Showing posts with label RPGs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label RPGs. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

RPG Talk: In-World News

With any long-running, open-ended role-playing campaign, I like to provide immersive elements to the players, usually in the form of hand-outs or websites (or hand-outs available ON websites). For example, for an old AD&D Planescape campaign, I found and adapted a series of newsletters published in Sigil, the City of Doors (side). An issue would become available once per adventure (every one or two sessions), and would include articles, gossip and personal ads that could then be integrated into the characters' story. Such a publication (and for more modern campaigns, a "fake" website will work just as well) has several uses:
1) Creating a more immersive campaign world that feels richer because it is larger than the PCs' own experience.
2) Teach the players about the world, its particular lexicon, history, culture and so on.
3) Seed upcoming events they will get involved in.
4) Seed possible events they might want to get involved in.
And 5) Ultimately, create excitement by having the characters' own exploits referenced in an article.
Possibly 6) Allowing the players themselves to use the news service in-game to transmit information, influence opinion or fill their needs.

For an open-ended campaign, #4 is, I think, most important. Here you can put all sorts of ideas you've had and would be willing to expand on, but you're letting your players actively choose to pursue them. It was your idea all along, but now they've got skin in the game. On a narrative level (and you know how much of a "narrativist" I am), it gives the characters more agency, as opposed to having things happen TO them, or as in computer game RPGs, requiring a third party to consistently give them things to do. #3 is just as useful, of course, but used to create a sense of foreboding, tension, or inevitability. Here, you should try to build your coming event up over several releases (issues/updates), a developing story that eventually comes to a head.

Mocking up a newsletter is a bit of hard work (which is why I adapted mine from one found online, so thank you Mimir.net - a great resource for this particular campaign world, folks!), but a website or Facebook group can serve just as well, and be a whole lot more practical. These platforms can even let your players get in on the game. For example, in my Dream Park campaign, players took on the roles of maverick LARPers who themselves took on roles in holodeck-type adventures for a larger public. The website kept their standings up to date, showed all options open to them and advertized upcoming "events". But we also had a dedicated mailing list where players would share their favorite moments, but also, in-character trash talking, fake eBay auctions of props used in the game, and "reviews" of their performances according to the in-world media.

It all depends on the world you're trying to build. A Supers world might have a website of Who's Who entries for heroes and villains (and upcoming villains) and issue synopses of the characters' own "comic". A modern supernatural game might have an encrypted website filled with secret files filled with rumors and arcane information, accessible via smart phone during the game; is the right solution somehow in there? So many possibilities. And for adult gaming groups that don't get together very often, it may be the perfect idea to keep participants interested, and fill those long gaming gaps with in-world activity.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

This Week in Geek (29/09-05/10/14)

Buys

Two DVD buys: Blindness (because I'm reading the book and damn, I don't know how you adapt it into a film) and Arrow Season 2 (better get a move on if I want to watch the Flash when it premieres). I also got my hard copy of the Fifth Doctor Sourcebook from Cubicle 7. Flipping through the pdf version made available months ago, I felt a little let down - seemed the weakest of the books yet published, but it's still a handsome publication.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: Given my interest in time travel, I was surprised I'd never seen The Butterfly Effect. Now I almost wish I hadn't. The premise is one I could really get my teeth into, but unfortunately, the movie breaks its own time travel rules, usually because it seems to think it's a horror film. Well, what should I have expected from the writer-directors of some Final Destination films? Basically, the whole enterprise is sunk by the need for shock horror. If the intent is to make the audience squirm, then yes, a kiddie porn element is totally the way to go, guys. This is a bleak, bleak film where people resort to violence much too easily, and where things happen because SENSATIONALISM! At least the directors' cut ending is as bleak as as the rest. The theatrical cut's is happier and less believable. The deleted scenes will show you even happier possibilities that wouldn't have fit the film at all, unless you really do think this is a romantic comedy in disguise. Now, I make it sound worse than it is. When The Butterfly Effect taps into its premise, it's clever and interesting, and Ashton Kutcher is obviously likeable in the lead. A shame that it forgets itself so often. The DVD is problematic too, one of those "branching" InifiniFilm things that DVD watchers hate so much. The saving grace is that you needn't watch the movie and press the button for a few minutes of making of here, a deleted scene or storyboard there, because they've all been edited together in larger featurettes available in their own menu. Nothing too great, just the usual making of stuff, plus talking head material about chaos theory, time travel and psychology from experts in those fields. The disc also features a commentary track by the writer-directors, and a "fact [subtitle] track" that's best left alone because the "facts" are irrelevant to the film (see knife, get Ginsu information, that kind of silly thing). Oh, there's DVD-ROM content as well (script-to-screen, image gallery, etc.), but guys, if I can't play it on my TV, I don't think I care.

Friend and neighbor Marty is watching one post-2000 horror flick a day in October, so I went downstairs to watch one of them. Why? Because Canadian director Bruce McDonald is my guy, and I didn't even know he'd made a horror film. That film is Pontypool (it's a town in Ontario, but the nonsense wordery of it all features in the story), more or less a zombie movie seen/heard from a radio station's perspective. Based on a book, McDonald produced it both as a film and as a radio play in parallel, and you might well come out of it thinking it was more radio play than film. Very spare, a single location, and only a small number of actors, and a puzzle story unfolding through what feels more like a character study. The threat, once revealed, feels like something out of Doctor Who, an unusual take on the zombie trope, and for me at least, the protagonists' solutions worked (but prepare to by mystified by the post-credits clip, classic McDonald). In many ways this was the reverse of every McDonald film I've seen. Instead of a road movie, we're trapped in one space. Instead of rock'n'roll, it's talk radio. And instead of a raw, grainy look, it's slick and polished. What we're really left of his style is the attitude that you can do a lot with little means. He's created another offbeat film I'd like to revisit some day.

Woody Allen's Hannah and Her Sisters got four Oscars and certainly features one of his strongest casts, but I didn't fall in love with it. The film follows the lives and loves of the title characters and the men who love them, over the course of a year or two, many of them getting in on the narration. It's well-observed and actor-driven (indeed, a lot of the actors are PLAYING actors), frequently funny, and no surprise, uses New York to full advantage as a location. I suppose what bothered me about it is that it felt strangely unfocused. We spend an inordinate amount of time with Woody Allen's own character, a fidgety TV executive having an existential crisis, and yet, that's where the best comedy comes from and what best delivers the film's theme that life is meant to be lived, and passions meant to be followed. Perhaps what charmed audiences in 1986 was the clash of two different films crashing into each other like that. I'm not saying it doesn't work, only that it didn't quite do it for me. Warning: A couple of very brief moments have aged badly and may make modern audiences cringe; won't get into it, but it's got to do with Allen's later personal life.

You're used to me trashing the Babylon 5 DVD sets every 24 days or so, and Season 4 ("No Surrender, No Retreat") isn't coded any better. Ugly menus, blurry scenes (though the CG with no live action in it is sharper than in previous sets), and opening credits that fail to change when the broadcast version's did. For the content, well, you've got 3-4 weeks of daily posts to riffle through to find out what I thought, but it may be enough to say this is ultimately the most exciting season of Babylon 5 because they didn't know they were getting a fifth and crammed everything in this one. Don't know what that leaves for the fifth season they DID get, but there you go. This set covers two huge climactic wars - with the Shadows and with the forces of corrupt Earth - so have at it. The DVD includes, as usual, commentary tracks on three key episodes (one with the cast having lots of fun, one with JMS and director Michael Vejar, and one with JMS alone). There's also an introduction to the season retrospectively described by cast and crew, featurettes on the music of Babylon 5, a gag reel, and the usual "data files" that don't had very much to the experience.

RPGs: Still working on that role-playing for dummies campaign - using AD&D 2nd's Planescape - and another complete n00b, Isabelle, generated a character just last night. I was warned that she would likely try to go in insane, incoherent directions - and having played board games with her, I believe it - but her Tiefling Charlatan (a con man aspect of the Bard class) Betsy du Baril (Betsy Barrelbottom AKA Betsy the Bastard) is pretty legit. Incredibly charismatic and intelligent thanks to strong dice rolls, she was nevertheless given poor Wisdom to tie into her membership in the Society of Sensation, and we were already making jokes about the character eating stuff she shouldn't (visual aid: Isabelle's dog doing the same when he got bored with our chargen session). Given the two characters we now have, my challenge as GM becomes clearer: There's so much "neutrality" between the two characters (a Priest of a ruthless god and a career criminal, neither Good nor Evil) that adventure hooks will not be based on classic heroism. That's atypical of my campaigns.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.ii. The Readiness Is All - Branagh '96

Sunday, September 21, 2014

This Week in Geek (15-21/09/14)

Buys

DVDs aplenty this week. When I realized my collection was missing some key directors' films entirely or almost entirely, I sought out cheap ways to plug those holes. I got a Hitchcock collection with 14 of his movies at a reasonable price, but couldn't do the same with Woody Allen, so I scoured the bargain bins for a random collection of low-priced movies, which yielded Hannah and her Sisters, Vicky Christina Barcelona, Match Point and the more recent To Rome with Love. I also got Homeland Season 3.

