Friday, May 31, 2013

The Gossamer Saga e02 : Homebrewed System

The Gossamer Saga : Revolution

Episode Two

Home-brewed Game

The Cast is as follows:
Kale, played by Rachel.
He is a young messenger boy who makes up for his lack of Courage with a lot of Cunning. He travels between regions to deliver messages and parcels.

Quince, played by Erich.
He is an apiarist. He has always had a greater connection to the bees than his fellow men. His lack of Beauty made it even harder to reach out and relate to him.

Larkspur, played by Mahar.
She is a farm girl with a strong religious streak. Her being devoid of Cunning made her very upfront and bold of her opinions.

Ash, played by me.
She is a fourteen year-old assassin with little recall of her previous family. She awoke buried under a pile of dead corpses, with faint recollections of three faces. She had no true Wisdom of the world.


The group finds themselves standing upon the very surface of the water.  Ballouise speaks to us and informs us that the city at the horizon is the city of Prosperity.   We are told today is a day we are challenged to fulfill a task:  to find a person named Magda.

Faraker will be with the group, and while Kale seems pretty excited about this prospect, Larkspur clearly disdains Ballouise for setting this up.

"I think I got this now. Everybody close your eyes," Faraker tells the group and uses his magic to transport the group to the city.  In a flash, everyone is gone.

Kale and Ash find themselves on the deck of a ship.  The ship is in the act of mooring when the two arrived, and a number of burly men with armor and weapons stare at them - clearly bothered by their sudden appearance.  Ash grabs Kale's arm as she realizes the language of the men is not even familiar.  Worried she instinctively uses her magic to perceive the man's weakness:  His foot is horrifically afflicted with bad athlete's foot and infection.  One step could disable him.  Unfortunately, he holds it away from others.

Even the crest above on the ship is unfamiliar.  Eventually, a man steps forward and happens to speak their language.  As he asks who they are, Ash tries to mislead him by claiming to have stowed away from the vessel.  "Most vessels would not have allowed a woman on board."  Ash even claims that Kale is her father, but the man admits he thinks Kale is a woodsman or ranger.  Kale offers his services to him, but the man clearly knows the gig is up.  He commands his soldiers to chain the two and while Ash considered bringing the events to a fight, Kale tells Ash to calm down.  "It is easier to escape than to fight our way out."

In Prosperity, Larkspur and Quince appear beside the display of fresh fish in the Marketplace.  The seller starts barking at them, angry that the display was damaged by their arrival.  Quince does the unthinkable; He picks up the fish the woman complains over, and stuffs it into her open mouth! As the woman struggles to get the fish out, Larkspur futilely tries to convince him to stop.  But once the old woman pries out the fish and calls for the guards.  Quince stuffs the fish right back in to shut her up.  "She is a nuisance," Quince calmly explains.

Larkspur decides to calmly call on the gentling aspect of Order, touches the woman and makes her forget the last thirty minutes, feeling the glow of the bright one's love. The two walk away from the stunned people in the market.  "I don't want him to fish choke someone else," Larkspur admits.    As the two look around some more, Larkspur tries asking about the Bright One's temple in the city.  The question frustrates Quince, who complains about her being noisy.  When they ask the man about Magda and he does not share information, Quince interprets the man's actions as being a conscious effort to be in their way.  The man calls for the guards before Quince muffles him into silence.  When he still admits to having no information to share, he ponders on whether it might have been more efficient to just kill him.    The city guards arrive, and the two duck into a corner to hide.

Larkspur recalls the lessons from the Gossamer Tower, and recalls her homeland.  She recalls the connections of people back there and tries to perceive the connection that may exist to Magda.  Images form in her head as she sees a  leprous man, sees rich sultan-type people, sees the image of a tent that is drab and gray -  a travelling tent amid a sea of multi-colored tents.  Larkspur can see the western rampart of the city in the images and realizes, "I have an inkling of where Magda is."  They go to a side alley.

Quince, however, is uncertain. "The wasps have been roused.  You must get caught.  You will not stay caught for long."  Someone points at them.  Pikemen switch to a single file to go down the alleyway.  Larkspur stares at them like a caught gazelle.  The Pikemen call out, "Stop in the name of the Regent."

"What is it with this place? Women don't know their place, men don't know their place.  And they don't know their god,"  Larkspur challenges them.

"Stop that. You are worse than my wife."

The Pikemen ask about the chaos in the marketplace, and Larkspur feigns lacking any knowledge of that incident.  She claims to having never eaten fish either.  When the Pikemen insist she accompany them to answer their questions, she makes a huge scene as she tries to convince them to distract the guards and guide her back to the caravanserai where her "family" are waiting.

Back at the ship, Ash and Kale are brought below the deck.  But before they are locked in, they both notice the large number of soldiers present onboard.  Kale peers out the window and sees the signal flags, but sadly fails to recall how to read them.  The Ship seems to have come from Prime Caerdine itself.   There's no denying this is a military vessel.  The two break a stack of crates to see what is inside, and they find food, uniforms and armor inside of the opened crate.  Both hide behind the door, waiting for the guards to come in so they could pounce on them, but sadly the guards are far smarter than they expected and choose to wait outside.

When the guards return, an archer shows up and forces the two to surrender.  The General meets with them again, but rather than punish them for trying to escape, merely orders them to take a seat on the longboat.  The group then paddles to the city.

Larkspur arrives at the western camp with the guards escorting her.  Gypsies begin annoying her with offers for trinkets, charms and the like.  Quince "meets" with Larkspur who then convinces the guards to let her go. As they consider their next steps, a young child walks up to Larkspur and begs for money.  Hoping to create a tiny miracle to help the child, she takes her apron and tries to transmute it into a sandwich.  Failing, the child takes the apron and quickly mutters, You are supposed to do it this way!" and changes it into a sandwich!  Another guy nearby proclaims as well and has birds fly from his hands.  Another motions and light flashes from his hands as he vanishes.  Many start performing tricks around them.

Quince mutters to Larkspur, "They respect deception.  Deceive them and they will respect you."  Larkspur calls out that she is looking for Magda, because her friend owes Magda money, and she suggests there will be a reward for whoever helps her.

"Is that a promise," a child asks.

"The reward to find Maga?  One fifth."

"Never deal in percentages," the child mutters.

"That is a fraction," Quince counters.

"How about that pretty gem, Can I have the gem?" the child asks, and motions towards the gem embedded in Larkspur's throat.

"No, it might hurt you," Larkspur admits.

"Magda is kinda grumpy.  What to tell her?"

"An old friend of hers sent us."

"Which friend?" the child asks.

People gasp as Larkspur muters the name Ballouise.  They talk about "The Bright One being Ballouise."  Quince questions Larkspur's choice to drop to her knees in prayer, claiming it looks like she is waiting for execution.

Back at boat, Ash finds herself thinking of Staniga.  Kale uses his magic to alter himself to be able to run away very fast.  He takes the moment the longboat reaches the port to pick Ash up and run away.  Armies are at the docks.  He runs for quite some time, traversing the city as much as he can to bring them both away from the port side, but eventually he trips over a man on ground.  The beggar starts complaining about what happened, but Ash confronts him and hands him a broken shard of porcelain.  "Force man to think if he should kill himself, and if he fights to live then he is reborn."  She pisses on some clothes, tears it to shreds, and suggests that Kale follow her lead and dress as lepers.  At least that way the guards themselves would stay clear of them.

Kale tries to reach out to the others with the use of the totems, similar to how they did so back in the Tower.  Sadly, he fails to do so.  They overhear a man complaining about stolen horses.  Ash approaches him and easily steals away his money pouch.  The two then head west, deciding to go there and hopefully ask some of the other vagabonds for information.

With the two others already at the west, Larkspur tries to think of her homeland once again, hoping to recall the Bright One, but the area seems to be getting darker.    "Unless the darkness is Magda," Larkspur queries.

"It is not Magda," a voice mutters.

Behind her, a short old woman stands.  Her back is weighed down by a with pack of things.  Larkspur turns around and realizes the two of them were now in some blanket fort.  They discuss matters of Faith, of Mission, and while the two carry a conversation, Magda somehow just turns her head to start a conversation with Quince, who seemingly still stands in the western area.  Larkspur finds herself lost in the blanket fort.

