The Cow Network: 5 years and counting


Council of Thieves, Bastards of Erebus, part the first

[ actual play | roleplaying games ]
[ | | | ]
[ September 25th, 2014 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

~ This post is an Actual Play report that contains spoilers for the Council of Thieves Adventure Path. Do not read if you do not wish to be spoiled. ~

I have a white whale when it comes to gaming. It’s the Council of Thieves adventure path by Paizo for the Pathfinder RPG. I’ve tried running it before, and I’ve managed to get to certain points of it before it collapses. And I’ve ran through it in my head several times, trying to figure out the numerous problems that the path has. Yesterday, I set out to run it once again. I encourage my players not to follow the links on this page, as they might lead to spoilers on how the adventure path “should be” run, and might contain spoilers on the way I run the encounters.

The premise of the AP is that there is a wonderful city of Westcrown. The former capital of the nation of humanity, Cheliax. A city and a nation that has gone to hell. In the course of the past few decades, the city has become unsafe during the hours of darkness – something hunting in the dark alleys. A strict curfew is in effect and things are quite oppressive. Enter the player characters: Ember (Sorcerer), Lilith (Bard detective) and Thread (Monk), a trio of tieflings, humans with devil blood running in their veins, who have known each other for most of their lives, but spent a few years apart and had a reunion the other day…

And that ended with them getting drugged and dragged to a makeshift temple of some strange cultists.

Day one

The game starts with the characters tied up to a stone slab. Waking up momentarily to burning sensations on their skin, glimpses of cultists performing a ritual, a sacrificial knife, etc. Suddenly there are shouts from a group of Hellknights (elite warriors in service of the Law, and Hell, which here mean the same thing in many cases) for the cultists to surrender. A woman (who Lilith recognizes as Janiven, a local “freedom fighter”) sneaks to the PCs and unties them, helping them through a secret trapdoor that leads to the sewers while the Hellknights make good gumbo out of the cultists. Trying to get to their senses, Janiven shoves each a pouch with some potions and a weapon, and heads off to distract the knights, leaving the still-disoriented PCs in a small room in the city sewers.

Looking at each other, they notice that their upper torsos are covered in strange tribal-like tattoos and they are wearing nothing but cultist robes. And it sounds like the Hellknights have found the entrance to the sewers, yelling that they saw some of the cultists run down the trapdoor. Time to run! There are things like goblins and goblin dogs in the sewers and most of the exits seem to be sealed off. But with the hunt close behind them, they keep pushing for a way out.

They enter a huge room, mostly filled with water, when the tattoos on Ember’s and Thread’s chest start hurting so much that they both fall down on their knees in the water and the group is attacked by skeletons and zombies from beneath the filth. The heroes get to their senses and push on, finally getting out of the sewers to the docks. They wash themselves in the sea and realize that the closest safe spot that might be open for them at night could be the temple of Abadar that’s a short walk away. Thread climbs to the rooftops to scout the route ahead, only to see a horrific sight around them – there are strange shadowy creatures floating all around the city, like a murder of crows circling a recent battlefield. The tattoo on his chest again feels cold and it is hard to breathe momentarily, but that feeling passes.

They make way to the shrine of Abadar, and camp out for the night, trying to figure out what has happened. They remember they were at a party on the north side of the town (read: slums), and that there was some strange mage fellow there, and that an old tiefling friend of theirs, Palaveen, was with them. And then things went black. And then blackness. After the recollection of events sleep comes like a welcome blanket. And it is interrupted by a loud screeching from the skies that only the characters seem to be able to hear. The shades are retreating as the sun rises.

Day two

It is time to start figuring out what actually has happened. The group eats some grub provided by the shrine and put on some lousy second hand clothes that have been donated to the poor. Thread heads to find the temple where they were on the previous night, while the girls try to figure out what the tattoos on their skins could mean. They are clearly primitive in nature – not at all sophisticated like you would expect from a sailor or a warrior monk. They do not correspond to any cult or religion Lilith or Ember can think of, even with the help of books from the temple of Abadar or the nearby library of a minor noble family. Ember manages to find out that a symbol in the slab middle of it has something to do with the balance of life and death, the positive and negative energy planes. And after a good lot of thinking come to the conclusion that it would be awesome if they had access to a Pathfinder who could tell them things about more exotic and esoteric things. Sadly, the lodge of the city was closed down some 30 years ago and the organization was banned from Westcrown.

After hours of searching, Thread manages to find the old abandoned Vizio’s tavern that is currently being surrounded by some clerics of Asmodeus lead by a red-bearded Hellknight armiger (initiate to the order) cleric in a very distinctive skull armor. The leader tells Thread that the tavern was a nest to some strange cultists, but that the church is cleansing the influence as they speak and that a citizen does not need to worry as the might of Asmodeus (the god of Law and Devils) is strong. Thread retreats from the scene and checks in with the girls who, at this point are ready with the shrine’s holy books and ready to move to the library, so Thread has more good time to do investigating at the scene.

The clerics are finishing up, and Thread decides to wait at the sidelines for a minute, and gets promptly cornered by Janiven, who appears from the crowd. She is happy to see that Thread is ok after “abandoning” them at the sewer, and let’s him know what she saw the evening before – a group of strange men and women dragging the three unconscious tieflings (that means that Palaveen wasn’t with them) to the abandoned tavern. She decided to investigate, and headed in through the sewer, but being alone against the twenty-or-so cultists, could only wait to see if an opening presented itself. Which it did when the Hellknights of the Order of the Rack came to arrest the cultists.

When the Asmodean priests are finished with their cleansing ceremony, only a couple of the dottari (local city guard) remain behind to watch the front door. Thread and Janiven sneak in through a second floor window and search the place. The only things they find are a couple of cultist corpses, covered in similar, but different tattoos as the PCs, the trio’s actual clothes (their equipment is still missing), and three strange altars, that trigger Thread’s tattoos, with his senses being flooded with sounds of a jungle for a second.

Thread heads back to Ember and Lilith and introduces Janiven to them. After a short chat, Janiven manages to spit out that she sort of needs a favor, as her mentor has been captured by the Hellknights, and particularly an asshole of an armiger called Shanwen, and she would need some help to bust him out of prison. Lilith brings up the Pathfinders in the conversation, and while Janiven doesn’t admit to anything, she makes it clear that if they were willing to scratch her back, she could scratch theirs. The prisoner is transported in a couple of days to Citadel Rival of the Order of the Rack. And the party still has no equipment.

To be continued in a couple of weeks.

