New Stuff

Well, today is the day I got my monthly spending money, so I spent some. Ordered and downloaded a PDF copy of GURPS Magic 4th Edition. Would love to have it in hardback or paperback, but it is going for over $100 new, so a PDF it will be.

Also got PDFs of Steve Jackson Games Pyramid Magazine — the Cyberpunk issue and Monster Hunters. So I have some lunchtime reading this week.

Love playing GURPS, running GURPS, and supporting SJ Games – a true grassroots RPG company from Texas.

 

CyberTex Episode 2

Prior to the game: Jeff K works on his character Max. We have discovered quite a few points unused, so Jeff buys some appropriate new skills.

We started episode 2 at the end point of episode 1 — the PCs in the basement of the old data center, with a bunch of cyber-cultist captured, among them the two women with Salazar the night he was abducted from Pearl’s Party Dome. They decide to return to Pearl’s, to collect their fee for retrieving the girls and to interrogate them.

15 - 1 (1)Morning has come to CyberTex. A light rain falls in the artificial ecosystem of DFW zone of the megacity.

Pearl is quite displeased with the girls’ activities. She pays $10,000 to the PCs, and allows them to interrogate the girls. Between Inuyama’s Intimidate skill, Joe’s threats, and Max’s Fast Talk skill, they are able to extract a little useful information from them. They find out that one of the accomplices was someone known as Jake the Painter. They reveal where Jake lives. Apparently after the abduction, Jake dropped the girls off and was to take Salazar to a safe location. They leave the girls with Pearl, who says she will “reprogram” them.

Hawk does online research into “Jake the Painter”, and succeeds in finding a little info on Jake’s art, but nothing else.

Jake the Painter lives in the Oak Lawn Arts section of Dallas, in the top floor of a 3 floor building. The team does a drive by to surveil the area. Seeing the large windows in what is apparently Jake’s flat, Joe climbs to the roof across the street to look into the apartment using the scope on his sniper rifle. He sees two people, both appear to be tripping on virtual reality sim-stim – both of their craniums jacked into a sim-stim deck. He sees lots of paintings and art materials in the room. He reports back to the rest of the group via cell.

On the ground, Inuyama uses his Breaking and Entering skill to smash down the front door. They scare the hell out of an old lady living on the first floor, but otherwise meet no opposition. They make their way to the 3rd floor, and Inuyama again breaks down the door. They find Jake and his girlfriend in the apartment, tripping out in virtual reality. Jake is dressed as a 1980s goth style. His girlfriend in a typical contemporary cyberpunk fashion. The apartment is indeed full of creepy occult style paintings. It is very “un-cyber”. Other than the sim-stim system, there are no electronics in the place. The team quickly locates Jake’s 9mm pistol before he can get to it. Jake comes off the VR and gets violent, but Inuyama easily grapples him and restrains him.  They zip-tie the girl to restrain her.

They find a chip in Jake’s cranial chip slot. They take it. They debate simply putting into Inuyama’s slot to check out it’s contents, but decide it is too dangerous.

While they do that, Hawk and Max search the rest of the room. Hawk finds a folder that looks very out of place — a folder containing a printout image of Salazar. On back of the printout is an address in Dallas.

As Joe watches all this from across the street on the roof, a Sky Car starts to land there, but turns around when the driver sees a man with a sniper rifle on the roof. Joe notes the make and model of the Sky Car.

Joe reports in via cell, and the team gathers on the street near the car, taking Jake, his chip, and his girlfriend with them. They intend to deliver them to the Pinky, at the RotGut Emporium. As they approach the car, 6 people in black hoodies pop out of alleys and doorways and attack them. They pull down their hoods, revealing each has an obvious chip slot, neural interface, and tattoo around their right eyes. They seem to be berserk. 2 go for Inuyman bare-handed. The other 4 go for the rest of the team. Joe uses his submachine gun to quickly kill 3 of them, but not before taking a few hitpoints of damage from a gun (his tactical vest saves him). Max kills one of them, and Inuyama kills one, and Hawk manages to run over the 6th with the car, killing him.  The battle lasts just a few seconds — body count 6. Joe has a flesh wound. Joe makes a successful roll to avoid going into Post Combat Shakes. Having killed all his opponents, his Blood Lust is quelled.