"Why did I need to be found?"  Magda admits she wonders about that, "Why are you following Ballouise?"
Larkspur beings to see her reflections as that of Ballouise.  Reflections of the Bright one.  Larkspur mentally contests it, proclaiming that the Bright One is not Ballouise.  Magda raises the thought that religion is merely something functional.  It is an opinion Larkspur refuses to accept.

Magda offers them a boon.  However, she reminds them,  "MY magick can only extend so far.  I am not all powerful."  Quince asks to understand what hive the Little Queen belongs to.  Larkspur says she will think about it.   Quince is handed a clear vial : 3 drops in blood to know where "she" is from.
They were all actually in the tent.

Ash and Kale arrive at the western side, and with the gypsies and beggars closing in, Ash shows Kale how to handle them.  She shows the money she had stolen from the man who lost his horses, and offers to pay them to lead them to who ever was "in charge."  They meet the "King of the Hill" who admits to being impressed with how she called for him.  She mentions they are looking for two people who were searching for Magda, and the man tells them they were here.  He hands her a "bright blue feather" to keep as a sign they had met, and she gives him the money.  He offers her a knife as well.

In a crowded area, Ash however stars seeing  Larkspur all around.  Kale starts seeing everyone looking like Quince.  Magda taunts them as she tests them, but Ash in a frantic attempt to regain control, slashes the throat of the nearest Larkspur!  Thankfully, they are just illusions.  Magda throws Ash in an illusionary version of Staniga, but Ash catches it as a fake.  "The smell is all wrong," she tells him.  Ash challenges Magda to show her the tower, but Magda admits to having never been there.  "Why are you here?"

Faraker is then revealed.  Shadows part and he is sitting at a nearby table and eating.  Magda offers the same boon to the others, and Kale decides to ask about his father.  "Is he still in the continent?"  Larkspur finally asks for her boon.  She asks for the blasphemous Ballouise to end, that none recognize her for the Bright One.  "If you can make me one with the Bright One's truest form, then why not?"    Ash stares at Larkspur, curious to why she'd use the word "recognize" rather than "confuse".

Magda hands Kale a mirror.  She tells him that it will allow him to see what his father sees.  She hands Larkspur a cloak, and tells her, "Wear this and Ballouise's influence will fail, for as long as you wear it."  Ash considers at first learning who the three blurry faces in her jumbled memories are, but she realizes she would rather embrace the future than seek the past.  She asks Magda for a weapon that can never be taken, a weapon that can cut lies or lives.  Magda tells her that "At a time of need, when you are ready, it will be there."

Magda vanishes.  The group sees an army on the street approaching.  They rush to the nearest house to hide and realize something magically blocks them from returning to the Gossamer Tower.   Quince watches from the second floor to try to see how far the army goes (all the way to the far end of the road).  While Larkspur decides to start cooking something for dinner, Ash and Quince consider options to escape.  The heraldry of the army is unfamiliar.  They are detached from the main country.  Though they are not occupying the city, it is clear they are here for a greater purpose.  Larkspur uses her magic to peer and sees the "web" that blocks their escape.

The group decides to wait it out.

Hours pass as the parade moves, and by nightfall, the parade is over.  Military patrols instead are about.  The group uses their totems to return to the Gossamer Tower, and there find Gorval waiting for them.  He admits he seems bothered by the sigil on the uniforms which Ash and Kale hand to him - the uniforms they had stolen from the ship's crates.   He admits to them that the trip to the city was a test from Dawn.


Back at the tent district, night is falling.

The city is turning in for the night, and the imperial force left behind stands there to augment the city's defenders.  The groups are centered around the docks all through-out the city of Prosperity.  A lone figure goes to the grey tent surrounded by a sea of colored ones.  Magda's tent.

The Captain from the boat enters the tent and finds Magda seated on a chair.
"You took your time to get here," Magda chides the Captain, "Brought a lot of friends too.  Why are you here?  And what can I do for you?"

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Expectations as a Player

Expectations as a Player
by Tobie Abad

While I do not often play in games (I really deep down prefer running games), I've come to realize what expectations I have as a player when I choose to play.  While my article on this topic is neither a "this is what players should get" nor "this is the correct way for players to be treated," I do hope that those who read this find some new insight (or if not insight, at least confirmation) on what a player might be hoping to find when he takes part in a session.

1) I want my moments in the spotlight
I understand that there are different kinds of games, with some favoring drama, others favoring realism, and while we can spend hours debating on game theory, at the end of the day if I ever play in a game, I want to have my moment in the spotlight.  This doesn't mean I expect to be proclaimed the hero in the story, or be showered salutations in a scene.  This does, however, mean I will have that shining moment when a scene might focus on me for a few turns and I get to do something cool.

And that directly slides to my second entry.

2) I want to be cool in something I am supposed to be cool at.
Yes, sometimes the dice can be wicked.  Sometimes we just don't have the dice rolling in our favor.  Or sometimes, the game feels better having that realistic touch where no one really has a "safe from dying" clause.  However, as a player, I expect to matter in a field which I had my character be in.  If I am playing a doctor, I expect to have a scene where my character's medical expertise would matter.  If I was playing an occultist, I expect that I get to roll in relation to the stats that I have that are higher than others.

And that leads swiftly to the third entry.

3) I expect to matter.
Every role-playing game is a story that involves a number of characters and typically the players are the "unfortunate souls" that have been pulled by circumstances to deal with the matter.  And so, I expect to matter.  I hate games where my character's successes and failures are insignificant.  While I know some games might embrace such a theme (such as Call of Cthulhu or games set in major wars), while I might not change the entire course of the events, I would like to at least matter in the battle I was involved in.   Maybe my solider-formerly-a-math-teacher failures to save Europe from Hilter.  But at least my soldier valiantly dies to save that family of three hiding in the farm.

In return, I have expectations of myself as well which I always remind myself to fulfill.

1) I expect to be engaged in the game.
While I usually have a laptop in front of me (since even in games which I don't run, I tend to be the sound engineer who plays music to add to the scene), I don't spend the game time surfing on facebook or chatting with other people.  I might be online googling more information or trivia I'd love to add into the game.  Or reading up on the game books to further get familiar with the game setting.  But I do show my game masters that I am engaged in the session and interested in how the story unfolds.

2) I expect to find my way to be engaged with the story.
While I might have the freedom to explore the setting the way sandbox games like Grand Theft Auto do, there will always eventually come that point when the game master starts to guide the narrative and support key instances that build up into a greater story.   Maybe what starts as a free-form plot starts taking shape as the game master throws hints that the house helper ins't quite what she seems to be.  As a player, I know I am expected to be engaged, whether or not as a character I would normally hang around to find out what is going on.  So I, as a player, will have to do my part in keeping the game fun - whether it means actively choosing to investigate on the matter, or actively reaching out to find someone who can since my character doesn't feel he is in the best position to do so.

But I don't just go "I leave, I want nothing to do with this."  Because that is a total lack of willingness to be engaged in the story.  And to be frank, that's a dick move that says, "Find another player."

3) I expect to make it fun for my co-players and gm.
Role-playing games are cathartic, yes, but if one uses the game to just frak up other people, then one plain and simple is doing it wrong.  Usually I am of the mindset that there is no "right way to play" a game.  But I will admit that there is a wrong way to play any game, and that is to play it in a way that intentionally destroys the fun that other people in the game are enjoying.

Even competitive games are less about fraking up the other players, and more about challenging each other to see who can win.  There's a huge difference between the two.

Do you have your own list of expectations?
I'd love to hear what they are.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Exalted 3rd edition and Rape.

MAJOR EDIT (May 28,2013):   Faith in Holden restored.
Here's a screen cap with the statement, as well as my comments.

I apologize for the bad formatting, but my response starts at the "Thank you.  That clears things up for me more" line.  I also included below other comments from him.

And the response to John really makes me see things clarified better.
Thank you Holden.  

(Previous post not deleted below for archival purposes)

This really bothers me.

I have no problems with exploring mature themes and dark issues in a game.
In fact, I've done that many times.  Very many times.

But this comment really bothers me.

