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Friday, 31 May 2013

Me as a FWTD character

As the title says.
I took some pictures of myself as a character in FWTD.

AsenRG as Night Shift (uncorrupt cop with vigilantism tendencies):

Or AsenRG as an Eccentric. Yes, they're a group, albeit a highly disorganised one that doesn't maintain ties.
There are even books in the background, because who else reads paper books in 2080, except Eccentrics?

Ah well, today's update was a short one.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

FWTD Omake: Why Vampires Suck

For those not in the know: omake just means "addition". It usually means a scene that's played elsewhere, not in front of the characters.

As the Risen lied in his feet, he felt the need to speak while looking at his surroundings. Nobody seemed prone to approach the almost eight-foot-tall warrior with a hatchet.
"You guys amuse me. You style yourself predators of the night to gain followers, dark and tormented and all that shit...and you do it so much that you start believing it, and feeling some kind of supremacy over it. Normally, I would question whether a predator is more dangerous than an omnivore or even a strong herbivore... but it's actually irrelevant.
It's made irrelevant by the fact that you're not even predators! What you are, is called parasites in biology. So, I can attest you fought me like a true vampire, screeching for my blood and swinging claws! But all that means is, you did your best to fight like a leech, because it's your nature. I did my best to fight like a killer ape from the African plains, because that's my nature. Hence, you frankly didn't stand a fucking chance... but it's not like you could use that lesson now.
Why am I telling you that? Isn't it so you could learn the error of your ways? Nah, that was just me feeling supremacist over not being a blood-sucker, and the lecture is over. May God have mercy on your soul... and if those Buddhist guys were right, you might get lucky in the reincarnation roulette, and get to be a real predator, like, say, a stray!"
Then he knelt over and offered his cross to the Risen to kiss. After the defeated turned his head away, he decapitated him and looked around.
Nobody seemed to have noticed the fight in the back alley. For now. If he was lucky, he could even go out of the warehouse and get back to the turf of the Saints of the Corner, without anyone learning who had done that.
At least, the leach had accepted a duel - almost like a man. And some people were going to pay well for the records.

For those not in the know, that's a martial artist in the Fates Worse Than Death setting. He is a member of a Cornerpunk gang I had written about in the "gangs, martial arts and NPCs" post
The Risen are a gang whose member have mytochondrial vampirism. These two actually had something that's quite rare in the 2080 Manhattan: a straight fight.  The Cornerpunk won by his rage, his superior skill, and his custom-made blade.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

FWTD: Balance of power, violence and statistics, session 3 (or is it session 5?)

Today's session was shorter. We added a Humankalorie and a Math Addict. The Math Addict is played by the gal I expected to play a Risen. The Humankalorie is her boyfriend.
A reminder of what these terms mean is added at the back of the post. Thanks to +Erik McGrath for reminding me not everybody has read the FWTD setting!

The Freak and her four friends went to see what the war at 145th street was like. It turns out the two Animalists that had joined were friends of the two Freaks. Well, one of them was the lover of the Freak in poisoned spikes (both of those guys had implanted poisoned claws and fangs, so it remained unclear how they got to it).
The other Animalist said a friend has told him there might be a good fight. He also asked to pass with the PC in the metro to avoid paying the 1.50$ fee. She agreed, and noticed his stare going blank.
"Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, just getting fired up for a fight!"
In the metro, they noticed an old lady in the process of getting mugged. Nobody made a move to stop them from punching her in the face with a knuckleduster. "Not my job".
Then they got to it, and their practice fight with Skin Borgs turned into a total disaster. The guys were too well-armoured, indeed, even better than expected. It was good they retreated after being wounded. Problem was, some were in armour that protected them everywhere.
The second Animalist was the only one who managed to actually drop a Skin Borg. Literally. He pounced him until the Skin Borg was pushed up the stairs for a couple stories, than he grabbed him and threw him through a window.
The guy couldn't get up even with secondary nanotech armour. But by then, one of the Freaks had his face smashed by a skullcrusher.
They could report that yes, the Skin Borgs definitely gave a hard time to the defenders, though.
Said events were witnessed by a young Humankalorie...

Earlier the same day, the Humankalorie had received a call from one of his elders in the gang, with higher Kalor standing.
"Please, would you go to 145th street and tell me what's up with that? I hear the Skin Borgs have become more of a problem lately. And I'd like one of us to confirm or deny that."
He agreed. And he helped a sick shut-in to reach a safe place on the way to 145th. The pounders just looked at the Sardad and realised 1) that it's a Humankalorie and taking on him wouldn't be a good idea and 2) that he's damned dangerous.
He made a walk, of course, and found a beaten-up group of 3 Freaks and 2 Animalists. He also noted that while the Skin Borgs had retreated, they didn't seem to have wounded any Skin Borgs.
(Actually, that was just due to the Skin Borgs carrying their wounded away, but that's what he reported).
Then he got to participate in a meeting of the Humankalories. Their member, Mithan (some parents should be sued for giving such names...) has been attacked, and shot, by a pusher gang. Granted, he had ordered them to go off the Humankalorie turf, but reacting with violence wasn't their best ideas.
Especially given the fact that he's an Olanidad user who had paid to become as huge as he could get. Because, you know, he could get some extra reach.
This probably helped him to weather being shot, too. And he did cut off the hand and the head of the gunman (and not only his hand, too).
But it remained true that the Humankalories had been attacked more than once by Drug Lords gangs this week. So they were unanimous that a lesson was needed.
The question was whether to strike by surprise, and destroy as many pushers as possible, or to look for allies. Well, the more experienced ones had to take it - but everyone could speak their mind, except children.
The question was who would make the best allies. And most agreed on the Needle Punks. The Hungries, if they could find them, would no doubt join - otherwise, they'd probably do it a bit later. Arkadians or Omniscients, to provide intelligence, were also a popular suggestion. Risen were suggested as a gang that should hate the Drug Lords (although the same could be said of the Roofers, one might note).
It's weird, but nobody considered paying off the Drakes or Insomniacs, nor the Night Shift. Also, Methin was itching for a fight with pushers - he recently learned one of his parents had been addicted by a pusher gang, but had been unable to find out who, exactly, they were.
But then, it wasn't a big surprise. And remember the one-shot? Yeah, the Humankalories already had confronted a Skin Borg and some pushers. So they were on the look-out for both organisations.
Which actually facilitated the way to a confrontation. 
(That's not anything that some Arkadian has ever predicted, of course! If it was, there would also need to be a spoon - and we all know there is no spoon!)

