Reflecting on a weekend of gaming

We had “the best three days of gaming” again last weekend. Not a convention, just four of us renting a cottage in the countryside and playing games, with the occasional break for a meal or a walk. It went well enough that we are already discussing which weekend we will be booking the same cottage it for next year.

Log fire lit, we kicked off on Friday night with Dave’s excellent spaghetti Bolognese, and Forbidden Lands. The adventure was entirely randomly generated, using the excellent tables in the book and the Legends and Adventurers booklet. (And that generation went so well that I should write a separate blog post about it, maybe later this week.) There were two disappointments: we had hoped that we might have had physical copies (and the combat cards) by then, but we are still waiting for distribution to start in English; and, having spent some time setting up the recording rig, I somehow managed to get my laptop to revert to its own mic. So, all along I was thinking “wow, this is great game for the podcast”, but I ended up with a recording no-one will want to hear.

So, what did I learn from this game? Always do a final recording check, just before you start playing, even if you already did one when you were setting up half an our ago.

It’s particularly galling because our previous Forbidden Lands AP has been among our most popular episodes, demonstrating a demand out there for more. That’s a demand that will have to be sated by the Grindbone Challenge at Dragonmeet on Saturday 1 December in London. Join us at the #PodcastZone to create a character, then see how they survive the slave-pits of Grindbone.)

These evening games were enhanced with beer. And whisky.

After a late night, it was time to move on to Tony’s Legends of the Five Rings adventure. We are still using the 4th edition ruleset for this, bit we hardly needed any rules at all. Most of the session was pure role-playing as we tried to uncover the Emerald Champion’s involvement in a cabal before my character had to duel him (which given my character is insight rank two, would not have gone well). What did I learn from that game? Not much, other than having my love for the game confirmed. And while I love this ruleset so much, I can’t imagine going out of my way to get fifth edition. It’s funny, this is the first time I have been an old stick in the mud, in danger of falling into the edition wars. But its not a war actually – if I were invited to a L5R 5th game I would happily play, I am just not ready to invest in the books.

We split this game with a walk of a few kilometres to a pub for lunch. This was about as much exercise as we got all weekend.

In the evening we played Symbaroum, wherein our characters finally had to venture into the forest of Davokar. This recorded well, so you will hear Dave running an excellent adventure that followed on from the one that is currently being serialised on our podcast feed. What I learned about this, is that I am finally forgetting my issues with the system, and the binary nature of the d20 resolution. There may be two reasons for this. The first is knowing that Dave’s multiple dice vs reduced effect houserule is there if I want it. I can’t remember invoking it, but I might have done, I’ll have to listen again to find out.

On to Sunday morning, which started off with a full English, meat supplied by Andy, and cooked by me.

Then Andy ran a session of Savage World of Solomon Kane for us. I love this game, I love playing a deeply flawed character on a redemption path, my Dutchman Willem Van Der Hoorn is “jingoistic” as it’s called in the rules – nationalistic and racist. And given the cosmopolitan (if somewhat orientalist) setting of the original stories that means he can be a real pain to be around. We’re not recording this campaign, and it’s just as well.

What did I learn? There was a moment when my character had the opportunity to sacrifice himself for the greater good, and I would have done it too, were it not for a guy we killed (!) earlier in the story who appeared in a deus ex machina manner to take my place. So I guess my character may have learned that even faeries can occasional be better braver than him, and perhaps he has seen how he might try and be better himself. The Savage Worlds rules are rollicking good fun though. I wanted my character to be an excellent swordsman, and even at novice level, he is pretty damn good, hard to hit in a fight, even though he has to spend the first round of any fight explaining how much better he is than his opponent.

In the evening I ran Coriolis. I am quite pleased with this adventure, and I might write it up to share it. It’s been a year since we last played. And in my desperation to use all my darkness points, I threw more and more reinforcements at the crew in a chase across the icon city in Mira. By the end, they were well and truly broken. This sort of picks where they left off, having been hospitalised, tried and convicted. I started with their stasis pods getting ejected from a prison ship, to make planetfall on an un-named “prison planet” where the adventure was set. We have recorded this one, so I won’t spoil it. What did I learn? That late at night, or rather in the early hours, is not the time to introduce players to a stubborn AI, who offers them an impossible choice. Looks like this adventure has become a two parter…


The Symbaroum Effect: The Tale of Troubled Spirits Part 2

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The Tale of Troubled Spirits Part 2

The second part of our third adventure in the Symbaroum campaign. A fight breaks out at the Lonesome Ogre.