So when rape happens, it was the victim's fault?  The victim gets seduced by a supernatural predator who can use sex to enslave him/her, and it is their fault for "allowing" themselves to think it was a good idea to sleep with that person?

Something is very wrong here.
Very wrong.

I really hope Holden clarifies this.  Because to be honest, I respect him and his ideas for the game.  But if this is the true personal view he has towards rape, then I am truly reconsidering if I want to financially help support someone who believes the victim is at fault in a rape scenario.

Five Inspirations: The God-Machine Chronicle

Person of Interest : The God Machine allies with Mortals

Silent Hill : The hidden world of machinery

Aphex Twin : Their music fits perfectly for God Machine games

Pi : Mathematics as more than just equations

Indifference Engine : Interesting comic book story line worth exploring with the God Machine Chronicles

Saturday, May 25, 2013

In Flux e02 : Shadows of Esteren

In Flux
Episode Two
"Donan's Journal - Trapped between a child and a hard place"

My name is Donan Roik.
I am an Investigator.

And recent events have made me realize that the world hides more frightening things in the light than in the shadows.  Oh where to begin.    My trip to the North was definitely not a smooth one.  And as I mentioned in my earlier entry, some conspiracy concerning a Northerner named Liam and his wife-to-be Gilana have pulled me into its web.  Even worse, Liam's brother, one of the Demorthen clearly showed a lack of trust towards me - which while I was used to, was definitely something that would be listed in the book of "Things that may lead to Donan's demise."  And then there was Rashid, whom like myself was tangled in the threads, but unlike me had every capacity to survive if he ever had to escape into the woods.

Dire potents indeed, oh Donan.

So, I offered a plan which I felt was fool-proof enough:  Liam and Gilana were to "expose me" to the town as having been captured for conspiracy against the lovely woman.  And they were to "kill" me before the gathered crowd.  An act, of course, which I was more than ready to portray.  And a body to be switched later with one of the corpses in whatever constitutes in this place as the city tomb.  Or catacomb.  Oh the North.  Why do you lack such common city comforts?

And as quickly as my educated mind has produced such a wonderful plan do these Northern savages disassemble it with their own choice of action:  a secret wedding.  Gilana opts to marry Liam in a secret ceremony.  And Rashid and I were to be the witnesses.  Of course, I have no choice but to agree.  Anything to settle this Northern journey as soon as possible was an option in my book.

The following night begins with Liam.. oh darn, his Lordship Liam and the Lady Gilana entertaining guests.  Liam, Rashid and I discuss the strange scent that Rashid seems to emit upon contact with me.  (On a side note:  Rashid's eyes betray an unspoken concern.  He looks at me with the eyes of someone who has either witnessed some atrocity such as a child cutting herself, or of me visiting him in his bed once again.  Knowing the Varigal, however, he would have probably held me down and tied me up if I had.)  I ponder on what could be causing this smell to emit, and find myself wishing I understood more matters of Science, Magience and Faith.

While Rashid and I share our thoughts on what the bride Gilana was going through, we can hear dogs barking in the distance.  A glance reveals the dogs agitated around the vicinity of the temples.  I admit to Rashid quickly that we had kissed prior to our leaving Osta-Baille.  But I confess that despite my typically ravenous appetite, I turned down his advances. I am one to recognize the drunken stupor of another, or the desire of a drug-addled puppet.  Rashid was clearly not approaching me out of want.  The dogs do not stop and as I peek once again, I see a man running from the temple, partly dressed in the manner of the priests.  His pace, however, distinctly captures how I have run many times from husbands and aghast wives.  Perhaps the man was searching for treasure and instead found priestly jewels in his hands.  (Come to think of it, I have never had a priest as of yet.)

Enough.  To stay in this crazy place is to invite the Feondas into my bed.  I suggest to Rashid that it be best we leave, and ask him if he would escort me back.  He reminds me he does not work for me however, and I realize I might have to juggle things around to safely find my way home.    I visit the newly weds once again to say my goodbyes - clearly my plans are no longer in action, so when the mind's stratagem falls apart, the body best make a move at once.  Gilana, unfortunately finds it fit to throw me a lashing of her understanding of Faith, truth, and the world.  I simply explain that for me, truth is the search for answers and faith is belief despite the absence of answers.  The ultimate goal of truth would be the destruction of the need for faith, and the eventual destruction of the temple.   Clearly, however, Gilana desires to regain some sense of control given the events that surround her perfect little world.  So I've decided to feign my being silenced by her words and give her that victory.

A tavern.  A good stout drink would be perfect.  Rasid and I head to the nearest place and find two others who stand out like sore thumbs.  (There's a certain look these Northerners carry, that much I can tell.)  We introduce ourselves to the two and learn of their names:  Glenn is the giant of a man whose wrist seems thicker than my thigh.  I can only wonder about any other proportions in secret.  His companion, Niall, seems to carry that Varigal look to him.  It takes me but a second to recognize him as the man running from the temple.  I throw pleasantries around, discussing women and how a crossbow was used in an assassination attempt (All right, I confess I did gander a few attempts to learn Glenn's actual shoe size) and inform the two that I have been exiled and work my magic to convince the barkeep to throw in a free round for all.  Rashid, ever the fun defecator, confronts Niall about his membership among the Varigal as he makes a huge point about the man hiding his walking stick.  Or staff.  Or whatever that Varigal tool happens to be.  Niall seems perturbed by this, and commits to leaving with Glenn in tow.  But as he throws the barkeep a Frost to pay for their own drinks, I catch the coin and pocket it.  Hey, the barkeep DID offer to pay a free round to all, after all.

My thoughts harken back for a moment on Liam and his new bride.   She probably would be telling him all her actions were just to test him.  Women.  Sometimes, you cannot help but wonder if they are the thing we fear and call the Feondas.

The journey is longer.  And given neither Varigal are actually paid by me (to quote Niall, "We just happen to be taking the same route"), I am thankful that my noisy wet antics with both fruit and fauna distract them all from the fact that they have been sharing me their secret roads for free.  

Okay, I lie.  I always wanted to try raping a melon.  I wasn't aware the seeds would make it feel so... exotically sticky.

We return to Osta-Baille quite safely.  Knowing my return would probably once again be the target of some machinations, perhaps by whathername Corrie herself, I decided to keep my pants packed and instead come as a woman.  Note to self:  the three did not raise curiosity or concern at my comfort for cross-dressing.  They should be companions for future journeys.

Of course, the two Varigal head straight to the Charter House to settle their issues.  And while there, I decide to try sell some information.  Of course, this old crone of a woman sasses me up and questions my authenticity.  I try a misdirect, a sway, and she seems to catch my every twist.  Someone refers to her as the Doyen, and I realize she's probably someone of a certain position among these rangers.  I suggest there is a growing danger in the North, and she questions if my information is true.  Thankfully Rashid is nearby enough to confirm that I was recently up north.  Gaining her attention, however, he slides the discussion instead towards Naill's act of hiding his walking stick.  And when the Doyen's questions fail to gain the answers she hopes for, I remind her she can always hire an Investigator for answers.

I catch Niall's expression and clearly see he wishes someone could pull him out of the issue.  I throw him back his own Frost and declare my thanks for bringing me safely back from the North.  When the Doyen attempts to hire me now for the truth, I tell her first that everything she has heard is a lie for I am no woman, second is that the two were never hired but instead merely traveled with me on the same road, and that any other information desired will now have to be paid for with full rates.  "Find me," I told her and walked out.

While I admit I doubt the old hag would realize I just questioned her capacity to grasp facts, I still personally feel I got my revenge.  I leave the Varigal with the Doyen to discuss things on their own, and sadly, from this point on my life takes a far less preferred road.

She is barely two winters old, based on her appearance.  But her eyes seem far older and her arrogance even more so.  The child somehow, walks up to me, and grabs my arm even before I notice her approach.  Fine, I was talking to the hulking mountain Glenn, but this child not only got close to me... she TOUCHED me before I could sense her.  That is impossible.  Simply impossible.  That is beyond natural.

I panic.  I pull away with a lot of screaming and panic.  Glenn chases after me, as he tries to explain why this thing refers to him as her Uncle.  But as we stop half a block away to discuss things, a pebble falls onto my shoulder.  I look up and see the same child sitting on the rooftop above me.  The SAME child.  This is not possible.  Not natural.