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: That Bondathon we started two years ago is going to see some progress in the short term, what with my -athon buddy Nath having moved into the building. We were up to Timothy Dalton's brief era, and I was very curious to revisit (revisit? had I even seen it in the first place?) The Living Daylights now that Dalton is a well-known and cherished actor. His Bond is certainly the most sympathetic of them all, and certainly the first since Lazenby to be offered an actual romance (as opposed to a disposable fling). I also spy shades of Daniel Craig's Bond in him, as a jaded killer who seeks to hide from his inner turmoil through sex, drink and thrills (i.e. more like Fleming's Bond). While there are still elements of Moore's Bond hampering the script - silly cartoon comedy like the chase on the ice field and gags whenever Q is around - the story is more solid than most and progresses logically from one set piece to the other which really WASN'T something the late Moore era was any good at. And instead of sticking to boring old San Francisco and Paris, as the previous film tiredly had, the canvas really is international. That's great, no matter how strange the boisterous Afghanistan scenes might seem today. John Rhys-Davies is excellent as Gogol's edgy but sympathetic replacement, and Myriam D'Abo makes a good Bond girl, as willful as she is beautiful, and more than capable of getting in on the action. The focus on spy games doesn't exactly spell out high stakes, which makes the experience less-than-exciting at times, but I'd rather have a little more John Le Carré in my Bond than have it turn into an action-comedy. It's far from perfect, mind you. The new Miss Moneypenny is TERRIBLE - with the original, you had the sense that SHE wasn't giving in to James' advances; here she's a fawning nerd and HE'S withholding; that's a step back - and the ending is badly paced, with an overlong pre-climax and a tacked-on climax between foes who have never met, resolved rather disappointingly. The DVD's commentary track is the usual collection of cast, crew and experts edited together to give their accounts of the production.

Also still going through some time travel movies I've never seen, so watched Somewhere in Time. With this one, leave your cynicism at the door and you'll be find. It is a highly romantic movie where things are explainable only as matters of the heart. Christopher Reeve is a contemporary playwright who falls in love with a actress (Jane Seymour) from 1912. He convinces himself he can go back in time for her, and indeed uses self-hypnosis to make the psychic journey back in time. That it works so well is a testament to the script, direction and acting. Yes, the music is a little cheesy and oppressive, and the love at first sight element almost absurd, but like I always say, buy the premise, buy the bit. As a time travel story, it has some interesting timey-wimey bits for sure, with much of the relationship trapped in a time loop (the reason he falls in love with her picture is because it was taken while she lovingly looked at him in the past, and so on). Christopher Plummer as the tyrannical impresario might be a time traveler too, or at least there are hints that he might be, but it's never resolved. I think I like the ambiguity and am not frustrated by it. Whatever the often jaded modern audience may think, Somewhere in Time, both as a romance and as a time travel fantasy, certainly commits, and that's something not all films (see previous in this post) can make a claim to. The DVD includes a strong, hour-long retrospective making of documentary that touches on every aspect of the production, a director's commentary, production notes and photographs, and a short featurette on the Somewhere in Time fan club which skeeved me out (so now I know how outsiders might react to my own fandoms).

Books: The Book of Negroes, the 2007 award-winning historical novel from Canadian writer Lawrence Hill, or as readers in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand might otherwise know it, "Someone Knows my Name", is the story of the fictional Aminata Dialo, an African girl taken into slavery in the 18th century. Because she has a sharp mind, and through no small measure of willfulness and luck, she manages to live through the full 18th-century black experience, moving from Africa to the Carolinas, then to New York during the American Revolution, emigrating to Nova Scotia, then to the Sierra Leone, and finally falling in with Abolitionists in London. My interest was piqued by the promise of learning more about the black experience in my native Maritimes, but that's a relatively short chapter in the story. But I can hardly express disappointment. Hill's prose is strong, his research sound (with all deviations listed at the back), and Aminata as narrator has a memorable voice. A composite of many men and women who survived slavery and became voices for freedom (and who didn't), her fierce mind, literacy and independence make her uniquely suited to telling this story which, Gump-like (if you will, I sort of hate the comparison), allows her to interact with various historical characters and situations. Slavery in the Americas is so often seen through the lens of the Civil War to come, it was extremely interesting to see what it was like and what impacted it in the previous century. Beyond that intellectual pursuit is a character you can empathize with telling the poignant story of her incredible life.

RPGs: Starting a little project at some of my neighbors' request which we will call "Role-playing for n00bs" (see LAST Week in Geek for more), and the instigator, which we'll call Ludger because that's his name, came up to create his character (that first step, which we sometimes never get past). If you'll remember, we're playing Planescape using AD&D 2nd. What he has come up with is a bariaur (think goat-centaur) priest of Poseidon who tends to bull breeding in Sigil the City of Doors. He made his dump stat Intelligence to have an interesting (but in gameplay, relatively mild) weakness, which I've found is how all improv players approach character generation. Weaknesses are a source of comedy and conflict, which is what improvisors thrive on in the ring. These choices forced him into a True Neutral alignment, and led him to take Peasant Priest as a Kit - so he would be community-focused - and the Transcendental Order (or Ciphers) as a faction. Ciphers believe the universe is acting through them and have taught themselves to clear their minds and simply let things happen. That seems natural for a low-INT space cadet with no moral hang-ups and a simple, rural/pastoral upbringing. As one last bit of silliness (again, because improv), the character will be called Brother Tohnee. At least he isn't some kind of tiger-man. More chargen to come!

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
Other Hamlets: Dirtbag Hamlet

Sunday, September 14, 2014

This Week in Geek (8-14/09/14)

"Accomplishments"

At the movies: Went to see latest Woody Allen movie, Magic in the Moonlight, a witty 20s romcom about a world-famous illusionist (Colin Firth) who tries to debunk the powers of a charming medium (Emma Stone) in the South of France, but she may just upend his world view. It strikes me that Allen is making a lot of films with the same intent Tarantino does, i.e. tributes to a certain genre of literature/film. Magic is a little bit Agatha Christie, a little bit Arthur Conan Doyle (the man himself was a ghost-breaker who came to believe at some point), and a whole lot P.G. Wodehouse. Perfectly charming and entertaining, especially Firth's character who is the perfect Wodehousian (and Wildean) wit. There are greater concerns here as well, such as the contrast between Firth's atheism and the simple magic of emotion. But overall, I dare the Whovians among you to watch this film and not think Firth would make a great Doctor. It plays like a lot of New Who, with a great but clueless genius talking circles around everyone, yet learning grace from a would-be companion. At the end, they hopefully climb into his TARDIS, destination Everywhere. Ok, that's not the intent, but by now, I'm sure you understand how my brain is wired.

DVDs: I don't care what anyone says, D.O.A. - Dead or Alive, the movie about the stupid beach volley-ball video game with "realistic bounciness" is, or should be, a cult classic. Yes, there's a volley-ball sequence in it, and it's actually pretty smartly done, even if, like so many butt shots, it's gratuitous, but it mostly treats the material as a fighting game. There's cheesecake AND beefcake, and it's all pretty well-intentioned and clean. Not only is it bloodless, but it's about girls kicking all sorts of ass. Like every good B-movie, it has "one of those actors" in the villain role, this time, Eric Roberts. But best of all, it's got Cory Yuen directing and it's wall-to-wall action. It works as a slick, fun kung fun movie in the crazy Hong Kong style. Most people who give this a pass just based on the source material. I get that. What I'm saying is that it's so much better than this. Ridiculous fun that isn't ashamed of what it is even remotely. The DVD includes a 10-minute making of that's got some fun bits too.

