But at one point, the Exalted found himself so engrossed in sharing his invented tale of a town whose very people were able to call upon the ancient spell Unity of the Closed Fist, he failed to realize months had passed since his last meal.  Dying from starvation, but lost in how enthralled the beautiful Raksha was to his tale, the Exalt continued to tell it without concern for his own dwindling life.  When he ended his story, the Raksha then realized she had fallen in love with the tale and rather than find a way to compete against it, expanded on it instead in her own way.  She shared how the envious she felt of such a populace and spoke of how a Fair Lady found the town and gifted them with all her Graces.  She shared tales of how the town grew to become so united in love and passion that they literally became the town itself.  It was only after the Raksa finally declared "The End" that she realized the Exalt, whose name was Cas, had died.  And it was in remembrance of a tale so moving that she, whose name now was to be Tellar, converted his ashes to the foundations of the town, then surrendered all her Graces to fill the town with all the laughter, dedication and loving patience that their story spoke of.

Visitors of Castellar would find the town to be rich in Essence.  While there are no Exalted residents in the city, everyone seems to have been gifted with the merit: Awakened Essence.  Strangely, however, the towns folk are neither Blooded nor Exalted and seem to be incapable of using or tapping into their essence reserves in any manner.  The townsfolk age as normal, and require food, rest, and air just like any other being.

Given the fact the town exits in no maps and somehow remains unconnected to any other towns or cities in Creation, outsiders who chance upon the town tend to by accident or only after being rescued from death in the desert by members of the townsfolk itself.  The town welcomes all travelers who come to its door with no clear intentions of violence.  Dynasts have, in the past, visited the town and found the place to the very least disturbing.  Most who have left peacefully, however, find that they are unable to locate the town ever again.  It is almost as if the town's existence sits inside a pocket of the Deep Wyld itself.

There are manses in the town.  And while all townsfolk seem to have a religion of their own (They venerate the town itself, Castellar, and speak of it as if it in terms as if it were literally alive) they seem to have no issue in seeing all existing manses, regardless of their Elemental or Exalted affinities, as blessings from Castellar.  They trade openly with magical materials and welcome the use of Realm bits and obols, seeing their value based on the fact they are made of Jade.  When confronted with mentions of other religions, most Castellar townfolk respectfully smile and share, "It is good you too have someone to believe in."  They rarely engage in debate.

Castellar City Attributes
Population: 20,000 at most
Exalted Population: None
A Magnitude 3 Dominion
Military:Culture:Government: 1
Abilities:  Bureaucracy (Diplomacy +1) 3, Craft 3, Integrity 3 (Self Sustaining +1), Performance 2, Stealth 4
Virtues:  Compassion 3, Conviction 3, Temperance 3, Valor 3
Virtue Flaw:  Valor  Current Limit: 2
Willpower: 5

The Cathedral of Flesh:
When the populace gather to protect their town, their collective desire to protect Castellar becomes an unconscious invocation of the Solar Spell, "Unity of the Closed Fist", with the whole population of awakened  Essence individuals being part of the spell.  Every single person gathers and begins to form a massive towering figure that stands 30 feet tall and almost 45 feet wide, much like an armored knight with massive tower-like arms and legs composed of flesh and empowered with Essence.  Their bodies are enveloped by a prismatic glow that shimmers with essence and the Cathedral moves as directed by the collective with the intent to defend their town.  The Cathedral has no other weapons (unlike most Warstriders, that carry weapons with them) save for the main bell tower where its "head" stands.

If the town is attacked and Exalted player characters are present in the town, the player character of a Solar Exalted of the Twilight caste is automatically chosen to be its pilot.  If there are more than one, then the Twilight with the strongest Essence.  If no Twilight is present, then which ever Exalt has the strongest Essence rating is given first dibs to pilot the Warstrider, down to the weakest.  If no one pilots it, then the Cathedral acts independently as per the Storyteller's decisions.

Speed: 10 (dash 30)/20 mph
Maneuverability: -6R (Lore 1, Ride 2)
Endurance: If driven, the Exalted must commit 12 motes of Essence to control the Warstrider.    Otherwise, the Warstrider remains active for one full scene and is controlled independently by the townsfolk.
Crew: 1
Cargo: None. But other Exalted can "ride" on its shoulders.
Armor: 30L/30B (Hardness: 18L/16B)
Health Levels: Ux10/Mx5/Cx5/Ix5/D
The Heart of the Cathedral Bell 
Usable only once per scene, the Heart of the Cathedral Bell is the ultimate defense of the town against Fair Folk threats.  When activated, the whole vicinity of the town becomes enveloped in a long extended toll that physically manifests as a golden sphere encasing the town.  While contained, everyone inside the sphere is completely protected from the effects of the Wyld.  In addition, both the Warstrider and its pilot gain give dice to resist any Charms used by one of the Fair Folk.  In all intents and purposes, the Bell is identical in function to a Wonderous Globe of Precious Stability (The Book of Sorcery, Vol 1: Wonders of the Lost Age), save for the fact it exists only during the Cathedral of Flesh's manifestation, and it does not require a hearthstone nor commitment to use.
Charms Tapped:
While the Cathedral of Flesh is active, the Exalted pilot can use the following Warstrider AI charms.
Essence Bite (p.146) and Spirit-Cutting (p.147)

