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Mar 13, 2016

Mindless self indulgence is SRS BIZNS

Night10194 posted:

There's more I could go into, but I want to leave you with the Epilogue and a reminder that Grabowski was a major author on this book, and that Exalted was coming out 2 years after this. It details an ancient scroll written in what look to be the secret Hunter runes, but with extra runes that the author was able to get translated in part by an expert in Hong Kong. They talk of an ancient golden age of pre-history, and terrible demons and monsters, and of great heroes empowered by the divine to fight them. Exalted people, you could say. And how this all seems to be the return of those Exalted ones from the ancient past, and good God, what ARE Hunters?

Yep. Hunters were originally supposed to be modern Exalted, something so dumb even WW dropped it when they dropped the whole 'maybe Exalted is the prehistory of the WoD', as far as I know.

As a side note, I should note Hunter doesn't really have a 'primary author' listed and has 15 credited authors and 10 different designers. Suddenly a lot of poo poo makes sense, doesn't it?

I doubt the "exalted as prehistory" would have ever worked out well given how much of a muddled mess the oWoD was, but in my understanding Exalted's original conception at least fit a little better. The crazy wuxia over the top kitchen sink fantasy element wasn't baked in from the get go. It was originally going to be something of a more grim and desperate game of anathema being hunted in a fallen world. AFAIK Grabowski pushed for the setting to be more high powered fantasy, and by the time it published, most of the WoD prehistory elements were little more than easter eggs. So I could see how they might have originally thought it could work, even if it probably would have just made the already absurdly contradictory heap that was oWoD mythology even leakier.


Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements

It's funny because Grabowski was also very dedicated to Exalted as doomed tragedy, so he both wanted the high powered high fantasy and the grim doomed anathema on the run concepts.

Although also the original Exalted vision was to start off with the Dragon-Blooded as the main line, and slowly reveal that the Solars players had been hunting were the culture heroes of yore. IIRC

Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?

Joe Slowboat posted:

It's funny because Grabowski was also very dedicated to Exalted as doomed tragedy, so he both wanted the high powered high fantasy and the grim doomed anathema on the run concepts.

Although also the original Exalted vision was to start off with the Dragon-Blooded as the main line, and slowly reveal that the Solars players had been hunting were the culture heroes of yore. IIRC

This honestly seems like a much stronger pitch and a better way to give people a feel for the setting.

Oct 29, 2009


PurpleXVI posted:

This honestly seems like a much stronger pitch and a better way to give people a feel for the setting.

Given that it's old White Wolf, that's probably why they didn't lead with it.

Can't have your settings being too comprehensible, then all the D&D normies might play the game!

Jan 20, 2004

Trout Clan Daimyo
Reportedly the change came late, and the reason was that the dragonblood political backstabbing and maneuvering was too close to what already was being sold in Vampire.

Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.

MollyMetroid posted:

Reportedly the change came late, and the reason was that the dragonblood political backstabbing and maneuvering was too close to what already was being sold in Vampire.

That does start to make a degree of sense. Huh.

Feb 21, 2013
I believe Grabowski also had concerns about how starting off with the DBs and introducing the Solars later would result in cries of power creep and people complaining about the game is supposed to be about DBs, so why do they suck so much and why have you made all the character types introduced in supplements so much more powerful than the characters the game is ostensibly supposed to be about? Doing the Solars first did an end-run around that.

Stephenls fucked around with this message at 23:37 on Jul 11, 2019

Oct 30, 2013

You can have the last word, but I'll have the last laugh!

Our chapter first starts out with the major geographical regions of Nyambe, along with comprehensive random encounter tables for each of them. In regards to this last part the average Encounter Level, or level of challenge of comprised monsters, tends to hover around the low-middle range of 5 to 9. Only one region drops as low as 2, and only the most dangerous places, the Isle of the Overpower and Kayalu Island, go above 10. What this means is that going by the book wilderness travel in most of Nyambe is very dangerous for starting-level groups, but once you hit high level most of the encounters become trivial. I’ve never been a fan of this on such a large scope, as it has the unintended effect of “gating off” entire nations and regions from casual travel. In such cases this makes sense, but if you wanted to do a 1st-level game in a bIda Rainforest village you’re out of luck.

Going by regions, we have two large mountain ranges, the Giko Taaba and Kuba Taaba prized for their rich mineral veins, with the former rumored to have vicious monsters in the depths and the latter’s peaks home to icy ruins guarded by white dragons. The Gudu Ji Pingu Desert is the hottest and least hospitable place in Nyambe in which humans can live, which is why the Marak’ka prize it for they don’t have to worry about outsiders fighting them over resources. The D’okan Desert of which Bashar’ka is built upon is strangely one of the coolest regions in Nyambe, being more badlands than sandy dunes. As a result, armor of all varieties may be worn normally here. The Great Mangrove Marsh is absolutely teaming with all manner of deadly monsters, from dragons and hydras to the legendary snake-like lau. The mighty bIda Rainforest covers 25% of Nyambe-tanda and is so huge that many simply call it bIda, or “forest.” It is home to verdant resources prized by many in spite of its dangers. Lake Gomala is one of the largest freshwater lakes in Nyambe, but some mysterious curse scours all life in a 5-mile radius every few centuries. The four major oceans vary wildly in their climate and danger, with the placid Eastern Ocean the most-traveled by foreigners, while the deadly Northern and Western Oceans are plagued with sea monsters and violent weather. The Southern Ocean contains sunken cities of possible Kosan origin, and the Empire of Nibomay is gathering mages to conduct a deep-sea diving expedition.

Our regions are topped off with several islands: the Isle of Shadow is a fortress of ngoloko who only accept members of their own, and those admitted are never seen again once they set foot inside. The nearby nation of Mademba is worried as to what they’re up to, especially given the entire place is scry-proof. Marak’pInga is an island where the Marak’ka sail to in order to bury their dead, but as of late said departed souls have been resurrected by an unknown party as mummies which cross over to the mainland and harass their descendants. The Isle of the Overpower is so named for it’s said that this is where the god ascended to the heavens on a spiderweb. The place is covered with crystalline formations and portals to celestial realms, and is also home to the vaunted artifact the Throne of the Overpower. Kalayu Island, by contrast, is said to be where the Kosan made first contact with the fiendish orisha and is home to all manner of fiends as well as the Tarrasque!

Nations of Nyambe

At this point we get some rather in-depth discussion of Nyambe’s population: it has an average population density of 5 humanoids per square mile in a continent around 9 million square miles, slightly below real-world Africa’s 11 million. This is not universal across the board, as certain regions are vast wilderness while others are more settled. This works out to a population around 43 million, and monsters and nonhumanoids are not included due to being much harder to estimate. The book also says that it came up with these figures based on the world population of 1200 AD being around 360 million, so that Nyambe would contain around 12% of your campaign setting’s population. This feels a bit in-depth for most gaming groups, although I can appreciate this on some level given that global population figures and density aren’t something many settings take into account.

The below nations include both seven large nation-states with an overarching form of government, as well as more informal cultural and geographic regions. The latter examples are often titled after the land of the people who traditionally reside there: Marak’ka-Land, Shome-Land, or even things like Entare-Land and Silwane-Manzi-Water for monster-dominated regions. About 28.5 million Nyambans live in one of the seven proper nations, the rest under more localized governments.

Bashar’ka: This theocratic nation is ruled by fire priests. The mightiest among them takes the title of “king” or “queen” but said title is not hereditary. Instead it’s determined by whoever has the most truck with the orisha of flame, heat, and related phenomena. In spite of this fluctuating leadership the country as a whole has a largely peaceful history, although Queen Nyathera’s son will spell a possible war with the Caliphate of Boroko. She has yet to launch an invasion on account of wishing to gain the Great Udamalore artifact first. This ivory scimitar traditionally served as the badge of office for a Barshar’kan King or Queen, so she’s offered the princely sum of 250,000 gold pieces to whoever can bring it back to her.

Boroko: The Caliphate of Boroko is independent, but highly reliant upon trade with the Near Easterners and as such Caliph Ragheb is akin to a puppet-prince. The capital city of T’ombo is the largest settlement on the continent, and its Great University teaches a variety of subjects. Alas, the city is plagued by a monster of unknown origin known as the Devil of T’ombo which stalks lone individuals and small groups at night. Caliph Ragheb has been instructed by the Near Easterners to deny fathering the Queen of Bashar’ka’s son, while more domestic problems speak of a conspiracy of Nuba wrestlers planning a coup for having their sport outlawed on Near Eastern holy days.

Entare-Land: The greatest foes of the Shombe are this race of lion-folk. Said monsters do not go out of their way to invade other lands save to steal cattle, and those brave or foolish enough to go into their territory are charged with “protection fees” of valuables. However, due to being Lawful Evil the entare are sticklers for oaths and contracts and are not in the habit of killing people who peacefully surrender their belongings or offer to serve them for a short time. Unfortunately they do not extend this mercy to the Shombe who usually fight back, and it’s said that a powerful entare chieftain is planning to invade and slaughter all of Shombe-Land.

Kaya Vua Samaki/East Nyamban Merchants’ Confederation: Seven city-states and a northern peninsula form a loose alliance of trade hubs. They do not have a large standing army, instead relying upon private soldiers and adventurers to guard trade routes and estates. They accept goods and coinage of all kinds, and the fish-catching towns are a cultural blend of native Nyamban and Far Eastern styles. This multiculturalism is not necessarily a peaceful one: many Nyambans fear the foreign traders and their faiths as threats to their way of life, and this sentiment helped formed the Leopard Cult. In fact, said cult has grown into a multi-city issue to the point that the lycanthropes are widely believed to rule the city-state of Kogo in all but name. The anti-arcane magic attitudes may result in military action which may put many innocent Kogons in danger. There’s also a secret conspiracy among some merchant groups to seize Mabwan gold mines in the Kuba Taaba Mountains once the nation gets distracted by the next convenient crisis.

Mabwe: The most powerful nation on Nyambe-tanda, both in military and economy, is also its most repressive. The veritable gold mines are the largest source of its kind in the world and are exclusively owned by the nobility. A great emphasis is placed on law and order, and the death penalty is common for a large number of even victimless crimes. The high number of divine spellcasters to ascertain truth and guilt has prevented some cases of innocents being unpunished, but this is not always enough to overcome classism and corruption. The upper class are descended from merchants, and the Oba (or king) has come from varying lineages due to various assassinations and civil wars. Its capital city, Dzimba Dza Mabwe, is made of stone with an impressive wall and whose royal palace has magically-treated acoustics so that the Oba’s proclamations can echo far into the city. Most curiously, the general public has not seen the Oba’s face in generations, leading to some rumors that a replacement is posing as the original king. A cavalry of elephant-riding warriors guards the capital, and there’s an entire industry of wakyambi merchants dedicated to scouring the rainforest for edibles in order to sustain these powerful beasts.

Mademba: In spite of scenic hills and mild weather, many humans regard Mademba as some kind of hellish place nobody would willingly go to on account of how “soulless” the native kitunusi appear in addition to them living in underground cities carved from volcanic rock. But Mademba is overall a safe place. The major cause of concern is the Isle of Shadow off the coast, as well as rumors of Bashar’ka’s Great Udalamore being spotted here causing many foreign adventurers and mercenaries to flock to the nation. Mademba’s government is purposefully baroque, its membership unknown and only major government building a windowless Office of Test Administration. Decrees carved upon stone appear in public spaces bearing new legislation, and a magical mouth-shaped glyph reads the contents in both Kordo and Gnomish for the illiterate.

Marak’ka-Land: Besides the dangers of the desert Marak’ka-Land is a rather boring place for adventurers. There’s a lack of bustling cities to visit, dangerous monsters to fight, or notable ruins to explore. The Marak’ka themselves are largely peaceful, which ironically is why they need outside help as of late. Their ancestral burial ground, the Isle of Marak-pInga, has been overrun with undead. This is a huge issue, for this island is where all Marak’ka bury their dearly departed. In addition they must also conduct rituals to ensure their safe passing.

