Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Politics and people

This week is a very special week for the internet and sees the passing of the deeply contentious Article 13 requiring EU countries to implement controls on referencing creator content.

It is important to stress that Brighton Roleplayers are a disturbingly friendly bunch of like minded people out for a good gaming time and whilst politics does come up sarcastically in our drunken discussions from time to time we are not in any way exclusionary to individuals of any political persuasion or either side of the Brexit debate provided no one is mobbed, tortured or burnt at any stakes.

More importantly this tome itself  is not a platform for any political preaching, bar Clerics and Paladins, so to be as unbiased as possible its important to state that many people see the EU as necessarily clamping down on theft from struggling creators - something that particularly bites the RPG industry as it's a very small market. How is the next D&D or Cthullu ever going to happen if the hard work of authors is simply ripped off.

Equally for those against copyright laws there is the deep concern that many creators - particularly news outlets, critics and free thought sites, will now be crushed as they will not be able to reference any third party content - the only messages that will go out will be those paid for by giant multinationals and pro government agencies - censorship by any other name and one of the pillars of democracy that has now fallen.

Why then is this relevant to a bunch of Roleplayers ? Well I am afraid that the law also covers this blog and whilst we will have to see how the UK will implement controls, the Blog contains references and images to many thousands of sites on many platforms over the last decade. Whilst this will be an impossible situation to re-engineer it also affects my new content as I am now unsure if I can speak of or link to anything relating to anything that someone else has created.

It would be deeply saddening to suggest this is my last post but I will just have to take some time to determine if I am allowed to continue creating as I have done so in the past as I am now frightened to do so.

Thursday, 21 March 2019


The D&D Darksun players are just starting out in earnest now after a few orientation sessions. To be fair, when you are in a broken world with broken people there is a lot to get your head around. Change can be challenging but when it comes to a completely different physics it's more like learning to space walk culturally speaking. For the inhabitants of course their world is completely normal though continuing to deteriorate. However a bit like some abusive relationships, attachment is formed as you learn survival skills and any other circumstances, even for the better, are threatening.

One of the key physics of DarkSun is how life powers magic. The original AD&D Wanderer's Journal marks a crucial difference between the Defilers, magic users who would destroy living things to power their spells and Preservers who would gently tap life force to cast their magic whilst maintaining the integrity of their environment. But to be honest, this is really just a choice of two evils in my mind - either feed on a living thing until it is dead  or feed off of it parasitically. One shouldn't judge a dying civilization too harshly perhaps but there is a Paladin in the group and in the black and white world of justice its difficult to see how any magic use can be moral. Either way the world is very well thought out as just like a drug, the temptation for mages to burn living things for power has had a runaway effect ecologically speaking.

The implications of using life forms as batteries goes quite deep and there is yet much for the party to discover but its certainly a shame that in the unforgiving and relentless gaze of the Athas Sun, solar power has sadly not yet been invented.

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Tie In Session

dice, fairly common at the table
Considering I left the players in the Void last session, I should have expected this session to go in a completely unexpected way. The Starter Kit that I’ve got is composed of six issues so in order to fit it all into the time allocated for this rotation, I calculated I had to spread each issue over three evenings each. I don’t know what happened in the players’ collective consciousness that even though they were only at the start of the Yellow Zone, they had a massive change of focus in their tactics.

The dark reflections continued their assault. Legacy was punched in the face by his own doubts made manifest while Dark Wraith threw daggers dipped in poison at Unity’s exposed flesh. Even so weakened, she managed to zap the crystal with a discharge of electricity. Both Unity and the Entity they were fighting had a few modifiers on them so figuring out the dice ranges and probabilities of success on both their rolls was an interesting exercise. The crystal shattered to reveal a sliver of energy. Unity took out the device she created and used it to contain the thing.

I like how the system requires you
to come up with appropriate names for your modifiers
When the heroes turned around, they saw their dark reflections dissipating into nothingness. Wraith tried to talk to Visionary telepathically while Absolute Zero gathered some of the crystal shards that remained in their vicinity. They quickly realised they were stranded in this odd realm. As they considered their options, Absolute Zero tried to row his way back to whence they came from, only to repeatedly pass his fellow superheroes. Each time, their appearance changed reflecting different points in time. Old and new versions of themselves intermixed. When Absolute Zero told a baby Tyler Vance, holding Bunker in his hand, that he won’t be changing him, he had the brilliant idea to row to the point in time where they entered this realm. This helped the Freedom Five navigate their way to where Visionary could open the portal back to their dimension.

