Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Make the First Time Memorable

by ktylerconk
Make the First Time Memorable
by Tobie Abad
February 2012

Just like anything else in life, when we try something for the first time we want that experience to be extremely memorable and special.  We want to make sure everything goes well and we want to somehow have a keepsake of that wonderful experience.   When it comes to introducing the concept of table top role-playing games to new players, the same expectations and hopes apply.  After all, as much as we love the games we play we have to remember how alien and strange the concept may sound to people who haven't tried it before. We can use analogies such as improvised theater or interactive movies as examples, but no one really grasps the full fun of a game without literally playing one.  Here are some of the things I have made it a point to do to always make someone's first game a memorable experience.

by Sam Cockman
Know what they want
Don't start by deciding on what game system to run.  Instead, start by asking what interests the new player the most.  Does the new player love action movies with all the gun fights and car chases?  Does he have a soft spot for romantic comedies and crazy chick-flick dramedies?  Does she have a thing for magic and fantasy and can recite key lines from Lord of the Rings without effort?    If you're not sure, ask for specifics.  Ask for what scenes he loved the most in his favorite movie.  As for what aspects she really enjoys about her favorite shows. From the information you get, then decide what game system you'd like the player to experience.  But in many ways, be sure to choose only the game system that popularly explores the desired aspects.  What you hope to accomplish in your game choice is the new player becoming interested enough to get the book after the game to learn more about playing it.

Bring Down the Game to the Basics
Games such as Dungeons and Dragons or GURPS can be frighteningly intimidating to a new player with all their maps and traits and systems.  But that doesn't mean such game systems cannot be used to introduce a new player to a game.  Don't make the mistake of trying to explain every single system on the first game night, however.  Instead, try to do away or minimize all the systems that don't push the aspects your player wants, and focus instead on the systems that do.  After all, what you want to show is that the things they love can be represented in a game.  And the idea that such systems exist to make that aspect something they can experience becomes a huge draw in wanting to try learning more about a game.

So if a fan, for example, states he wants to play something like Underworld, then just grab your Vampire the Requiem book, ignore all the Bloodlines and Clan Disciplines and just ramp up the combat system with a nice sprinkling of Celerity, Vigor and Resilience.  The werewolves don't even have to use the werewolves of the Werewolf the Forsaken system.  Just use the same system for the vampires, but describe them as werewolves.  While accuracy is sacrificed, the game becomes much easier to run and to grasp for new players.

Bring Up the Familiar Touches
With the game itself being totally new ground for a new player, help raise their confidence level by catering to their comfort zones.  Romantic Comedy games should have the stupid antics and the eventual confessions.  Action games should have the moments when the hero seemingly is out-gunned.  Horror should have the freak out moments where panic feels overwhelming.  Super Hero games should have a sense of doing good does make a difference in the world.  If the player seems a bit lost, don't be afraid to "caption" scenes in your game.  "You've been working at your desk all day when the doors open and he comes in.  The best looking guy you've ever seen.  The game's Love Interest."   What you want to do is get the players into the idea that the story does unfold around them, and their actions make a huge difference in what can happen next.

Do the same with the Non-playing cast.  Use tropes if you must.  Use cliches if it helps them grasp the way a game flows.  You're not trying to prove you're the best storyteller out there.  You're trying to get people who  have never gamed to be interested enough to invest an hour or three into a game.  Trust me, there are a lot of other things a non-gamer would want to do with three hours of their time.  If you can't win them over by gaining their interest, the game will fall apart real fast.

And don't forget, the NPC cast is your best way to "show" how to role-play.  While there is no right or wrong way to role-play (just preferred and greatly discouraged ways) by showing them how you do it, you can encourage them to do the same.  Use distinct voices if you want to.  Use accents if you feel like it.  Or just have a visual cue or signal to reflect who you are.  A good sign they're getting into it is when they shift from referring to their character's in the third person ("My character will say 'What are you doing?'") to the first person ("I look at him and shake my head.  'What are you doing?'")

by plate tektonics

Throw Something Unexpected
Boost the uniqueness of the game experience by throwing something unexpected.  Maybe in the Action-packed game, the hero is suddenly forced to make a moral choice:  Killing the villain is the best action, but the hero suddenly discovers the 3-month old child the villain is raising.  Or in the game inspired by Dr. Who, knowing the player loves the show, you throw in a cameo of spin-off shows like Martha Jones or the cast of Torchwood.  A zombie game can have a totally unexpected twist if you suddenly reveal that the cure is found just as they wipe out a HUGE mass of zombie children - did they just commit mass murder?

Think of the best movies you've seen and you'll find there were such moments that made you go, "Whoa..." Try to find a way to inject that same moment into your games and even if the new player decides gaming might not be for him, he will still leave with a fond memory that he most likely will recall if not share in the times to come.

Share the Sheet
At the end, let them keep their character sheet.  Be sure to have included in the sheet a few weblinks of what game they played and perhaps other similar sites to check out.  While they aren't obligated to check the sites out, if they do ever come across the sheet again in the future chances are they might remember that fun memorable game, and opt to look into gaming again.  Gaming takes a lot of commitment, so its not really something everyone would be in to.  But that should never stop us from trying to share our passions with others.

Monday, February 27, 2012

System Shopped: Beholders - Hunter the Vigil

by Wizards of the Coast
Behold the Beholder!
System Shopped: Hunter the Vigil
by Tobie Abad
February 2012

Intelligent, powerful and deadly, the Beholder is known for a gaze that can spell doom, if not very difficult times ahead, for those caught in it.  Here's a stab at throwing something inspired by such a monstrosity into your Hunter the Vigil game.


Beholders
for Hunter the Vigil
They were all children of the Adversary himself.  That much he knew was true.   Jonas always felt there was something special about having the ability to cut one's own arm open and use the pain and blood to call upon horned, winged things.  Sick and disturbing as it may sound, to Jonas it meant one thing: He was special.


He had been hunting dark things for years, using his dark gifts to cleanse the world of the horrid creatures that lurked in the shadows.  He would stalk them like a wolf, and track their movements like a waiting spider.  And when the moment came, he would descend upon them like a shark swimming through dark bloodied waters.  Most would fight, hoping to survive his assault.  Others would run, hoping fleeing was an option.  There were a few who'd try reason, or emotion, and beg to be spared.  But no, none of them would be allowed to live.  None would be permitted to leave.


This one, however seemed different.


Her walk was almost far too graceful.  Dream-like.  Her poise was composed.  Regal.  She was walking down the street with her jacket pulled around her tight and an umbrella open to block the rain.  Everyone else had probably locked themselves in their homes to hide from the cold downpour.   Jonas tracked her to this location when he noticed his demonic familiars never returned when he sent them in this area of the city.  He only confirmed she was his target when he realized after watching this place for weeks that the whole block was a community that lived a very communicative life.  She never spoke to anyone there.  


He waited for her in the shadows of her home.  With a cruel blade in hand, he whispered to his two demonic familiars to be patient, and wait for the signal to attack.  But as the door opened, Jonas saw the woman's unhooded face and felt her gaze upon him.  Jonas felt a ray of coldness surround him.  Her gaze some how sapped him of his strength.  Of his birthright.  And to his horror, he began to realize what had happened to all his other familiars as the two demons at his side melted away at her very gaze.


