Just finished the latest session of my Exalted game (working title “Cold Dawn”), I had a lot of fun running it. It’s been a while since the last session, and in any case we haven’t had time to play all that much; the initial plan was for one game a month but with summer intervening, it’s been even less. In addition, since I’m trying to run this in a pretty freeform fashion, I (again) had a hell of a time deciding what to prep and what to wing on the fly.
Anyway, things went fine and once again partly according to what I had envisioned, partly nothing like. Exalted is tricky, it’s one hell of a complex world, and bringing the interesting parts of the game world to focus without falling back on needless exposition is a bit of a tightrope walk. I like the game a lot, especially the world (Creation)… but it’s very, very complicated. That’s one reason why I like it, of course, I’m a sucker for complex (but internally coherent) settings.
I’m running this game with a slowish start, on purpose. The power level has been pretty low so far, but will probably escalate as the characters start discovering what they can do, and what they need to do in order to survive. Things are on the move, only a small part of them visible to the characters (or players, so far).
In any case, our band of stalwart (or not) heroes are slowly wending their way up North, sailing up the River of Tears towards Sijan as a waypoint to Rubylak and territories even more unknown. Today’s session involved friendly but clueless cultists, friendly merchant-sorcerers from Lookshy, neutral river gods, reputedly dark-dwelling bloodsuckers who are presumed hostile, and the proper use of air elementals.
I’m not sure one of the players knew what he was getting into when he chose the Cult background…
Been feeling a bit under the weather, maybe some shade of a flu coming on. Nothing serious. just feeling more tired than normal.
I think I’ll try to get at least some part of the BM pictures done this weekend, and there’s also some prep for the next Exalted game to be done. Still not sure when we’ll manage to play, people have been having some calendar problems (what else is new :), but anyway. Should also take a look at the new car and see if I could fix the glove compartment latch thing and a couple of other things. Depends a bit on the weather, too, if it’s dark and/or rainy, I’m not twiddling with the car or anything else outside, if I can help it.
Found someone (actually, a couple of someones) who are interested in the old car, which is nice. That should sort itself out within the week.
I suspect the hood mechanism repair on the new Cabriolet will require a shop that knows Peugeot tech, so that means either the main importer (Automaa) or a Peugeot-specialist shop. Found one of those, Autochic Oy in Lauttasaari, but it gave the impression of being very expensive and a quite Google resulted in some forum comments about it being in the same price range as official repair shops, so…
If anyone knows of a good shop that does Peugeot repairs in the Helsinki/Espoo area, please let me know. Some of the stuff I can do “wherever”, of course, but it’s good to have options.
I’ll probably wait till next month to schedule shop time, my salary just came and went via my account, the last big part of our USA/BM trip (car rentals, etc) took care of emptying my cash register. Will have to be semi-poor for a while here.
I’ve lately been thinking of running some other game(s) “on the side”, besides the Exalted game. Maybe with a (partly) different set of players, to help with the calendar problems. Dunno what, though, the problem is too many great games. The are a couple of game systems I’m interested in trying out in practice – Burning Wheel and Reign – so maybe something fantasy-oriented using those (since both are fantasy rulesets). One option I’ve been toying with is a short game set in Freeport, using Burning Wheel rules. Pirates, evil cults, swords, mayhem… all that good stuff. Might be fun.
Well, despite a semi-hectic real life schedule leading me to not get as much prep work done as I would have liked, I’ve managed to run a few non-horrible rpg sessions. After a long while of not running anything, it’s slowly coming back. I guess GM:ing is sort of riding a bike – you can get better at it over time, but once learned you never really forget the skill. Also like the bike, now and then you crash and fall in a spectacular fashion no matter how good you are…
Anyway, last Tuesday we had the first proper session of an Exalted game. The story starts in Nexus, and I had a bunch of plot threads semi-ready and went with what the players decided to do. Mostly things went in expected directions, but there were quite a few surprises to keep me on my toes. Apparently things seemed to progress in a logical fashion, which is nice, considering that behind the scenes I was desperately trying to integrate multiple fast-mutating plot threads together. We’ll see how this goes; at the moment the characters have recovered a few (apparently minor) artifacts and are trying to figure out the meaning of a symbol which gives some of them foreboding flashbacks from the past. Things are made interesting by the fact that the party isn’t exactly in agreement about how best to proceed… White Noise’s stealthy and paranoid approach to things is not quite in synch with Khamyn’s “go forth my followers and fetch me information!” deal. Oh, and they have a First Circle demon in their basement, happily building a nest from various spiky bits. Will the Dragon-Bloods come gunning after the party looking for stolen loot? Will the Wanderer decide to go “fuck this” and revert back to the Immaculate faith? Will Damien the Black Sword decide to pay the brothel another visit (“to gather some more info!”)? Stay tuned.
