Wednesday, October 27, 2010

In Which The Warlock Loads the Ballistae...

With my "Tear of Ioun" game about to come to a close and our intrepid heroes closing in on that wonderous goal of becoming 'Epic', I knew that I wanted to end the campaign with a bang.  I wanted something big, something that would pit my GMing craft and creativity against their own.  I wanted a "set-piece" battle.

The idea of a set-piece battle isn't a new one.  It's featured in movie after movie, from "The Burly Brawl" in Matrix: Reloaded, the siege at Helm's Deep in The Two Towers, to the battle at Stirling from Braveheart...the idea of the set-piece battle is firmly entrenched in action narrative.

However, implementing that in a game?  More difficult.  However, I had a plan.

Last session, Martook, Guf, and Clan-Father Russell (isn't it cool to say that?) began surveying the tiefling keep above the delve of Morgordal, seeing what defenses could be salvaged or repaired before Volarn--the Opener of the Way--showed up with his mind-bending aberrent hordes.  Lupin, Shantira, Aster and "Blink"--their shardmind monk devotee--had traveled back to Gloomwrought in the hopes of establishing a trade relationship with some interplanar factions, so that they could work towards hiring mercenary troops.

At this point, I need to take an aside.  Remember my Origins 2010 swag shot?  In it, you may have missed two items that I had picked up:

Yes, indeedy.  I had picked up two sets of these, at the SJGames booth, having found them on the 3/$10 table. 

I stood up, handing Chris I and Chris II the Cardboard Heroes set, and dropped my entire set of Dungeon Tiles on the table before them.   
"These are yours, guys.  You want to know what the defenses are like?  Build them..."

They immediately set to work, punching out cardboard walls and battlements, assembling the Keep at Morgordal, while their allies recruited the Knighthood of Bane and the Salt faction of the Doomguard to aid their defense.  A few hours later, their keep arose from the ashes of history and was prepared to fend off the Far Realm invasion!

Two Fridays hence, the siege begins, Volarn at the head....and then?  He comes...

Enjoy the pics!

The Keep at Morgordal Delve

Martook and Shantira man the battlements...

Volarn and one of his minions approach the keep...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

In Which the Warlock Crowns a New King...

With my weekly "Tear of Ioun" game in its final stages, the drama of the game has really reached a head.  After a climactic encounter with the mad tiefling Malachi, my players found themselves heading back to the ancient forgeborn-dwarf clandelve known as Morgordal, situation beneath an ancient fortress from the Last War.  It's there that Russell Ironvictor--Judgement-Bringer of Kelemvor--brought forth his finest moment.

When Friday Night Will sent me a background that involved the destruction of his dwarf, Russell's, clan, I knew I immediately had to do something special with it.  As his character's motivation revolved around rebuilding the clandelve, I decided to capitalize on this section.  While immersed in the city of Gloomwrought, on the Shadowfell, Russell was contacted by his clan-brother Thorgrim.  In Russell's abscence, the clan refugees managed to find their way to Morgordal, where they were in talks to join the clans of Ironvictor (Russell's sundered clan) and Riftember (the native forgeborn, who were trapped in a cycle of inbreeding and extreme poverty).

After the party defeated Malachi, they traveled to Morgordal, only to find themselves entrenched in a difficult political situation.  With Kharhandas Riftember unwilling to abdicate--despite the fact that he no longer desired the throne--and Russell's old clan-father, Naldrund, lusting after the combined throne, Russell's arrival through a cog into the loop.  As the most powerful spiritual leader in the area, Russell's influence and healing ability was felt almost immediately.

It's at this point that I have to take an aside.  While I've felt really positive about the "Tear of Ioun" game thusfar, the roleplaying had yet to really hit its stride.  Last session, all that changed.

You see, the PlatinumChick's character--a shifter seeker called Aster--had become massively disillusioned by the group's arrest in Wellspring and the subsequent siege, eventually joining the Church of Bane while in Gloomwrought.  While shadowing Naldrund following a massive religious ceremony, Aster was knocked unconscious, with part of her ear cut off and sent to the party as a threat.  The PlatinumChick's response?  Not unlike the vengeful "Bride" from Kill Bill, she lashed out at her captors--Naldrund's henchmen, of course--with Bane-inspired rage.

But that wasn't the half of it.  With Aster's captors subdued, the group summoned Kharhandas and marched on Naldrund's manor house at the top of "The Shelf"--the noble district in Morgordal.  It was there that Russell reached for his destiny.

In a tense stand-off with Naldrund within Russell's rebuilt temple, Russell confronted his clanfather.  Naldrund feigned disintest, proclaiming his sovereignty and sanctuary within the halls of Moradin. 

Snidely, he quipped, "What can you pass over me, Judgement-Bringer?  I am the voice of our clan, our people."
Russell paused, the soft green glow of Maerlyn's Emeralds shining at his waist, "But you forget.  I am the voice of our gods.  And your crimes demand judgement."

