Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Review: WOD The God-Machine Chronicle

The God-Machine Chronicle
by Dave Brookshaw, David A Hill Jr., Danielle Lauzon, Matthew McFarland, John Newman, John Snead, Stew Wilson, Filamena Young, Eric Zawadzki.
World of Darkness
Rating: ★★★★

What has risen may fall.
What has fallen may rise again.

When the World of Darkness was reborn (an event preceded by the Gehenna and Time of Judgment books that lead to the close of the time we refer to now as Classic World of Darkness), there were some pieces of fiction that stirred the imagination in what felt to be a totally fresh and new direction.  Voice of an Angel was the name of that piece, written by Matthew McFarland and Rick Chillot, and in that tale the concept of a strange divine presence which manifested in a much more mechanical material state was introduced:  The God-Machine.  What was it?  Why did it exist?  How did it function?  What purpose did it serve?  These were questions that the reader was left to speculate on.  To explore on their own.

But deep down, many of us wanted more.  Much much more. And back then, we were teased with a few more glimpses to the truth.  Stories such as Residents (World of Darkness: Mysterious Places), Road Gospel (World of Darkness: Midnight Roads) and Diamonds (World of Darkness: Aslyum) were then released, and each hinted at a larger untold story.  The Righteous and the Wicked (World of Darkness: Antagonists) was one of my favorites, with its tattooed cultist and the apocalyptic message given in bold 14 point font on the End of Days.  First they came out with an Anthology book, which really added more ideas to the pot.

Then they hit us with a whole new book.  And that is what this review will focus on.  (For those curious about the other half of the book, which was released as a free Rules Update download, check out my review on that here.)

So what does the book contain?
The book opens with a new story which connects the concept of the God-Machine to something we all dearly love - the internet.  What starts out as a cautionary tale on the dangers of clicking links transforms to a frightening narrative that tells us there are worse things than receiving spam.   Then the book has chapters dedicated to explaining the concepts behind the God-Machine, a generous helping of tales you can use to jumpstart, add to, or wrap a chronicle around, which involve the God-Machine and its many Infrastructures (oooh, new shiny term, eh?) and finally a chapter dedicated to the many servants of the God-Machine itself.  An appendix then wraps the book up with the host of new Rules Updates and as I mentioned above, you can check out my other review for my thoughts on those.

So We Finally Know What the God-Machine Is?
Well, yes and no.  And that's not a cop-out answer.  Yes, because Chapter One: Storytelling the God-Machine very nicely explains how the concept of the God-Machine can be introduced into a game.  It introduces the ideas behind having a God-Machine as an antagonist (or any other role) in your stories, and the many "parts" the comprise its presence and influence in the world.    Those familiar with Hunter the Vigil (as well as the expansions added to Vampire the Requiem in The Danse Macabre), the book brings back the idea that the threat may be rated in Tiers; Local, Regional, Global and Cosmic.

Yes, smart readers now realize that this means the writers did NOT just outright say what the God-Machine is (Hence the "no" in the first statement above).  This is because even this book is embracing the new design philosophy present in White Wolf Gaming Studio games, which is "Everything we release form now on is intended to be tool kit in nature.  You can choose, mix and match the portions you like.  And I personally feel that's a great thing.  It allows you to keep things unpredictable.  And it doesn't tie players to stick to a meta-plot the way the classic World of Darkness did.  While the meta-plot in the past did have its merits, I am happy that the World of Darkness now is sticking to its guns and keeping things tool-kit friendly.

Chapter One: Building the God-Machine Chronicle
Boy does this book expound on options in Chapter One: Building the God-Machine Chronicle and throw even more in the second chapter called Tales of the God-Machine.  (Oddly, the table of contents shows Chapter One to be Storytelling the God-Machine.  I wonder why the sudden change?)  The first parts  explore why the God-Machine book was made, and lead to how the God-Machine most likely has its arms in the world.  It offers many ideas, many concepts, but leaves it for the individual Storyteller to decide on which one stands as the truth.  This was done before, in the Time of Judgement, Gehenna, Apocalypse and Ascension books, which offered multiple ways for the final arcs to be approached.  Some hated the idea since it gave no "true ending" while others (like myself) applauded the move since it allowed storytellers to use what they wanted, and allowed even the same kind of story to be explored without feeling like the same earlier game since you can approach it now using an angle offered in the book which you haven't tried.

What is impressive is the huge list of idea generating concepts they list out in this chapter.  Page 24 to 38 is filled with all these interesting snippets for encounters, people who are against the God-Machine, those who worship it, and so forth that I cannot help but wish MORE of these were explored in the next chapter.

They also introduce The Network, which is a simple system to ensure that the player characters have related connections or shared backgrounds to allow more interaction and reasons to reach out to one another, which I feel is something I am happy to see finally written down as a technique to use.  Many games slow down to a halt due to players not... interacting with each other.  The section also talks about Chronicle Tracks, which explores the various themes you can embrace for your God-Machine chronicle, and even suggests what Tales you can use (and in what order) from the next Chapter to build your game.  They're cool sections that give new game masters loads of ideas to form their own game summaries.

Chapter Two: Tales of the God-Machine  
Tales of the God-Machine throws in a total of 20 possible story ideas that you can incorporate, mix-and-match or explore in your games.  Some (like the 300 Block, Urban Wanderings, Do-Over, Sister City) are tremendously cool, throwing a Fringe-meets-The Lost Room vibe without forcing players down a narrow path.  Others (like Operation: Bell Jar, the Key) are less flexible but no less compelling and interesting to explore.  With the twenty laid out among the four tiers, the Storyteller can nicely scale events from local to global (or wider) nicely at a glance.

Each Tale is broken down to its component parts, with mentions of what Infrastructure of the God-Machine are vital in the tale, what parts are Interchangeable, what Skills or Merits might be useful to lead into or be used in the story, and Escalation ideas on how things get "worse" if the players don't intervene.

These are remarkable doses of information that can prove to be extremely useful to Storytellers who aren't certain yet on what direction to have their game take.  Each one nicely throws in ideas and suggestions which makes it very enticing to find ways to incorporate each Tale to one's game.  Blackhattmatt kindly throws in a teaser of one of the Tales, The Key, in his blog.  I highly recommend you read it to get a gist of one of the Tales.

Then Comes Chapter Three.
Admittedly, I felt let down by this chapter.  Chapter Three is called The Cogs in the Machine, and it explores the many characters and antagonists you will face in a God Machine Chronicle.  This is where I felt the game goes a tad flat (hence my lower than happy rating above).  I really wanted to find cool monsters or unique ideas, but sadly I felt the ones presented here were just not interesting enough.    Some, like the Polis Men, offered great visual concepts but system-wise seemed lacking.  Given this chapter explores 27 characters, I admittedly felt disappointed because the Angels presented didn't catch me as inspiring or unique.  (Maybe I'm just too spoiled by Dr. Who admittedly, but I really wanted to see Angels that felt more God-Machineque than just spirits who were doing the God-Machine's bidding.  Each one was tied to a certain tale, and yet many of them felt like the could be thrown into any other non-God-Machine Chronicle, which in my opinion worked against this Chapter.   And while some were moving in the direction, the final result seemed bland and uninspired.

The book does offer two more Angel ideas, both of which were not tied to any of the Tales.  Ironically, these two seemed to show much more promise and I wish they wrote more in this vein instead.

So, Overall Assessment?
The book is lovely.   It definitely is a font of ideas on how to approach the World of Darkness without having Vampires, Werewolves, Prometheans and the like.   The book, especially with the new Rules, can give you the options to run games that are inspired by shows like Fringe or Alcatraz.  But I really wanted a bit more... machine in this book.  For example, how about ideas on whether hacking and computers can play a larger role in such a setting.  Or given the idea of a God-Machine, I wish they introduced analogies to viruses, malfunctions, fuel, replacement parts and the like to a spooky context.  Admittedly, part of me even feels slighted that the God-Machine concepts never really explain why they would be or refer to themselves as Angels.

