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Monday, October 13, 2014

Mini Adventure -- Think of the Children!

Running detective adventures with kids who are used to solve all problems by hacking them to pieces isn't easy. In the past, many of my attempts were less than successful. This adventure, however, seems to hit a home run each time (today I ran it for the 5th time) and is almost always over in 90 minutes. Perversely, it is grown up players who get stuck, struggling for hours or even days to solve the mystery of Bertha's death.

The setting for the adventure is not important. The below write up is for a pseudo-Victorian setting, but in the past, I've DMed essentially the same story in an Ancient Egyptian household, a Roma camp and a generic fantasy city.

Note: "Think of the Children!" is a little darker than the average kid game. It includes the off-screen death of a child and might include animal cruelty. If you feel these are not appropriate, feel free to replace the death with a coma and make it clear that the villain can be exorcised without the need to destroy the host body. 

Background
Our story begins with the PCs being invited by the wealthy patriarch of the Le Fanu family to investigate a mysterious condition afflicting his children. Two weeks ago, his daughter Bertha became lethargic and anemic. All forms of curative and mundane healing brought only short respites before her symptoms returned. Last week, she died. The following day, the younger daughter Laura started displaying similar syndromes.

Unless the PCs already have characters, I suggested giving each player 1-3 random divination spells for a total of eight spells for the entire party. This adventure is practically impossible to solve without detect magic. The ability to speak with animals makes it significantly easier to solve.

I use this map for the mansion (only without the collapsed walls). Because the adventure is a location-based mystery, it's impossible to predict the order and nature of encounters. How this story goes is 100% dependent on PC actions.


The household contains the following characters:

Adults
The Right Honourable Joseph Le Fanu, 7th Lord Clifford: the children’s authoritative father, a cold and imposing aristocrat whose stoic upbringing gives the impression of callousness or even cruelty.

Mina (née Arshanavat Van Helsing): the children’s grief-stricken mother, a gentle half-elf who finds it difficult to cope with the loss of her eldest child and the current condition of her youngest daughter.

Tagore: a meek and cowardly chef from the East, has a rather scary collection of exotic cookbooks (including one written for and by dragons) that he keeps for purely bibliophilic purposes.

Funny and Sunny: two mischievous maids who live in a tiny room, sleep on a bunk bed, and keep a secret pet rat named Milord. Their tricks antics are annoying and inappropriate, but ultimately harmless. If the PCs lacks magic users, you can give the two limited spellcasting ability and make Milord Funny's familiar.

Children
Bertha: dead and buried, her cat Tubby never left her side as she lay dying.

Laura: a graphomaniac diary keeper, presently drained of vitality to a condition of near catatonia. Only wakes up due to curative magic and languidly answers 1-3 questions before falling asleep again. Her cat Bandit never leaves her bed. Investigation will reveal small bites on her body, consistent with the fangs of her cat.

Max: an extraordinarily rude, spoiled and hotheaded boy with an equally belligerent parrot named Killer. Constantly plays the violin, terribly, in preparation of becoming a world renowned artist. Likes to bow before the mirror. Shouts at anyone asking him to do anything.

Jack: a nauseatingly friendly lad who works at the stables, wishes to help the PCs but has the intelligence of a chair and only shuts up in the presence of Lord Joseph. Lacks the intelligence to understand he's not wanted, not matter how meanly the PCs treat him. As long as he's with the PCs, stealth is impossible.



Pets
Tubby: Bertha’s orange cat, skulks about the second floor, obviously depressed.

Bandit: Laura’s giant Angora cat, never leaves her bed, currently possessed by Count Orlok, who uses the fat cat to drain the girl's blood.

Milord: Funny and Sunny’s pet rat, lives inside a locked box in their room. If Milord is used as a familiar, then it can help the PCs as a spy. It can also report that something is off with the household animals.

Killer: an ornery parrot that lives in an open cage in Sheriden’s room, knows lots of curse words and uses them liberally and at the most inappropriate times. If attacked, he flees to the lord's study, telling on the PCs with his limited vocabulary.

Dog: the lord’s wolfhound. Joseph is not so sentimental as to name his animals. Obligingly, the dog is also lacking in any character traits except for mindless loyalty to his master. Dog is the most powerful animal in the house and can be used as an antagonist for a final climatic battle against Count Orlok.

