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22 Apr 2021 16:58 #322446 by dysjunct
Played session one of VAESEN last weekend and it was a blast.

For those who haven't heard of it, it's a horror investigation game, like Call of Cthulhu, but set in Victorian-era Sweden. The supernatural elements (the titular vaesen) are not really evil per se, more like folktale creatures that want things, which might be at odds with normal human life and desires. So more kelpies, brownies, trolls, etc., all very mythic and a little strange. Most of the "bad guys" are actually people, either trying to use a vaesen as tools against their enemies, or who have angered a vaesen through neglecting to supply its traditional peace offering, that kind of thing.

Call of Cthulhu was my main RPG for almost 20 years until I finally got burnt out. It has some great scenarios but the rules are very creaky, and the average scenario is not good. Too many scenarios written like movie scripts, assuming the PCs do particular things in a particular order, and gods help you if anything goes off the rails. I am a good enough GM that I can improvise around this, but why should I have to? The game's been out for decades, learn how to write a good scenario. Plus, I was no longer especially charmed by the Roaring 20s, didn't think the game translated well into other eras, and then there's the whole Lovecraft thing.

So I am pleased to report that Vaesen takes every best practice of investigative horror RPGs and makes them official. Scenarios clearly lay out who the main NPCs are, and what they want. There's a timeline of what will happen if the PCs don't successfully solve the problem -- a three-step pressure cooker that results in catastrophe.

Another best practice is the existence of a setup hook -- the PCs are all members of "The Society," an organization that has been newly revived by its last surviving member, who is old and wavers in and out of mental clarity. They were invited as members because, whatever their backgrounds, they all have the "second sight" and can see vaesen (who normally can only be perceived by mortals if they choose to be visible). CoC often struggled with reasonable explanations for why diverse characters would be going on adventures together (the doctor, the dilettante, the hobo, and the noir PI all go to the social club ....) but with this, it's taken care of.
Having their patron be of iffy mental stability also solves the challenges of the PCs being overly reliant on someone, which cuts down on the feeling of isolation that is critical to any horror game.

(I'll note that Cthulhu attempted to solve this in later years, with Delta Green and the Thurston Marks Society providing the hook for the modern and classic era respectively.)

The system is a stripped-down version of Free League's Year Zero Engine (ALIEN, Mutant Year Zero, Forbidden Lands, Tales From the Loop). Roll a pool of d6s, get at least one six to succeed. You can push yourself and reroll any dice you want, but you get a "condition," like Exhausted, Wounded, Angry, or Hopeless. Too many conditions and there's two fun critical tables to roll on, one for being physically broken and one for mentally broken. Unlike other iterations of the system, there's no separate dice for gear, stress, etc.

Setting-wise, I was initially a little hesitant about "Victorian Sweden;" not only is the past a different country, but as it turns out, different countries are also different countries! But not to worry, people are people and really all I needed was an appropriate list of Swedish given and family names. Overall the setting plays up the rural/urban transformation that was happening all over Europe at the time. Vaesen are creatures of woods, waters, and hills; as more people move away from the countryside, the old ways are being forgotten and the traditional order, where humans and vaesen lived side by side for centuries, is being upset.

So a very nice central revolving story: PCs are chilling at the Society's castle. They get a letter asking for help (because people have heard whispered rumors of the Society). They take a carriage ride into the boonies, far away from anyone they know or anything that can help. They try to solve a mystery. They return home, and do it again.

The reward cycle is like the other games. There's a checklist of eight questions: Did you participate in the scenario? Did you take risks to protect other people? Did you confront any vaesen? And so on. For every one you answer "yes" to, you get 1xp. 5xp gets you an additional skill point, or a "talent" (kind of like a feat in d20 games). It's all very clearly laid out, and never fails to motivate players to do genre-appropriate things.

Oh, the castle -- like many other FL games, there's a base-building aspect. You wouldn't worry about it for one-shots, but it makes campaign games super fun. The PCs are given the deed to the hereditary castle of the Society, and an imposing iron key. The castle is vastly run-down, but it does have a butler and a library. There's another checklist you go through for the castle: Did you play at least one scene at headquarters? Did you bring occult books or other important items back to headquarters? Etc. Again, for every "yes" you get an "development point." Five development points gets you an upgrade, some of which have tech-tree-like prerequisites, all of which have minor mechanical benefits. E.g. if you purchase the Botanical Garden, then a PC may roleplay a scene there and heal two mental conditions for free. While all of them do make things easier for the PCs, this is offset by the fact that the longer a PC is around, the more banged-up they'll be, and so they need every advantage they can get.

