Tag Archives: Roleplaying

RPGaDay 2016- Day 13, What makes a successful campaign?

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What makes a successful campaign will vary hugely based on the people you ask, everyone looks for something different in a game. I have friends that just play for the social aspect, to see their friends and have a little fun. I have others who see roleplay as an almost theatrical experience and others still that see it as an extension of wargaming and I guarantee every single one would say something different if asked what makes a campaign successful.

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of that triangle of gamers above. Gaming is a social thing for me, I enjoy seeing my friends but it’s also very much about the game for me and I take the game very seriously when it’s presented as such. A successful campaign needs to be run seriously, by a DM who cares enough to do so and puts the work in. If a game isn’t presented that way then i’ll play and have fun, but never as much as if I can properly sink into a character and a game.

I think least of all I see roleplaying as a wargame but it retains some elements of wargaming and a successful campaign bears that in mind, especially one that involves an element of combat. Players want to be challenged, to not feel as if they won too easily and to have the satisfaction of besting their foes.

Ultimately though the story is the bit that matters, how the DM presents the world, the plot, the characters, everything. A successful campaign needs to feel real, I need to hate the villain, care for the side characters and desire to see the story through, beyond the general desire to play the game and pick up the plot hooks.

A successful campaign is the very definition of roleplaying, at least in as far as it’s described in many modern RPGs, it’s a group of people working together to tell a story and the more successful that endeavour is the more successful the campaign is to me.

RPGaDay 2016- Day 10, Largest in-game surprise you have experienced

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Running games I like to keep things close to my chest, ideally bamboozling the players over the true identity or motivation of their adversary until the last possible moment. Doing this maintains tension, helps keep the players interested and makes villains memorable, especially when the twist is unexpected.

That said, I think my favourite reveal was by a player, to me, during one of my own games. We were playing the Call of Cthulhu campaign, Tatters of the King, which is, to date, the best Call of Cthulhu campaign I’ve read and certainly the best I’ve run.

Tatters of the King, Cover

WARNING– There will be some spoilers ahead.

Throughout the campaign the investigators had been plagued by visions of the King in Yellow, following witnessing the King in Yellow play and investigating events surrounding it and a cult of Hastur. As the game built to its conclusion the party travelled to India tracking the cult activity and the closer they got to the source of Hastur’s power, the more frequent and intense the visions became. For one particular investigator the visions were particularly intense and began to wear on his sanity.

The campaign culminates high in the mountains of Tibet, in sight of Everest, after the party enter a cave and so proceed to an other worldly location close to the Cyclades. After some exploration they reach a room in which they are approached by a vestige of Hastur who asks them all a single question ‘Will you Guide me?’.

The party have to each make their own decision as to what they want to do. All replying ‘no’ simply delays the inevitable, as Hastur will return again when the stars are right. The correct answer is to reply ‘yes’ and then lead Hastur astray as you guide him to Earth, forever dooming your soul but saving the planet from certain doom. I gave each player a piece of paper and asked them to write their answer, Yes or No, with no conferring between them. I then gathered the paper and secretly read the result.

As expected one wrote ‘yes’ and so I turned to him to describe the scene as it evolved and, much to my surprise, the player didn’t lead Hastur astray, didn’t even try, he guided him straight to Earth and so doomed the planet. Shocked, I asked why, since leading him astray is made clear as an option, and my players answer was that most surprising reveal “After everything that has happened, everything I’ve seen, heard and done, I felt that I was the avatar of Hastur, I was the one destined to bring him to Earth to rule”.

I have to say, I’ve never felt like I have done a more effective job running a game than in that moment, when I realised that I’d managed to coerce a player to end the world through the subtle manipulation of what he experienced throughout the campaign.

RPGaDay 2016 Day 2- Favourite Session since August 2015

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Since August 2015 I’ve been involved in just 2 campaigns. One was a very short lived Dragonlance campaign that I was running using the D&D 5th edition rules and the other is the one I’m currently playing in, which is a Dark Heresy 2nd edition Campaign.

Dark Heresy 2nd edition is significantly better than 1st edition and it allows us to do what the original system did not, which is play full ordained Interrogators within the Holy Inquisition of Mankind, with the power and horror that that honour bestows. This is really good for me, it gives me a way to grow my character within the confines of 40ks strict universe and gives me a goal and direction. For my character, Lady Pandora of House Frigore, a hive noble from an ice world, who was drafted into the company of an Inquisitor after her time on a Black Ship due to her psychic abilities, that goal is singular, to attain the rank of Inquisitor herself.

So what does this all have to do with my favourite session? Well it’s in the pursuit of that goal that that we ended up in my favourite session, which was actually very recently. After an extended mission looking into a Xenos smuggling operation Pandora was recuperating on a backwater world. She’d been in tough a Rogue Trader contact about any rumours concerning a Force Sword, since she wanted a more effective way to combat the enemies of Mankind and, in my mind and hers, it makes for a more imposing Inquisitorial figure. This came about because, off hand, I rolled a 01 on the requisition test for a Force Sword while we were re-equipping our characters.