Villain
Count Orlok: the ghost of a vampire Mina’s father dispatched more than a century ago. While powerless by himself, he found that he can possess animals and use them to drain blood. He can jump from a body to body as a move equivalent action, provided that the animals are alive, and no more than 10 meters apart. If the animal he possesses is killed, immersed in holy water, or targeted by turn undead, he’s forced to manifest. If this happens during daylight, he’s automatically destroyed and the day is won. If manifested during the night, he must be destroyed by some other means. Anything affecting a normal vampire also affects Count Orlok. One group defeated him by spilling rice (which he was obliged to count) until sunrise. I thought it was pretty clever.

It takes Count Orlok a week to fully drain a child. While in animal form, he can use sleep and charm person as gaze attacks, or by licking his victim. He can also use any natural attack the animal has. However, the Count uses violence only as a last resort as he knows how vulnerable a small animal’s body is. Instead, he jumps from body to body, tries to frame the servants and, if all seems lost, tries to flee the mansion in the body of some stray animal.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Be your own God

Gheos is a rather brilliant board game where players take on the roles of deities who reshape the world and start genocidal wars and mass migrations to gain more followers and power. A friend suggested running a Gheos game and using the resultant world as a campaign setting for a series of short games, possibly of the 90 minute challenge variety.



Each player should decide what kind of deity they are, which would later suggest the kind of adventure they’ll run. Now, races in the game are only characterized by color (white, black, yellow, blue, green, red) but for this game, when a race is created, its creator should also choose its type (green could be orcs, lizardfolk or tree people, f.e).

The player chosen to DM should send the PCs on an improvised divine quest across the created world. The quest is inspired by the player's deity's portfolio, the history of the board game and the current geography.

This is only a basic idea at this point, but I already like it, so expect updates soon :)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Tales from an Israeli Storyteller

So my first crowd-funded book is finally commercially available for your pleasure and entertainment. I am super excited (and a little terrified) about this. While I was published many times in the past by Paizo, Wizards, Mongoose, Frog God and others, Tales from an Israeli Storyteller is my first self-published work. This is the first time that I get to play with themes and ideas that are wholly my own. This is the first time I get to choose my editor. This is the first time I get to tell great artists like Hugo Solis and Stav Levi what I want...ish.


Amazon
DriveThruFiction
GoodReads

Right now the book is only available electronically. I am waiting for a proof copy from amazon. If it's shiny and pretty, the softcover edition will become available on October 1.

If you've already read the book, please consider leaving a review. If you have a blog and would like to get a copy for review purposes, please contact me.

Uri out.

Crawls back to the sewers to complete RATS!


Saturday, July 26, 2014

Mini-Adventure -- In Medias Res

I ran a rather unusual adventure last night and thought I’d share it with the good people of the internet. The adventure is presented in a very bare form so that you could suit it to whatever genre/ system you’re using. Also, I’m lazy.

If you run this one, please let me know how it went :)

Premise:
This adventure starts in medias res with no player knowledge whatsoever. The players get blank sheets for characters and the first words they hear are purely mechanical actions such as “make a reflex saving throw” or “roll an attack” without any descriptions attached to them. On the first round, the players do not choose their actions. Instead, each character completes an action that might be an attack against another character, a healing spell, a hide check and so forth.

Only after each character has completed its action, do the players take over. Even at this point, do not volunteer any information about the characters or their surroundings. The players have to ask everything explicitly, including how they look like, where they are and what items do they have.

At the end of each turn, each player rolls a 1d10. On a roll of 10, he receives his character slip (see below). On a second roll of 10, he regains full access to his memories, which may result in him also getting additional powers (f.e, a wizard now knows all his spells).

Location:
The PCs are on the bridge of a fantasy space ship damaged by fighting. I used these deck plans from Spelljammer. However, you can find many other deck plans in Traveller books, Wizards map gallery or the original Spelljammer.


What’s really going on?
Vampires have taken over a human colony and reduced the colonists to helpless blood sources. A group of heroes led by a wizard (Captain Dreber) raided the planet on an unmarked spaceship and snatched one of the “human groves;” a giant machine made of dozens of “human trees” designed to keep hundreds of humans alive but comatose. Dreber’s orders are to take the prisoners back to a nearby human planet outside of vampire space for rehabilitation. Presently, the grove is stored in the cargo bay.