I also kind of hoped for some kind of iconic villain or threat to be added to the game.  Many of the antagonists in the third chapter just seem to be too.. lackluster.  I would have wanted even some hint of an actual cult of the God-Machine.  Or an example of how they approach their worship and the like.

Rating Breakdown:
Concept:  Still incredible and mesmerizing.  The ideas presented on the many possible backstories are fun to consider.  But given this is a main book for the God-Machine I kind of wished they went up to eleven.  On a scale of 1 to 10 on awesomeness, they sort of settled at five.
Crunch:   Again, the Rules Update part has its own review.  That said, the rest of the Crunch was unfortunately not as exciting.  And while the Banes of some of the Angels were interesting, the fact those things were typical of spirits kinda made the concepts given even cheaper since they were just using rules for Spirits.
Layout:  Not bad.  And admittedly, the table of contents was helpful.  Polished lay out.  Great artwork.  And nice touch on the fiction inside.  The way they laid out the fiction was pretty cool.
My favorite part:  The list of ideas in Chapter one.  And the Chapter two Tales.  They really explored the concepts of the God Machine in many directions and I like that.  Honestly, I was surprised they didn't come up with more.   Need space for that?  See below.
What I wish was better:  I would have been willing to remove the third Chapter entirely, and just have any characters or angel write-ups in the respective Tales.  After all, save for two, that's what they did anyway.  I would have doubles the Tales.  And maybe wrote up three major God-Machine monstrosities as well for players to be afraid of.

Will you be the malfunction to the God-Machine's machinations?
Decide at Drivethru rpg.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Review: Monster Hearts

Monster Hearts
by Joe Mcdaldno
Buried Without Ceremony
Rating: ★★★★

I wasn't really interested in Monster Hearts when I first heard about it.  But then again, being told it was "the perfect game to use to run something inspired by Twilight" was clearly the worst way to get a first impression on a game.  This game, to be honest, is devilishly fun and even better, so easy to teach to even those who have never ever played a role-playing game in the past.    For fans of shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Being Human or TruBlood, this game system nicely captures the sexy dangerous darkness that such franchises offer without cluttering the fun process with far too many rules to keep track of.

Messy Lives
Based on the Apocalypse World system, Monster Hearts is billed as "A story game about messy lives of teenage monsters" and to be honest, I get confused when some seem to insist on separating role-playing games with story games when I always felt story games are more like Atlas Games' Once Upon a Time.  The moment players are part of a group that is creating an evolving story while they portray specific roles, I feel, they are playing a role-playing game.  It isn't about whether or not there are stats, or dice, or experience points.  It is about playing a role and experiencing a story unfold as a group.   But I digress, Monster Hearts is a game of teen angst, of darkness looming, of dangerous excitement, of mesmerizing whispers and unveiled secrets.   Each player chooses a Skin, the game's term for a character type, to portray and from the list of options quickly and easily generate the character they will use in the game.  The wonderful staples of Apocalypse World's system are there, with the Stats, the Moves, and the prepared options readily available and easily selected with a circle or a check.

The System
Two six-sided dice are used whenever a player needs to resolve an action.  Actions tend to fall under specific Stats and the game has the following:  Hot, Cold, Volatile and Dark.  Hot actions tend to be about Turning people on or Manipulating them.  Cold actions are about shooting someone down, or maintaining a steady facade.  Volatile actions are for combat and other physical actions.  While Dark explore gazing into the Abyss.  Rolling 10+ means you typically get the result you wanted.  Rolling 7-9 means you might get what you want, but at a cost.  Rolling 6 or lower means you fail, and the repercussions of the failure are then revealed.  A lot of the language of the rule book can be confusing to those who never played a Dungeon World/Apocalypse World game before, but in many ways the confusing talk about Soft and Hard Moves are actually just a different way of saying light and heavy consequences for the actions chosen.  

The Skins
Each Skin nicely covers a supernatural concept that is typically in many shows and books now.  Vampires, Werewolves, Witches, Ghosts are there, as are Fae folk, the Chosen, Mortals and Infernals.  The Ghoul is an odd addition since it seems to be a strange twist to the zombie concept (but I guess after the movie Warm Bodies, its a very welcome addition.)  But admittedly my favorite is the Queen which gives a nice quirky approach to giving the game the Mean Girls treatment.   Each Skin has interesting moves that they can use, and a great idea to how their Darkest Self manifests.  In Monster Hearts, one can allow their Darkest Self to manifest to keep from dying, and it is such a wonderful bonus that the Skins throw in the necessary role-playing activity to regain control from it.

Sex Moves.  
There, I said it.  This is probably one of the more controversial aspects of the game for some people.  I will confess to being uncertain about including it my game at first, given I was introducing the hobby to a non-gamer and I wasn't too keen on letting this new person have her first impression on gaming to be "playing a devil worshipper, and finding ways to have Sex with another character to get some magic going."  So yes, the Sex Moves were a concern at first.  But once the game was clearly toying with the idea of adolescent and young adult supernatural drama, it easily all fell into place.   I will give the game bonus points for a very interestingly written section gender concerns nicely touched on some sensitive issues without sounding preachy.

The concept of Strings is an interesting one.  A natural evolution of Apocalypse World's Hx ratings, Strings shows how certain characters have already affected your character in the past, and how these "strings of influence" can be used to help or hinder the same people.  I do wish, however, they were written to be as modular as Dungeon World's Bonds system, given Strings in this game might not be useful beyond the first session.

And finally, the MC section is wonderful.  For people who have never tried running a game before, the book extends to the reader a very well explained section on how to run games, the importance of asking questions, and the ways to invoke dramatic moments into your game.

Rating Breakdown:
Definitely turned my opinion around, this game is crazy fun and is awesomely good at making it stay that crazy fun.  And I am very impressed at how much Skins are now out there for this line too.

Crunch: Tremendously lean that non-gamers can learn in a few minutes.  The Strings can get confusing at times, but over all it is a wonderfully made game.  I would have wanted to see more moves, maybe sort of a generic listing of other move options.

Layout: Very pretty and I have to admit, the logo is just beautiful.  The approach to the art, which clearly took from Apocalypse World's visual stance, worked wonderfully here.  I'm surprised they didn't include suggested theme songs for each Skin (hence when I ran the game, I made sure each character's scene had a theme song.)

My favorite part: The Darkest Self.  Just a wonderful way to add such a concept without being too pretentious about it.  And yes, the Queen is just awesome.

What I wish was better:  The Sex Moves.  I guess I wish the game also offered clear alternatives to them, for groups that would rather separate their gaming exposure and their concerns on games that have a sexual presence. But don't mistake this opinion to suggest the game is soft core gaming porn.  Trust me, the game is definitely a far better version of Twilight.

So find that inner monster in you, and let it fall in love.
Available at Drivethru rpg.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Learning to Let Go

Learning to Let Go
by Tobie Abad

Sometimes, a game just isn't going the way you all want it to.    I think we've all found ourselves in such a dilemma in the past. Maybe it is a gung-ho tactical war using the Pathfinder system which for some reason keeps feeling less like a tactical game and more like a video game.  Or maybe it is a dark brooding Call of Cthulhu game which somehow keeps dipping into Monty Python humor.   Or sometimes, it can even be more insidious: Those games that are going the way the group wanted it to... but somehow, the fun isn't just there.

And whatever the reasons behind the game's collapse, you reach a point you have to decide whether or not it is time to pull the plug.  Is narrative euthanasia still acceptable as a response?  Should you just throw the game away with the bath water, so to speak?

1.  Ask your Players
Ask them what they truly think of the game.  In fact, ask them if it is really fun or if they'd want to try playing something else.  In games like the Onyx Path's World of Darkness, players write down Aspirations as small goals they want to achieve in a session or two.  Other games like Dungeon World's Bonds system has a similar system.  Those might provide insight on how much fun your players are really having.  If their lists are expansive and interesting then you got a good game going.  But if they seem to talk more about wall flowering, then maybe the game should be given to the roses instead.

