Inspirational Artwork 03

ia03

When I first saw this image it was titled ‘Battlemage in space’ and my mind immediately jumped to Shadowrun which has successfully blended magic with cyberpunk technology in a way that actually makes sense (too many setting merely add in magic without thinking about the consequences and impact it would actually have upon society). Space travel and off world colonies, however, isn’t a major part of Shadowrun which is something I’d want to address with the campaign described below.

Source: Alex Pascenko & Algenpfleger

Genre: Cyberpunk / Scifi

Themes: Shadowrun, hiding from the law, mercenaries

Campaign elevator pitch: The Sixth World wasn’t enough for the MegaCorps, not content with merely owning the Earth they have spread through the solar system, establishing corporate colonies where ever they please. With them went the shadowrunners, developing new techniques to infiltrate corporate assets from the dark vacuum of space.

The players would be: Shadowrunners bouncing between corporate colonies and freeports in search of the next pay chit.

The campaign would build towards: Stealing the first interstellar drive, and the decision of whether to make it freely available or to sell out to the highest bidder. Of course that is if they can survive long enough to do so.

Game system: Shadowrun, tweaked to work in space

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Playtesting Project Cassandra

With the general rules and initial characters of Project Cassandra completed the next step in the development of the game has been playtesting, which began this week. I’d already identified a number of potential issues but rather than make immediate changes I held off to see how my players felt about the system. As expected some of those issues did pop up in game while I also identified a number of additional problems that I’d missed by just reading over the rules documents. The biggest change coming off of this first session was that a number of the skill trees needed reworking, both to make them flow more cleanly down the levels and to change some of the descriptions in order to prevent unneeded redundancy.

The biggest change that I hadn’t spotted prior to the session concerns difficulty levels, as depending on the situation a difficulty of 5 can be either impossible to achieve or too easy to achieve. The first of those, being impossible, arises when a PC lacks any relevant skills and therefore can’t roll more than 3 successes on their base dice pool. In these situations it is therefore impossible to reach a 5 (though 4 successes can be reached by taking a condition). When writing the rules I thought that wouldn’t be an issue as high difficulties would be relatively rare and restricted to extreme situations. What I hadn’t factored in, however, was two things. Firstly how well the players managed to apply their skill trees (thus making me instinctively increase the number of difficulty 4+ rolls) and secondly how powerful premonitions (which allow players to reroll failed dice) are.

With that in mind my issue is how to handle it. I’m not keen to change the way premonitions work as they fit in nicely with the scenario and setting of the game. So instead I need to have a way of allowing unskilled rolls to achieve 4+ successes from only 3 dice. My first thought is some sort of explosion mechanism, but I’m unsure of whether d6’s explode too often for the system. Guess that’s where the playtesting comes in.

Session summary

  • The PCs (Sarsin, Jones and Whitford) awoke in the early morning with another shared premonition: Fire engulfing all they could see, a silhouetted figure stepping forward. On their chest is a five pointed star, which changes into the stars and stripes then into the logo of the Joint Research Division.
  • Realising the power is out in their living quarters (in the project unit) they discover that the electrical supply has been sabotaged. Whitford spots somebody on the other side of a locked door and gets flashbacks to the premonition. Second later said individual throws a firebomb at the door which starts going up in flames.
  • Faffing ensures with Jones first rescuing some of her research notes (concerning the role of a major arms dealer in influencing politicians) then suggesting they try and put the fire out. Said fire then blows through the windows, injuring Whitford.
  • The group finally escape through a skylight, Jones spots a car driving off in the distance. The group wait for the emergency services to arrive and hope others will escape from the fire. Nobody does.
  • After the fire service arrive the group discover that they are near Winston, Tennessee and that everybody believed the army base they are on had been shut down a decade ago.
  • After the police arrive all three are arrested on suspicion of arson, trespassing on government property and murder (they’d told the firefighters others had been in the building). The cops suspect Whitford may have escaped from a psychiatric ward as he’s dressed in his pyjamas and carrying a tool box.
  • At the police station Jones tries calling Corporal Molly Wick, an attaché to the JRD. She eventually returns the call, claiming not to know Jones before warning them that they need to get out and hide.
  • The group hatch their escape plan: Jones teleports the keys for the cells to her while Sarsin slows time down around the duty officer. Recovering their gear takes longer than expected and Sarsin is forced to knock out the officer.
  • The group escape in a stolen police car but are forced to pull in for fuel at a truckstop / diner (from the initial questions) outside of town. End of session.

