Saturday, May 31, 2008

LWaSH player character tokens

I think I've actually found a solution to that whole customizable token thing I was musing about a while back. I got the idea from a bunch of magnets Brigid had on her refrigerator. She sent me a link to the instructions she'd used to make them, and I basically just did the same thing minus the magnet part.

LWaSH player character tokens

Basically, I just bought a pile of these things, and all I've gotta do print out my character portraits and paste 'em on. The really remarkable bit? If I run out of glass bits, I can just scrub off the portraits and reuse them.

Anyway, we've been using these things in Lost Worlds and Secret Histories to represent the PCs on my simple little hand-drawn maps. Range and positioning in Spirit of the Century is handled in a really fuzzy way, using general "zones" instead of any kind of exact measurements, so playing it fast-and-loose totally works. I think I might get a magnetic whiteboard to draw maps on, and maybe actually add magnets to the character tokens. That could be pretty convenient.

Oh, one other thing: SotC frequently features hordes of minor antagonists ("minions") who really don't rate their own tokens, and would really start to crowd the map if they got 'em. So, instead of inch-and-a-half glass bits with pictures, we've been using those little "glass stones" people use to keep track of point pools in other games.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

[video games] Okay, so I've got Age of Conan

Sethek, Stygian Tempest of Set

It's pretty late, and I've only just started playing (level 10, here, which is basically nothing), so I'm only going to give a few quick impressions, here.

First of all, my only character so far is the dude above: Sethek, of the sinister, pseudo-Egyptian Stygian culture (I note that they're not using the word "race", here). His class is Tempest of Set, meaning I get to call upon my malevolent snake god to annihilate my enemies with lightning, all the while yelling "SET IS THE BEST GOD" at the screen. It's pretty badass. I'll note here that the various cultures all have different available classes. The Stygians, being the only people who would worship Set, have exclusive access to the Tempest of Set class. They're also the only people dabble in sorcery, so the three non-priestly spellcaster classes are all theirs, too. I normally bitch about this kind of thing, but in this case it's just good, respectable loyalty to the source material.

Anyway, Age of Conan is definitely fun. Hell, Charlie went all the way up to 14th level while I was at work (surprising absolutely no one by playing a Stygian necromancer), and I'm most definitely up past my bedtime. That said, it's not by any means a revolutionary new kind of MMORPG. It follows the basic model established by Everquest, and even carries over the now-standard refinements of World of Warcraft (seriously, Blizzard should try and claim patent rights on yellow question marks as a cash-in-your-quest-item-here indicator). Really, the main things Age of Conan adds to Warcraft's formula are actiony combat and nipples.

Okay, that ain't even close to fair, really. There's a lot more to talk about, but I need to go to sleep in a minute. So for now let me just warn everybody about something kind of unusual about this game that I think hasn't gotten enough attention: its goddamned hard drive requirements.

Hard Drive: 32 GB free space

Yes, Age of Conan requires 32 gigs of free space. I have no idea why. My whole goddamned Steam installation is barely more than half that. Does anybody out there (who hasn't recently bought a new machine or HD) actually have 32 empty gigs just lying around? I had to buy a new damned external drive in order to install this freaking thing.

Right, it's 2:30am, and I've got work tomorrow. I've got a lot more--good and bad--to say about AoC, but for now, I need some sleep.

LWaSH session 6: Loose ends resolved

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories

Herr Wolf Abraham Hale Marko Kraljevic Robin Stormchaser

Okay, so in last night's session of Lost Worlds and Secret Histories (5/27/2008), we finally finished up the big fight from the previous session, and also played out that phonecall that called Myrna away from the main action back in session 4. Herr Wolf pretty much stayed preoccupied throughout this session, since his player had other commitments, and Arthur Chamberlain remained absent, since his player was sick. Also, this was Abraham Hale's last session (unless I end up NPCing him or something), since his player is moving.

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories
Summer, 1937 - London, England

Myrna, called away from the rest of the team's investigation by a phone call, finds herself on the receiving end of aggressive questions and legal threats from Sergeant Alphonse Pendergast of the police. He demands to know just what she and her associate (Marko) said to Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby when they questioned him just about an hour before, and also warns her to drop her own investigation into the Swillby affair and let the police handle things.

Myrna, being very socially capable, manages to defuse his anger, and gets him to admit the reason for his sudden attention: Sir Felix left his hotel quite abruptly after talking to Myrna and Marko, leaving the police no way to contact him, and little clue as to his state of mind. The Sergeant is suspicious of the Van Helsing Society's mysterious nature--it's not exactly public knowledge that they investigate the supernatural, after all--but Myrna's mildly coquettish demeanor flusters him badly, and she manages to put him off the scent. However, she, in turn, is cowed by his legal authority, and disengages from the conversation before he can extract any promises of noninterference from her, but also before she can get much information out of him.

Meanwhile, back at Bad Bob's warehouse headquarters, Abraham Hale, Marko Kraljević, Robin Stormchaser, and Herr Wolf are mopping up the remains of their fight against the blackshirts and Nazi agents.

Behind the warehouse, Blackshirt leader Robert "Bad Bob" Roberts flees his one-time ally, the knife-wielding Nazi madman known as Herr Zahn, through the rainy night, hoping to escape in a truck with his surviving henchmen. Robin, fearless as ever, chases after Zahn, and Marko races out of the warehouse after her. Abraham, all the way on the other side of the warehouse and suffering from a minor leg wound, decides to get back in the car and simply drive to the action. Wolf is still inside the warehouse, bandaging the grievous wounds Abe inflicted on Herr Blitz, the Nazi turncoat.

Robin shoves Herr Zahn, and the berserk German slips on the wet cobblestones, falling into a puddle. Instead of picking himself up, however, he tears open his shirt, revealing a metal plate covered in arcane designs. He turns his knife on himself, hacking and sawing at the light-gague chains the hold the plate onto his body. Robin and Marko aren't occult experts on Herr Wolf's level, but they do recognize that whatever that plate is supposed to do, breaking the chains that fasten it to Zahn will stop its effects, not activate them.

Happy that Herr Zahn is distracting the Van Helsing team, Bad Bob and his five remaining blokes pile into the lorry and start up the engine.

It's about then that Abraham comes around the corner, turning hard so that his car fishtails on the wet street, skidding towards the blackshirts' truck sideways. Abe leans out the window, and--with typical flawless accuracy--fires a round into the lorry's gas tank. The truck explodes, blasting Bad Bob and four surviving--but somewhat concussed and scorched--blackshirts into the street. Part of the car flies off and hits another nearby truck, this one a flatbed stacked with petrol barrels. The steel drums come loose . . . falling in a heap on top of the prone Herr Zahn, crushing one of his arms completely and knocking him unconscious.

The blackshirts, deprived of their escape, stand and fight, until exploding fuel barrels and sheer terror of Marko's inhuman resilience whittle their numbers down. Eventually, Bad Bob stands alone, shot in the shoulder by Abe and unable to handle his shotgun. Robin, taking advantage of his injury, simply manhandles him into the trunk of the Van Helsing Society car.

Police whistles begin to sound in the distance. Abraham delivers a dire--and entirely honest--warning to the two blackshirts who surrendered during the fight, forever cementing a very healthy terror of the Van Helsing Society into the English far-right community. They run like hell when told to do so.

