Tabletop – DFAE Playtest – Session 3 write-up

This is the write-up for the third playtesting session for the Dresden Files Accelerated Edition. All the players were present for this one and I think much fun was had by all.

The scenario is designed to be deliberately open-ended — it can be played as a stand-alone adventure or can be hooked into a larger campaign if the group decides to carry on beyond the playtesting requirements; either way, one more session should resolve the primary Euphorium plotline (who’s making and selling it, how, why, for what benefit/group/purpose, etc.).

Jeremiah ToomsAs it stands, I’m fairly sure we’re going to need to split the UK and US contingents because scheduling is a pure bitch with a total time-zone difference of 7 hours and players with weird and wonderful work schedules. That’s life beyond the time-rich college-age, I guess. We’ll figure it out.

I kicked around the idea of starting a whole nother blog for tabletop stuff, but was convinced by various people (and my own instincts) to just keep things all together here. Those who prefer one type of post over another can simply pick and choose, and I don’t need to muck about with a whole new identity thing in a whole new corner of the intertubes. I like this particular corner.

Anyway, here’s session three. Yes, there was finally some combat!

The character pictures have been cribbed off the internet and all credit where credit might be due — my players found them, sue them if you must.

DFAE Playtest – Session 3

Characters present:

Cieran Muldoon, Wyldfae Undertaker to the supes of Seattle
Korbin Stevens, Chaotic Good wizard and research professional
Jeremiah Tooms, Small-Time Mortal Street Criminal
Sasha Travis, Streetwise EMT (and were-Crow)

Euphorium for the masses

Session 3 begins where Session 2 left off.

Korbin and Linda and the Loony in the Library

We cut back to Korbin Stevens, whose absence from the previous scenes is explained in a short flashback.

While at the Lois Lanes he receives a call from Linda Phyllis, the ever-helpful librarian from the Restricted Occult collection in the social sciences/anthropology wing of the U-Dub library. She claims to have found a volume she thinks Korbin would find very useful in his research – and to anyone but Korbin, it’s obvious Linda has a thing for Korbin and is (mostly) trying to find an excuse to see him again. Korbin, however, is blissfully oblivious – but he does head up to the library.

Korbin Stevens

Linda has just offered Korbin a cup of coffee in the librarians’ break-room when one of the handful of students working in that part of the library begins to act out violently, ripping up the book he was reading before hurling it away from him and starting on another. The librarians and other students are shocked, of course, but Korbin has a feeling this might be another Euphorium event. The other librarian (not Linda) tries to call the security desk downstairs, but the phone makes an ominous crackling FZZZZT noise and produces a puff of smoke before going dead. Looking innocent, Korbin moves away a few feet, but the [wizard’s hex] damage is done.

The student carries on hurling books in random directions. A couple of the students flee. One decides to capture the meltdown on his phone for immediate upload to YouTube. One crouches down under a desk. And the last student, a blond-haired girl, merely sits where she was, gazing at the ape-shit student as though she’s watching a particularly pleasant romantic comedy. When the ape-shit student hurls a book at her, yelling unprintable imprecations, she merely shifts aside to avoid it but doesn’t otherwise react.

As this is going on, Korbin [clearly begging the GM to have something horrible happen to him one of these days] decides to use the Sight on the violent student. [DFAE has mechanics for this. Korbin fails the roll, but decides to apply some stress to it and manages to nudge it up into a success.] [The GM now knows to ask for additional stress bonuses to be applied BEFORE the roll, so that she doesn’t have to describe the same Sight event twice in two different ways.]

What he sees is confusing, but that’s the Sight for ya. Where the angry student’s head should be, Korbin instead sees a hole, like a tear in the fabric of reality, and through that hole he sees a field of tall, purple, poppy-like flowers under a dark violet starless sky. Instead of the flower-head, however, these plants have a large eye which weeps a deep purple-black sap. The plants appear to be being scythed down (literally) in sheaves, and as they fall, they scream. Korbin is fairly sure he’s seeing into a section of the Nevernever.

He closes his Sight and ponders his options for a moment, then decides that the safest course of action for everyone would be to knock the violent student out.

One excellent roll and a sleep spell later, the student collapses in a heap mid-swear word and begins to snore. Korbin knows he only has a few minutes until sunset, at which point the spell will likely unravel. He tells the other students the kid has clearly been working too hard and must have had some kind of breakdown, then hauls said kid into a surprisingly well-practiced fireman’s carry and dumps him on the couch in the librarians’ break-room.

He barely has time to wake the kid up and offer him some strong coffee before security shows up, in the form of a huffing middle-aged officer who thought the last place anything strenuous would ever happen would be a University library.

When questioned, the kid reveals he has no memory of becoming violent. He does hope he didn’t hurt anyone, and then admits he’s been taking ‘smart drugs’ to do better and stay awake. Maybe those are having unfortunate side-effects? Korbin is relatively sure the young man is telling the truth as he knows it.

Long story short, Linda dresses the kid down as only a librarian can but tells the security officer that the matter need go no further provided the student pays for any damaged books.

Korbin decides he’d better try to join up with his friends and let them know what just happened. His research date appointment with Linda will have to wait. [The research is relevant to Korbin’s backstory and trouble, not to the current scenario.] On his way out of the library, he notes the young blond woman is no longer there.

Discussion, Theory, Analysis

He joins the other PCs at Muldoon & Sons, and as they are discussing the evening’s rather packed events, Jeremiah (having woken up) attracts their attention to a news story he just caught on his phone, which states that a young blond woman was found dead at the U-Dub library a few hours ago. Her picture matches that of the woman Korbin saw in the library (the one who was presumably on Euphorium).

