When Dave and I recorded answers to these questions for our podcast I flippantly said that my perfect games was the one we have written and are looking into publishing. But it’s not so flippant, in creating Tales of the Old West (still possibly a working title), Dave and I really have made the game we want to play – even where the game each of us wanted to play might differ.
So why is Tales of the Old West a perfect game for me?
Firstly it is not about supernatural creatures. For a long long time I have resented how RPGs create some sort of evil “other” as an antagonist. I have always much preferred games where the “evil” is in competing human (or whatever you are playing) agendas. I like my roleplaying to be people vs. people. I don’t want my game to be Cowboys vs. Vampires, or Cowboys vs. Zombies, or Aliens or Werewolves.
Of course one of the reasons why Old West style games create supernatural antagonists is because in the actual history of the west the antagonists were white folk, moving Native Americans on, or killing them, and claiming their land in the name of Manifest Destiny. We are not looking to re-create this with our game, but we don’t want to ignore it either. So our game is about people seeking, and coming to conflict over, opportunity. The antagonists are the environment, capital, and other people.
Our original intention has been to to create a Hex Crawl system to emulate long journeys like the Oregon trail or the cattle drive in Lonesome Dove, but we soon realised that we were most inspired by the development of the town in Deadwood, and especially the resentment of the “civilisation” that comes with development. The Capital mechanic tries to represent that dichotomy – what seems a tool to abstract cash in larger transactions and offer PCs a sort of “credit rating” can work against the PCs too, when a robber baron NPC arrives to buy the characters out of their farm (or whatever) to make way for his railway.
The other thing we want to do is show the diversity of the west. We have two methods of character generation, a quick archetype based system and a more rewarding life-path style random generator, both systems attempt to represent the diverse backgrounds of the people who worked in the west.
Have we got all this right? To be honest, only some of our patrons have seen it sofar. You can too if your join our Patreon at Stationary or Privileged level. I doubt it is the perfect game. But right now, it is my perfect game.
Two things co-incided to bring me to this point: on our discord we rehashed the old discussion about Darkness Points being the clumsiest of the push mechanisms in Year Zero games, and potentially encouraging an confrontational relationship between the GM and the players; and, on Facebook a new GM was eager to play Coriolis but not comfortable with worship of the icons being so embedded in the mechanics. These two discussions made me think of something I had not thought of before. Something that in retrospect I am surprised I have not already considered. Now, forgive me, readers, but I am going to use you as a sounding board.
But before that, an aside. In our long running Coriolis campaign, Mercy of the Icons, we have reached the last act, In the Shadow of the Zenith (on our Youtube stream at least – the podcast version is some months behind). I recently re-read something that on consideration makes me a little … well, angry. So please bear with me as I have a little rant. You will find the offending lines on page 204 of The Last Cyclade, I will quote it with redactions to be spoiler free:
No new DP are generated at the beginning of the act but it contains two major events that replenish your DP pool: the moment the [redacted] is announced and when the [redacted] (pages 211 and 214)
Antroia, R. 2020. The Last Cyclade, Stockholm Fria Ligan AB
Now, I have never, never felt the need to top up the DP pool at the beginning of an act, but I resent the idea that when bad things happen (and yes, the two redacted events are bad things) the GM is awarded Darkness Points. The WHOLE POINT of Darkness points is to fuel the bad things in the story. When bad things happen the GM spends DP, they should not be getting more! I am going to be berating Rickard Antroia over this.
Right rant over.
Now, the meat of the article. Let us address the second discussion first. Personally I love that icon worship is embedded in the mechanics of the game, and I would not play Coriolis without it. What you do at your table is entirely up to you, but I think you are missing the point of Coriolis if you don’t have the players worshipping the icons. Seriously though – the are alternatives if you don’t want to pray. The simplest would be to port Alien’s stress over – or rather to port the more interesting setting of the third Horizon into Alien.
But you could also with a bit more work, port over conditions from Vaesen or Tales from the Loop, or with a lot more work (and different coloured dice) stat damage from Forbidden Lands or Mutant Year Zero. All of these games are religion free (yes there are gods in Forbidden Lands, and Priests even in Vaesen, but you don’t have to do anything about them, mechanically) and they are also more elegant, less confrontational cost mechanics for those people who like the prayer in Coriolis but don’t like darkness points.
