Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Observations on GMing Mistakes and Momentum of Play

Some sessions are going to be less energetic than others. Maybe there's a person at the table having a difficult day. Maybe there's multiple players having difficult days. Outside of the external factors, campaigns will naturally ebb from high energy to low, as the story has its beats, rising actions, climaxes, and the fallout.

That said, if a GM mishandles things, it can completely grind a group's momentum to a crawl.

Preparation, usually the lack thereof:

It's on the GM to prepare enough that they can give the players avenues of action that they can take. This varies depending on genre, but if your players can't seem to come up with something to do, chances are there's not enough prep going into the campaign.

For a dungeon crawl game you should likely have an idea of the dungeon the group is going into, a sense of the denizens, or at least the capability to improv on the fly. For games not quite running on the Felltower wavelength, you really should be fleshing out factions, NPCs, and providing hooks.

It's entirely possible to have players who are looking for a quasi-sandbox experience who will hit that wall of not knowing what to do next- even if they are fully engaged actively trying to find a direction.

If your players seem interested in a hook you improvise the shit out of that hook, even if it's not necessarily what you had in mind, or anything you had planned. That interest, that desire to explore and check things out, that's the flicker of momentum starting. A hook meant to develop sessions later is probably better used now if players would otherwise be twiddling their thumbs.

Be practical about your preparation. You really don't need a full character sheet for most mooks or minor characters. It's often times safe to not have full character sheets even for important NPCs who can be reasonably expected to not participate in combat. It's perfectly fine to only lay out combat traits for combatants, and maybe note important social skills for a character who only serves as a merchant, informant, quest-giver, etc.

Furthermore, If players aren't going to interact with it, don't make it a big focus of your preparation. Having the players being adjacent to the most interesting thing going on in the campaign world is often a bad idea, unless that most interesting thing is invariably deadly (plague, mustard gas, swaths of destruction*, etc). It's pointless to make complex magic systems if your players don't want to interact with a byzantine magical system and instead wonder why their death spells get less DPS than an assault rifle. It's a bad idea to create a massive cosmology/pantheons of Gods if people are largely interested in playing secular or atheist characters.

Leave room to react, only the most linear of games allow for planning things out like a TV show. Games are volatile. Some settings allow for resurrections, some don't. It's not particularly fun to have to ass-pull or fudge something when the dice say that a critical (N)PC just ate a x4 damage headshot putting them well beyond -5xHP. Planning too far ahead isn't practical, especially if it's predicated off actions the players are *supposed* to take.

"I don't want to prep too much until I know what the PCs are doing"

So, this at first brush seems like a chicken or egg problem. GM doesn't want to over-invest in prepping in areas where it won't matter (good), but likely doesn't prep enough for the current situation (bad). I see it as coming from a few factors.

Lack of group direction/purpose. Everyone meets in a bar and then just randomly decide to join up together and form and adventuring crew? We've all heard this cliche, and it's a rotten way of starting a campaign unless you've got a good crew of thespians who want to hammer out why everyone's working together in-character for a session. I vastly prefer having strong purpose for the existence of a group of PCs. 

"You're part of the clandestine organization Agency 17, the existence of which is hidden even from the other 16 members of the US Intelligence Community."
"Prohibition has rocked 1920s New York City, leading to ample opportunities for criminal enterprises and their members to catapult themselves to wealth and infamy."
"You're a group of Augmented Humans hand-picked by an angel to fight off the forces of Hell."
This is almost entirely on the GM, right from campaign conception. Unless you're starting session 1 with a strong sense of what the PC purpose is, or an iron-clad** way of determining it through play, you're already behind the eight ball.

Related to overall group purpose there's Lack of Immediate direction. This usually results when players don't have paths, hooks, or things to do/react to. The players might be rip-roaring to do something, stacking dice and browsing on their phones while the group spins its wheels, but without something to actually *DO* it's pointless. This is almost always a result of not enough prep.

Players need information and context to make decisions. In a linear game, some of this can be taken away ("Your next mission is..."), but for many games players are going to be on the hook for choosing their next objective or goal, and they need a solid informational ground to stand on. They need to know the situation, the NPCs, the factions, maybe cultural or geographical details. It is explicitly the GM's job to provide these details.

Other Momentum Killers:

  • Allowing players to spin wheels too long, and/or rehash the same conversation multiple times while discussing plans
  • Not allowing players enough time to incubate and ruminate on plans
  • Not allowing players the capability to follow up on things they find intriguing
  • Allowing too much focus on extraneous BS (seducing wenches, drinking plans, trivial travel plan details, etc)
  • Specifically tailoring challenges so that a single player has a bad time (because once they clock out, risk of others doing the same goes up)
  • Being overly adversarial with players (Are you here to beat them or provide a fun experience?)
  • Not properly adjusting your campaign style to ensure it suits your players (grimdark campaign + players who just want to goof off = bad time)
  • Making or allowing others to make a player uncomfortable.
  • Not recognizing when things aren't working well and changing course/stopping

*A friend of mine knows someone whose Ranger's favored enemy type is Swaths
**Seriously, if you initial sessions happen and the group doesn't gel or establish a purpose, wrap things up cause you likely just scuttled the campaign right out of the gates.

Friday, April 19, 2019

My thoughts on the SJG/Bill Webb partnership

Like I imagine most of you do, I follow diverse types of people on social media. Two circles I tend to follow closely are GURPS content creators, and those interested in left-leaning politics.

One of my politically minded friends (who is an Exalted aficionado and kickass GM) replied to the following tweet:

This obviously caught my attention. GURPS is by far my favorite RPG system, I run it, I play it, it has been my go-to for close to a decade now. I very much like a lot of what SJG does.

But stuff like this is troubling. I've been party to some discussions on the matter among my circles, and seen some of the various posts from those involved.

The central talking point was a single incident of harassment that took place in 2017, at PaizoCon. The victim in that circumstance clearly wants to be done on it and move on, a sentiment I heard expressed as a reason to let the matter drop.

