2010/10/30

Pick #13: DM of the Rings

Probably you will have seen at least one of the Lord of the Rings movies. Maybe you appreciated the Leni Riefenstahl like filming, and maybe you thought the movie captured the spirit of the books much better than could be expected. Or maybe you had to show you really liked the book better, and had to nag.

No matter what, if you kind of know the idea of Lord of the Rings - and have role played a fantasy game at least once or twice - you may recognize this. DM of the Rings is a comic series - about 150 parts long - which follows Lord of the Rings as if it's an adventure played by role players and their GM. It's pretty silly. And great fun.

Sam: "I'm not a hobbit either"
Frodo: "Don't be daft, of course you are"
Sam: "No Sir. It says right on my character sheet. I'm a halfling."
Frodo: "It also says you rolled a 5 for intelligence."

The series was created by Shamus Young, who is a self acclaimed nerd and programmer. He's also a prolific blog writer. Have a look... after you work is done. Or you may be stuck.

2010/10/29

Avignon #2: Pres du Pont d'Avignon

If you are new to this series, read this first. Play date: October 16 2010.

Colonel Eline de Boullion woke only slowly. She was in a hospital bed. Pope Gregorius was there the last time she woke, and asked her what happened. She was confused then, because the Pope was there when they were attacked by a swarm of vampyres, right in the crypt of St. Peter, in the Basilica of the Holy See. The holiest of the holiest, contaminated by vampyres! That alone was disturbing enough. But now the Pope did not remember – not even the doomstone bomb that paladyn Aster used to blow a hole into the vampyre ranks.

But now she woke again the speckled Peter said that the Pope had never been there. And that there never were any vampyres in St. Peter's crypt. How could there be? Maybe she was suffering from a Doomstone infection? Delirium was one of the first symptoms. She protested. Why did her fellow emissaries rember the same things as she then? All of them? Hieronimus the Papal agent returning home, Lito the Paladyn to be reinstated, and Schwartzburg the diplomat for world debt relief. [If this sounds a bit real world to you, it very much is, because the Nirdday world has a similar problem with bank debts as our own.] And where is Aster, their companion [npc]? The secret agent Peter explains they probably all have delirium. And Aster tried to use a Doomstone bomb, not against non-existent vampyres he says, but against the Pope. That is why she was arrested.

Talking to the Pope will become difficult this way. Eline is frustrated. And so is her player. One player who happens to be there, but isn't playing – my wife – makes a remark: “Convenient, isn't it? As if someone tries to keep you away from discussing matters with the Pope.” I tell Eline's player that she really hears this comment, as a voice in her head. And the voice starts to tell them more and more to think about. Not just to Eline, but later to Lito and Hieronimus too. Its some sort of spirit, a female spirit, but who was she when she was alive?

Naturally my wife and I planned that she would play this disembodied guiding NPC spirit. She was stranded at home because of a changed appointment, and her normal character was bound up elsewhere. But she wanted to help out to make the party more coherent again, and pesker her fellow players at the same time. It worked like a charm. They were surprised, and grinning too.

Sylvia, their guide in Avignon also remembers the vampyres and thinks they were real. No delirium. And even if some of the heroes may be infected with doomstone, it seems to much that the secret service is trying to thwart the peace talks between heroes and Pope. She helps arange an appointment with Nicolas, the head of the secret service. Lito meanwhile tries to contact Aster and the Paladyn headquarters. But his courier takes a long while to return, and tells he was stopped short by a Peter. A secret agent of Nicolas again.

I couldn't resist the pun. Nicolas and his Peters. In the Netherlands we have a childrens feast every year on St. Nicolas eve. As a prototypical Santa Claus he comes with his Peters on a Spanish steamboat and brings lots of presents. As long as you were sweet during the year. Because the Peters know everything you have done. Obviously they are very efficient spies, these Peters, crawling through chimneys and hiding in the dark as blacker than black negro henchmen. I ditched the steamboat so far, but the Peters – all named Peter – are the secret agents and Nicolas the Cardinal is their boss – in red robes like our Saint.

However, Cardinal Nicolas is also an elf – a very old elf with huge ears – and is used to work from a disposition of distrust. That's his business. Like any powerful secret service or intelligence agent. Being distrustful. The heroes have a very hard time to talk sense with him. He says he is there to defend the Pope, and if Aster starts swinging bombs in his holyness' vicinity, he has to take tough measures. But with help of the female spirit they eventually find an edge. Nicolas also wants to avoid war, and also hates the poisonous doomstone used as a basis for the economy. He will let them talk with the Pope as long as his agents are near enough.

First though, while outside, the spirit talks again to Eline, and to Lito and Hieronimus too. She guides them to a church of St. Mark near Avignon bridge, where she says Aster is held prisoner. That appears to be correct, when our heroes break in and find she is guarded by Peters. Black Peters officially working for Nicolas' secret service. In the fight that ensues one of the Peters is killed, but Aster and two unnamed men are freed.

