Archive for October 2011

[D&D 4e] Amaranthus Hawkweed, Pixie Ranger

It’s not his fault that the raid on Cripple’s Gate went wrong, but he’s fighting as best as he can to get back to the Feywild and get his rookie subordinate fixed up.

Amaranthus has been doing this sort of thing for too long, and he’s getting too old for this shit.

Amaranthus Hawkweed is a PC I made for a friend’s Halloween gaming session. The first page has Amaranthus’s out-of-combat abilities, then the second has his in-combat abilities. And then you get his too-long backstory, and some life sized pictures of Amaranthus and his wounded charge Bilberry.

[InSpectres/Inspace AP] “In Theory”

We have been talking about playing InSpace (the scifi variant for InSpectres) for a while now. We made characters over a month ago, but work schedules and real life hassles have been getting in the way, preventing the actual play. finally, though, the stars aligned last night and everyone was available, so the Second Chance could actually take flight.

The Second Chance is a starship primarily crewed by humans, but it is owned by a strange alien benefactor. She had agreed to support the crew on their mission to explore and investigate mysteries, though she had a few areas of particular interest: the ancient race of aliens called the Forerunners, any warps in time or space and negatively charged tachyon fields. The ship’s science officer, Miri Peirce knew of a human scientist that was an expert in tachyon fields, Dr. Cherenkov. So the ship’s first step would be to consult with Dr. Cherenkov and learn more about the behavior of negatively charged tachyon fields.

Dr. Cherenkov was studying a field of gases circling an electromagnetically charged black hole on a small research space station. As the Second Chance came out of the jumpgate, they established radio contact with the base. Just then, there were three strange energy pulses from the field of gases, and the radio went dead.

Thus ended my (slightly too long) backstory, and we arrived at the central question of the session: “Where is Everybody?” Finding the answer to that mystery would be the central focus of the session from there on out. (This would have been the opening teaser segment in a TV show. Then we’d play the opening credits, go to a commercial break, and come back to the players investigating.

Dramatis Personae:

Captain Noah Harrington, the often underestimated ship’s captain (played by Ross for the first half)
Miri Peirce, the ship’s science officer, who used a series of cybernetic chips to store all the scientific data that she needed (played by Amber)
Joshua Davies, mysterious cybernetic monk, working as the ship’s janitor and general laborer (played by Heather)
“Mercury”, the scruffy communications officer (played by Ross in the second half)

The captain ordered the ship’s pilot to dock with the station, despite the lack of radio response. We used Contacts rolls generally to order around the rest of the crew, so Ross rolled and got a 6. Excellent success! He described Sugita the pilot trying a crazy maneuver that would force additional air into the ship from the station, thereby saving the ship valuable resources like air and refueling time. But he didn’t describe the ship docking safely or smoothly, and the maneuver involved the ship ramming into the hold with enough force to fill the cargo hold. That sounded like a sudden stop, so I had everyone take 1 Stress from the sudden jerking around. Davies and the captain were fine (Davies gained a Cool die, useful for later on). Amber rolled badly for Dr. Peirce, though, and she took a -2 penalty. (This was the beginning of a long, nasty series of stress for Dr. Peirce.) Amber described how Miri had been on the stairs when the ship stopped suddenly, causing her to fall and break her legs. (That -2 penalty took her Athletics score from 2 to 0, meaning she couldn’t accomplish anything physical unaided.)

Ross’s narration from his roll also added in some clues to what happened to everyone. Specifically, when Sugita looked at the environmental readout, she noticed that the micro-organism count was zero. Not in normal levels of a few bacterial parts per million. Not below the normal levels. Zero airborn microbes. That’s a bit weird. Contacting Miri over the intercom, there was some bickering (Sugita not realizing she had caused Peirce to be injured in the docking). The science officer went to inform the captain of this, suggesting some caution entering the station. Just as the captain was ordering that no one leave the ship, we cut to Joshua Davies, outside the ship in the docking bay, hooking up refueling tubes and waste disposal systems and stuff as part of his job.

(Getting the Captain involved in a plot is easy, and the science officer is going to be a key role in a science fiction mystery game. But I wasn’t sure how to get the janitor involved. This was step one: forcibly push him into the plot. Eventually, we found that his monk nature was more useful for getting involved in the plot. But for the first half of the game, I was worried that we didn’t have enough time spotlighting our gentle cybernetic monk. By the end it all worked out, though.)

