Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Geiger Counter plans for C2E2

So, a couple months from now, the wife and I have got like four webcomics friends staying with us for Chicago's brand new comics convention, C2E2. Naturally, a captive audience--especially a bunch of artists--makes me want to do some kind of one-shot RPG thing.

Since we're not going to have a lot of time, that means either pre-gen characters or a zero-prep game, and I don't really dig pre-gen. The zero-prep game that immediately came to mind was In a Wicked Age--someting I love the hell out of, but have still barely even played--but then I thought of one that I haven't gotten to play at all: Jonathan Walton's Geiger Counter.

The deal with Geiger Counter is that it simulates the sort of movie where most of the characters are killed off, one by one, until finally a few survivors maybe escape or defeat the threat. Something like Alien or Nightmare on Elm Street, generally. Maybe it's because a friend of mine has been screening cheesy monster movies for fun and derision, but that just sounds completely awesome, right now.

I've got a few plans on how to enhance the game with additional coolness, too.

One of the coolest parts of Geiger Counter is the fact that all the players get to come up with the setting, the tone, and--best of all--the monster for their movie. Just in case we need a little inspiration, I grabbed whole mess of plot keywords from IMDB, added some custom stuff, and threw them into Abulafia. I think the resulting generator actually works pretty well. Almost every time I hit refresh, this thing suggests a perfectly believable movie to me. Like this:

• Africa
• Human Sacrifice
• Eclipse
• Egg
• Desert
• Space Travel

Or this...

• Full Moon
• Giant Bug
• Mental Institution
• Surgery
• Old West
• Whispering

Or this!

• Serial Killer
• Book
• Bones
• River
• Small Town
• Exsanguination

Anyway, I think I'll only bring this thing out if people are having trouble coming up with an idea by themselves.

Another extremely cool aspect of Geiger Counter is the idea that, as you make up characters for your horror movie, you can actually cast them all, choosing Hollywood actors who seem appropriate. I love the hell out of this, and I intend to make it easy by producing a pile of cards with photos of various character actors on them. This will probably be a real pain in the ass to produce, but it's definitely something I could use for a whole lot of different games (Primetime Adventures, for example!), so I figure it's worthwhile.

Finally, I already happen to have an ungodly huge collection of movie soundtracks--with a particular focus on just the kind of movie that Geiger Counter sets out to emulate--so I'd be a fool not to make a quick playlist and just leave iTunes playing the whole time.

If all goes as planned, this ought to be pretty cool.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

[dream blog] The Hug

I was working in a spacious, swooping, almost airport-like place made of glass and steel. It had workstations for just a few people with no cubicles or walls separating them, just a lot of open space. It was the kind of unreal, inefficient space they use to shoot business-related stock photography. I think it might have been the workspace that came with some kind of hotel suite, rather than a regular office building.

The walls were all glass, and I'd been seeing strange vehicles drifting through the sky in the distance. Sci-fi stuff. Big, unwieldy metal things with no obvious means of staying aloft. I couldn't believe it. I kept watching them sail over the city, waiting to wake up or to see the strings or to hear about some movie being filmed, or an advertising stunt. I checked around on the Internet, and all I found was more evidence that these things were new, but completely real.

Then there was an explosion outside, and flames in the distant city. One of those air vehicles had crashed, or been shot down, or maybe launched some kind of attack on the city below.

Someone told me about a scientist who'd made a prediction years ago that explained all of this. I think I'd heard of it, too, but written it off as crazy futurist stuff, like almost everything said about the "singularity" towards which our technological development is supposedly heading.

He called it--and this was probably the name of his book or his Wired article or whatever--"The Hug". This was the phenomenon of a single naturally-occurring machine intelligence--a thing just born out there in the primordial soup of infinite information and escalating computing power--awakening to self awareness and grabbing ahold of every computer into which it can transmit its message.