In I [heart] Huckabees, David O. Russell creates something almost pretentiously art house, except that it's clearly a comedy that mocks pretentious art house films. And yet, it's about existential exploration nonetheless, about the questions we ask ourselves, and how we connect the big and the small picture. Between the organ music and Jason Schwartzman's participation, it feels a lot like a Wes Anderson film, truthfully. The story? Schwartzman is an environmental activist who hires existential detectives (Lily Tomlin and Dustin Hoffman) to explain a coincidence in his life. They're more interested in helping him figure out who and why he is. In the process, they pair him up with another client (Mark Wahlberg) and turn people in his life into clients (Jude Law and Naomi Watts), but all might be lost when a darker detective (Isabelle Huppert) steals him away. It's the kind of movie you're not really sure of while you're watching it, but then it gets to you, especially in the final moments' deconstructions, epiphanies and catharses, ensuring your next viewing will be more profitable. It's not all talk, there's a lot of texture and background detail, crazy video dream montages, and no, not everything will make sense or tie into the big picture. Or maybe it will, over time. The 2-disc special edition has tons of extras, including two commentary tracks (Russell, and then Russell with a few of the actors; both have value though there is repetition here and there); a production documentary that prioritizes behind the scenes footage; more than an hour of deleted scenes, outtakes and bloopers (though the line is blurry as to which is which); a half-hour infomercial made by the two detectives, with lots of outtakes from it and a small making of besides; the music video for composer Jon Brion's "Knock Yourself Out" directed by Russell, with optional commentary track (and I hope you like that song, because it plays over a LOT of extras - I didn't tire of it though); Open Spaces PSAs and Huckabees commercials (though some are cut into the infomercial as well); a slideshow gallery; and a booklet with in-universe journal entries, articles and adverts.

The Another Kind of Distance time travel podcast took its name from 1948's Portrait of Jennie, a film they examined, and that I, that night, dreamed about quite intensely (though not having seen it, I of course made up my own version). I vowed to see it. It's a bizarre little film, with a story I find rather incredible for the era. An artist (Joseph Cotten) is unnoticeably drawn to the past where he meets a strange young girl called Jennie (Jennifer Jones) who gets older with each meeting. He falls in love with her and investigating her life, attempts to change her fate. No explanation is given for the time travel as such, it's psychic in nature. The characters are drawn together by some unfathomable connection, a metaphor for love. While some of the era's trappings come off as cheesy today (overuse of voice-over, very heavy-handed music), it surprises with stylish flourishes, most of them motivated. Canvas-like treatment as we enter landscapes, interesting angles, an intense tidal wave sequence, and some surprises I won't spoil besides. A fantastical and even metaphysical romance that will intrigue, at the very least.

Babylon 5's third season, entitled Point of No Return, was the show's strongest yet, but then you know this if you've been following along with the daily reviews over the last few weeks. So let's talk DVD package and extras. Well the package is about the same as the other boxed sets, since they did come out as a set. So the same problems with zoomed-in effects (the pure CG appears sharper than before, but same problems when live action has fades, compositing, etc.), and the more ugly morphs in the menu. We're used to all that. The extras also follow a familiar pattern, with commentary tracks on three key episodes (two with JMS, one with the cast), a talking heads introduction to the season that should be watched AFTER you've seen the whole thing to avoid spoilers, ridiculously spoilery trailers for each episode (people at the time would shut their televisions off when they were broadcast, I'm sure), and some more focused featurettes on subjects like alien make-ups, the look of sets and props, and the process Narns must go through every morning. Data files you click for 30-second informative videos are drying up - there are far fewer - but there's a neat one where you have to input Garibaldi's password to get access (it's easy, don't worry).

RPGs: Don't know if it'll amount to anything yet, but our Stairwell Party (housewarming for three apartments in the back stairs only so as not to mess up anyone's apartment) became the stage for yet another conversation about giving a group of n00bs a classic role-playing experience. So mostly people who haven't played, with an experienced player in the mix and myself as GM, at least to begin with. They're open to anything and have backgrounds in theater and/or improv, but the ringleader does want a "classic" experience - in other words, character creation, leveling and looting opportunities. For me, that's going to be AD&D 2nd's Planescape. It's the only configuration of D&D I want to go back to, ever, but I believe the setting has everything needed to make this work: An extra layer of ridiculous philosophy that puts the focus on role-playing which theatricals crave, a nexus for every possible idea regardless of geography which allows me to say "yes" to any n00b's character concept, and a city setting that helps justify the absence of certain characters when schedules fall apart (and I know these players, it WILL happen). I do plan on streamlining some of the rules, incorporate new school ideas in there, and perhaps push the timeline so the characters can level up faster instead of at the usual crawl. But this is the frontrunner, pending a conversation with the whole group. Tabled for now are my plans for a Bond's Bastards campaign using the Leverage RPG.

Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - French Rock Opera

Monday, July 21, 2014

DC RPG: The Hero Points Podcast, Episode 2!

And it only took 10 months! But here it is, a second round of Hero Points, the show that tackles role-playing games set in the DC Universe! This time around Shag and Siskoid (that's me!) chat about THE ATLAS OF THE DC UNIVERSE, from Mayfair Games, a key sourcebook released in 1990. We got to interview comics legend and author of the Atlas, Paul Kupperberg and followed up with an overview of the Atlas pointing out some favorite bits and so on. And of course, we wrap up the show with your Listener Feedback! (So comments definitely appreciated!)

Let's roll!
Be sure to check out DC RPG: THE HERO POINTS PODCAST on iTunes as part of THE FIRE AND WATER PODCAST feed! Alternatively, you can download the podcast by right-clicking here, choosing "Save Target/Link As", and selecting a location on your computer to save the file.

Among other things, we answer the question... WHITHER CANADA?!
Important websites
The Fire and Water Tumblr for images from the Atlas.
Episode 1, covering the 1st edition DC Heroes boxed set from Mayfair.
Shag can always be found at Firestorm Fan where he pays tribute to Firestorm every day. 
Writeups.org can be found here.
The Atlas to the DC Universe online experience (fewer words, but updated through 2001).
This episode brought to you by InStockTrades.

Up next... We leave Mayfair's ruleset (ce n'est qu'un aurevoir) for greener pastures. (Ooh, did I give it away with that clue?) and until then, happy listening!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

This Week in Geek (14-20/07/14)

Buys

I got Enemy on DVD, but everything else is Leverage-related: Season 5 of that show on DVD, all three Leverage tie-in books, and after a cursory reading of the Leverage RPG, both of its Companions. I'm all about the con, man!

"Accomplishments"

DVDs: As it may appear, I'm all about feeding my current obsession with grift stories. I thought White Collar would be similar enough to Leverage and/or Hustle to be worth my time, but unfortunately, it's one of those Mentalist deals where an unconventional expert pals around with a law enforcement character and helps them solve crimes. (I've never seen The Mentalist, but I know the formula well through Castle.) Neil Caffrey IS a con man, sure, but perhaps principally a forger, and a lot of his cases with the FBI skew that way. Ultimately, even if he practices cons to get in and out of situations, the structure is strictly cop show and not con job. It's not what I was looking for. Not that it's not a good program. Matt Bomer (who we learned to kind of hate as Bryce Larkin on Chuck) is perfect for the role and has great chemistry with Tim DeKay as his FBI handler Peter Burke. Both characters are very smart, as is the rest of the cast; there's no being talked down to. But it IS formulaic, with the case of the week supported by a seasonal arc about Neil following clues left by his ex-girlfriend, etc. Season 1 was a pleasant enough experience, but I'm no hurry to continue the journey at this point. The DVD includes fair commentary on select episodes (more reactive than enlightening), deleted scenes, a gag reel, and a few short featurettes on casting, costuming and the show's FBI consultant.

