Tabletop RPGs and good beginnings

So at the very end of last year I dragged the spousal unit to the “What should we play in 2017” meeting of the Albuquerque RPG group, and I’ve now attended all 4 of the weekly Thursday night gaming sessions that have taken place this year.

Why? That’s easy. Because it’s one of those meetups where what we play is sort of based on who shows up and pitches what, and no game is slated to run for more than a few sessions. Kind of like the sampling-buffet of RPG gaming, and for the way I am right now it’s perfect.

In week 1 we played Lady Blackbird, which was super fun. It’s an incredibly elegant little game with a lot of room for story that could easily have gone for more than a session but was satisfying as a one-off as well. Pick it up, it’s free!

In week 2 we played a Fate-accelerated homebrew kids vs. zombies game run by a member who had never GMed before. I always enjoy taking part in those because it’s very rewarding to see people want to try being on the other side of the screen (though actually pretty much nobody uses screens on the Thursday night games). She did extremely well for a first time and I hope she gained enough confidence to keep running stuff. It’s also always fun to play kids.

In week 3 we played another zombie game, this time with the End of the World rules, and that’s an interesting little system too, which shows very clearly how the underlying design assumptions affect how the game is played. As in, the design of D&D is almost exclusively based around killing monsters in dungeon crawls, and that’s what the game rewards you for doing – in general, players will tend to do what rewards them because duh, reward. We had to make characters that were basically ourselves, and I found that surprisingly constraining; it would have been a great deal easier to be heroic had I been playing anyone *but* myself, but of course that’s part of the point of the game.

It also demonstrated once again a principle I learned back in 1989, which is never to let the players go shopping in-character if you want the game to move smartly along. Especially during the beginning of a zombie apocalypse when you just don’t know what exactly you might need.

This week I was going to run Mythender, another free game where you get to punch Gods and monsters in the face (or get punched) (or end up as one of the myths you’re trying to defeat), but with one group off playing a multi-session Necessary Evil game we only had 3 players total and I didn’t want to have to deal with tweaking a system I only cracked open on the same day I was planning to run it. (Meanwhile, author Ryan Macklin kindly offered on Twitter to give me some tips, so I’m definitely rain-checking it for another night.) More on Mythender when it does get run.

So we ended up playing Dog Eat Dog because one of the players has been asked to run a game of it for a 7th-grade history class. It’s basically about colonialism and what happens on and to both sides, but has the potential to be applied to any kind of ‘colonisation’ where one entity takes over another — you could potentially apply it to cult dynamics, or even possibly to something as nebulous as the inexorable takeover by Hollywood of other, smaller film industries.

Two of us played the ‘natives’ and one played the ‘Occupation’, and it was fascinating to play out scenes of how the Occupation gradually killed off and/or assimilated the natives, whose violent rebellion (me) really only ended up making things worse. It made me notice how much the outcome is determined by our cultural expectations, because as a white European player I kind of assume that colonists usually end up ‘winning’, given the history I’m taught.

It shares some similarities with Microscope, which I’m also looking forward to playing one of these weeks.

The best thing for me about these weekly gatherings is that if I don’t feel up to it on a given week, I’m not letting a long-standing regular group down, even if I’d said I’d run something. Out of the 12-15 people I’ve met so far (there’s a core of same faces and the rest don’t always come every week), two thirds are able and willing to run stuff as opposed to just playing, and as a group we have pretty much every game under the sun covered. This takes all the pressure off me, which right now is very helpful.

It’s at least good to know that I’m able to get out of the house and interact with people again, though clearly I need to keep an eye on how much I commit to because my mental health and sensory issues don’t usually do what I want them to… Yet. Given the right mix of therapies that may change, but in any case I’m very glad to see I won’t be condemned to never play tabletop again because I have trouble being around people for any length of time. A good start for the year, if only on the gaming front.

Ugh.

In a couple of days 2016 will hopefully Exit, pursued by a bear.

