Tuesday 31 January 2023

The Plague Pyramid of Geishu

Very dedicated standup comedian by Zak S. 
It's all fun and games when your players' characters become legendary figures, and songs are sang about how they saved Japan from thousands of ghosts and millions of bandits (poets are prone to slight exaggeration). But sooner rather than later, it begins complicating their lives, and your work as a GM. The characters are effectively celebrities now. People recognize them, even some spirits recognize them, and their rich and powerful enemies who want them dead because that's what happens when you help a daimyo's daughter escape and then marry her? They hear the news of your exploits almost sooner than you finish beating up another undead army. 

So I gave the characters a chance to go dark. One of the poets mistakenly wrote about how the  heroes perished in their greatest battle ever. They enjoyed hearing about it, and added some details about the heroic deaths of, uh, their teachers and icons. 

Besides, there were more troubles brewing in Japan... 

"What kind of troubles?" 

"Coronavirus... I mean, uh, plague. An eeevil plague!" 

A plague spread by a cult, which is something that the characters decided to investigate, since it was rumoured that the cult has a base of sorts somewhere in the wilderness of Geishu province, and one of the characters was good in Tracking. On their way, the party discussed if the whole plague thing was started by one of the characters who dabbles in necromancy ("I didn't do it!" "Maybe it was your evil twin". "I don't have an evil twin!" "You said you don't remember your family". "Well... I think I don't have an evil twin...").

Which led them to a pyramid surrounded by hundreds of half-mad cultists, with Dance Macabre Skeleton Musicians playing their horrible music on one of the levels (apparently this is Zak's version of bards being cool), and the Plague Standup Comedian dancing and giggling on the top. 

The characters then proceeded to make reasonable decisions. They chose not to fight with the cultists, because the cultists didn't get in their way and let them come closer to the pyramid (since the cultists are merely mind-controlled victims, killing them is easy but leads to loss of XP). They also chose not to fight with the Skeleton Musicians, because guys are just jamming a session and having a really good time. 

At the top of the pyramid, there's this comedian skeleton who yells magical jokes at people. And also the doubles of all the characters. 

"Oh my god, it's true! It is your evil twin! And your evil twin! And your evil twin!" 

"And your evil twin!"

"My evil twin? That's ridiculous!"

So, the party decides to fight their evil twins but very soon recognizes that the doubles don't really do anything, so they leave the doubles alone (if a double is hurt, the damage is magically transferred to the person that the double is imitating). 

So they fought the skeleton jokester. 

Now, his magical jokes work like this - if the victim of the joke fails the save, they are pushed back and take damage. But if they immediately reply with a better joke that makes someone at the real table laugh, the skeleton's joke fizzles. The players didn't know that but they figured it out.

After having two of his jokes blocked like that, the skeleton got rather upset. 

"He looks at you, and yells: "Your mama is so... oh, forget it!" He just swings his stick at you!" 

By the end of the fight, the NPC bard was thrown off the pyramid by the magic of the joke - then the fox samurai jumped off the pyramid to save the bard from the necrolarvae - then the pig monk grabbed the skeleton jokester and jumped off the pyramid to crash the jokester against the lower platform. Then the cat courier shrugged and jumped down, just because she had the best acrobatics and landed perfectly on her feet. 

And this, my friends, is how coronavirus was defeated in medieval anthropomorphic-animal-inhabited Japan.

Friday 27 January 2023

Playing Demon City in Ukraine: The Demon City Where We Live


I Do Not Officially Endorse This Actual Play Report. - Zak S.

It’s Sunday, and we’re all alive and more than a little mad, up to the point that the kindest people, the ones that you see when you open the dictionary on “P – Pacifism”, and there’s their portrait, - these people speak about killing invaders in level voices and you are not worried about it, because you feel the same way.

It didn’t happen in a year. We had eight years to see and understand and accept that there’s a huge crowd of people across the border who wish us evil. The news about war crimes, torturers, rapes are grim but not surprising. We’ve heard it before. We’ve learned that this shit is very real.

Anyways, we’re still alive and we managed to deal with the end-of-the-year-must-wrap-up-all-the-projects blues, so we get together to play some tabletop games.

And I bring a printout of Demon City.  

Demon City is an urban horror game, so the setting is modern and the characters meet in a city. Also, the default setting for Demon City is the place where you all live.

So what’s happening is happening here and now. Fine by us.