A vampire regent (Lord Herzog) found out about the theft and decided to raid the ship with his private crew, his plan being to keep the prize for himself while blaming the theft on the humans. Captain Dreber, however, also had treason on his mind. He wanted to erase everybody's memory so he could then tell the crew and the prisoners that they are colonists under his command and to establish a new civilization on a hostile planet he’d discovered and where he’d be as god.

Unfortunately for all parties involved, the ship was attacked just as Captain Dreber was completing his memory wiping spell. His anti-magic space suit was damaged, causing him to forget everything as well. The spell was extremely potent – not only did it erase the last three days from all human minds; it also affected the undead attackers, the ship’s artificial intelligence and even private journals.

Who’s Who?
Vampires are completely naked except for exotic jewelry and fearsome tribal tattoos all over their pale flesh. Their leader looks the same except that his jewels are more expensive and his tattoos are gothic rather than tribal. Many of Jewels are magical items.

Crew members are in various states of battle dress, since they were attacked suddenly. All have HAU badges on their chest. Generally, they appear as classic fantasy warriors with good magical equipment and various degrees of injury.

The captain is in full battle readiness since he was almost ready to complete his scheme when the vampires attack. There’s a large hole in his space suit, just above his heart. He is unharmed however, and has several protective spells affecting him.

Characters are assigned to players randomly. I used a deck of playing cards for this, but rolling dice or handing slips would also work. Feel free to make some characters NPCs to give you another tool to control the plot.

King of Spades
You are Lord Herzog, a vampire regent from a great clan, old in honor. With your vampire spawns, you raided this human ship in the hopes of stealing back the human chattel these insolent thieves stole from a rival clan and secretly using them to empower your clan.

10 of Spades
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

9 of Spades
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

10 of Clubs
You are the spawn of the vampire lord Herzog. Yours is not to wonder why. Yours is to do or die.

Jack of Hearts
You are Captain Dreber. You are a wizard who commands a vessel sent from your home planet to rescue colonists from a planet overtaken by vampires. However, you have no intention of taking them back home. Instead, you want to wipe out their memory and take them to a new planet where you will rule them as God.

4 of Hearts
You are a fighter of HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

7 of Diamonds
You are a fighter of the secret HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

10 of Diamonds
You are a fighter of the secret HAU (Humans Against Undead) organization, a secret society dedicated to rescuing humans from the vampire clans and rehabilitating them on mortal planets.

You can also include colonists, although these are less fun to play because they lack any cool combat abilities:

Any 2/ Any 2
You are a common human colonist. You world was overtaken by vampires. You were stripped of your humanity and dignity and turned into little more than a blood storage unit in a vast blood farm.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mini Adventure -- Moon Hunter

I ran this sci-fi investigation scenario twice in the past year. Once with grown-ups and once with teens. The latter solved it in about three hours. The former are still in the dark. Alas, good role-playing often stands in the way of good police work.


PC Info

Earth 2084 is a feudal, space-faring society that has constructed scientific and mining colonies on numerous planets in the solar system, including on Saturn’s moon, Ganymede. Our story takes place on Lunar Mining Colony 5296c, a joint venture by Baron Freidrich von Siemens and industrialist Zheng Xiu Wong. Last week, the Baron received the below message from his vassal on the mining colony, knight-engineer Jonathan Ronalds:

your grace several dead chinese dont care send help jr

As you are the Baron’s nearest retainers, presently wrapping up a mission on Saturn, you’re sent to investigate the old knight’s cryptic message.

DM Info

Lunar Mining Colony 5296c is home to about 300 people including workers, administration, server providers and licensed merchants. It transports ores to earth using an innovative magnetic rail that functions as an orbital slingshot. The rail is powered by a unique energy source patented by Golden Tiger ltd., a company controlled by Mr. Wong. The rail works for 30 minutes every Monday.

NPCs 

  • Hun Wei Bin, Mr. Wong’s son-in-law, is the manager of the operation. Wong is also in charge of counter-espionage, a role he fulfills too enthusiastically.
  • Ser Manuel Gershwin and his six sworn guns are in charge of discipline and security. Manuel is chivalrous, gallant, ultra-conservative and dumb as a rock.
  • Doctor Nori Hakamada doubles as chief physician and science officer, a position maintained as a rubber stamp against EK (European Kingdom) regulations. She intelligent, aloof and
  • Workers mostly include low-risk prisoners from Earth, serfs of von Siemens and a small number of German and Chinese specialists.