Kaunis päivä päättymättömillä aroilla

[ roleplaying games ]
[ October 1st, 2013 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Crossposted from the private forums of our blood bowl league, sorry about the Finnish.

Tervehdys, rakas kuulija. Älä hätäänny. Tai jos hätäännyt, älä näytä sitä muille huoneessa oleville. Liigakomissio ei saa havaita yllättävää, mutta vääjäämätöntä petostasi aivan vielä. Ääneni kuuluu vain pääsi sisällä. Ja se on hyvä ääni. Muiden ei vielä tarvitse tietää. Pidä tikarisi lähempänä, ja rakkaiden kanssavalmentajiesi selät vielä lähempänä. 

On ollut kaunis päivä täällä päättymättömillä aroille, hymyilevän auringon alla, ja kuten olet jo kuullut aiemmin unissasi, on hyvä päivä olla uhreilun ystävä. Hups. Sanoinko “uhreilun”? Se ei ollut vielä tarkoitukseni. Tarkoitukseni oli totta kai sanoa “urheilun”, mutta ne ovat niin kovin samanlaiset sanat, joten menin innostuksestani sekaisin.

Aiemmin tänään veripallojoukkue jota rakastat, vaikka oletkin toisen joukkueen päävalmentajana liigassa, The Crawling Chaos, teki viimeisen esiintymisensä kentällä. Ja, rakas epäsovun ritarini, se oli jotain ainutlaatuista. Kun sieluusi porautunut epäpyhyyden marja aamulla heräsi horroksestaan alati kuolevien lintujen viserrykseen, tiesit, kuten minäkin, että tänään tulee olemaan hieno päivä. Pistit päällesi joukkueesi värit, joit kupin aivan liian kitkerää juomaa ja kävelit kentälle, mutta tiesit kuten Vaihdokas on monasti todennut, “Tänään on se päivä, kun asiat menevät suurempien suunnitelmien mukaisesti.”

Vaikka tiedän, että muistat hyvin mitä aiemmin tapahtui. Kuinka Hän ja Hänen seuraajansa kaiversivat riimun kenttään ja ajoivat Nyarlathotepin tästä todellisuudesta, tiedät vain puolet totuudesta. Mitä et tiedä, vaikka arvaat sen pimeänä aavistuksena niinä hetkinä, kun kuvittelet olevasi yksin, on että Nyarlathotepin muoto piti ajaa pois tästä maailmasta tuonpuoleiseen, jotta hänet voitaisi palauttaa tänne kaikissa voimissaan myöhemmin. Uhraamalla hänen omaa verta ja lihaansa. Niin, hyvä päivä uhreilulle.

Tiedän, että Shugoran oli lempipelaajasi. Kuinka tapasit jo pienenä poikana leikata pässin suolta ja sitoa siitä itsellesi lonkeroita, ja leikkiä Shugorania yksin pimeässä. Niin pimeässä. Niin yksin. Siksi juuri Shugoran valittiin. Sinun takiasi. Sinä olet kaiken avain, rakas kuulijani. Purista sitä kultaista, oudolla tavalla kosteaa tikaria kädessäsi vielä tiukemmin ja havahdu ajatukseen, ettet muista miksi otit sen mukaan Liigakomission kokoukseen. Etkä sitä, mistä sen sait.

Shugoran lähti tapaamaan ylempää valmennusporrasta tänään aamulla. Kun loputtoman kuoleman kierteen kourissa olevat kolibrit päästelivät ensimmäisiä viimeisiä ääniään, hän vaelsi katakombeihin. Kyllä, niihin samaisiin, jotka kummittelevat mielessäsi tälläkin hetkellä, vaikket muista koskaan olleesi niissä. Shugoran näki valon pimeydessä.

Kun kuulit uutiset Shugoranin katoamisesta, olit joukkueesi ympäröimänä, kertomassa lyömisen tärkeydestä. Et voinut antaa heidän nähdä kuinka tämä kosketti sinua. Lähetit pelaajat harjoittelemaan, ja kun viimeinen heistä poistui pukuhuoneesta, annoit kyyneleen vierähtää poskellesi. Menetämme viattomuutemme vain kerran. Minulla se tapahtui kun sinä petit minut ensimmäisen kerran. Sinä menetit sen Shugoranin kuollessa. Tässä on symmetriaa, jota osaat arvostaa vielä jonain päivänä.

Kyyneleesi oli kaikki, mitä tarvittiin. Sen suola, yhdistettynä niiden tuhansien neitseiden vereen, jota uhrasimme temppeleissämme, oli avain. Yog-Sothoth oli portti. Portinvartija, portti ja avain. Ja todellisuuden verhot heiveröistä pitsiä. Jos katsoo tarkkaan, niistä näkee läpi. Ja jos on veitsi, niin ei ole vaikeaa… Niin, veitsesi. Oletko huomannut kuinka siihen kaiverretut riimut lämmittävät kylmää sisälläsi. Sitä kylmää, jonka olet tuntenut aina, mutta jota mikään liekki ei ole koskaan helpottanut.

Ottelu alkoi loputtomilla hiekoilla keskellä ei mitään. Mustat tornit nousivat ympärille vankien saapuessa areenalle. Joku tarkkasilmäisempi kuin sinä olisi kiinnittänyt huomita siihen kuinka koko pelikenttä oli muotoiltu jättimäiseksi uhrialttariksi, mutta se tarkkasilmäisempi oli jo kuollut. Ja sinä et koskaan ole ollut taikuudesta niin kiinnostunut. Tuuli, joka kuulostaa luisten pillien soinnilta, lakkasi, ja ottelu alkoi.

Se oli kaunista. Valkoinen mies, mustan kimaltavan massansa alla, sai heti kokea kauhuja. Bleeder, Shankersin laitahyökkäjä, veti esiin oudon kultaisen, hieman kostean näköisen veitsen, jossa oli riimukuvioita ja iski sen Valkoiseen mieheen. Lonkerokasa sähähti ja katosi kentältä, veitsi mukanaan. Vaikket tiedä taikuudesta paljon, mieleesi alkaa hiipiä ajatus, että tuo veitsi saattoi olla jollain tavalla erikoinen.

