Mark of the Dragon – The Dragon Clans

The Dragon Clans are a faction of my own devising for use within DresNoir, as while the Dresden Files has touched on Dragons relatively little is yet known about them. Presented here is some initial background for the mortal agents of the Dragons

Amongst the supernatural entities known to have great influence upon the mortal world the Dragon’s are perhaps one of the most powerful but also the most inconspicuous. While they crave power and wealth over the mortal world they seek it indirectly and individually. There is no Great Court of the Dragons, no families ties or stable alliances. Instead there are the Clans, the mortal servants who serve, their loyalty passed down the ages from one generation to the next.

It is unclear when the first of the Clans were formed. The feudal society which arose in early medieval Europe represents the earliest confirmed existence of the Clans as families swore their allegiance to individual Dragons in return for the power required to maintain and expand their holdings. Patronage by a Dragon brought these houses not physical strength nor supernatural power but cunning, intellect and longevity beyond that meant for mortal man. With it they directed the path of European development for centuries, building up great power bases capable of subtly nudging a society one way or another.

Until the Industrial Revolution that is.

With the lightning development of technology over the following decades came social upheaval and change at a pace the Clans were unprepared for. Through the first half of the twentieth century over half of the known clans fell as their power bases crumbled under the dual onslaughts of Capitalism and Communism. Those that remained were greatly diminished, clinging on to inherited wealth in a world where their influence brought ever decreasing returns.

The Clans of today are a shadow of what they once were and, if desired, can be loosely placed into one of three groups.

The Broken Clans are those which lost everything, their power, their wealth, their patronage. In the modern world it is unlikely that the descendants of these Clans are even aware of their heritage or the power that may still flow through their blood.

The Fallen Clans, like the Broken lost everything they once possessed. But they still remember and seek to regain their positions of power in society. As the ambitious and jealous outsiders the Fallen Clans are perhaps the most dangerous for they have nothing left to lose. This overt posturing has drawn the attention of the Dragons and many have are now covertly testing members of the Fallen, waiting to see if they are ready to return to positions amongst the worlds elite.

The Risen Clans, after weathering the storm that was the twentieth century have settled themselves into new positions. In place of the inherited lands and house politics has come economics and stock holdings. The Clans have shifted their power to the board room, as CEO’s, venture capitalists and board members. Multinational corporations, industrial giants and enterprising starts ups, all have been pulled into the webs of influence wielded by the Clans.

The Mark of the Dragon has returned to the world, and it reaches further than ever before.

Technoir: Upping the Tempo

One of the central aspects of the Technoir system is that of the Push dice economy, which are passed back and forth between players and GM in order to apply adjectives which last beyond the length of the current scene. For a full adventure, run over multiple sessions this works well. Unfortunately for a single session one shot adventure it leaves the pacing on the slow side, especially as many NPCs are unlikely to feature in more than a couple of scenes.

Upping the tempo is relatively simple, achieved through the addition of a new type of adjective, that of Instantaneous. Here’s the new rule in full:

  • Instantaneous adjectives slot in as the new default result of an action and do not require the spending of any Push die. The chain therefore now consists of Instantaneous – Fleeting – Sticky – Locked.
  • Instantaneous adjectives last until the character has taken their next action.
  • The cost to apply all other adjectives increases by 1. So Fleeting now costs 1 Push die, Sticky 2 and Locked 3.
  • Apart from the change in cost all types of adjective continue to function as before.

By introducing this rule players are thus encouraged to spend Push dice more freely in order to apply adjectives which last the length of the scene. In turn this provides a greater supply of dice to the GM who should spend them regularly in order to apply Fleeting adjectives on the PCs. This relatively simple change therefore not only ups the tempo of the game but increases the frequency with which players are handed a physical object, a technique which I’ve found does wonders in getting their attention and drawing them further into the narrative.

Review: Savage Worlds GM Screen

If you’re a GM then there’s a good chance you hide behind a GM screen on a regular basis. But let me ask you this, when was the last time you actually used it? I’m not talking about hiding notes and dice rolls behind it but the game specific rules and information it supplies. I expect for many GMs the answer is “don’t know” or “I used that little bit recently.” My answer tends towards the latter, I’ll maybe use one or two aspects of a GM screen (such as skill lists or called shot details) while ignoring the majority.

For example:

It was with this thinking that I recently picked up the Savage Worlds Customisable GM Screen by Pinnacle Entertainment (don’t worry, you can use it with more than just Savage Worlds). What makes it customisable? Each of the three panels has clear plastic pockets on both sides in which you can place information of your choosing.