MbUi-Land: The gnolls of MbUi-Land have more males than females among their fighting force, an overall oddity for the otherwise-matriarchal race. But they do share a penchant for violence and slavery, making raids into Nibomay, Shombe-Land, and Utuchekulu-Land for captives for labor and nourishment. They are allies of the Entare and keep out of each other’s way, although most MbUi as of late are locked in a civil war between followers of Na/inga the Warrior Queen and Dar!ak the Bloody. The fighting’s gotten so bad that some even contemplated hiring outside adventurers, although nobody’s taken them up on their offer on account that most people would rather see them kill each other than their own civilizations.

Nibomay: The proud Nibomans refer to their nation as the First Empire, and their capital Arabo as the First City. And while they have a rich history, the country has faced a decline and loss of terrain. Where they once possessed a monopoly on iron weapons and armor, technological advancements by others allowed foreign nations to stay their hand. The JamIkadi (ruler) of Nibomay has begun seeing visions of Amazonia herself, to the concern of the court who cannot verify the accuracy of such premonitions. That the JamIkadi claims that Amazonia wishes her to invade and reclaim old territories, included allied countries such as Mademba, has riled the more jingoistic members of the populace into action. More domestic issues include a high disappearance rate among the Tuslan minority, and people suspect human sacrifice by fiendish orisha cults to be the culprit. But the Tuslan believe that the Amazons are responsible instead! Sadly it is not a tolerant land, as its majority population is almost exclusively Tisambe human and those of other races and ethnicities are not allowed entry into Arabo.

Shombe-Land: There’s not much to say here that hasn’t been covered in the races and culture chapter besides the foundations of their villages and makeup of their buildings. Villages known as kraal are surrounded by thorny branches, with houses made from mud and savannah grass reinforced by cattle dung with a central pen to hold in herd animals at night. Their most pressing conflicts include escalating skirmishes with the entare that threaten to blow over into full-scale war, as well as violently reacting to Taumau-Boha’s attempts at “civilizing” them via teaching them how to farm.

Silwane-Manzi-Water: Silwane-Manzi is the Nyamban name for sahuagin. Primarily living in the Northern Ocean, they attack vessels which cross their waters and live in sprawling underwater cities far off the coast. As a result not much is known about their culture besides the fact they worship Sama/ the Poison One and their own creation myths claim they arrived in the Material Plane from another world long ago. They recently found ways of appearing many miles inland, raiding otherwise landlocked settlements. Many fear that they found some means of living on land indefinitely.

Tauma-Boha: Mabwe has gold, Kaya Vua Samaki a gateway to the East, and Nibomay a proud history and martial traditions. Taumau-Boha’s claim to fame is more humble, possessing the most fertile farmland on the continent. Although technically two kingdoms, Taumau and Boha, they are ruled over by a single Mwanamutapa with the Boha Kingdom having its origins in the near-vanished Boha-Boha people. Both they and the Azzazza share a common history in being former slaves of the Water People, and the latter group’s pyramids are now used as storehouses in large urban areas. Being bordered by jungle, mountains, and ocean prevents the kingdom from expanding, which encouraged them to try their hand at ‘civilizing’ neighboring Shombe-Land.

Unthlatu-Land: Dangerous monsters, diseases, and unfarmable land mean that most people rarely visit the Great Mangrove Mash. People more or less leave the Unthlatu alone, and when they seek trade with outsiders they rely upon a blind barter system where piles of rocks and samples of items are left in a commonly-designated area for both parties to negotiate. The unthlatu are some of the best sorcerers in Nyambe-tanda, so those seeking arcane secrets often venture into the Marsh at great personal risk. The other resource of interest here includes skin from the monstrous lau, giant tentacled snake-like reptiles, of which a merchant is will to pay in great sums of gold. A rumored treasure vault guarded by the “king” of the lau only sweetens the deal.

Utuchekulu-Land: Not much new information here besides the fact that the dwarves call the Giko Taaba mountain range Utuchekulu Taaba, and there are large excavation projects underway into returning to their ancestral homeland. Unfortunately ghostly undead giants known as the rom are stymying efforts, and attacks from MbUi-Land and Tuan-Ti-Land have divided the dwarves’ attention.

Wakyambi-Land: Once widely spread out over the bIda Rainforest, the wakyambi suffered greatly in the ongoing war against the Yuan-Ti invaders. They lost most of their land to the serpents, and while Mabwe’s willing to provide them with weapons their own warriors have not directly intervened. Almost every elf knows of a friend or family member who was killed or carried off in battle, and their alliance with the agogwe and Nghoi one of their few advantages.

Yuan-Ti-Land: The ruins of the Kosa Empire, avoided by all save daring adventurers and scholars of forbidden lore, now have new occupants. The Yuan-Ti came among the Far Easterners for reasons unknown, conducting major expeditions to claim territory in the bIda Rainforest. And while they retain some of their own faith, a large number of these monstrous reptiles found a kindred spirit in Zombi the Serpent Lord, and like many other fiendish cults seek out slaves and sacrifices. Little truly know of their plans and the Yuan-Ti go out of their way to kill all witnesses and loose lips. Some theorize that they seek ancient Kosan magic for world domination.

Nyamban Societies

This very brief section outlines twenty major organizations of the setting. They are organized on a table detailing their title, location, and primary members and goals. Specifics beyond this do not exist, instead briefly going over the generic society types. Most are self-explanatory with a few exceptions: fertility cults range from ritual sex workers to support groups for childless couples, who all have their own means of encouraging conception. Fiendish cults subject prospective members via alignment screening to weed out do-gooders and those lacking the stomach for their misdeeds. Mask-making societies are pseudo-secret and serve as a combination lorekeeper and police force afforded protection in their anonymity. Organized religion is rare save in Bashar’ka and Boroko, and most temples and shrines are locally funded and open to the public. Finally, warrior societies are often public organizations but have their own secret hand signs, passwords, and other means of communicating information to fellow members.

Thoughts So Far: The main setting chapter takes a very big-picture approach, but even then it feels sparse, as the nations are described in broad sweeping terms with information on specific locations relegated to the capital city at most. There is a healthy assortment of conflicts and adventure hooks, but many nations feel like they have one big problem rather than a bunch of smaller ones GMs can build off of and rework. In some cases we get repeated information from earlier chapters, which makes the truly new information for some regions barely perceptible. There’s a relative lack of “wondrous” locations, be they dungeon environs or overtly supernatural areas with mysterious powers, perhaps in part due to the big-picture overview. Although the second-longest chapter, only the random encounter tables of the geographical areas felt the most fleshed out.

Join us next time as we cover some sample plot hooks in Chapter Eleven: Adventures in Nyambe!

Libertad! fucked around with this message at 01:49 on Jul 12, 2019

Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?

Stephenls posted:

I believe Grabowski also had concerns about how starting off with the DBs and introducing the Solars later would result in cries of power creep and people complaining about the game is supposed to be about DBs, so why do they suck so much and why have you made all the character types introduced in supplements so much more powerful than the characters the game is ostensibly supposed to be about? Doing the Solars first did an end-run around that.

On the other hand, starting off the 1 to 5 stat/skill scale with the people supposed to end up as Mortal+, rather than the people supposed to start at Demigod level, might also have made the whole scale a lot less fucky to deal with. Once you normalize the 1 to 5 scale to fitting the demigods, slipping in the mortals and mortal+ people at the middle or bottom of that scale becomes a near-impossible exercise.

Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.

On the other hand, Solars' shockingly generic tool kits would have probably shined a lot better if there was a more strongly established setting.

Feb 21, 2013

Nessus posted:

On the other hand, Solars' shockingly generic tool kits would have probably shined a lot better if there was a more strongly established setting.

Scavenger Sons came out literally one month after the 1e corebook.

Mors Rattus
Oct 25, 2007

FATAL & Friends
Walls of Text
#1 Builder

Sig: Manual of the Primes
The Solar Graveyard

Dimming Twilight, by Liz Chaipraditkul
Sleeping giants dream.
Light dims among the stars.
To them we owe all.

The Dimming Twilight is the world where the stars go to die. When a star goes supernova, it is not gone when its light is consumed. Rather, it travels from its place in the Heavens to this world for its final journey. Each star lives until the last of its light is seen on the last world at the very ends of the universe, counting out its time in the Dimming Twilight. The world of the Twilight is an endless black expanse, with neither ground nor sky. The stellar behemoths hang suspended in the void, but a fraction of their former size. The youngest of them, those furthest from death, are about the size of a few city blocks. The oldest of them are small enough to be held in the palm of a human hand. Countless flickering lights dot the void, filling it with a faint light and soft hum. As you approach the corona of each dying star, you can hear ‘the song’ as the locals know it, as each star whispers the stories of the worlds that once orbited them, telling their tales endlessly until their light dies out. Stars in the Dimming Twilight are not hot, so they can easily be interacted with and spoken to. They no longer need to sustain worlds with their light, and so they revert to their basic state, merely shining rather than burning.

There is neither sky nor ground in the Dimming Twilight, which can be disorienting at first, but it does not take long for visitors to master the art of traveling three dimensionally in the dark void, as their bodies seem to instinctively grasp it. Besides the stars, three other kinds of being can be found there. The first are the talmorim, also called the Keepers. They are the natives of the Dimming Twilight, an eternal race of beings with grey skin and black clothing (when in their natural state) who care for the dying stars. Once they select a star to care for, they dress in all manner of clothes, mimicking the people of the star they care for. Besides the talmorim, many travelers come to the Dimming Twilight, seeking out the secrets and stories of lost and dead worlds. The last inhabitants of the region are star-thieves. These are people, often would-be deities, who seek to steal immortality from the stars. The talmorim maintain that taking the power of stars for yourself is the gravest possible sin, for it shreds the grace of the universe and drinks deep of darkness.

The dying stars are immortal, and this is not a contradiction. A star dies only when it chooses to, and may not die except of their own volition. They give up their immortal natures that other stars may be born and grow, that new worlds can be made. The Dimming Twilight is the final grace given to them by the ‘verse itself, a world apparently made to thank them for sacrificing their own eternal natures. Thieves come to steal their eternal essence in order to become immortal, as the stars once were. Technically, this is legal, because there are no laws in the Twilight. The reason for this is that the native Keepers live their lives entirely on their natural instincts. When a talmorim comes of age, they begin to wander the Twilight in search of a star to care for. When a star’s soul calls out to them, their skin begins to glow and their mood and personality change to fit the ways of the star they have been bound to, and they then care for that star until it dies – at which point they, too, pass on.

The talmorim are a hive mind of sorts. They are able to close off their minds, which they call seyedimm, to the group when they choose to, but they always maintain instinctive connection to the others of their kind. If one talmorim steals from another, they steal from themselves – and so they need no law, because all are, in a fundamental way, part of the same being. The only true crimes committed in the Twilight are done by outsiders, called lamort by the talmorim. Those lamort who commit what the talmorim deem criminal acts are taken before Thaed Rothme, the Queen of the Dimming Twilight. She rules from the center of the void, but can easily be found no matter where you are because she glows with a light brighter than any of the stars of the Twilight. She is surrounded by a large stretch of empty darkness, and only the talmorim may look upon her directly without being blinded, for their eyes have adjusted to her radiance over millenia. They give shadowed glasses out to visitors that wish to speak to her.

Thaed’s story is well known to the Keepers. She was the first of them to die, struck down by a god who wanted immortality. The star she had served wept at her death – and the tears of the stars are fire, not water. As each burning drop fell upon her broken form, the radiance of the stars passed into her. The star died to revive Thaed, singing its final story to her that she might inherit its eternity. Thaed was once more a Keeper with no star to care for, and so she bound herself to the Dimming Twilight itself. She used the new powers granted her by her former star to bind the minds of the talmorim into their hive unit. One alone might not be able to protect themselves – but all of them together? They could do it. Now, Thaed spends much of her time asleep, waking only when called for by the other talmorim. The years have worn her down. Stars are only meant to live for so long, and a talmorim even more so. Thaed, however, will not let herself fade until her task is done and all of the stars may die in peace.

