Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Riddle of Blood e05 : Houses of the Blooded

The Riddle of Blood
Episode Five
"The Wilderness"

The fifth session began with a major change.  As we were moving forward in the game with one less player from the original group, and one new incoming player, we had to change the flow of the story to compensate of the huge plots that were supposed to be developed by the leaving player.  The story of Armand Steele, and his role in Ven society would have to be shifted out of the focus and thankfully I had just the vehicle to facilitate it in the game.  In the previous game, there was mention of a possible migration of the ven as a whole.  The building of Airships was initiated and to make sure things feel right, I declared that the fifth session was to be set at the start of a new year, now in the new land.   Even better was the fact this game was to be run after the success of John Wick's Kickstarter campaign for the new Houses of the Blooded book, the Wilderness.  So all players were to have the following changes:

1) All players had the freedom to change their Aspects.  
With the passage of two seasons, and the coming of a new Year in a new location, people change.  And this was reflected by all the players having the freedom to tailor their character sheets in a more appropriate way.    This, however, also meant that the temporary and additional Aspects gained in the previous sessions was lost.  Allowing a sort of clean slate for the new player to dive into.

2) All Provinces and Vassals were to be reallocated.
With the introduction of the Wilderness came new regions that the players had the option to take.  The basic rule was as follows:  Players can reallocate their regions, as well as holdings, so long as they retained the number of regions that were present in their Province.  So a ven who had a province composed of three Forests, a Castle, A Town, and two Mountains, with only a Shrine for example can opt to have in the new Province a Castle, a town, a Mountain, two Forests, a Jungle and a Swamp, with the new holding being a Mine in the mountain.

Vassals followed the same rule, with special focus being given on the question, "Are you still with your spouse?"  For those who said yes, we checked for possible pregnancies.  For those who did not, I clarified with the player that the state of their spouse is up for grabs with Wisdom Risks in game.

And to reflect the perils of a new land and the struggles of adjusting to it, I handed out Josh Roby's Trouble Cards to the players.   (Oh and the first two players who showed up got a free Ork Vassal each.  Ork Vassals?!? Unthinkable!)

The New Land

In Tower Azure, the people of Baron Viktor Krev, Blooded of the Falcon are starving.  As he reluctantly opts to distribute the stored Food supplies in his Silo, he receives a visitor in the form of Marcellus Steele, a Merchant Ven who holds no land.  The visitor has come to Viktor to ask for his support in a upcoming attempt to usurp a nearby Barony.  He tells Viktor that he still is watching over his wife, who remains in Talida Mountain with the Pearl in the Shrine.  Viktor agrees to help.  His yellow-eyed hunter, an Ork that obeys him, reveals to Viktor that he is shunned among his own kin.  This suggests a society structure among the Orks previously unheard of.  At the end of the eve, a visitor.  Ti'Ann Burghe has found him, having learned from her friend Gaius of Viktor's survival, and the two share a long delayed delicate kiss.  And an understanding that in their hands stands the task of defeating the Fashuva that had escaped.

In the Red Throne, the people of Kithraus Yvarai, Blooded of the Fox, the people are terrified as they are under attack by Orks.  Hound-like creatures known as the Djjo have been stalking his lands.  He remains a member of the Senate, however, a fact which Lucian Steele, father of the Late Armand Steele, holds evidently against him.  The Senate grants Kithranus his request to become the Ork Hunter of the Senate and many seemingly have stopped wondering about his ex-wife Scarlet.  His new wife Sapphire pulls her own strings and gets approval from the Senate to become the Magus Sister of the Ork Hunter.  Her jealously becomes apparent, however, when they both learn that Scarlet somehow has both survived death, and somehow followed to the new land.  He also learns that the Duchess Madelyn Yvarai, Grandmother of his late wife, has sent out invitations for a party in his honor.

In Wushu, the people of Quan Wei Yvaria, Blooded of the Fox, are rioting.  Quan Wei's Fa Yu, known for their Subtlety, seem to have failed to uncover the leaders of the riot.  Possible suspects are Elliot, a Veth who supposedly was once a Ven poet named Eli Toth, Blooded of the Dragon,  Josephine Yvaria, the Marquis of Lin and her mother, or someone referred to as Yellow Eye, who is a hooded man with yellow eyes.     In hopes of gathering the Resources she needs to quell the riot, she learns of an upcoming party to be held by Bethesda Ashken, mother of her Contact, Gaius Mwrr.     With their son Shan Yu, and their new son, Guan Yu, Quan Wei and her husband Yao Lin, try to keep a low profile given her husband is one of those of the new Houses.  Long thought to be a Bear, he turned out to be of a different House altogether.

In Schlangeturn, the people of Gaius Mwrr, Blooded of the Snake, are suffering from a plague called the Platinum Death.  The plague seems to affect only Veth and Orks.  Uncertain how to resolve this, Gaius visits Quan Wei and learns from her that the plague can be healed through rest, a prayer to Talia, and sipping a tea which Quan Wei herself knows how to make.    However, not having the necessary herbs, Gaius thanks her and visits another old friend, Ti'Ann Burghe, the former Bronze Inquisitor.   She is now a Countess and introduces Gauis to her Ork Witch, who reveals to Gaius the cure, in exchange for his True Name.  The Curse, it so happens, is merely rest, however, the plague is carried by the Ven as well.  And so, unless one locks themselves in their individual rooms, the plague will not consume itself and stop so long as the chain of reinfections keep happening.

Finally, in Sun Castle, the people of Reidon Yvaria, Blooded of the Fox, are living in fear for the land is being invaded.  Uncertain who is behind the assault, Reidon attends the Senate to petition for help.  Being a young Baron, Reidon is unaware of how his inability to protect his own lands opens him to be stripped of his own Barony as per the Ven law, "What you hold, you keep."  As he waits for his turn to speak, one of the Vashna petitions for help.  He hands Reidon a letter meant for Gauis Mwrr, which Reidon opens and sees is a request to ask for Revenge against the Crimson Inquisitor, Kithranus Yvaria.  The man, it turns out, is Zhul, one of Gaius' brothers.  Reidon returns home, uncertain how to deal with the issues, when a visitor happens to come to his Castle.  The beautiful woman reveals her naked body, and asks him to allow her son, Yves, to be a knight under his barony.  And in exchange, he will learn of who is behind the assault.

