Warning! Spoilers ahead!
(And a very long writeup up my game at Savage Saturday Night during Origins 2012)
For those who don’t know, Night Train was part of Pinnacle Entertainment’s Dime Novel series made for the Classic version of Deadlands. The first half of these Dime Novels consisted of a fiction story involving the exploits of the undead gunslinger Ronan Lynch and his companions. The second half was a scenario version of the adventure that Ronan Lynch and company just went through, allowing a creative posse to go through the events their own way. (The fiction stories of the three Dime Novels were rereleased last year with new artwork of Ronan Lynch and company, but sadly they did not come with the adventure).
Night Train is probably the most famous Dime Novel because the scenario in the back of the original version had a reputation for killing off the entire posse. Perhaps the description for the product says it all:
Our undead gunslinger’s next adventure finds him in the town of Varney Flats just as the ominious Night Train rolls into town…This Dime Novel is our most famous ever, and launched the writing career of John “Total Party Kill” Goff. Survive this one and you’ve got some serious bragging rights, amigo!
Although I’d heard people talk about it, I’d never seen it run, so I decided to rectify that and run it at Origins 2012 during their Savage Saturday Night event. I created my own Classic-to-Reloaded Conversion to bring the scenario to the current Deadlands Reloaded (not knowing that an updated version of the scenario was already included in the new Deadlands: Last Sons). I submitted it to Pinnacle Entertainment, so hopefully it will join the ranks of their other Classic-to-Reloaded Conversions (downloadable here) soon.
To add to the fun, I statted out versions of characters from the fiction stories in the Deadlands Dime Novels as pregens. Players got to choose from Ronan Lynch, Hank “One Eye” Ketchum, Velvet Van Helter, “Bad Luck” Betty McGrew, and Thaddeus Washington (I also created a sixth original character, but she didn’t get used). Because these characters belong to Pinnacle, I’m not allowed to post the character sheets online, but I submitted them to Pinnacle and was told that there is a good chance that they will be made into an official download!
And what about those serious bragging rights for surviving? All players who completed the scenario with a surviving character got one of these buttons I made:
I was a bit surprised by the composition of the players who decided to play this super-deadly adventure. I anticipated having a table of six Savage Worlds veterans who were all familiar with Deadlands. Instead, I only had one player who met that criteria. Three of the other players at the table were familiar with Savage Worlds but not Deadlands and one of them had never played Savage Worlds at all! (There was a sixth player who sat in, but decided to switch games at the last minute, so we wound up with five players). I made it quite clear to them that they were all going to die, but they decided that they would happily continue on.
The game started with Ronan Lynch, Velvet Van Helter, and “Bad Luck” Betty McGrew arriving at Barlowe Station only to find that nobody was home. Ronan found that the station log said that a Black River train had been through just yesterday and Velvet noted that the pigs seemed to have been fed recently. Something definitely wasn’t right. That’s when Betty peeked through the window of the station master’s shack and saw a pool of blood on the floor.
Not sure if there was some rational explanation that would explain all this, Betty and Velvet cautiously knocked on the station master’ shack several times before deciding to break down the door. Inside, there was a drawer knocked over and three bullet holes in the wall near the window. And although there was certainly a large pool of blood, there was no body. What had happened here?
Meanwhile, Ronan decided to relieve himself in the Outhouse, but caught a faint whiff of something decaying down the hole. He found a hoe from the barn to fish it out and, after a few moments of searching, managed to latch onto something. With a lot of effort and strength, Ronan managed to bring up into the light…a withered body!
With the help of Betty and Velvet, Ronan was able to pull it out and examine it. There were dozens of what appeared to be human-sized rat bites on the body, and yet it was clear that the cause of death was blood loss. Nobody could recall there being any giant rats in the Weird West, but they checked to ensure that their weapons were loaded in case there were a few such creatures running around. The trio decided to bury the poor soul (with Betty saying a prayer over him), then rounding up the skittish mare and pigs to sell in the nearby town of Varney Flats.
* * *
Hank “One Eye” Ketchum arrived in Varney Flats after a long day on the trail. He had left Dodge City later than anticipated because he had to get things straightened out after the mess with the Butcher on the Union’s Independence Day; making sure that the local paper didn’t publish anything strange, ensuring that the traumatized bystander after the first murder would get the help she’d need…and wouldn’t talk about what she saw, and telegraphing Roswell to let them know that he was hand-delivering something new for them to examine. He had The Butcher’s scalpel in his pocket. After all the chases, dead ends, and corpses he’d run into in 13 years since the maniac came for him, “One Eye” sure wasn’t going to risk the cursed relic with anyone but himself.