"Yes," she answered the question in his head, "I knew you were waiting for me."  She folded her arms in front of her chest and allowed the full manifestation of her legacy to show.  Eyes erupted into view from all over her face, each one throwing a gaze at a different direction.  "And no, you are not going to get out of here alive."


The Beholder is now a freaky telepathic woman?
In this concept, the Beholder is a new Dread Thing that the Hunters have to deal with.  For this translation, I figured the best thing to do was to focus on four key traits that I felt were what makes a Beholder cool:  It's ability to cancel out other powers, its numerous eyes, the multifarious powers that it has to its disposal, and lastly, the wicked intelligence that it can use to its advantage.

Since in the new World of Darkness, monsters do not necessarily have to be grotesque, I felt it would be awesome to have a Hunter the Vigil Beholder be sexy and dangerous.    And the horror of seeing this beautiful woman's face get marred by the eruption of numerous eyes that gaze in all directions should be a moment the players will truly remember.

So how do I use this monster in my games?
Beholders by their very nature are solitary creatures.  While other monsters, such as Vampires and Werewolves seem to form social structures among themselves to function, Beholders care nothing about others of their kind.  Beholders build a lair around unsuspecting people, indulging in the power of their unhindered sight, and relish the experience of seeing life unfold around them.  They feed on the emotional displays of others and even refer to varying emotions as tones of flavor.   They use their seemingly magical abilities to manipulate things around them and bring about varying events to incite certain emotional responses.  A sudden fire in one place to incite fear.  A touch of cold in another to bring two lovers closer together as a catalyst for a night of lovemaking.  A sense of vertigo to a third, causing the target's family to worry all night.

Beholders are selfish hungry monsters.  And worst of all, they are intelligent.
Since their feeding tends to be subtle, Beholders are hard to track down.  Most only feed enough emotional flavors to state themselves.  Very few cross the line of killing another through extreme emotional catharsis, but when one ever does make that mistake, there is no ignoring the clues left behind upon the corpse.  The eyes of the victim black out completely, as the pupil expands so much from the extreme emotional release.  The tear ducts would have torn themselves open as well leaving bloody trails from the eyes.  Forensics would then further uncover that the heart had severed itself from the major artery, a side-effect of it struggling to keep it with the very intense emotional moment.  

But otherwise, a smart Beholder feeds only so much and can remain undetected for many years.  Given that such a creature can live longer than a human lifespan, these monsters can be tricky antagonists to deal with.

The Many Powers of a Beholder
A typical Beholder can have anything from two to fifteen eyes, depending on its maturity.  Young ones, who usually have no idea they are Beholders, start off with their normal human two eyes.  But as they age, itchy spots begin to manifest in different parts of their face.  At a moment when the Beholder is exposed to an extreme display of emotion, if the new eye is mature and ready to "bloom" the itchy area ruptures as the eye opens to feed.  For a young Beholder this can be an extremely traumatic event since most young Beholders are abandoned by their parents (the question of beholder mating, as odd as it may be, might be best left to a different entry.)  The power inherent in the said new eye is dependent on the emotional resonance the first feeding experiences.

Every Beholder's main two eyes have two distinct powers which they can never truly stop using.  The first is an ability to nullify any other supernatural powers that are active within their line of sight.  Whether it be a Vampire's use of Obfuscate, a Changeling's empowering oath, or a Werewolf's unearthly regenerative abilities, while within the Beholder's gaze, the victim finds his access to the benefits of his powers fails him.  While the power in actuality still does function, it merely ceases to be affective in any way, beneficial or not, to both the Beholder and the target gazed.  The moment the Beholder focuses his gaze on someone else, the power and its effects reestablish themselves (such as a Vampire fading once again from notice or a Werewolf feeling his healing abilities return).

The second is the ability to see the very emotions of others as colored auras.  This ability, while intended to be used during hunting, can be used to also detect hiding individuals and possible sources of trouble.  The Beholder sees colors the same way they manifest for those using Aura Perception  and similar powers(Vampire the Requiem p. 120, Mage the Awakening p.206, Second Sight p. 117)

Further powers manifest depending on the emotion the new eye first tastes.  The Beholder has dots of a specific power depending on the intensity of the emotion the eye first fed on. Frighteningly, some of the powers are very similar to certain Endowments practiced by the Lucifuge.  Whether the Lucifuge have any knowledge or answers as to why this is remains to be seen.

Afraid, Suspicious = Terrify p. 282 Hunter the Vigil main book
Aggressive, Anger, Hateful = Agonize p.276 Hunter the Vigil main book
Confused, Worried = Confuse p.277 Hunter the Vigil main book
Depressed, Bitter, Sad = Shackles of Pandemonium p.170 Hunter the Vigil main book
Calm, Happiness, Innocent = Sleep p.281 Hunter the Vigil main book
Compassionate, Conservative = Lurker in the Darkness p. 280 Hunter the Vigil main book
Lustful, Lovestruck = Drain (Health) p. 278 Hunter the Vigil main book
Envy, Excited, Obsessed = Drain (Will Power) p. 278 Hunter the Vigil main book
Generous, Idealistic, Spiritual = Gaze of the Penitent p. 167 Hunter the Vigil main book

All powers of the Beholder are activated with Will Power points (rather than the usual costs listed in their systems).  When feeding on emotions, the Beholder merely rolls it's Presence + Stamina and each success allows it to replenish its Will Power.  If the Beholder, however, ever tries to feed more successes worth than the target's actual Will Power score, the target dies from cathartic release as described above.

The Fragile Monster
Thankfully, aside from the horror of a monstrosity having so much powers at its disposal, a Beholder is no more tougher than a typical human being.  While these things have the capacity to live tremendously long lives, they are just as vulnerable as normal people are to guns, knives and fists.  Given a life away from such dangers, a Beholder can conceivably live for centuries as their bodies are blessed with an amazing lifespan and an almost perfect immune-system to most illnesses.   But beyond such blessings, they can be cut, burned and bruised just as any normal person can be.

In many ways, this is why a Beholder tends to stay out of the radar of other supernatural creatures and when possible, lives a subtle life leeching off the excess emotions of loud noisy communities.  Aware that something as simple as a common thug with a letter opener can kill them, they hide among the sheep they feed on and avoid confrontation whenever possible.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Persona:Horror - DC Heroes


02/24/2012
PERSONA:HORROR
DC Heroes

Ran another game for the people of INDIGO ENTERTAINMENT today.  This time, it would be a fantastic comical-action packed game using the DC Heroes role-playing game system.  Popular for its Mayfair Exponential Gaming System, others might recognize it more based on the later incarnation of the game, Bloodlines.

The game actually had a wonderful cast of seven players with Jigs playing Robin, James playing Red Arrow, JP as Red Tornado, Jam as Kid Flash, Alex as Aqua Lad, Anj as Zatanna, and one last player whose name I forgot as Super Boy.

The game opened with Robin investigating on strange events at a museum where Zatanna happened to be touring a bunch of homeless kids from a nearby shelter.  There, Dick noticed as well Roy Harper who was trying his best to act nonchalant.  As it turned out, Roy had hoped to woo Zatanna, but backed out the moment he realized Robin would witness his sappiness.

While Red Tornado handled a training session with Super Boy, who struggled to control his immense strength, Artemis showed up intent to start her own training session.  Both Aqua Lad and Kid Flash were currently off base on a mission elsewhere.  When the alarm from Robin reaches them, both Artemis and Super Boy opt to head there.  Red Tornado decides to follow above them.

