Wednesday, 30 September 2015

The Delta Green Kickstarter

Well, Arc Dream have finally launched their Kickstarter for Delta Green and it is doing very well too. At time of writing it had raised over $70,000 of a $40,000 target. But I'm not backing it, despite having been a fan of the idea of Delta Green since I first read the original and superlative Convergence scenario in The Unspeakable Oath back in 1993 or so.

So why am I not backing it? It is after all the re-launch and admittedly much needed update of one of the most respected and in my view intellectually satisfying RPG lines in the history of tabletop gaming. It took the Call of Cthulhu game in a new and original direction that it needed for 1990s gaming. It has been a long, long time in returning, and has required a facelift to bring it up to date with the post-9/11 political environment.

First off, I've got a few other unfulfilled Kickstarters still out there, including Horrors of War by Adam Scott Glancy, that have yet to appear. 13th Age Glorantha is proceeding, but real-world events - the merger between Chaosium and Moon Design - raise interesting questions about how the Glorantha and 13th Age intellectual properties will work in the future. Will there be further support for that game?

Glancy has been very, very quiet about Horrors of War, only finally making a statement about why it is delayed in the week before GenCon. We have had a further update since then, but I note that he his now listed as one of the team on the DG project, while he still has Horrors in play. Where will he assign his priorities? Inquiring minds want to know. He was offering refunds to some incensed backers in early September, but communications have gone quiet again. Backing Horrors of War was a spur of the moment for me, but I'm now being a little more disciplined. Hence, I'd rather wait and see DG in the shops.

Finally, one of my problems with the original Delta Green: it is very much about a US organisation with a US national security priority. Foreign equivalents are not really the good guys either - take a look at Project Pisces in Delta Green Countdown. The games I've used Delta Green for to date have consequently involved domestic American investigations. I've tinkered with the idea of a UK campaign using Pisces, but that stops being DG, and much of the core material goes out the window as a consequence.

I'm also writing a scenario set in Vietnam in 1966-67, but that game draws on a mere few paragraphs from the original DG book, nothing more, and I am using a combination of Savage Worlds - Tour of Darkness and Realms of Cthulhu, not CoC, which is bad at replicating bigger firefights.

The launch of Esoterrorists and the Gumshoe rules engine in 2005, and the subsequent roll out of Trail of Cthulhu and Night's Black Agents using that system, have presented me with an alternative which seems to work well. NBA also has the advantage of being set in Europe, much closer to home for me, and to be honest, uses a rules system that somehow works better than the CoC original, which was itself adapted from RuneQuest. Gumshoe now has a decade of active play behind it, and many of the rough edges of Esoterrorists have been sanded off. I'm hoping to be running a play test of NBA shortly and will be able to report back on that on this very blog.

I've also had to ask myself - realistically - how often I run horror / espionage games. Do I really need to have two or three different settings and systems? I don't think so. Sorry, Arc Dream.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Deadlands Noir - The Case of the Bayou Bantam

Back to Deadlands Noir this week as our Legend of the Five Rings game is still in preparation, but eagerly anticipated by all and sundry. We still have one player character to produce, but all in good time. Instead, we continued with our 'filler' campaign of Deadlands Noir.

Regular readers will know that Doctor Ross Leboeuf's wife has been revived from a coma thanks to the detectives' efforts against a cabal of demon worshippers she used to be a member of [see the previous story arc - 'A Case of Courvoisier']. That cabal has now been entirely eliminated, with the exception of Mrs Leboeuf, who has now revealed that while she was in a coma, her spirit was wandering the parallel realm of the Hunting Grounds, seeking her missing sister, Tammy Portunate. The demon summoned by Father McNelis, a rogue Jesuit lecturer from Loyola University, helped her to get access to the Hunting Grounds, but she has failed to find her sister.

Tammy Portunate used to be a member of the inner circle of famed New Orleans spiritualist and medium, 'Mammy' Laurelie Martine, who frequents the salons of the wealthy and the influential in the Big Easy, helping them to re-connect with the departed.