Going into the local saloon, Hank saw that its only patron was a well-dressed colored man who was sitting at the bar. Hank never did hold the ignorant belief that blacks were inferior (and thankfully, few did in the West) and so he had no problem joining the tinhorn at the bar. The man introduced himself as Dr. Thaddeus Washington and said that he was out searching for exotic specimens to study. Monsters. Hank thought about sending a telegraph to make sure that the scientist didn’t get any papers about Mojave Rattlers published, but he decided to let it go after he came to the conclusion that any “reputable” academic journals wouldn’t publish an article about so outlandish a creature that it couldn’t be real.
When they had finished their drinks, the two men went their separate ways. Thaddeus considered going to the buffalo hunter’s camp on the edge of town to ask if there had been any reports of strange creatures out on the plains, but went to the train station instead when he figured that being dressed in a three-piece suit was probably more of a hindrance than a help with such ruffians. Hank heard from the telegraph operator that the jail house held the notorious murderer Abner Knaggs. He was supposed to be held until the district judge came by to hang him, but the town marshal had disappeared yesterday and the operator was a bit scared that citizens were going to do the hanging themselves.
While wandering around town, Thaddeus saw a strange sight: a cowboy, a cowgirl, and a well-dressed southern gentleman were driving a mare and a herd of pigs into town. As they passed by, he thought he caught the smell of death off the cowboy. Just in case trouble was brewing, Thaddeus decided to report this strange sight to the Texas Ranger he met at the saloon. He found the man finishing up a shave and a hair cut and took him to the newcomers. Much to Thaddeus’ surprise, Hank greeted the man who smelled like death warmly…or as warmly as two soldiers on the opposite side of the war could.
“Ronan! Well, if it isn’t you again, ya damn Yankee!”
“Nice to see you again too, Texas! You ain’t turned into some axe-wielding murderer yet?”
“Over your dead body!”
“Why, do you want one too?”
The cowgirl, seeming very uncomfortable about the exchange, broke them up. In an effort to change the topic as quickly as possible, she started off introductions for those who hadn’t become acquainted. Right as Betty was fishing for the next topic to keep the men from killing each other in the street, the town deputy approached them.
“H-Howdy, friends,” the deputy stuttered. “You look like the, um, adventurous sort, and I was wondering if I could interest you in a little work.” The work turned out to be making sure that there wasn’t a lynch mob tonight at the jail where the murderer Abner Knaggs was being held. As Hank had already heard, the Marshal had disappeared and the deputy, although he wouldn’t admit it, didn’t have the grit to hold off a mob by himself. Ronan considered just letting the mob tear the murderer apart, until he heard that the deputy would give them the $100 reward for Knaggs if they could protect him. Split five ways, that was $20 apiece; a good sum of money for just one night’s work. Ronan decided that his own hatred for the man could be put aside for that long.
* * *
The newly sworn in deputies decided that the best plan to prevent a mob from lynching Knaggs was to keep it from forming in the first place. Figuring that people would get some “liquid courage” first, they went to the saloon, only to find Mayor Varney meeting with some “concerned citizens.” And he was fitting the bill for the liquor too.
Betty went ahead and blurted out that she thought the mayor was trying to instigate a lynch mob. Mayor Varney didn’t take too kindly to that, but tried to use his silver tongue to say it was just a meeting of concerned citizens talking about the state of the town. Thaddeus decided to test that claim by asking if they would be willing to help prevent Knaggs from being lynched. Mayor Varney casually said that he would do what was best for the town.
Hank decided that wasn’t good enough, so he grabbed the mayor’s shirt and told him that if he didn’t stop trying to form a mob, he would arrest him right then and there for malfeasance in office. That seemed to hit a nerve. Mayor Varney spat back that the Texas Ranger wasn’t in the South and didn’t have any jurisdiction in Kansas. Hank stared unflinchingly into the eyes of the mayor. “Wherever I go, the law goes. Do you really want to test that?” Mayor Varney blinked twice, then gave a sigh, telling the other bar patrons that their “concerned citizens meeting” had been cancelled. He said a few choice words to the posse as he headed out of the saloon.
The group took turns keeping watch in the saloon and patrolling around town to make sure that no other such meetings began. As it got later into the night, the town quieted down, but the group decided to take shifts sleeping at the Marshal’s Office just in case.
* * *
As the witching hour came upon them, Thaddeus and Betty were on watch when they heard a faint scream in the distance. Hank, who seemed to always be alert even when he was sleeping, shot up from his bed at the distant noise. With a bad feeling in their guts, the three woke up the remaining members of the posse to investigate.
