June RPG Blog Carnival: Favourite NPCs

Arcane Game Lore hosts this months RPG blog carnival and asks “Who’s your favourite NPC?”, a question which can be applied to both GMs and players. This isn’t a particularly easy question for me to answer, not because I have too many to chose from but because the majority of my games tend to focus heavily on intra-party issues, with few NPCs that get enough scene time to make a significant impact. Truth be told my NPCs are one of the biggest areas of my GM style I’d like to improve upon, but that’s a post for another time. So after some thinking I’ve come up with two favourites, who made the cut for very different reasons.

The first comes from my first Serenity campaign, which was the first campaign where I’d applied a very freeform (but not quite sandbox) approach focused purely on the goals of the PC characters as opposed to a save the world big issue type of campaign with clear aims and objectives. While the scheduling of the game was cursed (and we never did get as far into it as I’d have liked) it stands as one of my favourite campaigns as when it did run everything just slotted into place, including Alex C, a record producer at Blue Nova Records. For the most part Alex was an over the top, flamboyant character who used buzz words and three letter acronyms like they were going out of fashion. The thing is, it was all an act, something which only showed during a few occasional moments with Xoxi, one of the PCs and Alliance intelligence officer who was working at Blue Nova undercover while she dealt with some particularly nasty psychological trauma.

We never got far enough into the game for much to be made of Alex and his background but he did manage enough screen time for the hidden side of him to show and demonstrate he was more than first appearances would suggest. One of the plot threads I had started hinting at was some internal turmoil occurring within Alliance intelligence, triggered as a response to the events of Serenity (the movie). If we’d have continued then Alex would have been central to that, either by turning up dead somehow or by seeking the assistance of the PCs in evading / foiling particular events. Maybe, if I ever run another Serenity game, he’ll show up again though I suspect that may be a while away.

My second favourite NPC is a character I’ve mentioned repeatedly in previous posts, as he went on to become a PC and one of the pregen characters for my Nationals Demon Hunters game. Doyl LevettYup, Doyl Levett, caffeinomancer extraordinaire. Doyl started off life as an NPC in my very first Demon Hunters game, with the chapter not only finding him lost in the middle of the Warehouse but with a group of ROUS close behind him. While not a member of the Brotherhood at that time his basic character was already there, a coffee mage (though he didn’t know it) who had stumbled into the Warehouse by accident. From there it was simple to convert him into a full PC when I finally managed to play in a game of Demon Hunters and he quickly turned into one of my all time favourite PCs to play, with the added bonus that it lets me drink copious amounts of coffee and claim that I’m just acting in character.

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May’s RPG Blog Carnival: Campaign’s I’d like to run

¬† For May’s RPG blog carnival Age of Ravens asks: What campaign would you like to run? Like anybody who has spent more time behind the GM screen than in front of it I could point to a wide range of systems and settings that I’d like to run but campaigns, they’re a little trickier. To me asking what campaign I’d like to run goes beyond a simple multiple session adventure (or series of adventures), a campaign to me is something that envisages a long term game with an over arching theme from the start, antagonists with long term goals and NPCs / factions that have time to develop in response to the actions of the PCs.

So what campaigns would I like to run then? Well I’ve got 3 that immediately come to mind.

  1. Torggame-logo
    Torg by West End Games
    Torg served as my introduction to tabletop RPGs when I first moved to Glasgow in 2006 and after a year of playing in a great campaign I transferred from player to GM and it became the first campaign I ever ran. This one is therefore, a bit of a cheat, as I’ve already run the campaign once before. The thing is at the time I was a rookie, both to RPGs and even more so to GMing and as such I made mistakes. Truth be told I made a lot of mistakes. So that’s why I’d like to run the campaign again, to truly do justice to the epic campaign that was published for the game and that spans from the invasion of earth by multiple alternative dimensions all the way through to a world shattering conclusion.
  2. talesomega3
    Demon Hunters by Margaret Weiss Productions and Dead Gentlemen Productions
    This is another cheat answer in some respects as I regularly run games of Demon Hunters that, along with the games run by a couple of friends, comprise what we’ve termed a meta campaign, loosely collected together over on Obsidian Portal as Tales of the Omega. However what we’ve never done is draw it all together with a larger overarching plot or central villains, all the existing games are essentially independent of one another at present. This is in part because of the ad-hoc nature of the games at this point, having moved away from Glasgow I now only play Demon Hunters on the rare occasions when I’m both visiting and can get the right people together.
  3. corporation
    Corporation by Brutal Games
    To wrap up this post is the final campaign that I’d like to run, one that is completely free from any of my existing or previous games. Corporation is a cyberpunk / sci-fi game with a well established world setting. Much of which I’d like to ignore. Instead I’d like to focus more on a traditional cyberpunk angle, the emergence of AIs and the effect that increasing cyberisation has on the population as a whole. Now I’ll be the first to admit that this isn’t a new angle, truth be told such campaign themes are really what the original cyberpunk stories of Gibson et al were all about. But it’s not a campaign that I’ve run in the past and it is a genre that I wish I’d played more of. When, or even if, I’ll get to run it is something I don’t know but until then I can keep on dreaming of my electric sheep.

