Chernobyl: Modern Apocalypse

Gaming settings are awash with post-apocalyptic environments, everything from zombies to alien invasions to natural catastrophe. Decaying city ruins are a core feature of many of these settings with the creators typically drawing inspiration from historical examples of cities ruined by war. Thankfully cities that have simply been abandoned to nature are rare in the real world, though there is one notable and chilling exception. Chernobyl, Ukraine. The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Zone of Alienation radiates 30km from the station and covers not only the city itself but the surrounding villages. Since the evacuation of residents within the zone 28 years ago the city and it’s buildings have been left to decay with minimal human interference. While film crews have recorded the decay of the city in the past a recent documentary for CBS News captured the city using drones for the first time. Postcards from Pripyat collects together some of the footage and combines with it a haunting soundtrack, the result needs to be seen to be believed:

Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl from Danny Cooke on Vimeo.

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Character Creation: I have never…

When it comes to character creation I’m generally in favour of collaborative approaches that involve both the players and GM working together to flesh out both the PCs and their connection to the world. Some systems explicitly incorporate mechanisms to achieve this, such as the relationship maps of Smallville or the ‘phase trio’ (shared past adventures) of FATE Core while many groups use their own approaches such as the group template espoused by the  Fear the Boot podcast. Regardless of the approach I’ve found that they tend towards generating both a cohesive group and a more interesting world.

With that in mind I wanted to share an approach to this that I recently experienced during character creation for an upcoming FATE Accelerated game, which uses a variation on the drinking game ‘I have never…’ For those not familiar with the original game the rules are quite simple, as you go around the group each person makes a statement concerning something they have never done, for example “I have never been arrested” and anybody for whom the statement is true takes a drink. Should nobody drink then the person who made the declaration takes a drink. Pretty simple really.

The character creation version follows the same approach but with the ‘I have never…’ statement being something that your character has (probably) never done. Should any of the other players like the statement they simply take a (metaphorical) drink and incorporate it into their backstory. In the event that nobody drinks it bounces back and becomes true for the person that said it, ensuring that everybody says something interesting as it could end up being true for their character. The real beauty of the approach is that multiple people can ‘drink’, introducing not only shared backstory but organisations and NPCs for the game.

As an example for our upcoming game we decided only on a very bare framework before embarking on ‘I have never…’ Firstly that we would be in a western setting but that our twist to the genre would be vampires. That was it. Going round the group we then made our statements which included:

  • I have never shot a man in cold blood (made by the GM, with all players taking a drink).
  • I have never robbed the Pan Pacific Railway (which I introduced with the other 3 players taking drinks).
  • I have never been an Initiate of the Order of the Night (to which 2 players drank, we later decided this was a vampiric order).
  • I have never learned the truth about what goes on at Mallories Ranch (to which I was the only taker).

After a few rounds of this we took these statements and used them to build both our characters and expand upon the party connections through FATEs phase trio mechanic. By the end we had interesting characters with real depth and a viable reason for them to have come together for the short campaign, which will allow us to skip straight to the action when we get going.

All in all I can’t wait for either the game itself or a chance to use the approach the next time I’m a GM.

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Anton Mikalev

eastwood-gun-2_1808554iAnton Mikalev, retired Alliance marine.

Served pre-Unification War as a marine corpsman, didn’t get called up during the war due to earlier medical discharge. Oldest child (Anna) was killed in the war after following Anton’s career choices. Wife (Lin) and son (Jacob) left him because of it and moved further into the core. Since then Anton has drifted from planet to planet, ship to ship, occasionally bottle to bottle trying to find something to believe in.

Appearance

Late 50’s / Early 60’s. Lean build with weathered face, dressed in old slacks with a dirty long service jacket. Often carries an Alliance service rifle though it spends a lot of time behind the bar of the Mine Cart on Regina.

Mental d10
Physical d8
Social d6

Medical Student
Skills: Know, Operate, Treat

Ooh-Rah
Skills: Fight, Shoot, Throw
Trigger: Hail of bullets. When you take out an NPC with a SHOOT action, take or step up a Complication to automatically take out another from the scene.

Elderly
Skills: Craft, Influence, Notice
Trigger: Old war wound. Gain 1PP when you step back your PHYSICAL for a scene as an old injury acts up.