We have often talked on the show, however, about how the push mechanic changes the spirit of the game. Foe example how Vaesen and Tales of the Loop are minimal -rolling games, where the chances of failure are high and players often look to talk their way out of difficult situations. How the stress mechanic of Alien emulates the tone of the films. How pushing in Forbidden Lands and Mutant Year Zero adds to the feel of resource management in these post-apocalyptic survival games.
So if you want to play in the spiritual, mystical future of the Third Horizon, you need a mechanic that reflects or more importantly encourages religiosity.
And I suddenly realised that we have one. In our Tales of the Old West game, we are looking at a period when colonisation of the American West was explicitly driven by “Manifest Destiny” and our push mechanic revolves around Faith. We say (in what I think is a latest revision):
Every character has faith. This can be their religious faith, faith in their family, faith in their own self-belief, or anything else. Each player should write their Outlook down in one short sentence of half a dozen words.
Semark, D. and Tyler-Jones, M. (unpublished) Tales of the Old West
Now we do make clear that Faith does not need to be Christian, or even religious, but this is a time when most of the people in the stories of the West go to church. Each character also has a pool of Faith Points. These are connected to their faith, and are spent to Push their rolls. At the start of each adventure, a character will have 2 Faith Points, but you earn more Faith Points in play.
We describe a number of ways in which a character can earn faith, many of which reflect the tropes of the western genre that we are trying to emulate. Some are momentary actions or events. For example:
Taking an action that moves you towards your Big Dream
Experience something that tests and affirms your Outlook
Put yourself in danger to help a pardner (your pardner also earns a Faith Point – through your sacrifice you have affirmed their faith too)
Every time you score 4 or more successes on an Ability test
Stand up to a rival
Choose non-violence when violence is the only option
Serve frontier justice
Survive an illness
You save a life, or
Pray to your god, ancestors or spirits
Other things are rituals which we say take longer, a whole shift in game terms.
Get drunk (getting drunk has other negative effects)
Spend time on your own in nature
Groom your horse (or a companion animal)
Dismantle and clean your gun (or sharpen your blade)
Participate in a church service or equivalent ritual with others
Share a quality meal around a table with friends (around a campfire does not count)
Sleep one full night in a secure warm bed, earn two Faith Points if it’s with your lover (but no points if it’s with a soiled dove – this is about companionship, not sex)
Some of these last rituals won’t work in the Third Horizon and the sci-fi stories players are trying to create, but I can imagine other ones that are more fitting the setting, for example: giving alms to the poor; or, making a sacrifice at a chapel – the core book lists the sort of sacrifices that each Icon prefers.
We also (currently) have rules for mishaps, but I don’t think they are relevant to this discussion. Many Coriolis GMs say that though they might pay darkness points when bad things happen in Coriolis, in any other game they would make those things happen anyway when narratively appropriate.
Which brings us on to cost. The Year Zero Engine is all about the cost of a reroll: stress and panic in Alien; banes, or attribute damage in Forbidden Lands; Conditions in Vaesen. What should the cost of prayer be? Currently, I am going to argue that with the Faith system, the cost is paid up front. The time you take role-playing your devotion and collecting faith points is enough for the somewhat pulpy nature of the game. Of course that would mean that we must let the GM make those bad things happen at will, and maybe give each super-natural creature a small pool of its own points to use its powers.
At least that’s what I think right now, but its an unfinished thought, a work in progress as it were. There are still unanswered questions, like whether mystic powers and talents are powered with Faith (I think they are).
A few weeks ago, Dave challenged me to read GenLab Alpha and suggest a campaign. I have not played any Mutant Year Zero games. I created a character for Dave’s campaign, but it was a midweek game on the other side of the capital, and I decided the days of me driving round the M25 for a game on a school night were behind me. I do recall that character’s name though – she was Raven.
