Thieves in the Night: Two Roguish Kickstarters

This belongs to Will Hindmarch.

This belongs to Will Hindmarch.

Months ago, I discovered a Kickstarter for a tabletop RPG called Project: Dark created by a Chicagoan named Will Hindmarch. If the name sounds familiar, you might know him from previous projects like Always/Now/Never or his poetry. If it doesn’t sound familiar, we’ll need to redress that problem immediately.

I want to confess something, firstly. I didn’t back Hindmarch’s Kickstarter. Either I discovered it after it closed or I was broke as hell at the time, but either way, I missed out on the opportunity to not only invest in this project but also get the sneak peek of the game’s mechanics with a beta kit accessible only to backers. Now let me get to why I regret this: the game eschews dice for a standard 52-playing card deck, and the name of the game is all about stealth.

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Playing cards: not just for Euchre!

From what I’ve been able to gather in various actual play reports online and the One Shot podcast in which Hindmarch himself ran the game for a group of local Chicago gamers/comic improvisers, the mechanics are fascinating. Card suits relate to four attributes: Guile (Diamond), Mettle (Heart), Force (Club), and Finesse (Spade). Actions are executed by playing cards from your hand, but here’s the thing: your hand limit is determined by how stealthy you’re being. The more coverage you have, the more cards you get. Word is that the game scales really well for a one-on-one session between one GM and one player, which makes the system all the more attractive for me.

The game draws inspiration from stealth video games like Thief and Dishonored, and even goes beyond fantasy and into scifi territory with its various supported settings. Sadly, there’s no release date in sight just yet, so for now I’ll just have to be patient. Or instead, obsess over another thievery-based Kickstarter called Blades in the Dark.

And this belongs to John Harper.

And this belongs to John Harper.

I was able to catch this one in time, so I did end up backing it. Blades in the Dark keeps it simple and sticks to D6s for your action resolution methods. Like Project: Dark, it too focuses on ne’er-do-wells in a Thief– or Dishonored-inspired fantasy world. But unlike Project: Dark, you’re not just sticking to the shadows doing shady things. You’re also starting up a thieves guild. Or assassin’s guild. Whatever you want, really, as long as you’re playing a rude dude.

Each character has their own character sheet, but then the party as a whole has a shared sheet for their “crew.” This is where you get to organize your criminal organization and also see how well you’re getting along with other factions. As your empire grows, you’ll upgrade aspects of your crew and shift your likability among your less than savory peers. The more you succeed likely means the more your rivals will suffer.

Another interesting mechanic is the progress clock in which you essentially draw a circle and draw lines through it so it looks like a pie graph. Progress clocks are a way to track how far along you are in completing a given task. The harder the task, the more sections of the clock there are. A reasonably difficulty task might be, say, eight sections of a progress clock. Certain actions and their degrees of success might clear out more sections of the clock. Those familiar with Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World will recognize the clock as similar to that system’s way of tracking character health. They’ll also notice that the character sheets aren’t merely character sheets but also “playbooks” in which all of your character advancement information is displayed on the character sheet itself.

Characters can take stress to avoid injuries, but when they take too much stress they suffer “trauma.” Take too much trauma and they have to retire. While it sounds like the characters might have a sort of mechanical immortality, there is also a separate type of consequence called “harm.” Some lesser harm examples include “Strained, Tired, Nervous, Confused, Slowed, Battered,” while the fatal examples consist of “Electrocuted, Disintegrated, Drowned, Torn Apart.” After going over the rules, it doesn’t seem as though it shares the same degree of lethality as, say, original Dungeons & Dragons, but there’s a grittiness here that we don’t often see in indie RPGs who lean into the more story-focused aspect of tabletop gaming.

Until I get a group together to play it, I can’t give too much of an opinion of how the machinery works with itself, but what Mr. Harper’s got so far I’m enthusiastic about. He’s made significant changes to the quick start rules he released to Kickstarter backers, but I look at that as a positive in that he’s responding to the feedback. And consistent communication between writer and audience is a good thing.