But the voice is not done. While Aster is helped by Schwartzburg to find shelter at the Paladyn HQ, the spirit leads the others to a huge church of St. Michael. Below this church, under the crypt, is another older church, and under this other church, protected by gratings, is yet another temple. It is into this temple that they need to go. And so they do. There they discover a recently blown up wall. And behind it is an altar with an intimate image of a dragon and an elf, and four graves. Three are recently plundered. But the fourth, of Saint Agneta still contains the bones of a woman, and a perfect golden ring. This was once the spirit lady. And the spirit is shocked.

Avignon Minicampaign: Read First

I've game mastered for about thirty years now, and every once in a while I try to seek out new ways of storytelling, new ways of constructing stories, new story arcs, new worlds, new ways of letting players interact, new ways of cooperating with other game masters. And telling about what I'm doing now is a way to share what I learned – and still am learning.
The Avignon series is another spin-off of the main Nirdday campaign, which revolves around Doomstone, and a failing economy. And a special thing in this campaign is, that the players are actually playing political confrontations and diplomatic talks – in between slug outs, assassination attempts, and some mystical grave robbing. All while trying to figure out what happened long ago before the date of “Arrival” and why it is so important now.

And now the heroes will have to talk with the pope. About quiting mining doomstone and at the same time changing the economic system. Because world debts grow so large that the economy can no longer bear the compound interest. Because everyone will have to help clearing this mess. Including the Crosstians who forbade asking interest in the first place - and then asked it under another name, such as indulgences.

Writing on this miniseries starts at session #2, also to be up to date as I start. The first episode will appear some other day. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!

2010/10/28

Classic RPG Review #6: Middle-Earth Role Playing

boxed set, Games Workshop UK edition
by S. Coleman Charlton
1985 Iron Crown Enterprises

Although fantasy role playing would probably not have existed if it were not for Tolkien's Lord of the Rings novels, role players had to wait some ten years before a game could actually use this setting wholesale. This has to do of course, with the rights to the possible multi-million dollar profits such a game might generate. They would wish.

No, maybe the Tolkien heritage just wanted to be sure that their father's creation would not be distorted. That the game would be worthy of the Tolkien name. Or at least of the Middle-Earth name. And that is indeed the only part in which the developers of MERP (Middle Earth Role Playing) seem to have succeeded. With painstaking detail and with painfully small print a good deal of the hundred plus pages of rulebook have been dedicated to description of Silvan Elves, Numenorians, Haradrim, Hobbits and a host of other races unique to the world where Sauron also hides. A Tolkien fan confided to me that the writers may not have been experts, but they know what they write about. So far, so good.

The game system is a simplified version of the ICE (Iron Crown Enterprises) system. Simplified? It seems hard to believe once you flip through the many lists and tables in rather minuscule print. There are tables for encumbrance, encumbrance calculation by profession and race, moving maneuvers, bolt damage, critical hits by fire, bonuses, poisons and diseases, stat deterioration after death, and so on. You name it. It's probably there. The critical hits tables are fun to read if you're in an aggressive mood, but you wouldn't want these hits to ever happen to your heroes.

Reading through the rules I got the impression that the game was devised by miniature war gamers. I don't mean small people playing war games, although that would explain the small print, but war gamers that play with miniatures. War game rules are often also this complex, and the detail always seems more important than game flow. Rummaging through the box and looking at the typical adventure in MERP strengthens this impression. Precise hex sheets (maps) of many locations are provided, and so are cardboard figures of creatures and heroes. And most telling, a typical MERP adventure is a detailed skirmish or a hit and run military mission. Or it's a series of these.

There is little wrong with war gaming. It's better than fighting out wars for real. But role playing evolved away from war gaming. And this game is quite a few steps back towards the war game. Maybe that MERP appeals to hard core war gamers who love this kind of rule detail while they enjoy their beer and pretzels. But my players decided that we should try another game next session, after we spent a complete afternoon trying to make a hero. And we still weren't quite ready to play.


RULES 1/5
(rules are complex, complicated, extremely detailed and possibly overly realistic)
INSPIRATION 3/5
(the game is fairly true to Tolkien's world, in detail, albeit limited to the Third Era, and this is a strong backdrop)
PLAYABILITY 0/5
(even a computer will find the bookkeeping of this game a tough cookie, creating a hero takes longer than the average life expectancy of that hero)
GAME FEATURES
(fantasy true to Tolkien's Middle-Earth, humans, elves, orcs and hobbits, skill based, combat and tasks percentile based with extended critical hit tables, races and professions, magic accessible to some, with spells grouped in lists)

OVERALL 4/10

2010/10/26

News #4: JustLawfulChaotic Blog

My fellow blogger JLC (Just Lawful Chaotic, Jesus Loves C..., John Lawrence C.) has dared the lonely jump into internet space. His new blog can be found here. As may be expected with such a name, you may find it a completely confusing mix of English, Dutch and a smattering of Franglais, with subjects varying from insider campaign views to deep philosophy. Or you may love it for just the same reasons. Way to go, JLC!