Matt Finch, a partner at Frog God Games, wrote the official statement from Frog God Games:

It's a very measured response, very carefully tailored to make it clear that Finch took the utmost care to be sensitive of the victim, while also very carefully avoiding implicating Webb or shaking the hornets' nest in any way. It's 'empathy' draped in the careful maneuvering of a lawyer seeking to reduce the exposure their client might present after screwing up. Finch is NOT unbiased/impartial, given that he's a frequent collaborator with and an employee of Webb. The conflict of interest there cannot be ignored.

Webb certainly could have attempted to rehabilitate himself- laying low, giving a genuine apology, demonstrating that he's learned from his mistake and changed how he behaves. Instead, his business partner blandly apologized on his behalf.

The line "Bill does deeply regret his actions, and understands that they were inappropriate and upsetting. " has all the sincerity of a defense attorney spinning things to his client's advantage.

The stoic silence, predicated on "Mr. Webb is also under instruction not to discuss this matter in public, in case peripheral details... might allow the identification of the person..." doesn't excuse that an apology could have been made by Webb. You don't have to discuss details to express remorse, and I suspect Bill only regrets that it blew up in his face in a very public fashion.

So it's one incident of harassment, the victim doesn't want it dredged up, Bill's business partner is convinced of his sincere regret, Bill is keeping his mouth shut, no problem, right?

I find the undercurrent beneath all of this frightening- where are the people saying that Bill's belligerent drunken behavior is being exaggerated, skewed, or is inaccurate? It seems very clear to me that Bill's public behavior is consistently toeing the line of how one should conduct themselves at conventions. I would not be surprised in the least to learn of undocumented/unreported incidents, most of which weren't severe enough on their own to present a problem, but as a pattern are very insidious.

I'm inclined to pay attention to that undercurrent.

Enter SJG and The Fantasy Trip. They're an older company, with a founder who is in his grey years, and let's be honest, they're very much a company that hasn't changed much over the years.

But they really should have seen this backlash coming. Times are changing, and with more mainstream attention zeroing in on Dungeons and Dragons and tabletop gaming in general, the behavior of your business partners isn't really something you get to be ignorant of.

Steve's response is pretty lame, more or less stating that people being mad about harassment is no reason to cut off a business deal. The olive branch of giving refunds is a little muted given that they're still putting people on the hook for fees and whatnot- wouldn't want their customers' moral fiber cutting into the business' financial ledgers, after all.

Phil Reed statements in this thread are the closest anyone has gotten to actually stating that Bill Webb's actions at Paizocon were truly egregious. Given even that, the statement is still too sterile to really paint SJG's response as anything but tone deaf at best.

The Tabletop community is still small, especially once you look at authors churning out RPG content. There's not many people who walk that walk professionally, and that contributes to the formation of an echo chamber. Maybe SJG didn't hear the rumors, the undercurrent, and was blindsided by the accusations, being trapped within the chamber. Maybe the other voices in the chamber are downplaying Webb's actions, and propping up Finch as a reputable source even though Finch's neutrality is disingenuous and deceptive.

That said, I'm not particularly sympathetic that SJG is feeling quite a bit of heat over this. They should have known better than to collaborate with someone who makes the spaces we nerds like to inhabit unsafe for some of the more vulnerable members we share it with. I hope that the wave of refund requests prompts them to rethink their business deals with FGG, and that they will pay more attention to these types of concerns in the future.

I'm certainly going to think hard before putting down money on the next Monster Hunters or Action PDF that tickles my fancy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Pine Box Consulting: Session 1 (Dec 11, 2017)

I have recently tapped a friend to begin transcribing the Pine Box Consulting sessions, going through the Discord channel me and my players have used to play since Dec of 2017.

The Players:

Hassan: Formerly attached to Egyptian Intelligence, Hassan is an expert Intelligence Analyst, Interrogator, Pistolero, and dog person.

Kujo: Former LAPD, was kicked out of the force for having anger management issues and problems with proper escalation of force. The most combat heavy of the team.

Alex: Hacker and Sniper extraordinaire. Alex has a lot of illicit contacts, and his access to places he really shouldn't be poking around in would probably have landed him in jail for life if not for his PMC occupation.

Otto: Electronics whiz, tinker, and the other combat heavy for the team. Otto appreciates extreme sports, drones, and suffers from being Easy to Read.

Gaston: Gaston is a world-class surgeon and medical mind. He's also the team's primary demolitions expert.