Because of the battle, the team is about 3 seconds late for their meeting with the Pinky. They report that while they have not yet found Salazar, they are on his trail. They have the chip from Jake the Painter, as well as cranial chips from the goons that attacked them. They need help and/or equipment to hack and analyze the chips. The Pinky refers them to a contact named Reilly.

They got to Reilly’s, the upper floor of a 10-story building. They get off the elevator to find a reinforced concrete wall with a repurposed bank vault door in the middle. They use the intercom panel next to door, and are admitted.

Inside they find a large space full of boxes of stolen goods. One side of the room is covered with mismatched monitors and TV screens displaying a variety of information. On the other side is a large hackers space, containing the equipment Hawk will need to crack the chips. Reilly sits with his back to them, behind a large wooden desk, in a leather swivel chair. On his desk is a small robotic device holding a cigar — “smoking” it. The room is full of smoke and reeks of cigar. “The Pinky told me you were on your way, aahaaa ha ha haaaaa…” he says, his back still turned. The voice and inflections sound like 20th century comedian Charles Nelson Reilly. When he turns, they see that Reilly’s jaw and lower face below his nose have been replaced by a primitive looking prosthetic, with a vocal synthesizer providing his voice. There is no working jaw or mouth. He reaches forward and puts a new cigar in his smoking device, allows it to light the new cigar, and the he takes a deep and satisfied inhale.

After being given various price-points for use of his hacking system, the team decides to pay him the full amount for his “no questions asked and no data left behind with him” service.

Hawk inserts Jake the Painter’s chip, and finds unencrypted files containing lots of information about the occult, similar to stuff they have seen in other cultists apartments. He also finds and encrypted file. He uses his hacking skill and succeeds in breaking in. He finds the schematics of a large office building in downtown Dallas — the same location indicated on back of the photo of Salazar they found in Jake’s apartment.  The schematics are very detailed, and indicate a private elevator to a 4oth floor penthouse, as well as security information.

The session ends with the PCs there at Reilly’s lab.

5 experience points awarded to each PC.

GM’s notes

  • I had one more scene prepared for today’s session, but we didn’t get to it. That’s fine – I can make it even better for the next session.
  • It is taking some time to learn how long each “scene” will take to play. This session was about 3.5 hours long. There was a lot of discussion of strategy, role playing, ideas discussed, and investigation.
  • There were some encounters I left out, as they didn’t seem to make sense given the flow of the session. They are pretty modular, and I can use them in future sessions.
  • The team is pretty good at finding clues.
  • Again, open-ended game worlds like this are a challenge to run. One very interesting planned event was blown by the actions of the PCs — good actions — but they simply made it impossible for one encounter to occur. Obviously it wasn’t critical.
  • I feel like the balance between action and investigation/roll play might need to be shifted slightly toward action. For one thing, we have some PCs with fun physical skills, and we need use them and learn the combat system a little better. I may need to run some mock combats by myself to get better with the rules.  I really need to get more proficient with the combat rules. They aren’t that difficult.

Game #2 on its way!

In two Sundays we’ll be playing session #2 of CyberTex. I’ve been doing a lot of reading of inspirational material. Currently I’m reading the second of Gibson’s Sprawl Trilogy — Count Zero. Very cool and lots of fun.

I also have watched about half this old documentary about Cyberpunk. It’s got some nice interview segments with William Gibson, but is also about “real world cyberpunks”.  I used to read about these dudes back in the mid-1990s, and it always seem really adventurous and fun. It seems like that kind of thing is just really dangerous and illegal now.

I have a week to finish preparations for session 2, so I need to get into gear. I have done a lot already, but I have so many ideas.