The upshot of all this, or course, was that the entire human race was in a lot of trouble. Maybe not tonight, or even this year, but soon. And things were going to change fast. I wondered if I should unplug all the computers in the office. I wondered if the world was going to turn into that Stephen King movie, Maximum Overdrive, with cars and ATMs rebelling murderously against humanity. I wondered if some of that sci-fi technology that had apparently been released onto the market just ahead of the Hug could be helpful against it. Could I get a ray gun? Would it be effective against killer robots?

Surely everything would turn out okay. Surely someone would figure something out.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

[RPGs] Judd's "Make Your Own New Crobuzon" meme

Judd Karlman had an awesome idea about how to create a D&D setting that attempts to achieve the same kind of polyglot fantasy metropolis weirdness and anthropological complexity of China Miéville's New Crobuzon. Naturally, being a giant pervert for setting creation, I had to give it a try.

The Maw

Located on a lush jungle island well-situated near several major trade lanes, the Maw is a vertical city built into the igneous walls of a dead volcano's throat, crossing it in places with spidery bridges. The city extends so deeply that most of it rarely sees sunlight. Its positioning makes it a perfect center of trade between the civilizations of the surface world, and those of the labyrinthine lands beneath. The primary citizen races are humans (ever the most ambitious of the surface races) and dwarves (the subterranean race humans are most comfortable dealing with).

Minor races

Goblins - Most of the local archipelago is controlled by a small empire of jungle goblins. They are confident, organized, and as hairless and brightly-colored as poisonous frogs. All three goblin subraces live and work together with no acknowledged distinctions. The Maw is a completely separate political entity from the goblin empire--the Strand of Jewels--but a large number of goblins, hobgoblins, and bugbears have made their home in the city, attracted by the foreign wealth it offers, and eager to wield whatever political and business connections they might have throughout the archipelago to carve themselves a piece of it. For the most part, they've set themselves up as middlemen and facilitators in surface-underworld trade, storing good, changing money, and arranging transport from the island's teeming ports. They also have a substantial stake in local organized crime.

Umber hulks - A handful of quasi-civilized umber hulks--the descendants of slaves purchased from the drow and freed upon the death of their owner--live and work in the depths of the Maw. They're only barely sapient, incapable of vocal communication, stunningly dangerous, and subject to a number of repressive ordinances, but their tunneling ability puts even the dwarves to shame, and they've proven to be extremely useful members of the community. They're paid poorly, but as they do a tremendous amount of work and hardly ever seem to actually spend money, it's assumed that they must have a tremendous hoard of it, somewhere. Just what--if anything--they plan to do with it is one of the Maw's most widely speculated-upon mysteries.

Homunculi - The combination of human arcane experimentation, strange materials from the underworld, and the wealth brought by extensive trade has given rise to generation after generation of increasingly advanced alchemical constructs. The humans purpose-grow them for a wide variety of jobs, from message-carrying and guard duty to bookkeeping and research assistance. While even the most intelligent homunculus cannot legally be a citizen of the Maw--in fact, they technically have fewer rights than the umber hulks--the smarter and more humanoid varieties tend to be considered people by most locals, and are almost universally trusted as honest and incorruptible despite the fact that most technically have free will. As homunculi take on ever-greater roles within the production of more homunculi, it's possible they could become a race in their own right. Some would say they're already there.


Aboleths - Humans, dwarves, goblins make up the Maw's ruling council, but it's something of an open secret that a group of aboleths are pulling the strings. Just how much of their control is obtained through psychic domination and how much is simply the result of their having some very interesting artifacts to trade is uncertain. But if they have any kind of sinister agenda in mind for the city, it's apparently too slow and long-term for even the dwarves to notice. It's very possible that the whole Maw settlement was their idea in the first place, though, and it's apparent that they've got exactly the right blend of superhuman intelligence and utter ruthlessness to make a city like this work.