The Warstrider is considered to have a Strength of 20.
Hand to Hand statistics are as follows:
Cathedral of Flesh Punch   Speed 6  Accuracy 0 Damage +12L* Defense +4 Rate 2
Cathedral of Flesh Kick     Speed 8 Accuracy 0 Damage +20L* Defense 0 Rate 1

*Treat as piercing against all inanimate objects

With every health level of damage lost by the Warstider, however, an estimated twenty to fifty people are brutally killed, taking mortal wounds that the magic of the spell cannot deflect.  This loss of life is, however, respectably celebrated in Castellar.  Such people are remembers are great heroes and their families are honored for their contribution to the protection of the town.

The idea was clearly inspired by two things:  The first was the story by Clive Barker called "In the Hills, the Cities" where a couple bear witness to a mind-warping event as two cities literally rise up to war with each other.  The other was the human towers in Spain that seem to be a fun cultural thing they do.  Wikipedia has a nice entry on the Castell.

In later entries, I shall share other variants of this monstrosity for other game lines.
Enjoy the horror!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Devil's Advocate - James Newton Howard

The Devil's Advocate
Composed by James Newton Howard

"Vanity is definitely my favorite sin."

With an opening quote that powerful, one would need a score so compelling that it can capture the grandeur of New York City, the seductiveness of beauty, the ominous presence of a danger lurking in the shadows and the gentle innocence of hope still being present.  James Newton Howard succeeds in all these in the soundtrack for the movie, "The Devil's Advocate."

With 26 tracks in the album, the musical pieces stand in nice contrast against the more disturbing pieces that build up to a threatening peak.  Adding a touch of variety is the single track that stands out and gives a light-hearted feel to the album: the elevator music piece on track 05 called "Rendezvous."  But definitely this album deserves to be part of any gaming library that sets scenes in New York City.  Tracks such as "New York" (track 03), "Milton" (track 04), and "Apartment Building" (track 08) very beautifully capture the atmosphere of being in a massively impressive and intimidating city.  Check out the samples available in Amazon here.

Then you have tracks like "Baby" (track 12), "Suicide" (track 16), and "Baka" (track 18) which definitely throw a horror curtain over one's game.  ("Baby " gets special credit for having a crying baby as part of the background music!)  Nicely, the soundtrack also has "Air on the G String" (track 20) which has a catherdral electronic organ feel which can be invaluable in games where the Player Characters might consider contacting the church for assistance.    And of course, there's "Fire" (track 23) which is perfect for a climactic conclusion and "Ring" (track 24) which is a wonderful closing song to cap a game session in a positive or somber note with its soft piano keys.

Just be warned that the soundtrack has audio tracks from the movie itself.  "Vanity - Dialog" (track 01) opens the soundtrack with the movie's powerful quote and in the end of the disc are two more dialog tracks called "Surprise - Dialog" (track 25) and "Finale - Dialog" (track 26).  While they are very lovely pieces of dialog with Al Pacino playing the most convincingly evil and logical Satan, they might end up disrupting a game if his recognizable voice suddenly pops out of your speakers mid-game.

The Devil's Advocate track suggestions
WTF moment: Geddes/Weaver (track 11), Baby (track 12), Suicide (track 16), Fire (track 23)
Introspective/calm moment: Main Theme (track 02), New York (track 03)
Tense/mystery moment: Milton (track 04), Lovemaking (track 06), Christabella (track 07), Apartment Building (track 08),
Combat music: Barzoon (track 09),
Hopeful moment: Rendezvous (track 05), Finish the Story (track 13), Baka (track 18), 57th Street (track 19), Church (track 21), Ring (track 24)
Drama/sad moment: Montage (track 10), Time (track 14), Can't Have Children (track 17), Air on G String (track 20), I Rest My Case (track 22)

Best Used In: Any game that features grand cities or massive structures.  While it may be impossible to incorporate tracks like "Rendezvous" in a game set during the medieval period, other tracks can still be used to enhance scenes set in the shadows of an ancient city.  Just be mindful again of the shifts in the tracks when tension rises and falls.

