Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Seven e01 : Vampire the Masquerade

The Seven
Episode One

"The First Signs"

Vampire the Masquerade
Classic World of Darkness

I will admit, this was a nostalgic joy.  Aldwin requested for a classic Vampire the Masquerade game, one set in the modern nights, and after getting Rocky and Urim to join in, I quickly mapped out an over-all story arc.  Aldwin requested for a specific theme to explore:  The Seven Deadly Sins.

And so, with the Vampire v20 book as our main rulebook, here we are.

The Cast:
Adam Parker, Childe of Rose, was played by Urim.
Tzimisce, Generation 10th
Nature: Visionary Demeanor: Fanatic
Auspex 5, Vicissitude 4, Fortitude 2
Generation 3, Herd 1, Retainer 1, Domain 2, Resources 2, Mistaken Identity 2, Status 2 (Ductus), Rituals 1 (Vaulderie p296, Sermon of Caine p518, Fire Dance p516)
Path of Metamorphosis 6 WP 7
Conviction 3, Self Control 3, Courage 4
Merits:  Language (Enochian, Latin), Acute Sense
Flaws:  Infertile Vitae, Cold Breeze, Touch of Cold

Samantha Fletcher, Childe of Benedict Renders, was played by Aldwin.
Tremere, Generation 10th
Nature: Scientist Demeanor: Conformist
Thaumaturgy (Blood) 4, Dominate 2, Auspex 3
Status 2, Generation 3, Resources 3
Humanity 6 WP 9
Conscience 3, Self Control 3, Courage 4
Merits: Language (Enochian, Latin), Protege, Natural Linguist, Enchanting Voice, Friendly Face
Flaws: Infertile Vitae, Phobia (Heights)

Viktor Smith, Childe of Cherubim, was played by Rocky.
Brujah, Generation 11th
Nature: Survivor Demeanor: Soldier
Celerity 3, Potence 2, Presence 3, Auspex 2
Resources 2, Generation 2, Herd 2, Status 1, Alternate Identity 2 (Detective Victor Steiner)
Humanity 6 WP 4
Conscience 3, Self-Control 3, Courage 4
Merits: Iron Will, Efficient Digestion, Light Sleeper
Flaws: Amnesia, Dark Secret, Mistaken Identity, Eerie Presence, Cast No Reflection

The three characters knew each other back during the Second World War.  Caught in the war that unfolded, the three were forced to rely on each other for survival, and in many cases, shared the vitae they had to protect their precious immortality from the human onslaught.   But between then and now, the modern day, each had gone their separate ways.

Adam Parker was now focused on searching for a means to subvert the weaknesses that taint the Cainite form.    His ties with the Sabbat made him a distant friend as far as Samantha Fletcher was concerned.  But there was no denying the information both were willing to share with one another.  Samantha had found herself enthralled by the research of Aristotle deLaurent, and given the false prophecies of Gehenna (which many claimed was meant to have happened during the medieval era, Samantha was uncertain if the end of all was but something to come.  And finally, Viktor Smith had precious little recollection of his life prior to arriving here at New York City.  But he senses still a trust towards both Samantha and Adam that he keeps his ties to them secret even as he learns the ropes of being a Sherrif from the Malkavian, Madam Faqas.

Their stories once again gather when they first learn, in their own ways, of events transpiring in the city.

A man walks the rooftop of a massive building.  His back strains against the immense weight of hollow blocks that have been wired through his back.  His eyes stare forward, however, as if fear had overwhelmed his heart.  And yet he continues his steps forward, until he stands at the very edge.  A second figure watches him from behind and smiles as the man takes the final step - a short cut to the streets below.  The impact against the road, followed by the pile of blocks, severs the man's limbs and decapitates him.  Witnesses to the atrocity below call for the police.

Adam Parker was watching the news regarding the suicide when he is informed by Dan Numley, his retainer, that a message has been left for him.  As one of the Ducti among the Sabbat, there are days he is required to fulfill his role in the sect: The Sabbat inform him of an upcoming guest who will require his attention.    Given the nature of the supposed visitor, Adam realizes it may be a long absence.  He informs Dan to be ready for his absence, and given the Rehab Center is actually his, tells Dan to handle things in his absence.  He spends some time to try creating sacks within his lungs to store the earth of his homeland - but the attempt goes awry as he realizes doing that inhibits his ability for speech.  He reconsiders using his lungs and explores having the earth be kept somewhere else.

In the Tremere Chantry, Samantha Fletcher also finds a guest.  The young Tremere, Gomorra, arrives to annoy her.  Gomorra shows of her proficiency with the thaumaturgical path, The Movement of the Mind, and the two clearly bare their verbal fangs.  When the Chantry Elder, Vaclav, arrives and talks to them about requiring their assistance.  Vaclav inquires about the term superbia, which Samantha replies is meant to refer to intense self-love or the love of self perverted to hatred and contempt for one's neighbour.  Vaclav informs them that the Latin phrase was burnt upon the head of the suicide.   He asks them to do some research for any information they can muster regarding it.  Samantha opts to do some investigation work, claiming, "The Elders wants answers.  The best way to get them is to do the leg work ourselves."  Gomorra isn't too keen on the course of action, but follows nonetheless.  They head out and make their way to the building where the suicide had leapt from:  The Lightbearer.

And at the crime scene, Viktor Smith investigates the suicide.  While the mortals know him as Detective Victor Steiner, Viktor investigates the scene on behalf of the Malkavian Sheriff Madame Faqas.   He notices the head of the deceased and quickly notes the Latin phrase on the forehead.  Another Detective, named Glass, investigates the area as well and welcomes Steiner's assistance in the matter.  Steiner realizes the body might be Cainite and if it is, a breach may occur unless he covers it up somehow.  Madame Faqas calls on the phone and reminds him to be in touch with the city Medical Examiner to deal with the body if need be.  "Are you in need of the Six?"  Viktor sees them spread out in the scene, the six Malkavian deputies that were extremely loyal to Madame Faqas.  Two men, two women, an old man and a young girl.  One motions towards the side, and Viktor finds two mortal school girls who accidentally recorded the suicide on their cellphone.  Viktor gently takes it from them and learns Madame Faqas needs to meet with him.  He boards the coroner's van and finds the Six already waiting for him inside to drive him to her.

Adam makes his way to the Sabbat Sanctuary, hoping to speak to the Bishop to gain a better understanding of who the guest is.  He arrives at the abandoned apartment complex, and walks past the recently tilled earth where the new Creation Rites are being performed.  He  walks past the second floor where iconoclastic Sabbat are fighting against each other, throwing punches and curses, and piercing their undead skin with red hot hooks and needles.   As he reaches the third level, he ignores the various Cainites obssessing over noddist lore.  He hears them intoning the words of the Mother and the Crone. He hears them reflecting on the writings of Caine himself.  Adam recalls the suicide, jumping from a building called the Lightbearer.  He finds it apt.  Almost symbolic.

But the fourth level is where Adam stops.  The walls and ceiling writhe with shadows.  The sense of a greater predator is in the air.  He does not like the feeling.

Samantha arrives at the crime scene and with Gomorra, convince the security guard to let them in with the use of Dominate.  Gomorra questions Samantha's use of the Discipline, reminding her that the man will remember.  "And then what?  He will admit to letting two young women into the building at the cost of his job?"  They slide into the elevators, only to hear the other one open.  Hiding inside, they see the mortal Detective Glass walks by, having inspected the crime scene above.  They head up once he is gone.

The two quickly survey the roof deck and find signs that show the man did not struggle at any point against the second person who was up there.  There were no fingerprints to find, which Samantha worriedly felt meant both the victim and the second person were Kindred.   The use of Auspex granted more clues, revealing the victim was a Gangrel named Silas, and he was in utter terror as he stepped to the edge.  Dominate might have been used, but it should have failed the moment the command was contrary to the target's Nature.  The wires were bored into the skin around the bones.  A fleshcrafter would have had a much more... subtle handiwork.