It’s 8 in the morning on the first day of August and it’s soon to be scorching hot in Tampa, FL. Pine Box Consulting has called the group back from their Rest and Relaxation and they’re all ready to assign them their next job with one of the account executives, Angela Apolonia, being the one leading the briefing with the team. They’re all familiar with Tampa’s office, despite being in the armpit of the US, it’s also the largest in the state and it’s a common pit stop for people that are going to be dealing with affairs south of the border in Latin America.
The group convenes as Otto jumps into a chair into the conference room and immediately plops his recently dirtied shoes (dirt biking is always a hazard to welcome mats) onto the table while Hassan shows up promptly 15 minutes early with heavy messenger bag in tow. Kujo marches in about 5 minutes early to the meeting and, not finding a dark corner to lurk in, declines a seat; instead he leans against the doorway and pulls a cigar case from his pocket and chomps down on one of them in a bit of a ritual.
Promptly at 8am, Angela walks in with an armful of manila folders and a laptop bag slung over her shoulder. A quick headcount later and it’s immediately obvious that she’s displeased with the fact that several of the group are running late and passes out the folders. Barely a moment later Alex walks in, playing on his smartphone looking like a tourist before slumping into one of the chairs. The next second in walks the last of the group, Gaston, with his nose buried in a book until he gets to his seat where he places a bookmark in to mark his place and takes one of the distributed folders. In a show of disinterest, Otto ignores the folder given to him and instead pulls out his phone as well to start playing drag racing and asking how everyone else’s weekend went, the only people to respond being Kujo, telling him that he just went to the gym, and Hassan saying he went to a bar but was quickly bored by the poor conversationalists there (even the drunk ones) and that war criminals were more interesting.
Deciding to just get on with the briefing, Angela addresses the group while going through some rather sparse slides on PowerPoint. Their Rio branch had gotten a tip from some of their local contacts that a man wanted by the State of Israel was living in the area. The local contact, Hubert J. Makovich, was a British national and entrepreneur that moved to the area to try and capitalize on the Olympics. A few slides showing information on the man, his photo, his merchandising company, and his accounting records that show his very rapidly diminishing net worth and plummeting stock prices. He was hired to pose as a venture capitalist to server as HUMINT (Human Intelligence). Slides change from Hubert alone to distant photos of him shaking hands with investors.
Hubert has managed to survive in that position for years, despite being a known information security risk as the next few slides show with him in various stages of undress with a large amount of ladies that were previously featured in past slides in much more (formal) attire. Finally paying attention, Otto asks if someone is after Hubert. The only thing Otto got wrong was the tense as Angela explains that he was found dead almost a week ago, snatched by a local gang who then tortured him before disposing of him.
Kujo asks if Angela wants them to go over the local gang while Hassan snarks about him seeming like a pillar of the community, on the other hand, Alex is excited by what he managed to accomplish on his phone. Angela’s responds that they were prepared to write off Hubert until his last report caught some attention… Apparently, it’s not every day that a low-level asset manages to turn some heads in Mossad. She pauses for effect, to see how the group handles that bit of news.
Otto spins in his chair a bit while Hassan mentions that Mossad’s interests outside of the Middle East tend to be very limited and very focused while Kujo questions why the Mossad are outsourcing their kills, why aren’t the targets dead already.
Angela explains that they’d normally be all over Nazi fugitives but due to the political climate, it’s just too difficult for the Mossad to directly act. And while Kujo expresses delight and excitement at the prospect of delivering long overdue justice, Angela explains who they’ve found with the best picture they had of him, almost 20 years old back in the 1940s. Heinrich G√ľnther, a scientist specializing primarily in physics and biology, an impressive intellectual prodigy that eagerly participated in the science programs of the time and while most records past the end of WWII are scarce or non-existent, recent indications show that he made use of a Ratline out of Austria at war’s end. Hubert’s digging around landed him on some financial records that indicate that Heinrich is still alive in Rio de Janeiro.
Alex is now finally interested in what’s been going on and puts his phone away and begins to dig through the folder in front of him while Hassan inquires as to how a failed venture capitalist managed to get the attention of the good doctor. Angela has to admit that they have no idea of Hubert’s death was related to his findings or not, just that the company is interested in the Israeli bounty on Nazi war criminals.
Responding to Hassan’s question about their objective and the rules of engagement, they’re told the objective is to locate and then either lift or liquidate him. The mission isn’t sanctioned by the US Government so they will disavow all knowledge and the company’s propaganda team are already arranging stories of anti-fa hit squads coming out of Connecticut in case the Brazilian authorities become alerted to the team’s activities. Civilian casualties are to be minimized, but unless it’s a complete cock up then minor accidents may be overlooked.
Kujo jokes around it being similar to LAPD’s departmental policies while Hassen mentions he may have trouble fitting in as a college junior before the rest of the information unfolds. They’ve got a funeral home cover in Rio, but local politics keep them from truly establishing themselves in the area. The Funeral Director’s name is Robert Smith, a resident of the area for many years and quite reliable, but resources in the area are limited meaning that his armory and garage are more meager than what the company has Stateside, this means that the team will be sent out with their own bit of kit.
While most agree things will be fine if they can bring their own kit, Hassan makes a point to ask for their preference on Henrich’s condition. Despite being previously explained that they can bring him back alive or dead, bringing him back alive will be a rather large PR boost in finding and arresting a War Criminal. However, 90-some year-old men are also notoriously fragile and will be taken into account. Extraction will be tough so it’ll have to be secured on the team’s end once Henrich has been dealt with.
With some probing from Kujo, other than the photo from multiple decades ago and the financial records from recently, there’s no real clue to Heinrich’s location which is somewhat of a benefit as if it was known, then it would be likely that the Mossad would already be on their way. Instead it’s up to the team to be able to investigate the location and survive the violent environment in the Rio underworld.
There are no more questions, just folks confident that they can handle the job of locating and dealing with an old Nazi and climbing the Chriso Redentor despite the objections of some of the party.
The fight down is a sight-seeing tour plane that takes a 12-hour one way trip, looking any deeper reveals that it’s thinly veiled criminal enterprise that specializes in trafficking around customs and border patrols. Everyone has their bags packed and ready to go as a new companion shows up to flirt with a cute receptionist while the rest of the team discuss how shady their flight is and that it’s quite obviously not baking ingredients causing the white flecks all over another passenger’s luggage. Having failed with the receptionist, Salvador comes up to rain on the team’s parade by informing them that even if they managed to lift the smuggled cocaine, it wouldn’t be any good to use as blackmail materials as the South American cops are more likely to suicide them via beheading than capitulate with any attempts at blackmail.
Most are minorly dissuaded from attempting it, they start boarding the plane with Kujo asking if it’s a smoking flight. True to their reputation for customer service, the steward informs Kujo that he has no idea in rather colourful language and assuming the best, Kujo lights up a Churchill as he takes his seat. Otto, however, having stayed behind for a moment quickly grabs the rather obvious bag of cocaine while its own was distracted and immediately moves away and onto the plane and stows it away.