Doctor Leboeuf sent his wife out of town to recover with relatives up state, while he and the rest of the team headed to the Yellow Sign book store to converse with Hetty Sanderson, sister of deceased cabal member William Sanderson (and for Professor Ramsay Gordon to once again make eyes at her while entertaining her with his mad science). Hetty was able to tell them that actual physical entrance to the Hunting Grounds is considered impossible, and that few practitioners of voodoo are able to sustain themselves astrally there for very long, unless assisted with very powerful magic. She has heard that ritual masks are sometimes used to help them.

No voodoo priests have been able to enter the Hunting Grounds regularly since Baron Simone Lacroix, who once presided over the railway company Bayou Vermilion from his headquarters in New Orleans, and who vanished in the 1880s.

The detectives mulled over whether to write a letter to Mammy Martine, requesting a meeting, before returning to their offices (no letter has been sent). Here they ran into Art Torobelli, a boxing trainer, who was in need of their help. He has approached them on the recommendation of local mafia capo, Mike the Stick [see 'A Case of Courvoisier for further information on Mike the Stick].

Art has been training promising young boxer Wayne 'The Battler' Barbeau, aka the Bayou Bantam, for the past couple of years. Barbeau walked into his gym off the street one day, and Torobelli took him under his wing, training him up to be an undefeated bantamweight boxer. He is due to fight Lou Salica in New York in three days' time. However, Barbeau went missing on the way home from the gym yesterday and has not been seen or heard from since.
Someone's missing a boxer, and the Stick wants him back.

Barbeau, it seems, has no recollection of his past prior to 1933. A photograph of him shows a highly athletic and incredibly well-muscled young man, sporting a tattoo on one arm with the characters 'A51'. Prof Gordon immediately makes the connection with Area 51, a rumoured top secret Confederate weapons research facility in New Mexico. The detectives agree a daily rate of $30 with Torobelli (which Torobelli tells them will be honoured by Mike the Stick) before heading over to the trainer's house to meet Torobelli's wife. Torobelli emphasises that Barbeau is the best boxer he has ever coached and "could go all the way to the top."

Searching Barbeau's room (he lodged with the Torobelli family in Lakeview, two blocks away from Leboeuf's place), the detectives find some ragged military uniform, the fatigues he was wearing when he arrived at the gym. They bear a serial number over the left breast. Mrs Torobelli also tells them the young man used to have nightmares, complaining of a sensation of falling and drowning.

The detectives spot a man watching the building from the opposite side of the street. Using a combination of feigned drunkeness, a confusion hex, and an invisible approach from Prof Gordon (invisibility belt patent science invention), they apprehend Nate Braddock, a journalist working for the Tombstone Epitaph. It quickly becomes obvious that Braddock is following them because "interesting things seem to happen around you guys." In particular, he is investigating a possible gang war brewing between the Black Hand and the Red Sect, following the fatal shooting of Red Sect houngan Bon Bon Lescartier. The Red Sect are blaming the killing on the Black Hand, and Lescartier's mother, Mammy Martine, a senior figure in the Red Sect according to Braddock, has put a $5000 bounty out for information leading to the identity of the killers. The detectives point Braddock in the direction of the old plantation in Jefferson County [see 'A Case of Courvoisier'], warning him that there may still be walking dead at large there. Braddock seems grateful for the lead and promises to stay in touch.

Retracing Barbeau's route from the gym on foot, the detectives expend plenty of shoe leather and the bulk of the day questioning potential witnesses. Finally, some street urchins are bribed with candy to reveal that they saw Barbeau abducted by three men who jumped out of a large green truck with a white star on the side. They were well-dressed, athletic, with short hair cuts.

The kids see everything that goes down in Lakeview.


At the gym, the detectives use keys given to them by Torobelli to search Barbeau's locker. Here they are confronted by another boxer, Barbeau's sparring partner, Al Smith. Once comfortable with their bona fides, he tells them of a clean cut stranger who visited the gym frequently in the past few weeks to observe Barbeau sparring and ask questions about his strength and ability. Smith had assumed he might be a scout for Salica in New York.