 

Slow Session Prep

GMing once per month is turning out to be a really good thing. Rather than hammering out sessons and scenarios in rapid-fire mode, having several weeks to plan is fantastic.

neuromancer1After our first CyberTex game session, I decided to re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer for inspiration. During this time I started working on game session #2, and had probably six false starts. Each false start, however, got me closer to a good outline for the next session. I want everything to make sense, and this becomes harder when you try to interweave the lives of four PCs into the overall arch of the campaign.

Anyway, I’ve been away from campaign planning for about 3 days, as I finished that book and did various other things. The book as been percolating around in my head a lot. Listening to the audiobook in the car helps too. It’s good to hear someone reading the novel dramatically, with a nice voice. It creates the atmosphere that I just don’t quite achieve reading silently. The more think about the novel, the more ideas I get for the game. Not stuff that will change the big-picture direction of the campaign, but cool stuff to add in and give it the right flavor.

So I will now revisit my session #2 notes and the campaign notes, and continue convoluting the story.

 

Podcast Episode 1

In episode 1 I give a little background on this podcast and my own gaming history, and describe the start-up of my current GURPS campaign.

The music in this episode is the song Seiche 2, by the band Brokeback, available on iTunes, and you can find more info about the band on their Facebook page.

GURPS, the Generic Universal Roleplaying System, is available from Steve Jackson Games, of Austin, Texas.

The RSS feed for this podcast is: http://clgaming.libsyn.com/rss . It should be on iTunes soon.

Adventure Design By Scenes

More thoughts on adventure design — probably been written about a lot in the last 40 years, but I just caught on. Here goes.

My current GURPS campaign isn’t a standard dungeon crawl. It’s CyberPunk, in an open-ended world. It isn’t 90% combat related. I want it to be about 80% skills and roll-playing. You know, mystery and problem solving stuff? These kinds of games can be challenging because the options for the PCs are endless. What if they don’t go where you want them to go? What if they don’t find the clue? How do you write an adventure that isn’t like the ones I played in and GMed when I was 15?

I feel like my first GURPS game (see previous post) went pretty well because after coming up with an overall goal for the session, I wrote it in “scenes”. This gave me a working organizational framework for the adventure. I sat on a plane, with my Chromebook, and wrote it like the plot and scenes of a short story, or maybe a couple of chapters from a book. I think some role-playing systems use this technique a lot, but I’ve never played any of them.

Working in scenes did a few nice things. For one, it got me in the frame of mind of really thinking about the atmosphere of the scene. I’m not saying I did a fantastic job conveying atmosphere to my players, but it’s a start. I think I can do better in the future. Next, by thinking in scenes, my job became moving the PCs from one scene to the next, or perhaps skipping a scene completely if the PCs somehow bypassed it  or I felt like it wasn’t needed. I packed each scene with clues to get them to the next scene, hoping they’d find at least one of them. They did. It worked. They didn’t find every single clue, but they found enough. I gave them chances to use a variety of skills to discover clues, rather than relying on one critical skill roll.

I’m sure this sounds very basic to experienced GMs, but in the past all my games have been D&D dungeon adventures, or Champions games where you just say “Dr. Destroyer attacks you in your HQ” and it’s on. Open ended games, or mysteries/investigations are just harder to write, but I think they are a lot more satisfying. At least that’s my impression now.

Once I had a scene’s location figured out and described, and I knew what the PCs goal was in that scene, it was time to fill it with clues, a memorable NPC or two, some challenges, traps, or just plain foolishness. Then I waited a day, came back and read the whole thing, and thought of more cool stuff to add. As it turns out, one of the NPCs I added as a “possibility” to Scene 1 turned out to be very fun and great for creating atmosphere. Without coming back for a good second look at the whole adventure, I wouldn’t have thought of that NPC.

I did actually drop one small scene right in the middle of play.  I combined it with the one to come after it. I made this decision on the fly, realizing during the game that the two scenes were very similar, and that doing two similar scenes back to back might be tedious. The game was running a bit long too. I told the players to give me a couple of minutes to think about the game — so I didn’t have to rush. My players gave me the time I need to keep some logic and flow in the story. Much appreciated.