The police whistles are getting closer, and now the bobbies can be heard running on the cobblestones. Marko dashes back into the warehouse to ransack its office and retrieve Sir Felix's stolen parcel, and also collects Herr Wolf and Herr Blitz, exiting at the front of the building. Robin and Abe--with Bad Bob still in their trunk--drive the length of the warehouse to meet them there, and see the remaining petrol cans atop Herr Zahn explode in their rear-view mirror. Marko, Wolf, and Blitz pile in, and the whole group speeds back to the Society clubhouse.

There, Abraham interrogates Bad Bob, who sings like a bird after a little persuasion. Bob reveals that the Nazi party has been supplying his gang and other blackshirt groups with money and weapons for a little less than a year, now. Just days ago, these three German agents--Blitz, Zahn, and Stahl--showed up and demanded a favor in return: They were to procure a postage parcel from Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby's flat. All they were told was that the Nazis were interested in something a scientist named Bagsnip had found in Africa, and they needed information in that parcel to pinpoint his location.

The blackshirts stole the package for them (not knowing they'd left behind a couple items that fell out of the box: the photo and Magnetophone recording which were later found at the scene of the crime), and Herr Blitz managed to radio the vital information to some unknown party shortly before the Van Helsing team tore into their headquarters.

So now the team knows that Bagsnip has indeed found some dangerous artifact, and that the Nazis don't have it yet, but do know where to find him. With any luck, our next session will feature a trip to Africa!

I was really surprised that Myrna didn't completely destroy the Sergeant in her social conflict with him. She really outclassed him in every way, but somehow the dice were just not on her side, that night. Marko had a really awesome moment when he actually got to invoke his own complication ("Full of Holes", or something like that) to improve his Intimidation role (with much success, too). Abraham was definitely the star of this session (appropriate--since it's his last--but totally unintentional), managing to do lots of great trick shots and scaring the hell out of people. He totally shut down Herr Zahn right before the Nazi bastard was about to become a real problem for the party. It was beautiful.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

LWaSH session 5: War in a warehouse!

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories

Abraham Hale Marko Kraljevic Robin Stormchaser Herr Wolf

Man, it's taken me forever to get around to writing this one up. This session was played Tuesday, 5/13/2008 (not 5/20/2008, because people just didn't feel up to gaming that night), and while it was probably our longest session to date, it should be simple enough to summarize as it was basically just one big fight scene.

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories
Summer, 1937 - London, England

Following directions they extracted from the blackshirts they roughed up last session, Abraham, Marko, Robin, and Herr Wolf come to a dockside warehouse where the alleged perpetrators of the Swillby burglary--another blackshirt gang run by a man called "Bad Bob"--are reputed to have their headquarters.

Abe hears German and English voices inside raised in agitated debate. Robin, uninterested in making plans of attack or investigating quietly, simply knocks on the front personnel door. Abe waits for the footsteps to approach the door, and then kicks it open, knocking unconscious the blackshirt behind it. Not to be outdone, Marko grabs the giant cargo doors, and tears them open as well.

Inside the cluttered, smoky warehouse, Bad Bob and his gang of blackshirts--a much tougher, more criminal, less political bunch than the ones the PCs beat so badly last session--are rushing to investigate the commotion, and all of them are armed with guns. To make matters worse, there are also three Nazi agents there, all wearing long, dark-gray coats and hats in an attempt to be inconspicuous. They are...

• Herr Blitz: lightning-wielding war sorcerer!

• Herr Zahn: knife-wielding bersker with unnatural speed and ferocity!

• Herr Stahl: hulking, steel-reinforced, man-machine abomination!

The fight that follows is long, full of awesome stunts, and increasingly complicated. Abraham fights with a tommygun in just one hand and a pistol in the other, shooting chains and pipes from the warehouse ceiling to come crashing down on his foes. Robin dashes in fearlessly, using her homespun charm to convince some blackshirts to surrender, and her mysterious connection with the thunderbird to harness Herr Blitz's own lightning against them. Marko wades into hordes of lessed men like a titan among dolls, fighting with both his fists and mace. Herr Wolf uses his arcane knowledge and sinister charisma to much greater effect than his gun.

A major turning point in the conflict comes when Wolf frees the bound lightning elementals that gave Blitz his powers, causing the sorcerer's book of magic to be burned away in the process. Wolf soon manages to convince Blitz to turn his coat, but no sooner does the Nazi sorcerer defect than Abraham shoots, blinds, and nearly kills him! Wolf made his pitch in German, of course, and Abe distrusts foreign talk almost as much as he hates Nazis.

Seeing the inevitable defeat of his side, Bad Bob flees the scene, taking a few of his blackshirts with him. But Herr Zahn, incensed at this betrayal, chases after him. Robin, in turn, chases both of them out into the rainy London night.

Meanwhile, back in the warehouse, Marko defeats Her Stahl, and puts the self-loathing proto-cyborg out of his misery by crushing his head. The remaining blackshirts surrender. But Robin is chasing after the maniac Zahn his equally-loathesome prey all alone!

We left off on that cliffhanger. Assuming we can get the right people together for tonight's session, we should be resolving it in just a few hours! And, hopefully, I won't take two whole weeks to do the writeup for it.

Stuff I learned: Real fights in Spirit of the Century--as opposed to the cakewalk I handed them last time--are even more fun . . . but it's possible to go overboard. SotC PCs are tough enough that they're really tough to threaten, but it's very possible to hand them a fight that'll just take retardedly long. Also, the Fate ladder is kind of a pain in the ass. I hate being told that somebody got a result of "Fantastic" and then trying to remember if that's actually a +6 or +7 in real money. (Absurdly, I still remember the descriptiors-to-numbers conversions for the freaking Marvel Super Heroes RPG. Now that is some wasted brain space.)

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Casting actors for RPG characters

This is a cool little trick I'm looking forward to using a lot more: using the vast supplies of nice, clear actor headshots out there as an easy (and, often, immediately evocative) way to illustrate what an RPG character looks like. In the Spirit of the Century campaign I'm running, we've got player characters who look like Lance Henriksen and David Tennant (among other people). Also, there are NPCs who look like Christopher Walken and Bob Hoskins. Now, we've also got characters who use historical figures or total unknowns for their portraits, but using people we've all seen in movies and television is especially cool for this reason: It doesn't just show you what the character looks like, but also suggests a lot about how they act and talk.

Now, credit where credit is due: I think I might've read about this idea in an actual play write-up of a game called Geiger Counter before I actually tried it in my game. (I'm not really sure about the chronology.) This is a really interesting-looking little game--still under construction, apparently--by a dude named Jonathan Walton. It's intended to simulate the sort of sci-fi and horror movies where some monster (or monsters) inexorably kill off most of the cast, until the final survivor (or survivors) defeats or escapes them at last. (So, you dig how utterly brilliant the title is, referencing not only radiation, but H.R. Geiger's Alien designs, and the character-by-character countdown of such films?)

So, ever since reading that AP post, I've been thinking about how a great big pile of head shots of reasonably well-known actors (especially character actors!) would be a goddamned awesome gaming tool, utterly perfect for making up new characters on the fly. It'd be an especially good fit for modern-ish games with a cinematic tone, but I don't think it'd cause too much cognitive dissonance if I told my group that a mercenary captain in some Dungeons & Dragons encounter is being played by Brian Thompson. (And I'd definitely want to have a photo on hand, of course, so that I don't have to tell them "You know, the alien bounty hunter guy from The X-Files.")