Skills
Craft d6        Drive d4            Fight d6
Fix d4            Fly d4                Focus d4
Influence d6        Know d6 (Alliance military)    Labor d4
Move d6    (Zero-G)    Notice d8            Operate d6
Perform d4        Shoot d10            Sneak d6
Survive d4        Throw d6            Treat d10 (Bullet wounds)
Trick d4

Signature Assets
Service Rifle d8
Family photo d6 (of Anton, wife and two teenage kids)

Review: Don’t Starve Giants Edition (PS Vita)

This was originally written for the Nearly Enough Dice podcast blog.dontstarveAs Liz mentioned towards the end of Episode 147 of the podcast I’ve been playing a lot of Don’t Starve lately, mostly on my way to and from work. When I say playing what I actually mean is running around in a panic trying to survive another night (my first game I made it to all of the 3rd night before dying) or running away from whatever monster I’ve managed to provoke this time.

But wait, playing it on my commute? Yes, for Don’t Starve is now out for the Playstation Vita!

The Game

For those who may not be familiar with Don’t Starve it is a survival adventure game by Klei Entertainment where your character is thrown into an unforgiving landscape and must work their way up from building simple objects like a flaming torch or an axe to managing a complex set of resources that allow you to survive the harshness of winter and the various giant monsters that inhabit the world. The game is notoriously difficult, with little in game guidance of how to progress, made all the more difficult by the permadeath that figures heavily in the early stages of game play. Liz’s actual plays (Episode 1, Episode 2 & Episode 3) provide a good example of the early stages of the game.

Survival through exploration is the key to the game and thanks to the large maps, randomly generated for each playthrough, no two games are ever the same. The world can be customised to suit your preferences by reducing or increasing the frequency of particular features such as monsters or resources while the multiple different characters each bring a unique ability to the game, such as Wilson’s ability to grow an amazing beard (which is more useful than it sounds).

Beyond the default Survival mode there exists a secondary Adventure mode, accessed by finding a special location in the survival mode map. Adventure mode ramps up the difficulty by challenging you to escape your imprisonment by travelling to other locations which are even less hospitable. My one and only attempt at this mode dropped me straight into a harsh frozen wasteland with sparse resources and an extremely long night period. I lasted a day before being thrown back into the Survival mode world though to be fair I’ve also yet to make it past day 22 in Survival mode (winter is harsh).

Panic!

Run away!

The PS Vita Port

While the game was originally designed for the PC the PS Vita is, in my opinion, extremely well done. The world looks amazing on the OLED screen of my 1st generation PS Vita and the controls have been smoothly adapted to the dual analogue sticks of the handheld. For me the smaller screen size of the PS Vita also helps to build the tension somewhat in the game, just because there is less on the screen at any one time and I just don’t know what I’m about to encounter next. Included in the port is the Reign of Giants DLC, which introduces additional complexity to the game such as full seasons, more environments, two new characters and of course giants. Best of all the game is covered by cross-buy, which means that if you purchase it on the PS Vita you also get the PS4 edition for free (or vice versa), making the £11.49 cost of the game even better value, though unfortunately the save games are not cross compatible.

Being on a portable console does, however, come with a couple of downsides, notably with regards performance. The majority of the time you will encounter this is in the longer loading times, especially during world generation. Not in itself a big issue though I have experienced a couple of times when the game hung on loading screen, typically this is when moving between worlds and the game is trying to both save an existing map and generate a new one. The second performance issue I’ve experienced is one of frame rate slowdowns when there is too much happening at once. I’ve personally only run into this a few times, such as when my forest base got struck by lightning and everything caught on fire but I’ve heard of people also encountering after creating large bases later in the game. If you’re aware of the issue it should be possible to work around it by spreading your base out more but it’s still not an ideal solution.

Roundup

All in all Don’t Starve is a game that I would highly recommend if you’re looking for a challenging survival game and the PS Vita port is a great way to experience it as the game works well played in short bursts. Just remember, you’ve not truly played the game until you’ve run around in a panic screaming “it’s trying to eat me!”, which if you’re anything like me will happen pretty quickly.

