3Brothers D&D 5E Campaign Episode 4: GIVE ME MY WIFE!

In the fourth episode of our 3Brothers Campaign the heroes are confronted by an angry nobleman intent on retireving his fled wife, they also listen to a sermon in the Church of Abraham and discover some information about a villain from the past, who may be linked to Ordious’ present.

The Great (Sky) Train Robbery – Planning a Wild Blue (Fate) One-off

Since reading the Wild Blue setting in Fate Worlds, Volume One: Worlds on Fire (written by Brian Engard, you can find my video review of the book here) i’ve been dying to run a one-off session using the ideas and rules from the setting; given that i’ve had a few questions via the blog and my Youtube channel about how I go about preparing for a campaign/session I thought that’d be a good idea to write up my thought processes during the planning stages of this session and post them to the blog.

What is Wild Blue?

Wild Blue is a very interesting mashup setting where the players are human members of a society descended from settlers on a magic-rich alien world; in a parallel to the colonisation of the Americas, when the settlers arrived they found the world occupied by strange fey-like people whom they took to calling the Folk. A huge conflict erupted between the settlers and the Folk and the indigenous people were driven northwards out of their homelands; over the next few years the settlers noticed that the high levels of ambient magic on the world had started to affect them and people were being born with strange powers. An organisation called the Queen’s Wardens was set up, recruiting empowered people to police others with powers.

Basically Wild Blue is a mashup western, super-power, space opera style  setting where the players take on the roles of Queen’s Wardens, each of them having their own unique super powers.

Planning for the Session

Since i’m only planning to run a one-off session at this stage (since i’m already running/playing in a number of campaigns and don’t have time really to start any more) I decided to base the setting around an iconic element of the western genre (where a lot of Wild Blue’s flavour comes from), that of the train robbery.

Now obviously it’s more interesting to actually be the robbers, but the game setting does presume that the players are taking on the roles of the Wardens/Sheriffs and, whilst I could just ignore this, I quite like the idea of the players having the law on their side and all the associated paraphernalia that goes with it, so I decide to flip the concept around slightly. 

What is the main aim of the session?

Return control of a hi-jacked sky train to the appropriate authorities and protect the lives of those onboard.

Since this is a one-off that will be run during a weekday evening I want to have an aim that is achievable within a few hours; handily the fact that the players are playing Queen’s Wardens with defined jurisdiction makes this very easy indeed to manage, I have decided to give them a limited amount of time before the hi-jacked sky train leaves their jurisdiction, if they haven’t manage to bring it under control in the time allotted then their chance is lost.

What is the Sky Rail?

The sky rail is a floating train track built of the mystical skywood (from trees that get lighter as their age, eventually uprooting and floating into the air) that links the main settlements via a series of towers/stations each a couple of hundred feet tall.

What challenges will the players face in this session?

I always like to note down the main challenged of a game, especially in a condensed one-off session since it serves as a useful checklist during the game to make sure that all the main points are covered.

  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
Breaking down the challenges

At this stage I generally look at the list of challenges and try to break them down by jotting a couple of points for each of them:
  • Getting on to the sky train in mid-air.
    • Could be done if one or more of the players have flight based powers.
    • If not they may have use a cart to travel down the tracks or attempt to jump on the train as it speeds through one of the towers (obviously given the height this is very dangerous).
  • Entering the train unnoticed.
    • Can be done using appropriate sneaking and burglary skills.
  • Avoiding the criminals who are stationed throughout the train.
    • If the sound of gunfire or a conflict is heard onboard then the person driving the train will throw open the throttle and put the train up to full speed, this will half the remaining time before they leave the player’s jurisdiction and will create the Aspect “The Train’s moving too damn fast!” making it more difficult to perform certain actions.
  • Stopping the train before it leaves their jurisdiction.
    • The players could get to the front of the train and take control of the engine room.
    • They could attempt to de-couple the engine car from the rest of the carriages and the engine car continue on it’s way.
  • Ensuring that the civilians on board are not harmed.
    • The players could de-couple the cars containing the passengers.
    • They could attempt to remove the criminals threatening them.

Who are the opposition?

The train has been hi-jacked by a member of the Crimson Council (a group of Folk dedicated to taking back the lands stolen from them by the settlers using any means necessary).

