Monday, 26 December 2016

RuneQuest on the beach

I'm currently in Goa, the former Portuguese colony on the west coast of India. Fed up with the bad weather in England, the strikes and the general whingeing about whether to leave the EU, when and how, I have retreated to the little village of Utorda, about five minutes from 25 kilometres of sandy beach, shaded by palm trees.

I've brought with me a copy of Labyrinth Lord, which I picked up at Dragonmeet in London for the princely sum of £10, and my digest-sized softback copy of RuneQuest Deluxe, by Mongoose Publishing. Once the sun goes down here in southern India, sitting outside can be a little problematic due to the swarms of mosquitoes which drench the area. I anticipated the kids might appreciate playing some RPGs in the evenings rather than being eaten alive outside!

I wanted to get to grips with MRQ1 at my leisure, rather than in a live game session so to speak. I've thus also packed a copy of Greg Stafford's very early RQ scenario, Apple Lane. While this was written for an earlier version of the game (1980, so RQ1 I expect), I thought it might be useful in helping us with a walktheough of the game rules.

The kids generated four PCs for the game, including twins, Zariah and Maria. Zariah is a nomad archer, while Maria, separated from her sister at an early age (can you say "Skywalker"?) has become proficient with a rapier and...and...with baking. As you do. They met at the Tin Inn in the little Sartar village of Apple Lane with two strangers strangers fresh off the caravan trail, Rothrog, a barbarian with a big rusty ring through his nose, and Quillian, a budding sorceror with two scimitars on his back. Rothrog is wearing only sack cloth and carrying a tower shield, but looks like he means business.

As they were chatting, they were approached by Gringle, the owner of the local pawn shop, conveniently located across the street. Gringle has a baboon problem: a tribe of local baboons has tried to steal a magic crystal from him, a crystal he bought from an adventurer for 20,000 silvers. The fact that the adventurer slew most of the adult males in the tribe in order to get it is neither here nor there. Gringle has to go away on business overnight, and asks the adventurers to guard his fortified shop while he and his duck butler/bodyguard are away.

Rothrog decided he should keep the crystal on his person. After Gringle left, he took up position at the front door of the shop. Maria baked some olive bread for supper in the kitchen. Quilliam established himself on the upper floor with a good line of sight while Zaria backed up Rothrog.

Shortly after dark, the baboons made their move, smashing a downstairs shutter and dropping a burning torch into the main corridor. While Maria and Zariah ran to put out the flames with buckets of water, there was a hammering on the tiles on the roof. Quilliam soon spotted two baboons trying to break through the tiles with maces. He cast his Palsy spell at them several times, to no avail. They were soon joined by two more baboons, also intent on breaking in through the roof. At this point, Rothgar strode out of the building into the street, and roared that he had the crystal they were after, and they had better come and get it - if they thought they were hard enough, of course...

The baboon leader took the barbarian at his word, and tried to climb down the wall into the street, but rolled a critical failure on his Athletics and crashed to the ground, stunning himself. Before he could get up, Rothgar charged him and dispatched him with is axe. Another baboon (the leader's mum!) began hurling Disrupt spells down on Rothgar, while Quilliam was joined by Zariah who started shooting at the baboons on the roof with her bow. The baboons shot back with their slings.

It was at this point that three more baboons came around the side of the shop, and also started casting Disrupt at Rothgar. For the first time, the barbarian began to look a little worried. Maria decided to leave the shop to assist him. Rothgar shouted for help to the denizens of the Tin Inn over the road, but either the music was too loud or they were too afraid to assist him. However, he quickly proved how vicious he could be, using his shield and his axe in combination to take down all three baboons in short order (Rothgar's player has evolved a particularly nasty shield bash attack which combines nicely with an additional combat action). Up on the roof, Zariah managed to shoot one (critical hit, which took the baboon down straight away), while another took cover behind the chimney.

Now the adventurers heard the distinctly unpleasant sound of something trying to bash down the kitchen door at the rear of the shop. Quilliam ran downstairs to investigate, leaving Zariah to secure the shutters upstairs. As he entered the kitchen, the sorceror saw some ash coming down into the kitchen fireplace, and heard something scuffling in the chimney flue. Keeping an eye on the door, which was being subjected to repeated blows, he used an oil lamp to set light to the wood in the fireplace, then scattered some pots on the floor, and retreated back into the temple (Gringle has a small temple to Issaries in his home).