I've beautifully used this soundtrack for everything from a zombie uprising game, to a game about fallen angels, as well as a game about ghosts that are actually people who can use powers to be like the dead.  Very versatile, so long as you want a dark game.

Friday, January 13, 2012

System Shopped: The Cathedral of Flesh - nWOD

Cathedrals of Flesh Everywhere...
System Shopped: new World of Darkness
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

In classic World of Darkness, one of the most dramatic and disturbing concepts introduced is an unliving location in Vampire the Dark Ages.  Known as the Cathedral of Flesh, this fabled place is a literal structure that is built with the hundreds of thousands of bodies that the wicked Tzimisce named Yorak had fleshcrafted together.  Come the modern setting of the game, the Cathedral of Flesh is rumored to have hidden itself beneath New York City itself for a sinister secret plan.  In either setting, the place was a horrific example of vampiric power pushed beyond the limits of humanity.  The terror and horror it invokes is simply beautiful.

Among players, the structure is infamous in very many ways.  For Dark Ages gamers, the setting is a terrifying experience when one goes through Transylvania Chronicles.  For Masquerade gamers, the massive construct is a sign of the coming of Gehenna and its reemergence an undeniable display of the presence of the Antediluvians.

Wouldn't you, as a storyteller, want to have something similar for your games?

For this entry, allow me to present:

by Nan Palmero
The Cathedral of Flesh
for the new World of Darkness

Somewhere in the dark corners of the city, seemingly hidden from every prying eye, and somehow unnoticed by everyone living there, stands a structure unlike any other.  From the outside, it looks practically normal, with its brick walls, its old rusted roof and its boarded up windows.  When seen from inside, however, the horror of the place is impossible to forget.  Covering every inch of the walls and ceiling and floor inside the building is flesh.  Human flesh.  Of every race.  Of every gender.  Of every age.   Their skins threaded into each other like a massive monstrous kilt.  And when touched, the worst truth becomes apparent:  They are all still alive.

And once a year, what precisely what day no one really knows, the doors to the Cathedral open, one of the flesh is permitted to leave, and someone out there in the city feels a pull.  A call.  An urge to go there.    They say those who have been called are people who have lost all will to live.  They say those who feel the summons are people who have lost all faith.

Who says that?
The walls.  That's what they told me, after all.
That's what they told me to tell you.

Would you like to come with me?

So what is it?
The Cathedral can be an ancient biological creature that evolved alongside mankind, however while man learned to evolve from its most basic levels, this thing evolved in a parasitic way.  It despises man for being a society and feeds on people to expand its ever growing singular existence.  It cannot procreate, and yes it has tried many, many times.  So once a year, when it feels it is ready, it animates one of the flesh it has absorbed, and sends it out to find a new victim.  One it tries to impregnate (or get itself impregnated) and brings it back to the collective.    Someday, it will realize it can never bear children, and in its horrific rage, it will consume the world and become the only living thing alive.  Unless the players can stop it.

Attributes: (values after the slash are for the Cathedral itself, not the chosen avatar for the year)
Mental attributes: Intelligence 2, Wits 5, Resolve 5
Physical attributes: Strength as per body/7, Dexterity as per body/3,  Stamina 1/9
Social attributes: Presence 1, Manipulation 2, Composure 3

Mental skills: Crafts 1, Investigation 1, Medicine (human biology) 3
Physical skills: Athletics 1, Brawl 2, Survival (gathering nutrition) 4
Social skills: Intimidation (horrify) 4, Persuasion (gain trust) 4, Subterfuge (act human) 4

Merits:  Encyclopedic Knowledge (the monster has limited access to memories of its piece-meal body.  Not actual info, but enough to get fragments for lies), Iron Stomach, Multi-Lingual
Willpower: 8
Virtue: Fortitude
Vice: Envy
Initiative: 6
Defense: 3
Size: 12
Speed: 0 (The Cathedral cannot move, it can only expand)
Health:  6 (Yes, the human avatars are ordinary in their fragility)/ 21 health levels