The fact that I had chosen such a name for my character perhaps indicates that I would be more keen on GenLab Alpha than the base Mutant Year Zero game. Not that Mutant is a bad game at all – I very much liked the idea of the Arc and the internal politics during that session zero. I was, if I am going to be honest about my recollections perhaps less keen on the random nature of mutations. It was less of a worry in character generation, but I could imagine feeling upset if I built a persona for my character around her mutations, and there another is triggered that works against that persona. Not that such a thing ever happened to me, because I never actually played after that session zero. I don’t even know if such a thing can happen. But I recall that being a worry.
I remember liking the idea of Genlab Alpha because the danger of corruption wasn’t random mutations, but instead a regression to your bestial nature. I preferred the idea because … lets say your Mutant Character has a mutation that makes him a bit Dog-like, and you build the character around that – call him Spot, having him growl a lot, sniff the ground etc. But then a roll of the dice or a draw of the card gives him Dragonfly wings. You suddenly become less dog-like, and you have to take that into account in your playing of the character. If you are playing a Dog character in Genlab Alpha and you roll a 1 on the dice when using Feral Points, you become more animal-like. In this example, more like the Dog concept you built your character around. Which I am more comfortable with.
There are other things I like about this game too. Its a small thing but I LOVE the advice on naming your character. The the labs where the PC were created there was a naming convention for each animal – a name and a number. But the dogs are all named after astronauts, cats after ancient Romans, rats after composers (I bagsy Glass 433 – maybe another mute PC!), apes are physicists, and so on. Its a lovely way of promting a player (who sometimes struggles with naming their character) without being as limiting as an actual list of names. But what is that I hear you say? Maybe you don’t want to name your Rabbit after a football player? Of course you don’t have to. That what the lab calls you is all, its an oppressive slave-name. You can reject it and give yourself a name of your own choosing, any name, at generation or later, by which you are known within the resistance. Boy, I could have a lot of fun with that.
Another thing I like about the system is that damage is specific to each attribute. Pushing your role risks damaging your attributes as it does in Forbidden Lands and the other Mutant games. So damage to Instinct (one of the two mental attributes) is doubt. And you can recover it by indulging in a behaviour specific to your animal origins. Apes pick fleas off each other to recover doubt, and cats lick themselves clean. A lot of the ways of recovering Doubt are socialising (except for the Bear and the Moose who both seek solitude). Something else happens when animals get together too – unlike the mutated humans of the Zone, the residents of the labs can have litters. Which brings a whole new aspect into the adventure.
Of course like many early Free League books, the rules make up only the first third of the book, and the other two thirds are given over to GM exclusive stuff, some of the secrets beyond the PC’s understanding, a range of antagonists, and a short campaign. I won’t reveal too much for fear of spoiling an adventure for any listeners who have been inspired to give it a go as a player. But I do just want to mention the beautiful horror of the Psionic Butterfly.
But what sort of campaign should I run? Dave challenged me to present a campaign concept for this particular bit of homework, and I can’t just stop here, after telling you what excites me about this game. So … let me tell you instead what is missing, what I might have to house-rule and what the (short) campaign is that I would like to run.
What I don’t want to run is Road to Eden, the tactical computer game with similarities to, but importantly not based on, Genlab Alpha. That game features ducks (which is required by law in Sweden) and boars – animal types that don’t feature here – but the changes I want to make are not about adding those. I also considered the recent Netflix success Sweet Tooth, apart from Gus, the hero of the story and Pigtail, most of the hybrids in that show have limited language. Given that the PCs of Genlab Alpha are themselves kind of hybrids, I did briefly consider an adventure based on that. But my influence is a little older.
Back in the early 2000’s Grant Morrison (who is my god) and Frank Quietly produced a limited series comic called We3. It was a version of the Disney children’s classic Incredible Journey, but with a manga aesthetic and … well, plenty of high explosive. Its the sort of campaign I want to run, but the animals in We3 are not as … evolved, not as human (forgive me, I know its an insult among animal-kind), as the PCs in Genlab Alpha. At the risk of spoiling a secret of the last two thirds of the book I would love to create a campaign where the PCs are what this book calls Abominations. An alternative to the process that created the genetically modified animals of Genlab Alpha, Biomechatronics was the creation of mechanically enhanced animals, a bit like the ones in We3. The list of Biomechatronic implants in the GM’s section is pretty limited but I think I would like to try recreating something similar to the armoured animals of We3, and send them out to innocently explore the world of the apocalypse.
