January 24th, 2012


Kapcon 21, Day 1

Believe it or not, this was the day of variation.

Session 1, The Tree of Souls, Dungeon World.
In the first session, I re-ran my Big Bad Con game, The Tree of Souls (for those in the LA crew, this is the infamous camping game). Kapcon sessions are only 3 hours, but despite an hour or pregen, we wrapped up a pretty satisfying game only a little over time. The basic plot is that Aiya, the daughter of the Mayor of Redvale, has been kidnapped, and the mayor is offering a reward. The party was:
  • Zorica (Rose), the Cleric of Zorica, checking on her few worshippers personally, the only local such worshipper being Aiya.
  • Alacar (Matthew), the slight elven mistress of alchemical magics seeking to marry Aiya.
  • Lux (James), Paladin of S’Tharg the Punisher (a Lich who rules his holy order with an iron fist, and iron nails...) who has sworn to the mayor that he will recover Aiya on his honour!
  • Throndar the Barbarian, from the Bear tribe of the frozen Northern Mountains, seeking revenge on the mayor by making off with his daughter.

The game starts with a chance for the players to use some discovery powers before a likely fight with a band of Orcs and Goblins, but the Paladin managed to convince the Orc leader that S’Tharg might be a worthier leader than his own warlord. Thus Lux decided to challenge said warlord to single combat to prove the strength of S’Tharg and conquer the orc tribe. If we’d had another hour, this would have been the next thing they did after burning down half the forest in failing to rescue the mayor’s daughter. Only having three hours reduced the amount of atmospheric description I could insert, so I don’t think the game was as creepy as it could have been.

Session 2, White Rabbit, Karen Wilson.
I wasn’t sure if I was in the mood for Karen’s dark exploration of love and family in space, but I warmed to it over the first hour or so and had a great time. My character was the ship’s co-pilot; a widower who had made a series of poor decisions in his personal life and had brought his estranged kids on a routine transport mission. So when shit finally went bad, I spent the end of the game trying to talk to my kids. It was pretty dark, and lots of fun. Karen didn’t like the degree to which it became a LARP (it was 9 players with multiple areas of the ship marked out around the room), but the ability to have private conversations with other characters introduced a nice fog of war that really made the game.

Biggie ups to Karen for another great game, and to all the players, especially samnotluke and Hannah(?) for doing a great job playing my appropriately sulky and somewhat abandoned children!

Session 3, The Bloodstones of Dungeon World, Dungeon World, Russell Andrews.
I was excited to see a Dungeon World game on the list, and I would have liked to chat with Russell a bit more and maybe run a game for him, but unfortunately he wasn’t around the con very much other than in his games, but then neither was I. The on-site food options were sub-optimal, so I spent most of the time in the breaks seeking out better options.

His game was The Bloodstone Idol from the Red Book. I might have read it, but only once and I’d never run it, so I don’t really remember much of the written adventure and thus I’m not sure if he changed the scenario at all. I returned a little late from lunch, so I was assigned the Fighter, possibly my favourite class (it’s close with the Cleric). There were six players, the last of which arrived after me and played a second thief. In retrospect I should have offered to give him the Fighter and play one of the AG playbooks. C’est la vie.

I hadn’t played the Bloostone Idol before, so that was cool. It felt very old school dungeon crawly in a way that Colin and Andrew’s games (and probably my own) don’t, as we approach it more from a pulp action angle. There was lots of damage and resting and the thieves going off alone and getting in trouble while the rest of us fought off goblins. Falling staircases, ghosts in arcane laboratories and the like. I’m not sure when Russell was advancing the impending doom, but we encountered Grundloch and his summoned demon as they were leaving the Dungeon to wreak havoc upon the land. We were pretty badly beaten up from sequential fights with ghosts then giant fireflies but we cut down Grundloch pretty quickly and came painfully close (1hp) to killing the demon and saving the world, but alas, we all died in the attempt. Good stuff!

I’d never considered doing this, and it started me thinking about whether I think it’s a good idea, but Russell had pre-generated characters, except for name, look and bonds. Unfortunately, I didn’t have an eye on the clock as I do in my own games, so I’m not sure how long it took before we were ready to play. I’m sure it saves time for first-time players, but it detracted a little from my investment in the character, I think. That probably enhanced the old school feel too, now that I think about it.

