Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Springfield Ghostbusters

My son's rendition of Homer and Bart as Ghostbusters

If you’re like me, you’ve probably spent the week watching Simpsons Halloween episodes with the Ghostbusters Roleplaying Game within reach. Obviously you’d want to put those together, so guess what? I’ve saved you the trouble!

Your Own Simpsons Halloween Special

Let’s use the Ghostbusters rules to bring a Simpsons Halloween episode to the gaming table. The first thing we need is some Simpsons.

Brains1Weasel Out of Things
Muscles2Eat Anything
Cool2Borrow From Flanders
Goal: Eat, Sleep, and Cuddle With Marge

NOTE: If Homer is a player character, you might want to give him 5 more points in Traits, enough to give him the standard total of 12. The other Simpsons already have 12 Traits points. (Yep, even Maggie.)

Brains3Springfield Facts
Muscles3Carry Things
Cool3Raise Children
Goal: Keep Family Safe

Brains2Make Mischief
Muscles2Fire Slingshot
Moves3Ride Skateboard
Cool5Fast Talk
Goal: Have Fun

Brains5Library Science
Moves3Play Saxophone
Goal: Save the World

Cool4Attract Attention
Goal: Defeat Her Enemies

Ghostbusters in Springfield?

Sure, why not? Here are a few ways we could bring professional paranormal investigation and elimination to the entertainment capital of this state.

Option 1: The PCs could be the players’ own Ghostbusters, visiting Springfield to take care of some spectral business.

Option 2: The players take the roles of the Simpsons family, who have (in the manner of a Simpsons Halloween special) somehow gotten into the Ghostbusting business. Professor Frink could believably invent ghostbusting equipment (such as his patented De-ghostifier), which the Simpsons could then acquire (along with a power source from Homer’s workplace).

Option 3: Who needs grownups? Bart and Lisa and their friends can get the job done, operating out of their Treehouse of Terror. They’ll need equipment, of course, but Frink could provide it (as above) or Lisa could develop it herself.

What Do Springfield Ghostbusters Do?

Here are a few story seeds for Ghostbusters operating in Simpsons territory.

  • Haunted Milhouse. Bart’s friend Milhouse has died, and his ghost is inhabiting his house. The PCs can trap the poor dead kid, but he reappears in his room the next night—Milhouse is a repeater! If the team wants him to stay gone (so they can get paid), they’ll need to satisfy his Goal: he wants his parents to remarry!
  • Krusty Kult. Springfield sees a spike in its clown population, as numerous clowns arrive to worship Krusty. The object of the clowns’ reverence has been broadcasting a mind-control signal as part of his show, and now he controls a clown army which he intends to use for some nefarious purpose. Will the Ghostbusters make a deal with the devil when they learn that the incarcerated Sideshow Bob knows a way to break Krusty’s kontrol over his kreepy kult?
  • Comic Book Die. Comic book characters are coming to life and causing chaos at the Android’s Dungeon! Luckily, all the animated comic characters are still comic book sized. Less luckily, even the “good guys” in the comics are behaving badly, thanks to a comics crossover event in which Radioactive Man and friends have been replaced by twisted mirror versions (bizarre, eh?). Can the Ghostbusters stop their heroes from wrecking the comic store without doing it themselves with their proton packs? (Pardon me…De-ghostifiers. Glavin!)

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Politician Archetype for All Flesh Must Be Eaten

I wrote this years ago for a website that isn't around anymore (and I'm sorry to say I don't remember its name). It's a politician character archetype for All Flesh Must Be Eaten. Last night during the Democratic debate it popped in my head again, so I thought I'd share it.

Image: NBC


Str 2 Dex 2 Con 2
Int 3 Per 2 Wil 3
LPs 26
EPs 26
Spd 8
Essence 14

Attractiveness 2 (2)
Charisma 2 (2)
Contacts (Governmental) (2)
Humorless (-1)
Obsession (Political Power) (-2)
Resources (Well-off) (2)
Showoff (-2)
Status 3 (2)

Acting 3
Bureaucracy 3
Cheating 2
Dodge 1
Guns (Pistol) 2
Haggling 3
Humanities (Political Science) 3
Humanities (Psychology) 3
Notice 3
Seduction 2
Smooth Talking 4
Sport (Golf) 1

Government I.D. badge, briefcase, smartphone, campaign buttons

I was on my way to the top--the White House was surely only a few years away. All those years of kissing babies and telling the stupid public what they wanted to hear was finally paying off. I had a house in the ‘burbs, a wife and kids who looked great in the campaign ads, and a chauffeured ride to work every day in a government car.

Then this zombie thing started. At first I didn’t believe the crazy stories that people were telling. I mean, come on! People rising from their graves to eat living flesh? But when I came home to find a rotting corpse munching on what was left of the wife and kids, I realized the truth: my bid for the presidency was going to be delayed.

Now my very survival is a full-time campaign. I’ve managed to form an alliance with a few surviving citizens. It’s strange how something like the dead returning to life can make people from such different backgrounds work together--even those damn liberals. But the world has turned into a new two-party system: the Living and the Dead--and the Dead don’t vote.

“Put me in charge, my fellow survivors, and I will lead my party to victory!”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

GenCon 2015: Games I Played

Wanna hear about some of the games I played at GenCon this year? I hope so, 'cause here they are!

Ghostbusters: The Board Game

Ghostbusters is a cooperative board game with light roleplaying elements. You play as one of the Ghostbusters and undertake different missions. The one we played in the demo game involved one open ghost portal on the board, several weak ghosts, and one tougher ghost (Slimer).

We started in the Ectomobile, and used one of our actions to disembark. We could then move, zap a ghost, clean slime off a teammate, or deposit ghost traps back in Ecto-1. Your number of actions depends on your level, and is reduced by how many times you've been slimed.

Each Ghostbuster has his own special abilities and a unique way of gaining XP. (Everyone gains XP by busting ghosts; these are additional paths to XP.) Playing as Ray Stantz, for example, I could gain XP by cleaning slime off my teammates.