The two then received a message from Vaclav, who used a Ritual to contact them.  As it turns out, Vaclav did not expect them to step out and do this.  He merely wanted them to research more instances when the term Superbia was used.  The two decide to make their way back to the Chantry.   Samantha wonders if the killings are just the beginning given they seem inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins.

Viktor arrives at the destination:  The City Morgue.    As he contacts the retainers there, and methodologically tears down a corpse's body to mimic the victim, he exchanges the mortal chunks of meat with the remains of the kindred suicide.   Satisfied the Masquerade is kept intact, the deputy realizes there is another presence in the room.  Sister Nikolai, Primogen of the Nosferatu, emerges from Obfuscate to speak with the deputy.  She reveals that Silas, the Gangrel, is but the second victim.  The first was a Nosferatu who was found to have committed suicide as well in the Warrens.  Imogus, the Nosferatu, had removed his own fangs, face and heart.  The walls of Imogus' Haven were covered with images of his Sire's mortal line.  The word Ira was burned into his forehead as well.  Viktor quickly called Vaclav once more for an update on the information and Vaclav admitted that the Tremere are still looking into the matter.  He did share that Ira is the latin word for Wrath.  And that suicide may be seen as "a self-hatred of anger pointed inwardly."  Vaclav also shared that in Dante's Inferno, those who sinned the sin of Pride were forced to walk with stone slabs bearing down on their backs to induce feelings of humility.

The Nosferatu thanked Viktor or his time and hoped they could find the perpetrator before it was too late.  Madame Faqas then stepped into the scene and admitted to Viktor that the Nosferatu is wrong.  Imogus was not the first.  He was the second.

Adam steps through the shadowed stairwell and emerges from the darkness to find Corbin Sydney, the Lasombra Bishop of New York, entertaining an audience.  Adam realizes very quickly that the visitor has decided to come early.  Corbin smiles as he introduces Adam to the guest, the Archbishop himself, Ambrosio Luis Moncada.  The terrifyingly powerful Lasombra admits he recognizes Adam from the past and asks a question that stuns the Tzimisce:  "I recall you and your coterie of misfits.  Where is the young Brujah I used to mentor?"

Adam realizes he means Viktor Smith.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Five Inspirations : World of Darkness

The Monk :  Promethean the Created

Now You See Me :  Mage the Awakening

Utopia : Hunter the Vigil

Trance : Vampire the Requiem

The Conjuring :  Changeling the Lost

War Witch :  Geist the Sin-Eaters

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Review: Scion Extras

Review: Scion Extras by Monica Valentinelli
The Onyx Path (April Fool's Day release)
Rating: ★★★

Scion is one of those games which I really would have liked to have seen with a different game system.    There are clear similarities to the Scion system with the Exalted 2nd edition system, and sadly, both were systems I struggled to fully appreciate.  Don't get me wrong, they are fun games and the systems can work.  But they don't work as smoothly as I would have hoped for a game that supported over-the-top action and a wide variety of magic.   This holds true more so with Scion given it is set in the modern day, and the characters themselves are children of Gods.

Thankfully, the Onyx Path is here to keep churning out awesome books and new ideas for the White Wolf Gaming Studios lines that we love.  And for the recent April Fool's Day celebration, they released Scion: Extras.

So What Is The Book About?
Scion: Extras serves us a whole new selection of Gods, Goddesses and their Scions to add to the existing six pantheon of deities we already know.  But these figures aren't the kind of beings the others would be happy to see.    The book offers 10 playable new Scions and lyrics for the frighteningly popular song, Scion Style, for a Scion named Sci (clearly inspired by Psy and Gangnam Style with a Scion twist).

Yes, you read that right.

So, how was it?
Funny.  Definitely had some laugh out gems in there.
The cover is adorable.  You got Sci with his two ladies, as they are flanked by his four shinobi.  What follows is more than twenty six pages of character write ups which include gods such as Min, Babi, Fulla, Atlacoya,Tenjin and three names which quickly caught my attention:   Bae Shim-Yang (or Sci), Ralph (Bubba) Bacon and Jack Caricature.

So yeah, Bae Shim-Yang is a Scion of Tenjin of the Amatsukami Pantheon.  There's mention of his frustration towards the "Harlem Shake" but he knows he will come up with something else in time.  His sunglasses are actually a gift from another God and allow him to access the Chaos Purview.  And yes, there is a full page of the song lyrics.  (I'm sorry but I don't foresee myself making a video.  I can't! My partner will kill me!)

Ralph Bubba Bacon is like, the embodiment of Bacon itself.  And even scores Eric Donner as a personal friend and protector.  (Disturbing, yes I know)

Jack Caricature, Scion of Irusan, is a professional cat herder and seems to be a game designer. Admittedly, I feel that he's a certain gaming public figure that I have not quite identified and I sadly feel like I am missing out on the joke.   He actually uses a copy of Scion: Hero and opens it to the Sun Purview page to access his Sun Purview.  I really wish I got the reference.

The book has a bunch of penis jokes, toilet humor and some scary moments (such as Ixnextli's plan and Dr. Aztecatl's objectives for example.) But beyond the possible story seeds and ideas embedded into character concepts, the book doesn't really have that much else.z

What else is there?
Uh, sadly that's about it.

Rating Breakdown: Concept: A wonderful April Fool's Day book.  Very humorous without being pointless.  Admittedly I was kind of hoping it would have a bit more meat in it, the way Dudes of Legend was but then again, Dudes of Legend had a free and full version so the meat was in the full one.  And yes, I did like the concepts.  Sci was a fun twist.  But I definitely found John Lee curious given the Scion that spawned him.  Monica Valentinelli did a fantastic job in fleshing out each concept, and throwing in some ideas when possible.
Crunch: Barely there.  The book does give character sheets for each of those scions mentioned, but beyond that, we don't really get any new powers or weapons to play with.  I wish there were a few.  Heck, I wish the Scion Style Song had certain effects when done to explain its ear-wormy nature.
Layout: The book IS beautiful.  The artwork really works with the concepts.  But man, why is the pdf such a pain to read through.  It feels like each page is unnecessarily too heavy for some reason.   I'd like to blame my old laptop, but I don't get these problems with other pdfs, so I'm kinda wondering what's up with that.
My favorite part: Right now, concept wise, it would be Dr. Aztecatl who I find really disturbing.  Then again, that's my World of Darkness sensibilities rising to the fore.    I would also have to really commend the cover.  That is a sweet, beautiful job.  And mind you, I don't like Psy.  Sci, however is fun!
What I wish was better: More crunch.  I wish there was more that we could use in the game.  Maybe even a supposed "lost Pantheon" devoted to the Pastafarian or something.  I dunno.  I just wanted more.

It's the good reads that really get you wanting more, right?

Definitely worth the LOLs.

It is my Birthday!

Just an update.  Sadly not a gaming article.
But yeah, today is the day I hit thirty six.

That kinda stings.  Thirty six years old.
And still not a published RPG to my name.  I better get the move on and finish the books I've been toiling over.  I definitely want to get those out within the year.  Stop worrying about people liking it.  Just get it OUT there and move to your next project, Tobie.

As to my Twelve New Systems for 2013.
Games I've Run:
Houses of the Blooded: Wilderness
Our Best Last Hope
Blood and Honor
The Aegis Project
Wilderness of Mirrors
Castle Falkenstein

Games I have played in:
Shadows of Esteren
Rocky's home-brewed The Gossamer Saga

I haven't been able to take part in the Gamer's Meet sessions lately with the sudden surge of work on both ends.  The heat here in Manila has been getting horrendous too, to the point in some nights I end up falling asleep out of sheer exhaustion too early.

On our on-going chronicles list, there's been some adjustments:
Both Recruitment : Lacuna and The Riddle of Blood : Houses of the Blooded have been on hold, with the players and us having some issues finding the perfect schedule to play.  The Houses chronicle MIGHT have to be wrapped up too given one of the players has a new job and might not be able to join for the next few months.

I was extremely excited to be finally running Significators: Kult, but after the first session, one of the two key players in the game just informed us of the inevitable migration to a foreign land.  This meant he wouldn't be able to play anymore.   The rest of the group and I felt too dismayed to continue the game.

