Monthly OneShots: The D&D Christmas Special

With the festive season in full swing, it made perfect sense to run a Christmas themed game as my monthly one-shot adventure. Many years ago I ran one such adventure for my group in Glasgow, using the lightweight, and now largely forgotten Big Eyes Small Mouth system. It was chaotic and immense fun so I decided to revive it like the ghost of Christmas past for this year’s game. Only rather than BESM, I’d run it in D&D 5th Edition. This was partially because I knew I would get more players but also because I feel like I need more experience with the system. Between Pale Reach and the upcoming Immortals campaign, 2019 is likely to be D&D heavy, with a one-shot I could experiment and play with encounter expectations.

The setup was simple, a caravan had gone missing during the depths of winter and a small group of adventurers had set out into the wilderness to find it. Becoming disorientated in the snow they stumbled upon a modern Santa’s lair, which had been taken over by a young dragon and her minions. Inside a clan of elves worked away as slaves, constructing toys and trinkets for the dragon’s horde.

Overall the adventure ran well, with the chaos that I had expected as the adventurers delved deeper into the workshop. Due to last minute cancellations, I was once again short of two players, which threw the balance out completely. The easy initial encounter became rather challenging (especially as it was the more martial characters that were missing) while the final boss fight would have been a TPK if two of the players hadn’t taken an unexpected approach, which resulted in offering to serve the dragon by taking on the role of Santa!

It was the middle encounter that I was happiest with as realising that they were outmatched in a fair fight the players tried cunning which we played out as an impromptu skill challenge. For something put together on the fly it worked really well and ended with the PCs freeing the elves and inciting a mini-rebellion to take out the ogres overseeing the production line.

All in all, I feel like the game was fun but also highlighted that I need to re-read the rules, especially for the rarer situations that can come up surprisingly often in D&D. Given I’ll be running a regular campaign full of new people I think this is a must, when it comes to running such an iconic game I want to ensure that they get an authentic experience and come out of it wanting more.

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Diving into… my first D&D campaign

I’ve been slowly re-engaging with the hobby since moving to Liverpool earlier this year and one of the things I have really had to get over is my apprehension at playing D&D. I’ve blogged about this already but in short – the game is everywhere and if I want to play regularly then it is likely that it will have to be D&D.

So when the opportunity to run a game for a group of almost entirely new players at work came up? I grabbed it. No hesitation, no grumbling about better games. We had our first session at the start of the week, which covered character gen, a little bit of world building and a single introductory scene. While we’re going to stick to a fairly traditional game I’m making use of the fact that they are new to gaming to just slide some indie approaches into it. The main one – shared world building. I presented them with the following outline

The known world is comprised of six great Empires, encircling a vast wasteland that legend tells was once itself a powerful domain. The Empires are ruled by individuals that, collectively, are known as the Immortals. It is a time of relative peace but not prosperity. The Empires are locked in a permanent cold war, to attack one neighbour would leave them open to assault by another. In response the Immortals have turned inwards, isolating themselves in an attempt to maintain absolute control over their citizens. The old ways and religions are regulated, persecuted or driven underground. Only in the wastes can one truly be free. Bands of adventurers and rebels seek out lost riches and safe havens while merchants risk their wares for the chance of greater profit. Legends and prophecy, spoken only in whispers, speak of the Immortals and their origins.

but beyond that I want them to fill in the details. Who are the Immortals, what are the Empires like, what do the rebels seek? I have a couple of ideas for world-changing events, including a few set pieces. I’m also thinking of introducing something akin to the Last Breath move from Dungeon World. That way I can dial up the lethality while expanding on elements of the setting (fictionally the move will be associated with a possible backstory for the Immortals).

I have no idea if the game will take off, or whether it will fall foul of scheduling problems and player drop out, but for now, I am looking forward to it. I’m excited about D&D, I’m excited about building a campaign and getting to introduce some new players to this weird and wonderful hobby.