RPGs: RPGs: Justice Legion - A Fragile Peace, episode 7 (finale): Armistice. Because our 28th-century DC Adventures campaign ground to a halt last November due to real-life concerns, I decided to scrunch all my plans into a big finale and be done with it. Happily, most of the players who participated could show and it became a good opportunity to bring back characters (it's a Legion, most players got to play different characters throughout the run) and have them be important in scenes occurring "meanwhile". The story - and I'd been mixing superhero scenarios with space opera, specifically the structure of the Star Trek TNG RPG's A Fragile Peace (right), with the Dominators and Durlans taking on the Romulans' role - culminates in a Dominator plan to annex a planet the cusp of United Federation of Planets membership, just as Earth is. Aaron Strange (descendent of you know who) and Green Lantern Br'k (yes, he's a brick) were joined by new members Grundy (Solomon G. as more cultured but no smarter Southern gentleman zombie) and Gordy West (a Federation ambassador with a tiny fraction of his ancestor's speed powers; character sheets below) and stopped a Durlan spy from destroying the planet's unity. Simultaneously, the Question, Wildcat, Martian Manhunter and Oracle were on Earth exposing the new Earth president's murderous VP as a Durlan, while a teaser took care of a long-standing subplot featuring Enigma (a female Riddler) destroying Batman's legacy in Old Gotham, with Fennec (the male Vixen), Plastic Girl, Ferro Man and the Question (he's everywhere) putting her in Science Police hands. It all came together quite well I think, with great conspiracy rants from the Question (could HE be a Durlan agent? he'll never know for sure!), the Green Lantern ring passing to a creature that is essentially Godzilla, the two space adventurers consistently stealing each other's thunder, and Solomon Grundy being reborn on a Monday and leading the resistance on a swamp planet. Thanks for the memories, guys. Next stop: James Bond 007 using the Leverage RPG by way of the Illegitimates comics series.
Hyperion to a Satyr posts this week:
V.i. Ophelia's Funeral - Olivier '48

Friday, July 11, 2014

Doctor Who RPG: K9 the Campaign

On the occasion of completing reviews on the K9 series (sorry it's late), I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Doctor Who's Anniversary Celebrations.)

The GM
When John, the gamer who used to play K9, moved to Australia, he decided to seek out a gaming club comparable to the one he knew so well back home. He did and convinced a local GameMaster, Paul, to run a game in which K9 would be a character. More than that, it would act as a mentoring program for younger gamers, inspired by the work John's old friend Lis had done with the Sarah Jane Adventures, a youth-oriented campaign he'd been honored to occasionally participate in. Paul immediately started looking for players, young and old, and set his campaign in 2050 London (even if he didn't know all that much about that city), at a time when a shadowy Department was manipulating people's lives and keeping alien threats under wraps. Sessions would be short and quick, geared to teenagers' schedules and attention spans, and though he didn't require it, the UK location inspired his players to adopt what they thought were the posh or Cockney accents they imagined their characters to have, so he more or less did the same with his NPCs.

The Players
-John of course played K9, but was allowed to redesign the robot dog, give him a new body (after events in the first session) and even personality. John gave K9 flight capability and a few other new tricks, as well as a more human personality. As one of the "mentors", he agreed to let K9 get nerfed fairly often (for Story Points he could then share with other players) so the kids in the group would have room to be heroes.
-The other adult/mentor is Robert, playing  Professor Alistair Gryffen, a sort of "Doctor" figure with a tragic past and an inability to leave his house, which he designed himself to act as the group's headquarters, his own trick to keep the kids more involved.
-Keegan plays Starkey, a street urchin and hacker/rebel against the state who becomes K9's best friend. He doesn't know who his parents are, which could present some opportunities.
-Philippa plays Jorjie Turner, another hacker/rebel, but she comes from the other, more well-to-do side of the street, basically doing it because she's bored and to rebel against her mother June, whom she and the GM decide will be a (friendly) Department inspector. A young romance between Keegan and Philippa blooms as a result of sharing this hobby, which impacts their PCs, though Keegan keeps Starkey a little oblivious so he doesn't have to play awkward romantic scenes at the table, in front of the rest of the group.
-Daniel plays Darius Pike, a juvenile delinquent who loves his talking car (they never did much with it though) and works as the Prof's assistant. He sees himself as the antagonist of the group, with trust issues regarding K9, and jealousy about Jorjie's attentions towards Starkey.

The group played 26 sessions in all, a good long season, and might have played more had the group not dissolved under the normal pressures of school, work, friendships and such. Normally, we would look at each sessions individually, but seeing as there are too many, a briefer overview seems more appropriate.

In the first third of the adventures, the GM doesn't impose too rigid a structure. He wants to see what status quo will emerge organically from the game, in essence letting the kids dictate what their campaign's premise should be like. It doesn't take too long for things to slot into place. The cyber-hacker revolutionary aspect is downplayed, especially after Inspector Turner discovers Jorjie is palling around with this lot, in favor of a more familial grouping. Starkey moves in with the Prof (though he tries some scenarios where he and K9 are sleeping rough), and Darius uses his own street abilities to show the group secret tunnels under London which will become a useful recurring advantage to the heroes. As for the Prof, his player laces in veiled references to a family lost in time through the rift that brought K9 to 2050, and initially, the GM uses that rift a lot to bring alien threats from across space and time to Earth, among them recurring aliens like the Jixen and Korven.

JIXEN
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 4, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 5
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 2, Fighting 2, Knowledge 4, Marksman 2 (AoE: Mucus), Science 1, Subterfuge 2, Survival 3, Technology 1
Traits: Adversary (Korven), Alien, Alien Appearance (Major), Armour (5), Fear Factor 1, Keen Senses (Smell), Linguist (initially, Uncommunicative), Natural Weapons/Sonic Scream (S/S/5), Natural Weapons/Energy Blast (omni-directional S/3/6), Networked, Screamer, Special/Tracking Mucus (gives Jixen +4 bonus to track target and interferes with the Scan Trait), Wanted (by Korven and Department). Story Points: 3-6
Home Tech Level: 7


After that comes a long string of alien-of-the-week scenarios that put the players through their paces, including Egyptian "gods", dream-eaters, interdimensional snakes, surreal musicians, all-devouring nanites and more. Throughout, the GM keeps pushing his pet villain, the evil Department security head Blake, on the group, but they generally think he's risible. Perhaps it's because Paul has taken to using Blake's all-purpose henchmen, the CCPCs (robot policemen) as comic relief, or maybe Blake is just too much of a mustache-twirler, or loses too often to teenagers to be seen as a real threat. Whatever the case may be, he eventually decides to phase him out in favor of another: Thorne (who did appear in an earlier session as warden for alien prisoners).

THORNE
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 3, Presence 4, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 2, Fighting 2, Knowledge 2, Marksman 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 3, Survival 1, Technology 3, Transport 1
Traits: Adversary (K9 Unit), Cutting Edge Technology, Dark Secret (working for Korven), Eccentric/Humorless, Menacing, Owed Favor (Lomax), Ruthless (Minor), Shapeshift (Minor), Voice of Authority. Story Points: 8
Home Tech Level: 5


With Thorne as a more fearsome, colder threat, the campaign picked up a lot of steam. It wasn't just the new villain, however. By this point, the GM and players had mastered the game enough that new kinds of stories could be told, staving off the boredom that might otherwise have set in. The GM gave them the chance to go back in time to when the Prof's house was a police station, with Daniel playing his character's ancestor there. Then there was the one in which the kids got to play a con on an unscrupulous robot gladiator mogul, doing it in noir sytle on purpose. They got to meet a time alien who wanted to take Jorjie's place in the group, and Darius' estranged father. The weakest session was probably Paul's attempt at a relaxed "clip show", where the kids could call out their favorite moments from the past 20-or-so sessions to jog K9's scrambled memory, but it was better than not having a session at all that week, one supposes. With the final few sessions, the GM brought the excitement back, however.

KORVEN
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 4, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 1, Convince 2, Fighting 2, Knowledge 3, Marksman 2, Medicine 2, Science 4, Subterfuge 3, Survival 2, Technology 4, Transport 2
Traits: Adversary (Jixen), Alien, Alien Appearance, Environmental (Cold), Owed Favor (Thorne), Psychic, Weakness (Heat). Story Points: 3-5
Home Tech Level: 8 (Equipment: Wrist Device [incorporates Telepathy (leaves victims with Amnesia), Weapon (3/5/7), Disrupt (voices, for 10 minutes), Forcefield, Telekinesis (levitation)])


In the end, he revealed that the Korven were behind everything - the rift, the Department, and even Thorne's genetic code. The climax would shake the status quo to its foundations, with Darius prepped to work for a better, more positive Department under June, Jorjie and Starkey almost sharing a kiss, and K9... dying! John wouldn't regenerate him quite so different this time, but he did wait for the very last instant to make the kids believe it had really happened. Before they got TOO upset, John and the GM let them off the hook, and they all seemed game for another series. Alas, real life had other plans, as is so often the case...

Friday, June 27, 2014

K9 the Series: The Character Sheets

In the spirit of each successive series seen as a Doctor Who RPG campaign, John, Keegan, Philippa, Daniel and Robert have handed in their character sheets at campaign's end. We start with John's K9 Mark 2:
Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*K-9 has a +2 Athletics Expertise in Flight, a +2 Knowledge Expertise in Xenology and a +2 Technology Expertise in Computers.