The Sunday group's Blood and Silk : Blood and Honor was pretty much cancelled (or discontinued rather) to make way for a new chronicle since a new player joined the group and I felt the itch for something darker.  So with the close of Blood and Silk, the new chronicle entitled The Umbra Group began.  Using the new World of Darkness system, the game is in many ways my homage to Planetary and a thesis on the role of meta-gaming in a game that supports meta-gaming.  

Our other game, In Flux : The Shadows of Esteren, hasn't taken steps forward given the GM of that game is kinda busy with real life matters.  But the biggest update of all is my partner, who only started gaming when we got together, has taken the huge step forward and ran his own home-brewed game, The Gossamer Saga.  The game is an epic story inspired by Magic: the Gathering, with each player portraying people who have been inducted into an organization that spans realities.  We opted for a FATE/Houses of the Blooded system approach with Virtues, as well as Aspects, and even drew from other games to map out the game as a whole.  Hopefully Rocky will find time to share his own game notes about it soon.

Finally, with the end of the Kult game, Aldwin requested for a chance to dive back into an good oldie and The Seven : Vampire the Masquerade was born.  The game assumes Gehenna did not come to pass with the coming of the year 2000, and so the Week of Nightmares never transpired and the Sabbat and the Camarilla continue their unending Jyhad.   Loving the existing metaplot, the players will have their moments to interact with many favorites, including the big names such as Ambrosio Moncada, Anatole, Sasha Vycos and more!  Oh Masquerade, people may judge you, but there's no denying how colorful a world you offer for gaming.
But yeah, going back, at Thirty Six, I feel old.  Not too old to game, mind you.  Gaming for me is a healthy way to keep your brain active.  And a very social way to enjoy your time with friends.   I probably will only quit gaming once I reach an age where speaking or communicating is no longer an easy task, but gods know if I am lucky I'm going to leave a legacy in the gaming community before I die.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

April 23rd

Today is April 23rd.

I was going to write about something, but for a moment I seem to have forgotten what.
I blogged about my mood given my upcoming birthday here
but for some reason, I can't recall what I was planning to do after.

I do recall opening this page with the intent to write something after I blogged in my personal one.

Now I can't recall what.

Happy April 23rd.

Monday, April 22, 2013

I don't get TPK at all

I Don't Get TPK At All
by Tobie Abad

Total. Player.  Kill.  Those three words every now and then appear in my Google plus feeds and the remarks  range from very excited to proud.  Total.  Party.  Kill.  I've seen comics laughing about it.  I've seen dungeons designed with that as the goal.  Total.  Party.  Kill.

I don't get it.  I don't get the appeal.
Yes, it probably seems odd to read me saying this, given my recent article was all about indulging in violence every now and then.  While I do confess to enjoying in indulging in a bit of crazy combat antics every now and then, I'm not quite certain if that is the same area of enjoyment which others are touching on.  Perhaps it is.  But given how frequent I see it come up, I can't help but wonder if there's a different scenario going on.

Could it be there are GMs who actually like killing off the whole party when they can?

This isn't going to be an in depth post.   This won't be a an article that seeks to villify or glamorize the concept of TPK.  This is just more an editorial post from me, if anything, about my personal feelings about TPK.

As a GM, I find the idea of running  a game that leads to the whole party dying on appropriate if it was dramatically appropriate in the game.   If the game, for example, was a dark game where the characters were more victims of circumstance than heroes who were out to save the day, I would find it dramatically appropriate and acceptable if the story ends with the heroes meeting their doom.  Games such as The Last Best Hope, Fiasco, and even the World of Darkness nicely explore such themes and challenge both the players and storytellers to help form a fun and engaging narrative even if it leads to the deaths of the characters they created for the game.  Some might even embrace such an end in a romantically charged game if they were inspired by tragic tales such as those of Romeo and Juliet.

Or perhaps if the game clearly was intended to have the grittiness and danger as part of the setting's explored themes, I wouldn't really feel there's anything wrong if the game called for self-sacrifice.  Or reflected how death comes frequently given the harsh scenario (like say games set in the Warhammer Universe.  Or for Sabbat vampire troupes.)

But for your typical Dungeons and Dragons sessions, I find it very strange when some GMs seem to proudly proclaim they accomplished a TPK again.  I mean, since you're the GM, you already have the capacity to throw in a dragon at a starting group of characters.  Why all the joy and thrill of accomplishing TPK when as a GM, nothing really is there to keep you from fudging the set-up or scenario to kill the players.  Or maybe the GM didn't balance out the stuff properly.  Or was too determined "this was the right way" that the players  kept going a different path and it lead to them dying.

And more importantly, why get off enjoying killing the characters of your players?

There's definitely a side to this TPK thing which I don't quite grasp.   And it probably connects more to the reason I'm not a fan either of games like Tekken or Mortal Kombat.  I love games that have a story.  I love games where the characters matter.  I love games where they are the main cast of the play.  The lead roles in the movie.  And yes, while I wouldn't occasionally mind a Games of Thrones kind of "even lead characters can die" approach, I still don't see myself enjoying the idea that I might have "TPK tonight!  Crazy awesome!"

It just feels like power-tripping to me.  Or a misprojected trash talk.  Or something like that.  I understand it sometimes does happen due to a string of bad luck.  Or if some players just keep rolling bad.  (A player in an Exalted game I ran once got a measly two successes out of a thirty seven dice pool.  Yes, sad indeed.  But no, I didn't kill him and the rest of the group.)  I guess ultimately it just isn't a gaming style for me.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

System Shopped: Aspects in World of Darkness

Aspects (From Houses of the Blooded)
System Shopped: World of Darkness
by Tobie Abad

I have to open this article with a disclaimer.   When I first started writing this, I was not aware of the recent developments in relation to the new rules that were to come with the God Machine Chronicles.  The only rule set that I encountered was when a fellow gamer posted about the new Morality rules.  So my original article had a lot of mentions about using Aspects as labels you can place on characters to infer upon them conditions or tags which can be used against them.  These were ideas born out of the Houses of the Blooded game, which used a wonderful system where each Aspect had an Invoke, a Tag, and a Compel.

I've recently read up on some of the proposed rules and discovered they've gone for Conditions which work in a similar manner.  However, Conditions were still keyed into the system in terms of dice reductions and the like.  So while I've shortened this article to a great degree, I do hope no one thinks I'm trying to pass off someone else's system as my own.  I just so happen to be thinking on a similar train of thought.

Now I love Aspects.  Given how the huge wave that everyone is excited about is the FATE system, I still find myself dearly liking John Wick's approach to FATE, which he encountered from the game Spirit of the Century.  And there, he kept things simple:  Aspects had an Invoke, which was when the Aspect worked in favor of the player, granting dice, a Tag, where the Aspect could be cited to work against the player, giving the opposing player dice, and a Compel, where the Aspect could be cited for the player character having it to portray him or herself in an appropriate manner in exchange for a Style point.  This encouraged players to play both their strengths and weaknesses to dramatic effect.

This was the same effect I wanted to accomplish for the World of Darkness.   

Given the rules for the World of Darkness are currently in flux with the Onyx Path streamlining some of the rules  into smoother ones, I decided to just push through with this article anyway.  (Let's not get into the house rules I worked out for my other game, the Umbra Group, which I discovered once again match a lots of the new changes they are doing in the upcoming God Machine Chronicle book!)

Aspects in the World of Darkness can be approached in the following ways:
1) Replacing Vice and Virtue
While retaining the existing rule set of the World of Darkness, you can add Aspects into your game by removing the Vice and Virtue system and replacing it instead with two Aspects:  The two Aspects should BOTH reflect you at your worst, and you at your best.  For example, Carlos Moridino the Detective might have the Aspects (Meticulous) and (Rough).   While Duhki the Daeva Assassin might have the Aspects (Deadly) and (Sneaky).  In the existing rules, Vice and Virtue allow you to regain WP when they are portrayed in a scene.  Here, the Aspects can be tagged when the character is acting in a manner appropriate to the Aspect, giving that player an extra three dice for free to use.    However, wise players might opt for only one extra die, since the two other dice can be traded in for temporary Willpower recovery instead.