With the exception of Alex and Salvador, the rest of the group takes the time to relax and do their own thing. Alex decides to research what he can about Rio’s telecom systems and maps to be able to navigate his way around the Latin American city while Salvador attempts to find some form of “in-flight entertainment”. Unfortunately, the most entertainment available is Otto playing candy crush, listening to Skrillex too loudly through his earbuds, and attempting to sneak lines of coke in the airplane bathroom when he thinks that no one is looking. Otherwise it’s getting drunk with Kujo or reading a book.
It takes them quite a few hours before they manage to reach Brazil where the pilot points out Chriso Redento to fulfill it’s purpose as a tour plane and then after the rubbernecking out the windows is over, it swings around for a final approach for touch down. The pilot kicks the passengers off the plane with just long enough for them to grab all their luggage before he taxis it into a nearby hanger and while they group up and try to figure out their next step, the rest of the passengers from the tour plane get into a hired car and start to drive off before being immediately surrounded by police. They decide quickly to get the hell out of dodge and start to move away from the police presence as unobtrusively as they can when a van pulls up right next to them.
The driver tells them that the hearse broke down and that he had to take the backup vehicle. Grateful for any way to get away from the cops, the team piles in with Kujo calling out shotgun. It turns out the driver is Carl, sent for the group by Bob and that business is booming with funerals happening left and right. Rio is a mess, the government has had to deal with numerous corrupt scandals, that gang violence hasn’t been too affected by UPP, and that almost every cop is dirty. This may explain why Bob stayed back at the funeral home, the rather tasteful three story affair with a small graveyard in front.
Complementing and joking about their current digs, the team starts to offload their luggage into the house where they are greeted by Bob and a short woman in bloody medical scrubs. Bob is rather amused by the fact that it’s not everyday that he gets to play host to undertakers instead of corpses while the woman in introduced as Marigold, the pathologist that seems to do the reputable work as a side job when she’s actually the head of security and the only cleared field op they’ve got down there since Bob was deemed too important to lose in the field, especially as the previous funeral director was mailed back home to his family in pieces, a fate which Bob has managed to avoid so far. Still, with the long flight and the long day they offer to let the team get some rest before starting the briefing in the morning.
On the side, Alex speaks with Bob about what he can expect in terms of electronic support. There’s an old Pentium 3 sitting alongside a first-gen DSL modem that mildly horrifies and disgusts Alex before he learns that they also don’t have any radio support either and they mostly use cell phone service. It’s looking to be rather scant for the tech down here.
In the meantime, since they slept on the flight down, some of the group end up going out to the bar with Otto finding himself the center of popularity while Salvador finds an ex-girlfriend that dumped him after he was caught in a threesome with her sister and cousin. Gaston stays back at the funeral home and unpacks before asking Marigold if she needs some help with anything. Hassan attempts to lure others into a game of cards with Kujo begrudgingly joining in. Back in the bar, Salvador has managed to mollify the girl with the promise of a buying her a drink, trying to get him to buy her something from the top shelf. At the funeral home, Carl and the other lackey have joined the card game, Bob has opted out, and Marigold and Gaston share a moment over Hubert’s corpse.
Marigold explains that Hubert’s corpse wasn’t handled correctly by the local law enforcement and they had to even pay them a few grand to get the body delivered to them. Alex subverts local internet traffic for his own purposes as two medics note down the notable findings on Hubert’s body.
It appears that some of his initial wounds had time to partially heal, indicating that he’d been worked over for at least several days, he was missing fingernails from his left hand, he was missing one testicle, three ribs were broken, a lung was lacerated, a kneecap was busted from an source uncertain because the body had also been left out in the elements for at least a day and there are signs that some sort of scavenging animal had been having a good meal.
Police also refused to release his possessions and it’s unknown if his apartment was searched either. The report was sorely lacking in even the most basic details and the attack was written off as gang violence due to the location the body was found and didn’t bother to probe further, or at least any attempts to was overturned as it also appears that the report was rather poorly edited too. Some posit that it may have just be thugs, or it could have been trained interrogators, it could go either way depending on how they obvious took their time working him over. It could have been corrupt cops looking to make a quick buck or folks that have paid off the local police like Heinrich. Regardless of all the speculation, they decide that it may be a good idea to check out Hubert’s apartment and Bob lends the crew the van.
Hubert’s apartment looks rather squalid and obviously was most propped up to the funds coming in from Pine Box. Kujo heads inside to try to deal with the apartment door but trips and ends up with a used syringe protruding from his leg, getting it removed the best he can while Salvador “entertains” the neighbors. Gaston helps to treat Kujo quickly before they head back in, finding the apartment already tossed and trashed. Hassan digging into wreckage and extracting an intact hard drive from a wrecked computer.
The crew takes some time to do some crime scene reconstruction, Salvador joining in midway through adjusting his outfit. It becomes obvious that the tossing happened while Hubert was absent, there’s no blood, no signs of a violent encounter, and very obviously no signs of someone trying to clean up after themselves. Alex alerts the crew that they’ve got some company coming down the street checking out vehicles and Otto decides that means they need to get going. The company stops by a car, knocking out a window and grabbing a radio as the crew pack up. Alex gets the van going to the meeting spot, the gang banging the side of the van with a bat as he drives by, scoring a loud thump. Once around the block, the crew piles into the van with their findings.
The hard drive itself has three partitions, the OS, a Restore Partition, and an Encrypted partition. Alex makes sure to take a backup image of the hard drive before he starts attempting to decrypt the partition. It appears to be a bad install of tails that Hubert didn’t do quite right and back at the funeral home they explain what they found and that it looks like it would take a few days to crack the encryption. Alex attempts to think of ways to speed up decryption before finally deciding to head down into the basement with Kujo and Otto. They jury-rig an old scanner and camera to start taking and uploading pictures of pages they have found to attempt OCR on the drive. It takes an hour and a half to get Hubert’s book and rolodex uploaded and scanned.
With this new data, it takes only five minutes to crack the drive. Hubert was huge on computer security as he used Candi followed by his birth date as a password and while Salvador notes down Candi’s contact information, they find communications and financial records on the drive. At least some of which was Hubert contacting Heinrich and attempted to blackmail the old scientist. Apparently Hubert knew less than they would prefer, but the blackmail makes sense as Gaston’s financial forensics discovers that Hubert owed thousands to local gangs and a few Russians and his credit was so bad that even local banks wouldn’t lend him money.
Using this newfound information, the crew try to figure out how to use this to their advantage. Either baiting Heinrich into responding to more e-mails, finding the cop that altered the report. Maybe send him e-mails from another account to bait him into clicking a phishing link that would give away his location while they attempt to get information on the police reports. Though the fact that Heinrich may know that Hubert is dead could also explain the redacted police reports and tossed apartment. All the searching and talk of e-mail inspires them to check out the origin of the one that Hubert contacted Heinrich through, apparently it was an e-mail account from a company called Protroleum but it doesn’t appear that Heinrich is an official part of the company. The crew decide that might actually be worth a look as the session ends off.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Return to Ceteri 4: Home Hunting