Crystal Heart Kickstarter: Final 24 Hours

24 hours! That’s all that is left for you to back the amazing Crystal Heart Kickstarter from Up to Four Comics. If you’re still on the fence then let’s summarise what you’ll be getting at this point:

  1. A full-colour setting book with 200+ pages of details and amazing artwork.
  2. Six, yes count them SIX short adventures, two of which are available now as free downloads and one of which will be written by yours truly.
  3. Ten bonus crystals for use in your games, with suggested adventure seeds for each.
  4. Themed bennies, available as both PDF or a  physical add-on.

You can get all this in digital format for a mere £15, back it while you still can.

Crystal Heart Kickstarter: Now with stretch goal by me!

I’ve posted already about the Crystal Heart Kickstarter and how amazing it is going to be but as of today, it becomes personally awesome. Why? Because I’m going to be writing one of the stretch goals! If the campaign hits £20,500 then I will be writing a one-sheet adventure titled ‘Ghosts of Iron’. The teaser, courtesy of the Kickstarter:

Piracy is nothing new to the Islands, but of late a new name has come to the fore: Arakil, the iron-clad ghost ship that attacks from beneath the waves.

The Kickstarter runs for another week and at the time of writing is sitting at £18,629, well past its funding target of £12,000. Find more details (and back it) via the Kickstarter page or head to Up to Four Players to read the webcomic that showcases the world (and the fantastic art by Aviv that will be throughout the setting book).

Monthly OneShot Reflections: Demon Hunters A Comedy of Terrors

Disclaimer: Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a massive fan of the Demon Hunters setting, to the extent that I have self-published multiple adventure starters for the game. I was also a high-level backer of the original Kickstarter, to the extent that I was able to submit a chapter for inclusion in the upcoming Players Guide. Take that into consideration when reading this reflection as a review of the game.

A World of Dimness

With its close proximity to Halloween my choice for November’s Monthly OneShot was easy – Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. Built on a drift of Fate Core, the setting is one of supernatural comedy.

In a world where gods, wizards, vampires and werewolves are real the forces of good fight have come together to fight as one, as the Brotherhood of the Celestial Torch. Demon Hunters. They fight and die in the shadows, so the world can go on, drinking overpriced mocha-frappe-chino lattes in the light. Blissfully unaware that the world ended last Tuesday, only to be dragged kicking and screaming back into existence by a well-placed subclause snuck into a demonic contract.

It’s a dangerous job, but somebody has to do it.

Just not you. To new Agents go the thankless tasks. Negotiating with sentient forests, chasing goblins off of the 18th tee, delivering pizza, locating missing pets.

The OneShot: Missionary Opposition

Called in to investigate an unusually large number of missing pets in a small village the team got to work, enthusiastically knocking on doors under the cover of being missionaries from an obscure church. Their blunt approach of simply holding a bible up and intoning the word ‘God…’ didn’t go down so well. Until they knocked on number 37, whose occupant was all too relieved to have somebody, anybody, to talk to.

It didn’t take long to discover that there had been strange comings and goings during the night, or that people were gathering in the abandoned house at the end of the street. While Gabriel, Jim and Bijoux took off to investigate that Albrecht followed his nose, literally, as he tracked down a scent he knew all too well. Fresh blood, originating from the boot of a nearby car. Inside, another pet and files from the local veterinary clinic.

Over at the abandoned house, the rest of the Chapter came face to face with what they had been seeking, a skinless creature the size of a bear, layer upon layer of muscle twitching in anticipation. It proved no match for the Chapter and was quickly dispatched back to whatever hell it had been pulled from. A quick investigation of the house discovered its gruesome origins, the decaying body of a man inside a ritual circle. While his wallet had been emptied the Agents found a scrunched up business card inside his pocket. Carl Jackson, Personal Injury Attorney. The address was local, and as it turned out only doors away from the Veterinary Clinic.

A bungled attempt to break into the attorney’s office triggered a silent alarm, drawing the attention of a trio of… irate middle-aged businessmen who were quickly dealt with. Drawing from Bijoux’s knowledge of human anatomy the Chapter concocted a basic, yet surprisingly effective, truth serum to conduct a quick interrogation. They learned that the trio were following orders from a woman going by the names of Lilith and Jackie. Bitter at some perceived slight by the local community she had gathered a small group to get revenge… by summoning the creature and letting it loose during the upcoming Summer Fayre. A subsequent investigation of the veterinary clinic revealed Jackie to be not only a member of staff but the wife of the deceased Carl Jackson.