Meanwhile, in Freak and Math Addict territory...
 A young Math Addict (Korean by origin) was called by a more experienced friend. This one was in one of the Colin Hunters societies, and he needed her help.
"I need data for the activity of Colin strains in Freaks territory. Can you get me some? I don't have favours left from the Omniscients, and I'd rather owe a favour to one in our gang."
Park agreed and went to look it up. She was mostly wandering around, dressed in black leather clothes and practising her psychic skills - because yes, she was a psychic...a big advantage over the other Math Addicts.
She didn't just use Mind Reading at random, either. Instead, she picked up people that weren't interested in the current show - a Freak swallowing balls and vomiting them back in the same order they entered. While in an impossible position due to Freak Elasticity. Yeah, not surprising she actually botched it the first time.
Then she tried to read their minds... only succeeded in getting their emotions. Bored, bored (these two seemed like typical Freaks), worried, in love, focused on something else.
Have I noted that my PCs have the weirdest luck when I roll on a random d1000 table?
Next thing you know, she starts putting the idea in their head that "the show sucks, but there's something more interesting: the serial hunter, Colin".
The reactions changed to fear, surprise, worrying even stronger, surprise, and the last one - a Caucasian gal in her 20ies or something - turned to look behind her. It looked like she was looking for someone to kill, right now.
"Is she looking for someone to kill indeed?"
"She doesn't seem angry, but you can she is."
"Did she realize someone else put it in her head?"
"It's not impossible, many people get angry about it."
Meanwhile, the one that looked worried - and seemed well-dressed, even a bit provocatively - turned and left. She followed him.
He didn't go all that far. It was a seemingly abandoned building, but the guy pushed the door and entered. It seemed like at least the first 3 floors were in use.
To clarify for the readers - she didn't know that - this is an abandoned building run by an old veteran-turned-wino, Jalal Smith, and a couple of his friends, which houses mostly other homeless people. The guy promises no running water, but it has electricity some of the time, when one of his assistants manages to re-route it, and someone rushes to the rooms if anyone screams for help. A room is worth as much as a round in the metro would be, $1.50, but with better protection and commodities. In practice, this is quite the secure place.
Instead of trying to enter, she tried to use her telepathy and discern thoughts. She only managed to get emotions, again (actually, on revising the psychic system, that might be more due to me botching the penalties for range, but whatever happened, happened). It also seemed there's nobody above the third floor. So she decided to climb from the top floor and descend, (over)confident in her athletic ability. Sure she had studied climbing, but climbing a wall without tools, no matter how many natural handholds there are? Yeah, that was not really her level. So, unsurprisingly, she failed the first time.
However, when she dropped, she decided to look around. And that's when an unknown man (Jalal) burst out, swinging a piece of glass.
He had been alerted by a customer that there was "some weirdness that's not from the Freaks" around. And he heard a drop outside. So he came prepared to deal with some thief, or some pounders, or a very weird Freak. Whatever, the Drake Pain Drops on the glass would have worked all the same! It actually has a handle - part of it is wrapped with paper, and a cord on top of it. Jalal prefers it to normal knives, because he doesn't intend to kill anyone, just to slash and incapacitate, so he could put his boxing skills to use.
In practice, it was unnecessary.
Instead of facing him, she ran and said she's hiding in the trash-littered area between two blocks. The man turned and got back in. She waited a couple minutes, and tried again.
Of course, she failed again, and this time the man, who had been waiting behind the door, burst out.
Instead of running, this time she put an idea in his head - that there was a Colin prowling around.
This stopped the attack indeed. Instead, he started waving the glass in front of her and shouting angrily.
"You! You be the one who puts thoughts in people's heads? Get lost! We don't wanna your kind around!"
She sent him a kiss, and went away. "Freak!", he spat. Black leather clothes, acting funny, made sense...
That's when she caught a glimpse of the gal who breathed menace, back where the crowd had gathered.
She hid and let her pass by.
Actually, she thought she was hidden, but that's one of the few occasions in my last few sessions when I used hidden rolls. The gal didn't manage to prowl on her, but was more than able to notice her. She's got surprising skills, that one...
And she was looking for Park already.
So, our Math Addict followed her, and the gal didn't give any signs of noticing her. She was even easy to follow.
So she went to a nice, gothic-style building, and entered. Actually, Park noticed, this one was well-maintained! But nobody had scrubbed off the dirt from it, so at first glance, it was no different from other abandoned buildings.
Abandoned? Not really, if you ask the city - an off-shore company is paying the bills. I wonder whether anyone would ask. She sure didn't, at least not at the time.
Again, read the following psychic skill test results keeping in mind I might have botched the modifiers. Although there were a couple natural 20s occurring, and this is generally a success.
Also, remember the first part of the earlier two-shot!
So, she waited outside, and tried to listen to the thoughts of people inside the building. Surprisingly, she made it! Well, at least partially, and for one of them. The words in italic are what she didn't hear, but to make it clear, I'm going to include the whole sentences. In the session, I told her "dots, dots, dots" instead of them
"So, what you're saying is that there is some psychic bitch walking around and putting thoughts about me-us-in people's heads. Seems to be acting at random. And you lead her here because you didn't have chloroform, is that it?"
She decided to hide at that point. Smart move.
At this point, a 6-yo boy opens the door and gets out. She reads his mind with a total success this time.
"So, where's that bitch that's making people think of me?"
Well, at this point she realised she had found lots of info on Colin activity. It was one of the few occasions when a Math Addict feels overwhelmed with information.
In fact, she hid even deeper in the trash, definitely not caring about the smell. As soon as the boy passed, she ran away.
The only problem was, she didn't pick the best road, and soon a 15yo boy was running behind her. He ran out of a street behind her, clutching his gut, and there was blood seeping from under his hand.
She quickly scanned his head, and again succeeded only partially.
"Come on, bitch! I'm hurt here, don't you wanna help me? Come, you know you want to do it!"
She looked more attentively at the wound. About the time she realised it was a fake - it was his hand that was cut up, and he was clutching his gut with it - he smiled and got up.
"We're not helping people in need, huh?"
She turned and ran. There was a chase and he was catching up with her. Being a trained acrobat, she jumped and tried to get to a low-floor balcony. No luck, and it allowed him to get within range and to try and stab her with a last jump.
I'm sorry I didn't remember to use the rules for chases from In Dark Alleys. It's based on the same system, and was actually on my tablet as well. Ah well, I improvised. And if he didn't have penalties from a split action, and a bad roll, she would have been stabbed.
She managed to jump away in a split second, and used her action to turn and run again. This time, having seen his knife from up close, it worked - possibly the adrenaline rush helped her. She got to the metro station in time, ran in, paying with her card (more time for her, since Colin had to dig out some cash) and managed to jump a train.
When she called him, her Math Addict connection tried to persuade her to lead the Colin to their territory. She decided, wisely, not to tempt the fate.
Wisely indeed, the difference between her defence and his attack is something like 12 points. When he's using a Vital strike, which has a TN 10 higher than her defence.

Back to 145th street...
After the Orphans elected a new leader for the day, he summoned Dimitri.
"Man, are you alright? Something nasty has happened to get to your nerves? We're ready to help, remember?"
"What do you mean? Nothing has happened!"
"You sure? I hear you've been very cautious lately. Maybe too cautious."
"I'm sure. If you mean that old guy, I didn't want to get us into conflict."
"Yeah, you seem to be avoiding conflicts a lot lately. Sure, your call about the old guy. Probably prudent, too. I'm just asking, is there any reason you're extra-cautious?"
"Nah, no such thing!"
"Good, then why don't you take your armour and make a walk on 145th street? We need to send some patrols, you know. And it would refresh you."
"Your memory that conflict ain't the worst that can happen" is what the man wanted to say. But he didn't. BTW, tomorrow's leader is a chick that had fancied Dimitri, and is sorely disappointed in hearing about him leaving the old man to his fate on the hands - and bullets - of the dagger team. My dice are nasty to him.
There's not much more to say here, the player left early after helping the two new guys make their own PCs. I should award him a couple XP for the patience. After all, dealing with rules is playing the game.
When he and a few other Orphans got there, the Hummingbirds were fighting a group of Skin Borgs - and mostly, losing, despite outnumbering them 3 to 1 or so. They had been outnumbering them worse than that at the beginning, too...
Our Orphan attacked one of them, but the armour protected completely against his sharpened railroad spike and the Skin Borg dropped another Hummingbird instead of defending.
Then Dimitri started attacking the eyes.
Bottomline, he got a hit from a bat to the ribs - phonebook armour protected him only to a degree - but managed to stick it in the enemy's eyes.
Weirdly, the other Orphans acted only then, and knocked the Skin Borg down. Then they simply knocked him out with a stranglehold, without hurting him much worse.
When an average NPC combatant gets a -15 penalty, you can as well not bother.
The rest of the Skin Borgs started to retreat. They congratulated Dimitri on his good strike, and one of them even mentioned "seems like you're not as scared as some implied, or at least you got over it".