This experience was insanely disorienting. Enough that Bunker came through the portal dancing. Visionary moved the surrounding furniture away from him with her mind and asked him to leave the house. During the much coveted roleplaying, Visionary thanked the superheroes in neutralising the threat. She did not sense a mind within the containment device and turned down their suggestion to take it. She went on to say that after releasing the citizens of Ravenwood from their psychically induced slumber, it would be more prudent for her to join Argent Adept while the Freedom Five can keep an eye out on what remains of the entity. Before they parted ways, she mentioned that her connection to the Void revealed other places and heroes in need of assistance.

Formely evil, formely!
She sensed Tempest’s isolation deep within Insula Primalis, an area in the Arctic Circle where prehistoric creatures roam. It used to be home of Citizen Dawn and her Citizens of the Sun. She felt Fanatic’s rage deep in Siberia and some unknown yet familiar power in Las Vegas. Before they made their decision which place to visit next, the Freedom Five decided to look into this entity more. They headed off to a Revo Corp research facility which, contrary to popular belief, was not Tachyon’s old lab. Legacy had some reservations about using a site owned by a formerly evil corporation but Unity pointed out that Freedom Five Tower has been utterly obliterated by OblivAeon. She went on to do some tests while Absolute Zero discovered his love for Latin American soap operas.

Unity’s player roll to garner more information about the entity resulted in a Success… with a Minor Twist. This time I asked the player to provide this twist and we agreed that some of the energy leaked out during the experiment, short-circuiting some machinery and tickling Absolute Zero. The readings she got didn’t match any known energy source as expected but there was a sense of predictability in the way the sliver behaved. The superheroes considered that the thing was enveloped by a crystal which is associated more with stability than chaos. Before moving on to their next adventure, Unity fashioned a better containment device and let Bunker keep it in his armoured suit.

My prediction was that we would have ended the session here. I wanted to keep starting a new issue with a new session but a decision I have made earlier prevented me from doing so. The players expected to have to deal with their dark reflections after the crystal was destroyed but I had a feeling we have had enough fun coming up with bizarre ways in which they behaved. I didn’t want the rest of the scene to be purely dice rolling so I ended it there. I was very lenient with roleplaying after that point, giving players free reign over what they wanted to do in the scenes that followed. Even so, we had one more hour to go in the evening so I asked which place they wanted to deal with first.

a portent of things to come?
We open the first pages of Justice Comics #740 to find the Freedom Five (Unity is still with them!) flying over Siberia. The Wraith had the brilliant idea to mount a cloaking device to the Freedom Jet which would prevent the Russian government from knowing they were ever there. I had no idea which issue they would have picked so the next half of the session involved me looking things up extensively. Normally I get this done before I sit down to run a game, I assure you!

Suddenly, their on-board equipment read high levels of radioactivity with an epicentre 100 miles away from the city of Yakutsk. Visionary wasn’t overly specific on Fanatic’s whereabouts but checking this place out seemed like a safe bet. If anything, they might prevent a nuclear explosion.

Deep within the woods they found an abandoned facility that looked similar in design to a nuclear power plant without any silos. It has clearly been out of use for decades judging from the state of disrepair so they opted not to land the Freedom Jet on the main building’s helipad. Instead, they landed in the parking lot where they found a GAZ truck parked in the corner surrounded by four canisters filled with some liquid. This has sparked an interesting conversation on the temperature petrol freezes at and whether comic book writers care much about physics.

Eventually, the superheroes decided to enter the building. Absolute Zero walked up to the door and since his player was conveniently situated next to me, I showed him what he sees without anyone knowing. He hurriedly closed the main doors, froze them solid and started walking back muttering “no” under his breath several times.

I ended the session there, leaving the players with a cliff-hanger and enjoyed immensely the pleas to know what lay behind those doors.

Monday, 11 March 2019

Into The Void

This week we’re continuing Freedom Five #802. Our superheroes vanquished the demonic creatures attacking Visionary who was holding at bay some kind of Void entity trying to break through into our dimension and wreak havoc!