This led to a fairly long digression where no one was sure what to do about Joshua Davies. Leave him outside? Bring him into the ship? The ship’s security officer Ribbons of Glee (a human raised by aliens) brought Davies back into the cargo hold and sat with him there for a few hours while the science officer did some tests and watched to see if they died.

No one died, so it was decided that they’d send some people out of the docking bay and into the space station proper. As the two most exposed (if there was any exposure) crew members, Ribbons of Glee and Joshua Davies would go. And the Captain and science officer would also go, as the most qualified to investigate.

Miri and Ribbons of Glee started going through Dr. Cherenkov’s stuff, while Captain Harrington and Davies searched the station for anyone still aboard. They didn’t find anyone, but the captain noticed that many of the computer terminals on the station had been blown out during the energy pulses. This was just as Miri was putting one of the data chips into her brain-slot to study what Cherenkov had been interested in. Which seemed like a really natural time for me as GM to declare that another pulse washed over the station, causing more stress for Dr. Peirce. Amber rolled badly here again, losing some points from Academics as her chip slot was damaged. We decided that she had some scarring around the slot, which prevented her from taking out the quantum physics chip that she had in. Which meant that, among other things, Miri couldn’t sleep or relax or stop thinking about negatively charged tachyon fields.

As she recovered from the pain, Miri went to say something to Ribbons of Glee, and she realized that he had vanished during the pulse.

The good news was that she better understood what Dr. Cherenkov had been doing (with a good Academics roll in here). She knew that the energy pulses were fields of negatively charged tachyons. Records indicated that Dr. Cherenkov had been trying to amplify the natural energy pulses of the gas field. Some quick analysis showed that the pulses always came in pairs, with the next due in twenty minutes. Time to evacuate the station, back onto the (better shielded) Second Chance.

But Miri also had a hunch that she could get a signal to those who had disappeared, by sending a radio beam out during the energy pulse. She spent fifteen minutes of the time left reconfiguring a transmitter, leaving only moments left for everyone to get back to safety (Davies having to carry her back to the ship, as Peirce’s wheelchair would have been too slow.)

Heather rolled nicely on an Athletics check to get everyone back safely to the ship, so she got to describe the pulse and noted that the pulse seemed to contain a signal of its own, with voices and an extremely fuzzy video signal. It was unclear who exactly that was or what they were saying, just yet.

This brought us to the halfway point of the game, and we had the Mid-game huddle as InSpace suggested. This mostly was the captain briefing the crew on what was happening, then the PCs conferring with each other and with NPCs about what was going on. During this conference, it was noted that a few other crew members had disappeared as well, including the first mate Thusharsha and the communications officer Mercury.

During the midgame huddle, we discussed (out of character) if everyone was having fun and liked their characters so far. Amber was happy as Dr. Peirce, who couldn’t be abandoned at this point in the story. Ross decided that the captain wasn’t working out for him, so he elected to play a different crew member for the second half of the game. After some uncertainty, he decided to play Mercury, the communications officer who had vanished in the pulses. Very interesting. We had been having some trouble figuring out how to keep Davies a relevant character for the first half of the game, but Heather decided to stick with him.

following the midgame break, Joshua Davies started to look through his monastic order’s records to see if they had anything about disappearances or this star system or anything. Some research and a conversation with Michael, the ship’s gelatinous alien xeno-anthropologist/linguist, revealed that this star system had once been home to an offshoot sect that had disappeared a few centuries ago under mysterious circumstances. And the order had been set up to guard something that they called “The Ultimate Evil”. Ominous!

(The conversation also showed that Michael’s jelly people had a history of violence and conflict with Davies’s monastic order, so they don’t like each other. This wasn’t hugely important for this session, but definitely is something to be built upon in future games.)

I don’t recall if it was in here or a bit later that Davies and Michael unscrambled the transmission from the previous pulse. But they were able to identify that it was a distress call, warning that “the ultimate evil” had gotten out of their control.