Monstrous Traits:
Immortal Flesh - After evolving so many times to survive throughout it's existence, the Cathedral has learned to ignore lesser forms of damage.  The Cathedral can ignore any bashing damage it receives.  This is not a trait that extends to its avatars, however.
A Hundred Thousand Bodies - By spending a Willpower point, the Cathedral can release another avatar for whatever purposes it has.  Such avatars can roll Encyclopedic knowledge when forced to make rolls using skills they may have had during their human lives.  Each success is a virtual skill dot that avatar can use for its existence.
Horror of Horrors - When it (not its Avatars) is seen by another, its existence is so terrifying that viewers are forced to check for Degeneration.  This roll is only made once per scene.  People who try to face against this  monstrosity clearly risk losing their sanity for each encounter they experience.
Evolved to Survive - If ever damaged down to its last three health levels, the Cathedral escapes by sloughing off all unnecessary mass and vanishes through the pipes.  This act reduces all its physical stats to one, save for its Dexterity, which boosts up to five, and uses it to escape and hopefully regrow itself.
Super Human Immunity - The Cathedral is not affected by any illness or diseases.  It can heal any damage it has received at the cost of one health level of damage (any kind) for each Willpower point it spends.  However, usually, it will only do so if fleeing is impossible.

In later entries, I shall share other variants of this monstrosity for other game lines.
Enjoy the horror!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Character Challenges

by kevin dooley
Character Challenges
by Tobie Abad

Here are some ideas of character concepts you might want to try to add another level of challenge and fun to your usual gaming nights:

1) The Realistic Pacifist
While many games have character options that embrace a concept that feigns on violence (from Dungeons and Dragons' Paladins, to Vampire the Masquerade's Salubri and so forth) why not try portraying a character who absolutely despises any form of violence and murder.   Be vocally against any forms of aggression.  Insist in how carrying any actual weapons.  Seek out other alternatives of self-defense and the like.  There is a fine line between being a pacifist and being stupid, however, so be sure you avoid mistaking one for the other.

Easy tropes to fall into would be zen masters, martial artists who supposedly find inner peace, or fanatic pacifists who do stupid things like make themselves human shields against an incoming barrage of weaponry.  While such tropes might work at times, for a fully fleshed out player character, you might want to explore alternative approaches.  Maybe you avoid violence because in the past, you allowed yourself to get emotionally overwhelmed by your anger, and that lead to a brutal act of cruelty?  Maybe you still suffer from a traumatic event and find the use of weapons as something unacceptable.  Or maybe you really just don't have the stomach for it, so the moment you engage in violence, you get violently sick?

2) The Happiness Font
I would have to comment Joss Whedon for this.  You have characters like Kaylee who always finds a realistic way of looking at the brighter side of things, to reinterpretation of characters like how he approached The Astonishing X-Men's Kitty Pryde who would insert amusing remarks (such as "I have cloud hair" during a meeting in the Danger Room) or Princess Power of the Runaways; characters who always offer a ray of light and additional shades of colors in a world that might be dismal or dark.

Now, again, it can be easy to fall into tropes in portraying this.  More often than not, you have people who play characters who see NOTHING dark at all, which totally cheapens this concept.  Even Kaylee knows when something is horrible and frightening (as seen when she heard of Nisska or how in the movie she grabbed her weapon to fight the Reavers after learning Simon liked her too).  While it can be temptingly easy to play an oblivious unrealistic character like Project A-ko's B-ko who hops around, singing and smiling even as someone threatens to beat you up, it reduces the concept to an amusing side role that might be best reserved for non-playing characters who only appear for a short while.

Instead of thinking of a character that eternally remains optimistic, why not try a character who realizes that someone has to keep others seeing the bright side.  And this is to be accomplished without pandering or just using jokes.  The challenge of being an endless supply of hope might be more difficult and yet more rewarding than you think.

3) The Caring Bastard
When it comes to rude, violent, cruel bastards in gaming, player characters that fit that bill are NOT hard to find.  More often than not, many do prefer to embrace such roles, thinking that braggadocio equates with being a foul-mouthed bastard with great fighting stats.   But the tricky challenge is portraying a character who does cruel and seemingly wicked things, but deep down when inspected further, can reveal an unexpected depth of care and concern for others.   In superhero games, this can easily be reflected by heroes like John Constantine and Wolverine, who do the horrible things someone must do to keep others from having to do it.  And who keep others at arm's length for their own safety, since being close to them will only lead to them eventually getting hurt.

But outside the Hellblazers and berserkers in the world, you have to consider the levels you can approach this.  Maybe there's the warrior who always talks down the Princess and the female wizard about how women should stay home, when in truth he lost his wife in the past and now overcompensates in the wrongest possible way in showing how he's afraid of losing more women in his life.  Or maybe there's the cold-hearted vampire never leaves witnesses alive, but later admits he does so because he believes death is preferable to living the rest of one's mortal life afraid of the dark knowing that monsters are real.

Bonus points if you find ways to delay the "full reveal" to much later in the game, after all the other players have decided you're really a cruel evil bastard.   Just be sure the storyteller knows the "real story" from the start.