The house suffered minimal damage in the form of a few broken windows and the door off its hinges. Legacy promptly put it back where it belonged while Absolute Zero froze the hinges. The car that Unity used to create her robots had more parts missing in comparison. With the need to divide her attention gone, Visionary could now have a proper conversation with the superheroes. She didn’t know much about the entity that was trying to break through into their dimension but she did know that she won’t be able to hold it at bay for much longer. She suggested opening a portal long enough for them to enter the Void and deal with the problem at its source, the Freedom Five agreed.

In preparation for their venture into the unknown, Tachyon devised a working theory on how to contain this entity based on the energy signature left by the creatures they have faced earlier. Armed with this knowledge, Unity created a containment device out of what remained of the family car. The rest of the Freedom Five noted how Unity’s internship apparently never ended.

Not exactly like this but you get the idea
Visionary opened the portal which manifested itself as a purple energy circle floating in the air. Legacy was the first to enter. At this point I asked Legacy’s player what he expects to find on the other side and incorporated that answer into the description of the Void. Legacy wasn’t sure what he would find upon entering this realm so just to be on the safe side, he flew in through the portal. As he was flying, he found a vast expanse of clear sky. Cerulean, violet, red and their various shades were all around him. Various rock formations of all sizes speckled the dimension. Some looked like fragments of ground, others like planets. Odder still, were the ever-changing things on their surfaces.

Taking heed of his description, each superhero entered the realm in their own way. Bunker used low-level energy blasts to manoeuvre the alien landscape (skyscape?). Unity used her ability to manipulate metal to float on a metal sphere. Absolute Zero dive bombed into the portal. Stranger still, he kept falling constantly. To outside observers, he somehow looped around his fall. When Tachyon ran in circles without falling and Wraith simply stepped through, they suspected gravity might be optional here. Their suspicions were confirmed when both Legacy and Bunker decided to stand on the sky. Although it was solid, they couldn’t quite figure out which one of them was standing higher than the other.

Evil doppelgängers, a classic!
Then, out of nowhere, Legacy heard a familiar voice taunting him! As he turned, he faced himself, or rather, some kind of dark reflection of himself who mocked his hopes of Pauline ever living up to his legacy. The words pierced through his soul but his conviction remained strong and the dark spirit vanished. While the Wraith took out a device to scan for various energy signatures, Absolute Zero decided to stop falling and leaned back as if on a recliner.

Much joking about balls followed
When she found a stream of energy that tried to unravel the portal they came through, Absolute Zero drifted towards it, caught it in his hands and pulled himself towards the source. The Freedom Five (yes, Unity is still with them) found the entity trying to breach through dimensions had the form of a giant crystal with two spheres orbiting it. Their attempts to stop and contain it were constantly interrupted by the appearance of their dark reflections. When Tachyon ran around the crystal in an attempt to seep out its energy, Dark Tachyon materialised to negate her speed by running backwards! Dark Wraith lived up to her dirty tactics by kicking Legacy in the nuts. Dark Absolute Zero unleashed a torrent of wildfire. Even Dark Legacy re-appeared, mocking his good counterpart. The superheroes fought by dividing their attention between the evil apparitions and the entity. Wraith took out a jetpack from her utility belt to help in moving around the battlefield. Unity created a mechanical puppy to take care of the silver and golden spheres. Tachyon analysed the crystal, noting its weak points. Most surprised was Absolute Zero’s actions at the end of the session.

Earlier in the previous scene, he has experimented with the nature of the Void. He learned that heat didn’t exist here so there was nothing his suit was protecting him from. Now he stood up from his invisible (and mostly intangible) recliner and confidently walked towards the crystal. He stood motionless in front of it for a second before opening the bathrobe he was now in. The superheroes averted their eyes when a brilliant light emanated from his naked flesh onto the entity, on which cracks began to form.

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Running Low on Steam

Mint condition, for now!
This session took place during half-term and unlike for most of the population, it has been a very tiring week for me. To give you a better idea, I left work early in order to attend the session so I’ve been working only 10 hours. Indeed, in the six days leading to Thursday, that was my shortest day. Unsurprisingly, I have made several mistakes as a GM in the throes of fatigue.

