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Jere ran some more Gumshoe for us over the last couple of weeks; it was once more a bunch of fun. The scenario was more Cthulhoid this time around, not so much from a villain perspective but definitely so in terms of locale and threat.

The PCs (a retired cop, a linguist, a spirit photographer, a stage manager, and an NSA analyst) were a motley crew attending a Shakespeare festival in New Hampshire. At a party a couple of days before Opening Night, the actress slated to play Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra killed her understudy under suspicious circumstances. By virtue of our collective failure to run away screaming, the local sheriff deputized us to solve the murder.

Over the next few days, we found out that two of the directors, the local patron family, a suspicious sculptor, and a 70s cult rock band were all involved in a plot to open the way and allow Horus to run rampant. The phrase “crack the shell of the world” was bandied about more casually than we found pleasing. Once we had a reasonably firm picture of what was intended, questions of history (how this group of cultists came together, who perverted and corrupted who, and whether or not the Lost Folio was real Shakespeare) went by the wayside and stopping the various Opening Night performances became paramount. Said performances being the components of the way-opening ritual.

I felt more or less completely outclassed by the cult at most points, which was fairly satisfying. See my opening comment regarding the Cthulhoid nature of the game. I like the sensation that the Outer Darkness is imminent with little hope of total success. In this case, the cult will be back in 17 or 33 years, and it’s not as if we made any real dent in the infrastructure of the town. We had a ton of freedom to determine the best way to stop the performances, and all we managed was to convince the actors to go home. No actual cultists were harmed.

Jere removed the combat system entirely; we just ranked our physical skills like investigative skills. I’m not sure if we got any clues via physical skills — Jere, did we? In theory we might have been able to; in practice we were a very non-violent lot.

As I noted after the game, there was far less feedback on which skills were producing which clues than we got in the first game, which left me feeling a little bit more at loose ends. I suspect that any given group is going to get to about where we were in terms of that feedback; it’s a trust relationship built up between GM and players. In this case it didn’t bug me per se, but I’d yellow flag it: much of the value of Gumshoe for me is getting rid of the “guess the clue” mechanism. This is a group issue, by the by: players are as much responsible for pushing their skills as GMs are.

I am pensive about my roleplay. It’s pretty easy for me to slip back into humor. In this case I was deliberately going for a slightly goofy approach, which in retrospect may have been wrong. I’m not sure. I pulled off my usual arc with such characters, which depicts them as mostly ineffectual with a core of resilience; said core manifested this time in Edward’s purchase of a gun “just in case.” This satisfies me but I worry that it hampers immersion for others.

I’m finding myself tempted to open up a Web site for Gumshoe in the tradition of my old Shadowfist and Feng Shui sites. I don’t know if there’d be enough interest, but I like the game a lot and I think there’s good scope for fan-created scenarios and rules, which I’ve always felt have something to do with the success of a game. Pelgrane has some pretty good forums. Hm.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I also played some D&D 4e. Tom runs a nifty game, plus it’s always fun playing with new peeps. Rock on, teenage love triangle, rock on. I’m trying to decide if my Felix is crushing on Geoff. It seems likely.

That link there is a good description of the game and I agree with all of the points made therein. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a remarkably movement-oriented system. Most of our fights were in clear space, and by the end of the game I was just moving thirty feet every turn, because I wanted to tag enemies with my Curse and you can only do that to the closest enemy. The one fight where my back was to a wall, that made me sad. Playing a Warlock is like playing a GEV with a howitzer bolted to the top in Ogre. Zip zip zip. BOOM. I very much regret the failure of my 5d8+1d6+6 bomb single-turn attack sequence.

It feels like D&D. Lots more powers, and much more to do, but it’s a d20 and you roll it and you hit things and do damage and move six squares and take attacks of opportunity and flank. The changes just sort of supercharge it in an alarmingly Hong Kong actiony sort of a way. Also, there are still weird little side cases that make you go “hm, not sure how that should work. Please send lawyers, runs, and FAQs.”

Cian, who I mentioned in comments a few posts back on the LJ side, was a cleric with a side business in being an archer. I spent a lot of feats and points on that, because I was expecting to get very bored if I was just a healer. I knew I’d run out of spells and I wanted to be effective in other ways.

If I was using 4e for him, I wouldn’t need to screw with any of that. He’d have a lance of pure holy light zapping out of his fingertips on demand, a million times a day. There is nothing bad about this. I like that I don’t have to spend feats to avoid boredom.

It is lacking in out of combat skills, albeit not to the degree that detractors claim. Also I don’t know if I like skill challenges. We did one and it felt a touch artificial. The old ad hoc system that Jeffwik or someone described based on an early leak, where you did whatever you wanted and rolls just applied? That seems better. I think Tom was running ours sort of like that, but since we were not RP-focused we were a bit slow to get into that mindset.

That, however, was my only beef. I have already created a spreadsheet to assist me in choosing 1d6+3 rolled against Will vs. 1d10+4 rolled against Reflex. It is a good system for the crunchy side of me, and it is simple enough to be fun for the non-crunchy side of me.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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But I did just shell out $4 for a PDF of Against The Giants so I could convert it to 4e.