Most of the Folk onboard will be fairly low level thugs/grunts with powers that are only minorly useful however there will be two antagonists who will pose slightly more of a problem.

  • The Leader of the Group: A cunning Folk who has bought this band together with the aim of hi-jacking the train and talking into the Outlands (the wild area that the Folk were forced into).
  • The Lieutenant: This Folk is the second-in-command and will be placed in charge of corralling the captives onboard, he is brutal and ruthless and will seek to initially quash any attempts at heroism by throwing a random passenger to their death out of the train.
What do the opposition want?

The Folk have hi-jacked the train because they have heard that Queen’s government has managed to treat Skywood in an experimental way that boosts powers whilst the treated wood is held and that it is being smuggled onboard the Sky Rail (this is an extra bit of flavour I added to give an additional dimension to the game). They intend to take the Sky Rail train onto an abandoned bit of track that leads into the Outlands, once there they will take the treated wood and use their powers to escape whilst the train plunges to it’s doom.
How long do they have?

As I said at the start of this blog entry I have a limited time window to run this one-off session in (although I may try to run character generation on a different day so that we can jump straight into the session when I run it) so I have decided that the players will have 3 hours (real-time) before the train reaches the ‘end of the line’ and plunges to it’s doom. Half an hour from the end the train will scream past the last station on the line (this will also give the players a notification that their time is running out).
What’s the setup?

Now i’ve considered most of my plot elements I like to jump back to the beginning and consider how the players are going to get involved with this; handily the Wild Blue setting contains an NPC called Amerille Quinn, Rail Captain, she is in-charge of the Sky Rail.
I intend to have the PCs be drafted in, the plan being that they will embark on the train at Cobalt and will be protected the train because it contains an unspecified package of importance to the Queen’s government; however when the train reaches the station it’s blatantly going to fast and doesn’t stop. Amerille Quinn tells the player characters that they have to get onboard and retrieve the item, if it fell into the hands of the Folk it could topple society as they know it.
How will I lay out the train?

I plan to use the concept of zones from Fate, I will have one zone for each of the train cars and then another zone representing the outside space around the cars.
In conclusion

I’ve pretty much got everything that I need to run the one-off session here, i’ve not gone into the opposition’s stats or the exact powers they have since some of my players read this blog; i’m very much looking forward to running the game and seeing how the players react to it.

Reflections on the Hunter the Vigil

Recently, as those who read my blog may have seen I played in a very enjoyable Hunter the Vigil game run by my friend Barry, previous IC write-ups can be found here:

In the game myself and three other players portrayed mortal members of an elite government agency known as the Vanguard Serial Crime Unit or VASCU for short, a sort of paranormal FBI style organisation introduced in the nWoD Slashers book who investigate serial crimes; after a prelude case where we discovered a mad woman using corpses to fertilise strange red plants in her basement although we were swiftly moved off the case and told that it had now fallen under the remit of Project VALKYRIE, an elite military organisation. Realising that it stunk of a cover up we uncovered a related case in the town of Greenvale where the connection had seemingly been overlooked and were able to get ourselves assigned to it, this lead to us being plunged into a small town of strange cults, odd red sacrificial tree circles, captive spirits and an urban legend known as the raincoat killer who stalked the streets of the town murdering at will whenever a heavy rain fell.
Originally the game was supposed to be part of our one-off Wednesday style of games however it overran by quite a bit, wrapping up at session five, I think the GM would be the first to admit that the one-off approach isn’t his preferred style and that (like most of us) he’s more used to running slightly longer campaigns; however the game was still very enjoyable and we achieved our objective (sort of) even if it was only by gunning down the leader of the cult (the local Sheriff George Woodman) and one of the characters (Agent Brockhurst) sacrificing himself against the urban legend killer whilst the rest of us escaped to call in a Project VALKYRIE clean up team. This might have seemed like an unsatisfying ending for some, however, as a fan of Cthulhu-esque games where the characters generally either die, go insane or escape by the skin of their teeth I was quite happy with it and the GM did a lovely little epilogue section for the player character that had died as his spirit moved into the afterlife.
After the game had finished we all had a little discussion, as we often do, about what had happened within the game and, given that it was an investigation scenario, how we had done in terms of unravelling it all.
There were a few interesting points raised in the discussion:
  • Certain parts of the plot were hinged around the players having access to certain powers/abilities when character sheets were altered late on in the character gen session so these abilities were no longer possessed it made the whole scenario a lot more difficult to unravel.
  • A couple of longer pauses (due to players RL schedules) between games made it more likely that odd little facts would be missed or forgotten despite myself taking fairly copious notes during the game sessions.
  • Some of the plot points were quite obvious to me on an OOC level, however, with my character not having the extensive knowledge of the world of darkness that I possess it was difficult to justify having certain knowledge IC or to make logical leaps without it seeming like OOC knowledge was being used.
  • Our characters were designed as stereotypes to facilitate jumping straight into the game; this worked fine during the first session but, as the game went on, the characters started to seem less real and more one-dimensional.
  • Because there was very little downtime, my own character (who had been severely injured at the end of session 3) was unable to participate to any great degree in the last two sessions.
  • Several aspects of the plot had to be jettisoned in order to bring the game to a satisfactory conclusion by the end of session 5.