Pick #12: Doraleous & Ass.

Doraleous - not Dolores, although the mistake is an understandable one - is a knight. Not the brightest, but he is a brave, commanding, realistic (euh...) and a slight bit grumpy knight. An animated knight, to be exact.

Not animated as in undead, but as in an animated web based series of short movies. Together with his associates Mirdon the mage, Neebs the elf, and Drak the almost naked dwarf,  he goes where no... animated knight has gone before. Or something like that. It's really a bit silly.

And that's where it gets funny, once it's really silly. Sometimes it's a bit slow, but when it's getting steam there are quite a few laughs. Like when they're hanging shackled in a dungeon and start singing "I see a grub...". Or when the blue version of the lady of the lake tries to convince Doraleous that a twig is really the powerful Zephyr blade he's looking for. Which it is probably not. Or... well, you catch the drift.

Doraleous & Associates have a solid fanbase, and are well into their second zany season.You can find them at The Escapist, here.

2010/10/23

Pick #11: Firefly RPG

Believe it or not, I just stumbled upon the Firefly RPG. It's published by Margaret Weis. And one of the writers is Tracy Hickman. You may know this writer duo from the AD&D Dragonlance Chronicles, published in the 80-ies.

Firefly, or rather the Serenity RPG, is an over 200 page stand alone set of rules based on the Cortex engine. That's the system used in all Weis products, where you can throw bigger dice if your skill is better. It looks solid, thorough, hardcover - and slightly too full of layout artwork like most current RPGs. But it also does look like the real thing.

The content listing is exhaustive enough - with an emphasis on playing rather than rules. Which is an approach I like - less rules, more play. The main heroes of the series are also provided as characters, if you wish to use them. And there is an appendix on Gorram Chinese. That's the language that's used to swear in in the Firefly 'verse. Very convenient if you don't want to be rude in English!

The game and its expansions are available as pdf's (to read on your e-book reader or pc) here for example, on DriveThruRPG. Or you may try to order the more expensive hardcover at the main site. By the time you read this I may have bought the game, so if you don't hold your breath too long, a review may follow.

2010/10/21

Movies for Gamers #3: Firefly

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

Actually Firefly is a science fiction series, and not a movie. But it's worth watching it like one. The series follows a group of mercenary heroes, who fly from one almost legal job to another to pay for fueal and food, and stay ahead of real trouble. Their ship is a Firefly class freighter, falling apart all the time in true Han Solo fashion. Firefly was created by Joss Whedon, who also did the tremendously succesful Buffy the Vampire Slayer series. So, quality guaranteed, you'd say. Indeed so.

But after airing the episodes out of sequence, the network decided to pull the plug before half a season had passed. Why? Officially the series didn't do well enough. Yet a growing fanbase contradicts this argument. Then what?

Personally I suspect the series was politically problematic. The series does play in a future far away, but it also is a kind of wild west series. A wild west series where the heroes are former officers of a Confederate Army. Like the Confederate Army that lost the American Civil War. Like the Confederate Army that couldn't be right even a hundred and fifty years later, because their enemies won, and were supposed to be morally right, because they were against slavery. It's still a moot point, no matter that blacks still have to fight for true equal rights and chances.

Slavery is no issue in the Firefly series (yet). But as one of the lead characters is a stunning dark skinned woman who can also fight very well... I guess there's no problem. The other characters, including captain Mal are also very likeable. I'm not sure which one is my favorite, as they are all well fleshed out and all have their own mysteries, nightmares and secrets.

Well, maybe it's Jayne, the tall no nonsense, slightly dumb looking, always in for more weapons and violence guy. Every episode you'll have to guess iff he's going to backstab the captain or stay on his side after all. Or maybe it's the Ninja like shepherd Book, who with his soft appearance resembles my brother. Or maybe its the psychic girl River, who can do dance martial arts with improbable grace. All are good enough to be full fledged player characters.

Firefly was never continued. But Whedon made a film, Serenity, with the same cast. It shows how the series might have developed, stuffed into a few hours. Make sure you see it after the series, if you still can. It makes it a much better show.

No matter what, Firefly is immensily inspirational for science fiction role playing. Once I have a go at a Sci-Fi campaign again, this will be it's starting point. Gritty, scary, unexpected, but sweet and likeable too. And there's (the start of) a wiki.