Kruthiks - Several decades back, an incautious tunnel expansion in the depths of the Maw disturbed a massive kruthik hive. The hive was destroyed at great cost to the city's defenders, but more than half of the kruthiks escaped. Ever since, kruthik incursions and infestations have been a regular hazard in the Maw, particularly in the deeper regions. Affected neighborhoods have taken to hanging up kruthik corpses--preferably fresh ones--to ward off attacks. This has given rise to the erroneous belief that even a small part of a kruthik--say, a hatchling's mandible--made into a pendant will protect its wearer from them. In truth, such a small amount of kruthik deathscent is actually much more likely to attract their attention.

The eidolon - In all of the Maw, the only organized resistance to the aboleths' rule comes from a cult of dwarves and humans who worship a rogue eidolon of tremendous power. This titanic, quasi-divine construct was unearthed in one of the Maw's farthest-reaching tunnel systems, and immediately seized control of the dwarven clan who discovered it. The eidolon is powerful enough to grant divine power to its followers, and to roam through the solid earth at will, avoiding detection by the city's authorities. The cult operates semi-secretly, with most of its members hiding their faith, but a few evangelists work openly to bring converts, in spite of the cult's outlaw status.

Friday, May 1, 2009

[RPGs] Skype SotC planning: Party stuff

Okay, so what I'd like to do next is sort out just how the various player characters (or at least the initial group, since more might be showing up later) know each other.

Right now, the characters we've got are a gun-slinging flapper, her German archaeologist husband, an educated sasquatch, and a feral swamp boy.

My first instinct is to suggest that everybody be members of the Van Helsing Society, which I used in my last SotC game. Here's the quick summary I threw together for it probably over a year ago:

  • founded by the young Quincey Abraham Harker (born between 1890 and 1897, should be in mid-40s in 1937, son of Jonathan and Mina) in honor of the late Abraham Van Helsing

  • studies and hunts monsters both supernatural and human (serial killers, cultists)

  • Some agents may themselves be touched by the paranormal (psychics, werewolves who've learned to control their curse, practitioners of magic, Tibetan yetis, Children of Set, etc.).

  • follow Van Helsing's philosophy of understanding one's enemy

  • secretive, believe the supernatural should be hidden from the public

  • funded by donations from those they've helped, the personal fortunes of members, and loot taken from destroyed monsters

  • recruit from talented people they seek out and from ordinary people who have had brushes with the supernatural in connection with the Society's cases

  • headquarters in London, but local chapters based in many nations friendly to the British Empire

Also, H.P. Lovecraft (who officially died in 1936) is working for the Society's London chapter, researching pre-human civilizations.

I think all four PCs could easily belong to the VHS. On the other hand, maybe it's just Sul's married couple who are Van Helsing investigators, and they end up investigating stuff in Hieronymus and Gator Boy's neck of the woods (the Florida Everglades, right?). Or, for that matter, Dagmar and Lee might be investigating on their own, and we could leave the Society out of it completely.

The nice thing about having some organization behind the party, though, is that it gives us an easy way to introduce new characters and other handy stuff. Of course, if you guys want to just make up your own organization, that is totally cool.

Friday, April 24, 2009

[RPGs] Skype game character stuff

Spirit of the Century is a pulp game. So its protagonists are generally at that pre-superhero level of capability, where they're fantastically capable in some specialized area, maybe even to a level that's effectively superhuman. And of course all kinds of crazy-ass backgrounds are totally possible. You can be an intelligent gorilla or an Atlantean awakened from suspended animation or . . . hell, we could probably figure out a way to do a robot or vampire, even. The game really is very flexible in a loose kinda way.

Anyway, the basic component of a SotC character is their skill pyramid. That is, you've got one skill you're really freaking great at (that's the top of the pyramid), two you're just plain great at, and so on down to five that you're just average at (the base of the pyramid). 15 skills in total, chosen from this list:

A few clarifications: "Academics" is a huge catch-all for history, linguistics, and all manner of soft sciences. "Contacting" is generally about who you know, the contacts you've got. "Empathy" is detecting lies and intentions. "Investigation" is searching for clues and doing forensics. "Mysteries" is sort of a catch all for magical stuff, but mostly in a typically pulp-like vein, so it's largely about hypnotic effects. "Rapport" is making friends an influencing people. "Resources" is about how much money or material support you have or can get access to. "Science" covers medicine as well as various research fields. "Survival" is wilderness survival, tracking, riding, stuff like that. "Weapons" means things with a shorter range than guns and arrows, but either throwable or long enough so that they give you some range.