On Sunday I ran the one-shot scenario Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 to a bunch of people, with good results. As expected, the scenario worked very well and the pregen characters had just the right amount of built-in friction and mutual paranoia to keep things from being too easy. Most of the game went in a straightforward fashion, with creepy stuff getting discovered bit by bit and the characters going into “oh shit, let’s leave now” mode (smart of them). Things took a sudden and Paranoia-style turn at the end, when the TASS leader decided that the Commissar knew too much and tried to discreetly execute him. The keen-sensed Commissar threw a spanner into the works, however, by partially dodging the bullet (literally) and running for the trucks, trailing blood and shouting “help, he’s gone mad!”. At the same time, the TASS leader was shouting something to the tune of “stop, traitor!” and confusion reigned supreme. Things wound up with the Red Army medic blowing the TASS thug’s head off with a rifle and with the Red Army group doing a “tactical retreat” from the spot. All in all, a grim but fun DeltaGreen-meets-Paranoia game session. I also used the game as an excuse to test Stolze and Detwiller’s Nemesis game system instead of using BRP, and it worked pretty well. Needs some tweaking, the stock skill list isn’t that hot and this one is probably much better – but overall is seems like a solid engine for low-power horror games. Seeing as the same engine is used in the superhero game Wild Talents, it apparently also works for high-power stuff. Oh, and Stolze is working on Reign, which uses the same “ORE” system to drive some sort of political fantasy game. It’s pretty versatile, though of course needs tweaks depending on what sort of game you want to run.
In any case, I think this became my system of choice for Cthulhu-type games, it works and is lightweight enough. The next time I use it I’ll probably give the alternate combat rules a try, they sound like they might work (even) better than the default ones – which aren’t bad by any means.
On Thursday we’ll be doing Exalted again. I’ll have to find some time today to prepare a bit, since tomorrow night I’ll probably be playing VTES at Valter Cafe – Andrea of EC2006 organizing fame is coming to Finland (from Italy) and we’ve promised him gaming company.
Just to remind people: the Sword of Caine prerelease is approaching fast, be there this Saturday (17.3.) at 10am or miss out. An entry fee of 20e gets you 12 boosters (6 x SoC, 6 x 3rd ed), the tournament deck will be build (only) from these cards. Three rounds, no finals. More info on the VTES page.
Should be a fun event, the new cards look pretty cool. More power for the Black Hand… what’s not to like? There are also a couple of cards in there with interesting mechanics, they let you ambush vampires who hunt without it being an action, and do damage to vampires who have previously cast a lot of votes. Hunting with massive stealth is no longer all that safe (or even a way to cycle stealth), and the old Awe + Voter Cap combo just got a small bit riskier. We’ll see if these have any effect on the metagame.
Lots of stuff happening around here. Yesterday I spent 6 hours doing rapier, and then joined the others to check out a house that’s on sale (yes, we’re shopping for a house). Didn’t like the house, but did leave an offer for another one that we did like, now we’re waiting to see how the seller reacts. A bit scary, but fun. No details here yet, sorry, I’ll post links if and only if the deal finalizes :).
In other news, a bunch of games coming up. Tomorrow we’re (finally) playing a bit of Exalted, then on Sunday I’m running the Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 scenario for a bunch of friends (cabbage soup and vodka optional), and next week’s Thursday is again allocated for Exalted.
Oh, and I have a new computer – or to be more precise, a new combination of new and old parts. Working very well except for some memory issues, I’m getting some faster memory today which should fix things. More on this later, when everything is running smoothly (one hopes).
Hmph, my decision to minimize spending so I could zero my Visa debt at some point is off to a rocky start. First in the line of “give me money!” events is my dentist – a recent chipped tooth prompted me to finally go to a checkup after lots of procrastination. Result: two new fillings and some cleanup work, and a hefty dental bill. It’s a private clinic, very nice but costly even though Kela does pay a part of that bill back later.
By the way, starting the day with a visit to the dentist isn’t that bad. Usually, the rest of the day seems quite rosy in comparison.
Next up in the cash sink department is my (home) computer. It’s been getting steadily worse, and all signs point to a motherboard error; “something somewhere has broken down”. Now, it’s an old mobo and processor and has been my performance bottleneck for quite a while now. On the other hand, I had hoped to limp along with it for a while yet, that’s why I recently upgraded my graphics card to a modern card with an AGP connector… and now a card with a PCI-e connector would be much easier to fit in. Oh well.