The Chapter hightailed it to Lillith’s home, where they discovered that she had already begun the ritual to once again summon the beast. Quick thinking by Bijoux put an end to that, as she hit redial on the mobile taken from the man they had interrogated. The ritual chants of “Ix’Kalla, Ix’Kalla, Ix’Kalla” that had been calling out were disrupted by a familiar sound – the Nokia ringtone.

Then came the screaming.

With the cultists being devoured by the beast the Chapter leapt into the fray, knowing that they had to banish the abomination before it broke free of the ritual circle. Albrecht dived after Lillith and the tome she was carrying, while RM, Jim and Bijoux worked to contain the creature. Securing the Tome of Ix’Kalla from Lillith the Chapter used its forbidden knowledge to banish the beast from the mortal plane.

Having saved this little corner of the world the Chapter started the long walk back to base… they’d missed their ride and their calls to HQ kept going to voicemail.

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The Roundup: Riotous Fun

I love Demon Hunters. I love both the setting and the system and once again this session reminded me why. In contrast to many of my previous adventures the game didn’t descend towards slapstick, but the absurdity of the setting shone through. From the opening where the players had to improvise at being missionaries but didn’t know which church they belonged to right through to disrupting a ritual summoning by ringing the villains mobile at a critical moment. Possibly the only downside was that one player took a little bit longer than the others to grasp the humorous potential and thus spent the first half of the game worrying about the police arriving. With a sillier adventure (such as Channel Surfing) this wouldn’t have been an issue but it did highlight the difficulty of running adventures that rely on a dry sense of humour.

From a mechanical perspective, the players picked up the system quickly, though I do feel like a cheat sheet would have helped with some of the finer details of invoking aspects. Demon dice were particularly fun, the players were nervous about using them, which helped add to the tension of the rolls and more than one action failed because they were paranoid about what I might do with the dice if I added them to my pool. I’m still not sure that I put them to proper use, I struggle in particular with the concept of needing to spend them to have events happen (represented mechanically by adding aspects) rather than just declaring that it happens.

While preparing the adventure I took some time to reread the core rules. The book is a fun and relatively easy read but there are a few points where the text is confusing or even contradicts other parts of the book. For example, the rules on recovering conditions state at one point that succeeding with style on the action automatically clears a condition while a different page states that it clears two conditions. There are also a couple of sections that would benefit from some additional examples. The prime candidates are spells and badness tables. I appreciate why the writers didn’t want to include lists of spells or tables but personally, I would have really benefitted from additional guidance and examples.

Overall though? The book is great and full of detail. There’s a detailed setting including a secret history of the world, plenty of artwork and a full range of sample NPCs to drop into your game. The best part of the book may be the mission generator, which breaks the process down into a series of simple steps. A basic mission profile can be generated in as little as five minutes and if you get stuck? Just roll on one of the random tables for inspiration. Want even more guidance? Then pick up the first supplement for the game, Demon Hunting Manual A771, which takes a deep dive into mission planning and organisation.

The Demon Hunters RPG can be purchased from DriveThruRPG via:
Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors (PDF and Print on Demand)
Demon Hunting Manual A771 (PDF and Print on Demand)

While my adventure outlines for the game are available as Pay What You Want downloads from LunarShadow Designs on DriveThruRPG

Kickstarter Alert: Crystal Heart campaign setting

While I enjoy the system I’ve never been a big backer of Kickstarters for Savage Worlds, even to the extent that I didn’t back the recent campaign for the latest edition of the core rules. Of the many settings only Deadlands and its spin-off Deadlands Noir have really grabbed me. Everything else has gone on my “I might pick it up eventually” list.

Until Crystal Heart.

Developed by Eran and Aviv through their webcomic Up to Four Players, Crystal Heart presents a world in the process of uncovering lost artifacts and knowledge from an advanced Bygone Age. The most powerful of these relics are Crystals, gems of unknown origins that channel unique abilities and powers to the wielder. The catch? The only known method of controlling them requires that the user have their own heart surgically removed and replaced with the Crystal. Only one organisation admits to possessing the skills necessary to do so, Syn. Their Agents are relentless, fearless. Heartless.

