Actual Play – Murphy’s Laws (10/18/2009)

GM: Eric Fattig
Players: Travis, Chrissy, Cameron, Steve, and Sean
System: Mage, The Awakening

Murphy’s Laws:

I hate new mages. They are like prepubescent teenagers on crack. Did they ever see the movie Aladdin? Infinite Cosmic Power – itty bitty living space. That what magic is, you know. Sure, you can do whatever you want, but it comes with a cost and new mages never understand that.

I’ve looked at the estimates, over $450,00 for the primary controller alone that they fried. All tallied up its going to cost millions. And you know what insurance will say about this? Act of God. Act of God my ass, call it an act of stupidity. So Johnson Circuits is going to be behind on their production schedule, which means extra work for me, which means working on my projects is going to be that much harder.

Murphy’s Law #1: That which a new mage can break, he will break.

Yeah, they duped me. They got me out of the office and stole my files. But there were half a dozen of them. When do you ever see that many? Correction, when do you ever see that many actually working together? After the catastrophe, the Garth Brooks wanna be came over and started pestering me, which was annoying and effective. It kept me distracted while another stole a badge off one of my staff and traded it off to the bitch inside.

I would have stopped them too, would have caught on if not for that crazy Russian who claimed to be having a psychotic fit and destroyed one of the security cameras. I had to figure out if the ley line convergence was actually working enough that it affected other mages who weren’t attuned, or if it was just some teenage prank. Of course, I should have known it was the latter.

They are making me look bad, you know that. Willworkers are supposed to have style and finesse, always the right tool for the job. The brought a god damn limo to our place! Ostentatious much? I’m embarrassed. It’s just like when I go out to Aerosmith concerts and see all those old ladies taking their bras off, make me feel dirty just being associated with them.

Murphy’s Law #2: The cookie jar has fingerprints all over it.

I got back and saw the project was still intact but my research was missing. That’s when I put the pieces together and realized what had happened. I was just about to call, when I got that feeling, a numbness in my fingers, the kind that make them feel swollen and awkward even when they aren’t. Those young punks had the gall to scry on me! Don’t they know it’s like reading someone’s diary, or stealing their password, or fondling their mother? It’s a violation and it’s rude.

Murphy’s Law #3: Any lie a woman can tell to you she will.

After scrying didn’t work they tried something novel. A phone call! I was ready to give them a piece of my mind… or take a few choice pieces of theirs, but that bitch made an offer I couldn’t refuse. She told me that she would give me back binder with my research. I have to say, I couldn’t ignore that. And she said she’d give it to me in good faith, whatever that is.

Women are fickle, mages are arrogant. Put that together and… damn, no wonder I haven’t had a date in years. Back t the point. First our meet was at a Pizza place, then she changed her mind and wanted some place fancy. A set up probably so I did due diligence and set it to Sushi Nobu. I’m conformable there and I knew I wouldn’t be taken off guard.

But you know what; it’s damn hard to eat futo maki when there is a bomb threat in the building. Bitch! So we end up going to Barola Grill instead. That place costs half my paycheck for a good meal, but they do have great wine, and Lizardo at the bar always picks a nice one to compliment your food. Back to the point, we have our meet and the whole rat pack shows up. They try to be sly but their resonance gives them away, like shouldering fires amongst the land of the dead.

Vogue and Fisban meet with me and try to play all kinds of games, but it comes down to this. They want to talk to you boss, they want a meeting with the great Oraculis and they say you’ve got a book they want. So, a meeting it is. At the ware house. Can I have Fizban’s jacket when you’re done with them. It’d be a shame to waste a nice jacket.

– Murphy’s Report.

What rocked

We got to place with magics! Seriously, mage is one of those games where it is just fun to do stuff that you shouldn’t have any reason to be able to do normally. Like doing millions of dollars of property damage without anyone knowing.

The irony. You can’t however steal a single security camera without your magic without being sued by Johnson Circuits.

I believe the characters are developing their core issues. For Vogue (Simone) it’s really what identify means. She doesn’t like her old self very much and is trying to separate from that, but it’s hard to give up all that you were for what you think you are. This for her is like going through puberty again.

What could have been improved

The group as a whole lacks good motivation. We’re trying to find this book but still don’t have a strong allegiance to Valeno (Lawrence) or reason to dislike/mistrust/hate Oraculis. I’d like to know that he was behind the terrorist attack on the train, that would fuel us up on some Hatorade.

Actual Play – So Much for the Afterglow (10/4/2009)

GM: Eric Fattig
Players: Cameron, Alec, Travis, Steve, Sean, and Chrissy
System: Mage, The Awakening

This is a song about Susan
Yeah, this is a song about the way things are
This is a song about the scary things
You see from the corner of your eyes
Don’t you wonder why?

– Everclear

Personal note

I think I’ve changed my mind about shadow names. While Sean is very enchanted with having just seen Wicked, there isn’t a reason for Simone (my character) to be. Instead of Elphaba she’s going to be Vogue. It carries with it the notion of change and that is important to her.

I had this fascination with playing a drug dealer, someone who survived by picking off the scraps of society. I thought I would like it but I don’t. It leaves me feeling too callous, which I don’t like. I’m fine with playing really messed up individuals but I want them to believe in what they are doing, not just do it because they can.