Back in the Museum, a bunch of ninjas eventually showed up accompanying Talia who declared herself present to take possession of a specific child in the Museum.  Zatanna, hoping to keep the twelve charges safe, uses her magic to silently nudge the children to sleep and make them far easier to hide.  Red Arrow pulls and old woman away to hide only to discover the old woman has her own secrets to share.  She claims she is the target of the League of Assassins because she used to serve as a house helper at their secret base in the Himalayas.  She had stolen secrets of martial arts by watching and copying the training done to a certain Bruce who was present at the base for some time in the past.

Robin decides to confront Talia, and in a moment when Talia is distracted and looking for her goal, he throws a smoke pellet to her face to blind her.  Taking that opening, Zatanna then casts a quick spell to shrink all the Ninjas away, and another to envelop the children in a shield.   But when she notices one of her charges, a young paraplegic boy in a wheel chair staring at her, she feels a sense of dread.  Something is not right with the child.  A telepathic spell reveals the boy's thoughts and she finds herself disconcerted to hear how he is enjoying what is happening.

Super Boy fumbles in his attempt to leap onto a moving train, forcing Red Tornado to insist that he return to the base.  Red Tornado then begins to notice something amiss when everywhere, people seem to be stopping to check their phones.  Something is spreading virally and people are all talking about it.  What it is turns out to be the events in the museum.

As Robin and Talia square off, with Talia nearly cutting Zatanna's throat and nicking Robin in the shoulder, Batman arrives to confront her as well.  But to the surprise of everyone, Batman miscalculates a move and ends up impaled in Talia's sword.  As he falls down dying from extreme blood loss, he begs Zatanna to keep the boy safe.   Red Tornado arrives, blasting Talia away with his powers of the wind.  Not wanting to risk her regaining her balance, Red Arrow launches an Electro-Arrow to stun her.  Robin doubly stuns her with his Taser.  As the two try to bring Batman to safety, a fiery version of Red Tornado arrives to attack.  And just as Robin opens a door to bring the paraplegic kid to safety, the Joker appears behind the door and nearly shoots him in the stomach.  Zatanna once again hears the child's thoughts and is disturbed by how amused and excited he is to see all the fighting.  When Kid Flash and Aqua Lad arrive to join the fight, things get even worse.

It quickly becomes apparent that something isn't normal with all these villains coming out of nowhere.  Professor Zoom appears and challenges the Flash.   The fight nearly costs him a leg when the Professor forces him to focus on rescuing others to distract him from a crippling strike.  Red Arrow finds himself suddenly arguing with an angry Green Arrow who judges him as unfit to carry his legacy.  And Robin watches again as his parents perform their final dying act.  Zatanna tries to explain to the others the events by sharing the telepathic connection, but then finds her own father confronting her about her dark side.  When her attempts to stop him lead to him accidentally being killed, the grief overwhelms her.  It is Red Arrow who realizes the boy is somehow drawing out these fears from their minds and tries to stop him.  But Zatanna, fooled by the illusions, begins using her magic to protect the boy, freezing Robin in time and nearly doing the same to Red Arrow.   Sensing the end is near, the boy attempts one final gambit and calls forth a fear all the heroes share. The wall of the museum crumbles as Doomsday emerges to fight with them.

When Red Arrow finally strikes the boy unconscious all images of their enemies disappear.   Left with a ruined museum, the group tries to regain their composure and make sense of everything.  It is at that moment when Superman and Wonder Woman arrive, asking for an explanation of the events that unfolded.  Aqua Lad, as the leader of The Team, admits he doesn't quite comprehend what transpired and Batman, the real one, emerges from the shadows to suggest maybe a joint leadership would be better.  Red Arrow, however, says he will think about it.  When Wonder Woman attempts to use her lasso on the child, she learns the child is the child of Dr. Psycho, an immensely powerful psychic metahuman.  But she senses he isn't of this Earth.  Superman wonders however, if all their encounters, including the presence of Talia and the League of Assassins were fears the boy projected, whose fear was that of the League?  Considering none of those present were familiar with them enough to be the source.  Red Arrow remembers the old woman but before he could say anything, Batman tells him flatly, "I guess some things are best never known."

And as the big three fly off, Zatanna casts one final spell to repair everything that had been damaged.  The group turns towards the sounds of a machine closing in, and finally Artemis arrives, wondering if the battle had started and fumes when she sees everyone laughing at her.

*

What was originally to be a JLA game transformed into a Young Justice game when the players excitedly asked for a chance to play that instead.  To my surprise, the game had seven players interested in trying it out.  Considering for many this was their first time game, I was very happy to see this much enthusiasm in the game.  I wanted them to experience the rush of superhero action and the drama and fear that unfolds with it. And of course, the dose of humor that inherently exists in any game.  Thankfully, I believe I succeeded.

By the time the game ended, I was already getting requests to run a zombie game next (The Shotgun Diaries, for sure!), a romantic comedy based on My Sassy Girl, and a d20 game.   Life is good!

The Hero Gem:  I gave every player a plastic gemstone and told them, "That is worth 20 Hero Points.  You can award that to any other player who you feel is playing his role well, or who you feel needs it.  In the game, just represent it as you giving encouraging words or calling out support."  The system was a success with many of them helping each other out the way heroes do.





Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tabula Rasa : nWOD

08/09/2011 to 02/19/2012
TABULA RASA
nWOD

The story began with three people being hired by a company called Tabula Rasa.  The company offered them a tremendously huge compensation package, which came with passports to travel practically anywhere in the world, as well as the license to use firearms.   For the former Office Custodian Jake McCalister, the Linguistic Student of MIT Natalie Straffon, and Sound Engineer Marcus Helvig, it seemed like an impossibly fun and generous job offer.   Little did they know, it would be the catalyst to a life exploring the mysteries of the Cult of the Machine God, the Clockwork Choir, secret societies such as The Foundation and Odessa, and the frightening secret life of Amon Göth and the truth behind the Numbers.

As the story progressed, the three protagonists began to forge new friendships with other people who were also Numbers, a term that had been used to refer to individuals through-out history who had incredibly amazing abilities.  Some, like Emiko Lee and  Harumi Ishii, seemed burdened by the undeniable truths their powers have forced them to perceive.  Emiko was a cibopath, who could devour anything organic and draw information from it.  Harumi, daughter of the late General Shiro Ishii of Unit 731, was cursed with the ability to see all truths.  Her unfiltered gaze of her father's atrocities quickly condemned her into madness.  Others however were more like Manuel JoBenitez who used his powers of phasing through solid objects as a tool to further his own personal wants.  The group eventually uncover evidence of the Numbers, referred to by others as Neumen, long existed in history - and some began to realize a number of them were the very founders of the Tabula Rasa.  And the infamous cult leader of the Cult of the Machine God, the number five named Donovan, is the very same person who helped form the company they work in.  When the fourth character who completed their group, Ari Williams "the FBI agent who always gets his man" joins the group, the four begin to realize that their meeting each other was in many ways preordained, and their choices can decide the very fate of the world.

And we haven't even gotten to the angels.  And how the Numbers ultimately are Creation's emergency system.  And how the angels need the Neumen to give them permission to reboot the world.

The game drew inspiration from many sources.  Among the strongest influences were:
Alan Moore's The Courtyard, which is a wonderfully sneaky treasure trove of Meta concepts for storytelling.  This I adapted in the game when one of the players attempted to contact the Angels.  I began describing the Angels as a presence beyond the world, one which saw each of their characters as mere concepts, shared imaginings of a collective mind.  These beings observed and dictated events with the casual care one would have a game.  They saw future, past and present when they desired, and threw many major events to mere chance.   The player was freaked out when he realized his character was seeing the players and the storyteller!