I won’t lie, it’s been a difficult year. Sometime down the line I may also see it as a useful, productive, or possibly even personally strengthening year, but for the time being the main word that comes to mind is “shitty”. Not that I’m looking for sympathy — for many others it’s been an even worse year. RIP so damn many famous / fun / influential / brave / honest / talented people I cared for since I hit the age of 12. Oh wait, earlier – Richard Adams also died just the other day. And we’re not even going to talk about Syria, world politics, Brexit, American politics, or money.

To misquote (or fix, that’s how I see it) her Majesty ERII, this has been an Anus Horribilis.

It’s been kind of bleh on the gaming front too. I’ve hopped from MMO to MMO for a few weeks here and there but nothing sticks. Ditto single-player stuff. I don’t have the headspace and/or I have better things to be doing, like figuring out ways to approach my upended selbstanschauung. I dropped out of the face-to-face tabletop RPG group I was in, and shortly thereafter dropped out of the VTT-RPG group I was in. Both were good decisions at the time, and while I miss spending time and having fun with all those people, I couldn’t handle being around anyone, in person or online, for the greater part of this year.

(Quick reminder: In June or July I was diagnosed with both Sensory Processing Disorder and Asperger’s. You’d think that in 47 [now 48] years on the planet I’d have noticed those things for myself by now, but apparently that’s not how it works, especially when you’re ‘high functioning’ and really good at hiding things. Anyway, different discussion for another time. The salient fact right now is that my issues had been getting much worse since the death of my dad in 2012, got even worser (it’s a word) (now) starting in Feb this year, and made it extremely difficult for me to work, go out, or basically function in any way generally considered ‘normal’ and ‘healthy’.)

Long story short, I have started taking a tricyclic medication which — cautious hurrah! — appears to have a greatly calming effect on the anxiety that basically comes along for the ride with the above-named issues. It does nothing for said issues, but not being in a constant state of dread sure is helpful. Therapy (just CBT for now) seems like it may also be helpful, but with only 2 sessions under my belt I can’t really comment for sure.

The good thing about that is that for the first time in months I feel able to be around people again. So I’ve joined a local tabletop RPG listing/meetup group thingy and have posted that I’d like to run a one-off session of something light and fun.

We’ll see if anything comes of it. Chances are nobody will reply because that’s the nature of these things — and if nobody does, that’s ok. I’ve put myself out there in whatever tiny way — but for just one session, which means I can flee if it’s too much. I won’t be committing myself to something lasting/regular and therefore won’t feel awful if/when I flee and let people down (as per the two groups this year). That same meetup collective holds single-session gatherings every week, and while they’re too late in the day and too far away for me right now (evenings + distance are a bit of an issue), maybe that will change.

Baby steps. And of course, there have been some good points this year as well, because life is rarely just black or white. I have made some new friends. I’m learning things about myself (however bloody painfully), about others, and about mental health, which has always fascinated me. I might start writing again (someday – freaking baby steps, people).

Have a lovely, warm, safe and alone/surrounded New Year, as your preferences and needs dictate. Let’s bury 2016 somewhere deep and dark, surrounded in garlic and with its head cut off just to be on the safe side.

 

On courtesy, phones and the generation gap in tabletop roleplaying

So I came across this on Twitter. But first, a quick caveat.

This is a rant. It is not a rant aimed at @GMRaphi in particular, even though I’m using his Tweet as a springboard for the rant. I’m taking issue with what he’s saying — and okay, with his generation (or what I assume to be his generation) — but not with who he is. Because a) that would be a dick move and b) I don’t know the man but he looks like a decent chap.

And an extra caveat a few days later. Yes, it’s all generalisations, that’s what a rant is. Do I think entirely in generalisations? Do I assume what I’m saying applies to each and every possible situation? Of course not. Do me the courtesy of understanding that and understanding that a rant is, by its very nature, a complaint against a general order of things. Yeesh.

 

I couldn’t find a way to respond in 140 characters so here we go.

