Adventure Seed: Burning Faith (Part 1)

Burning_of_monastery2

Burning Faith is an adventure set in and around the Fallen Mountains and is deliberately designed to present PCs with a situation with no clear course of actions. The adventure was originally written for a group of Unicorn PCs and works best when at least one of the members is from that Clan, for reasons that will become apparent.

Introduction

Kyufoki no Shinden, the Thunder Monastery, has been burnt to the ground. Coming across the still smouldering ruins the PCs must find and confront the perpetrator before navigating the political ramifications and determining the truth of what has occurred. The adventure can be broken down into three sections: discovery of the massacre, confrontations and investigation.

Everything after the cut contains spoilers.

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MAPS! 20,000+ of them!

Apparently I forgot to hit publish on this post, oops.Europe
RPGs are no strangers to the use of maps, many systems utilise them during combat while adventures often employ them to provide players with a feel for the regions they’re exploring and acting in. One of the downsides of maps is the amount of time that can be required for their construction, especially if you want something that incorporates a substantial amount of detail. Luckily for us then that the Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division of the New York Public Library has released 20,000+ historical maps under a Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal Public Domain Dedication (which basically waives their copyright to the fullest extent possible). The maps are available are high resolution downloads and while the majority are focused upon the New York region of the USA there are still hundreds if not thousands that span the wider world.

The freebies don’t stop there however. As part of their attempt to digitise the maps the library have also released a tool called the Map Warper which allows the public to align and overlay the historical maps with the location as it exists today using. The merge of historical and present day maps can be exported as basic images or even as Google map readable files, allowing GMs to then add game related details before making them available to their players (see this overlay as a basic example).

Already I can see it’s potential in games such as the Vampire Giovanni Chronicles that Mike has talked about in the past where the action jumps across multiple time frames. Or alternatively how about a modern Cthulhu game where the players come across an old manuscript from the 1920′s? You only need to look at the classic gamecube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem to know how awesome that could be. So if you run a game set in the real world then I would encourage you to check out this amazing resource and if you do let us know about your experience with it.

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Demon Hunters Ride Again

Demon HuntersI’ve writen many times before about the Demon Hunters setting from Dead Gentlemen Productions which has formed the basis for many great games in the past. For quite a while however the world has been left in limbo while DG focused on The Gamers movies and Journey Quest, their most recent webseries.

Until now that is.

That’s right, Demon Hunters is back but this time in the form of a webcomic which you can find over at www.demon-hunters.com and which will be updating weekly with new strips. The comic reboots the setting entirely and is going to focus on the aftermath of the Vancouver Disaster which turned Gabriel’s life upside down (the events of the movies originally occurred some time after this). There are only 2 strips and some character profiles up at present but I’m already digging the art style, especially that of Gabriel and I can already hear the voice of Nathan Rice (who played Gabriel in the movies) speaking the dialogue. But enough of me telling you it’s worth reading, just go and read it.

In the words of Gabriel… We Ride

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Sci-fi Shorts

While fan made movies and short series have existed as long as people have had the ability to shoot them the combination of high speed internet and readily available special effects packages have allowed amateurs to create and share content in ways that have never before been possible. The sci-fi genre is one of the best examples of this, with some of the best fan made productions showcasing special effects that would have required dedicated production studios only 10 years ago. Every so often I get around to catching up with interesting or intriguing pieces, a few of which I wanted to share here.

First up we have the fan made human Revolution – Deus Ex based on the most recent Deus Ex game featuring the unwilling cybernetically enhanced Adam Jenson:

Next is The Gable 5 featuring Eliza Dushku (of Buffy and Dollhouse fame amongst others) focusing on the ordeals a woman is put through as a subject in a secret neurological experiment. While a standalone short there’s the potential that the episode could be followed up with a webseries exploring the experiment in greater detail:

 

Finally we have Prospect, a short film following a girl and her father as they explore an alien jungle. I’ve linked to the Verge article for this one as in addition to embedding the film itself the article provides an interesting insight into the development of the film and the choices that were made during its production.

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March 31, 2014 · 9:30 pm

On games not having to be fun

I’ve written in the past about the fact that I appreciate stories which build an emotional connection in order to create a compelling experience, even if this is done so at the cost of ‘fun’ in the traditional sense. With that in mind it’s heartening to see that the concept is starting to gain ground with mainstream, triple AAA developers as evidenced by this recent article over at IGN regarding Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry. While I’ve only dabbled with the Assassin’s Creed games so far the fact that the writers of the game have deliberately included aspects they knew would leave players conflicted is, to me, a big step forward.