4) The Edge of Sane
Yes, it sounds very easy to do this.  But you'd be surprised how hard it really is.  Most people think playing this means just having a ball doing everything excessively.  It is quite similar to the "overconfidence" excuse:  My character is overconfident, that's why I won't think about what he's doing.  But key to both is keeping in mind that the game must remain FUN for everyone in it.  If your "overconfident" character keeps doing stupid things under the excuse of "he's being overconfident" then the players might reach a point of thinking about getting rid of you might be the best solution.  The same goes with the emotional wreck.  Whether it is a character who is always going through emotional crying fits or a character who can't seem to trust others properly, if the drama queen moments and paranoid concepts are becoming more annoying than fun then they aren't concepts that should be allowed to remain in the game.

Doing this right however, might best be accomplished by knowing the actions themselves MUST make sense for the character.  The character's actions must make sense, and make other players groan the way we react when watching a chick flick... we know they'll do something stupid, but we don't think it is something totally out of character.  But if the action being done HAS to be explained to the others for them to get it, it is probably missing the mark.

by kb35
Even insane characters  like Hannibal Lecter and the like work best because their madness does make sense.  Hannibal Lecter might still be disturbing if he laughed intermittently seemingly out of random, but that sense of disturbing would not reach the level of dread compared to being in a game where you know the other character might be looking at you one moment and thinking you're good to eat.

Hell, maybe you can even try to be the most logical thinker ever.  Taking from the Vulcan's of Star Trek and characters like Danger of the X-men and Brainiac 5.1 from the Legion of Super Heroes, try portraying a character who embraces logic so much he despises allowing emotions to color his feelings.  But rather than being almost robotic, why not go the opposite way:  when emotions threaten to affect your decision, LASH OUT and let the emotion burn out, then become calm and make your choice.    And always choose what empirically stands as the best option.

Challenge yourself and see what you can accomplish, if not enhance the games your part of, without resorting to easy tropes and expected approaches!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: Joan Of Arc The Messenger by Eric Serra

Joan of Arc The Messenger 
Composed by Eric Serra

The soundtrack to the movie Joan of Arc (titled The Messenger in other releases) has a beautiful range of tracks that explore the blood-rich battlegrounds of war as well as the ephemeral strings of a supernatural influence.  Composed by Eric Serra, whose work on the soundtracks for The Fifth Element and Leon: The Professional I loved so much, this soundtrack is definitely a worthy purchase to add to your collection.

The soundtrack has twenty-seven songs in total, with the last song being a lyrical one called "My Heart Calling"with vocals provided by Noa (who also worked with Eric Serra on the soundtrack to James Bond flick, GoldenEye) . Get a glimpse of the soundtrack here.

Perfectly composed to accompany any games set in the medieval age with grand battles against overwhelming odds, the soundtrack invokes the foreboding presence of a towering powerful force with the use of great drums, horns and chanting voices.    While there are moments when the music returns to the familiar theme that is meant to resonate Joan's presence in the battlefield, each individual track is consistent in portraying a feeling or mood, and this makes it easier to use in a game since you are free to keep a particular track on loop for as long as you need it to repeat.

The music also capitalizes on the presence of great swelling moments to draw out an emotional response from the listeners.  These moments make the soundtrack a veritable godsend when running games that have epic fight sequences or moments when the divine touches humanity.  

Special consideration must also be given to the final and only lyric track, "My Heart Calling" because for a song with lyrics, the song still manages to remain light enough to play even during a game sequence.  Typically, lyrical songs are frowned upon because it is easy for players to get distracted by the words in the song.  In this song, however, the words are nicely applicable to any hero that is still in the search for him or herself.  And such a message can easily be used to highlight a wide range of games.

Joan of Arc The Messenger track suggestions
WTF moment: A Sword In A Field and Joan and the Wolves (track 02-03), At One With You (track 06), the Miracle of  Orleans (track 20)
Introspective/calm moment: Talk to Him (track 01), La Hire's Lucky Charm (track 17)
Tense/mystery moment: Burying Our Children (track 04), The Messenger of God (track 09),Trial (track 22)
Combat music: Recrossing The River (track 15), The Tourelles (track 16), To Arms (track 18), Armatarum Dei (track 19), Angelus In Medio Ignis (track 26)
Hopeful moment: No Amen (track 05), To the King of England (track 12), Rex Coronatur (track 21)
Drama/sad moment: Chinon (track 07), Find Him (track 10) Procession to Orleans (track 14), Anger and Confession (track 23), Answer Me (track 24),

Best Used In: Many of the tracks are best suited for major battle sequences set during the medieval age.  However, the orchestral scores used for battle can actually be used for even fight sequences or engagements set during the modern or futuristic age.  Many of the tracks can also be used for any game sequences where a divine or infernal presence makes itself known.  There is a supernatural quality added to the atmosphere by many of the lighter sounding tracks.