First impressions - I have run RQ before, but some time ago. Part of this exercise is really to get to grips with the combat and magic systems, and I believe this is why Stafford wrote Apple Lane in the first place. It certainly achieves that. It is great to have the time to spend working through the mechanics. We are NOT using MRQ2, which I think streamlines some of the combat, mainly because I did not want to bring heavy hardbacks to India. Combat is taking longer than Pathfinder, but it is speeding up as we get more used to it, and the system of reactions. It feels more like a real battle, and is deadlier than Pathfinder - one or two hits can be enough to take a character out of a fight. All the baboons have their own individual profiles, so it can be fiddly keeping track of all this, but at the same time, everyone seems to be having a good time. Apple Lane itself is well-written, with plenty of detail on the plans of the 'bad' guys.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Milestones in Gaming: Megagame Makers

Megagames need lots of space.

Back in 1999 I moved down to Dulwich, in south London, a leafy and very civilised suburb, that sits in the shadow of the hill where the old Crystal Palace used to be, before it burned down in 1936. The Crystal Palace was originally built to house the Great Exhibition in 1851, when it stood in Hyde Park. In a work of engineering audacity, of which the Victorians were justly proud, it was moved to a hill overlooking south London and surrounded by model dinosaurs, which can still be seen in the park today.

I lived in Dulwich between 1999 and 2001. As it happened, I was not far from the school where the Megagame Makers staged their regular mega games. What are these mega games, I hear you ask? They are massive multi-player games, usually with a political or military theme, but there have been versions embracing fantasy and science fiction as well. Typically they take place over a single day, and feature as many as 70 or 80 participants, not including umpires, who are called game controls.

My first mega game was a re-run of the 1973 Yom Kippur War, where I was on the Egyptian 'team'; I was actually Anwar Sadat himself, who at that point was the commander of the Egyptian air force. My responsibilities were to manage the air support for the Egyptian divisions in the Sinai, plus ground-based air defence west of the Suez Canal. The game was hosted in a primary school on a Saturday, and took most of the day. The Eygptian command was housed in a classroom with an intercom which we could use to communicate with our corps commanders. Every 30 minutes I would also receive updated intelligence reports from one of the umpires, effectively what my pilots were seeing on the ground and in the air as they tangled with Israeli jets. We also received a couple of visits from the 'press' - a separate team that was trying to figure out what was going on, and read out a news bulletin on the hour.

The game was very intense; Israel still won out in the end, even with the Jordanians throwing in their lot with the Syrians. The day flashed by, and at the end of it all, the umpires briefed us on what actually happened. I think we Egyptians managed better than the historic army, and ended the war in control of at least some of the Sinai.

The close proximity to the school where these games took place allowed me to attend several more. Some were military in nature, like Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 (I was in charge of logistics for the German Army Group Centre), while others mixed military with politics. We had a very entertaining day as barons in the Wars of the Roses for example, and another as Japanese daimyo. I also played a White Russian general during a Russian Civil War day.

Since I moved to Brighton, I have found it more difficult to get to London for these games, and the craze has itself spread its wings to the Netherlands, the north of England, and more recently to the US and Scotland. While commentators on the increased demand for table top board games have wondered why this has been happening in the era of the Playstation/X-Box, I think mega games have been benefiting from this trend. In  particular, Watch The Skies, a game about an alien invasion of Earth, has been doing particularly well, and has become the standard bearer of the mega games movement.

Which brings me on to the fact that I've just put up my hand to play test a couple of new designs. My hope is that I will be able to host these in Brighton somewhere. One is a US political simulation, and the other is about mobsters in Chicago. I've been sent the playtest packets which I will review in January. I will be updating my blog with further progress, including hopefully event dates, when the opportunity arises. If you are interested in taking part, or would like to help in any capacity, let me know.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Deadlands Noir - Showdown At Sanzone's

Continuing on with my summary of my Deadlands Noir game, which is a re-run of my scenario, 'Looking For Lucy'. At some point I may include a full version of the adventure on this site.