Also, if another character tags you for your Aspect (say a non-playing character tags Carlos Moridino's Rough to gain an edge against him in a debate about the police being abusive), giving the opposed player an additional two dice to use against you.

Finally, any player or Storyteller can offer the player one Willpower point to compel them to act a certain appropriate way.  (Duhki might be compelled by the other character to feel uncomfortable being visibly alone under a harsh light or Carlos might be compelled to shove a certain suspect too harshly since he tends to be Rough.)   So with this approach, while we lost the full refill of WP (from Virtues), we have replaced it with a chance to recover a point of WP every scene, not to mention free dice for portraying your character better.

2) Replace Specialties
This is how I am doing them in my game now.  Specialties are more like Aspects now.  In the old rules, you'd get a skill, say Drive, and if you had a Specialty in Motorcycles, you get to roll an extra die when driving a motorcycle.  This time, Specialties are Aspects.  You still choose three at the start of character creation, but rather than just being locked to one skill, they now represent a catch-all bonus across all appropriate skills.    For example, you have a Specialty with Kidnappings.  Your Intelligence+Streetwise gain an extra die when you're studying where the kidnapper might have taken the child.  Your Stamina+Academics gains the extra die because your researching all night for which pattern that serial killer is copying. 

Likewise, these Specialties may be Compelled, forcing the player to portray his character in a certain way.  (Duhki might opt to stay hidden than just come out and admit she is not behind the attack) This of course is accompanied with a point of Willpower which can be seen as a welcome bribe.

3) Free Aspects Instead
One can keep the game as it is and instead add the concept of Free Aspects to the game.  In Houses of the Blooded, you can "tag the scene" to give it an Aspect which all others can from that point use to their advantage is they so desired.  For example, your character might kick at the fire place, and the player then declare, "On Fire" as the Aspect of the room.  Now, those who want to use that to their advantage can do so, but of course its not without a cost.

A Free Aspect grants the player 2 extra dice when it can be used in play.  However, in Houses the cost is paid for with Style Points.  Given how Will Power gives a player THREE dice, clearly it cannot be the cost to pay with here. 

Instead, at the center of the table is a bowl of 2 tokens per player.  All players have access to the bowl and can draw from it to pay for establishing a Free Aspect.  There is no cost to actually use the Aspect.  The use of the Aspect however must be appropriate or the GM has the right to veto the roll immediately and simply declare the results.  The GM can reward more tokens whenever the players do something cool in the game.  And any of the player can draw from it at any time.
John Wick's Houses of the Blooded.
Highly recommended game.

4) Shortened Non-Playing Character
Alternately, you can just use the Aspects as a way to stream line your NPCs.  Rather than have long pages of stats, just write three things about them.  And when these things apply, get three dice each time they do to represent their dice roll.

For example:
Security Guard - Focused, Keen Eyed, Brave.
So this guard would have six dice to check if anyone is sneaking about.  Nine to roll how much he recalled seeing after that terrifying moment.  But only three if he were to go head to head against a vampire.

Anyway, there you go.  Just some shopped ideas on how to add Aspects to your World of Darkness games.
I must add this early that I've finally been reading up on the God Machine Chronicles rules adjustments and many of them are looking VERY interesting.  The huge debate on the new calculation on Defense is interesting, and I'm undecided on how I stand on it as of yet, but I was surprised they were doing what I've been doing for the longest time in nWOD, which was Damage bonus from weapons is damage and not dice to hit.  So yeah, I'm studying the new proposed rules now and adopting some.  Others, will have to wait and see when the free rules book comes out.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Umbra Group e01 : World of Darkness

The Umbra Group
Episode One
"The Academy"

World of Darkness
Home-brewed Setting

Started a whole new chronicle with the Sunday group, and this time we get to use the World of Darkness rules again.  Admittedly, I miss this game system, even if deep down I always liked the classic World of Darkness rules more.    Excited to run the game, I actually ended up mapping out the whole story's premise and outline within 24-hours and even made a teaser for it.

I'm tempted to explain many of my plans, plot points and ideas, but given how my players do read my blog, I'm worried of spoiling them the story which I feel is best described as my attempt to do my own version of Planetary if it were to have the lovechild with Fringe.  The list of sixteen titles already suggests the many directions the game will go, and I even warned the players I currently foresee only sixteen game sessions for this chronicle.   Given the short span I have in mind, I informed the players that this game will still not require them to work as a team, or help each other out, nor be giving out any experience points.  Any developments will have to be portrayed during scenes, and then if done enough, can be simply added to the sheet ( such as a character who spends a few scenes reading up on ghosts might be allowed to get the first dot of Occult a few sessions later).    Anyway, I can discuss more on the game itself in another post.  Here's the Actual Play report for now.

Introducing the main cast for The Umbra Group:
Theodore "Ted" Olivier (28), played by Erich.
Burglary- Commercial Crime Divison : Detective  (Museums, etc)
Vice: Pride  Virtue: Faith
Merits:  Trained Observer, Good Time Management, Status Police 3,
Ally: Elena 4, Resources 1, Iron Stamina
Specialties: CSI (Investigation), Black Market (Streetwise), Long Distance (Athletics)
Elena Valenta (4) - Psychiatrist, handles cops trauma.  Ex-wife.  Messy divorce due to dept. politics.  Met in college.  Met again as precint shrink.  First Gen Check immigrant.
Francis Olivier, Dad (1) - Former beat cop.  50s.  Still working.
Jessica Weaver - Mom (no rating)

Dylan "Dil" Harris (28), played by Rachel.
Security Officer of an Art Gallery.  Former Prison Guard of a Maximum Security Prison.
Vice: Pride  Virtue: Prudence
Merits: Boxing (4) Body Blow (# more than 5, Lose action), Duck and Weave (Higher of Wits/Dex), Combination Blows(second/-1), Haymaker (# more than 5, KO. Stamina check to stay conscious)
Fleet of Foot, Resources 2, Danger Sense, Iron Stamina
Specialties:  Boxing, Sprinting, Lockpicking
Son - Tim (2) - Precocious, two years old, likes music
Wife - Samantha (1) - Boxing Trainer, works in gym. Orphan. Health buff.
Mother - Susan (1) - Accountaint, Good at cooking, nearly retired.
Brother - Jun (1) - 31, Dotcomer.  Gay.  Also good at cooking.
Father - disabled (no rating)

Patrick Beckett (35), played by Rocky
Venture Capitalist. (EDIT:  Sorry love. Heheheh!)
Vice: Greed Virtue: Prudence
Merits: Quick Draw, Retainer 5 (Assistant Bodyguard: Frances), Resources 4, Striking Looks 2, Fame 1, Barfly 1, Combat Marksmanship 4, Encyclopedic Knowledge.
Specialties:Pistols, Negotiations, Trends
Matt (3) - Brother, 17. Estranged with Patrick. Religious.
Maxine Steele (1) - Ex-girlfriend, 31.  Art buyer.  Cheated on her.
Mark (1) - Ex-boyfriend, 24.  Dotcomer.  Didn't get enough time.

Rayne Calloway (28), played by Mahar.
Artist, rose from gang family.  Popular among rich people.
Vice: Pride Virtue: Charity
Merits: Striking Looks 2, Fame 1, Barfly 1, Resources 4, Improvised Weaponry 1
Specialties: Sculpture/Installation, Blades, Gangs
Best friend (3) - Enzo, Latino.  Superfriend zoned. Grew up together. Not Liza's son.
Aunt Liza (2) - Family Friend, not real Aunt.  Gets involved in life. Passionate.  Interventionist.

Episode One
"The Academy"

Each one was enjoying their simple lives.  But the shadows of the Umbra Group were to reach out and wrap around them whether they wanted to or not.