So now I'm just wondering if there's somewhere I can go to just download huge, retarded piles of Hollywood head shots. Google has not been too helpful, so far. Failing the discovery of a single source, I guess I'll just start putting together a great big list of appropriate names (perhaps assisted by Fametracker's awesome Hey! It's That Guy! section) and start hitting Google Image Search.

Alien invasions for superhero RPGs

Dude called Praetorian over on started a thread asking for ideas on what kind of alien invasion to throw at his players in their superhero campaign, and I posted a couple of replies that were so excessive I figured I might as well reuse them here.

Longpost is loooooooong.

Reasons for the invasion

Colonization - Pretty straight forward: The aliens want some lebensraum, and they don't mind taking it from somebody else.

Conquest - This is distinct from colonization in that the aliens definitely want to keep the humans around. Hell, maybe they don't even plan on moving to Earth themselves. They just want to rule us, using humanity for slave labor, or establishing an economic hegemony over us, or maybe they just want to be worshipped.

Slavery - Similar to conquest, except they only want the people, not the planet.

Resources - They've run out of (or just want more of) something they need and we've got, like water or air or some such. They don't really need to conquer the Earth, necessarily, just take a devastating quantity of the good stuff and go.

Food - Okay, this technically falls under "resources", but I'd say that if the aliens came to Earth to eat us--especially if they're only interested in humans, not all the other tasty creatures we've got here--it results in a pretty different scenario. Especially if, instead of just grabbing a few thousand people and running, they want to actually take over and run the Earth like a cattle ranch.

The McGuffin - They want something from us, but it's not a question of basic need. Maybe it's some powerful or sacred artifact that they have to ransack the earth to find, or maybe they're seeking the source of our superheroes' powers.

Just plain theft - The aliens want our stuff. They want to steal our luxury goods for sale on the intergalactic black market, or they want two of every creature on Earth for their zoo, or their emperor is fascinated by our artwork. Hell, maybe they're obsessive collectors with interest in some weird, specific thing, like cars or guns. Maybe they want all our information, so they're stealing books and servers.

War for war's sake - Maybe it's only the fight itself that they're after. Maybe the aliens have some cultural inclination (or religious duty) to go out and beat up on other civilizations. Hell, maybe they even had to sit back and watch humanity become more advanced for a few thousand years before we became worth fighting. In fact, maybe they've quietly helped our development in preparation for the big event, both by sneaking us new technology and by provoking wars.

Sport - The aforementioned Predator option. I'd say this is distinct from war for war's sake in that it's a more individual kind of thrillkilling, rather than a civilization vs. civilization thing. Maybe it's some kind of religious or cultural rite, or maybe it's literally a sport, possibly even televised back on the homeworld. Maybe there are even competing teams, each trying to rack up more kills than the other, or maybe one team is even tasked with defending the humans. Hell, maybe it's not even about killing people, but they just fuck up our shit in the course of their volcano-surfing contest or whatever.

Extreme xenophobia - Due to some very bizarre and horrible religious or philosophical dogma, the aliens cannot allow other intelligent life to exist. Anywhere. They started firing up the war rockets the moment they caught our early radio transmissions.

Fear - Like xenophobia, but a little bit less irrational: They want to exterminate (or cripple) humanity because they're afraid we are or will eventually become a threat to their own race. This might be because we're warlike and almost advanced enough to come and invade their world, or maybe our capacity to produce superhumans makes us potentially far more powerful than them, or maybe we're just some kind of cultural threat: They don't like the ideas their own citizens are getting from viewing our television signals.

Altruism - The aliens are here to take over for our own good! It's just the green man's burden to conquer and civilize less advanced species! They'll rule us and exploit us, sure, but they'll end all war and sickness, too! And isn't their culture just better than ours? We're only resisting because we don't know what's good for us!

Invasion shticks

Shapeshifting - Maybe they use it to disguise themselves, Skrull-style, or maybe they just use it to kick ass, regenerate, and adapt to whatever the heroes throw at them.

Telepathy - A pretty standard trope just to let aliens communicate with people. Of course, at higher levels of power, you start to get mind reading, mind control, subtle mental suggestions, illusions, etc. Hell, if they've got enough range, maybe the aliens don't even need to invade physically!

Mind control - This deserves its own section, as it's not necessarily dependent upon telepathy. Maybe the aliens' whole invasion plan involves the construction of some vastly powerful mind control device, or putting drugs in our water and subliminal messages on TV, or kidnapping important people and implanting stuff in their heads. They might end up doing all their real work through human puppets. The heroes could probably go a long time before they even find out what the aliens look like, which can certainly be awesome. Also, you could all Plan Nine from Outer Space and have the aliens control dead people. Or, a bit stranger, it might only work on animals.

Possession - Similar to mind control, of course, but I'd categorize this as a more personal kind of domination: one alien possessor to one human victim. Maybe the aliens are biological creatures that physically enter or attach to their victims (à la Heinlein's puppet masters or the aliens from the War of the Worlds TV series),

Robots - Maybe the aliens are just self-directing, self-replicating machines. They could conceivably come in any number of purpose-designed forms, and destroying one physical unit might not harm the consciousness that's using it. Hell, all of the robots might have just one consciousness. Also, they might build bodies that can pass as human.

Tiny aliens - It might seem like a weird bit, but with enough craftiness and technology, tiny aliens could be a frightening threat. They might be be very difficult to spot or hit, certainly. Also, they could ride around in big, human-looking robots.

Titanic aliens - This could mean something like Cthulhu, the Celestials, or just the Zentradi. You wouldn't need all that many of them in order to make a perfectly viable invasion.

Alien superheroes - Like the (kind of hilarious) Shi'ar Imperial Guard, it makes sense that the aliens would have their own super-powered beings. Maybe they're the whole invasion force, or maybe they're just there to keep the heroes busy while the alien military does its work.

Divide and conquer - Nothing weakens your enemy more than getting them to fight amongst themselves. You could set up the whole invasion situation with some strife between terrestrial nations or super-powered factions that later on turns out to be orchestrated by the invaders.

Divide and conquer 2 - On the other hand, the aliens might openly court some human faction in a "When we take over, we'll put you in charge of this place" kind of deal.

Energy-based aliens - They might spiritual or psychic entities, ill-defined "cosmic energy" beings, sentient computer programs, or self-propagating patterns of electromagnetic energy. In all cases, of course, the obvious question will be "How in the hell do we kill something like this?"

Fluid aliens - Liquid-, gas-, or plasma-based creatures might have some of the immunities to attack that energy-based creatures would, but would at least be solid matter. Maybe they're shapeless masses that can only be destroyed by powerful energy attacks, or maybe they'd be semi-structures blobs that could only survive in extremely exotic environments.

Mineral-based aliens - That's right: ROCK MONSTERS. Not only would they naturally be insanely strong and resilient, but they could have weird, crystal-based technology.

Hive mind - A classic bit, of course: The aliens are all just parts of a single entity, all linked by telepathy or radio waves or whatever. They might seem insanely brave, as each one is just another body, easily sacrificed for the greater entity's goals. They might be able to incorporate human--and superhuman--bodies into their whole. They might, in fact, have no real unity of species, instead being made up of many different planets' dominated creatures.

Castes - Slightly connected to the hive mind bit, maybe the alien species is divided into specialized, physiologically distinct castes, ant style. The Bugs from Starship Troopers are a good example of this.