  1. It’s impolite, at least to basically anyone of my generation or older. I’m 47 — which, by the way, doesn’t make me decrepit, doesn’t make me incapable of understanding the internet (we invented it, assholes), and doesn’t make me stupid — and where/when I come from, using your phone at the dinner table or while you’re out with your friends is just plain rude. It’s the same at the gaming table — we’re gathered to be here together, not to sit here individually checking our Twitter feed. If you want to sit in your social media bubble, do it somewhere else.
  2. It’s beyond self-centered. Just because my character isn’t in the limelight and it’s somebody else’s turn to act, I get to switch out and do something else? Seriously? Why exactly are you getting together with 3-6 other people to play a game if all you give a shit about is your character’s rolls and shining moments? If I were older and more curmudgeonly I’d say this is a perfect example of how entitled and self-centered the millennial generation is, but instead I’ll just glower and tell them to get off my lawn.
  3. To me, it’s a sign that you can’t really be bothered to be there, and/or that you’d rather be tweeting about what you’re doing than actually taking part in what you’re doing. Which, I know, is life these days — we don’t go to events to enjoy the event, we go to events so that we can take selfies of ourselves attending the event so that… I dunno. I don’t get that, which is probably another sign of my lack of hipness with the times. (Which my use of the word ‘hip’ just confirmed.)

I also know that responding in any way to what could just as easily have been a troll on some random forum is largely pointless. I don’t know the chap in question, he might just want to be provocative (because I’ve never done that, nope), and I just happened to come across some Twitter friends’ responses. If it’s a troll, responding is useless. If it’s a generation thing, responding is equally useless because we have the cellphone-grafted generation that prefers to read a thing on social media than to be at the thing and we have the pre-cellphone generation that still understands what it’s like to attend a thing and not just for the sake of filming it on your iPhone — and never the twain shall meet.

It’s ironic. Not so long ago, I was of the generation of young assholes that were destroying all that was good and kind about the world and the reason we couldn’t have nice things. Now I’m the one complaining about the young whippersnappers.

Except in this case, I’m right. If you’re going to attend a tabletop game (or a virtual tabletop game for that matter), ask if it’s ok to use your phone or tablet or whatever. Some GMs won’t have a problem with it. I sure as hell will. And if it’s not OK, then don’t pout, don’t sulk (no matter how good you millennials are at the whole passive aggressive thing), just fucking put your fucking phone away and BE AT THE THING like a normal human being. Show some interest in someone else other than as a link to your own coolness.

In short: don’t be a dick.

 

 

Breakfast Cult creator interview on FNG

A while ago I backed the Breakfast Cult Kickstarter, and soon the book itself will be in my hot little hands.

Breakfast Cult KS

I’m sharing this interview with creator Paul Matijevic on Friendly Neighborhood Gamer not only because it’s a good interview but because there might be a few reading this who didn’t catch the Kickstarter and might want to get hold of a copy. I’m assuming (me and my buddy ASS) that it’ll be available as a PDF at some point through DriveThruRPG and whatnot.

To my various players: I will be planning on running this at some point. The angst of school coupled with the angst of Old Ones is beyond tempting.

 

Tabletop RPGs – Bundles of Doom

If anyone out there doesn’t yet know the Bundle of Holding folks, it’s time you did.

They are single-handedly responsible for depleting my pension fund and the college fund of the kids I don’t have. But hey, it goes to chariddy, so that’s ok.

Follow them on Twitter, or sign up for their e-mail alerts and you too can enjoy the luxurious feeling of having more RPG systems in your reading list than you can read if you live to be 120. Do it for nostalgia, new systems, or just plain nerdhood.

I hate these guys. Which in Ysh-speak means I love these guys. Can’t post more, I’m chewing up my crappy bandwidth downloading the latest offering. Click below for said latest offering.

never enough RPGs

Tabletop RPGs – Firefly

Burn the land and boil the sea

I’m jumping around all these shiny new-to-me systems like a flea with another flea up its butt, and I have to admit the idea of playing Firefly is super-hyper-duper-attractive, at least on paper. In RPGs like in so many other games, sometimes the idea of playing something is a lot better than the actual experience, but we don’t always know until we try it. And I’m pretty sure I’m going to want to try it.