Impelled by Sasha, who is extremely unhappy at the rising body count, the PCs decide that the Euphorium needs to be examined in more detail and reach out to their contacts:

  • Sasha hands a vial over to a (mortal, not in-the-know) lab tech acquaintance of hers (“Bob”), not expecting much but figuring it can’t hurt. The tech reports back that the vial contains water, a little alcohol, something unknown, and something else unknown that is a lot like blood but not really – perhaps something synthetic? Maybe it’s True Blood, heh heh. And can he have another vial to examine because this stuff is super interesting and he’s never seen anything like it before? Wisely, Sasha refuses.
  • Cieran hands a vial over to the person he routinely uses to inspect… unorthodox… substances. [A forensic scientist working in ____ who also happens to be a changeling (based on the ‘Bones’ tropes). The GM makes recurring-NPC notes for both squints.] Said squint’s report is not much more helpful: water, alcohol, something unknown but probably from the Nevernever, and something else unknown that is but isn’t quite blood. Cieran immediately deduces [correctly] that this last element is likely White Court vampire blood – though this is not scientifically confirmed as yet.
  • Korbin, meanwhile, does his own examination of the Euphorium. Rather than trying to analyse its composition, however, he decides to try to trace the vial’s origin. [For playtesting purposes, this is run as a particular kind of ritual whose main purpose is to move the action forward to a new scene or location.] Korbin succeeds with style [we got a lot of those during the session, though sadly none were from the GM], and with a few hours of concentration and a series of increasingly large-scale maps manages to track the vial down to an abandoned industrial complex on the outskirts of town.
  • Jeremiah, not blessed with ‘squint’ friends, takes the day to catch up on some sleep.

A few other things happen during that day. When she comes off duty from her fire station Sasha is very unsubtly told by a couple of cops to back off the Euphorium business; she recognizes one as one of the off-duty policemen at the Hot Lips, and clearly he recognized her too. She gives them as much attitude as she dares, but is left angry and a little shaken. Cieran spots – and easily shakes, thanks to his Pathfinder stunt – some goons watching his place of business, presumably sent by Rhonda McLaine to make sure he, too, keeps his nose out of White Court affairs.

Sasha Travis

Jeremiah, meanwhile, receives an aggrieved and whiny phonecall from Devlin, demanding his phone back. Amused, Jeremiah agrees.

That evening the PCs meet up at the Lanes to compare notes before piling into Korbin’s ageing (but difficult to hex) Saab and heading for the nastier part of town. Having grown up ‘on the streets’, Sasha has heard of the area and can tell the others that it has a bad reputation. Even most desperate among the homeless tend to avoid it, for no reason anyone can directly point to. It’s just got a bad aura.

From Lanes to Planes

They park near the complex, which turns out to be some aerospace-related facility that is now closed down and unused. Jeremiah goes on ahead to scout the area and try to narrow down what building they might be looking for, based on Korbin’s pointed “sort of that way” instructions. His Sneak roll is so good that he entirely avoids the two armed guards, locates a likely-looking building, and leads the other PCs to it without tripping any alarms.

The building in question seems to be an administrative and warehouse building, with offices at the end where the PCs came in. Following Korbin’s magical tracking sense, they venture carefully into the back of the building, passing some recent signs of use as they go (new candy bar wrappers, discarded fast food bags and soda cans, etc.). The PCs all have a vaguely uneasy feeling, except for Cieran who apparently is not fazed in the slightest [and appears to be sliding closer and closer to Winter, as subsequent events will show].

After a few tense but uneventful moments of exploration, Jeremiah (in the lead) spots a key-pad locked and alarmed door with a camera mounted above it. He stops the group and examines the setup, which seems to be one of those cheap systems the user can link to their smartphone. The PCs ask Korbin whether he can hex stuff on purpose, or does it only happen when he doesn’t want it to, and after a successful roll Korbin proves that it’s the former; the light on top of the camera winks out and the keypad turns off.

The PCs stop to sense the air around them. Korbin, occupied by his tracking spell, senses nothing in particular. Jeremiah hears several people on the other side of the door, as does Sasha, and Cieran gets a feeling of thin-ness from somewhere up ahead that usually signals a weak spot between the real world and the Nevernever.

Cieran Muldoon
Cieran Muldoon

[Around this point the GM asks the players to confirm what weapons they brought with them. Sasha has her First Aid kit and nothing else. Korbin has his magic. Cieran has brought his silver Fae-made sword, a slim blade which looks perfectly capable of murder. And Jeremiah (who does have access to a gun but chose not to bring one) proudly brandishes his favourite weapon: a pool ball in a long white tube sock.

[And here, in a nutshell, we have the difference between Cieran – ages-old scion of Faerie nobility and (so it is rumoured) possessed of dragonsblood, however reduced his current circumstances may be – and Jeremiah, a barely out of his teens scion of the streets and unknown (but probably unsavoury) parents. This is probably also where the PCs suddenly gelled as a group of PCs, staring at each other in a darkened corridor and trying to laugh quietly enough to avoid alerting the guards. Great moment.]

[Also at this point, Sasha’s player had to leave but agreed to allow the remaining players to semi-play her, provided nobody threw her into gaping pits of lava or otherwise got the character killed.]

Jeremiah, in fine Stealthy fettle this evening, does another amazing roll and manages to crack open the door and peer inside without attracting anyone’s attention. He sees what the GM describes as an industrial kitchen and the players immediately describe as a meth lab (not far off the mark, as it turns out). The large room also contains a TV, currently showing a football game that’s being watched by two armed guards and a better-dressed, sharper-looking guard who is probably their boss. Beyond them, working at prep tables covered in distillation and cooking equipment, Jeremiah spots three odd-looking figures: two look like short, wizened children, and one looks like a shrunken, angry Danny de Vito. “Oh,” says Jeremiah’s player [completely accurately, as it happens], “He looks just like a goblin!” He also sees some commercial-sized fridges, some cabinets and lockers, a stack of plastic tubs and wicker trugs, and a second door.