Warren Ellis' Planetary was a second huge influence, with both Jenny Sparks and Elijah Snow sneaking into the game as older Neumen who were aware that the numbers served a purpose.   It was what kind of purpose that they were divided in answering.   Elijah Snow's role in the game was to direct the players eventually to the search for  Amon Göth , who served as the final antagonist in the story.

The movie Schilder's List was clearly an influence given Ralph Fiennes' role in the movie as the infamous Amon Goeth gave me the visual I wanted to throw into the game.  In this story, he had the ability to infect others and take over their bodies, like a living virus.  In many ways, his role in the Nazi concentration camps was one he maintained by infecting those around him.  And on the day of his hanging for his crimes against humanity, he passed on his DNA to his daughter, Monica Göth and used her as a safe vessel to further spread his influence.  He had hoped to take over the world, remaking it to what he deemed was a perfect society by infecting every living being, then culling the undesirables.  Elijah Snow, who cared for Amon and deemed him a friend during their younger years, had still hoped to help save his friend.  He believed the man could be redeemed, and that in many ways was his biggest mistake.

Lastly, the game was first conceived after seeing episodes of the show Fringe.  A game which explored the possibilities of super science, strange secret histories of the world, and the private battle between massively visible corporations was the foundation of the game's premise.

*

I would like to thank Paolo, Kristine, Baki and Miko for being in this game.  Special thanks also to my partner Rocky for vividly portraying the no-nonsense stoic self-assured smug bastard Elijah Snow.    Admittedly, his portrayal blew me away given how I only got him into gaming when we met barely three years ago.    And thank you to Zooey Deschanel for inspiring the NPC named Zooey who was an anomaly theory expert, who sprouted out the wildest, zaniest, funniest and at times frighteningly accurate declarations of why things were happening when they happened.   I have to admit, I loved seeing so many players cringe in that final sequence when she was shot thrice in a bid to make them surrender.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Trails : Exalted

02/17/2012
TRAILS
Exalted

A young archer named Diegolas wakes up hanging for his life on a cliff's edge.  Caught in his Orichalcum Powerbow, which he holds with his other hand, is an unconscious red-haired woman.  A quick scan of the surroundings reveals several dead bodies of soldiers, a scattered handful of still living ones that fight on, and four massive demonic bears.  Just beyond his line of sight is a shadowy figure that sticks to the concealed vantage point, waiting for the right moment to strike at the supernatural creatures.    This was the opening sequence to a one-shot Exalted demo game that I ran for my new office mates in the company I just landed a gig in.   Quickly, the game progressed with Diegolas slowly regaining memories of how events lead to this current battle.  Images return of how his services were acquired by the women of this tiny town in hopes of helping them assassinate a woman whom they all deemed to be an evil witch.

The woman arrived at the town some time back, and practically overnight all of the men in the town began to fawn over her and devote their services to her.  When the women convened in secret to discuss what they could do to stop the witch, a hooded man named Kendrow stepped out of the shadows and offered his services.  Only Samantha, the red-haired pseudo-leader of the women recognized Kendrow as the golden-flamed demon that they had just chased out of the town some months back.  She found herself trusting in him, however, and the two eventually sought for an archer to help balance out the group in the assassination attempt.

Alas, destiny would not be on their side that night.  As they made their approach to the mountain where the witch was residing at, the young archer peered with his essence-fueled sight towards the mountain and found the Witch already aware of their approach.  His fatal mistake of not warning the rest of the group that the Witch was already expecting them lead to over 70% of their small army being devastated in the initial assault.  A demon bear would then later hurl both Samantha and the young Diegolas over the end, and it was only his luck that would save him.

It would later be much more apparent how evil this Witch was.  Utilizing a simulacrum, she lures the heroes to a specific peak, then unleashed pre-planned sorcery to bring the mountain down upon them in an avalanche!  It takes both Diego's fiery arrows and Kendrow's Cascade of Cutting Terror to mow down clear areas for them to survive the assault.  This avalanche, alas, would then be revealed to be just an opening salvo as the Witch then invokes "Death by Obsidian Butterflies" upon the three.    With both Exalts preoccupied, death was coming to take their lives.

It was that moment Samantha Exalts, and in her panic, calls upon the Heavenly Guardian's Defense to block the incoming salvo with the chopping knife in her hands.  Through teamwork and magnificent stunts, the Exalts eventually slay the Witch, cutting her into a hundred pieces that scatter across the battlefield.

*

Six months later, a lone monk fleeing from the Elemental Dragons chances upon a silent town.  Inside, all the men seemingly are forlorn and depressed.  All the women seem anxious upon seeing him, but flee whenever three figures wearing dark cloaks, bandages around their extremities and bird like masks are visibly watching them.  The bird people eventually confront the monk and demand him to leave his weapons.  Guided by the Unconquered Sun, the monk learns that the three are tainted in some manner and that only by killing one of them will the curse upon the town be lifted.

Not willing to act rashly, the monk learns more of the town's plight and soon learns the three bird people were the heroes who tried to free the town from the Witch in the past.  With the Curse afflicted on them, they are forced to wear these costumes to protect them from the Sun's unforgiving gaze, which now burns their very flesh.  When the Sun once more reminds him killing one will free them all, he opts to challenge the bird people to a duel to free the town of its curse.  Samantha agrees.

The two fight, with massive shows of power and skill.  And at one last instance, the monk finds an opening and moves in to strike Samantha.  He blinds her with his own blood and hears the Unconquered Sun demand she be killed now for the rest of the people to be free.   He reminds the monk, who always ignored the Unconquered Sun's urgings, that nothing has happened without a reason.  And that he should see now the importance in being more charismatic and social than the battle tank he currently is now.

The monk stays the killing blow, and drags Samantha to the shade.  The Sun beams down and uses the monk as a channel, unleashing a Solar sorcery cleansing spell to bring the town back to its feet.

*

Months pass.  The town is prosperous and Samantha now rules as its mayor.  Her Dawn caste skills easily guide her in making her people strong.  The monk has become an influential high priest, and now worship towards the Unconquered Sun grows stronger each day.  Kendrow watches the town in secret, fading all hint of his existence to myth.  He still suspects the Witch somehow had a spy who tipped her off of their approach during that assault one year back.  He watches silently.  Carefully.  

And the young archer Diegolas peers at the surrounding area of the town every day.  He peers during the day searching for any signs of the Scarlet Empire sending men to the town.  But at night, he finds his sleep troubled with nightmares and dreams.  He awakens and fearfully fights the urge to gaze at the mountain once more.  He fears he will look and see the Witch once again staring back at him.  What if she had another Simulacrum, after all?  What if she still lives?

He peers one last time and sees an owl staring back.  With his charms guiding the arrow, he strikes at it with an arrow that knows no distance.  The owl falls dead.

*

And in the shadows of the wood, a woman emerges, picks up the dead bird, and feasts on its heart.  The woman whispers a prayer for the dead owl and promises, "You will be avenged."

And then the woman becomes the owl.

And flies towards the town.



Special thanks to James Lo and his kid Diego, as well as Alex (I think his name is) who were part of this game.  This was one of many demo game sessions I plan to hold at the new office I am part of, Indigo Entertainment.