Weak ghosts can be captured by a single zap, while tougher ones require the Ghostbusters to score several hits with the containment beam (represented by putting a ringed token on the ghost in your Ghostbuster's color). After the Ghostbusters have acted, the ghosts move. If a ghost moves through a Ghostbuster's square, that 'buster is slimed. Finally, we roll the special die with parapsychology symbols to see if more ghosts emerge from the portal. (I hope they call this the Zener die.)

Most of the game pieces were still in prototype state during the demo, so it's hard to tell how impressive the final product will be...except that the ghost pieces were pretty nice.

Dungeon Crawl Classics

Jim prepares to destroy us.

My Internet friend James Walls invited me to join his unofficial game of DCC before GenCon started. I'd never played before, and was eager to try it after reading James's blog posts about running the game--especially his Star Wars: Stormtroopers version where his players were stormtroopers trying to take down a Jedi.

My Three Characters. None survived.

James ran The Well of Souls for the eight of us. We each controlled 3 level 0 characters. We faced ritual sacrifice, animated skeletons, a wicked puzzle we never did solve, and the most dangerous foe: each other. (James added an evil blade to the adventure to mix things up; he describes it in his blog post "The Blade of Eight Souls.")

In general, I like how RPGs have evolved over time. I'm not one of those gamers who misses the Good Old Days when we rolled up characters randomly and played simplistic scenarios where gaining treasure was more important than roleplaying. But I found DCC charming for some reason, and after our game I had to buy my own copy.

The Strange

Now available for purchase

Though I’ve read The Strange and enjoyed it, I hadn’t had a chance to run or play it until now. I got to play the Mastodon adventure (available for sale now), written by Bruce Cordell and superbly run by a GM named Randy. As it turns out, none of the players in this session had played the game before either.

This session was one of those where the game was even more fun than I’d been expecting. The end of the adventure was set in the Ruk recursion (which is a sort of alternate universe), and while it was cool to read about Ruk, it was even cooler to be there. My favorite thing about The Strange is the way part of your character sheet (and therefore, your abilities) gets replaced when you travel to a different recursion.

The Strange won several ENnie awards at this GenCon (the silver awards for Best Game, Best Setting, and Best Interior Art), which made me even more glad I got to try it out. And the next day, I was fortunate enough to get my rulebook autographed by Monte, Bruce, and Shanna.

Like many things that happened at GenCon this year, this alone made my trip worthwhile.

Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space


I continued my streak of playing Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space at GenCon—this year being my second. (Granted, it's not a long-running streak yet.) The adventure was “The Northern Knights” by Walt Ciechanowski. I won’t describe the plot of the adventure, in case you get a chance to play it. (Also, I was focusing too much on being clever to remember all the plot details.) But I wanted to say a few general things about the game.

My fellow players took the roles of the 12th Doctor, Clara, Madame Vastra, Jenny, and Strax, and I got to play Robin Hood! In my opinion, the MVP was the player controlling Strax. He was hilarious and had a great grasp on the character.

We also had a good GM (Jen). She was cosplaying as Captain Jack. What I noticed most about her was her skill at answering player questions in character. For example, a guard was delivering some expository information to us, and one of the players interrupted to ask a question. Jen kept speaking in the guard’s voice, but shifted his conversation pretty seamlessly to answer the player but still impart some extra information. She was also liberal with handing out story points, which I think made us more likely to try actions we weren’t super-skilled at.

Jen also gave us each two tiny plastic cybermats (adventure spoiler!), which cemented her as my favorite GenCon GM ever.

That's it for this year's games! Maybe I'll play more next year, or maybe I'll go even deeper into the pool of seminars and play even less. We'll see!

Thursday, August 6, 2015

GenCon 2015: New Releases and Other News

I'm still processing all the Gaming Goodness(tm) I encountered at GenCon last week, but I wanted to go ahead and get this info up first. I'll bore you about the games I played in a later post.

Lots of companies announced new products or presented other breaking news at GenCon. This isn’t a comprehensive list of GenCon announcements, just the ones I personally witnessed.

Monte Cook Games announced a new series of sourcebooks for Numenera, collectively called Into the Ninth World.
"The first product in this line will be a sourcebook called Into the Night, to be followed up next year with Into the Deep and Into the Outside. Into the Night explores the vast reaches of space beyond the Ninth World, Into the Deep details regions beneath the sea, and Into the Outside peers into ultraterrestrial and interdimensional realms beyond our universe." - MCG
The Into the Ninth World Kickstarter campaign started on August 5th.

Monte Cook Games seminar
Pinnacle Entertainment Group announced three new product lines. The one I’m most excited about is a Flash Gordon Savage Worlds roleplaying game, which they announced with a cool teaser trailer. Gordon’s alive! The other two are Fear Agent and The Goon, both based on titles from Dark Horse Comics. Pinnacle has posted a video of the Pinnacle GenCon seminar on YouTube.

And Wil Wheaton announced at the Titansgrave Q&A seminar that Tabletop season 4 and Titansgrave season 2 will begin production early next year.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Doctor Who Research in the 1900s

© mamsy / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.0

I realized today, while researching the Victorian Era on my laptop at lunch, that I've been writing Doctor Who adventures since the days when research meant driving to the library to dig up books (using the card catalog system) and news articles (on microfiche). That makes me feel just a little bit like a time traveler myself.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Game Log: D&D Dragon Queen Session 5

Happy Pi Day!

We played D&D (5th ed.) for our latest game session, getting farther into Episode 3 of “Hoard of the Dragon Queen.” (See my earlier post if you want to read about our game covering the first part of Episode 3, aka Session 4. I didn’t write about the first three sessions. Hope you’ll forgive me.)

As before, the players were:

  • Dain, male dwarf barbarian, played by Christi.
  • Naeris, male drow paladin, played by Jay.
  • Copello, male human sorcerer, played by Jerrod.