The detectives now conclude that Barbeau has been kidnapped by the Confederate military. They review potential military facilities in New Orleans, including the Army supply depot and the Jackson Barracks in the Lower Ninth ward, but finally decide the disused naval base in Algiers on the south bank of the Mississippi looks like the most likely candidate. As dusk falls, they arrive outside the base, and note that the gate has a brand new and shiny padlock and chain on it. As Doc Leboeuf contemplates cutting the chain, Lee Deville and Gordon spot a man in a car watching the gate from a distance. The sedan is familiar to Deville, as is its occupant, a private eye called Gavin Phillips, with whom he worked a case once, before his untimely death and return as a manitou-infested husk (Phillips notes that DeVille looks unwell). Phillips claims -unconvincingly - he is simply out for a recreational spin in his car, before driving away.

Before the detectives can break into the base, they spot a flying boat landing on the river. They hurry to cut the chain, and start to explore. Most of the buildings are shrouded in darkness, but they soon find the plane moored at one of the wharves, with two pilots sharing a cigarette next to it. A nearby warehouse shows signs of light from behind blackout blinds. Gordon quickly customises a pair of sleeping gas grenades, which he tosses at the pilots, knocking both of them senseless. The detectives bind and gag them, and take them onto the plane. Here they find a flight plan, showing the plane has come from a remote airfield in New Mexico.

A return ticket to New Mexico for the Bayou Bantam?


An action card (and a bennie) is now spent to allow the heroes to sneak up on the warehouse and peep inside. LeRalf is busy setting up his Tommy gun on a pile of crates nearby, while Prof Gordon activates his invisibility belt again. The detectives spy eight men inside clad in long black overcoats guarding a man in a reinforced cage. An officer in military uniform carrying a doctor's hold all is talking to him. The man in the cage is obviously Barbeau.

As the detectives consider their options, they hear a loud, repetitive crashing noise from the other side of the warehouse. The men inside seem equally surprised. Shortly thereafter, a huge, 10 foot tall mechanical man breaks through the rear wall of the warehouse, trailing clouds of smoke and steam...

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Viscounts & Vagabonds - Mechanics and Vices

Continuing my series on the basic rules in development for Viscounts & Vagabonds, my roleplaying game of hijinks and skulduggery in Georgian England, in this post I'll be looking at the basic mechanics, the Relationships side of the game, and Vices.

The game uses pools of d10s - typically, you will be building a pool from either an Attribute plus a Skill, or simply testing an Attribute on its own. Should you be dealing with an individual with whom you have a 'love/positive' Relationship, then you will be adding their dice as well to the test. Relationships come into play in a number of ways, of which more in a subsequent post.

The GM will usually determine what your target number is on the roll (TN). You will need to roll at least two of this result, or two of a higher result to succeed. The more, the better. A fairly standard test would be 6X2. A very hard test would be 10X2. Some tests might require three in very rare circumstances (a trio). Usually, this will be because something has to be done under pressure with time or space constraints of some kind. If you have all the time in the world, a X2 result should suffice. Escaping other riders on horseback would require Phys + Horse X3 for example, probably with a TN of 7 or 8.

The GM can taint most rolls with taint dice. These are 1-2 dice (sometimes more) that are added to the pool. These should usually be black to distinguish them. Taint dice reflect some form of adverse circumstance that will not necessarily stand in the way of success, but can mean that you level of success in somehow tainted, or modified, by GM fiat. This would require at least one of the taint dice to beat your result. Hence, if I were to succeed with 7X2, and there was a taint die in the pool that came up with an 8, my success would be tainted in some way.

Reputation can be permanently tainted in this way. Other ongoing factors or circumstances can produce taints. For example, trying to Flirt with an NPC with whom another party member has a negative relationship, would add taint dice equal to half that relationship. A very sick or poor quality steed might bring with it a permanent taint die for every Horse roll made with that mount.

Botches - if you roll more 1s than any other number (including taint dice), then something really very bad has happened. Both player and GM can suggest what this might be. This will usually also mean loss of one from your current pool in that attribute. This trumps even a success. Thus, if I rolled 7X2, but also 1X3, I'd still be stuffed.