Here’s a screenshot of the Roll20 map I sketched out with my amazing freehand drawing talents (as it stands at the end of the session). Names were added for a modicum of clarity. It’s not van Gogh but it was certainly more than enough for the game. Click for larger version.

Fight in Euphorium Lab

Finally! A Fight!

Some planning ensues. A diversion is needed. The guards must be separated, ideally drawn out, and then disabled so that the PCs can examine this meth lab more closely. (Sasha’s previously-stated plan was to try to disrupt the production of Euphorium by eliminating or adulterating one of the unknown ingredients, if they could be found. Presumably this kitchen is where said ingredients must be.)

Jeremiah and Korbin make their way down the corridor, into a warehouse and loading area, and to the far side of the second door leading to the kitchen. Cieran and Sasha (veiled by Cieran) wait near the kitchen door. Then, subtle as ever, Jeremiah bangs loudly on the door and prepares to kosh whoever comes through it.

For such a simple, one might say not overly intelligent plan (considering the guards are armed with Uzis and the PCs have one sword and a pool-ball-in-a-sock [and Korbin’s magic, of course]), it succeeds brilliantly. The PCs continue to roll like the heroes they are while the GM remains apparently unable to roll higher than zero. One guard pokes his upper body through the door and in a swift one-two, Jeremiah koshes him (aiming for the head but hitting the shoulder) while Korbin reprises his earlier sleep spell and knocks him out cold. Jeremiah and Korbin then hit the deck in order to avoid a handful of shots fired by the guard boss. Jeremiah grabs the first guard’s Uzi, deciding that a gun might not be such a bad thing to have after all.

Meanwhile, the second guard comes out the other door into the hallway where Cieran and Sasha are waiting. Cieran lunges at him and does so well he is able to skewer the guard through the forearm and make him drop his weapon. Sasha nips in and kicks the Uzi down the corridor, then changes her mind and runs to pick it up.

Jeremiah decides it’s time to get in the kitchen. He ducks, dives and rolls his way into the prep and cooking area. The two wizened child-like creatures are moving away in alarm, heading towards the back wall of the room, but the Danny de Vito-like goblin is ignoring the commotion and carrying on with his distillation. He seems quite intent.

Korbin, for his part, reckons it’s time to take out the guard boss. He crafts a masterful illusion of a grenade which he lobs over the half-wall that separates the kitchen area from the guard area, aiming at the place where the guard boss seems to have taken cover. He succeeds so well (against a terrible roll from the target) that the guard boss believes he’s hit and passes out.

At the same time, Cieran rips his blade out of the second guard’s arm and plunges it back in, this time directly through the heart. It’s a quick death. Barely pausing, Cieran enters the room and notes that the ‘grenade’ apparently didn’t do any damage whatsoever, although the guard boss is out cold on the floor next to the TV. He’s about to tie up that loose end for good when Sasha grabs his arm and stops him. Cieran shrugs and moves on.

Jeremiah, now in the middle of the prep area, stands up, brandishes the first guard’s Uzi, and yells “Freeze, suckas!”

The wizened child-like creatures ignore him. They are staring intently at the back wall of the room, which begins to shimmer as though through heat haze. The de Vito-like goblin has finally backed away from his cooking, but instead of joining his underlings by the slowly coalescing portal, he heads towards the commercial fridges.

Cieran notes with satisfaction that his hunch was right: the two sous-chefs are undoubtedly opening a portal to the Nevernever. He strides across the room to examine the stack of tubs and trugs. In the latter he sees the remains of plant stalks. In the former, he sees piles of what look like eyeballs sitting in a dark purple, sap-like liquid.

The session had to end there, because it was getting rather late for the poor UK players. Thus endeth the third of the minimum number of play sessions we needed to get done for the playtest.

–End of Session 3–

 

Tabletop – DFAE Playtest – Session 2 write-up

With the need to get at least 3 sessions in before November 20th and my DERPing out on the rules being in my inbox, we’re trying to pack the sessions in a little more snugly than I would usually do. So here’s the write-up of session 2.

Two players were absent at least part of the session, but the low-level, low-action, roll-lite pace I’m setting to keep my players sane (since they’re new to Fate and/or the Dresden Files) means it’s pretty easy for characters to come and go. It’s working. And as an aside, I’m really liking the Virtual Tabletop (in this case Roll20) experience. Sure, it’s not direct face-time tabletop, but it actually does work. More on that some other time. (In other words, probably never. My regular readers know what that means by now…)

DFAE Playtest – Session 2

Characters present:

Cieran Muldoon, Wyldfae Undertaker to the supes of Seattle (present for 2nd half of session)
Jeremiah Tooms, Small-Time Mortal Street Criminal
Sasha Travis, Streetwise EMT (and were-Crow)

Euphorium for the masses

We left our doughy doughty adventurers having just purchased a vial of Euphorium from Devlin MacNamara, the not overly bright trust-fund kid. Session 2 starts where session 1 left off.

Cieran gets a call from work and has to leave [the player was going to be late]. Similarly, Korbin is drawn away to deal with something off-camera. [We may play this as a flashback at some point because Korbin’s A WARDEN IS WATCHING ME trouble could use a little in-play definition and hate-building (if that’s what happens).]

Left to their own devices, Jeremiah and Sasha ponder what to do with this vial of swirly purple stuff. Jeremiah is about to chug it when he realizes (with Sasha’s help) that a) he doesn’t know what it’ll do to him, b) he might not want to bogart the only sample they have, c) it could kill him, it’s killed other people, d) it’s a pretty safe bet it’s got some supernatural mojo in it, and if it doesn’t then it’s got some pretty advanced chemical effects in it, which comes to the same not-good-news-thing (see c) and e) Korbin and Cieran might not be too happy, and they can both probably break him like a twig if he makes them mad enough.