Demon City requires Tarot cards for playing (they’re used in a fun way, sort of like dice but there’s more than just numbers to them). Each of us has at least one Tarot deck, obviously. I mean, we play D&D and Marvel Super Heroes and LotFP and threaten each other with GURPS and FATAL, of course we have Tarot cards.

Out of three people who are not otherwise occupied, two forget to bring their decks. Which is also normal, we tend to forget stuff even in more peaceful times. We have one deck and it’s quite enough.

We have no idea what kind of characters we want to play, because it’s a new game. Fortunately, I didn’t forget to print out a couple sets of “Quick character generation” sheets.

“Total random generation?”

“Total random generation”.

While we’re pulling cards and writing down the stats we talk about war and dating and trans people and Derry Girls and for some reason OGL. I guess it’s because we haven’t met in months.

Anyways, we’re done. The characters are a pair of Territorial Defense volunteers – a paramedic with some highly criminal skills and a morbid curiosity, which is normal, and a cosplayer who had witnessed a strange murder several years ago, which also happens.

“Hey guys, before we start, look how cool the design is in the game! Look at the random encounter table!”


“And these are the pitches and they’re made to look like movie posters!”

 “Hey, I like this one. Let’s play this”.

“The one with magic? Sure, okay”.

So we add some final features related to the pitch, and I forget that I should give the players a couple magic rituals that they can use, and the players forget it, too. So it’s fine.

“Okay. Someone called the police and said there’s a dead body near the museum. The cops are busy, and also don’t want to do anything about it, so they shove the case onto you”.

A short pause follows when the players try hard to think up names for their characters, which predictably results in stupid name-related puns.

As the characters see the horribly mutilated body, they both lose a Calm point. Which immediately sends them into Panic Mode (yes, their randomly generated characters both had a very low Calm in a horror game, I’ve been told it’s part of the fun).

The acting director of the museum calls the cops and says that perverted necrophiliacs are doing unspeakable things to the corpse. Which, to be honest, they do – at least, the paramedic does, because his curiosity is unquenchable. The cosplayer, meanwhile, feels that someone is watching him. There’s a young woman wearing a medical coat (not really suspicious, there’s a medical university and some clinics nearby) who walks away fast.

The commanding officer calls the cosplayer and asks him that legitimate question of what the fuck are they doing with the corpse. A couple lucky throws later the museum workers help them wrap up the corpse into a sheet, and they call the police to say “Hey, you guys should come and take this here dead body”. “Yeah right”, says the police, “Why don’t you drag the dead body to the prosectors while we do some real important work, which we’re not going to talk about because it’s really important?”

To put it short, what happens next is:

Cops are purposefully unhelpful more than once;

There’s a writing on the wall that looks like a war-time urban legend;

Playing in the here and now means that now and again players ask “What address was that? Okay, let me check what’s in the area on the maps, there are probably people that we can talk to…”

I’m so lazy that I steal two of Zak’s examples in a row;

Which actually leads to a pretty horrific scene in the cosplayer’s apartment – his old friend is lying in a pool of his own blood, the whole place smells like gunpowder and death, and it’s only beginners’ luck that no one ended with a negative Calm, sinking into insanity.

“And now let me explain to you how Downtime works”.

“I’ve drawn a 10, is it good?”

“… yes. It is good. Here, read what you gain”.

“Oh cool, so this works like our XP!”

“In a way, yes”.

For a first session with lots of talking and people forgetting things, it went very well. The character generation was fun enough and fast enough. The fast-paced combat system, even slowed down by me forgetting things again, proved to be quick and deadly.

So after sending the characters to have their downtime, we went our separate ways, to different ways of the Demon City where we live.

Thursday 12 January 2023

OGL is not the problem

I'm not a lawyer nor publisher, so I'm not going to give you my opinion on how Open Game License works. Because however it does, the OGL is not the problem. 

OGL is not the reason why bad things happen to people in tabletop roleplaying hobby. 

OGL is not the reason why 5th edition of Vampire: the Masquerade was killed. 

OGL is not the reason why Lamentations of the Flame Princess struggles to survive. 

OGL is not the reason why Drivethru introduced new rules which basically stated "We can remove your content if you ever express your opinion about anything anywhere, just saying". 

Because all of this happened before the news about Hasbro planning to change the license arrived. 

And bad actors in the hobby were, and still are, the reason. 

Liars, harassers, and their useful idiots are the reason. 