2010/10/20

Brugghes #7: For a Fistful of Doomstone

If you're new to this column, read the read this first. Play date: october 8, 2010

Serapha really wants to infiltrate the vampyre chain of command, but to prove that she is with the vampyres, she feels she has to betray the hunters. And she also has to let it look like she's betraying Francesco. And he has to believe it. So, she sends out the order to capture, and possibly execute Francesco's favorite adopted niece. And tell him about it. Naturally he is not amused at all.

Yes, indeed. This adventure I let something dreaded happen as a GM. I allowed a player to play a basically chaotic and evil character. Or, that is surely what it looks like. And worse, Serapha, who fits the description, now confronts the other player characters in direct conflict. This gives incredible tension and excitement – like, is she really gonna kill this innocent NPC, is she really turning on us? – but it's also walking a thin line. If Serapha does not come up with a sensible explanation – which she does have, but she'll still have to tell in time – it will become unplayable. Player character killing player character is just not an option – we tried in the past, and hated it.

So, Francesco and Will find themselves on the streets at midnight to send a message out to set up a rescue of the niece. Through the priests of St. Gabriel, who can send messages with godspeed. But the church is strangely padlocked, and full of cobwebs. Creepy. In the next building, where they know the Paladyns have their secret base a strange couple enters. They don't look like Paladyns, and the bearded Paladyn that always waved so friendly at them now acts as if he doesn't know them. Weird.

Francois, a fourth PC who missed last week's episode, is just across the square. As second man of the shadowcouncil, and recently also second in command to the mayor, he has his own problems. One of them is mayor Richard himself, who rightfully suspects Francois of foul play. Another is that Francois has hired the Paladyn order to raid the vampyres that hide in the factory of the influential mr. Thyssen. And Thyssen is friends with both the vampyres... and the mayor. Richard will of course play the game along, and now chat and drink with the Bishop of Cluny, the boss of the Paladyns. But will Richard drop his friend Thyssen?

An earthshattering explosion across the square gives him the answer. Doomstone grinder bombs. Will and Francesco stood next to it and try to evade the debris. Serapha, watching from a house nearby is hit by shattering windowpanes. The safehouse of the Paladyn order has been blown to bits. And so are all left inside. It looks like there will be no Paladyn left to do a raid tomorrow. More explosions follow under the street, close to the cathedral.

Francois realizes: “That's where the bone relics are”. The relics they worked hard to take from the vampyres. The relics they handed to the Paladyns, to help prevent Doomstone plagues. To help prevent war. While he shouts and commands as many people he can to fight the fires, his brain fevers. How to save the bones? There is hardly a Paladyn left! Then he spots Francesco and Will. They will help him.

When I GM, I now like to work on many different levels at once. Each character has its own goals, its own edge, its own conflicts. And all these personal stories I try to weave together into one whole, which hopefully is enjoyed by all. The good thing is that you can tell a complex story and motivate everyone personally. The tough thing is to get all characters heading the same way.

Serapha is on her own now. But she sees how the couple that entered the exploded building of the Paladyns, are walking away unscathed! She burns some of the blood she sucked – she is a vampyre, too – and follows them to an inn on the edge of town.

Francesco has a smart plan. He will create a diversion. He'll take the wrong bones from the crypt of the cathedral, and bring them to the safehouse mayor Richard suggested. And Francois will tell Richard and others that these are the real relics – to keep away from the vampyres underground. But the real relics are instead secretly taken into the bell tower.

And then a mysterious knight drops a note to Will. It turns out to be Aster, the Paladyn. And most other Paladyns are still alive too. They were already out to do the raid one night earlier than planned. So they have not been blown up after all. Will, Francesco and Francois should join them.

And that's where the party wants to split up demon kicked in again – it took another threat from Aster to get him to join. A realistic one, but still. “If you don't join, I'll tell them about your dirty ops.” Serapha meanwhile drifts by the other heroes in a boat, together with the couple. It's not quite clear if she is the hostage or they are. But, all are at least heading for the same goal. The Thyssen mansion and factory.

Approaching the estate from different sides, the heroes break in, climb the walls, and join the Paladyns. Will and Francesco go for the mansion, Francois and the main force storm the factory. Quickly both parties dispose of the guards, and with the use of grenades they make diversions. They're in. But why are the cellars so empty? Where are the coffins? Where are the doomstone containers? Where are the people experimented upon, that Francois saw in a vision? A greenish light shimmers in a corner. “It's a trap!” Francois and the Paladyns dive for cover. But for most of them it's too late.

The explosion breaks all windows in the mansion too, where Will, Francesco and Aster are. They too have to conclude that the vampyres have fled, and Thyssen too. It's just the guards and servants that are left. And a horrible creature – a kind of huge eyeless fish – which lies in a bed. In horror they find themselves displaced in the house. GM-ing a bit of delirium again.