All of this really helped me a lot. I’m fairly creative, but I’m not great at coming up with stuff on the fly. I like to try to make every game I’ve ever run the best it can be though, so some really good writing and prep work helped very much in this game. Hoping that Episode 2 goes as well. I think I have a good base to build from, and the PCs are developing really well.

 

CyberTex Episode 1

1/10/2014

First session of CyberTex, a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign set in the Texas Corridor Megacity of 2065. Think Bladerunner meets William Gibson meets Gunsmoke.

I was pretty happy with how this first game went. Writing the adventure as “scenes” really helps keep an open-ended game like this (unlike a classic dungeon adventure) on track. The players were very inventive. Total playing time was 4 or 5 hours, which passed very quickly, and there was less actual fighting than any game I’ve ever run. That is what I wanted — to have a story driven game in which non-combat skills were just as important as combat skills.

We have some fine-tuning to do with guidelines for cyberspace cowboy hacking kind of stuff, etc., but I found GURPS to be excellent for this kind of game.

We played this session mostly in a “theater of the mind” style, occasionally drawing very simple maps on graph paper.

I’ll post some starting facts about the CyberTex world soon. Need to edit so it doesn’t reveal stuff to my players.

Episode 1 takes place in the DFW region of the dome-enclosed megacity stretching down the old IH35 corridor.

Character starting points: 200, plus max 50 in disadvantages/quirks. Starting them somewhat high, as we are only playing once per month. Also going high-side on experience points awarded for this reason. 5 character points awarded to each PC at the end of this episode.

Cast of Characters/Players…

  • Hawk — played by William. Superintelligent former astronaut candidate, maimed in explosion and fitted out with cybernetic eye with lots of extrasensory and tech-interface functions and a bionic ear.
  • Inuyama – played by Randy. Former Sumo wrestler from Japan,  kicked out of league for cheating by use of cranial skill chip slot giving information and advantage on opponents. Sent to Texas by his benefactors to get him out of Japan. Big, very fast, and tough in hand to hand combat.
  • Joe played by Jeff L. – psychologically damaged vet from the corporate wars, Joe is an expert marksman, sniper, and gun slinger. Suffers from odd delusions and blood lust.
  • Max – Played by Jeff K. Jack of all trades tinkerer, medic, and hustler, with contacts in the criminal underworld and streetwise skills.
  • the Gamemaster — Bob (that me!)

The games begins as Max is contacted by an underworld contact and offered a lucrative contract to put together a team and rescue the kidnapped cyberneticist Tien Salazar. Max contacts three sometimes-associates (the other PCs), and they meet outside Gus’s Rotgut Emporium, a popular watering hole for rogues, scoundrels, and underworld types. Their contact is to be a man known as “the Pinky”. Upon arriving, all but Hawk go in together and find a table. Hawk remains behind, using his enhanced perception to see who in the room shows any interest in the team. Hawk does, in fact, notice a patron who seems to be following the team, and using his bionic eye’s telescopic function he can tell that the person also has a cybernetic eye. The Pinky arrives and introduces himself, but by this time Hawk has used his data uplink to text a message to Max, informing him of the spy. The spy realizes he has been spotted and makes a break for it. Hawk distracts him, while Max and Inuyama approach from behind. The sumo easily takes the guy in a bear hug, and the group remove him to a dark corner for questioning.

Inuyama succeeds with an Intimidation roll, but the guy really doesn’t know much. Just babbles about how “The Lord will soon arrive and rule the world.” Hawk uses his bionic eye’s microscopic vision to examine the spy’s own bionic eye. He is able to see that it is both an eye, a camera, and has a tiny parabolic microphone. He switch to his bug detector function, and determines that the spy’s eye has been transmitting. Using his own data uplink and hacking skill, Hawk enters CyberSpace and can determine that the eye has been transmitting to an old data center, but can’t get a location in the real world. He then makes another hacking roll and shuts the guy’s bionic eye totally down. After Max threatens the guy a bit, they run him off, seeing that they will get no more info.