Rather than just gift me a swords, something that felt very unrealistic to myself and my GM, it was agreed that we’d have a side quest around it. This lead us to a Space Hulk, one that was once a Black Ship with an Inquisitor on board, one who owned a force sword named the Scourge of Weakness. This ship had been lost after it’s geller fields failed and it succumbed to a warp attack, with all hands lost. On board we found that the ship had the sickly taint of Nurge and proceeded with caution.

My favourite session wasn’t the most recent however, which is the one in which we defeated the presence and claimed the sword while freeing the soul of the Inquisitor, it was the one before that, the one in which we were searching a black and derelict ship, one encrusted with rust and disease, with horrors lurking down every corridor and rheumy eyes peering from the darkness. I like sessions like that, ones with a touch of dungeon crawl and a dose of horror, they are more tense, and have a real feel of peril to them.

In my head I always liken sessions it to Doom 3 and it’s superb moment of horror when all the lights go out in a corridor and an evil laugh fills the air as the red back up lighting kicks in. The fear of the unknown is exciting, it draws you in and makers you hang on every description, analyse every clue lest you miss something that spells your doom. Roleplay is at it’s very finest to me when horror is incorporated and pulled off because the ever present threat of death is what makes the game exciting and horror, good horror, should always leave you feeling that death is an imminent possibility at all times.

RPGaDay 2016- Real Dice, dice app, diceless, how do you prefer to ‘roll?

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Another year, another RPGaDay….

In the increasingly digital world I’ve seen an increase in the use of dice apps with companies like FFG using them for a number of their games such as WFRP, X-Wing, their Star Wars line and more. For FFG this makes sense since their games require specialist dice that can be expensive to get hold of, especially in the quantity you might need for the RPGs. Still, for me they don’t have the right feel to them, they can be useful for testing out probability, but it’s not the same as the tactile feel of the dice.

So, for me, it’s real dice and always will be. Specifically it’s these dice-

Green Dice

Or, sometimes, these dice-

Hematite Dice

The green gem set are dice I’ve had for almost 20 years and I’ve used them since fairly early in my gaming life. I use them whenever I’m a player but refuse to use them when I DM because I don’t think it’s fair to use my favourite dice in situations that might kill my players…

The 2nd set are stone dice, specifically hematite. If I’m not using the green dice then I use these when I’m a player. My wife bought these for me as a birthday present several years ago and I just really like the weight and feel of them. There are a number of alternative material dice, dinosaur bone, meteorite etc. that I’d love to get and use.

As a DM I use dice from one of the several pots of communal dice I have for players. I prefer to use these as I have less of a connection with them and so feel like they are less likely to favour me over my players.

Lady Pandora of House Tamere

Dark Heresy, Second Edition, cover
©2015 Fantasy Flight Games

A couple of weeks back I decided to take a break from DMing my regular Monday game, i’ve been running for roughly 3 years straight and i’m pretty burnt out, much as I don’t like to admit it. So, I asked a friend if he’d take over for a little while to give me time to recharge and after a little group discussion we settled on playing Dark Heresy, 2nd Edition.

I found myself pretty excited at the prospect of being a player, it’s something I don’t get to do all that often and so I threw myself into Character Generation and since i’m pretty pleased with the result I thought i’d talk about it.

First of all, the Rules. I went into it expecting Dark Heresy 2nd ed to be pretty similar to 1st ed and I was very, very wrong. Second Edition is a much more flexible game with a higher power level that is more in line with what I expected from the First Edition. Characters are no longer tied to specific talents and skills through a tier system and, in principle, everyone can access everything if they are willing to spend the XP. The downside of the rules for character generation and advancement is that they feel cumbersome, especially in regards to the way aptitudes work but i’ll go into that when I do a full review of the 2nd ed.

Character generation is split into a few sections, you pick a Homeworld, a background and then a Role, all of which give you skills, talents and aptitudes and form the basis of your character. From group discussion i’d already decided that I was going to play a Psyker and that meant taking the Mystic role.

Initially I was thinking about a male character who came from a Deathworld with the Feral homeworld and building an unsanctioned Psyker from there. The more I thought about it though the more that didn’t quite click for me and so I started looking online for miniatures. The idea was to look for some kind of daemonhost model, since that was what I was thinking about but a couple of curious clicks brought me to a selection of female psykers and things started falling into place.

First thing was homeworld and this changed to Highborn since the woman I was thinking about had a noble bearing about her. I imagine her tall, lean and with sharp angular features dressed impeccably in dark fur-trimmed clothing. She is pale, with white hair, almost Scandinavian, and all of this made me think that she came from a cold planet, probably an Ice planet and a quick search of latin terms gave me the name Frigore. I got the name by doing one of my favourite things when playing a 40k RPG, going to English to Latin on Google and trying related words and, in this case, cold translated to Frigore.

So, next is background. This was fairly simple as, in my head, my character had been identified as a psyker young and because of her families connections she was treated well and enrolled in the Adeptus Astra Telepathica. Rather than be taken to the front lines and thrown at the enemy like many psykers she received a position in Intelligence as an interrogator and it was from there that she was recruited by Inquisitor Corbin Inarus some time later.

Finally was the Role. Again this was straight forward as the only way to be a psyker is via the Mystic role, so thats what I picked, taking the Sanctioned trait since it was now significantly more fitting than being unsanctioned.