It also turned out to be another special day for our game: it was Pi Day (3.14)! So according to Jay’s wishes, I bought pie. I meant to work pie into the events of the adventure, but it slipped my mind. Now I'm regretting that we missed out on enacting a kobold pie fight.

The PCs continued their exploration into a new room in the caverns they were exploring, which turned out to be the kobold barracks. Naeris led the way, intentionally not looking for traps. (This is because Naeris has, once or twice, taken wounds that would have killed him, yet lived. Naeris’s DM doesn’t believe in killing PCs unless it is dramatically significant, and Naeris has decided the reason he hasn’t died from such wounds is that he is immortal.)

So, Naeris triggered a trap. The ceiling above the following PC, Dain, collapsed, wounding Dain and knocking him down. The noise alerted the 5 kobolds and 5 winged kobolds in the area, all of whom attacked.

Filling in for the kobolds: Zombies!!!

Highlights of this combat included: winged kobolds dropping rocks on the PCs from above; Naeris wondering when the winged kobolds would run out of damned rocks to drop; Copello casting web on the non-flying kobolds; Naeris botching a spear throw and lighting the web on fire; Copello putting all the flying kobolds to sleep; and Dain bisecting a kobold who tried to flee. The party eliminated the kobolds, then rested.

Moving on, the party found a shrine room dedicated to Tiamat. Here they battled Langdedrosa Cyanwrath, the lightning-breathing half-dragon that fought (and technically killed) Naeris in the campaign’s first episode. (No blog post on that one, sorry.) Another enemy was in the room at the start of combat: a barbarian ally of Cyanwrath. Copello’s quick thinking made a major difference in how this scene went down, though: he charmed the barbarian using charm person before combat started, convincing the fellow that Copello and company were his friends. It took another turn or two to convince the barbarian to turn on Cyanwrath, but turn he did. This made the fight much easier for the PCs, and they defeated Cyanwrath. He still made them work for it, though, with his dual attacks and his lightning attack that could hit several opponents. Cyanwrath’s last action was to fatally wound the barbarian. (He was NOT pleased about his barbarian ally betraying him.)

I don't have a half-dragon mini. But I have a lizard man!

Once the fight was over, our heroes found a treasure chest. They triggered the trap protecting it (of course), survived the damage, and collected a supply of valuables, some healing potions, and a wand that is as yet unidentified.

Copello and the barbarian had a touching farewell, during which Copello asked the charmed fellow if there were any secret rooms in this joint. The barbarian said that the room to the east is a dragon hatchery, and that a concealed rope in this room leads up to a secret room. Then he coughed up blood and collapsed.

The party decided to check out the room up the rope first. Naeris led the way. The rope terminated at the underside of a rug, which Naeris threw aside. As he climbed out of the hole into a study of some sort, the room’s sole occupant (named Frulan Mondath, though I don’t think the players ever learned this) spotted him and moved to attack with her halberd.

Dain and Copello joined the fun in time to hear Mondath call for her guards. Copello immediately cast a web spell at the western doorway, immobilizing one of the six approaching guards and preventing any of them from entering.

The prone figs on the right are bodies the PCs stacked to keep enemies out!

Mondath was not at all happy that her reinforcements were cut off, and she expressed her displeasure by slamming Naeris into a wall and freezing Dain in place with a hold person spell. Copello tried to burn her with a fire bolt spell but missed, lighting the room’s large table on fire instead. Noticing that a large map and a collection of important-looking papers were lying on the table, Copello broke off from the fight to put out the fire so he could examine the documents after the fight.

Naeris recovered and put Mondath on the defensive. Copello taunted Dain about not being able to break out of his paralysis—which had the effect of pissing Dain off so much that he overpowered the spell! The finishing blow to Mondath came from the one-two punch of Dain slashing her with his greatsword and knocking Mondath into Copello’s cloud of daggers spell. All the daggers aimed themselves at Mondath and, in one smooth motion, stabbed her to death.

The party searched Mondath’s adjoining bed chamber, finding a purple cultist robe and a few items of more interesting treasure: a potion of fire giant strength, a potion of mind reading, and a dozen +1 arrows.

This is where we called it a night.

Post Mortem

I bought the 5th edition Dungeon Master’s Guide just before this session, so I could use it to reward the players with a few cool magic items. The campaign itself is mostly lacking in useful treasures, and the players had hinted that they were getting tired of only finding gold and baubles. This new DMG is wonderful, and led to the PCs finding the wand, the potion of fire giant strength, potion of mind reading, and the +1 arrows.

FYI, Lex Starwalker has a great overview of the DMG on his podcast Game Master’s Journey, in episodes seven, nine, and eleven.

Another thing I did before this game was visit the office supply store. (I love that place.) I got a whiteboard of my very own (I’d been using Jay’s) and some index cards in a smaller size than I’d seen before. The cards turned out to be great for tracking initiative order and NPC wound levels.

Another bit of prep I did between sessions was to print another copy of the PDF containing the campaign's enemy stats. Then I cut out each stat block, so that during combat I could take out the ones I needed and keep them in easy view, like below. This was MUCH preferable to flipping back and forth in the printout like I'd been doing before.

Finally, during this game I experimented with rewarding player behavior with pushes, as John Wick described in Play Dirty. Whenever a player did something entertaining or smart or in character or otherwise praiseworthy, they would earn either an inspiration die or, if they already had one of those, a push token. I like the inspiration die rule in D&D, but players can't collect more than one of those at a time, and I wanted to be able to reward every single occurrence of great behavior. So in addition to inspiration, a push lets a player add +1 to any die roll. The players didn't take advantage of their pushes much, so I'm considering bumping the die roll bonus up to a +1d4 or +1d6. I'm hesitant to open up unlimited inspiration dice, but that's a possibility too.