What makes you think the guys let him fight the Skin Borg for a while in order to test him? Or that the leader ordered it? That's a completely unfounded suggestion, I'm telling you!
Meaning, you ain't got proof.
After that, they went with the Hummingbirds to party. But it was kinda worrying to Dimitri. The Skin Borgs had even better armour by now than he remembered them! Since he hasn't been to 145th street for a while, the contrast was especially obvious to him.
Ah well, that was for another day...

The Runner
He was summoned by the Freak, but they got separated in the fight. At least, he haven't suffered any important wounds, and is back at his place, waiting for her to call again. He managed to cut up a couple Skin Borgs with armour that wasn't top-of-the-game, but that was about it.
(The player had extra work to deal with and didn't make it. I just happen to know that when he attacks with a Wing manoeuvre, not many people in the world can defend, and most can't even defend the parts their armours aren't covering).

So, this is our last session. The Humankalorie player has experience with D&D, and seems surprised I'm not presenting them an adventure, but a world that acts on them and reacts to them, and letting them deal with it. I also warned him fudging doesn't exist in my games, which is the mandatory warning before a game.
Readers comments would be welcome, as always!

Also: as stated at the beginning of this post, here are some terms.
It's the latest session of my campaign in the Fates Worse Than Death setting. Colin is a self-replicating serial killer that "downloads" his mind in the mind of victims via technology, and "overwrites" their identity, replacing them. Math Addicts, Freaks, Humankalories, Hummingbirds and Orphans are gangs in 2080 Manhattan, and number in the hundreds, some in the thousands. Pusher gangs are the footsoldiers of the Drug lords, which have a monopoly on the drug market that they have wrested away from the gangs. Gangs are more like mutual protection societies, since they can't sell drugs, the city is monitored against importing guns, and the gang of Sexologists forbids pimps from working. These are, as we know, the three greatest sources of income for organised crime.
Hope that helps.

Also, I need to remind you that there is a video tutorial for the setting if you're interested to learn more.

Friday, 24 May 2013

FWTD: Drugs and friendships: Campaign session 2

So, we introduced a new player – and he picked an Orphan. In typical style (typical for my campaigns, that is…), the Freak’s player let him decide how they’ve met.
“I chased you from our territory before, because you were doing stuff some children are too young to see!”
Ooookay. Typical for my campaigns, as I said. We’ll see whether these two are ever going to work towards the same goal. People don’t understand that this is a blessing to a GM. Whatever I’ve got pre-prepared, someone is bound to deem interesting and explore… there’s no wasted prep on the Way of the Lazy GM!

When you’re an Orphan, you’ve got to walk your territory around the Orphanage. After all, someone dangerous to the young’uns can be lurking nearby…
So Dimitri was walking around the place, when he saw a family. By their clothes – best described as impractical formalware – he concluded they were a family, here to gaze at how bad people have it in the inner cities. And maybe to get some hookers and blow, and a tiny rock of God Killer…
Whatever else they had wanted, they had already acquired ample material for the “how bad they’ve got it” part. Someone had bitten them in the asses – quite figuratively.
So he followed, and found out some stray dogs/Maulers that had gone wild. It was unclear what or who they were eating…
He gave them a wide berth, and hid among buildings. Soon enough, he believed they had lost him. It even went peacefully for a while.
That is, it went so, until he appeared on a corner. But instead of cornerpunks, there were some guys that were quite obviously pushers. He considered chasing them away – they sure were trespassing, not to mention holding some street person down for injecting a shot  – but there were 6 of them, and he suspected they might have some guns.
So he turned again and ran. As he went, he passed an older guy with somewhat Asian appearance  a decorated walking cane who was out for a walk.
“Where to, young man?”
“There be pushers, man. Don’t go there.”
The man sized him up. “Aren’t you Orphans supposed to take care of this?”
The Orphan showed him the finger. “You go deal with this if you want, old man!”
I’m not sure whether he heard the man mumbling “maybe I shall”.
So he started making the rounds and warning all the kids to go home or to the Orphanage. “Streets are unsafe, guys! Get home, beasts and pushers around!” He actually managed to get a decent number of kids hiding.
After that he bothered to go to the Orphanage, and told them about the pushers. So a combat party went to restore the order. Dimitri insisted on taking a dozen people at minimum with him, but other Orphans told him a few would be enough to send a warning. After all, the Drug Lords don't fight the big gangs.
What they did find, however, was a gunman with unmoving eyes and a bloody machete-wielding pusher. He had seen them both earlier, and the eyes of the guy weren’t focused on the sky. The bloody hole under his chin kinda explained it.
And there was also another severed hand with a pistol. Not to mention, lots and lots of blood.
What they did notice was that someone had gone away, but not before stepping in blood. The weird part was, he – or she – was also leaving some round traces, marks about 1,5 cm in diameter. Whatever it was, it was bloodied as well.
He concluded that this is either the butt of a Humankalorie’s long weapon, or the cane. Both were possible in theory. So he set to look for a Humankalory, because everybody knows Eccentrics are harmless.
They managed to track a hum to a pile of garbage, where the man had cleaned his shoes and Olanidad weapon. So they started to ask questions to the locals.
Nobody had seen gang members. But one of the street winos, after some skillful interrogation, revealed old Lao has passed earlier, seemingly unagitated.
It was then that they decided it was the old man after all. There aren’t many Humankalories in Orphan territory, and certainly not as many as to remain unnoticed. Although all they had been able to gather was that the man was a regular, walking his dog around until the dog died a couple years ago. He still tended to go around almost always at the same time, taking his walk.
Obviously an Eccentric, too - he had nursed a tree to health after some homeless guys had chopped off a part of it during a winter. (The players didn't ask why they had stopped chopping it).
So they waited for him the next day on his usual way. Our Orphan was leading a small party when they found the man, his engraved cane glistening in an uncharacteristically bright day.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Bao He-Chuan" (reads like huh-tshuan-OOC note).
"What are you?"
"Me? Just an old man living out his last years!"
"What happened yesterday?"
"Lots of things. I had a walk, met a youngster without manners...", he started to enumerate, looking at the young Orphan intently.
"You know what I mean. Who killed those pushers?"
"Their bad karma did. No wonder, since they were living a life of sin, and making it heavier by everyday... so the Wheel of Dharma turned."
"And how did the wheel kill them?"
"With a sword."
"But who was holding that sword?"
"What does it matter? Karma always gets to people, no matter who delivers it. No doubt, had they kept acting like this longer, they'd reincarnate in the pits of Hell, to be tortured by demons for thousands of years."
The Orphan looked at him in doubt.
"Are you from some kind of sect?"
"Tell that to the Lumens", the man advised him. "I've been ordained as a monk in a fully legitimate, world-wide religion!"
"Which one?"
"Why, Buddhism, young man. You sure you don't want to think about life being a suffering? I could tell you how to escape this suffering... and I don't mean dying, but reaching enlightenment!"

Dimitri wasn't interested. Instead, he looked at him suspiciously and took a decision.
"If the Drug Lords come for you, the Orphans are not going to fight them to protect you".
"The Wheel of Dharma turns for everyone, me included."
One of the younger Orphans looked at him askance, but said nothing in front of outsiders. He later gave him a hard time in front of the leader the Orphans had elected for the day, though.
"What has got into you, man? First you seem afraid of some pusher shit! Then you tell the old guy he's on his own. What next, are we going to turn on our backs and let the pusher gangs walk over us to avoid a war?"
The leader decided ultimately that this was a cautious course of action. But he also - privately - decided he's overly cautious, and didn't really think highly of him. Which he made clear to some of the elder Orphans in private conversations.
Yeah, his reputation got a hit there...