With the character’s history developed I moved onto characteristics (stats). In Dark Heresy there are 10 characteristics, 9 of which can be improved via XP and 1 that can only be improved via GM awards. I considered what my character should be good at and set her Willpower and Appearance to maximum, which is 40 in character generation. Highborn characters need neither strength nor toughness, so i set those at 25 and 20 respectively, the minimum possible for them.

I considered that she probably would have indulged in hunting and so be adept with a gun so her ballistic skill was set at 40 while her weapon skill was minimised at 25. She’d need to be perceptive, so that was set at 35 but I imagined that she’d more rely on her looks and charm to get her by than her wits and so left her intelligence at 25. Lastly I set her agility at 35 simply because characters that can’t dodge don’t last long in Dark Heresy.

I don’t normally min/max but it’s hard not to in Dark Heresy as characteristics start at 25 for the most part, max out at 40 during generation and can’t be voluntarily reduced. All things told I think my choice of characteristics made sense for the character I made, based on how I think her life has unfolded up to this point.

With this done I had the 1,000XP you get at the start of the game to spend. This is a whole lot more than in 1st ed but when you are a Psyker it doesn’t go all that far. I made a list of the skills I wanted, and it was a long list, and narrowed it down to just picking up Charm and Dodge, the former because I think a noble, high society upbringing will have taught Pandora etiquette and the latter for the metagame reason that I know that she won’t last that long without being able to get out of the way of attacks.

I didn’t even take a look at the talents, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to afford any if I wanted to be  vaguely competent Psyker and so that brought me to Psychic Powers. Looking through the different trees narrowed me down to Pyrokinesis,  Telepathy and Telekinesis with the two latter trees winning out simply because the first power in the Pyrokinesis tree, Control Fire, was too circumstantial to be of use.

Given that Pandora was an interrogator and that’s where she drew the eye of the Inquisition Telepathy was a given and Telekinesis seemed like a natural extension of that. From Telepathy I took Telepathic Link, to pull information from peoples minds, Erasure to prevent them remembering that I had done so and Hallucination for when I needed a distraction. From Telekinesis I took Telekinetic Control for it’s varied usefulness and Assail to use as a direct weapon.

Later I plan on taking Pyrokinesis, although I’m probably going to talk to my GM about reskinning it as Cryokinesis, based on my homeworld of Frigore. There will need to be a few workarounds, to make it work properly as a power, especially the Control Fire ability since Control Ice isn’t as easy to adjudicate as Control Fire.

In terms of equipment my GM was happy for us to have fairly easy access to reasonable equipment requests and so I only had to worry about the choice items you start with. I wanted a nice pistol, just because it made sense for Pandora to have the best of everything, so i took one of good quality, which had no in game effect but fits for who she is. Beyond that I took some Guard Flak Armour for added protection, a rebreather for toxic or contaminated environments and night vision contact lenses, for when she has to operate in the dark.

The final touches were a small puzzle box that she carries, which was a present when from her mother when she was a child and something she keeps on her person at all times. In my mind it looks like the Hellraiser Puzzle Box-

Hellraiser Puzzle Box

I toyed with this being her Psyfocus but it felt a little too obvious and despite the fact that she never goes anywhere without it, it would be cumbersome to pull out during combat, or when she was trying to be circumspect. In the end i thoughts that her Psyfocus would be better served being something less obvious and so I decided that she would wear a necklace, something delicate, that would be adorned with a small vial of Permanent Ice, a resource from her homeworld and the source of her families wealth. Permanent Ice, I decided, would be a valuable commodity prized by the Mechanicum for it’s ability to cool cogitators and machinery.

That was it. I found a couple of models that would represent her if it came to it, both from the Malifaux Neverborn faction, both representing the character Pandora-

Pandora, NeverbornPandora, Neverborn

 

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 3- Favourite RPG of the last 12 Months

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So, my favourite New RPG of the last 12 months? Hmmmm, I don’t think I’ve picked up many that would constitute as new in the last 12 months, in fact I think it may just be Malifaux- Into the Breech and D&D 5th ed.

Both are great games, Malifaux is lavishly illustrated and really expands the twisted world of the setting. What I like about Malifaux is that it’s part horror, part Deadlands like steampunk and part dreamscape all rolled into one twisted but fascinating world. Add to that a system that is bespoke for the game and draws inspiration from the skirmish game and you end up with something quite special.

D&D 5th Edition Cover

In the end though, it’s always going to be D&D 5th ed for me. I love D&D, it’s my favourite RPG of all and the one I’ve spent the most time running and playing in my 20 some years in the hobby. With that said, I hated 4th edition with a passion, aside from a couple of modules like The Madness at Gardmore Abbey. D&D’s 4th edition changed the game into something I didn’t recognise as Dungeons and Dragons and, most importantly, changed the whole nature of the settings that used to be the core of D&D.

Fortunately 5th edition appears to have rectified this. The system is something closer to 3.5 which, despite its issues at high levels, is the definitive edition of the game as far as I’m concerned (let’s not make Pathfinder comparisons here) and at the same time it draws from the best parts of 1st, 2nd and 4th edition to make something really quite fun and simple and that feels like Dungeons and Dragons.