Have you experimented with anything like this? Or have an alternate idea for how to reward player cleverness (beyond XP, of course--something immediate)? I'd love to hear about it in the comments.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Game Log: “DoomOS” for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

I ran a one-shot adventure of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying Friday night, both to get more familiar with the system and to, I hope, jump-start a new game night. I've only played the game once, and hadn't run it myself till this occasion. But I've read the rule book three times—to prepare to run games that never materialized—and I find the system really unique and appealing.

Four players joined me for the game, only one of which had also played before. They were:
  • Jeff, playing Iron Man
  • Shannon, playing Spider-Woman
  • John, playing Daredevil
  • Kelly, playing Ms. Marvel

If you’re like me in thinking “One of these things is not like the other,” I’d like to mention that it impressed me how the Marvel system easily handles a group of heroes of what we’d normally think of as differing power levels; in a point-buy system, a street-level fisticuffs-based hero like Daredevil would be much less powerful than a cosmic-level hero like Ms. Marvel. But in this game, the two PCs playing those characters were able to take similar actions and it never seemed like one was less capable than the other.


The Event I ran (that’s what MHR calls adventures) was one I wrote for the occasion, called “DoomOS.” The heroes received a video distress call on their Avengers communicators. (By coincidence all the PCs were either current or former Avengers, so the players reasoned that this would be a good way to receive their mission trigger.) The call was from Willie Lumpkin, the mailman to the Fantastic Four.
“Thank God I reached you! Please help! The Fantastic Four are in trouble. The Baxter Building is under attack by…oh no!” The signal cut off.
The heroes didn't see anything amiss when they reached the Baxter Building, so they opted to enter the building via the standard lobby entrance instead of the roof (or smashing through a wall). They learned a few things from the receptionist: the Fantastic Four aren't answering their phone (a special blue one set aside specifically for calling them); only the FF can grant access to their suites (on the top 5 floors); and Willie Lumpkin was last seen heading up to visit the FF to deliver today’s mail and packages.

Iron Man tried to wirelessly hack the FF's computer system, but failed. This surprised Iron Man, because he was certain that he was smarter than Reed Richards and could easily hack his systems. Iron Man did, however, manage to gain access to the restricted elevator to the FF suites. The heroes headed upstairs.

(GM note: I figured the PCs would try to hack the computers, but didn't want them to succeed at that yet because that's what ending the adventure would depend upon. So I was happy that Jeff rolled poorly against the Doom Pool--but I wanted to reward his smart thinking, so I granted that Iron Man would still be smart enough to hack the doors. If, instead, he had rolled well, I would have ruled that he successfully hacked the door system but there was some sophisticated foreign code preventing him from gaining further access.)

Jeff kicked off the Iron Man/Mr. Fantastic rivalry.

On entering the FF's reception area on the first of the Fantastic Four's levels (the 31st floor), the heroes were attacked by the building's security system, in the form of electrified floors. Only Daredevil was hurt, and from then on all the PCs with flight took care to hover, and all the PCs without flight (Daredevil) stood on furniture or hung from a swingline.

Ms. Marvel set out to search the residential area for signs of life, but was attacked by a stun blaster that dropped down from the ceiling in the hallway. She and the rest of the team destroyed it, and Daredevil used his sonar sense to find two more defensive systems, which the group also destroyed.

Figuring it would be smarter to turn off all the defenses at once instead of fighting them in every room, Daredevil used his sonar sense again to locate the FF's computer center. Once he got a fix on its location (the 33rd floor) and relayed this to the team, Iron Man blasted a hole in the ceiling and proceeded to the 32nd floor, finding himself in the gym. He figured Reed would forgive the damage, and it wasn't too bad--the floor was smashed up, but the massive barbells and hydraulic presses that the Thing uses to keep in shape were undamaged.

The color printout is the Baxter Building.

Ms. Marvel continued Spider-Woman's search, locating the Human Torch unconscious on the floor beside his desk. Resisting an attack by gas emitters in the room, Ms. Marvel brought Johnny back to the rest of the group. (I had decided in advance that two of the FF would be on level 31, and that I'd let the players decide which FF members were there as they found them. They picked the Human Torch here, and the Thing later.)

Spider-Woman flew up next and physically smashed through to the target floor, level 33. She made her way through the chemistry lab and past the medical center to the computer complex. There, she found a bank of security monitors that showed where the rest of the FF were: Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman were trapped in a glass chamber in the biology lab (level 33), and the Thing and Willie Lumpkin were snoozing on the floor of the kitchen beside an upended tray of cookies (level 31).

Oh, and she also noticed a large robot looming over her.

(GM note: At this point I realized I’d forgotten that I’d planned on the heroes finding Willie unconscious in the reception area where they first entered the FF suites, so I put him in the kitchen with the Thing instead.)

(Additional GM note: after the heroes discovered the Human Torch and the Thing, I opened them up as playable characters. We thought of a few ways to play this: (a) a player could trade in her current hero and start playing as one of the FF; (b) a player could take on the role of a FF member in addition to his current character; or (c) we could place the FF characters in a pool, and then each turn one player could take an action for one of the FF who hadn't acted yet in lieu of taking their other character’s action. By this point, I think all the players had settled into their roles and were happy with who they were playing, so nobody controlled Johnny or Ben. I was fine with that, and just wanted to provide it as an option in case any of the players were hard-core FF fans and really wanted to try those roles.)

Spider-Woman saw that the robot was built from a haphazard-looking collection of parts: computer monitors formed the head, roughly-joined computer cases served as arms, and random pieces of doors and other metal odds-and-ends made up the legs. A symbol glowed on each of the two computer monitors that served as giant eyes--an iconized version of Doctor Doom's mask.

Spider-Woman decided the makeshift Doombot could wait, and concentrated first on shutting down the building’s security system. She was successful, and turned to fight the robot.

(GM note: At this point Spider-Woman also learned that the FF’s computer system, which the players decided normally called itself “FourOS”, was now branding itself as “DoomOS.” She also learned that the system was transmitting a tremendous amount of data to an IP address in Latveria, the country Doctor Doom rules. But I forgot those details at the time she was accessing the computer, so had to slip them in later! I did this by simply telling the players I’d made that mistake, and caught them up on the info they should have had.)