We last left our heroes returning to the Hayes mansion, having had an encounter with an undead Bloat in a riverside cemetery, which they now realise was the former Colonel Hayes, late of the Confederate Army. There was some discussion of whether to present the monster's wedding ring to Mrs Hayes, but the posse decided this might be just a little too cruel.

Returning to the house, they again had a discussion with Mrs Hayes about Herman Whelan, her former butler. It emerged that Whelan might well have taken a set of keys with him when he left her employ. She was able to provide the detectives with the old man's address in the Lower Ninth Ward. The detectives also asked whether there were any documents relating to the pedigree of the missing poodle, although this was more a ruse to get a look at her safe. Mrs Hayes duly went to her safe to retrieve the documents, and a sharp-eyed Doctor LeBoeuf spotted the dog collars inside it and remarked upon them.

The collars were duly retrieved and examined, and it become obvious they had been used to conceal some form of cylindrical object, leading to much speculation about what it might be. An expensive jewel seemed the most popular theory.

Mrs Hayes was also asked about the disappearance of the Colonel, and related particulars about his fishing habits in the bayou. She mentioned the name of Milus Barbeau, a Cajun boatman who had looked after her husband's fishing boat, and who had moved out to the bayou shanty town of Trois Rivieres since he went missing.

Note - the original posse had decided against going out to interview Barbeau, and indeed, this posse also declined the option, even though he was the last person to see the colonel alive. Obviously, the idea of a trip out into the swamp was simply not appealing. Interesting. In both cases it was the LeBoeuf player who objected the most strenuously.

On with the case. The detectives examined a photo of Whelan with the Colonel, and DeVille noticed the family resemblance to Claudio Ricci (Ricci had denied any knowledge of Whelan earlier in the day). They also checked the salami they had found in the dog kennel, and decided it had been laced with a commonly available sleeping drug.

The detectives drove out to the Lower Ninth, and it was DeVille who kicked in the door of the old man's shack after knocking, just as he was opening it. Thrown to the floor, Whelan had a gun shoved in his face but responded mainly with threats of retribution from the Black Hand. He confirmed Ricci was his cousin.

The detectives proceed to turn over the place, finding dog droppings and white poodle hair, and a sawn-off shotgun. Most interestingly, however, LeBoeuf achieved a couple of raises on his Notice check, and discovered $500 in cash, plus a bag of $1000 in gold coins from the Federal mint in Washington DC. This raised eyebrows, but it was the threat of taking it altogether that got Whelan to open up, confessing his role in the plot to steal the dog.
Chez Whelan - lovely!

Whelan confirmed the dog was being held at Sanzone's, and that his cousin Ricci was in the middle of talks with a US spy called Zane to sell something to the Union, a secret weapon of some kind his former boss had stolen in turn from Fort 51 in New Mexico, when he was a guard there in the Great War. Zane had already coughed up some cash to examine the weapon, which looked like a small vial of transparent liquid.

The detectives took $250 of Whelan's money, advised him to skip town, and proceeded over to Sanzone's as dusk was gathering, in order to get there before Whelan could alert Ricci. Their main objective was still to retrieve the poodle; the secret weapon, whatever it was, did not cross their minds. Not much patriotism here.

DeVille and Gordon stayed in a bar across the street from Sanzone's while the other three walked in and Vestal used her charms (raise on a Persuasion check) to get them seated. They noticed a trio of Black Hand goons in a nearby booth, but no sign of Ricci. LeBoeuf scouted the basement of the restaurant, ostensibly on a trip to the facilities, and found a cook (Luigi), feeding the poodle in a side room. The cook was suspicious of LeBoeuf, and ushered him out, locking the door.

As LeBoeuf returned to the table, and the detectives ordered some wine, Ricci arrived, accompanied by Zane and another American spy. They proceeded to sit down and order some drinks. DeVille and Gordon, who had seen Ricci arrive, decided to see if they could get into the restaurant too, dropping Ricci's name to get themselves a seat at the back.