I was floored.  As a GM, I could do little more than applaud.  Naldrund cast aside his symbol of Moradin, throwing down his crown to the temple floor.  The group pitied him and, rather than execute him--as Aster sought, further accentuating her fall from grace--they exiled him to the Shadowfell. In terms of actual role-playing, this was absolutely one of the most dramatic, powerful scenes I think I've ever been witness to. It took almost a year to get here, but man: the payoff was worth it!

Our session ended with Kharhandas' abdication in favor of Russell, who now ascends to the throne of the combined Ironvictor/Riftember clans.  A new era of peace and prosperity seems to be on the horizon as Belzadi Riftember--an Invoker of Kossuth--showed Russell the true wealth of Morgordal:  a series of untapped mineral deposits worth literally millions on the open market.  With the (still secret) aid of Wesley Baracus, High Templar of Bane, it appears that brighter days for Morgordal will be on the horizon soon...

Or will they?  He comes...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

In Which The Warlock Levels Up...

I debated quite a bit about this entry, as it's not every day that you hit a milestone! I've had this blog active for quite a while now and, at one entry per week (more during Origins and other live-blogging moments), that makes for four solid years of entries!

200 Entries!

I received several really good suggestions from the PlatinumChick, from Chaotic Karl, Kat, and a few others, but none of them seemed to fit. I had thought about doing a "how did you get into gaming?" entry, but in a blog that's been focusing on newness and innovation in gaming, it seemed like a needless bit of navel-gazing on my part to look back like that. Instead, I'm going to make a few announcements, and show off my preview of "The Pendulum Method"!

--2 Entries a Week. Starting in November, I'd like to try to push out more content and more ideas on a weekly basis. I feel like this will bring in more readership, as well as provide you with more ideas, fresh from my twisted brain. I have yet to choose a second day yet, but I'm guessing it'll probably be a Wednesday/Saturday schedule at this point

--Full Campaign Logs. This is where this blog started off, and I don't mean to get away from that. Besides, the very sessions that we have out here easily become fodder for ideas, adventure hooks, and NPCs in your own games.

--More Previews up Upcoming Content. This one's for me. As I drift from project to project, I have the tendency to leave behind the things that I've been working on, and I don't intend to keep leaving them half-finished. In promising to show you some of my brainchildren, that'll keep me on the ball in terms of revision and (re)drafting, which means that I'll sooner be able to focus on publication.

And, speaking of a preview, here's a section from one of the sample adventure outlines that I'll be including in "The Pendulum Method", once it hits PDF! Enjoy Vegas Nights, Bright Lights, and Encryption Chip 416!

Adventure Overview:
This scenario centers on a lucrative goal for the PCs—a Las Vegas casino vault, which is set to be the site of a massive funds transfer between mafia functionaries. As an elite group of highly-trained, accomplished rogues, the PCs have decided to pool their talents as the “Men in White” in the hopes to disrupt the funds transfer, elude the mob, and make off with the funds themselves.

Reservoir Dogs

That is, that’s what the plot would be, if this was a standard adventure. This, friends and neighbors, is a Pendulum-style plot, which means that there’s more to it than meets the eye! Rather, the PCs will simultaneously be playing the group’s “electronic ops” group as well, the “Men in Black,” as they attempt to remotely disable the casino’s security system…from its owners’ corporate headquarters in Hong Kong.

Film Inspirations and Recommended Game Systems:
• Ocean’s Eleven
• Reservoir Dogs
• Snatch
• Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels
• Inception
• Sexy Beast
• The Italian Job

There are several game systems that would be more than acceptable for this sort of game. The d20 Modern system has several sourcebooks (including the spectacular Spycraft book by AEG and Crafty Games) that would serve admirably in this venue. Pinnacle Entertainment Group’s Savage Worlds would also work well, as would Shadowrun, though the cyberpunk elements may need to be downplayed, given a modern aesthetic. Other generic systems, such as GURPS, may be fitting, as well.
For a d20 Modern game, pre-generated characters should be of approximately 9th level. In Savage Worlds, Veteran would be an acceptable experience level. As always, the GM should have final say over level and experience regarding characters, whether pre-generated or player-generated.

Encounter (-2)—Introducing the Men in White

The PCs should begin this encounter, quite literally, as they walk into the Casino. Having “prepared” prior to their infiltration, the group is in full-on action mode. As part of their final preparations, they have a private suite set aside at the Excalibur Casino and Resort in Las Vegas, held under a false name. After some brief meetings—during which the GM may distribute floor layouts, guard schedules, money transfers, and other information, the PCs may swing into action. However, as they attempt to delve deeper into the casino’s basement and sub-basements, a steel security bars their path…

Encounter 1—White Light’s Dark Shadow

Immediately, the scene changes to a simultaneous operation, far across the world. There, the Men in Black are laying in wait within a darkened warehouse across from the Shun Tak Holdings corporate headquarters. The headquarters is heavily guarded, with armed guards roving the perimeter (as befits a major Chinese corporation). Inside, on the headquarters’ 46th floor, is the remote server room. In order for the Men in White to succeed, it’s critical that the Men in Black hack that server…and do it stealthily. As the PCs make their way through the lobby area, entering the stairwells, the GM should enter a cut scene: A silent alarm has been tripped during their ascent.