Overall the game was very enjoyable and I had a great time playing the grizzled, haunted ex-cop shtick although it did highlight the fact that perhaps certain types of game or scenario are not as suited for one-off games as others. 

So how did I end up actually representing the warp entity in my 28/07/13 Rogue Trader session?

I did some more thinking about mechanics and how to represent the warp entity (as described in my previous blog entry here) prior to the session; I didn’t to start off with just a rampaging manifest demon that the players could just thump into submission, chalk it up as a generic opponent dealt with and move. There was already plenty of potential for RP going on in the session, with the Admiral and Enginseer teleporting over to one of the enemy ships to repair and save the vessel from destruction in the depths of a gravity well, dealing with the enemy crew and all manner of other hi-jinks that would be occurring; against the background of this I wanted the entity/phenomenon to be more of a puzzle or something for the players to figure out and interact with rather than just an enemy to smash aside on their way to their destination, it needed (IMO) to be more of an event.
Thinking of it as an event helped me divorce the entity/phenemonon from a lot of the normal baggage and stereotypes that go along with the ‘demon’ label, I decided that rather than being a ‘demon’ in the traditional sense (although the mechanics discussed in the previous post would work fine for that) the entity would be more of a phenomenon; appearing as a low-lying mist to those who could view the warp the entity feed on fear and could create quasi-illusion manifestations, all with the aim of creating more fear and feeding itself. This was represented by the entity starting with 3 skill ranks, each of these ranks could be used to create a manifestation; if the manifestation was intereacted with in a way that required a test then its skill level would be equal to the number of ranks used in its creation. If the entity had already used all of the ranks it had and wished to create an additional manifestation then it would have to transfer levels, either weakening an existing manifestation or dispersing one altogether.
The creature fed on fear and anger (due to it’s affiliation with Khorne the blood god), I represented this by giving it an additional skill rank after any scene where fear or anger was demonstrated; if it was on a very large scale then I gave it an additional rank or two. I worked on the idea that this entity was some form of advanced guard, initially very weak and able to infiltrate our reality through far smaller warp intrusions that a bodily manifest demon, but once in our world it was capable of garnering fear and anger in order to strengthen itself and eventually, once it had fed enough, it could use this energy to bring an actual (more traditional WH40K) demon into the world. The way this way represented in game is that, once the entity had accumulated 10 skill ranks, it could spend them to bring a manifest lesser demon into the world, however this would reduce the entity back to a single skill rank and it would have to start accumulating fear and anger again; this would generally result in a dangerous cycle where the creature would summon a demon, feed on the fear and anger created by the demon and the bring forth another demon to sow more fear and anger, etc, etc.
In the game session (more detailed write-up to follow when i’ve had chance to review my recordings of the session and write them up) the creature stoked the natural xenophobia of the ships Confessor to great heights leading to him eventually dividing the crew by trying to start a mutiny when the Captain allowed what he saw as blasphemous primitive blood magic to be used in an attempt to purge the demonic influence; this ship wide event and the heightened emotions caused by it, allowed the creature to get enough energy to bring fourth a bloodletter of Khorne in the centre of the ship, and that’s where we finished the game.
What else did the characters discover about the demon?
Through careful investigation the characters were able to work out roughly what the entity was and discover the following additional facts about it:
  • The mist seemed thicker in areas with more people or areas of heightened emotion.
  • Areas that were deserted or that were only occupied by machinery, servitors and/or tech-priests had little or no mist.