With the stories of the new land, one can clearly see that the path of the tales are headed towards the upcoming two parties:  the one held by the Duchess Madelyn Yvaria, and the one held by Bethesda Ashken.

And somewhere, an escaped Fallen among the Suaven plots and plans for his rise back into power.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Soundtrack Suggestion: Life of Pi - Mychael Danna

Life of Pi
by Mychael Danna

I am by no means a person who can claim to have read a lot of great books.  While I did hear about this book existing before the movie came out, I must confess to having never actually read it.  My partner once shared with me how he got the book, expecting to read a surreal story about a young man who survives a shipwreck with a zebra, a tiger and an orangutan on a raft, and how he was surprised that the tiger was a real tiger and not a talking intelligently social tiger.   There was much concern on whether or not such a story could be translated successfully into a movie.  Thankfully, Ang Lee proved to us that such a story can be.  And boy was Life of Pi a movie worth seeing.

The whole album is a beautiful blend of romantic lullabies and introspective swells.  Some of you might have loved Mychael's approach to music when he did the soundtrack to (500) Days of Summer.  But I felt this soundtrack had more musical resonance to his other soundtrack projects such as The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus and Tideland.  The music has a very interesting mix of instruments here, with wind instruments nicely melding with percussions and strings which resonate different cultural themes.  The human voice is a pervasive instrument as well that has its moments in the collection.  I will state that the soundtrack is one that very notably embodies hope.  So if your game is meant to feel hopeless and invoke despair, this is NOT the soundtrack for you.  But if your game will hint on the human (or at least the PC's) spirit being something that will not give up, then you got a winner in your hands.

I will quickly admit to holding Pi's Lullaby (Track 01) as a favorite simply because it really helps me remember the beautiful sequence of the movie's opening credits.  Pondicherry (Track 03) is a nice romantic ditty which reminds me of movies like Chocolat and Amelie.  The heavier tracks, such as Death of the Zebra (Track 13) and The Deepest Spot on Earth (Track 11) are surprisingly some of the shortest tracks in the album.   And the two climactic moments, God Storm (Track 23) and I'm Ready Now (Track 24) are amazingly pieces that grab your heart and nudge it without twisting it out of place.  The blend of choral voices with the musical swells gives a mixed feeling of peace and sadness that can be wisely used by a game master to punctuate a moment with pathos.  And finally, Which Story Do You Prefer (Track 28), the last track of the soundtrack is thoughtfully introspective without sounding heavy handed.  The soft piping sounds lead the harmony, building into a piece where a full-bodied piano takes center stage, but only for a few chords before the music itself strikes longingly like a question waiting to be answered.   Admittedly, I am surprised that the soundtrack did not use Pi's Lullaby more as a recurring theme in the music.   But definitely I'm placing this soundtrack under the category of useful tunes to have for enhancing one's games.

Life of Pi OST track suggestions
WTF moment: Richard Parker (Track 07), The Whale (Track 18)
Introspective/calm moment:   Pi's Lullaby (Track 01), Piscine Molitor Patel (Track 02), Set Your House In Order (Track 15), Skinny Vegetarian Boy (Track 16), Tiger Vision (Track 22), The Second Story (Track 27), Which Story Do You Prefer (Track 28)
Tense/mystery moment: Anandi (Track 09), The Deepest Spot on Earth (Track 11), Death of the Zebra (Track 13), Flying Fish (Track 19)
Combat music: First Night, First Day (Track 14), Tiger Training (Track 20), God Storm (Track 23), I'm Ready Now (Track 24)
Hopeful moment: Pondicherry (Track 03), Thank you Vishnu for Introducing me to Christ (Track 06), Pi and Richard Parker (Track 17), Orphans (Track 21), The Island (Track 25)
Drama/sad moment: Meeting Krishna (Track 04), Christ in the Mountains (Track 05), Appa's Lesson (Track 08), Leaving India (Track 10), Tsimtsum (Track 12), Back to the World (Track 26)

Best Used In: Any games that have nicely introspective and dramatic scenes.  Everything from World of Darkness games to even games that explore medieval settings like Falkenstein and Seventh Sea can use this soundtrack.  The music does not latch on too much to a specific cultural background, so it can even be used to reflect games in varying time periods.  The soundtrack doesn't have much for combat and horror, however,  so it might not be enough for a whole session.    But if you have players who like exploring the dramatic consequences of their character's actions, this would be a sweet soundtrack to use.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Five Inspirations: Lacuna Part I, The Birth of Mystery and the Girl from Blue City

Matrix:  Hard Lines are a Way Out.

Naked Lunch: Bugs and Spies

Inception:  Clearance Levels go Deeper

eXistenZ: Hard to tell who you can trust and Are we awake?

The Science of Sleep: Surreal is Normal.

And one bonus one since Inception and Matrix are pretty expected.

Dark City:  The City seems to Change on its Own.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Game Idea: Survivor the RPG

As part of this year's Creative Pay It Forward, I promised my friend Ellis an rpg.
This is his request.


This game requires no GM.  All players involved are part of the contest.  For this game, you will need a sheet of paper and a pencil for each player, this webpage as your game guide, and around five six-sided dice.  You will also need a number of tokens or items you can use as tokens equal to twice the number of players in the game.  These can be anything from coins, to playing cards or pieces of candy.

Each player creates a character sheet using the following system:
Name, Age, Sex
I am a...
Mental | Physical

Name is the name of the player's character.  This may or may not be the same name.
Age is the age of the character.
Sex is the gender of the character.
I am a... will be the catch all rating to represent the character's stats.  For example, one might declare "I am a  school teacher."  Another might declare "I am an ex-Navy Seal."
Finally, you have the Mental | Physical rating, which is a single number from 2 to 5.  If you are playing someone with more evident Physical qualities, then you want the number to be smaller.  If you want to be someone more Mental proficiencies, the number should be bigger.  

For example:   Einstein would probably be  Mental 5 Physical. Arnold Schwarzenegger would probably be Mental 2 Physical.  While Kim Kardashian would be Mental 4 Physical.  Clearly the ranges are meant to be very flexible and abstract.

The Confessional Booth:
Each player can call for a Confessional Booth moment.  During this moment, the player admits to the viewers (which are actually all the other players) who he hates the most in the group.  The player MUST mention at least two names and why.  If more than one player want to have such a moment, they must use a method to determine who goes first (rock, paper, scissors, or something similar).