The songs of the dying star-giants are the great treasure of the Dimming Twilight, the main reason people come there. They sing the tails of everything they saw as shining suns, revealing all kinds of information and knowledge that would otherwise be lost with the worlds that they once shone upon. Their songs are deep and emotional, burning with the fevers and conviction that only a star knows. They reach into the soul and kindle it, causing powerful emotions that often leave visitors feeling empty for a time afterwards, worn out and tired from the power of the knowledge they have gained. The main danger of the plane is the talmorim themselves – those who serve stars that shone on violent worlds. They take on the traits of the worlds of their stars, after all, and it is not unknown to run into vicious, cannibalistic Keepers in the dark, seeking to fight or devour visitors simply because it is the nature of their star’s history.

Besides them, there are the dangerous followers of Feil, the god that slew Thaed Rothme the first time. While his attempt at immortality failed, in a way, he is eternal now, for Thaed trapped him in a secret shard realm. He longs to escape from it and truly gain eternity, and to assist this he reaches out to the hearts of unbound talmorim, not yet chosen by the stars. He uses those who listen to his corrupting whispers to spread chaos through the prime and kidnap visitors that might be able to free him from his prison. The last major danger is star-poachers, who have begun to raid the world for elder stars that are small enough to be caught and bottled for sale in the Night Markets of Sig.

The Plane of Destruction is core to the Dimming Twilight, and its influence is what allows the stars to shake themselves free of eternity. The Planes of Life and Death are also near, as the plane hangs between them in delicate balance.

Next time: Hex, by Kira Magrann

Mors Rattus fucked around with this message at 22:10 on Jul 12, 2019

Dec 22, 2003

To witness titanic events is always dangerous, usually painful, and often fatal.

Stephenls posted:

Scavenger Sons came out literally one month after the 1e corebook.
What's your point? I'm saying if y'all had led with DBs you would have probably had a stronger game line. Hell, maybe you could have even drawn more from the well of the WoD line and had the different Exalted splats have substantially different focuses and emphasis, even if the rules were broadly intercompatible.

Halloween Jack
Sep 12, 2003

La morte non ha sesso

Vampire: The Masquerade (2nd Edition)

Chapter 1: Introduction
Chapter 2: Setting
Interlude: A History of Face Grabbing
Chapter 3: Storytelling
Chapter 4: Rules
Chapter 5: Character
Chapter 6: Chronicle
Chapter 7, Part 1: Clans

Chapter Seven, Part 2: Traits

Following the clans, the Traits chapter details everything else you write down on your character sheet. This includes not only your stats, skills, and super powers, but unique narrative traits like Virtues and Humanity.

Much of Vampire’s reputation is built on its narrative mechanics. It wasn’t the first game to do so, but it introduced them to a conventional game structure in a way that players found accessible and intuitive. Humanity was the big one, but there are others. The first I’ll deal with is Personality.


The clearest indication of character is what people find laughable.

--Morrissey, “Cult of Personality”

It appears that Rein-Hagen, like way too many game designers, was into Jung and Campbell. Every Vampire character has two Personality Archetypes, noted as “Nature” and “Demeanor” on your character sheet. The former is the true self, while the latter is what you present to others.

The text regards these Archetypes as important and versatile tools for realizing your character as a complex, multilayered individual. Mechanically, your Nature allows you to earn back spent Willpower points by doing things that satisfy your central motivations. A very forward-thinking aspect of this mechanic is that it’s player-driven: they ask for the points when they think it’s appropriate, and the Storyteller judges whether it’s meaningful enough to be worth it. Demeanor has no mechanical impact.

Nature and Demeanor are the ignored middle children of Storyteller’s narrative mechanics. They’re always there, and White Wolf fans will recognize them immediately. But except in specific cases, they don’t interact with the Humanity rules or other narrative mechanics that are more central to the game. And you know, that’s okay. You can invoke these rules often, or set them aside entirely, without it having a huge effect.

Architect: You care less about the here and now than about leaving a meaningful legacy. Regain Willpower when you create something of lasting value.
Bon Vivant: Bite, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die! Regain Willpower when you can really cut loose and have a good time.
Bravo: You live to bully other people. Regain Willpower when you coerce someone into letting you have your way.
Caregiver: You need to be needed. Regain Willpower when you protect or nurture someone else.
Child: You never really grew up, and want others to take care of you. Regain Willpower when someone helps you for no apparent gain.
Conformist: You fear chaos, and instinctively throw your lot in with whatever leader or movement seems like the surest bet. Regain Willpower when your cause succeeds thanks to you.
Conniver: Why work when you can get something for nothing? Regain Willpower when you get what you need through deception.
Curmudgeon: Everyone is foolish, except you! Regain Willpower when you see someone fail, just like you said they would.
Deviant: Your beliefs and desires are radically different from most people’s, and you’re not sorry. Regain Willpower when you flout the status quo and get away with it.
Director: You fear chaos, and you deal with it by taking charge. Regain Willpower when you act as leader and accomplish something.
Fanatic: You believe in a cause so powerfully that it consumes your life. Regain Willpower when you further it in some way.
Gallant: At heart, you’re a performer who lives to impress other people. Regain Willpower when you dazzle someone with your charms.
Jester: But you see, doctor...I am Pagliacci! Regain Willpower when you lift your spirits and those of others through humour.
Judge: You’re a born diplomat who believes all differences can be resolved by getting people to see reason. Regain Willpower when you sort truth from lies, or intervene to settle a dispute.
Loner: For whatever reason, you’re happier when alone. Regain Willpower when you accomplish something by yourself that still aids the coterie.
Martyr: You feel a drive to suffer for your beliefs, whether that comes from genuine compassion or a personality disorder. Regain Willpower when you sacrifice yourself for your beliefs or for someone else.
Rebel: You are independent and free-thinking to a fault. Regain Willpower when your rebellion against the status quo turns out to be correct.
Survivor: You’ve been through some poo poo that would break other people, and it defines you. Regain Willpower when you get through a difficult circumstance thanks to your own grit.
Traditionalist: You know what works and what doesn’t, and nothing will change your mind. Regain Willpower when you protect the status quo from change.
Visionary: You have a dream, even if the path to realizing it isn’t obvious or pragmatic. Regain Willpower when you convince others to follow your vision.

Do you see the same problems with this that I do? Some of these seem more gameable than others. There aren’t clear guidelines on how meaningful an action should be to earn a point back. The Chronicles of Darkness really cleaned up these rules by incorporating them into the Morality system with Virtues, Vices, and Breaking Points, and the guideline that fulfilling a motivation should involve a substantial cost, risk, or moral decision.

Psst...hey, ever LARP?


Life’s barely long enough to get good at one thing. So be careful what you get good at.

--Herman Melville, Young Goodman Brown

Now we get to the basic Attributes and Abilities. (Although the first games I owned were White Wolf books, I keep wanting to call Abilities “skills.”) There are nine basic Attributes in Vampire, and in essence, they are D&D’s classic ability scores but with INT/WIS/CHA split up into twice as many stats, with some overlap.

Attributes and Abilities are listed in detail. They provide not only an overview of what they do, but a little scale describing what it means to have Perception 3 or Computer 2. These are often snarky, like “Wits 1: You send money to televangelists” or “Computer 5: Why aren’t you playing Cyberpunk 2020?” Abilities also come with a short list of characters expected to have this skill, which is neat.

Attributes and Abilities aren’t well-balanced. Because of how the Storyteller system works, that requires some reading between the lines. Remember that in this system, the same Attribute+Ability pairing isn’t rolled every time. But some pairings are more intuitive than others, and in some situations (namely Disciplines and combat) the specific Attribute+Ability roll is prescribed. In theory, every Attribute is equally valuable, but in practice that’s not the case. In a later chapter, on adjudicating common scenarios like chase scenes, research, et cetera, some Attributes and Abilities come up more often than others.

Strength really gets the shaft. It’s not used for any to-hit rolls in combat, nor any Disciplines. It’s your base damage pool in melee combat, and it’s used for Feats of Strength (kicking down doors, etc.)
Dexterity is the best stat, period. All to-hit and dodge rolls are based on Dexterity, and it’s assumed you’ll use it with any Ability where coordination is important: Athletics, Drive, Repair, and Stealth are usually paired with it.
Stamina is less dumpable than Strength, but not much. It can be paired with Abilities, especially on Extended Actions where toughing it out matters most--if your Storyteller remembers that advice. Its most important role is “soaking” damage in combat. But in this system, offense scales faster and better than defense, and you’re better off dodging.

(There are several versions of the Storyteller system, but they all have a rep for invalidating “big bruiser” as a concept. It started with Vampire.)

Charisma is not as broad as it is in D&D. It covers being charming, likable, and trustworthy. In practice, it’s often used when you’re influencing a group of people.
Manipulation, on the other hand, is more often used to deceive, intimidate, or persuade someone into doing something specific.
Appearance is the Comeliness stat. Granted, it also measures the expressiveness of your speech and movement. In most White Wolf games, Appearance got a rap for being kinda useless. In Vampire, it has the specific use of being the go-to for seduction rolls.

Perception encompasses situational awareness, intuition, and an eye for detail. It’s used in investigation and is helpful for spotting ambushes.
Intelligence does what it says on the tin, and is naturally used with many Skill and Knowledge abilities, especially in research actions.
Wits is both your ability to think quickly and to resist deception. Most importantly, it determines initiative--at least Dexterity doesn’t get everything.

You will never grow old, and you will never die. Your fashion choices, on the other hand…

Abilities are divided into three categories: Talents, Skills, and Knowledges. Besides prioritizing them at character creation, there is a difference between them: if you don’t have any dots in the relevant Ability, there may be a penalty. I can’t see any reason for this but an unnecessary sop to realism. Talents do seem like the most oft-used Abilities and Knowledges the least; perhaps there was an incentive built in there.

Talents are things that anyone can do, or at least attempt to do. There’s no penalty for untrained Talent rolls.

Acting: In addition to performing, you can use this to fool people by feigning emotions.
Alertness: The Perception-check skill. Wits+Alertness is the initiative pool in this game.
Athletics: You know what this does.
Brawl: Unarmed combat of all kinds, including fangs and claws.
Dodge: Dodging in both melee and ranged combat.
Empathy: Discerning others’ emotions and motives. This is often uses as a “social offense” skill, and with the Auspex Discipline.
Intimidation: It does what it says. Unlike a lot of games, Vampire understands that intimidation doesn’t just mean threatening to beat people up.
Leadership: You can win over a group of people to a course of action.
Streetwise: Fitting in, making connections, and getting information among the lowest classes of society. Very useful, considering how many Kindred hunt prey.
Subterfuge: You can conceal your own motivates and suss out those of others. This is both a social offense and social defense skill.

Skills are crafts learned through training. Untrained Skill rolls are at +1 Difficulty.

Animal Ken: You can understand, work with, and train animals. Honestly not all that useful unless you have Animalism, or you’re planning to train a pack of ghoul hounds.
Drive: You can drive common land vehicles. If you want to be a pilot or sailor, you’ll need to buy a special skill.
Etiquette: You know how to conduct yourself, get along, make a good impression, and commit a faux pas. It’s used for diplomacy and, contextually, can be used for other forms of persuasion like negotiation and seduction.
Firearms: Covers all man-portable guns.
Melee: Covers all hand-to-hand weapons.
Music: You can play, compose, and improvise music.
Repair: You can fix pretty much any kind of mechanical device or construction material.
Security: Locks, security systems, and general techniques of breaking-and-entering.
Stealth: It’s the Stealth skill.
Survival: You can navigate and survive in the wilderness. know. Untrained Knowledge rolls are impossible unless the Storyteller decides it’s reasonable.