How did it go?
Overall the session worked very well and the mist entity seemed to function as I wanted it to, leading the players to speculate how they had picked it up or whether it had been onboard since they had recovered the Venerus from the Sycorax warp-storm; numerous methods were suggested as a means of dealing with it, but unfortunately the mutiny occurred before they could put any of the less outré suggestions into practice.

One-shot games vs Campaigns

A few months ago myself and some friends (some of whom don’t have the time to game as much as they used to anymore due to family and other real-life commitments) decided that we would run a series of one-shot games on a Wednesday evening every couple of weeks or so, so far we’ve had a Mongoose Judge Dredd game run by myself in which the players tried to track down perps smuggling narcotics from the wasted earth into Mega-City One, a Star Trek hombrew game run by my wife Hannah where the crew of a single federation ship attempted to stop the Dominion in an alternate trek-timeline and a game run by a friend where we played ourselves in a semi-apocalyptic future setting where an evil villain from a RP world had taken over the Earth and our only hope lay in creating characters that could battle him on his own footing. Recently we played a Hunter the Vigil game run by Barry (my description of the session can be found at http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/hunter-vigil-session-write-up-agent.html) that I very much enjoyed and am looking forward to the second concluding part, since exparently we spent so long chewing scenery and exploring our characters that we’d only actually reached the start of the main plot at the first session. The game started me thinking about the potential positive and negatives of running one-shot games over the more tradition (in my case anyway) campaign games.

Character Creation
During the course of a normal campaign game we generally try to avoid characters that are too stereotyped since we know that we’ll have plenty of game hours and sessions to further develop the character and explore him in greater detail, this is not the case in the one-shot where you want to get into playing the character as soon as possible, and you want other people to be able to react to him appropriately; in my experience this leads to creating character based more on easily recognisable archetypes. In a one-off session you want to be able to jump straight in, since you know that you don’t have the (often) more leisurely pace of the campaign game – i’ve found that either creating a history from well known tropes that the other players can immediately pick up on is one what of handling this; for example my character in Hunter, Agent Frank Dublowski, is a hard drinking ex-cop whose partner was killed/disappeared on an investigation that was then covered up by the Bureau – not a bad little background for a few minutes work but one that other characters can easily relate to.
Another method of easing this process is the use of games that already involve this process to some degree in the character generation, this was useful during the character generation for the Judge Dredd session, the MGP Judge Dredd rules use their version of the Traveller rules system, which involves making choices on a life-path system to define a character. Using such systems means that, by the time your character is generated, you already have several major points of their life defined, allowing you to crack straight on with the game.
Plotlines and GMing
Convoluted plotlines tend to be a bit of a no no for the one-shot game session, since time is at a bit of a premium (most of our games tending to run for either one or two 3-4 hour sessions) players will want to jump straight into the action and begin working through the plot; I have observed in our games that the one-shot game tends to lead players to have a more ‘solve the puzzle’ mentallity concerning the plot, it is something there to be solved and progressed with. I suspect that this occurs because the characters are less “unique” (although no less fun to play for this) and therefore there is not the extensive background and character details present to elaborate on, the element of personal development and discovery is lessened in pursuit of progressing with the game plot.
The same applies to NPCs and foes in the game, such people tend to be slightly exaggerated or more easily recognisable as one or the other in a one off game, because there is fairly little chance that the NPCs will crop up further down the line (beyond the one or two sessions of the game); when I have been GMing one-shot games I tend to divide NPCs into two camps, the disposable mook and the memorable NPC. Disposable mooks are just that, they are there to provide a brief speed bump to the players, a small combat or obstacle to overcome but they have fairly little character to them beyond their immediate role; one example of this would be a street gang of thugs that menaces the players but inevitably flees should the fight go against them. Memorable NPCs are everyone that the players talk to or that play a major part in the plot, I tend to create some quick stats for these NPCs (focussing on what role I expect the NPCs to play in the session) and give them one or two distinguishing characteristics or hooks that the players can immediately identify them by; these characteristics could be anything from a certain way of speaking, a physical characteristic or perhaps even a piece of equipment or a location associated with the character, as long as it causes the NPC to stick in the player’s minds and as long as it says or implies something about the NPC.
Conclusions
None of what I have written above should be taken to mean that I favour either one game style or the other, they both fill a valuable gaming niche; whilst a long running campaign can be very satisfying and rewarding if done well (and can go places that one-off games cannot), it is far more difficult as time goes on (and real-life commitments intrude more and more on precious gaming time) to muster the players and planning time necessary to do a campaign game justice. This is where the one-shot game comes in, they can be run in a handful of hours with easy to play characters and plotlines that, whilst perhaps not the most complex or convoluted, are good fun and fast-paced.
I would urge anyone who has not run a one-off game to give it a try and find out what a different experience it is.