Darker

Onyx Path’s announcement of a 4th edition of Vampire: The Masquerade at the 2015 GenCon has me excited! It also has me asking questions, like “What will this World of Darkness look like?” Any good historian would have me look to the past for an answer. Since the 1991 release of Vampire: The Masquerade, the explanation has remained consistent: “It’s like our World, but darker.”. This era gave rise to a “Goth” counter-culture, grunge music, the Borg, Desert Storm, and Unsolved Mysteries; however, this was also the decade of American exceptionalism in both our economy and on happy TV with shows like Friends, Saved by the Bell, 90210, Quantum Leap, and The Wonder Years. I was still confused, and really hoping that this game didn’t want to bring back black fishnet gloves.

visigoth

I knew I had to research further —go deeper. So, I Googled to uncover what this “darker” world really was. According to Wikipedia, “It is darker, more devious and more conspiratorial. The dichotomy between rich and poor, influential and weak, powerful and powerless, is much more pronounced than in the real world. Decadence, cynicism and corruption are common. Humans are unwitting victims or pawns of vast secret organizations of supernatural creatures.”  So basically, the bad guys win more often than not, and even the truest of Paladin lives in a shade of grey. The world is constantly on the brink of war, and nothing happens without the approval of a supernatural puppet-master.

Alright. That’s something I think we can work with.

The Masquerade storyline was full of dark, wonderful, and excellence… mostly (The Gehenna ‘end of the world’ story was lame). There was thinning blood, diablerie, the book of Nod and denial of the antediluvians by the Camarilla, powerless elders, and a host of other stories. So with this new edition, I hope they keep that same dynamic and excellent setting flavor that was mostly removed from the Requiem line. I hope similar power struggles return, and a whole host of evil awaits my players! I’m even happier that Onyx Path has decided to retcon (At least that’s what it sounds like) some of the old stories so we won’t be playing in a post-apocalyptic world (lest we break out some D6 for the 6th world).

Goth Manson

Purportedly, there will be minor tweaks to the rules. I’m hopeful these include fixing how broken aggravated claw damage can be with protean abilities, and Tremere, or Wizards in other games, can be a bit imbalanced as they gain power. My biggest hopes lie in adding some balance by increasing powers for the other clans, and finally I wish that this 4th edition of Vampire: The Masquerade gives humans a fighting chance against the supernatural creatures and other things of Nightmare as they have in The New World of Darkness series, so folks like you and me are more than a few dots in a herd. I’m excited to see this darker world, and attempt to lift the veils of the Masquerade.

PAX Prime Report – Part 2

PAX Prime was an amazing experience. I was able to hang out with friends I rarely see, play every kind of game, drink many craft beers, and feel like 4 days had been stretched into a dozen. A month has passed since the event, but I’m finally writing about my experience in this PAX Prime Report.

One of the best experiences of the convention was in being delighted by Catalyst games GM and the session of Shadowrun 5th edition he run for us. We spent a great time lurking in the shadows. Miss Johnson had an excellent Decker who needed a group to physically place a device into a computer on a local network of an office building where some shady research was underway. Little did we know, the star of the show would turn out to be an NPC security guard, named Stephen. Stephen is a hulking 115 pounds, standing proudly at 5’5”. He had the kind of swagger to his walk, and the air of authority and confidence that only someone deeply suffering from a Napoleon complex could have. He took his job with a level of seriousness that bordered on the psychotic. Fortunately, he botched his lie-detecting roll when we were attempting to convince him of who we were, so Stephen ordered all of the building’s security out of our way with a single request. We were so thankful that when we noticed a job termination order on his file for the next day, we had our Decker change the form from ‘termination’ to ‘retirement,’ and ‘no severance’ to ‘CEO pension package.’ As we were wrapping up, one of us let the ‘research’ loose, and Stephen was going to sacrifice himself for the greater good. We HAD to save him! The Decker patched us through to his cell-phone, and pretending to be his mother, we told him to run for his life.

Stephen’s quest for justice and his new-found millions means Seattle’s Sixth World will never be the same.

phteven

Being the only one having played D&D’s 5th edition, I decided I would run a game for the group. I was handed the Starter Box for 5th edition and I was happy with the contents. The game comes with 5 player sheets, and all the instructions everyone needs to get started. They also provide a very fun adventure where the group travels from Neverwinter (far from the lands of Winterfell) with a caravan to provide supplies for an adventurer. Along the path, they find that something has gone awry! The hit-location D12 was rolled for every killing strike, and the players really enjoyed hearing the narrative on how they managed to slay the goblins attempting to ambush them. I may have to call Chessex about the number of times the ‘groin’ location appeared on the die, but the group had a great time regardless. We were only able to play the first encounter, but we are planning to play online until we join up again at PAX Prime 2016.