What they can do, however, is try to climb up the dealer ladder to Devlin’s supplier and so on up. Sasha is keen to do this because she is concerned at the number of people Eurphorium could be killing (directly via the ‘embolisms’ and indirectly via the anger and violence it seems to cause). Jeremiah suggests stealing Devlin’s cellphone and trying to figure out which one of his contacts might be the supplier. After all, says Jeremiah, “He’s a dumb-ass trust-fund rich kid and he doesn’t strike me as overly bright. For all we know the supplier is in there as Joe Schmoe Euphorium Supplier!”

[Because I had portrayed Devlin as exactly what Jeremiah assessed him to be, I went with this being a compel of Devlin’s NOT OVERLY BRIGHT aspect and Jeremiah handed over a FP for Devlin.]

The pair thus decide to steal Devlin’s cellphone. However, since Jeremiah just lifted Devlin’s wallet not one half hour ago, J can’t exactly walk back up to him and try it on a second time – even someone as NOT OVERLY BRIGHT as Devlin would be suspicious.

Sasha decides to create a diversion while Jeremiah sneaks around to approach Devlin from behind. The diversion consists of Sasha loudly and vociferously playing pinball – this is mostly designed to attract the attention the Heckel & Jeckel and the bouncer twins, but as it turns out her Distraction Via Pinball roll is epic and ends up attracting most of the patrons in the Lanes. (As a side result, Sasha racks up the new high score for that machine and the player notes on her sheet that she seems to be quite competitive when it comes to games.)

Jeremiah successfully makes his unobtrusive way over to where Devlin was sitting, only to see that Sasha’s distraction is *so* good Devlin has left his seat to watch the game… and has left his cellphone lying unguarded on the table. Jeremiah grabs it. He ponders grabbing other stuff, only to realise it would be a little too obvious who the thief was, considering recent events.

Phone acquired, he ambles over to the bar, nonchalantly buys a drink (with his own money!) [It seems Jeremiah is a perpetual “I forgot my wallet” kind of guy], then signals Sasha that he’s got the goods. Sasha finishes her game and joins him outside.

Aware that Devlin is likely to figure out pretty quickly what might have happened to his phone, the pair leave the Lanes and head to a nearby coffee shop to examine the phone. As expected, one of the first entries was: Angel R – E sup.

Jeremiah decides to tap his contacts to see if he can find out where Angel might be found. He’s heard the name before, connected to a mid-level drug dealer in town, but that’s about all. The cover story agreed-upon by Jeremiah and Sasha is that they’re trying to get in on the Euphorium trade – which, given Jeremiah’s mantle, is not a bad idea. Cut to the PCs meeting up with one of his contacts on an outdoor basketball court.

It’s Jeremiah’s turn to roll epically and said contact, Ebenezer Duckworth (who clearly must hate his parents) [and which explains why the GM will never ask the players to name an NPC ever again], crumbles under the onslaught of a success with style. He not only tells the PCs exactly where Angel can be found that evening, but also calls Angel ahead of time to vouch for them.

So Jeremiah and Sasha make their way to the Hot Lips, a strip joint on the seedier side of town. It’s still early in the evening so there are few patrons, but those include several off-duty cops (bought and paid for, the PCs wonder? [Seattle has DIRTY COPS…]), a handful of average joes, and a flashily-dressed Hispanic man with a brace of muscle guys who can only be Angel.

[At this point Cieran’s player joins the session.] Cieran, meanwhile, has dealt with his work emergency. He’s also received a phonecall from one Rhonda McLaine, manager of the Hot Lips strip club, asking him to meet with her at the club. [Shocking coincidence!] Having taken care of a few problems and loose ends (i.e. corpses) for the White Court Vampires (WCVs) in town, he knows the Hot Lips is a WCV enterprise, belonging specifically to Portia Vermeer (aka Portia Starr, local ex-exotic dancer and porn idol), the daughter of Geoffrey Vermeer (head of the WCV in Seattle). One-on-one meets are not uncommon when dealing with not-entirely-legal business, so he agrees.

Jeremiah and Sasha have joined Angel at a table, with the muscle moving to a nearby table and paying close physical (if not mental) attention. Angel, primed by Ebenezer, is urbane and almost friendly. Almost. As he is asking what they’d like to drink, Cieran comes in and walks past their table on his way to the back of the club (where the offices are).

Jeremiah, with his DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD? flaw, is unable to repress a “Fuck me, what are you doing here Cieran?!” Angel notes this and looks suspicious, but the moment is smoothed over. Nonetheless, the muscle are now watching Jeremiah, Sasha and Cieran. The tension goes down quite a bit when Cieran is allowed into the rear part of the club (the door is guarded by a bouncer).

Angel, Jeremiah and Sasha make medium-talk based on their cover story (How did you hear about me? What do you want? How much can you actually sell? You do know I’m a dangerous drug dealer and can have your arms ripped off if you annoy me… etc.). Some rolls are made and passed.

Meanwhile, Cieran meets with Rhonda McLaine in her office. She gets straight to business – she knows what Cieran is, he knows what she is (a mortal working for the White Court), there’s no dancing around. Given their long and successful business relationship, she says, she would like to emphasise that the Euphorium project is a White Court thing and that other parties (namely Cieran and any ancillary Fae) should kindly keep their noses out of it.

[A little heavy-handedly, the GM points out that Cieran’s involvement in ‘the Euphorium thing’ is only 48 hours old and that all he did was ask around discreetly among his contacts.]

Cieran, not best pleased internally, smiles charmingly as Rhonda (or at least his glamoured face does) and assures her that he’ll take her request under advisement.

Knowing her limits (or not caring?), Rhonda nods and dismisses him from her attention, returning to her ledgers.

[It should be noted at this point that a number of Cieran’s customers in town have been known to refer to him as “The Cleaning Lady” – which does NOT sit well with Cieran. It’s looking as though Rhonda might be one of those people.]