I draw my battle axe out of utter fear.  I yell at Glenn to stay away from me.  And the guards of Osta-Baille, in their infinite wisdom, approach me and question why a woman would draw an axe within the city's confines, rather than imagine a woman would draw a weapon out of utter fear of this giant of a man that is reaching for her.  The guards follow me.  I keep walking.  Anywhere I can get away from this.. this thing...

The guards.  These inept, stupid, uneducated, arrogant and illiterate men.  They accost me a few blocks away and ask more dumb questions.  Not in the mood to answer, I just tell them to take the damned weapon.  One offers to give some form of receipt for me to retake the weapon, but knowing that would probably entangle me more under whatever bureaucratic unwritten threads they can think of, I tell them to just keep it.  (I can always find a way to take a new one.)

The child returns.  This time, however, my angers gets the better of me.  Rather than run, I stand and do what I do best.  Learn.  I hide my observances under a guise of panic and chatter.  I draw out that she is called  Kethis and get her to talk about the world not being in balance, and that their kind exist to bring back that balance.  Now I am no fool.  I know the difference between balance and justice.  Balance is giving everyone, regardless of their size and appetites a single loaf of bread to eat.  Some get sated, some remain starving, and some never eat bread and it goes to waste.  Balance is not what the world needs.   Justice, perhaps more.   I tell it I care nothing about the world.  I care only about my life.  "The world may fall for all I want."  I ask Kethis what if I worked for those it was against and it admits I do not even know who those are.  "In the end," she reminds me, "There will always be more Kethis."

I can only wonder what happens when Niall and Rashid speak with Glenn.  He would probably tell them that his niece was in town.  Niall would probably suggest she speak with Rashid, thinking Rashid's antisocial nature would drive her away.

I decide to deal with something instead that I can understand.  Cormarel owes me answers.  I change my clothes and pretend to be a woman hoping to work as a maid. I easily convince the other helpers to let me in.  I notice the magience that illuminates the home and quickly discern that she has an alchemist.  I learn that the third floor is deemed off-limits.  I convince one of the maids to let me upstairs, and quietly maneuver myself to her bed chamber.  I learn she has a guest right now, but I cannot see who it is.  Instead, I feign having lost the "present Master Donan requested I deliver to the lady" and have the maid head back down to find it.  And I slide into her room, steal three new notebooks to add to my growing collection, and then strip off my clothes and lie on the bed.  Let's face it, it has been long enough since I had warm flesh between my skin.  Might as well hit two birds with one stone.

I eventually learn from the others that they were setting down to rest, after some protracted drama with the Doyen.  A glass bead of some sort dropped from one of their packs, and Rashid catches it melt into the ground.  When Glenn touches Rashid, the contact once again results in a strange emotional explosion from him.   Later that night, from where the oil bead fell, a hand emerged.  Niall awoke the others and faced some strange green man.  He claims he has been waiting for them, and makes mention of some kind of necklace as being the source of the bead.

Rashid loosed an arrow upon the figure, and green ichor spilled out.  Rashid muttered the word Feondas thrice and the green gathered into a marble.  Niall and Glenn rushed out, not wanting to confront it further, but it taunted Niall about how they were all friends and grew up together.  Rashid, however, plucked the bead from the ground and pocketed it.  And while Rashid suggested they stay at the guildhouse instead for safety, Niall countered that Glenn would not be allowed inside.

But yeah, let us go back to focus on the more important part of the narrative: me.  I throw my accusations towards Cormarel.  I admit I clearly failed to sleep with her, which Cormarel clarifies that I clearly failed to make her sister unholy.  I demand answers for two questions and the bitch relents.  On the question of where she stands if I tried to kill the Kethis, she admits that she would rather run.  I take note how she clearly was aware of the Kethis and never even bothered to ask how I knew of its existence.    On the second question, I ask if anything can be done to still shatter her sister's purity.  She claims it is too late and perhaps to drive me away, begins screaming for the guards to come.

I leave, switching my nudity with the priestly robes that Niall had worn and ditched during our journey back to Osta-Baille.  I can still recall her screams as I leapt from roof top to roof top.

The three had it lucky, as they found shelter in some inn and had a quiet night's sleep.  I, on the other hand, slept at the wet market among the baskets and old folded rags.   News of Cormarel's intruder spread in the city quite quickly, with the strange new fact about her hair having turned white out of utter fear.  That, admittedly, was a detail I was completely oblivious to.  Messengers had been sent to inform her family, but interestingly no Varigal were tasked to take the job.   With a few well chosen words, I gather some fruits for the day's hunger, and bless some family for their newborn child.  I suggest they name the child, "Kethis" claiming it means "The one blessed with balance."  As far as I see it, words have power, but only if their meaning remains what they want it to be.  So to fight these things, one thing I can do is make the meaning something i rather it was.

I see Glenn.  Here to gather supplies for a long journey, I approach him and offer to help him in his shopping.     He tells me of Niall's hopes of grabbing jobs that lead the furthest away from here, and unfortunately those jobs had been red-marked by the Doyen.  I eventually hear about how Rashid raises his frustration with the younger Vargial, and how the Doyen instead switches things about and has Rashid, who kept pushing for the traditions and customs of the Varigal to be maintained, ends up becoming assigned to follow instead Niall.  It probably is some kind of Varigal logical flow of thought that only makes sense if one has survived the wild as they do, cause I really didn't quite grasp it.  "Varigals lead, not follow," the Doyen supposedly told them - which makes me wonder why they have someone leading them in the first place.

When I finally meet the others once again, I learn about the Feondas, and about the strange emotional surges that seem to rise whenever Rashid is touched.  Some personal matter unfolds next, when Glenn's mother is brought to the scene by the Doyen - the matter they discuss concerns something and sadly the only thing I gathered was about the mother someone knowing how to block someone's scent.    I was more fascinated by the three stones that were at her throat area.  I wonder if they denote a rank of status or something.

Of course, the Doyen then turns to me and finally hires me.  She asks me to learn the truth of the matter, raising that these two varigal cannot be counted to report the truth.  I admit to partly being tempted to mutter, "But that's cause they aren't following you, they're leading their own paths," but I knew to say that would be to lose my opportunity of having them escort me safely again.   I remind the Doyen of my fees and she claims carte blanche on all the costs.  I would have liked to smile and embrace it as a blessing, but money not paid upfront tends to become money I never get paid in the end.


I receive a package.  Cormarel visits and her white-hair and older face seem to be true and not just some mix of wax and dye.  I stay in the crowd and leave the Doyen to speak with her, and soon am told that a brown package has been left for me.  Me specifically.  Inside, I find a tome.  Intricate knotwork in the front. Carving upon the cover.  There is an image of Gilana on the cover.  Her eyes are of amber.  Glenn looks bothered by the book and Niall wants to have nothing to do with it.

I wonder about its contents.  And I recall my talk with Gilana.
The truth reveals things.  Unveils faith.
Destroys temples.

The truth is not a kind thing.

And I've just been paid a lifetime of treasure to learns a truth that might stretch far back from a time even before I was even born.

I will get rid of that damned Kethis.  And I will get my revenge on that Cormarel for plunging me into such a crazy life.   And once both of those things are settled, I will pay Rashid, Glenn and Niall a lifetime worth of Frost to leave me alone and never bother me with their problems ever again.

And yes, I will make sure the Doyen foots the damned bill.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Review: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game 3rd Edition

Review: DC Heroes Role-Playing Game 3rd Edition 
by Greg Gorden, Sam Lewis & Brian Reid, Ray Winniger with Thomas Cook, Bryan Nystul and other contributors.
Mayfair Games Inc.
Rating: ★★★★

This is an ancient game.   Published back in 1993, this game might seem strange to the new generation of gamers out there who are much more used to rules-lite games, but trust me when I say few games can approach the super hero genre and scale well enough to represent young human characters like Robin as well as godlike personalities such as Morpheus, the King of Dreams himself.  This game succeeds in that.  And that is saying a lot.  It doesn't mirror things in a realistic level.  Rather it captures how it feels in comic books and that is one of the best places where the game shines.