Kun Valkoinen Mies katosi, maa tärisi ja Shugoranin pelipaikalla ollut pieni alue ei mitään alkoi värähdellä. Ilma muuttui kylmäksi ja kaikki pinnat saivat erityisen kiillon, joka valon heijastuksen sijaan heijasti vain pimeyttä. Sitä niin pimeää pimeyttä, jossa tapasit leikkiä yksin. Linnut hiljenivät ja vihdoin heidän elämänsä tuli päätökseen, kun todellisuuden verhot repesivät ja sinä, rakas kuulija, astuit todellisuuksien porttien läpi todellisessa kukoistuksessasi pelikentälle. Massa kirkuvia lonkeroita, piikkejä ja silmiä. Yleisö hullaantui. “NYARLATHOTEP ON PALANNUT!” He huusivat ennen kuin imit heistä viimeisenkin tahdon elää.

Ja sinä olit upea. Mahtava veren ja kuoleman herra. Tiedemies tavassasi repiä jänteitä ja katoa niskoja. Näytti siltä, kuin koko joukkue olisi yhtynyt sinuun, liikkuen yhdellä tarkoituksella. Tarkoituksella, jolla ei ollut mitään tekemistä veripallon kanssa. Haltia toisensa jälkeen kaatui edessäsi. Ja sitten olit poissa. Ottelu oli ohi. Ja sinä unohdit jälleen kuka olit. Palasit arkeen. Pukuhuoneeseen, kuuntelemaan pelaajien tarinoita.

Ja nyt olet täällä, Liigakomission ympäröimänä. Rakas kuulijani, sinulla on tänään vielä paljon verta vuodatettavanasi. Toimi hyvin.

5 Things about The Secret World

[ prose | uncategorized ]
[ | | | | | ]
[ July 2nd, 2012 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

So, The Secret World is launching tomorrow. Early Access for people who had preordered the game started last Friday. Funcom is spending a lot of time and effort advertising the game’s brand new and awesome key features. But frankly, they’re doing it wrong. Well, at least, for me the most awesome things in the game are pretty much missing from the list. So, while the game patches itself to a new version, here’s my list of the five things that you really should know about TSW:

1) Well-written and fully voice-acted NPCs – Let’s start with the basics. All the dialogue by NPCs in The Secret World is voice-acted and not by two-bit amateurs either. When you get a new quest (a proper one), you are introduced to it by a cut-scene. Cut-scene that is more often than not full of pop-culture references and dark humor. So, instead of “Go collect 20 mushrooms to get a vision quest” text box, you walk in on a a wonderful conversation between a mother and a daughter about how the zombie apocalypse has made a mess to the diversity of their daily food intake. Beans. For breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snacks. There’s a guy there who complains that they didn’t give him a gun, even if, when counting the hours he’s been playing Left 4 Dead, is the most qualified person to deal with a zombie outbreak. And the examples go on and on.

Joss Whedon’s influence on the game is not lost on the player. So even if the game’s creators stress how the omgwtfness of the grand story arc will blow your mind, I have to admit that it’s not the thing that has for me. Listening to a quest-giver letting us a bit too close by telling us about his relationship with his now-deceased dad .. that might be the thing. That’s where TSW shines.

Ok, there are a few NPCs that give quests don’t have voice-overs. But that’s sort of understandable considering they can’t speak.

2) The Investigation Quests – Well, talking about things that shine. Oh boy. The Investigation Missions are the thing I praise about the game to anyone who is willing to listen. They’re something that sets TSW on a different level from any other MMO out there. And to be honest, any other RPG I’ve seen in a while. It’s how the game is not holding your hand when you’re playing it. Sure, the basic gameplay is taught in stages. But the Investigation quests. Deep end, baby. And from what I’ve been told, what I see as the deep end is really the shallow end.

The point in the game where I realized that this game is for me and that The Investigation Missions are something that I had been missing from MMOs was when in a quest-chain, there comes a mission where the only description you get is “Decipher the message” and then the game plays some Morse code for you.

My mind was blown. It was a simple thing, but still. So much awesome.

Pause there for a minute. Think about it. You haven’t been taught Morse code in the game at any point. And there is no helpful text-formatted hint there where it says “.. / .- — / .- / -.-. — .–” is what you need to decipher. No. None of that. What you need to do, is you need to listen to the audio (in my case over and over again) and try figure what it’s saying. There is a good reason there’s a web browser integrated into the game. Google and Wikipedia will be your friends. And even after you’ve gotten the message figured out, it’s still not 100% clear what it means, and needs some thinking to find out what it’s pointing at.

Sadly, these are, of course, one-time-only quests. You can’t get the excitement out of them with replay. But it doesn’t matter. They’re so worth it. And as said, They will be getting more and more difficult as the game progresses.

Really helpful or really helpful?

3) Interesting dungeons – The first dungeon in the game is a ship called Polaris. The second will take you to a Hell Dimension. They’re quite short, but the fights all require some thought to get through. In a way, they’re hitting the same sweet spot that the new Trials in City of Heroes do – You can do them without devoting a whole evening for one, yet there is a tactical element involved, where you actually need to think about what you’re doing. From the very beginning, the game teaches you about the importance of mobility and positioning in combat. The Dungeons extrapolate on that and you’ll need to constantly be aware of your surroundings – electricity, hellfire, mobs that explode if they get too close to other mobs, etc. I won’t spoil the details, but for example the end boss of Polaris is one where you will spend good portion of the fight playing hide and seek instead of mashing your keypad randomly.

You go into these dungeons as a 5 man team – usual setup seems to be 1 tank, 1 healer, 3 damage dealers. I’ve been playing the role of a damage dealer, which seems to be the easiest one to do. Silly guy with a big sword and a blood magic tome, cutting at things and making them bleed. I’ve seen people with the same weapon setup playing  healers. And with almost the same a Tanker. Which brings me to the next thing.

See that white box there? You’re not supposed to stand in there when he charges. Movement is the key.

4) Character progression – They hint at this with “No Classes! No Levels!” in the sales pitch. You choose your career by selecting a weapon and then using it to bash things. If you get bored, you can always switch the weapon to another one and start practicing that. And you can switch back to the previous one whenever you like.

The experience your character gains (XP) manifests in three flavors. You of course gain it the typical MMO way – do quests and kill things.

