Archive for the ‘campaign concepts’ Category

Technoir is a game that’s really gotten its hooks into my brainmeats lately.* Considering its subject matter adapting it to do Shadowrun seems almost too obvious, but that’s not stopping me.

First off, we need a verb for spellcasting. CAST just doesn’t do it for me; SLING is tempting, but I’m not sure the slang is right. Maybe just MAGIC? It’s arguably a verb. Whatever you call it, though, it covers spell use and spell resistance, like other verbs.

Metahumanity is just a series of training programs. You’re a Dwarf? You get FIGHT, OPERATE and DETECT, plus your choice of adjectives like stocky, canny and gruff. (Or some such; I haven’t worked out the exact lists yet.) These would be restricted such that, while you can take the same Metahuman program twice, you can’t take two different Metahuman programs.

Spells are Objects, purchased as such and with appropriate tags. Cheaper spells work like guns and armor, more expensive ones like cyberware. There is magical splicing, for when you need to ramp up your nervous system with eldritch speed. Wherever possible, you’d use the extant “backend” for the mechanics, and re-skin for a more supernatural flavor; the kinds of adjectives you can inflict or bestow will go a long way, here.

Spirits, elementals, and totems are Connections. They’ve got their own agendas, but they’re glad to teach you spells or make your skin bulletproof for a price. Like Spells, spirit and totem favors would have a more otherworldly flavor: they Deal for momentary charms and hexes, Fix you up with new spells, Splice magic into your flesh, and give you Rides through secret and arcane paths.** What I dig about this is that the way Connections work means your spirits and totems are likely to get wrapped up in the plot along with your PCs.

It’s a start, anyway. I’d like to play Technoir straight up once, before hacking it. But this stuff was burning a hole in my synapses and its safer here, I think, until I can find a way to use it.


* That link’s to the Kickstarter, this one’s to the beta test documents; the Player’s Guide probably provides the best primer to the terminology used in this post.

**  Gods help you if you decide to Date one.


Over at Nascent Librarian, I posted my thoughts about the new Pirates of the Caribbean movie being based on the excellent Tim Powers novel On Stranger Tides. As I learned about Powers from the truly amazing RPG Unknown Armies, I’m quasi-cross-posting it here, too. Check it out.

In addition to the admonition to buy Tim Powers’ books that the NL readership gets, this crew gets the added command to go buy Unknown Armies. I ran a short campaign of it over the summer, and damn if it doesn’t hold up and then some. I recommend it without reservation.

Or at least, a mailbag full. Behold what I’ve received over the last 24 hours:

That’s both of the 4e Dark Sun books, the hard copy of Apocalypse World, and the hard copy of Delta Green: Targets of Opportunity. Truly, my cup runneth over with grim and terrible joy.

I’m presenting this here for comment and peer review.

One of the PCs — a paladin of Erathis, let’s say — has gotten themselves into a fix. Somehow*, they’ve gotten separated from their party and surrounded by bad guys with ill intent. Orcs, for example. Luckily, they’ve got a magical horn or other means of letting their friends know they’re in trouble. The question is, will said friends get there in time to do anything other than mourn?

Here’s how it plays out:

Set up the battle-map with the lone PC facing down a bunch of minions, four for each PC currently running to help. (So if there are four total PCs in the party, twelve minions works). Roll initiative for everyone: all PCs, plus the minions, plus three more (see below).

For the lone PC and the minions, play the battle out as normal. For the other PCs, on their turn they each have to work their way through their own private Complexity 1 skill challenge to determine if they get to their friend’s side, and how long it takes them. Be pretty flexibile with which skills they use, with two restrictions:

  • Each character can only use a given skill twice.
  • By the gods, they describe what they’re doing. It should fit into the setting of the scene, be it woods, deserts, a crowded city, etc.

The specifics of the challenge are as follows:

  • Four successes from a PC gets them to the battle, going on their turn next round.
  • Three failures means they don’t get there until after the fight’s done. (They can use the downtime composing eulogies.)
  • Each of the first two failures should also result in either a -2 to their next check, or the loss of a healing surge. Use whichever fits the description of the skill check better.
  • Aid Another is allowed, but since each character’s dealing with their own skill challenge and time is of the essence, it’s not the best idea. However, when a PC rolls a success, they have the option (with appropriate description) to give their success to another PC. So if the dwarf fighter succeeds, but thinks it’d be better for the elf ranger or human warlord to get on the scene first, he can use that success to move that along; the dwarf doesn’t get a failure, but it’s gonna take him longer to get there. The recipient, in turn, will likely arrive sooner.

And here’s why that matters:

  • In round 5, two standard monsters** arrive on the scene to back up the minions.
  • In round 6, their boss (an elite) arrives to mop up. If the lone PCs’ friends haven’t arrived yet, things are gonna get ugly.