On top of that, and it was one of the things that excited me the most, 5th makes references to the settings that I love and grew up with. Dragonlance is mentioned under the Elf racial description and the Planescapes Great Wheel returns with the City of Doors, Sigil at it’s heart. Just reading these little references in the Players Handbook caused me a little twinge of nostalgia as I recalled epic moments when playing those settings and brought a smile to my face.

To me that’s why we play, it’s great to read a new game, to discover a new world and to realise how awesome it is. In the end, though, we roleplay to bring a smile to our faces and those of our family and friends and to make great memories and D&D always has and always will manage that a little bit better than any other game for me.

#RPGaDAY 2105, Day 2, Kickstarted game you are most pleased you backed

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This one is, rather unfortunately, very easy. I’ve only backed two RPGs on Kickstarter, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition and Paranoia. If you’ve read my Highs and Lows of Kickstarting Games post you’ll know my feelings on the Call of Cthulhu project (and if you haven’t read it shame on you!). Well, over 2 years post funding and I still don’t have a copy of Cthulhu, never mind the stretch goals of add ons and I’m not likely to in the immediate future.

That leaves Paranoia, which is also running behind but to nowhere near as drastic a degree. So Paranoia is the RPG I’m most glad I backed. The levels were good and I’ll be getting and exclusive version of the boxed set when it eventually. Paranoia is a game I’ve only played a couple of times before but it was always stupid amounts of idiotic fun when I did and that was reason enough to back it.

As it stands at the moment, it looks like it’ll be excellent when released, with a bespoke system designed to help highlight the style of game and that makes me pretty excited.

#RPGaDay 2015 Day 1, Forthcoming game you’re most looking forward to

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So a friend of mine, StormFey tweeted her intention to blog her #GameaDay 2015 over on her blog Ballgowns and Battleskirts and, after doing the D&D 30 day challenge earlier this year I thought it’d be fun to do the same thing so, here we go for day 1.

What forthcoming game am I most looking forward to?

I guess I should say Call of Cthulhu 7th edition, after all I paid for it over 2 years ago, or Paranoia as both are hopefully coming to me this year but honestly, its probably the recently announced John Carter rpg.

I’m a big fan of the early 20th century sci-fi, fantasy and horror fiction. I love the style of it and the way it embodies the spirit of adventure and exploration, of delving into the unknown and facing what is beyond. To me those themes are what Roleplaying is all about, it’s why I’ve done it week in week out for over 20 years and it’s hat keeps me coming back again and again.

One of the first great heroes of books of that era was John Carter, the American Civil War Cavalry Captain from Virginia who was transported to Mars, known as Barsoom. On Mars he became a great hero, known for great feats of strength due to the way his human physiology interacted with the strange gravity on Mars. The author, Edgar Rice Burroughs, better known for another of his creations Tarzan, wrote numerous novels about John Carter’s exploits and these stories are known to have influenced the creation of early D&D.

So why am I so excited by a John Carter RPG? Honestly, I don’t know, I didn’t even know much about the character prior to hearing the hype for the movie a few years back. I guess it’s because the world of Barsoom hits many of the sweet spots I like in a setting, it’s ancient but advanced and utterly alien in so many ways and undeniably human in so many others. It’s the unknown, horror, adventure and excitement all in one. Some of my favourite games are things like Spirit of the Century, Deadlands and Numenera and a John Carter game looks like it would encapsulate all of the things I love about those settings.

According to Modiphius John Carter should be available by Christmas this year and so far they look like they are doing everything right by approaching the community and asking the fans what themes they would expect to be in the game. This is definitely the one to watch for me.

The Devil’s Spine- A Numenera Campaign Review

Name: The Devil’s Spine
Type: Campaign
Publisher: Monte Cook Games
System: Cypher System
Setting: Numenera
Format: Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 96
Price: £17.99
Rating: 3.0 Stars (3.0 / 5)

Numenera, The Devil's Spine, Cover

The Devils Spine is a campaign Adventure book for the Numenera Roleplaying game by Monte Cook games. It is written by Monte Cook, the lead writer and creator of Numenera and it was released at the same time as the Numenera game.

The Devils Spine primarily consists of 3 main adventures, with an additional prologue and epilogue that you can play through and a few side quests and additions that can be added to elongate the length of the campaign. Assuming that you regularly play 4 hour sessions (say weekly), and the party doesn’t deviate significantly from the general plot, I estimate it would take between 12 and 16 weeks to complete the campaign.

The book is softback with relatively high production values. The cover art is evocative and somewhat foreboding without giving away too much of what is contained within. I have a small criticism with the durability of the cover, in that the plastic coating is beginning to peel away at the edges, a somewhat common occurrence on books of this kind. It would have been preferable if the book could stand up to general use for the duration of the game, without becoming damaged.

Picture of damage.

The inside of the book is full colour and is heavily illustrated, which helps guide the imagination considering some of the more obscure and outlandish creatures and locations that are included.  In a move that I find very reminiscent of the Planescape product ‘Hellbound: The Blood War’ the campaign also includes a number of ‘show em’ images which are situated towards the back of the book and referenced throughout as to when it is appropriate to show the picture to the players. I’m not 100% sold on this technique but it can serve to be useful from time to time.