Vices

All Viscounts have Vices. These are determined by the player at character generation stage. I may provide suggestions in a future post. While it is possible to just have Drink or Gambling as vices, part of the fun is coming up with something far more exotic and colourful for your character. This encourages the GM to put exotic temptations in your character's path. The player and GM should agree on a mechanical penalty

Each Vice has 10 boxes. You may have more than one Vice, so on the character sheet, I may include space for up to three. At generation, a Viscount has to spend points in his Vices equal to Spirit + Luck + Wealth divided by two (rounded up). Every time he is exposed to a Vice, a Viscount must test using a dice pool based on Spirit + current Vice. The Viscount must roll higher on his Spirit dice than his Vice dice to resist. If he fails, he takes an additional point in that Vice.

I've not really decided whether there should be specific impact on Wealth, or Physique or Spirit or indeed other attributes yet. Reputation or even Luck might be at stake. The attribute at stake should be obvious, if not, then Luck is the default.

Once a Viscount fills all his boxes on a Vice, he becomes Dissolute, and his character is removed from play, becoming an NPC and succumbing entirely to their vice, losing all interest in daily life.

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Viscounts & Vagabonds - attributes and skills

Bath Races
So to work on the first draft of the Viscounts and Vagabonds rules, with a view to a play test in the near future. Comments, observations and general ribaldry are of course invited.

A quick summary of where we are so far. I've decided to write the rules from scratch, although inspiration has been drawn from a number of other RPGs I've played in the past.

At the moment, each player will control one Viscount and will start with a Vagabond as well. In this case, the player has more limited control over the Vagabond, determined by his relationship pool. Viscounts can either begin the game with a Vagabond, or acquire one in the course of play. It is, of course, not compulsory to have a Vagabond - a Viscount can try to survive without one, but it is harder, much harder...

Attributes

Each Viscount has six attributes:

Physique - covers general strength, physical health, athletics, used in any tests requiring physical skill

Spirit - covers mental aptitude, general willpower, energy, indeed most non-physical stamina and capabilities not covered by Physique

Parley - an important attribute in this game, it is used as the base for any interaction, from flirting to oratory

Note: Each of the above attributes can be replenished relatively easily. They can be damaged through loss of contests. They can even be reduced to zero. A negative number, however, has permanent consequences. Negative Physique means your character is dead. Negative Spirit means he / she probably has killed themselves in some dramatic way, or been sent to an asylum. I've not worked out the consequence for a negative Parley yet.

Wealth - measures the character's wealth. Zero wealth means you are broke, negative wealth sees you in debtor's gaol or pursued by creditors. You are completely destitute or owe money. I'll go into more detail on the wealth mechanics in a later post.

Reputation - also extremely important, this is how you are viewed by polite society. Negative Reputation sees you pretty much ostracised by all and sundry, and you may as well emigrate to Virginia. Reputation can be Tainted - i.e. you can have good social standing, but you are considered as somehow untrustworthy (e.g. rumoured membership of the Hellfire Club, fought a duel, etc). Tainted dice sit alongside your Reputation pool, and are rolled with it. Viscounts can do something ostentatious to increase their Reputation - e.g. spend 1 Wealth to increase 1 Reputation by making a charitable donation, but this is limited to one attempt per session, and once between sessions.

Luck - you can use this pool instead of another pool. You can also spend a Luck point voluntarily for a re-roll. You can also burn a Luck point permanently to save a character from going out of play. Your Luck cannot be replenished. Once your Luck runs out, you're on your own.

Vagabonds only have Physique, Parley and Spirit attributes. Viscounts have all six.

Attributes can be replenished. A good night's sleep can replenish Spirit and Physique by one point. Wealth can be earned in the course of play and via other sources of income - e.g. a share in the cargo of an East Indiaman might bring you +1 Wealth, a farm in Norfolk might restore +1 Wealth between sessions. Luck never replenishes. Reputation can only be replenished through play, and is usually awarded at the end of the session by the GM, along with tainted Reputation points.

Attributes can suffer permanent damage. This occurs when something happens that makes it impossible to raise the score higher than where it is when the damage takes place. A good example is a wound that cripples a character in some way - e.g. losing a leg to gangrene. This might also have implications for some skills. This is rare, but it can happen through play.