Cieran leaves the office. As he does, he notices a neat pile of smallish cardboard boxes at the other end of the currently-empty hall and decides to investigate. When he sees that each box is sealed with biohazard tape, he decides to simply grab one, throw a quick veil over it and calmly walk out with it in his hand.

This is accomplished. Business concluded, Cieran leaves the club.

Meanwhile, Sasha and Jeremiah have concluded their negotiations with Angel, who has a few requirements for prospective dealers – one of them being quotas, and of course payment up front for the ‘product’. He expects them to move 200 units a week, but as their first week will be a trial period, he decides to let them have 40 units (by ‘have’ he means ‘buy’) and see how well they do.

As nonchalantly as they can, the PCs explain that they didn’t come armed with that much cash. This does not score any points with Angel, but he agrees to give them until the club closes to come back.

Somewhat panicked, Jeremiah and Sasha leave the club and explain their quandary to Cieran, who is waiting outside. Cieran, to whom four grand doesn’t mean much, simply nods and says he’ll be back (he’s Fae, he’s got a lucrative business, and he has the MONEY MEANS NOTHING TO ME (UNLESS IT’S GOLD) aspect). (There’s a fun moment when he un-veils the box he’s holding and says “Is this what you were trying to acquire?”).

Having figured out that making a deal with Angel only to fail to show up/pay up might not be the wisest course of action, the PCs get their money, which they hand over to the bartender at the Hot Lips just before closing time. (Angel is long gone, but the bartender knows what they’re there for.) In return, they get a box just like the one Cieran ‘acquired’.

The 3 PCs repair to Cieran’s funeral home (“Muldoon & Sons”) to check out the boxes. As expected, each box contains 40 vials of Euphorium, neatly packed in foam slots.

As Jeremiah nods off in his armchair, the other two discuss theories and next steps. Sasha is adamant that this drug enterprise needs to be stopped if at all possible and that finding out more about how it’s made, what it contains, what it does and whether there’s some kind of ‘antidote’ is absolutely essential. Cieran doesn’t really care one way or another (it only seems to be affecting mortals), but he sees that it’s important to Sasha and decides that makes it somewhat important to him too.

He remembers that one of his contacts told him a high muckety-muck White Court Vampire was in town to visit Geoffrey Vermeer (the local WCV head), and suddenly wonders whether this whole drug thing might not be one huge all-you-can-eat emotional buffet laid on in the muckety-muck’s honour. [Note: White Court vamps feed off emotions rather than blood, which would be much too crass for them. Not to mention that it goes right to the hips.]

In any case, given the fact that the Hot Lips is clearly one of the distribution centers for the Euphorium, it seems a fair bet that the White Court is involved somehow, whatever their motives may be.

Tired, the PCs retire to ponder their next move.

–End of Session 2–

 

Tabletop – DFAE Playtest – Session 1 write-up

I have no idea who might be interested in this other than my players, but 4 readers is equal to 4000 (ha! as if!) in my estimation.

At some point I’ll try to find a way to section this place off into more themely groups (MMO, Single-Player, Tabletop, Whatever), but don’t hold your breath. I am much better at wanting to be organised than at actually being it.

kira__were___crow__o_o_by_nagare_boshiDFAE Playtest – Session 1

Characters present:

Cieran Muldoon, Wyldfae Undertaker to the supes of Seattle

Korbin Stevens, Irascible Chaotic Good Wizard

Jeremiah Tooms, Small-Time Mortal Street Criminal

Sasha Travis, Streetwise EMT (and were-Crow)

Euphorium for the masses (Seattle)

It’s a quiet October Monday night in Seattle, apart from the fact that the weather has been unusually – some say unnaturally – hot and dry for months. A couple of cool days at the end of September raised hopes that the weather was breaking, but instead an Indian Summer of epic proportions has settled in. Daytime temps are in the 80s and no rain has fallen in months. Tempers are fraying among both the mortal and supernatural population of the city. Denizens of the Summer Court strenuously deny having any part in the weather (this time), while the local Native American population does the same (it’s not called an Indian Summer for nothing, right?)

Here 4 The Beer (H4B), a bowling team composed of a misfit crew of supernatural and supernatural-adjacent people (the PCs), is meeting at the Lois Lanes to play, as they do at least once a week almost every week of the year. [See The Lois Lanes venue at the end of the post.]

Also present on this Monday evening are the Gutter Girls, the Bowling Stones and the Holy Rollers. All three teams are in the league quarter-finals on Tuesday and all three are practicing hard. Here 4 The Beer is not in their league (at least in terms of skill) and was eliminated several rounds ago. As far as the PCs know, all three teams are made up of muggles.

Not bowling but occupying their usual table away from the lanes are four or five members of the “Chess Club”, which plays far more mobile and computer games than chess these days and spends a great deal of time arguing about nerdy things nobody else understands (or admits to understanding).

A few muggles have come in for a beer and some food.

As the PCs play they notice that the people around them seem to be especially short-tempered this evening. A couple of increasingly heated arguments are defused by liberal applications of mai-tais (thanks to Cieran) and threatening bouncers… after having been fanned by liberal applications of Jeremiah’s DID I SAY THAT OUT LOUD and Korbin’s I DO NOT SUFFER FOOLS GLADLY. The especially cranky types include the Gutter Girls, the Bowling Stones (though that was almost entirely Korbin’s fault) and the Chess Club boys. The latter are arguing about who is the best Star Trek captain ever.

[This leads to a brief and fortunately not angry exchange among the PCs, who apparently all have a bit of a nerdy tinge to them, concerning who is really the best Star Trek captain.]

At any rate nobody comes to blows. The Gutter Girls finish their practice and go home.

Sasha is contacted by her work – she’s on call this evening, as she has been for weeks. The heat wave has predictably driven up the crime rate, and the EMT teams have had their hands full keeping up with a wave of physical injuries due to everything from domestic disputes to bar brawls and outright murder on the streets. The call location is not far from the Lanes and her colleagues will pick her up on the way.