GOOD TRAITS
Armour (Minor) - 10 points
Arrogant (Minor)
Boffin (Major)
Brave (Minor)
Flight (Major)
Natural Weapon/Laser Nose (Minor) - Damage 5[2/5/7] or Stun
Photographic Memory (Major)
Sense of Direction (Minor)
Size/Tiny (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)
Time Traveller (Major) - All Tech levels

BAD TRAITS
Adversaries (Major) - Drake, Thorne, the Korven
Amnesia (Major)
Argumentative (Minor)
Distinctive (Minor)
Impulsive (Minor)
Trade Value (Minor) - Some at the Department would like to strip him for parts
Weakness/Low battery (Minor) - When K-9 rolls double "1"s on any roll of a physical nature (like using his nose laser or rolling down a hill), his batteries run low. Unless he finds a power source (the TARDIS will do), his physical Attributes and Skills will all drop to 1, and further drop to 0 if he make another roll of a physical nature above Average difficulty.
Weakness/No limbs (Major) - K-9 cannot pick up things (no hands or arms).

SPECIAL TRAITS
Feel the Turn of the Universe
Robot
Special: K9 can regenerate from death/destruction thanks to a mechanical "regeneration unit".
Telepathy (Major) - K-9 can interface with machines, but not human minds.
Vortex

GADGET TRAITS
Delete (Minor) - K9 has an auto-destruct function
Forcefield (Minor) - K9 can modify his nose laser to project a weak forcefield that can repel toxic gases
Open/Close (Minor)
Push/Pull (Minor) - K9 can modify his nose laser to act as a tractor beam
Scan (Minor)
Teleport (Minor) - K9 has a personal transmat system that allows him to teleport circuits and other parts in and out of his body without it needing to be opened
Track (Major)
Transmit (Minor)

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS

Though there are some points to be wrung out of misunderstanding human idiom, K9 banked the most points from his Amnesia Trait. Since his past was a blank slate, he would never know if any given alien coming through the spacetime manipulator behind him would be friend or foe, nor if they were lying or telling the truth about the details of his life.

Keegan plays Starkey/Stark Reality:
 Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*Starkey has a +2 Survival Expertise in Urban Environments and a +2 Technology Expertise in Hacking.

GOOD TRAITS
Attractive (Minor)
Brave (Minor)
Run for Your Life! (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Adversary (Minor) - The Department
Impulsive (Minor)
Wanted (Minor) - by the Department

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS

Starkey lets his friendships drive his Impulsive Traits, getting him (and them!) into trouble by barging in without a plan. Hopefully, the Story Points thus accumulated can be used to get them out of it.

Philippa's sheet for Jorjie:
Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*Jorjie has a +2 Technology Expertise in Hacking.

GOOD TRAITS
Attractive (Minor)
Brave (Minor)
Charming (Minor)
Empathic (Minor)
Friends (Minor) - Her mother June is a Department Inspector
Run for Your Life! (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Adversary (Minor) - The Department (but not her mum)
Code of Conduct (Minor)
Impulsive (Minor)
Obligation (Minor) - Jorjie is still in school, and her mother insists she goes

SPECIAL TRAITS

Inexperienced

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS

Jorjie's relationships are her main source of Story Points. Disobeying her mother and getting caught in the middle of an unsupervised adventure, for example, or getting the cold (clueless) shoulder from Starkey, or giving the benefit of the doubt to some ambiguously threatening NPC.

Daniel's Darius:
Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*Darius has a +2 Craft Expertise in Music, a +2 Survival Expertise in Underground Environments and a +2 Technology Expertise in Cars.

GOOD TRAITS
Devotion (Minor) - to Professor Gryffen
Run for Your Life! (Minor)
Sense of Direction (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Argumentative (Minor)
Impulsive (Minor)
Phobia (Minor) - Claustrophobia Clowns
Selfish (Minor)

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS
Darius is likely to betray K9 or Starkey to the Department, out of mistrust, bitterness or jealousy, but obviously, his player knows they're all working towards the same goals. But acting as an antagonist can definitely be worthwhile, Story Point-wise.

And Robert's character sheet for Professor Gryffen:
Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*Gryffen has a +2 Knowledge Expertise in Xenology, a +2 Science Expertise in Temporal Physics, and a +2 Technology Expertise in Robotics/Cybernetics.

GOOD TRAITS

Boffin (Major)
Cutting Edge Technology (Minor) - Through the Department, Gryffen has access to alien tech
Reverse the Polarity of the Neutron Flow (Major)
Technically Adept (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Code of Conduct (Minor)
Forgetful (Minor)
Insatiable Curiosity (Minor)
Obligation (Minor) - To the Department
Obsession (Minor) - Recovering his time-lost family
Phobia (Minor) - Agoraphobia; Gryffen cannot leave his home without having a panic attack

GRYFFEN MANOR BASE TRAITS
Advanced Technology
Alien Gadget - Space-Time Manipulator
Computing Power
Dangerous Experiment/Space-Time Rift - Space-Time Manipulator
Database Access
Defence Systems - The Mansion's doors can be protected by a forcefield
Laboratory
Special: The Mansion is connected to underground tunnels that go all over London

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS
Professor Gryffen will often be giving his undivided attention to some experiment and neglect what is happening around him, whether that's the kids' personal drama or the STM spewing out aliens in the next room. As you can imagine, this creates opportunities for major oversights, misunderstandings and chaos, and therefore, Story Points.

Now available: The complete K9 character sheet bundle in high quality printable pdf (+ blank sheet).

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Launched: The Second Doctor Expanded Universe Sourcebook

Holy crap, it took almost a year! But it's finally out, the second volume to act as companion to the 50th Anniversary Doctor Who sourcebooks for Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. Where the gaming company covers the Doctor Who canon, myself and a very small squad of contributors (so there's room, join us!) mean to create similar books for each Doctor covering his extracanonical adventures from novels, audios, comics and more.
You can download (or just read) it HERE in high (printable) or low (computer screen) resolution, and if that somehow gets knocked out from too much bandwidth being used, the working copy is also HERE.

Considering Volume 1 took only four months to complete, you're due an explanation. Simply put, the "permanent staff" is comprised of only three people, and two of us had a horrible, physically and mentally-trying year. No need to go into details, thanks for understanding. So, here we are, a 109-page pdf document that features at least one entry from each Second Doctor novel and audio, plus material from short stories, comics, and even the televised show itself. People, monsters, places, times, stuff. There's a timeline that puts it all together, and adventure seeds aplenty for the prospective GameMaster. While I did the layouts, coordination, and editing, most contributions came once again from Peter "misterharry" Gilham, king among DWAITAS Proboards write-ups. I thank him for his proofreading skills as well. The third pea in this pod is Nathan "dastari" Laws who, like me, sometimes felt like he bit off more than he could chew, but threw everything at the project in the last few weeks so we could make this launch date. Plus, thanks to Olivier Legrand for a crucial bit of kit from the television show. And of course, thanks to everyone who encouraged the project; we're already working on the Third Doctor's book, which I hope will be done before Christmas (but I've made promises like that before).

You can make it come out sooner, of course. Check out the list of things we're looking for in The Extracanonical Pertwee, maybe you can help us out with words or pictures. If you don't know the game very well, we've got guys who can stat it all up for you. Get in touch, we'd love to have more collaborators. If you like Third Doctor novels and audios, that could be you!

Follows: A few pages for readers not interested enough to click the links.
Enjoy!

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Doctor Who RPG: Anniversary Celebrations

On the occasion of completing reviews on Doctor Who's Anniversary shows, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Series 7.)

The GMs
So it's an Anniversary year for the RPG club, and thus for its longest-running campaign. As its curren GameMaster, Steven sends calls out to former players from the campaign's past to participate in various games. He also talks with a few of his GMing predecessors (Russell especially given he was the one who set up the Time War) to get ideas from various eras of the game. But he isn't alone. A couple other events are organized that same month to celebrate the campaign, with Peter (a former Doctor) preparing his own open-ended scenario, and a public talk on the game's beginnings. He's also started the search for his next Doctor because...