I looked over my options, and with some help from Jari found a set of components that should upgrade my computer to something relatively modern: a nice backward-compatible ASRock microATX mobo, E6400 Core 2 Duo processor, Antec HTPC microATX case, Zalman cpu fan, Seagate 320g SATA drive, and some cabling and replacement 120mm fans for the case. The cost wasn’t bad, 540e for the whole pile, and the result should be a nice, fast computer with a small(ish) form factor and low heat. The new mobo can use my (old) DDR400 memory, so no need to upgrade those. Being able to throw away the broken old mobo, Atlon XP and crappy ATA drives will be nice. Well, maybe not literally “throw away” except for the mobo, but still.
Like the dentist thing, this isn’t really an optional purchase, having a working computer at home is pretty much a must for me and this was the close to the cheapest compromise I could think of. Sure, I could have shaved some more euros here and there, but it didn’t seem worth it. On the plus side, maybe now my graphics card can perform like it’s supposed to, the old processor was a big bottleneck for a lot of stuff. We’ll see. right now the critical thing is getting a computer that works and is stable. Performance is just a nice extra.
I’ll have to struggle along with the old computer for at least a week, still, some of the components will take Verkkokauppa a bit of time to get.
… and of course, just when I decided to cut down on purchases, Amazon and Chaosium both decided to deliver piles of books I had ordered quite some time ago and almost forgotten about. Oh well, they are already paid for, can’t complain. More stuff on the (rpg) reading pile:
Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37: a Chaosium monograph detailing a Cthulhu scenario set in Stalin’s USSR. Read this over the weekend and liked it, seems like a fun (and grim) oneshot scenario to run for a bunch of comrades. Vodka optional.
End Time: another monograph, this one about a future where the stars have become (almost) “right” and the Old Ones have done their thing. The last remnants of humanity huddle on Mars, and things are generally not going well. This isn’t a “ready” product, it’s a snapshot of the things that got written for a discontinued Pagan book. Some interesting ideas here, though it’s a jumble and typoes and other mistakes abound. Could be used as the framework for a “Cthulhu on Mars” game.
The Complete Masks of Nyarlathotep: a hardcover reprint of the old classic campaign. Haven’t read this yet, but it’s supposed to be pretty good. Too bad I missed out on the reprint of Beyond the Mountains of Madness, there’s supposed to be another reprint on the way but we’ll see…
Compass of Celestial Directions I: The Blessed Isle: the only 2nd ed Exalted sourcebook I was missing. So far, all the 2nd ed books have been really good. Overall, the are much better organized and written more clearly than the 1st ed books. The first edition does win out on flavor, sometimes, so I’ve also read most of those just for the “fluff”, even the ones that have been superceded by the new books. Read Aspect Book: Fire over the weekend and it proved to be yet another good read. Some people hate the caste/aspect books because they are “only” tales told from the perspective of 5 different characters, with minimal “crunch”. I like them for precisely that reason, I find they make the world come alive much better than pages of dry explanation text. Then again, I’m one of those people who actually enjoys gaming fiction, so take this with a grain of salt (or two). YMMV.
Pandora’s Book and Strange Alchemies: the two continuation books for Promethean. The core book made such a positive impression on me that I want to read more. Interesting game, if quite strange in several ways.
So… maybe now I get back to “spend less money”. One can always hope.
White Wolf. Despite their making some truly boneheaded blunders now and then, and despite some pretty crappy stuff mixed in with the more brilliant, they remain easily my favorite large rpg company. Sure, there are lots of smaller game design studios/people which I have perhaps higher esteem for, but White Wolf has managed quite a track record over the years. I guess the most important factoid is that they make games that spark my interest and imagination – while I find myself utterly bored with the “standard” D&D / Tolkienesque fantasy, when White Wolf does fantasy (Exalted) it’s suddenly something new and interesting.
Of course, having been part of the group running the 10-year Helsinki Vampire Chronicle has given me a lot of background on the old Vampire. Despite all the silliness and occasional fuckups, it was still quite a project and a very cool thing to be involved with.
Since not that many seem to be aware of it, I’ll mention here that the WW design guys have a weblog which generally gets filled in every Monday with stuff from their weekly meeting – which may sound boring, but due to the entertaining writing style and subjects covered, manages to be anything but.