One of the missions that the article discusses is a deliberate no-win situation, where the player is confronted with a sinking ship full of slaves and is unable to rescue them all. In doing so the writers aimed to strip away player agency in order to make them feel what the character is feeling. While this approach works when the players are receptive in similar situations it often backfires, with players instead feeling cheated by the fact the situation was set against them. The problem is that players have come to expect that the game will show them what they can do and then expect that every situation put in front of them can be solved in that manner. Or to put it another way when all you have is a hammer everything begins to look like a nail.

The problem though is that not every problem is a nail and even when it is not every nail needs hammered. Especially when that nail is in your foot.

Ok that analogy didn’t quite work. But you know what I mean. Hopefully.

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RPG Blog Carnival (March 2014): Online RPGs

This months RPG Blog Carnival topic is focused upon online gaming and having literally just finished playing in one such game (as part of the online convention Jackercon III) I felt it was a rather fitting time to discuss the topic. What I’m not quite sure of is where to start so instead I’d rather start with my conclusion:

Online gaming is great but it requires a significant shift in your expectations.

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Kyufoki no Shinden

Tsi_HayamizuThe monastery dedicated to Kyufoki, the Fortune of Earthquakes, can be found within one of the many small valleys of the Fallen Mountains. Surrounded by mines, both active and abandoned, the monks can trace the history of the monastery back to the early days of the empire and the discovery of rich iron deposits in the local region. Some tales suggest that the monastery itself sits upon the site of the first mine though the monks deny knowledge of any tunnels within its grounds. While dedicated to Kyufoki the mine is known more commonly referred to as the Thunder Monastery by the peasants of the region due to the constant booming emanating from the many forges. The construction of the forges is a recent development in the long history of the monastery, stemming from the arrival of the monk Komatsu.

Hailing from the Oriole Clan the master swordsmith was unable to completely forgo his former life and saw instead the opportunity to serve the celestial order by providing simpler items for the peasant classes. During difficult times the monastery puts its expertise to the production of farm implements, mining tools and other basic items, believing it is their spiritual duty to ensure the lower citizens of Rokugan are able to properly fulfill their role in the celestial order. Outside of these periods the forges are used primarily for the production of temple bells, amulets and other items of spiritual significance. Much of the production is undertaken by peasant apprentices who dedicate themselves to the Order for at least a year, exchanging their service for the opportunity to learn the art of blacksmithing. While many samurai approach the monks and request training in the art of sword smithing most find themselves turned away, not from an absence of skill but because their piety is found lacking by those who have have dedicated their lives to the Fortune.

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Buzz buzz ZAP!

While full on cybernetics are still further away than many would like there is little doubt that we’re slowly incorporating cyberpunk style technologies into our everyday world. The internet, smart phones, wearable computing, drones…

Case in point is this latest creation, an automated mini drone designed not for recording video but to taser people with 80,000 volts!

http://theverge.com/2014/3/8/5483774/the-cupid-drone-strikes-with-80000-volts-to-the-chest

Perhaps most interesting here is not that the technology has been developed but the ethical questions that have been raised. Few of these are new and most have been predicted for some time now but it does make you wander how people will respond now that the possibilities are real.

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Taoreta Sangaku: The Fallen Mountains

Inspired by the setting brewing occurring over at Nearly Enough Dice and having recently read through the Naishou Province supplement for Legend of the Five Rings I thought it was about time to properly flesh out the region of Rokugan I’m using in my current Unicorn campaign. Being relatively new to the setting I wanted somewhere outside the existing canon with the potential for plenty of combat, encounters with the spirit realms and numerous factions each aiming to upset the existing status quo. At the centre of the campaign lies Taoreta Sangaku, the Fallen Mountains, along which the PCs had been assigned to patrol (though originally I’d called them the Thunder Mountains before discovering those already existed within the official cannon). Ultimately the aim is to build the region into a full setting beyond that of the campaign along the lines of Naishou Province, full of NPCs and potential plot hooks.

