Archive for September 2011

The Rules: Dying Stars   Leave a comment

[This was inspired by Levi Kornelsen’s Countdown Stack]

Play begins with a pile of twelve dice in the center of the table called the Dying Stars. These represent the encroaching darkness that threatens the galaxy. They are not just the literal fading suns of the title, but also the tendency of humanity to turn away from its Creator.

Any time the Hero needs bonus dice, she can take one or more dice from the Dying Stars pile. She can even take dice after having rolled and counted up successes. The Hero can either take one die and roll it (possibly getting a success) or take two dice and get an automatic success.

If a Hero invokes a Vice for bonus dice, she has to take a die from the Dying Stars pile. This die does not get rolled; it just disappears.

The Dying Stars pile also diminishes by one at the end of every session.

When the Dying Stars pile reaches zero, catastrophe strikes. This could be a critical systems failure onboard a ship, an ambush by a powerful enemy, a natural disaster, or anything equally terrible. The catastrophe doesn’t need to happen right away, but it will happen very soon.

Once the catastrophe has been overcome or evaded, the Dying Stars pile resets at one less than its previous maximum. So after the first catastrophe, the Dying Stars pile will refresh to eleven.

[This is the players’ favorite and least-favorite mechanic. Whenever they fall short of a task by a success or two, they agonize over whether or not to take a few dice to guarantee themselves a success. They like the heartbreak that comes from this, or at least I think they do. It’s a great way to inject tension into every choice.]

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Posted September 29, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter Two: Terrors in the Deep (Part 1 of 2)   Leave a comment

The session began with two separate parties delving into the ruins of arcology 707C in the wilds of Sutek. Sir Victor and Lady Corezza arrived first by flitcar. They tripped the security system on the landing pad, drawing the attention of an automatic blaster turret in the ceiling. Victor talked Corezza into distracting the turret into swiveling while he dangled from the back, using his sketchy electronics knowledge from university, and disarmed it.

The Engineers, Fannagus and Fez, along with Acolyte Gwinn and Deacon Nedeau, were only a little behind. They set to getting the lay of the land as a first priority, with Fannagus plugging his think machine into an access jack to download a map. The map was in an antiquated machine language, requiring extensive reprogramming before Fannagus could get it to work. Once the map was up, he used it to steer the party down a longer but safer route through the arcology. The only other threat they encountered was a rival party of scavengers. A standoff ensued with both parties screaming and pointing guns at each other, but Fannagus defused the tensions and convinced the other scavengers that the Engineers weren’t a threat.

Victor and Corezza, after dealing with a collapsing arcade and a crumbling interior stairway, finally reached their destination: the site where St. Aethelred had dispersed the rioting mobs with holy fire. It was an ancient computer station, deep beneath the surface of the planet. A makeshift cairn had been created with rubble in the center of the room. Removing the rubble, the nobles found a set of skeletal remains in a body bag, clutching an odd translucent cube. “This must be the relic he used …” said Corezza.

Meanwhile, back in Djehut, Captain Manx recruited a disgraced Engineer he knew to sabotage Lady Corezza’s ship. This would keep Corezza on planet to ensure that she attended Lady Maryam Windsor’s party, as part of Maryam’s byzantine scheme to embarrass her. As he returned to the streets of the agora, however, Manx realized he was being tailed by a couple of goons. He also spotted Lady Maryam looking for him and realized he’d be in for a few hours of nagging if he couldn’t avoid her too.

Manx slipped into a slave auction to lose Lady Maryam first. A captive Vorox, massive and savage, was the current chattel up for auction. Manx slipped close to examine the slave (“look at how dull its claws are! clearly a weak specimen”), using the crowd as cover. Unfortunately, his boldness only caught Lady Maryam’s attention, who overcame her disgust with slaves to come see what all the fuss was about. Realizing that he had to do something drastic, Manx jumped into the pit with the Vorox and slapped it on the haunch to prove how “harmless” it was. The Vorox examined Manx with its keen, intelligent eyes but didn’t kill him. Once the crowd realized that this Vorox wasn’t the killer they had hoped for, they started withdrawing bids and the crowd dispersed, dragging Maryam along with them. Manx took advantage of the confusion to duck into a chapel and slip out the back entrance, thereby losing the other two thugs.