Next day...
Shots have been heard. Then an explosion. The Orphans waited, then sent a team to investigate it.
They found an old man who had been shot multiple times. There was also a dead dagger team.
One of them wore the characteristic stab wound under the chin and in the brain. This one haven't managed to even pull his gun.
Another had had his jugular severed, and was stabbed under the armpit.
Another had been stabbed through the body, and had his wrist cut off. He had lost control of the motorcycle and crashed, they concluded - the motorcycle had catched fire.
The old man has been shot repeatedly. He had let the sword drop next to the cane, and strewn himself on the ground. Bao's face was as calm now as it had been earlier.
They took all the guns and spare clips, along with the portable equipment that wasn't attached to the motorcycles. The Orphan who had confronted the PC only took the sword and the cane, cleaned it up and sheathed it.
He didn't know how to use it, but then, everything can be learned.
And now I wonder what the National Guard would say about the shooting reports. 
What I'm sure is, Dimitri didn't really make new friends, nor commanded respect. And he didn't help make the world a better place.
So, not much XP would be forthcoming. Too bad for him, but nothing I can do about it.

Meanwhile, in Freaks territory...
The Freak lady was walking around when she met 6 guys. They were obviously Hummingbirds, the boombox kinda gave them away...
Of the 6 Hummingbirds, 1 was huge and muscular (muscle implants, anyone?), 2 were thin girls, the rest were relatively normal-looking guys (one of them is a transsexual, actually, but she didn’t have away to tell).
So, our heroine approached them and joined in the dancing. The big guy lifted her and waved her in the air before putting her down. That was his way to dance, obviously.
They said to be looking for a show, so she invited them to have fun in her place. They went, and she began her speech.

Of course, since they didn’t turn out to the boombox and kept dancing during her speech, she got a -10 modifier. (And she didn’t beat the TN 40 only due to roling 9 or below). 
She got their attention, but didn’t manage to persuade them seeing angels… Well, they started looking for angels behind each other’s backs, but that was the idea of one of the thin girls who talked-like-this-and-didn't-seem-to-know-what-pausing-in-place-means. She also claimed that an angel has entered the butt of one of the guys (you guessed wrong – not the trans-sexual, she was mocking him because she considered him too shy), leading to strong protests from his side.
The Freak used this for a new round of talking. They were now joking among themselves, though, so she failed again to make them see what she said.
They decided it wasn’t such a great show as the one they’ve seen, so they asked for one of the sex shows. And well, that’s not hard to find in Freak territory. She had some skills of that, herself, and there was one of her acquintances-rivals-friends performers nearby as well… (yeah, their relationship ain’t exactly clear even to themselves).
They appreciated this show much better.
After that, one of her pulled her to the side, and asked whether she can help them meet Habey Cox.
“What for?”
“Got a message to deliver – personally! And well, he's got all those people keepin' him, he's like... I dunno. We don't do this stuff. Whatever.”
"What kind of message?", she inquired.
"It's for him..."
"Well, yeah, you want me to get you to meet him, you need to make me believe it's important."
"Fine, but it's a secret, alright? We've got trouble taking on the Skin Borgs. Many of them have got these new skins, you know... high-end. So we have a harder and harder time keeping up with them. It's no longer fun fighting, it feels like fighting for your lives."
In short, she decided it's important enough to bother. Some pleading on her side, and they managed to get an audience - after Habey is over with his afternoon sex session. Took him half an hour more.
"So, what's the big deal?", the man who created the Freaks asked. He looked at them. "Who would you be?"
Turned out, 3 of them were representatives of one or another of the club owners...including the fast-talking girl and the huge guy. Another two were popular DJs. And another was "just a guy, my friends heard of this and said I need to come here and listen to the conversations".
Long story short, they explained to Habey (with our Freak "translating" when the girl was talking too fast) that some people needed help with the Skin Borgs. He even opened a bottle of a honey-based drink... which actually tasted like spinach.
What they didn't tell was that the Humankalories were they preferred allies.. except they had confronted the Drug Lords recently, and were having clashes with pusher gangs.
I wonder what they would think about it.
Perhaps understandably, Habey wasn't really hot on the idea of asking Freaks to participate. But he turned to the Freak that dropped this hot potato in his lap, that is the PC,  and asked her.
"I think they're having problems with Skin Borgs, or these guys wouldn't be here.", she shrugged.
She has no idea how right she is.
"Can you get some people and go see for yourself? I want a Freak to tell me how bad the fighting is going. And I'd prefer you to have people from other gangs, but you can take Freaks if you prefer."
"I can do that, sure!"
She started a rumour that she's looking for someone who wants to have a fight. And she recruited a couple aggressive Freaks, with the implanted spikes. At least one of them applies Drake Pain Poison on them, too... not that she knows. Yet.
And so it ended this time. She called her Runner friend and reminded him she might need a guy who knows his knives.
I admit, I still haven't decided whether he should have earned the "hunted by Colin" disadvantage, but meh. I don't need to decide it for this session. Even Colins - especially Colins - take some time to communicate who might be a threat. And the Colins might as well suspect he's dead. After all, it was a good strike, and he's obviously a Street Person. Bloodloss and infections have taken more than one victim.
OTOH, they don't know where he lives, nor his name. So he's got some protection from anonimity. And that probably means I shouldn't apply the disadvantage, as they can't give his name to other Colins. Now the 3 that were there might try to kill him if opportunity presents itself, but that's it. What I do want to know is, what are they planning to do with a Colin strain that's obviously propagating - or why would they be capturing people alive?
I think the answer is nothing. Which is actually quite interesting as a development, and might bite them in the asses later on.

Phew, it did take me a while to describe this! Actually, the next session starts in much less than 24 hrs!
Ah well. I expect to get a Risen as well now... the other player that is planning to join loves her some vampires. Actually, she ran a V:tM session before she had been a player in a session (I was her first GM). And we're also joining another PC.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Power and magic. And I don't mean physical power

Recently on The Big Purple, I encountered a pure example of the Argumentum ad Fireballum fallacy, so pure it actually spurred me to write this post.
In a discussion about the PCs gaining power in a fantasy world, we were trying to explain that PCs should be doing some specific kinds of stuff if the player wants them to gain political power (and no, killing monsters isn't good enough, not if your goal is to become a king).
Then someone (name withheld to protect the guilty) uttered the following question:
"Which is relevant to a world that has had an entirely different history and properties how, exactly?"
My answer was, as follows:
"The argumentum ad fireballum fallacy holds strong, I assume?
The ways power is acquired and exercised don't change just because monsters exist. In fact, monsters were believed to exist for most of humanity's history. And the ways of power are what they are exactly as a result of said history!"
Think about it, people. Our ancestors believed in magic. They knew faeries existed. They didn't doubt the power of faith, nor the power of devils and demons. What does it matter that they didn't actually exist? A basic lesson in policymaking is that people react not to what is, but to what they believe is!

And yet, they had developed intricate forms of government, and power was still acquired by political actions (even when they involved swords).
There were some people who put the beliefs of the time to the service of their political ambitions. But none of them managed anything without playing the political game.