I highly recommend the last track, "My Heart Calling" be used as a closing credit song after a particularly intense game session where the heroes question their actions/beliefs.   The lyrics should nicely resonate with them as you all pack up and prep to head home.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: Silent Hill - Akira Yamaoka

The capacity for music to enhance ones gaming experience cannot be ignored.    Just as music helps carry the scene in movies and television, appropriate scoring can transform your game from a simple moment of gaming conflict, into an epic drama where life and limb are at stake.  A common question many Dungeon Masters/Storytellers ask me is: "What soundtrack would you recommend?"  This is the first of many Soundtrack Suggestions that I will share in this blog.

Every soundtrack I cover will have a track suggestion list afterwards.  The list will show what tracks I feel are best used in what kind of a scene.  Tracks will be categorized to the appropriate WITCHD area.
WTF moment: Tracks that are very jarring or different but can be used perfectly for scenes that catch players unaware.
Introspective/calm moment: For those scenes where the player characters are deep in thought or in a place where they feel secure and at ease.
Tense/mystery moment: For any investigation scenes, or scenes were dark, painful, or unwanted truths are revealed.
Combat music: Well, for combat.
Hopeful moment:  For those moments when someone helps them.  Or offers them assistance, whether it be physical or economic aid, or just some social scenes with NPCs about not giving up.
Drama/sad moment: For those heart-tearing moments, or those moments when love is admitted... or lost.
Best Used In: And end each one with a suggestion on what kind of games the soundtrack works best in.

Be aware, however, that a cool thing to try is to also use a track meant for one-scene in a totally different scene. But save such moments for when the players will never expect it so they retain their impact.

Anyway, on to the suggestion for this entry:

Silent Hill
Composed by Akira Yamaoka

For those unfamiliar with the Konami Playstation One game, here's a quick and dirty synopsis:  Silent Hill is a wonderfully frightening game of true horror about a man who is searching for his daughter after a near collision accident along a dark road.  His search for her brings him to a place called Silent Hill where strange things lurk in the fog and a siren heralds the coming of even darker threats.    The album has everything from melodic tunes to atmospheric tracks which combine panic-inducing industrial sounds with the brain-numbing feedback of a radio.  

There is also the main theme, "Silent Hill" which is the first track of the soundtrack and the opening song of the game that would be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever played the first game.

The soundtrack has forty-two songs in total, with some as short as nine seconds (The Wait, track 03) and some as long as six minutes.  One source you can try for this soundtrack is here.

Gaming-wise, this would be what I'd consider to be the weakest of the soundtracks to use from Akira Yamaoka.  The tracks are a tad too jarring and disjointed with many of them not being that easily loopable to leave running in the background.  While I have to say I really LOVE how the mood builds up in many of these tracks, given the fact they DO tend to be tracks that rise from near-absolute silence to the banging cacophony from hell in a single track, or have a great build-up that gets abruptly cut, they become harder to use in a non-scripted gaming moment.  If one were to successfully use the tracks, it would be an amazing feat of timing, familiarity of the music, and the ability to steer the players to hit the right peaks in the music.  But otherwise, the music has a tendency of becoming jarring and distracting instead.  Useful tracks however can still be found in it.

Silent Hill OST track suggestions
WTF moment: Killed by Death (track 13), Never Again (track 17)
Introspective/calm moment: Rising Sun (track 07), Heaven Give Me Say (track 20), Far (track 21)
Tense/mystery moment: Claw Finger (track 09), Hear Nothing (track 11)
Combat music: For All (track 08), I'll Kill You (track 22), Ain't Gonna Rain (track 26), My Heaven (track 37)
Hopeful moment: Only You (track 34), Bonus Track (track 44)
Drama/sad moment: Kill Angels (track 33), Tears Of... (track 38)

Best Used In: Games still set in a modern, or post-apocalyptic setting.  The tracks sound too clearly industrial and modern to work for medieval period games and the like.  They still can work in a futuristic or sci-fi setting, however, so long as the mood is dark and brooding.  More BSG than Star Trek, for example.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The Ties That Bind

by DSB
The Ties That Bind
by Tobie Abad

Sometimes, you will want to have games where the players themselves have interconnections with one another beyond what their character concepts were originally planned to be.  Most of the time, players seem to be happy with just having characters that were created to stand alone with their own stories and their own back stories.   Here's a little something I thought of that can help you add a dash of inter-connecting ties between your players' player-characters.