In the arcology, the Engineers and their party had just caught up to Victor and Corezza. Fannagus described the quantum core that they sought: “it would be a cubical device, fitting in an input port of roughly these dimensions …” Victor realized that the cube Corezza had found would fit that description and distracted Fannagus until Corezza could hide it away. The party canvassed the computer station until a tremor shook the entire room, dislodging some rubble. It was followed by another tremor, then another one. Huge, irregular shockwaves … like footsteps …

Posted September 26, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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The Rules: Styles and Conditions   Leave a comment

Styles
Not only can Heroes leverage Aspects, Virtues and Blessings to accomplish a task, they can also accomplish a task in Style. Heroes can act in one of three ways: with Power, with Cunning and with Glory. If a Hero gets more successes than they need to overcome a difficulty, they can allocate those extra successes to useful effect by using a Style.

After a Hero counts up their successes and sees how many are left over, they can check off a Style for the following:


  • Power: Every additional success is an additional effect that the Hero can narrate, above and beyond what they originally meant to accomplish.

  • Cunning: Every additional success allows the Hero to create an Advantage for later use. Further successes can create even more Advantages, or add boxes to the Advantage to allow it to be ticked off multiple times.

  • Glory: Every additional success gives the Hero a Wyrd point.

The Hero doesn’t need to use a Style until after the dice have been rolled and the successes have been counted.

The Narrator always has the option to invoke a Condition that the Hero has and block the use of a Style. If the Narrator does this, then the Condition is unchecked and the Style cannot be used (though it remains unchecked). The Hero can’t go back and choose a different Style; the invocation of a Condition means Styles are unavailable to him for that roll.

[Originally, a player had to choose one Style during character creation that would be forever denied to them. I ditched this rule before the first session and I’m glad I did.]

Conditions
Conditions are a result of engaging with Escalated challenges. The Conditions are:

Angry, Broke, Confused, Embarrassed, Isolated, Hurt, Scared, Tired

A Condition gets checked off when a Hero engages with an Escalated challenge. The Hero can uncheck a Condition during an Interlude scene, or during any other scene by spending a Wyrd point.

If a Hero tries to use a Style, the Narrator can uncheck one of the Hero’s Conditions and describe how it prevents the Hero from doing so. This prevents the Hero from using that or any other Style on the roll, although the Style is not checked off.

[Note that Conditions are the only traditional mechanical consequence in the game. They replace hit points, stress levels and sanity. Heroes only get weaker as they lose access to Aspects and Wyrd, and they only lose Aspects and Wyrd because they chose to use them earlier. Even a Condition doesn’t make a hero weaker – it just makes them less awesome.]

Posted September 19, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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The Rules: Advantages, Blessings and Wyrd   Leave a comment

Advantages
Heroes can gain temporary Advantages, usually during a Suspense scene. These can grant bonus dice. Invoking an Advantage causes it to vanish, however. Examples include “Flirted with the Duchess,” “Cased the Scraver Headquarters” or “The Most Fashionable Outfit.”

Checking off an Advantage grants two bonus dice.

[Stole this from either FATE, with player-created Aspects, or from Cortex Plus, with Assets generated by the players. Either or.]

Blessings
Heroes have Blessings, special abilities that define their characters. Blessings do not always mean literal invocations of the Creator’s favor. Being strong, beautiful, having friends in low places, lots of liquid cash or the ability to move objects with your mind are all considered Blessings.

A Blessing will typically have a standard use and an augmented use. A standard use means the Hero can use an ability or overcome a difficulty in some special way. An augmented use can grant bonus dice or break the rules. Augmented use of a Blessing requires a Wyrd point to activate.

[Psychic and theurgic powers are examples of Blessings. So are exceptional strength, lots of friends in low places or Second Republic technology.]

Wyrd
Wyrd is the special energy of fate that makes the Heroes Heroic. The Church teaches that it is an emanation from the Creator and proof of his divine guidance over us all.

A Hero may use a Wyrd point to do the following:


  • Uncheck a Condition outside of an Interlude scene;

  • Uncheck an Aspect outside of an Interlude scene;

  • Reduce a Vice by 1 (thus increasing its corresponding Virtue);

  • Activate the augmented use of a Blessing;

  • Add one bonus die to a roll.