The alpha release of the new edition of Twilight 2000 has generated a lot of debate and requests already, but a regular request is for form-fillable PDF versions of the character sheet. Form’s can be a bit of a pain in PDFs but I have had a go at creating all the required fields, including converting from grades to die types in attributes and skills.
Thank you to Thomas Boulton for helping out with the java on the Hit and Stress capacity calculations.
One of the most fun things we did as part of the Podcast was in 2018 at Dragonmeet. The first printing of Forbidden Lands had just come out to Kickstarter backers, and a few copies were going on sale at Dragonmeet itself. Nils and Mattias JH were there, working the Modiphius stand.
Dave and I had fallen in love with the Legends and Adventurers character creation method, a simple randomised life path style of character creation. As part of the PodcastZone, we invited people to come and make a character with us in the morning, then fight to the death in the Grindbone Challenge, a bit like Tributes in the Hunger Games (see what I did there? 🙂).
The recording was done by a fellow podcast, and somehow, somthing had gone wrong, meaning everyone was recorded only though that laptop’s own mic (which I don’t blame them for. It’s easy to do, we lost an episode of our Coriolis actual play that way). Anyhow, we salvaged enough of the audio to make a very entertaining, match of the day style report of the session:
Let’s finish this post by paying tribute to the great players who joined us, especially those that lasted just one action, the winner, and Nils and Mattias, who joined us for a round and contributed prizes.
I failed to do a #RPGaDay2020 post yesterday, so please accept this transcript of my latest Effekt piece instead.
So, what do we know about the Three Word Empire? The rulebook tells us that, on earth, its member states are not contiguous – they don’t share borders with each other, like the United Americas. Instead on Earth , the 3WE includes UK, Japan, India, Indonesia, Paupa New Guinea, Kenya, and Fiji, which (bar Japan) sounds a bit like the current commonwealth. Page 223 suggests it was formed in the 2180s, but that’s obviously wrong, as that is the game’s present. The book’s timeline instead mentions co-operation from the 2030’s and then formal union in 2088. Indeed it seems that the United America and the Union of Progressive Peoples were both formed after, and in response to, the creation of the Three World Empire.
So can we say them that the Three World Empire is the first space superpower? I think we can. And given that it is called the Three World Empire can we assume that is has dominance over the three worlds that gave it its name? Earth, Mars and Titan?
I mean obviously it doesn’t run Earth. The UA and the UPP have their share of power, and the European Union still exists, though weakened after a number of members ally with the UPP. We know this because the Fiorina Penal colony in Alien 3 is apparently an EU and 3WE project, suggesting co-operation on a number of projects. But Britannia, or her Anglo-Japanese equivalent, still kicks arse on Mars and Titan right?
Just like earth, different powers run different parts of those planets (or planet and moon). According to the USCM technical manual the UA have a colony at Valles Marineris on Mars for example. Is this a result of pre-FTL colonisation? Do worlds further fall to single powers more readily? After all there is an Anglo-Japanese “arm” of the galaxy.
And yet even such a distant world as Linna 349 is disputed territory. The USC Marines “helped” quell an uprising on that world, and yet have not left, much to the annoyance of, Governor of the Three World Empire’s Frontier Colonies Vijaa Reddy. Personally I think the UA prompted the rebellion in the first place, to give them a reason force the Empire to let the marines in. Fiorina 161 isn’t entirely Imperial – we share authority for that colony with the European Union. But Gliese 667 CC, a colony of some 2.3 million souls is still in Imperial hands, and we know nothing about other Three World Empire colonies like Corona and Gorham’s Folly.
In short the Empire is a mostly blank sheet. Its time to get creative. So here a a few things I want to invent for the Three World Empire:
A Royal family. When the two powers combined, both industry and Royalty merged. Wayland Yutani was the result of the industrial merger, but we know nothing of the Royal merger. What transitions survived when these two largely symbolic monarchies fused? For example in the UK, our royal family was a family name – currently Windor, a name made up when the decidedly Germanic Saxe-Coburg-Gotha was determined to be not quite the thing when we were at war with Germany. If anything though, that show the royals are flexible, so I reckon they would be happy to adopt the Japanese tradition of only given names, in return for the Japanese agreeing to drop male only primogeniture. Which would mean that in the Alien universe our Imperial Majesty is the Empress Charlotte. (Because I have a soft spot for George IVs daughter, who never got to be Queen.)