The Symbaroum Effect. Presented by and Karvosti Theme by Iron Pact Orchestra, used with permission of Fria Ligan/Team Järnringen. Typefaces are Code by Fontfabric, and Season of the Witch Black by imagex

The Symbaroum Effect: The Tale of Troubled Spirits Part 1

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The Tale of Troubled Spirits Part 1

The first part of another adventure for Grendel, Radomaramei and Potboy. Business is booming for the Lonesome Ogre Inn, but tensions rise in Granite Hold. People don’t like Changelings working at the Inn. Recorded the day after Greg Stafford died, we begin with a moment to remember the creator of one of our favourite games, Pendragon.

The Symbaroum Effect. Presented by and Karvosti Theme by Iron Pact Orchestra, used with permission of Fria Ligan/Team Järnringen. Typefaces are Code by Fontfabric, and Season of the Witch Black by imagex

A problem like The Zenithian Hegemony

I am going to say it straight. The Zenithian Hegemony are the bad guys. The Syndicate are actual criminals of course, but the Hegemony are the evil empire. I put it to you, that this is the faction you should love to hate. The Zenithian Hegemony is Imperialism writ large. No, more than that. The Zenithian Hegemony are racists plain and simple, convinced that they are superior to the Firstcome, and obsessed with preserving their al-Ardhan bloodlines.

Their attitudes are so extreme they spurn biosculpting and cybernetics because of their obsession with blood purity. Indeed they consider themselves superior to other Zenithian factions like the Consortium, who have intermingled, culturally, with Firstcome. That said, some Firstcome might qualify for acceptance into the Hegemony. The Hegemony have a branch of science, hemographers, tasked with surveying, recording and testing pure Zenithian bloodlines. I imagine it’s those professionals who identified the Expatriates living in Xhi, a domed city on Amedo. Though their forebears arrived with the Firstcome, they claim to be related to the Families that left al-Ardha in the Zenith

In keeping with the duality that Fria Ligan build into all their work, there is a “less racist” part of the Hegemony. Some of the great families, who call themselves neo-Zenithians, at least believe in co-operating with the Consortium, and even with the Firstcome. It is this, slightly more liberal (but I am sure, just as patronisingly superior) part of the faction, which created the Judicators, to help police Coriolis. When I read on page 206 of the core book that the Zenithian Hegemony sends people to the courtesan academies of Ahlam’s Temple “to be taught the mysteries of subjectivity and sensory input” I can only assume it’s the Neo-Zenithian families. The Hegemonists are surely too arrogant to think that can learn anything from a Firstcome faction.

Their arrogance is somewhat justified. Their elite pilots and so called “peacock troops” defeated the Legion, who “were originally hired by the Consortium to wipe out the fleets of the Zenithian Hegemony, but suffered terrible losses and retreated, instead being tasked with hunting corsairs” (p198). The Consortium backed off after that, but they were right to try I think. The Hegemony obviously intend to replace the Consortium as the supreme Zenithian power in the Horizon.

And if the Hegemony achieved their ambitions, and took over from the Consortium to become the most powerful faction in the horizon? What would life be like under them? We can glimpse that terrible future in the Conglomerate, the city that surrounds the Hegemony’s base of operations. “They […] leave most of the daily affairs to hired Algolan colonists, who in turn rule the plebeians and slummers with an iron fist.” What are Algolans famous for? Their slave trade. No one with any sense of fair play wants the Hegemony in charge.

So, how do they work in play? Could they be a client or patron for your crew? Possibly. Very probably one you don’t like very much. Let’s explore possibilities for each of the group concepts:

Free traders will work for anyone, for the right price. If the Zenithian Hegemony are handing work out to any trader without a blood connection, it’s probably dirty work they don’t want to be connected with, like smuggling slaves from Algol to the factories of the Conglomerate. Alternatively, if you have a blood connection with one of the families, you could get a franchise on a lucrative route, which while perfectly legal, you might still find a little distasteful. I am thinking something like the British Empire’s Opium trade, transporting the drug to China, and bringing Tea back to the Empire.