  1. AP. Anima Points. This you get most often. You can use your APs to buy any power from the game at all. As long as you have the previous power from that particular power tree. The higher up the tree the power, the more APs you have to spend to get it. I’m currently at the point where it costs 20-30 AP to get a new power. In the beginning it was 1 AP. You will never lose access to a power you’ve bought, so there comes a time when you’ve made your awesome killed damage build perfect, power-wise. And then you can continue buying powers for other weapons.
  2. SP. Skill Points – You get one SP for every 3 AP you get or something like that. You can spend your SPs on weapons or talismans. Each skill level you buy gives you some small buff (like small damage boost or extra healing if something happens), but also grants you access to more powerful items. If you want to use that powerful sword you got in the last mission, you need to buy the skill for it. This is a very nice control mechanism to keep the higher-difficulty zones clear of newbies. You can’t use more powerful stuff until you’ve gotten enough experience, and without the good stuff, you can’t survive in the harsh reality of the higher-difficulty zones.
  3. Faction Rank – You get this every now and then. It might require you to do a mission for it to progress, but usually it’s tied to how much XP you’ve gained in total. This shows others how much you’ve been playing as a nice icon next to your character name. It might or might not tell you things about how good the player’s skill set is, but at least it shows how many hours they’ve invested in the game, so to speak.

The fun part is that a zombie in Kingsmouth is always worth the same amount of XP. And it will always take the same amount of XP to get an AP. The harder enemies give out more XP, so you’ll get APs faster. The same is with the harder quests. So when you’re doing hard quests, you can quite easily get enough APs to get a new build to a manageable point and make the reasonable switch in the items you use (ie. your class). (effectively changing what class you play)

And if you don’t like switching weapons, you can switch what you do with them. At a time you can select some 14 powers (7 passive, 7 active) that are yours to use in a combat situation. And there are something like 50-60 different powers per weapon type, so the difference between two characters using the exact two same weapons is vast.. So making a tank build or a healer build with the same weapon combo you’ve been using for damage is very possible very easily.

And in the end, you’ll know all the powers from all the weapons and have all the skills and be awesome all around.

The powers wheel – each segment has 7 powers, so ((2 + 6) * 7) * 3 + 3 * 7…?

5) Being up-front about micropayments – Not really a selling point for many. But. It’s a game with monthly payments that throws off the free-to-play crowd. And The Secret World is a game that has missions that have the newbie players submitting petitions about the game not working because they can’t solve the cipher. And it’s a game that has stuff that you can buy with real-life money. From day one.

That’s a huge deal for me. They’re not sneakily adding it at some point while turning it into a free-to-play. It’s there. If you want bunny slippers or a modern cowboy costume, make the credit card go ding. So-far they’ve promised that you will not be able to buy anything that will be a game-changer from the real money store. Only costumes, Quality of Life items and such. This is, if the stand holds, a very good thing for a game that has plans to supporting a very vibrant PvP community.

I haven’t touched the market yet (and it seems to be down again for the time being), but I’m glad it’s there. With a defined form.

I’m a fabulous trendsetter of fashion. How about you? (Yes, wearing the same templar clothes as all others)

aaand the Maintenance Break is over for today, I’m heading back to the game.

Mass Effect 3: The Value of Closure

[ video games ]
[ | | | | | ]
[ June 28th, 2012 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Warning, this entry contains spoilers to Mass Effect 3 endings (the originals and Extended Cut ones).

So, Bioware released the Mass Effect 3 DLC “Extended Cut” yesterday as a response to all the fan rage that the “you get to choose what color the explosion is” ending caused. In a way it’s a very good move. But then again, it can be hard to undo the damage done.

What’s so different about the endings this time then? It’s still a decission at the very end. Choose your color. Get an explosion accordingly. It’s still a conversation with an ass-pull of mega-entity behind everything. There is still no boss-fight. Harbinger gets no more air time than before. And the stupid ninja Mary Sue super-dude is still around. So they didn’t retcon the big things.

But the real big thing is the small things. Nuances and additional bits of information that clear the reasons to why the ending’s part that don’t have to do with the boom happen the way they do. We’re given a wider perspective, even if the happenings are the same. We understand why.

And then there is the fact that they changed the colored explosions into colored explosions and then some. Each of the 3 boom-endings now have an epilogue speech by a different NPC. They explain how this was the best ending possible (I only completed the game on 4000+ readiness, so I don’t know how the endings go if you suck too much)

And that’s where the magic really is. It’s not about fighting Harbinger (a forgotten loose thread) or beating the Illusive Man in single combat. It’s about closure. About having an effect. Seeing your family react to what you’ve done.

Choosing to make the exactly correct decision and getting emotional reward from doing just that. The sacrifices have been great, and they’re recognized. But we’re given a sense of closure.

You don’t really need all the answers. (How did Andersson get up next to the console without any entrances to the room except the one you came through?) You really just need to know you made a difference. Even if the emotional acknowledgement comes from a rogue AI you helped liberate. It’s all you really need.

Now, give me a DLC where I get to whoop Harbinger’s ass, and I’ll be even more happy.

Logo Design for Century

[ roleplaying games ]
[ | | | | ]
[ January 24th, 2012 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Well, it’s the start of the last third of Century. 333 days remain until the last game. that’s bit over 30 game sessions left. 51 players and a couple of more new ones lined up, so I’m expecting a total of around 55 by the time I close the possibility for new players to join up in March. And it means I’ve had a perfect opportunity to play a nice game of “hide things in plain sight” with my players for over six and half hundred days. And I still am, pretty much.

The Century Logo is one of these things that I’ve been storing in plain sight from day one. One of those that aren’t hard to figure out if you just take a look. And a lot of the players have paid the attention, so it’s been a nice detail here and there. It has been serving as a roadmap of the three big things that have been central themes of the game.  That thing above there is the original version. With everything still intact.

It took quite  a while to get it right. Even if I knew beforehand what elements I wanted in the picture, getting them to look just right was a daunting task. The idea was to make the logo look inconspicuous. Sort of “ok, there’s a C with some clock hands and mystic mumbo jumbo in it” so that the individual elements would get ignored beforehand. The only thing that was more or less random was the font used for the C (which ended up being some font I found on and then edited it a lot to fit the spherical shape I needed for the design). But the symbols on the background hold a specific meaning in the game and the clock hands are something I’ve used in old illustrations, creating a reference link to those in the process.

The next thing about it is the fact that it’s meant to evolve over the course of the campaign to reflect what’s happening. The variation stems from the way the player characters mess up with the given premise. And since Century is a semi-historical game, with the first game getting set at the Titanic, the first thing that was doomed to get messed with was the timeline. Creating an alternate history for the campaign (ok, to be exact, the alternate history spans a lot backwards, but that’s something the players had no clue of, yet). It took them some 15 games to really mess up historical facts for the first time. They saved Lenin’s life by mystic means, killed Stalin the same night. Made a nice ripple effect that still continues to the present day of the game’s timeline. The logo was updated to reflect this.