Our Cabal:

Aggravaine Tashalan: Inhumanely attractive and a genius spellcaster, Aggravaine is trying to make a name for himself in the supernatural world of Ceteri.

Leo: A werewolf private investigator. Leo has a fondness for Twinkies and is a disappointment to his family.

Ranulf: Paperpusher, ley line expert, and victim of Brimstone Law. Ranulf really wants his old life back, but likely won't get it.

Marv: A man of many hats, Marv hasn't run into many situations that he hasn't run into something similar before.


We get a lead from Cleo about new digs in Boston- a swanky historical building with some kind of fairy infestation, complete with lots of unreturned library books.

The Library. Not just Boston Public Library.

We're given a key, which opens a door that's hidden with magic in the basement.

We hear the rustling of wings once we enter.

We've entered a massive pixie nest.

A pixie lands on Leo, attempting to steal a twinkie from them.

Eventually we're able to get one forward to negotiate- we offer food in return for use of the space and the Pixie's services as guards for the space. They're initially open, although all four of their leaders will need to approve.

With Leo's assistance to ensure no loopholes are in the contract, we seal a deal. The pixies give us a tour- there's an almost completely library, an alchemy lab that's set to explode, and some rooms that used to be for stay overs. There's access to the subway through a door in the basement. 

Aggie begins cleanup of the lab, finding a half-complete homunculous inside, also disposing of numerous magical bits about ready to explode.

Five months pass as we work on our lair.

Besides the resident pixies, we have a Rakshasha valet, and numerous housekeeper spirits.

Our lair includes:
  • A scrying chamber
  • A damper room that negates magic and spirit abilities
  • An alchemy lab
  • Hydroponics room full of secret herbs and spices
  • Library (good for +1 to all Occult Wildcard/Intrinsic Magic covered topics)
  • Magical lab (+1)
  • Summoning Room
  • It's scry and divination shielded 
  • Training room/Gym/Weight room
  • Training room for magical pursuits
  • Magical power supply (Cooked up by Magnus, leeching power from the MBTA's third rail)
  • Meeting Room
  • Ley Line tap
  • Base is self-contained and can be sealed up as a survival shelter
  • Spirit Wards
  • Intruder Wards
  • Can house up to 25 people
  • There's two entrances- via subway tunnels, or down through the basement of the historical building.
During the construction we find Marv, sent on a mission to wipe out the Pixies. We recruit him into our little group.

The head of Hadestown, Giselle, is looking for some help with a magical matter and is willing to pay for help. She's known for being a problem solver, and is half-sidhe.

Giselle runs a bar in Hadestown, which we pay a visit. Her connection to Underhill, and her troll contacts within, has been severed, and finding people willing to travel through Underhill to fetch the portal stone she needs to reestablish the trade line has been difficult. Enter us.

Rumor has it that Underhill has seen recent activity of ancient creatures not usually seen on Earth these times- dragons, chiefly. Ginnar, a norse dwarf, is the craftsman who has made the item she needs.

She hands us a doctor's bag to deliver to him as payment. It's full of reagents.

We have a few options for getting there- the Autumn Road, going through the outlands, or finding a direct portal. Ranulf's gut is that the Autumn Road is likely to be the safest, if weird.

The first two hops along the Autumn Road are pretty mundane, just paths. The third we enter a spider nest, but Ranulf is able to circumvent us around them. We experience 8 hours in the Autumn Road, but arrive almost instantly back in the real world.

The Troll plaza is under The Giant's Causeway, a massive bridge which disappears off into the wilderness.

The locals are viewing us as a mix of prey and curiosity at first- before Leo and Marv decide to put on their war faces, which causes people to actively move aside to avoid us.

Ginnar almost closes up shop when we come close, before he realizes we're carrying his pay. We get the item we've been hired to fetch, and then have to make our way out of town without attracting trouble.

However, the Troll Market is enticing- lots of interesting smells and curios to be had. Ranulf's swindled into buying a $65k hunk or iron ore, and Aggie has to step in to prevent Leo from eating an entire foodcart of grilled meats.

We get back into the Autumn road, having to take a slightly longer trip. We manage to avoid any nasty encounters, but it's a week later. We drop off Giselle's item for her. She installs it into her portal.

We mull over the options- getting a quick $30k, getting a favor from her, or getting a year of free portal access to the Troll Market. We ultimately go with the favor- having her as a resource to tap when encountering future issues might be beneficial, and having access to the troll market for a year is less beneficial when the campaign has time skips of 5-6 months at a time.

That and playing the market doesn't lend well to adventuring.

Also, a week has passed on the outside. When we hunt up other rumors it turns out one of the other rumors we didn't chase ended up in a House completely getting wiped out- seems House Yagani was closer to the brink than we realized.

We decide to check out a shrieking woman who is rumored to appear at night in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain.

The cemetery is protected by a robust blessing, which is maintained at least once a year. Leo has some initial issues pushing through the ward, but his lack of malicious intent allows him to push through it.

Once night falls we find the shrieking woman, sitting on a bench in front of a monument in the cemetery. She's crying. All of us recognize her as the Banshee of Boston, a ghost, not an actuall banshee. She tends to become more active as the city undergoes stress, chaos, or mass death.

Marv approaches her, and she stops crying. She asks if Reginald has come back. Marv responds that he can be Reginald for her if she likes. The Banshee proceeds to say that the marriage can now proceed.