They now had to hatch a plan without communicating with each other. They finally accomplished this by having Vestal head to the bathroom, and signal to Gordon. The scientist followed her and she briefed them on the scheme. I won't tell you what it was, because it is irrelevant to what happened next, only that Leboeuf injected drugged the bottle of wine on their table.

Ricci presented Zane with what looked like a box of cigars, whereupon Zane and his friend got up to leave. At this precise moment Vestal was returning from the bathroom and her meeting with Gordon, and chose to pretend a collision with Zane, knocking over the box of cigars. The cigars went everywhere, particularly in front of the table where LeRalf was sitting. The voodoo priest dropped a serviette over a small, glass cylinder that tumbled out with the cigars. The only person who spotted this was the second US agent but as he approach LeRalf, the Frenchman cast Confusion on him. LeRalf fed more power into the spell, also confusing the three Sicilian mobsters and Zane.

DeVille now decided to walk up to Ricci's table, sit down and ask for the return of the poodle. Throughout the adventure, the Harrowed had been consistently focused on finding the missing dog, but not getting involved in cross-border espionage, and certainly not becoming embroiled with the Black Hand. Now, his requests just threw Ricci into a rage. He jumped up, knocked over his table and started to pull a gun. His guards still remained too confused to do anything. LeBoeuf ran up to them, disarmed one, and shot Ricci!

"Don't make any sudden moves!"
Meanwhile, Vestal pulled a gun on Zane, covering him, while LeRalf opened his violin case in time to get the drop on the other US spy. Things moved fast, as the trio of Black Hand hoods threw off the confusion hex, but before they could do anything else, Gordon moved in and used his plasma belt to fry them, effectively reducing them to ash with a major explosion on his damage dice (there were a lot of them in this game). This more or less ended the fight, as Ricci surrendered to save his own skin, and took a swig of wine to calm his nerves - from a bottle LeBoeuf had put on his table. He was soon fast asleep. DeVille and Vestal headed downstairs to retrieve Lucy the poodle, before Luigi the chef could notice something was up.

This left a stand off between Vestal and Zane, with LeRalph covering the other agent. LeRalf had already palmed the serum. Zane was under the impression that the serum was on the floor somewhere, amid the cigars, while his colleague was still failing to shake off the confusion hex. Hence, the detectives decided now was a good time to beat a retreat, leaving Zane scrabbling on the floor among the cigars for the missing serum and Ricci out cold.

The plot wrapped up pretty neatly after that. Gordon and LeBoeuf analysed the serum and discovered it was actually some form of engineered physical enhancer and fear suppressant. The detectives decided to bury it with the remains of Colonel Hayes - after collecting their fee from Mrs Hayes of course! Vestal wanted very much to file a story with the papers in New York, but DeVille talked her out of it, telling her maybe she should just turn it into a novel. Who would believe it anyway?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Deadlands: Looking For Lucy Redux

As is fast becoming a habit for me, I ran a game at Dragonmeet in London last weekend. My morning was looking a little unpredictable, so in the end I went with the afternoon slot. I wish I'd had a little more time to see the rest of the show and maybe go to some seminars. I hope that I can make it to UK Games Expo this year and run some games there.

For my slot I reprised an adventure from my Deadlands Noir campaign, using the same characters. I walked them backwards a bit in terms of experience, as some of them are Veteran level, and the adventure was originally written for Novice characters. Ultimately, I think they were probably still a little too tough for the challenges.

As a reminder to readers, the characters were:

  • Nukara Vestal - a journalist from New York
  • Lee DeVille - a Harrowed private eye
  • Le Ralf - a dilettante voodoo priest from France
  • Gordon Ramsey - a patent scientist who thinks he can talk to cats
  • Doctor LeBoeuf - a doctor with a comatose wife and an issue with technology
 I had a full slate of five players on the day, including two who registered in advance. As ever with Dragonmeet, the games tended to get filled very quickly on the day (a portion of player slots can be booked in advance, but even these disappear rapidly). My advice is book in advance or turn up early on the day if you're thinking of going next year.

I decided this time around to keep DeVille's Harrowed status a secret. His player managed to keep this secret to himself, relying on a flask of whisky to help him hide the smell of decay. In the character notes I specified this, leaving it up to the player as to whether he wanted to come clean, so to speak.