Skills

Skills break down into Polite Skills, Street Skills, and Common Skills. Viscounts usually have access to Polite skills, Vagabonds to Street skills, and both types of PC can buy Common skills. You can buy skills outside your social standing, but you pay x3 points to acquire them. Thus, a Vagabond could purchase points in Letters, but at three times the cost a Viscount would pay for it. Indeed, Viscounts have Letters 1 for free, reflecting basic education.

Polite skills - Letters (reading and writing), Academics (scholarly skill, includes the study of scientific topics, history, fine art, etc - a Viscount can nominate as many specific Academic fields he specialises in per point of Academics, and will receive a bonus die for tests in these fields), Duel (breaks down into Sword and Pistol, reflecting skill with the weapon in a duel situation and knowledge of duelling etiquette, you must have Shooting 2 or Blades 2 to buy points in Duel), Dance, Sing, Play Instrument, Medicine

Common skills - Language (foreign languages - Viscounts get French 1), Horse (everything from riding to being able to evaluate the health of the animal - male Viscounts receive Horse 1), Bargain, Flirt, Bluff, Forgery, Gossip, Gamble, Carouse, Shoot (includes muskets, shooting for fowl, etc), Hunt (includes fox hunting and poaching), Blades (use of bladed weapons in unorganised melee), Oratory (everything from sermons to rabble rousing to a speech in Parliament), Run, Intimidate, Sea (covers sailing, boating, swimming, and general nautical knowledge)

Street skills - Brawl (unarmed combat, improvised weapons), Repair, Cook, Drive (wagons / carriages), Locks, Clean, Torture, Boss (managing other Vagabonds, running a farm, bosun on a ship, etc), Land (agricultural skills, knows how to plough a field properly, assess value of a sheep), Street (general streetwise ability, including filching, shadowing, breaking and entering, etc. - I've got lockpicking under Locks, but might subsume this into Street).

A Viscount being seen to use Street skills will need to make an immediate Reputation test - Torture, for example, would be a Rep 9 or Rep 10 test if news of this got out.

I'm also thinking of adding another Vagabonds only skill called Shadow - Viscounts cannot buy this. It is the Vagabond's ability to blend into the background when Viscounts are around. Think of how many servants show up in a typical Jane Austen novel - they must be there, but they rarely, if ever, get mentioned. This provides the Vagabond with the ability to move around, looking busy and purposeful, and not being noticed by their social betters. It does not work on other Vagabonds, however.

Character generation

At present, I'm considering 30 points for Viscounts, and 15 points for Vagabonds. Initial points allocation is simple - Reputation 5 would cost you five points, Horse 2 would cost you two points. Starting characters cannot go above five on their attributes.

Relationships - I'll go into Relationships in another post, but in summary, a character begins with a number of Relationship points, which can be spread between other PCs, their Vagabond and NPCs of their creation. Viscounts have both negative and positive Relationship points to spend - it is not all good news.

Assets - for each point of Wealth, characters can pick an Asset from a list I'll compile - e.g. Horse and Harness, Faithful Hound, Carriage, Small Cottage, Rapier, Suit of Fine Clothes, etc. Some will require a minimum Wealth score to buy - hence, a carriage might be Carriage (3) - costs one point to acquire at character generation, but Wealth score must be minimum 3. Later in the game, you will need to test Wealth to buy one.

I hope that all makes sense, but do feel free to comment below if you have any queries or observations.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Ide Byungsae - Unicorn trader and spy


The second player character for our Legend of the Five Rings chronicle is my own, Ide Byungsae. Byungsae's father was an ambassador and trader who spent several years in the Mantis fiefs. His role was to act as an independent magistrate for the Emperor. Young Byungsae grew up amongst the Mantis and, when it was determined that his father return to the Unicorn provinces, Byungsae refused. A complicated scandal was averted by betrothing Byungsae to a Yoritomo girl, and leaving him behind.