Bridge-in-the-Clouds

Region Overview

Taoreta Sangaku, the Fallen Mountains, stretches almost 80km end to end and forms one of the many disputed borders between provinces of the Great Clans. Despite it’s treacherous terrain and limited number of crossing points the mountain range is claimed almost in its entirety by both the Unicorn and Lion Clans due to the rich metal deposits scattered across it, with hundreds of active and abandoned mines dotted across it’s lengths. The peasants that inhabit the temporary hamlets of the mines share the peaks with both friends and foe, with both the Brotherhood of Shinsei and countless bandits attracted by the isolation of the peaks. Only the southern most portion lays uncontested, controlled by the Dragon Clan Brotherhood of Shinsei who together guard and maintain the temple complex honouring Otomo Kei, the younger brother of Hantei XIV who, alongside an entire Imperial Legion, gave his life in defence of the region.

To the north of the mountains lies the great Lake Ishi, fed by the numerous streams coming off of the mountains and named after Miya Ishi, senior herald of Otomo Kei’s legion. Local legend tells that a month after the legion disappeared into the mountains Ishi alone walked out along one of the many rivers leading to the lake. Instructing the peasants to gather the nearest samurai she proceeded to the lake, where she began the ritual cleaning of her armour and daisho in preparation for her final duty. When a small group of ronin residing in the village approached Ishi charged them with delivering a single scroll to the nearest Imperial representative before requesting a second so that she could commit seppuku on the shores of the lake. Looking back towards the mountains she spoke one last time before plunging the blade into her stomach.

“We acted for the good of the Empire. May the heavens be merciful in their justice, for I bear the sins of a thousand upon one soul.”

Shirayama Toshi, the White Mountain City, sits upon the northern banks of Lake Ishi and is as disputed as the Fallen Mountains themselves. A hub of activity that has grown up around the port it is the centre of traffic in the region and co-ordinates the shipping of ore down from the mines and out to the empire at large along the Tamu River to the north. Over the years its ready access to high quality metals and quasi-unaligned status the city has attracted craftsmen, blacksmiths and merchants eager to obtain the patronage of Clan samurai and as a result the city has sprawled far beyond the original city walls, which now forms the Samurai quarter. Following repeated clashes between the Unicorn and Lion over ownership of the city control was granted to the Scorpion Clan under an Imperial mandate. With no provinces of their own nearby the Scorpion have gained a valuable foothold in the region while their reputation and limited military options ensures the Lion and Unicorn remain weary without being overtly threatened. The Scorpion, led by Governor Bayushi Saburo, have sunk countless koku into the development of the city, cementing its position as the political and economic hub of the Fallen Mountains while ensuring its success is reliant upon their continual presence.

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State of the Conspiracy: Project Cassandra Update

Its been too long since I did a Project Cassandra update (or any regular posts but on that one, ssshhh) for the simple reason that the game went back to the drawing board quite heavily after the first (and so far only) playtest. That session identified a fatal flaw in the system, simply put tasks were either impossible because characters lacked a given skill or too easy due to the combination of sufficient skills and the premonition abilities. Originally the system had been designed as a fork from that of Lady Blackbird, with players building a dice pool from their available skills. The major difference, however, is that each character in Lady Blackbird has a pool of dice they can draw from to add to rolls, thus even unskilled characters can potentially still roll a large number of dice. In replacing that with Premonitions, which allow rerolls of dice, I’d severely limited the potential of players to complete goals when they lacked the right skills.

Having spent a fair amount of time considering the matter the system has been completely overhauled. All rolls are now made from a fixed pool of 5d6 with the number of skills available setting the range on the dice which count as successes. For example if they have only 1 applicable skill then only 1′s count as successes, 4 skills and 1-4 all count as successes.

probabilities-v2-mechanicsHaving already fallen foul of probabilities with the first version of the system I’ve made sure to do a bit of maths this time round and as is apparent from the figure the curves are much nicer this time. The difference though is that even with a low number of skills it’s still theoretically possible to achieve a high number of successes, even before accounting for the Premonition ability. There’s also the added bonus that with it being always being possible to succeed at hard tasks players will be encouraged to spend their premonitions more frequently.

With that major hurdle out of the way the second issue to resolve was that of the skill trees. In order to ensure a player always has something to roll each tree now starts as either MENTAL, PHYSICAL or SPECIALIST before breaking down into the specific skills. With those changes, plus some rewording of the skills themselves the game is pretty much ready for another playtest session which can be worked around the writing of character bio’s plus the rules pages.

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