Why I don't use adventures (as a general rule), or an insider look at the history of RPGs in Bulgaria

WARNING: Don't read this unless you want to learn about the history of (a sub-set of the people) playing RPGs in Bulgaria. As that's the early history, to boot, it might be interesting to some of you.
Of course, I'm giving you my perspective on it, and mention people who played differently. But I'm going to talk about what I know.

Recently, I realised there's something about me and the people I play with that I don't see as much on Western RPG forums. Namely, some people seem to need adventures in order to run a game.
I don't even read them most of the time. Why? I simply don't use adventures, pretty much never*. The books the help me running a game would be setting material, especially if it presents some faction's or religion's outlook on some major conflict in the setting (something like Caste Books/Masters of Jade for Exalted...which are setting books, if you're unfamiliar with Exalted lore. Or the Sunward in Eclipse Phase. Or Behind the Eyes of Madness for my current FWTD game).
I'm double more likely to use some setting material if it leads to social upheaval, BTW.  Like "here are those inventor guys we mentioned in passing before. Yeah, they've perfected water mills, and now use them for forging stuff as well... so they can mass-produce armour if they get the raw materials".
(That would be boring and like-a-handbook to some people. I can center a campaign around such a detail. I guess "boring" is relative).
But - back to the topic - I'm simply not used to using adventures. I'm used to passing without them, to the point that it literally takes me longer to read and prepare an adventure, than to construct one myself. I mean, I'm using about 15 minutes per session, for major campaigns, usually in the bus while travelling to the place we've decided to gather that week. I need longer than that to even read a 32-pages module, and even longer to extract the information I'd see as "useful".
Yet some of my players wanted to write a novel, a series, or a short story****, about my campaigns. I guess it's not impeding my ability to have fun stories emerge in gameplay.
See why I like the "Lazy GMing" moniker and proudly display it on The Big Purple?
So, in short: we couldn't get adventures when I was learning to GM. Hence, we learned to make our own early. It's still largely expected the GM would be running their own campaign, too - I think I've seen less than half a dozen people asking about which adventure to run next.
Actually, the last one said "now that we finished (a customised Keep of the Borderlands, I think), I've got time to cook my own campaign. But just in case I'm not ready, what would you recommend me to run in the meantime?"
The answer was "X isn't all that bad until you settle on something more long-term". Long-term games are definitely expected to be "GM-prepared". Again, it depends on the group - but that's an almost unquestioned consensus on the Bulgarian RPG forums. Yes, it's not in any way unique about me and my groups.

*I've tried GMing some modules for the regulars, just to see how it works. They effortlessly broke the railroad/plot-based one - I just rolled with it, but it means I could only use the opening scene. Next time I tried it, they almost effortlessly ended the events-based one prematurely, without really trying. Keep in mind, their actions were entirely logical, or I wouldn't have rolled with it - I actually wanted to run a module. Just to see what it's like, if you can imagine what it is to have run games for around a decade without ever using anyone else's adventure.
Still, the only one that worked has been a mission-and-events based one adventure from the FWTD, and that was as a part of a larger game where most PCs didn't even know about said "mission".
I'm now wondering what they would make of a site-based adventure. I suspect they would make of Last time I showed them some OSR material detailing a whole city, the comment was "Did you say OSR or OCD? Seems like OCD to me to detail all of these NPCs in advance" (and she's studying for a psychologist, so it was doubly more funny. Of course, it was obvious she didn't mean it).
BTW, that's not in any way unique for the Bulgarian GMs, especially those of the "first and second generation" like me. Most of us simply had to make do without anyone's help and without additional published materials... often for purely financial reasons**. So we've had to gravitate towards GMing styles that only use setting info and what the player's backstories contain. I remember a thread from a Bulgarian RPG forum - the biggest one - where one of the "more fortunate" GMs (meaning one who had the means to acquire adventures and was used to running them) posting a poll. "Do you prefer site-based or events-based adventures?"
The answer was a pretty overwhelming "Fuck that, character-based for me!"
Keep in mind, I'm not complaining! Just explaining why I have almost no use for something most GMs in the USA and UK use widely. Personally, I find my GMing style only got better by the lack of pre-packaged materials. Because it's always custom-tailored for the campaign, and according to my players, this shows. And I'm now in the habit of not using adventures.
Consider this: first-and-second wave GMs in Bulgaria have been running games since about 2000-2001. That's nothing compared to some people on, but the fact is... it's enough to learn a certain style of GMing, or more than one in my case (I've fluctuated a lot). Since we've never had to use adventures, and most of us couldn't even if they wanted, until recently, it means we've already learned some styles of GMing where the adventure is simply something that doesn't exist.
And we're the ones teaching the new GMs. So, unless they're self-taught (since today, they could possibly afford an adventure AND a rulebook), they would be running it like us.
Funny enough, when Vincent Baker, the author of Eberron, came to Bulgaria (he wrote about it in the Escapist), he had met some of those guys that had the money/connections to get adventures back then. They're also a much less of a DIY crowd, as their whining about lacking polyhedron dice*** showed.
**In Bulgaria, most of those the first-and-second wave of GMs had started GMing at the end of the 90ies or the beginning of the 2000s. An adventure from Amazon could easily reach 50% of a monthly wage for what people in the beginning of the 2000s were making, or - hold to something - more than a montly salary in some years of the 90ies. Well, I wasn't playing in most of the 90ies, but you get the idea.
A new adventure every month? As you can imagine, that wasn't possible for most of us, period. So, we litterally couldn't afford having adventures.

***Several other groups just emulated the spread of probabilities in polyhedron dice with d6. And I mean with equal probability for every number.
For example, a d12 isn't rolled by just rolling a 2d6. It's rolled with two clearly distinctive d6, one of which is to be the "number" die, and the other, the "heads or tails" die, because it's acting as a d2. You use distinctive dice (my favourites being a black and a read one) in order to be able to to throw them together, but to read them separately. All the methods of emulation were based around it.
So, take the number the "nimber" die is showing. Heads, leave it as is. Tails, add 6 to it. You've got a d12 now! (Alternative method: multiply the number on the "number die" by 2. Head, leave it as is, tails, subtract 1. That was actually what I was using, since multiplication is as fast as addition to most of us). And you can do the math, if you don't believe me - it's got exactly a 1 in 12 odds to roll any particular number!
Admittedly, rolling a d100 was more complicated, and usually required rolling 2d10 in order, not together. But it worked, too.
The only reason we even bothered to get polyhedron dice were the dicepool systems. Some got them for WoD, I personally wanted to play TRoS, and others wanted to play Exalted. I already had got a standard set of 7 dice just for the d100 rolls, which I needed for d100 systems.
****Curiously, all of them cited different things they had liked - but then, these were different campaigns.
One of them thought it's been an epic story (it was a mythological steampunk with strong ecological elements).
Another wanted to make a short story from another campaign, because they thought it "feels like life and not fiction". Yeah, that's exactly what I was going for, indeed.
Yet another felt another campaign has been like soap opera...except with sex and violence.
In all 3 cases, that was the feeling I have been going for. I'm proud with all 3 offers (as you can tell). Sure, I'll believe any of them might carry through with it when I see the first draft. But the offers sure were nice!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Honor+Intrigue: Good news, a final and maybe a new beginning

Our GM (the one we're trying to teach running games) informed me that she wants to cut short the H+I campaign. Obviously, she got a lot into V:tM and wants to run a high-powered campaign.

Now, I think that V:tM+high-powered is a bad idea. But it’s not set for a day my schedule allows me to play, so my opinion is moot. And that’s the good part!
I mean, remember that the point of this campaign was to get her confident enough to run a game?
Yeah, seems like we managed that, if she wants to run something...
So, mission accomplished: we've got another GM that's ready and willing to run games.