The Clues before Snooze  group (oh yes please, get me a better name, I’ll pay you in free mints) is now two groups, cunningly named Left-Pondians (North-America) and Right-Pondians (Europe). We’re sitting at 3-6 players for the Left-Pondians and currently 3 for the Right-Pondians, and there are spaces left in the Europe-time group if anyone is interested; let me know in the comments or wherever.*

We have no idea what we’re going to play next, in either group, though I’m glad they all had a good enough time with the Dresden Files Accelerated Edition playtesting to want to carry on. I’m certainly not going to force a system or setting on anyone, though I will definitely argue for trying Firefly in at least one of them, likely the Right-Pondians because Brian, one of our Left-Pondian players, is *gasp* not a die-hard fan of the series. I know, right?! (Here’s an excellent post on how it’s warm and comfy as a childhood Saturday in front of the telly. And yes, Mr. Fillion is totes swoon-worthy as the complete smart yet stupid, slightly bumbling but strong almost-bad-boy, thinking girl’s crumpet package. Ahem. Where were we?)

Firefly

So, yes. Going to be trying this one out, even if I have to play with myself.

Play IT with myself.

Yes. That.

You can’t take the sky from me

In my quest to remember how to GM (which is roughly like riding a bicycle) and almost certainly as a desperate displacement tactic so that I don’t actually have to think about the upcoming don’t-yet-exist omg-what-shall-we-do campaigns — because I’m glutton enough to want to do it not once, but twice, for two different groups — I’ve been reading system books, GMing books, prepping books, GMing and gaming and playing and RPG websites and lions and tigers and bears, oh my! My brand-new download of Evernote is already brimming with things to read, remember, or consider.

I’ve even downloaded the demo version of Scrivener to see if it’ll help me manage my games more effectively, because my management technique is pretty much exactly like what I described my brain to be: an explosion in a gummy-bear factory:

gummybearexplosion

I’ve only run through the tutorial but so far it seems pretty awesome. It’s structured, which will help me, but not so structured that my brain rebels and goes FUCK YOU I’M JUST GOING TO USE POST-IT NOTES THAT WILL FALL OFF THE MONITOR AND GET EATEN BY THE DOGS AND THEN YOU WILL NEVER KNOW WHO THE BIG BAD WAS WHO TRAPPED TIMMY DOWN THE MINE.

My brain likes to shout at me. The meds should be kicking in any day now.

They also do an idea-jotter that’s kinda-sorta-but-not-quite like a mind-mapping program, called Snapple. No wait, Scrapple. No, that’s not it. Scapple!

Best of all, both versions come with a 30-day trial which is a genuine 30 days of use trial, not a 30-days-from-when-you-install-it trial. That’s the kind of demo I like, especially when it’s for a product that looks as though I might seriously want it. They’re giving me plenty of time to become irretrievably hooked… and then buying them isn’t even that expensive. Oh, they are cunning.

Anyway, to get back to the original point, I’ve added about a million new sites to the Feedly feed I don’t check nearly enough, because somehow in all the other crap going on in my life I’ll find the time to read 25 blog posts every day. (Said lots of people, perhaps, but not me, ever.**)

Here are two I found just today, shared because they cropped up in my search for Firefly reviews and I loved the style and tone of both of them: The Reef and Ed Plays Games. Also, as a French person and French-speaker, I can’t not like someone whose domain name is Nasty Anemone.

All right then. Since this blog post is itself a displacement activity that I’m doing to delay the time I have to sit down and try to brainstorm some campaign ideas (because I want to have a few ideas the groups can spitball off rather than starting in a vacuum and the inevitable awkward silence***), I’d best toddle off and do that thing.

Just like riding a bicycle…

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

* The groups are intended to meet for sessions once every two weeks, since even in my RPG-deprived state I don’t think I can run two sessions and attend another as a player every week. Prospective players will be asked to commit to that as best they can, or there’s little point in having a ‘regular’ gaming group. We’re currently using Roll20 as a VTT platform and it works rather better than I expected, though we haven’t exactly stretched its capacities so far.

** But I live in hope. I am going to give Dave Allen’s Getting Things Done method another shot in the new year. I’m half-hooked from my first read-through of the method some months back but have yet to apply most of the principles. But I will. Because as a chronically anxious person with real issues finding meds that work, anything that lets me empty the whirling morass that is my brain and occasionally actually relax, knowing that things are under some semblance of control, would be wonderful.

*** See what I did there?

 

 

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–