[Which reminds me: I need to be more generous in giving out Wyrd. As a GM, I tend to be a stickler for immersive gameplay. I should be rewarding instances of the roleplaying I want to see with Wyrd. Entertaining dialogue, strong emoting, adding details to the setting, even little in-character gestures while we’re sitting at the table: Wyrd point, every time.

Stinginess with Wyrd points is a bad habit, stemming from my days as a more adversarial GM. I don’t want to make things hard for the players by denying them resources. I want to make things hard for the players by overwhelming them with resources and then forcing them to spend. Lack of options makes players throw up their hands. An abundance of options in the face of a dilemma makes them sweat.]

Posted September 15, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter One: Ladies in Hating (Part 2 of 2)   Leave a comment

Manx returned to the pilgrims’ apartments in the Basilica with the good news that he’d secured passage. He noticed that Victor, who he’d been counting on to sweet talk Lady Corezza, wasn’t there. Lady Corezza was also absent. “They boarded her yacht a few hours ago,” said Acolyte Gwinn. “Then they took off about an hour later. I’ve been keeping an eye on folks. Sorry.” Gwinn then hushed the pilgrims and sneaked into the hall outside their room. She returned a minute later with a struggling lady locked in her arms.

Acolyte Huifang Gwinn, Brother Battle

The captive introduced herself as Lady Maryam Windsor, “Sir Victor’s betrothed.” Victor had apparently been neglecting his filial obligations and Maryam had been sent to remonstrate with him. Captain Manx let slip that Victor had last been seen boarding a private pleasure yacht in the sole company of a very fetching al-Malik lady. “What would she want with …” Maryam wondered. “Of course! Some noble intrigue between al-Malik and Hawkwood! Well, she won’t get away with it that easy!” Lady Windsor agreed to bankroll the pilgrims’ trip to Sutek if they would help her “ambush” him once they arrived.

Lady Maryam Windsor

En route to Sutek, Lady Corezza and Sir Victor shared a glass of exotic wine in her stateroom. She showed him a map of Sutek, indicating a ruined Second Republic arcology on the eastern edge of the sole populated continent. In the chaos that marked the fall of the Second Republic, a legendary saint supposedly protected his followers from a mob with some relic that blazed with the light of the Empyrean. “Most likely a neutron bomb or a device that projected magic lantern shows in people’s minds,” she said. “Still, wouldn’t it be exciting to find it?”

“Certainly,” Victor said. “I’m always up for adventures that could expand the mind.”

“Just the mind?”

“… and the spirit.”

Just the spirit?”

“… and the body as well.”

“That’s what I was hoping to hear,” said Corezza, leaning in for a kiss.

The other pilgrims did not have as stimulating a voyage, camping out in steerage on Charioteer Tomas’s run back to Sutek. Sutek is a largely commercial and residential world: lots of warehouses and shipping centers, lots of noble holdings, little in the way of fine culture. No sooner had they disembarked than Lady Maryam had a series of tasks for them, chief among them organizing a party. “You,” she told the Engineers, “will come up with some … device that will embarrass the al-Malik woman.” Maryam’s plan was to publicly shame her, thus driving Victor back where he belonged.

Apprentice Fannagus checked in with the local Engineers chapter to see if he had any messages. They had heard of his pilgrimage and were honored to have him as a guest. When Fannagus mentioned his need for funds, the local Fellow said that he had a task that could benefit from Fannagus’s assistance. An arcology far to the east, designated 707C by the Engineers, had been powered in the Second Republic by a complex but non-sentient computer. At the heart of this computer was a quantum core, a processing unit that enabled the machine to deliberately deviate from its programming and see if it could still attain the same results. Such a breakthrough allowed its intelligence to evolve generationally, a power which still eluded modern Engineers.

Captain Manx sought audience with Countess Elena Castenda Hazat, hoping to announce Lady al-Malik’s arrival on Sutek and throw a party that way. While waiting in court to attend the Countess, he was recognized by a local Scraver functionary, Bertrick Malloran. Malloran pulled the Captain into a nearby salon and plied him with wine, eventually offering to introduce him to a ranking Scraver who might be able to help him. Manx agreed.