2.  Throw them a Break
If you're lucky, you'll get to throw them a one-shot game or something which might either just be the break they needed to get back into your game.  Or they might like the alternative game so much, that its clear its time to let the dying game lie in its shallow grave.  But ultimately, it is a win-win proposition cause you not only get to try a new game, but if it turns out to be the game that hits the "fun" they want, then you got a fun game to enjoy too!

3. Take a Time Out
Instead of a usual game night, try having a boardgame night instead!  Or grab your friends to head off to the movies and catch the latest blockbuster movie you've all been planning to see.  A change in the routine at times might be more beneficial than you think, as it allows the group to synch up in an environment different from where you run your games.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing.  Sometimes, it is during games that major cathartic releases occur.  And after such moments of de-stressing, an unconscious association to that "heaviness" still connects to the locale.  So try taking a time out and see if it makes things go smoother.

4. Ask Yourself
Now even if the players feel its really going great, if you as the game master feel very dissatisfied or lousy about it, by all means - STOP RUNNING IT.  Maybe you need to stop for the moment.  Or stop running the said campaign for good.  But again, you are NOT paid to entertain people.  You are enjoying a hobby to have fun with your friends.

So if you aren't having fun, then admit it.  Tell them it ain't working for you.  And stop.

But do know they deserve to know how "long" this "stop" will be.  As they too deserve the right to do what's fun for them.   If your bonds with your friends are pretty strong, there shouldn't be any childish "sulking" going around.  And frankly, if there is... I think it might be better to not have *that* person be part of your gaming group.

Let's face it.  The time wasted in trying to resuscitate a dead game would have been better used in starting a whole new cooler game.  Just my two cents.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Seven ep02: Vampire the Masquerade

The Seven
Episode Two

"The Silver and the Habit"

Vampire the Masquerade
Classic World of Darkness

New York City.

Ambrosio Luis Moncada is a name almost all Kindred and Cainites have heard of.  And those who have met the man will never forget the encounter.  The infamy of this Lasombra Archbishop is equaled only by his religious fervor.  Some Malkavians whisper that something happened in the year 1999 which kept him from gaining the seat of Cardinal.  Whatever the truth is, Moncada remains a name few vampires would want to hear.  Much less find themselves face to face with.

Even if you are Sabbat.

As the Archbishop leads the Auctoritas Ritae, he talks to Corbin Sydney, the Bishop, and inquires if Adam Parker is still in the city.  Katherin Lucheshi, a prominent Toreador anti-tribu Priest, slides away and quickly finds the Tzimisce.  She warns him that the Archbishop seeks his presence and adds, "He will ask for your head."

“It is a good thing then that I am Tzimisce,” Adam Parker replies, confidently.


In the New York Chantry of the Five Boroughs, the Tremere Primogen Vaclav speaks with Gomorra and Samantha Fletcher about the strange murders that have been happening in the city.   The discussions circle around the three murders, and very quickly they realize that each of the murders were inspired by the punishment and penance represented by Dante's Divine Comedy.

The Gangrel Silas was branded with the word Superbia on his forehead.  Stone slabes were wired into his back to weigh him down, with the wires being needled through his ribs and around his spine, then dropped from the top of the skyscraper called LightBearer.

The Ventrue Ignacio was branded with the word Invidia on his forehead.  The vampire's eyes were wired shut, and the vampire frenzied in a crowded alleyway.  Surprisingly, the vampire remained outside even as the sun rose, immolating itself to  Final Death. 

The Noferatu Imogus was the next victim with the word Ira branded onto his forehead.  The sewer rat had removed its own fangs, face, then heart.  The walls where he had killed himself were plastered with images of various people - people whom happened to be mortals.

Gomorra proudly shares what she has uncovered in her own research.  The three were clearly victims of their own views.  Or natures.  Each of them were labelled with the names of appropriate demons, Lucifer for Pride, Levianthan for Envy and Amon for Wrath.  "Perhaps the rituals are being used to summon a demon?"  Both Samantha and Vaclav are irritated by her know-it-all attitude.  Vaclav sends her off to the train stations to "investigate" the possibility that Sloth, which would have the sinner dragged through earth, would be accomplished there.     Samantha then learns that the three victims were actually killed in a different order, with Ignacio, the Venture actually be the first victim.  Imogus, the Nosferatu, was actually the second.  With the Gangrel as the third, Vaclav shared his worries that more were to come.  And which of the four would come next.

Samantha considers the murderer to possibly be an older Kindred. One with enough powers of Domination or Presence to cause the victims to choose to kill themselves.  Vaclav advises her to investigate the matter casually since the current Deputy, Viktor Smith will approach things formally.


Back at the Elysium, Viktor and Faqas discuss the murders as well and ponder on the possibility that certain victims were also among the Sabbat.  Viktor considers checking with Adam Parker, his Sabbat contact, but the thought is diverted as Argento, a Toreador artiste, arrives to ask for assistance.  Faqas claims to have work to do and assigns the Deputy to handle the complaint for her.  Argento claims to have a "stalker" and from his stories, it first sounds funny.  Until the stalker supposedly has been waiting for him outside the Elysiums of the city.   

Samantha arrives and upong seeing the deputy, approaches Viktor to offer additional information.  Viktor however admits being suspicious of “independent consultants” and does not offer any information in return.  For him, such details are “Best kept within the official capacity of the Sheriff’s office. Of course any information you are willing to share freely will be useful in this investigation.”  


Back among the Sabbat, Moncada finally meets with Parker, and the two speak much of the old times, of the war, and of old friends.  He inquires about Viktor Smith, and Parker reluctantly explains that the Brujah no longer recalls the past events.  He explains that Moncada's former student has joined the Camarilla.

“Camarilla? Well that, is a sin,” Moncada quips.

They also discuss about Samantha Fletcher's growing obsession with Noddist lore.  Her determination to (dis)prove the writings of Samuel Beckett are her primary drive now.  To that, the old Lasombra smiles and promises to pay the two a visit.  In his own terms.


The two decide to visit the alleyway where the Ventrue, Ignacio, immolated himself.  Samantha suspects the alleyway should have an area where a vehicle had dropped the vampire off.  But as they investigate, things become stranger.   The alleyway, as it turned out, had a cafe.  And the cafe was occupied with people when Ignacio had his incident.  Worse, it seems Ignacio had actually Frenzied in front of the people, and had even attacked some of them.

But things took an odder turn when it soon became apparent that all the witnesses of that evening were made to forget the incident and instead recall some madman attacking them with a knife.  Whoever was behind this wanted the Masquerade to remain intact!  Samantha finds a good drop off point, and the who learn that the couple owning the cafe did indeed have a van which drives up there for deliveries.  However, ever since that night, they have not had their van returned from the shop for repairs.  "Some crazy loon drove into that alley that night.  Hit our rear fender too."  The two decide to head for the shop to learn more.

The shop is managed by a single mortal, and Viktor wastes no time and uses his Presence to Entrance the poor sod.  While the Brujah gains information from the emotionally snared mortal, the Tremere uses her Spirit's Touch to glean more information from the truck itself.  Viktor confirms the truck was hit by a red BMW, and it must have hit the truck head on as it drove into the alleyway, so it would have a damaged headlight.  He realizes he's a bit hungry, so under the guise of sexual flirtation, he bites into his neck. Samantha sees glimpses of the accident, and watches as Ignacio is brought down from the truck in a conscious state.

"What are you doing?"

Samantha breaks from the Auspex to see a young punk girl in a scooter staring at her.  She shoos the girl away and makes her way to the street to wait for the Brujah.  But she doesn't realize Viktor gets a tad carried away in his feeding and drinks a bit more than he should.  Leaving the poor guy seduced and woozy from blood loss, the two decide to follow their leads separately, with Samantha heading back to the Chantry to see if anyone has connections that can locate a red BMW with a busted headlight, while Viktor secretly considers reaching out to contact Adam Parker.

Two days pass.
Then it happens.

Samantha and Viktor are both alerted to another event that endangers the Masquerade.  A body had been immolated on the streets of New York once again.  But this time, in front of one of the places of Elysium - the Succubus Club!    The two hurry to the location to investigate.

