Monday, 25 January 2016

Deadlands Noir - Dramatis Personae

I've been somewhat preoccupied with work since the start of the year, hence little activity on this blog or indeed much gaming of any nature at all in January. It is now sadly almost over. As outlined in my ambitions for 2016, I am planning to finish my Deadlands campaign at some point this year! As part of that, herewith an outline of some of the important NPCs that have crossed the players' paths in the course of the campaign, which seems to go in stops and starts.

Some of these characters are of my own invention, some come from the Deadlands Noir core book, either appearing as they are in the book, or slightly re-written to fit my own purposes. In the interests of avoiding spoilers, I'm not saying which is which!

The Living

Barbeau, Wayne ' The Battler' (aka the Bayou Bantam) - escapee from a secret government super soldier program, now embarked on a boxing career in New York.

Braddock, Nate - New Orleans correspondent for the Tombstone Epitaph.

Cisek, Daniel - owner of the voodoo store, The Emporium; he is seeking the masks of Baron LeCroix for his own purposes. He has offered the player characters $300 for a mask in their possession.

Dauphin, Davison - tramp encountered near the docks on the south side of the river, likes rats, does not like cats.

Dauterive, Andrew - Texas Ranger

Hayes, Kathleen 'Kitty' - wealthy socialite, hired the detectives to find her missing poodle Lucy.

Hebert, General Jean - old army buddy of Colonel Dashiel Hayes, now retired and living at Camp Nicholls Veterans Home. Seems to have connections with the military and the Texas Rangers.

Long, Huey (aka The Kingfish) - senator for Louisiana and former governor; known to be continuing to influence the political scene in New Orleans.

Martine, Laurelie 'Mammy' - famed New Orleans spiritualist, also a senior member of the Red Sect; former friend of Tammy Portunate and mother of Bon Bon Lescartier.

McKendrew, Andrew - mayor of New Orleans following a surprise election win in 1934.

Phillips, Gavin - private detective, acquaintance of Lee DeVille; organised a raid involving Irish gangsters and a giant robot (!) on a warehouse in the old Algiers naval base.

Sanderson, Hetty - current owner of the Yellow Sign book store and love interest of Professor Gordon; helped the detectives to exorcise a demon from a house in Bayou St John.

Torobelli, Art - trainer of successful boxers, links to the Black Hand. Currently in New York.

Tournier, Oliver - butler to Kitty Hayes

Townsend, Lieutenant - homicide detective with the New Orleans PD; investigated the murder of Father McNelis.

Waller, Fat Dan - owner of the Absinthe House bar and hotel; former Texas Ranger and friend of Andrew Dauterive.

Whelan, Mike 'The Stick' - half Irish, half Sicilian capo with the Black Hand, also owns Sanzone's Italian restaurant. He seems favourably disposed to the detectives at the moment.

The Dead

Duchamps, Ann-Marie - singer and member of the McNelis cabal, executed by Lee DeVille / DeVille's manitou, depending on who you believe.

James, William, aka The Jazzman - mob assassin and member of the McNelis cabal, tossed off a roof by Le Ralf.

Lescartier, Bon Bon - a bokkor active in the Red Sect; stole a brandy shipment from the Black Hand; gunned down by the player characters in a firefight. There is currently a $5000 reward out from the Red Sect for the identity of his killers.

McNelis, Father Joseph - priest and lecturer at Loyola University, founder of a demonic cabal on the side, murdered by the Jazzman.

Sanderson, Matthew - owner of the Yellow Sign book store, member of the McNelis cabal, killed by the Jazzman.

Whelan, Herman - former butler of Col Dashiel Hayes, uncle of Mike ' The Stick' Whelan, killed by the detectives (shooting blamed on the Red Sect, which further soured relations between the Black Hand and the Red Sect).

The Missing (or perhaps Un-dead?)

Bascon, Jean-Michel - a Creole driver for the Black Hand, implicated in a plot to steal a shipment of French brandy; handed over to the Black Hand by the player characters.

Braddock, Michael - former journalist and author of a biography on Baron LeCroix. Father of Nate Braddock. Thought to have left town in 1911 after threats from the Red Sect.

Hayes, Colonel Dashiel - retired army officer and husband of Kathleen Hayes, reported missing during a fishing trip in the bayou in 1933; was responsible for security at Fort 51 during the 1914-18 war.

LeCroix, Baron Simone - Haitian founder of the Bayou Vermilion railway in the 1870s, former leader of the Red Sect and rumoured to have been a powerful bokkor; father of Mammy Martine; vanished in the 1880s.

LeCroix, Marie-Louise - albino daughter of Baron Simon LeCroix; led the Red Sect for a short while before vanishing circa 1890. Rumoured to have been edged out by her sister Laurelie Martine.

Marburg, Harry - political fixer and election campaign manager for Mayor Andrew McKendrew in 1934 - now thought to be in hiding.