Into each pocket can go pretty much any info you want available, for any system or adventure. My current plans for the GM panels are:
1) Rules / tables I always forget
2) PC info such as names, important stats, advantages / disadvantages
3) Session / campaign notes

Of course with front facing pockets there is also the option of presenting information to the players, which is especially useful when running new games. Knowing my usual players I’ll probably put a single page cheat sheet in the edge panels (so everybody at the table can see it) while the central panel will have character / player names so everybody remembers who’s who.

So in terms of the options made available the screen scores highly. Construction wise the screen also comes across well, the panels are are sturdy, made of that thick cardboard covered by plastic (think like a clipboard back) and the join between them appears strong. I’m a little unsure about how well the plastic pockets will hold up, as while they appear strong now I know from similar products that this is often a weak point. Only time will tell there. Unusually in my experience the panels are connected in a length wise format, which means the scene will take up slightly more space than the typical portrait screen.

My only real complaint is the size of the pockets, as they’re too small to fit an A4 piece of paper. I suspect this is a localisation problem, with the screen designed with the US letter sized paper, which is slightly shorter than A4. While I can work around the problem easily enough it is annoying as it would have required only a slight increase in panel size to make the screen compatible with A4.

Overall I think the customisable approach to the screen is exactly what I was looking for, the pockets give me flexibility on both sides without the cluttered try to fit everything on approach of most GM screens. Based on my limited (to date) use of the screen I’d certainly recommend it to other GMs, especially those running long campaigns where there is a build up of information both players and GM need to keep track of.

Oh and the screen hides my dice pretty well too.

Micro-Review: Never Unprepared

I picked up Never Unprepared after it was discussed on the Happy Jacks RPG podcast. It’s the third book from the Gnome Stew blog and is focused upon a topic which is rarely discussed in gaming, game prep.

The book covers everything from initial brainstorming right through to reviewing and recording the fully fleshed session notes. Each step is broken down further, providing suggestions for a GM on how to analyse and improve upon their own style of preparation. Reading the book it is clear that the author Phil Vecchione is drawing not only from his experience as a long time GM but from his career as a project manager, a role where proper preparation is of course key. As an added bonus the pdf version of the book also includes a plain text copy, making it easy to create an ebook version.

Overall I’d recommend this book to any GM who wants to think about how the way they plan and devise their games. The advice is suited to both new GMs wanting to form the best habits from the start and experienced GMs who wish to find the weaknesses in their established style. This goes double for the GM who has just experienced a shift in their life, such as finishing university or changing jobs and suddenly finds the need to find a new approach in light of changing priorities.

Never Unprepared is available in print and PDF from the Engine Publishing store.

The Plot Map

Adventures in DresNoir, as in TechNoir, are designed around the Transmission system. Transmissions define a set of plot nodes for a given city which can then be drawn into the plot as PCs lean on their connections for information. As the game progresses these nodes are linked together, allowing the GM to generate the plot on the fly until they have that ‘ah ha!’ moment and suddenly work out what is actually going on.

The final plot map for the first DresNoir playtest ended up looking like this:

Transmission map for DresNoir playtest

This map was generated from the Transmission I’d written especially from the game (which will probably be called “November Rain: A Glasgow City Transmission”). The starting nodes were Central Station (the main train station in Glasgow), a Trio of Daggers and an Abandoned School. Character creation drew in the connections of Sama (an unchosen Summer Court changling) and Sir Ronald (a White Council mage). From all of this came the opening scene: A triple murder on the sleeper train which had arrived from London. The victims, three esteemed members of the Invictus, a small Occult organisation, who had come to Glasgow for a meeting with Sir Ronald. Found clasped in each of their hands was an ornate dagger engraved with a coat of arms, a coat of arms also found on an abandoned schoolhouse where a young changling was currently living rough.

That was the opening, from there the plot developed considerably but that’s another post.

Two Sides One Epic

One of my favourite podcasts Happy Jacks RPG has been running a rather awesome contest recently. Two sides One epic is the challenge to write a full RPG adventure outline that takes up only 2 sides with the aim that all the submissions will be collected together and made available as both a pdf and dead tree book. Given I mostly GM and generally have a few ideas bouncing around my head I submitted two entries which I’m also making available here.

Carriers – A zombie survival adventure set on an isolated army base which is slowly being overrun. Download Carriers

Protocol: Morpheus – A cyberpunk themed murder investigation into a dead body with multiple identities, all of which are still alive. Download Protocol: Morpheus