Downstairs, the Human Torch woke up. Ms. Marvel and Daredevil asked him what he remembered. Johnny said he was uploading photos of himself to Facebook, and recalls hearing the doorbell, then loud footsteps that must have been the Thing going to answer the door, then the same footsteps heading back toward the kitchen. Ms. Marvel and Daredevil filled him in on the current situation. Johnny asked Ms. Marvel to help him find his teammates. She agreed, and Daredevil left them to crawl through the ducts to the lab level.

Back in the computer complex, Spider-Woman blasted the Doombot. Wait, that's not true--her Venom Blast does less damage than her Superhuman Strength, so she punched the bot instead. When it tried to punch back, she tore off its arm. The Doombot didn't last long after that. While Spider-Woman was cleaning its clock, Iron Man achieved a spectacular feat of hacking and shut down the Internet data feed that was sending FF data to Latveria.

Elsewhere on the same floor, Daredevil located Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Woman. The chamber holding them turned out to be Reed’s experimental power nullifier. (It was, obviously, functional.) Unfortunately for Daredevil, the chamber blocked all sounds, so he couldn't hear the captives tell him which of the many nearby buttons would open the nullifier. But Sue had an idea—she tugged up the hem of her pant leg enough to show her green socks, and pointed to them. Daredevil got it, and pushed the green button, releasing the couple. (And now you know, True Believers, that the Invisible Woman wears green socks.)

Probably these.

Back downstairs, Ms. Marvel and the Human Torch found the Thing and Willie Lumpkin in the kitchen. Since the security systems that had knocked them out were now disabled, the Thing was already waking up. The heroes helped Willie recover, and the mailman told them his tale: he brought up the mail, and right after the Thing let him in and headed to the kitchen to grab some cookies to share with Willie, one of the parcels flew open and spewed hundreds of tiny metal doohickeys that skedaddled every which way. That's the last thing he remembered.

Leaving the Torch with Willie, Ms. Marvel followed the Thing as he headed for action, jumping up through the hole in the ceiling leading to the gym. Before our heroine made it through the hole, she saw the Thing punched into the far wall by a second Doombot. Landing in the gym, Ms. Marvel faced off with a Doombot with dumbbells for arms and hydraulic presses for legs.

“Kneel before Doom!” the cobbled-together Doombot said.

Ms. Marvel declined, deciding instead to blast the bot. Her first shot dealt serious damage. The rest of the heroes joined her soon after, and made quick work of the bot. At about that time, Iron Man shut down the DoomOS system and stopped the stream of stolen Fantastic Four data that Doctor Doom was stealing from his Latveria base.

(GM note: I had other ideas for Doombots made of different components—such as the Fantasticar—and figured I’d decide during play how many to throw at the PCs. Fighting the security systems took us longer than I’d estimated, so to keep the game from running too long I stopped at two Doombots.)

Reed Richards thanked the heroes for rescuing him and his family, purging the invading operating system, and thwarting Doctor Doom. Iron Man offered to help Reed get the computer systems back in order, using his obviously superior Stark technology. Before Reed could respond, Sue put her hand over his mouth and said they all appreciate his help.

System Impressions

This was the biggest my Doom Pool got for this session.

Before running this game, I had my doubts about the Doom Pool mechanic. The Doom Pool is a special pool of dice set aside for the GM. (The GM is called the Watcher, but I'll stick with GM here.) One use of the pool is to resist the PCs' actions when there isn't a specific NPC to target (such as when they want to break down a wall). Another is to add dice to a villain’s dice pool. The Doom Pool can grow whenever a player rolls a one and the GM chooses to claim the "opportunity" by buying it with a Plot Point.

I had assumed I would not take frequent advantage of the players’ bad rolls to increase the Doom Pool, because I don’t like to make things TOO hard for my players. Also, I am accustomed to cheating mercilessly behind my GM screen, adding or subtracting dice or just making up whatever result is dramatically appropriate at the time.

With this game, though, it feels more natural to roll everything out in the open. Maybe part of it is that we were all learning the system together, and wanted to demonstrate how the opposition put together their dice pools. At any rate, I quickly became addicted to seizing the players’ bad rolls and maximizing my Doom Pool. Another motivation for me is that a story typically starts out at a 2d6 Doom Pool, and the heroes were succeeding too often early in the game when they were rolling 4 or 5 dice vs a Doom Pool of only 2.

Also, the strategy of how best to improve the Doom Pool turned out to be fun. When cashing in on a player’s bad roll, the GM can either add a d6 OR increase the smallest die by one size (existing d6 becomes a d8, for example). Choices! Better yet, if the player rolls TWO ones, the GM can add a d6 AND step it up to a d8 without extra cost! This became my goal in life.

I was happy that Plot Points flowed like water during this game. Too often in games with a point-reward system (Bennies, Hero Points, Power Points) players are hesitant to spend them, or the GM forgets to award them often enough (I can be guilty of both). But in this game—perhaps due to my “buying” every possible Doom Pool upgrade by giving players Plot Points—the players spent them well. My favorite Plot Point award was to Shannon, for inventing Spider-Woman’s theme song.

Notable Quotes

“I bet it’s Dr. Doom.” - Shannon, immediately after Willie called the PCs for help in the first scene.

“Are you playing ‘Can’t Touch the Floor’?” - Shannon to John, after John spent a third turn explaining in detail how his Daredevil was carefully avoiding touching the electrified ground.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Valentine's D&D

For our Valentine's Day game session, my girlfriend suggested we decorate the place with hearts and pink banners and lovey-dovey streamers and shit, just to see what kind of reaction we'd get out of the players.

The names of all the players. I know, barf, right?

How do you like the finished product? Yeah, pretty nausea-inducing, right? That's what Jay said. Which made my day.