Bureaucracy: You can run and navigate an organization and its red tape. This overlaps with Politics too much, and the text is really vague about what you can do with it.
Computer: Includes operating, programming, and hacking. As you know, this game was published when knowledge of computer systems was a magical ability to conjure information.
Finance: You understand the workings of money, wealth management, and appraising the value of everything from stock portfolios to wine and art.
Investigation: This covers both conducting a search of an area and doing research.
Law: You understand the law and legal system, and may be a practicing lawyer.
Linguistics: Each dot gives you another language, and you can roll it to decipher languages. (This gets kind of funny since there are many real people who know lots of languages. The only one who is definitely an inhuman bloodsucker is Pete Buttigieg.)
Medicine: Covers everything from first aid to surgery.
Occult: You’re familiar with the broad range of mythology and belief systems generally labeled “occult.” At high levels, this does include true knowledge of the supernatural--but only concerning vampires.
Politics: You’re well-informed about political issues and understand the machinations of politics.
Science: You have a broad knowledge of all the physical sciences not covered by another Ability.

As an aside, as the WoD product lines got more developed, I noticed players pulling poo poo like “My character has Occult 5, so they know all the things I know because I read the sourcebooks.” Assholes.

Specialties is another curious little rule. On the surface, it’s simple: If you have an Attribute or Ability at 4 or 5, you can choose a Specialty, and each Trait writeup comes with examples. When your specialty applies, you can reroll 10s. The problem is that while a lot of Specialties make sense, like Melee 4 (Swords) or Appearance 5 (Sexy), many of them are so broad that it’s hard to see when they wouldn’t apply, and the textual examples encourage this. Attributes in particular have this problem, where the Specialty is often just a synonym. A good example is Brawl 5 (Martial Arts) or Intelligence 5 (Brilliant).

Bitin’ necks and cashin’ checks.

Backgrounds are another set of traits which are commonplace in game design today, but were rare when Vampire came out. They’re advantages which are mostly social, extrinsic, and can’t be measured with a skill system. Looking back, I think Feng Shui improved on Vampire’s rules by assuming that having a skill means having the connections and influence that naturally go along with being good at something. Nonetheless, Backgrounds have stuck around.

The problem with Backgrounds is that some give measurable benefits while others are much more vague about exactly what resources they provide and how they can be used.

Allies: You have mortal friends--close enough friends that they’ll put themselves on the line for you, and expect you to do the same. At 1 dot, you have one Ally “of moderate influence and power.” Five dots gives you five Allies including one who is “extremely influential.” See what I mean?

Contacts: You have an information network of people who, while they won’t come to your aid like Allies, provide you with vital intelligence. Each dot gives you a “Major Contact” in some area of expertise and assumes you have a web of minor Contacts you can get in touch with locally.
Fame: You’re a celebrity. You can use your Fame rating in some social situations, and it subtracts from the Difficulty to find victims in appropriate situations. Fame has its drawbacks, in that you can be recognized, but it also makes it harder for your enemies to get at you without exposing themselves. One dot means you’re a celebrity in some local subculture, while Fame 5 makes you a national celebrity.
Generation: You’re going to wheedle the Storyteller into letting you buy as much of this as possible. Each dot lowers your Generation by one, so Generation 5 means you’re 8th Generation. We will get into why that’s awesome a little later.
Herd: You’ve cultivated a group of mortals that you can safely feed from without worrying about breaking the Masquerade. Your Herd can perform minor favours from you, but they’re not nearly as useful or controllable as Allies, Contacts, etc. One dot gives you 3 people, while Herd 5 gives you 60 people. At low levels, you might have beguiled a circle of mortal lovers, whereas a larger group may mean you’ve founded an honest-to-God cult.
Influence: You can pull strings in mortal politics to get someone’s ear, get out of trouble, and so on. One dot means you have some pull in local politics, while Influence 5 puts you on par with a major Party donor or member of Congress. As if being a vampire wasn’t enough.
Mentor: An older vampire teaches and looks out for you. A one-dot Mentor is an ordinary ancilla; a five-dot Mentor is a Justicar.
Resources: Cold hard cash, baby. You have some way of providing yourself with a regular income, and without any dots in Resources, you’re assumed to be dead broke and probably making your haven in a squat or sewer. One dot in Resources makes you an average poor person, while Resources 5 makes you a multimillionaire with all the lifestyle accoutrements that go with it.
Retainers: You have Renfields that do your bidding, one per dot. Retainers are usually ghouls or mortals you’ve brainwashed with repeated use of your Disciplines. Retainers don’t ask much of you in return, but by the same token they’re not as influential or independent as Allies.
Status: You’ve made something of yourself in Kindred society. One dot makes you a recognized neonate, while Status 5 is the purview of the Prince.

Every. Single. Woman I’ve ever dated is in this book somewhere, and it freaks me out.


The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.

--Niccolo Machiavelli, The Hellbound Heart

I’ll save Disciplines and other narrative mechanics for a following update, and leave you with the rules for Generation.

Kindred society is a corrupt, oppressive gerontocracy. The elders are not only more experienced than you, with more time to shore up power and influence, their vampire blood is more potent than yours. Each new Generation of Kindred has weaker vitae than the last. The only way to lower your Generation is through diablerie, and that’s a capital offense. Generation doesn’t hinge on age, either--if some dusty Methuselah decides he needs a potent pawn, he can create a 6th Generation childe whenever he feels like it. (For that matter, he can create a dozen.)

Mechanically, a lower Generation means that you can store more Blood Points, and that you can spend more per turn. The lowest-Generation Kindred can even raise their Traits to superhuman levels with experience points. So Generation is far from an end-all be-all measure of power level, and elders are far from unassailable. But it’s a huge advantage, and it was a terrible idea to make Generation something you can buy at character creation.

Next time on Kindred the Embraced: Disciplines! Oh, the Humanity!

Aug 5, 2003

Number 1 Nerd Tear Farmer 2022.

Keep it up, champ.

Also you're a skeleton warrior now. Kree.
Unlockable Ben
Ok, I've put this off long enough, so here we go..

Alas Vegas is probably most infamous for its Kickstarter campaign which overran significantly. But I'm not going to talk about that here! I'm just going to talk about the end product, the book, which is.. well, interesting. By which I mean, it has a lot of things that don't work and seem not to have been thought through, but at the same time it has some moments of shimmering brilliance. It definitely comes off as something that could be used as inspiration for other games at least. It's interesting to note that most of the listed playtesters are well-known RPG designers and celebrities, and while I'm sure they ran great games of this, they probably run great games of practically everything, so the feedback they gave may not have been representative of the norm.

The book is essentially in three sections: the main rules; the Alas Vegas adventure; and a set of smaller adventures by guest authors. The first part of the book is the rules of the game system that's designed for Alas Vegas, the Fugue System. The Fugue System is also available under the Creative Commons license for PWYW download, so I don't have to feel guilty about talking about the entire thing here (the free download is more or less just a copy of the text from Alas Vegas, including the introductory text that was meant for that adventure)

Because the game is based on playing characters with Hollywood-style amnesia, there's no character generation. Each PC (which Fugue calls "personas" for reasons that it spends at least 3 paragraphs explaining, and later takes a bunch of time within the adventure explaining some more, but we'll just say PC) starts with no skills, no name, no nothing. The introduction of the game just consists of each of the players describing what their character looks like, and any distinguishing marks they have. It's assumed they can still remember enough to function and communicate with each other, and they're not allowed to have any distinguishing marks that spell out bits of their past explicitly like tattoos or whatever. After each player talks about their appearance, the player to their left can add one more detail about it, provided it's not disabling. Then, the Dealer (that's the GM) deals Tarot cards to each player until each has a Major Arcana. That's their Signifier, and they'll use it for the rest of the game.

The way players get skills (which are just called "abilities") is by having flashbacks. When a player gets a flashback, they describe a scene from the PCs past, and whatever the PC was doing in that scene, they get that ability now. Flashbacks happen in four circumstances:

* Twice per session a player can trigger one on demand to get an ability of their choice (well, it's once per session in the Vegas books, but twice per session in the CC rules, which seem to be a later version - and this gives a lot more flexibility)
* Once per session a player can trigger a flashback with another PC, and give an ability of their choice to the other player;
* If a PC's Signifier comes up during card play, they immediately get a flashback narrated by the Dealer and get an ability. If the card came up on another character's action, that other PC (or even NPC) is involved in the flashback too;
* If something reminds the PC of something, the Dealer can give them a flashback and an ability - in other words, the Dealer can basically give you flashbacks whenever they want, and potentially write parts of your character's past. I hope you are OK with this as a player, especially if you're going to be playing Vegas, because substantial parts of Vegas require the GM to force flashbacks onto players in order to force the adventure's background into place.

Typical checks are nice and simple. The Dealer assigns a difficulty between 3-12 and draws a card from a full standard Tarot deck. If it's a Minor Arcana and the number is equal to or higher than the difficulty, it's a success. If it's a Major Arcana, the PC succeeds if they've got the ability, and fails badly if they haven't.

The player is then encouraged to use the image on the Tarot card to inspire their description of what happened.. which could be a little tricky. There's history here, again. The vast majority of the art in the book is images of Vegas-themed Major Arcana Tarot cards, and it's actually really good, and you might come to think that at some point there was a Vegas-themed Tarot deck made for use with this game. And you would be right.. except it was never actually printed (as I understand they're talking about potentially getting it printed now). So as it is, the player has to map images on traditional Ryder Waite style tarot cards to events in a modern city. They're allowed to be symbolic and metaphorical about it, mind you, so it's probably still doable, but a bit more awkward that it might have been intended to be.

There is also an issue in that there are four Minor Arcana cards of each suit which don't have numbers. It's not clear if the GM is supposed to take these as having values 11-14, or as all having value 10 as they do in the Contested Action rules. If they take them as having value 10, then higher difficulty tasks are impossible without an Ability and much riskier even then, and the rules don't really say which to do.

The system is also quite harsh. At the lowest difficulty 3, without an ability, you're looking at a 61% chance of success (48 cards out of 78). Each extra point of difficulty disqualifies 4 cards from succeeding - one from each minor suit - which is a change of 4/78, which is very close to 4/80 which is 1/20. So it's roughly equivalent to rolling 6 plus the difficulty, or above, on a d20. But it's quite difficult to judge difficulties once you've realized that, given that a 3 is supposed to be the easiest difficulty possible, which is a far cry from the "5 on a d20" difficulty that is the lowest in many systems.

If you've got the ability, then the Major Arcana become successes, which is a flat bonus of 22/78, or roughly 28% or a +5 or +6 on our hypothetical d20. That means abilities are very polarising, presumably in order to encourage PCs to have flashbacks whenever anything too difficult comes up.

Combat's a bit trickier. It's played as a slightly mangled version of Blackjack. Each PC or NPC on either side gets two cards dealt to them. If it's a mass combat, it's suggested that the GM break it up into smaller combats between individual members in order to simplify things. Like regular Blackjack, the idea is to get as close as you can to 21 without going over. Minor Arcana are worth their number except for the face cards which are worth 10 and the Aces which are worth 1 or 11 as in regular Blackjack. Major Arcana are worth their number or 10, whichever you choose. The Wheel has number 10, so it's always worth 10; tough. The Fool has number 0, and can be played for zero if you really want. The World has number 21, but a hand with only one card is illegal, so you have to play it as 10 or you'd immediately bust - unless the other card in the hand is the Fool played as 0, which creates an uber-critical success.