But this monarchy, like our own is purely symbolic. We know there is a representative democracy actually wielding power. Whats it like? In his piece on the UPP Dave eschewed a purely 70s/80s vision of the Communists in favour of something that had modern day China’s free market authoritarianism. I am going totally the other way. I want the empire to go full one late 70s, early 80s, and that means one thing … Thatcher! I want an Iron Lady in charge. The one I am thinking of right now is Gloria Monday from Grant Morrison’s Dan Dare strip, but I think I will need to change her name. And if we have a Thatcher, we need a Falklands. Gorham’s Folly has a name that fits. We also need some Troubles, so which colony is going to be our North Ireland? Corona?
We also need big “feck-off” Navy. The book says the the 3WE has a relatively small military, but an “Extensive” Navy. The FTL technology of the Alien universe was invented by a British company, Weyland, and I am damned if I can going to let the same thing happen with this bit of British inginuity as happened with the Jet aviation and the MRI scanner. We are going to RULE the space-lanes, the biggest fleet with the biggest ships. I am taking 3WE policy back to the late ninetieth century then our policy was to have a bigger navy that the next three powers combined. So if the UA, the UPP and even the EU ganged up on us, they still wouldn’t have as many ships as we do. There was too, at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A strong traditional link between UK and Japanese ship building industries and the Japanese Navy whopped Russian arse in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 (much to everybody’s surprise (except us Brits), so we are going have those glory days again. I have not tried building any Imperial Navy ships yet, but they will be big, and they will be fast, and there will be carriers. And there will be two flagships – HMS Ark Royal, and of course the Battle Cruiser HMS Yamato. (Talking of design even though I haven’t designed any ships, I HAVE designed the Navy’s white ensign patch.)
Finally, the SOE or Special Operations Executive are an arm of 3WE Navy Intelligence devoted to operations behind enemy lines. Rarely recruited from existing military personel, SOE agents are often civilians usually with skills or a cultural background that will help them blend in and work in each theatre of operations. Currently on Linna 349, they are engaged in sabotage against the occupying USCM “peacekeeping” force. We ain’t letting the United Americas take you Linna. As somebody once sang in the 21st century “You’ll be back”
In the last post I wrote about the Consortium, one of the few factions that we had not shined the spotlight on,in the podcast, because as Dave memorably admitted on the Patron discord he’s “not very interested in them.” I agreed in the last episode that the Consortium was indeed quite boring, but The Free League has a different problem.The Free League’s problem is that they are the perfect player faction. Too perfect.
What every crew wants is freedom … freedom to go where they want. Freedom to do what they want. Freedom to make profit on jobs, legal and illegal. Freedom to leave a system when a deal goes wrong and they are wanted for murder. Freedom to find a new planet full of rubes they can double-cross. And Freedom to move on again when it turns out the local crime-lord wants them dead. Freedom, essentially, to live like space RPGers have lived since the first Traveller player rolled 2d6 and wrote their stats in hexadecimal…
And if you are going to be a happy crew of malcontents trading their way from system to system, the Free League is the perfect support network. At least from a gamers’ perspective, if not the characters. They are strong when the players really need help, and weak when the GM wants to take the crutch away. They are connected right across the Horizon, if the players need a job or a contact, yet not so consistent that the GM can’t surprise the players once in a while. If I were a GM taking a virgin group of players on, I would probably recommend that they choose a Free League patron to get them started. And the beauty of the Free League, is I could likely offer them a Nemisis from the same faction, to show that everything ain’t black and white. Indeed if a GM said to me “I have never run a space game at all, what are my players likely to want?” I would probably reply that they should start with a short Free League based campaign. They are a perfect set of training wheels for crews and GMs.