Demo games always have the challenge of having to teach the game and run it within a very limited amount of time.  In this case, I only had two to three hours to run the whole game.  Adding to that complication was a third player joining in on the third act (the monk joined the game after the two players killed the Witch, which originally was the planned ending of the game).  So quickly my brain added a finale to the story, wherein we see the Curse, the monk and hints of the Lunars to come in the future.

All in all, I'd like to think people really enjoyed the game.


Friday, February 17, 2012

Five Inspirations: Exalted

Here are a few sources of inspiration that I found for Exalted, which aren't the usual Wuxia movie types.

Clive Barker's Abarat


Ridley Scott's Legend

David Mack's Kabuki




Immortal (Ad Vitam) by Enki Bilal

Friday, February 10, 2012

Video Games as the Enemy

by MPuncekar
Video Games as the Enemy
by Tobie Abad
written on February 2012

Time out! Time out! Trolling and flaming should be put on hold! I know I know the title sounds very controversial and that was in many ways what made it a catchy title.  But what this article is really exploring is ways you can take your favorite video game and use it as the springboard for fantastic villain concepts and environmental challenges in your game.

Far too often, people who don't grasp the fun of table top games cite how video games are visually stimulating as one of its key strengths.   While such topics are always open for debate, I will step away from that debate and instead make use of the said key strength as something we table top gamers can use to make our games even more fun.

Consider the following examples:

The Hungry  Seed
It began some time in the night, moving through the darkened alleyways with its insatiable need to feed. It did not matter what it found as it hunted; organic and inorganic matter was all the same to it.  It would latch on to whatever it could get its hundreds of hands on, and slide it down its massive gullet in one single swift motion.  The thing was like a living black hole, devouring anything that could fit its bottomless maw.

The thing was growing.   When it was first sighted the previous night, it was tumbling down alleyways and tearing through fences.  Today, barely 24 hours later, it had gained so much mass that the thing was towering past four-storey buildings.  The sound of its movement was a defeaning roar of steel shattering glass grinding against stone.

And there were the screams.
The poor and unfortunate ones who were unable to avoid its approach.  The people who were absorbed by the growing mass and somehow lived long enough to add their screams to the horrible dirge of its motions.  No one knew how to stop it.  No one knew if it could be reasoned with.  All everyone knew was that it was hungry.  And nothing seemed to hurt it.  At most, weapons trained at it would force it back a few meters.  But the thing would redouble its efforts and approach again.  It was relentless.

Why use The Hungry Seed?
Because it can make for a disturbingly classic villain.  Dungeons and Dragons gamers can imagine the thing like a massive living portable hole.  Or a Gelatinous Cube of Collosal proportions.   7th Sea gamers might imagine the thing to be a creature from the depths.  Or perhaps some monstrosity the Sidhe have unleashed upon Theah.  Tagers from Cthulhutech might consider the thing to be a new Dhohanoid crated by the Chrysalis Corporation.  The possibilities are endless.

Who would have known such a horror was actually inspired by this game?

The Pumper
No one knows who he is.  Or where he has gone.  But every news outlet knows of the list of names of his very many victims.  Police officers who arrived at the scenes where he had left his victims remained psychologically scarred; their nights are forever filled with nightmarish glimpses of the horror they had seen.  The Pumper, you see, was a serial killer who was active some years back.  He seemed to follow no clear pattern when it came to his victims.  There were women, men, even children.  Some still remember the absolute horror and revulsion that overwhelmed that anchorman from CNN when he was sharing the report of one of the Pumper's victims:  a young woman who had been pregnant when she was assaulted.

The Pumper, you see, somehow lulls his victims to a calm state.   None of them are seen to have any signs of struggle.  None of them show signs of having physically been restrained or tied up.

And in this moment of calm, the Pumper then slides into their mouth a thin tube.  The detectives are uncertain if the tube was plastic.  Or rubber.  Or maybe even glass.  But the tube is slid into the mouth, and stops only once it is an inch away from the bottom of the stomach.

Then the Pumper introduces the gas.

Forensics has not found any strange kind of gas in any of the victims.  Deductive reasoning suggests what is used is either oxygen or carbon dioxide, however the large amounts used baffle investigators.  The victims, you see, are pumped full with the gas.  Pumped so much until they get engorged.  Pumped until they explode.

All the Pumper's victims have died that way.
Burst open from within.

The Pumper had over 30 victims in the one year he was active.  Then, he suddenly just stopped.  No one knows where he has gone or why he stopped.

Or if he will re-surface again.

Yep, this was based on this game.

You're Raping My Childhood!
Our childhood is a rich and fertile ground for ideas for all sorts of things!  Why limit yourself and keep all the cool stuff from being utilized into even more awesome stuff?  Just try looking at the games you love from way back and see which ones you can re-image in a much more interesting role-playing game-appropriate way!

Try it today!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Cultivating FUN

by coddog
Cultivating FUN
by Tobie Abad
Written February 2012

In any game, the point is to have fun.  Whether fun means winning, or enjoying the challenge, if a game is not fun the point of playing it quickly fades away.    Surprisingly, many gamers out there seem to think having fun means having to see the Storyteller as the antagonist rather than a collaborator in making the game more interesting.  And sadly, this mindset tends to be because the Storyteller seems more determined to throw new challenges rather than work out with the players what they would want to explore.  Many games highlight the concept of choosing proper challenge ratings rather than communicating with each other on what can make the game more fun.  Here are some easy ways you, as the Storyteller, can encourage players to open up on what they'd want to explore without sacrificing the fun for everyone.

1) Talk to your players BEFORE the game officially begins

It sounds very basic, but surprisingly many seem to skip this step.  I have had experiences where a player contacts me with this seemingly innocent opening statement, "Hey, I got this concept I want to play for (insert name of game here).  Are you running (the said game) soon?"

As much as it can feel ego-boosting to know there are players who are so excited they can't help but start creating character concepts that early, this kind of a set-up can quickly lead to players finding either one character too "out of place" in the game, or the other players finding one character too self-absorbed in his or her own preferred story line.

This is why talking as a group before character creation starts is vital.  Talking allows you all to set what expectations and gaming styles are to be explored.  There's no point in having someone play a politically savvy manipulator if the game is supposed to be about treasure seeking adventurers out to find a lost civilization.  Likewise, a geared-for-combat gun addict would feel sorely out of place in a game focused on political debates and maneuvering.  While I'm not against players choosing challenging roles, this should never come at the expense of other players having fun.

2) Gather Intelligence
by leadfoot

A common practice I do when prepping for a game is to ask new players three key questions:
a) Name three shows or movies you would love the game to feel like
b) Cite three kinds of situations you'd love to possibly explore in the game
c) Cite situations or events you don't feel you'd be comfortable exploring in the game

The first question clearly gives the Storyteller ideas on what moods, scenes, challenges and atmosphere the player likes.  A player who loves Fringe, for example, would be psyched if you throw a story that hints at a possible multiverse.  Another who claims to find the Wuxia films and the Matrix movies to be a favorite would clearly indulge in having fight sequences that go over-the-top.   Anyone who mentions a romantic comedy as an example deserves to have a love interest in the game.

The second question allows you to fine tune further the scenes you'd want to throw at your players.  And even better, allows you to see what key points/situations among the players nicely match up.   I find this second set also allows me to let players explore certain situations individually without ruining the fun for everyone else.  If one player talks about wanting to have a scene where his driving skills are pushed to the limit, while two others talk about wanting to explore a hostage situation, a good storyteller can easily weave both points into a combined sequence that becomes a shared fun one for all.