Viktor, thanks to his alternate identity as Detective Victor Steiner of the NYPD, is easily permitted into the crime scene.  The policemen stare at him, uncertain of what to say of what they had witnessed.  The events, Viktor learn, transpired just at the tail end of the afternoon before the sun set.    The cops inform him that there was only one victim, and he was still under the tarp on the street in front of the Succubus Club.  But it is the next line of information that surprises him:  "The fifteen witnesses... possible suspects.. are over there."

A small makeshift tent has been erected at the side alley.  Fifteen people, with seven of them being men, seven women and a young boy, are all seated inside, staring blankly ahead, with first and second degree burns on their hands, arms, chest and faces.  Viktor realizes the victim was the Toreador Argento.  And these fifteen were his ghouls.  Forensics find something odd in the corpse.  They call Viktor and show him the small charred wooden piece that is still embedded in the victim's chest.

Samantha learns from Vaclav that Gamorra hasn't been seen in a while either.  The elder is annoyed that the woman might be slacking somewhere.  Samantha tries making a few calls, but she does not answer.  She sends instead an SMS to ask her to hurry back soon.  Gamorra replies, "K."  When she arrives at the murder scene, Viktor tells the rest to let her in.  "She's with me."

They discern that Argento was brought to the area by a large yellow school bus.  A woman dressed in a nun's habit lead the group of ghouls out of the vehicle.  They then carried out with them a large object covered in a tarp.  They positioned themselves in front of the Succubus Club, and most who saw them assumed they were just some kind of viral performance that hoped to get more online acclaim.

Then the tarp was pulled back.

And the Cainite held down by the fifteen pairs of arms began to burn.  The youngest ghoul, a young boy, pulled something from the body's chest.  And it was only then the body started convulsing.  But the vampire never screamed.

The ghouls held him down til his charred remains ceased to move.

"She said it was for the best.  For his own good," the young boy explained.  And all the ghouls start screaming and howling as they realize what they have done.  The vampires do what they can to control the growing hysteria.  Samantha start's commanding each one to fall asleep.

The body's hands and teeth have been removed. Once again, the ones behind this have acted to still maintain the Masquerade.    Viktor finds a brand on the forehead of the dead Cainite.  "Avari"

A reporter asks if these are related to the earlier murders.   Even as Viktor and Samantha ignore him, the man calls out, “The people have a right to know! It is for their own good.”  Samantha mutters worriedly if this is the handiwork of a certain woman.  Someone whom he has heard can do these things.  "Controlling so many at a single time..." She hesitates to say her name.  Viktor sadly admits he does not know who she is talking about.

The two visit the Succubus Club, intent to hear from Patricia Westwayer, the Toreador Primogen, what they have to share.    She is found slow dancing by herself to Berlin's Take My Breath Away.  Viktor breaks the reverie and Patricia snarls at them from interrupting her.  She actually Dread Gazes them in her anger.  But Samantha and Viktor hold their ground and the Primogen apologizes for her temper.  She admits her servants had witnessed the events since she was asleep when they happened.  They confirm the findings.  The bus.  The nun.  The child pulling out the stake.

Patricia confirms it was Argento.

"He was a shining light in the darkness," she sighs and plays the music again.

Take my breath away....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

In Flux ep03 : Shadows of Esteren

In Flux
Episode Three
"Donan's Journal - I Want The World of Stupidity To Die"

My name is Donan Roik.
I am an Investigator.

But it seems outside my usual region, suddenly my official documents of occupation do not apply.  I would have understood that more had I crossed the sea, or flown over the mountains to a whole new continent, but no, all I did was trek with the Varigals.  But I guess there are certain documents that would allow a lowly Investigator from Osta-Baille, Taol-Kaer's captical city to be recognized in a lowly town such as Hassam.  Or at least that's what I recall the name to be.

I digress.  Let me start from the beginning.

We had left Osta-Baille, after the Doyen hires me to learn the truth regarding the matter of the Feondas.  And the strange stories both Rashid and the other Varigal, Niall, have been involved in.    I would rather ignore it all, but I was given carte blanche on all costs, and I could always enjoy a few more notebooks, rare inks and a chance to travel even further.  I've been to Reizh once before, a small inn called the Watery Trunk.  That was a memorable, though brief experience (Alcohol addled most of my recollection, but given I awoke with nary a cloth to wear, I must assume it was majestic.)

But Hassam.  Or was it Hassom.  Oh this place is one I would so desperately desire to burn.    Rashid's journeyman skills proved to be the better between the two, and as we traveled I found myself having to sate myself with my own two hands (and a dab of oil).  Though my travelling companions seem adequate, I understood enough the delicate balance of respect that still existed between each of us.  I did not become an Investigator for nothing after all.    Trees grew sparse as we went further, and I pondered on whether this was another sign of the nature of Flux and how it.. smothered the land.  The overgrowth was soon replaced by roads of brick and the accuracy of the rocks in cut and fit clearly suggested I had returned to a civilized place from the long sojourn between wild woods.   As we approached the town, it quickly became apparent that the lights illuminating the town were not flickering.  Magience was clearly a welcomed commodity here.  And rather than a tavern being a noted location upon arrival, we found ourselves seeing a school. 

Knowledgeable folk?  Literate ones?  Even better.  There wouldn't be a need to play any charade.  A show of papers would suffice.  The Dancing Dove was the label of one locale and I quickly discerned it was the sordid kind of inn where people drank to be laid.  The Traveler's Inn was the second.  Given the smell of Flux in the air, the urge to get indoors was an intention we all shared.    It seemed like a happy community, with people having no fear of laughing out loud.  The colors hinted by the lights seemed to suggest a class status, with the colors shifting from greenish to bluish to yellowish and finally clear white.  We all go to the Inn and I allow the others to charter a room.  I spend a good time studying the people, grasping their mannerisms, noting how they approach others, their tone and voice, I even take an effort to spy how the "richer" or more "respected" are approached by others.  As the others first debate about the costs of staying in the stable, they eventually decide to get a room. Niall purchases some kind of cartridge for his Lighter.  I've slowly started to get a better grasp of how these magience devices work, but I still find it appalling to own one.  Memories from the previous trip, I suppose.  The innkeeper makes a good point to insult the varigals, making a stress about not caring about their charter.  "Everythin is Reizh is discovered," the man boldly says.  And I recall my teachers telling me the first clear sign of ineptitude and voluntary stupidity is the belief that one has learned all there is.

Worse, I recall varigals being messengers and guides.  Not spelunkers.  I wonder if that was what the innkeeper thought they were.

I approach, holding myself the way the esteemed in the place do.  I identify myself as an Investigator, admit I am fulfilling a task, and ask for some level of discretion regarding the presence of the group that earlier checked in.  The innkeeper, due to some logical leap I cannot grasp even until now, deems me a con-man, has his flunkies manhandle me as they accuse me of trying to outsmart them.  And worse, when my official documents of being an Investigator are shown, including the letter from the Doyen of the Varigals, and the letter from the noble Cormarel, the man laughs about them not meaning anything here in Reizh.

It challenges my sanity, I tell you.  The man was such an idiot.  Even worse than the Kethis.  The fight is short-lived and I am thrown out with a bloody nose and all.  To the least, I feel satisfied in knowing that the others will be safe (unless the stupid innkeeper himself starts another fight) since the owner of the place they are staying in is capable of fighting.  But given my disheveled appearance (I guess in the Traveler's Inn, it is customary to insult messengers, attack clientele and threaten those who carry themselves with noble/respectable bearing) I decided to make my way instead to the Dancing Dove to earn myself some loving.   Given the school's prominence in this place, I now fear what manner of education the whole town benefits from.