So what’s the problem? How come it’s taken so long to write about them? The problem is that there is no challenge for the GM. An experienced GM will be excited if their players choose to be religious zealots, or secret assassins, each would be a new challenge. But if they want to be Free Leaguers, again, where can a GM find the novelty? One of the great things about the third horizon is that everything contains its own contradiction. So let’s go to the source material and see if we can find the hidden side of the Free League…
The first thing to remember is that the Free League are a Zenithian, not a Firstcome faction. They are listed alongside the Syndicate as one of the smallest Zenithian Factions ( p 188) and yet … and yet … on page 194 it says “counting official members, the Free League is the Horizon’s largest faction.” This is an interesting contradiction. It speaks I think of a membership not wholly affiliated to the cause of the faction. People join like they join the AA, or the triple A, or whatever your local roadside recovery insurance service is where you live. Thus being a member of this large organisation can help get your ship repaired on a distant backwater planet. But on Coriolis, the seat of power, there are too few powerful members to do much politically. And get this, tucked away in the timeline on page 249 is this little gem: in cc 14 “The Free League faction is founded as a partner to the Consortium.” Partners? Or lapdogs? Free? Or simply another arm of the Consortium? Extending their reach into the smaller markets that the Companies of the consortium are not yet interested in?
On the other hand, are they a Union? It only costs Br100/cycle to join. The Stevedors of Coriolis and the Net exert some power through the free league. Is the Free League getting ready to be the workers champion, and turn against the Consortium as the growth of that faction stutters and begins to fail. Will the Free League become a monster that Comsortium can no longer control? Will they one day be accused or being a terrorist organisation? After all, the Syndicate too, exert power through the Free League. Though the highest placed factionary Jesibel Niales is on to them, and working to curb their influence.
Finally, there is one little hook I really like and that’s the mention of “the Free League’s News Division.” (On page 21) Last time I talked about how the Bulletin, controlled by the Consortium was not the organisation that players wanting to be hard hitting reporters should join. The Free League might offer an outlet for independent journalists eager to seek out the truth rather than regurgitate propaganda.
Listener and Patron Nicjar set us an interesting challenge. He has been going though our blogs cataloging all our Coriolis related articles. And he pointed out that we have not done an article on all the Factions in the Third Horizon. I said that I remembered mentioning to Dave that we still had some to to do, but that he had assured me we had done them all. Dave replied that we had done them all… all the interesting ones at least.
And he was right. The only two we had not done (properly) were the Free League and the Consortium. Dave does argue that he covered them in his piece on trade, but not in the depth that we covered most of the others. So I took it upon myself to deal with the Consortium. And immediately regretted it. Because the Consortium are so damn boring. And they are boring because they are so pervasive. They are the Third Horizon. They are the government, the administration, the bureaucrats. They are the winners, the glue that bound the horizon together and made Coriolis its centre.
As it says on page 190 of the core book, “the Consortium and the Coriolis station are one – so closely tied together that most people in the Horizon can’t tell them apart.” That’s the problem, and not just on Coriolis station. Asking me to get excited about the consortium is like asking a fish to get excited about water.
But let’s give it a go. The Consortium is created from and largely controlled by families from the Zenith. Not the ones who became the Zenithian Hegemony though. These families are known as the Neo-Zenithians, more willling to work alongside and integrate with the Firstcome. So they are not racists, which is good. And good guys are never boring, are they?
Being less interested in bloodlines than their Hegemonic rivals, the Consortium claim to wield power though corporations, rather than dynasties. Though of course the same family names crop up again and again as directors of and major shareholders in the corporations. But here is a pop quiz for you: name four Consortium affiliated corporations. Go on.
Don’t worry, take all the time you need.
You can’t can you?
Well let me help. There is the Parr bio-sculpted food company, and the weapons manufacturers Xoar, Dayal, Tilides, Vulcanor, and Parr-Nestara? Ringing any bells?
Exeter? They offer cruises and tourism, apparently. Advanced manufacturing and research is the purview of those household names Celer-Delekta and Nyala. Alkarra make spaceships, but does any PC group actually fly an Alkarra spacecraft? And if they do, do they even care? Oh, and let’s not forget the first name in gravitics, Nomo!
One could maybe build an adventure around industrial espionage, or illegal research, but none of these companies are Weyland Yutani, let’s face it.