Now I just have to talk to the other players and we’ll decide whether someone else should take over the Refereeing part, or whether we should wrap the campaign. But that's the easy part.
Of course, unless we decide to continue it, the H+I updates would stop coming. That means I've got more time to work on my FWTD posts, though!
This actually reminds me, I've still got to finish describing last week's game.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Gangs, Martial arts and NPCs in my FWTD

These are just some notes on my FWTD campaign in progress. Everyone sees New York of the 2080 differently, and that applies to GMs as well.
Mehmet, Black Trader, mostly Far East Asian. mehmet is Muslim. He hidese hides his religion, but refuses to lend money to other Muslims - and might well make theMm a gift and hope to be repaid somehow, some day, if they're really down on their luck. The leader of the Saints knows the truth, but figures he's better off working for a believer than for a dirty atheist or something). His death borg is a fake: he doesn't believe in killing innocent people, and assumes if anyone tries to kill him, would simply use a ranged weapon.
So he has hired the Swordsmiths to avenge his death, should he be assassinated.

Swordsmiths (Mostly seem to have Central Asian and Caucasian heritage).
The Swordsmiths are a new gang, relatively small, so only Leader and Wannabe Fighters apply. Secretly hired by Mehmet. Their leader isn't more powerful, and he isn't the one that teaches them swordfighting - he's however the one that has a family tradition in forging knives and short swords. This gives them their greatest mechanical advantage - having better weapons even than the ones in the corebook (although far from nanotech or teflon-coated ones) that they use European swords that are Jian-like (with the stats from the Tibet corebook, and being XIV by Oackshott) and sell those of Katana-like quality (same place for the mechanics, and more like type XII by Oackshott). The worst ones have the stats for Machete (looking like Kriegmessers), or a broadsword with easier Strength feat to use when used two-handed (Bastard swords).
BTW, they are participating in underground matches which include stick-fighting.
Saints of the Corner (Mostly Afro-American and Latin-American, with some Caucasians in the mix. Of course, everybody's equal in front of God and St. Peter!)
Hired by Mehmet to protect him (see: Mehmet).
The Street Saints are a Very Large, Old Gang of Wannabe Psychics (mostly manipulative, some of them believe it's power that either God or the Devil grants, and of course their skills are coming from the angels :mrgreen: ), who also have a Leader. More importantly, a Black Trader is using them as guards, which probably explains why they made it for so long.
Tensions with the Swordsmiths have been growing lately. The leaders are doing their best to calm them down, because they both know it would be bloody if the two gangs get to grips.

Bao He-Chuan (read more like huh-tshuan).
Eccentric, master of sword-cane and White Crane kung-fu. Still a mysterious figure.

Enrique Nogueira da Alcazar
Eccentric, master of Capoeira and Snake Kung-fu. Capoeira is still in developement. Theist.

Ahmad Panjawi
Muslim, basic mastery of Razormouth, and advanced mastery of Slam. Loves power metal.

Utopian communities might be sliding towards teaching formalised stuff in their dojos, because they don't have real practice to keep them sharp. Or even if they don't, because VR courses with the best trainers (and even that's not a guarantee), and because VR likely allows for sparring without the risk to seriously hurt a partner (that's a big boost), they might still use the "wrong" tactics because they were drilled to do so regardless of context. An example would be going for a Pain Grab against multiple opponents. Sure, your Aikido practitioner might pull it off... and when fighting Orphans, even out of a misunderstanding, that means pretty much being stabbed in the back! Same with many, many other gangs
The gist of this is students from Utopia Children are more likely to have learned a martial art with a completely different focus from self-defence. Self-defence isn't flashy, and often doesn't promote athletic achievements, spiritual harmony, or being a good member of a society. I can see all of those focuses being more important to Utopianist communities, though!
Some Neo groups suffer from the same issues, and even some Humankalories are susceptible to it. However, these two have by and large avoided that issue.

The Might groups like Animalists, Humankalorie, Hummingbirds, Risen, Roofers, Skin Borgs, etc. are least likely to have your described combat problems, but rather a head strong all out direct strike even where better strategies would work. Many of them lack leadership and coordination, though.
OTOH, utside of Utopia Children, Eccentrics are most likely to be McDojo stylists, IMO. Of course, they're also the ones most likely to master some obscure martial art that gives them an advantage.
Humankalories get too much dangerous practice. Corner punks can range from next to no skill to having their own distinct martial art each member of a gang practices. And Math Addicts and Animalists both have their own "styles", which are basically as diametrically opposed as it's possible (almost wuxia-level of "diametrically opposite").

Just a few basic notes which might feature in my campaign.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Fates Worse Than Death: The Campaign, Part 1, Session 1

Today began my campaign of Fates Worse Than Death. Yes, unlike the one-shot, it's a campaign now!
Admittedly, it was a short session, and two of the players were missing. Well, actually, one of them came, but mostly to tell us he's not feeling well and hasn't had the time to read the system. Of course, the former was far more of a problem.
So he created an Otaku shut-in to see the system, and left him as a NPC. He's going to play something else since the next session. I think I've got the NPC somewhere, though.
BTW, Shut-ins are the only "career"* that actually become more powerful for switching to the Addict "career". But let's tell it everything since the beginning.
Milford, better known as Speedy, was contemplating gloomily his non-existing love prospects. Women tended to see him as their friend, period.
That's when he heard about a power outage in a part of Freaks territory, not far from where "his" Black trader was located. He reasoned it's a good opportunity to maybe get some shut-in to talk to him and becoming a client.
After all, they needed some way to order their food.
He passed a hot Freak in a latex costume who-like a good Freak - broke the norm and winked at him. He chose to ignore what he assumed was teasing, but she intercepted him.
"Aren't you a Runner?"
Yeah, he wore every distinguishing mark he could think of in order to advertise. So he nodded.
"I need you to deliver a letter."
The address was a shut-in in the area under power outage. It was a short note, not even closed, saying "Ha-ha-ha, who's out if Net now? Dorotheya"
Thing is, Dorotheya was a troll, always had been, and didn't plan to change. She had left her shut-in family to join the Freaks, where her trick was based around her near-legendary abilities to keep the people under sway, and to make the visitors believe a higher power is addressing them. So, shut-ins were behind her, but she kept in contact with a few from a forum she had been logged on. She even had a phone number of one of them, an Otaku. Needless to say, she teased the poor guy at every moment.
Why? When they had met, they were on even ground. As far as she knew, he was still virgin, and she was getting better and better at the Freak sexual skills. To her, that was reason enough to tease the guy. And she knew he's almost dependent on the Net.
She had sent him an SMS earlier, with the same text. But since he didn't answer, she started to suspect his battery might be down. And she had 50 cents to spare for some gentle trolling. OTOH, Speedy was more than willing to take money in order to go where he was heading anyway!
So, he went to the block where the shut-ins were getting restless, and rang on the guy's door. The poor Otaku wasn't expecting anyone, and was rightfully suspicious.
"Got a delivery for you, mister. Bringing you a letter from a friend!"
"I ain't got friends sending me letters".
"She said her name is Dorotheya."
Thing is, the guy had just received a message from her, and didn't see why she wouldn't send another SMS.
"BS. Go away, you're not tricking me into opening that door!"
"Listen, I'm gonna push the letter under the door! Got to deliver it, that's all."
The otaku was kind enough to open the cat's door for him. When he read it, he actually saw the same words he had just read.
His conclusions were that 1) D. is a troll, and 2) someone who's bringing stuff around was waiting in front of his door, while he was getting hungrier by the moment...
Long story short, he hired him to go the a pizza place and bring him one of their pizzas. He didn't know their phone, so lacking Internet had severely restricted his ability to keep himself fed... And, he noticed, employing this guy was actually cheaper than their delivery rates!
(Typical for Runners, and that's the kind of job Speedy was looking for from the get-go).
So, he decided to give him money to buy a family-sized pizza. Before risking the cash, he sent an SMS to D.
"Do you trust this guy?"
"Yes", she answered, then added emoticons with hearts on whim. Of course, our Otaku got the wrong conclusion. Again.
"Hey, you should've told me you're her boyfriend!", he called to Speedy, and actually opened the door to give him the money. The Runner was a bit surprised.
"Me? I've only known her for a day!"
"That's been rather fast, then", agreed the Otaku, somewhat surprised himself by how fast D. had hooked up with that guy. Then he looked at his athletic frame and sighed inwardly.