As you see, a lot of twists and double turns. But it's not over. The heroes manage to rescue the dragon rider, and reunite her with her mount. Soon enough, it appears that both may be dragons! One in human form. In the city another surprise awaits. The bones have been stolen... just as Francois feared. Mayor Richard is said to be very sorry. Yet it seems to Francois that Richard made a trade with Thyssen and the vampyres. They left town but took the bones. The messenger tells they were taken right from the safehouse. Francois lightens up – those were the false bones! The ones in the tower are still safe. But for how long? And now for sure he cannot enter town without fearing for his life.

As a last scene, Serapha's threat still stands. She betrayed Francesco, and her vampyre blood boils too much – no matter how much he likes, or loves her. And no matter that she is a PC. Will, Francesco and Aster have bound and gagged Serapha. But what next? Well, that's to be continued...

2010/10/18

pick #10: Beauty in the Eye...

Beauty lies in the Eye of the Beholder. Even if in this case, the beholder is a demonic creature from the deep.
Waterdeep, in fact, a creature from beneath the town of Waterdeep.

Eye of the Beholder is a dungeon crawler computer adventure made by SSI, for Dungeons & Dragons. Okay, twenty years ago, in 1990. But I still have fond memories of it. When we first laid hands on it, we built a party of our favorite player characters - the same ones we played in Dark Dungeon during weekends. And then we set out to rescue the town of Waterdeep. Or at least bash as many monsters on the way as we could, and collect all sorts of treasure while solving the puzzles of the game. Until next morning if we had to.

But why talk of such an old game, just nostalgia? No. If you are a webbook owner like I am, you may sometimes yearn for a game that its slow processor can handle. And old games are typically... slow enough!

Eye of the Beholder is such a game, which runs sweetly on an EEE-PC. And better than that, you can now download it for free here.Or you may search for parts one, two and three here, or here.

Pure portable nostalgia.

2010/10/14

Classic RPG Review #5: Tunnels & Trolls


boxed set, fifth edition
by Ken St. Andre
1975, 1979 Flying Buffalo

Even in the early days, some people found that D&D was too expensive, too complex, and too commercial. One of these people was Ken St. Andre, and he wrote a simpler dungeon delving game called Tunnels & Trolls. It was cheaper, and it used six-sided dice, which were at that time much easier to obtain than the multifaceted twenty-siders, tetrahedrons, octahedrons and dodekahedrons needed for D&D. The D&D people were not amused, and did not see why they needed competition.

St. Andre thanks the people of the No. 1 game for their groundwork though, and states that his game is sufficiently different to deserve a place of its own. Is it different? Well. Yes and no. Dungeons & Dragons tries to mask that it's mostly a game of search, destroy and loot. Tunnels & Trolls squarely admits that's the whole concept of the game. You build a Dungeon, fill it up with traps, treasure and monsters, and then you invite the demolition team. Once the demolition team has done their jobs, you restack the same Dungeon, change a few things, and invite them in again.

No need for an adventure rationale, no need for a complex storyline, no need for a well conceived backdrop. The Tunnels just are. Like the trenches in the first world war. And that's where the delvers go, to gain glory, gold and power – or to die.

Dying is a lot more likely than during the mid-levels of D&D, so it is advised that players play more than one hero at once. Players do not control a single hero, but they have a whole team of three or four at their disposal. Making a new hero is easier than in most games, probably also because of the death rate. Once you get the hang of it a new hero is made in minutes. It won't have much depth, but where is the need?

Monsters are even easier to make. You just give it a Monster Rating, a figure from 1 to 100 or more, which determines how tough it is. And that's it. You can think up a name for the creature, try to imagine how it looks, or give it special abilities. But for the game you do not need to.

Combat is a team effort in this game. Both combating teams add up all their dice, add all their bonusses, and the highest team wins. This part is especially fun if you have a lot of dice in your home – the rattling sound! The losing team divides the difference equally among it's members, and takes that as damage – either on their armour, shields, or their constitution. Monsters take damage on their monster rating of course, no need to make things complex there. If your constitution or monster rating reaches zero, you're dead.

Heroes with a high IQ may also become wizards. These may cast spells, often with silly names, instead of just adding dice to the pool. As long as the wizard knows a spell, he or she can use it at the expense of strength points. There is no need to decide beforehand what one might need, like in D&D, and that makes the game a lot more flexible and fun. Most later games systems copied this feature, though spell casting then typically drains other statistics than strength. Not all wizards are as muscular as those in T&T.

All in all, the game is fun to play. It's simple and straightforward, even if you have to do a lot of dice rolling and adding up. There are nice illustrations by Liz Danforth, and there is something attractive about mindless slaughter and dungeon demolition. But it also has virtually no depth. So as a player I quickly moved on.