Ted Olivier was on the subway, on a long ride home, struggling against the urge to fall asleep.  The constant rocking of the train seemed to hypnotize him.   The train stops, but he is still a few stations away.  He sees an odd sight.  A duck is standing by the train doors.  And just stares at him.    And that's when the sounds came.  An argument between a woman and her boyfriend.  Ted glanced over and saw the two were the only other people in the train car he was in.  And she wasn't too keen on his persistence that they have sex in public.  The train starts moving again, and as he hears her struggle against him, he decides to walk over and try to help out.  The lights flicker.  And when they stabilize, the glass is cracked.  The walls are stained red.  The woman is far by the rear of the train, screaming in utter terror.  And her boyfriend is beaten to a bloody pulp with his face broken in.  Ted looks down and realizes his hands are closed into tight fists and his knuckles are bruised and bloody.

Dylan Harris is at a gallery called The Window and the owner, Imelda, is complaining about him and the two other security guards not being properly dressed for the gallery.  The owner demands the guys wear suits that shift from black to gray to white, then ushers them to step out while he talks with his client, a certain miss Calloway.  The three step out and Dylan quickly learns that of his two buddies, Dick and Tom, Dick is quite a close-minded homophobe.  While they take the chance to sneak in a smoke break, Dylan notices something odd which triggers his gut feel of something bad happening; across the street, a group of guys seemingly in some kind of American Indian feathery costume are heading up the fire escape and making their way to the roof.  Dylan tries to get a closer view at what he thinks are just cosplayers, and catches one of them pulling out some kind of a spy-glass like what pirates use in movies.  Knowing the place is beyond his jurisdiction, he calls in 9-11 to have them check.  But when the cops arrive, they consider his worries as unimportant.  It is only when one of the cops, who opted to climb up the fire escape,  is shot by an arrow into the throat, does Dylan realize the danger he is really in.  The archer trains the bow at Dylan and before Dylan could do more, lights seemingly flicker, then he faints.

Patrick Beckett's night does not start as quietly.  He receives a call from his ex-boyfriend, Mark, who is bawling over something.  When Patrick presses for Mark to explain, Mark finally admits he misses Patrick and wishes he didn't break up with him.  Patrick reminds Mark that they're at least still friends and begs him not to go through this every single year.  That's when his other ex, Maxine, calls.  She asks if Mark is on the phone, and seems to relish the emotional turmoil he is going through.  Patrick soon learns Maxine had a) called the radio stations Mark usually listens to and requested they play their old song, b) requested it as a Mark Beckett, and to twist the dagger a bit deeper, c) had a messenger bring a pint of ice cream, with a CD of Adele.  Patrick scowls at Maxine's mischief, but she reminds him she's just balancing the scales given he cheated on her.  The two plan out a lunch for the next day.  Mark starts to bawl about finding a Blue Power ring in the ice cream, which Patrick realizes was Maxine's final stroke! When he scolds her about crossing the geek line, and puts the phone down on her, he hears from Mark's side of the line that Maxine is actually THERE with him.  "We were always friends," Maxine hisses, "So don't worry.  I'm helping him get through breaking up with you.  I did it.  See you tomorrow."  But as Patrick tries to get some sleep, a second call arrives in the evening.  A woman's voice thanks him for availing of the Service, and asks for his consent.  Thinking this was some kind of thing his assistant, Rayne, he gives in.  But suddenly he has a strange sexual dream where both Maxine and Mark seem to hold him down while a third person attempts to mount him.  He wakes up, and hears a call again, and the woman apologizes for the dream.  Patrick tries to call again Frances and tells her to call off whatever service that was.  She profusely apologizes.  He tries to head back to sleep.

Rayne Calloway is working on a new set of statues to be featured in The Window.  Inspiration feels fleeting, so she hops onto a cab and asks to be brought to Central Park.  Enroute, however, she sees some weird ads in the cab about existential services.  Changing her mind, she has the cab bring her back home and finds the cab driver a possible inspiration for the art.  Her work is interrupted when Imelda calls, however, and Rayne finds herself horrified by the supposed merchandising pack that was to be part of her exhibit.   Stressed out by the kit (which included life-sized standees of her, ipod audio narratives that would accompany each piece, and even a giveaway that suggested it included some strands of her own hair), she pours her frustration into her work and starts transforming the last statue into that of a woman.  Her Aunt Liza visits, who insists Rayne needs to eat better, and as the two enjoy a meal, Rayne learns to her dismay that her childhood friend Enzo has started to see a white girl named Rianne.  When her Aunt opts to leave early, Rayne learns (after snagging Aunt Liza's phone) that Enzo had invited her to dinner to meet the girl.  Rayne feels immense feelings of jealousy, and lights begin to flicker in the area.  Liza leaves and Rayne finishes the artwork with all her anger channeled into its look.  A frenetic knocking.  Rayne looks outside to see a blonde young woman begging for help.  When Rayne opens the door, she sees the reason for the young woman's panic:  a masked figure stands across the street, staring at them.  Rayne pulls the blonde girl inside, notices she is bleeding from some cuts, and quickly slams the door closed.  "My sisters," the blonde girl gasps, "He killed my sisters.. the Academy..."  As the lights begin to flicker, she decides to call Enzo and ask him to come quickly and help.

Ted calls for security to help round the people up.  Uncertain what just happened, he asks the security to look for the woman (after sharing her appearance) and the train is pulled out of the main track and moved to the side.  There, the cops find the woman and call for Ted to speak to her.  But she panics upon seeing her, and before he could do anything else, he once again blanks out.  He recovers, only to find many of the security personnel on the ground, bleeding profusely from multiple stab wounds.  And he finds the woman screaming for him to stay back.  And that's when he wakes up.  Still on the train.  And the two lovers are still arguing.  Ted decides to duck out of the train, even if he's not yet at his station, and sees the duck once again standing in the hallway.  He decides to follow it and is lead to the service tunnel where trains are usually transferred to for maintenance reasons, and from there, to a small service office.  Stepping inside, the duck seems to motion for him to close the door, and when he does - plunging himself into complete darkness - he hears a voice address him.  Following the woman's voice, he realizes he is in a dark brick-walled chamber with a marble floor.  On a pedestal, a glass bust of a woman sits.  Shattered from the breasts down, the woman's face is frighteningly detailed and crafted.   And impossibly speaks.

She welcomes Ted to what she calls The Sliding Room, and tells him it was about time one of "the Four" finally showed up.  When Ted asks what she means, she explains she rather explain everything only once all four are present. "I rather not repeat myself unnecessarily."  Ted explores The Sliding Room and explores two other rooms - one that contained four metal gurneys surrounded by what look like devices and equipment one would find in a mad scientists' laboratory, and a second that showed a huge mural of a world map, marked with pins and markers the way a conspiracy theorist would mark one.  There were four metal filing cabinets, with files arranged alphabetically.  Inside were manila envelopes with labels such as The Academy, MorphArmy, and the like.  Ted considers opening one, but decides to try helping find the others instead to hasten their "reunion."  The Glass Woman tells Ted about the secret of The Sliding Room:  Stand in complete darkness, think of the one you wish you find, and the Darkness will take you there.    Ted finds The Shadow Cabinet, as the Glass Woman calls it, a huge wooden cabinet laid on its side like a coffin. He steps in, closes the door over himself, and mutters, "Dylan Harris."

Dylan opens his eyes to see the police in the area.  Imelda mutters something about never having trusted him (and points to Dylan) and a man identifying himself as Detective Grey asks Dylan to step into his car to return to the station.  Opting to be cooperative, Dylan steps inside and quietly waits to be brought to the station.  But being familiar with the area, he starts to realize the car isn't headed for the precinct.  And before he could question the Detective about this, a truck suddenly swerves in front of the police car and the two vehicles collide!  As Dylan recovers from the impact, he sees a young man step out of the truck.  The man wears a hoodie but peeking from underneath one can see a bird's beak   Eagle-like talons are where his hands should be.  The bird man leaps onto the hood of the police car and tears into Detective Grey!  Dylan kicks the window open and rushes away from the car, stumbling as he runs.  Being in the warehouse district, Dylan rushes to the nearest one and sneaks in just before the Bird Man gets to him.  It squaks, "Darkness!  Bring you to the Darkness!" but is unable to slip into the warehouse before Dylan slams the doors closed.  He does not find safety, however, as the strange "feathered-pirates" once again emerge, scouting from the warehouse's rafters.  One mutters, "This Instance is our opportunity.  Take the target down before we are recalled."  Outnumbered and trapped, Dylan sees the lights flicker once more.  And then black out.