While Sasha is gone, Korbin ponders the fact that Devlin, one of the Chess Club boys, appeared to remain calm – even happy – during the entire nerdy argument; in fact, the more his friends yelled at him, the happier and calmer he seemed. He mentions this, and Cieran remembers that Betty (one of the Gutter Girls) also seemed weirdly calm and happy while her three friends were arguing with each other.

Korbin decides to use the Sight on Devlin. [No roll called for, partly because the GM forgot to ask for one and partly because the GM was hoping the mage would do exactly that.] Sight-seen Devlin appears mostly normal, apart from the weird purple-black smoke coiled around his neck, tendrils drifting off into the ether. (Korbin sees a number of other things about the Lois Lanes and its denizens which aren’t currently relevant.)

Meanwhile, Sasha discovers that the victim the EMT team was called to is Betty, one of the Gutter Girls. She appears to be dead, although there are no obvious signs of trauma.

Sasha decides to invoke her STREETWISE EMT aspect to do what she can to save Betty, even though it seems to be too late. With the help of her team-mates [and a great roll], she manages to revive and then stabilize Betty, and her team-mates drive the unconscious Gutter Girl off to the hospital while Sasha returns to Lois Lanes to let her friends know what happened.

Back at the bowling alley, everyone is shocked to hear what happened to Betty but relieved to hear she is not dead. Sasha gets the number of another Gutter Girl from the contacts list maintained at the bar and informs the ladies. Cieran buys her a well-done beer.

At this point, shaken and tired, the PCs decide to head home.

[More was planned for this scene but the GM failed her prep roll. As it was, I think it worked out as an intro scene to let everyone get into character and meet each other.]

Over the next couple of days the PCs try to find out more about what is going on in the city, because they’re not sure this heat wave and violence thing is natural.

Sasha keeps tabs on Betty in the hospital but Betty remains comatose. Her doctor is stumped as to what might have caused her to collapse in the street – perhaps an embolism? Sasha does find out that ‘embolism’ and ‘heart failure’ seem to be common causes of death in the last few weeks, which implies to her that the medical examiners have no idea what’s causing the deaths.

Cieran, meanwhile, is tapping his Fae contacts just in case Summer is dissembling (not lying, of course) and does have a hand in the heat and crime-wave. The Summer fae repeat that as far as they know, nothing is going on. His rather more distant contacts among the vamps in town report that there’s a high muckety-muck from the White Court in town, visiting Geoffrey Vermeer (Seattle’s White Court head honcho), but that they don’t see how that could cause the heat or the violence.

For his part, Korbin hits the books to find out more about the purple-black smoke stuff he Saw around Devlin’s neck. The Sight being what it is, that could mean anything (anything bad, at any rate). He wonders if it has anything to do with possession, but Korbin tends to think in that direction and does not find direct confirmation in his books. However, he does establish that the color and the shape of what he saw does usually indicate some sort of symbolic (if not direct) control or possession, though it does not relate to any entity he can find. [He hit the Restricted Occult Collection at U-Dub and therefore owes Linda the Librarian a favor.]

Uneasy but unsure why, the PCs meet up at the Lois Lanes on Wednesday around lunchtime in order to discuss what’s been going on and compare notes.

As they eat they start to argue about the various theories that are being proposed, mostly egged on by Jeremiah who thinks these supernatural types are full of crap (clearly it’s the heat). Cieran suddenly leaves the table and disappears into the restrooms. (Cieran suspects the arguments might have something to do with him, so Cieran carefully inspects himself for signs of… anything weird, and then reapplies his Glamour.) [GM note – it would have been helpful, Fate-wise, if Cieran’s player had told the table where and why he was going, but it takes a while to realise that Fate expects/encourages players to play on both the meta- and the character level.]

When one of the PCs spots Sally (the waitress) leaning beatifically on the bar as she watches them yell at each other and points this out to the others, the group realizes that something weird is going on and that being inappropriately happy might be more than just a weird personality trait.

Sasha already mooted the theory that it might be some sort of drug, driving people to unusual levels of anger and subsequent violence, but the lack of marks on Betty sort of stymied that line of thinking.

Now, however, the theory is back on the table. Jeremiah steps away to call his contacts and see if a new drug has hit the streets. [Current table rule is that a wizard’s hex isn’t going to mess with all electronics around him unless it’s dramatically appropriate for that to happen, but the GM did rule that uneasy wizard + nearby cellphone wasn’t going to be good for the cellphone.]

Meanwhile, Korbin decides to use the Sight on Sally. [And the GM decides that using the sight on every Tom, Dick and Harry is eventually going to bite Korbin in the ass, if he’s not careful – I’m far more inclined to use the books as a guide than the rules, which turn a possible Cthulhu-esque SAN loss experience into a more watered-down skill roll.] Unsurprisingly she too has this wispy, tendril-releasing purple-black smoke around her neck. Other than that she is actually a rather pleasant sight – clearly not human, she appears as a sort of epitome of apple-pie, middle-aged, motherly concern, which is pretty much how she treats everyone who comes to the Lanes.

Jeremiah returns to the table, having discovered that yes, there’s a new drug on the streets, but it certainly can’t be having these effects. It’s called Euphorium and all it does is make the imbiber super happy. Not stoned, exactly, and certainly not trippy, just… happy. His contacts don’t know where it’s coming from, though they’re pretty sure it’s not coming through the usual distributors.

The group decides to head outside to discuss developments away from Sally’s smiling (and listening) presence. As they leave, Cieran stops to pay their tab – Jeremiah ‘forgot his wallet’ again – and, as nonchalantly as only a Fae can muster, asks: “Hey Sally, where does one go to buy drugs around here? I see you’re on something and it seems pretty cool!”