RULES 3/5
(rules are simple, elegant, open ended and not very realistic)
INSPIRATION
2/5 (the game has a thrill of it's own, but source material is limited, and the backdrop is maybe overly simplistic, avoiding any storyline)
PLAYABILITY
2/5 (although the game plays fast and easy, it also bores easily)
GAME FEATURES
(mindless slaughter and looting in a fantasy setting, human based but with dwarves, elves, halforcs, ogres and the like, combat with pooling each side's many six sided dice, limited professions, magic accessible to those of higher IQ)

OVERALL 5/10

2010/10/12

On Campaign: Issue # 1



In "On Campaign", the author of Comptoniae comments on current roleplaying game campaigns in his area of self-claimed expertise. Its tone and angle is intended to be out of left field, sometimes even psychedelic, and hopefully always stunningly insightful.
For Issue #1: I dub thee... GUNS ‘N ROSEN: “On War.” A serial musical in the style of the Buffyverse musical episode “Once More, With Feeling.” Expect lots of anachronisms and Fourth Wall breakage here.

But first: some Context
For my fellow players in the "Brugghes" roleplaying campaign, this post will be fairly self-explanatory.
For those non-addicts (or once-were-addicts, or even sideline-addicts) out there, I suggest you first read this blog post.
For those still lost at sea (but apparently still reading...you are amazing) I offer this rough summary:

Last game session left Brugghes, our game world's roughly-17th-century, magic-enhanced version of that Belgian city, in more than the usual ruins caused by magical bombs, killings and general mayhem. As of the cliffhanger ending, it looks like the best-laid plans of players have gone awry and the specter of a big war is yet one step closer. Now war, or rather the threat and the legacy of war, is a major theme of this RPG campaign. So the Guns 'N Roses song "Civil War" struck me as ironically quotable when my mp3 playlist shuffled it up for me the night after gaming.

A Who's Who Appearing In This Song (in alphabetical order):
Axl from Earth is of course William Bruce Rose, better known as singer/ songwriter Axl Rose. I wanted to adapt/quote his song but didn't have the heart to meddle with his mentions of King, Kennedy and the Vietnam War Memorial.
Francesco is a half-elf, ex-special forces veteran who tries to stick to con jobs
but who's ever drawn into blood-soaked plots. Last name Rosen, hence the Guns 'N RoseN pun.
Litho is a man of the cloth, or should we say smart zombie of the cloth. He may mean well but it's hard to tell with his Inquisitorial skills.
Louise is a social reform-minded, peacemonger noblewoman with a stubborn heart of gold, a will of iron, and the soul of an old elf.
Parsus is an ancient but spry Elf Lord who could be key to world peace if only he could access his wiped memories.
Schwarzburg is a priest of the best of intentions and a financial expert of the sharpest wit. And a secret past, but then so do they all.
Serapha is Parsus' daughter. A half-elf, vampire, assassin-sorceress who tries to do the good thing but whose mind may have snapped long ago.
Sfortunato is a purple-haired, absent minded half elven youth and the last Emperor's bodily reincarnation. Nobody thinks he's gonna make it.
"Thyssen" is a catch-phrase for the current game's war-mongering, vampire infested power capitalist neo-conversatives bunch. Aka the Enemy.
William is a man (possibly with dragon blood) who is so mysterious that he's cursed with eternal quietness. Or perhaps that's vice versa.




So now: the musical bit! Here is...
GUNS ‘N ROSEN: “On War”
For extra audiovisual impact, watch this video clip adaptation
(Warning: Contains gruesome images. Parental discretion advised)

Louise: Look at your young men fighting/
Look at your women crying/
Look at your young men dying

Parsus: The way they've always done before

Serapha: Look at the hate we're breeding/
Look at the fear we're feeding

Parsus: Look at the lives we're leading/
The way we've always done before

Serapha: My hands are tied

Schwarzburg: The billions shift from side to side

Francesco: And the wars go on with brainwashed pride

Litho: For the love of God and our human rights

Parsus: And all these things are swept aside

Serapha: By bloody hands Time can't deny

Louise: And are washed away by your genocide/
And history hides the lies of our civil wars

Axl from Earth: Did you wear a black armband/
When they shot the man/
Who said "Peace could last forever"/
And in my first memories/
They shot Kennedy/
I went numb when I learned to see/
So I never fell for Vietnam/
We got the wall of D.C. to remind us all

Francesco: That you can't trust freedom/
When it's not in your hands

Louise (LOUD): When everybody's fightin' /
For their promised land

[All] : And /
I don't need your civil war /
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor/
Your power hungry sellin' soldiers/
In a human grocery store/
Ain't that fresh/
I don't need your civil war

William (softly): Look at the shoes you're filling

Serapha: Look at the blood we're spilling/
Look at the world we're killing

Parsus: The way we've always done before

Sfortunato (pop-up) : Look in the doubt we've wallowed

Serapha: Look at the leaders we've followed

Schwarzburg: Look at the lies we've swallowed

Francesco: And I don't want to hear no more

Serapha: My hands are tied/
For all I've seen has changed my mind

Parsus: But still the wars go on as the years go by
Litho: With no love of God or human rights