The Dancing Dove is atrocious.  The women dance on long poles.  Glowing lights glimmer in the night.  Even the jewelry the women wear illuminates as they move.  It is a spectacle, beautiful perhaps to most, but given my taste of Flux in the far north, all I could think of was how all these people were acting in such baser mannerisms due to their exposure to the Flux itself.  Remembering how Liam and his wife Gilana were when Flux poisoned her and I shudder at the thought I stood in a room filled with similarly tainted people.  It does not help that most of those who seem drawn to me are either far too young, too boring, too desperate, or act like two-dimensional attempts at attempting to be a predator given their lack of actual experience.  Thankfully, I find a fellow predator in the midst and he returns my hints with a smile.  I remind him I am not here for pleasure and he admits how, "It would have been interesting to have played the investigator and the investigated."  The line reminds me of Rashid, who would have said, "Role-playing costs extra" so I end up smirking.  Needing to explain the smirk, I just say aloud, "I don't do that."

But we enjoy our time.  I fulfill his expectations and cross a few more lines he'll tomorrow regret so much that feel nicely patched up in all ways.  I do wonder when he will realize I got him so overwhelmed he was calling out his own name, "Davon" over and over as I toyed with his buttons.  A Vitalist Magientist.  That name goes into my notebook.  Never know when I will need to speak to one again.

I return to the others, contemplate on burning the Traveler's Inn down, but decide the innkeeper can be made to suffer in other means at a later date.  If anything, Donan never forgets a face.  Or a name. Rashid shares how he does not like roads.  "Too perfect," he admits.

I don't like roads that lead you barbarians.

27 days pass and we reach Baldh-Ruoch.  The city was enormous, with so much presence of magience that I felt literally ill.  Pillars of smoke rose from many towers.  I questioned how wealthy we were at Osta-Baille.  We easily gain entry (and I think the burly guard even tries to throw me a flirtatious line) and we find a good place to set camp.  Or rest for the night.  Glenn and I talk about food and I always ponder on whether or not this huge man was once born a woman.  His dedication to preparing our stores and wares is just... so much like a domesticated wife.   I ask about Circe.  About Kethis.  And in the end, we realize we all share one truth in common: we fear her.   I still feel tempted to do something to Hassam.  Purchase the whole town or something.  Have it transformed to a park.  With a few choice words, I know I can convince people that it has been over-ridden by Feondas or something.  But I guess deep down I'm not as evil as I wish I could be.

I notice a hawk flying in the sky.  Someone must have sent for messages and thought the varigal took too long.  So much financial options to abuse.

Abuse. I must do that more often soon.

We map out the need to find the Master Proval.  He was, or perhaps is, the Dean of the Vitalists. The man supposedly has not been in touch for a long time.  The messenger also delivers a green bottle as a gift to Rashid from the Tarish.  Interestingly, the green hue matches the artwork in the book I had been handed by the Doyen.  Niall is visibly unnerved by the book and refuses to even touch it.

"There is coin to be had in Raizh," someone remarked, and all I recall is Glenn excitedly replying, "Corn?"  Niall and I remain aghast.  Glenn has such a powerful mother-instinct, he probably can get pregnant with the right motivation.

Niall chooses to stay in the other room with Glenn.  Rashid is forced to share my room.  Or at least I think that was the decision.  There's a visitor the Varigals seem to know and uninterested I allow them to handle things.  I pull out the book and study it.  The iconography on the cover is similar to the Temple Gilana worshiped at.  The Temple of Soustraine.  But reversed.    I admit to the others that I feel the problems that once plagued Naill now affect us all.  Glenn reaches to tap my shoulder and say something, but I grab his hand and remind him I do not like being touched.

I opened the book.  The first two pages are blank.  "We got into something deep, didn't we," I muse aloud.  "We?" Rashid asks.  "Oh, does we cost extra now?" I hiss back.  "Demon books cost extra," Rashid clarifies.

The green bottle seems to resemble the green hues in one of the art as well.  Deep down, I trust my gut and recommend to Rashid to drink the contents of the bottle.  He eventually obeys (they all do) and his eyes suddenly glow extremely bright.  I call out for the others and start gathering in Glenn's cup the green fluid that begins to leak out of Rashid's body.  Niall, worried to the highest of mountains, draws his crossbow.  Glenn readies his cudgel.  Rashid later explains he was seeing the events of the memories he had lost unfolding in his mind.  Some kind of fluid had been injected into his arm.  But even as the long-armed vitalist attacked Rashid, he survived the encounter thanks to...

The Kethis appeared, attacked Rashid's attacker, and seemed to even be in pain as it did so.

Of course, there was only one expected way Rashid would react to all this:  "The Charter has been violated."

The lady friend of Rashid and Niall breaks into the room, panicked and all.   She speaks about defending her people and warns us not to do anything stupid.  (I hold my tongue and opt NOT to remind her she broke into my room.) Niall keeps the crossbrow trained at her, until she shows she is unarmed.    I decide to step out and leave the varigal to discuss these matters between them.  Glenn and I just stay outside.  But eventually, I decide I've had enough stress, and invite Glenn to join me for a night of de-stressing and wenching.  Niall opts to join us.

I realize however Rashid may opt to leave, so I "hire" him to bring me to Porval.  If anything, I am happy that Rashid can be that simple to handle things with.  Niall, I hire, until he reclaims the book.  Or I die.  I almost internally die with that statement.  I sound so much like a folktale villain.  Maybe I should grow warts on my nose too.

We return, with Glenn drunk. Neil and I laughing about him not charming the city girls well. Too preoccupied over milk, bread, recipes and cows.  I drunkenly awaken to Niall coming up to my bed and placing the odd book on my lap.  He walks away.  Then returns and throws another book.  And another.  I probably was just imagining things and drift back to sleep.

Breakfast.  The meal goes well and Niall looks bothered.  I try asking him about last night but he doesn't answer.  We finally make our way to Proval, who as it turns out, was expecting us.  Mayla informed him that we were coming.  During our visit, a golden needle of some sort launches into the room from outside, but Proval casually blocks it from hitting him.  This happened the moment I inquired about the Flux.  Porval tells us this has been happening, and his body begins to "shrink" as his massive original six foot four frame withdraws to barely six feet.  He reveals a hidden passageway for us to take to continue our conversation.  I peer out the window, flashing the golden needle in my hand, and try to spot the attacker.  Finding none, I slide the needle into my clothes to keep it safe.

We make our way down the passageway and I start sharing what I know of the events that have transpired.  Porval soon reveals that he is related to Gilana and Cormarel.  And that Cormarel was once a Demorthein apprentice.    For Proval, however, science comes before anything.  He does not believe in our concerns about monsters and curses, and even claims that Cormarel is a paranoid sort, but shifts gears the moment the book is mentioned.  I bring the book out for them to see.  Oddily to the others, they can see something else in the first two pages.  For me they remain blank.    Frustrated, I start saying the word Feondas.  I even state it twice to threaten Porval to talk.  After all, if he truly does NOT believe in them, there's no harm in stating the word right?   He counters by saying Kethis twice.  The book's temperature drops.

I personally am now confused if Porval is truly a man of science.  Or a man hiding his fear through science.  I confirm if Niall has his crossbow ready (It is).  I confirm if Rashid recalls the way out (He does.)  I feel so tempted to say the word one last time.  I am sick and tired of these.. things.  So exhausted with being hounded by some supernatural mystery I cannot fathom.  When Niall admits something to the extent of the book supposedly "talking" to him, I throw the book at him out of anger.  Porval tries to claim he feels the whole thing is a politically motivated act.    Niall refuses to keep the book and throws it at Porval.  "My duty is done," I tell Porval," and remind him to reach out to his sisters.  Their problems have been making all of our lives hell.   I ask Master Rashid to escort me to the city limits.  I tell them the job is done.

Outside, I soon learn the others are thinking of heading off as well.  In some cases, by calling it all off, the group has still decided to travel together.    Rashid writes a letter to Mayla to bring to someone and I cannot be bothered to find out what it is about.  I just feel tired about it all.    When we set up camp outside, amusingly I catch Rashid burning something in the fire.    It turns out to be the damned book.  Somehow it followed him  to us.    He opens it to the first page.

I avert my eyes.  But somehow I can imagine it might say something as pitifully frustrating as, "You called."