The campaign is designed so that you can take newly created characters from 1st tier up to 4th tier, depending on how generous you are with the XP. Once through the prologue players can complete the adventures in any order they wish, but the printed order in the book is presented as the most logical and, also, is the order in which they scale, meaning that less GM modification is needed to make them suitable for the party. From my perspective I think that the 3rd adventure, for instance, would be hard to impossible for tier 1 characters without significant alteration. For GM’s running them out of the suggested order some basic guidance is provided to help you make the changes required.

Warning, Spoilers Ahead!

The campaign follows a fairly generic plot. The PC’s are in town for any reason the GM wants and are drawn to a mansion. Exploration of the mansion reveals a hidden pit which, when explored, is revealed to be an egg chamber for a strange species of giant worms. A number of PC’s become the unwilling hosts to some of these larvae worms and make a deal with the worm mother to have them removed, in exchange for a task and them finding the equipment required. The party are given around 90 days (the rough gestation period of the larvae) to complete the task and obtain the two items to make the removal possible.

I’m not a huge fan of the railroad style with which the adventure begins as, for the party to be inclined to participate in the adventures, at least 1 has to become infected with the worm larvae. Now, granted, this is pretty likely to happen if they descend into the pit, the fact that it has to happen still irks me a little. That said, the 90 day timer does add a nice element of suspense to the proceedings, especially if the group roll over the 70 or 80 day mark and close in on their impending doom.

The 3 adventures are (in the order they are printed and the suggested order to run them in)-

  • Viral Transmissions
  • The Mechanised Tomb
  • Beyond the Maelstrom

I’ll provide a brief overview of each to give you an idea of what kind of adventure each is.

Picture of page 1 of Viral Transmissions

Viral Transmissions is the payment to the mother worm for her agreeing to remove the worm larvae. It’s the first adventure and it’s designed for tier 1 or 2 characters. The basic premise is that a bioengineered virus known as the ‘Insidious Choir’ has gradually expensing from it’s base, the Field of Towers, and is infecting everything in it’s path. The mother worm knows that the virus can only communicate between hosts by way of radio waves and so tasks the PC’s with disrupting the transmission of these so as to stop the spread of the virus.

The players are directed to what is basically a hover train and their first task is to solve a simple puzzle on how to get it to work. Doing this takes the party 200 miles towards their target and shaves around 2 weeks, each way, off their journey (which is pretty important when they only have 90 days to complete the missions). Once the train is moving the party can relax for a couple of hours before a rather tense confrontation with the first of the sentient virus hosts atop the speeding train. This is tense since the party have a limited time to stop the virus before it derails the train, in my case my players failed and barely managed to survive the 100mph train crash hallway through the tunnel.

Once through to the other side there is some general description of the landscape with a couple of points of interest mentioned as well as a couple of encounters with other travellers and a fight with another fairly powerful wormlike creature. When the PC’s finally arrive at the field of towers their first task is to come up with a way through hundreds of the virus hosts, to reach the transmission tower and find a way to permanently disrupt the signal. No methods are suggested and this is all down to player creativity and is a nice little freeform section which rewards players for innovative problem solving.

The transmission tower itself is a series of either stealth or, more likely, combat encounters, as the players seek to scale the 8 or so levels before reaching the top. For my group is started out as a standard room by room clearance before quickly escalating to a mad sprint for the end when it became apparent that other hosts were proceeding into the tower after them and they would be quickly overwhelmed. More quick thinking meant my players used a cypher to sheer through a large section of the ramp on the outside of the tower, both cutting off access from below and crushing a number of hosts.

Once at the top the players just need to find a way to destroy the transmitter, which can be achieved via a number of different means but will likely just come down to brute force or a cypher. After the transmitter goes down the hosts, having lost communication with one another, lose cohesion and fall apart and any infected player or NPC regains control of their own faculties.

This adventure has a nice mix of combat, forward thinking with a little bit of puzzle solving and socialising thrown in. It’s a good start to the campaign and the train encounter especially is very tense and fast paced.

Picture of page 1 of mechanised tomb.

Adventure 2, The Mechanised Tomb, is probably my favourite of the 3 and harkens back to a good old dungeon crawl from early D&D, albeit with a bit of a 9th world twist.  It’s the 2nd adventure and it’s designed for tier 2 or 3 characters. Tier 1 characters would likely struggle in several sections as some of the traps require some more powerful abilities (or very specific cyphers) to navigate.

In this adventure the PC’s are searching for an artefact, The Impossible Blade, which is needed to perform the operation to remove the worm larvae. The background is that legend holds that The Impossible Blade was part of the burial horde of a Queen of an extinct kingdom and it is located somewhere in her tomb. Her tomb is apparently haunted and protected by a guardian to the underworld who must kill anyone who seeks to pass. The tomb itself is located down an ancient pit of apparently infinite depth and has, in fact, been built into a far older structure of indeterminate use and origin.