Players involved in a single combat then take turns clockwise, with the GM going last. On their turn, a player can either a) play one of the cards from their hand to the table, b) "twist" a card from the deck onto the table, or c) stick, if they have a valid hand. If their table cards go over 21, they're stymied and out of the action for the rest of the round. This continues until either everyone sticks or someone gets 21, in which case everyone else gets a last chance to use their cards in hand to make 21, and then the hand ends. Note that you don't have to actually play the two cards you're dealt with to start with - you could potentially twist your whole hand, although I'm not sure why you'd do that, but hey.

As for using Abilities, well, there's a fourth option. If d) you describe using an ability, then the Dealer gives you a twist card, but instead of going straight to the table you can replace a card already on the table with it. Unfortunately, the game rules for this are very confusing. In one place they state you can keep the wild card until you need it, in another they state you have to play it right away; and it's also not clear if you get the wild card at the start of the combat or partway through when you invoke a relevant ability. Because it's the action on your turn, it can't save you from being stymied if you go bust to a twist.

Once the round is over, whoever had the best hand wins; Dealer wins ties. Highest hand is best; if there's a tie, least cards is best. Also, the nature of the hand determines what you can do. A high hand that's less than 21 can gain the upper hand, or knock someone down for a round, or potentially do something that ends the contest but doesn't knock anyone out - although how you decide this isn't mentioned. A 21 with more than 2 cards can knock an opponent out or otherwise take them completely out of the action. A Blackjack can do the same, but can also kill; a regular Blackjack can kill if you have a weapon, a Blackjack with 1 Major Arcana can kill with your bare hands, a Blackjack with both Major Arcana can kill or incapacitate all your opponents, and a Blackjack with the Fool and the World can do anything without justification. The book suggests pulling the sun out of the sky and throwing it down the opponent's throat. Unfortunately, it kinda assumes you're going to do something that's tied into the contest you're in, as opposed to just bypassing the entire problem. Why throw the sun down the Vault guard's throat if you can just make a one-way magic portal into the vault appear?

So, this sounds decent, but has at least one potential problem. Since it's a game of turn taking with active involvement from the opponent, it's a bit difficult to run raw probabilities, but what you might have noticed with the hand values is that there's 5 cards for every suit which are worth 10 (the actual 10 plus the 4 face cards) plus all the Major Arcana are potentially worth 10 too. That's 42 tens in a 78 card deck, or 53% - the majority of the deck! So, yea. You're going to get a ton of 20s. Since a 20 doesn't butter many parsnips on the damage track, it presumably wants you to try and twist your way into a 21, but that's kind of risky. Moreover, since the Dealer wins ties, there's a big chance of the dealer winning on tied 20s, and it's not very clear what happens if they do; the wording states that on a winning tied 20 you can "try to terminate the contested action", so if it's an NPC doing that, who decides if the attempt succeeds and what happens if they do?

As you've probably noticed, it is also bloody deadly. A Blackjack can come at any time and kill a PC without any advance warning. In fact, Blackjacks as the strongest hand has a general pacing issue; it means that the moment the players see a third card go down on a round, they're safe. You would ideally want long, contested hands to be the most tense, but here they're the absolute reverse - if no-one has a blackjack, everyone's eventually walking away.

And on top of this, the game does advise that the Dealer shouldn't kill PCs anyway, because thanks to the flashbacks system and its session-based timing it isn't really possible to replace a PC in the middle; the player can get a new PC, but they'll have no flashback history, and no way to catch up. The standby is to give the PC a major wound that would kill them over time, but won't in the time remaining in the adventure. Oh, and by the way, the only rules for healing are that wounds heal realistically for the world the game is set in - so it could easily be tricky having to avoid the PCs leave their severely wounded friend behind.

That's more or less it for the rules. Let's talk about Vegas!

Now, what I'm going to do first is to give you something the book never gives you, which is an overview of the setting and the plot. This never appears in the book because of one of the key gimmicks of the game: the rotating GM. The campaign is fixed to be 4 sessions long, and in each of those 4 sessions a different player is intended to take over as the GM. It's a nice idea. Unfortunately, it leads to the following section:

No, no, it's not going to be better if the GM genuinely doesn't know the answers to questions the players have about the setting, because they might not be asking those questions just out of curiosity, they might be fundamental to the actions they're going to take. And if the GM can't make stuff up then.. well, they're going to have to just block the PCs, and that's difficult.

But the worst statement here is "this isn't one of those indie games". But if you don't want to be "one of those indie games" where improvisation is important, then you have to put in the content to define things precisely enough to play without improv. And Vegas absolutely doesn't do that - some content is just missing, and some is left until the later sessions, leaving the earlier GMs floundering.

So, anyway, fair warning. I'm about to sum up the setting, and then we'll be going through the whole adventure, so here be huge honkin' spoilers. If you ever think you're going to do stuff with Alas Vegas other than run it in the traditional single-GM mode (and there's no reason why you shouldn't do that) then look away now. (Well, unless you're cool with playing hard narrative even though you already know what's going to happen.)

Seriously, big spoilers! Last chance!

Ok. Here's the big reveal: the "Vegas" the PCs find themselves in isn't the real Vegas. It's hell. Literally. The PCs are all damned souls in hell. The four major casinos - the Cups, the Swords, the Wands and the Coins - are all run by demon lords; the biggest casino of them all, the Wheel Of Fortune, is run by Satan himself. Most of the regular tourists around hell-Vegas are other damned souls, and the "locals" are straight up demons, although they're nowhere near as powerful as the demon lords who run the big sites. This is normally revealed at the end of the second session, although the book does mention that the players will probably have worked it out or guessed at it by then and it isn't really a problem if they do (and that's quite right), so at least some credit for that.

Most of Hell-Vegas consists of, well, caricatures of Vegas stuff - smaller casinos, shows, hotels, and so on, or burned out relics where such things used to be (in a town full of demons and the damned there tends to be quite a bit of infighting). If the players want to wander around and explore, well.. tough luck. There's no map, no-one will give them a map, and the default action if the PCs wander off is for the GM to declare them lost and tell them they need to ask directions back to some place they know. Even though they're lost in a city full of casinos and hotels and stuff where they could take plenty of actions in spite of not knowing where they are. I see what they're going for - it's the "Sherlock never walked" rule, where a setting that would be too big to manage is simplified by breaking it down into identifiable locations - but the system of just "getting lost" to enforce it doesn't really work so well.

There's two other big secrets to the setting. The first is the nature of guns, and the second is the nature of gambling chips. I'll do those in order.

Guns in Vegas are weapons for demons. There's no stores selling them, no shooting ranges, no nothing - and the guns themselves don't fire bullets, they channel the energy of the demon firing them. If a tourist somehow gets hold of a gun, they won't be able to fire it, and if it's found on them they'll at least get it taken away, or end up in much worse trouble. Well, with one exception. It's mentioned that a tourist can fire a gun if they have enough knowledge to use their own spiritual energy for the shot - which often requires some kind of mystic knowledge ability - but the shot will be weak and it will leave them exhausted and seriously screwed up. Firing a second time in a day will kill them.

The first problem with this is that this is only really explained near the start of the third session, but the PCs potentially meet someone who knows about it in the first session, which can leave that session's GM floundering - or more likely, having to make something up which a later GM might have to contradict. The second problem - a much bigger one - is there's no guidelines at all as to what having a gun actually does. In the combat system you can still only kill on a Blackjack, so all a gun does is to probably count as "an appropriate weapon", but it's no more effective than any other appropriate weapon. There are no guidelines for range, and while you might enforce it by common sense, a gun is then no better than say a crossbow or a bow and arrow, which the savvier tourists have worked out that they can possess and use.

To make this even more confusing, there is a section later in the adventure where the PCs get the ability to use guns, and it states that a single shot will kill a tourist, but a demon will take two or three (and the demon lords just laugh); but how this interacts with the combat system isn't clear at all. Does it means that your first shot with a gun against a demon can hit on a 21, but the second one requires a blackjack? There seems to be an assumption here that you can shoot someone just by making a skill check, which is awkward because there's no rules for NPCs making skill checks, so presumably they just shoot players whenever they like, which screws with the combat system... except they can't shoot players whenever they like because you're not supposed to kill the PCs! Ugh. Anyway.

Next, gambling chips. Now that we know that Vegas is hell I'm sure I don't have to bother telling you that chips are souls. I probably also don't have to tell you that in one of the major casinos - the Wheel, the one run by Satan himself - there's an imposing black elevator which you can only ride if you have a million chips. Nobody knows where it leads, but it's the only possible way out, and nobody who rides it ever comes down again. Most people in Vegas only consider it a rumor at best, but it's about the only hope they have around here.

What's nifty, though, are two twists put on this. First of all, the chips are only kind-of souls. Whenever a damned soul "dies" in Vegas, they disappear and their body transforms into casino chips (if you manage to kill a demon, it doesn't turn into chips - it just lies there dead). The number of chips created varies based on how many people the victim "killed" - physically or metaphorically - in life. So although there might be multiple chips created, they're all from the same soul. What do they really count, then? Memories. That's why your PCs have been having flashbacks all the time - they're instrumental to Hell. Anyone who's been killed in Vegas is trapped within their chips, endlessly reliving their darkest acts from both sides.

Everything in Vegas is paid for in chips, but also, the demons actually melt down and grind up chips to make the raw material to build the buildings and structures and general stuff in Vegas. Having your soul in a chip, or chips, that's ground up and used to make a building is unpleasant. All the memories mix together, leaving the souls of the damned constantly reliving their own and other's acts of evil, from the victim's sides as well. And either way, there's no escape once you've become chips. Welcome to Hell. Get down on the floor and give me infinity.

So, yea, that's actually really cool - linking up the game mechanic with the plot in that way. It's also very unlikely that anyone except the GM of the final session will really understand it, given that the PCs just get to see some vague evidence of it while they're on an involuntary peyote bender.

The second really nifty aspect is chip denominations. See, to ride that black elevator, you have to have a million chips, and that means carrying them. They're physical chips. They have weight and mass. No-one's going to be able to carry a million singles. And since the only way new chips get minted is when a damned soul dies, and the number that appear is determined by their previous actions, higher value chips are actually relatively rare - and therefore exponentially more valuable than their face value suggests. No one will give you straight change up into the highest values. Which means that something as simple as the ability to carry chips suddenly creates a whole new level of intrigue, as well as explaining why people in Vegas aren't particularly keen to just go around beating up random damned souls for chips; even if you could somehow peg a million people before the demons got you, you'd probably just end up with a couple of ton of chips you could never carry around.

On the other hand, it does walk into the usual big problem with fictional Hells. Remember, the PCs here are damned souls, not Orpheus or anything like that. So why the heck would Hell ever let any of them, well, be a protagonist? And once you know the secrets, that becomes even weirder. What happens when you ride that black elevator? You get to play Satan at Blackjack. If you lose, you become a demon. If you win, you.. well, you get out of Hell, but even the ending of the adventure never explains quite what happens after that, because the idea that Satan could send you to Heaven was just too daft for even this cosmology. Why does Satan offer this deal? Because "if you can get to a million chips, you're Satan's kind of person." So Satan's kind of person is.. not the worst sinners, but the people who kill the worst sinners without being that bad themselves? Huh. And hey, let's not even get into the religious implications of the idea that if you're evil, you go to Hell, but if you're evil enough you go to Hell but then get to kick a bunch of people's asses and become a rad demon.

Ok, now we're going to have an overview of what's going on into the adventure. Again, this is really massive spoiler territory, and while knowing the above stuff about Hell might not break the game, this absolutely will. So turn away if you're at all unsure about being spoiled.


Still here? Here's what's going down. Satan is kinda sick of the Vegas version of hell, and especially how it encourages the demon lords to fight each other, so he wants to tear the thing down and go back to a more traditional kind of hell. Even he's not powerful enough to just shift the whole landscape of hell alone, though, so he's got a plan. His plan is: a) get Hades, the old Lord of the Underworld who he took over from, to help (on the grounds that Hades would probably prefer a traditional hell too), and b) get an innocent person trapped in hell, which provides a ton of extra power. Unfortunately, innocent people don't normally go to hell; and if they somehow do, then Satan has no power over them, and a rather peeved angel will show up to try to help them escape. The angel has no problem dealing with demons, but straight up slaying mortals - even damned ones - isn't their style. So what Satan needs is some bunch of mortal rubes to do an old-style soul sacrifice of an innocent, and then bring that innocent to him in the Wheel of Fortune. Hello, PCs.