Afterwards, the player can confess something he did not tell the others.  This is represented as an extra I am a... rating.

For example:  Einstein calls for a Confessional and no one counters.  He steps in, admits to thinking Kim is a huge slut and hates how dumb she is, then confesses, "Actually, I am a gym instructor too." And adds that to his I am a... area.

Dice System:
Each time you are in a Challenge, you roll six-sided dice.  The number of six-sided dice you roll is equal to how appropriate your "I am a..." is to the challenge, which the playing group shall judge on through blind voting.    Blind voting is accomplished by all other players raising their fist at the same time to reveal either thumbs up (Yes, it is appropriate) or thumbs down (No, it is not.)  If you have a unanimous vote, then you roll five six-sided dice.  If you have a mixed vote, leaning towards thumbs up, you have four.  If there are equal number of votes, you roll three.  If the thumb down outnumber the ups, then two.  And if all save one vote against you, then one die.

To succeed in the task, you must roll at least one die below or above your Mental | Physical rating, depending on whether the task is a mental or physical Challenge (see Challenges, below).

For example:  Einstein is in a Physical Challenge.  The Challenge however is solving a gigantic jigsaw puzzle made of wooden blocks.   The group decides and out of the five players, two thumbs up that Einstein would still be able to use his "I am a Scientist" to do the Challenge.  Three feel smarts is not enough.  So Einstein gets to roll only two dice.   Given he is Mental 5 Physical, however, he needs to roll either a 5 or 6 with either of his two dice to succeed in the Challenge.

Another example:  Kim Kardashian is in the same Challenge.  The group decides unanimously that her "I am a TV Celebrity" will not help her in the Challenge at all.  She has one die to roll.  She is Mental 4 Physical however, so she only needs to roll a 4 to 6 to succeed in the roll.

Each player, however, has two tokens called Alliance Tokens.  These Tokens are totally useless for the player.  They cannot do anything at all.  However, if you hand one to another player, that player can discard the given Alliance Token for TWO extra dice to roll in a Challenge.  These make Alliance Tokens extremely useful.

How does one get an Alliance Token from another player?  By any possible way they can think of that will have that player willingly give him the token.  The Tokens cannot be stolen or sold.  They can only be gained by receiving it from someone who is willingly giving it to them.   And this is where Alliances are forged.  Players will want to be the recipient of other player's Tokens, and so many will start trading stuff with each other.

However, there is NO rule that a trade has to go both ways.  In fact, breaking an Alliance is considered acceptable in this game.  In fact, if you receive an Alliance Token, but do NOT hand one back to the same player, you instantly can get a +/- modifier to one of your rolled dice in the Challenge where the Alliance Token should have been given.

For example: Einstein and Kim form an Alliance.  Kim convinces Einstein to hand her one Alliance Token, and promises to give him one in return as well.  Kim then ignores Einstein and attempts the Challenge using the Alliance Token.   She rolls her dice plus two extra dice, and can shift one of those dice up or down one value to ensure her success.  Einstein is betrayed and fuming.  Only the viewers know what will happen next.

There will be a total of challenges equal to twice the number of players in the game.    Each player gets two opportunities to determine what the Challenge is.   (This will be one even if the player is voted out during the Elimination Night.

The kinds of Challenge are generated using the table below.  Roll once for the first table to determine the Challenge Type, and then twice in the second for determining the elements of the Challenge.  The player who rolled is  free to come up with what kind of Challenge it is based on the three generated topics.

1 or 2
Physical Challenge
3 or 4
Difficult Challenge (roll again, however once Type determined, all roll 1 less dice.)
5 or 6
Mental Challenge


For example:  For a Challenge, Kim's player rolls one and four and two.  One denotes a Physical Challenge. Four denotes Trees and Two denotes Ball.  So Kim declares, "We have a Physical Challenge, where Balls have to be kicked to fly over a Tree."

Elimination Night:
After two Challenges, players should gather and vote for Elimination.  All votes will be Blind Voting, with everyone writing a name in a piece of paper, then all of the papers being collected in a bowl.  Once all are in, a player reads them out and we will see who gets eliminated.  So yes, it is possible to be eliminated even if you still have a lot of Favor Tokens.  So map out your Alliances well.

If you want, have a winner's pot set up before you start the game.  This can be brought candy or the like, with the winner getting the chance to keep in the end of the game!''

Once every three Challenges, you can make a Challenge an Immunity Challenge by rolling two more in the second table.  The two new items must be added into the Challenge as a clearly difficult task.  The Challenge then will require TWO rolls to succeed in, and the winner gets Immunity.  

Alternate Games:
Celebrity Survivor
Rather than just play normal people, come up with a table to throw Challenges that match your favorite game or show, and have players portray their favorite characters!  Can you image a Dr. Who Survivor game?  Or a Dungeons and Dragons Survivor game?  Maybe even a Call of Cthulhu Survivor game!

LARP Survivor
Removing the character sheet, you can have players dress up and play in the Survivor game.  The table should have challenges that can be accomplished in the venue (push-ups, cart wheels, etc) and the Alliance Token allows you to waive a Challenge when you want to.

Adult Survivor
Combining the LARP Survivor game to this requires only one additional rule.  The player who is wearing the skimpiest outfit in each challenge gets one free Alliance Token to give away.  Realize this is something you can earn EVERY Challenge.

So there you have it!  Survivor the RPG!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Running Crossover Games

Running Cross-Over Games
by Tobie Abad

Sometimes, you just can't help it.  You love certain geek franchises too much that you just want to have your cake and eat it too.  Thankfully, in table-top games, it isn't a bad thing to indulge in cross-overs.  In fact, it can make your gaming life have a richer and fuller experience.

The real tricky part in Cross-Over Games is having a system that supports the said franchises the right way, and having players who would be receptive to the idea.     The first part can be a challenge given some crossovers might be a tad too out there to have a smooth transition.  But any creative storyteller can make the elements work out well if he really sets his mind to it.   Since the existence of this blog (which is pretty young given the very first post was October of 2011) I've already run a Doctor Who/Serenity cross-over twice, a D.C./Authority cross-over game, and a major Changeling the Lost and Promethean the Created Game that crossed over with fantasy stories and Disney in what felt like a serious take on the Kingdom Hearts saga.  And that's not counting the games which have multiple lines that I've mixed together.