Marv plays along. The Banshee starts to turn on him, binding him with Magic, when Aggrivaine interrupts, offering to try and locate the real Reginald.

Aggrivaine uses sticks to make a casting circle, helped by Marv who uses carpentry to make a pentagram out of greenwood that can be transported. Ranulf locates a ley line he's able to allow Aggie to tap into at a distance.

After an hour of casting in a graveyard suffused by glowing blue ley line energy, Aggrivaine calls Reginald's spirit, who appears.

The Banshee is convinced it's a trick. Marv and Aggie attempt to talk her down. Reginald is standing around in colonial soldier garb. Aggie yells at him to state his name and rank, and Reginald responds by demanding why he's been brought back from death.

We tell him his Betrothed has been unable to pass onto the afterlife. Reginald materializes, and the two spirits start to argue about the circumstances of their situation during the war. They eventually reconcile, and ask to be laid to their final rest.

Agrivaine counters that they need to be married first. Marv offers up that he was once ordained as a priest. While we're arranging the wedding a group of spirits rise, to witness the event.

Marv conducts the wedding in his own special way. We get witnesses to sign off on it.

The Banshee asks Aggrivaine to find her book, then she and her groom both begin to glow, eventually disappearing in a flash of light.

We head back to the base and end the session there.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

Return to Ceteri 3: Friendly Extraction

Our Cabal:

Aggravaine Tashalan: Inhumanely attractive and a genius spellcaster, Aggravaine is trying to make a name for himself in the supernatural world of Ceteri.

Leo: A werewolf private investigator. Leo has a fondness for Twinkies and is a disappointment to his family.

Ranulf: Paperpusher, ley line expert, and victim of Brimstone Law. Ranulf really wants his old life back, but likely won't get it.

Jackson Taft: A crack sharpshooter hiding a more malicious second half who you won't like when he's angry.


We try and determine what to do next. The initial options seem to be investigating the Lion's outpost, or dealing with their own response to our actions.

We opt to head out to their facility. It's warded up to the gills, clouding any attempts at ley sight or similar. They're using ward tokens affixed to IDs to allow people through them,

This is in addition to mundane security. Main transport in/out is via automobile, and the ley lines deflated like a balloon once we stole their focusing device. There's roughly 12 cars parked outside the wards.

We stake out the facility.

Leo crits on Detective! There's 24 people inside, a very good suite of mundane security devices (infrared, motion sensors, etc). 

Aggie also crits on seeing the supernatural security setup. Their supernatural defenses are formidable, including a ritual ward that's ridiculously powerful and difficult to put into place. The only hole is that things can gate in, but that's a one-way trip. The Ward will zap any supernatural intruders- a primary concern for Leo.

Leo's enhanced senses pick up the scent of Magnus inside the facility, and groks his overall position in the facility.

Aggie attempts to turn the ward onto the security enchantments in place- and botches horrifically, taking 5 points of injury from magical backlash, and undoing wards in a massive 100 mile radius.

Leo and Ranulf rush the building. Leo rips a door off its hinges using his werewolf strength. Ranulf follows. Aggie limps to the car and preps their getaway car.

Inside, Leo and Ranulf find Magnus chained to a wall. A guard with an automatic carbine sprays at Leo, who dodge and drops out of the way of the spray.

Ranulf pulls a blocking spell to avoid the bullets himself.

Leo recovers and launches himself at the guard, slamming into him and driving the guard onto the ground. The guard fast-draws a cold iron knife plated with silver and stabs at Leo. Ranulf causes a freak accident to happen, and the guard is fried as a live wire from the ceiling is dislodged in the melee and falls on him.

Magnus is surprised to see Leo, and seems concerned about people being able to utilize his work once its done. The work is locked into a gunsafe, which Leo intends to carry out. Ranulf sees about freeing Magnus from the desk he's chained to.

With a 500lb gunsafe on his back Leo's at heavy encumbrance, and moving about 5 yards per second.

Leo and Ranulf manage to get out without running into anyone else. We tie the gunsafe to the roof of Leo's hatchback and then pile in and drive off. 

Magnus confirmed that Taylor Bloise and Morrow had a falling out about 20 years ago- he doesn't suspect that Taylor was involved in the kidnapping.

We use Helen Taft's house as a safehouse again, assuming that it's already been searched and won't be now that it's cleared.

Evidently Magnus got an idea from the events surrounding some of the wards Aldrick screwed around with during the Babel crisis.

Magnus has a prototype and research notes in the gunsafe. He says it's a new form of magical matter.

Leo's convinced that Magnus' work is the equivalent of magical radioactivity and would rather not get zapped by it.

Magnus explains- he's learned how to concentrate quintessence using a ley line, and the process enriches Quintessence to be about 100x more powerful than normal quintessence. Being physical magic, Quintessence makes enchantments far easier, and allows for some badass spells on the fly.

It takes Leo an hour to crack the safe. Aggie takes some time to perform first aid on himself, and also reaches out to Olivia to keep her appraised of things.

She's very unhappy about the wards thing, but is relieved that Magnus is alive. She instructs us to drop him off with his house, and to return to her to get our payment.

We talk a bit about what to do with the research when Olivia knocks on the door.

She's particularly unhappy with our methods, and isn't surprised when we mention that Magnus has developed paradigm changing tech.

Olivia completely understands the process to the make the stuff once explained. Olivia casts a spell on Magnus, catching him once he falls. She then placed a geaus on us to not speak about what we found.

All of us are handed three grand as pay, plus whatever we grabbed from the safe. Olivia strongly encourages Aggie and the others to get a stronghold into place, and to integrate more into society,

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Return to Ceteri 2: Lines of Influence

Our Cabal:

Aggravaine Tashalan: Inhumanely attractive and a genius spellcaster, Aggravaine is trying to make a name for himself in the supernatural world of Ceteri.

Leo: A werewolf private investigator. Leo has a fondness for Twinkies and is a disappointment to his family.