The last question I feel is most important when dealing with new players.  To be aware of what ruins the fun for others allows you to tailor scenes to avoid such incidents, or if they are scenes that are unavoidable (like how I once had a player who cited not liking scenes that were too violent, and yet we were about to play a Dark Ages Vampire game with a Tzimisce and Brujah players in the game) a chance to talk to the player beforehand and explain the direction the game likely will take.  If the player doesn't feel comfortable, a safe word can be established when the scenes need to be turned down.  And as a last resort, the player may be asked to reconsider being part of the game if the unwanted situation is really unavoidable.  Again, finding the win-win resolution to this would be ideal.  But at times, you might just have to accept that some games might not be best run for certain people.

3) Make the Villain WORTH hating

Having a very memorable enemy can make a game even more awesome.   Stay alert for who the players really feel hatred towards in a game, and cultivate that NPC to becoming a true villain worth defeating.  I recall a Mage game I once ran where I mapped out the whole story to have this old geezer of a Nephandus as the main villain.  To my astonishment, as the game progressed, the players loathed more and more the Hollow One underling who was always seen as the one pushing the old man's agenda.  While they clearly wanted to bring the Nephandus down, they REALLY relished each encounter with the Hollow One and gleefully enjoyed messing up his plans.

So I did the switcheroo.  At a key point in the story when the Nephandus succeeds in calling a greater Umbrood into the world to serve him... the Hollow One shot the old guy in the back and took over.  The players all started, mouth-agape, as the Hollow One proclaimed himself Master of the World and took off to the sky with the Umbrood as his steed.

Boy did the game get a boost after that scene.  Players constantly muttered about how, "They could have stopped him sooner" as well as how, "The bastard has a lot of grudges against them."  They felt the conflict quickly become a personal agenda rather than just a scene in the game and they made it clear they were going to take him down.  And I didn't have to threaten any of their loved ones to make this happen.

4) And lastly, the best way to cultivate fun is to make sure every one wins in the end.

No, this doesn't mean everything ends happily ever after.   Nor does this mean no player character dies.  This means in the end, every player hits the key point they wanted to achieve one way or another.  Maybe one finally defeats the big bad guy he devoted his life to bringing down.  Maybe the other successfully saves the city he loves from destruction.   Maybe the last one hears the "I love you" he has been longing to hear just before the game ends.

by Alex E Proimos
That's winning.  That's the players hitting their high points and ending the game with a triumphant feeling.

This does not have to come at the cost of the game's genre however.  The bad guy being defeated can vow revenge as he falls to his doom, which is a perfect cap to a pulp game.  The saved city may eventually be forgotten and merely be part of myth and legend in time.   Or maybe the "I love you" is finally uttered merely as the last thing the vampire player character hears as they both die with the rising of the sun.

Tragedy can still happen.  Loss can still be there.  Epic doesn't have to be happy.
But it does have to mean the player still feels he "won" in the end.
He has to feel all the effort and sacrifices he did meant something.  He has to leave feeling he accomplished what he came to do.

Or else, the game stops being fun.
It becomes something more like real life where losing is what happens 50% of time.   And while there are gamers out there who actually like that, I'm not one of them.  For me, gaming is a good escape from the ordinary.  Gaming is about indulging in story and fantasy and finding pathos.

And pathos means feeling you can win, no matter what.
So, yes in my games, I'm making sure we all have fun!

What about yours?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Enemy of the State - John Debney

Enemy of the State
Composed by Harry Gregson-Williams and Trevor Rabin

The Tony Scott film explores the concept of our fading privacy with the influx of technology and the government's focus on maintaining national security.   Will Smith plays a young lawyer who finds himself suddenly under surveillance when he unknowingly receives a key piece of evidence that could place a certain corrupt political figure in trouble.  The movie, while grossly inaccurate in many ways, has a wonderful balance of mystery and action with sequences that are sure to get one's heart pumping with the growing suspense.

When it comes to gaming, this soundtrack can prove to be a godsend so long as two things are considered true in your game:  it is set in either the modern or futuristic age, and there is a conspiracy/mystery element that stands in the forefront of the game.  The soundtrack makes good use of synths and bass beats to build both mood and harmony.  The movie makes use of a good main theme, which recurs quite often in many other tracks for a much more thematic fit.   And like many other soundtracks that I find to be good fits for gaming, this one has tracks that can easily be set to loop over and over.

The very first track, Main Titles (Track 01) actually would be one of those tracks that you can always use to open the game session with.  You can play it as a signal for the players to settle down and prepare for the game to actually start, and from that track, move to practically any other track to begin the actual game.



Enemy of the State track suggestions
WTF moment: Coal Yard Part 1 (track 12),
Introspective/calm moment: Enemy of the State Main Theme (track 02), Wish You Were Here (track 17)
Tense/mystery moment: The Ferry (track 04), NSA Research (track 07),  Brill and Dean Meet (track 08), Face to Face (track 13)
Combat music: Hotel Chase Part 2 (track 05), Zavitz Chase Part 1 (track 06), The Tunnel Part 1 (track 14),
Hopeful moment:  Brill's Theme (track 03), Final Confrontation (track 11),
Drama/sad moment: Free Ferry (track 09), Nanny Drive (track 10), Coal Yard Part 2 (track 15), Rachel's Found Dead (track 16)

Best Used In: Modern or Science Fiction genre games.  Mystery elements are, of course, an absolute.  The soundtrack can function to enhance games that feature cyberspace or hackers.  The soundtrack can even enhance anime games which feature mecha and psionic powers.  Definitely not a soundtrack that can function for medieval games or games that focus on high fantasy.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Game Idea: Switched

by Duy Truong
Game Idea:  Switched
System: Any
by Tobie Abad
February 2012


Something is wrong with the world.
Everything is the same.  But everything changes.



One morning, I wake up and I realize I'm my best friend.  I have his eyes.  His voice.  I have the skills I've always admired of him.  The people who know him still recognize him when they talk to me.  The people who hate him still stare at me angrily when I walk by.

One morning, I was moving through the mall, still lost and wondering what had happened to me when I saw myself.  Or rather, I saw the body I used to own.  She was looking at some clothes at the Gap and was probably choosing a color whoever was inside of me preferred.  I tend to stick to blacks and whites, you see.



I stepped into the shop nonchalantly, hoping to observe myself.  I tried not to look like I was staring.  A few times, she caught me looking so I started to smile instead, thinking she would recognize her best friend.  


She didn't.


That's when I got even more scared.
Whoever was inside of me knew nothing of my life.



But she was me.

So How Does This Work?
In brief, everyone creates a character for the game they love.   This can be any kind of character depending on the game you are playing.   This will be called your Primary character.

Then they create a second character to represent someone important to the first one.  This second character should be someone the first has a special connection to, but not necessarily a good one.  It can be a best friend, a parent, a lover, an ex, a rival, or you can even push the envelope to have it be the murderer of your parents, or the stalker who used to videotape your character while she slept.  The idea is, the second character has a certain intimacy in his or her connection to the first.

Finally, the storyteller collects all the sheets and has the players randomly pick one out.  (If they randomly draw the Primary character they wrote up, that is fine).