Physically, the book is a treat. Linen-textured cover, cream paper on thick stock, and gorgeous illustrations throughout.
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14 Sep 2021 23:04 #326520 by dysjunct
Started the second scenario of VAESEN. The last one ended with revenants, possessed innkeepers hanging themselves, and everything burning to the ground in a supernatural witch-fire.

This one is starting with some great creepy atmosphere, involving a trip to the southwestern Swedish archipelago and dastardly herring magnates facing off against fanatic Lutheran priests — the classic conflict we all know and love.
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30 Nov 2021 14:15 #328385 by jpat
On the day after Thanksgiving, my three college-age kids plus my wife played a session I ran of The Spy Game, which is Black Cats/Modiphius's take on the modern spy genre using the D&D 5e system. We played the introductory mission in the quickstart rules, which has the players try to obtain information on data being exchanged at a Tokyo casino and the person receiving the data. They did pretty well. We managed to get through the scenario in about 5 hours, which is a little longer than I was intending it to go, and we had to wrap up a few things offline once my older daughter had to leave. I'm not the greatest GM in the world, and this was a new system to me (and I haven't played much 5e either), but two out of four asked, unprompted, to play again, so maybe we will. I do know, even though I knew it before, that I need to do a better job of giving everyone opportunities. My older daughter was a medic, and I didn't make enough openings for her, and there wasn't much action for the soldier played by my wife until the third act. I should mention here that the latter two have not played a lot of RPGs, while my stepson and younger daughter have both been playing D&D. All in all, I think it was a decent outing for me but one I can improve on. The rules themselves are pretty good, and of course are built on a good foundation. The hacking aspects are a little loose, maybe, but that's my only substantive complaint to date.
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02 Dec 2021 04:00 #328431 by thegiantbrain
Just wrapped a campaign of Blades in the Dark for one group and approaching the last session for another group in the same city. Wrap up will happen after that but it has been a blast running Blades for an extended time.
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03 Oct 2022 10:23 #335897 by san il defanso
I'm starting an after-school RPG club at my son's middle school, and we start this Thursday. I only just decided that we'll be playing Old School Essentials, since we'll have at least 7 kids in the party and I think character creation can go quickly with a group like that. This week will just be character creation and MAYBE a very short dungeon. Then we will have a couple weeks off for unrelated school things, and I'll spend that time to make a little village, surrounding area, and some fun quests. I'll probably tone down some of the deadliness of the system, such as starting characters at second level and just generally taking a more laid back approach.

Mostly I'm just excited to run a roleplaying game in person. I ran a 5e one shot this summer, but this will be my first regular in-person group since before the pandemic.
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03 Oct 2022 10:46 #335900 by quozl
If you want the kids to purchase their own books, you might want to switch to Basic Fantasy. Pretty much the same system as Old School Essentials but the books are only $5 each.
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03 Oct 2022 10:50 #335901 by san il defanso
I'm in Kenya so getting ANYTHING shipped here is a bit of a headache. But I did consider Basic Fantasy, it's a cool system and I appreciate their work. I'm just going with OSE because I already have a ton of stuff for it and I have an in-print edition. If I can run this whole game with no computer screen in front of me it'll be a win.

I did consider getting some BFR books printed up somewhere locally here, maybe that'll be what I do down the line.

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03 Oct 2022 11:00 #335904 by quozl
Kenya does make it more difficult! I think there are some free OSE things you can print for the kids. Probably better to be consistent.

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03 Oct 2022 11:22 #335907 by san il defanso
Yeah, I think there are. There's definitely the basic rules, and the SRD is pretty complete as well.

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03 Oct 2022 14:39 #335918 by jpat
On Friday, I kicked off a Star Trek Adventures mini-campaign with no fewer than 8 players. Eight isn't ideal, obviously, but when my wife and I recruited among her friends, we figured we'd get a lot of "that sounds cool but" responses, and we just didn't. So we're moving ahead. We did a session 0 a few weeks earlier and then we had a first session that was mostly getting our space legs. (We have a few people who've played RPGs before but none on STA, and it's my first time out of the gate on GMing the system.)