And, for a good long while, the focus was on the timeline-aspect of the whole thing, changing history etc. Logo looked so that things were bleeding out. Time was fluid, so to speak. And the players were enjoying doing this. Farking up with history while serving a corporation that was clearly evil. At least that’s what everything kept spelling out. There were people like “Mammon” or “Lucifer” working for the corporation. And the enemies had names like The Choir. And it was all getting very creepy.

But what’s in a name or two? And what’s this thing about there not being any languages in the world anyway? How can we mess our employers up? Why are we called Operatives? Why is there something called The Board there that dictates the actions of Gogam? And Gogam is Magog, spelled backwards, clearly evil corporation if you’ve ever seen one!

Player characters mess up their employer. First by shooting a couple of the big bosses in the head. And then just really ruining everything for them. And in the process destroying the thing that’s been making the world odd – lack of languages. A tower falls, suddenly there’s different languages in the world. (and from everyone’s perspective except the Operatives, this has always been the situation)

So, focus shifts again. This was a bit more an abstract one. Focusing on languages and the utter lack of meaning behind the words that you’ve assumed to hold so much relevance. (The Board, Gogam, Operatives, Seven, Choir, all that) Sort of a deconstruction happening left and right. Structures falling apart (if I had had more foresight, I would have made a tower part of the century logo beforehand and have it shattered as well at this point.), the realization of a greater universe where the stuff you’ve been doing is quite harmless. In comparison to what could have been. And now is turning out to be. The letter C, shattered in the logo, the end of things spelling out what they are.

And now we’re moving towards the final era. Focus shifts towards the third item on the logo. And without explaining further, I’ll just end this post with a picture of it. You’ll figure it out.

On The Majesty of the Birch

[ roleplaying games ]
[ | | | | ]
[ December 2nd, 2011 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Of all the visual snapshots that get etched in my mind during my days, I think this is the one I will remember the best. A lone, solemn birch guarding the crops. A straight, white tree, standing on a rocky island amidst the golden sea of wheat. A sentinel swaying with the winds instead of breaking from them or ignoring their power. Clear blue skies above and behind as a painting-like backdrop. Quite majestic a sight. And approaching really really fast. Well, from my perspective.

They tell us that the people of days gone by thought that the birch represents a connection between the land of the dead and our world. That old birches get their white bark from the bones of the deceased. And that this belief still holds true in the modern age of rationality. The story goes so that when the first sailors who crossed the Great Divide and reached the New World, had seen the wall of white trees, had thought their lives had ended on the way through the great storm. And that they had reached afterlife.

The things that stick to your mind from classes.

In my defense I have state that I’m not a slacker. I just don’t always agree with the methodical way of teaching we’re presented with. I like books, adore all sorts of stories. But can’t just get my head around the whole “magic can be presented in formulas and calculations” thing and can’t be bothered to memorize the mathematics. And that’s probably why this huge snake made out of granite, with eyes of fire and a temper to match, managed to fling me across the wheat field and at that the only birch standing there.

Now, as my field of vision is more and more filled with the impending birchness, there are two surprisingly clear thoughts on my mind. First is that I might be a total sucker when it comes to playing the knight in shining armor to girls who aren’t exactly damsels in distress, and how I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t spent the better half of this semester ogling the fair Alissa (she’s one of the popular ones) instead of paying attention at classes. And the second thing… for a soulless elemental entity, that thing has a really good aim.


Where do we go from there? What got us there? What’s really important, anyways?

Been looking up the old College of War stuff on my computer. Character sheets, mechanics, themes, names. Lots of things to look and consider before going to work on the next one. Really.

The campaign started out as a simple d20 variant fantasy homebrew with IOU flavoring. A silly world, with a strange College, where the player characters were studying to become magicians. This was years before Harry Potter, mind you. A College with the idea “what would a school be like if the world was epic and magic was commonplace.” And boy, did it turn out weird. Parodies after parodies, week after week, for a good year or two. The first campaign ended. But we returned to the world several times. After a few ends of the world, the setting has changed a lot. Toned down on the funny, explored the underlying ideas. The school hasn’t been the focus in a long while.

The definitive College of War campaign was a long one about a group of young Fieon (France expy) nobles finding their place in the world and eventually reshaping it by returning one of the moons to the sky. Lot of the imagery and feeling came from the movie Le pacte des loups (as well as half the family names). And as you can expect, it didn’t have anything to do with the school from the title (it did make a cameo appearance by the end of the game, but that was it), and was really something else than a light-hearted comedy romp. And it’s been going to directions from there.

The latest campaign of CoW I ran got cut mid-way because of a player leaving the country. It is pretty much the thing I’m basing my future work on – There’s a New Continent on the other side of the world. The three major kingdoms have established colonies there. There is a new College of War there, that pretty much mimics and mirrors the one in the Old World. It’s one part colonial America (frontier in the west / foothold in the east), one part Finland from the Swedish rule era, one part <insert baltic country here> under Russian rule. There’s armies, conspiracies, cults. The unease with the natives. There’s themes of obedience, independence, duty and devotion to be found. With everything like this in the air, the atmosphere could be very dark. But the truth is, life goes on as usual and for most part it’s quite light-hearted.

One of the defining things still is high magic, to the point of “sufficiently advanced magic can be viewed as technology”. There’s emergent magical transhumanism going on – magic used to build constructs, such as golems, is getting “commonplace” and the idea of moving one’s soul to a non-human body is out there, even if no-one’s been successful with it yet. Combat has moved from knights in armor to the more agile combatant (if a beginner mage can propel an enchanted rock at the speed of a bullet, then a plate mail armor is more a burden than a blessing on the field against one). Leaps have been taken in areas such as medicine. And there is a lot of flair in everything.

The west is still unexplored. The colonies are not at full peace with each other. The noble families don’t really find each other the best of friends. Lots of fertile ground for teen/tween drama. Yeah. I’m one of those people who love a good romance (gone wrong, just think of Romeo+Juliet). University life the way it should be in a fantasy setting. Whatever that means. Want to go hunt for the legendary beast of the Ash Hills? There’s extra credit waiting to happen right there. And it would make a hell of an impression to that girl you’ve been pining over.

And when the characters walk out there, it should feel like it feels when I walk into the woods here. There should be something mystical there, a deeper connection with life and nature, that just can’t be put into science, no matter how you try. Something out there. Something about that birch tree standing there. Seasons doing their thing. That sort of reflection of where I come from. And of course there’s the giant intelligent elemental snakes who just want to use you for a baseball.