The other thing he did, which I’m more sure of my opinion of, was have the person to our left highlight one stat. Only. As a result, there wasn’t much levelling which detracted from my experience a little. I had CON highlighted and I reached level 2 relatively close to the end of the session. I was the first to level but I only levelled at all because I pushed Defend at every possible opportunity and thus hit my alignment a few times, which felt like a bit of a waste of my badass fighter-itude. A couple of other players dinged near the end too.

Flagship LARP, Achaean.

The setting of the LARP was Aulis, before the Greek fleet set off to Troy to recover Helen and generate the Iliad. I played Odysseus, King of Ithica, as I sought to gain kleos, avoid the war, and in doing so remove probably my greatest source of kleos, the Oddyssey. I succeeded... I guess? It was fun, but I don't think I have much else to say about it except that I very much enjoyed being a Greek hero and hanging out with other Greek heroes, although I would have liked to do some questing along with it. There were a lot of great costumes, as you'd expect, and a lot of great portrayals. I very much enjoyed inserting dramatic ironies into as many of my conversations as I could.

Kapcon 21, Day 2

Who am I kidding, I only run one game.

I spent all the Sunday sessions camped out in the Games on Demand rooms, so none of these games were on the schedule.

Session 4: The Adventures of Throndar the Barbarian ON THE MOUNTAIN OF FIRE! Dungeon World.
I don’t like to run games with more than four or five players these days. I usually advertise all my games a 4 player games, and will sometime accept a fifth. With that said, I’m not sure exactly how I ended up with six in this game. Despite that, this was right up there with the best Dungeon World games I’ve been involved in thanks in no small part to a table full of excellent players.

When I’m running one off games, I like to get some adventure seeds from the players then craft them into something while the players make their characters. In this case, I gave each player two pieces of paper and had them write a fantastic location on one and a terrible monster on the other. I was going to pick one of each at random, but several of them worked well together, so I used about eight of the suggestions in this game (which I described as the serious suggestions), and shelved the rest (the wacky suggestions) for round six. The resulting adventure was traversing a fetid swamp to reach the lair of a fire demon in a Dragon graveyard atop volcano. Badass, bring it!

The characters were as awesome as the adventure seeds:
  • Walton, Chef to the Tzars, (Dennis) the Fighter who carved up defeated enemies for rations.
  • Fo Thun the Petulant, (Ian) the Wielder of Magicks, Blinder of Lizardmen, Dowser of Fire Demons!
  • Zorica, the Cleric of Zorica, (Rose) having saved the mayor’s daughter now teaming up with a new Throndar the Barbarian and on the hunt for converts...
  • The ever so polite Sir Ptolemy Chumley-Smythe Worthingtonsonness (Svend), Paladin of bloody vengeance.
  • A different Throndar the Barbarian (Nick), with Smoldering eyes, revealing leathers, elaborate tattoos, mighty thews (of course), “strange” piercings and, as it turned out, a penchant for narcolepsy.
  • Melliandre the Elven bard (Sam), gifted with a bewitching voice by Zorica.
Rose and Nick had played Dungeon World before (both in games I had run within the last few weeks).

The adventure began with Walton leading the party through the swamp, secretly in search of a legendary manticore (the culinary equivalent of a box of assorted chocolates), while Melliandre regaled them with the tale of a hero who had soothed a giant bat with music and a particular food and ridden it on a might quest. On the way through the swamp they were ambushed by lizardmen, the leader of whom Throndar messily decapitated. Sir Ptolemy recruited the survivors as bearers, mostly for the sleepy Throndar – berserking is tiring work! On the body of the leader they found a crude map showing a couple of paths, “home” and “pit of death and batshit”. The body of the leader himself was rendered down for rations by Walton.

Continuing to the crossroads marked on the crude map where they camped for the night, resolving to approach the pit of death and batshit in the light of day. During Throndar’s watch, they were ambushed by a large band of lizardmen. The ensuing fight was chaotic: Throndar was off in the swamp berserking amongst a group of lizardmen; Walton picked up his shield-cum-wok from the camp fire and, resisting the heat, threw it at a large lizardman, but the lizardman ducked and the shield sunk into the swamp with a hiss, where it elluded his attempts to recover it; Fo Thun, Melliandre and Zorica all spent most of their time wrestling with lizardmen in the camp while Sir Ptolemy dressed with the air of his bearers and went to their aid. As the dust settled in the camp proper, the still-raging Throndar rushed screaming from the swamp, across the camp, and back into the swamp, pursing a single lizardman with multiple wounds and blinded by Fo Thun who had cast embers into his face with his staff. Squelch.