Portunate, Tammy - sister-in-law of Doc LeBoeuf, thought to be missing in the Hunting Grounds.

Zlonim, Basil (codename - 'Zane') - Union spy operating in New Orleans, involved in an effort to acquire a secret weapon from Colonel Hayes. He was apprehended by the detectives and handed over to Andrew Dauterive.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Book of the month: Hide Me Among The Graves

Tim Powers is one of my favourite authors. Ever since I read The Anubis Gates, I've been fascinated by his work. Excellent examples, all of which come highly recommended, include The Drawing of the Dark, Declare, and Last Call. The latter is regarded as one of the inspiration's for Greg Stolze's role playing game, Unknown Armies.

Hide Me Among The Graves (2012) returns to nineteenth century London, which was part of the setting for Anubis Gates, but this time to the 1840s/50s rather than the 1810s. At its core, it is a novel about vampires, but not your conventional, Bram Stoker bloodsuckers. Powers' vampires are fascinated by their victims, to be sure, but there is an additional level of familial attachment there, a need for the blood of descendants, which is a nice twist.

While we're obviously talking about vampires here, and not ghosts - none of the characters even use the word vampire until halfway through the book - they are not the only game in town by any means. Ghosts also play an important, but lesser role in the plot.

Not only that, but right from the start, the reader becomes aware that there is an occult underground of sorts, very much aware of the existence of the undead, but also able to exercise its own forces and powers (e.g. to hide particular individuals so that they become invisible to vampires). Indeed, vampires seem to constitute just one aspect of this underground, about which many of London's street people seem to have some degree of knowledge. It feels more like Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere, but only occasionally strays into the main plot, which seems somehow appropriate.

Powers is very good at bringing 19th century London to life. This is really the London of the mid-Victorian era. Much of the story revolves around real-life poets, and in particular the Rossetti family, including Christina Rossetti and her artist brother Gabriel (the book even proposes the identities of the two shadowy figures in the background of his famous painting Beata Beatrix).

However, there are other important characters at work, including an unlikely alliance between a vet and a prostitute. My favourite character is Edward Trelawney, a former pirate, veteran of the Greek wars, and friend to Byron and Shelley, who seems to have learned unarmed combat while in Asia. He sounds very much like a player character from a role playing game, smuggling a bomb onto a barge intended to bring a vampire to London, for example, and possessed of a copious amount of occult knowledge and concealed weapons.

I am tempted to transplant the vampires from this book into a Night's Dark Agents game. NDA is very good at letting the referee design his own beasties to suit his tastes, and it would be very easy to convert these undead, with their detailed and original background.

All in all, this is a worthy addition to the Powers corpus of literature and comes highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Gaming objectives for 2016

If even half of my resolutions for 2016, gaming or otherwise, come to fruition, I'm going to be a very busy boy. Much of my resolutions involve getting myself and my garden into better shape, and travelling to new countries. There's quite a bit of self-improvement involved.

On the gaming front I've got to take a step back and realistically assess what it is I'd like to achieve. Space is more of an issue these days, hence I need to be very careful of new and bulky purchases (like board games), or getting into new areas of miniatures gaming when I still have piles of lead and plastic figures.


I'm currently running a campaign of Deadlands Noir, which has been somewhat of an eye opener for me regarding the possibilities of sandbox gaming. I've been able to use the resources the core book contains to manage what has proven to be quite an entertaining campaign. I will post on this in more detail in the future, but it has woken me up to what I actually need to run RPGs (which is not much), and what I don't. I'd like to conclude this campaign in 2016, and already have some idea of how it will end. That's not to say this is an effort to railroad the party, far from it. But there is something out there, lurking in the gloaming of plot development, that I suspect will conclude it regardless of the direction the party approaches it, at least if I know my players well enough!

Further than that, if I were to start anything new from behind the GM's screen in 2016, it would have to be science fiction in nature. As a group we tend to lean towards fantasy and horror, with the odd touch of steampunk or pulp. We did play an excellent Rogue Trader campaign for a while, but that has sadly died a death. Possible options include the new Star Wars Edge of the Empire game, Eclipse Phase, Dark Heresy, Traveller and Stars Without Number.

I have written and may also run the first part of a potentially four part mini campaign for Cthulhu in Vietnam, called 90 Days in the Valley. Most of this was cooked up in an idle moment. The game is a mash up between Tour of Darkness and Realms of Cthulhu, both for Savage Worlds. It is not, however, a sandbox, as the characters are, by default, part of a large military force with superior officers.

There are also several potentially interesting new releases on the horizon this year, among them a mooted third edition of Unknown Armies, a Conan RPG from Modiphius, Blades in the Dark (which is attracting plenty of notice while still in play test mode), 13th Age in Glorantha from Rob Heinsoo (whom I met at Dragonmeet last year),  and The Fall of Delta Green, a 1960s Gumshoe take on Delta Green. I'm looking forward to seeing how much of this sees the light of day in 2016.