Victims

  • Jenny (last name unknown), drifter (month ago)
  • Michael Philips, quality assurance (two weeks ago)
  • Ahmad Toshiba, cargo operator (week ago)
  • No one died three weeks ago due to slingshot malfunction that took a week to fix.

The Problem

Every time the mysterious energy source is tapped, it summons an alien hunter (I used gibbering mouther) somewhere within 100 meters of the rail. The thing kills humans and removes their tongues and eyes for some perverse inexplicable reason. All victims are partially sunken in hard rock and present signs of irrational behavior prior to death such as punching random objects, undressing or writing nonsense on the floor. While their eyes and tongues have been roughly removed, the cause of death is electrocution.
Both Hun and Nori suspect there’s something alien at work. Both agreed last week to keep their mouths shut and sabotage future investigations. Hun wants to impress his father-in-law to get a better job, and a string of murders is hardly a point in his favor. Nori has great scientific curiosity and little regard to the lives of criminals and drifters. 
 Manuel blames Muslim terrorists because so far no evidence has been uncovered to suggest anything else.

Clues

  • Videos from the attacks are missing and records of operations have been deleted as well. Only Hun, Nori and Manuel have access to videos.
  • Nori is researching a “new micro-organism” which is really a trace amount of the gibbering mouther.
  • Cargo operators all agree that odd gibbering sounds are heard when the railing is on, however, Hun suggested this is the result of drugs and threatened to fire them if they mentioned this again.
  • If pressed, Hun will confess that the energy source is a previously unknown element uncovered by his father-in-law on the fringes of the solar system.

Events

  • During the investigation, Hun will send some of his goons to fake an alien attack when the rail is off. While the eyes and tongue will be removed, the cause of death would be a blunt instrument blow to the back of the head.
  • If the ploy doesn’t work, Nori will try to poison the PCs by offering the cook narcotics in return for spiking the PCs’ food. The cook will then die of an "accidental" overdose.
  • If is doesn’t work as well, Hun will invite PCs to a meeting on the surface of the moon, where several of his trusted goons will attack them.

Conclusion

  • If faced with arrest, Hun will surrender and hope his connections will save him.
  • If faced with arrest, Nori will kill herself, leaving behind a haiku:
Research of cosmos
Demanded great sacrifice
I depart wiser

Thursday, May 8, 2014

90 minute challenge strikes back!

Since my main projects are a bit stuck at the moment, I thought I'd use the break to share a few short adventures with you. Most of these are former 90 minute challenges (pro tip: it's never 90 minutes...) while others are single session stories (pro tip: it's never a single session). Some of these I already ran. Others never left the drawing table.
I'll be presenting these adventures in very general lines and without concrete mechanics. Hopefully, due to these little games' small scope, you won't have troubles completing them on your own. Anyhow, here's what to expect in the following months:
  • A near future investigation of a series of ghastly death on Titan.
  • A Gothic tale about a mysterious malaise afflicting three young ladies.
  • A biblical quest in the service of the Bible's coolest lady -- the Judge Deborah.
  • An encounter with a powerful guard golem following poorly worded orders.
  • A romantic adventure involving jinns and magic in a vast Arab bazaar.
  • A bloody escape from a hospital ran by a sect of murdering psychopaths.
  • A problem book causing all sorts of supernatural problems to an isolated desert tribe.
Now, for most 90 minute challenges, I use a very basic mechanic that works as follows: write down four things you're good at (your traits). These are both your abilities and your hit points. Tests are d6-based with difficulties ranging from 4 to 6. If the test is relevant to any of your abilities, you may re-roll once per encounter. Each time you fail in a high stake test, you lose one trait of your choice. This is the entire system. There isn't much you can do with it, but then again, given a 90 minute time frame, you don't want to be wasting any more time on character generation and rules exposition than you have to.

Werebook by the magnificent Hugo Solis!
While I drum up the first of these adventures, feel free to depress your players with last year's A Tree in the Forest. As always, if you think this has a happy ending, well, you probably just don't know me very well.
Also, if you didn't yet give it a look. We published a beta adventure for our RATS! game. It's got gorgeous art from Stav & Yan, awesome maps from Aviv and a whole lot of ratty goodness. Theoretically speaking, it could have a happy ending, but I wouldn't be counting on it...