Virus - The aliens might deploy some kind of biological weapon, or they might actually be a dangerous microbe. Maybe the only "aliens" the heroes get to fight are infected Earth creatures, mutated and dominated by an alien infection. Naturally, the vector of transmission becomes incredibly important, here, as does the race to create a cure or vaccine. And, if a cure is possible, is it okay to kill infected humans?

Interdimensional invasion - There's no reason the aliens need to come from another planet, right? If instead they come from another dimension, they might be utterly bizarre beings that depend upon--and even bring with them--different physical laws . . . or, on the other hand, they might be humans (or hominids, or other Earth creatures) from a slightly or drastically different historical or evolutionary timeline.

Magic - Maybe the aliens are just sufficiently advanced, or maybe their technology really is some kind of fundamentally different willpower-based reality manipulation that we might as well call real magic. Maybe their actual physical gear (clothing, weapons, etc.) looks--and is--incredibly primitive, but their "magic" makes it possible for them to get to Earth and beat up on armies and superheroes.

Biological technology - This might be an overused bit, but it's still awesome. Living space ships and weapons, aliens that come in thousands of purpose-grown forms, the harvesting and implementation of superhuman DNA . . . lots of possibilities for cool stuff, here.

Energy-based technology - Kinda like magic, sure, but the trappings would be a little bit different. I'm picturing something like the divine weapons of Hindu myth, here.

The aliens are human! - Maybe they're a separate civilization of humans who left Earth (one way or another) thousands of years ago, maybe they're from another dimension, maybe there's some goofy panspermia explanation, or maybe it's just a completely unlikely coincidence.

Politeness - Sure, they have to invade Earth for whatever reason, but they're not assholes about it. They're very sorry about having to kill people, and they're perfectly willing to talk rationally about why it's completely necessary. Maybe they've even got honestly good reasons for what they're doing, which will just make things morally complicated for the heroes.

Factionalism - Humanity isn't a unified species by any stretch of the imagination, so why should we expect other intelligent races to be monolithic, undivided cultures? Maybe the invaders are just criminals or a rogue nations, and other aliens of their species want to protect us from them. Or maybe none of them care about us, but there are groups among them that hate each other far more than they hate us. Or maybe they're nominally united and in agreement about the invasion, but there are some fractures there are the PCs could go to work on, or a more rational faction they could try to make peace with.

Cultural influence - Like Baby Cakes says, "When the aliens come, they will be so great in so many different ways that everything we ever thought was cool will then make us ashamed." If the invasion is public knowledge and drags on for a while (and especially if it's less than completely violent), some people are going to start thinking the invaders are awesome.

Terraforming - If the aliens are planning on hanging around after the invasion (and if they don't really care about what happens to the locals), they might start by changing the place to be a little bit more like home. In fact, maybe the people of Earth won't even know they're being invaded until the sun starts getting smaller and the air smells a little bit like methane.

Life support gear - If Earth isn't perfectly to their liking, it's reasonable that the aliens will be running around with some kind of support system, from simple face masks or goggles, to straight-up space suits or environment tanks. Naturally, their life-support systems are vulnerable . . . but maybe they're actually dangerous to destroy due to the immense pressure, toxic gasses, strange energies, etc. they contain.

[comics] Avengers: The Initiative: Oh, snap!

Avengers: The Initiative #13, 2008Okay, as long as I'm talking about comics, I might as well say some nice stuff. In Avengers: The Initiative #13 (written by Christos N. Gage, drawn by Steve Uy), lame flash-in-the-pan character Prodigy lays this awesome dis on lame perennial character Henry Pym. I just love it when characters (and writers) in comics actually remember shit like this: Hank smacking the crap out of his wife in The Avengers #213 (writer: Jim Shooter, penciller: Bob Hall). (Damn, can you believe this dude is back is to wearing his costume from 1981? Wow. Whose idea was that?)

There's a contingent of nerds out there who are quick to point out the fact that the infamous panel was an isolated incident that was intended to be seen as wildly at odds with Pym's established personality, and turned out to be the result of some kind of manipulation by some forgettable (and, indeed, forgotten) character called Egghead (not making this up, serious), and I guess they've got a point. But I don't think the dude was actually being mind controlled or anything, so I figure he still deserves to get abused for the incident. Also, it achieved LOL, and that's all the justification need.

So, yeah, I'm kinda digging The Initiative. I even really like their quasi-costume of a pair of camo pants and a shirt with an individual logo on it . . . but it really gets pretty lame when they start with an existing costume and just add the pants to that.

Avengers: The Initiative #13, 2008

Prodigy, you fuckin tool. (To be fair, his costume is the source of his powers, but in that case, they really oughta waive the pants and boots.)

Saturday, May 24, 2008

[comics] Fantastic Four: Oh, man, I did not read that.

From Fantastic Four #557, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Bryan Hitch. This is Reed Richards, here, turning down some old girlfriend who just tried to get him to leave his wife for her. Earlier in this issue he managed to figure out she was still in love with him in what I'd call a moment of wildly uncharacteristic social sensitivity (for fuck's sake, this is dude who basically has the assburgers). And now he brings out a cheesy-ass Hollywood line like this? Millar, you are fucking fired.

[dream blog] The pet department

fish tanksI was in some kind of obnoxiously upscale department store--so upscale, in fact, that it had a wine section, complete with warning about what you're not allow to wear into it, lest you be able to smuggle something out under your clothes.

There was something else in the wine section, though: A fish tank shaped like a six-foot-tall, octagonal pillar. The only creature I noticed in there wasn't a fish, but a rough, dark-green pod-like thing, just smaller than a ping-pong ball. At the front of the thing was a gulping mouth, with six staring eyes arranged around it (two larger ones at the sides of the mouth, and two smaller pairs above and below it). Then the odd, swimming pod unfolded a set of four legs, and I realized it was just a frog or toad (if one with six eyes).

The store also had a pet department, consisting of a large wall covered in more conventionally-shaped fish tanks, all facing the furniture department, containing a weird variety of amphibians, mollusks, and marine arthropods. I think there might have been some fish, as well, because one tank contained a mass of tangled, iridescent filaments that appeared to have tiny fins, scales, and staring black eyes.

The creatures that really interested me, though, weren't even stored behind glass. At about arm level, there was a row of open-air habitats which contained a horseshoe crab, an octopus (both of these oddly unconcerned that they weren't under water), and a huddle of squirming, boomarang-headed diplocauluses (which I assumed to have been cloned from prehistoric cells).

Stranger still were the fat, glassy-skinned salamanders which swam through the air, occasionally alighting on my shoulder or bumbling into my face. I dismissed these with annoyance, not realizing a flying salamander was a much more impossible creature than a land-dwelling octopus.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Monstrous new header images

Heya, folks. I figured I could put more in my rotating header image thing than just my own photos, so I'm adding some new stuff: a pile of monster movie posters taken from recent posts by the extremely awesome Monster Brains. That site shares monster images from all of human history, and it's easily one of my favorite blogs. Do yourself a favor and have a look through its archives.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

LWaSH character: Herr Wolf

Yeah, I saved the most insane character concept for last.

Herr WolfHerr Wolf
The Man Who Used to Be Hitler
(played by Jim)

• Stoically Take the Pain
• Misunderstood Artist
• Pride of the Master Race
• Inducted Illuminatus
• Unausprechlichen Namen
• Humility of the Fall
• Secret Historian
• I Am the True Hitler!
• "Guys, We Need to Focus!"
• Hitler Must Be Stopped!