In addition to the decorations, we got candy hearts for me to give out to any player who did anything especially clever or entertaining. Also, we got heart-shaped candy tins for the players, and a special prize for the player who ended up with the most candy hearts at the end of the game.

For this session, we played the first part of Episode 3 of the D&D 5th edition campaign "Hoard of the Dragon Queen." (We took a break from Numenera because we were down two players, and it wouldn't feel the same without Catastrophe and Boomshakalaka.)

While I don’t want to go so far as to log all of our sessions from published D&D adventures, I would like to brag about my players’ clever actions in this session. If you’re a D&D player and you plan to play this adventure, you might want to skip reading the rest of this due to possible spoilers.

The party this time was:
  • Dain, male dwarf barbarian, played by Christi.
  • Naeris, male drow paladin, played by Jay.
  • Copello, male human sorcerer, played by Jerrod.
This episode starts with an NPC hiring the PCs to return to a site full of enemies that they scouted—and had to escape from—last time. The players were unwilling to do so for the simple reward of gold the NPC was offering. I’ve read criticism of this campaign for not offering much in the way of material rewards for the PCs, and I think that’s what the players were starting to feel here. They each had around 300 gold already from previous quests in the campaign, and nowhere to spend it (being based in a small town that had been robbed blind in Episode 1).

I don’t have the new Dungeon Master’s Guide yet, so the only source of treasure at my disposal for 5th edition was a few items in the supplemental downloadable material for the campaign. So I had the NPC offer each of the PCs his choice of a +1 weapon or +1 armor. This did the trick; the players’ eyes lit up and they agreed to the mission.

When the party returned to the camp they were to scout, they found it had been abandoned except for some hunters out front and some other forces in a cavern. Upon learning that the hunters provide food for the enemy, Dain suggested they poison the food and let that do the work of taking out the enemy. So that’s what they did—a little charcoal on the meat, plus some of Copello’s poison spray mixed in, add a dash of Copello disguising himself as one of the hunters, and they put their plan in motion.

This made me nervous, because this episode is set up as a standard dungeon crawl—enter area 1, find (or spring) some traps, fight some monsters, move to area 2, repeat. I didn’t really want the PCs to short circuit all of that and be led right to the heart of the cavern base, and yet I didn’t want to punish their creativity either. So I tried to let things happen naturally and roll with it.

I decided the guards immediately inside the cavern wouldn’t let just anyone in, even the hunters they knew provided their food. So they blocked Copello (in disguise) from passing further into the cavern, but didn’t attack him either. The PCs put their heads together and decided Copello should take the guards a plate of poisoned sandwiches. This worked; the guards ate the food and before long were making sounds of distress.

The PCs dispatched the suffering guards easily. However, before they could finish the last one, he stumbled deeper into the cavern and accidentally tripped the first trap the PCs would have encountered. (I made it fair, giving him the same chance to escape it that they would have had.) This had the further benefit (from the PCs’ perspective) of revealing a patch of camouflaged violet fungi that would have likely sneak-attacked them. The fungi instead attacked the guard, helping the PCs out even more.

I loved that all of those circumstances in the PCs’ favor had trickled down from their outside-the-box plan to poison their enemy.

The party explored a few more rooms, then found one that featured a group of kobolds and a pit containing three guard drakes. (The drakes were isolated for training purposes and couldn’t get up to the PCs unless the kobolds could manage to let them out.) On the party’s first attack, Copello fumbled his spell attack, and I went with the result that Jay suggested.

Earlier, the PCs had noticed that the ceiling of the adjacent room was covered with bats. They were stealthy enough that they didn’t disturb the creatures at the time, but Copello’s badly aimed blast landed right next to the bats and pissed them off royally. The bats turned out to be no threat at all, but among them were hiding a group of stirges, which attacked.

Since the PCs and the kobolds were close together, the stirges went for all of them. Copello was the only PC to get bit, but the kobolds were far less lucky; all but one of them were killed outright by the first attack by the stirges! Naeris noticed that the stirges that had killed the kobolds were still attached to them, slurping up their blood, so he tossed a kobold (plus stirge) down into the drake pit. The party added the other kobolds to the feeding frenzy, too, and by the end of the scene had neatly taken care of the kobolds and stirges and pacified the drakes enough that they calmed down and didn’t pay any more attention to the PCs.

Copello’s critical failure resulted in all but one kobold being slain in the same round!

That’s part of the reason his player earned the Valentine’s prize of the evening.

Notable Quotes:
  • "I'm not gonna go berserker over a fuckin' plant." - Christi politely rejected Jay's suggestion that her barbarian use her rage ability.
  • "I give great diarrhea, but that's about it." - Jerrod modestly ducked Jay's compliment which implied that Copello might distract the guards in a specifically adult manner.
  • "It's a 50 Shades of Grey corner." - Christi thought it odd that the drake-training room contained "long poles with lassos at the end...leashes and collars; sharp prods...human-sized dummies...with ridiculous expressions painted on their faces."

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Numenera Session 2: The Great Slab

Drawing of yours truly by our youngest player

Previously…our heroes were on their way to the Great Slab (Numenera, p. 187), the most impressive landmark in the land of Dessanedi, in the Beyond. The party aquired a trio of adolescent scutimorphs to serve as mounts.

We added two players to our Numenera game this time. They are regulars in the gaming group, they just weren’t available for the first session.

  • Christi played Casper, a stealthy nano who exists partially out of phase.
  • Jerrod played Dr. Deth, a tough glaive who works miracles.

The existing party (Catastrophe, Boomshakalaka, and Sparkles!!!) met Dr. Deth on their way to the Great Slab. Deth was a military doctor who’d been left behind by his unit when he insisted on taking care of a wounded soldier who couldn’t keep up with the rest of the army. The soldier had ended up succumbing to his wounds, leaving Dr. Deth alone. After meeting the party and helping Sparkles recover from the reality spike wound in his foot, Deth joined their expedition to the Great Slab.