The PC’s pick up the trail of the tomb by rescuing a Nevajin from a tribe of Chirogs. This person tells them that the information they seek can be found in a nearby town and gives them directions there. In town the players find the location of the pit, learn of few of the myths that surround it as well as some of the history of the Queen and her kingdom and maybe pick up a guide (who will later betray them).

Finding the pit is easy, it’s located in a fairly flat expanse of land near the Cloud Crystal fields and has a number of huge towers surrounding it. The interior of the pit has a ramp (a more recent addition compared to the age of the pit) that leads down to the first layer, a false entrance that contains the guardian of the tomb. This creature is far older than the tomb and fights to defend it by stinging trespassers with a lethal poison. This poison actually contains a genetic marker that allows those affected to access further parts of the tombs later, and so it’s more or less pivotal that at least some of the party get stung.

Once the guardian has been defeated the players must try and locate, then  reach the actual entrance to the tomb, some distance further down the pit with no easy access. This will likely lead to some imaginative use of abilities, cyphers and ropes to get to where they need to be before there is a fairly elaborate 5 stage door puzzle before access to the tomb proper is allowed.

Beyond the door is a series of trapped rooms that, via a secret door, provided access to a lift down to the next level of the tomb. Some of these traps are extremely deadly and left my tier 2 party almost dead as they used their abilities and cyphers to advance, room by room, eventually splitting up as they each reached as far as they could without wasting resources. In particular I like the Crusher room, which has a simple but effective moving plate trap that requires some fairly clever thinking to bypass without severely debilitating the party to the point that several days of rest are required before moving on.

Level 2 of the tomb has several more puzzles and traps and gives the GM a variety of interesting ways to intervene. It makes the adventure much more tense if the players become trapped on this level, which is easy enough if they take their hands off the lists controls, but as mine didn’t it took an intervention to break the controls and leave them stuck, apparently without a way out.

Another of my more favourite parts of the dungeon is at the end of the 2nd level, which is a teleporter with just two destinations, outside, several hundred feet up, and the next level, still further down the pit. Be very conscious here that the players can’t communicate with the person who has been teleported and so they won’t know whether it was successful or not. For my players, they’d picked up a two way communication cypher which made things a little easier, but without it I can imagine that much confusion would have abounded, especially since it would now be impossible for anyone who landed outside to get back to them as the lift was broken…..

Beyond the teleporter are yet more traps before the final showdown with an Erulian Master ho has claimed the Impossible Blade for it’s own. The traps at this point are fairly devious and require some clever thinking to avoid entirely. My party was forced to try and cure one party member of what they defined as ‘rage spores’ by locking him behind a forcefield with a radiation bomb.

As a final surprise, outside the guide, who they picked up in town earlier (if they did pick him up that is), has gathered some allies and plans to ambush the party and steal their plunder for himself. It’s a nice little addition that helps the world feel a little more dynamic.

The Mechanised Tomb is a great adventure. It primarily involved problem solving and careful exploration but it intersperses that with some interesting combat and it covers some social encounters at the start. Numenera, as a game, rewards exploration and inventive thinking and The Mechanised Tomb, more than any other adventure in The Devils Spine really promotes those things. If I was rating the whole campaign on the basis of this one adventure it’d be a 5/5.

Picture of page 1 of Beyond the Maelstrom

Beyond the Maelstrom is the 3rd and final adventure in the campaign. It’s written for 3rd or 4th tier adventurers and I actually needed to run a short side quest to boost my players up before running them through it. The adventure takes them a long way away, to the coastal town of Harmuth in search of a contact who might be able to point them towards the second item they need to perform to be able to survive the worm’s extraction, a mysterious substance known as Gharolan.

After they meet the contact, and he agrees to help them the players need to prepare for an adventure at sea and under the ocean as it becomes apparent that the Gharolan is located near thermal vents at the bottom of the ocean. The ocean is undergoing a curious storm, that is both unseasonal and irregular in length and ferocity. More so, it appears to be primarily located under the water, rather than in the sky above it.

This section provides a few little side quests that help flesh out the town and may help the players acquire the resources to either hire a boat, or strike a deal to get one in exchange for services rendered. There is also a page and a half of new equipment, specific to under water survival.

Once out on the water there is a selection of 3 possible encounters that the GM can use, if they want, as the journey should has 6 days out to the vents. Once there the party encounter a strange village, on the back of a whale, at what turns out to be the heart of the storm. A little more negotiating and talking later and the players discover that the storm is centralised around a structure, made of super dense water, on the ocean floor. This building is located directly over the thermal vents and seems to be somehow responsible for the unnatural storm.

The PC’s head down, with the knowledge that they won’t be able to return up without first disabling the storms. The structure turns out to be huge, irregular in shape, and housing a variety of odd sea creatures, as befitting Numenera. The structure, and the storm, were constructed by an impossibly ancient seas creature named the Moyag, who is using the storm as a cocoon so as to move to the next stage of her evolution. Moyag is old, malevolent, intelligent and, unfortunately for the players, the final confrontation of the adventure.

Passing through the structure the players encounter a variety of sea creatures loyal to Moyag, including some sea spiders who inadvertently create the Gharolan they desperately need. Of course, they also need to disable the storm, no easy task, and to do this they must eventually free a captive of Moyag and battle her. This is harder than it sounds, she is a level 9 monster, who has absolute control within her realm. Only though clever thinking, interpretation of visions sent by the freed captive, and use of Numenera can they realistically drive her off and escape safely.