In a way, it’s come a full circle. Taking account from everything that has happened so-far, but putting it back into the original milieu of University environment. Back where we started, without forgetting any of the stuff that happened on the way here.

(The next run of CoW will start December 12th, 2012)

Alissa, the girl mentioned in the fluff. An elf-blooded student at the College. Possible iconic example character for the game text. Of the privileged, wealthy, magical nobility type.

“The Slow Game”

[ prose | roleplaying games ]
[ | | ]
[ October 11th, 2011 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Some mood text for a campaign I’d love to run one day. Cthulhutech-y enhanced humans -thingy.

The Slow Game

The dust has cleared. I approach the officer in charge.

“What just happened? Captain Adams? Sir?”

“We won. That’s what.”

“But that’s a dozen of our men down, two seriously injured!”

“Son, have you ever encountered a precog before? Dozen scratched soldiers is a small price to pay to catch something that can see possible futures.”

I look at the old guy. Seen him from afar before, but never actually spoke to him. Trimmed goatee, old army greatcoat, some high-tech mesh armor underneath. He’s probably in his 40s, but something in his eyes make him look much, much older. I clear my throat and reply as firmly as I can.

“No sir. I was just transferred from Winterhampton unit. Never been in combat with anything beyond clearance seven. Precogs are a bit above what they’re willing to tell me, sir. But we didn’t catch him. He ran and our men got injured by freak accidents.”

The man looks at me with a crooked, mischievous smile on his face.

“You do know how they work, right? The basics?”

“Well, I’ve heard the stories. They can see the consequences of their actions and choose the one route that brings them the best outcome. That’s why we can’t catch them. That’s the whole point.”

“I’ve caught nine. This one makes it an even ten.”

“So, are you a future-glimpser as well, or how on Earth do you do it? Takes one to know one?”

“Boy, do I look like a twitchy freak who spends his every moment considering the consequence of his every action. I’m a human just like you and me and him and him and … ok, honestly, I think she’s a clearance two with those legs of her, they just can’t be human. Damn. But, to answer your question. Human. No powers.”

“Then how?”

“The basic thing to remember with any clearance four or higher is that their anomalies cause them to be pretty fried in the brain department. The need to survive and stay alive, the paranoia, those things take over when they’re threatened. With a temporal-causality enhanced perspective, the freak can see the multitude of paths their actions cause. And go through them, one by one, until they find one that leads them to safety. Just like it did today. It knew it had to come here to pick up the ransom money, but it also knew it was a trap. It’s known for hours before it ever came here. The really powerful ones can see their actions’ consequences to up to two days into the future, but with a punk like this, and judging from the results, I’m thinking some seven to ten hours.”

“The results?”

“He came in knowing the flaw in our trap. He was in and out just the way I wanted. If he had been a more powerful precog who could have seen twelve hours or further into the future, he wouldn’t have come. Or would have taken a different corridor, even if it had meant going into actual battle with my men.”

“How so?”

“It was filled with nice little cloud of nanites. They’ll flood his body with sleep-inducing chemicals in twelve hours that’ll keep him under for good full day. And start sending a homing signal while he’s dreaming away. We’ll have a good 4 hour window of picking him up and locking him away for good. It’s a slow game that works so well against these buggers, even if it means a few sacrifices along the way. Of course, my men know nothing of how the plan works so that they just follow orders.”

I smile and return from the scenario in my mind to the present day.

So the thing is a double-trap.

Sometimes it pays to play it safe and secure. Take it nice and slow. Think out side the box. Considering to return back after the theft, disguising myself as a trooper and asking questions, was very much worth it. I’ll have to re-think my course of action.

It’s been two weeks since the ransom drop incident. Killed a man there. Thought it would be easier after running through the scenario in my head a few times. Wasn’t. Haven’t been able to sleep without pills since. Going to bed at a warehouse hideout. Checking the morning just in case.

Can’t see anything in my future. Just the feeling of being restrained and hearing some unfamiliar voice telling me that “Sometimes it’s worth waiting for a very long time before taking action. The longer we wait, the harder it becomes for you to form a link between what you did and what effects it causes. And the harder that becomes, the more unlikely it is that you can precog it. And that’s where I come in. I design the next level of the trap, the level that works even if Captain Adams’ plan fails. Now just relax and get ready to be transported back into a holding facility…”

Suffocated Rage aka beating old horses

[ uncategorized | video games ]
[ | | | | | | | | ]
[ October 5th, 2011 ]
[ by: Spikey ]
CommentRSS 2.0

For the record and obvious disclaimer qualities to redeem me from everything: I have not played Rage. I’m basing this solely on the now-famous and referenced-everywhere review at Ars Technica.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter if I’ve played it or not – the issues brought into play (ha!) are not unique to Rage, and apply to whole cartload of other games too. I’m just grabbing a muse and running with it, wrongly.

I remember when Rage was announced. It was very iD. Technical breakthroughs, innovations and pipelines that caress a hurting artist and make his/her life easier with megatextures and whatnot. Easier to build and paint massive, detailed and gorgeous worlds. That’s very, very important, in fact – if the toolchain bogs artists down, it bogs down the content. Period. It’s bloody hard to get the vision across and delivered if the tools hold you back, so it easily brings up the easy choice of cutting down on vision instead and keeping the coders busy on features instead of tools. Very valid from business perspective in a culture where the management walks down the hallways holding a shotgun in hand, in case of obstructive requests threatening the top-down task delegation and direct profit potential on screens.

It’s very linear game, that, played from a single person perspective. It has all the necessary savepoints and map levels laid out in advance. Open world it ain’t, not in most cases — few examples exist, and they’ve nailed it down. Valve and Thatgamecompany come to mind on top of their own game, doing their own thing by daring to fail internally when trying and pushing ideas across. No, I have no idea what the studio culture and working ways are at iD, but keep in mind I’m not talking about Rage or iD solely. This is widespread, so I’m happily generalizing and blaming everyone equally. Generally speaking.

Back to Rage. Yes. The review gives it the respect and merit for how much of an visual experience it is. Then comes the bad news that don’t surprise anyone anymore, except by their directness and frankness. We need painful and uncomfortable feedback like this, in the industry where every review is suspect to suspicion over advertisement dollars shining through on the same review site. We must be held accountable as well, not just reviewers.

Elsewhere, someone described how inviting and lush the world in Rage looks, how it looks like a living and breathing thing. From afar, I think he added. Invites to get closer and immerse oneself into the world, he continued. Haven’t heard more from him.