Finally, they have their meeting with the Pinky, who is known as the Pinky due to bionic pinky on his left hand. The Pinky explains that Tien Salazar, a gifted cyberneticist, has been working for his employer, but disappeared last night. He was not supposed to be out on the street. He can’t be located. The Pinky’s employer wishes to remain unknown, and thus wishes to hire the PCs to recover Salazar and return him to a safe house. Payment upon recovery and return of Salazar will be $100,000. The Pinky can also offer the group support in the form a working budget, reasonable weapons, and transportation.

Finally, the Pinky reveals that Salazar is a man of disturbing tastes, and is known to frequent an establishment called Pearl’s Party Dome. He suspects that is where he went.

The team parts with the Pinky, and procedes to Pearl’s Party Dome, where the scum go to have a good time. All manner of pleasures are available within. They arrive, and once again Hawk lags behind to check for anyone tailing them. He sees none. Joe strikes up a friendship with the bartender, who introduces him to the proprietor of the place, Pearl. Pearl is a double amputee transvestite in a motorized wheelchair. Chubby, with a slight five o’clock shadow under the heavy makeup, Pearl were some kind of cybervision goggles and is flanked by 2 small hovering drones. She is also extremley intelligent. Sounds like Truman Capote. Joe explains what kind of “fun” he’s looking for, and discovers that another person was there last night looking for similar wild fun, and disappeared with two of Pearl’s girls. Pearl is pissed. She is protective of her girls, and wants them back. Joe negotiates a deal to recover them, and Pearl gives him and the team access to the room from which they disappeared. She clearly will be a good ally and resource for the PCs.

While this is happening, Hawk has hacked into the security system and is examining video of Salazar entered the place and partying. He finds time missing from the video records.

After the team searches the room and investigates, they eventually discover 2 clues. First, an unusual looking Tarot card, with an odd run on it, and images of cybernetics and circuitry. Hawk discovers that the data port in the room was used to inject a virus into the security system, producing false security data to cover up the disappearance of the scientist and two women. He also finds some hidden occult messages in the virus, similar to the “our Lord is coming to rule the world” line of the spy, and the symbol on the tarot card.

Still, the team is unable to determine how the 3 disappeared from the room. Joe and Inuyama investigate in the service area of the Party Dome, questioning employees, and discover that 4 people — 2 men and 2 women – left via the service entrance at about the time of the missing time in the security recordings. Hawk is able to patch into a security camera in the alley and get plate numbers of the group’s car. The team acquires the name and address associated with the car, which leads them to the apartment of one of the 2 missing women.

They find no one at the apartment, and break in. Inside they find a books, programs, and art of an occult/cyber-occult nature. They find a picture of Tien Salazar pinned to the wall. They find materials similar to the cyber-tarot card they found in the room at the Party Dome. Hacking into an active data port in the small apartment, Hawk is able to tell that a frequent data connection has been made to a data center from the early 2000s. He is able to determine the center’s physical location. The group assumes this is the same one the spy’s eye was transmitting to from the Rottgut Emporium. They gear up to infiltrate the data center, mainly by picking up Joe’s weapons.

They surveil the data center, a 3-story concrete building with no windows, and one door in the front. It is surrounded by taller buildings. Hawk’s IR vision detects two heat signatures up on the roof. Hawk and Joe take position on top of a 7 -story, confirming 2 guards with guns on the roof of the data center.  Inuyama and Max create a distration by throwing a bunch of Max’s firecrackers to the roof of the data center, causing the 2 guards to turn their backs. Joe quickly and efficiently kills both with deadly shots from his sniper rifle. To fast, in fact, for the guards to signal any trouble. As the data center is concrete and secure, no other guards show up.

The team quickly move to the door of the data center, and Hawk attempts to hack the door control, rolling a critical failure and setting off the alarms. It’s a large heavy metal door. Inuyama uses his great size, strength, and speed to bulldoze through the door.