One of the moments of shimmering brilliance, though, is that this isn't the traditional "haha, you've been following my plans all along!" railroad adventure. There's a twist. Hades is only pretending to help; what he really wants is to take Hell back. And he knows that managing all this stuff - as well as dealing with the angel - will weaken Satan, to the point where he could be killed (or at least knocked out of action) with a sufficiently powerful weapon even inside Hell. Satan's on his guard against Hades, of course, but Hades also knows that and realizes the people to do the job would be people who Satan wouldn't suspect - such as the bunch of alleged rubes he's getting to help with his plan. Plus, once Satan is down, Hades won't need the innocent anymore, and so can give those folks the opportunity to be responsible for getting an innocent person out of Hell, which can only be good for them in the cosmic scheme of things.

So, yea. That's.. well, that's pretty cool, actually. It's a nice twist on the "the PCs were part of the bad guy's plan all along" cliche to say that actually they were part of two bad guys' plans and now they get control of how those plans are going to go. Although they don't really get much control because, honestly, who's really going to side with Satan? Plus, there's a random factor involved. This is still Vegas for now, after all.

On the other hand, it does have the universal problem with these plots that if the PCs die, the whole plan goes to poo poo, yet Satan and Hades don't feel the need to make any attempt to prevent this happening because they would succeed and ruin any tension in the adventure. Huh.

So, we'll do this like the adventure wants us to. Four sessions, four posts. Then we'll start to look at the extra adventures in back.

Mar 25, 2013

This system seems like a trip which is pretty fitting for adventures in Las Vegas Hell.

Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.

It does, I actually dig the concept even if the odds are pretty screwy, though I feel like Alas Vegas seems better fit for a TV series rather than a tabletop game.

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007


What's with the Wickian edginess on the GM section?
gently caress you for wanting to improve and customise the game I guess, thanks for buying the game.

Aug 5, 2003

Number 1 Nerd Tear Farmer 2022.

Keep it up, champ.

Also you're a skeleton warrior now. Kree.
Unlockable Ben

By popular demand posted:

What's with the Wickian edginess on the GM section?
gently caress you for wanting to improve and customise the game I guess, thanks for buying the game.

The argument is just that if the first GM goes off the rails, the second one has to recover without knowing what was in their head. But yea, the written attitude isn't great. And that stuff about "improv = walrus ivory trading" comes up at least once more.

Aug 5, 2003

Number 1 Nerd Tear Farmer 2022.

Keep it up, champ.

Also you're a skeleton warrior now. Kree.
Unlockable Ben


So! First session. Here we go. Everyone wakes up in the desert, naked, dragging themselves out of shadow graves, and scarcely remembering their own names. Looking into the distance, they see the city, a red beam of light stretching up from the centre of it up to the stars. Time for the PCs to do character generation, describing each other's looks and setting up signifiers. The GM does this too, because they're going to have a PC in the later sessions. There is also one more character with them who's going to follow them around. Who's that? Well, that's the GM's real character, because the GM's PC is going to get killed in this adventure. Ok. Let's hope the PCs don't leave them behind or anything like that.

Ok, hi, everybody, this desert sucks, and it's deserted, and it's dark, but it feels like something's watching us, and what the heck was that? It was a nuclear explosion, about 20 miles to the north. And if the players look over there, then silhouetted against the afterimage of the blast.. is a standing human figure, which disappears.

If the PCs investigate this, they find nothing. They can't find the figure. Amazingly the adventure has a footnote giving the tonnage of nuclear device that would produce that explosion in case one of the characters decides to flashback to being a nuclear scientist, but it won't be useful information at all (funnily enough, it wasn't really a nuclear bomb). In fact, this comes up a ton of times in the adventure: the PCs decide to have a flashback to acquire an obvious skill, and the adventure notes - in an almost gloating fashion - that it won't actually be any use and they just wasted one of their scarce flashbacks. This is the first one of those.

The PCs are assumed to trog through the desert towards the city, stepping on sharp stones, tripping on buried roots, feeling night-things scuttling in the dark, banging their toes on rocks, and so on. At some point, one of the other books might tell me how a GM can actually create the feeling of a longish, creepy journey without either boring the players or skipping. But not this one. After that, the PCs see an abandoned car, nose-down in a creek, with the headlights still on. Strangely, the adventure says that the car is "not like anything they recognise", but then assumes that the PCs will naturally try to pull it out and drive it, so presumably they know they can do that? Huh. Anyway, it's time to try to dig the car out of the ditch and get it started, and probably for everyone to have flashbacks to fixing or driving cars, and time to make our first skill checks.

Does the adventure tell us how difficult this ought to be? Nope. Ok, Mr or Ms GM, rate hotwiring a car on a scale from 3-12. It's not supposed to be challenging, but on the other hand, stealing a car shouldn't really be easy, should it? Let's say 6, huh? Cool. Assuming the PCs all take flashbacks, there's then only a 1/64 chance that they all fail and are stuck out in the desert permanently. The PCs will get to drive off wondering about, hey, they're all car mechanics, who'da thunk it? And.. uh-oh. Is that something coming?

While the PCs are trying to deal with the car, humanlike emaciated figures burst out from the scrub. These are the Lost, people who've been forced out of the city and just try to survive without any support. It's time for a practice combat! Hey, look, everyone's been in a fight before. That's super helpful. It's also potentially both of everyone's self-directed session flashbacks used up, so good luck with that - although hopefully they've been giving these flashbacks to each other.

Now, originally I was thinking of doing this as a playthrough F&F with sample characters, but that gets very difficult to do after a while, but I did actually draw out this combat with some simulated Tarot cards, playing the PCs and the NPCs the best I could.

Here's how it went, with our four PCs - Alice, Bob, Chris, and Diana - against 3 Lost.

Hand 1 - Alice vs Lost 1 - Alice knocks the Lost down temporarily with 20 vs a bust.
Hand 1 - Chris vs Lost 2 - Chris knocks the Lost unconscious with a multi-card 21.
Hand 1 - Bob and Diana vs Lost 3 - Bob, Diana, and the Lost all get to 20, then start to twist to avoid the tie, resulting in Bob and Diana both going bust and being knocked down temporarily by the Lost.
Hand 2 - Alice and Chris vs Lost 3 - The Lost kills Alice with a Single Arcana Blackjack.
Hand 2 - Bob, Diana, and Lost 1 all get up.
Hand 3 - Diana vs Lost 1 - Diana is knocked down by the Lost going bust to escape a tied 20.
Hand 3 - Bob and Chris vs Lost 3 - Chris tears the Lost apart with a Double Arcana Blackjack.
Hand 4 - Bob and Chris vs Lost 1 - Chris smashes the Lost's head in with a Single Arcana Blackjack.

So the "example" fight went for rather a long time (remember, each of those hands is a full Blackjack round), had several PCs staggering around and killed a PC. Now, Alice was the GM's PC and supposed to die this session, so that's ok - but if they hadn't been, that would have been a PC at least seriously wounded or incapacitated. In the first fight, with unskilled opponents. There are more to come.

So, we assume the PCs beat or kill the Lost. They can loot them if they want, they have tattered clothes and makeshift weapons. But as soon as the PCs look away, their bodies disappear, and turn into a couple casino chips each. The PCs will likely have questions about this, and the GM doesn't get told the answers. Into the car we go, uh-oh, the lights are getting dim, the battery must be going. Phut phut phut, the car heads off to the city and the engine blows about half a mile outside the city. Let's really hope that the PCs went to the city as opposed to, say, to investigate the nuclear explosion. If they did that they're proper hosed.

Anyway, the car's broken down just in the right place to bring the PCs to their next encounter, which is a construction zone. Big dug foundation, concrete pilings, ineffective floodlights, chain-link fence, an unlocked gate, and two big guys burying a third, smaller human figure in the setting concrete of the building. You know the dr.. oh, wait. We should probably do something about that, huh? If the PCs decide to just sod off and leave them, then they briefly see someone standing in the shadows watching them before driving away, but the PCs can leave with no real effect.

Players aren't like that, of course. Hopefully, they'll go to the rescue. And everything will get really confusing.

So, here's the deal. The guys doing the burying are locals - demons, in fact, but this GM doesn't know that. That means they automatically get a wildcard in anything they try and do, including fighting. Now, here's a summary of the facts the adventure gives the GM about this scene:

  • They aren't particularly interested in killing the PCs, but if it comes down to a fight they'll fight back.
  • They have guns, but they're in their jackets which are hung a way out of the pit where they're doing the burying.
  • They will not pursue the PCs if they flee.
  • If the PCs are winning, the demons will attempt to shoot the person in the concrete and flee.
  • If the demons get away, they will tell their superiors at the casino they work for about the PCs, which is - quote - "uh oh".
  • The demons would rather throw their guns into the liquid concrete than allow the PCs to get hold of them.

So, I think we get here some odd situation where if the PCs flee, or let a demon get away, they're likely to be screwed because they'll be reported to a casino boss (actually, they won't be, but this GM doesn't know that). Also, the demons don't want to use their guns because they're difficult for them to get to, unless they're losing, in which case they have to go get them somehow to shoot the person in the concrete and then destroy the gun, but for some reason not just shoot the PCs. The demons are also perfectly aware about the thing where non-demons can't fire guns, so why they feel they need to throw their guns away is not clear, but the GM isn't aware of this (the text just says that if a PC gets hold of a gun, it won't fire, can't be disassembled and can't be reloaded) so setting up a nice contradiction.

Time for another fight. I played this one out, too. Another PC got killed in the very first hand by a demon pulling an Arcana Blackjack. Presumably this time, they weren't killed, just seriously wounded, but at the same time the GM would be stuck with a dilemma: rule that the wound doesn't affect them (and let the players know they aren't really in any danger) or rule that it incapacitates them until it's healed. The GM is likely to be tempted to do the latter, because they don't know much about the setting. If they do that, the PC is probably hosed.

Anyway, assuming (and it's a pretty big assumption) that everything went well, the PCs can pull the woman they were burying in the concrete out. This is Rebecca Oh, and she's an rear end in a top hat who won't tell them anything or have them do anything. She apparently just wants to wash off the gunk and leave. How she leaves? Well, we're not sure, but if the PCs ask her to walk with them, there's going to be issues with why she'd refuse and also with what happens if she doesn't refuse, because if the PCs walk into town with her then everything's going to be totally different.

Oh, by the way, if the PCs don't get involved here, then that someone watching them before driving away? In that scenario, that was Rebecca Oh. We kinda need her around. And yea, we're kinda buggered if the demons shot her in the concrete, or if the PCs killed her for some ridiculous reason.

We pull up to the edge of town. It's late night. The street-lamps are unearthy yellow, the people are down-and-out, nobody really cares to help them. They can't find a police station. They can't find a hospital (tough luck if you got maimed in that fight). If they try to report anything anywhere, they'll get laughed at. Oh, and if anyone has a flashback to knowing their way around Vegas, they waste their flashback because this isn't that Vegas. Thanks a bunch. The PCs can mope around a bit until the GM throws them the next bone, which is a soup cart. Yes, your guys are hungry. The soup lady can tell them that they're in Vegas, but doesn't know a whole lot about anything else, other than the fact that having already gotten in a fight is a bad thing. She can give them soup, she can give them clothes, and she can send them to our first quest-giver, Nate the bar owner. If the PCs ask why she doesn't look after the Lost too, she'll say the city "reminds them of things they don't want to remember". This is foreshadowing.