+5: Resolve
+4: Mysteries, Rapport
+3: Academics, Art, Intimidation
+2: Athletics, Awareness, Empathy, Guns
+1: Contacting, Endurance, Investigation, Stealth, Weapons

• Psychic
• Right Place, Right Time
• Smooth Recovery
• Unflappable
• Voices from Beyond

This version of Adolf Hitler--war veteran, failed artist, nationalist, Illuminatus, and occultist--performed a ritual to summon an angel that he hoped would grant the German people power and glory. And he succeeded. What he didn't expect, however, was that he'd call a fallen angel, or that it would fulfill its bargain by stealing his name and leading Germany to power in his place. So, yep, this character is the real Hitler, and the one running Nazi Germany is a demon.

Now reduced to a state of metaphysical namelessness, he cannot convince anyone of his old identity, regardless of the evidence he might offer. Instead, he must fall back on an old nickname, "Herr Wolf". It's still not a true, metaphysically-meaningful name, however, so people find it difficult to even really think about him. This is represented by the "Unausprechlichen Namen" aspect (German for "unspeakable name"). It can be useful when he wants to avoid being tracked down, but makes it essentially impossible for him to rise in the ranks of any organization again.

Naturally, his "Pride of the Master Race" aspect has already been a lot of fun. Since this is a pulp campaign set in 1937, I'm inevitably going to be setting up a lot of Nazis as antagonists . . . forcing Herr Wolf into situations of divided loyalties. He's already used such a situation to talk a Nazi agent into defecting when he found himself unable to simply shoot the man, and that was awesome. Especially when Abraham Hale (who hates Nazis and doesn't trust people who speak foreign languages around him) took disagreed violently with this decision, and decided to shoot the Nazi agent, who had just surrendered. Better yet, the Nazi survived, but lost an eye to Abe's hail of gunfire.

Herr Wolf has also been making great use of his Mysteries skill and Spirit of the Century's declaration mechanics. For those unfamiliar with the game, it actually lets you use a PC's knowledge in an area to decide what the facts are in a related situation, rather than simply rolling to see if the GM has to tell you about something they've already decided. It was just such a move which, in our third session, determined the powers of Abraham Hale's monkey idol.

Oh, and did you notice the slightly-Photoshopped mustache in Herr Wolf's portrait, there? I figured that, as Hitler's slightly-less-evil twin, he is absolutely required to have different facial hair from him.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

LWaSH character: Marko Kraljević

Marko KraljevicMarko Kraljević
Immortal Serbian Folk Hero
(played by Nesko)

• Marko's Mace
• Strength of 10 Strong Men
• Living Legend
• Short Fuse
• Man Out of Time
• Champion of Christianity
• Sees the Heart
• No Man Should Be Chained!
• Darling of High Society
• Because My Honor Demands It

+5: Might
+4: Endurance, Weapons
+3: Academics, Athletics, Resolve
+2: Alertness, Intimidation, Mysteries, Rapport
+1: Empathy, Engineering, Investigation, Stealth, Survival

• Animal Companion: horse (quality: Great, skill: Athletics)
• Herculean Strength
• Piledriver
• Weapon of Destiny: Marko's Mace (advancement: Arcane)
• Wrestler

Marko Kraljević (literally, "Marko, the King's Son") is a Serbian historical figure with a huge amount of heroic folklore attached to him. Since this is Spirit of the Century, this version of the character is definitely the mythic one. He was born in the 1300s and granted superhuman might by a vila (fairy), and grew up to become a great hero, fighting against the Turks. His death was prophesied to be be only a temporary state, one which would end when the Serbian people needed his protection once again.

In our campaign, Marko was awakened to fight the last gasp of the Ottoman Empire, a gigantic clockwork war machine called the Mechanical Turk. He and Abraham Hale defeated it together, in fact. Since then, the Van Helsing Society has taken him in, giving him a place in the world (and, not incidentally, making sure this supernatural superhuman isn't running around Europe unsupervised).

Marko is absolutely the heavy hitter in this campaign. Between his great strength and endurance, and his titanic, magical mace, he's terrifyingly effective in combat. He's not strictly a bruiser, however: His high Academics skill and friendly, inquisitive nature have given him plenty to do when there isn't a fight available.

LWaSH character: Myrna

Famous Reporter and Socialite
(played by Brigid)

• Debutante
• Educated at Wellesley
• Gay Divorcèe
• Intrepid Girl Reporter
• One True Love
• Another Tight Squeeze
• Not in the Face
• How Do I Make This Go?
• Damsel in Distress
• Fat Alimony Check

+5: Rapport
+4: Contacting, Investigation
+3: Alertness, Empathy, Resources
+2: Burglary, Deceit, Gambling, Resolve
+1: Art, Academics, Leadership, Sleight of Hand, Stealth

• Best Foot Forward
• International
• Linguist
• Popular Gal
• Quick Eye

Myrna doesn't have a last name, as far as I'm aware. The player was having trouble coming up with one that she liked, and I think we just decided that, after her divorce, she discarded her husband's name but didn't go back to her maiden name. Also, she's a famous society pages reporter, so she might be known by just her first name. She's somewhat based on Brenda Starr, down to her melodramatic love life. It's a different kind of pulp from what Spirit of the Century is usually about, but it is most definitely pulp.

Myrna is a totally non-fighty character--no combat skills whatsoever--so I'm actually really looking forward to throwing the characters fights while she's around, and seeing if she participates at all. SotC is a system that absolutely would make it possible for her to contribute, but then again, she's also got that "Not in the Face" aspect which should make her do her bes to stay out of the fray. I bet she could use her Alertness and Empathy to discover aspects about her enemies and share them with the more direct participants, though.

Of course, she's an absolute ninja in social situations. She already rolled so well while attempting to charm a police officer that I decided that he's now thoroughly smitten with her. I've yet to get her into a real social conflict, though. I've really got to try that out soon.

LWaSH character: Arthur Chamberlain

Arthur ChamberlainArthur Chamberlain
Vatican-Trained Thief of Ancient Artifacts
(played by Brian)

• Uncommon Thief
• Edinburgh Street Urchin
• Lupin the Mentor
• Artifact Acquisitions
• Many Identities, Many Personas
• Spear of Destiny
• Why Is It Always Cultists?
• It's the Artifacts, Stupid.
• Storm Cloud Stalkers
• Like Robin Hood with Style

+5: Burglary
+4: Deceit, Stealth
+3: Athletics, Mysteries, Sleight of Hand
+2: Academics, Contacting, Investigation, Rapport
+1: Alertness, Drive, Engineering, Guns, Resolve

• Clever Disguise
• Human Spider
• Personal Artifact: The Spear of Destiny (advances: transmutation, unnoticeable)
• Quick Exit
• Tripwire Sensibilities

This character's name is actually Oliver McIntosh. "Arthur Chamberlain" is actually just his English persona, and the one he uses while functioning as a member of the London-based Van Helsing Society. (He's also got a host of other international identities, named James McCrimmon, Rene Girard, Helmut Schwartz, Roger Johnson, and Igor Leonov.)

His deal is that he was born Scottish and poor, the son of an Edinburgh pickpocket. His father was eventually caught and hanged, and he was taken in by a Catholic-run orphanage. There, his natural talents for thieving were noticed, and the Vatican ended up grooming him as its "Artifact Acquisitions" expert. That is, training him to steal dangerous occult objects for either safekeeping or prudent destruction.