Amongst the loot was a bag full of big bugs and mushrooms and a magical net. Fo Thun spouted lore and declared that the favoured food of bats was truffles, but that mushrooms would be close enough. Thus they continued to the pit where they battled a fierce manticore while ankle deep in the bones of its previous victims. Despite the attempts of several of the group to ensnare it in the magical net, it was left to the mighty axe of Throndar to slay the beast; the cover of this chapter of Melliandre’s tale would no doubt feature an airborne barbarian leaping at the leonine face of a similarly airborne leaping manticore. Walton butchered the manticore and imagined the feast he would serve to his wealthy patrons back in the city, they searched the bones for gold, finding a Sword of Man Slaying, partially by the misfortune of Throndar having fallen on it during the struggle.

When the giant bats returned, they tamed them with song and mushroom, mounted them and rode them to the dragon graveyard atop the mountain of fire. Needing to summon forth the demon, Melliandre related how demons could usually be summoned forth by offering a virgin, so Sir Ptolemy was tied to a giant dragon skull and Throndar gave forth a might yell of challenge.

In response, a giant shadow appeared in the belching flame and a demonic figure emerged down from the caldera to the graveyard making for the skull, its four arms wreathed in flame. Melliandre spouted lore once more about how fire demons eat their sacrificial meal after they have crushed their enemies, and battle was joined. Throndar ran up a dragon spine and leaped at the demon, hacking off one of its arms while Walton attacked it from below and was thrown repeatedly into a dragons ribcage. Seizing upon an idea, Zorica offered to deflower Sir Ptolemy, but only if he converted to her... religion... Rose rolled a 10+ on her Parley and Svend chose to... mark experience.

By now the demon had seized Throndar in two of its arms and was squeezing him with flame-wreathed claws. Fo Thun had collected waterskins and dowsed the demons legs, extracting a roar of pain, and the removal of the offering disrupted its demonic energies causing an arm to hang limp. Finally, as Melliandre sung a heroic lay, Throndar bit out the throat of the demon.
Aaaaand scene.

That game won Best Single Session, for which I picked a D&D 4e book on undead a book full of Dungeon World ideas. More importantly, at least two of my awesome players received prizes from nominations from that game. When they publish the best of the nominations, I’m sure there’ll be a few from this game.

Nick's writen a description from Throndar's perspective.

Session 5: The Kurosawa Extraction, CyberWorld playtest.
In the second Sunday session, I offered a playtest of Cyberworld, my cyberpunk action/heist hack of Apocalypse World by way of Dungeon World. This was the first time I’d run the game, so I was quite nervous about how it would go, but by and large it went exactly as I’d hoped. I definitely have some things to work on and think about, but the core is solid, which, given it’s a hack, is unsurprising.

The characters were:
  • Quade (James), the Hunter, a scruffy but thoroughly professional Deckard-esque detective, complete with hardboiled voiceovers.
  • Karl Cartman (Richard), the Driver, a camo-wearing chopper pilot with a couple of drones.
  • Max (Rose), the Hacker, with the Avatar of a scrawny 14 year-old redheaded girl and whose real face was never seen.
  • Loulou (Matthew), the Killer, a chromed street samurai with gold and tourquoise spiked hair , a glowing chrome cyberarm and a badass autoshotgun.
The game was a involuntary extraction of a corporate R&D guy. The group made characters, investigated the guy and the information they been given by their employer, Mr Smith, made their plans, and performed the mission all in around 2.5 hours, which is great. The mission largely went according to plan, but while they did attract some corporate heat, it didn’t turn out to be a setup, but there would have been time in a 3 hour session to play it out if anything drastic had gone wrong.

Instead of Hx or Bonds, I’m using Links and a SotC-style background generation system whereby each player describes a job they did and the person to their left describes what role they played in it. It went well, generally resulting in a loosely connected team not optimised for helping each other.

I think the most pressing requirement is more colour in the playbooks to help the players get into the cyber-groove.

Session 6: The Lich King of Ragmatag! Dungeon World.
I vacillated briefly with offering Apocalypse World, as requested by drbunnyhops but as I haven’t yet run it and I was reasonably tired by this point, I opted for Dungeon World again. Sorry drbunnyhops! I’ve since offered AW for round one at Kapcon 2012 (as well as promising a Cyberpunk game (maybe a LARP) for 2021).