They created the scandal around VtM which included a very real monster who was offended by the way he was portrayed in the book about monsters. 

They attacked James E. Raggi the IV and the LotFP, lying and harassing and basically making enough of a shitstorm for people to say "This is a shitstorm, I don't want to stand close by because I might get shitstormed" - people like distributors and con organizers.Which is bad for business, and also bad for Raggi personally. 

They attacked Zak, and were the reason why Violence in the Nympharium was never released. Nor was I Am The Weapon. And judging by what I've seen from the drafts, and from how Demon City looks - I Am The Weapon could've really been the best superhero game, ever. It's pretty good even in its unfinished variant, without the art - and art is something that makes Demon City unique. 

They are the reason that bad things happen in the hobby. 

And people who support them, promote them, praise them are part of the problem. 

People who, coincidentally, now run around like Putin-loving separatists during a russian missile attack and yell "The sky is falling, the sky is falling, the OGL is going to ruin everything!" 

Which makes about as much sense as the above-mentioned separatists yelling about USA trying to destroy the slavic culture. 

Because the problem that the separatists suddenly faced is not about USA, it's about the very man and the very country that they praised and supported and helped and attacked everyone who disagreed - Putin's Russia - making a move and hitting them with X-101 missiles. 

And the problem with the tabletop roleplaying hobby is not about OGL. It's about the people who supported the liars and harassers who did their best to break down the community which supported them. 

Still they're going to do what they do, because, obviously, it's easier to blame the OGL than to say "Well, fuck. I really messed up badly. I shouldn't have done what I did. I have to fix what I broke". 

And that is the problem.

Sunday 8 January 2023

Zak Smith's Demon City

I'm not a big fan of horror games. I like fantasy, I like superheroics. And in these traditions, scary things have their own important place - they're just not the main actors. 

The Black Riders are bloody scary when they first appear, because we don't know what they are and what they want, and everything about them feels just wrong - the way they talk, the way they breathe, the way they look. The Ringwraiths become less scary when we find out more about them, when they become powerful enemies but not nameless, faceless horrors. 

Batman's modus operandi is based on two things: 1) human-sized bat-like creature is scary when it jumps you in the darkness, 2) a man who dresses up as a giant bat specifically to find you and beat you up is scary because he's definitely crazy, and insanity is scary. But it's not supposed to be scary for the reader, because the criminals see the Batman, and we see Bruce Wayne who's sometimes sad and sometimes awesome and sometimes ridiculous on purpose because he pretends to be a playboy. Yes, he's somewhat crazy, but it's the crazy that we appreciate.

A good horror story works on many levels. Besides the scary, there're conflicts and tough decisions and bravery and treachery. 

That's why I like CREATURES OF THE NIGHT and CHILL. And that's why I love DEMON CITY. 

Zak's game is probably the best horror game there is, but what's better is that you can easily use it for murder mysteries, or urban fantasy, or whatever you like. It's flexible. The mechanics that Zak offers are not tied to a specific setting. Although for superheroics I AM THE WEAPON, with its amazing system of superpowered character generation, is better. But if you want to play a group of desperados in Gotham City? DEMON CITY is perfect for that. 

So what's good about it? 

- Zak's art. The book looks good. It's stylish. It keeps your attention, it's fun to read. 

- "Example of play" completes the rules nicely, showing how everything works in a simple and understandable way. 

- You can use dice if you want, but it's more fun to use a Tarot deck. And there are six ways to use the cards - plus any you can invent yourself. 

- Character "Motives" instead of classes - there are differences in the advantages and flaws with which the characters start, how they behave in critical situations, and how they recover. Which all make sense together. 

- Simple and elegant system of resolving conflicts. 

- An equally elegant system for panic and insanity, and how can characters recover. 

- Downtime - what happens to the characters between sessions and how it changes them. I love it so much, I want to use it in all my games now. 

- Advice to the Host about how to create adventures, and how to keep them from falling apart if the players find other ways of doing things that you didn't plan (and that's what players always do). HUNTER/HUNTED is my favourite way of doing it. 

- Fun facts from the real world that you can use in your game. 

- The "setting" is your own. You can - and should - comfortably use DEMON CITY with places and situations that you know well.

- And about a dozen other cool things. 

I can't wait to try it out. Probably in a couple weeks.

Answering Jeff Rients's twenty questions for our Krynn game

We're still stuck in Spidernesti, so this is what I mean when talking about "land".   What is the deal with my cleric's re...