Actually there are three Consortium Corporations your players have heard of, but only one feels like an actual corporation, and that’s The Bulletin, the Horizon-wide communications and media company. The other two are the Foundation which I guess is a corporation in the old fashioned sense, like any university, but with its public interest education a research mission, it does not quite feel like a company. The other even has a word in its name that suggests it isn’t a corporation at all, but rather a quasi-governmental organisation, and that’s the Colonial Agency.
What’s important about these three corporations is that they each have a seat on the Council of Factions, ensuring the Consortium’s heavy influence on that body, but also, possibly making them almost factions in their own right.
Playable factions? I am not sure. While it’s interesting the think that the Faction Standing talent might make you a mover and shaker in the Bulletin, Foundation or the Agency. It’s only the latter two that, to my mind, hold any potential fun for players. While you might enjoy the concept of a investigative journalist reporting for the Bulletin, who should remember that the Bulletin is a mouthpiece of the establishment. A media organisation that does not speak thrush to power as the fourth estate should, but lies to the people on behalf of the Council. And no you are not going to crush it from the inside, because it controls not must the message but the means of communication, the relay stations and probes that communicate across portals. No, any journalism campaign has god to be about underground publications and pirate channels … not being the media lap-dogs of the state. At a push … it might be fun to play a team whose job it is to cover up for mysterious incidents, and make up mundane stories that explain away strange happenings… but it would be a push. And, that seems to better suit the Colonial Agency, really…
A Foundation campaign or adventure might be fun… investigating portal builder archeology like a space Indiana Jones, but the agents of the Hegemony fill in for the Nazis could work.
And then there is the Colonial Agency … who many Firstcome might consider to be as bad as the Zenithian Hegemony anyhow. If you want to play colonists, making a life for themselves in a hostile environment, and learning to get along with the natives (and importantly – you really don’t want to play the Alien RPG), then the agency might be the way to go. Or you could play the Agency as a sort of mixed up Starfleet in a Star Trek style mission to explore strange new worlds. The only problem is there are not many new worlds left to explore.
Which brings us I think to the best opportunity for role playing in the consortium. That lies in the phrase at the top of the core books’ entry on the Consortium: “Expansion is life”.
The secret of making the the Consortium interesting lies in it’s antithesis. Expansion is slowing to a halt. If the Consortium can no longer grow, it faces an inevitable decline into entropy and death. There is a great group concept in the idea that the PC s are the good guys, defending the Consortium and everything it has built from the forces of evil, which includes pretty much everyone else: uppity Firstcome, Hegemonic Nazis, religious fundamentalists from Zalos, piratical Free Leaguers and Nomads. Never mind spoilers from beyond the horizon!
If the players can get invested in the idea that the a Consortium is a force for good, excusing the occasional mistakes that the Colonial Agency has made on the way, if they can appreciate the Horizon as we know it is a delicate construction of the a Consortium, which could crumble at any moment, if not for their diligent efforts, then at last, the Consortium becomes … interesting.
It’s hard writing a scenario for UKGE and GenCon for a game one has not played, so I was eager to get Vaesen to the table. I had that opportunity last week, and this post is a reflection of that session, plans for the next, and lessons learned that I will apply at UKGE. There will be spoilers for The Dance of Dreams, the scenario included in the Alpha, but I will save them for the second half of this post, which is mainly for the players of the game, to remind them where we got to. We won’t get to play again for another week.
First things first. Character generation is quick. Choose an archetype, then an age, scatter the relevant number of points across your attributes and skills, make a few narrative choices, and select one of a choice of three talents. Alien was similarly quick, and I LOVE the idea of only having one talent at the start of a campaign. Having to pick three in Coriolis seems positively onerous in comparison.
Indeed it struck me as almost as simple as making the choices in a PbtA playbook. So I quickly turned the archetypes into something like a playbook, and then gave them to the players to fill out. That process went pretty well.
I was thinking of perhaps letting convention players make their characters, limited only their choice of archetypes. But I think, timing the process on this run, that it might take too long, especially as I will also want to make time for safety tools too. So I will provide pre-gens in the adventure, and maybe include fillable playbooks as an option, with a caveat on time.
As it turned out, the players chose four of the six archetypes that I had planned to offer convention gamers: the Academic; the Servant; the Occultist; and, the Officer.