Be sure to use the MM to your advantage here and bring some fun new bad guy abilities into play with these three. After round six you’ll probably know who made it to the dance and who didn’t, so the fight itself needs to be interesting.

Obviously wrinkles may develop. If the PC eliminates the minions before their friends or the new baddies arrive, let them take an action or two to prepare for both sets of reinforcements. If the PC drops before friends arrive, I’m always of the opinion that a dying (but savable) PC is more interesting than a dead one. Some disagree, and some like to have it both ways. Do what works for your table.

In any case, this encounter has the potential to be very, very rough: for a party of four, we’re talking the equivalent of seven standard monsters, plus the skill challenge. It can obviously be tweaked to be less — or gods help them, more — deadly, but there’s some precedent to making this kind of thing a major turning point in a game.

* And let’s be honest: it’s probably because they did something foolish that they thought would be in the best interest of their god, their civilization, their city, or some such. You know the type.
** These are the folks you were rolling initiative for back at the start of the scuffle. I always get a special kind of joy from openly telling the player in charge of the initiative list to include unknown bad guys in the order. It gets everyone at the table so excited.

We stood aloof from the world, and paid the price of indifference in ruined Citadels, in Etharchs laid low or sailed West.

We will not err so again.

Most of those who remain walk the wilderlands as we did when the stars were young and the sun and moon unbirthed. But not all.

There are seven Companies of the Stars left in these lands, of the hundred whose banners once decorated our Courts. Each takes a turn maintaining one of the three Wilderland Freeholds to offer succor and protection to those who wander. The other four take service in the lands of Man and Dwarf and Orc.

For we will not err so again.

I got a shipment of Burners (Magic, Monster, and Adventure) at the end of last week, and took all five Burning Wheel books with me for our long weekend on Seneca Lake. This is one of the things that came to me as I read through them.

Mechanically, this says that Elves can only take lifepaths from the Wilderlands and Protector settings. While trips into the Elven Wilderlands are possibly, most interactions with Elves in the wider world are with members of the four Companies serving abroad. Currently, the Companies of the Raven, the Spear Unbroken, and the Jaguar so serve, along with one other named by any Elf player(s) who doesn’t dig on one of those names.

This idea percolated up from a few different sources:

  • Thinking about the setting effects that come about when you restrict lifepaths.
  • Reading about the Forgotten Realms BW game Judd’s running, and pondering what happens when you put Tolkienesque Elves into decidedly non-Tolkien settings.
  • The commentary (I think from the Adventure Burner) on how the assumed setting of the Human lifepaths is the beginning of the age of the mercenary company. “What if,” I thought, “humans set up their merc companies in imitation of the Elves?”
  • The notion that one race might be living in its own post-apocalypse, while the rest of the world is oblivious to it.

Amusingly, this idea is utterly incompatible with the solo BW I’ll hopefully be running soon. But I’d love to find a way to see it get some use. Possible campaign/PC concepts:

  • Obviously, the PCs could play members of one of the Outland Companies, in service to some non-Elf nation.
  • Alternately, “last survivor(s) of a routed Company” is a concept with legs.
  • I also like the notion of playing a squad from one of the Freehold Companies, sent out into the wider world to meet up with an Outland Company, collect treasure from them, and then use that treasure to trade with Dwarves and Humans for necessities to bring back to the Wilderlands.

Some potential there, I think.

This week, the marvelous folks at Evil Hat put The Dresden Files RPG up for pre-order. While I did not contribute to its playtesting in the way that I hoped to, I figured I’d do a little something and snag the thing as soon as it was available. I’ve given the .pdfs a quick look, and damn. This is good stuff.

(I fully confess that my lack of involvement in the playtest was largely due to my gamebrain being consumed with 4e. And while certain events ameliorated my shame a bit, overall I do look at the Dresden playtest as a missed opportunity on my part.)

There was, however, one thing I did with the playtest rules that I still think is kind of awesome: Supernatural Ithaca, which I’m re-linking here from my now mainly-defunct LJ. I re-read this earlier in the week, and it still feels really solid to me. If I have time, maybe I’ll revise it in light of the final ruleset and my own progress in the Dresden Files books. It’s potentially a setting I’d really like to run or play in.

While Blizzard and WotC did their part this year to make geekdom’s April 1 amusing, for the first time in years a joke product was announced that I would buy in a millisecond were it to truly become available: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: America 1988.

But while we will almost certainly never have the chance to read such a work of genius, we could always run it. So, what would we use? SotC could work, or a PDQ variant; high levels of abstraction strike me as a must, such that MacGyver’s improvisation, B.A.’s badassitude, and Jack Burton’s… well, his je ne sais quoi can all operate on the same playing field.

Of course, I’m also just tempted to do a LoEG: America 1988 Oracle for In a Wicked Age.

EDIT: Dear WordPress, please stop suggesting “possibly related posts”. You do not seem to be very good at it.