Game generation for a game that you're already playing

As people who are reading this blog are no doubt aware, we originally began my Rogue Trader game the House of Black (the original post about the game is here) using Fantasy Flight Games rules for the game however we later switched to using the FATE core rules for the game for a number of different reasons; since the game was already well under way and we had established our sector of space (using a combination of the rules from Stars of Inquity for Rogue Trader and Diaspora for FATE) we never really looking overly much at the parts of the FATE core book that discuss sitting down an collaboratively creating parts of the setting. Although I did my best as the gamesmaster to ensure that the players were involved in the creation of the game background (aided by some great suggestions in the Diaspora rulebook) the actual FATE core guidelines and tips for this fell pretty much by the wayside.

This seems like a great shame to me; i’ve been reading through that section of the book in more, in preparation for the character creation session of my God Machine Chronicle game recently and there is some very good advice included there about creating connections between the characters and getting them to have input on background elements and NPCs that will have some resonance for their own characters. To a lesser extent we have done some of this already as a matter of course, but getting the players to invest more in a game is always worthwhile in my opinion.
Is the Game Creation Section of FATE only useful during the initial stages of a game?
In my opinion the answer to the above question is no; although the characters in my Rogue Trade game have explored a couple of the star systems in our Sector there is always more to see and more people to meet, this is one of the great appeal of science-fiction RPGs to me, space is vast and filled with all manner of species and different sights. The game creations section asks some important questions to help create a setting for a FATE game:

  • What are the main issues in the setting?
    • Current issues – problems that exist in the world already.
    • Impending issues – things that have only just started to become a problem or an issue.
The core book recommends that you choose at least two of these issues; it occurred to me that, although we have the Ancient Enemy already established as an Aspect of the campaign for the Rogue Trader game, there is ample room to explore other themes and that having the player characters give their input would be a great idea.
The book then advises you to make the theme into Aspects and jot down names for some of the important places and NPCs that are connected with them. Given that the players have just reached a Significant Milestone in my game with their exploration of the Ancient Enemies abandoned base and the realisation that the xenos race are actually ancient machine beings that once laid claim to the sector, fought the Eldar to a standstill and sacrificed their own souls for immortality, it is my plan to go through some of the Game Creation stages in the book with my players; up until now the focus of the game has almost exclusively been on the Ancient Enemy, it’s time to broaden out the focus of the game and give the players far more say in their future as Rogue Traders đŸ™‚