Fortunately Sally doesn’t seem to know drug protocol either, and happily tells him she got the stuff from Devlin, and that’s it’s awesome! She’s pretty sure Devlin will be around later – he’s there almost every evening.

The PCs theorise that a magically-altered drug might make the imbiber happy through some sort of funky magic, but that the cost for said effect is that everyone else around the imbiber is less happy, angry, violent, etc. That would explain the happy campers in the middle of the heated arguments.

They decide to reconvene later in the day to put the squeeze on Devlin.

This they do, having nominated Jeremiah (the criminal) as the most likely candidate for said squeezing. Sasha and Cieran wait over by the pinball machines at the other end of the building, while Korbin loiters incredibly un-subtly around the corner behind Jeremiah, ready to throw up a magical shield if Devlin turns out to be tougher than expected.

Jeremiah totally fails to impress Devlin with his criminal street chops [Rep stunt, no Heat used], but he does manage to lift Devlin’s wallet while they’re talking and that gets Devlin’s attention. Fortunately the kid isn’t exactly a hardened criminal himself. He explains that he usually only deals weed and Vicodin and stuff like that. (Judging by Devlin’s clothes and expensive gadgets, Jeremiah suspects he’s a trust-fund kid who got cut off and is trying to fund his expensive slacker lifestyle.)

At any rate, he recently started dealing this Euphorium and the stuff is awesome! He takes it himself, and it’s totally excellent and has no side-effects or anything!

Jeremiah rolls his eyes but asks Devlin if he has any on him for sale… then gulps when Devlin hands him a tiny vial (perfume-sample size, full of dark purple smoky, swirling liquid) and asks for $200. They dicker, and eventually settle on the return of Devlin’s wallet plus a stolen credit card (Jeremiah doesn’t usually have a lot of cash on him).

The transaction complete, Jeremiah strolls away, Korbin behind him (mocked by Devlin for his utter lack of sneakiness), and they rejoin the other two.

–End of Session 1–

The Lois Lanes (venue)

The Lois Lanes is an old bowling alley built sometime in the middle of the 20th century. It’s got space-evoking swoops of concrete outside and is decorated in vintage 50s red vinyl – and, of course, lots and lots of chrome. While it only boasts a dozen lanes, it does have a liquor license and the cook, Duke, makes one of the meanest burgers in town.

The Lois is the unofficial supernatural bowling venue in Seattle, for those who care for such pastimes, though muggles are allowed in to make up the numbers. The presence of muggles means the supernaturals are expected to behave themselves. This expectation is supported by the presence of the twin bouncers, Castor and Pollux, who are unnaturally large by mortal standards (and even larger by troll standards for those who know or can see through the glamour). Also somehow part of the enforcement team are Heckel and Jeckel, or Helter and Skelter, or whatever the patrons want to call the pair of mangy little yappy-type dogs that roam freely about the place. (No, they’re not dogs. But even the supernaturals aren’t sure what they are.) Heckel and Jeckel are apparently incredibly sensitive to any kind of non-friendly conflict, and Castor and Pollux are incredibly sensitive to H&J’s warnings.

As a result, people generally behave themselves at the Lois. Not behaving oneself results in a quick trip to the pavement out front. Repeated misbehavior results in banination, usually temporary. Those banned for good from the Lois Lanes are few in number and they are never spoken of.

Tabletop gaming — Fate and why I love it

FATE

So after I finally got my act together, a few of us made characters and played the first session of the Dresden Files Accelerated Edition playtest. I’ll write more about that later, but today I want to deal with a comment one of the players made on the G+ community we have going. I was going to respond in the G+ group, but since it’s something I hear a lot about Fate and because it’s about tabletop systems and paradigms in general, I figured I would post my response here instead.

(Plus it gives me a blog post and those have been rather nonexistent sparse of late. Scotchtober has yet to happen, for instance. Maybe we’ll have to do Vodkember instead.)

Note that my response applies more to Fate Core than it does to the Accelerated editions, but since the latter is derived from and intended to fit in with the former, what applies to Core applies just as much to Accelerated versions.*

The Comment

Here’s the comment, with apologies to Eric for quoting him without permission. My lawyers will be in touch with your lawyers.

Had a blast – even if my brane wasn’t firing on all cylinders! I’m still not sure I get the system as a whole. I feel it’s designed to be so different from any other RPG on the market that it obfuscates a lot of stuff that could be put in much plainer language. I’ll soldier on though because it was fun if confusing. [My emphasis.]

Yay for having a blast, btw! I felt my pacing was off but we’ll get to that in the session post.

Eric makes a valid point when he questions whether the Fate system is just a shtick to differentiate it from the more crunch-heavy systems out there. I don’t agree, but rather than keep telling you all how good I think it is, here are a few resources that might help make my point.

Wikipedia’s Fate article – a decent starting point

A D&D lover’s guide to other RPGs: Fate Core

Stackexchange forums: Approaching Fate systems from a d20 background

Paizo forums – Fate Core: Tried it, didn’t like it (Because dissenting opinions matter. Also because the poster makes a valid point, albeit not all that well, and because some of the responses are worth reading.)

But, but… it’s awesome because I said so!

And now I’m going to tell you again why I think it’s so good.

Eric – note that our group and the players we know have played narratively and collaboratively for decades; hell, we played (A)D&D collaboratively back in the 80s. This is apparently not the norm for tabletop gaming (maybe especially in the US), even moreso with the rise of the later D&D/Pathfinder editions where how far you can walk in a given span of time is painstakingly represented on a game map. In that light, I think Fate is an attempt to ‘formalise’ (ironically) the more free-form nature of cooperative and narrative-driven games. Yes, you and I & the NWO crew did this for years and actually wrote “Freeform” games for 20-100 players where they got a character sheet each and we sat back to watch the mayhem, but that’s not the norm for tabletop or LARP/-adjacent experiences.

