Thursday, 13 April 2017

2G2BT Playtest

We squeezed a quick 2G2BT playtest after tonight's session of Blades, and it was fun, weird, and very informative.

There was only an hour or so to knock it out, but the group had all read the rules beforehand and had a good idea of what playbooks they wanted, so setup was lightning quick.

They named their new mercenary company the Hammer of the Gods, and since nobody picked up the Commander playbook, they wound up with a Favored but Vengeful NPC commander, 'Thor'.  His connections with the Darnan Republic (their first deployment) meant he could pull strings when the company is in trouble, but tends to pursue revenge side objectives.

The whole crew chose Dendrite-native sim-babies as heritages (pilots whose experience is primary in simulations), and decided to be triplets. They had a Lieutenant (Mike), a Rigger (Tim) and a weirdo Prodigy (Stephen), but with a Veteran (Sean) as their connection to actual battlefield experience.

Holy crap did I put a lot of shit in this game. It's a weird experience when writing outpaces the play by so far.  Playbooks means the players can actually take a lot of responsibility for bringing it in, which is fantastic, but the surprises kept coming.

Stephen: Okay, turns out I did my stats wrong. The Prodigy's stats are randomly assigned during play, as I use them.
Me: Wtf?! I wrote that?
Mike: I love that!

Things like that kept happening. It was pretty delightful, actually.

We chose to play the branching campaign, the Darnan Offensive.  The players didn't like the sound of being shot to pieces by Exo in City 31, so they chose mission 'B', "Last Train from RHF".

Stimulus Overload
Normally I'm pretty good at providing a sense of place with lots of ad libbed details, but I was a little overwhelmed by first playtest syndrome to be my creative best while getting my head around an unfamiliar set of basic moves - the net effect was that the scenario was a little too simple.

Part of that was just the nature of the time we had. The players had rolled a starting "SNAFU" of 2, which gave me plenty of opportunity to bring in enemy reinforcements or other fuckery, but I chose not to for time.  As a result, the mission was basically a one-location mission, which is too simple for an abstract, theatre-of-the-mind battlefield.

Despite that, the mechanics worked basically as expected. (That's not too surprising, as the basic core is pretty familiar from our games of The Regiment.)

Turns out that four York 6A tanks are a speed bump against TL IV mechs. :)

Some lessons and likely changes.

Downtime Procedure
The crew managed to roll a Dropship For Sale as their post-mission opportunity, which immediately kicked off a frenzied shell game of trying to figure out what they could sell in order to make it work. They had a fat-bellied Regent dropship as their starting gear, but they cashed it all in for a zeroed-out Troll, which has enough capacity that they won't have to depend on Republic VTOLs.

This was pretty fun - watching the players toss everything aside to try to take up a rare opportunity was golden, and very much in-genre.

On the other hand, I'm wary of shell games, as they can lead to a lot of fiddling and possibly analysis paralysis. I think a much clearer downtime procedure would be helpful, something like:

  1. Make the opportunity roll to see what's up
  2. Apply theater employment terms, in order
  3. Repair should come before purchase - there's no time to broker a deal for a new dropship, obtain it and use the base techs to patch it up before next mission. The suspense is probably more fun that way.
  4. Rearming should probably be last, because you might have changed mechs.

Technology Level Set
One of the problems that both magic and sci-fi technology suffer from in rules light systems is that there are no real-world expectations to calibrate against. I know roughly what a guy with a sword can accomplish, not so someone with 'shadow magic'. Do mech optics see heat signatures through buildings? Can an Iguana's railgun shoot straight through the skeleton of a nuked office tower? How big are mechs, anyways?

Not enough ways to spend SNAFU
I'm not 100% sure about this one, since there was only the one engagement, but the Veteran was complaining that there wasn't really a great way for him to apply his special xp move, burning two SNAFU on a roll.

Maybe this isn't necessary when we're doing something other than toy missions: in a two- or three-encounter mission, there are at least four SNAFU opportunities (five if there's a briefing roll too).

Briefing Tables
Since RPGs are very low bandwidth, one of the challenging situations is when players stumble on a huge vista - you now have to convey quite a lot of information all at once. One idea that seems very promising is a set of briefing tables, to do a few useful things:

  • Give another opportunity to spend SNAFU - cash one in to get a really shite briefing
  • Give the GM and players some shared opportunity to add texture to the battlefield. Okay, we know there's AA, or we don't, but know we're all at least thinking about AA as something to consider when deciding where we're
  • Give a few named places on the battlefield - a candidate LZ, an easy to reach spot, a tactically useful spot, a likely location for enemy reinforcements, a place with lots of cover, etc.

I think it's useful to bring the time complication up to the 7-9 option.

What makes way more sense than an NPC commander is an NPC patron for the deployment theater. I think that would provide a much more economical way to expose players to the fuckery of the Darnan Republic, and keeps the NPC commander from being an intermediary that shields players from that.

I think pilots should wear out. Getting hurt should be scarier.  Health shouldn't feel like hit points that recover easily after each mission, but jarring concussions that stop you sleeping and eventually give you really bad stuff like Parkinson's.