On Star Trek: Into Darkness

**** SPOILERS AHEAD! ****

I went to see Star Trek: Into Darkness this afternoon and to say I was disappointed is an understatment. Insulted would be more accurate or to quote what I posted on Facebook:

So Star Trek: Into Darkness. An idiotic over the top summer blockbuster which lacks any intelligent consistency as it rushes from one ludicrous action scene to the next. Not worthy of bearing the name Star Trek.

What follows below the cut is going to contain SPOILERS, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Continue reading “On Star Trek: Into Darkness”

Engrenages: First Impressions

novo-ENGRENAGES-logo-300x82This post originally appeared over on Nearly Enough Dice

Engrenages: First Impressions

Sunday afternoon of Conpulsion I got a chance to play in a demo of Engrenages, a game in development by a group of students from Kedge Business School in France. While the game is still in development I wanted to provide my first impressions of the game. Before I do though I’ll first point you to the interview Nearly Enough Dice conducted with two of the developers, which you can find¬†here.

Setting

The setting for Engrenages is an alternative history steampunk world, sometime in the late 19th century. The setting differs from the typical steampunk, however, due to the presence of the Secade, a reptilian race whose civilization controls the majority of the North American continent (and possibly South America as well). The European expansion into the continent has, therefore, been limited to a scattering of settlements along the Eastern seaboard. Chief amongst these is the city of Havengrinn, where the expatiates of the Old World seek political power by day and occult knowledge by night. Combined together the world provides an interesting and different take on the steampunk genre while the inclusion of the Secade encourages a strong pulp feel and suggests adventure and exploration are going to be important components of the final game. The demo scenario was focused around the exploration of a ruined city, located within the no-mans land between Secade and human territory and the discovery of an ancient temple that may help humanity develop their understanding of the Secade culture and civilization. The adventure was fairly interesting, although a few of the scenes felt forced or out of place, in part because they added little to the flow of the story.

System

The central mechanic of Engrenages is a basic die roll + fixed attribute / skill bonus, however, on making a skill roll players must choose whether their action draws upon chaos or order (represented by different coloured dice) and roll accordingly. This choice is designed to impact directly on the narrative, both in terms of the way skills are being performed and the way the result pans out. Depending on the situation the GM may force use of a particular die or alter what is achievable depending on whether an ordered or chaotic approach is utilised. Take, as an example Indiana Jones, a classic pulp hero archetype. During his many adventures he’s likely to use his archaeology skill to decode ancient riddles, saving him from an untimely death from the traps concealed in the temples he is investigating. Such an action would force use of the chaos die, as he’s likely charged in, set the trap off and is trying to stop it before he goes squish. If however he had gone in with a more cautious approach then he could have used his order die, decoding the riddle in advance and avoiding setting the trap off at all.

While it wasn’t included as part of the demo the chaos / order mechanic would also be well suited to incorporate an advantage / complications system similar to that of Fate’s aspects, where the aspect can be utilised to provide both a bonus and a penalty. For Engrenages this would work well where the aspect provides a bonus to a skill when used with one die type and a penalty when using it with the other. Going back to the Indiana Jones example he could easily have an aspect along the lines of “Brilliant explorer” which would provide a bonus when using the chaos die in combination with his archaeology skill. However a more ordered approach, such as combing through library texts, bore our hero to the point that he often misses important details, represented by a penalty when using an order die to make archaeology checks.

Wrap-up

Based on the demo and from talking to the creators of the game Engrenages has done pipped my interest enough to keep an eye out on it. At present it appears to very much be a game that is a work in progress so it will be interesting to see what directions it takes in the long run so expect to hear more about the game as and when information becomes available. In the meantime you can find out more about Engrenages on their blog.

For the love of caffeine

While I’m a big fan of gadgets, gizmos and things which make me go ‘ooh thats nifty’ I don’t buy them as often as I’d like to, partly because I have some self restraint (and more than when it comes to gaming stuff) but also because I have a use it till it dies approach to the ones I do buy. In the case of computers this will often be a literal case of until it dies, which is why I’m still using Vista on my main laptop (and why my netbook, which I still use, came with XP originally).

coffee1Outside of gaming and technology one of the things that often gets my interest are coffee related gizmos but until now I’ve managed to avoid purchasing many. For the most part the reason for this is simple, while I love freshly ground coffee I’m generally too disorganised and asleep in the morning to enjoy one before I head out to work. To get round this I tend to drink a mug of instant on my walk to my train, it gets me my caffeine fix but means I only get to enjoy cafetiere coffee at the weekend. Until now that is.