On the way from the pizza place, though, the Runner heard a scream from a dark alley, followed by someone falling. Confident he could handle it, he went and saw 3 kids. They looked like 6, 8 and 15 yo, and the biggest one was pressing the head of a man to the ground with some cloth. The other two had grappled him by the feet.
"Hey! Leave the man at peace!"
OMG, I thought.
"Hey", the smallest one turned to him. "Get lost. We're busy!"
Sure they were. They had to bring the guy to the mental installer.
"Let go of him, or I'm going to slap you", Speedy answered and went to cuff the boy to teach him some manners.
The boy pulled out a shif, and stabbed him under the ribs.
A quick explanation for those of you not overly familiar with FWTD. There's a serial killer in the setting that takes people alive in order to download his mind over theirs. Guess who the three boys were? Yes, they all would respond to the name Colin.
Speedy had basically got a wound that could kill some more frail people before he had pulled his knife. Worse, he seemed almost as good as him, and the other two were pulling out knives.
So he ran away, and only then realised he had met a Colin.
The serial killer chased him, but didn't manage to get him. Besides, they/he were in a hurry to get the guy to the mental installer. After all, to properly reproduce, Colin needs to check his victim's relatives, habits and so on, in order to avoid a too brisque change. That's an investment of time and energy he/they didn't want to go to waste.
Speedy managed to get to a Black med, who stitched him up ("Man, this guy was trying to kill you!", "Yeah, I ran away!"). And then he went to deliver the now-cold pizza. There were shut-ins assembling in front of the house, and one of them wanted to buy it. Speedy refused, feeling honour-bound to deliver it (and yes, he has managed not to drop it, being at the top of your running skill helps!)
The hungry otaku only started complaining when he was halfway through the food. When Speedy got out, he only noticed a crowd marching through the streets towards some tent. So he followed.
Dorotheya had passed around. She saw a crowd forming, ready to start riotting...
"Hey, audience!"
So she started talking to them. The city's officials should hire her - she told them life is good, there ain't anything to be scared of, and that there's an amazing performance about to begin in that tent over there. They listened, enthralled, and thought they're hearing voices telling them it's all right.
Some turned around and went home, most followed her. This was the group Speedy had seen, and he followed as well.
Once inside the tent (because "I know her" worked once again), he felt under the influence of her voice. Life was good, as she had persuaded everybody already.
And, she claimed, we should all love each other! Before people had questioned how, a couple Freaks went to the stage and showed them the exact methods.
In short, an orgy began, with even Speedy getting some action. So, the group of shut-ins actually…got into it, and had fun, as directed.
Sounds harsh? If she wanted, Dorotheya could have made them believe they’re on LSD. Which she did, kinda, making them feel that this is a suggestion of higher beings.
Speedy had some fun as well. D. didn’t, preferring to watch the show.
I wonder whether she had helped create some new pairs of shut-ins. Probably yes, said the dice. And they had a good time. But most of all… at least some of them were likely to gain enough confidence to actually start going outside.
Besides, when they went out, they learned there has been a riot, it just started elsewhere and has been more localized. Because many of the potential rioters were either at home and thinking it’s not so bad after all, or having fun.
The Day Shift and the National Guard squashed it. That was the most immediate gain for the participants in the show – avoiding the teargas is always nice.

Meanwhile, however, Speedy had been exhausted. Actually, he managed to notice he’s feeling even weaker than he should. So, they concluded he’s been developing an infection.
(Well, they were right…the guy’s got Endurance 5, so he blew his save vs. disease progression. What else can I say?)
What he did was kinda uncharacteristic for him. But then, so was getting stabbed by a kid. He told her what had happened, and his suspicions.
Together, they went to see “his” Black Trader. The guy is in his early 40ies, wearing a turban to hide his death borg. Meaning, there are protrusions on his head, which would explode if he ever died. Standard security measures. Well, that, and paying the Saints of the Corner for 24/7 protection.
Sure, he could fix him with some antibiotics, no issue… by the way, have you got money?
Here, D. tried to bargain. He wasn’t likely to bulge. So she inquired about his intimate life. Nah, he didn’t have much of this, as he explained – a business needs lots of a trader’s time.
So she got the antibiotics quite cheaply when she struck a date with him…
(Later, she explained that her PC felt excited by the death borg. I wasn’t even surprised).
So, Speedy went to his shack to heal, reaching it without incidents, and planned to participate in a metro-circling from the next day on, in order to alleviate the efforts he needed to do. But before, he hugged D. awkwardly, and promised that if she needs him, she only needs to call him. For whatever.
Meanwhile, D. got a call from her otaku friend.
“Help! Someone’s breaking my door!”
He had already called the police. The Day Shift was, as always, slow to respond – not to mention still preoccupied with dispersing groups of young people to prevent riots, and to feel important.
So, she rand there, and found his door broken down, and him looking in a single point in the nothingness while clenching his teeth.
Yeah. He had been forcibly injected with Chomper. Nasty pusher gangs, she could even hear them breaking another door upstairs.
Not being much of a fighter, she just dragged him to the nearest Black Med.
“Well, gal, it’s Chomper”.
“I know that much. I want you to help him, damnit!”
He looked at the latex:
“Weird. You seem like an woman that’s got her own handcuffs. Why don’t you shack him to the wall in your own apartment? Because that’s what I’d do.”
She didn’t want the bother, so he got paid to make the otaku go “cold turkey”. Another round of haggling later (food and $0.50 per day until he doesn’t ask for Chomper and starts asking for food and water by himself). So the otaku ended up shacked in a Black Med’s house.
He was in for quite a bit of pain. But he was going to survive. Most likely. I still haven’t thrown the dice.
Funny enough, Otaku and VR addict are about the only career where becoming an Addict might have been an improvement. But she was more than willing to have her friend missing on useful skills – like stealing – in order to give him improved life expectancy.
And we ended the session at this point. D. had called the Night Shift when it became dark, in order to tell them about the pusher gangs getting active. She didn’t mention the Colin activity, though.
Meaning Colin strain would get a few days to pick a few people off the streets, if it had a mental installer…

*Yes, it's a career, despite the book calling it a "class". FWTD claims to be class-and-level-based. In reality, AFAICT, it isn't a class-and-level based game any more than GURPS can be called one. And whatever you think of GURPS, I'd hope you know it's like the grandfather of point-buy classless games.
Actually, FTWD is much more like RuneQuest or Traveller, but neither of these is class-based, either. Let's focus on GURPS.
Consider this: FTWD has "classes" that raise the cost for certain skills and lower it for other skills, because of the people you hang with. That's all a class does, beyond maybe opening up some exclusive skill nobody else knows! Maybe. Not guaranteed. And the "class" changes if you run to another gang. Yeah, sounds like a Career to me!
Now compare it with your temple training you in the skills of your chosen deity in Runequest...
Or compare it with getting on-the-job training during Traveller character generation, before switching to another career...
At the end, compare it making a GURPS character using a Template that tells you to spread X points between skills A, B and C, taking each. Also use Y points to buy some Advantages from the list containing advantages D, E, and F, but you can only take D and E or F, not all. And then you must pick disadvantages amounting to Z points from the list containing G, H and I disadvantages. Yeah, I don't see it as meaningfully different from a FWTD "class".
And whether in GURPS, FWTD, Traveller or Runequest, this kind of mechanics is used for the same reason. Namely, such templates help you tying the PC to the setting from the get go. IME, it works splendidly! It's simply not what I call a "class" system.
Same thing with FWTD being level-based, really. Your skills don't go up because you gained a level, you gain a level because your skills went up! If you've gained 100 points in one class, you've gained a level. The XP is used for point-buy advancement, so levels are just a rough indicator of how good you're at what you've been doing. Point totals have been used in GURPS for the same purpose for ages.
Keep in mind, I don't really like the "classic" classes and levels, and actually tend to avoid games that have them. So this was a strike in the system's favour, actually!