Meanwhile, Mercury was waking up in a junkyard on an alien planet. He started to investigate, and was able to determine that he was in the same location in space, but several centuries previously. The planet seemed to be abandoned, so he started to salvage parts and build a transmitter to try to get a signal back to the ship in modern day. With a good roll, Mercury was able to cause the gas field to vibrate periodically, unleashing energy waves. These were the waves causing the disappearances. But Mercury was also able to encode a message into the pulses: their frequency formed a pattern that Miri would eventually be able to detect and understand, explaining what he had learned.

Davies went to warn Dr. Peirce about “the ultimate evil” just as Miri was decoding Mercury’s message. Hearing the phrase “The Ultimate Evil” made her realize that e=V*i^L, letting her graph out and predict the pattern of pulses better. And the pattern of pulses, if left to go on, would eventually increase in frequency and strength until they expanded to consume the universe. Not exactly what Davies was hoping to get from warning her, but it did mean that Peirce had a plan. Peirce was going to construct an energy beacon, drop it into the black hole during an energy pulse, and that would reverse the disappearances.

Back a few centuries beforehand, Mercury was working on perfecting his transmitter (he had a very good receiver, but a very poor transmitter) so that he could contact the Second Chance. But he was ambushed by several monks from Davies’s monastic order, who threw him in a prison cell, commandeered the transmitter for one distress call (the one decoded before) and then smashed it.

Talking to his captors, Mercury learned that they blamed him for the eventual destruction of the universe. He tried to suggest that it was al under control, and that the pulses simply were there so he could get a signal back to the future. The monks shook their heads sadly, and showed how the equations graphed out after the Second Chance’s point in time. Seeing how eventually he would eventually wipe out everything, Mercury was suitably taken aback momentarily. The equations governing the behavior of the energy pulses were themselves the ultimate evil, because someone misusing them could lead to the universe’s demise.

Back in the future, Dr. Perice recruited the ship’s engineer to build a big tachyon beacon as part of her plan to fix everything. This was going fine, until Davies got a message through his cybernetic implants. The monastic order used this method to send out urgent messages sometimes. This particular signal was especially painful and full of static (more Stress), because it was an emergency call from the past monks trying to prevent Peirce’s plan. They warned that anyone working on the Evil Equations could lead to the death of all life in the galaxy. So naturally, Davies went on a rampage and started destroying all of Miri’s work. Heather spent all available resources to destroy the device, including spending her Cool die (“It’s quite appropriate for you to lose your Cool when you go on a berserk rampage.”)

I was going to give Davies another Stress over all of this, but amber asked for it to go to Dr. Peirce, as her wheelchair got knocked over and her work got destroyed. It had been a few terrible days for Dr. Peirce, as she couldn’t sleep and all she could do was work on this device. The one that a crazy cybernetic janitor was now smashing to bits. Amber finally rolled well on a Stress die, though, and got a die of Cool out of it. Dr. Peirce was strangely calm, having finally come to understand what needed to be done. Instead of creating a beacon, they would simply drop the entire research base into the black hole. The station was already charged with enough tachyons that it would put out one final, giant pulse and undo this entire mess.

At this point, the team had enough Mission Dice to declare their investigation a success. Everyone had a good idea what was going on, and a plan to deal with it. The rest was basically wrap-up.

Davies was eventually restrained and brought back onto the Second Chance and the plan went ahead. Meanwhile, in the past, Mercury was brought before the head of the monastic sect. He started to explain everything that was going on and how it might be solved, as the energy pulse washed across everyone and Mercury disappeared.

In the ensuing massive tachyon field pulse, the black hole disappeared, the alien planet (and monastic order) restored to the present, and all the research scientists were alive on the planet. Mercury was careful to avoid the monks, though Davies conferred with them to help them get up to speed on what happened. Miri Peirce met with Dr. Cherenkov and determined that she now understood the behavior of tachyons better than he did. And the doctor was finally able to remove the quantum physics chip from Miri’s head and let her sleep for the first time in several days.

The crew were all able to buy off their Stress penalties and replenish their ship’s die pools, ending with slightly more than they started with. (The suggestion that I hand out about as many Stress dice as their Mission goal seemed like a good guideline.)

In the end, it seemed like everyone had fun and the game worked. We are supposed to play again on Sunday, even, which is a good sign that everyone enjoyed it.