Complicated weapon is complicated
The Hellhound's 2x 1d Twin 15mm AC is unnecessarily fiddly. Just making it 2d is fine.

Armor and Criticals
The rules as written don't quite work - you roll dice all at once, not one at a time, so there needs to be a clearer procedure on how you determine whether your 1-armor blocks the D or C damage. One idea thrown out was that 1-armor might actually convert C to D. That does mean that under some circumstances armor doesn't do anything (when all your D boxes are ticked, converting C to D doesn't help). Not sure if the complexity pays for itself over just letting players choose which hit to absorb.

Somehow at the table we misinterpreted 'disabled' (the new dropship purchase) as just having the last damage box ticked.. but of course it means the whole damage track is ticked.

I miss the 'turn sequence is clockwise but there's a rule for interrupting' from my fantasy heartbreaker. I think that's extremely functional for sharing out spotlight. Not sure how to squeeze that in, as the economies are totally different.

Mech Escalation
I'm thinking the starting mechs might be a little too versatile, and might have too much potential. Tim rolled well on his chargen roll, and got a Weiler to start with.

I don't have a vast tech readout of mechs to choose from, but it feels to me that the starting mechs should be:

  1. Useful but fairly simple
  2. Have a few upgrade options, but nothing so exciting that it's the mech you want to end the game with
  3. Have critical options that aren't awesome. A few bad hits and you're looking at pilot-lethal damage, so you start to really want to upgrade, swap out for a backup mech (even exo), or pray for an overhaul opportunity
  4. Leave you lots of room to drool when you see something better on the battlefield
On the other hand, it's early days. It could be that upgrade opportunities are rare enough that it's not a problem.

Anyways.. it was a lot of fun, and it feels like a promising start.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

2GTBT 0.10 - Mecha RPG

For a few weeks now, I've been noodling on a mecha RPG, a mash-up of The Regiment and Battletech. It's just reached first alpha draft stage, version 0.10.
I absolutely adore the Battletech 3025 tech readout, it's one of the most evocative gaming supplements I own. I wanted to capture that high-tech-but-rusting, zero sum feeling, where players are mercenaries using battlefield technology that can no longer be manufactured.

Design-wise, the main inspirations is John Harper's WWII RPG, The Regiment. I love the theatre-of-the-mind approach to combat, the absence of a turn order, and the squad-level resolution rules that make combat move along so briskly.
Like other Powered by the Apocalypse games, the characters are pre-made archetypes with a bit of wiggle room to make them individual.

It's meant to be fast enough to play as written for one-shots, but there's advancement for both the individual pilots and the company.

It hasn't been playtested, so there are probably all sorts of potholes to fall into.

Monday, 27 March 2017


Yesterday I smelled guava for the first time. I passed them in the grocery store and they grabbed me.. it was like heaven, if heaven was an enticing mix of citrus and apple. And heaven.

They were so strong! I caught a whiff of them three fruits over, past the not-quite-the-right-variety apples and some tangerines packed with their stems and leaves for no discernable reason. Cleaning product intensity. I had no idea what I was smelling, but I found them with my nose. Snuffle snuffle snuffle.

I bought five.

I knew there was going to be a let-down. How could something that smelled that awesome not be on every breakfast table in Canada at all times if there wasn't some weird deficiency? But for that glorious moment it was just me, the scent of guava, and my phone as I furiously thumbed at Google so I'd know whether to buy the squash yellow ones or the lime green ones. (Buy the yellow ones.)

I now have four guava. They couldn't possibly live up to that smell, so I was ready for it. I was ready for the pasty white interior, somewhere between overripe pear and banana. I was ready for a rather ordinary flavor.. a bit too close to apple. Truth be told, I wasn't quite ready for the seeds being as hard as glass, but at least I was psychologically prepared for disappointment.

Still, my kitchen smells amazing.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Delightfully Cinematic Ending

Delightfully cinematic ending to our "Lords of Memory" session today.

Due to schedules, it's been almost two months since we got together, and in that time my half-scribbled session prep for the Shrine of Ranian they were headed for had expanded into the Moon is a Mirror adventure.

I reskinned the dogfolk as goat men, since in this campaign the shrine is on the slopes of Mount Wint, but otherwise wrote it as written.

From the start, I thought we were headed for a misfire. "Moon" has specific rooms, but their arrangement within the palace is determined as players explore. Literally the first two random rooms they rolled were the stairs up to level 2, then the room with stairs up to the dome.  Woops!

But it didn't work out that way, since the second set of stairs are hidden behind a secret door, so they explored about half of the second floor.

One thing that I really liked was the way the players learned so much about the adventure ahead - they had cleverly allied themselves with the goatfolk before getting anywhere near the shrine, for one thing.

That taught them to be wary of the sage (who is actually an evil moon reflection of the real sage), but it also added a neat twist. The goatfolk were desperate for help (the moon baby's enchantments compel them to guard it and fill it with traps), and begged the PCs not to kill their friends.

This meant that encounters with the goatfolk inside the shrine, normally a sort of low-powered fight with guard monsters, had a completely different function, with the players trying to scare them and drive them off rather than fighting tooth and nail.