So, you can see how picking 15 such broad skills means you can be good at a whole lot of stuff. And really crazy awesome at a narrower bunch of stuff.

But where things start getting really awesome, and really coming to life, is with the heart of the Spirit of the Century system: aspects. A character's aspects are basically just a list of ten things about that character. Almost any kind of thing: physical stuff, personality stuff, background stuff, relationships with other characters, signature possessions, running plot shticks, even catch phrases. Here's a list of examples, and you can also look at characters I've posted on this blog for more (they're mostly SotC characters, if not all).

Aspects make you better at doing whatever they logically suggest you ought to be good at. So if you've got a "Crusty Old Prospector" aspect, you can use that to get bonuses on rolls when you're trying to dig, look for water in the wilderness, appraise gold, and maybe even for stuff like drinking moonshine or driving strangers away from your property. The important limiting factor is that whenever you want an aspect to help you, you have to pay a "fate point".

The thing that makes this really cool is where fate points come from: You get them by following your aspects when they lead you into trouble. So if your Crusty Old Prospector pisses off a friend by being cantankerous, or gets distracted by gold, you'd get fate points for your trouble. On the other hand, if you want him to overcome his natural inclinations, you've gotta pay a fate point, instead.

So the game really rewards you for playing your character. And it's really important to make an interesting one, with foibles and weaknesses as well as strengths. Not only do they provide fate points, but they can really drive the game's plot.

Now, the final element of a SotC character is their stunts. These are like the feats of a D&D character: they let you break the rules in little ways, give you bonuses in specific situations, allow one of your skills to do more stuff than it normally does, give you things like allies, vehicles, or weapons, etc.

...But the list of available stunts is frigging huge, and it can really bog down character creation. So, personally, I'm kind of leaning towards the idea of just skipping stunts all together, and maybe using this stuntless rule variant. It just lets aspects do stunt-like stuff, and aspects are the coolest part of the system, anyway.

Anyway, here's where everybody should post ideas and questions about all their character concepts, and we'll figure out a way to get all your dudes tied together.

[RPGs] Skype campaign planning!

Spirit of the Century coverRight, so I'm planning to run some kind of game via Skype and probably MapTool. Weekends definitely make the most sense, and I'm leaning towards Saturday afternoons/evenings (Chicago time, anyway). The game? Spirit of the Century, because it's a damned great game, easy to learn, and should be very playable via Skype. Best of all, the rules are available for free.

...But there's a lot of different stuff we can do with SotC. Its default pulp mode is loads of fun, but people have hacked it for space opera, martial arts, and various flavors of fantasy (low magic stuff, generally). I think it could do a hell of a cool horror or post-apocalypse game, too.

So here's where I ask my prospective players just what they want to play. (And I'm doing it in public because I don't have everybody's email address.) What are you guys interested in, genre-wise? What you be interested in in doing or being in the game? I'm kind of digging the idea of some sword and sorcery (or sword and planet!) stuff, or maybe a shady-adventurers-and-smugglers-in-a-spaceship thing in the vein of Firefly. Or crazy, cartoonish post-apocalypse like Thundarr the Barbarian, maybe. Something kind of simple is probably best, at least to start with. On the other hand, SotC makes social conflicts just as interesting and complicated as physical ones, so something involving a lot of debate, persuasion, and interrogation would totally work.

I'm open to some format gimmicks, too. SotC has some cool stuff for running organizations (gangs, companies, armies, countries, whatever), so if you want to be the leaders of some kind of group or community, that's no problem. Also, if you want to play multiple characters in a troupe-style thing, that's cool, too.

Hell, this is getting long. Okay, interested parties, just comment here and let me know what you're interested in doing. Also, what you think of playing on Saturday afternoons/evenings (time zone issues, blah blah)?