[D&D 4e] Lutums

Another monster from the 2nd edition Monstrous Compendium – Spelljammer Appendix, updated to 4e. No added backstory this time.

Lutum mudshadow
Level 9 lurker
Medium elemental animate (ooze, shapechanger, earth)
400 xp

Initiative +14
Perception +7

HP 75 Bloodied 37
AC 20 Fort 20 Ref 22 Will 22

Immune petrification, resist 10 poison
Move 7

Earthly Advantage
The Lutum gains combat advantage against any creature that occupies a square of difficult terrain.

Dirty Tricks
The Lutum deals +1d12 damage on melee attacks against targets granting combat advantage.

The lutum ignores difficult terrain caused by rubble, uneven stone, earthen construction or the powers or any lutum.

Standard Actions:
Muddy Fist (At-will, basic attack)
+14 vs. AC; 1d12+7 damage.

Minor Actions:
Deceptive Veil (At-will, only when not bloodied)
The Lutum can disguise itself as any Medium female humanoid, including unique individuals. A successful DC 25 Insight check can see through the illusion.

Earth to Mud (encounter)
All squares within a Close burst 1 become difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.

Move Actions:
Passwall (Recharge 4,5,6)
The Lutum gains phasing and a burrow speed of 7, then shifts her speed. After shifting, if she has concealment or cover, the lutum mudshadow can make a Stealth check.

Triggered Actions
Bloodied Escape (Free action, encounter)
Trigger: the lutum mudshadow becomes bloodied
Effect: Any magical disguise that the mudhsadow has is dismissed. The mudshadow makes a melee basic attack against an adjacent creature, then shifts its speed, with phasing. If it has concealment after this shift, the mudshadow can make a Stealth check.

Str 14 Con 17 Dex 20 Int 12 Wis 14 Cha 18
Stealth +15 Bluff +12
Alignment: Evil Languages: Common, Dwarven, Giant, one other

Lutum stoneshaper
Level 8 controller (leader)
Medium elemental animate (ooze, shapechanger, earth)
350 xp

Initiative +7
Perception +7

HP 88 Bloodied 44
AC 22 Fort 20 Ref 18 Will 22

Immune petrification, resist 10 poison
Move 6

Earthly Advantage
The Lutum gains combat advantage against any creature that occupies a square of difficult terrain.

The lutum ignores difficult terrain caused by rubble, uneven stone, earthen construction or the powers or any lutum.

Earthly Healing Aura 5
Any lutums in the aura gain regeneration 5 while they occupy a square of difficult terrain.

Standard Actions:
Muddy Fist (At-will, melee basic attack)
+14 vs. AC; 1d12+7 damage and prone.

Glob of mud (at-will, ranged basic attack)
+12 vs. Ref; 1d12+9 damage and the square the target occupies becomes difficult terrain until the end of the encounter.

Mudpit (at will) area burst 1 within 10; targets enemies
+12 vs. Ref; 1d8+8 damage and slowed (save ends).

Wall of stone (encounter)
Effect: the stoneshaper create an area wall 6 within 10 squares. The wall is 2 squares high, and it lasts until the end of the encounter. It blocks all movement, line of sight and line of effect through its squares. Enemies adjacent to the wall when it is created are subject to an attack:
+12 vs Fort; 2d10+8 damage and immobilized (save ends).

Minor Actions:
Deceptive Veil (At-will, only when not bloodied)
The Lutum can disguise itself as any Medium female humanoid, including unique individuals. A successful DC 25 Insight check can see through the illusion.

Stoneshape (at-will, once per round)
The stoneshaper creates a square of blocking terrain within 10 squares. It blocks all movement, line of sight and line of effect through its squares

Triggered Actions
Bloodied Grasp (Free action, encounter)
Trigger: the lutum stoneshaper becomes bloodied
Effect: Any magical disguise that the stoneshaper has is dismissed. The stoneshaper makes a basic attack against an creature within 10 squares. If that attack hit, the target is immobilized (save ends).

Str 13 Con 16 Dex 15 Int 20 Wis 13 Cha 17
Bluff +14
Alignment: Evil Languages: Common, Dwarven, Giant, one other

Lutum Groundpounder
Level 7 soldier
Medium elemental animate (ooze, shapechanger, earth)
300 xp

Initiative +7
Perception +3

HP 80 Bloodied 40
AC 24 Fort 21 Ref 21 Will 18

Immune petrification, resist 10 poison
Move 6

Earthly Advantage
The Lutum gains combat advantage against any creature that occupies a square of difficult terrain.