Once again, note the date of publication.  This is an out-of-print book which I personally wish more people can get a chance to play.  The game system was kept alive by the Blood of Heroes RPG, but given it no longer uses the popular heroes of the DC Universe, your fun mileage may vary.

The MEGS System
The game uses the MEGS system, which means Mayfair Exponential Game System.  The system has all measurements in a logarithmic scale, to allow them to be easily scaled up and down to represent threats and complications as appropriate in a scene.  The unit of measure for the scale is called APs ("Attribute Points") with each unit on the scale representing roughly double the previous unit.    So if a hero, for example has Strength at 8APs, someone with 9APs was roughly twice as strong as the first hero.    For a better written write up on how this system works across measurements of weight, speed, and distance, check out this wikipedia page.

But basically, thanks to this scale, having a group of players who are using characters based on the Teen Titans, for example, can be sent to challenge someone with a power level equal to Superman, and still be played with out the system falling apart.

Characters have nine main Attributes (three for Physical, three for Mental and the last three for Social/Spiritual stats), with these divided into three specific columns.   The first column represents the Acting/Opposing values (for example, Dexterity for Physical actions) while the second column represents the Effect values (such as Will for Mental Actions) and the last column represents the Resistance value (such as Spirit for Social/magical actions).  When a character tries to do anything, they usually cross-reference the Acting value against the Opposing value of the other character to get the target number for a two ten-sided dice roll.  The sum of the dice are compared to the target number (there's a chart to make it easier, but there's actually a way to mentally do it with just math) to see if you succeeded.  And for every three above the target number, you earn what are called Column Shifts, which can modify the success.   If you succeed, you then compare the Effect value to the Resistance value on the second chart and see the amount of RAPs you score.  Column shifts adjust these as appropriate, and the final value of RAPs earned are then applied to the appropriate Resistance value as damage.  Once that value is reduced to zero (because, yes, the game has three "damage tracks" to consider as you can be defeated physically, mentally, or social/spiritually), you are in danger of falling unconscious.

With this universal approach to the system, it can become very quick to grasp once you get past the initial hurdle of understanding it.  

It can sometimes boil down to Hero Points
To represent moments of great luck, heroic focus and the like, we have Hero Points.  Heroes earn Hero Points for doing heroic acts and for fulfilling subplots.  These points can then later be spent to increase the character's overall stats, or be used up during a game session to boost one's rolls.  (You are allowed to boost any four of the values for one round, but only up to double the rating.)  This allows those moments when Bat-man uses his Martial Arts to misdirect Solomon Grundy's punch, for example, or for Robin to use his gymnastics skill well-enough to dodge the super speed-empowered blows of an enemy speedster.

Genre Switches
Given the black and whiteness ideally explored in comics (although the game system does provide options for more grayer games), heroes are expected to never engage in Killing combat.  All attacks and strikes are assumed to be intended to just knock an opponent out, save for certain key attack types (such as edged attacks) and the player MUST declare they are engaging in Killing Combat to kill a foe.  Heroes who engage in Killing Combat automatically lose ALL Hero Points as punishment, which acts as a nice reminder of the cost of being a hero.  But again, the game does have small rule adjustments for those who want to run something less like Silver Age superheroism and something more like the Mature Reader lines that feature more violent anti-heroes who do embrace killing as a necessity.

We Got LOTS of Powers 
The main book offers a LOT of powers to choose from, and these can be modified with the Bonuses and Limitations system to further tailor the powers.  For example, a typical power is an Energy Blast, which can represent everything from a blast of force from one's hands to an explosion of energy from one's mouth, etc.  But if you wanted to represent something like Darkseid's Omega Beams, which act like heat-seeking eye blasts, you can purchase your Energy Blast power with the appropriate Bonuses to do so.  These overall make the power more expensive to buy, but nicely allow for such variety and personalization.

Skills do still exist
And yes, they have APs ratings too.  Some Skills act to enhance one's natural talents, so their ratings are added to one's APs where appropriate.  While others replace them to represent the Skill allowing you to go beyond your usual limitations.  Batman, for example, might have only the appropriate endurance of a healthy man, but thanks to his Martial Arts training that is many magnitudes higher than his actual Body rating, can use it to replace his Body rating when he takes a hit.  

As do Advantanges and Drawbacks
The game takes these things into account, so being Famous or having a Secret Identity can help or hinder you when appropriate.  Rather than be a stickler for keeping track of "power points" or "ammunition" for example, characters with powers that supposedly have limited stores of energy (like say Green Lantern) might have a Disadvantage to represent this, which kicks in when the player happens to roll very badly.  The same is used to represent certain Weaknesses (such as Superman's vulnerability to Magic and Kryptonite).

Subplots are present
Players are encouraged to come up with subplots for their characters to explore (for example, Batman might have a subplot regarding his need to find time to visit his parents' grave) and these many be stories that last only for one game session.    In many ways, this can be used as a way for the player to say, "I want to explore this facet of my character's concept too."

Wealth, Gadgetry, and Magic
The game system also has interesting systems for Wealth, Gadgetry and Magic and these three are still tackled using the MEGS approach (so a character with Wealth at 4 is twice as rich as the guy with Wealth at 3) and nicely integrate these with Skills and Advantages whenever appropriate.

Hero Points are also spent for Gadgetry and Magic since these two, given the system's approach, mechanically allow you to "create new powers" for your character.  Batman's gadgets, for example are mechanical representations of existing powers (Bat Call: Animal Control power, Rebreather: Sealed Systems power, etc)  Magical spells also act in the same way.  So to balance it out, the need to spend Hero Points is part of the equation.

But this game is OLD, will finding books be a problemIt might.  While I can mention many legal and illegal ways that exist as options, I will state that the fan-love for the system is so strong that one can still find many online resources that you can use to enhance your games. is filled with TONS of character write-ups and these are not limited to just comic characters.  Wanted to run a game based on H.R. Giger's Xenomorph Aliens and pit them against the cast of Buffy the Vampire Slayer?  This site has their stats.  I am serious.  This is a fantastic resource that is sure to keep your gaming life using the MEGS alive and well.

An online free character builder exists too, to help you handle what may seem like frightening math at first for character creation.  The game system gives a Factor Cost Rank for everything on the character sheet, so you  can compute on how many points it will take to increase certain powers compared to others.   After all, the power to run very fast (Running) should not cost the same as the power of Super Speed.

All in all, even for a very old system, I feel this still captures a lot of what I felt made comics magical: the freedom to embrace challenges and tackle opponents far greater than yourself, and the capacity to go all-out and try to save the world.  

Rating Breakdown:Concept: While newer comic-based systems do exist, such as Margaret Weis' recently ended Marvel Heroic RPG line, I always enjoyed how the MEGS system of this game has been very versatile and easy to grasp.  It, for me, captures the joys of a comic book world and encourages players to be the hero.
Crunch: The math might frighten some players, or the charts might turn some people off.  But trust me, they become very easily to embrace once you're used to it.    In my games, I even tell the players to focus on their sheets and leave me to handle all table work.  (I'm not good with math, but I love it!)
Layout: The book is nicely laid out, and I love the shoulder charts which give you a glimpse of the various heroes and villains and where they'd stand on the chart.
My favorite part: The AP system.  It is a real ingenious way to represent the huge scale of comic book action without making things unwieldy.  I know some will hate how it abstracts things, but I prefer my comics to be dramatic than real.
What I wish was better: I guess I would have loved to see this system find a way to tighten up somehow.  I don't know if its possible though, but given the power lists, each character sheet literally needs to be referenced to various pages for every Advantage, Power, Skill and the like.  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Game Idea: Living Shadows

Living Shadows
by Tobie Abad

Start with simple things.
How there is always that feeling that someone else is in the room with them.  How there is a nagging sensation of someone watching them.  Of someone standing close by.    But strangely, this never seems to be the case when they are in total darkness.

While with others, or among crowds, the feeling is negligible.  Irrelevant.  But once they are alone - doing their business in the bathroom, or while alone in the shower, or just before they shut the lights to sleep - the feeling returns.   Nagging.  Persistent.  There.

Then the smaller hints begin to come.