Ranulf: Paperpusher, ley line expert, and victim of Brimstone Law. Ranulf really wants his old life back, but likely won't get it.

Jackson Taft: A crack sharpshooter hiding a more malicious second half who you won't like when he's angry.


Last we left off, Ranulf just caused a large explosion. Thankfully, no deaths, but it's still quite the scene. It's chalked up to a gas line leak in the press and 'official' documentation.

Aggravaine is wrapping up tending to some of the wounded, and has successfully implanted a SPY Protocol spirit into the foci of a Silver Lions mage leaving the building.

Ranulf schmoozes to get the names of the lawyers for the building and for the Silver Lions organization at large.

We decide to not stick around. We decide to visit Helen Taft, an aggrieved former employee of the Conclave who raised a stink in the department of Celeric Regulation.

Helen's fighting an aggressive magical cancer, which she's been using magic to stave off for as long as possible. She's busy smoking a cigarette when we arrive, swaps it for a joint later in the conversation, and obviously hasn't lost any of her wit. Aggravaine and Leo help her roll a joint, earning some brownie points.

When we bring up the Lions Helen's willing to talk shop about how much they suck. We bring up the discrepancies with their ley line. Helen brings up Silver Lions recruiting genius magical prodigies that are up and coming, then making them leave broken or disappearing them once they are done with them.

She suspects that they're developing something likely illegal. Helen also makes it clear that taking them on without help is unlikely to go well. Helen suggests that we recruit her nephew, Jackson, to our cabal- he failed the trials, has an anger management issue, and needs a job.

She tells us he's living in her house in Dorchester, before getting wheeled inside for her medicine.

The house in Dorchester is a ranch style apartment. Aggravaine walks in without being invited, summons a housekeeper to clean the place for twelve hours, and begins asking Jackson if he's really satisfied with his unemployed existence.

Jackson takes some motivating, but eventually seems down to join our efforts.

We check out the garage and find her stacks of files on the Silver Lions. The files are about five years out of date, but are chock full of interesting info. Aggravaine locates a facility that they have that's in a state forest North of Boston.

We find a photograph of Bloise Cagliostero, Morrow, and Anton J. Dyer together in army fatigues some time during the Vietnam Era. Bloise is a serious heavyweight battle mage, and has been skulking around trying to improve his standing and that of his own house. Dyer is also a badass combat sorcerer. He lacks Aggravaine's raw magical oomph, but has studied and honed his skills for a long time. Dyer founded Silver Lions.

Ranulf confirms that their North Facility is sitting on a Dragon Well. That particular ley line was approved by Morrow himself, and was grandfathered in once the leyline was 'discovered' to be stronger than initially surveyed.

It was originally surveyed by Morrow. It really looks like Morrow was planted as a mole within the department that regulates ley lines to get Silver Lions a cushy deal on numerous ley lines.

Aggravaine loops in his boss Olivia, sharing we her details of what's been dug up. The explosion in Boston went unreported to the Custos and the National News Media. Olivia wants Aggravaine and the others to continue investigating- without stepping on Cagliostero's toes so that she doesn't have to confront Taylor Bloise about anything.

The SPY Protocol comes back and reports in, typing out what it managed to eavesdrop. They're talking about a valuable subject that they're working with, who's from Cagliostero. They're planning on getting rid of him when they're done. The spirit reports that they have photos of us outside of the office we blew, and they proceed to accuse Aggravaine of sticking his pen in company ink.

They're also aware that Aggravaine is in contact with Olivia. They don't believe that we know about their other facility, but they are locking it down and sweeping for bugs. The SPY Spirit fled once it heard it might be detected.

We take pains to ensure that Olivia gets the new intel we received.

We oscillate a bit on what to do, eventually settling on checking back on the place that exploded after Ranulf brings it up.

The local emergency response has left except for a single cop car. The cop seems out of it, like he's not really paying attention. The mists are significantly stronger than they should be. Ranulf looks at the leyline and whatever the Lions were doing + the Twist Ranulf pulled means that the leyline is more or less permanently busted.

Ranulf believes that they were attempting to create an artificial dragon well to harvest quintessence from.

We try to ascend to the 13th floor, where we meet a guard. Ranulf and Jackson attempt to fast-talk and intimidate the guard. The guard eventually demurs, and Aggravaine spends a moment to commiserate with him about how bad "Mr. Twiddles (Jackson)" is.

Ranulf finds the epicenter of the explosion. Strange stone shards have been strewn about by the explosions. They had the equivalent of a magical nuclear reactor going on, and the residual energy is quite powerful.

Jackson uses Archaeology! and thinks that the pieces are from some kind of ancient statue- which he tries to piece back together.

A guard starts heading upstairs, so Leo falls in behind him to stalk him as he goes upstairs. Jackson and Ranulf toss the research floor- grabbing random harddrives, research notes, and so on.

Leo does his best to signal that there's more people present. He then goes on to loot some important files himself.

Aggravaine finishes distracting the guard with some life advice, bugging out once he feels the rest of the team would be finished.

Some Silver Lions folk are approaching the building. We do our best to avoid being seen by them.

Aggravaine locates the security room, and asks Leo to lockpick the door so that security footage can be erased. Leo scrubs the team's presence from the security footage completely.

We leave and return back to Helen's house.

Jackson starts piecing together the Egyptian tablet he rescued from the explosion. He makes out a single word/string- HEKA- which is the deification of magic in personified form.

The tablet is going to take days to piece back together. Aggravaine speaks the LOGOS Shift to return the tablet back to its original state. It's returned to normal, including the ley line focusing crystal in the middle of it. The tablets are exceedingly valuable and bounce the power of ley lines up a level.

There's a quartz cylinder carved into the tablet.

Jackson's able to read the tablet. He translates the instructions on it to English. The tablet acts as a focusing device, increasing the power of ley lines the longer they're in place. Ranulf can tell that they've been altering the method, because even the tablet and the instructions couldn't produce the results we saw at the office Ranulf exploded.