Play the game, exploring the role you've drawn but keep in mind these key points:
1) You are always approaching everything with the mental knowledge, personality, and morals of the Primary character you wrote up.   For all intents and purposes, that character is WHO YOU ARE.

2) All rolls, when necessary, are to be done, however, using the current character sheet you have drawn.  So  yes at times you may "know" the right way to do things (because your Primary Character has that particular skill at a high rating) but somehow you find that you are struggling to enact the skill in your new body.  Or at times, you might not necessarily know much about something, and yet in this new body, it seems to come naturally to you.

3) Any in-game attempts to discern that you are in another body can succeed, and you should applaud players who find ways to "communicate" this into the game.  Perhaps in games like Pathfinder, a Detect Chaos spell picks up something is not quite right.  In a science-fiction game, maybe the brain wavelengths are noticeably messed up.  But barring methods to "prove" they are in someone else's body, most NPCs would probably think the character is acting strange or crazy.  And would most likely, in the interests of helping out, do something that the players would regret.

4) Have fun with the new stories that you can dig out of this approach!  Everything from exploring things from the other side (especially if you switched with someone of a greatly different lifestyle/political viewpoint), gender bending twists, spy missions, or even a chance to do everything you want and get away with it sort of escapism.

Don't forget also the potential to build more ideas by throwing a few flashback sequences where the players get to play their Primary characters again.  Albeit to represent events that had already transpired.

Why did this happen?
Every game can have its own plausible explanation.  A personal favorite of mine is to just throw a bunch of possibilities but never clarify which one truly was the cause.  Whether it be environmentally influenced synchronicity, some kind of magical manifestation gone awry, the crossing of destiny lines, the unintentional swapping caused by some kind of psionic backlash, each and every possible explanation you can throw at your players can become a story in itself to explore.

How do they change back?
That would be a question you need to define based on what your players are interested in.  Players who love accomplishing goals and quests can perhaps locate some artifact/device that can help swap back the souls of those affected.  

Those who have a more metaphysical/dramatic bent might appreciate a more Heart and Souls approach where those affected need to accomplish *something* for the host body in order to *move back into their own bodies*  Maybe they have to bounce between a few bodies before they find the right one.

High Fantasy games can have some deity or God-like entity show up and throw a reason behind having that happen.    And yes, for such beings, "I was bored" is reason enough.

And once they do find a way to get back to their own bodies, who knows if it will happen again.  That in itself opens even MORE story possibilities.  Have fun switching things around!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Five Inspirations: Houses of the Blooded

When I see these, I find myself thinking of Houses of the Blooded.


The Fall

The Game of Thrones

Cruel Intentions

Downtown Abbey

And my current favourite source of inspiration...
Annie Lennox' Walking on Broken Glass

What are you Five Inspirations for this game?

Friday, February 3, 2012

System Shopped: The Cathedral of Flesh - Aberrant

Cathedrals of Flesh Everywhere...
System Shopped: Aberrant
by Tobie Abad
February 2012

This article is the fourth 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.

Typically, games based on the superhero genre focus on four-color superheroics and acts of courage.  Would there be a wayto inject the Cathedral of Flesh to your Aberrant campaign?

Absolutely.

The Cathedral of Flesh
for Aberrant

No one expected that such a place existed deep beneath the bowels of the Tulum ruins.  With place having been such a popular tourist spot, who could have expected that the known deepest level of the ruins happened to merely be the outer depths of a much more massive structure.

At the lowest chamber of Templo del Dios Descendente (or the Temple of the Descending God), there are three triangle-shaped holes that face the southern wall.  The young nova was hiding from his attackers when he slipped into the chamber.  Bleeding from the numerous injuries he had received, he wasn't aware that his blood had gathered on the smooth floor and dripped into the holes.  When the floor itself moved, unfurling like cupped fingers that stretched to reveal they were part of hands, the young nova fell into the darkness with only his screams left behind to mark his presence.



The nova is currently in the safe-keeping of Project Utopia.  Reports state that he was found unconscious and near dead in the shadow of the ruins, one week after his disappearance.  Telepathic attempts to probe his memories reveal images that one investigator described as, "Very similar to images one sees from an endoscope."  The nova was found naked and unharmed in any evident manner, but seemed to suffer from a weakened immune system as well as extreme dehydration.    


After almost a full week of recovery, the nova was questioned and finally spoke one single phrase in response to queries on what had happened to him.  


"We are all meat."


He was found dead the next day, having committed suicide in the hospital bathroom.  No one, however, can determine what sharp object he had used to slice his wrists open above the sink.

This seems tame, given the Aberrant setting.
I guess that is true.  The Aberrant game has characters like Leviathan who are literal monsters in the modern age, or Bounty who has taken it upon herself to experiment with breeding in hopes of creating nova children that she can use to accomplish her goals.   What sort of horror does a fleshy thing hidden deep within the ruins of an old temple in Mexico pose?

Consider the facts:  The explosion leading to the increased presence of novas worldwide happens quite recent as far as history is concerned.   This temple is definitely something far older.  Far older even more so than the first game in the trilogy (Adventure!)   Whatever this thing is, it was around even before the Aeon Society was ever formed.

And yet is it strong.  It is strange.  And it is hungry.

The Cathedral of Flesh added to the Aberrant game adds the idea of ancient horrors lurking in the shadows of the modern world still exist.  Ancient horrors that perhaps once ruled above mankind, fell to a weakened state long enough for mankind to rise and take dominance, and now wait and seek for a chance to retake the world.

The Cathedral of Flesh could be a sole survivor of a race of biological entities that once dominated the world, feasting on whatever they could grasp with their fleshy appendages.  Perhaps they never saw the need to develop biomechanical parts the way we humans do, seeing the purpose of fingers, hands, arms, elbows, and the like as unnecessary when one can be a massive shifting form of protoplasmic meat that adjust to one's very whims.

So, for the game, what does it want?
It wants what it believes to be its world back.

Mankind has stolen its lovely play pen of meat and moisture.  And while many of its brethren (perhaps it too at one point) were satisfied to present themselves as massive monstrosities or gods to early men, this Cathedral has realized that there's more to gain by feasting on meat that is empowered with far more than just blood and muscle.    Perhaps it has learned that it too can ERUPT.  And given enough time, it will unlock the secrets of the Chrysalis and emerge as a literal living planet of incredible power.

And the players have to stop it before it is too late.

Sounds epic.  But since it ain't a Nova yet, wouldn't it be easy to defeat?
Yes.  Assuming you have players who don't like considering the drama of what their actions would mean.  Consider these angles:

The Cathedral of Flesh is a sole living survivor of a dying race.  Would it not then be a nova's duty to do what is necessary to help keep this race alive?

The Cathedral of Flesh is intelligent.  Perhaps it can be taught to comprehend that mankind can co-exist with it?  Would that not be something a hero should strive for?

The Cathedral is a massive living being, with enough biological mass to reach all the way from Mexico to hospital drains of the Project Utopia compound.    While injuries do harm it, it would take far much more massive damage to kill it.  Damage to kill something of that scale would perhaps be akin to destroying a major city.

Lastly, what if the Cathedral has become active now not just because it is hungry, but because its hunger is aggravated by something else:  the coming birth of a child?