A man tries to mug the character one evening.  But before the player can opt to do anything, the mugger runs away screaming for his dear life.  His knife left on the sidewalk.   A lover tears away at the character's clothing, ready for a night of wild abandon, but minutes later, screams as she throws her clothes on and rushes out of your room in utter terror.   Animals at the zoo growl, hiss, snarl and bare their fangs at you.  Your loyal pet refuses to come close.

Someone is always there.  Even when you are alone.

Then, finally, revelation.

Some crazy band of weirdos snatch the character on her walk home. They pull a sack over her head.  They drag her to the nearby van.  Blind, the player hears the sounds of an ongoing struggle, but then the sharp sting of the taser hits her and everything quickly goes silent.

She awakens with the bag gently being pulled off her head.  She is still at the alleyway.  Her eight assailants are in varying states of injury all around her.  And her rescuer is her very own shadow.

The shadows live.

They cannot speak.  They cannot make any sounds.  But they are intelligent, and bonded to their other.  They do not "fear" light, but rather understand in the strong presence of such, they can only exist beneath our feet, or behind the curves of our bodies.  They are, however, indestructible.  Affected by either fire, guns, blades, nor words.  They are perpetual.  They are impossibly fast.  The moment light shines, they are there.  They are strong, however, and with effort can affect the material world.

Doing so, however, has a price, and the player would be wise to learn what that price would be.  Perhaps it would be a cost paid in memories, and the player never realizes the price at first simply because he cannot notice the irrelevant memories he has already forgotten about.  Or perhaps the price is in dreams, and the player starts to realize she barely sleeps well at night with the absence of the dreams that relax the mind.

Or perhaps one day, the character realizes that he suddenly seems to have gained his own manner of power. His own fingers slip through the glass window.  His own wrists slip through the metal handcuffs that the policeman had strapped him upon.   He shoves against the locked door to get to his imprisoned mother, and finds himself sliding through the wood and all.

But then his face gets harder to recall.  His features seemingly more difficult to make out.  His presence less noticed by everyone else.  Perhaps the price of letting your shadow become real enough to help you, is that you slowly trade places with it.  And one night you awaken and realize he is now the real thing.  And you are a prisoner to his choices, forever forced to tread after his own steps and touches, like an addict desperate for touch.
by kindomany

And while you do not fear the light, you hope and pray he will find himself in instances where he will need you to be solid.  To be real enough.

You hope to get that chance to trade places once more.
And be, once again, that which casts the shadow upon the wall.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Trust In You Material

Trust In You Material
by Tobie Abad

This article was born out of two events.  The first was my having recently viewed and read up on the very public meltdown of a certain Bakery and Restaurant after its appearance on a certain Reality Show, and the second was after reading the response of a fellow gamer online on why for that  person it is acceptable that there is a huge holding back on releasing any game system information for the upcoming Exalted 3rd edition game which I have supported on Kickstarter.  In both situations, there was concern about how people out there may have negative feedback and comments to say about one's product, and how the urge to control if not limit is has become the goal for some people.

I admit, there are a lot of crazies and bastards out there who seem to find satisfaction in simply finding more things to complain about or make fun of from other's hard work.  I will agree that not everyone who has posted such things have a truly helpful intention in mind.  But I do question the idea that some have that the best way to control the volatile flame wars that erupt on the forums is to limit access to the said system to the readers.  This, sadly, is the mindset I cannot wrap myself around to agree with.

Feedback, plain and simple, will happen whether or not.  And flame wars, sadly, do erupt whether or not the said system is good (or whether or not the said dish is delicious).  Plain and simple, there will always be people who will be overly emotional over things, and there will always be people who will not know how to properly give feedback in a more respectful or orderly fashion.

Hiding one's product from the public as a whole might seemingly reduce the number of flames that erupt due to your work.  But in my opinion, what that really does is limit your work from reaching your desired audience, and even worse, shows that there is a huge lack of confidence towards one's own product.  The fellow gamer wrote, "You don't see how introducing that kinda firestorm into the kickstarter period would be an negative thing? It would be potentially disastrous. better to wait until the kickstarter is done, at very least."  While the feedback might not necessarily reflect the thoughts of the people behind the product, that line of thinking quite frankly pushes once more the huge lack of confidence in one's product.   If that was the reason the people handling the product are not releasing more info about it, that doesn't quite bode well on what level of quality the product actually has.   I'd even add that such a fear is greatly unnecessary given the supposed Kickstarter goal has already far exceeded its target amount.

Trust in your Material.
That ultimately is what I feel more have to embrace.   Trust in your material, and let it out for the world to enjoy.  Embrace the fact that you can't please everyone, and try to be aware of sensing when something you've created is good, or really is crap.  Learn to embrace the fact that flames will always erupt, and the most you really can do is be thankful for those who appreciate your work, celebrate those who celebrate it, and always push yourself to make something better than your last output.

I've supported a lot of other Kickstarter projects before, and even helped out in checking for errors and sharing feedback with those who asked.  Living in the Philippines, more often than not these projects are still quite expensive to pay for, but given my desire to see these projects come out I do what I can to shell out what I can afford and support them.

Exalted 3rd Edition admittedly was one of the more costly Kickstarter projects that I've chosen to support.  I love Exalted, and I truly enjoyed the 1st edition version of the game far more than the second.    When I heard that a third edition was coming out, I was pretty psyched for it and excited to support it.  The idea that I had to shell out US$30 for the PDF, and over US$100 for the actual book was a painful fact that I had to accept.  I've purchased many other books before that ranged from $50 to $80 and those were already quite a punch to one's pocket than usual.    Having to pay so much more was a challenge I had to reconsider a few times.  In the end, I've decided to go for it and have it shipped instead to my brother in Los Angeles.  Maybe sometime in the middle of next year, I can afford to have someone bring it here to Manila.

But now, with 19 days to go before the Kickstarter ends, with it having struck $400,000+ which is far more than the $60,000 goal they set, I feel very disappointed that no actual clear system previews have been shared.  Given the huge promise of how the game will be approached in so many different ways, it would have been nice if the people behind the project were releasing far more than just fiction samples at this point in time.

And no, I still don't agree that keeping the crunch hidden is necessary because it keeps any flame wars from erupting, which may damage the Kickstarter campaign.    We've all chosen to contribute to the project because we believe in the team and want the product to succeed.    Block yourself from any possible negative feedback, and you just end up like that couple with the restaurant who blocks out all criticism immediately as words from haters, and become blind to when you might actually are doing some crappy work.

I am still hoping they soon release more information as well, to at least show us how confident they are with the product so many of us have already pledged money to pay for.

This, for example, was a nice thing to get.  It is a tangible example of how some changes in direction are happening.  Fourteen Updates so far, and we've had some fiction, some artwork, a table of contents, and two merits.   I really just hope to see more in the days to come.

I trust in you, guys.
But I need you to trust in your material, and send us some trust in you system notes.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Soundtrack Suggestion: Bram Stoker's Dracula - Wojciech Kilar

Bram Stoker's Dracula
by Wojciech Kilar

Among the many soundtracks that I own, I must confess that for a long time, this was one which I practically constantly used during my World of Darkness games and not just for Vampire the Masquerade nor Vampire the Dark Ages, mind you.

The soundtrack contains lots of interesting pieces which I found useful in my games.  While I will readily admit to it being very vampire-centric in the mood, given today's uhm... wider stance on what's considered an acceptable Vampire concept, I can see why this soundtrack might be seen as too cheesy or overly dramatic by others.  But for those who like giving their games a dash of the theatrics, they will find this a pleasant option to explore.  But if you feel vampires must equal rock and roll, then feel free to move on and read something else.