First, make sure your Audience will ENJOY it.
Don't do cross-overs just cause you want to.  Make sure it is also because your players would want to experience it.  A game is always first and foremost a social activity meant to be fun for all those involved.  So don't run a Star Wars game, then surprise your players with Star Trek showing up in it, unless they're fans of both franchises.

The System May Matter.  So Study That Too.
Given how some gamers are very nitpicky about system crunch in their games, be sure to look into how you'll reflect the cross-over characters system-wise before you have it happen.  It won't be cool with such a group if you are running an X-Men game and have Darkseid show up if you don't have any stats to represent Darkseid once they opt to fight him (or at least try to use their powers on him in one way or another.)  Be sure to check online cause you never know if someone out there has already attempted something you have in mind.  For example, the DC Heroes (MEGS) system had a very strong cross-over support system with websites like Classic World of Darkness once benefited from a very strong fanbase with websites such as B.J. Zanzibar and Ex Libris Nocturnis that provided lots of home-brewed systems for Zombies, Dragons and the like to be added to one's White Wolf Games.

Find Nice Parallels to Use.
The best Cross-Overs are when the second franchise is gradually hinted at before finally being revealed for an "Aha!" moment.  In my Serenity games, for example, I toyed with the fact both Serenity and Dr. Who had  a River (Song/Tam), a Doctor (Doctor Who/Simon Tam) and used both to full effect.    I can imagine people coming up with other cross-over games utilizing Jack Sparrow, for example, and Captain Jack of Torchwood.  Or have an Arrow/Revenge cross-over given the similarities the lead have in their lot in life.

The initial misdirection can be a good source of tension in the narrative.  The final reveal has to be played well or might come-off as goofish rather than cool.   A large part in accomplishing that is by not skipping a beat in the reveal and giving any hint of humorous pause.  Just keep the plot moving and show how the characters are really part of the story.

Slip It Into The Canonical History If You Can.
When I ran my games, I tried to make references to other canonical events as well from either franchise.  In the Serenity game, River Song gives Kaylee a hint that perhaps a certain Doctor does have feelings for her too.  And to not give up when all hope seems lost.   In the D.C. Heroes/Authority game, I had the big bad guy be the xenomorphs from Aliens, just cause it nicely resonated with how Stormwatch died in the comics.

Drawing upon established historical canon makes the cross-over feel more authentic.   And in instances where there are multiple variants of a franchise's history (for instance, X-men in the comics does not match with the X-men in the movie) the mention of events can help ease the player quickly to which variant is being used in the game.

If Crossing-Over Two Different Game Lines, Establish a System.
Mixing franchises is easier than mixing game lines which may have totally different systems that you have to contend with.  Running a Legend of the Five Rings game, then mixing in Samurai Jack is easier than mixing Legend of the Five Rings with Exalted, since in one you just convert the franchise character using the system and in the other, you have two systems to consider.  L5R has no concept of Essence Pools to say the least.  What more the multitude of charms in Exalted.  And the Raises might be harded to pull off in Exalted given the dice systems are approached differently.

Clearly, establishing a common system becomes necessary.    But realize, this is needed ONLY when characters from the two game settings are made to directly clash.   Given a scene where a Samurai from the Lion Clan fights alongside a Dawn Caste Solar, you don't need to worry about the two players making separate rolls as long as their actions are independently resolved.    For the "final boss" you can just note down key attacks or signature moves and choose which systems reflect them.  Maybe all you need is to give your villains the appropriate number of "hits" for each system, and once players knock those out, consider the bad guy beaten.  The Demon Warrior might have ten health levels for the Exalted system and a different Health track for the other.    If the Exalt is to defeat the Demon alone without the Samurai's help, he only need deal damage equal to 1.5 times the health you marked (thus emphasizing how things might work better with teamwork).

I've always been more into role-playing than roll-playing, so reducing crunch to dramatic moments has always been the most effective method for me to resolve things.  I tend to favor the players' choices in dramatic moments, to give them the satisfaction of accomplishing things story-wise rather than feel like they're just being railroaded into the plot.  So it is not uncommon for me to have any major enemy require both players to deliver a final blow before it finally falls down defeated.

Lastly, Don't Forget the Catchphrases.
Be sure to thrown in at least once or twice a catchphrase or two in the game.  Even better if your players find a way to throw them in with a twist appropriate to the game.

Have fun!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Game Idea: Black/White

As part of this year's Creative Pay It Forward, I promised my friend Lynn a table top role-playing game based on the anime series, Bleach.  This is her request.

Occasionally some people, upon dying, do not move on to the great life beyond.  They harbor pain and regrets so great, their spirits become violent and twisted with power.  They become threats whose very presence stains the world and  imbalances the spiritual resonance of the world itself.  Thankfully, there exists an organization known as The Society.

The Society deals with such threats by finding and training people to become Soul Agents.  People in the world who have ties to the spirit planes and accept a duty to govern the flow of souls from the lands of the living and the afterlife.  Dressed in all black, and armed with Spiritual Origami, Soul Agents are able to infuse their paper constructs with their own spiritual energy and with their own names, transforming them into deadly unique weapons (though most manifest as swords) that are practically intelligent entities in their own right.

But the Society is not the only organization that monitors the traffic of souls.  Three other groups vie for power and control (if not revenge):  The Reconquista, that seek to regain control (claiming to have once been in charge of things before the Society took over), The Psychopomps, deceased beings that still seek to retain their presence in the world.  And seek to swell their numbers by enlisting more of the recently dead.  And lastly, the Geistesser who have discovered greater power can be found by devouring spirits.

Where will you stand in the spiritual war that rages in secret?  Will you wear the Black?  Or the White?

Character Creation:
While there can be characters of different types in the game, the Society is known to focus only on individuals whom are particularly touched by death in their life.  It is not uncommon for young students to be inducted into the Society, although typically the group avoids the youth unless circumstances allow them to be swayed into being completely under the Society's watchful eye (i.e.  orphans, runaways, etc)

Characters should have a Name, their Age listed, Gender, and by default are members of The Society.  Players can opt to be members of a different Organization with GM approval.