Ok, the WoD reboot happened, and the new World of Darkness has now had time to build up a bit. I have a lot more books on my “to read” pile than I have time to read, I’ve only read the core books of the (so far) 4 WoD game lines along with some supplement books. Impressions so far:
Vampire: the closest one to the original game, things are very much the same… except where they are very, very different. There are still clans, and disciplines, and all that – but the politics are very different, the focus is much more small-scale, and there’s a marked reduction in the amount of “superheroes with fangs” stuff going on. I think it’s a superior game to the old one, there’s a lot of depth here and it’s only getting deeper as the setting gains more detail. I could see myself running this game, where I wasn’t at all interested in the old one (tabletop, that is).
Werewolf: here things start to diverge. No more black-and-white Gaia vs Wyrm stuff, less “cosmic level” stuff. The Umbra still exists, but is renamed and much more hostile. The game focus is territory and protecting it, and again it’s much more “local” than the first game. Looks like a very good game, and has a lot of quite creepy elements (where the first game was more into splatter-type action).
Mage: the problem child. I’m still not sure what to think, here. The core book was just flat-out boring and uninspiring, and where the old Mage just screamed “cool” at times, this one was more in the “meh” category. However, I read Boston Unveiled and that managed to actually be very good (in parts excellent) and gave me some hope for the game. Apparently some of the later supplements also add stuff that makes the game better and reduces the general “Atlantis” silliness. Lots of people seem to like this game, but personally I’m not quite convinced. I think there’s a good game somewhere in there trying to get out from under all the crap, but I think this one needs a rewrite or a revised edition. The game does have some cool covers, though, for example see the preview of the upcoming Free Council book above.
Promethean: I’ll admit, I wasn’t expecting much here. A game about playing Frankenstein’s monster? Hmmm. Somewhere about halfway through the core book, however, I discovered I was pretty much sold on the game and actually started thinking “maybe I should run a oneshot of this”. I haven’t read the expansion books yet, but they are on the list – I hear they keep up the high quality. This game is apparently a labor of love for the writers, it shows. There are some very clever twists on the old “created being” trope here. Promethean is, by the way, a limited-run series, I think the “line” will only contain 5 books. White Wolf is apparently going to be doing a lot of these “mini game lines”, to the tune of one per year or so.
Besides those four, we have the “mortals” books for the WoW, which is a new twist; the old WoD didn’t really support playing as mortals to any meaningful degree. With the new separate WoD rulebook (which contains only the base rules for mortals), things have changed… and changed for the better. The fact is that the “mortals” WoD books are very, very good. Surprisingly so. The book Mysterious Places, for example, is among the best rpg source books I’ve ever read. It’s just that good. Likewise, the Armory book manages to be the best book about equipment, weapons and “stuff” that I’ve ever encountered. The new WoD is shaping up to be a pretty good setting to run general, low-key supernatural/horror stories in.
I do have some gripes with the WoD ruleset, though. While it’s generally nice and lightweight, I think the combat mechanics are abstracted a bit too much. I haven’t used the system much, though. Could be that with some tweaks it could work well enough. Dunno. Somewhat lukewarm on the actual WoD system, personally. It works well enough, but I don’t actively like it yet. I tolerate it.
If we leave the WoD, we have White Wolf’s other major game line, Exalted. I’m currently starting up a game with it, and overall I love it. It’s a wonderful combination of cleverly crunchy mechanics and a world (“Creation”) that contains everything and the kitchen sink. A big, scary kitchen sink that wants to eat your brain and build an intricate coat rack out of your bones. It’s crazy, but it’s also pretty consistent internally and has some (strange) physics of its own which kinda-sorta make sense. I like the insane intricacy of the game world, I like the tone which manages to be both over-the-top-tongue-in-cheek and gritty+serious at the same time. Dunno how it does that, but there it is. Of course, the bad side of the game is that very same complexity. The mechanics are ultra-crunchy, and the game world makes your head spin – I’ve read probably over 2000 pages of background material by now and I’m still confused on many levels. I mostly like the Exalted ruleset, but I fully understand people who run away screaming in horror.
I get the impression that Exalted is very popular and sells very well. I also get the impression that this huge popularity has come as a bit of a surprise for White Wolf. A pleasant suprise, of course, but still.