Dracula - The Beginning (Track 01) opens with an almost silent start, that grows slowly, meticulously, and relentlessly into a terrifying crescendo.  The main leitmotif of the Dracula theme establishes itself here, and by the third minute mark, unearths itself like the proverbial vampire itself.  Then it continues, indulging further in its leitmotif but this time exploring it with haunting voices and a terrible growing percussive beat of fear.  In some ways, the emotional charge reminds me of how the JAWS theme embedded itself into so many of us - later returns to this soundtrack will have your players remembering the dark moments when they first heard this surround them in a scene.   Vampire Hunters (Track 02) on the other hand is a second leitmotif, and this one focuses on creating a musical signature to show the forces that stand against the darkness.  This track embodied focus and determination and your players will feel their tensions rising out of adrenaline when this baby is played.  Oh and best of all, it is very loop friendly. Mina's Photo (Track 03) is a haunting melody that reminds one of a nursery rhyme.  It plays gentle and romantic, and hints of a love undiscovered.  But with Lucy's Party (Track 04) the rhyme shifts from sweet to dangerous and seductive, with hints of darker things to come.  The music becomes ethereal here, with chimes hinting at a predator in one's midst.  This truly is one of the most tense-building gentle tracks I have ever encountered which I've used to highlight any dream turns into a dark nightmare sort of scene.  The Storm (Track 06) opens with a soft few key notes, then screeches into a horrific moment of terror, before it pulls back the chimes of Lucy's Party and dives headlong into a dance with the Vampire Hunter's theme.  An amazingly intricate piece which works wonderfully well for a scene regardless if the player is the prey or the predator.  Voices chant alongside the hunter's theme, and horns blare out passionate pleas as the piece swells into a more vibrant and bloody tune.  When the haunting singing joins in at the two minute mark, you are definitely given an atmosphere of danger and trepidation.   A pity this track is hard to loop.  

Love Remembered (Track 07), Mina/Dracula (Track 11) and Love Eternal (Track 13) reminds us of the gentler side of things, with touches of romance and hope in a dark heavy melody that yearns for escape.  I have also used Track 06 before to highlight a scene of an exposed betrayal and it worked just as well.   Track 13 however does end with an almost spiritual feel.  And if you used any of the earlier leitmotifs, you SHOULD then let it flow into Ascension (Track 14) for the perfect finish.

Vulnerability and pain are key to knowing when this track works.   The Hunt Builds (Track 08) is easily the companion piece to the second track and a perfect partner to The Hunters Prelude (Track 09).   Their loop-friendliness is a huge reason this soundtrack has been very useful for me.     If you used these track, then the End Credits (Track 15) is a must.  It nicely wraps everything back together, with shifts perfect for a montage.

But if you want to break the monotony, The Green Mist (Track 10) and The Ring of Fire (Track 121) are samples of tracks which you definitely will cue for specific moments.  And Annie Lennox' Love Song For a Vampire (Track 16) is a personal favorite.  I just truly love her musical touch.

So that's sixteen tracks

Bram Stoker's Dracula OST track suggestions:
WTF moment: The Green Mist (Track 10), The Ring of Fire (Track 12),  Love Song For a Vampire (Track 16)
Introspective/calm moment: Mina/Dracula (Track 11)
Tense/mystery moment:  Dracula - The Beginning (Track 01), Lucy's Party (Track 04), The Storm (Track 06)
Combat music: Vampire Hunters (Track 02), The Hunt Builds (Track 08), The Hunters Prelude (Track 09)
Hopeful moment: Love Remembered (Track 07),  Love Eternal (Track 13), Ascension (Track 14)
Drama/sad moment: Mina's Photo (Track 03), The Brides (Track 05), End Credits (Track 15)

Best Used In: Games where love and violence meet.  Games where darkness is not always purely just destructive.  Games where even in the bloodiest of moments, one might find a reason to believe in love.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Falling Ishtar e01 : Dungeon World

Falling Ishtar
Episode One

"The Clever Three"

Dungeon World

Steel clashes against scales as the scene opens with three adventurers fight against a gathering of lizard men.  As the three battle on the cliff, the clouds above part long enough to show the slowly darkening sun in the sky.  An eclipse is coming, and the three know they have to end the battle soon or lose more precious time. 

This was my first time to try running Dungeon World as I definitely had a fantastic time with the game.   (The enthusiasm I experienced can easily be seen here in my review of the game.)  Erich, Rachel and Mahar were in the game and we decided to play this game out of Erich's prompting as a replacement game given my Partner, Rocky's absence that weekend.

Erich played Gil Willowisp, Elven Ranger who left the Homeland to travel and experience the world.   He keeps getting thrown out of human settlements for causing trouble and breaking rules. He does not believe in others imposing on them. He has a hawk named Illiure, and has a tendency of seeking to free things that are caught in bondage.
Gil's Bonds:He has guided Melisande before, and she owes him for it.
He sees Melisande as a friend of nature.
He feels Cairre does not understand the wild, and is tasked to teach him.
He knows Cairre saved his life before, so he owes him.

Rachel played Cairre, a Human Wizard, Apprentice of the Magus Roderick - an evil Wizard who wanted to use magic to conquer the world.  In a world where magic is commonly known but not commonly practiced, Cairre was chosen by the Magus to become an apprentice.
Cairre's Bonds:
Cairee senses Gil will play important role in events to come.
Melisande is keeping an important secret from Cairre.
Cairre feels Melisande does not understand the world.
Gil is always getting into trouble, so Cairee will have to protect him.

Mahar played Melisande, an Elven Bard, who followed Gil from the Homelands.  Her Chaotic nature has her spurring others to decisive action.  With Gil, rescued Cairre from Roderick's wicked clutches.
Melisande's Bonds:
This is not her first adventure with Gil.
Cairre is often the butt of her jokes.
Melisande is writing a ballad about the adventures of The Clever’s Three.
Cairre entrusted her with a secret: Fear of being affected by magic.
Cairre does not trust Melisande for good reason: She uses magic to help him. Constantly.

A few days back, Gil and Melisande learned of Cairre's captivity and imprisonment under the Magus Roderick's cruelty.  He had Cairre snatched from his family and was being groomed by the Magus to become his apprentice.  As the Magus used strange spells to hold Melisande paralyzed and to trap Gil under the clutches of winged imps, he began beating Cairre in front of them to remind them of the price of defying him.  But eventually the three succeed in turning the tables around Roderick, blasting him with a wand of magic, and unleashing a serpent made of smoke long trapped in some kind of jar at the Magus himself.    The Magus dies beneath the wand's intense power, but the smoke serpent bites Gil, poisoning him with its arcane venom.  Cursed to slowly rot from within, the three quickly consult a Healer who informs them that there are only three things that can counter-act the Smoke Serpent's venom:  Ancient Elven Magic, a potion made using Powdered Unicorn Horn, and the last, being an amount of raw Starmetal which would surely allow them to gain either of the first two much easier.  

And almost as if to answer their prayers, the sky brightens as a falling star streaks across the heavens.  And falls upon the area where the ruins of the fallen Goblin City of Gonol once stood.  The Ranger decides to head there, to gather what starmetal he can.  And both Cairre and Melisande opt to join him.

Interlude number One.
The falling star has caught the attentions of the Barbarian Tribes that stand outside the City of Towers.  Desperate for a weapon to use against the Duke of the Tower himself, and take back their "city", the barbarians task their own warriors to retrieve it. They believe it to be a great weapon to be used to decimate the People of the Towers.

Interlude number Two.
At the City of Towers, the Lord of the Banner and Duke of the Towers, Duke Thomin, has fallen in love with the Lady Unisa, and the falling star becomes the object he desires as the symbol of his love. He tasks his favored knights to retrieve it, no matter what the cost.

Interlude number Three.
The goblins living in the Ruins of Gonol are in deep prayer, calling out to their Dark Mother Isthar for a chance to once again rise to power.  They lament the fall of Gonol and hope to someday regain the influence they once wielded.  And almost as if in response to their prayers, the star strikes their ruins.

The battle against the lizard men reaches a fevered pitch as a Tyrant Lizard Cheiftain emerges to join the fray.  Gil leaps into action, clambering atop its back as he prepares to kill the monster.  Cairre wraps himself in an Invisibility spell, hoping to avoid the battle.  While Melisande sings a song to support the group.  When Gil slashes at the Tyrant's stomach to disable it, what he covers shocks them all.  They three find a surly halfling rolling out of the sliced open stomach, and the first thing the bald demihuman states is to "Knock of with any giving birth jokes."  They soon learn he is the Master Adon, the Grand Magus and former mentor of Roderick Black.  The man was a teacher who cared less for whom he taught and more on if those taught know how to respect magic itself.  The revelation of Adon's identity bothers Melisande given she has always known him to be this seven-foot tall wizard with a massive white beard, a pointy hat, a blade in one hand and a long wooden staff in the other and flowing white robes.  There were rumors, however, that his tower fell into disrepair, and he had embraced a personal quest to find his missing love - an elf.