Miniatures Wargaming

This year I have to be realistic about how much time I'm likely to be able to spend on playing with my toys and painting new toys. Given the sheer number of unpainted toys still to be painted, it would be better to make use of what I have or have still to paint, than buy anything more!

If I can get most of the following done in 2016, then I will be pleased, particularly given last year's poor showing in this department.

Blood Bath At Orc's Drift - This battle has been on the back burner for far too long. It follows on from a series of three campaign battles we fought some time ago using Games Workshop's Lord of the Rings rules. We have yet to play the final, concluding assault on Orc's Drift itself, mainly due to a lack of orcs. Only the centre column, at Ashak Rise, took a beating. Linden Way was just a speed bump! This has left us struggling to find enough orcs. Hopefully Fyar's horde will march this year.

Rogue Trader - I've really not touched Warhammer 40,000 for some time, and keep mulling over whether to sell my Necron army. I now seem to have accumulated some Tyranids and some Dark Angels but am less interested in keeping up with the current version of the game. Flicking through the old first edition from circa 1987, however, I was struck by its emphasis on smaller units and scenario-driven, umpired games, rather than the usual points-driven contests. Converting newer model profiles to Rogue Trader may prove tricky, especially if a game is to be balanced, but one can but try.

Zulu War - It has been a while since we had a large, multi-player colonial battle. My Zulu impi is gathering dust, but every year I seem to add more to it, albeit incrementally. These days my kids seem to find other ways to entertain themselves at half term so our old half term battles seem few and far between. Perhaps in February? I just need to find some rules that play quicker than The Sword & The Flame, which are really designed for smaller engagements.

The Lord of the Rings - I always like to play some LOTR if I can get it. I prefer bigger, multi-player games than the smaller scenarios. I might see if I can conjure up something for 4-6 players that would entertain. I just need to figure out a decent multi-player mechanic which would work for this game. I have been tinkering with a possible scenario around the ambush of the Fellowship at Amon Hen which might work.

Space Hulk - I own a copy of the first edition of this venerable game, and am in the process of painting Death Wing Terminators and Genestealers. If I can get them done, I'll try to play some Space Hulk missions in 2016. I'm probably about 40% of the way there.

Dystopian Wars - I'm working on a Russian fleet for this game of steam punk combined arms warfare. It is only a small one at the moment. I've also now picked up a bigger French fleet from a friend who was exiting war gaming altogether, so a steam powered naval battle may be in the offing at some point in 2016.

X Wing / Wings of War - We are sometimes faced with a demand for games for more than six players, which immediately narrows down our options (it is amazing how many games are designed for 4-6 players). Last summer we succeeded in playing a large, multi-player cowboy game as a result, but it has recently struck me that X Wing and Wings of War are both games which can fit this requirement very well. They are fast, can manage large numbers of players, and most importantly, make use of a simultaneous movement system, which works very well for bigger games with 7+ players.

Judge Dredd - I managed to pick up some gorgeous Judge Dredd models for next to nothing in a car boot sale in Brighton. These are from the old range Games Workshop produced back in the 1980s. Looking at the new rules for the Judge Dredd skirmish game from Warlord, it seems as if gangs are actually relatively small (it is possible to field a single judge as a faction in some instances). The game is very reminiscent of Necromunda, with associated campaign rules.

World War Two - Finally, if I can get some WW2 action in, this would be a bonus. How, when or where, I simply don't know for certain. The vogue rules set at the moment seems to be Bolt Action, so perhaps I'll see if I can get a game in of that at some point. Or maybe I'll just dither about it.

New projects: Looking at the above, it really does seem as if I've got enough on my plate already for 2016. I continue to be impressed with the output of affordable and imaginative wargames rules from Osprey Publishing in 2014-15, and in particular I've recently acquired Dragon Rampant and Black Ops, both of which I'd like to try out. What's more, I've got the figures for both! The rules can be found for under a tenner on Amazon, and don't look to require huge amounts of figures.

I've also been very intrigued by the rumours that Games Workshop is about to resurrect its specialist games division, which brought us so many great games in days of yore. Apparently Blood Bowl is high on their list, and Battlefleet Gothic may be coming back too! This would be great news and in my view a sound commercial play on their part. The new division is scheduled to open later this month and we'll be eager to see what they come up with.

Finally, I still have a large quantity of unpainted Romans and Carthaginians needing a reason to be painted. This is a legacy of shelved plans to play some Warhammer Ancient Battles a few years back. I have been reading with interest recent feedback on To The Strongest, which has captured the attention of ancients wargamers around the UK. I particularly like the fact that units are roughly 10-12 in size, which sounds perfect to me. Painting two entire armies is a tough challenge for 2016 - I'd likely need to get a couple of units out per month to meet the objective of playing a game at Christmas. I like a challenge!