The Players
-Matt's basically been waiting for the Anniversary to leave, because he couldn't miss THAT. It means more pressure on the GM to wrap up all the mysteries he's set in front of his Doctor for three seasons, but it's time to move on.
-Jenna is sticking around a bit longer - she just started, really - and just hopes her character doesn't get smothered by all those old returning players. It could be difficult, but she means to make sure Clara has an impact on these stories.
-In the end, Steven manages to recruit former Doctors (Tom, Paul and David), a few returning players as well (Billie and Jemma), and a new one to play a previously unknown incarnation of the Doctor's (John)! On his end, Peter gets former Doctors Colin and Sylvester to join his impromptu group, and sends out invitations to club members who might want to attend and perhaps throw out a funny line or two.

The Night of the Doctor. Having teased the "War Doctor" at the end of the last series, Steven offers to run a solo game for Paul to give his Doctor the closure he never got. Paul, who's been pretty active running that character online, agrees. It's a short game, but he still gets to run from the Time War, try to impress a potential companion, fling withering remarks at the Sisters of Karn, and finally regenerate into a "warrior".

The Last Day. To get everyone in the club in the spirit of things, he organizes a war game set during the Time War, in which plays take on the roles of Dalek and Time Lord forces, reenacting the Fall of Arcadia. He takes notes so his big Anniversary game can use some of the events from this game as color.

An Adventure in Time and Space. Members from the club's past and present congregated for a public talk about how the club and its first campaign began, with some older gamers recounting special in-game and out-of-game memories, and old campaign notes getting read out loud by younger players. Highlights include how the premise of the game came about, how the first group was recruited, how it was the Daleks that made the players fall in love with the game, and how, inevitably, GMs and players alike left the group. Matt, the current Doctor, made a point of participating in the readings, rather overwhelmed that he was the latest in a long line of players to run with it. It certainly whet his appetite for the next game.

The Day of the Doctor. This was a big one. In fact, the GM set up a live feed so club members could watch from the comfort of their own computers. At the table, Matt and Jenna, of course, plus David (the 10th Doctor), Jemma (UNIT scientific head Kate Stewart), and two players given specific characters to run, John as the War Doctor, and Billie, not as her old Rose Tyler, but as the Moment/Bad Wolf, a Gallifreyan weapon with a conscience (she's been briefed with a secret agenda and how she might get the Doctors together, and is more than happy to make it happen). Steven has to keep a lot of balls in the air - the Time War, Zygons in Elizabethan England and UNIT HQ, Docs 10 and 11 meeting the former self they never talk about, opening the door to the Doctor(s) finding redemption for the destruction of Gallifrey, and the improvisation required when three Doctors are at the table, rolling big numbers and spending Story Points. At some point, the guys figure out they can set their sonic screwdriver (and later, their brain) to run computations for the length of 10 and 11's lives by implanting the command in the War Doctor's, so it gets pretty mad. At the end, the players find themselves back in the Time War, with their fingers on the button, and it looks like redemption will take the form of a graceful acceptance of what War Doc's done, but that's when Jenna speaks up, more or less inspired by Billie's invisible interventions (though her character isn't actually aware of her), and makes them find another way. Unsurprisingly, Matt thinks of something (always been good with timey-wimey stuff and besides, he's the current Doctor, all warmed up, and knows what this GM will go for), and suddenly they're using multiple TARDIS and team work to do the impossible (certainly, they've never SEEN such a high Difficulty rating before), calling all former Doctors (and the NEXT, he's been watching from home and sends a PM at the right moment) to help. Gallifrey is merely shunted out of the universe where the campaign is free to next try and retrieve it! Well done. Steven has one last surprise in store for the group, and that's a video-conference with Tom, the player who ran the Doctor the longest and a legend at the club. He has a quick conversation with Matt, throwing out cryptic comments and screwing with Matt's head, which is certainly appreciated by everyone watching.

THE WAR DOCTOR
Attributes: Awareness 4, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 8, Presence 4, Resolve 4, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 4, Fighting 2, Knowledge 6, Marksman 3, Medicine 2, Science 5, Subterfuge 5, Survival 4, Technology 5, Transport 2
Traits: Adversaries (Daleks and Time Lords), Boffin, Brave, Charming, Code of Conduct (Minor; does not apply to Daleks), Eccentric/Guilt-Ridden, Feel the Turn of the Universe, Indomitable, Obsession (Major; End the Time War), Psychic, Random Regenerator, Technically Adept, Time Lord, Time Lord (Experienced), Time Traveller (Major), Voice of Authority, Vortex, Wanted Renegade. Story Points: 8
Home Tech Level: 10 (Equipment: Sonic screwdriver)


The Five(ish) Doctors Reboot. Another live gaming event, this one set up more as an improv thing than a strict pencil and paper RPG because while Peter (who played the fifth Doctor) has prepped it, he's also going to play in it. The club has had a tradition of spoof-gaming, usually short games (or even just scenes) played for laughs with an audience present. Peter's scenario follows that tradition. The point of this Fiasco-like game is for the Peter, Colin and Sylvester (former Doctor players) to play pathetic versions of themselves desperately trying to get invited to play the big Anniversary game. As they do, guests are invited to interject (or are sometimes addressed), also playing themselves. So for example, the current GM Steven is present, and fields phone calls from these would-be have-been players. They might catch a ride to the club's new digs from John (Captain Jack's player), or try to get Paul and Tom into their team if they're not too busy, or dismiss former GM Russell as irrelevant. Other club members play family members dismissive of their hobby. In the end, the guys manage to get to the club, and use some of the moments they saw on the big game's live feed, but it's no use. In the end, they're happy to get their old character sheets under the door. Loads of fun, and yes, drinks afterward.

The Time of the Doctor. In all the excitement, the GM been hard-pressed to work out exactly how he can tie up all of the 11th Doctor's loose ends in a single session, but he really wants Matt to have closure. (Jenna's been fiercely trying to add to her character for the coming season, with a new job as a teacher and new family members, but she knows this is about Matt first and foremost.) They know they have to go to Trenzalore, and in the wake of Gallifrey's possible return, Steven decides the planet can send a coded message through a crack in spacetime there. Holding back the night, as it were, is the Church of the Silence through which Steven explains the prophecies and how a splinter group tries to stop these events from happening etc. Whatever, let's get on with it. To keep Clara safe from the forces assembled against him, Matt's Doctor sends her home in the TARDIS, but her tenacity makes her return. The GM jumps on this opportunity and - playing with the "you're late" trope he pulled a number of times in the Amy Pond days -  makes the TARDIS return centuries late. Matt gets to describe how his Doctor became a fixture in the town he swore to protect, including scenes against some of his favorite monsters. He's eventually so old, death is inevitable, except he's also been informed he has no regenerations left (and yet, there's a new player watching, ready to take over - his name is Peter, but a different Peter from the one who played the 5th model - could his gaming days be over before they even start?). It's up to Clara to talk the Time Lords into pulling a miracle, which they do, but before Matt hands in his sheet, he delivers a speech he'd prepared in advance and it's a great one that gets to the heart of his character and to the heart of role-playing itself. He almost doesn't get through it when Steven pulls out visions of Amelia and Amy and reveals the latter's player, Karen, was listening in on Skype all along. And when it's all done, time for a new player to shuffle the character's stats and start again.

Of course, that's a story for another day, isn't it?

Monday, June 02, 2014

The 11th Doctor: The Character Sheet

In the spirit of each successive series seen as a Doctor Who RPG campaign, Matt has handed in his character sheets before leaving.
Stuff that didn't fit on the sheet, kept on the back...

SKILLS
*The Doctor has a +2 Athletics Expertise in Football, a +2 Craft Expertise in Painting, a +3 Science Doctorate in Temporal Physics, and a +2 Technology Expertise in TARDIS Operations.