One object he actually held onto was the head of the Spear of Destiny. Interestingly, he's found that is has the ability to change into any simple object of similar size. Also, it has some property which causes people to overlook it if they aren't looking for it rather specifically. These qualities make one wonder if this artifact actually has anything to do with the spear that pierced Christ's side, or if it might be something else entirely.

Anyway, Arthur has so far only participated in the first bit of this adventure, and I'm sorry to say I was a really poor GM for him. We decided to stay behind any keep watch over the scene of a break-in (someone else's work, I should specify) while the rest of the party was elsewhere, and I didn't use that to hand him anything cool. I should have had some new player show up and attempt a second break-in, or at the very least compelled one of his aspects to encourage him to do something. Instead, the player just decided to infiltrate the police-controlled crime scene himself out of boredom.

Anyway, notes on some of his odder aspects: "Lupin the Mentor" refers to the fact that he was very possibly trained by the son of Arsène Lupin (and the father of Lupin III). "Storm Cloud Stalkers" refers to a curse he suffers as a result of an incident with a storm-related artifact: Storms follow where he goes. I wouldn't say it's literally cartoonish dark clouds hovering over his head, but I figure that the weather is just a lot more likely to turn stormy when he's around. (This actually offers huge opportunities for synergy between him and Robin's "Thunderbird" aspect. Plus, she's got a crush on him, so she's totally likely to be tagging along with him anyway.)

Anyway, I hope to do better by Arthur in the future.

Friday, May 16, 2008

LWaSH character: Robin Stormchaser

Robin StormchaserRobin Stormchaser
Daring Pilot of the "Blaze of Glory"
(played by Sarah)

• Tomboy Next Door
• Where the Action Is
• Thunderbird
• Smokin' Like a Chimney
• Storm Chaser
• Last of the Barnstormers
• "Anything Art Can Do, I Can Do Better!"
• Rashness of Youth
• Freedom from Religion
• Dread of the Depths

+5: Pilot
+4: Athletics, Engineering
+3: Fists, Mysteries, Science
+2: Alertness, Endurance, Rapport, Resolve
+1: Art, Contacting, Deceit, Resources, Survival

• Acrobat
• Barnstormer
• Fly by Night
• Personal Aircraft: The Blaze of Glory
• Walk Away from It

Robin is an extremely fun character. She's a farm girl who found herself piloting planes as part of relief operations during the dust bowl, and had a high-altitude encounter with an Indian thunderbird spirit. Despite the fact that she's very specifically built around the whole pilot concept, she's been able to take a lot of the roleplay spotlight and participate quite nicely in combat.

Her "Anything Art Can Do, I Can Do Better!" aspect is one of the coolest ones in the whole campaign. It refers to the party's thief type, Arthur Chamberlain, and is driven by Robin's unconscious (but entirely obvious) crush on the dashing young man. Theoretically, she could invoke it to actually do anything she sees him doing, but mostly it's been used to compel her to tag along with him. And, since he's a stealthy guy and she has no skill in that area, this could really get both of them into trouble. Also, her "Rashness of Youth" aspect is awesome for making the whole party get up and get going. Robin is utterly fearless and pretty impatient, and every male character in the party (this is 1937!) is driven to protect her, so she can really drag them along behind her.

She's proven she can take care of herself quite nicely, though. She just recently used that "Thunderbird" aspect--representing a mysterious connection to a Native American lightning spirit--to absorb electricity shed by a Nazi sorcerer's spells and use it to charge up her punches, which was exactly the kind of thing I'd hoped she'd end up doing with it.

Also, I really dig her shtick of trying out exotic tobaccos and any other theoretically-smokable substance she can fit into a hand-rolled cigarette.

I think the character's crowning brilliance, though, is her plane: The "Blaze of Glory" is defined as whatever plane she's currently flying, as long as the title's previous holder has been destroyed. This is going to fucking rock.

LWaSH character: Abraham Hale

Okay, it's about time I started posting character bios for the PCs from my Lost Worlds and Secret Histories game.

Abraham HaleAbraham Hale
Gun-Slinging Scourge of the Supernatural
(played by Gerry)

• Enemy of the Devil
• His Own Brand of Religion
• Gun Nut
• Wisdom of the West
• Finding the Weak Spot
• Rube Goldberg Shot
• The Harder They Fall
• Speak American, Damnit
• I Hate Nazzys!
• ...Woulda Given Us Wings

+5: Guns
+4: Alertness, Intimidation
+3: Endurance, Fists, Survival
+2: Athletics, Might, Stealth, Resolve
+1: Drive, Investigation, Mysteries, Rapport, Weapons

• Danger Sense
• Iron Determination
• Tracker
• Trick Shot
• Two Gun Joe

Originally conceived as sort of a 1930s gunslinger version of Solomon Kane, Abraham Hale has quickly developed into an extremely distinctive character. His background is a story about how his sister was possessed by a demon, and killed by their preacher father in his attempt to exorcise the thing, leading Abraham to conclude that the supernatural should be fought with guns rather than faith. (In fact, that "His Own Brand of Religion" aspect actually refers to the fact that he believes that God has abandoned the world, which is really interesting.) He then went on to fight cultists and other occult evils, including--just before the beginning of this campaign--a trip to Africa that involved pterodactyls. As Abraham's player says, every pulp hero has to go to Africa at some point.

He also likes a drink, now and again, a trait which was used to such great humorous effect ("Hell yeah, I'm drunk!") that I wish it had made it into his aspects.

His "Speak American, Damnit" and "I Hate Nazzys!" aspects have already been great for fueling intra-party conflict, as one of the other PCs actually used to be Adolf freaking Hitler. That "...Woulda Given Us Wings" aspect, representing his fear of flying, is also bound to be fun, since another PC is primarily a pilot. And the game's plot is already pointing back towards Africa...

Variant rule alert!
Abe's been making good use of his Trick Shot stunt in a way which might not be completely okay with the Spirit of the Century rules. The description of the stunt states that it gives a bonus to attacks against inanimate objects, and cannot be used to attack other characters. However, I'm letting him use it to attack characters indirectly by shooting down suspended objects and such. The way I'm handling it, the player has to come up with the details of the shot, set the target number himself, and make a Guns roll (with the +2 from Trick Shot). If the roll misses that target, the shot fails and nothing happens. If the roll meets or exceeds it, though, that target number (and no more, regardless of how high the player rolled) is treated as an attack roll against the hapless sucker standing under the chandelier. (Maybe shifts past that target number might let the indirect attack hit multiple opponents? Not sure.)

Speaking of variant rules, I'm really looking for a chance to use Mike Olson's badass showdown rules with this character. I've just gotta come up with the right opponent for him...

Monday, May 12, 2008

LWaSH session 4: Things are definitely getting pulpy, now.

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories

Abraham Hale Marko Kraljevic Myrna Robin Stormchaser Herr Wolf

Well, it's taken me forever to write this up, but I didn't have any trouble remember what happened last Tuesday, since Jim was good enough to provide me with a remarkably high-quality recording of the session. And wow does my voice sound terrible. My own wife couldn't even recognize it. But it's all extremely clear, and totally got the job done. It also did a great job of showing me exactly how much time we spend chatting on various tangents, so that's something we clearly still need to work on.

However, everybody gets the system, now, so things are going a lot quicker than the previous session. Also, we finally got some properly pulpy elements into the mix, including our first fight scene!