Malloran drove Manx to the Landsky Geodesic Dome, headquarters of the Scravers, and escorted him through several layers of security. Eventually Manx was brought to the plush office of Dean Patroclus Toth. Dean Toth got straight to business, making clear that he knew the circumstances of Manx’s departure from the Muster. He made him a very tempting offer: if he would ask the Gargoyle a question of the Scravers’ choosing, the Scravers would tell Manx the whereabouts of his son. “The Gargoyle might tell you nine months from now,” Toth said, “and he might tell you in a hazy dream instead of in clear and actionable language. I can tell you where your son is today.”

Dean Patroclus Toth, Scravers Guild

Manx brooded over the offer. He countered that he would need solid proof that the Scravers knew whereof they spoke. “I’ll ask your question,” he said. “But when I return from Nowhere, you take me to my son. Then I’ll give you the answer.” Toth said he would need to check back with the rest of his Guild, but that the terms would probably be agreeable.

Back at the docks, Fannagus outlined the task the Engineers had set out for him. To his surprise, Deacon Nedeau volunteered to come along. “Only those with special dispensation may handle Republican tech,” she said. “I’d rather see it in your hands than anyone else’s.” Fannagus was relieved that the Avestite was willing to cooperate. Nedeau explained that she disliked the popular image of her order as fanatical, humorless flamethrowers.

Deacon Saundra Nedeau, Temple Avesti

And so Fannagus, his companion Ferezzio, and their fellow pilgrims Gwinn and Nedeau sped off into the east, a mere seven hours behind Sir Victor and Lady Corezza. Their destination: arcology 707C, filled with scavengers, predators, traps and the lore of the Second Republic.

Posted September 12, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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The Rules: Virtues and Vices   Leave a comment

Heroes have five Virtues.

Courage – Used for anything requiring valor and bravery.
Devotion – Used for anything requiring willpower or focus.
Spirit – Used for anything requiring energy and exertion.
Honor – Used for anything requiring pride or reputation.
Judgment – Used for anything requiring analysis or insight.

[I borrowed these from some abandoned notes I had for a game where the PCs used virtues instead of ability scores. So your Strength or Dexterity didn’t matter as much as your Courage did. This isn’t an original thought on my part, as far as I know.]

A Virtue is ranked from 0 to 3.

If you’re in a scene and one of your Virtues is relevant to what’s going on, you can add its rank in dice to your roll. Doing this reduces the Virtue by 1.

Every Virtue has a corresponding Vice.

Courage: Rage
Devotion: Obsession
Spirit: Madness
Honor: Conceit
Judgment: Subterfuge

The Vice is always ranked 3 minus the corresponding Virtue.

You can always invoke a Vice in any circumstance in which you’d normally invoke a Virtue. Doing this takes one die off of the Dying Stars pile. This does NOT reduce the Virtue or the Vice in rank.

[I’ll get into the Dying Stars later.

This took some explaining, but the players really liked it once they caught on. In FS:R2N, a Vice isn’t the inverse of a Virtue: it’s the Virtue taken to an extreme. You don’t sin in Courage by being cowardly; you sin in Courage by letting Rage take over. Doing your work with Spirit is a joy to the Creator; pursuing your work with Madness leads toward heresy. And so forth.

Note also that, in the original draft, Virtue naturally slides toward Vice but Vice does not return as easily toward Virtue. This underwent some changes during play. Limited beta, please sign the NDA, patent pending. 😉 ]

Posted September 8, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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Chapter One: Ladies in Hating (Part 1 of 2)   Leave a comment

Prologue

Our story begins in the investiture ceremony at the Basilica of the Sacred Name on Holy Terra. Archbishop Sigmond Drual, Syneculla to the Patriarch, led the ceremony, while the Patriarch dozed on the throne, occasionally rousing himself for a benediction. We meet our pilgrims properly for the first time. Captain Halford Manx, Apprentice Fannagus Hawthorne and Sir Victor Hyperius Swindon, we know already, but today we meet the remaining four pilgrims:

Brother Talisker Sand, mendicant friar, returned from preaching to the Kurga Caliphate;
Lady Corezza bin Hamoud al Malik, noble relic hunter and pleasure seeker;
Acolyte Huifang Gwinn, of the Brother Battle order of warrior monks;
Deacon Saundra Nedeau, Avestite Inquisitor.