Have you ever encountered an accidentally heroic NPC?

PAX Prime Report – Part 1

It was 12 hours later than I was supposed to arrive, but as many things in life, this was a blessing. The city lights twinkled through the window of the darkened cabin, and from my window seat I was elated that I could see the Space Needle as I made my descent into SeaTac – the world’s least efficient airport. My long weekend at PAX Prime started seconds after Midnight on Friday morning. Nearly a month has passed, and now I finally sit down to write my PAX Prime Report.

We woke up and walked down to the convention, where we ran into the developers of Fortnite (of which two of us were wearing shirts from PAX Prime 2014), and after chatting about their game they told us to go to the HTC Vive World Tour bus just a block down the street. We were the last people allowed in the line, and I am so grateful for my first opportunity to try VR since playing Dactyl Nightmare in the early 90’s at a State Fair. I could write 30+ posts on Virtual Reality, but I will just say that the experience is a game changer.

As any person at a convention knows, there are queues, and lines, and waiting, and an eternity of boredom ad infinitum. We found the best thing for having a group of us all doing the same stuff, is we can pass the time with a little game called ‘Liar’s Dice,’ colloquially known as ‘Bullshit.’ We used a set of 12mm dice from the Chessex booth, and often earned an audience while playing. I did manage to acquire one more die from Chessex; a hit location die with images of the body. (You can pick one up HERE).

hit-location-die

I played more Video Games than I can list in a single post, but some of my favorites were Party Hard, which is a Hotline Miami looking game, but with a focus on stealth killing everyone at a loud party. ARK Survival Evolved, which is a first person survival game WITH DINOSAURS!!! Lastly, Super Mario Maker! You can make Mario levels, and then share them with the world – IFF you can beat your level.

We did play a few games from the free tabletop rooms, which is where you can borrow any tabletop game and try it out. PAX is a place of great ideas, and borrowing games was absolutely brilliant. We played Coup, which is a bit like The Resistance (which we also played), but you can play Coup with fewer players.

In the next, and last, post of the PAX Prime Report I’ll talk about the tabletop games we played, and how well the hit-location die worked.

What was the best convention you’ve ever attended?

 

A first time GM: Part 1 — A GM’s story

There is a magical time in a GM’s life. A time where they are creating their story, their campaign. They have the ability to make a world so pristine and perfect players would weep at the first description. In WoD it isn’t really pristine as screwed up dark and filled with gore, but still, I created a beautiful world. Well, it was beautiful.

dont-tell-me-what-to-do-amy-poehler-gif1

I followed all the advice I could get my hands on. 1. Don’t over plan. 2. Don’t expect your story to go how you planned it. 3. Make your players work. 4. Don’t be upset when your players spoil your best laid plans. I did all these things. Nothing would have prepared me for the fact that my group of gamers would end up doing the opposite of what I wanted nearly every single time.

It is amazing when I look back at my story notes. I had an intricate and complex plot mapped out. I had made it open so they could choose to do any chapter in any order and still the same outcome might be achieved. I was delusional to think that everything would go mostly to plan. Though, I wasn’t prepared for them to mash the two together and figure it out so soon. I also wasn’t prepared for characters not picking up on massive hints I was giving them.

frustrated

I never realized how frustrating it can be as a GM to watch your players just NOT GET IT. Why can’t they just be in my head and see it all? We managed through some selective rolling and RPing they figured it out…eventually.

Despite the pitfalls of creating a complicated storyline, I put an emphasis on character development. Everyone went for it and the PC’s that they created had depth and motive. I felt like players were truly invested in the game, which, is always nice because I invest quite a bit of time in my story so characters have an interesting world to interact with.

I will continue these posts with my next installment about knowing game mechanics and when to nerf players.

What was your experience running a game for the first time?

 

Red Dragon Inn 2

Today I am bringing you a quick review of the second installment for Red Dragon Inn from Slugfest Games. If you missed my review of the original game you will want to read it first as this post is building off preexisting knowledge.

rdi2

Red Dragon Inn 2 expands the playable characters for your table. The great thing about this, and all other expansions, is that they can be mixed, matched, and combined with each other allowing more people to play. This brings up the question: how many players is too many? I feel the game gets more fun to play with each addition of players up to about seven or eight. Once you get more than that it gets to be a bit too much to handle, too much in between time for the players, and just too unruly. That said, a fun game that can accommodate eight players is rare, another great reason to love Red Dragon Inn.