We eventually realize that when Aggravaine used the Logos he stole the cylindrical quartz that was originally attached to the tablet from wherever it happened to be- likely the state woods facility run by The Lions.

We make plans to hide the focusing tablet and to make sure that Helen isn't retaliated against if they piece together that it was used at her house. Aggravaine drops the ley line tablet off with his girlfriend Trish, while the others go to ensure that Helen is safe.

It appears initially that Helen is just fine. She's interested to hear that we've stolen from the Silver Lions.

Some guys in suits show up at Helen's house where Jackson elected to stay. Jackson locks up, and prepares for a fight.

They breach the back door. Jackson rushes towards them, shouting that he's going to blow their brains out if they don't leave. They screw their resistance roll and retreat. Jackson chases them off the property.

Ranulf casts Off the Grid on Helen, making it unlikely that anybody will be able to track her down or target her.

We end there.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Return to Ceteri 1: An Explosive Twist

Our Cabal:

Aggravaine Tashalan: Inhumanely attractive and a genius spellcaster, Aggravaine is trying to make a name for himself in the supernatural world of Ceteri.

Leo: A werewolf private investigator. Leo has a fondness for Twinkies and is a disappointment to his family.

Ranulf: Paperpusher, ley line expert, and victim of Brimstone Law. Ranulf really wants his old life back, but likely won't get it.


It's a month after we toppled the new Tower of Babel and defeated a master vampire that had crippled the Boston supernatural community.

Brimstone law was quickly dissolved. Mike and Suzette left together to chase down leads on his parents. Yannay is busy trying to figure out how to get Aldrick out of the Labyrinth. Raleigh is "not intervening" as much as possible. Landon is still comatose, and Cormac is working overtime for The Library.

That leaves Leo and Aggrivaine as the only members of the Brimstone Law cabal who are still in touch and not otherwise engaged in projects.

We're at the Conclave HQ. Aggravaine is dropping off paperwork for Olivia- nicely forged in her handwriting to reduce her workload.

She hands over forms finalizing the end of Brimstone law as an entity within the Conclave.

Olivia asks Aggie and Leo how they're doing, where they're living, what they plan to do, etc. She's unimpressed that Aggie is mooching off local startups by posing as an employee to sleep and eat on their dime.

Unimpressed when Aggie suggests taking control of the mundane remnants of Brimstone Law, she suggests taking on some of her non-paperwork.

Silver Lion is a PMC on the Mundane side, chock full of dangerous sorcerers on the Supernatural side. Olivia offers per diem, expenses, and $2,000 each for us to check them out. She says that they are using a leyline for security, and suggests that we get in touch with someone who just got put on administrative leave.

Olivia clocks Silver Lion as about 100 people. They operate out of Boston, renting space in a financial district skyscraper.

We decide to hunt down the expert Olivia suggested. He turns out to be Ranulf, paper pusher and ley line expert.

Ranulf greets us at his cubicle. He's pretty pissed, because evidently he's getting fucked because of the Brimstone ley line shenanigans we pulled to save the world. We help Ranulf with his paperwork mountain over the course of 4-5 hours.

Ranulf finally looks over the files we have on Silver Lion- they've got permission to tap directly into a powerful ley line to power their security measures. It looks like Ranulf signed off on the original paperwork. The Lion's request is unusual, since they've tapping into a magnitude 5 out of 6 ley line.

Aggravaine uses speed-reading to go through records to find out more about the authorization- and the supervisor, Richard Morrow, who originally signed the order is now working for the Lions. At the time, he wasn't, meaning there wasn't any obvious conflict of interest. He retired from the Conclave about a year ago.

The Lions would have been activated during the Babel crisis, but we don't know just how active they may have been during the crisis. Aggie and Leo suspect that they might not have been as helpful as they could have been.

Aggravaine uses his "I Know a Guy" advantage to seek out somebody who didn't particularly like Richard Morrow. Helen Taft was fired from the Conclave about a year ago, and the reason listed in her profile is clear HR-Speak for bullshit. We don't have any info on her current status.

Ranulf seems determined for us to make his life better, and is going to doggedly follow us until we do.

The Silver Lions are on the 13th floor of their office building. Surprise surprise.

We opt to case the office from the outside. Leo succeeds by 9, Aggie by 10. Ranulf tries to find a coffee shop to assess the leyline from.

The mundane security is terrible- overweight, inattentive, and too interested in Boston sports to pay much attention.

Ranulf approaches them and asks to get into the basement. Meanwhile, Leo tries to slip past them into the basement.

Leo's caught by someone from security. Ranulf is promptly shown inside to "check on the boiler". Leo and Ranulf try to play it off as if Leo is with Ranulf.

Aggravaine takes the opportunity to cast Intercom and Remote Teamwork on Leo, allowing him to communicate with and make Complimentary Skill rolls for Leo.

Once in the basement, Ranulf uses his ley sight to look at the leyline. It's being actively tapped. The wards for it are on the 13th floor. Ranulf attempts to sabotage the leyline while making it appear like an accident.

Agrivaine, sensing that this is likely to end poorly, pulls the fire alarm.

Once Ranulf finishes sabotaging the ley line, an explosion rocks the 13th floor of the skyscraper. (OOC: Aggravaine used Foresight to pull the fire alarm after Ranulf's tinkering blew things up. Aggie got to keep the use of Foresight because he crit on the mastermind check to see Ranulf's actions ahead of time.)

The ley line tap breaks in the basement. Twisting the line while it was being actively drawn on helped contribute to the explosion, but Aggravaine can't tell if what Lions was doing with the leyline played a part or not.

The evacuation reveals a number of Silver Lions folk- most of whom are carrying "canes" or "walking sticks". Some wounded are starting to trickle down into the lobby.

Aggie casts Echoes of the Dead and is surprised to learn nobody actually died in the explosion. He assists with stabilizing a bystander who was caught in the explosion who is bleeding heavily.

Agravaine takes the opportunity to implant an eavesdropping spirit into the foci of a Lions executive leaving the scene.