All characters have the following Qualities:  Offensive, Defensive, Enduring, Constructive, Perceptive, Seductive and Consuming.  Offensive relates to any actions taken intended to hurt another, whether it be through weapons or words.  Defensive relates to any actions to protect oneself or another.  Enduring relates more to any challenges necessary AFTER defense is overwhelmed (such as poison, torture and the like).   Constructive relates to actions that intend to create or build something, including friendships.  Perceptive relates to any of the five senses when appropriate.  Seductive differs from Constructive as it relates to a specific area of social activity, as well as social activity that may be manipulative in nature.  Finally, Consuming is a trait that relates ONLY to approaching spiritual growth the way the Geistesser do.

Players allocate fourteen points between the seven Qualities, with no Quality having a rating higher than 3.  The lowest rating a Quality may have is zero.

Characters have a rating called Spiritual Energy, and this is a meter from White (4) to Black (4) with the middle slot being White and Black at (2).  This represents the sway of the character's Spiritual Energy.  As you probably noticed, the way the meter works is it shows whether you have more leanings towards White or Black, depending on your Spiritual Energy points.

Characters also have the three areas of skills:
Primary Skills represents their main interest and concept.  For a student, this may be a field of interest such as "Modern Art".  For a policeman, for example, it could be "Police Training."
Secondary Skills represent their other interests which more or less were given attention and time.  A student might have "Sports" for example or "Puzzle Video Games" as a Secondary Skill.  While the policeman above might have "Romantic Comedy Movies."
The last area is the Void Skill.  This represents an area which the character is absolutely pathetic and embarrassing at.    Any challenges that use this Skill automatically fail, unless the player opts to risk shifting Spiritual Energy.  By spending a point of Spiritual Energy, the character can automatically succeed in attempts that are under this area.

The game uses six-sided dice to resolve all Challenges in a game.  A Challenge is when a character attempts to do an important action which has a chance of failing at a dramatically appropriate moment in the story.  So sitting up on the bed after waking is not a Challenge.  However, sitting up after waking while a poisonous spider slowly descends towards you would be.

Every turn, characters are allowed to declare two actions: One offensive and One defensive action.  If any of those actions are a Challenge, then dice are rolled for each appropriate Challenge.  Choosing to go full offensive or full defensive can provide bonuses, at the cost of the other action.

Gathering Dice:
The player gathers one six-sided die for every point of a Quality that is applicable in the roll.    If the said action falls under a Primary Skill, the player gains three extra dice.  If it is under a Secondary skill, the player gains two extra dice.  You will always get the bigger of the two bonuses if the action happens to relate to both Skill types.   If the action does not fall under ANY of the three skills, you get one bonus die.  Void Skills cannot offer dice, thus not allowing any rolls, even with only your Quality.  To attempt any action that requires a Void Skill, you must spend a point of Spiritual Energy.  (see below, Spiritual Energy)

Equipment and other things can add bonuses to your roll in the form of Adders.  A good weapon, for example, might offer a +2.  Spiritual Origami, the key weapon of all Soul Agents, provides different bonuses depending on how they are used (explained better in the section, Spiritual Origami).  Only one Adder may be added to a dice pool in a given Challenge.  If more than one seem applicable, choose only the highest one.

Going Full Defensive or Full Offensive gives you a +2 to your roll.  This is a separate bonus from Adders.

The player rolls dice and if the total of the dice rolled are above 10, the action is a success.  For every +5 above 10 that the player rolls, he can add descriptors to how his action succeeded.
Lynn is playing Kuro, who is a teenage student with 2 in all qualities (she balanced it out, to make sure she always has dice)  Her Skills are Primary (Occult Lore), Secondary (Vampire Stories) and Void (Driving).  She is trapped by two members of the Reconquista in a dark alley.  She tries to run away from them by leaping for the fire escape, so her action is Defensive.  She has two dice to roll, but since her action does not relate to any skill, this goes up to three.  She rolls 2, 5, 4 and that totals 11.  So Kuro grabs the fire escape and pulls himself up to get away from the two.
Characters have five levels of Health:  Healthy, Hurting, Wounded, Struggling and Vulnerable.  Successful Attack Challenges can cause another character to be Hurting, but further levels can only be reached if the Attack rolls successfully for additional descriptors.  Each level of Health past Healthy is a one die penalty to one's roll.  Once a character is down to Vulnerable, the next successful strike that damages her kills her.

Lynn pulls out her Soul Paper and unfurls it into a razor-sharp whip sword, which she swings at the Reconquista chasing after her.  She rolls a total of 18 with her many dice, which allows her to bring the Reconquista Agent from Healthy all the way to Wounded!  That enemy Agent will have two less dice in all Challenges from that point on.

Spiritual Energy:
Spiritual Energy can turn the tide of any Challenge in your favor, but at the cost of making yourself less Spiritually Balanced.  Each point of Spiritual Energy gives you two extra-six sided dice to roll, and you can spend up to four points in a single Challenge.

However, each time a White Spiritual Energy point is lost, you gain a Black Spiritual Energy point.  And this affects both your Spiritual Origami (see under Spiritual Origami), your character's Appearance (All Society Soul Agents are dressed in all White, but their clothes become darker and edgier as they accumulate Black Energy)  and finally, your membership in your Organization.  The Society is very strict about Soul Agents too often dipping into Black Energy and have been known to "deal with" habitual practitioners.

Black Spiritual can ALSO be used, and this is actually temptingly more powerful than White.  Each point of Black Energy Spent gives the player FOUR extra dice to roll.  However, when Black Energy is used, you do not immediately recover White Energy.  Instead, one of the five triangles under Spiritual Energy is filled up.  If ever all five triangles are filled up, the triangles are cleared out again the left most White Energy Slot is scratched out (meaning you can now always have a bit of Black Energy in you.)  Triangles cannot be emptied in any other way.

White Spiritual Energy can be recovered (so long as there still are slots) through meditation and helping spirits move on to the afterlife properly.  There are rumors that helping especially troubled souls, or notably powerful blessed spirits can cleanse one's triangles, but this has not been proven.

Spiritual Origami:
These are the most powerful weapons any Soul Agent can use.  Spiritual Origami allow a Soul Agent to channel their own Qualities into items and weapons of great power.  A Soul Agent known as Ruk once used her Spiritual Origami to fold and unfurl a Defensive Origami to protect a friend from a killing blow.  The resulting Origami was so powerful the man survived certain death and was touched enough by the experience to become a new Soul Agent.    All Spiritual Origami at the start look like normal typical paper, but once unfurled, look majestic and unique, as they are extensions of the Soul Agent's very Qualities.  