This is the second issue that the players are going through so I had to introduce another rule. During the previous issue, players got to use their special abilities called Principles. Each character has two of these which represent some fundamentals of their character. Other than allowing the player using it to use his Max die (thus increasing chances of success), they also give everyone at the table a Hero Point! However, these points can only be spent in a subsequent issue (which is clearly now!).

I explained that during this issue each of them has the option to spend their points to add to their result after rolling dice. The only requirement is that you must explain how events from the previous issue inform your current action. I quickly alleviated the worry about “having to remember stuff” by reminding people that retcons are very common in comic books so they’re free to add things that happened in the previous issue as long as it doesn’t contradict anything.

The Freedom Five flew in their Freedom Jet to Ravenwood (they took Unity with them!). On their way, Bunker, whilst piloting, recalled that he did actually read about the Void. He has this habit of going through mission logs while having his morning coffee. One of them mentioned the Void as a dimension of unbridled magical energy. Meanwhile, Absolute Zero created a small blizzard localised around Legacy’s nose who was flying alongside the jet.

The very moment the superheroes landed they were hit with… exposition! I explained that they’ve been to Ravenwood before. A suburban area of Rook City, several years ago the Freedom Five battled many odd creatures appearing here when young Vanessa Long’s psychic powers manifested and ran rampant. The Visionary is an older Vanessa who breached the time-space continuum with her mind in order to stop her terrifying future from coming to pass.

After I was done describing the seemingly idyllic place, I was very happy when the players noticed that despite it being late afternoon/early evening, I didn’t mention any people being around. It was eerily quiet but a crash eventually broke the silence. The Wraith sunk into the growing shadows to investigate. She found Vanessa Long’s house and, peering through a window, The Visionary being surrounded by some kind of demonic lizards. They flung themselves at the figure sitting in the middle of the living room but they hit some form of invisible barrier and slid back onto the floor.

I may have ran out of ink at some point there.
The Visionary’s voice thanked Maia for coming to her aid. She felt something preying on the psychic energies left in the area after her younger self’s powers went rampant several years back. When she got here, she telepathically put the residents to sleep while she worked on putting up a dimensional barrier to stop whatever was trying to break through. These creatures are not making her job any easier so she’s not sure how long she’ll be able to hold it together under these circumstances. While their help is welcome, she did ask not to damage the house.

The rest of the Freedom Five (with Unity) were relayed this information. It was clear they had to get the creatures out of the house so Bunker provided a fireworks display. The demonic creatures jumped through the door and windows, looking very confused at their surroundings. Two of them managed to grab hold of Absolute Zero’s limbs while Unity summoned her gnomes only to have them combine into a dog-catcher construct! Absolute Zero even added some ice-spikes to its collar-catcher.

Meanwhile, The Wraith climbed into the house, careful not to damage its exterior. I asked for an Overcome Action to perform this and we had our first use of Hero Points to add to the result. The knowledge she gained while overseeing her company’s construction work in the previous issue helped her a great deal. She found the house’s occupants safe in their beds and went downstairs to flank the creatures. Legacy tried to attract the rest out of the house by making himself look like the weakest member of the team. Even though he succeeded on his roll, since his entire character sheet states how he’s in peak physical condition at the worst of times, I required he rolled a d4 in his dice pool. This was the first time I called up the rule that states that if a player can’t incorporate his Qualities/Powers into an Action, he has to roll a d4 to represent being unskilled at a task.

Did I mention I was tired that day?

Your GM, internally.
When the Action Scene progressed into the Yellow Zone, I forgot that all the demons would have gotten stronger and to up their die size by a step. It has probably made the scene shorter than originally intended. My other mistake was when I judged the nature of Bunker’s action. He tried to help Legacy in his next action by providing covering fire to distract the demons, lowering their effectiveness. Through my fatigue I have allowed that to be a Boost but in retrospect, since it was more geared towards the enemies rather than Legacy himself, I should have ruled it a Hinder. Sadly, these things happen when you’re too tired to think properly. All in all, I was more annoyed at my inability to get into character of The Visionary than anything else that went on at the table.

The scene ended shortly after Legacy decided to make an attack hitting several of the demons at once. After the dice were cast, his player entertained us with a short story of how Legacy used to pretend to be a spinning top to amuse his daughter Pauline. This allowed him to tick off his Collection for the issue and change one of his dice to any side he wished. With this new result, he took out nearly of the creatures they were fighting. They dissipated into nothingness. Bunker took care of any stranglers with his grenade launcher which similarly lets him target multiple opponents.