The Cathedral of Flesh
Physical:
Strength 5
Brawl 2 [7]
Might 4 [9]

Dexterity 3
Athletics 4 [7]
Stealth 4 [7]

Stamina 5
Endurance 5 [10]
Resistance 2 [7]

Mental:
Perception 2
Awareness 5 [7]

Intelligence 2
Survival 3 [5]

Wits 3

Social:
Appearance 1
Intimidation 5 [6]

Manipulation 3
Interrogation 3 [6]

Charisma 1

Advantages:
Although not yet having experienced an Eruption, the Cathedral of Flesh has access to most of the Mega Attributes and Modes for Mega-Strength, Mega-Stamina as well as the modes of Mega-Perception.
The Cathedral of Flesh seemingly also has evolved the equivalent of Mega-Strength 3, Mega-Perception 3, and Mega-Stamina 4.

Quantum: None
Willpower: 9
Soak: +11 bashing soak, +6 lethal soak
Health: 8 total Bruised health levels.





Thursday, February 2, 2012

System Shopped: Beholders - Trinity

by Wizards of the Coast
Behold the Beholder!
System Shopped: Trinity
by Tobie Abad
February 2012

One of the more infamous (and yet very popular) monstrosities ever conceived and unleashed onto our imaginations comes from the most popular pen-and-paper role-playing game system of all: Dungeons and Dragons.   Imagine a massive spherical monster with a single massive eye on its center.  Beneath the eye is a deadly maw filled with jagged teeth.  Magically-empowered, the thing levitates with relative ease, and when necessary can redirect any of the ten eye-stalks that decorate its crown to unleash varying magical forces.   These are creatures of vile intelligence that cannot be underestimated.  And even worse, their very gaze strips away from its enemies the use of  magic, be it through spells or magical items.  Such monstrosities are a nightmare to encounter and are known collectively by this name: Beholder

Now that is a concept worth attempting to 'shop into other games!  So without further ado, let me start with an attempt to inject the beholder into the Trinity game line.

Beholders
for AEON Trinity 
Miranda knew something was wrong but each time she reached out with her Telepathy, she found nothing happening.  The young boy with a bowl-cut slowly smiled at Miranda, as if aware of what she had just attempted.  Having long been an undercover agent of the Ministry working in AEON Trinity, Miranda was accustomed to tapping into her Psi powers without showing any outward signs.  And yet, the boy.. somehow.. seemed to know.

"Is something wrong," Janus asked his partner and glanced at the young boy she was staring at.  The two were in the Wet Market District searching for reports of what some locals thought was Aberrant activity.  However, nothing suggesting such had been seen within the last two hours.  The two AEON Trinity agents obviously felt they were on a wild goose chase and Janus, more than Miranda, was more than ready to head back to the outpost.  He noticed her silence, however, and knew Miranda would fall silent only when she picked up something... wrong.

"That boy," Miranda gasped but before Janus could turn to see who she was looking at, his eyes bore witness to a sight that would forever haunt his memories.  In a single eye blink, Miranda had transformed from flesh and blood into a massive sculpture of stone.  Her body had transmuted into an inorganic form so fast she never had time to even call out for help.  Janus raised both hands and called upon his Psi powers to manifest both an armored skin and barbed talons on his extremities.  Being a biomorph did have its benefits.

They were benefits that would, unfortunately, still fail him.

*The boy* Janus heard Miranda's faint Telepathic cry and as he turned towards the mentioned child, he saw something impossible happen; his skin and hands were changing again, with skin and bones shifting about to return them into a normal human state.  It was almost as if the boy's very gaze had some ability to cancel out his powers.   It took barely a second beat for Janus to realize the boy wasn't standing at all.  He was floating above the ground without the slightest mental strain visible.   As Janus trusted his muscle memory and drew out his Orgotek Pulse Laser Carbine, he saw the young man reveal an unexpected manifestation of Psionic force:  Eyestalks of pure psionic energy erupted from the boy's head and trained themselves at Janus.   

The Pulse Laser Carbine was never fired.

Janus ceased to exist before it could even be trained at the boy.

This Sounds Like Something From Anime
Well, what doesn't in Trinity, right?  But yeah, rather than have the monstrosity, I thought why not have young innocent children of terrifying psychic potential be the representations of Beholders in a Trinity game?  Doesn't feel Beholder enough for you?  Well, read on and see how I made that still happen.

What are they?
Beholders are young children whose bodies had been tampered with on both a genetic and psychic level.  Their bodies are sterile and unable to biologically mature, leaving them stuck in children's bodies that seem to harness the powers of Psi so easily.  And that, it is believed, is why they were created.  A certain organization noticed that a larger majority of any Psi-active individuals who were still below the age of puberty seemed to have a greater penchant for tapping into additional psychic modes.  The organization then closely monitored the births occurring at a hospital they had connections to for any child-bearing mother who had a greater possibility of delivering a Psi-active child.  Such children they swapped upon delivery and replaced with other children, usually taken from insurance-less parents or from deliveries that lead to the death of the mother (in such, they would inform the family the mother and the child died).  The children were then experimented on in various ways and for many years.  Around their 8th to 10th birthday, the organization noticed the children ceased to grow any older even as they continued to expand in Psionic potential.   And then one day, they were out.  The organization ceased to exist, and its members seemingly all met tragic ends.
from the manga, AKIRA

Sound very much like the kids in Akira!
There you go.  Now you have an idea what direction I'm taking.  Now think of them as having access to more modes than your typical Psion and yet seemingly capable of shutting down anyone else's powers with mere eye contact and you have a better idea.  Finally, realize these children have known nothing but the nightmarish life of being poked, prodded and studied all their lives before they finally escaped.  These are the Akira kids with a huge chip on their shoulder.

Beholder Template
Most are either Survivors or Judges in Nature.
Physical Attributes:  Strength 1, Dexterity 1-2, Stamina 3
Physical Abilities:   Stealth 3+, Endurance 4+

Mental Attributes: Perception 5, Intelligence 1+
Mental Abilities: Awareness 4+, Survival 2

Social Attributes: Manipulation 1, Charisma 1-2
Social Abilities: Intimidation 3+, Subterfuge 2+

Powers:
Innately, the Beholder's very gaze cancels out any Psionic powers that are weaker than their Psi rating.  Unless the target spends an additional Psi point and wins a contested Psi vs Psi roll, any Psionic powers currently active which are gazed upon are cancelled out immediately.   This power is ALWAYS on.
Later attempts to activate a power while being gazed upon require the extra Psi point cost and the contested roll as mentioned above to function.

With a willpower point, the Beholder can summon its eye stalks.  Each eye stalk is able to harness one of the ten modes listed below.  Each eye stalk can only be used once per turn.  Multiple eye stalks can be harnessed in a single turn as a typical multiple action.
Eye stalk powers:
(Biokinesis) Psychomorphing 3
(Clairsentience) Psychometry 2, Psychonavigation 3
(Electrokinesis) Technokinesis 1
(Psychokinesis) Telekinesis 5
(Telepathy) Empathy 3, Mindshare 4, Psychebending 3
(Vitakinesis) Mentatis 3, Algesis 5

Backgrounds: Cipher 5
Willpower: 8
Psi: 6+

More often than not, Beholders are unaware of the violence they are throwing around (having lived lives where they were repeatedly asked to engage in similar tests and experiments).  Some, however, are old enough to understand the vile action done to them, and relish in the death and destruction they can bring.  There are some rumors that Beholders are able to warp away similar to the missing Order Chitra Banu, but others quell such rumors and claim, "If they could warp away, why would we still be seeing them?"

*Thank you to Nosfecatu for this challenge!
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