I would suggest reading my write up of the first time I ran this to familiarise yourself with the plot. As before, the detectives met with wealthy widow Kitty Hayes, and were shown around the garden and the dog kennels by Oliver Tournier, her attractive young butler. They noticed the various clues available, including the Italian cigarette stub and drugged salami. They spent quite some time searching the gardens, and discovered the footprints of the undead Colonel Hayes in the flower beds, but suspected it was just an ordinary intruder (in the original story he was photographed incidentally by Vestal while peeping in through a window).

A further interview was conducted with the butler, at which point the detectives learned that he had succeeded Herman Whelan, the colonel's previous butler, who had been let go by Mrs Hayes. They also began to suspect that Tournier and the widow Hayes had a more than professional relationship. It was at this point that Tournier told them about the intruder he had disturbed in the colonel's study a few weeks earlier.

The detectives had a look around the study while DeVille kept the widow Hayes entertained, and Doctor LeBoeuf tried to rifle through the colonel's papers, but was prevented from doing so by Tournier. LeBoeuf tried a Persuade roll on the butler with his d10 in the skill, but fluffed it. He decided it was not worth a bennie for the re-roll.

LeBoeuf persuaded Tournier to let the detectives take the widow's other dog for a walk around the area, following their usual walking route. He took Vestal and LeRalf with him. Meanwhile DeVille had made a connection between the cigarette and the Black Hand crime syndicate using his Streetwise, and he and Gordon headed over to Sanzone's restaurant in the Central District.

"Mister Ricci doesn't like his lunch being interrupted."
Here they breezed into Sanzone's and had a sit down with Claudio Ricci (Mike 'the Stick' Whelan re-cast by GM fiat). Ricci proved to be obdurate, denying all knowledge of poodle-napping, but eventually offering the detectives a deal on cheap (smuggled) cigarettes. DeVille decided to return to the Hayes mansion in the Garden District.

While walking the dog, Vestal's player asked to burn a bennie to find a clue. The dog stopped and started barking at something over a cemetery wall. The detectives found their way into the locked and disused boneyard, picking the lock to get in. Here they found some river slime on the inside of the wall. While LeBoeuf examined it, LeRalf climbed up onto the wall for a look around, and spotted a large, rotund figure in a trench coat and trilby sneaking away through the cemetery. He directed Vestal to give chase, and then followed himself, with LeBoeuf and the dog, Bob, further behind.

I used the Savage Worlds chase rules, and Vestal proved to be a surprisingly nimble pursuer. Her quarry reached the far wall of the cemetery, and started climbing it. The reporter caught up with the figure and jumped for its foot, grabbing it by the ankle, at which point it was revealed to be a Bloat (the undead colonel). Vestal passed her Fear check at TN 5. At this point LeRalf arrived, spending a bennie to still be in possession of his violin case with its Thompson .45 SMG. He opened the case and proceeded to spray the Bloat with gunfire - luckily not rolling any 1s, which could have been problematic! Vestal now managed to beat the Bloat/Hayes in an opposed Strength test to drag it back into the cemetery, whereupon she jumped up and started shooting it.

LeRalf - not your ordinary voodoo priest...
DeVille's player then burned a bennie to have himself and Gordon returning from the CBD as the shooting started (they had noted that it was not far by car from Sanzone's back to the Garden District). As they pulled up on the other side of the cemetery, they could hear the shooting going on from inside. LeRalf now used his Occult knowledge to identify the Bloat's vulnerability to alcohol (it was proving a tough nut for the detectives to hurt with a hail of gunfire). As DeVille and Gordon climbed onto the wall, LeRalf shouted to DeVille, who promptly opened his whisky flask and poured it onto the Bloat (2d6 damage). LeBoeuf followed up with some surgical spirit  and set it on fire with a lighter (3d6 damage, in this case exploding). This proved to be the end of the Bloat, which was soon a blob of scorched flesh against the cemetery wall.

Vestal had already identified the Bloat as Colonel Hayes, having seen his photo back in the mansion. The detectives removed a gold wedding ring from its finger, and returned to the mansion with further questions...

Next time - Showdown At Sanzone's