As Adon learns of their predicament, he asks from each a strand of their hair, then casts a locked spell into the three knots of hair.  "When you find yourself in a desperate need to return home, you can use this.  Consider this my payment for your rescuing of me." He does tell Cairee that he is willing to let him become his apprentice, but only if Cairre can get him a bit of the starmetal as well.  Finding Adon, it seems, will be the quest itself.   As the halfling walks off, he does warn them that there are drums in the air.  "Others seek what you seek.  Best you hurry."

The three travel as fast as they can, an in the darkness of the eclipse, the greatest source of light is the place where the star had fallen.  As they eventually enter the heavy woods leading to the ruins of Gonol, they chance upon a carriage set at the side of the path.  Three dwarves have set camp in the woods, a tad confused by the earlier, unexpected nightfall.  Melisande approaches them with a song about halflings, and the dwarves seem to welcome them quite congenially.  They admit to possibly being lost, and are preparing to have dinner.  Dougal, the father, introduces his wife Serene, and their son Tolin.  The couple endears themselves to the others (save for Melisande, who seems to have a problem with Tolin).  They mention something about a bridgeway being destroyed, after a large group of soldiers crossed it.  But before dinner could be served, a warband of Goblins close in to surprise them.  Led by a Hobgoblin, the group quickly take to action, and much to their surprise, the dwarves excitedly welcome the battle with Tolin getting a chance to have his first kill.  The dwarves admit to having had a dealing with the Magus Roderick, who had Fire Elementals working in some cave.  They were given a brass scroll case and have not yet opened it (fearing what it may contain).  Cairre detects no danger in opening it, and upon reading it learns it was a missive which would provide safety to the bearer from any creatures that respected or knew Roderick's influence.  Gil is given the scroll, as a show of thanks, and in return he informs them of where they can find Tyrant Lizard meat to cook.  Serene and Dougal share an inside joke about how the meat reminds them of... the good old times.  As the group prepare to continue on towards the light, the unthinkable happens:  It fades away.

The three hurry to the ruins, hoping to cover the distance as quickly as they can.  When they arrive at the ruins, the light is gone and no trace of the starmetal can be seen.  Sighs of it having crashed in the area, however, are unmistakable.  As they look for clues, the ground under Melisande's feet give way, and she falls forty feet down beneath the ground, thankfully catching a ledge to stop her fall.  Down there, she catches a glimpse of the glow of the star fading from one of the many underground tunnels.  Gil and Cairre try to approach the hole where Melisade fell, but part of it begins to crumble from their weight.  Melisande creates a makeshift hammock to hide under using one of her dresses, but fails to catch the approach of some Goblins that drag her from the ledge and force her away.  By the time Gil and Cairre arrive down below using some rope and a grappling hook, there is no sign of Melisande.  Thankfully, the hammock left behind gives them an idea where to start looking for her trail.

Melisande awakens to find herself in a makeshift prison of metal and scrap.  She remains fully armed with all of her belongings still with her.  She realizes her captors are probably not as smart as they had feared.  She tries to find a way to escape and realizes the things around her are like goblins, only with skin as bleached as bone.  She starts trying to grasp their broken language in hopes of communicating with them, or swaying them with her bardic songs.

Cairre and Gil carefully navigate the tunnels, with Gil finding the tracks of Melisande and her captors' passage.  They soon chance upon a nest of Worgs.  Cairre casts Invisibility to make them both disappear, and as the two sneak past the Worgs, Cairre steps on a mound of Worg refuse.    Worried of leaving tracks, Gil throws down a day's worth of rations to distract any that find their scent.   The sounds behind them, however, suggest that the armed guards of some group are nearby.

Melisande succeeds in making the goblins think she is their goddess.  Gonol used to have a vast and massive market of note, but none realized the city was built upon a sinkhole.  The sinkhole activated and the ctiy fell apart.  They want Melisande, the Goddess of the Star, to bless them.  She asks to be taken to the Starmetal, and the goblins comply.

Cairre and Gil arrive at another chamber, wide and tall, and it seems to be a room of petrified trees.  There is a sound, and the two turn to see a rat moving in the distance.  Suddenly, tentacles stretch out from one of the trees and snatch the rat! The tree at the center of the room is actually a creature.  The thing has a massive eye on its "trunk" and beneath it, a gaping fanged maw.  The two, still invisible, very slowly and carefully navigate the chamber.  Thankfully, the thing never notices their movement.  They do hear the knights in close pursuit.  Somehow, they must have succeeded in getting past the petrified trees easily.

Melisande learns the amount of starmetal is a staggering boulder that is larger than she is tall.  As she is placed atop it, she rallies the goblinoids to carry them both to the surface.  "Take me to the sky!" she calls out, and the goblinoids are quick and eager to comply.  For them, the future when Gonol rises from the ruins is already in sight.  They carry her onward, but then stop as they approach a massive well where green noxious gas seems to seep out of.   Fear begins to overwhelm the goblinoids.

Cairre and Gil reach the end of the tunnel to see four goblins guarding the doors.  Gil lures one away and batters him down.  But the remaining three Goblins are clearly distracted by events happening inside.  When Gil returns, holding one of the Goblin hostage.  Cairre slips in with Gil, and the two see Melisande at the distance, hailed by the goblinoids, but at the same time, two green scaled arms emerge from the well.  The thing within addresses her, questioning her godhood.  More green steam rises from the pit.

A dragon.

Cairre and Gil quickly weight their options.  Melisande, however, seems unperturbed.  She insults the ancient, and draws a fire-lit arrow, intent on shooting it into the pit to ignite the fumes.  The dragon takes her bluff, and breathes a cloud of poisonous chlorine into the tunnel where the coming soldiers marched.  Gil and Cairre hear them collapse to the ground.  Die horrible lonely deaths.  Melisande lets loose the arrow, and the coming explosion topples her to the ground.  Melts the star metal and splatters it all over.  Gil and Cairre gather some on their clothes as they approach the bard.  But Melisande is partly encased in the immensely hot metal, and she starts singing to undo the pain as quickly as she can muster.  The dragon emerges from the pit, amused with her singing, and considers keeping her to entertain him.  Gil attempts to talk his way around the Dragon's greed, and petitions in relation to their quest, but the Dragon shoves the ranger's hopes aside as easily as it does the elf himself.  Cairre realizes the Dragon's evil nature may just have it recognize her former master, and brings out the scroll.  The Dragon admits Gil has no poison in his system, and that merely being this close to the starmetal must have cleansed him of the poison.  As Gil falls to his knees in intense pain, the Dragon explains it is filling his mind with images of things to come.  Cairre remind the Dragon to honor the scroll, and fingers the knotted hair which Gil had slipped to him before he dropped unconscious.  The Dragon grants it, but has them choose to either leave Melisande or the starmetal behind.  Cairre drops the metal and unfurls the hairs, teleporting them all away to safety.

Back at the tower, Cairre and the now recovered Melisande try to help Gil.  To their surprise, Gil seems to have indeed recovered and shares with them the portents the dragon had shared.  There shall come a time of fire and war, when wyrms gather underneath the banner of a robed figure that exists beyond life: a Lich.  And that the Dragon shared this to warm them, for it knows evil will win in this coming time.

A visitor.  When Cairre peers at who has knocked on the door, they find a beautiful long-haired blonde woman in traveler's gear asking for Roderick.  Her name is Bridgette and she turns out to be a Paladin who has come to put an end to Roderick's machinations.  When they inform her that she has come too late and that he is dead, Cairre hands her his ashes instead.    Bridgette speaks to the ashes, and the group realizes she is actually his daughter, and has devoted her life to someday come back to stop him and his evil schemes.   Wanting to help her find closure, Cairre offers to accompany her tomorrow to the tomb where the ashes will be laid.   She thanks him and walks on, and Gil watches at a window above as the young Paladin takes time to help some people cross the street, even if they act rude towards her afterwards.   A true Paladin, although one who has come too late to stop the evil named Roderick.

Or is she?

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