Music for my GMC session

Although tomorrow’s (21/06/13) session is for the players to run through the generation process with me and help create links between the characters, NPCs and other setting elements I have already been thinking about appropriate music that could be played in the background of the generation session and then continued through into the game proper. I’ve never really made a great deal of use of music beyond having a couple of quiet tracks playing in the background since I normally prefer not to be fiddling around with music tracks on the computer when I could be describing the action of a game, I also find that if I don’t keep track of where the music is then it’s possible for a tense IC situation to be ruined when the track abruptly changes to something less suitable. On the opposite side of the scale though i’ve played in tabletop RPG games where music has been used to great effect; the main proponent of this (at least in games I have played) has been Simon Webber who normally has a speaker rig and extensive collection of soundtracks that he knows very well and uses to the benefit of his game sessions whenever he runs something.
One of the things that Simon does very well in his sessions is varying the tone and pacing of his descriptions so that it fits with the current music that is playing, normally queuing up some appropriate tracks at the start of the scene and then tailoring his prose to fit in with the pace and mood of the music. Another aspect that I have quite enjoyed is the use of certain music pieces to act as ‘theme tunes’ for certain NPCs or plot elements that are going to recur during the game; as soon as one of the recognisable theme tunes starts it give you the player (although not your character in most cases) a feel of what is going to occur and (if the music belongs to a major villain who has not yet made himself known in the present scene) can result in a lot of tension and atmosphere as you wait for the other shoe to drop and for the villain to make their inevitable appearance.
I’ve really enjoyed creating my fake hack for my God Machine Chronicle game and would like to make it a memorable experience for the players; given that the game has a fairly small focus and is only slated in for 4-5 sessions worth of play I want to pull out all the stops in order to make the game as exciting and gripping for my players as possible, both so that the game sticks in their minds and to get some enthusiasm up for their participation in a Demon: the Descent game or Mummy: the Curse game that I play to run later on (probably using my FAE hack). During the game I intend to make extensive use of index cards to track things like Zones, Aspects and NPCs, mainly because they are easy to reference, move about and relatively simple to transport along with my printouts of the quick reference sheets and the character sheets that I have designed for the game; it occurred to me that it would be very easy to note down a specific track or music on the index cards should an NPC, Zone, etc deserve their own ‘theme-tune.’
I’ve been building up a fairly respectable collection of soundtracks for a while, however I always think it’s good to get some additional ideas and so I put out the question on the G+ Game Master Tips community. A number of interesting suggestions were made:
I investigated the suggestions more closely and tagged several for future use during this (and other) RP sessions, particularly I found the Two Steps from Hell youtube channel extremely interesting with some great atmospheric and oppressive music on it that would be eminently suitable for use in a World of Darkness game. 
When I got home from work it was time to fire up my copy of media player and begin trawling through the collection of soundtracks that I have built up; since the settings of both the God Machine Chronicle and Rogue Trader are fairly dark I decided to compile a single list for both games and jot down locations and names of tracks that might be suitable.

First on my list was the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, which had a good mix of eerie acoustic stuff and pounding drumbeats that would work well for the science fiction genre and also for the industrial modern era of the NWOD. I trawled through a number of other soundtracks (including the Final Fantasy Movie soundtrack, Terminator, Interview with a Vampire and others), creating a number of playlists:

  • Calm/serenity
  • Chase
  • Choral
  • Combat
  • Drifting in space
  • Generic industrial
  • Horror
  • Madness
  • Military/marching
  • Posh/upper floor
  • Realisation
  • Romantic
  • Sorrow
  • Space combat
  • Suspense

I also picked a few random tracks because I thought they fight in well with the idea of the God Machine or a particular concept in WH40K.

Hopefully this will give me a fairly decent selection of tunes to use as background in my game.

Recording Game Sessions

As stated in my previous posts, I made a recording of my previous session; just to clarify for anyone who may be concerned

  • NO video recording of the players was made
  • Once the recording had been made the audio file was stripped out and the video (which mostly showed me since the laptop was facing me during the session) was deleted
  • The recording WILL NOT be used in any way beyond assessing ways to improve the session and enhancing my note taking ability.
  • Any recordings made WILL NOT appear on this blog or any other set up by myself.
  • The ONLY session reports that will appear in this blog or on any other I set up will be written reports that do NOT feature the names of the players.

    My main purpose of recording my sessions is because I don’t want to hold up the action whilst I furiously scribble notes and (unfortunately) my memory isn’t all that great, however making skeletal notes and listening to the sound file afterwards has already enabled me to write a much fuller report of last session.
    It has also enabled me to highlight areas of possible improvement for the game.
    • OOC chatter: An awful lot of OOC chatter went on during the session (I myself was as guilty of this), I intend to re-organise the playing space and have a couple of breaks so that we can confine OOC chatter to these breaks and keep more IC during the sessions.
    • Rewarding good RP/selling other characters: The sound file makes it easier for me to pinpoint areas of exceptional RP that deserve reward.
    • More detail required: It has become obvious that I need to put more detail into the areas and NPCs to give them more verisimilitude, it is my intent to begin this as soon as possible.