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FATEful Thoughts

FATE has, without a doubt, been one of the biggest games of the past year in part due to a massively successful Kickstarter. It’s taken a while to get in some decent time with it but I’m finally at the point where I feel like I’ve spent enough time with it to form some opinions. I’m going to preface this with the comment that while I’ve run enough sessions to get comfortable with the game I certainly wouldn’t say I’ve mastered it.

  1. It’s easy to learn but difficult to master. This is the biggest thing that I’ve learnt over the course of running Dresden Files, that while I came into the game with a technical understanding of how the system should work applying that knowledge was a completely different kettle of fish. Aspect, which are at the core of FATE, really do need to be constantly present for the system to work to its fullest. During the first few sessions of our campaign we simply didn’t introduce enough of them or use the ones that were present as frequently as the system expect. This in turn led to complications as compels weren’t introduced as frequently as expected for the game to really function. While we’ve upped the frequency with which we use the aspects I’m still not 100% sure we’re using them to the extent that is required.
  2. I’m not a fan of paying to invoke EVERY TIME an aspect is relevant. Generally if you want to get a bonus from an aspect you need to either pay a FATE point if you want to apply it to a situation, which I’m not sure I’m a massive fan of. Now sure there are ways of getting free invocations on aspects but generally they are used when the aspect is created. If you create an aspect such as “blinded with sand” you’ll probably get a free invocation to use it but after that it’ll cost you to invoke it. After that it’ll cost you FATE points to use, even if the character is narratively still wandering around with limited vision. I’m not quite sure how to alter the game without breaking the core mechanic but I’d prefer if mechanical bonuses / penalties didn’t require repeated invocations to use.
  3. The flat +2 bonus doesn’t sit well with me. This follows on from the above but the fact that aspects can only every provide a +2 or reroll intuitively bothers me. It means aspects of “everything is on fire” and “stubbed toe” mechanically always have the same effect even if they are massively different on the level of the narrative. I much prefer the Cortex Plus approach of dice sizes indicating the severity of the asset / complication with the description reworded as required. So that “everything is on fire” might be represented by a d12 but started as a d6 “burning table” etc.

Anyway that’s just a few thoughts on FATE, yes they’re mostly issues with the system but that’s note to say I’m not enjoying it, just that I’m finding it challenging to run. As always if you have any thoughts or ways to handle said issues please do let me know.

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Adventure Logs: Mind Maps

One of the things that I’m particularly bad at when it comes to managing campaigns is actually writing things up in coherent blocks of text. Partially that’s down to the way I tend to make notes, haphazard and on the fly but it’s also because I’m not that great at concise writing or writing in general (one of the purposes of this blog is to provide me with practise at doing so). This obviously impacts on how I keep track of what happens in a campaign and once I get past 3 or 4 sessions I often find that I’m left with multiple bits of paper containing all the random notes I’ve scribbled down during play. One of the ways I manage this is through Obsidian Portal, but most of the time my wiki’s end up lacking and I really make most use of the character side of the site, allowing me to keep all the PCs and NPCs in one place.

With all this in mind something I’m looking for other ways to record what is going on, which has been prompted by our current Dresden Files campaign. We’ve just started the final adventure of the trilogy we’d aimed for and as the GM I’m now trying to make sure everything connects together properly, especially the random elements from earlier adventures I’d introduced without knowing exactly how they fitted in (this is a big part of my GMing style, I’ll add something then adjust my existing idea of what’s going on to account for it). One of the best ways I’ve found to do that is through mind mapping, as I can just list out the elements and connect them together. Normally I do this in my trusty notebook but in the last few days I’ve started to look at web options for doing so, at the moment I’ve settled on using bubbl.us, so that my players can also see the results.

Dresden---Adventure-1_3l47eubsThe above is the resulting map from the first adventure. For an outsider it won’t explain anything that is going on but I hope that for the people involved it will serve as a good reference point to remind us of the connections and what happened during the adventure. The best bit of course is that between sessions I can simply add extra bubbles as ideas come together, or delete them if I change my mind.

I’m curious though, what other ways do people use to manage their campaigns? Or do you have any software you’d recommend for doing so?