The Heist

Encounter (-1)—The Missing Link

With that dire news, the Men in White make their way through the security door. At this point, stealth is of the essence, as mafia guards and flunkies patrol this area heavily. The PCs’ goal at this point should be a side room just outside of a major conference room, which has a series of computer terminals, brightly humming. These are their target—these computers will be used to transfer the funds at precisely 6pm this evening. As the PCs find ways to distract or eliminate the mafia members, their computer-using-comrade runs into a massive snag: a remote encryption chip is relaying a signal that bars the transfer to all those without the 18 digit passcode. The only way to complete the transfer? Find Encryption Chip 416 somewhere within the casino and destroy it!

Encounter 2—Race to the Top

As the Shun Tak security forces close in on the group’s position, thanks to the silent alarm, they receive an urgent message from the Men in White. With the funds transfer being encrypted from a remote transmitter, the Men in Black must not only hack the server on floor 46, but also find a way to trace the signal from the encryption chip, so that it can be eliminated or neutralized. The group must split up, with some members moving up a floor, while the others work their way through the server room. In both cases, the group must manage to both disable the security protocols on the Excalibur’s network, as well as locate the enigmatic chip.

Encounter 0—Follow the Bouncing Ball

At this point, all but madness ensues. With the mafia and the Shun Tak guards knocking on their doorstep, all bets are off. The Men in White must split up and both man the station to initiate the funds transfer and find the missing chip, destroying it before 6pm. The Men in Black must keep in radio contact with the Men in White, so that they can find the chip, while simultaneously pulling down the Shun Tak security protocols. All this while the men with guns move in!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

In Which The Warlock Swings Both Ways...

So, in my (admittedly small and feeble) attempts to keep gaming fresh and inspired in the Dayton area, I believe I've finally stumbled across something that might just be a diamond in the massive slag pits of my brain.

And, believe it or came to me in a dream!

While I was editing WEGS: Dice Rule!, one of El Willy's biggest points of discussion was that of adventuring structure. El Willy spends nearly a full chapter discussing the three primary forms of WEGSplay--"Wave" play (the standard, three encounter 'convention' game), "Chapter" play (an extension of Wave play, including three chapters of three waves each), and "Campaign" play (a combination of several chapters into an extended ongoing storyline).

El Willy's discussion is really a fantastic breakdown and review of standard plotting technique. WEGS runs hot and heavy on the "standard fantasy tropes", but does so intentionally, so that the GM/Kreator is free to place his tongue firmly in-cheek and provide fresh, WEGSified views on old classics. That's an advantage for WEGS (and games like it), but what if you want to push a little further?

Plot is typically outlined in a pyramidal format--the traditional dramatic structure of:
Freytag Dramatic Structure Pyramid
--rising action
--falling action
Typically, in a gaming adventure, the climax revolves around some "boss fight" against a BBEG, with the falling action and denouement becoming a stereotypical process of "save the princess, loot the bodies."

That's all well and good. But it's time to give it the chop!
"Down--still unceasingly, still inevitably down!

Rather, I've come up with a unique way of telling stories--one that really hasn't come before, especially in terms of adventure writing! Centered primarily around the build-up of tension leading up to a central, pivotal moment, the Pendulum method alternates between times or places, allowing (and even encouraging) players to blend in-character and out-of-character knowledge as they approach their final destinies. As the pendulum descends, who will rise?

I'm only in the early development stages of this idea--I have about 8 pages written, and am currently working on sample adventures that fit the Pendulum formula. Is it a replacement for the standard plot outline? No, absolutely not, but it's a fresh new direction in terms of plot generation and adventure writing that could really change things up, especially in the horror, fantasy, and sci-fi genres!

On a more serious note, though, I'm going to get up on my soapbox for a moment. Much like gamer nation, America as a whole has a tendency to fear change. It took us almost 100 years longer to abolish slavery than any other Western nation. Even then, racial and gender-based discrimination were the norm for over 125 years, until LBJ pushed forward the Civil Rights Act in 1968.

International Coming Out Day

Now, we face a new fight. The gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered community fights unceasingly for the rights that millions of others enjoy without thought or consequence: the right to marry, the right to adopt, the right to be free of harassment or persecution for personal beliefs. Each year, the Human Rights Campaign sponsors National Coming Out Day to provide strength for all people, as we fight for equal rights in the community.

If you're among the GLBT community, have strength--we will continue the fight.
If you're a friend of a GLBT person, show us your support--we appreciate it more than you know.
If you stand against us, give a second thought--we only ask for the same rights as others already receive.