The streets were clear and the night was silent, but Ronan put his ear to the Black River tracks and heard that there was a train coming. But what sort of train ran that late in the night? A train full of trouble it was decided. As if giving voices to their thoughts, the train whistle blew again in the distance. A train whistle that sounded remarkably like a scream.
Thaddeus and Hank took up positions in the train station to shoot anything troublesome that came out while Betty got up on the roof of the land office that had recently turned into a saloon. Ronan and Velvet decided to stand out in the open so that if there was some reasonable explanation for why the train was making a night stop, like an accident had happened, then they could talk with them.
As the train got closer, the air seemed to get colder and the shadows seemed to grow darker. A nearby tree caught Ronan’s eye and he unconsciously reached for his neck, feeling the scars from when he was hanged. When the train was close enough to see, Velvet briefly thought that he saw some sort of demonic face on the front of the engine, but soon realized it was a trick of the light. As the train slowed down, the chugging of the train engine seemed to resemble some sort of stampede of people coming to a weary halt. When the train finally crept into the station, Ronan noticed the number on the front: 666.
Moments after it stopped, the screaming whistle split the night air. Doors at both ends of the sleeper cars burst open with several dozen dark figures running in pairs towards the buildings of Varney Flats. Ronan and Velvet saw two of the figures pause for a second, then one of them jerked its head toward them, hissed, and led the second in a charge towards them! Ronan jumped out of the way in time, but Velvet wasn’t so lucky and the thing got a good swipe off of him with what appeared to be claws. In the dim moonlight, Velvet got a quick look at his adversary. All he could focus on was its full set of sharp teeth.
Hank lit a light in the train statin so he could more easily see who he was shooting at. Suddenly, the doors burst open and two figures charged in. They looked human enough, except for the pale skin, long claws, and sharp teeth. The intruders split up and attacked each of them. Hank tumbled out of the way while Thaddeus was only saved when the creature clawed his oversized gatling rifle rather than him. Thaddeus ripped off his Thermal Binocular Visual Enhancement System when he realized it was preventing him from seeing the obvious: that there was a creature right in front of him!
Betty heard the the doors to the building she was on burst open and figured it was only a matter of time before they got up to her vantage point on the roof. She lined herself up to shoot anyone that came through the roof access just as a pair of intruders busted down the door. Betty squeezed her trigger, and much to her surprise, her rifle bullet strung both of them straight through their hearts, slumping them to the ground. “Bad Luck” Betty decided right then and there that she did believe in that whole “karma” business that the Chinaman she met a few months back had told her about. If all the bad luck she’d had in her life balanced out with good luck right now, it would all be worth it.
Realizing that his pistols weren’t going to be as useful in close combat, Hank pulled out his bowie knife and began slashing at the creature that just tried to bite him. After a few tense moments, the creature overextended itself and Hank was able to give it a good stab in the stomach, slumping it the ground. He then turned his attention to the one attacking Thaddeus, who was still honing in on its prey, despite the fact that the prey had just unloaded a dozen bullets into it. Hank crept up behind the creature and, in well-practiced form, slit the throat of the monster. He kept the pressure on until he was able to break the creature’s spinal column and sever the head from the body.
Thaddeus took a few deep breaths while trying his best to ignore the grisly sight. “Nosferatu,” he said slowly.
Hank looked up. “What?”
“Nosferatu,” he repeated. “Although its overall morphology is somewhat different from the concept of the traditional, or Carpathian, form, I believe it is, nonetheless, a nosferatu. A vampire, if you will.”
“Well then, Perfessor, how do you kill a ‘noseferret?'”
“Nosferatu? There are many myths from different cultures about how to kill such a beast. Exposure to sunlight is shared by most such legends as fatal to vampires. Others assert that holy water, garlic, or a stake to the heart will also be fatal.” Thaddeus glanced a look at the headless body at Hank’s feet. “I believe that decapitation is also an acceptable way to kill a vampire.”
Thaddeus noticed that the first nosferatu that Hank had stabbed began to twitch on the ground. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a splinter of wood and drove it into its heart as hard as he could. It stopped moving. Hank sauntered over and in one quick motion severed its head. “Just to be safe,” he assured him.
* * *
Velvet and Ronan weren’t faring nearly as well in their fight against their nosferatu. Velvet pulled out a Soul Blast against one of them, but it barely scratched the skin of the monster. He was about to grab Ronan and teleport out of there when the thing grabbed onto Ronan and bit him in the neck. The other nosferatu drew his claws deep into Velvet and his green velvet suit started to mix with a dark blood red. Velvet was shocked that he didn’t die from that.