Soul Agents can unfurl Soul Paper into Spiritual Origami as an action in a turn.  This action should always be accompanied with a declaration of what the character is creating.  The declaration is purely thematic and should be appropriate to the character's personality.  An easy way to do this is to have one key word always present in the declaration.  (Example: "Shattering Blade"  "Shattering Fist"  "Shattering Barrier")

Soul Agents always have access to Soul Paper unless a) the GM requires it to be inaccessible for the story or b) the Soul Agent rolls nothing but ones in his roll while using Spiritual Origami.  Folding and unfurling Spiritual Origami does not require a Challenge, but achieving the desired result while using it does.    Challenges faced using Spiritual Origami can DOUBLE the Quality being used.   So Ruk, who had Defending at 3, for example, had a base dice pool of six dice to use when she defended her friend.    However, creative Soul Agents can choose instead to combine TWO different Qualities for a more versatile Spiritual Origami.  So a Soul Agent who folds Soul Paper to create a parachute to survive a fall off a 200-foot building might opt to have it also protect her from the enemies gunfire, giving it Defending and Enduring Qualities.   Another Agent, who furls the paper to be a distracting display of razor sharp blades might combine Seductive and Offensive in the attack.  Clearly Spiritual Origami can be very deadly.  And very powerful defensively.  Heck, it can be very strong in whatever the user is also good with.    Wise Agents never underestimate Spiritual Origami.

A character can use Spiritual Origami without any cost for a number of times equal to their White Spiritual Energy.  Beyond that number of times, characters will have to Risk imbalance to use Soul Paper.  Risking imbalance is done this way:  A player rolls dice equal to the number of existing White Energy (Usually this starts at four).  The Target Number is still ten to use it without cost.  If the roll, however, is less than ten, the Soul Paper can only be folded and unfurled by spending a White Energy point (this does NOT grant the extra bonus dice given when White Energy is spent.)

NOTE:  This does mean that Reconquista and Psychopomps tend to have trouble using Soul Paper as frequently, hence the Reconquista's reliance on numbers, and the Psychopomps' reliance on spirit allies.  Geistesser, on the other hand, have learned the powers of Consumption and focus on that instead.

Ultimate Origami:
If a Soul Agent focuses on using only a single Quality in his Spiritual Origami, there is always a chance of unleashing an Ultimate Origami.  This is when at least four of the dice rolled come out as the Number Four.  The resulting Ultimate Origami depends on the Quality being used.

Ultimate Strike
Regardless of the roll’s total, you bring down the opponent to Vulnerable.  You may spend one Black Energy to automatically kill the target.
Ultimate Block
Regardless of the roll’s total, you can ignore up to five levels of wounds, even if the opponent struck with an Ultimate Strike.
Ultimate Fortress
Regardless of the current state of your health, you end the turn and start the next one at full Health.
Ultimate Birth
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Construction.
Ultimate Sense
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Perception.
Ultimate Master
All dice that come out FOUR is considered SIX for total computation in your Manipulation.
Ultimate Feast
All dice that come out FOUR shows how many targets suffer damage from your attack.

Sample Character:
Ishi, 17 years old Male.  Soul Agent of The Society
3 Offensive     Primary Skill:  Kendo
3 Defensive    Secondary Skill:  Ghost Lore
1 Enduring      Void Skill:  Dating
3 Constructive
1 Perceptive    Spiritual Energy:  W (4) W (3/1B)  W (2/2) B  (W1/3)  B  (4) B
1 Seductive     Health:  Healthy
2 Consuming.

There are many forces that seek to undermine The Society and its attempts to maintain the world's spiritual balance.   Here are the most prevalent antagonists in a Black/White game.

The Reconquista
Hailing from Spain, these Soul Agents believe The Society are inept and incapable of handling the responsibility of guiding the flow of souls to the afterlife.  They were once the other half of The Society, and the two shared their spiritual balancing duties with each half handling them during their half of the year.  But after the former leader calling herself Monty Lynn destroyed thousands of spirits out of sheet spite, The Society deemed her and her supporters corrupt, and exiled them from their duty.  Now, many years later, the surviving fragments of that group have regrouped and called themselves the Reconquista.

Reconquista characters follow the same character creation system as Soul Agents in all aspects, save that they start dressed in all Black, cause they follow an inverse flow of energy compared to the Soul Agents (with their outfits and Spiritual Energy shifting to white as they use their own Spiritual Origami too.)

The Psychopomps
Some of the dead are not willing to move on, and with sufficient Will power, such spirits escape and find ways to fight for their freedom.  And these spirits have discovered the frightening truth:  The Spiritual Energy can be devoured for power.  And when they do so, they gain miraculous abilities!

Spirits have stats similar to characters, with only this key difference: they are already dead.  So Spirits do not have Health Levels.  Instead they have a stat called Corporeality, which has ten points at the start.  Each time they are damaged in combat, they lose Corporeality point for every health level they should lose.  They can instantly recover five Corporeality points by losing White Energy however.  Once they have zero Corporeality, or have been reduced to a point where they have more Black Energy than White, the Soul Agent can spend one White Energy to automatically Exorcise the Spirit and dissipate it away.

However, Psychopomps are a different case.  Psychopomps can devour the White Energy of others (how they do so, remains a mystery) but for having saturated themselves with White Energy, now have a Health level track that should be brought down to Vulnerable before their Corporeality is affected as normal.  While unable to use Spirit Origami, Psychopomps can manifest the following Powers (at the cost of White Energy).

The Spirit deals an extra Health level of damage.
Breath Weapon
The Spirit expels a ranged strike that uses Offensive+Consuming dice.
The Spirit doubles its Perceptive dice in tracking a target.
The Spirit becomes supernaturally entrancing, doubling its Seductive dice.
The Scent of Guilt
The Spirit senses the target’s greatest fears if it succeeds in a Perceptive+Seductive roll against the target’s Defensive+Enduring roll.
Ghostly Mobility
Whether by flying, floating, teleporting through darkness, the Spirit travels its Constructive rating in meters without effort.  I can increase this by a factor of 10 by spending more Energy.
Whispered Presence
The Spirit becomes invisible and silent, but can still be felt.  Perceiving the Spirit requires a Perceptive check against the Spirit’s Defensive+Enduring.
Devour White Energy
Can only be done outside combat.  Drains an amount of White Energy from any target that willingly allows it (supernaturally coerced is acceptable.)