The characters in this expansion of Red Dragon Inn are governed by the same set of rules as the original characters. Of course, each character has ups and downs. Our review of the first game focused on how you play. For this review we will discuss what each character brings to the table.

For this review here are a few guidelines:

  • Every character in Red Dragon Inn has strengths and weaknesses. One character might be great at gambling, while another is really good at damaging opponents for example, but no character outshines in all aspects.
  • Attack cards, whether they target fortitude or alcohol, average at two damage each. Keep this in mind when I discuss players’ average attacks.
  • Gambling is a mini game. Unless you have a card that lets you ignore gambling, your character is forced to enter, even if you have no gambling cards to play. This means that being good at gambling can knock out groups of people early by taking all their money.

Character Reviews

_dimli

Man, I love dwarfs, hell, here at the Lonely D12 I am not alone. Dimli’s style is what you would expect from our stout friends. He is great at dodging drinks, claiming that he is “waiting for the good stuff.” Unsurprisingly as a dwarf, he also has several cards that just give him gold. What can I say? Dwarfs love gold. He also has a good number of average attacks, both drinking and fortitude. Dimli’s not very good at gambling, meaning that even with his cards that generate gold, a couple of bad gambling rounds could spell trouble.

_fleck

If you think about it, being a bard is more a profession than a class. I guess it makes sense then that everything related to money is strength for Fleck. Whether this is gambling, getting free drinks, or just demanding gold for writing another epic song, Fleck makes tha dolla dolla bills y’all. Unsurprisingly, the elf bard is not great at dishing out damage. He does, however, have some fans in the Inn that will help him dodge drinks and even heal him up a little.

_gog

Gog isn’t too bright, but he does have a big heart, and even bigger arms! Gog consistently hits the hardest of any characters I have encountered in Red Dragon Inn. Your goal with Gog should be to identify the biggest problem at the table and be their best friend. That’s because almost all of Gog’s attack cards are him hurting people by accident, don’t dance with Gog… On the other hand, Gog isn’t very good with his gold, gambling will be dangerous. If you can get out of it, do. Gog also has few cards to dodge drinks, but attacking him with fortitude cards could end up with you getting hit harder back!

_eve

I need to be fair about my bias, Eve is one of my favorite characters for Red Dragon Inn. Her illusion spells make her excellent at redirecting and dodging damaging effects. Regarding gambling she is on the stronger side, not as strong as Fleck, but close. Her weakness lies in not being able to dish out the fortitude and alcohol damage to her opponents. She has cards that do this of course, it’s just not her strong point. (Well, except for the card that sets someone on fire…)

If you loved the original Red Dragon Inn I highly recommend this expansion. A little variety is great and adding more people to your table will ensure nothing but more funsies. Remember, the key to making Red Dragon Inn fun is getting into your character and role playing them. That and drinking, drinking helps to!

What character are you excited to play in this expansion?

Spicing Up Horrific Deaths!

Sooooooo, I haven’t written anything for a while… *cough*, eight months. You might say following up my hiatus with a post about horrific ways to kill people is not be the best idea.

Norway

Luckily, I live most of North America, the width of the Atlantic, and a bit of Europe away from the rest of the Lonely D12 crew and all of their silly expectations. So without further ado:

Spicing Up Horrific Deaths!

“My players are sauntering about the local village, killing hobos and threatening children, and I need to remind them that shit has consequences and stuff.” 

“My satanist lair looks like red finger-paint day at the local kindergarten.” 

“Ugh, my kindergarten massacre is so boring, I’d like to spice it up, I really don’t have your near infinite knowledge of middle-age execution to help out, Karl” 

Do any of these quotes sound familiar?

Are your players sanity and emotional well being bothering you?

Well, lucky for you I have just the thing:

Karl’s complete guide to five reasonably mild methods of execution

5. Broken on The Wheel

We will start with broken on the wheel, knocking crucifixion down to the non-existing honorable mentions list.

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Not representative of wheel breaking.

Breaking on the wheel is an old European practice for dealing with murderers. It usually involved being tied to a wagon wheel…I know what your thinking, and no, creativity had not been invented at the time.