The lutum ignores difficult terrain caused by rubble, uneven stone, earthen construction or the powers or any lutum.

Threatening Reach (only while bloodied)
While bloodied, the lutum groundpounder can make opportunity attacks against any creature within 2 squares that provokes a opportunity attack.

Standard Actions:
Muddy Grab (At-will, melee basic attack)
+13 vs. AC; 1d12+8 damage and grabbed (until escape). While disguised, the groundpounder can only maintain one grab at a time. When not disguised, the ground pounder can maintain any number of grabs.

Squeeze (at-will)
Each grabbed target takes 10 damage.

Minor Actions:
Deceptive Veil (At-will, only when not bloodied)
The Lutum can disguise itself as any Medium female humanoid, including unique individuals. A successful DC 25 Insight check can see through the illusion.

Earth to Mud (at-will) close burst 1, targets enemies
+12 vs. Fort; prone.

Triggered Actions
Bloodied Grab (Free action, encounter)
Trigger: the lutum stoneshaper becomes bloodied
Effect: Any magical disguise that the stoneshaper has is dismissed. The stoneshaper makes a basic attack against every creature in a close burst 1.

Str 15 Con 19 Dex 16 Int 12 Wis 10 Cha 17
Bluff +14
Alignment: Evil Languages: Common, Dwarven, Giant, one other


A few years ago, I ran my wife’s D&D character through the classic module White Plume Mountain. During the game, she recovered the infamous artifact Blackrazor, which came to factor heavily into the campaign. This was in 3.5, but when Wizards of the Coast had a contest updating Blackrazor to 4e, I wrote this up. Only recently did I find the file and make it into a readable PDF instead of an ugly Word doc.


Once I Was a Warrior

For my brother’s 30th birthday, I made him a roleplaying game. It’s a meditation on fate, growing older and how people change over time.

Once I Was a Warrior

Manna Hotel LARP PCs

Here you;ll find the PCs from the Manna Hotel LARP that I wrote and ran recently.

Six core characters:
Tanner Cross, host of TV’s “Crosswords”
Howard Roberts, cameraman for News Channel Six
Sheriff Nelson Deharo, smalltown sheriff
Roxie Heart, famous rock star
Dante / Deedee Underwood, owns the hotel
Coleman / Karen Kane, bigshot music executive

If you have an odd number of players, add one of these two:
Winston / Winona Slater, “backup singer”
Candice Cross, ambitious TV producer

If you have eight or more, add these two:
Georgia Vang, rising young lawyer
Dwight Dickerson, hotel clerk

If you have ten or more, add:
Janie Lansing, back in her hometown once again
Marty / Marcy Lowell, quiet local

Other useful cards:
Outcome badges (These were used in the conflict resolution for the game.)

[Playtest report] The Big Fiasco at the Manna Hotel LARP

So I’ve been working for a while now on a Fiasco based parlor larp. The idea was to build a relationship map between a set of PCs using Fiasco playsets, then write them in a little more detail to make them into a one-shot live action character. We finally had the actual game on saturday, and it worked out pretty well. But the process had a few kinks in it. If I try this again, I’ll be changing up how I d things a little, using what I learned this time.

First, I started by generating a couple of circles of Fiasco characters. I decided to have each circle use a different Fiasco playset. This was partly as more experimentation (how well can you mesh together four playsets?) and partly to avoid repeating relationships or objects/needs/locations.

I chose a couple of playsets that fit loosely together. All four playsets were from the Playset of the Month. I didn’t want to add even more variables to the experiment by using fanmade playsets just yet. (Though if I do this again, I could see combining Dragon Slayers, Dwarf Fortress and Keeping on the Borderlands for a fantasy fiasco.) Flyover is set in the middle of the United States somewhere, and The Manna Hotel is set in middle-of-nowhere, Kansas. So those two go together naturally. They formed the initial seed of the game. Then I added in News Channel Six, since a news program fits into any modern setting at all. And a Touring Rock Band staying in the hotel added some additional mayhem, so why not?