Mercenaries might get a job enforcing trade. When the uppity Chinese tried to stop the British selling drugs to their populace, the Empire sent the gunboats in to ensure the trade continued. The Zenithan Hegemony doesn’t need mercenaries – they have some of finest militaries and fleets in the horizon. But they might subcontract some work out to a mercenary company with the right connections. Actually if your players want a military campaign, there is a concept I am half inspired to develop and run, but I’ll tell you about that later.

Explorers might well find employment seeking out the “lost colonies” of true-blood relatives that the Hegemony believe might have arrived on the Nadir, or indeed travelled with the Firstcome, but descended from those members of the great families that were left behind when Zenith and Nadir left al-Ardha. Or you might be seeking out portal-builder relics for them. Actually though I think it’s more likely that some Hegemony archaeologist is your rival, like Doctor Belloc or Major Toht in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Agents, these are your enemies. The Astûrban seem to be set up as antagonists for your players rather than allies or patrons. As it says on page 215, “they are not prone to hiring freelancers, but it happens, if unofficially.” If they only hand out the shady jobs to Free Traders, then the sort of work they give to freelance Agents is going to really dirty, with ultimate deniability. Take a mission from the Astûrban, and I reckon you are expected not to survive. And if you do, I have a sneaking suspicion that might may have a terrible “accident” later on when you least expect it.

Could you play Astûrban agents? Could your character be a factionary in the Zenithian Hegemony? Do you want to play an arrogant racist secret policeman? I am reminded of what Denis Detweiler and Greg Stolze said about playing Nazis in their excellent World War Two superheros game, Godlike. Or rather in Will to Power, their supplement about the SS. In fact, let me read you some choice lines from that book, an answer to a hypothetical question about playing the game with SS player characters: “Will I can’t stop you – but if you do, you’re an idiot. […] If you want to play a black-uniform-wearing baby-killer – if that’s what gets you off – go ahead, but don’t pretend this book is inviting you to do so. The characters, organizations and facilities presented within are targets for the players’ characters to kill, disrupt and destroy.” Yeah, I am calling it, The Hegemonists are Space Nazis.

Pilgrims? What sort of pilgrims would they be? Atheist blood-cult space-nazi pilgrims, looking for the lost tribes of the Nadir? I’ve had to put my Nazareem Sacrifice campaign on hold to concentrate on my thesis, but those mad chaotic evil cadaver clock building nutters are preferable to the cold, calculating LAWFUL evil of the the Zenithian Hegemony.

Actually I quite like the idea of giving a character the problem “Pure-blood Zenithian Heritage” If you are descended from one of the great families you could find yourself rescued from a dire situation in a Deus Ex Machina extraction by a Hegemonic strike team. Indeed you might find yourself being “rescued” when you didn’t think you needed recusing, if there is any danger of being “brainwashed by anti-Zenithian interests.”

Seriously though, how could player characters come from the Zenithian Hegemony without their players having to wash the foul taste of racism out of their brains afterwards? I have an idea that has been floating about in the back of my head for decades. (You may have already read a version of it) Seriously, I remember sitting in my Dad’s study when I lived with my parents to plot some of it out. It was for Traveller, but not set in space, rather it was planet based, on a sort of Luxurious University Planet called Academè. It was a mix of Oxford, West Point, and those universities in Victorian era Germany, where student would duel and wear their facial scars as a badge of honour. I imagined the players as privileged students with many many surnames, competing for house points, uncovering deeper mysteries, and realising their idyllic life was serviced by an underclass that never saw the daylight of the sculpted landscapes in which they had their adventures. It didn’t go anywhere back then, but I think a story set in and around a Hegemonic Military Academy might be quite fun. Think of it as part Harry Flashman, and part Harry Potter, with a dash of Jane Austen thrown in for good measure. Everyone would be a scion of one of the major families. And would get to wear a colourful uniform, because they would also have an honorary rank in a family regiment, one of the so called Peacock Troops. The good guys in this context would be the NEO-ZENITHIANS, slightly more liberal, and patrician in their outlook. The families of Arianites; Laskarid; Vanna; Din Eusidia; Aristides, would in this scenario be like Gryffindor and Hufflepuff. The bad guys would be the HEGEMONIST families: Quassar; Din Hrama; Konstantinides; Zenone; Astir, some Ravenclaw, but the Quassars and Astirs definitely more Slytherin. Players could choose to be from any family and initially family rivalries and blood-bonds would form the basis of the drama. In the end though, I hope the characters might see the inherent evil of the Hegemonists, and graduate not to serve the faction but to fight against it…