The Geistesser

The Geistesser is a small faction whose members were both from the Reconquista and The Society, but have either abandoned or been dismissed by the groups due to their lack of discipline or disturbing obsession with power.  What unites these individuals is the realization that Soul Agents, just like Spirits, can devour White Energy for magnificent powers, though none would admit the cost of such growth is the retardation of their own sanity.

Geistesser are created just like Soul Agents.  But they too have access to the additional powers the Psychopomps do, but instead of White Energy, use Black Energy to power them.  However, unlike the Psychopomps, the Geistesser are alive, and therefore do not have Corporeality ratings.   What they can do, however, is suffer additional Health levels of damage past Healthy equal to their Black Energy ratings, which is usually at four or five.    Geistesser are very dangerous antagonists and are best used as major antagonists in a game.


There you go.  The first of my Creative-Pay-It-Forward games.
I do hope my friend Lynn likes this take to the Bleach franchise, given I've drawn some ideas from it, but tried to create a new world to explore.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

System Shopped: Settlers of Catan's The Thief - Houses of the Blooded

Settlers of Catan's The Thief
System Shopped:  Houses of the Blooded
by Tobie Abad

Settlers of Catan is the award-winning board game by Klaus Teuber which has been published by Mayfair Games, which features four players as the competing settlers in a fictional land called Catan.  As players create settlements, roads and cities, they gather Resources whenever the rolled dice matches the numbers of regions they are in contact with.  However, whenever the dice roll a seven, no one in the game gathers any Resources and a wooden figure called the Thief moves.  The Thief allows the player who rolled the dice to steal a Resource from another player.

People who have played the board game, and have also played John Wick's Houses of the Blooded, can easily see nice parallels between the two games.  The importance of producing resources and gathering the necessary components for further development are present in both and count among the fun elements that do not exist in other games.   So why not add the infamous power of the Thief into your Houses of the Blooded games.

Currently, in Houses of the Blooded, a region fails to produce Resources when the region in question suffers from Trouble.  Each region has a number of dice to be rolled for Trouble checks.   There are Roadmen who can help deal with Trouble, and the Ven character himself can opt to spend his own Season Actions to resolve Trouble in his Province.

If you wanted to add the Thief to your Houses of the Blooded games, these are the ways you can do it:

The Unlucky Seven.
Whenever you roll for Trouble, there are now two ways that the dice work.  The first is the same as the usual rule:  Any dice that come out as a one means the Region is Troubled and will not be producing any Resources.

The second is this:  Looking at that same roll, if the dice rolled total seven, then the Thief comes into play.    Yes, this means it is impossible with only one die of Trouble, probable with two dice, but trickier with three.   What happens when the Thief comes into play?  The player who rolled the dice has a region that does not generate Resources that turn.  Roadmen and Season Actions cannot be used to allow Production to return, but can be used to end Trouble.

The lost Resource is then randomly redistributed to one of the players.  All the players roll a die and who ever rolls the lowest gets the lost Resources.  This may be the same player who activated the Thief.  What happened?  Well, the Thief STOLE the Resources, then resold it to the Ven for a happy profit.  The exchange  clearly will only hurt the player who lost the Resource, unless he happened to be lucky enough to have repurchased it back.

The Thief:  A Named Trouble Vassal.
In this version, a new kind of Named Vassal is added to the game.  Trouble Vassals are non-playing characters who can make the life of the players worse.   Whenever Trouble is rolled, the cause of the Trouble can be caused by these Vassals.  Other players can bid Style to have the Trouble Vassal "working for them" for that particular moment of Trouble.  The winner of the bid then benefits from the Trouble that was caused.  In this case, the Ven who lost a Resource was a victim of this Vassal.  Thankfully, this however means the Trouble instantly ends within that same season, even without the use of Roadmen or Season Actions.

On the other hand, the winner of the bid then receives the lost Resources.
And the game as a whole as a whole new story worth exploring.

Trouble Vassals CAN be killed, assassinated, or interacted with during stories.  However, even when one dies, a new one eventually surfaces.  So the game will pretty much always have a Trouble Vassal, so long as the players want one to be part of the game.

New Vassals, and Rogue Actions
Ven have Spymasters, Roadmen, Valets, and more.   Now, they also have Thieves that work for them.  These are new Band Vassals that can be hired by a Ven.  Unlike most Vassals, however, are harder to maintain.  In addition to the One Season's worth of Food per Year, the Thieves Guild requires a Season worth of Luxury to be given also once a year.

Thieves Guild: Band Vassal
Each Rank of Thief Guild represents ten thieves that work for the Ven.  Each Rank represents another ten thieves.  A Thief Guild has one Season Action per Rank.  This Season Action can be used to attempt an Rogue Action called Steal Resources.  Steal Resources can only target Ven who have rolled Trouble for one of their Regions.  If more than one Guild wants to steal from that Ven, the Guild with the higher Rank goes first.

Rogue Actions are like Espionage actions, wherein the roll is against the Region's Security.  If the roll is successful, the Guild steals that Region's "lost Production" due to Trouble.  A Guild can only steal as much Resources as their Rank.  Rogue Actions are done in Phase 3 of Season Actions.  The Ven themselves cannot do Rogue Actions with their Season Actions.

So if there are any remaining Resources, other Guilds can attempt to steal it as well.
Rogue Actions, when successful, resolve the Trouble in that Region.

Queen of Thieves: Master Vassal
When you increase a rank 3 Thief Guild to the status of NPC, you gain a Queen of Thieves.  The Queen of Thieves is an NPC, complete with Virtues and Aspects.  She may add to your Thief Guild's Rogue Actions as a character.  She, however, requires an additional Season of Luxury one a year.