So, that’s the old/current stuff. In the new/upcoming stuff, there’s various interesting stuff:
The Storytelling Adventure System. Under the grandidose title, what this actually means is “PDF-only pregenerated adventure modules for White Wolf games”. There are three of these available now (generic WoD, Vampire, Werewolf), and I’ve quickly glanced through them. Summary: very nice. While they are “just” pregenerated adventures, they are formatted as a series of scenes with fairly loose coupling, with emphasis on avoiding railroads and too much GM expectations. They are built to be either run standalone or dropped into existing games, and as an additional bonus they are in landscape format; it’s a minor thing, but makes reading on a computer monitor much nicer. The price is on the high side, I think maybe a dollar less would be more “correct”. On the other hand, there’s a bundle available which offers about that dollar-per-module discount, so I can’t really complain too much. Overall, I love this format… having high-quality ready-to-run stuff is always good – no matter how creative you are (and I’m not, generally), there are always times when you either run out of good ideas or just don’t have time to prepare. These should help, if you happen to be running one of the relevant games. Will from WW has said that SAS modules for the other games are also in the pipeline. We’ll see. It’s nice to see WW experimenting with pure-PDF publishing like this, I think PDF is the perfect format for something like this and developments like this may help a lot of things see the light of day that might not otherwise make sense to publish.
Scion is the next “mini game line”. Apparently, it’s something along the lines of American Gods, using a somewhat streamlined Exalted game system. Modern-day urban fantasy with Exalted-style combat – could be utterly cool, could be horrible. We’ll see in April, I guess, when Scion: Hero sees the light of day.
A new version of Changeling is the next upcoming WoD game. I didn’t much care for the original version, got too much of a “warm fuzzy elves” feel from it. The new one, written by Ethan (of new Werewolf fame) and the gang, reputedly focuses a lot more on the darker aspects of the “fae” mythology. Apparently it’s a lot more “Pan’s Labyrinth” than “Labyrinth”. If so, good.
Apparently there’s a “sixth WoD game” in the works. No idea of what that is, could be pretty much anything.
We’ll see. Now that CCP and White Wolf have merged, anything could happen. I was pretty apprehensive at first, with visions of WW being gutted to run EVE-related stuff running through my mind… but I’m not that worried any more. If things go well, we’ll have the CCP guys help WW with expanding into computer stuff (hey, anything to fix up WW’s horrible web site!), and WW helping CCP do “proper” roleplaying expansion around EVE themes.
I guess it’s a good thing that my main complaint with roleplaying nowadays is “there’s way more good stuff coming out than I have time to even read, let alone play!”. While there’s a lot of doom and gloom now and then with “the roleplaying industry is dying” and other related concerns, I’m not sure I see that happening. Sure, computer gaming will have an effect and will to some extent probably merge with pen&paper games – but overall, it’s all good, at least as far as the customers/players are concerned. And hey… it’ll be a long, long time before computer games can offer the flexibility of “traditional” rpg games. Both have their strengths, and I don’t see that going away anytime soon.
The last few weekends have been pretty busy with gaming stuff.
First off, the Sunday before last we had the Command of the Harpies II VTES tournament. It’s a normal VTES constructed-deck tournament, with the smal additional twist that players can also give “style points” to other players – the player who gets the most of those gets a small additional prize. Was a fun tournament with lots of different deck types around. My own deck failed to score much, as usual, and also “as usual” the win went to Tuomas (Vuokko), this time playing a Tremere Antitribu political deck. The style point winner was Juho Vuorikoski’s Werewolf Protectorate deck, a fun twist on anarchs and various werewolf allies. Juho was also a finalist in the game, good going.
Fast forward to last Saturday, when I ran the first (sort of) proper session of my “starting up slowly” Exalted game. In reality, pretty much the whole game session went towards final tweaks on the characters and in testing out the (complex) combat system… and then tweaking the characters some more. I was actually pretty fun and useful, and I was prepared to have most of the day go into prep so no problem there. Next time we can get to the actual game, and set the ball rolling. Since the PCs are in Nexus, the ball will have a lot of rolling to do…
The party is looking pretty good. We have a ancient god-king Dawn caste out to reclaim his old empire (Mika), a young and brash swordsman Dawn caste hell-bent on becoming the best swordfighter in the world (Sanna), a ninja-sorcerer Night caste from Lookshy (Janka), an ex-Realm bureaucrat Zenith caste out to clean up Creation (Suvi) and an ex-Immaculate monk Water aspect trying to re-adjust his worldview (Janne). In Nexus. Oh, and they have a cult. What could possibly go wrong?
After that fun but exhausting day, I got up at what felt like way too early to drive to Otaniemi and run a second round of the fun Millennium Cultist VTES storyline tournament. We got 16 players total, which was about what I was expecting. Fun games, but the ORC gaming area was a bit chilly in the wintertime, the last round has some players wearing their jackets to stay warm. In any case, the win went to Juho Vuorikoski (that man again), with his Ventrue Antitribu “Suicide Kings” deck.
I’m starting to wish for a nice, quiet weekend with nothing scheduled, but my calendar doesn’t agree with that plan. No rest for the wicked.