Yes, well. It certainly does have just about perfectly executed art direction and fistful of hard-ass visual styles reminding us of Mad Max and Fallouts and other favourites.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m an artist and thrive for graphical quality, but for the sake of all things dear and holy to the audience, it has to have the function and the reason. It must be the effect after a cause.

When I look at the world of Rage from graphical standpoint, yes, it’s bloody pretty. It runs at constant 60 frames per second on the 360 and flows like molten butter. Carmack is insane. Now here’s the kicker for me: I’d love to think of a world like that as the canvas for everything that really makes the world breathe. Canvas where the final color comes from creatures inhabiting it, each tangled in the sprawling storyline and cross-connections and interactions driving events and agreements and disagreements and love and war. Stuff you could potentially write a book about after playing through and running into plot twists and characters that develop, while the game engine churns out richly detailed lushness at natural flow to support the depth. Something to sink into.


At this point I should be following some rules of writing and offering clever counterpoints and fresh ideas to rectify stuff I present as issues. Yes, well..

… I draw blank, sorry.


I do have a thought about reviews and their relationship with the industry, though.

Reviews hold a power to potentially echo back into development of future titles, all the way to the initial business level when the project proposal is under scrutiny and compared to similar predecessors. If they’re skewed, it all rolls slowly down backwards.

I fear that in the future game projects include a sub-plan entitled “reviews” under master marketing plan, where key high-volume reviews are designed to highlight the game features that are most cost-effective to implement, made to match and support those tailored reviews. All laid out in advance, calculated and monetized. Games become graphical technological featurepiles that need to be separately gamified. Is that where the mainstream high-dollar triple-a industry is headed? Gamification is already a standard term, driving investors into tears of joy and older developers into tears of rage. Sorry, I meant discomfort. Monetization is also an already established keyword in game development. They’re mostly coming up when pitching games to investors, and I understand the need for common language of $$ especially when investors are coming from outside the industry, but when they really do sneak their way up into game designs themselves, it becomes a bit creepy for many.


We love doing games for all the potential they hold as we see them blossom and grow on our screens during development, not what they often end up as. After a project is done, it’s usually remembered as a series of war stories over a pint of beer. I’m sure artists, animators, coders, sound designers and leads at iD loved to see their vision shine, and they certainly deserve all the possible credit for their work. It sure is beautiful. I just worry about what gets left behind.

Miss Personality

[ roleplaying games | uncategorized | video games ]
[ | | | | | | | ]
[ September 14th, 2011 ]
[ by: Spikey ]
CommentRSS 2.0

Oh, this hits the goods in me.
I just got affirmation that my ramblings are not on the wrong side of tracks. I mean, Ken Levine of Bioshock fame recently floored the audience with the latest iteration of Bioshock franchise. He (ok, the team) didn’t do that by reinventing pixels, but by giving the artificial characters incentives, agendas and ability to act true to the context they’re in. Giving them, hopefully, traits and unexpected people personalities that make the journey from begin to finish a little less lonely tube affair. Well, in practice, it’s not that rosy but damn close as it’s not scripted into unconforming timeline. It rather tries to react to where the player goes, what he does and what’s around. Mirroring and angling the surroundings.

I mean to say, ahem, damn. Yes. This is how narrative and being-there experience and involvement and all the other once-vapour golden ideas will be done. By recognizing the need for them, and then shoveling resources at them like it was nobody elses business, because it’s not impossible unless you keep blindly listening to grey-faced suits who project future core targets based on what has sold in the past five years. Don’t look there. Future ain’t in the past, unless you take into account other mediums and forms of storytelling. Like, I don’t know, books or television series with people in them. Possibly interacting with each other. Ok, that was slightly on the trolling side but how else can it be said?

I’ve often heard how a properly done AI companion could feel like a buddy on coop-mode at your side. Watching the AI / NPC gameplay video, that goes right down the drain. Know why? Your buddy is never present.

Let me open that one.
When your best mate evar is playing alongside with you, you see only his actions and the resulting effects. Solved puzzles, blown guard towers, whatnot. What the videogame and the mission requires. However, when you turn to look at the guy or the gal you’ve spent your childhood with, falling in sync from trees and hitting the curb face first while barreling downhill with crap bicycles, you don’t see him/her. Just a badly animated videogame character that slides around and repeats the videogame motions.
No visual connection or context to tie with, nor personality shining through. Your bud can do just what the player character is limited to do, and that’s always in minority compared to AI characters who need to connect with at least the context of the story and dialogue when interacting with the player. Player model, who incidentally, stands proud and motionless like a big tree, deferred light glimmering in his normalmaps.
Point being, you can’t properly connect with a stiff slidey videogame construct that has less naturality to its movements than an average kitchen appliance.

Your NPC buddy AI companion thing is not limited, though. As in the gameplay video, he/she can project very human traits — constructed, of course, but if they’re triggered by the surroundings and situation, they can become human. They become something player can relate with. Almost human reactions, if you may. If there’s an underlying structure and balance between predictability and unpredictability, they start to give off a whiff of a personality behind the actions.

Of course, there are logistics underneath. Building personality through animation, context sensitivity, AI, sound design, dialogue and all the other cogwheels of the machine is a massive task and there’s no sense nor chance to populate whole game world with such characters. It’d be awfully nice, of course, but then designers and writers would break their heads trying to make the key characters stand out. The mass and weight of it just needs to be recognized and placed accordingly in the game, to have it impact the world and story.

In regular co-op, as fun and blast it may be, your best bud fighting alongside you isn’t going to humor you by sticking his head into a barrel and testing the echo for the fun of it. That’s not acting out in a world together. It’s more akin to perhaps scooting radiocontrolled cars around a track together. Bloody good fun, yes, but try and stick that into a narrative context and something’s gonna be missing, unless just watching events unfold from synchronized actions counts. Sometimes it does, but even then it has to be done from the get go with that in mind without shooting for what can’t be done. Recognizing the means, etc.

Of course, getting back to the gameplay video, nothing’s done right until it’s in the hands of everyone and receiving actual love and tears. So far there’s only a glimpse of gameplay video, and cynicism is easy. I for one try and be optimistic about this, as I take this bloody personally. Now, that camera and some of the strained sort of animation.. Ah, can’t have everything in one go, can I?