The Queen of Thieves can add her Cunning to all Rogue Actions committed by the Thief Guild.  She can also take a Season Action to to Steal Resources on any other Ven's Regions, even those that are not in Trouble.  She rolls her Cunning + Thief Guild rank against a Region's Security to steal Resources.   And just to be clear: using the Season Action of the Queen of Thieves to assist the Thief Guild does not reply the Guild's Season Action.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Agenda e11 : Adventure - Aberrant - Aeon Trinity

Episode Eleven

Adventure - Aberrant - Aeon Trinity

The three start taking down members of the Huang-Marr Conspiracy, with various affiliates of the group being tracked outside the wastelands of Paris and in the shadows of the New York arcology.  Their trail leads them to find the final member of the conspiracy, a woman named Dita Disray who is currently hiding out at Eyrie Station.  Wu telepathically extracts more and more information of the Conspiracy for later legal raminifcations.

But then it happens.  A psionic backlash of such intensity that causes all the psions in the world to black out for a few minutes.  The last time a backlash of this intensity occurred was when the Esperanza crashed and destroyed Paris.  As they recover the terrible news reaches them:  the Earth is under attack and a space station has become the front line of the conflict.  Eyrie had lost over 75% of its population and the backlash  caused by the hundreds of deaths was just the beginning of worse things to come.  Strangely, almost as if in response to the massive deaths, the psions receive a sudden influx of psionic energy, boosting their innate Psi levels to new heights.

A group of Legionnaires were enroute to the space station to help and the three volunteer to assist.  Autumn Lacierda Wu makes arrangements with the Legionnaire and Orgotek extends some assistance as well, providing the three with bioVAS suits.  Arming themselves with weapons, the group quickly joins the Legionnaires in their shuttle and are blasted into space.  The shuttle, enroute, suffers massive damage and the Legionnaires opt to eject from the shuttle all make their way to the control center of the station.  Each player characters is escorted by one of the Legionnaires but due to none of the three having training in space combat, the three lose consciousness as they crash safely into the station.

Dr. Casperzak of the Aesculapian Order awakens alone.  His Legionnaire escort is dead and he had no idea where the others are.  Thankfully, Autumn's telepathic powers are strong enough to reach him, and she establishes a Network in order to keep in touch with him.  Casperzak learns the others are currently engaged in combat, having landed in an area where the alien invaders, frog-like photomanipulative things called Chromatics are present.  Eric Langley uses his Photokinesis abilities to detect the nearly invisible creatures and Autumn shares his perceptions with the Legionnaires, allowing them to target the aliens much more effectively.

As they fight their way to the Control Center, Casperzak early gets pinned down by a few Chromatics.  The others discover a null-zone where all their devices (save for biotech) seem to fail them.  As they approach the area, Langley creates a holographic duplicate of Wu and has it walk into the null zone.  The hologram disrupts as well, leading them to realize the area seems to be some kind of localized EMP.  Wu steps in, risking the danger, and suddenly a thin line of energy creeps out from the wall and dances into a fractal wave of crisscrossing energy that wraps around Wu without hurting her.  The lasers whip around and the others discover there were Chromatics stalking them, but thankfully the lasers made them visible.  As the bursts of gun fire bring the aliens down, Langely discovers the source of the lasers and EMP turns out to be the Prexy himself, Alex Cassell who is currently sitting half-delirious from a stomach wound that has left his intestines hanging out!   Emergency services becoming a priority, Wu decides to try something she wasn't sure would work.  Using her telepathy to its limits, Wu shares Dr. Casperzak's memories with Langley's, allowing Eric to access Casperzak's medical expertise to work with his own abilities to medically assist Cassell and cauterize the wounds.  The treatment would at least allow him to survive a bit longer, until a more appropriate treatment can be administered.

The group finally meets at the entrance to the Control Center, with Casperzak using his powers to ease the pain Cassell was suffering from.  Chromatics continued to close in on them, so the Legionnaires continued to delay them with gun fire while Langley and Cassell interfaced with the door to open it.  As the door opens, however, gun fire erupts from inside and clips Wu on the shoulder.  They file into see a woman cowering near the console units, with a dead body and a suit case nearby.  The woman, they quickly discover, is actually their target, Dita Disray herself.  She is easily disabled, and when the others grab hold of the suitcase, they open it to discover it contains weird technology that looks like nothing they have seen before.  At least nothing any of them have seen, save for one person:  Alex Cassell curses aloud upon seeing them and mutters, "Damn it!  Doyen tech!"  When asked what he means, the Prexy refuses to explain at first.  But their attentions are pulled away as they realize the Space Station's main computer was not following their instructions.   Langley, while interfaced, discovers what is going on.  A rogue program was rewriting codes and when Langley attempts to affect the program, it reveals itself to be some kind of sentient energy form.  As the group confronts the form, and the Chromatics swarm the area, the players begin to understand what they are exactly facing:  the rogue energy form turns out to be the now insane Switchboard, who once was a super hero but now was so twisted by Taint and traumatized by being lost in space when she tried to ride a signal back to Earth after being left on the moon by Divis Mal.

The group attempt to overwhelm her with distractions, but the computer mind of Switchboard remains too complicated a force to be reckoned with.  Langley could not do enough to disrupt her thought processes.  But Casperzak comes up with an impossible solution and uses his Mentatis to relieve her of her madness, even if just for a few minutes.  Wu attempts to convince Switchboard that she truly wishes to help her, and that she believes that things could be better if she could only communicate with them.  Switchboard takes that as an offer and Transmits Wu and herself away, leaving the rest of the team at the Eyrie Station.


Axel Cassell admits everything to Eric Langley, and now explains to him what the Doyen are and why things have been revolving around Langley.  The fragment of the code they had "copied" of Switchboard becomes the framework they use to create the Pax Program which they shunt through the Gravity Chamber to send into the past.    And the German's secret visits and messages to Langley are explained further.  The truth is, Langley isn't even a real person.  He is a genetic duplicate of a man from the 1920s.  A clone of the man named Samuel Warren.  The German brings out the Mask of the Sleepwalker and asks Langley to wear it.

And as he does, Langley feels the strangely familiar voice of the Sleepwalker.  And realizes he has never felt more complete until today.

"Time to save the world," the German admits, "Or at least, save our friend Michael Donighal."


Wu stares at the strange world she has been delivered to.  Biotech towers and floating cities stretch across the horizon.   Chromatics crawl around the aberrants like pets.  And a handsome man with red hair and a friendly smile approaches her and reaches a hand out for a handshake.

"Welcome to Eden, Autumn Lacierda Wu.  I am Michael Donighal, the man once known as Divis Mal.  It is now up to us to try to save the world."

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