Byungsae grew up in his wife's family and learned the Mantis disciplines of stealth and commerce, and how by trading, much valuable intelligence could be acquired. Eventually, however, his father's death has prompted his return to the Unicorn to take over his responsibilities as his father's only child. However, he has found it difficult to integrate with the Ide, and is estranged from his mother. He finds the Unicorn boorish and narrow-minded and misses the sea and the open water. Bushido is, for him, a convenience to facilitate his further enrichment, and its shackles rankle him.

Byungsae has left his wife, Yoritomo Kyoko, back in the Mantis fief, but corresponds with her regularly. Strife with the Ide means he is reluctant to expose her to the shameful habits of his kin.

Byungsae is a young (28), cultivated and well-dressed man. He often wears some items of green or gold with his Unicorn attire, in recognition of his Mantis sympathies, but it is always very subtle. He enjoys gossiping and learning what is really going on, as well as making money (and spending it). He is refined and cultivated in his mannerisms, but his bad reputation with his clan hampers him in his dealings with those who know of him. He is, however, careful not to put a foot wrong, having learned that a rebellious nature can cost him. His highest ambition is to return to his Mantis household and concentrate on making a fortune in the shipping world.

Awareness 3, Reflexes 3 (Air 3), Willpower 3, Stamina 2, Intelligence 2, Agility 2, Perception 3, Strength 2, Void 2

Disadvantages: Black Sheep (3), Failure of Bushido - Compassion (3), Gaijin Name (2), Insensitive (2)

Advantages: Crafty (3), Different School (5), Silent (3), Wary (3)

School - Yoritomo Courtiers (Duty Before Honour); Honour 2.5

Skills - Commerce (Appraisal) 1, Courtier 2 (Gossip), Defence 2, Etiquette 3, Intimidation (Control) 2, Sincerity (Deceit) 3, Lore (Mantis Clan) 1, Kenjutsu 2, Tea Ceremony 1, Forgery 2, Sleight of Hand 2, Stealth (Sneaking) 2, Investigation 1, Meditation 1

Kit - extravagant clothing, wakizashi, calligraphy set, travelling pack, 10 koku

Monday, 14 September 2015

Purple reins, purple reins...

Back now from my holidays in the south of France, and very nice it was too, including staying in a remote chateau a client of mine is restoring. It would be a wonderful place for a Call of Cthulhu LARP in mid-winter - there is little demand for it during the cold months. You're likely to terrify yourself witless, however, as there is something strongly gothic about the place.

Meantime, back in Sussex, we're planning to start a Legend of the Five Rings campaign. I've got the task of helping my kids come up with characters. We know that all the player characters will be affiliated to the Unicorn clan. I've not played this edition of the rules, and last played it back in 2007, so am a bit rusty on the whole roll and keep system.

Herewith then, I present Maya's character, the battle maiden, Utaku Akasuki:



Awareness 2, Reflexes 3, Willpower 3, Stamina 3 (Earth 3), Intelligence 2, Agility 2, Perception 2, Strength 2, Void 2

Honour - 6.5

Skills - Battle 1, Defence 3, Leadership 1, Horsemanship 3, Kenjutsu 3, Sincerity 2, War Fan 3.

Advantages - Hero of the People, Paragon of Honour

Kit - riding armour, study clothing, dai-sho, Utaku war horse, travelling pack (detail to be determined), 10 koku (further equipment yet to be purchased)

Akasuki has a welcoming smile, sapphire eyes and long black hair. The daughter of Utaku Shinichi, she was oraphaned when both her parents were murdered, she suspects by agents of the Scorpion (a Scorpion amulet was found at the scene). She is currently travelling across Rokugan, meeting noble people, particularly friends and allies of her parents. She plans to wreak revenge on the killers of her parents, before settling down.

Akasuki is fiercely loyal to the Unicorn, and hates the Scorpions and everything they stand for. She continues to be plagued with bad dreams about Scorpion assassins and is prone to become emotional when discussing her parents and their fate. She models herself after her mentor, the Utaku battle maiden Chiyoko, a recognised sensei of the war fan. Akasuki takes inspiration from Chiyoko, from the full moon, the wind and the clear skies. She also loves the sea and would spend more time beside it if she can.