The executioner then broke the condemned’s arms and legs with his choice of big blunt object. And this friends, is the point of the execution where the lucky people got strangled.

Now, as we all know there are two parts to any medieval execution. There’s the “you really don’t wan’t to do what this guy did” part, and the “Saturday night entertainment” part.

Being done with the last mentioned, the executioner now weaved the victims limbs into the spokes of the wheel and put it on a pole. Sort off like leaving a hanged man hanging, only worse… Much, much, much, worse. Which is why it falls in with Crucifixion and a good old fashioned Transylvanian impaling. You could be up on that thing mentally scarring kids for days, possibly even still alive.

4. Fried Alive

Yeah, I know. It doesn’t sound worse, but to put it in perspective:

We’ve all burnt ourselves. Personally I’ve burned my palms a staggering 6 times, some of them at the same time, I wasn’t a smart kid…

Your brain

The natural response is to pull away, leaving a painful burn, then you run to the tap to run cold water over it. Except this time, the pan is all around you, and every time you pull away you hit another hot surface. Over and over again. Unless you’ve got some sweet ass flying skills you’ve got a long seriously painful death ahead of you. Come to think of it, it might actually be worse if you have sweet ass flying skills…

And it takes like forever to fry to death, and it is not like they’re gonna throw you in with access to ending life in a better way. This technique has basically been in use about as long as the frying pan. Which isn’t a huge surprise. It’s not a long mental leap from: “Mmm, that medium-rare steak looks good.” fizz, “ouch…” to “Hey… If we made the pan bigger, that would totes be a shitty way to die.” Hell, some dude in ancient Greece even had his pan shaped like a bull and fitted with pipes so that the screams of the victim would sound like roaring.

3. Hung, Drawn and Quartered

Research this one on your own.

This post is already looking like it is going to be long, and because I completely lack retroactive editing skills, I’ve decided to make this the official cute animal part of the post.

Exhibit: A

There is only so much uninterrupted horror I can subject you to, and I’ve got some good ones in mind.

jumping dog

So now that we’ve all returned from our happy place…

On with the show:

2. Death by a Thousand Cuts (although that might be an overstatement)

Here is another example of a way too damn long execution. Time here is depending on the skill of of the executioner and the bribe your family was willing to give. Which is why you should do the dishes as often as you can.

Yes, yes it does!

Yes, yes it does!

The executioner cuts smaller and larger pieces of your body with a really sharp blade, while his assistant cauterizes the wounds. I mean, it isn’t called death by 999 cuts is it? This would take hours!

Oh! You did the dishes? With a bribe the executioner might slip and cut a few important bits out early, because the horribleness of being stabbed to death really is relative. Now isn’t that an inspiring thought?

This one is horrible on a spiritual level as well. According to Confucianism, this shit will send you to the afterlife as a pack of minced meat. Which is only beaten by being sent to the one all your dead relatives are at.

 

1. Schaphismus

Topping the list is Schaphismus, or death by “The Boats” as it was also called. Officially beating Ebola out of the running for the worst possible way to die ever awards.

By Kelly Nigro [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

This fortnight boat retreat was used by the Persian king Parysatis in the twelfth century.

You’d be bolted in between two boats with holes in them, so that your hands, feet, and head where on the outside. Then they force fed you a mixture of milk and honey until the point of being sick. Your extremities would also be smeared to attract biting bugs.

This process was repeated every day. You would also be rotated, so that your eyes stayed in perpetual sunlight. They didn’t even provide UV-resistant shades!

I’ll leave the recounting of what happened next to my significantly more lyrical source, the contemporary historian Zonaras:

Moreover, as he does inside the closed boats those things which men are bound of necessity to do after eating and drinking, the resulting corruption and putrefaction of the liquid excrements give birth to swarms of worms of different sorts which, penetrating inside his clothes, eat away his flesh.” “Thus the victim, lying in the boats, his flesh rotting away in his own filth, is devoured by worms and dies a lingering and horrible death, for when the upper boat is removed, his body is seen to be all gnawed away, and all about his inwards is found a multitude of these and the like insects, that grow denser every day.”

To end of this horrifyingly awesome list. I would like to thank the rest of the Lonely D12 Crew for being patient with me, and Geoffrey Abbot for writing “The book of execution”, which inspired and provided a large amount of the source material for this post.

How have you used executions in your games and/or writings?