Suddenly, a shot rang out in the night and the nosferatu in front of Velvet hissed as it fell forward. Velvet looked down at the bullet wound in the back of the nosferatu and up towards Betty up on the roof of her post. The distraction seemed to be what Ronan needed to get free of the nosferatu wrapped around him and as soon as he got away, a second shot rang out, piercing the remaining nosferatu in the heart. Velvet pulled out a few glowing cards and touched them to himself, which seemed to stop the bleeding. He did it again but this time touched them against Ronan and his nasty neck-bite started to heal.
* * *
The ear-splitting scream of the train whistle pierced the night once again. The posse realized that the nosferatu were heading back to the train, this time with a pair each carrying a townsperson! Betty shot one of them, which caused its partner to abandon the screaming woman they were carrying. Ronan, being the heroic man that he was, charged into combat with another pair, ignoring the fact that he almost died from fighting just one of them. The rest took pot shots at the passing nosferatu, but didn’t dare to go toe to toe with any. Hank went around the train station to try to pick off those as they boarded, but couldn’t line up a good shot without risking a hit to one of the townspeople.
The two nosferatu engaged with Ronan decided to abandon their prey and booked it towards the train. As soon as they arrived, the night train’s whistle screamed one more time and the train started moving. Hank bolted towards the engine. As the train went by, Betty took a breath and fired a shot at the conductor. Despite the range and cover, she managed to get a shot straight to its legs. Hank jumped onto the locomotive and kicked the conductor out. For good measure, he decided to fulfill his pledge to “shoot it or recruit it” as it tumbled to the ground.
As the train sped away, Hank realized that whatever he would have to do he’d have to do alone. Apparently the nose-ferrets didn’t think anything strange about the train leaving the station, since the conductor apparently followed protocol when he got the train moving. Hank’s first idea was to blow up the boiler, but he didn’t have anything to cause an explosion. So he pulled the throttle to full and stuck his bowie knife behind it, jamming it open. With any luck, it would be derailed. Then he took a leap of faith and tumbled off the train.
* * *
Back in Varney Flats, the remaining townspeople gathered in the street. Although the people were looking to Deputy Parrish and Mayor Varney for direction, the two men had more faith in Ronan and company.
“Knaggs has been captured,” Deputy Parrish stammered. “The whole reward, $100 in gold eagles, is yours if you bring him back alive.”
Varney cut in: “And I’ll offer $20 of my own cash for everyone one of my citizens you bring back alive.”
Just then, there was a tremendous din from several miles to the north. A large fireball brightened the horizon, which Ronan swore looked like a skull. Seems that the Texas Ranger managed to get the night train to go fast enough to derail on some turn a few miles out.
After what seemed like an eternity, Ronan calmly said, “I’m sorry Mayor. They’re gone.” He turned his back and took a few steps before adding, “For what it’s worth, this won’t happen to any town ever again.”
Wow! What a ride! Unfortunately, the session didn’t turn into all that happy of an ending because they didn’t rescue the captured townspeople, but they did manage to destroy the Night Train without any player character casualties (although there were several very close calls)! So I was pleased to hand each one of the players an “I survived the Deadlands Night Train” button!
Does that mean I didn’t run it right since I didn’t have a TPK? Some might say that, but I think I still ran it just fine.
I decided to allow for “accidental heart shots” much like the “accidental head shots” from Daring Entertainment’s War of the Dead. If they got two raises on the Fighting or Shooting roll, then they hit the heart of a Nosferatu (without any extra damage associated with it). Little did I know that “Bad Luck” Betty would be rolling those two raises regularly! Since the player for her had never played a single session of Savage Worlds, I figure that this was beginner’s luck.
Also, I decided that instead of having it so nosferatu were only allowed to be Shaken, but not wounded, a nosferatu that took a wound would be on the ground for one round before they got right back up. I did this to allow for a situation where they could “hold them back.” If Thaddeus hadn’t staked the one Hank stabbed in the stomach, it would have come back up.
Perhaps these two changes made the scenario a bit easier than it should have been, but ultimately, I’m proud of how the scenario turned out. Everyone had fun and it was became a very memorable Night Train experience!
Several days ago, I posted about my first day at Origins. Things were going very well and I was enjoying both the roleplaying games I was playing and the board games I was running. Now that the convention is over, I’m pleased to say that the great experience I had that first day carried over through the rest of the convention as well. And contrary to the previous years at Origins, I didn’t have a single bad game!