The other way I like to generate adventure seeds is have each of the players pitch a “dungeon” then have them choose. Then I flesh it out and add twists while they generate characters. That’s the method I used this time. The ideas were:
  • The abandoned Dwarven mines, now filled with zombie halflings (which is a potentially quite horrifying scenario for a future game)
  • A tower to which the evil lord Varcon has been dragging local villagers for dark purposes!
  • A high church taken over by heretics.
  • A desecrated temple of the god Ragmatag, now home to an evil Lich.
As the retroactively applied name suggests, they chose the Lich. Their characters were:
  • Marcus, Paladin of the Order of the Merciful Lady (Freya).
  • Rudiger the Fighter (Richard), his bloodstained sword the latest and best in a line of weapons he has been rigorously testing.
  • Hur’fulg the Cleric of his most generous lord, Dosan the Bringer (Dale - no, not that one).
  • Robin, the thief who had tricked Marcus into a long-running con whereby she siphoned money intended for orphans to a different set of orphans and who stole prayers from Hur'fulg (Karen).
As character generation ended, I started to feel the previous two sessions of GMing, but as the dice began hit the table I got my second wind. The party journeyed up a river valley to the temple, repelled some bandits, then parleyed with the survivors. Their camp was beset by a disease from the disgusting river fish they had been forced to eat by the recent absence of game. Hur’fulg tried to sure them but the required herbs had all been harvested. While attempting to find them, Marcus and Hur’fulg killed a leopard, hopefully solving at least one of the bandit’s problems.

The next day they ventured into the temple, descending a blasted hole into a room with an incorporeal spirit of some sort which they defeated. Robin died in the battle, but made a bargain with death that she could return to help her companions, but she could never leave the caves beneath the temple. She accepted.

Further into the caves, the found magical traps, locked doors and trapped treasure and finally confronted the Lich in his laboratory. Rudiger and Marcus killed him with relative ease, while Robin found his phylactery and Hur’fulg sanctified the Lich’s now decapitated skull. Rudiger was killed by the explosion as he smashed the warded phylactery, but was recognised by Death as a useful servant and sent back to the mortal plane, elsewhere. Marcus tried to drag Hur’fulg dived into cover but he too was killed and accepted into Dosan’s Market by his most generous lord.

Marcus climbed out of the blasted hole, pouches stuffed with the Lich’s treasure (and some herbs), and hesitantly, Robin followed, apparently escaping the notice of death (defy danger), for now!

So that was Kapcon. Only my second, but much better than my first (2003) at which I was not happy with my game due to under preparation. Now that I have a bunch of games I can run without prep, or that I have run before, that's not an issue. I mainly play indie games for two reasons: I can reliably get an awesome and complete game experience in 2-4 hours, and they tap the creativity of everyone at the table more evenly, not just the GM. This weekend was no exception, so thanks to all my players for bringing so much awesome!

Makin' Moves

@Azaroth42 wants a Streetwise type move in Dungeon World, so asked me to post this move from my CyberWorld game.

Hit the Street (Style)
When you go to a contact for help, includes finding specialists and street doctors.
Roll+Style, on a 10+, choose 3, on at 7-9 choose 2:
  • They have what you want, immediately
  • It doesn't attract attention
  • It doesn't cost extra
  • They do it on credit
  • They do a good job

CyberWorld is a cyberpunk game of mission-based action and heists, and in the legwork phase, you need a way to finding out more information about different things. In a way, this is a social version of Spout Lore, so you could easily substitute in CHA as the stat. CyberWorld is gritty and high-tech, so to use this in Dungeon World, I would make it a bit easier by just removing the credit option. It might look something like this:

Streetwise (CHA/Converse*)
When you go to a contact for help (aid, advice, healing, equipment or to sell something specialised), Roll+CHA, on a 10+, choose 3, on at 7-9 choose 2:
  • They have what you want, immediately.
  • It doesn't attract unwanted attention.
  • It doesn't cost extra.
  • They do a good job.

While I'm at it. I wasn't especially happy with how I was using Spout Lore over the weekend. I think this works better for me:

When you Spout Lore about a subject that the GM doesn't have an answer to, Roll+INT. On a 10+ make two statements about the world. On a 7-9 make one. On a 6 or less, make one, but the GM will reveal a negative "yes, but..." twist later.

* "Converse" is the XP tag for the alternate BBC XP system.