The setting is beautiful, intriguing and while only a small percentage of the world has been explored its clear that it has a depth to it that many settings lack. Best of all? A setting book is on Kickstarter right now, the project went live earlier today and is already sailed past the 50% mark.

So what’s included in the Kickstarter? For £15 (~$19) you’ll get the full setting book in PDF format plus any bonus PDFs which are unlocked via stretch goals. £30 (~$38) + shipping will net you the physical book plus all the PDFs while the £55 (~$70) + shipping ‘fan’ level rewards you with all the PDFs, the physical book, print issues of the Up to Four Players comic, dice tray and sticker sheets. In contrast to many Kickstarters, Eran and Aviv have gone for a relatively simple tier structure, with only a single, limited quantity, high-level pledge at £175 (~$225). For that, you get to create a Syn Agent to be included in the setting book, which will include character artwork by Aviv.

The details of the stretch goals have yet to be announced but will include additional content for the core book, a collection of one-sheet adventures and custom Crystal-themed bennies. Given the goal for the Kickstarter is likely to be reached within the first day it shouldn’t be long before the details for these are unveiled.

If you’re interested in the Kickstarter then you can find it here and it’s running until Tuesday 11th December. If you want more information about the setting then I’d highly recommend the comics, which can be found at www.uptofourplayers.com and if that isn’t enough then how about checking out the free starter set, which includes an overview of the setting, pre-generated characters and an introductory adventure? You can download that via the Up to Four Players website or directly from drivethruRPG.

 

Thoughts on Marvel Heroic

Alongside my Monthly OneShots, I’ve recently finished playing in a mini-campaign of another Cortex Plus system, the short-lived Marvel Heroic RPG. While I was fortunate enough to buy it while still in print it’s a system that has languished on my shelf for some time.

Unfortunately, with the campaign over, I feel like it may return to that position for some time as overall it just did not work for me.

First up was a personal issue – I prefer shades of grey in my games. Four colour heroics just don’t sit well with my style of play. Especially when trying to be a clean-cut hero such as Captain America. It’s something that I’ve struggled with during previous superhero games and it clearly remains something I need to work on.

As for the system, well something just failed to click. To a degree, it felt over-engineered, with too many moving parts. Rolls were typically built around a base of Affiliation + Distinction + Powerset + Speciality. That’s before considering any possible boosts or variations such as Sfx. Each of those had to be considered and actively chosen, there is no default combo so each action felt slow, though I will admit that they sped up as we became more familiar with the mechanics.

My other mechanical issue was one of focus. While I understand that the superhero genre is heavily combat orientated my non-combat options felt like they were lacking. Again, I appreciate that Captain America is pretty much the archetype for ‘super-soldier’ but it still put me off when I saw that my non-combat rolls were relatively limited.

captain-america-the-winter-soldier-movie-hd-wallpaper-my-top-10-of-2014This isn’t to say that my thoughts on the system entirely negative, as there was a lot that I did enjoy. The doom pool was central to this, allowing the GM to bank dice for later use rather than having to create complications in the moment (ala Firefly). It’s definitely a mechanic that I’ll be including in my future Prime games, likely alongside the Firefly type complications for when I want to immediately challenge the party.

Second, was the ability to counter actions on a successful defence, allowing the heroes to inflict stress even when it wasn’t their turn. This really felt like it played to the genre and made the heroes feel special, as with enough plot points it is (theoretically) possible to take out a mob of low-level antagonists without even taking an action!

Finally the idea of switching out power-sets between adventures to highlight different facets of a character really appeals. Demon Hunters, which blends some Cortex concepts onto a backbone of Fate, does similar by allowing you to spend milestones to rewrite Aspects. Over the course of a campaign, I could see a character building up a repository of options to pick from. Want to focus on mysterious backstory this adventure? Simply swap in that aspect. Want to highlight your stealth? Add in the power-set you acquired during the recent downtime.

So overall, mixed thoughts. I won’t be rushing back to the system but on the other hand, I would like to play it again (or run it) to see if I can get a better feel for it.