I don’t know how interesting a full recap of my events is to others, but I’m going to go ahead and post one anyway! 😀
I got up bright and early once again for an 8 AM game of The Avengers using Mutants & Masterminds 3rd Edition. I’ve always liked the Mutants & Masterminds system for doing a good job of emulating the superhero genre while still allowing it to be somewhat tactical and crunchy if desired. And after being blown away by this year’s summer film The Avengers, I decided that it would be a lot of fun to play in it.
I grabbed Captain America (my favorite superhero) as soon as the sheets came out. It turns out that this group of Avengers was from the comics, rather than the summer film, so we had Iron Fist and Black Panther available rather than Hulk and Thor (the GM did note that Thor would likely be too powerful given that he tended to be the Avengers’ magic bullet rather than an equal member of the team). I had to get a recap on who Kang the Conqueror was, but ultimately, I was able to enjoy the session despite not being nearly as well-read in the comics as the other people at the table. And in the end, Cap was able to help his fellow Avengers save America from yet another supervillain threat. The GM could have been a bit more enthusiastic, but all in all, it was a great session.
The rest of the day consisted of me running not one but two roleplaying games. First up was A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy, which was an intro to the Traveller roleplaying game (Mongoose Publishing version) consisting of both character creation and a quick scenario (feel free to see part 1 and part 2 of my review of Traveller). I had a pretty eclectic mix of experience levels with two players who had never played Traveller, one who just started GMing a campaign but had never played, one who played about ten years ago, one who played when the first version came out in 1977, and one who not only played since 1977, but works for Terra/Sol Games which sells nothing but Traveller supplements!
Players old and new enjoyed creating characters. To my surprise, every character had average or above average stats with multiple 12s being rolled at the table. Almost all of the chosen careers wound up being military occupations, so it was definitely a battle-hardened group. To my surprise, the players were deathly afraid of the Aging Table, so our characters mostly ranged from 34-46 years old with only one character adventuring at the ripe old age of 54. As a result, group character creation only took 1 1/2 hours, which was the shortest that I have ever had it take.
The scenario I ran was a pretty basic one where someone hires the crew to do a field survey on a recently colonized world, but it quickly becomes apparent that their patron is motivated by something else. This time, it was a search for psionic artifact that the government had placed there as an experiment to diminish aggression, but with prolonged exposure, it wound up making beings far more aggressive. The team recovered it and decided that the best way to deal with their treacherous patron was to space him. Not all that heroic, but it was an interesting turn of events.
In the evening was Stargate Universe: Rescue using the Savage Worlds system. Stargate Universe was the third (and currently last) show in the Stargate series. Although admittedly the first episodes were very poor, the show got quite a bit better about halfway through the first season and had a (in my opinion) stellar second season. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to save it from a premature cancellation from Syfy Channel’s chopping block (or from Syfy’s vendetta against all sci-fi shows if you’re bitter about Sanctuary and Eureka also getting prematurely cancelled and being replaced by yet another paranormal show). The final episode was left pretty open-ended with everyone in stasis pods and Eli alone on the ship, looking out at the stars.
So I created a scenario that provided at least some closure to that. One and a half years later, the Lucian Alliance had managed to recapture Destiny by leading a covert strike on Langara and using their Stargate to dial the ninth chevron and gate to Destiny (and I decided that a successful ninth chevron dial to Destiny immediately drops the ship out of FTL). So what does Stargate Command do? They send their A-Team to get it back! So we had Samantha Carter, Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay, John Sheppard, Carson Beckett, and Col. Telford leading a rescue operation on Destiny.
The whole explanation of how that turned out is too long for this blog post, so I hope at some point to write up how that went and how our group decided to provide a partial conclusion to Stargate Universe. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, some time ago, I did write up a conversion for using the Stargate setting in Savage Worlds, but it’s undergoing a complete overhaul to bring it up to the same level of quality as my Elder Scrolls conversion. So if you’re a Stargate fan and you want this, stay tuned!
Friday began with the new board game Oh My God! There’s an Axe in My Head! by Game Company 3. After hearing about it from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild Patriarch since I joined the Guild, I decided to try it out (apparently the company they originally hired to print it didn’t pull through, but they broke away from them and it’s finally coming out).
In this game, you are all delegates meeting in Switzerland to negotiate treaties following World War I. The Swiss have hired axe jugglers as entertainment, but they have suddenly gone crazy and are chucking axes into the crowd! So now you’re left to negotiate treaties while dodging axes flying past you. Oh, and you can pick them up and throw them at other delegates too! It was a fun game and I decided to splurge for it.