Edit: the tournament characters included in the back of the book are named Gleep Wurp the Eyebiter, Cloyer Bulse the Magsman, Roaky Swerked, Frush O’Suggill, Fonkin Hoddypeak, Flerd Trantle, Redmod Dumple, Faffle Dwe’o-mercraeft, and Beek Gwenders of Croodle. So there’s my money’s worth.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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We played some Esoterrorists over at Jere’s last night, and it was awesome. I may have some more analysis-like thoughts later, but I wanted to get down some actual play stuff before it faded from memory. One of my questions going into the game was how smoothly the flow of play could work; would it be awkward getting clues? Would point spends work well? Turned out that all that can work very well. Here’s how it played out, more or less.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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This isn’t something I want to run immediately; I’ve just been contemplating character generation and systems lately and I wanted to do a thought experiment. Thus, if you feel like commenting on the following, please do. Or even run through the exercise of answering the questions.

So: modern occult game with some action, a touch of conspiracy, you know the genre. Occult is defined as weird stuff, including mad science, psionics, and so on. The framework is a group of free-lance journalists/bloggers; they might know the occult exists but don’t have proof. They’ve got a group blog and cooperate on investigations. Funding is sparse. Thank God for Google AdWords.

Players in the one-shot can define their characters before the game by answering the following questions in prose.

1. What is the core of your character? This could be a profession, a hobby, a way of looking at the world. Describe it in a paragraph or so.

2. What’s another thing that defines your character? Could be a side profession, a skill, a possession, a heritage, whatever. Again, describe it in a paragraph.

3. And a third defining element.

4. OK, now tell me what your character’s flaw is. Same deal, give us a paragraph.

5. What’s your motivation? Why do you do these things you do?

6. What’s your big secret? You really don’t want people knowing this.

7. And, finally, tell me about an important person in your past.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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The Merry Daggers are a small company of adventurers resident in Vain’s Rest. They’re based in the Drunken Magistrate, which (as noted elsewhere) is managed by Ba Juerun and his family. There are six Daggers, which conveniently allows for six pre-generated characters for a four or five person one-shot.

Read the rest of this entry » )

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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You knew a career criminal by the name of Nolan. First name unknown; she never used it, not even with her close friends, which not all of you are. She used to work for the Outfit, running a club in Central City, but that was five or six years ago before she ran into trouble with one of their middle manager types. For the last while, she’s been an independent, doing jobs here and there.

Right now, you’re in Iota City, a small time city a ways west of the Tri Cities, which are a distance west from Central City. A couple of you live there, and a couple of you are pausing there for a while. Nolan died there, a week ago, in the back room of the Thinker’s place. She was shot. It happens, in this business.

There was going to be a job. The Thinker planned it, as per usual. It wasn’t working for the Outfit, but it was something the Outfit was very interested in, maybe because of Nolan; she was going to use part of her part of the proceeds to pay them off, and now they’re expecting it. So it needs to be done even with her dead; and besides, there’s still enough money in it to make both you and them happy.

So there’s still going to be a job. It’s a four-person thing. The Thinker doesn’t usually come on these, but he’s going to have to this time. It’s a risky thing. That’s why nobody bigger has done it. It’s a lucrative thing. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for some of you, this is your start.

If it works out, you’ll have what they call magic money. Money enough, and time.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

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I’m mildly addicted to Hard Case Crime books. (Parenthetical trivia: Charles Ardai, the editor and founder of Hard Case Crime, is married to Naomi Novik, who writes the Temeraire series. Fantasy Napoleonic dragons vs. noir thrillers. Small world.)

Anyway, mildly addicted. The new books are in the style of the old books, and the old books are a fun read. Slick, completely stuck in the preconceptions and prejudice of their day, but fun. Tough guys slouch around dealing with rotten people in seedy situations, and there’s a bad idea for every gin mill and a gin mill for every chapter. There’s something charming about a milieu in which the world isn’t measured by the time it takes for an email to get to you — I suspect that one of the key dividing lines of modern fiction is the point at which cell phones became so common that you had to assume them. It’s a fundamental change in the difficulty of interactions.

The view of organized crime is a really interesting difference between these books and modern mysteries slash thrillers. Blame the trinity of Puzo, Coppola, and Scorsese, I suppose. All these old books have an organized crime that’s almost completely a corporate matter. The Organization (or Outfit, or Family, but not Mafia) has lawyers. It wears three-piece suits and does business in a fairly chilly, austere kind of a way.

In Point Blank, the money quote goes like this: “Let me tell you something about corporations, Walker. This is a corporation, I’m an officer of a corporation, and we deal in millions, we never see cash. I’ve got about eleven dollars in my pocket.” That’s the size of it. You see hints of Sicilian heritage here and there, but they get shoved into the background a lot. Sometimes you don’t really see organized crime as much as you see a big businessman whose pursuits lead him across the legal limit now and again.

I figure this reflects the corporate mindset of the fifties. It wasn’t till 1969 that Puzo blew it apart with The Godfather, and Coppola and Scorsese nailed the coffin shut, or some such suitably violent metaphor. This is about a ten year lag from the point at which the Mafia as we think of it today first really hit the American consciousness, but that sounds about right for pop culture.

This primary realization, along with a week or two spent swimming in 50s-60s noir, was the clue that unlocked Edge of Midnight for me. You want to pull back a notch and go for that chilly, corporate feel or the world doesn’t quite make sense. At least, not for me.

This leads to my one-shot idea, which is an Edge of Midnight game set in the aftermath of one of those failed jobs you got all the time. I think I’d want to kill off the protagonist, or rather, the person who’d be the protagonist in the book. I could do worse than lift Max Allan Collins’ first Nolan novel, with a dead Nolan; that leaves us with the older guy who plans jobs, his eager but wet behind the ears nephew, his nephew’s friend the driver… I’d have to rework the girlfriend, who is in no way a playable character, but I’ll think of something.

Originally published at Imaginary Vestibule.

January 2017

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