GOOD TRAITS
Animal Friendship (Minor) - The Doctor claims to speak animal languages, such as cat and horse, an ability that seems to extend to pre-verbal babies
Boffin (Major)
Brave (Minor)
Charming (Minor)
Devotion (Minor) - To Amy Pond; the Doctor can hardly stop himself from going back and seeing her even after technically leaving her behind, and would fall into a depression if kept from her permanently
Friends (Minor) - River Song, UNIT
Indomitable (Major)
Keen Senses (Minor) - The Doctor's sense of taste is so acute, he can determine the properties of an object by licking it
Percussive Maintenance (Minor)
Photographic Memory (Major)
Psychic (Minor)
Quick Reflexes (Minor)
Resourceful Pockets (Minor)
Reverse the Polarity of the Neutron Flow (Major)
Run for Your Life! (Minor)
Technically Adept (Minor)
Time Traveller (Major) - All Tech levels
Voice of Authority (Minor)

BAD TRAITS
Adversaries (Major) - The Daleks, The Cybermen, The Silence
Code of Conduct (Major)
Dark Secret (Minor) - The Doctor lies and keeps secrets, often to prevent paradoxes; currently, he keeps the cracks in spacetime from Amy the fact he met Clara twice before and that she died
Distinctive (Minor)
Eccentric/Bowties Are Cool (Minor) - The Doctor insists certain things are cool, even when every one around him disagrees; he is particularly fond of bowties and fezes, for example
Eccentric/Child-Like (Minor) - The Doctor is really a child in a grown man's body, energetic and impatient, unaware of adult niceties, and as a consequence, relates better to children than to grown-ups
Impulsive (Minor)
Insatiable Curiosity (Minor)
Last of My Kind (Minor)
Obsession (Major) - See amazing places
Random Regenerator (Major)

SPECIAL TRAITS
Feel the Turn of the Universe
Telepathy - Requires touch
Time Lord
Time Lord (Experienced)
Vortex

FAVORITE METHOD FOR ACCUMULATING STORY POINTS
The Doctor has an arrangement with the GameMaster that allows the GM to set things into motion that will cause problems for the Time Lord. For example, the GM once killed him in front of his companions, then left it up to him to get out of that conundrum. The River Song NPC is another example of a threat in the Doctor's midst. For a quick Story Point here and there, the Doctor uses his awkwardness with human mores to put people off, saying the wrong thing or attracting attention to himself, etc.

Now available: The complete 11th Doctor character sheet bundle in high quality printable pdf (+ blank sheet).

Monday, May 26, 2014

Doctor Who RPG: Series 7

On the occasion of completing reviews on the Doctor Who's 7th Series, I should like to re-imagine it as a role-playing game campaign using Cubicle 7's Doctor Who RPG. (Go back one, to Sarah Jane Adventures Season 5.)

The GM
The players running the companions have one more half-season in them, so Steven not only has to plan for their departure, but also audition new players to see who could join him and Matt's Doctor around the table. Because Karen and Arthur have seen it all by now, he plans to throw as much crazy stuff as possible at them, but once the new player comes in, he rather opts for varied stories set in different time periods, each with their own flavor. Not only that, but because the campaign and club will soon celebrate a big anniversary, he cribs the old campaign files to make references every Doctor's era, hoping to get older players to look at the new campaign notes and get a thrill from them.

The Players
-Matt keeps wanting to make his Doctor older, so every chance he gets, he makes it seem like a lot of time has gone by between his visits to his companions' houses. Rather sad Karen and Arthur are set to leave, he lets it be known that he would likely reject a new companion. That gets the GM thinking.
-Karen wants Amy to grow older too, perhaps think really hard about retiring and choosing real life over TARDIS adventures. She doesn't know what Steven has planned for their last session, but she's game for an epic death scene if needs me. She also toys with the idea of splitting up with Rory.
-Arthur upgraded Rory in the previous season, so doesn't need to do much this time around. His plan is to keep supporting Amy as an equal partner in life and in adventure. He's not as keen on the idea of marital strife as a subplot.
-The new player is Jenna, and the origins of her character are a little convoluted, as we'll see. She starts with an audition character, which the GM co-opts into a meta-arc he hopes will keep the Doctor interested, then creates a Victorian version of the same character to play every week, but loses that character and must redesign her once again as a modern-day girl. Clara Oswald will be a cute funny girl, brave and clever, and with a good rapport with kids (they joke that it's how she relates so well to the Doctor). She herself doesn't know the solution to her own mystery. Steven, as ever, plays it close to the vest.

The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe. Christmas rolls around and the companions aren't available, so Steven invites potential future companions over. Might as well start the audition process early. Claire will play Madge Arwell, a plucky WWII widow, and two junior members of the RPG club, Maurice and Holly, will play her children (kids their respective ages), Cyril and Lily. These are more or less designed from templates to fit the GM's tribute to the Narnia books, but with so many players unfamiliar with the campaign around the table, there's a lot of flying by the seat of one's pants. Living Christmas trees, a giant industrial robot, a plane lost in the time vortex, and Matt riffing on cool stuff to integrate into the kids' new house, is all par for the course. They have fun, but none of the new players seem right for the continuing campaign. At the end, at Claire's urging, Matt does call Karen and Arthur with season's greetings. And they do it in-character. Cute.

Pond Life. During the GM's once-again long prep time, the campaign's three main players get together with Steven online and play out some scenes in amidst the normal chat. The GM throws a visiting Ood butler at them, and Karen establishes Amy and Rory broke up, hoping to start the next season with something interesting to play.

Asylum of the Daleks. The audition process continues with Jenna at the table playing Oswin, meant to be a one-off character, a naval officer stranded on a Dalek asylum planet who will turn out to be a Dalek when finally rescued. Jenna knows this isn't to be a continuing character, but doesn't know her Oswin's been converted into a killing machine. She just thinks she's in a closed environment, hacking her way through the facilities. Karen and Arthur play their subplot, acting like they're getting a divorce, but the Doctor helps them work things out (Matt is so sneaky, it's scary; he doesn't want the subplot to go on for longer either, it seems). The GM's plot has the Daleks ask the Doctor for help destroying their own mad soldiers, and he introduces the idea of Daleks with the Infection Trait. Cue the Resolve rolls, Amy almost succumbs!

Dinosaurs on a Spaceship. Another session, more auditions. Rupert plays John Riddell, a big game hunter from the early 20th century. Riann plays Queen Nefertiti of Egypt, literally the historical figure. And Mark comes up with the fun idea of playing Rory's dad, Brian Williams, a handy everyman who's never really wanted to travel, but a trip in the TARDIS soon changes that (and it ties into the companions' current situation, where they're allowed to live their normal lives and only occasionally go on spacetime trips). In this case, the trip involves a giant Silurian spaceship, returning to Earth in the future, deserted but for dinosaurs running rampant aboard, plus a villainous collector of rare items and creatures, and his two robots. The GM mostly plays it as a comedy, though Matt makes a point of being more involved in the villain's demise, showing how not having permanent companions changes the Doctor. Rupert and Riann's character prove rather limited, but Mark has managed to squeeze himself into a potentially recurring role as part of the Pond family.

BRIAN WILLIAMS
Attributes: Awareness 3, Coordination 3, Ingenuity 3, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 3
Skills: Athletics 2, Convince 2, Craft 2, Fighting 1, Knowledge 2, Technology 3* (AoE: Handyman jobs), Transport 3
Traits: Brave, Charming, Face in the Crowd, Hot Shot, Obsession (Minor; Travel), Resourceful Pockets, Technically Adept, Unadventurous. Story Points: 12
Home Tech Level: 5


A Town Called Mercy. Steven tries his hand at a western, with all the tropes and trimmings plus an alien cyborg gunslinger hunting one of its people's war criminals. The week's guest is Ben, the town marshal. He does a good job, but would the Doctor travel with such an action man?

The Power of Three. Steven has this idea about a slow invasion that would take place over months, Earth-time. He sets it up so Amy and Rory (and Mark!) transition from month to month as mysterious alien cubes just sit there and make themselves inconspicuous parts of popular culture. Until they spring into action. Also at the table is Jemma, playing Kate Stewart, UNIT's new scientific adviser and the Brigadier's daughter. Could she be a companion, or at least, a recurring player? Could be. In this, their penultimate session, Karen and Arthur explore their characters' lifestyle. They could have chosen to live normal lives, with one last blow-out to come, or take the more exciting road to board the TARDIS and eventually (but still in the next session) meet their final fates, good or bad. Obviously, they take the latter.

The Angels Take Manhattan.
It's to be Amy and Rory's last game, so the GM makes it a doozy. He creates a timey-wimey mystery about a book the characters find themselves in, brings back River Song and the Weeping Angels, and goes all out making them take over 1930s New York. It's no holds barred play, where rolls are difficult and the characters could easily die. The players' solution, to have love triumph over all and create a paradox is so strong, they get out of it completely. And had they chosen "real life" in the previous session, the GM would have omitted his final scare. But since the characters, if not the players, have selected to keep traveling forever, the Angels finally get the Ponds and position them out of reach from the TARDIS. Left up to them, Karen and Arthur describe what their long lives as a New York couple was like, and that's that. Tears may have been shed; we're not saying.