The Bonds People Know
Start by having each player roll a six-sided die on the following table in relation to another player.  The information here is clearly shared as things everyone typically knows.

1 - Resents... because of...
2 - Admires... because of...
3 - Respects... because of...
4 - Fears... because of....
5 - Trusts... because of..
6 - Supports.. because of..

For example, between players Adam, Burke and Charlie, you have Adam's character rolling once for Burke and Charlie, and likewise for the others.  You may end up with Adam admiring Burke's character for a reason that is appropriate of the character and Adam trusts Charlie because of another reason.  Smart players can use this table to build interesting interconnections.  Burke might admire Charlie, for example, but Charlie might fear Burke for the same attention he gets.

The idea, however, is it adds a nice layer of interconnections by encouraging the players to build some back story history between each other.  Whether the characters are family members, old classmates, co-workers, or practically strangers, players can develop nice ties that shape new role-playing opportunities between them.

The Bonds People Don't Know
Like above, you roll once again for each character, however this time, these are things you note down in secret.  Why?  Because we always have secrets that we won't reveal.  And are afraid to reveal.     The roll represents the minor and major offenses you have on the other character that the other is not aware of.

by that guy who's going places
Minor offenses can range from simply lying about being sick for a party or event, to claiming accomplishments which aren't really yours, while major offenses can include everything from cheating in a relationship with someone the other character is related to, or having committed murder, rape, etc.

1 - one major offense/lie/betrayal
2 - two minor offenses/lies/betrayals
3 - one minor offense/lie/betrayal
4 - none so far
5 - one major  offense/lie/betrayal and one minor offense/lie/betrayal
6 - two major offenses/lies/betrayals

While the other character might not know about these offenses, you are required to share these with the storyteller however.  The storyteller now has a pot of ideas and additional hooks to draw upon to expand on the game.    The storyteller can always throw in a non-playing character who knows some of the character's secrets.  Or maybe even bring in a plot which forces some characters to admit the secrets they've kept from another.

Not to mention, the storyteller might want to expand on some of the results with the other player in time.  Or, since the storyteller knows the results of BOTH tables, work the details to tie in to each other for a much more comprehensive web of drama.

Like in the example above, Burke might have a major offense, and might decide that he once secretly spied on Charlie's character while in the shower.  Charlie might roll a minor offense towards Burke and the storyteller may suggest (knowing what Burke got in his roll) Charlie might have noticed Burke spying on his character while undressed one time (to connect to his fear of Burke's attention) and might have just pretended not to have noticed... but deep down now fears him.  In a super hero game, maybe a telepathic villain uncovers these secrets, and throws at the players' faces to taunt them.  In a game with magic, the said secrets may be uncovered when a cursed item reveals a character's greatest shame.

And suddenly, the drama between the players gets even more awesome in the game.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

2012 = End of the World Gaming

by Kevin Dooley
2012 = End of the World Gaming
by Tobie Abad
January 2012

With all the rumors and misinformation and fears about this being the very last year of the world, why not capitalize on this potential energy and use it to enhance your games?  Let's face it, when playing games like World of Darkness or In Nomine where the setting is very close to the real world (compared to say Dungeons and Dragons or Shadowrun where the world ultimately has to be this fantastic place of magic and danger), it is not uncommon for recent news items or historical events to be utilized into a game session.    Whether it be using something as far back as the Crusades or the Black Plague as a major event in the game's historical timeline, or something more recent such as the 9/11 terrorist attacks or the Millennium bug scare, having fictional representations of such events in one's game can allow a group to explore the many facets of the event beyond just seeing it as a tragic or frightening event in the past.  With the use of such events in one's games comes the need to consider the sensitivity required for events that may just be too traumatic or fresh for others. In my games, for instance, I always check with any new players if there are "unacceptable scenes" that I should be aware of.  If there was a player who experienced a real trauma, for example, such as having survived a rape or lost a child, I make it a point to avoid having similar themes or events in the game.   This same sensitivity, therefore, should apply when using any real-world events in one's game.  Every group has to set its own sensitivity limits.

But on the other hand, when it comes to supposed "coming" events like the end of the world, I feel one can capitalize on these events to push the excitement of the game to a new level and to draw inspiration from the events that may be occurring around the world.  White Wolf Gaming Studios wonderfully executed this back when they were releasing their Time of Judgment books with support from an online "News Tickler" of weird and strange events that were happening all over the world.  While most of the news items were just fictional (I saved a mirror of it here), the articles were written in a manner that made it easy to envision them as happening in the world.  I was inspired by it enough to come up with my own additional News items for my game.