Around the time the party got their first glimpse of the Slab in the distance, they spotted a woman being menaced by a pack of broken hounds. The woman, Casper, had taken cover in a tree, and the party rushed to her aid. (All but Sparkles, who was mourning the loss of one of his wine bottles during the journey.)

Catastrophe drew first blood with her crossbow, killing her target, and then made the rest of the party uneasy when she started skinning the creature in the middle of combat. After overcoming their nausea, the other party members made quick work of the remaining hounds, displaying great skill and still refusing to use Effort. The only dicey moment was when Casper botched a buzzer shot and fell out of the tree.

After the fight, Catastrophe made a few shins by selling crafted items to her colleagues. Dr. Deth now sports a new sheath made of broken hound leather, and Boom is the proud owner of a fancy feathered hat. Deth and Casper each climbed onto one of the party’s scutimorph mounts behind an existing rider, and the party resumed their journey.

The Great Slab! The party members had heard the legends, but none had seen it in person. The slab is a giant rectangle laid flat on the ground, measuring over 900 meters tall, 2 miles wide, and more than 4 miles long. (Based on the name, at least one party member expected it to be standing upright, like a monolith.) Approaching the western side of the Slab—one of the short sides—the party discovered a small shanty town made up of various sizes of tents perched within a quarter mile of the Slab walls. Sparkles suggested they avoid it for now, and his curiosity for the mysteries of the Slab itself was infectious.

Before they could reach the Slab, though, a man called out from behind the party. He had come from the shanty town and caught up with the group by using his hover boots.

Catastrophe immediately wanted the hover boots.

The man introduced himself as McLin Terbone, the owner of the Great Slab, and earnestly welcomed the party. He even wore a sash, embroidered with the word "Owner", to back up his story. Our heroes swallowed their surprise and politely asked the man how he had come to own such an enormous landmark. "That's a long story," he said, but he did go on to share what information he did have about the Slab--which wasn't much. He told them that it had been around for longer than anyone remembered, and that he didn't know of anyone succeeding in their attempts to climb it or fly over it. He also didn't know the makeup of the reddish-black oil that constantly flows down the sides of the Slab, but mentioned that a scientist in one of the nearby tents was studying the substance. Indeed, the Owner said, she is offering to pay anyone who will drink some of the stuff so she can study its effects, if any.

Boomshakalaka immediately ran to find the scientist's tent. (His comrades believe his dedication is to shins rather than science.) Casper followed along.

Sparkles and Deth headed over to the Slab to examine it up close, and Catastrophe worked to get more information out of the Owner. He had said that the way he became the owner was a long story, and she convinced him to take the time to tell it to her. We’ll see what he told her later. Be patient.

(I didn't have anything in mind to reveal about the Slab's origins, so when Catastrophe's player asked if she could make it up, I was happy to oblige her. She worked on the story while the rest of the party continued adventuring.)

Over at the shanty town, Boom and Casper searched for someone looking like a scientist. They passed numerous small tents, a grand one where some sort of merchandise was being sold, a pen with two aneen, a tent with smoke pouring out of it, and then the largest tent of all, before Boom decided to stop. People in hooded robes were coming and going from this grand tent, and Boom asked one if this was the scientist’s tent. No, one said, that’s the smoking tent next door.

Boom and Casper ducked inside the smoking tent. A white-haired woman wearing thick glasses was working with a variety of vials and other containers on two large tables. Most of the vials held the oily liquid from the Slab—let’s call it Slab oil. Boom got right to the point, telling the woman that he’d heard she was offering 20 shins to anyone who would sample the liquid. Caught by surprise (and lacking any other takers), the scientist agreed. (She’d been offering 10.)

The scientist led Boom to a chair with straps at the arms and legs. “For your own safety during the experiment,” the scientist explained. Boom initally balked, until the woman paid him in advance. Then he helped her strap him in. He gulped down the oil. Said it wasn’t too bad. The scientist asked him lots of detailed questions about how he was feeling. Fortunately, Boom suffered no ill effects.

So far.

Meanwhile, back at the Slab…Sparkles and Deth determined that the Slab felt smooth and solid behind the flowing liquid. Sparkles used his Scan ability to learn a few details:

  • The wall is one meter thick.
  • There’s breathable air on the other side of the wall.
  • There is evidence of power conduits on the other side of the wall.
  • An energy field covers the outer wall.

While the two men studied the Slab, Catastrophe presented them with the Owner's tale of the Slab's origin.

The story must be true. She wrote it in a reporter's notebook.

The Origin of the Slab, as told by its Owner, and recounted by Catastrophe:
"Long, long ago, the people who lived here worshipped the Slab. At that time, the Slab was made of bacon. Someone banished or killed all the worshippers and ate all the bacon. Then other people made a new slab out of pork. The pork slab was eaten too. The people of the region then went for years without food; over 10 million people died. Then 3 people got together (including me) and we built a new Slab out of metal and synth. It took 2,368 years. The end."
Apparently the Owner is older than he looks.

Sparkles and Dr. Deth were unconvinced about the accuracy of this tale. Sparkles moved on to using a detonation cypher to try and blow a hole in the wall.

Boom and Casper left the scientist’s tent after hearing the noise and headed back to the Slab—along with a large group of villagers. The 9 hooded villagers took the lead, looking angry as they marched toward Catastrophe, Sparkles, and Deth. (Catastrophe tried to defuse the situation by putting on a hedge magic show, but it only generated interest from the non-robed folk. Still, she ended up earning some shins.)

Boom and Casper got separated in the crowd, but both had the same idea: get back to the Slab before the villagers do, in case their allies are in danger. Casper swung by the aneen pen and "borrowed" one. She took off for the Slab on aneenback.