I generated each playset’s circle of characters just as you do in normal Fiasco: roll some dice, allocate them to different characters, create some relationships and shared objects/needs/locations. This is one point where you could tell that Fiasco playsets weren’t exactly made for this purpose. Sometimes relationships and needs would require adding other characters or NPCs. Which would require somebody play those characters in the larp. And sometimes the options involved contexts or needs not resolvable in the larp’s context. Mostly, I avoided those relationships, which restricted choices somewhat.

I made four groups of three characters apiece. Then I made some connections between the circles, because I didn’t want the game to be four mini larps going on simultaneously. In normal Fiasco, you have a relationship with two other PCs: one on the left and one on the right. In order to make the circles interact, I gave each PC a relationship with someone in a different circle. Since there were three PCs in each circle and three other circles, each circle had a PC connected to each other circle. Each cross-circle relationship had one element from one layset, and one from the other playset. I didn’t roll any dice for cross-circle connections, because by this point I had a good idea what each character was, and I was trying to build the most interesting connections between circles.

At this point, I had a giant web of complicated connections. Just as in regular Fiasco, I was brainstorming while choosing relationships, and now I started nailing down details on who was who and how they related to other people. Who was being blackmailed and why? Which smalltown folks were the rockstar tied to? At this point I also started writing the actual character info sheets. After trying to figure out how to present information, I eventually settled on giving the information that would be on a Fiasco notecard (“Relationship: Roxie Heart. Friends: By Court Order. Need: To get some respect… from a rockstar”). Then I’d write a few paragraphs fleshing that information out for the player.

The complicated web of relationships was great, so long as I had exactly twelve players. As September went on, it became clear that we’d have fewer than that. So I had to construct a plan that accommodated the smaller number of players. I was originally going to take two circles of three and make them into a circle of five or smaller to deal with the smaller group. But now I had actual PCs on the table and stuff being written for them. And as I looked at that stuff, it actually was very hard to modify all the relationships and reconnect them elsewhere and still have characters that were mostly the same.

In the end, I just ignored the playset based circles altogether. I picked out the six core characters with the strongest plot threads running through the game, and made a circles charting their relationships into a circle. Then I saw how the other peripheral character tied into the game. Two PCs (Candice Cross and Winston / Winona Slater) fit into the game individually, as their ties were primarily to the core characters. The other PCs had strong relationships to each other. So if I wanted to include Dwight Dickerson, I’d also have to include Georgia Van (and vice versa).

This change of course required modifying a couple PCs a bit (Howard Roberts was the one forging documents for the sheriff, instead of Marcy Lowell). But it required less drastic changes than my original plan would have. Anyway, this was an issue I created for myself by trying to follow the Fiasco creation rules a bit more closely than really was needed. Once I started following my own methods of larpmaking, it worked out. In the future, I’d just make a circle of Fiasco character that was as large as my minimum number of players, then add on extra optional characters with relationships crossing the circle. (Possibly give each PC three relationships, then optional characters might add a fourth.)

When we finally played the game, I did use the black/white card system mentioned on G+ before. It worked okay, but not spectacularly well. It might be better suited for tabletop play rather than larp play. I did like how it made the GM something like the man in the diner from The Booth at the End. somebody would attempt something, and I’d say “If you give up a white consequence, sure.” If they didn’t have one, then they could fail and use up a black consequence instead, and get that result. (I don’t feel that I pushed the negatives hard enough on black consequences, though.)

People seemed to have fun. Occasionally the game did seem like it was a few separate larps with minimal interconnections. But there were enough connections that something happening in one circle’s plot would spill over to other circle’s plotlines.

I may also have chosen some more low-key relationships and needs than would have been ideal. The game went off without any violence and mostly white collar scheming. This isn’t bad, exactly. I just wonder if there was enough drama inherent in the game overall. Next time, I might endeavor to make sure that one or two PCs have a more action-y sort of goal.

I had fun, and I might try using Fiasco playsets to plan larps in the future. It didn’t actually simplify the middle to late stages of planning, but it speeded up the early brainstorming part greatly. A couple kinks were discovered, mainly because the playsets and setup rules weren’t written for exactly this purpose. But it worked well enough, and I learned some things that will make it easier to use for future times.