All that said, I'm really pumped about it, and, ahem, even after the first session I got a lot of "this is really fun!" messages. The key things will be keeping it moving and ensuring that everyone has good chances to shine. To the latter end, I'm going to start keeping a spreadsheet of who got a "moment" in each session.

The only real hangup so far has been me + Foundry VTT, and specifically getting our players linked in to their characters. This is a solvable problem, but it speaks to the hassle of trying to teach and run a game on top of trying to figure out a technically complex platform. So last week we migrated to Zoom--an eventuality we'd prepared for. But I really want them in the VTT for ready access to their characters and the automated dice rolling. I'll figure it out, now that I have a couple weeks between sessions.

I'm also ginning up in my head a follow-up adventure/campaign. I'm really not getting ahead of myself here, as I fully recognize that keeping such a large group together for an extended time (even the multiple sessions needed for this mini-campaign) and for an extended period of interest is debatable, but at least it'll entertain *me* to mess around with a followup--and I have about 100% confidence that I could find a group of players online (finding a GM is much harder).
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14 Nov 2022 19:44 #336804 by DarthJoJo
Considering switching up the evening routine, so I’m looking for suggestions for an RPG appropriate for seven- and five-year-old boys. Roughly thirty-minute sessions. The eldest is surprisingly good at arithmetic, but the math should be minimal. Rules lite goes without saying. They like Calvin and Hobbes, Paw Patrol and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Thoughts?

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14 Nov 2022 20:11 #336805 by Jexik
In my last 3 sessions of 5e DnD, there have been 3 PC deaths and one player quitting due to her dog passing away. Another of the group is having a lot going on at work and stepping down for awhile. Yet we're still soldiering on and inviting a new player? Someone the DM knows. I feel like once a DM tries to kill PCs it totally changes the feel of the game. "I use my legendary action to stab the downed PC. That's two failed death saves." It's fucking wild because this same DM, when they were a PC in earlier campaigns, would write elaborate back stories and be absolutely mortified if their PC died.
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16 Nov 2022 01:27 #336829 by san il defanso

DarthJoJo wrote: Considering switching up the evening routine, so I’m looking for suggestions for an RPG appropriate for seven- and five-year-old boys. Roughly thirty-minute sessions. The eldest is surprisingly good at arithmetic, but the math should be minimal. Rules lite goes without saying. They like Calvin and Hobbes, Paw Patrol and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Thoughts?


There are probably a lot of options here that others can share with you. But there needs to be an obligatory mention of Knave here. It's like seven pages of rules, and is very simple to get up and running. It's also broadly compatible with a lot of old-school games like 1e or B/X, so you will need a bestiary from one of those games. I've played it with kids ages 8-12, which is older than you are looking for, but it's not hard to manage at all.

Fate Accelerated gets a lot of press as a good kids' game, but it was a bit of a bust with my kids. I think my kids are probably too entrenched in the D20/OSR style of play, and Fate is kind of a weird game anyway.

I dunno, other people should chime in here.
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16 Nov 2022 10:30 #336844 by dysjunct
Hero Kids is a perennial favorite. It can be played on a very smooth spectrum from almost entirely boardgamey, to a true RPG. Lots of support and scenarios, cute art. Very cheap, although it's PnP so it might soak your ink budget.
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16 Jan 2023 15:16 - 16 Jan 2023 15:18 #337868 by dysjunct
Ran roughly the first half of the scenario in the BLADE RUNNER starter set.

System-wise: Typically great Free League stuff. I will admit that I am not as fond of the newer iteration of the system (instead of pools of d6s, pick one die corresponding to your attribute, and one to your skill, and roll them). I don't know how it tracks mathematically, but it is not as fun as rolling a big handful. Getting ones (and risking stress or damage) is much less likely with this method, since you're only rolling two dice and most of the time they will be larger than d6s.

Three main mechanical subsystems we got to use, other than skill checks, were the chase mechanic, the time tracker, and the experience system.