Boom spotted a creature, too: a balloon bird (level 3, flies as level 4). He had heard of these, but had never seen one. Though they are actually lizards rather than birds, they do have the ability to inflate their bodies an enormous amount with lighter-than-air gases. Boom figured such a creature would be a great aid in getting back to the Slab quickly, so he jumped on its back. Unfortunately, he wasn’t as successful in winning over the balloon bird as he had been with the scutimorph, and it bucked him off. When he got back up, he was confronted by two angry-looking women.

“Why were you bothering Cloud?” one of the women asked. Boom tried to talk her into letting him borrow the balloon bird for a while, but she didn’t buy it. In fact, the woman was so offended she took a swing at Boom. In an astounding change of fortune (meaning Boom’s player rolled a 20), Boom ducked under the punch, leapt onto the back of the balloon bird, and took off into the air.

Back at the Slab, Casper arrived in time to make a stand with Sparkles and Dr. Deth when the robed villagers strode forward angrily to confront them. “How dare you blapheme this holy place!” The robed ones turned out to be a group of Slab worshippers. Dr. Deth stepped forward and smoothed things over with the worshippers, convincing them that nobody was trying to hurt the Slab, and asking them to tell him more about themselves. The lead worshipper introduced himself as Tharu Abanazad, and said that he and his fellows had all had different visions of the Slab; in his own, he saw the Slab opening up and releasing wonders into the world. Tharu believes this vision will come to pass soon.

The Priest of the Slab also mentioned his belief that attempts to enter or climb the Slab are folly. For one thing, he said, some force seems to be protecting the Slab from these activities. Numerous accounts of such attempts have failed, many of them attributable only to “bad luck.” If the makers of the Slab wanted it climbed or entered, Tharu reasoned, they would have provided stairs or doors.

During this discussion, Sparkles performed some experiments on the Slab using his sheen of ice ability. He found that he could freeze the oil to the side of the Slab for brief periods, so he used this technique to start climbing up the wall.

Most of the Slab worshippers and other villagers present watched Sparkles's ascent with awe--except for those who had been won over by Catastrophe's magic show. Her show became so popular among her fans, in fact, that they brought forth a supply of wood and built a stage for her.

While Sparkles and Catastrophe were putting on their respective shows, Casper attempted to phase through the Slab wall. It worked! Well, eventually. It took her a long time to squeeze her molecules all the way through the dense wall.

As Casper moved deeper, Sparkles moved higher. Thanks to his skill with ice, his knowledge of ice manipulation lore, and a lot of luck, Sparkles neared the top of the Slab wall. Then he activated a cypher which allowed him to funnel his freezing Slab oil upward at great speed—and he shot up onto the top of the Slab!

Casper had moved almost halfway into the Slab wall when Boom returned, riding his stolen balloon bird. Seeing Sparkles reaching the top of the Slab, Boom aimed to land nearby. When he got close to the wall, Boom and his ballon bird were buffeted by strong winds--winds that weren't at all in evidence moments before. Realizing his chances for reaching the top of the Slab--and perhaps even landing anywhere safely--were plummeting, Boom activated his danger translocation cypher. This gadget would supposedly teleport the user to safety immediately after the user was hurt in any way. Boom tested it out by leaping off his mount and aiming for the Slab wall. He struck the wall, and vanished!

Around that time, Casper finished phasing through the wall and became the first party member to reach the Slab interior. She found herself in a dark, cool space. Activating a glow globe showed her that she was in a long, tall corridor made of smooth metal, the walls of which ran parallel to the Slab wall. Casper picked a direction and started exploring.

The first thing she found was the skeletal remains of a human. Casper looted a cypher and a book from the body. The book was so brittle it was mostly unreadable, but Casper managed to make out two noteworthy entries. The first was text: "1 17 32 805 67 83?" The other entry was a drawing of a vaguely human outline, sketched in red ink (or was it blood?). Casper continued her search, and in another hallway located a panel that activated overhead lights.

Elsewhere...Boom reappeared inside a high-tech-looking room. The air was cool and the room was lit by overhead lights and an array of waist-high instrument panels. Boom couldn't resist touching one before leaving the room to explore. (It beeped, and turned off a humming sound Boom hadn't noticed until it was gone.) Boom called for his friends, but the reply was only silence.

Up on the top of the Slab, Sparkles looked around carefully to make sure he wasn't in any immediate danger. All was quiet on the Slab's surface. He took in the magnificent view of the surrounding region, then set out toward the center of the Slab, where he could see an enormous valley bisecting the Slab from one long wall to the other.

Reaching the valley, Sparkles encountered a few strange hybrid animals, such as a half-lizard/half-bird, and a half-feline/half-animate-plant (all level 2). The animals seemed to be created by design, since their features weren't blended in an evolutionary way but looked more like they had been grafted together--the left half of one beast connected to the right half of the other. Sparkles was cautious and did not prompt an attack by the hybrids, even when he captured a lizard/bird for later study. Indeed, a cat/plant became fascinated by Sparkles and followed him around.

Sparkles peered into the chasm bisecting the Slab, and estimated that he could climb down into it safely. Well, relatively safely. But first, he headed back to the edge to send a message to his allies.

Back in the Slab, Casper found a square room that featured floor tiles that illuminated in an indecipherable pattern. Before she could reach the other side of the room, a figure entered from the opposite door. It was translucent, and vaguely human shaped, and red.

To be continued!

Next time: Will the red figure be friendly? Is Boom in the Slab with Casper, and if so, is he close enough to her position that they'll see each other in their lifetimes? Will Sparkles find a way to communicate with his friends (or more importantly, his cat/plant)? How long will Dr. Deth wait for the others to return before he gets bored and wanders off? And will Catastrophe end up bilking every single villager out of all their shins? Tune in next time to find out!

Player Quotes:
"Pardon him, he's taken too many blows to the head." - Dr. Deth (Jerrod) to the Owner, after Sparkles mentioned he thought the Slab would be made of bacon. 
"Super-fast working montage!" - Kaitlyn, describing Catastrophe's crafting. 
"I run toward the town!" - Juan, revealing Boom's avarice upon learning the scientist was paying people to drink Slab oil.