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories
Summer, 1937 - London, England

It's the day after the events of the previous session, and PCs are at the London headquarters of the Van Helsing Society, discussing the burglary at Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby's apartment and the leads they currently have on the case. Arthur Chamberlain isn't present, as he was called away on Vatican business in the early morning.

mysterious photo Magnetophon tape

Marko Kraljevic--who has lately been hitting the books in an attempt to catch up with a world six hundred years ahead of his own time--manages to recognize the landscape in the photograph recovered from the crime scene as possibly being somewhere in north-eastern Africa (although not quite as far north as Egypt).

The metal canister discovered along with the photo is finally opened, and is revealed to contain a Magnetophon tape. Only Robin--the most technically-minded of the bunch--is able to recognize the cutting-edge audio recording technology.

LovecraftIt's about then that they are approached, somewhat abruptly, by a fellow Society member who they've seen around the clubhouse but never really spoken with. He introduces himself as Howard Lovecraft, one of the Society's experts on pre-Holocene civilizations. (He is, in fact, H.P. Lovecraft. Sadly, his work and name aren't famous enough in 1937 for any of the PCs to know that was publicly believed to have died a few months before this meeting.) He expresses great concern over the possibility that any artifacts in the possession of Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby might have been stolen, as the man is known to be in correspondence with a number of rogue academics who have been prying into dangerous secrets of forgotten epochs. Chief among these is Professor Horace Bagsnip, an archaeologist who is searching for evidence of Lemurian influence on the early peoples of India and eastern Africa. As Bagsnip has resisted all proposals of cooperation from the Society, and the Lemurians are believed to have created terrible living weapons, Bagsnip--and, by extension, Sir Felix--could be dealing in some very dangerous things.

While Marko discusses what little is known--or suspected, anyway--about the Lemurian people with Howard, Myrna begins looking into contacting Sir Felix. Robin, knowing a Magnetophon player would be difficult to find and expensive to purchase in England, gets to work building one herself.

Myrna manages to get ahold of John Hastings, the same police constable she charmed at the scene of the burglary the day before. Very eager to help the glamorous girl reporter, he provides her not only with the name of the hotel Sir Felix is now staying at--the Hotel McGuffin--but his specific room number. Myrna Heads out with Marko to speak to Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby about the break-in.

Sir FelixSir Felix turns out to be quite cooperative, and explains that he was robbed by, of all people, a gang of blackshirts! They battered down his front door with a fasces, and demanded to know where "the package" was. The only package he could think of was the most recent shipment of notes and such sent to him for safe-keeping by his good friend Professor Horace Bagsnip. Sir Felix had only just had a chance to unpack the contents of the box and lock it in his roll-top desk, and never got to see exactly what the professor sent him before the fascist thugs knocked him out (or, more accurately, pushed him into a wall, jarring loose an authentic Zulu spear mounted there, which fell on Sir Felix's skull, rendering him unconscious).

Sure enough, Sir Felix later heard from the police that the roll-top desk (along with his cash box) had been broken into and looted. He's not very confident that the police will retrieve Professor Bagsnip's stolen materials, however, as he suspects their own far-right tendencies prevent them from leaning very hard on the blackshirts.

Meanwhile, back at Society headquarters, Robin has completed her jury-rigged Magnetophon player. Wolf and Abraham enter the workshop just as she starts the mysterious recording. At first, only static is distinguishable, but the sound of chanting soon becomes apparent. In fact, it's a style of chanting that Abraham recognizes: It's the Nubian Snake People, an eerie and possibly inhuman race he has encountered in the past (although only briefly).

The next sound, however, is something wholly new to all present: A monstrous, piercing wail rises over the chanting, sounding something like an air raid siren, but perhaps a living one. The sound is literally mind-numbing, and both Robin and Abraham are stunned and stupefied by it. Herr Wolf, however, manages to maintain his focus and observe how his comrades simply blank out and stand mute throughout the remainder of the sound. Then they tape ends, and the two regain their faculties.

At that moment, Myrna and Marko return, and the five all share what they have learned. Myrna is called away by a phone call, but Robin, Abraham, Wolf, and Marko begin to make plans to follow up the blackshirt lead. Robin, having spent more time exploring the streets of London than the others, knows the part of town where blackshirts are likely to be found, and immediately resolves to head out looking for them. The rest, naturally, realize they must follow for the sake of her safety.

blackshirtsAbraham borrows a car from the Society motor pool, and takes the other three out into the foggy London evening. Guided by Robin's directions, they eventually find a group of five blackshirts loitering on a street corner. Robin immediately approaches their leader--a man named Nigel--who promptly tells her to go back to America. Abraham pulls a gun and threatens to start shooting kneecaps if he isn't given information about the burglary of Sir Felix's flat. Nigel and company are duly frightened, but claim to know nothing of the crime. It's obvious to all present that they're lying.

Alerted by the commotion, another 12 blackshirts begin to approach quietly, hidden by the fog. Abraham hears them, however, and fires into the mist at leg height, managing to kneecap one man without even seeing him. This makes his point to Nigel very clear, and the terrorized blackshirt wails that the break-in was done by "Bad Bob and his blokes!"

The remaining 11 ambushers immediately rush out of the fog at Abraham, but he neatly fires off five rounds in quick succession, shooting a kneecap with each one. Wolf shouts something to the effect of "This is what happens to those who oppose the Führer!", trying to give the impression that this incident is the work of German agents (and Adolf Hitler himself!). Marko then picks up two of the attackers, and propels them into the remaining four, knocking all six unconscious. Robin kicks one of the prone blackshirts.

Abraham rifles the pockets of the downed men, checks the ID cards for names and addresses, and warns them "We were never here." Now completely terrified of Abraham and Marko, they agree wholeheartedly.

With no remaining opposition, the group gets the details of Bad Bob from the now-eagerly-helpful Nigel. They're told that he's the head of a different, more dangerous blackshirt splinter group, less political party and more organized criminal gang. Also, they've got ties to the fascist governments of other nations. Nigel supplies information on where they can be found.

So, lessons learned: Fights in Spirit of the Century are fun as all hell, and we need more of them. However, the PCs are seriously badass, so they need much better opposition than a bunch of lame Nazi-wannabes. Furthermore, conflicts can be really, really quick, so I should be less hesitant about resolving social interactions as full-fledged social conflicts.

Finally, while we've gotten much better at just getting down to play instead of chatting for a half hour first, I do need to keep a tighter rein on our focus throughout the session. I need to herd these fucking cats. Should be easier tomorrow night, actually, since most of this bunch just saw each other on Saturday at our monthly Amber game.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories character sheet

I'm finally putting the finishing touches on the custom character sheet for my Spirit of the Century campaign, "Lost Worlds and Secret Histories". The deal is, all the PCs are supposed to members of this 1930s monster-fighting organization, the Van Helsing Society. So I tried to build the character sheet to looks sort of like an actual personnel file from that organization, completely with smudged stamps, paper clips, and vintage fonts. It's very much inspired by coyotegrey's extremely awesome NEMESIS character sheet.

Anyway, click the thumbnail to see it at a halfway reasonable size. This sheet is for Abraham Hale, Gerry's character. He's supposed to be kind of a Solomon Kane / Charlton Heston / cult-fighting gunslinger character. And, yes, that's Lance Henriksen we used for the portrait.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Gloriously awesome setting idea: Voices from Below / The Long Stairs

Right, so there's been a hell of a cool thread going on in the RPGnet forums. Benjamin "Bailywolf" Baugh (creator of the extremely interesting Monsters and Other Childish Things) started a "setting riff" thread (an RPGnet practice where one poster proposes a concept for a gameable setting and everybody contributes ideas and develops the theme) with this idea:
In 1963- post test ban- a nuclear detonation under the Nevada desert knocked a hole in reality.