Off to Nate's bar. Hope we don't try to go anywhere else. They can drink if they want, although they might not know that they can pay with casino chips (the barmaid will tell them). And they can also read the local newspaper, and this is another highlight of the adventure, because the local newspaper has a comic that's actually illustrated in the real book, and they're amusingly deadpan and actually by John Kovalic. Also, the first one's the best one. Here you go:

At some point (yea, this adventure really does love to do the "leave the PCs idle and unable to achieve anything until they get bored of stuff, then the next event happens" thing, which I have far too often seen result in the players learning to skip idle moments), there'll be a fight. The point of this fight is to have Nate show up and hit the fighting drunks with a chair so that we know he's a badass. If the PCs do get involved then.. well, another PC might end up incapacitated here, potentially making this quite the comedy of errors. Oh, yes, the other point is to get Nate to pay attention to the PCs, so let's hope they did join in the fight and they did well, which they can't really control.

So Nate is our first Mr. Exposition who can tell them the basic rules of Vegas - that there's five big casinos that control everything, their bosses rule the area, that the economy run on casino chips, and so on. He also tells them that he won't tell them much more, because information is valuable. At some point, three guys in suits come in and ask Nate a bunch of questions. This also doesn't go anywhere. Again, the point here is to get the PCs to ask Nate to help, in which case, he says he'll put them up and introduce them in exchange for them helping with a few tasks he has. A-ha. The PCs go off, have some rest, get cleaned up, then come back down to the bar next morning where Nate has an exclamation mark over his head.

First mission: take some chips from Nate, and deliver them to the Cornucopia casino, basically just to show that they can be trusted. The GM is also told to tell the players that if they break Nate's trust, he'll tell everyone not to trust them and then they're hosed, so yea, let's go to the Cornucopia, huh? And this is as simple as it seems. Go to the Cornucopia, give the money to the guy there who says they're "Nate's dues", then go back again. He might be vaguely interested if the PCs mention how they arrived, but doesn't really say anything. If the PCs try to go anywhere else, they get lost and have to ask their way back to a place they know. They can also hang out and gamble in the Cornucopia if they want to - there's a general section on gambling that basically says, yea, the PCs can do it if they want, it's just regular casino gambling, you're probably going to lose, and oddly, in this Vegas it isn't really any fun, and nobody they meet gambling is having any fun.

Oh, there's one side thing the players can do. They can see an advert posted by the guy who owned the car they drove into town in. If they contact him, he wants the tape that was in the glovebox (which helpfully wasn't mentioned in the initial description of the car, so I hope the PCs didn't open the glovebox at that time). He'll give them 300 chips for it. He won't say why, or indeed say anything at all. If the PCs play the tape, it's a crazy person rambling about Hell, but doesn't give any useful information in exactly the same way that everything doesn't.

Back we go to Nate's. He has a question mark over his head, now, and we've unlocked a few more dialog options. Nate has heard about a kidnapping last night. If the PCs tell him about Rebecca, he can tell them her name, and which casino she came from (the Swords, as it turns out), and basically that it means there's about to be a power shift. This is also very common. Plenty of people the PCs will meet will tell them there's signs that a big change is coming, but not what it is, or how it's going to happen, or - again - anything that the PCs can actually use to inform their actions.

Anyway. Next quest. Go out to a guy called Bob Munker's and collect a debt from him. No use killing him, but a bit of blunt persuasion is not necessarily out of the question. If he hasn't got the money, take valuable stuff from him, especially old stuff. Nate can give them a car and weapons if they want, but (of course) no guns. Off we drive. Like usual, if the PCs try to go anywhere that isn't Bob's or somewhere they know, they get lost and need to ask directions.

Bob's house. Front door's locked and no-one's answering, and the windows won't open because something's blocking them. That's because Bob is trying to dig a tunnel from his basement into the counting room of one of the casinos, which is about as stupid an idea as it sounds. Bob also has some things to trouble the PCs. The first of these is three guard dogs. Time for another round of ties, but what makes it more worrying is the following text in the adventure:


The dogs will not all attack the same persona, they will each attack different ones. This should make them easier to deal with.

Err. No. It doesn't work like that, remember? The hands are always two-player contested, so there's no way for a PC to attack a dog without it attacking them back; either they play a hand against it or they don't. Also, if one of the dogs gets a Blackjack, someone's going down either way. All this changes is that if two of them get Blackjacks, two PCs go down instead of one. Uh.

The second thing that Bob has that will trouble the PCs is a gun. Yes, this is our fellow early in the adventure who has a gun and knows how to use it. He may shoot the PCs, but if he does, it's a weak shot and only bruises them because he's weak and exhausted. The PCs may well ask him for explanations, or show him the guns from the guys at the construction site. Tough poo poo. The GM at this point doesn't know any of the setting information about guns, and if the PCs take Bob's gun, the only explanation is that it only had one bullet and now it's out. Yea. This could well be a huge derail. Also, Bob might be the first person to tell the PCs about the black elevator and the million chips thing, because that's what he wants to do when he's dug into the counting-house.

Bob doesn't have any money or chips. If he's pressed, he'll give the PCs some books to pay his debt. The adventure goes into a lot of detail about what is in the books, but they all either don't make sense or are in code. As usual, plenty of stuff that's vaguely creepy but doesn't empower the PCs to actually do anything. Also:


If any locals catch the PCs with [the gun], they will be hauled in front of the Head of Security at the relevant casino. We will meet a Head of Security next time, because it would be better if the personae don't meet one this time.

It would be better if they don't because the GM is left floundering in the dark if they do. This section of the adventure says this kind of thing a ton - the PCs shouldn't go to the Strip either because "it's high level and they're low level" - which is not only not true (the Strip isn't dangerous when the PCs get there and they don't meaningfully level up before going), but there's literally no reason this would be the case in the setting.

Anyway, the PCs head back to Nate's. Maybe they go some other places, nothing happens, they get lost, yadda yadda, Nate's. Nate will get a call, say something is odd, and send the PCs to the Cornucopia with the books. When they get there, they meet the guy they met before, and then they get to meet his boss.

Hey, Rebecca. What, those guys shot you in the concrete? Well, here you are anyway. Huh.

End of session.

So, this reads really well in the book, but it sounds like it'd be a serious pain to run. It's obviously mostly trying to build atmosphere, which is a laudable goal, but at the same time it's so heavily tracked that players could easily get frustrated at finding more and more abstract atmosphere and nothing they can work with. It's already creepy, how many times do they need to be reminded? And, yea, the combat's far too lethal and there's a not insignificant risk of one of the PCs getting mangled so badly they end up either being left to recover at Nate's or learning that actually Nate has bugger all reason to allow that and presumably getting dumped in the desert. Incidentally, nobody will tell them that Vegas is hell. Even the GM doesn't know that yet. Which, as we will see shortly, makes no sense whatsoever.

Feb 14, 2012

Nessus posted:

What's your point? I'm saying if y'all had led with DBs you would have probably had a stronger game line. Hell, maybe you could have even drawn more from the well of the WoD line and had the different Exalted splats have substantially different focuses and emphasis, even if the rules were broadly intercompatible.

infamous failure of a game line Exalted

Jan 20, 2004

Trout Clan Daimyo

drunkencarp posted:

infamous failure of a game line Exalted

Stronger's a comparative term, dumbass.

Jan 30, 2012

Really Madcats

hyphz posted:

The PCs are assumed to trog through the desert towards the city, stepping on sharp stones, tripping on buried roots, feeling night-things scuttling in the dark, banging their toes on rocks, and so on. At some point, one of the other books might tell me how a GM can actually create the feeling of a longish, creepy journey without either boring the players or skipping. But not this one. After that, the PCs see an abandoned car, nose-down in a creek, with the headlights still on. Strangely, the adventure says that the car is "not like anything they recognise", but then assumes that the PCs will naturally try to pull it out and drive it, so presumably they know they can do that? Huh. Anyway, it's time to try to dig the car out of the ditch and get it started, and probably for everyone to have flashbacks to fixing or driving cars, and time to make our first skill checks.
I take that to mean that the car isn't from any known marque, not that the characters don't know what a car is.

re: the quantum Rachel, I guess it only becomes Rachel in the pit if the characters actually succeed in rescuing her. Having her not walk back with the PCs can be achieved by the same way that the bodies turn into chips - when the characters aren't looking at her, she's just not there.

Lack of guidance on what to do if a character gets hurt or dead is a big problem, and it's dissapointing that Wallis didn't think about adding that it; it can't have been too difficult to come up with something that would work without ruining the metaplot.

On the whole though, this sounds like a mess that would make a pretty good BBC TV show, but a frustrating RPG. Buy-in for most groups would be pretty difficult just because of the rotating GM if nothing else (My group actually has all GMs, which is nice).

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements

MollyMetroid posted:

Stronger's a comparative term, dumbass.

To play Yozi's advocate, I do actually think that (absent the 'doomed, terribly doomed' aesthetics that players appear to have pretty much ignored most of the time) Exalted expresses what makes it unique in a stronger manner through Solars than through Dragon-Blooded. The Dragon-Blooded are in large part made more interesting -- and distinct from Legend of the Five Rings, which is Elemental Magic Samurai in Japan-China -- by the context of the Solars, of the Usurpation, of the inherent critique of divine right that the whole messy history embodies. Putting that front and center isn't a bad thing.

Now, whether Solars have lived up to their thematic core of 'you are playing a Culture Hero, like Gilgamesh or Arthur, and also being hunted by the ruling powers of the world' in whichever edition one chooses to look at... that's another question. But I think the Dragon-Blooded are really made stronger by their history and position as 'usurpers,' because the total lack of 'divine right' in the hierarchy of Creation at game start is refreshing. If one were writing an Exalted novel? Absolutely begin with the Dragon-Blooded and have the major twist be that the Solars are actually the Gilgameshes and Arthurs of the world. But in presenting the setting, I think the Dragon-Blooded are richer for knowing up front that the Immaculate Philosophy is propaganda.

e: Also, if Hunters were modern Solars, Reckoning would look more like the art from Reckoning, and honestly would be a kind of amazing game, if a really ridiculous one. Especially the bit where Solars can at moderately powerful Essence learn the ability to make their glowing power aura metaphysically count as sunlight. Burn, Dracula, burn!

Mar 20, 2009

Soiled Meat
Sign actually looks hella cool with those write-ups. Real potential for transdimensional tourism there, gonna steal the hell outta these locations.

By popular demand
Jul 17, 2007


Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas! I hope you liked the Hotel California because you're just as stuck.

This whole drip feeding info to both the players and the GM definitely isn't working to keep things engaging nor particularly interesting either.
We're used to combat systems that are broken or just don't fit the narrative ITT but unfortunately it's the most engrossing bit of the adventure yet.

Alas Vegas should have probably been made to a board game instead.

Jan 30, 2012

Really Madcats

By popular demand posted:

Alas Vegas should have probably been made to a board game instead.

I could see it working as a TIME Stories playset - those are big on meta-game and keeping secrets before you play.

Jan 30, 2012

Really Madcats

It's time to return to B11, Kings Festival.

It's been a long time since my last post, which can be read here -

The party are Magda the Fighter, Adventurine the dwarf, Alex the thief, Mikhail the magic-user, and Praying Colin the cleric.

Last time the party returned to Stallanford with their rescued Cleric, and knowledge about an evil in the caves below the area that the orcs were hiding out in. They return to the town, enjoy the hospitality, and the next day prepare to return to the caves.

Between their treasure and XP they have 917 odd xp each, sadly not enough for anyone to level up.

They do do some shopping though; Plate mail for Colin bringing his AC to 3, a heavy crossbow each for Magda and Adventurine, a sling for Mikhail, a bottle of holy water each, a couple of nets, and a flask of oil each.

Magda gets the +1 sword, Alex the +1 dagger.