The chase mechanic: A blade runner PC spotted a suspect, who turned tail and took off on foot. The PC pursued. The system involves each party secretly selecting a tactic card -- pursue (or flee) at top speed is the common choice. The pursuer can also Cut Off the prey via a shortcut. The prey can hide, or try to block pursuit by tipping over a cart or trash can. Each card has a skill check, and success indicates how the relative range changes between the two parties. If the range reaches "engaged" (close combat range) then the prey may choose to either fight or surrender. If the range goes to beyond "extreme" then the prey successfully escapes.

Before revealing the tactics cards though, there's a complication deck that the GM draws from and reveals. One was a sea of neon umbrellas that blocked sight of the pursuer. Another was running into the midst of a pro-human, anti-replicant demonstration.

The chase ended after two rounds; a little premature. The PC pursuer pushed herself after a failed roll, the reroll got double ones -- two points of stress and it broke her. Critical table for stress (human) resulted in the PC feeling despondent and giving up.

Verdict: A good and fun subsystem. There's different obstacle decks depending on whether you're pursuing via foot, in a car, or in an aerial chase in a spinner (hovercar) or helicopter etc.

The time tracker: The day is divided up into four shifts of roughly six hours apiece. Each shift, a PC can investigate one location. The scenario has a schedule: during the afternoon shift on day one, the PCs will be contacted by NPC X; during the night shift on day two, NPC Y will attempt an assassination on NPC Z, etc. There's a PDF to print out an use. It does a great job of keeping things on pace and introducing new information in case the PCs are stalling out.

The schedule varies by the number of players: in a game with one PC, the final event doesn't occur until the afternoon shift on day four. With four PCs, it occurs on the morning of day three. This lets smaller parties have time to investigate all the different locations, while not making things too much of a cakewalk for larger groups.

Verdict: Excellent. I like stuff like this; it helps create the feel that the world exists independently of the PCs, as things keep ticking along regardless of what the PCs do.

Experience system: There's two types of XP you can earn, Promotion Points (PP) and Humanity (HP). You can spend PP to call in favors from the LAPD: special equipment, warrants, etc. You earn PP by doing cop stuff, not breaking the law, etc. You earn HP by showing empathy or by narrating scenes from your own internal conflict. Sometimes choosing to get one type of XP will exclude getting the other, e.g. bringing in a suspect gets you a PP, but letting a suspect go gets you an HP. PPs and HPs let you advance in different ways: with PPs you can buy new specialties (like feats in d20) or get a pay raise. HP, however, lets you improve your skills.

Verdict: Does a great job of incentivizing the conflicts in a noir setting. Probably won't matter much in a one-shot, but people still like their bennies. I use blue poker chips for PP (cause the thin blue line) and green for HP (color of life). And then red for physical damage (blood!), black for stress (from Churchill's description of the "black dog of depression") and then yellow for money. I like poker chips.


The scenario: Kind of complicated; I had to make one major retcon because I'd incorrectly described something. It's hard to keep things straight when there's a chaotic crime scene and the PCs are interviewing witnesses, and not all of the witnesses saw everything, and not all of the witnesses will tell the truth to the PCs.

Given that, the scenario is well-written. There's a connection chart showing how the various locations tie to each other. Each location, in the header, lists what clues will lead the PCs here.

But still, lots of key information is all over the place, and not necessarily in the place I'd expect. Major NPCs are broken out into a section near the front, and not near the location where they'd expect to be.

The handouts for the scenario are kind of stupidly over-the-top. Glossy photos of key locations. Maps for everything. A deck of cards which are mug shots for key NPCs. The front page of a newspaper, the glossy cover of a tabloid. Ripped-out pages from books. Printouts of personnel files. Probably more I'm forgetting.

I wonder if this is the future of RPGs. It seems like a good way to encourage legit purchases and discourage piracy. There's no way I could make all these myself.

Overall I think the scenario is still very good. You need a complicated case to investigate; otherwise what's the point? No need to pull in blade runners to find someone who shoplifted a candy bar. But for anyone thinking of running the scenario, I'd recommend thoroughly reviewing the main crime scene (the nightclub) and firmly establishing in your mind the timeline of events, and what each major NPC was doing when everything went down.



Should finish next week. Looking forward to it.
Last edit: 16 Jan 2023 15:18 by dysjunct. Reason: Formatting
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