Louise: 'Cause all these dreams are swept aside

Serapha: By bloody hands of the hypnotized

Schwarzburg: Who carry the cross of homicide

Parsus: And history bears the scars of our civil wars


Thyssen soundbite: "We practice selective annihilation of mayors
And government officials
For example to create a vacuum
Then we fill that vacuum
As popular war advances
Peace is closer"

[All]: I don't need your civil war/
It feeds the rich while it buries the poor/
You’re power hungry sellin' soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain't that fresh
And I don't need your civil war
I don't need your civil war
I don't need your civil war
Your power hungry sellin' soldiers
In a human grocery store
Ain't that fresh
I don't need your civil war
I don't need one more war

Louise: I don't need one more war
Francesco: Whaz so civil 'bout war anyway.

The original song by Guns ‘N Roses © 1990
YouTube clip by eBayIMPloyee, March 01, 2009
“Once More, With Feeling” is by Joss Whedon/ Mutant Enemy Productions (c) 2001

2010/10/11

Pick #9: Alatriste as an RPG

Seventeenth century hero Alatriste has not only made it to film, he has also made it into role playing. In Spanish.

Juego de Rol del Alatriste. And it's a good game, according to critics. The rules resemble those of GURPS, but are lighter and with less fluff. And the rule book is full of historical background information about the Spanish Empire and the 17th century. The century that Catholics and Protestants clashed violently. The century of the three musketeers. The century of colonies in the Americas. The century of swashbuckling and captain Alatriste.

Unfortunately, if you don't read much Spanish, the book is probably not for you. The makers promised to do an English translation somewhere in 2005, but as that time long passed, the deal is probably off. If you do understand Spanish, or are just plain stubborn, you might order your copy here. Or have a look at some fanzines to get a taste.

Alatriste is a cool hero. If you haven't picked up the movie yet, read last week's review, and consider again. And if you did see the movie, and liked it, then start learning Spanish. Maybe you can teach the game to me.

2010/10/08

Brugghes #6: Lamb to the Slaughter

If you're new to this column, read the read this first. Play date: october 1, 2010

Serapha woke from her feverous dream. How much time had passed? She wasn't sure. But it looked like dusk had finally come. The night would hide her, and she could seek out her new mistress. There she was, on the street, ready for the sun to set. Except that it did not.

Francesco just lost a few hours of memory. Was he on this street before? He rubbed his sore neck. There was blood. Serapha clenched him suddenly. “You startled me” he said. “It's almost night, we should go to the Thyssen place” she whispered. “No it's almost day” he could know. For he had been out all night.

What I tried to do as a game master in this session was mess a lot with the characters senses and their sense of time. And with those of the players too. Cutting scenes at moments that were unexpected, skipping whole hours of memory, give disorienting descriptions. Why? Because these two heroes (or are they villains? – the difference with my player characters is often thin), because these heroes are under the influence of vampyric blood. I'll tell, it's cool to GM delirium.

Both heroes tried to infiltrate the nest of two vampyre princesses, elven vampyres at that, hiding with the powerful businessman Thyssen. One, Leni von Brockdorf even married to him. Serapha tries to infiltrate, looking for an even more powerful undead. But unfortunately she is also addicted to the blood. Francesco is still human, and actually on a mission of his own. But he fell for her charms.

Will (played by a woman – Serapha played by a man), their mutual... well, someone they met and works with them - Will does not agree with their relationship. Will has his own goals. Yesternight he saw how a dragon was shot from the sky, and made an emergency landing on the Thyssen estate. Together with its rider. Will snuck unto the grounds, and confronted the guards and their dogs. There the dragon was, in all her majesty – and he could speak with her, for Will was trained to do so when he served as a dragon rider in the ImperiMor army. But she was wounded badly, and her rider was captured. By the Thyssen men. And more soldiers came. All Will could do was make a diversion, so the dragon – her name “Blue Thunder”, couldn't resist the pun – could escape swimming in the river. Hit by shrappnel, Will dove after her in the cold water.

So that's why Will needed Francesco. To help hide the dragon. Which they did eventually, in a boat house – feeding it some poor sheep – which they mercifully executed before letting them be eaten... And Will needed Francesco to prepare a rescue mission into the Thyssen house, to get the dragon rider. But preparing such a raid is not easy, when the Brugghes officials are patrolling the streets, and vampyre spawn are on your tail. That's where some more psychedelic GM-ing came in.