The bomb was something new- and still classified- but what it did was stab through the fragile skein of normal spacetime the whole visible universe occupies, and opened a hole into something stranger.

The Fed put a door and a lock onto the hole- ninety tons of steel and titanium strong enough to bounce nukes. They kept it secret too. The place the hole opened into was just to weird for people to know about or deal with. It's variously called The Basement, Downstairs, and for those who hide behind terminology, the "Subterrestial Operational Theater".

In the late 70's, one of the young computer boffins working on the project called it "Gygaxland".

By the 90's, everyone was just calling it "The Dungeon" despite the term being officially verboten.

The name fits though. Under reality, in realms so strange they defy scientific models to explain, someone or some thing built tunnels, chambers, traps, lairs... but also filled it with wonders and treasures- including objects and devices which could quite simply, do the impossible.

Project: LONG STAIR was born.
...And it just gets more awesome from there. Lots of great, short, in-setting accounts of hardcore special ops types venturing into a mindbending subterranean hell full of unspeakable horrors and all-too-tempting prizes. It works. It absolutely works. I would absolutely play a modern military dungeon dungeon crawl game that gets into the drastically weird scientific implications of its setting, and the impact its discover has on the world above.

Of course, last thing I've got time for now is another game, but it's nice to keep stuff like this in mind for the future.

[dream blog] Snake smugglers

We were spending the day hanging out in our apartment. The light outside was gray and overcast. Throughout the day, I noticed snakes outside. Generally very large ones. Mostly, they were being carried across the street by somewhat furtive, shady-looking men (or maybe it was the same man each time?) to our side of the street.

Then, looking out the window to the apartment building on the other side of the street, I saw what I first took to be the source of all these snakes. A giant--I mean, two or three feet thick--boa constrictor seemed to be writhing behind the windows of the apartment opposite ours.

Then I realized my perception of depth was completely wrong. It wasn't a giant snake across the street; it was a merely large snake just outside our own window. It was sort of hanging from the concrete ledge above our window, but probing downwards, looking for a place to climb onto, and very much in danger of falling.

We opened the window to let it in, and it immediately took a shit on our windowsill the instant it was past the threshold.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

LWaSH session 3: Actual play at last!

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories

Abraham Hale Marko Kraljevic Myrna Robin Stormchaser Herr Wolf Arthur Chamberlain

Okay, as of last Tuesday, we are finally playing Spirit of the Century at last! We finished up character creation (man, the process of choosing stunts is fraught with dilemmas), and then had a good couple hours of actual play. We didn't really get a lot story progress done--really, I'd just call that session a prologue--but we're all getting acquainted with the mechanics of the game, and there was some really fun roleplay and aspect use going on.

Anyway, I'm going to type up the events of the session here. This is primarily for reference purposes, so I can't promise it'll be entertaining.

Lost Worlds and Secret Histories
Summer, 1937 - London, England

Myrna--international socialite, intrepid reporter, and member in good standing of the monster-fighting Van Helsing Society--gets a phone call from her friend and sometime informant Agatha Worbley, a rich old widow with a passion for gossip and a scatterbrained manner that may or may not be a facade. Agatha reports that Sir Felix Swillby-Hinderlap-Swillby--a minor baronet and amateur anthropologist of their mutual acquaintance--was robbed the night before.

Myrna, knowing that Sir Felix is a person of some minor interest to the Van Helsing Society, contacts a couple other Society members: Marko Kraljevic, the giant Serbian folk hero, and Arthur Chamberlain, the Vatican-trained artifact thief. Together, they drop by Sir Felix's burglarized apartment, and discover that the crime scene is still secured by the police, and that Sir Felix himself is now giving his statement at the police station after a short hospital stay. Myrna charms the police officer guarding the door--leaving him seriously smitten with her--and gives him a calling card to deliver to Sir Felix.

Myrna returns to her London residence to make some calls and chase down more information on Sir Felix, Arthur stays behind to watch the crime scene, and Marko returns to the Van Helsing Society's London headquarters. There he finds the cultist-fighting gunslinger Abraham Hale, recently returned from Africa, thoroughly enjoying a whiskey, and very much looking forward to returning to his home in Arizona. Herr Wolf--the mysterious mystic who was once Adolf Hitler--is just returning to the London clubhouse after a trip to the Louvre, and seethes with jealousy towards the French artists because of his own failure in art. The brilliant young pilot Robin Stormchaser is also at the clubhouse, having a smoke atop the observatory as usual.

Hale has brought back an obscene--and apparently indestructible--monkey idol from his trip to Africa, and is asking Marko about a way to dispose of the thing. Wolf, still in a foul mood, interrupts and informs them that the idol obviously has the power to summon the great apes of Africa to fulfill a single request of the wielder, and denigrates both the workmanship of the idol and Marko's intelligence. This, in turn, provokes Marko's anger, but Abraham defuses the situation.

Marko then seeks out Robin to deliver a gift from Myrna--a package of French cigarettes--and also tells her about the situation with Sir Felix. Robin, certain that Arthur can't possibly manage his surveillance assignment alone, decides to head over to the flat to help him out (or show him up). When she comes downstairs, however, Wolf recognizes the national origin of Robin's cigarettes, and--in a fury of anti-French sentiment--shouts at her and tries to take them away. She's far too quick for him, however.

Unswayed in her resolve to go help Arthur out, Robin continues on her way to the crime scene, allowing Abraham--rather drunk, by now--to escort her through the London night.

Meanwhile, Arthur has decided to disguise himself as a police officer and infiltrate Sir Felix's flat. He manages to trick the officer at the door, and has a look around inside, finding that the front door was battered in, both a cashbox and a roll-top desk were broken into, and Sir Felix's many exotic souvenirs seem to be untouched.

Just then, Robin and Abraham show up. Abraham, too intoxicated to fully understand the situation, is simply starts shouting for Arthur. This immediately draws the attention of the cops inside the flat, and forces Arthur to hide to avoid scrutiny. One police officer tells Abraham to go home, and might be on the verge of trying to take him in, when Marko and Wolf show up. Wolf shakes hands with the officer, and discovers that he's a Freemason. Wolf, himself an Inducted Illuminatus, uses this to manipulate the cop into allowing him a look inside the flat, while Marko babysits Abraham and Robin.

the mysterious photographInside, Arthur approaches Wolf, and points out his findings. Wolf has a closer look at the desk, and discovers two interesting things: a small, disk-shaped metal canister, and a photograph of a great stone in a desert, encircled by lightning. Taking these objects--entirely with the consent of the Freemason police officer--the Society members headed back to their headquarters.

...And that's where we left it! Typed up, it really looks like a hell of a lot of stuff happened, but really, things were going pretty slowly. I had to stop and check the game book more often than I'd like, and there was much looking for places to roll dice or store poker chips (our "fate point" tokens). Next time, we'll hopefully have our shit a little more sorted out. Also, I hope to get to use SotC's conflict rules, whether it's for physical combat or some social conflict. Also, now that everyone's finally got their character sorted out, I can enter them into the custom character sheets I made! I'll probably show those off here soon.