Alaric has two Cure Light Wounds spells that he casts on the wounded members of the party before they leave.

Refreshed and newly equipped, the party return to the caves. Level two of the caves increases the difficulty - there are several monsters with save or suck effects, and our party doesn't have great saves yet.

The journey back to the throne room is uneventful, and they easily open the secret door.

Entering Dungeon Level 2!

It's unlit, so they now need to be carrying a lantern. As he's not going to be attacking, Mikhail is designated light-bearer. Adventurine and Magda load their crossbows and take point, with Colin at the rear of the party. Mikhail has Sleep memorised.

The first room, 20, is a bare, rock strewn cavern with a nasty surprise. As the characters are wondering which way to go next, two Red Worms (a new monster) burst out of the ground and surprise the party.

They have a poison attack, but unlike a lot of Basic poisons it's not an automatic save or die; it's save or take an extra 1d4 damage. It might still result in a death, but there's a chance a character survives. Which is lucky for Colin as he failed his save, leaving him on 1 hp. The second worm missed. The party (just) manage to put the worms down before they get a second go.

Colin drinks one of the potions of healing, and the party go north. This will probably be a mistake.

Room 21 is The Old Burial Chamber. There are six shallow indentations in the ground, and 6 (though the text then describes nine) stone covered tombs at the walls. Names have been worn off. Before the party can explore, a monster wanders in.

In this case the party posted a guard, so they're not surprised when this bastard wanders in.

A carrion crawler. 8 attacks, save vs. paralysis or be paralysed on a hit. Its only saving grace is that it can only attack one target a round and that the tentacles don't do damage.

Realising that their exit is blocked, they're going to have to fight.

On the 4th attack the crawler hits Adventurine, and she fails her save. Everyone except Mikhail manages to hit it, leaving it almost dead. It fails its morale save and will start scuttling away on its turn, however, it loses initiative and is slain before it can start backing up. Adventurine remains paralysed for just over an hour.

This not technically a wandering monster, it's just a carrion crawler that's coming along to check out the tombs in case it missed something. It's a bit quantum in that it doesn't exist until they stop at the tomb room - they can't, for instance, find it just walking down one of the corridors.

About half an hour into their wait, they're disturbed by a strange shrieking noise, and a few moments later, a group of six cave locusts flees into the room, scared by something deeper in the dungeon. They're not actively hostile, but jump around and may accidentally hit a PC. Three of them do so, but only Alex is injured for 1hp. The locusts flee without further incident.

The PCs return to the worm room, and then to 22, the Ghoul Cavern.


You enter a rock-strewn cavern. From behind a large boulder in the north- east corner, a snarling creature leaps at you. Its filth-encrusted claws reach for your throat! Dressed only in rags,
this half-human thing is consumed by hatred and frenzy, and the charnel stench of death is strong around it!

The text advises the GM not to call it a ghoul until the players work it out as the characters won't have seen one before now. Clerics can try to turn it on an 11+

Ghouls are another low level staple and gently caress you to the average player character due to their paralysing touch. Elves are immune, but our elf has already died earlier in the dungeon.

The party are surprised by the ghoul leaping at them. This could be messy. Fortunately, it goes for Magda and misses. In the second round it goes for Magda again, and hits twice. She passes her first save, fails the second.

Colin tries to turn it and fails, but everyone else's attacks hit. In round two, everyone goes at the same time; the ghoul misses Adventurine, and then Colin slays it. The party wait for Magda to be able to move again. They also get a really nice necklace from the ghoul (250gp)

There's a secret door here that leads to the sanctum of the leader of the monsters here. It's found by Mikhail.

The description for the area behind the door unambiguously calls it out as more dangerous than the rest of the dungeon; in video games terms this would be the point of no return. IMO this is a good thing, especially as the module is intended for a newbie GM and players.

The party, being sensible decide to leave the door for now. They head east, missing the tiny secret door.

At the crossroads they choose to check out the northern room first. These two rooms are basically identical, each containing 5 skeletons, who will rush to the aid of the skeletons in the other room. The northern room has a slightly different tactical set up in that two of the skeletons are down the tiny secret tunnel to start with, and will attack the players from the back, meaning that instead of facing 5, then 5 a round later, they face 3 and then 7. Fortunately skeletons are easy to turn, so the party shouldn't be overwhelmed…

Colin will turn, the others will attack in melee except for Mikhail who'll use his sling. It goes relatively well; Magda destroys her target, then Colin turns the two remaining ones. They shuffle off to the furthest corner of the room. I can't see anything that says how long it lasts for, so we'll say up to a Turn after Colin leaves the area. It's probably going to be academic because they'll get beaten down by the others. At the end of the round the other skeletons make their appearance; two from the tunnel, and another 5 from the southern room. The party will follow the same procedure as before. The four non-clerics take down three of the new skeletons between them, and Colin turns a total of 5.

They're able to quickly destroy the rest in safety.

This encounter went well because the party got initiative in both rounds and Colin's turning worked. In an alternate universe where they didn't gain initiative in the second round, Alex and Colin were killed, and Magda severely hurt when the skeletons attacked. Low-level combat in D&D can be very rocket-taggy.

There's no loot in either of the skeleton rooms, so the party go east and find the path blocked by a pile of rubble.

The corridor continues beyond the rubble, but if they try to climb over the rubble or move it they'll disturb a pair of racer snakes which will attack - the snakes themselves are a potential party killer, especially as they may surprise the party, and there's no clues in the description that there's anything living in the pile of rocks.

Snakes, Giant Racer (2): AC5; HD 2; hp 9, 5; MV 120' (40'); #AT 1 bite; THACO 18; Dmg 1-6; Save Fl; ML 7; L N; XP 20.

They could each require several hits to kill, and have a reasonable AC - before modifiers, our heroes need a 14+ to hit. Fortunately they aren't poisonous.

Beyond the pile of rocks are a couple more bare chambers - one with an Oil Beetle which has a special attack which will cause someone hit by it to take a -2 penalty to hit and damage rolls for 24 hours or until they get a CLW done on them. The other chamber beyond the rubble is the hideout of a Thoul (a troll with some ghoul abilities) which fled the undead.

The Thoul gets two attacks (1d3 damage each + paralyze as a ghoul), has 17hp, and regenerates 1hp a round. Fortunately, unlike an actual troll, it stops regenerating once dead. There's treasure in the lair of both monsters; about 160gp in total between coins and items, but there's nothing actually useful.

There's nothing particularly wrong with these fights (they're winnable by this party), but there isn't enough detail built in to give the group enough information to make an educated decision about whether to explore past the rubble. It's something that a GM can add, but this is a module for a newbie DM. The snakes could be taken as a soft warning sign by a particularly astute group, but that's a big ask for newbies.

We'll say that the party doesn't explore down the tunnel and cut to the room beyond the secret door that was found earlier by Mikhail.

To be continued...

Aug 21, 2000

Not keen on keening.

Grimey Drawer
Oh christ, carrion crawlers and ghouls. Low-level D&D was a meat grinder.

Humbug Scoolbus
Apr 25, 2008

The scarlet letter was her passport into regions where other women dared not tread. Shame, Despair, Solitude! These had been her teachers, stern and wild ones, and they had made her strong, but taught her much amiss.
Clapping Larry
I loved Wallis's Baron Munchhausen game so much I backed Alas Vegas, but when I finally got my copy and started reading it, all the cool stuff did not distract from the fact that the author had his head up his own rear end in trying to be edgy and poo poo. The rotating GM is one of the largest parts. Not everybody wants to be the GM. In the group I regularly play with, there are only two of us (out of ten) that do.

I find the game fascinating but absolutely flawed.

Jan 30, 2012

Really Madcats

Bieeanshee posted:

Oh christ, carrion crawlers and ghouls. Low-level D&D was a meat grinder.

At least you're only going to encounter one of the paralysing things at a time.

Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?
Alas Vegas feels kind of like Polaris, in that it's one of those games meant to run one story, once, and then you kind of go "huh" and put it on the shelf and more or less forget about it unless you want to hack the system for something else.

drunkencarp posted:

infamous failure of a game line Exalted

I mean, it is a gameline that's been a shitshow of mangled design full of magical realm garbage in every edition so far, buoyed more or less only by some relatively strong writing and art at some points.

Joe Slowboat
Nov 9, 2016

Higgledy-Piggledy Whale Statements

I... don't know that I'd describe Ex3 as anything like what you're describing there. The main complaints about the Ex3 core are 'the dev team turned out to be atrocious people, and ended up getting kicked from production of all later books' and the charm list is huge and bloated.

I'm not sure what magical realm garbage you'd find in the Ex3 books, or what design mistakes graduate from 'mediocre' to 'mangled.

Oct 30, 2011

Spewing insults, pissing off all your neighbors, betraying your allies, backing out of treaties and accords, and generally screwing over the global environment?

Joe Slowboat posted:

I'm not sure what magical realm garbage you'd find in the Ex3 books

There was the weird fiat currency aside in the core book and, until the core writers got lined up against a wall and fired, the loving rape ghosts.

Joe Slowboat posted:

, or what design mistakes graduate from 'mediocre' to 'mangled.

I remember someone tried to plan out a dicebot for the Solar charms and their dice tricks. I believe it needed something in the vicinity of 27 arguments based on all of the potential dice bullshit that could happen. At the very least a two-digit number of arguments which is loving insane.

Feb 21, 2013

PurpleXVI posted:

There was the weird fiat currency aside in the core book

You mean the one that was cut from the manuscript before publication?

(Also I'm kind of legit curious what you mean by "magical realm garbage," since you seem to deploy the phrase "magical realm" like it's referring to a specific problem fiction trope or something whoever's reading your posts is supposed to be familiar with the meaning of, and I've never heard it before. Like is that a thing?)

Stephenls fucked around with this message at 20:58 on Jul 13, 2019

Jul 9, 2003

Stephenls posted:

You mean the one that was cut from the manuscript before publication?

(Also I'm kind of legit curious what you mean by "magical realm garbage," since you seem to deploy the phrase "magical realm" like it's referring to a specific problem fiction trope or something whoever's reading your posts is supposed to be familiar with the meaning of, and I've never heard it before. Like is that a thing?)

EDIT: the alt text is 'I have punched you now.'

Feb 21, 2013
Oh, yeah. That makes sense. Geoff Grabowski's formal education is in economics, and a lot of Exalted is "An economist tries to show up fantasy writers."

Apr 6, 2011

Tomorrow, doom!
But now, tea.
It's nice to see someone do Alas Vegas but sadly it looks like it turned out the way I feared it would. The really frustrating aspect is that most of the narrative holes could be fixed with just a tiny amount of thought (Give Rebecca-Oh her own car and don't mess with the PCs' one, let the PCs discover slowly that guns don't work or just cause bruising if fired by a human, have Blackjacks cause unconsciousness, and so on). The sheer brazen way the system didn't even realise that more combats = more death chances suggests no playtesting whatsoever (or that every group found a way to mitigate death but neglected to pass it on).

Also what the heck was the point of that nuclear explosion? To remind everyone that Fallout: New Vegas has already done this opening and done it better?

It's a giant dose of OMINOUSNESS, and that gets deathly boring after a while. Compare and contrast that early Trek TNG episode set in a casino recreation. The creepiness is slowly introduced as the characters discover how the environment reacts to their attempts to leave. That's what this first act should be doing, establishing the rules of the setting upfront.

Aug 21, 2007

Neat. Sweet. Petite.

it's amazing how designers don't realize how loving lethal paralysis is for low level parties


Jan 14, 2005

The law protects no one unless it binds everyone, binds no one unless it protects everyone.

Robindaybird posted:

it's amazing how designers don't realize how loving lethal paralysis is for low level parties

Or how boring it is.

I get it's a genre staple but it really highlights how insufficient RPG playtesting usually is. Most folks eagerly wait for their turns, so "you don't get any of those for the rest of the combat" is just a terrible player experience.

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