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Once again, with feeling: Low power level isn’t disempowering!!!

It was recently pointed out to me that many if not most of my games are gritty, relatively low-powered. That much is true.
However, I was also reminded that many players equate “low power level” with “loss of player agency”. All I can say* is that it’s patently untrue for my games.
Sure, you can’t play a superhero in my games. They don’t exist in the setting, period. Find another GM if you want that – I find them boring, and only use superhero games after reskinning them for other genres. Most GMs I know take the same approach, but if I come across someone who wants to run that, I’m going to give them your contacts.
However, that doesn’t mean the PCs aren’t important enough, can’t make a difference, and so on. Far from it, they can do that. It’s just that their influence is going to be on a more local** scale, up to a nation-state or international organization. Of course, if they manipulate their local scale smartly and get to the upper end of it, they can influence the whole world. (What else are Company rules for?) But, as they say, this would need player skill as well.
And no, they couldn’t do that by kicking the ass of all the world’s armies. A SWAT team or a single detachment is more than likely to be the end of them if they get into a conflict where a SWAT team is called.
However, I don’t see that as a bug. It’s actually a feature. Violence can’t solve long-term problems, but it excels at solving short-term ones (like surviving an assault – although you could conceivably play a whole campaign without getting in such a situation, if your PC has good avoidance and de-escalation skills). And I DON’T WANT violence to be even a possible answer to all problems. So, if you want a large group of people to listen to you, make them listen. Yeah, it’s that simple. It’s just that intimidation ain’t going to work.
Which brings us to social skills. They work on a lengthier scale, but are better at solving non-immediate problems. Anybody surprised? Again, feature and not bug. You might get a hefty bonus if you’re a war hero, but it’s a circumstancial one.
And last but not least, mental skills are needed for the lengthiest individual projects (finding a cure for a sickness, inventing a new machine that helps subsistence farmers, or inventing a new science – cue Sir Burton). They’re also needed, along with social skills, for the lengthier mass projects that could lead to improving the life of people (like reforming a country’s bureaucracy).
In short, you need different skills. If you insist on playing the brick, you’re not going to be much use for situations where bricks aren’t useful. If you insist on playing the face with no combat skill, don’t get into fights, but re-read the “6 ways to stop a fight” advice from Unknown Armies.
And, most importantly… the opposition doesn’t get super-powers either! Unless it’s a “deal with superior forces” situation. But from what I’ve heard, even some superheroes get to confront those. If that turns out to be the case… think outside the box, is all I can say!

*Of course that’s not all I can say! Sometimes, I wonder why this notion even exists. My conclusion, and talking with people who have been playing for far longer than me, is that this perception is due at least in part to the “killer DMs”, some of which kept the party at a low level. They also explained this with realism. “Realism my ass”, as many real life people could tell them – if they were looking for examples and not excuses, that is.
Granted, I’ve been called “killer GM” because I warn players that everybody can die, and PCs don’t get plot armour. That’s an accusation that amuses me, however, so I don’t plan on answering it. Yet.
**As someone who has a degree in International relations and holds a MD in International security, I can also attest that most gamers don’t really know what they need to change on a world scale to get the desired effect. So even global-level power would still be wasted, or worse, might easily lead to the opposite results of what they want to achieve. However, I’m not going to comment on that part, because I hate, Hate, HATE, HATE political arguments over Internet – especially with non-specialists. So, no, you’re not going to stop world hunger, unless you get most countries to follow you. But your PCs can do that. It’s just going to be the result of a whole campaign.
And if you think that's disempowering, you've never had another Exalt trample the nation you've been striving to build, out of boredom.

Many thanks to Benjamin Grant, author of Dream Factory, for reminding me of this topic!

Monday, 6 May 2013

H+I: France 1625 Act 1 Session 3+: Uneasy marriages and murders

It was a complicated session (or a couple of sessions, but we had to cut one of them short). Mostly, however, Jean-Pierre was doing his thing/any woman he could, while the doctor and the noblewoman were looking for clues about the murder.
That is, JP and Catherine both had standing orders by the Cardinal to investigate. He tried, but got distracted by, well, worldy temptations!
The other PCs had discovered the murdered guy had gone somewhere earlier in the night, and then someone returned with his horse. Someone small, maybe an woman. And he was part of an occultist circle, with the other members being, well, 4 noblemen and noblewomen*. Or at least, we knew about those, because a secret passage lead to their villas.
One of them was our good friend, Mme La Marquise.
Another was the king’s mistress.
Yet another was the guy with a collection of exotic beasts, former owner of an exotic snake whose poison had been used in the murder (the snake had died, but the poison has been preserved). Bad news, that: all of them had received samples. And while the poison was kept in a simple vial with only text to distinguish it, all of this guy’s servants could read. Yes, he was paying for that, just as he had amassed a bunch of people, all from different countries. Catherine was amazed at the useless expenses.
We also learned that the servant who’s been accused of murdering the man – one who had claimed he’s been good to the simple servants – was in fact his bastard daughter. One Mme La Marquise had sheltered without knowing who the mother was. I suspect her identity is the reason he didn’t acknowledge her openly.
And last, but not least, we found out the dead guy has been working on the elixir of youth. And so was our employer, but the dead guy has been ahead of the rest of them (no idea how THAT has been known, and by that time, I didn’t bother asking the King’s mistress, being distracted). Either way, I suspected immediately that Richelieu also wanted his notes.
And with that, the last session had ended, with the PCs interrogating well-educated servants.

The latest worldly temptations of JP had taken the form of a noblewoman – and the King’s mistress – who had been involved in devil-worshipping along with the dead guy. Well, you can’t judge the dead, especially if they’ve got influential relatives.
But you can threaten the living with spoiling their good name. And that’s how he basically intimidated his way under her corset, and in her bed (a man of the cloth discovering you’re an occultist was bad news back then, they say…).
Yes, JP’s now screwing the King’s mistress. More importantly,.he had proved she can be influenced, and asked for a meeting with the Cardinal to report the progress made… in uncovering the King’s plans. Murder? Who cares, when you can blackmail someone who's got at least part of the King's confidence?
On the investigative side, she gave me the names of the other participants in the circle. The doctor I had helped getting married is one of them? WTF?
Ah well, enough is to each day its own evil, and so forth. Meaning I was planning to do something about it later. And probably get to know his new fiancée better, if possible…

*(Our GM admits she prefers roleplaying female NPCs whenever possible. As I said, she’s learning, but for now, it means we get lots of noblewomen that are acting behind the scenes).