Maxine and Patrick are at a restaurant and the two talk about relationships, as well as possible business options.  Maxine admits she is being a bit cruel but promises Patrick she's only doing what she believes is for the best for Mark.  Patrick's phone rings again, and his cellular phone shows it is an unlisted number.  Answering, it turns out to be the woman who called him the previous night.  She begs him to reconsider the cancellation, but Patrick hangs up.  As Maxine and Patrick walk down the street, more strangeness happens around Patrick.  A wall of display television screens shifts to show an Asian Woman staring at Patrick.   Total strangers walking nearby have their phones ring, and the people start complaining about the caller having dialed a wrong number.  One even mutters aloud as Patrick and Maxine passes, "No, I will not hand my phone to a Patrick.  Who the hell are you and why do you have my number?"  Patrick contacts Frances and she admits she cancelled the service already.  But Patrick admits he is intrigued how this service is tracking him and doing this, and considers a business option with them.   As he gets home, he hears the sounds of someone or something already in his home.  He hears the sounds coming from the closet, and very slowly approaches it and slides it open.  Of all the things he fears seeing, what he finds is a duck.

Exhausted.  Confused.  Tired.  Patrick sits beside the duck and wonders if this was something Maxine was up to - but given only he and Frances has a copy of the house key, considers if it was sent by his assistant.  The duck seems to motion for him to close the door and Patrick decides to just do it.  The door closes and plunges him into darkness.

Rayne awakens to find her house in a state of ruin.  Blood trails in various directions, and as Rayne studies the scene more she learns Enzo is also present but bleeding from a massive wound through his stomach! Unaware how long she was out, she calls 911 and emergency services quickly comes to respond.  The scene shifts to the hospital where Rayne sits in a room where Enzo is currently resting.  Somewhere else in the hospital, the blonde girl is resting as well.  Both have been stabilized.  Rayne looks up to see her Aunt Liza arrive, accompanied by Rianne.  When Aunt Liza confronts Rayne about what happens, the artist instead projects her frustrations out at her - leading to a massive argument.  As Liza accuses Rayne of disrespecting her, Rayne strikes Liza and tells her she has no right to tell her what to do.  Liza declares their relationship over and when Rayne considers leaving, the lights flicker once again.

She realizes she is standing in front of Enzo's room.  With a tire iron in her hand.  And the hospital security standing beside her.  They ask her to come with them and there, question her on what he had planned to do. Rayne watches footage that show her walking out of the hospital, straight to the closest ambulance, where she then took the tire iron and stomped back to the room.  Thankfully, she seemed to recover before she reached the door.  One of the security guys takes pity on Rayne and suggests they let her go since she didn't officially do anything.  The others reluctantly agree.

Ted emerges from the shadows to find himself in some warehouse.  As he steps out of the massive storage container trucks, he finds Dylan on the ground with numerous arrows embedded into his stomach, shoulder and arm.  Dylan is conscious now too, and realizes everyone else is dead, including the Bird man.  He calls 911 for help, but realizes his wounds don't feel as bad as they should be.  Ted hears the paramedics coming and sees the bodies of all the others quickly vanish, as if they never were there.  Only the Bird man's body remains.  When the paramedics arrive, Dylan asks if they saw the Detective outside, but all they saw were the car and the van that struck each other.  Confused, Ted suggests to Dylan that he comes with him.  Dylan senses he will find answers if he goes, and so the two step back into the Container vehicle and shut the door behind them.

Rayne is given a ride home by the security guy, whose name happens to be Jerry.  He offers to give her a ride home on his motorcycle and while he seems to try to offer some kindness given all the madness  that has been transpiring.  As they stop at a red light, however, Rayne sees the blonde girl she helped running down the street.  Consfused how she'd be out of the hospital, Rayne steps down and calls out to her, but she ducks into an alleyway.  Rayne takes chase, and Jerry isn't certain what is going on.

In the alley, as Rayne tries to get answers from the blonde girl, she suddenly demands that Rayne stop approaching and Rayne feels the voice "inside her head."  She finds herself suddenly unable to move closer! Jerry asks what is going on, and Rayne mutters some excuse about the blonde having stolen her purse.  Jerry backs away, not sure if they should just chase after the woman, but Rayne will not be denied.  Thinking quick, Rayne leaps up for the fire escape, and flings herself forward, allowing gravity to go against the mental compulsion not to come close.  As she lands, the blonde woman turns to run away but stops as out of the shadows a muscular man wearing a rubber mask steps out of the darkness.  Rayne realizes it is the same one from outside her home! As the blonde screams in panic, Rayne dodges in the last second as the masked man grabs the blonde by the throat, then uses her to try and bludgeon Rayne to the ground.  The lights flicker around the area as Rayne seemingly feels her body empowered by some unknown force.  She shatters the helmet's glass visor on the ground, then uses the jagged edge to tear into the masked man's throat.  Though she does draw blood, the Masked Man merely walks away back into the shadows without any signs of pain.  Rayne looks at the blonde girl and learns to her dismay she is dead, her neck was snapped when she was swung at Rayne as a weapon.  Rayne looks up, sees a duck standing at the edge of the shadow, and steps into the shadow hoping for answers.

The Sliding Room.

As the four find each other in the room, the initial accusations quickly fly as some question how the others are connected or part of what is going on.  The Glass Woman does commend Ted on finding the three others quickly, although Ted admits he had only found Dylan.  Patrick is struggling to grasp how the Glass Woman can speak while Rayne is on a warpath demanding for answers.

But when Rayne mentions about the blonde girl still being alive and out there, the Glass Woman seems to panick and try to get everyone's attention.  No one hears her, however, as the four begin throwing expletives and questions at each other.  Realizing time is of the essence, and not wanting to lose someone she cares about, the Glass Woman transforms in an eye blink into a severed human being, and in the split second before death claims her heartless form, she telepathically reaches out to the gathered and mentally imposes a compulsion on them all:  I am Emma Frost.  You Will Listen To Me and Obey.  You Will Save Sophie.

As the four feel the compulsion lock into place, they see the now flesh and blood bust of a woman slip into death, unable to remain alive in her current state of being.    In the silence of The Sliding Room, the group feel the tug of the mental command, and the other room, an enveloped labelled, The Academy, now begins to make sense.

End of Episode One

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Things happen while they sleep

I got inspired by Venger's post so I decided to make my own.
Check out his original post here.

Things happen while
they sleep

This is a random chart for things occurring while adventurers get some well-deserved shut eye. Happy Swords & Wizardry appreciation day, everyone!  - Venger Satanis

Here is my take on the list:

1. Everyone wakes up to discover they have switched bodies with another player character.
2. They wake up to discover they all have a third functional eye on their forehead.  And everyone else they meet seem to be totally fine with it.  In fact, they claim, "We always had a third eye."
3. Flash flood!  The waters rise so fast, the characters are wading in five feet of water within the first thirty seconds, and it shoots up to eight feet by the first minute!
4. They share a collective dream where they are strange people gathered at a table, that share made up stories about themselves.
5. They wake up to find mounds of ash all around them.  Divination later reveals they were besieged by vampires, but the monsters argued amongst themselves too much that the sun rose in time to kill them all.
6. A notable ruler dies.  They wake up to the beginning of a massive war for power between two factions.
7. They dream they are wolves.  Only to learn their actions in the dream happen in real life.
8. A dragon coils up around them for warmth.  They wake up to find it still sleeping and coiled around them. Bonus points to have it drooling over one of them.
9. Time shifts.  They awaken in the modern era.
10.  They awake to a great booming sound.  They see two deities manifested as fifty foot giants warring above them.  But the moment any of them react enough for the deities to see, the titans vanish, as if they were never there.
11. A secret admirer leaves a dethorned rose in the hand of one of the player characters.
12. A house crashes a few yards from the camp, thrown blindly in their direction by a giant attacking a town half a mile away.
13. Their horses are found to have been marked with some strange arcane design.  None of the horses seem hurt or spooked however.
14. A strange creature visits, and they learn when they awaken that they have lost their shadows.
15. They are missing a member, NPC or not, who was clearly dragged from his sleeping place.  The trail ends as it goes straight through a massive stone formation.  On the rock face, hints of a doorway drawn with chalk can be seen.
16. The magic user's spell book has been reorganized, now arranged in alphabetical order, with an index for spell level, school of magic and "frequently used" spells.
17. Their faces are stolen.  They awaken and realize they look like featureless mannequins.
18.  The spell effect fades. They awaken now remembering their true names, allegiances and relationships to each other.  They were sleeper agents that served the enemy.  And now they realize that.
19. You wake up with loads of new gold coins added into your bags.  One NPC wakes up gagging as he realizes his mouth is filled with blood.  His teeth are all gone.
20.  You dream of a man in blood and verdant   He whispers horrible things to you, then with his hand, which has been fashioned with five sharp dirks.  He slashes at you, and you awaken screaming, as you discover the wounds are fresh and bleeding on your body right now.


So there you have it! Hope you liked the list.
Thanks again for the idea VengerSatanis!

Review: Kult

Review: Kult by Gunilla Jonsson and Michael Petersén
Metropolis Ltd.
Rating: ★★★★

Kult is a game that does not mince words in creating a setting that is both disturbing, fascinating and horrifying.  This was definitely not a game that was intended for younger or immature audiences.  Taking concepts from gnosticism, and giving it a dark modern gothic touch, fans of the Silent Hill franchise, Matrix movies, and cult favorites such as Dark City and the Watcher Pentalogy of Sergei Lukyanenko.  The world is an Illusion.  Everything you see is a Lie.   And we are prisoners in a world that looks normal, but is in truth embroiled in a massive war between forces of Light and Darkness.

Sounds Interesting!  Tell me more.
In the game, a being called the Demiurge is holding us prisoner and many of these beings that have been keeping us in check have started to approach things in their own way ever since the Demiurge itself vanished.  A massive city called the Metropolis exists beyond our perceptions whose roads reach out to every city in the world, and occasionally people slip out of the Illusion and into this place, where unthinkable horrors await.    But all throughout the world, there are certain people who have learned to pierce the illusion, and there are groups that seek to find a way for mankind to regain our lost divine status.  

Illusion and Madness are more than what they seem to be.  And even Death is just a beginning in this game.  In Kult, you struggle in a world where old gods squat in the streets, Fallen Angels rule in the shadows, and monsters walk amongst us beyond our sight.

What's the System Like?
The game is an old game, and thus very old approaches to dice systems are still used here.  Characters have Abilities, Skills, Advantages, Disadvantages, Dark Secrets and Mental Balance.  Point distribution can be a bit confusing at first, with players having 100 points to allocate among eight abilities, 150 points to allocate among skills, and... sorry what?  Yes, you read that right, 100 and 150.  Like I said, old school rules. 

Rolling a twenty-sided die is used to determine if characters succeed in their ability and skill-based actions.  The difference between the roll and ability itself then determines the Effect.  So if you had a skill of 14, rolling  a 13 means you succeed with an Effect of one, an acceptable success.   If you rolled a 2, you succeeded with an effect of 12, which is a normal success.  A difference of 16 and higher snags you even greater success.

The game offers a huge list of Archetypes, which basically are pre-set ideas for character concepts such as Drifter, Detective, Athlete, etc, allowing new players to quickly have an idea of what options exist and work well for the game.  It was nice how they really devoted a full page colored image for each one though.

Interestingly, the system has a lot of secondary abilities, such as Endurance, Initiative and Damage bonuses, and the like which are derived from the Abilities.  They add new twists to the game, such as Endurance representing exhaustion which can bring you down even if you've never been hit in a long-running combat sequence.  Advantages and Disadvantages are your usual mix of positive and negative traits (such as having a Code of Honor, or suffering from a phobia, etc) and these are actually vital in determining your character's Mental Balance.

Combat is split to three phases, and typically characters have two actions each turn.  Since humans typically can't perform actions in the same phase, they have to spread it out.  So for example if the human (2 actions) was fighting a demon (4 actions) the demon has distinct advantage since it can allocate its actions better.
Phase One
Phase Two
Phase Three
Human, Demon
Human, Demon, Demon
Demon, Demon, Human
Human, Demon
Demon, Human
Demon, Human
Demon, Demon

Damage is tracked as Wounds, which start out as Scratches, then turn into Light Wounds, then Serious Wounds and finally Fatal Wounds.  Most characters can only take one Fatal Wound before dying, but many monstrosities can suffer very many more.

Martial Arts and Magic are given comprehensive portions of the rules, with Martial Arts giving access to chi-based powers if you reach a certain level of proficiency with them.  There are various kinds of magic:  Lore of Death, Lore of Dream, Lore of Madness, Lore of Passion, Lore of Time and Space.  These aren't your typical quick casting magic spells type of game though the way its done in other games.  Most rituals can take lots of hours to days to perform, if not require planning, components and preparation to succeed.   Spells also consume Endurance, so casting them may leave you very vulnerable afterwards.

Finally, characters have Hero Points, which are a finite resource that can be spent to twist fate in your favor (read as alter the results of the Effect of an action), but given a spent Hero Point is gone for good, and recovering points is not an easy feat, players will likely choose to use them when their character's lives are at stake.

And boy will they be often in such dangers in this game.   Most of the threats and monstrosities are horribly powerful if not disturbingly strong.  Death is always looming in the horizon in every battle.

Surely, the players have some help?
Somewhat.  You see, there are rules for different kinds of magic, and players who have the ability to use magic can definitely have an edge.   Interestingly, while most would probably think having a high Light Mental Balance is the best course of action, having your Mental Balance high in either end of the spectrum both have their bonuses and detrimental effects.    At its simplest, one's madness (or uncontrollable demand for order) can actually manifest as actual physical changes as your character deals with the growing Terror in the game. One might manifest an armored carapace in hopes of protecting himself from the darkness, another might have so high a state of Mental Balance that their dark side might gain sentience and try to contact you.

Death Is Just a Beginning?
Oh that's cause some characters who die... might not die.  They might actually find themselves coming back, changed.  And if they do, they might not exactly like what they have become.  But to say more might spoil things for people who will eventually get a chance to explore the game!
Yes there was a four-issue comic based on it.

Okay, I'm NOT going to play, I'm going to RUN the game.
Then consider this paragraph a huge SPOILER WARNING for players who need to avoid reading things since they have trouble, or rather not struggle to separate player knowledge from character knowledge.

First, the Demiurge is pretty much the God in the game, and sadly he's gone.  Vanished. Maybe dead.  Its dark half, the Astaroth has risen to take its place.  But it doesn't quite grasp what it should do.  All over the world, the Archons and the Death Angels vie for greater power and influence, and in smaller scale, the Lictors (all 823,543 of them) relish having the freedom to punish (and play with) humans in any way they see fit!  So yeah, we're all pretty much prisoners in a massive jail that we know to be the world.

Astaroth however, senses Humanity's capacity to Awaken, and knows if that happens, we will most likely end up free and powerful.  So he plans a massive Ragnarok to keep us lost in our own ignorance, while he desperately tries to find the missing Demiurge.  Many of the things we encounter are hidden by the Illusion to appear as something else.  But more and more are starting to see the Truth.  Great beings however residing deep within Metropolis and other places might send in their stead an Incarnate instead, which while still powerful is a weaker presence compared to the being's actual power.  Archons, on the other hand, rarely use Incarnates and prefer to reach out and influence the world through Manifestations, such as war and bloodshed happening where the Archon of Death resides, and so on and so forth.