In the afternoon was our Battle of Endor LARP. This was intended to be the Wings of War LARP (without full cardboard planes) adapted to the Battle of Endor from Return of the Jedi. On paper it sounded great and we prepped it for 21-42 people (which happened to give us a whopping 21 credit hours for the purpose of getting free rooms).
Unfortunately, only one person (who was from the Wittenberg Role-playing Guild) showed up, so we obviously couldn’t run it. I think there were two main factors that kept people from signing up. First, it was classified as a LARP, but wasn’t a typical LARP and so it probably didn’t appeal to the right crowd. Had we advertised it as “GIANT Battle of Endor” much like the popular “GIANT Settlers of Catan,” and advertised it as a miniatures game (kind of a macro-miniature game I guess) we might have drawn the right audience. Second, they placed us in the farthest room of the farthest hotel adjoining the Convention Center, meaning there was no potential for walk-ups. It’s unlikely that we’ll try this again in the future, but it was a valiant attempt.
Then in the evening was The Price of Success, a Firefly game using the Savage Worlds system. In this game, we got to play the remaining crew members of the Serenity after the Miranda incident (minus Kaylee who was back on the ship). I got to play Malcolm Reynolds!
The game used the increasingly recycled scenario of the characters waking up without any memories of the last day and having to retrace their steps to figure out what happened. In the process, we found out that, among other things, Jayne got caught up in an underground fighting ring (and became the hero Clobberin’ Cobb!), River had helped Simon cheat at cards in a casino, and the rest of the crew crashed a party Mr. Niska hosted for his (very ugly) daughter. The author said that at some point he would post the characters and scenario online and I’ll be sure to link to them when he does.
EDIT: Less than twelve hours after I post, it’s up online! Check it out at Dragonlaird Gaming!
Saturday I started off with the D&D Next playtest. Yes, I am allowed to talk about it, but I would like to save that for a later post about what I think about D&D Next as a whole.
In the afternoon, I ran A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court, a scenario for Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space. Although the tickets sold out in 20 minutes, I was surprised to find that only four people showed up. I felt bad for the people who told me during the convention that they wanted to get in the game, but couldn’t because it was sold out.
The players decided to try something I’ve never seen done before: they wound up choosing both the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors for the same group. Fortunately, the players who played them were able to have a lot of great banter off of each other. Accompanying them were Donna Noble and Rory Williams (without Amy apparently).
In this adventure, the characters found themselves in the time of King Arthur. (When is that time exactly? Forget that you asked, it gets in the way of the story!). After being sent to look after the missing Knights of the Round Table, they ran into a suit of armor with a Vashta Nerada inside (who fortunately was prevented from leaving to wreck havoc among Earth), a downed spaceship, and a cage that housed a creature that looks remarkably like what Earth people would call a dragon. Oh and they discovered that Merlin was The Master!
There was a very epic ending to the scenario in which The Master was using Blood Control (from the Sycorax) to control the dragon to destroy Camelot. The companions decided that King Arthur needed Excalibur to slay the dragon. But where do they find Excalibur? They came up with a very creative solution: they remembered that Excalibur was sometimes called “The Singing Sword,” and so they decided to rig up a Sonic Screwdriver with a standard sword to create a Sonic Sword! Then they gave it to Donna, who was dressed in blue, to be the Lady of the Lake (she at least called herself Lady since she was a Noble) who badgered King Arthur until he took it. During this time, Rory taught Lancelot CPR, which likely evolved into the legends about him being able to lay on hands.
And then the epic showdown came when the Tenth Doctor confronted The Master and told him that what he was doing was wrong. Meanwhile, the Eleventh Doctor snuck behind the unsuspecting Master and knocked the Blood Control device out of his hands. Rory smashed it to bits and Donna yelled for King Arthur to attack as the dragon plunged toward him and his army. With everyone chipping in story points for extra dice, King Arthur rolled a whopping 73 to slay the dragon (mind you 30 is “Nearly Impossible”). And so we decided that the tale of King Arthur slaying the dragon would be a legend forever.
The group let the Master get away and we decided that the final scene of the episode was The Master getting into the downed ship and the Vashta Nerada’s ominous shadows closing in.
Finally, I ran Night Train for the Deadlands setting of Savage Worlds. Did they survive the scenario that is known for resulting in many TPKs? That’s a story that will have to be saved for another post!
Today was the first day of Origins Game Fair, the second largest gaming convention in the world (after GenCon). This is my third time going to Origins (you can read about my experiences last year with what I ran and what I played parts 1 and 2). I’ve been looking forward to this for quite a while.