With the alarm sounding, they search the building. In the basement, they discover 12 cyber-cultists all jacked into a massive spherical data device – a huge cyberspace deck. All are deep in a trance, completely zoned out. However, 3 cyber-enhanced pit bulls rush the PCs. After some manuvering in the building, the PCs kill the dogs, and return to the basement. They discover the cultists have been automatically un-jacked from the data sphere upon activation of the guard dogs, and the sphere itself has self-destructed. They do not find Tien Salazar in the building. However, they do find the two women from Pearl’s among the cultists.

The episode concludes. Next time the PCs will deal with the captive hookers. Pearl will not be happy to find that 2 of her valued employees were involved in abducting a customer, or that they are occult weirdos.

 

Character death within a party

This is not a new topic. I’m sure it has been talked to death, but when a member of a somewhat advanced party is killed, how do you handle it?

In D&D, I think this presents a very large problem, since the gap in survivability of 1st level characters and say, 6th or higher, is huge. So you lose a character or two, and what do you do. I’ve recently read about various ways people handle this. Some have the person roll up a new character, and advance them to the old character’s level, or maybe a level or two below. I’ve never been a big fan of starting characters at higher levels. For me as a player, I never feel like I have any emotional investment in that kind of character. It just doesn’t feel the same as running a character up from level 1. I actually saw one guy on a Facebook discussion say he considered the Experience Points to belong the the player, rather than the character. Obviously people can do what they want, but that seems weird to me. A little too much like just getting extra lives in a video game.

BUT – if you have a party of somewhat advanced characters, and one dies, if you make that player start over again with a 1st level character, a couple of undesireable things seem likely. First, the new 1st level character may simply ride on the coat tails of the rest of the party, gaining levels almost by association. Or second, the challenges faced by the party may simply be too difficult for the new character, killing him/her quickly if the DM doesn’t go easy on him. I can remember really good DMs who could integrate the new characters in, and give them challenges appropriate to their level whilst still challenging the higher level characters, but that’s not easy in a D&D game.

In the past I’ve participated in groups that avoided this situation a couple of ways. In some cases, in a particular DM’s word/campaign, players would have more than one character, so that if one died, there was still another to work with. We only played one at at time, so this made progress slower. It did have the added advantage of giving the players a more diverse group of characters to chose from when starting a game. If you played in a shared world, with multiple DMs running games at an agreed upon power level/style, the multiple characters can work out pretty well.

As I am about to start a GURPS Cyberpunk campaign in a couple of days, it made me realize that game systems like GURPs make it a lot easier to introduce new PCs to replace dead ones.  In GURPS, a PC gets better, but the world is still pretty dangerous. There isn’t such a huge gap in survivability between new PCs and experienced ones.

 

DMing Again

Just DMed my first game in about 20 years.

Gave my nephew the 5e D&D Starter Set a few months ago, and we started through it to teach him to play. A little challenging as I was not totally sharp on the new rules, but I had the basics down OK, which is really all you need. Did about 1/2 of the first segment of the adventure than comes in the set. Will finish tomorrow. Overall it was pretty fun, and a good chance to get back into the gamemastering thing.

To simplify the learning process, we used the Starter Set straight-up, prefab characters and all. I had him control two of the characters, a fighter and magic user, and I used another fighter and a cleric as NPCs. At 14, I think my nephew is to the point he can start to learn role playing and the rules system. He won’t have it down perfectly, but did any of us at that age? Probably not. I think that keeping the spirit of the game is what counts.

Granted, we didn’t go deep into the 5e system, but I really must say that we I experienced as DM was pretty much identical to my experiences with 1e.  I liked it. We played pretty bare-bones. Pencils, paper, graph paper, and dice. Not even any miniatures. It worked quite well.

Anyway, we’ll finish up that leg of the adventure tomorrow afternoon. My nephew was pretty stoked, and is talking about getting his friends together to play, which makes me very happy.

OK, interesting thing. At one point he was trying to figure out a way to test the depth of a stream. I explained to him that in D&D you can do anything you want, like cut a branch off a tree to use. He said he had thought of that, but wasn’t sure if he could do that. He is very involved in video games, which of course are totally restrictive. You can’t do anything the game designer didn’t account for. But in RPGs, you don’t have that limitation. It was cool to see this fact register on my nephew’s face.