The Coriolis Effect – Season 2 Episode 5

As it once was, so shall it be again.

We ignore another DIYer who occasionally (cos’ I edited him out when Dave was talking) sounds like an annoying mosquito to deliver another hour and an half of Fria Ligan goodness.

00.00.39: Introduction
00.03.50: World of Gaming – Kicking off with plans for #Dragonmeet #PodcastZone, and our discussions with Nils of Fria Ligan;  our upcoming weekend of gaming; Spire’s new Strata Kickstarter; comparing space combat in Star Trek Adventures and Coriolis; and, the Google+ news
00.30.04: What should we do with a problem like the Zenithian Hegemony?
00.56.53: Expanding the Effect
01.01.58: An aside about a new Symbaroum dice mechanic
01.09.47: The Star Singer – another ancient ship for Coriolis (its the liberator really)
01.24.53: We talk about next episode and say goodbye

The Coriolis Effect. Presented by FictionSuit and the RPG Gods. With music by Stars on a Black Sea, used with permission of Free League Publishing. Imagery from NASA and the Hubble Space telescope, brought to you by wikimedia commons. Typeface is Code by Fontfabric

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play: The Hollows, Part 3

Goblins and Ghost Stories. 

Gormer spots an opportunity for some petty thievery, then Tengrail and Isembold create another. Though intrigued by stories of ghosts and tombs, our “heroes” decide to leave before anyone notices their coin has been stolen…

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play. Presented by and With music by ALVE, used with permission of Free League Publishing. Typefaces in the graphics are Code by Fontfabric and Duvall Outline by Paul Lloyd

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play: The Hollows, Part 2

The Bailiff and the Dwarf. 

Gormer, Tengrail, and Isembold discover that crime does not pay as well as they had hoped, and get embroiled in local politics.

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play. Presented by and With music by ALVE, used with permission of Free League Publishing. Typefaces in the graphics are Code by Fontfabric and Duvall Outline by Paul Lloyd

Thoughts about extended Manipulation challenges in Coriolis

You have heard me grumble about the Reputation and Manipulation mechanics in Coriolis. My biggest gripe, as I explained in season 1 episode 17, is the potential for two starting characters to have a modifier of plus or minus six on manipulation rolls.

A few weeks ago, I played the QuickStart for the new Expanse RPG. It didn’t make me want to kick in for the game but I did like their social encounter rules. In that system, you have to work on building a relationship with your interlocutor, winning them over with a sequence of approaches and rolls. So for example, though they might be suspicious of you to begin with, you might buy them a drink to shift their attitude to a more neutral one. Then you might, for example flirt with them to make their attitude more positive, friendly even, then hit them with the question you really wanted to ask in the first place.

We’d recently been playing Tales from the Loop, and this longer social encounter mechanic, reminded me of Extended Trouble from that Year Zero Engine game. That is only really used in the climatic scene of an adventure. Most of the Troubles player characters face in Loop adventure can be overcome (or not) its one simple roll. Remember in Loop, the GM doesn’t roll, it’s a player facing game.

So, I thought, could we create something like an Extended Trouble for more dramatic manipulation rolls? I think we can.

Now I have to be clear, I have not tested it in play yet. I am having to take some time away from my local group, so the opportunity to do so won’t come up for a month or so. But this is my idea: Rather than use the difference in reputation as a modifier on manipulation rolls, make it a target. Make it the number of successes one party has to roll to manipulate the other.