Although the convention date has been moved earlier this year (and conflicted with many school schedules), it fortunately didn’t affect me and it seems like we’ve had a good turnout so far. We’ll see how it winds up affecting attendance for the con as a whole.
Today was a bookended with two RPG games run by the fantastic Matinee Adventures. Bright and early was Avatar Book 0: Rescue (using the Ubiquity system). Set 100 years before Avatar: The Last Airbender, it involves six teenagers who can bend the various elements that are caught in the middle of the Fire Nation’s invasion. Turns out that story was based off the events of the game I played in last year, so our primary objective was to rescue the Fire Nation girl who stayed behind to allow us the time to escape in that scenario.
Ending the day was Paranoia: You’re a Time What?. Paranoia is set in a dystopian future that’s a cross between 1984 and Monty Python and the typical characters are Troubleshooters who are tasked with killing Commies, Mutants, and members of secret societies. But it turns out that you all are commies, mutants, and/or members of secret societies. For this scenario, we were sent to investigate a big blue box that showed up outside* of Alpha Complex. Yup, The Doctor came to Alpha Complex and his psychic paper revealed that he was Ultra-Ultra-Violet clearance! I wound up using up all six of my clones by the end of the session, so it seems like I was playing the game just right! 🙂
In between, I tried something new: running board games. First I ran Knightmare Chess, which takes a standard game of chess and adds all kinds of interesting cards to replace your moves. I’ve always had difficulty finding players for it, so I was shocked to find three people preregistered for it and two more who showed up with generics! We had an odd number of players, so I got to play against a player who enjoyed the game as much as me, but had always been short on players. Everyone had an absolute blast playing it and several of them were hoping that Steve Jackson Games would have it available at their booth this year. I sure hope so!
I also ran Junta! Viva el Presidente, a tongue-in-cheek game from Z-Man Games where you are all vying for control of the República de las Bananas. Throughout the game, you’re funneling foreign aid money in order to backstab each other and vie for becoming El Presidente in order to eventually become the strongest power in the island. Three players came to that, so I joined in as well so that there would be some more interesting diplomacy (and I lost horribly both times). The players had the right mentality for the game and I think that this is probably the best session of the game I have ever had.
Overall, I found running board games to be very fun and not very stressful and I will definitely consider running more if I ever get a chance to run games at Origins again.
I’ll be doing a lot of role-playing games over the next few days. Tomorrow I’m playing in a game of The Avengers (using Mutants & Masterminds 3e) and running both A Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy (using Traveller) and Stargate Universe: Rescue (using Savage Worlds). Should be fun!
*We did get to venture outside, which is usually forbidden. My first death happened because Friend Computer told us about outside, which I knew was (normally) treasonous knowledge, so I went ahead and shot Friend Computer. I was of course vaporized on the spot!
I’m a big Doctor Who fan and picked up Doctor Who: Adventures in Time and Space from Cubicle 7 about as soon as it came out. Since then, I’ve GMed the game many times, including at Origins 2011 and at GenCon 2011. But this is one system that I had never got a chance to play because I could never find a GM. Consequently, I think that I kind of got burned out with Doctor Who because I ran it too much (I also retired my scenario involving Blackbeard the Pirate after having run it 8 times).
Fortunately for me, The Wittenberg Role-playing Guild had their weekly “Friday Night One-shot” and this week’s game was Doctor Who, run by Amber. Finally, a chance to play a game I’ve only ever GMed! Although she was borrowing my set of the books, Amber chose one of the sample adventures (Arrowdown) which I fortunately had not read. So I sat down and got a chance to play the Tenth Doctor alongside Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, and K-9.
And you know what? I absolutely loved every moment of it!
Even though I consider myself to be a fairly skilled GM, I think there’s something to be said for playing in the games that you love the most. I love Doctor Who and have really enjoyed presenting some great stories to the players, but I think I found out last night that I kind of missed being one of the people on the other end not knowing the answers and trying to figure out the mystery. I think it also reignited my excitement in the game after having been burnt out by it. (And I’ll be running “A Timelord in King Arthur’s Court” at Origins this year).
It made me think again about if a requirement of being a good GM is to be a player every once in a while. Not only do you have someone to compare your own GMing style to, but I imagine it also helps a GM stay in touch with what a player is actually experiencing. It also seems to help you get passionate about your own setting. I suppose if you have a good experience playing in a game, it helps you want to give that same experience to other players.
So I’ll pose two questions to my readers: Are there any settings that you’ve always wanted to play in, but have only gotten the chance to GM (or vice versa?). And does a good GM need to be a player every once in a while to improve?