It’s amazing the amount of dice manipulation this system allows you to do. You can create a modifier for yourself (or your allies) that you apply when it benefits you most. You gather points to add to your rolls for the next issue that you likewise add at your leisure. Finally, there’s the option of choosing the exact number you roll. All of this at your disposal as long as you can add to the story being told at the table.

Sunday, 3 March 2019

A Close Call

Oui, c'est moi.
The battle for the Akash’Flora tree wages into our third session of Freedom Five #801. Having scenarios presented in a comic book format is a very nice touch. It adds tremendously to the theme of the game: comic book super-heroics!

For this session we had a decrease in participants. This happen often enough during our weekly sessions at the club that I already had a plan in mind. The scenes scale the number of enemies to the number of players so I simply removed enough undamaged opponents to have the exact same number of them as if the fight began with the current number of players. This still didn’t save Absolute Zero from being overwhelmed by the spider-bots as the rest of the Freedom Five focused their efforts on the Spider Mother-ship!

Fortunately, instead of making a new character when you reach 0 Health, in Sentinel Comics you are only reduced to a single action per round. This Out Ability is specific to each superhero and in Absolute Zero’s case, he could only Hinder (provide negative modifiers) using his Cold d12. It is limiting to be reduced in such a way but it allows the player to still contribute to the scene.

Argent Adept, seen here before
the attack that left him hospitalised.
Legacy saved Argent Adept by lifting up the fragment of a wall under which he laid trapped. Unfortunately, in the heat of battle, he carelessly flung the piece of rubble without looking where it would land. Argent Adept was injured so he had to stay out of the fray. With his safety assured, Legacy joined the rest in facing the biggest and meanest member of the robotic swarm!

Our heroes fought valiantly against the enormous arachnid machine but they were running out of time. The scene tracker went past the Yellow Zone into the Red. At one point I couldn’t help but notice that the heroes had only one round left before the villains would get their way. Already, the Wraith was throwing knives and EMP grenades that reduced the Spider Mother-ship’s effectiveness. Unity had created a steel unicorn that was stabbing through the robot’s protective plating. Absolute Zero was strategically freezing its joints when Legacy flew through the machine’s legs!

A brief moment passed before gravity caught up with the robot and it toppled down but the smaller bots were still drilling into the Akash’Flora tree! With only moments to spare, Unity created two metal gnomes out of the surrounding debris. One went into the Spider Mother-ship and found the element sending signals to all the machines in its immediate vicinity while the other smashed it with a hammer. Only then did the spider-bots lose their directive. It was a simple matter of clearing up the damage in the midst of aimlessly wandering robots bumping into each other.

i miei appunti inutilizzati
Legacy flew Argent Adept to the hospital while I sulked internally as a GM. I was truly hoping that the players would provide him some first aid so he could join the fight. The issue said he would be giving one player a round a +3 modifier. It didn’t exactly specify what those modifiers would be but since his superpower derives from music and two of our players are Italian, I had the brilliant idea to use musical terminology for them. Even though I prepared a list, I didn’t get to use any of it. This only shows that even when the entire world is at your fingertips, the plot will still not go your way.

When Legacy returned to help his team members clear up, a couple of Megalopolis’s finest asked to speak with him. It appeared that the piece of rubble Legacy took off the Argent Adept and carelessly threw away hit a building which collapsed shortly thereafter. Although it was unoccupied at the time, it was still considerable damage to city property. Fortunately, Legacy promised to cover the cost of repairs. I don’t think the Wraith was happy with his decision but as they’re a government funded superhero team, maybe that’s something that his wife, a senator, will have to deal with.

Oddly enough, the police officer’s phone rang. He was shocked to have someone ask to speak to Legacy who was fortuitously standing right in front of him. As it turned out, Argent Adept gave this number to a nurse because he wanted to speak with the Freedom Five in person.

When they all gathered by his hospital bed, after thanking them for assisting him in saving the Akash’Flora tree, he confided in them that The Visionary had sent him a message through the Void asking for help. He was in no position to help her so he asked the Freedom Five (and Unity!) to go to Ravenwood and investigate what’s going on.