The book seems to target literate people.  That seems to be the closest pattern I can find.
Neil seems to have a fitful dream.
But I leave him to sleep.

I am still dreaming of how to make Hassam burn.
Maybe, I should visit there again, and say that blasted word from noon until midnight.

But that inkeeper.
Oh, if I ever see him again.

Just you wait.


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Soundtrack Suggestion: The Last of Us - Gustavo Santaolalla

The Last of Us
Composed by Gustavo Santaolalla

The Last of Us is one of those Playstation 3 games that just makes you stop for a moment and appreciate how far we have gone in the video game industry in making games strike a much more powerful emotional resonance to the player.  And this magic, admittedly, is greatly in part due to a very effective score.   For those who don't know the game, The Last of Us is an action-survival horror game by Naughty Dog (creators of the Uncharted franchise) which has been gaining a lot of raves in the video gaming industry.   It is the story of Joel, a man who is escorting a young girl named Ellie across a post-apocalyptic United States of  America.  The two face many dangers in their journey, especially from zombie-like things that have been infected with a fungus.    While many games out there might appreciate going guns-blazing into a combat scene, this game rewards careful use of stealth, strategy, and gumption.

And boy, does the game have a very GENEROUS soundtrack to explore.  Gustavo Santaolalla has created a world of sound that immerses you deep in a world of danger and does not relent until all fifty-five minutes have passed.  Given how he was the man behind the masterful score of Brokeback Mountain and Babel (both of which won Academy Awards), there is no doubting that this soundtrack was one worth checking out.

The soundtrack clearly focuses on the Guitar as the main musical presence in each track.  The Quarantine Zone (Track 01) opens with an almost mellow tune, but shifts to something more menacing at the two minute mark.  The strings begin to squeal and almost snarl with a dangerous touch, reminding you that things are not all well and safe where you are.  The Last of Us (Track 03) is a powerful evocative piece that works very well as a key leitmotif for games.  The song has a hopeful edge amidst its dark and dreary aural landscape without turning into an overpowering western theme.  Even the percussion instruments in the song are subtle enough to just add enough meat to the music without turning all "Holywood".  Forgotten Memories (Track 04) and The Outbreak (Track 05) can easily be used in a variety of games where a sad yearning exists.    Both carry a heavy emotional burden yet are generic enough to work in a variety of genres.   Smugglers (Track 12) sounds nicely active without being stereotypical, almost giving me images of an active montage as the characters prepare for an attack or something like that.  It even has nice peaks in the audio that trick the player into thinking the fighting/action moment has started, then shifts back to the beat.

Interestingly, The Hunters (Track 07), By Any Means (Track 10), and Infected (Track 17) which are clearly tense-moment tracks sounded less intense than I expected.    Even the track entitled, I Know What You Are (Track 15) which is mostly just a massive growing pounding of drums, seems... weak.  Have I just been spoiled too much by the audio overload from Silent Hill scores?  I guess I was expecting more in an age of performances like STOMP and the like.

The Last of Us (A New Dawn) (Track 19) is a tricky bastard.  It opens nicely thematic and solemn, but shifts by the one minute mark into a more aggressive pounding beat.  Its a great track, but one some GMs might find tricky to use in a game.  The Path (Track 22) sounds like a piece that would very easily slip into the Silent Hill soundtrack.  It even ends with a haunting touch.

The Last of Us track suggestions:
WTF moment: Smugglers (Track 12), The Last of Us (A New Dawn) (Track 19)
Tense/mystery moment: The Hunters (Track 07), By Any Means (Track 10), Blackout (Track 24), Breathless (Track 26), All Gone (The Outside) (Track 28)
Combat music: I Know What You Are (Track 15), Infected (Track 17)
Hopeful moment: The Quarantine Zone (Track 01), The Hour (Track 02), The Last of Us (Track 03), Vanishing Grace (Innocence) (Track 09), The Last of Us (Goodnight) (Track 14), The Path (Track 22), All Gone (Alone) (Track 23), The Way It Was (Track 25), The Last of Us (You and Me) (Track 27), The Path (A New Beginning) (Track 29)
Drama/sad moment: Forgotten Memories (Track 04), The Outbreak (Track 05), Vanishing Grace (Track 06), All Gone (Track 08), The Choice (Track 11), The Last of Us (Never Again) (Track 13), Home (Track 16), All Gone (Aftermath) (Track 18), All Gone (No Escape) (Track 20), Vanishing Grace (Childhood) (Track 21), Returning (Track 30)

Overall, I like the soundtrack.  It offers a lot of options and can be used with many games.  I hate how most of the tracks are named the same, making it harder to recall which ones you want to use.  I feel slightly underwhelmed with how the fear and panic was approached in the soundtrack, given the game has a zombie + survivalist vibe to it.  I had wished the panic and fear were translated into the music just as well as they were in the game.

Best Used In: An easy target for this is games like Apocalypse World and games with a western touch such as Serenity, Deadlands (or the upcoming Margaret Weis Firefly rpg), but I can see these soundtracks working as well for other games that have a heavy emotional thrust to the narrative.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Recommended: Improv and Gaming

I'm very happy to see a lot of stuff I do is actually what many recommend as how to approach gaming.  In my case, a lot of my gaming techniques were born from a mixture of what I've learned in Writing for Children's Literature, doing Theater, drawing Comics, visualizing for Film, working in Advertising and finally embracing my love for games.

This video captures a lot of great insight on how to approach gaming, and even echoes many of things John Wick shares in his book Play Dirty.

Check it out and add to your own gaming experience!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Falling Ishtar ep04 : Dungeon World

Falling Ishtar
Episode Four

"Firstborn and Only Child"

Dungeon World

The First Month since the Dragon Plague.

With the Duke Thomin dead, the group realizes they may have to consider their actions very soon.   With Cairre stuck having to recover, he instructs Bjorn and Melisande to work together in separating the magical items into two areas:  Good and Evil items.  Lady Unisa is given the position of Seneschal, a position she gains thanks to the Magus' backing.    There's no denying that Cairre has started to approach things with much more confidence now, almost as if his life as an apprentice is far in the past.

Hob is helping out in sorting the magical items and finds himself recalling his family.  He had come from a family of Wizards, but unlike them, he found the passion behind wielding a blade.  There was no denying that they, however, could help in identify the items.  The others had no idea that the Magus of Goodness, Brother Lodin, was actually his uncle.  He knew it would mean sending a messenger to the City of Flowers and that they would want some form of service in return.

Adon gains a new respect for Cairre, who embraces the the role of the Magus well even if he is still currently bed-ridden as he recovers from his broken bones.  Bjorn's magic as well as Melisande's songs have healed him of his injuries, but have not relieved him of his tortured condition.  As a gift and show of confidence, Adon removes his own Ring of Wizardry and offers it to Cairre.  "It is only as strong as you are, but when you are strong, he is greater than you realize."  They discuss more about the other Magi and Adon admits that Barbarians have been attacking his region.  The wildmen claim to serve under the Banner of the Green Wing.  Adon has to leave and protect his own territory.

Melisande and Gil discussing payment of debts.  Melisande realizes that many of the bags of coins she had gained from the Elves have transformed into acorns, leaves and seeds.  While valuable to the Elves, these clearly were not real money.  Just Glamoured objects.

Gil makes plans to leave within the second week.  Determined to get out of the suffocating city, Gil decides to invite Cedric to go with him.  He also considers asking Bridgette to go.  She berates him about being too trust worthy of elves, and reminds him of The 100 Year Wars.  In that story, the Sorcerer class was wiped out by jealous elves that did not desire a line of humans who could cast magic at will.    The Council of Magi was born to protect humans who practiced Wizardry.  The Dragons, however, whose blood that had mixed with humans to become Sorcerers, oddly sided with the Eleves.  Bridgette tells him she wants to visit a Silver Lance Armory in the North.  To prepare themselves for a battle with dragons.  Cedric bemoans his frustration that the Ion Stone doesn't work and throws it as he complains.  That's when it activates and spins around him.  "Maybe you had to insult it to make it work," Gil teases.