This week, I’ve decided to have my first forray into the RPG Blog Carnival, an organized event where once a month an RPG Blog poses a topic and other RPG Blogs write a post addressing it. Nevermet Press posed this month’s topic: “things to love and things to hate.” I’ve decided to write about GMs I’ve loved to game with and GMs I’ve hated to game with.
GMs to Hate
Now I’m using the phrase “hate” pejoratively because it’s part of the theme, but I really mean GMs who had a detrimental effect on the game. The book Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering states that “at least 70% of the success or failure of a gaming session depends on interactions between participants,” especially the interaction between the GM and the players. So I might say that those GMs I “hate” are those who ran a game that didn’t get anywhere close to a 70% success.
The GM Who Didn’t Bring Any Enthusiasm to the Game
My first (and so far my only) foray into Pathfinder was a convention game that turned into one of the worst convention games I have ever played. The GM wasn’t enthusiastic in the least. He read the text in a deadpan tone, didn’t give any eye contact to the players, and just went straight through the motions. During combat, he would move an enemy figure and, without saying anything, roll more dice and announce damage. The adventure’s only social encounter went like this:
GM: In the middle of the room you see a dwarf hammering at the forge.
Player: I use Diplomacy. [rolls] 19.
GM: He tells you that he’s a prisoner here and the only way to free him is to destroy the necromantic altar on the floor above him. Do you guys want to go ahead and go up there?
Nothing at all inspiring about this GM. Afterwards I heard him chattting to one of the players saying that his primary motivation was the GM rewards program for the Pathfinder Rewards Program. Now I’ve got nothing against GM rewards programs, but clearly this GM didn’t have his heart in the game. Bottom line, a terrible game (and that’s not even bringing up the situation where a player pulled out the Pathfinder book to show the monster’s statblock and prove to the GM that he was using its attack wrong).
The GM Who Hated the System He Was Running
You would think that a GM would run a game with a system he liked. Not so here. This GM was part of a larger group which had a good reputation over all. I was excited to play in a game with a cross between some meddling kids, a dog, and an Elder God. The fact that it was run using Savage Worlds with Realms of Cthulhu made it even more appealing.
But apparently, the GM hated Savage Worlds. He said so himself as he was flipping through the books to something up. He didn’t know even the most basic rules either and had Fighting rolls directly dealing damage (ignoring Parry), bad guys who were mysteriously rolling “dodge checks,” and the GM spending bennies to make the players reroll. I really got the impression that the GM hated the system so much that he just did a quick skim over the rules an hour before the game.
Perhaps the GM was required to run Savage Worlds by the group he was part of, but it was no excuse to be running a system he absolutely hated. Too bad because I think it could have been a great game.
GMs to Love
Fortunately, for every horrendous GM, there’s a fantastic one. The ones that make you want to immediately come back and play next year (or even make you want to go run down to the dealer hall and buy the book for the system they are running). There’s a few experiences in particular that I’d like to point out:
The GMs Who Let the Rule of Awesome Trump Everything
Especially in one-shots, it’s important to let the players have fun with what they are doing and let them go with whatever cool ideas they come up with. The GMs from Matinee Adventures totally do that. I played in two games with them last Origins and they were probably the highlight of my con. One was a game was a 7th Sea game based on the Scarlet Pimpernel where we were musketeer-style nobles who went in disguise to save other nobles from the guillotine. The players had lots of great ideas and there were some really epic moments like jumping through a window in order to do a leap attack against some bounty hunters down on the streets below. The GM totally let us do those things and we all had fun!
Another adventure from Matinee Adventures was an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel using the Ubiquity system where we were teenagers (like in the show) who were saving a child from the Western Air Temple. The GM totally could have set it up where we were limited to only doing certain maneuvers with our elemental bending. But instead, he had us describe whatever we wanted to do, even if it was way over the top, and let us roll for it with some difficulty modifiers. Some really awesome stuff happened there too.
The GM Who Went All Out for His Game
There was a GM who decided he would make the best Stargate SG-1 game he could possibly make. So he used his incredible modeling skills and made this:
Doesn’t this just make you want to play? Now I probably should make it very clear that I am not at all expecting for every GM to make elaborate minis like this. I just want to show the amount of enthusiasm that this GM clearly has for his game. He created a great scenario and went all out to make it as fun as possible for everyone at the table, which for him meant creating great visuals. If you’re a Stargate fan and have the opportunity, definitely play in this guy’s games.
So those are some GMs I’ve loved and GMs I’ve hated. I think that both groups have certainly had an influence in me becoming the JourneymanGM that I am today.