The Snowmen. After trying out a fairly large number of players, Jenna is selected. She had the best chemistry with Matt, and the best schedule to fit the gaming sessions. She won't play a Dalek, of course. She creates Clara Oswald, Victorian barmaid by night, governess by day. The GM tells her secretly this character has a connection with Oswin, so if she can remember things she might have said in that session long ago, and can mention them again, it would be of some help. Why Victorian? Because that's where the GM not only wants but needs to set his new Christmas scenario in 1880s London, seeing as Neve, Catrin and Dan are all joining them for the holiday session as Madame Vastra, Jenny and Strax, characters they'd developed for one of the previous season's games. Because he's lost the Ponds, Matt puts his Doctor into bitter retirement mode, living on a cloud above the city, in a redesigned TARDIS (he and the GM worked out some sketches to make it colder and harsher to fit the character's mood). Clara will have to thaw him of she's to become the new companion, and Steven is reasonably sure the links to her previous character will intrigue him. He also re-introduces a villain from seasons long past, the Great Intelligence, an evil entity looking to enter our reality and take it over. It used to use robotic Yeti, which the GM isn't sure about, so he makes them animated snowmen instead. The whole table is shocked when, after some horrifyingly bad rolls, Clara is killed! But Jenna and the GM share a wink at this stage that fires up the Doctor. She can recreate her character as a modern woman, something a little easier to play, and have an even stranger link to TWO dead versions of herself.

SNOWMAN
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 2, Ingenuity 1, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 1, Fighting 2, Subterfuge 3
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Alien Senses (Snowmen detect their prey telepathically and can form very close to it), Dependency (Requires sub-zero temperatures), Enslaved (Great Intelligence), Face in the Crowd, Fear Factor 1, Natural Weapon/Chilly teeth (+2 to Strength), Networked, Psychic, Shapeshift (Minor; Snowmen can take various snowy forms, including that of a snow flurry of individual killer snowflakes), Weakness (Major; Heat-based attacks cause twice the damage), Weakness (Minor; characters may make a Presence + Resolve roll to imagine them melting and they will). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: N/A


The Bells of Saint John.
Clara's real debut, unless she dies again (she doesn't, breaking the streak), with the Great Intelligence once again in the background. The GM proposes a plot about evil wi-fi capturing souls and controlling humans, and Jenna gets to establish her new character. She's kept the governess element, and realizing that as Oswin she was a master hacker, asks late if she can add that to her sheet. Since she got into the adventure by being clueless about computers, the GM agrees but justifies it as leakage from her bad wi-fi experience.

The Rings of Akhaten. Before this part of the campaign began, Jenna told her character's back story (obviously, absent any connection to previously seen selves, because she doesn't know what that's all about).  It involved a leaf replete with coincidence, responsible for her parents meeting, and holding sentimental value for Clara since her mother died. Jenna hoped to show how there are coincidences in the universe (her version of what the GM was on about) and to justify her PC's motherliness. This detail would become important in this scenario in which the GM wanted to render a very alien culture based on song and story, with various alien races trying to pacify an Old God. It's the players who use the leaf as food too rich for the monster, using what it represents as an untold and infinite story it cannot completely consume. Steven is so charmed by it, it gets a pass.

Cold War. In this scenario, the players find themselves aboard a sinking Soviet submarine during the Cold War, with an Ice Warrior aboard. The GM is keen to reinvent this monster from the old campaign files, and uses it both as a noble warrior and an Alien-like monster lurking in the shadows.

ICE WARRIOR OUTSIDE ITS ARMOR
Attributes: Awareness 2, Coordination 4, Ingenuity 2-3, Presence 3, Resolve 3, Strength 4
Skills: Athletics 3, Convince 3, Fighting 4, Knowledge 3, Marksman 3, Medicine 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 4 (AoE: Hide in shadows), Survival 3, Technology 2, Transport 2
Traits: Alien, Alien Appearance, Climbing (Major), Code of Conduct (Minor; Warrior's Honor), Fear Factor 2, Natural Weapon/Claws (+2 to Strength), Weakness (Major; prefers cold weather and can't stand intense heat; -2 to all actions in high temperatures). Story Points: 3-8
Home Tech Level: 6


Hide. Next, a ghost story set in the 1970s, with a time travel puzzle the PCs figure out using the TARDIS. The GM introduces the idea that the blue box and Clara don't get along, something to fuel the mystery of what Matt has started calling "the impossible girl" (he doesn't miss a beat and asks the psychic in the story if she gets any weird vibes from Clara). As often happens with players in control of the Doctor later in their campaign, Matt is also becoming very comfortable with suggesting things (i.e. saying something that becomes true by virtue of the Doctor saying it), so in this case, he's the one who establishes the time traveler is the ghost hunters' descendant, and once the story is over, that the monster in the pocket universe is just a love-lorn creature that needs to be reunited with its love on normal-Earth. As usual, the GM allows it so long as it fits the session's emergent themes.

Journey to the Center of the TARDIS. The GM concocts a scenario that will take the characters down into the damaged TARDIS' bowels, with time breaking down and lots of new rooms being uncovered. To make things more dangerous, he's got ruthless salvage experts and time zombies (the monsters they will become from exposure to the Eye of Harmony) in there with Clara and the Doctor as well. The NPCs and logic behind the monsters could have done with another draft, but the characters so seldom get to treat the time machine as an unexplored world, and there's timey-wimey stuff aplenty, so it's a fun session regardless.

The Crimson Horror. The Doctor and Clara investigate a strange mystery in Victorian Yorkshire, but they fall prey to an evil woman and her prehistoric leach. "Hold on before spending your Story Points, guys," sayeth the GM, "How about we call the Victorian players to see if they can come in and join?" After a short break, Neve, Catrin and Dan arrive and get involved in the same mystery, eventually rescuing the Doctor and Clara, whose players wait patiently and snicker at seeing other people go through similar story beats in their own way. They've lost the momentum though, and the joining players end up dominating the action even after that.

MISTER SWEET
Attributes: Awareness 1, Coordination 1, Ingenuity 2, Presence 2, Resolve 3, Strength 1
Skills: Athletics 1, Knowledge 2, Medicine 2, Science 2, Subterfuge 4, Survival 3, Technology 2
Traits: Adversary (Silurians), Alien, Alien Appearance, Cowardly, Dependency (suckling off a humanoid + salt), Friends (Major; Mrs. Gillyflower), Last of My Kind, Natural Weapon/poison (can cause blindness, paralysis and death), Psychic, Repulsive, Size (Tiny), Slow, Weakness (Major; red leeches are small, soft creatures with no hind legs, only infrequently letting go of their host). Story Points: 4
Home Tech Level: 5


Nightmare in Silver. Campaign fatigue is setting in. The GM's long wanted to redesign the Cybermen and make them more dangerous, so he sets an adventure in the far future, after the Cyber Wars, justifying tons of new Traits for members of what he calls the Cyberiad. He plans the a chess game between the monsters' collective mind and the Doctor, an exiled emperor, and high stakes, but adds one element too many. That element: the kids Clara babysits finagle themselves aboard the TARDIS. Only, he's not very good at playing these NPCs and uses them as smug little trouble makers. The players are a little off as well and wanting to just get through it, they play their characters as straight up adventurers, never questioning whether they would really do the things they do (Clara using melee weapons and guns, for example). Not the best session, and they vow to do better with their season finale.

The Name of the Doctor. Because they've become members of the family, and because they know all about the Great Intelligence which Steven plans to use, the Victorian crew is once again invited (with some lead time, this time). They're the ones who get the regular PCs involved and are held hostage by the villain to get the Doctor to Trenzalore, reputedly the site of his grave. Jenny even dies, though she's later saved by a generous helping of Story Points. Steven brings River Song back one last time, as a virtual ghost, to give the Doctor some closure on that front before Matt inevitably announces he's soon to leave the campaign. And of course, Steven means to reveal how Clara can be in several places and times at once. When he presents the Doctor's time stream as an open wound in spacetime, something the Great Intelligence can jump into to destroy every moment in the Doctor's life, Jenna gets the hint and follows. Clara restores the balance, and the GM has some fun grabbing old campaign notes at random and reading from them what she might see in there. Refusing to let her die, the Doctor jumps in too, and in a sort of mindscape, the GM reveals one last surprise: The incarnation of the Doctor that "broke the promise", the one that ended the Time War by any means necessary.

Steven never solves a mystery without presenting another, but that's a story for the RPG club's anniversary games. Coming soon!