My players though that this final confrontation was overly tough and I’m inclined to agree. The battle is set up under the assumption that the PC’s have located, identified and brought along a pair of Cyphers from earlier in the structure. Mine had them, but didn’t know what they did and the only option was to give them cryptic visions since simply telling them would have been somewhat anticlimactic. Now this can be played on, Moyag knows that she could defeat them, she tells them as such, and so she can act disinterested enough to not just kill them outright, rather toying with them maliciously. It works, but it could be better.

Once Moyag is driven off and the storm is disabled the PC’s can return to the surface and begin the race back to the worm mother before the 90 days is up. If you time it well then this can be very suspenseful since time should be running out unless the party have been very efficient with their time. As a last point on Beyond the Maelstrom, there is a particular type of jellyfish in it that ha it’ motivation defined as ‘belligerent’, which I find hysterically funny.

Picture of Belligerent Jellyfish.

Overall The Devil’s Spine is a solid campaign and a perfect way to launch into the 9th world. It takes the players to around midway through the tiers and it includes enough different elements to make it really interesting.

I do have a couple of criticisms though. Firstly, the Impossible Blade, the Gharolan and the creatures that develop it aren’t defined well enough early on. Unusually no page reference is provided for either and this makes providing any information on them particularly hard early on. As always, a GM should read the campaign in full before running it, but thats not always possible and while I skimmed it’s entirety I couldn’t find either, even when searching, until I read those sections in detail, which led to a few alterations along the way.

Secondly, as I said, the final encounter is too hard. Numenera isn’t a combat cerntric game and focusing heavily on a nigh on impossible boss fight felt a little clunky and out of sync with the rest of the campaign, which is a shame.

Neither point is enough to put me off running it for another group one day, but it does impact the ease of running the campaign as a whole and makes it a little clunky in parts.

Bottled Demon- A Shadowrun Adventure Review

Name: Bottled Demon
Type: Adventure
Publisher: FASA Corporation
System: Shadowrun 1st Edition
Setting: Shadowrun
Format: Softcover book
Size: 28cm x 21.8cm x 0.9cm
Pages: 64
Price: Out of Print $15.00 at publication
Rating: 4.0 Stars (4.0 / 5)

Bottled Demon, Cover

Bottled Demon is an adventure for Shadowrun, published using the 1st edition rules. It was written by James D. Wong published by FASA Corporation in 1990. Bottled Demon was the 6th adventure released for Shadowun. As with all 1st-3rd ed Shadowrun adventures, this book follows the standard Adventure Tree format, which I find particularly easy and convenient to run.

The cover depicts a woman wearing a tribal headdress and posed to suggest that she is engaged in something magical. Next to her floats the idol that is the subject of the adventure. The art is good, although prior to reading the adventure I could have sworn it related to bug spirits based on the picture as the markings on the headdress suggest the woman is a Wasp Shaman or the like. As it is, that couldn’t be further from the truth as she is, in fact, Arleesh, the Great Feathered Serpant.

The adventure is set in the year 2050 and in Seattle. While there is little, aside from the handouts, to date the adventure, allowing it to be set in any timeframe (most recently I ran it in 2061), many of the locations are directly tied to Seattle and therefore the GM will need to make some changes if they want to run the adventure in another city. As the rules are 1st edition, some changes will need to be made to make the adventure compatible with 2nd and 3rd edition, although these are mostly restricted to weapons and armour. Running the adventure in 4th or 5th edition may prove more challenging as the GM will need to update all of the rules specific information.

PLEASE BE AWARE, PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD.

The basic plot of the adventure follows the PC’s as they accompany a Johnson while he tries to sell and item to an elf named Blackwing, only for things to go south pretty quickly when Lone Star busts the meet and their Johnson gets killed. The players then end up that item, which turns out to be a very powerful, and somewhat cursed, magical totem. To top it all off their faces are all over the news as they become wanted for their involvement in the clash with Lone Star.

During that initial encounter the players also hear a rather important name, Blackwing. Now, it should be noted that this is written as Bloodwing in several places in the book and even changes between Bloodwing and Blackwing during the same piece of text. The name is definitely Blackwing and he’s important because he shows up in two other Shadowrun adventures, Dragon Hunt and Corporate Punishment. By the latter he’s advanced to a more prestigious position within the Tir Tairngire. It’s important to remember to name Blackwing as he shows up in a couple of places through the adventure.

The party have a couple of run in’s with others hunting the totem, including their Johnson’s former Magical Group and Lone Star. The latter serves as a nice way to kick start the adventure if it starts to stagnate, by having a random bystander recognise them and call in Lone Star in the hope of a reward.

Investigating the Idol teaches them that it’s pretty powerful, that using it boosts spells significantly and, maybe, that it’s rather addictive to use, having a very ‘One Ring’ aura about it. If they ask around they get pointed towards an elderly Dog Shaman named Trixie who advises them to destroy it, for their own safety but mentions that only a Dragon would likely be capable of such a task Fortunately she knows of a prominent one in town, the CEO of Lochlann Investments, Geyswain. The adventure name drops a little here by pointing out that another dragon that lives in the sprawl, the Security Chief for United Oil, Haesslich, is out of town on business. Fans of the Secrets of Power trilogy will recognise that name.