Project Cassandra: The Questions

In writing Project Cassandra I’ve been heavily inspired by the rules and design philosophies of Lady Blackbird. One of the central tenets of that game is that the GM should be ‘listen and ask questions’ rather than planning everything out in advance. As each of the characters in Project Cassandra possess precognitive abilities the game provides an ideal mechanism to let not only the players define the events of the game but do so in a way that the characters are also aware of certain future events. The first piece of advice for the GM is therefore to start at the end, by defining the shared premonition (assassination of the President of the United States of America) that they are out to prevent. The game proper begins a few days after they have reported this premonition, as they awake to another premonition, that somebody is coming to silence them by burning down the unit.

Defining the end scene and the setting of the game as a whole is handled through a series of questions, at the moment I’m working with 6-8 being the right number. In preparation for the first playtest of the game I recently sat down with my players to run through the questions, the results of which are as follows:

  1. What era are we playing in?
    Early 1980’s.
  2. How will the President by killed?
    At close range, approach by the assassin, possibly using a small calibre silenced weapon.
  3. Where will the assassination attempt occur?
    At a public event, possibly a campaign rally as it’s an election year.
  4. Are the Russian’s really involved or are they just scapegoats?
    Scapegoats, being used in order to keep the cold war from fizzling out.
  5. Who betrayed you? (Referring here to who saw the report of their initial premonition and has decided to burn down the unit)
    A prior candidate who believes the premonitions are all lies being used to justify arresting / killing people who haven’t yet committed any crimes.
  6. Where will they catch up to you? (With they not being defined and could be the prior candidate, the secret service, the conspirators etc)
    At a truckstop diner with roller-skating waitresses.
  7. What are the consequences?
    Political opponents gets into power, uses the assassination as a reason to declare martial law, the cold war goes hot.
  8. Who is the President?
    Thomas J. Whitmore from Independence Day (and still played by Bill Pullman). Reimagined as a former Air Force pilot who served in Vietnam.

Through these questions the players have defined quite a large chunk of not only the final scenes (the assassination) but the rest of the game as the characters try to work out what is going on and how to stop it. As the GM the answers to these questions have already provided me a firm idea of what the players want to see while also forming a jumping point for the rest of the game. Why, for example, are the characters spending time at a diner? How does the assassin get close to the President? If the Russians are just scapegoats does that mean evidence has been planted to frame them?

Inspirational Artwork 02

ia01Cheating slightly with post number 2 in this series as I’m using the same image again but that the great thing about this sort of approach to campaign design, the same piece can provide many different sources of inspiration.

Source: Marek Okon who drew this as the cover of a comic series called Shrapnel, published by Radical Comics.

Genre: Military science fiction, lovecraftian horror

Themes: Survival, horror, aliens

Campaign elevator pitch: Returning from deployment on a far off world a group of marines, weary and hardened by war, awake from cryosleep docked at a remote station decades later than scheduled. The garrison, however, has been barricaded from the inside and the unit must work their way inside in order to resupply and discover what has occurred. Inside the garrison a sleeping evil awakes… and the marines learn of horrors no war could prepare them for.

The players would: be a detachment of marines trying to get home

The campaign would build towards: Escaping the horror that lurks within, only to discover that during their sleep Earth has already fallen victim to otherworldly horrors.

Game system: The Void Core

Inspirational Artwork 01

ia01The first of what will hopefully become a running series in which I take a piece of artwork I’ve found online and quickly brainstorm a campaign concept from it. First up this sci-fi inspired image.

Source: Marek Okon who drew this as the cover of a comic series called Shrapnel, published by Radical Comics.

Genre: Military science fiction

Themes: War, oppression, survival

Campaign elevator pitch: Humanity has reached out from earth and colonised the solar system, splintering into hundreds of new colonies due to the separation enforced by interplanetary travel. With the solar system sliding towards outright war it is time for the marines to step forward, ready to risk their lives in order to defend all that they hold close.

The players would: be a detachment of marines from one of the smaller conflicts who are slowly drawn into the bigger conflict

The campaign would build towards: Freeing their colony from the eventual victors of the war / Preventing a faction from destroying the solar system.