That's it for now.

Stay awesome, my friends.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Studies in Underage Vampirism #3

A group of kids wakes up in a bloody cellar. They don't remember anything from the last 24 hours. They don't know it yet, but their young lives are already over. They are vampires.

Two years ago, I wrote about a vampire game I ran with kids who proved to be mature and intelligent enough to deal with the harsh theme. Alas, the challenges of life prevented me from finishing the tale. I say alas, because this means that you’ll never find out how it ended. That being said, you know what they say about happy endings and paying attention, so there’s that. Oh, and the Giovanni were involved, so there’s that too.

However, I will tell you what happened with my short vampire game this year. It’s quite the opposite of last year’s game and in my opinion and much better example of roleplaying.

It started just like the previous game, with the exception of having less violence and more digging. Thus, to save time, I’ll skip to the point where the PCs won the right to exist and received their first real mission – to find and destroy a vampire hunter active in a nearby city.

First of all, the starved kids had to feed. Most kids found victims easily enough; some with glee that had cost them Humanity points, others with a heavy heart and with some degree of compassion. It can be taken as a supreme testimony of their high-mindedness that they chose to spend XP to return their Humanity to high levels instead of gaining cool new powers. This is in sharp contrast to last year’s group, which chose to accept its damnation with murderous joy that led to a self-destructive orgy of death and destruction. And Giovanni. Lots and lots of Giovanni.

Art by Carlos
One of the kids came upon two young siblings sitting on a bench and going over board games and D&D books they got for their birthday. At this point, something broke and he decided that he didn’t want to be a vampire anymore. To this end, he separated from the main group and, using a combination of tear-jacking theatrics and the Presence discipline, got the aptly named Fosters family to adopt him. Once he got a room in their basement, he went out of his way to be a good boy, have the kids’ mother call him “son,” and spare the family his monstrous nature. He even went so far as to design a secret exist so that his new family wouldn’t know that he went out seeking human blood at nights.

At the other end of the spectrum was a boy who, while not succumbing to the Beast, nevertheless came to terms with it. He dug himself a little warren in an abandoned park and bit people freely (though still taking care not to kill anyone) before fleeing with Celerity. It was this kid who became the leader of the group, while the Foster orphan took the role of the wise loner to whom the group occasionally came for advice.

Preying and constructing shelters has taken an entire session because I insisted on roleplaying each feeding encounter. I am sick and tired of vampires being superheroes in gothic colors and I’ll be damned if I contribute to this trend. In my game, the Embrace is a curse and I made sure the kids experienced every iota of their damnation.

After feeding and finding safe havens for the night, the group finally went on a mission to hunt the Hunter. After long time spent wandering the streets and eavesdropping on police stations, insane asylums and a nearby army base, the group decided to use Animalism to get as many urban animals as possible to report on any unusual human behavior. After a while, a rat returned with news. A dirty, disheveled homeless man was seen carrying a shiny sword that shone like the sun.

At the same time, the Foster orphan decided to invest all XP he got into Science in order to find a cure for cancer. Yeah, it’s a cliché, but one has to appreciate the intention. Breaking into labs at night to conduct his research, he also started looking for a cure for the vampiric condition. And, if you think THIS has a happy ending, you REALLY haven’t been paying attention.

Art by Pierre-Etienne Travers

The rest of the group banded together to deal with the hunter and win their rightful place in Camarilla society. While en route to the spot where the Hunter was last seen, one of the kids had a pang of conscious and decided that he wanted to make it up to one of his previous victims – a young pregnant woman whom he attacked the night before, causing minor injuries. He knocked on her door, offering his services as a guardian or healer. His offers of help were met with shouts of “Help! Help! This is the crazy kid that attacked me last night! Somebody call the police!”

He ran away… right into the blade of the Hunter. The old adage proved to be true once again – No good deed goes unpunished.

A bloody battle ensued in which the group won, though not without losing much blood and resources. Even a crazy, hungry Hunter is still a threat to be reckoned with.

I am sorry to say, that while it was my intention to finish the story arc with this climatic encounter, the group insisted on pursuing their quests further. The Foster orphan tragically misunderstood Golconda as a geographical location in India and decided he wants to get his new family fly him there. The rest of the group wanted to investigate further into Hunter activity and find out where these strange men get their powers from.

Vampires!