Getting a meeting with Geyswain and convincing him to destroy the idol is actually easier than expected. I played it to the dragons advantage and actually had him convince the runners that he’d need payment for the arduous ritual but, ultimately, he was just trying to conceal his desire to possess it. This was a good way for me to have him engage them in a mini-run side quest on a pro-bono basis. Regardless Geyswain is intent on getting the idol and the adventure covers several contingencies he has in place.

Just after this the runners get stopped by a vehicle in the street, a vehicle containing a beautiful woman (pictured on the front of the book). The book has a couple of scenarios for when this takes place but it has to be after they visit Geyswain and helps if it’s before they manage to lose their wanted status. The woman uses the fact that Lone Star is after them, timing it so she appears just as they need a place to hide, to get them into her car. She introduces herself as Arleesh, the Great Feathered Serpent (that’s right, one of the Great Dragons) and doesn’t hide her aura in case anyone wants to check. She tells the runners that only a Great Dragon can destroy the idol and tells them to go and steal it back.

After this the runners, ideally, just need to clear their name. My players did this by contacting the investigating Lone Star Officer, Grissim, and offering him Blackwing in exchange for leniency. There were a few finer details but it was a good plan and a bigger win for Grissim, given the number of assassinations attributed to Black Wing, and so he went along with it. That also went down well although, little did the runners know, but Blackwing actually had diplomatic immunity and so walked free from Lone Star, and they’d made an enemy. On the flip side, they’d dealt with Grissim fairly and so they gained him as a level 1 Lone Star Contact.

This leads to the final showdown of the run, between the runners and Geyswain at the Lochlann Investments Building. The set up has them meet up with Arleesh and hear her plan before someone decks into the Lochlann matrix to discover that it’s empty and unprotected. This should seem unusual. The runners roll up to Lochlann and use the classic damsel in distress con to get inside, or they would if anyone was on guard which should be another alarm bell.

Inside there are a couple of dead guards and Arleesh advises the runners to head downstairs, to the security room to take care of any other security before disappearing to conduct her own search. The runners find the place trashed, with almost all the security personnel dead before heading upstairs to Geyswain’s penthouse floor office.

The penthouse office takes up the whole top floor and has been converted into a desert for the comfort of the dragon, giving a nice contrast to the otherwise city based run. When the runners arrive they find that Geyswain has been consumed by his desire for the power of the idol and has gone stark crazy, leading to the inevitable fight with the dragon. Arleesh doesn’t show up during the fight, unless the GM needs her to bail the PC’s out, and her motivations aren’t really explained as to why, aside from the fact that she’s a Great Dragon and can pretty much do whatever she likes.

However Blackwing does appear and helps the party out, assuming they are willing to throw him a gun since he’s been disarmed and this gives them the opportunity to get on his good side, especially if they made an enemy of him earlier in the run (as mine did). Aside from this the fight goes as well as can be expected. If the party aren’t ready and prepared to fight a dragon then it could go south pretty quickly and the GM might need to bring in Arleesh to save the day. Fortunately Geyswain is pretty much insane at this point and so won’t he won’t be intelligently fighting so much as acting like a rampaging beast.

During the fight Lone Star and Grissim surround the building, meaning that the party will need to do a little bit of talking to finally escape. The run ends after the Geyswain is defeated and Arleesh has drained the idol of it’s power, leaving the statue inert. Blackwing claims the statue as Tir property (offering the runners up to ¥50,000 in exchange for it) and again flexes his diplomatic immunity to escape unscathed. Given the threat posed by the dragon the party should be able to talk their way out of the situation as they have prevented a much bigger incident and Grissim a reasonable guy.

All things said Bottled Demon isn’t a particularly long or difficult run, aside from the final showdown with Geyswain but if they go into that prepared then they’ll likely be ok. There is good potential for the runners to make friends and enemies though out their journey and if you are planning on running Dragon Hunt or Corporate Punishment then the running theme of Blackwing will add a nice bit of continuity to your game.

My only real criticism is that it’s yet another early adventure that involves a dragon, which, when you look at my previous reviews of Paradise Lost and A Killing Glare (add links), goes to show how many of the early adventures included dragons as protagonists. I don’t object the dragons as such, and the showdown with Geyswain is thematic and different because he’s been corrupted by the idol but it’s still a little bit of dragon overload.

That said, it’s s solid adventure and it’s nice that it features Lone Star so prominently throughout, something that often gets forgotten later on. Grissim is a typical hard boiled kind of detective and the fact that he’s actually a good guy, one of the few in the early Shadowrun dystopia, makes him a good addition to the run.

Bottled Demon is one of the few Shadowrun adventures that I’ve both played and run and it’s a blast from both sides. It’s short enough to play through in a couple of sessions, or a single long session, and it includes several opportunities to expand the plot and throw in side runs. It’s not the best of the published runs, but it’s solid enough that it’s certainly worth a look.