Monday, April 20, 2009

[RPGs] Warriors & Warlocks character: Khal Konos

So lately I'm really excited about a recent Mutants & Masterminds supplement called "Warriors & Warlocks". It's a fairly brilliant guide to repurposing M&M for fantasy campaigns, specifically in the style of those old sword and sorcery comics you don't really see anymore. While, for the most part, you could already do all this with M&M (I've always said it's a generic system masquerading as a superhero game), Warriors & Warlocks offers lots of great suggestions and a few actual rules tweaks.

Anyway, inspired largely by fellow M&M fan Greywulf, I am driven to create characters just for kicks, and then post them here to justify the time spent.

My first W&W character is a semi-corrupted sorcerer antihero I'm calling Khal Konos. All his magic is ritual-based, but he's pretty good at that since he's a friggin genius and also a master of arcane lore. His magic won't help him when bandits ambush him in the night, but if he's got a chance to plan ahead--especially since he's also got the Master Plan feat--he should be pretty terrifyingly effective.

He packs a falchion that he's pretty good with, but he mostly does his fighting with the Doom Hand, a taloned glove-thing made out of leather, bone, and volcanic glass. It projects a big, three-dimensional shadow hand that Khal can use to whittle away at his foes' life force (that is, their Constitution) from a short distance away. He also wears a suit of asymmetrical, scavenged-looking studded leather, but he's better at avoiding attacks than withstanding them.

Finally, his eyes have been changed, enhanced, and made kind of disturbing lookin by some magical ritual. He can now see and read magical auras, as well as being able to see in the dark. Unfortunately, his eyes are solid black and the skin around them is weirdly scarred, so he normally wears a fierce terracotta mask over the top half of his face. Inevitably, though, either the mask or the eyes are going to make people suspicious and hostile from time to time, which I figure counts as a complication for purposes of picking up Hero Points.

Man, I'd love to play this character in an actual game. The possibilities that come with the Ritualist feat are huge, so much so that I don't think you even really need any more magic system than that. Not for a sword and sorcery setting, anyway.

Khal Konos

Power Level
Power Level: 6
Power Points: 90
Max Attack: 4
Max Defense: 8
Max Save DC: 8
Max Toughness: 4

STR: 12 (+1)
DEX: 10 (+0)
CON: 14 (+2)
INT: 20 (+5)
WIS: 12 (+1)
CHA: 12 (+1)

Attack 0 (Melee 4, Ranged 0)
Defense 8 (4 flat-footed)
Initiative 0

Toughness 4
Fortitude 5
Reflex 3
Will 5

Bluff 4 (+5)
Climb 0 (+1)
Concentration 8 (+9)
Diplomacy 6 (+7)
Disable Device 4 (+9)
Disguise 0 (+1)
Escape Artist 0 (+0)
Gather Info 0 (+1)
Handle Animal 0 (+1)
Intimidate 0 (+1)
Investigate 4 (+9)
Knowledge: Arcane Lore 10 (+15)
Knowledge: History 6 (+11)
Knowledge: Tactics 4 (+9)
Medicine 4 (+5)
Notice 4 (+5)
Ride 6 (+6)
Search 6 (+11)
Sense Motive 6 (+7)
Stealth 4 (+4)
Survival 4 (+5)
Swim 0 (+1)

Common (or whatever), some ancient tongue

Attack Focus, Melee (4)
Master Plan
Second Chance (vs. mind control effects)

Super-Senses (detect magic, ranged, accurate, acute)
Super-Senses (vision counters darkness)
Device, hard to lose: Doom Hand (Drain Constitution +8, slow fade 1, extended reach 1)

studded leather armor (Protection +2)
falchion (Damage +4, mighty, improved critical 2)

creepy damned eyes

Abilities 20 + Skills 20 (80 ranks) + Feats 9 + Powers 15 + Combat 16 + Saves 10 – Drawbacks 0 = 90 / 90