As the mass went on, our heroes flashed back to conversations they’d had with their fellow pilgrims in the weeks leading up to the ceremony. Fannagus had actually cornered the Syneculla himself in the gardens of the Basilica compound. The dour priest dismissed his coterie in Latin, listening patiently while Fannagus expressed his gratitude for this opportunity. “You weren’t selected for your youth and curiosity,” Archbishop Drual said. “You were selected as a favor to the Engineers – a favor which we expect your order to one day repay.”

Archbishop Sigmond Drual

Victor caught up with Brother Sand, who had spent years preaching among the Kurgan worlds. The two of them reminisced about Castilo University on Ravenna, which Sand hadn’t seen for forty years. “The planet hasn’t changed much,” Victor said. “Architecturally. Culturally.” Sand gave Victor some friendly advice not to mention his friendship with the Eskatonic monk Fr. Flavian around the Inquisitor. The two orders don’t always get on so well.

Brother Talisker Sand

Captain Manx was able to get some time alone with Lady Corezza, escorting her to dinner one evening. He was so bold as to volunteer his desire to learn more about Ukar (a possible lead on his son’s whereabouts) and even to ask the noble lady for her help. Corezza was touched by the passion that drove Manx, and a bit of a sport as well. “I have some unfinished business on Ukar,” she said. “If our pilgrimage takes us there and you help me with it, I’ll help you find your contact.”

Lady Corezza also made time to talk to Victor. The two of them got on much more warmly. Corezza was surprised, but only cordially disappointed, to learn that Victor had postponed his betrothal to Lady Maryam Windsor. She sounded him out to see how much he was looking forward to this adventure and was apparently pleased with Victor’s answers.

Lady Corezza bin Hamoud al-Malik

Our heroes broke from their reverie as the mass ended. They were presented with a patriarchal bull by Archbishop Drual, sanctifying them as pilgrims on this sacred quest, charging any of the Faithful to give them all expedient aid and outlining a menu of indulgences available to any devout who donated alms to their task. Then they were ushered out the door.

This was a bit disheartening to Captain Manx and Apprentice Fannagus, who had hoped for an official Church starship and weren’t exactly flush with cash. Being a noble, Victor could pay his own way from Terra to the gates of Nowhere itself; being a minor noble, he couldn’t do the same for the other pilgrims. Brother Sand had no problem begging his way along (“that’s what ‘mendicant’ means, you know”) and Deacon Nedeau was content to wait for what aid the Creator provided. Which left the problem up to our heroes.

Captain Manx flexed his contacts in the agora, finding an accommodating Charioteer named Tomas. Tomas had just completed a run from Sutek, transporting some Second Republic relics of questionable legality, and didn’t want the added attention that human passengers would bring on the return trip. Manx, an experienced hand, pointed out some outdated regulations that Tomas could take advantage of. After hours of negotiation, Tomas agreed to take the pilgrims, provided Manx could cough up some firebirds.

Meanwhile, Fannagus returned to his quarters to find his companion, Ferezzio, fretting over his things. Apparently someone had been rifling his possessions, an observation which Fannagus confirmed by finding his tools out of order. The two of them went about securing their room: pressure sensors on the doors and windows and pinhole cameras embedded in the elaborate carvings. While in the gardens the next afternoon, the remote alarm went off for the pressure sensor: the intruder had returned! Oddly, the pinhole camera’s closed-circuit feed was obscured with static. The two Engineers sprinted through the garden to get back to their rooms, only to collide with Archbishop Drual near the fountains. By the time they’d picked up his coterie’s notes and apologized profusely, minutes had passed and the intruder was long gone.

Victor found Lady Corezza in her quarters and tried to sweet talk her into bankrolling the entire group. “This is the first pilgrimage in a century,” he said. “The eyes of the galaxy are on us.” Lady Corezza was unimpressed by Victor’s rhetorical prowess, however. “We could spend weeks in steerage with those tiresome pilgrims,” she said. “Or … you and I could take my private yacht to Sutek ourselves.”

Catching a glimpse of some of the provocative dresses that an al-Malik apparently considered suitable pilgrimage attire, Victor agreed.

Chapter One, Part 2 coming soon …

[In game terms, Manx won his challenge to secure passage to Sutek, but Fannagus and Victor lost their challenges. I made clear that the pilgrims wouldn’t be stranded on Terra if they failed the challenge, but that they wouldn’t get to leave on their own terms. So on whose terms could they leave?]

Posted September 5, 2011 by John Perich in Uncategorized

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