The moon baby's second tier of guards are the "brass soldiers", which are incredibly dangerous. They're super slow, but as strong as forklifts, so getting in close quarters with them means certain strangulation.

My son's PC triggered the encounter with the moon baby by leaping into the arms of a patrolling brass soldier (he's super impulsive). Wisely, I had written that patrolling brass soldiers only want to drag their captives up to the moon baby, rather than fighting to kill, otherwise it would have been lights out immediately.

Everyone piles after Farrin and his the brass soldier carrying him, which reveals the hidden way up to the dome.

The moon baby's goal is to find wizards and turn them into reflections just like itself, to increase its magical power. Farrin is up for anything, so by the time the rest of the party ascends to the dome, he's agreed to 'see a vision' (which lets the moon baby check him out for magical powers).

He doesn't have any, other than his spiritual sensitivity ('Commune' skill), so she lets him go, turning her sights on 'Zero', who is lighting the party's way with a flaming hand.

It's at this point I should mention that I had forgotten to think of a way to kill the moon baby. It's immune to weapons (which turn to rainwater when they strike it), and even magical attacks are iffy. It has twelve brass soldiers, and it's careful to stay encircled by them. This could easily have turned into a TPK.

Here's where the party's intel made a huge difference. They knew it was an imposter from talking to the tithing troll, and they knew to look out for a brass bracelet. So when it insisted on giving Zero 'a vision', they sprang into action. Opera grabs the bracelet, Garbageo tries to shove it into the pool, and Zero invokes her flame magic.

Those were the good moves - the party also managed to waste an arrow, a thrown knife and a favorite sword (all turned to rainwater), but after the first round they had a decisive advantage.

Zero aces her spellcasting roll and the resulting incandescent heat blast is enough to crack the hearts of the two nearest soldiers.

The attempt to pitch the moon baby into the pool doesn't go as well, and Opera gets cut up by her "opposite knife" as a bunch of them all grapple at the edge.

At this point, Ferrin pulls out the gray knife and announces he's cutting the relection of the moon. This is one of those amazing player plans that caught me totally off guard, and it took me a full minute to figure out what this would even do.

The moon pool is a reflection of the moon that the sage used for scrying; seeing her own reflection (never do that!) is what allowed the moon baby passage to earth. The grey knife, on the other hand, is an artifact used to cut the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead.

So I decided it would open a portal to the moon!

So, just like the penultimate scene in Aliens at the airlock door, all the air in the place suddenly starts blasting into the well, which is suddenly a pit into an airless void.

In goes scrolls, loose scraps, all the Sage's tools. The party all makes their saves and Opera uses the bracelet to have the soldiers grab onto the party's clothes, holding them in place.

For a few moments, the moon baby and Opera struggle for the bracelet.. and the moon baby gets it. At that instant, Berlin, who has tied a rope about his waist (the other end tied to a soldier), full-on tackles the moon baby and pitches them both into the howling pit.  He gets a mighty jolt about the middle, and the moon baby spirals down into darkness.

At this point, another hilariously emergent effect takes hold: the soldiers always move to be near the wearer of the bracelet. So, one by one the soldiers step up and toss themselves into the pit.. including the one Berlin has used as his anchor.

'Agatha' cuts that in time, and the party hauls Berlin up. With the moon baby back on the moon, the portal closes with an ear-popping crunch.  The party looks into the pool (now bone dry), where they see the comatose body of the real Sage of Lune.

They actually cheered!

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

The Moon is a Mirror

Toward the end of his life, King Raeldus built an enormous palace of spiritual marvels. Fearful of punishment in the afterlife, he hoped to win favor with the unseen world.

To this end, he stocked his palace with altars to every cult and religion he could find. Through donations, command, and threats, he saw that every one of them was maintained by representatives of the religion. In some cases, whole splinter sects were transplanted to the palace.

Foolish of that sort never lasts long, and a century later the palace was home only to ghosts, animals and the occasional bandit. That is, until the Sage of Lune arrived.

A fittingly remote place to carry out her work, for years the Sage used her mystical lenses to scry out omens and prophecies by gazing at the surface of the moon. She called it a mirror, a reflection of our earthly existence, and said that the mirror image of every person.

Those willing to make the long trek to the palace, and the harrowing trek through the palace itself, could be sure of a wise insight as a reward for their efforts.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Isometric Dungeon #5 - Cavern Waterfall

Here's a fifth video in my isometric dungeon drawing series, a cavern waterfall.

This time it's a cavern waterfall. I don't say much, although I had fun with the audio regardless. Happy to take requests - what has stumped or intimidated you in the past?

Monday, 20 February 2017

Trilemma Adventures Known World Map

As those of you following along may have discerned, there's a nominal campaign setting where I situate my adventures.

I will eventually detail the cultures and history of the place, although even once I've done that, I expect that most people will take the adventures and either use them as one-shots, or reskin them and put them into their own campaign setting.

To that end I'll provide a glossary of terms that will need adapting or hooking into your own campaign setting. The Seree are a magocratic precursor civilization; the Martoi a bunch of half-undead fey, and so on.