Francesco planned to invite Will and Serapha for a talk in his luxury office – which he hired to attract the arms traders he was actually staking out – but that's another tale. And while they admired the view, they noticed Leni's friend vampyre, Evi. Small, with a powerful and unamused gaze she looked up at them. Will hid, Francesco ducked. When they looked again, she was gone. And the stairs in the building creaked. 't is always great fun to see one's players spooked. The thing on the stairs turned out to be the new neighbour. Who of course also was not okay. After he tried to attack them, and they shot his arm off, he just kept standing. Until Serapha's focus lapsed, and the GM jumped her player mimicing a stake and mallet. It's always good to act things out physically a bit for effect.

Luckily, there are friends in the neighbourhood. The paladyns from Cluny have promised the Brugghes mayor to clean out the Thyssen vampyre nest. Aster Floryn, a hardened female warrior who smokes cigars for breakfast, is one of them. Aster is a long standing NPC. But while Aster'd like Will and Francesco to participate in the raid – who can then rescue the dragon rider in the process – she does not quite trust Serapha. She suspects Serapha is an ImperiMor enemy agent. And a vampyre too. Yet... she unwittingly shares information with Serapha. “Read this book”, she says. And in the book are her notes of preparing the raid.

Serapha remembers flashes of lying in bed with another woman. A love relationship? No... or yes? It's her new mistress Leni, and they speak of the coming attack by the Paladyns. Has Serapha betrayed them already? This, and more... in the next episode of Brugghes.

Brugghes Campaign: Read First

I've game mastered for about thirty years now, and every once in a while I try to seek out new challenges to keep the game interesting. New ways of storytelling, new ways of constructing stories, new story arcs, new worlds, new ways of letting players interact, new ways of cooperating with other game masters. And telling about what I'm doing now is a way to share what I learned – and still am learning.

So, also inspired by James “Grognardia” Maliszewski 's reports about his campaign Dwimmermount, I'll give it a try my way. Currently I'm running four different campaign lines on my world Nirdday, which is a mirror world of the Yaddrin world which I and some fifty other game masters shared since twenty years. The Brugghes campaign is one of these lines.

In Brugghes, the heroes try to unravel a network of crime – both in money laundering, drugs and arms trade – and they find vampyres, bone relics and ancient secrets. Nice detail is that most of the heroes were hired by player characters in another campaign, who need financial information about the criminals.

Writing on this blog starts at session #6, mostly to be up to date as I start. The first five episodes may appear some other day. Hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!

2010/10/07

Movies for Gamers #2: Alatriste

This is part of a series of reviews of movies particularly interesting or inspiring for role playing. Because of their setting, style, characters, editing or story. Read the introduction here or here if you are new to this series.

El Capitan Alatriste is a Spanish mercenary in the seventeenth century. He isn't really a captain, but he does know how to fight. And because that's basically all he knows how to do well, he ends up in one battle after another. Mostly in the Netherlands.

Now if you're Dutch, like I am, Alatriste is a shocking different view of our “Eighty Year's War”, which you might know as the “Dutch Revolt” during the heyday of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC). At school, we always were taught about the evil Spanish, and their torturing Inquisition. In Alatriste the Netherlands are a horrible breeding swamp of pirates and rebels who don't really fight fair. The Dutch are seen as the Nemesis of Imperial Spain. And if you thought trench warfare was an invention of the 20th century? Think again. Alatriste and his compadres move around in real trenches and even tunnels a lot. You can smell the gunpowder while watching.

Maybe you'll find that Alatriste is a bit long. But if you know that Alatriste is a regular Spanish hero from pulp fiction, like a cross breed between Don Quichotte and Batman, then maybe you can appreciate the episodic structure of the movie. Alatriste, a creation by Arturo Perez-Reverte, seems to be hugely popular in Spain. So the makers tried to put the history of all the books into one movie. As an hommage, I suppose.

Why did they choose Viggo Mortensen to play the lead role? Probably to attract an international audience. His Spanish is curt, but sounds true to me. And he's a believable captain, struggling to show his emotion, even as he finally dares to declare his love to a high level courtesane. I won't tell you the outcome. He's cute.

Go see the movie, and learn something about history along the way. You might even want to upgrade your fantasy campaign to the 17th century. I already did.

2010/10/03

Pick #8: The Secret World



The Call of Cthulhu pen and paper game is great. And H.P. Lovecraft's writings might make for a great online role playing experience. Travel from Arkham to Dunwich, solve a few mysteries and nearly go insane. Great stuff to share in an online community. You might think.

When text only MUDs (the precursor of MMOs) were the norm, I tried to write for a Cthulhu MUD that was starting up. I had a lot written, but the game never really got off the ground. Until much later. Cthulhumud may be what its now. Or perhaps they went on to do Cthulhu Nation, a sort of graphic multi player game from the UK.

Or... would this be the next real thing? It looks like it might be. They seem to take in beta testers, if you dare. So why not have a go and tell me how you do? I'll wait for you to come back... sane, I hope.

This MMO might be to scary for me anyway...