Cairre, finally healed, takes the chance to return to the Tower.  In his absence, it seems Bjorn and Hob have transformed the tower into a "Temple of Bob".     He overhears as he walks towards the tower the rules of the temple:  No shoes must be worn inside, No money can be carried inside either (all coin is to be left behind in a box outside), and No windows or lights can be brought into the Temple.  Darkness must remain. Fed up with the temple being commandeered by others, Cairre casts a Light spell to illuminate the Temple's ground level, but the Ring of Wizardry empowers the effect to cause every stone in the temple to shine with light.  As he steps inside, he sees that every brick in the ground and second level of the tower had been marked with the symbol of Bob.  Using Presdigitation, Cairre "wipes" away the symbol and warns Bjorn, "If you displease me..."   Bjorn and Cairre quickly come to an agreement, and Bjorn clarifies that only the first two levels of the tower have become a temple.  When Cairre realizes this means his kitchen in the second level has been removed, Bjorn quickly explains the food has been all moved to the attic where Gil used to stay.

Bridgette, Gil and Cedric arrive, and the Paladin speaks with the Magus while Gil preps for the trip.  Bridgette and Cairre exchange promises to be allies, with Cairre carefully wording it for the Paladin to be forced to protect even the elves in the group, given her racism towards them.  Bridgette however gets Gil to also swear to "Do whatever is necessary to make sure she does not lose her vow."

Bjorn intones on Bob through the next few days to separate the Good and Evil items in the tower.  Melisande, learning from Cairre's tutorials on being a wizard, eventually successfully identifies a magical armor which legends called The Carapace.  A silver bug-like chest plate is pressed against a person's skin, and it erupts into an armor that shifts and reallocates to conform to the wearer's needs.  Hob is given the Carapace to use.  They also identify a second magical item: The Forester's Friend, which allows one to endure the dangerous environments that a Ranger might encounter.  Melisande decides to let Gil have it.

All the evil items are then gathered on the balcony roof deck on the tower.  Hob pours mineral oil over all the items while Bjorn communes with Bob to sacrifice the items in his glory.  Worried that strange energies or powers may be unleashed in the destruction of such evil things, Melisande hurries downstairs and retrieves the Silver Lute.  She plays a song to envelope the items in a protective bubble.  And the items are lit up.

In the distance, Gil, Bridgette and Cedric exit the city.  They see the sudden bright flash of light coming from the city and consider this to possibly be from the Magus' tower.  "There is something i wanted to tell you," Gil starts as he tries to talk to Bridgette, but the Paladin shushes him, "Duty must come before personal interest."

They do not see how the powerful energies are gathered by Cairre to serve as a ritual to wrap the Magus Tower in a protective barrier.   Or how Bjorn gains Bob's attention, and the Tower is blessed with his protection as well.

The Second Month.

With the tower's protections, dozens of dead imp bodies now litter the tower's vicinity.  Rumors have also spread in the City of goblins sneaking around in the shadows.  Cairre starts to worry how long these imps have been sneaking into the tower, and how much has been stolen under his very nose.

Hob is bothered that his family has still not replied to his request.  He later learns that the messenger owl he had sent with the note was inadvertently eaten by a hungry Druid.  Kirin admits he did not know the owl carried a message.  And adds it was delicious.  Kirin, however, seems to have a penchant for making deals and accepting challenges.  So Hob offers Kirin a deal "Deliver me safely to my family, and in return, I will owe you."  Kirin agrees.

Cairre demands for the head of the Temple of Coin to show up.  There were events perpetrated by members of that Church which were no longer acceptable.  More and more, Cairre slipped easily into the role of the city's Magus.  Given the Coin refused to honor Lady Unisa's role as the Seneschal, Cairre had messengers sent to inform the head of the Coin to meet him at the Magus Temple.

Gil talks to Bridgette about the vision the green dragon had given him.  The three continue their journey to the Armory of the Silver Lance.    As they find it, Gil is puzzled why the Armory looks like an Elven Sanctuary.  He learns from Bridgette how in the 100 Year War, the Silver Lance would capture Sanctuaries and convert them into Silver Lance Bastions against the Dragons that allied with the Elves.  She asks Gil if he had ever met "a Good Elf" and when Gil dodges the query, Bridgette shares how she was once was contemplating suicide when she noticed at the cliff a massive crack suddenly in the landscape.  Water poured out, like a silver line in the darkness.  She took it as a sign.  Cedric admits he cannot find a way into the Armory, and that's when Bridgette smiles and explains, "To open it, we need to spill some Elven Blood."  She talks about using a vial with elven blood to open it.  But Gil cuts himself a small cut to use his own blood.  It opens the Armory.  Bridgette does not seem to notice (or pretends not to).

The Coin Headpriest arrives, accompanied by a throng of followers.  Defiant as expected, the Headpriest questions even Cairre's authority, and suggests that he should summon the Late Master Roderick to speak on these matters.  The Headpriest, it seems, knows some Necromancy.  As he begins to cast Speak to the Dead, Cairre prepares to Dispel the Magic if need be.  But the spell fizzles.  Cairre's eyes widen in horror:  Speak to the Dead would only fail... if the target happened to still be alive.  

An old man visits the temple grounds, accompanied by two middle aged but not that sightly daughters.  The old man asks about the possibilities of salvation and offers to donate his many lands for the Church of Bob to use as they see fit.  Bjorn is overwhelmed at the support and strength the faith is gaining.  He accepts the donations and realizes this may mean moving out of the Temple eventually!

Kirin and Hob are flying across the landscape, making their way to the City of Flowers.  They talk about things and Hob draws out from Kirin how alien he seems to view the world.  For Kirin, the world is such a massive living thing that thrives in such an expanded lifecycle that humanity is almost unimportant.  "Man are tiny things with such short lives.  The cocks and pussies of the wild," was Kirin's description of them, almost equating them to mere flowers that are pretty to look at, but irrelevant to the greater picture of the system.    "If that's how you view us, you're the one with a problem," Hob retorts and he finds himself wondering if Kirin is an Elf that is pretending to much to be a Dragon, or a Dragon that has truly embraced pretending to be a humanoid.

Melisande left the tower, hoping to find any truth to the rumors of the goblins, only to see one which happens to be overjoyed to find her!  "Goddess!" it yelps then leaps upon her, and upon touching, the two vanish from the City of Towers.  Melisande comes to and finds herself back in the Dragon's presence.  The chamber is strange, almost ribbed, and organic.  And the scent of flowers fills the air.   The Green Dragon Voarex does not threaten her though.  Not when another guest is present:  Melisande's mother.  She welcomes Melisande to the gathering and shares the story to why she is allied with the Dragons.  She shares how when she was young, and Melisande was but a child in her arms, the Silver Lances had cornered her and Melisande's father.  They prayed to Bob but he did not answer.  They prayed to the Coin, but it did not reply.  Finally, as the Lances slew the father, she prayed for the Dragons to help.  And Voarex did.

Melisande is told to remove all her items and clothing, a direction the elf takes very wrongly.  She fails to pick up on her mother's attempts to steer her to do something.  Melisande realizes the goblins have been gathering things from the City of Towers.  Her mother admits, not just the city of Towers.  But from all the cities out there.  Melisande realizes the whole thing.. it is a ritual.  Melisande's mother tells her that the ritual will target all the first borne children in the cities.  Melisande realizes she is a first born child.  When the Mother uses Telekinesis to hold her daughter in place, she telepathically tells her the truth:  That while she is honor bound to fulfill her side of the bargain, she hopes Melisande can try to stop the dragon to regain their line's honor.  Melisande is shunted back to the Homelands.

Gil and the others are in the Armory and more and more Gil is starting to realize something is very wrong.  As Bridgette proudly shows the Silver Lances, the main armament of the organization, she talks about how the Secret Language of Silver is used to make the weapons more effective.  With a word, she shifts the lance to a dagger.    Gil realizes the word Bridgette spoke was in his homeland's language: the language of the Silvan Elves.  He wonders if the Silver Lance never knew that there were three kinds of Elves: the Silvans of the woods, the Soltari of the High and the Quani of the Dark.    He stares at a portrait of Athena, the first of the Silver Lances, and realizes the woman's ears cannot be seen as they are hidden by a silver head-dress.  The woman's eyes, however, are slightly almond shaped.  Just like his.