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The Gamers: Humans & Households Episode 1

Continuing the theme with more Dead Gentlemen Productions genius I thought it would be worth bringing the latest entry into The Gamers franchise to the attention of more people. Humans and Households is a short 3 episode story that spins roleplaying on its head when a group of fantasy heroes sit down to play in a world of quiet desperation, a world where no one is safe from the dangerously mundane. Or in other words, our world. Having been in on the Kickstarter I’ve already seen all 3 episodes which are pure gold and absolutely hilarious. Now if only I could work out how to run a game in this style without my players realising…

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Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter: Link & Update

DHRPG_FB_Cover_KSA quick update on the Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter given I wasn’t able to get online while I was away. First off the link for the Lickstarter is: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/deadgentlemen/demon-hunters-rpg-a-comedy-of-terrors (or you can click the banner above). Go take a look, watch the video and please consider contributing. The project is already over 2/3 of the way to being funded after only 4 days, given there are a further 26 days to go it’s pretty safe at this point to assume it will fund and that it’ll hit at least a few of the stretch goals.

So what’s on offer through the Kickstarter? Well the obvious focus is the main rulebook for the new game, which will be available as PDF, print on demand or deluxe print editions. In addition there will be PDF editions of a Players Guide, Adventure Guide and a sample adventure plus extras such as character sheets, adventure logs etc. On the physical side of things higher reward levels will include custom dice, a Brotherhood pin, reversible dice bag and even temporary tattoos of the Brotherhood or Order logos. All in all a pretty good set of options.

One of the big issues with Kickstarter though is the potential for deadlines to be missed or even entire projects to collapse after fully funding. Here I don’t think it will be an issue. Firstly the people running this are also associated with Zombie Orpheus Entertainment, who managed The Gamers Kickstarters (with The Gamers: Hands of Fate raising over $400,000). They’ve run into most of the Kickstarter issues already, including deadlines and distribution so I doubt this project will cause any problems on that front. Secondly a lot of the writing is already completed, which is always a good sign given the number of RPG projects that run into difficulties because contributors fail to hand in material on time (or ever).

There’s one final reason that I think you should back the project – because at least a few of my own Tau 19 will be showing up in the final material and I’d love to see them in print. Speaking of which here they are in a couple of quick wallpaper mash ups of their original pictures (same image, just different aspect ratios):

wallpaper-smwallpaper

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Demon Hunters RPG Kickstarter

DHRPG_FB_Cover_KS

Presuming I’ve scheduled this post correctly then today be the 16th September which means the Demon Hunters RPG: A Comedy of Terrors Kickstarter should be launching. I’ve posted more than once about the original RPG, so I am pretty psyched about the new game, which is going to be based upon the rebooted setting as is currently being explored in the ongoing webcomic. So why should you, unknown reader, think about backing the Kickstarter?

  1. The Demon Hunters setting is amazing, bringing together supernatural horror with comedy chaos. It can be played as a straight up parody of settings such as World of Darkness or Supernatural or you can turn the sillyness up as high as you can handle and go for pure slapstick comedy.
  2. It’s a brand new system based off of FATE but adapted to fit the setting, so it won’t be just a reskinning of FATE Core.
  3. The team behind it are none other than Dead Gentlemen Productions, who over the years have produced Demon Hunters, The Gamers (and it’s sequels) and JourneyQuest.
  4. I’ll be writing up a series of (completely unofficial, I have no connection to the Kickstarter other than being a fan) adventures for the game once I’ve had a chance to get familiar with the new rules.

Now unfortunately I’m going to be away during the actual launch so unless I get internet access if you want to check out the Kickstarter head over to the main site and search for Demon Hunters. As soon as I get a chance I’ll be doing the same, when I do I’ll post a direct link up here.

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Inspirational Artwork: The Surreal Gifs of Artist Kevin Weir

Sometimes I just come across a set of work that jumps out at me as inspiration for a game or a campaign (and gave rise to the inspirational artwork series). The surreal gifs created by artist Kevin Weir are a prime example of this. Working primarily from archival Library of Congress photos he’s turned them into something otherworldly by animating them, often just in subtle ways. Perhaps my favourite of them is the one below just because ideas immediately jump out at me for a War of the Worlds or post World War 1 (or 2) game battling Cthulhu-esk eldritch horrors beyond mortal comprehension.

You can find more of his work on his tumblr, Flux Machine

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