Then we got stuck into the adventure. It’s written as the first adventure in a campaign, so we start by introducing the characters to Castle Gyllencreutz and the society. This was fine… but it strikes me that a better starting adventure might involve a bit of an exploration of the castle itself, rather than what this felt like: “here are the keys to the castle, dump your stuff here and get on the road to the Witch Cat Inn.”
It wasn’t quite that bad of course. After all, the PCs were expected to use the castle’s resources to gather initial clues. This step of the investigation afforded me my first surprise as a GM: the occultist spurned the library and decided to get clues from the source itself, using the MEDIUM talent to summon up the spirit of Oscar Hjort! Now… this stumped me for a moment, the Medium talent is written as though it’s meant to be used “on-site” as it were, and there is a Seance Parlour facility you can purchase for the castle, enabling the very long-distance clue gathering that Niclas (Thom) was proposing. But this one was a one off, not the start of a campaign, and in the pursuit of Maximum Game Fun, I decided that his seance would produce results though it wasn’t Oscar Hjort that he summoned.
I definitely think, though, that a convention game and introduction to the world of Vaesen might do better without a prelude in the castle. Indeed, I am inclined to make mine a sort of prequel whenin three or more investigators meet of rather first time, drawn by different routes to the same mystery, and each coming pre-equipped with different clues, that they can share with each other.
I was really pleased with how the Journey went, with each player recounting an atmospheric scene to earn their advantage. Ghostly figures seen while lifting the cart’s axle, pages of textbooks that disappeared … the players really fell into the spirit of the game with very little prompting.
Other GMing thoughts, the different games have rules variations that mean after you have played a lot of them you find yourself wondering “how does grapple work in this game?” I am pleased I paused to check.
What actually happened *spoilers*
When the players arrived at the Witch Cat Inn and met the private detective Olaus Klint, who had sent them the mysterious note, they were eager, not just to get into the warmth of the inn but also to take rooms upstairs a get get dry. So they did not quiz the other guests for clues. Upstairs they took the opportunity to check out the other rooms, and so quickly found Nora’s Journal, which provided them with most of the clues they needed to understand the nature of Oscar Hjort.
This was the moment I decided to bring the players attention to the Countdown, buy having the innkeeper, Sami, wailing in horror as his customers fell asleep. (I failed the have the players roll for fear, as I should have done, at the sight of this mass narcolepsy). They confronted Sami (at last) with the playbill for Sophie’s shadowplay, so Sami raged, took Sophie into the kitchen to scold her and slap her, at which point she ran out of the kitchen and up to her attic.
Which act prompted the most wonderful reaction from the players: the party split up!
Not only did they split up, they went to all the right places. Prof. Brugge (Craig) sent West, his servant (Jase) to investigate the Orangery while he himself investigated the Root Cellar. Nicolas (Thom) followed Sophie up into the attic while Frank Linden (Tom) stayed with Sami. The dominos were all in the perfect places.
So, we started with the Shadowplay. Sophie suggested that Niclas watch her rehearsal, and in her sweet voice started to narrate Oscar’s story as she turned the clockwork. Her voice slowly became rougher until Oscar himself appeared from behind her screen and accused Niclas of his murder. Niclas failed a fear roll and panics, flinging himself down the ladder (for an old man however, he is mobile, and did not hurt himself).
Cut to Prof. Brugge, who broke into the root cellar to be confronted by a horrific vision of a rotting cave, and a vision of Oscar’s murder. His fear roll succeeded. West, sees the sleeping patrons of the inn coming out to attack the professor and tries to grapple one of them.
Meanwhile Franz realises that Sami is somehow possessed and has to stop him hanging himself.
Niclas, stumbling out of the house sees his friends seemingly attacked by the sleepwalkers. Rolls for Fear and fails again. Rather than flight, he choose a fight response and stabs one of the sleepwalkers, the priest.
Then using his advantage the Professor removers what was on a disappeared page on the journey here. A prayer against enchantment. I wasn’t sure how to handle this, rules as written, but in the last few seconds of the session, citing Maximum Game Fun I let him make a roll and he succeeded. (Perhaps a pro would have made him wait ’till the next session.)