The Ritual is unleashed.

If you are a firstborn/only child, then you must roll +Con.
*10+ you have cheated Death.  You remain marked but it's effects are far weaker than expected.  Or you realize you were not truly the firstborn child in your family.  Choose one: You are currently Weak, Sick or Scarred.
*7-9 - You have escaped death, but are Marked by the Ritual.  The effects are pronounced when they are unleashed.  You are currently Weak, Sick and Scarred.
*6 - You die a horribly slow and painful death.

All around the land, people drop to the ground in intense pain.  Many die, but surprisingly many others survive.    Kirin hears Hob howl in pain, and the fighter falls off the Dragon.  Kirin catches him and gently brings him to the ground.  Many are Marked and survive.  To Bjorn's happiness, those within the Tower/Temple of Bob when it happened are unscathed.   Cairre rushes to the Seneschal and learns that Lady Unisa herself is panicking over what has happened.  Cairre prepares a Ritual as fast as possible to address the City as a whole.

The results make the following weeks terrifying.    Many of those who are unmarked begin to grow suspicious or frightened by the ones with the Mark.  Acts of violence erupt as someone seems to have started the rumor that those with the Mark are servants of the Dragon.

Gil, Bridgette and Cedric make their way back as soon as they are able.  Bridgette is surprised that she was not struck by the Mark, given she is the only daughter of Roderick the Black.   They pass a few burning towns and can see people literally attacking others as a mob, hoping to "kill those who are marked" before they cause greater trouble.

Hob finds himself lost in a dreamlike state.  He hears the mountain speak to him.  He sees glimpses of the Ruins of Gonol.  Of a massive Stone Hammer in its depths.  He awakens to find Kirin looking at him worriedly.  He had been struck midflight, and Kirin had decided to bring Hob back for his own safety.  The City of Flowers was not welcoming visitors.  They too were struck by the Ritual.

Melisande awakes at the edge of the City of Flowers.  She cannot recall what transpired when she arrived at the Homelands.  She vaguely recalls being Exiled by her Elders.

The violence gets worse all over.  A messenger from City of Flowers brings Cairre and Unisa word that 27 deaths happened at the Ritual's zenith.  Brother Lodin's brother was among those who died.  Cairre realizes that man was Hob's father.  In the City of Towers, 28 deaths were noted.      Cairre casts the ritual, and through it, every person in the City of Towers sees his manifestation as a three-dimensional illusion.  Cairre reassures the people that he is doing what he can to stop this.  He warns them that the Dragon may be involved.  He asks them to remain calm and let the guards do their jobs.

Bjorn is in the tower when Melisande and Hob return.  Kirin is forced to fly away when some people begin stoning the dragon, thinking it to be allied to the dragon threat the Magus had mentioned.  Melisande annoyingly tells them how her own mother is behind the ritual.  The group soon is together and Hob is devastated to learn about his father.   Cairre gives the messenger from Flowers a massive recount of what had transpired, and Hob adds his own message to be sent.  Bridgette offers to accompany the messenger.

"He may be alive," Cairre admits.  With Melisande's mother working with the Dragon, and possibly behind the Ritual, they have yet to resolve how Roderick fits in all this.

In the nights that follow, the streets grow dangerous.  People gather with torches and despite Cairre's words, become violent mobs that seek out those with the Mark.  Many of the Marked begin to come to the Temple, asking for sanctuary.  While the others try to determine where the Dragon may be, given how Melisande's description does not match the ruins of Gonol, Hob heads down to the lower floors and uses the Looking Room.  Inside, he asks to be shown, "One of the Dragon's Servants," and the True-seeing abilities of the Looking Room show him an ally of Voarex:  Lady Unisa.  The shock stuns him from speaking.

A stranger steps into the Looking Room.  The stranger, seemingly knows the riddle answer, and upon entering mutters something peculiar.  The stranger does not recognize Hob.

The alarms go loud as the Sanctuary of the tower is disturbed.  The group hurries down to find Roderick holding Hob by the throat.  Bjorn is forced to a stop, the undead causing him to delay.  Gil and Melisande move to strike, but Melisande's song goes awry and strikes even her allies down!  Finding an opening, Gil distracts Roderick long enough for Hob to see the necklace around the undead wizard, and grab it to rip it off.  But the blade which nearly decapitates "Roderick" slices into a woman's throat instead!  The woman drops, near death, as the others realize the Roderick they saw was merely possessing a vessel!

Melisande thinks the enemy is hiding in the gullet of a sleeping Tarrasque, buried under the City of Flowers. Legends talk of a massive monster called a Tarrasque brought to sleep by the  poppies growing around the City of Flowers.  The group enters the Looking Room to try and trace Roderick, but what they see is a confusing constant shifting image of various people instead.  The common trait, they all have the Mark.  When Cairre sees a citizen with the Mark tempted to draw a blade and attack the dwarven family they had met before, Cairre panics and launches a Fireball.  The Fireball erupts in the Looking Room!

The group rushes out, gasping for air and smothering flames on their clothes.  Cairre is barely done apologizing when Gil suddenly turns to attack Bjorn!  Unable to control his own motions, Bjorn attempts to Turn Undead in his panicked state.  The turning works! Gil is freed from the possession, and interestingly the mark even vanishes from view.

The Looking Room, however, has been damaged.

As the group gathers outside, Kirin arrives with Unisa in tow.  Roderick begins to confront them all, leaping from Marked to Marked, as he taunts them in the discussion.  Bjorn and Melisande attempt to dispel the magical domination but neither succeed.  The people of Towers nearby, however, now undeniably see that the Mark does allow Roderick to possess them.  And in many ways the fears and hate of the Church of Coin towards the Marked has suddenly become a valid concern.

"Give me Hob," Roderick sneers, "And in exchange I will offer you a single week of peace in this City."  Cairre and the rest are ready to say no, but the gathered masses of people cry for yes.  Clearly, being non-adventurers, the fear and panic has them thinking only for themselves.

Unisa confesses to having been party to the Dragon.  She admits she was not aware of Roderick's hand in all this.  When accused of selling out to evil, she defends her choice telling them the Dragon wanted thousands, yes, but in exchange the rest would be left alone.  It was a hard choice, but a better one.  The group starts to surmise that Melisande's mother may have corrupted the Ritual to work for Roderick.  The Dragon might just be as much a pawn to Roderick as he was before - he just does not realize it.

Angered by the events, Unisa clamors that the group strike immediately.  She stresses how the Dragon and the others are still reeling from the Ritual's misfire.  To strike now is to embrace the advantage they have.  Cairre offers they stay one day to complete some other plans before they leave.    Cairre does not explain what, but the other suspect it may be related to both the magical items, and the other Magi.

Gil realizes Cedric, once again is missing, and heads off to find him.  He finds Cedric in a house in the slums.  He had gone off to check on his family, worried the Ritual had Marked them as well.  He discovers those in the slums use their own kind of magic, a strange quixotic kind.  And have used it to hide from the Looking Rooms all these years.  He talks to Cedric and his mom about their upcoming quest against the Dragon and possibly a Lich, and she shares a story about her old adventuring days with her husband.  He was a thief, it seems, and she was a bard.  The boy, Cedric, however, was not their son.  Instead he was the son of another man, a halfling thief.  She knows Cedric would never forgive her if she kept him home.  She reminds Gil to watch over her son and gives them three potions to take for him.

Melisande's mother stares angrily at the Lich.  Roderick grins his eternal grimace and reminds her that she has a huge role to play in the coming war.  "My armies shall need a Mother of Monsters to bear them.  And you have just been chosen."  In the further chamber, Voarex growls in frustration.  Her vengeance will have to be stalled once more.  Her old master, Roderick, has returned.
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