Stealing from the Greats to Run a Focused Mini-Campaign

[ roleplaying games ]
[ | | | | | ]
[ August 12th, 2011 ]
[ by: Alvan ]
CommentRSS 2.0

To take a mental breather from all the Century that comes with the game reaching its halfway point of 500 days, I’ve been entertaining myself by running a very focused mini-campaign (5 games, short game sessions) to three of my friends. A story of two brothers and their cousin escaping from their lives at Casa Grande. Running away from everything, leaving it all behind, finding freedom. Simple game, great fun, I’ll probably write more about the actual game later, but I’m making use of a lot of GMing techniques I’ve come across (from various sources, so basically stealing them) over the years when I was preparing for the game. These are nice simple things that seem to work with this kind of a game, so I’m sharing.

0. Have a session just for creating the characters and the campaign.

Get together just to talk about what you will be wanting from the game before you run it. Create characters, create everything. Just spend time talking about what you’re doing without hurrying to play on the same evening you’re planning. It will be worth it to a) take the time to plan properly and b) have that time between character creation and the first game.

1. Speak your mind and hear what they’re saying

The first rule of Fight Club is that you do not talk about Fight Club. But when it comes to tabletop gaming, being honest about your vision and communicating it to the players, doesn’t necessarily hurt. At base level this is stuff like saying “I’m running a scifi campaign so no elves”. But being specific about what you’re thinking of and why is a great way to go about. Even if you go down to gritty details with “well, I’m thinking that in this game you’ll start off as the trusted men of the king, but somewhere, maybe about halfway through the campaign you will betray him or he will betray you and you’ll end up on the opposite sides. And the end will be focused on that” it won’t hurt. Just as long as if you leave enough space for people to maneuver in. Knowing the road that will be ahead will prepare everyone for the journey, even if it means giving up some of the twists. If the players know that it will eventually be a game about a zombie apocalypse, they’ll know to set up relationships with NPCs in ways that are fruitful for the sudden but inevitable twist in the genre.

And as well as you being honest with them, you should be open to their suggestions and ideas – let them bring to the table what they think is cool and support that. Let the players share with you what they would like from the game and work towards a consensus that you can all sign on. If there are some parts of your game that you absolutely want to have in it, tell that to them. But give them the same right – if one of them is adamant on having some medical drama in your zombie game, let him. It’s not that much to ask, is it?

We did this. My original vision was a game set in the present about criminals with cool cars and motorbikes running away from something. It ended up being set in the 80s (the era wasn’t crucial to my vision) and the players being less criminals and more just people ending up in the bad situation. But it was still about running away in cool cars. The reason for all this is that because we’re talking about a few sessions, each being only a couple of hours of gaming, there is just no time to include everything. If everyone knows what’s up, everyone can play along.

And of course, when starting the game you won’t know everything. But tell them what you know and let them tell you what you want, and then start running the game like you were originally talking.

The idea of being open about the game was first introduced to me by the Jeep guys, so credit for this goes there.

2. Set a theme and a mood

Sort of related to the previous one as this is things that you should really talk about openly. One of the first things I said about the game was that “this game will be about running away and freedom” – it’s a simple enough concept that translates well to different sort of things, offering something to focus on without limiting things too much. Sure, it means this won’t be the game where the focus will on a happy, ever-lasting marriage. (Unless you’re running away from something and ending up there in the end). When running a focused game, having a strong central theme to work with is quite important and enjoyable.

And again, bouncing the ball back to the players, “How will your character fit in this theme? How will he explore it?” And we end up with three interesting stories that are different. We have an undercover cop stuck between the two worlds, constricted by both, a woman in a loveless marriage with a cartel sub-boss and a guy who is just doing what people expect without really knowing what he wants to do. From there it’s easy to move forward.

Then there’s another important question: Mood. Are we talking Film Noir? Romantic Comedy? Also a lot of related questions arise from thinking about what the game should feel like… What’s the level of violence/sexuality people are comfortable with? How gritty should it be? How realistic? Are we talking about a Hollywood action movie when it comes to a gunfight or more what would happen if you drew a gun in downtown L.A.? Will everything feel desperate or is there hope? Is the metal in the world more chrome or rust? Again, it’s a good thing for everyone to know what sort of a thing they’re playing.

Think theme and mood were first introduced to me in White Wolf’s Vampire: The Masquerade. Even if I never used them to good effect when playing that game. To be honest, that’s one game that is full of great ideas that no-one ever used.

3. Set the pace and keep running

This is something I learned from Primetime Adventures and have been using for a good while with success every time. Know beforehand how many games you will be playing and where the focus of each game session will be.

For this game it meant that one of the questions we answered on our character creation session was “how many games will we be playing this thing for?” My suggestion was really either seven or five. With three players, seven sessions would have meant four that were focused on the “plot” and three that were spotlight sessions (will get back on that in a moment), with five, it meant two plot, three spotlights. We went for the latter option, with the plot games serving as “bookends”, being the first and the last game, and each of the middle three would be focusing on one of the characters.

I use the spotlight system without a shame these days in pretty much most of the mini-campaigns I run, be they D&D or freeform. Quickly summarized it means that you, as a player, get one game session in the campaign where it is all about your character and his central issue. It will pretty much be the focal point of his story. Everyone knows who is on the spotlight, and for that session will be playing to enforce that part of the story. It does not mean that if it’s not your spotlight, you won’t get screen time. Just that the focus will be on the question of the spotlight. “Am I a good cop or a bad cop?”, for example.

In the game I’m running we’re using a three-tiered spotlight system. Each player has one game where their character is at priority (rating 3), the spotlight game. They also have two games where their plot is at “secondary” level (rating 2), and two where their character’s issues is put on a back burner (rating 1).

This translates to an individual pace for each of the stories of the game. A pattern of “2 1 1 2 3″ for example means that the character’s issue will be there at the beginning, then go on hibernation for a couple of games and then make its way back into the last game, climaxing in the very last one. “1 2 3 2 1″ on the other hand means something that will be directly in focus on the 3rd game, but will be set up during the previous one, and the fallout from the climax will be seen in the fourth. And so on.

In one game session one player might have a game with a rating of 3, one with rating of 2 and one with a 1, which means that the first player will be on the focus, but the issues of the second player’s character should show through a bit. Bit of foreshadowing or something. And the third player will play his character maybe as a foil or to support some decisions or make the choices tougher for the other two. Whatever suits the story.

The players know when their issues are on the focus, so they don’t have to worry about not getting their say in the matters. Everyone has their moment to shine and everyone knows what to support and which questions to raise when needed.

Looks like I will have to write a second blog post somewhere in the near future about the actual things we do in the game that work, this one is quite long on its own with just the preliminary stuff in.