As I see it, Fate is intended to be a) a generic system usable with any setting and b) a system that promotes player/GM narrative collaboration (and starts that right from the get-go with collaborative character and setting design). Mostly though I believe it’s designed to encourage players to let loose with their ideas and to make them understand that they can exert creative direction in the game. The GM already knows she can because GMs have been doing this since forever, but players need to be shown they can do it – and then, helpfully, shown how they can do it.

I’ve run Fate now with 6 Fate-newb players in several different games, and most (all?) of them have had a hard time getting their heads around it. As a Fate-newb GM, *I* had a hard time getting my head around it, and I was more than ready for a formalized representation of the way I prefer to play. For many players, the idea that they can and in fact should exert a measure of narrative control in a Fate game is difficult to a) get their heads around, and b) actually do.

If that doesn’t happen, the group might as well go back to playing anything other than Fate, because Fate doesn’t work nearly as well if the players don’t commit to an active engagement with (and development of, as ideas strike them) the scene, the scenario, and the world.

I’m emphasising that because I think it’s the living beating heart of the Fate paradigm. I might be entirely wrong (and the Fate folks can come over and tell me so), but I suspect I’m not.

As a GM, I am so freaking ready for this kind of system I can’t express it properly without excessive and enthusiastic swearing. Benefitting from the table’s ideas makes the GM’s job a lot easier and lets her concentrate on lesser jobs like pacing, dramatic tension, saying MUAHAHA a lot and organising the mechanical bits. Because the plain fact is that 3, 4, or 5 brains are always better than one, and not just if you’re a zombie.

All the times when players in our groups suggested something way better than what the GM had come up with (and the GM instantly adopted it)? That’s what Fate encourages or even mandates. And while we’ve had the benefit of a closely-knit, trusting and collaborative gaming group, this allows people who haven’t known each other since college to experience the same kind of creative cooperation.

Those funky-ass aspects and why they’re cool

And that’s where aspects come in, that traditionally OMGWTF hard-to-understand part of Fate systems. In the context of the argument I’m making here, aspects are the levers the players and the GM use to exert their control over the world, the NPCs, the action or themselves. It’s a way of saying “OK, we know you’re not used to having this level of control/input in a tabletop game, but it’s fine really, you’re supposed to, and this is one way in which you do it.”

Example: A character has the Always in the right place at the wrong time aspect. The player can leverage (aka invoke) that aspect in order to show up, quite by ‘accident’, at the super-seekrit take over the world board meeting. Or at the invitation-only Bad Guys Inc., fundraiser. Or to come out of the mall into the parking lot where one of his buddies is currently being kidnapped by Ninjas. Note that this in no way decides whether those scenes will go well for the character – it just means the character gets to show up and in that way affect the course of events.

Similarly, the GM can leverage (aka compel) that aspect to have the character be passing by the isolated park clearing in which the We’re Really Nasty Witches coven is having its monthly esbat. Or to make him decide whether to attend his child’s talent show (after missing the previous three and making a solemn pinkie-swear promise)… or save said kidnapped buddy before he’s loaded onto a plane bound for who-knows-where.

It’s something Eric, Dave and I have been doing for years even if we didn’t call them aspects, but it may be a paradigm very few RPG groups are comfortable with. One of the things Fate does so well is to provide a framework for playing cooperatively even if you’re not initially that way inclined. (To quote another friend who shall remain anonymous: “I’ve never dared play a tabletop game because all the people I know who play are ridiculously competitive and that’s never struck me as fun.”)

Eric, I hope that helped. As for the rest of you – there will be more Fate games going on once the Dresden Files Accelerated playtest is done (end November). I’ve been in a tabletop drought for over a decade, I’m quite willing to jump back in at the deep end.

A few more links for interest & further reading

(Dev post) Fate misconceptions and aspect spamming

Rick Neal — Birthing Pains: High Concepts, Templates, and Troubles (Dresden Files)

Rick Neal — The Lightning Bug and the Lightning: Aspects in Dresden Files RPG

Or just read all of Rick Neal’s articles on the Dresden Files RPG (not the Accelerated version): http://www.rickneal.ca/?page_id=842

… and on Fate in general

– – –

* For what it’s worth, I’m fairly sure I prefer the full-on Core versions to the Accelerated version. That said, the Accelerated versions are excellent for pickup games or for inexperienced and/or young players. They definitely have a place in the Fate universe. It just turns out that I like my rules a little crunchier than I expected (though not as crunchy as, say, Pathfinder).

DFAE RPG… where the D stands for DERP

Right. So.

On September 15th I posted with  much glee and anticipation that the Dresden Files Accelerated Edition playtesting had begun. Yay!

Then I waited for the download link to arrive. And waited. And waited. And thought wow, this is taking a while. And hosted my mum for a month, tried to keep my (not so) inner introvert sane, and waited.

And cleaned up  my inbox.

And found the download link, sent on September 16th.

Only one image is appropriate for how much of a moron I felt, just now, when I found that link.

stupidity

So now we have rather less than 60 days in which to complete 3 play sessions, but that’s ok. We’ll manage. I AM PREPARED TO BUY A VIRTUAL AI-POWERED CATTLE PROD, just so my players know I’m serious about this. But it does mean managing a session a week, pretty much.

Those of you who indicated interest, check your G+ community invites. I sent a few out that haven’t been accepted. If that was intentional, it’s all good — if not, remind me here and I’ll resend; seems I may need people’s G+ addresses since invites aren’t always getting received, even to people already in my circles (@BlueKae, e.g.?). It’s a private group so the invite is needed to get into the super-seekrit sanctum. Sessions are currently planned for this Friday (16th) and Sunday (18th), to include character creation and whatever else we manage to do.

There’s still time to get involved. Let me know here or mail me.

Timing is, as always, a bitch. And I guess that between parental visit (which happens once or twice a decade since we’re on different continents) does trump roleplaying playtest. Maybe. Le sigh.