Game system: Parsec RPG or if I wanted to bring in the use of mecha Battletech: A Time of War

5 minutes into the future (that never was)

One of the things I often find myself doing when working on a game concept is to look for inspirational artwork that captures the genre I’m aiming for. I came across this article today which details an 80’s inspired look into the future as envisioned by Simon Stålenhag. The work brings together the boxy aesthetics of the 80’s that actually happened with smoother, curved robotics and technological developments without making either feel out of place. Many of the future developments are reminiscent of the future tech of the original Star Wars dropped into the Swedish countryside, or for a more recent feel that of Looper, which mixes technological advances with a downbeat, almost depression era setting.

Now I just need to work out a game that could be dropped into such a setting.

Character concept: Morashi Kosaku

With the death of Doji Okimoto during the previous session of our L5R game I’ve had to come up with a new character that would fit with the shift of the game from being yoriki to an Emerald magistrate to defenders of the Kaiu wall. To make matters even more complicated I’ve decided to play a ronin, quite a shift from the polite and honourable Okimoto.

Morashi Kosaku

Morashi Kosaku

The Morashi family have been ronin for almost 200 years after an ancestor decided that the Gaijin weapon known as a musket would be an ideal weapon to combat the monsters of the shadowlands. After smuggling the weapons into Rokugan he led a small group of samurai into the shadowlands, intending to hunt down the largest oni they could find. Unprepared and unfamiliar with the new weapons the group was slaughtered. The family’s shame, however, was compounded when a Crab patrol discovered the massacre and the report returned to the Clan representative at the wall. The remaining members of the family were immediately made ronin to atone for their actions. Generations later they have taken the name of Morashi, severing all ties to their former Clan.

Morashi Kosaku is the latest to follow what has become a long tradition within the family, to leave his family behind and offer his services to the Crab in the hope of regaining his place in the celestial order.What he wasn’t aware of until recently is that each generation the eldest child of the family is driven to this duty by Tsuruchi Satsuki, who was made ronin after her father’s ill fated expedition into the Shadowlands.Unable to reclaim her position within the celestial order during her own lifetime her restless spirit has haunted her descendents, driving them into the darkness of both the Shadowlands and their own past. Having known no life other than that of the ronin Kosaku is a pragmatic and driven individual, willing to sacrifice his personal honour even as he seeks to regain the honour of his family.

Attributes and skills
Air ring: 2, Awareness: 2, Reflexes: 4
Earth ring: 3, Willpower: 3,Stamina: 3
Fire ring: 2, Intelligence: 2, Agility: 2
Water ring: 3,Perception: 3, Strength: 3
Void ring: 2

School: None, because I’m a damn dirty ronin

Advantages
Forbidden knowledge: Gaijin pepper – 5pts
Touch of the spirit realms (Yume-do) – 5pts

Disadvantages
Social disadvantage: Ronin – 3 pts
Haunted – 3pts
Dark fate – 3pts

Outfit: Ashigaru armour, Tattered clothing, Daisho, Traveling pack
Yumi plus quiver of just the basic willow leaf arrows
Starting honour: 3.5
Status: 0

Skills
Investigation (Perception): 2
Lore: Shadowlands (Intelligence): 1
Medicine (Intelligence): 2

Athletics (Strength): 3
Jiujutsu (Agility): 2
Hunting (Perception): 2
Kyujutsu (Reflexes): 5
Kenjutsu (Agility): 1
Knives (Agility): 3
Defense: 2

Stealth (Agility): 3
Sleight of hand (Agility): 2

Craft: Bowyer (Varies): 2
Craft: Explosives (Varies): 2

Gear
Ashigaru armour: Armour TN +3, no penalties when making stealth or athletics rolls
Yumi with willow leaf arrows: 5k2 damage, range 375′ (114m)
Katana: 6k2 damage (including character strength), can spend void points on damage, minor action to draw
Wakizashi: 5k2 damage (including character strength), minor action to draw
Tanto: 4k1 damage (including character strength), free action to draw

Traveling pack
Blanket
Waterbottle
Cooking pot
Fishing pole
Mortar and pestle
Small tent
Whetstone
Flint and tinder
Snowshoes
Extremely basic medical kit (bandages made from rags, herbs etc). This is mostly to hide his Gajin pepper, if questioned Kosaku claims the pepper is for preventing wounds from becoming infected (apparently gunpowder was (IRL) occasionally used for this though I doubt it was actually effective). Given the simplicity of the kit I assume it will make actual medicine rolls harder until I can acquire a full kit.