But with all the craziness that's to come forward, who's to say you can't use all these "facts" to your advantage in giving a great thrilling game session?  Even better, why not draw inspiration from these end of the world scenarios and apply them to your game, regardless of where or when they are based!   While some may seem to be better inserted into similar genre games (such as the Mayan calendar misquoted prediction being applied to Pulp games, or the supposed Nibiru collision to be inserted into science fiction games) explore the possibilities of interweaving the concept/ideas to a setting that doesn't readily match up.  Maybe Nibiru is actually a Great Old One returning from a long journey?  Maybe the Mayan Calendar is actually the deadline of when a quantum locked prison finally opens to release the megalomaniac psychic terrorist?

So let's try tackling them now, one at a time, shall we?

The Mayan Calendar
Lots of fear of 2012 relate to how the time runs out on the current era of the Long Count calendar.  Many mistakenly believe that this means come December 2012, the world will undergo a massive change, which many jump into interpreting as the end of the world as we know it.  Some even consider the translations to suggest a spiritual renewal is what is coming.

Why not make this a "truth" in your game?  Maybe 2012 does mark when things change worldwide.  In Aberrant, this could be the day when Aberrants worldwide discover that their powers have exponentially grown.  For Vampire the Masquerade, maybe this marks when mankind learns of their existence unquestionably, and the Masquerade falls.  Maybe in Dungeons and Dragons, when the year turns, they realize it is the year when the Gods pull away from the world and all Divine Magic is lost!    Save for that group that saw the calendar and believed.  And made arrangements to survive, one way or another.

Nibiru is Coming
In this story, a planet called Nibiru which was discovered by the Sumerians is headed towards Earth after its very long orbit around the Sun.  The Annunaki, supposed ancient astronauts, came to Earth and may be related to this coming planet.  Originally predicted to strike the Earth last May 2003, the date was moved forward to 2012 when nothing happened.  On a related thread, the Infrared Astronomy Satellite of NASA once released images they gathered back in 1983, with images that many claimed to be proof of Nibiru.

Now, throw in some ideas on what Nibiru could be.  Is it a space ark that actually contains an alien race that once seeded the Earth with homo sapiens?  Is it a continent-scale asteroid which was once the City of Atlantis before it was torn from the Earth by the uncontrolled release of super-science power?  Maybe it is deity of all Beholders coming to bring death upon all?  This is a chance to push your game to an epic level that was never expected.

Polar Shift leads to the Continents Breaking
Magneto tried to do it, but failed.  But lots of talk still go around about how the magnetic poles may be affected by anything ranging from Solar Storms to Galactic Alignments, and these in turn lead to the continents shifting rapidly in relation to one another.  Countries submerge, land forms move, tidal waves crush cities.

Cthulhu rises.   Or maybe the great sleeping Earth Dragon emerges and reshapes Creation to the world we know.   Or maybe we can even flip out and have it instead affect magic instead of science!  As the shift occurs, all Divine magic becomes Infernal and all Infernal magic becomes Divine!

by Man and his Cam
Armageddon.  Judgment Day.
Always fun to see how you can reinterpret this to the game you use.   Just keep in mind you can either "prove them right" and have it happen as the religion said it would, or prove them wrong, by having it unfold in a way that was not expected.  Maybe the second coming has less to do with winged angels, golden trumpets and dragons and more to do with a city-sized mother-ship questioning why we have evolved in the direction we have chosen.  Or perhaps the spiritual cleansing does happen, but happens so quietly, we simply awaken to discover most of the people are already gone.  Where they have gone, why and why not the rest of us can be material for a whole new chronicle to explore.

The Aftermath of The End
And that brings us to this.  Any game can be enriched with an exploration of surviving the end.  Whether it be surviving tremendously horrid environmental threats, monstrous and inhuman dangers that suddenly emerge, or the primal needs of a starving fearful man to survive, any game out there can be given an injection of more story potentials with a post-apocalyptic end-of-the-world closing.  How do the Covenants in Vampire the Requiem change their practices after a massive third world war cloaks the entire planet in Nuclear clouds?   Do the street shamans of Shadowrun gain greater power when the world practically loses the ability to use technology?  In what ways do your Superheroes try to remake the world a better place after the magnetic poles shift, the water levels rise, and solar flares burn the land?

It is 2012, the "current" big year when everything ends.   So why not explore that theme in your game?  What was that, you're afraid the world really WILL end this year?  Then what are you doing surfing the net and playing role-playing games.  Go find your shelter and stock up on supplies.  Me?  I'm gonna keep chucking the dice and crafting stories.  Cause I can tell an "End of the world module" when I see one.

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