Here’s how it goes:

1. Work out the difference between the reputation of the person you want to manipulate, and that of the member of your party present in the scene with the lowest reputation. (Which is to say, that you may be a courtesan with a high manipulation skill, and an excellent reputation, but you you bought your humanite soldier, with a rep of one or zero with you, it’s that reputation you are comparing, not yours. Faceman always worked best without BA around. )

2. That difference is the TARGET, the number of successes you need to get (though it never goes below one). You always have to get one success of course, which means that between two characters with the same reputation, manipulation rolls would work pretty much as they do already. The same would be true if the characters had one rank of reputation difference between them – although the one die modifier that the rules mandate would not apply under this system.

3. If the TARGET is between one and two, or maybe three, the manipulator can risk a single dice roll. If it is four or more, an extended manipulation attempt is required. The manipulator (and their allies if they wish) must work their way to achieving the objective.

4. Make a series of social gambits, which might include: offers or requests for hospitality, the exchange of gifts, ceremonial tea, compliments, chat up lines etc, banking your successes against the target.

5. Each roll will be modified by your opponent’s attitude towards you. Zero modifier if their attitude is neutral, minus one die if they are suspicious if you, minus two dice if they are hostile, and maybe minus three dice when there another aggravating circumstance. You can get positive modifiers too, maybe plus one die, if they owe you a favour, or plus two if they are a real friend already.

6. You must bank at least one success against your TARGET with every roll. If you fail to do so at any stage, the extended manipulation challenge is over. If you get extra successes with any roll, you can bank them against your TARGET too, or you can spend no more than one extra success to reduce a negative modifier by one die.

7. When you are close to your TARGET, you can risk asking your opponent for your objective. (If you achieve your TARGET number of successes with previous social gambits before the gambit that gets your objective, you still need to make one more roll, to ask for your objective.)

So for example, if you want a favour from some high ranking factionary, you might need six or seven successes. But you don’t need them all in one roll. You would, of course, if you demanded that favour straight away, but a wise traveller in the Third Horizon knows not to be so rude. You and your crew know how to be polite. So you might start by humbly requesting hospitality, make a roll for that, maybe with one less die, because the factionary is suspicious of your motives, and earn one or two successes. Bank those against your target, and compliment your host upon the quality of their baklava. You earn another couple of successes there, and chose to spend one to reduce his suspicions to a neutral attitude. Offer to pour the tea, roll and earn another couple of successes. That’s four successes against your TARGET of six. You could butter up the factionary some more, but time is short, you ask for the favour, and roll. You can always offer a prayer to Icons if you say the wrong thing…

The Coriolis Effect – Season 2 Episode 4

Jarnligan: The Iron League?

Merger! Dave and Matthew speculate as only two excited fanboys can. We also talk about Forbidden Lands and #Dragonmeet #PodcastZone

00.00.39: Introduction
00.04.00: World of Gaming – apart from the merger (the video we mention is here), we also remember to mention the Things from the Flood (get your pledge in before end of play Monday 8th) and Judge Dredd and the worlds of 2000AD kickstarters.
00.29.02: We talk about our first Forbidden Lands game
00.40.00: Our plans for #Dragonmeet #PodcastZone
00.45.00: Forbidden Lands and Symbaroum
00.50.15: Some Coriolis content – Extended Manipulation Challenges
01.07.45: Spectral Corsair update
01.15.15: We talk about next month and say goodbye

The Coriolis Effect. Presented by FictionSuit and the RPG Gods. With music by Stars on a Black Sea, used with permission of Free League Publishing. Imagery from NASA and the Hubble Space telescope, brought to you by wikimedia commons. Typeface is Code by Fontfabric

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play: The Hollows, Part 1

First steps. 

Gormer the goblin, Tengrail the elf, and Isembold the halfling ride towards the Hollows in the fog.

There are a couple of hiccups with the pause button towards the end.

Ravenland Tales – A Forbidden Lands Actual Play. Presented by FictionSuit and the RPG Gods. With music  used with permission of Free League Publishing. Typefaces in the graphics are Code by Fontfabric and Duvall Outline by Paul Lloyed