Crossing through the illusion and visiting Metropolis can be accomplished through cameras, mirrors, puzzles and sometimes by accident as some places in the world meld so easily into the Metropolis for one reason or another.  Paintings, portals, and pain at times allow us to open our eyes to see the Truth and expose to us a world we might have rather to have never seen.

Mental Balance is more than a measure of one's sanity.  It declares whether or not deep down you are a divine or demonic being and there are various system changes that occur as your Mental Balance rating moves beyond +/-100 (positive of course relating to Light and negative to Dark.)  There are times when these changes even allow you to shift time and space.

There is more than just the Metropolis to explore too.  There is the Inferno, the Dream Lands, and many other strange realms to explore.   And there are many cults and groups that know fragments of the puzzle of the Truth, and hopefully through them you can grasp how big the Lie actually is and break free.


There is a rich GM section in the book, giving adventure ideas, thoughts on how to incorporate madness, fear and other elements into your games.  And yes a very generous helping of sample characters, monsters and the like.  Overall, you got a lot to work with even with just the main book.

Rating Breakdown: Concept:  Deliciously frightening.  I love the mythology and I am impressed how they worked out the setting for the game.  I love the way Mental Balance works in the game and I was curious to see how players would react to explore such a setting.
Crunch:  Not as heavy as I expected.  While yes, the idea of spending 100 and 150 points during character creation sounds more frightening than say allocating 12 points (new World of Darkness attributes) or rolling for stats using three six-sided dice (Pathfinder), the spending doesn't cause too much of a headache.  Many will be struggling at first to embrace the idea that rolling a twenty on the 20-sided die is a disastrous failure, but otherwise, the system works very smoothly.
Layout:  I wish this was done better.  The original books were well written but was in desperate need of having certain portions grouped together instead of spread in their own chapters.  The newer versions of the books are just a pain to read, with frenetic backgrounds against laid out text that do not lend well to making things legible.
My favorite part:  Mental Balance.  I love how both Positive and Negative are insane (and staying on zero is the best way to stay sane), and yet offered unexplored powers and truths when you dive right into it.  Being able to role-play them is harder though and I wish they offered a guide in the game.
What I wish was better:  As mentioned above, I wish Mental Balance was explored better.  Perhaps a whole book on what insights having Mental Balance gives would have been awesome.  Or a guide book on how to portray them at certain stages.    But beyond that, I really really wish the new books were kinder to the eye.  You know there's something wrong when the books themselves do NOT allow you to read the rules faster.

Break free.  See past the Illusion.  Embrace the Kult.
Sadly the books are no longer in print.  But maybe if you look past the Illusion, you'll find a way. :-)

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

System Shopped: Giri - Houses of the Blooded

System Shopped: Houses of the Blooded
by Tobie Abad

I absolutely love John Wick's games.   Houses of the Blooded and Blood and Honor are both masterful games that truly encourage creativity, storytelling and drama in their own ways.  I did, however, find myself wishing that the Giri concept was also present in Houses of the Blooded.  For those who aren't familiar with Giri, the word means "duty" or "obligation" and in Blood and Honor, it represents what role you play in your Daimyo's Province.  In some ways, it is pretty much like a "class" the way there are fighters, mages, and the like in other games.   I understand Houses of the Blooded was to represent characters who cared little for such things, but I didn't see any harm in exploring adding it as an option for people who'd like to do so.

Each Giri has an associated Rank, and it can be advanced similar to ranks of vassals.

Each Giri provides three advantages:
First, you gain three bonus dice for any risks involving your duty.
Second, you gain an Ability you can use in the game.  This usually has a limited number of "uses" (usually equal to your Giri Rank), if not once per game.
And Lastly, you gain a second benefit based on your Giri.

The Giri, however (for the sake of Drama) have a price.  They instill a Compel which can be used as normal against you.

So without further ado, here are my attempts to create Giri options for Houses of the Blooded.

You have developed a thirst for bringing violence upon orks, and have no qualms of being drenched in their monstrous blood.  You delight in watching their hides tear, their bones shatter, and their eyes grow dim with death.  You gain three dice whenever you battle Orks.

Ability:  I know this breed.  You may take a Prowess + Ork Slayer Rank.  If you gain privilege, you may declare facts about the Ork similar to a Wisdom Risk, only your facts are related to the deadliness or vulnerabilities of the said Ork.  You may make only one Risk per Ork you face.

Benefit: I Fear Nothing with my Weapon.  So long as you have your Sword with you, you have free Courage wagers equal to the Sword's Rank against any Terror from the Ork you face.

Compel:  I Will Not Back Down. You can be compelled to never retreat from an Ork.  You must be victorious! Or die trying.

Words are deadly, more so when status carries the words, and few know this better than Ven such as yourself.  You are a member of the Senate, and your influence goes further far more than simply the votes you cast during sessions.  You gain three dice whenever you are in a social situation with non-Senators which is intended to cast you in a better light.

Ability:  The Law States.  As a Senator, in the absence of other Senators, you may redact, alter, edit, reinterpret or change anything said by another Ven (you need not pay them a style point, however the player must agree to let you do so) to make it sound more appealing and acceptable in the given situation.  You can only do this a number of times per game session equal to your Giri Rank.

Benefit:  Senatorial Favor.  Every game session, you have a number of favors you can call for equal to your Giri Rank.  These favors are represented as boons and requests that you may ask of any other non-playing non-Senator character which shall be repaid before the end of the session.

Compel:  Appearances Are Vital. You can be forced into silence, knowing to say something might endanger your position in the Senate.

Unlike most Ven, you understand the Veth have their uses. You treat them as friends (though they understand they will never truly be your equal) and extend to them compassion and sensitivity.  In return, they shower you with loyalty and trust.  You gain three dice whenever you are in a social situation with Veth.

Ability:  They Share Their Knowledge.  Once per game session, you may declare truths equal to your Giri Rank about another Ven even before you make a Wisdom Risk.    These are truths about the Ven which the Veth have shared to you.  There just are so many things the Ven do openly before the Veth, thinking they would never dare talk to others about, after all.

Benefit:  There is Always at least One Present.  The Veth are always present in the background, cleaning or doing various services.  You may designate any discussion or event which you were not present in as something the Veth observed and report to you.  You may do this a number of times per game equal to your Giri rank.

Compel:  Enough. You tend to embarrass yourself before other Ven, and speak openly against any act of oppression or cruelty directed at the Veth.

You desire their favor.  You hunger for their Blessings.  While you know you can only serve so many, you seek to expand your Devotion towards them as an act of living, rather than as a moment of penitence.  And in return, they bless you.  They reward you.  You gain three dice in social situations whenever you are relating socially with any Ven who also are Devoted to the Suaven you serve.

Ability:  Dreams of the Suaven.  The Suaven speak to you with more frequent dreams.  Any time within a game session (preferably after a scene where you portrayed yourself praying, meditating or sleeping), you make declare a prediction that one of the Suaven supposedly had whispered to you.  If the prediction occurs, any Ven who participated to support its occurrence gain extra dice equal to your Giri Rank.

Benefit:  I Know Who You Do Not Serve.  For a number of times equal to your Giri Rank, you may in a game declare knowledge if a particular Ven does not serve the Suaven you serve.  

Compel:  Prostate Yourself.  You are so afraid of losing the Suaven's favor, that at times you take actions to further your Devotion even at less opportune moments.

You cannot stop.  The pangs of passion and the challenge of the hunt always call you.  The seventy four kinds of kisses cannot be ignored.  You must try.  You must win.  You gain three dice during any rolls to Initiate a Romance.

Ability:  I Actually Meant "This."  You are so adept in the games of Romance you can reattempt a failed Risk if the roll was in relation to a task in a Romance.  You can basically add dice up to your Giri Rank, post roll, and try to still achieve Privilege.  You can only do this once per game session.

Benefit:  The Right Moment.  You can steal a kiss.  An embrace.  A touch of hand against thigh.  And no one catches that moment.  You may do this for a number of times in a game session equal to your Giri Rank.

Compel:  Another Comes.  You find a new desire.  You must end the current one.  Now.

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