Yup, I bought myself a new gizmo or more accurately a Planetary Design Doubleshot Coffee Mug. As you can probably tell from the photo it combines a standard travel mug with a cafetiere, thus allowing me to enjoy freshly ground coffee on the way into work but without the requirement that I be any more organised (or awake) than I am on a normal day. Things get better however, for the bottom half of the mug contains a sealed compartment into which extra spare grounds can be stashed for use later in the day.

While I’m still getting to grips with the doubleshot, by which I mean what is the optimal amount of grounds to use, I can already say that it’s been a worthwhile purchase. The mug is sturdy, well designed and the compartment for additional grounds is, well, genius. I bought mine from Ethical Addictions Coffee and apart from a few issues with the courier (who seemed intent on making it impossible to arrange a redelivery attempt) I’d definitely recommend them, just ship things through Royal Mail instead.

Quick reviews: Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite

Two quick reviews / comments on the video games I’ve been playing most recently, if you’re after full reviews then I’d suggest heading towards a dedicated review site which will have covered the games in detail.

Tomb Raider

tombraider

The new Tomb Raider, a reboot of the franchise, was a game I had been waiting for since its announcement and I’m happy to say that it didn’t disappoint. It’s an excellent third person action game but more than that the characters and story not only drive the game but also mesh well with the gameplay. Through the course of the game Lara is transformed from a scared and unsure individual into a survivor. She’s not out for adventure and certainly isn’t enjoying the experience the island puts her through. There’s no brash Nathan Drake / Indiana Jones here, just who is fighting for their life against events that are, at least initially, beyond her control and understanding. Supporting all of this is a strong visual style that brings the island on which Lara has been shipwrecked to life, I played it on the PS3 and the world looks amazing, I imagine it’s even better on a high end PC.

I have, ultimately, only two issues with the game. The first is the lack of tombs and puzzle elements, which have always been central to the Tomb Raider series. While there are some optional puzzle tombs they’re not essential to the game or story and are also rather simple compared to what the series has provided in the past. My second issue isn’t with the game itself but with the sequel that will almost undoubtedly follow. The plot of the game provides a strong and believable reason for Lara why Lara ends up killing a lot of people, she simply has no choice after being shipwrecked on the island. She is, in every sense, fighting to survive and escape. My concern though is how they’ll follow this up in later games, as I’d rather avoid the issue present in the Uncharted series where Nathan Drake alternates back and forth between loveable rogue (in the cutscenes) and merciless killer (gameplay). Guess only time will tell on that one.

Overall rating: 4.5 / 5

Bioshock Infinite

Elizabeth

The original Bioshock was one of those games I still feel conflicted about due to its great setting and plot combined with what can only be described as a fairly generic gameplay. I was therefore hesitant about Bioshock Infinite and on reflection, I still feel it has the same issue of the original, an amazing story and plot inserted over what I can only describe as ok gameplay. As with the underwater Rapture of the first game Columbia, the steampunk city in the clouds provides an intriguing and detailed setting and surpasses Rapture as it is presented as a living, inhabited city as opposed to one which has already been, for all intents and purposes, destroyed. Again the plot, with its reveals, turns and dimension twisting (courtesy of Elizabeth) surpass that of the first game.

As I stated though the game is, in my opinion, let down by the gameplay. The combat is fairly formulaic and Elizabeth’s ability to summon features from other dimensions is the only thing that feels novel. Similarly the weapons rarely feel like they differentiate themselves and once you’ve settled on a couple of them you can ignore most of the others as ammo is rarely in short supply. That, however, is often down to Elizabeth’s ability to scrounge ammo, especially useful given the frequency with which dead enemies will mysteriously lack any ammo despite the fact they were shooting away at you only moments before. Perhaps the most annoying aspect of the game was the constant searching of crates, drawers and desks, a mechanic that feels like it’s in there purely because FPS games tend to have that mechanic. While this ensures a constant supply of money, health boosts and ammo it does nothing to progress the story and quickly becomes a bore, I found myself regularly searching and simply taking everything without paying attention to what I had just picked up. So in wrap up, buy the game for the story but don’t expect anything new from the gameplay itself.

Overall rating: 3.5 / 5

Depression Quest (and other games to help understand depression)

I’ve been trying to write this post ever since Depression Quest first came to my attention a few weeks ago. However this post over on Kotaku does a much better job than any of my drafts did, plus expands beyond Depression Quest to include three other games which I hadn’t previously come across.

Rather than turn this into a full on post I’m going to simply encourage you to head over and take a look at the Kotaku post before giving some of the games a try, as they provide something both for those who live with depression and those who don’t but want to understand better what the condition is like.