Back to the game

Our session started with a lot of mechanical bits. In fact the session was really Character Creation 2.0. Travis had a lot of questions about how the game works and how Arcanum work and how rotes work and… He had a lot of questions. I think they were very good ones to ask as many of the players are unfamiliar with Mage

After the questions we played two brief scenes of meeting Lawrence again (not Octavious as I thought he might be) during the FBI debriefing and then Later in his tallow museum workshop where he told us a brief history of mages and the supernal realms. Next he asked that we help him find this Octavious and get the Codex he had. Apparently it was previously safely kept by some vampires who, although dangerous, didn’t have the understanding to do anything with the Codex. Now that a mage has it, in this case a bad mage, it’s bad news unless the scooby gang can stop him.

What rocked

There was a ton of information that needed to be conveyed and I think between Travis’ questions and Fattig’s exposition, most of it came out.

Though my character knocked it somewhat, I dug the tallow museum. Very nice touch.

What could be improved

There wasn’t much “game” in our session. It was a lot of character creation stuff, which makes it hard to actually get rolling.

Our characters live in a vacuum. The only NPC we know that we have access to is Lawrence, which makes external motivation tough. If our characters have personal investment in “doing the right thing” I think we’d be better off but most of us are more interested in our own lives than in a book (except maybe Mulder). I think we need some external carrots. My suggestion to Fattig was membership in an order (or even the promise from Lawrence that he’d recommend us into an order), or the offer of being granted a sanctum or some of the other things that most Mage characters start out with but can be used in game as bait.

The system lacks a good way for player character’s to oppose each other without cutting the other down. In game one character is a pacifist (the player reasoning that if there was one game where a pacifist character would work, it would be Mage) but there is no good method for him to prevent people from doing violence, short of you know, doing violence to them, which doesn’t make you much of a pacifist. I think we’re going to work on some kind of opposed roll with the stakes set in advance for these conflicts in the future.

Actual Play – Holy Crap! Ninjas! (9/20/2009)

GM: Eric Fattig
Players: Sean, Chrissy, Travis, Steve, Cameron, and Alec
System: World of Darkness (mortals)

Wait… not ninjas. Just guys in black suits with swords on their back… oh that is much better.

All from Sean’s perspective, thus not necessarily accurate. Please feel free to correct.

Taking back the Train!

Actual Play – Taking Back the Train! (9/6/2009)

GM: Eric Fattig
System: World of Darkness (mortals)

We opened the scene in the baggage train, held at gunpoint by train bandits. At first all we wanted to do was avoid getting shot. In retrospect we all failed at that. A few of us though overheard the radio chatter “bzzt – yeah, they are giving us some trouble but we’ve got in under control – bzzt – okay, we’ll bring in the next two soon – bzzt – yeah, they don’t know we’re going to kill then yet – bzzt -”

After that, all of our attempts to make people comfortable and wait this out peacefully went out the window! We were all going to die if we didn’t so something, so the plan was hatched to distract the remaining two guards and overpower them. Ow, ow, ow. Overpowering guards with shotguns is dangerous business.

We noticed something was wrong with them however, their necks itched so fiercely that one of them had scratched himself bloody, another appeared to have chronic nose bleeds. With a little makeshift surgery we found a strange black substance in their spinal fluid.

Freaked out, our small resistance moved forward to the next car, intent on leaving the two unconscious terrorists in the baggage train and detaching the car. However as we moved forward and entered the sleeper car, what we found made our previous horrors seem like child’s play. There was a ritual massacre in the sleeper car! Strange words written in blood, dead bodies perversely posed as offerings to some dark force.

In the car, however, we found one person alive, the old man Lawrence. He assured us that more was going on than we could understand. The people on this train were not just thieves or terrorists but served some dark powers that we couldn’t fathom. When questioned he was vague, apologizing that he couldn’t explain more to our unenlightened minds. He was weak, however, from his encounter with the terrorists and asked us to continue forward to try and stop them. If we didn’t, everyone else on the train, including our loved ones, would surely die. Disgusted, terrified and confused we realized we had no choice but to move forward, away from the madness… or possibly further into it.

What followed were several brief pockets of extreme violence as we used the terrorist’s ordinance against them. Through trickery, a “lucky” knife, and sheer numbers, we defeated them. Our most conscientious member, however, valued all human lives and attempted to prevent those we shot from bleeding to death. He was only partially successful.

As we proceeded further, familiar faces began to appear. Mulder’s nemesis Gary announced that he was here to rescue the passengers and defeat the terrorists, single handedly. His best plan for doing so however was to hide in the dining car. Zac’s band was rescued as well. The were pretty terrified by the hold up and the gun fights but appeared ignorant of the true terrors on board.

For our efforts we earned several gunshot wounds, an ounce of wisdom, and three liberated train cars!

What rocked

Fattigs introduction of the occult was great. Horrific, bizarre and alien. It didn’t make sense, didn’t feel like something we had any context for, and most importantly was utterly irrefutable. We didn’t know what was going on, but whatever it was, wasn’t just strange happenstance, people on drugs or something else we could rationalize. Our characters were left in that very vulnerable space of “we really have no fucking idea what is going on.”

I don’t have a lot of love for the World of Darkness mechanics, but I do like how they treat guns. Brutal and deadly. Guns are not like knives or clubs or bows and arrows. The put big holes in people that kill, usually in one or two shots. Pretty much the only thing that kept our characters alive was that we had enough moving targets to keep the shooters busy. And consequently, the dropped fast as well.

I really enjoy exploring mundane characters. I find too often when I’m playing a character with “powers” that when confronted with a situation I start looking to my character sheet to see how one of my supernatural abilities could fix the problem. I think this leads to the situation where the party is paralyzed because they can’t use their telepathic communication and forget that they all own cell phones. Part of being a normal Jane is thinking like about how a normal person would react. Some examples were characters spending combat rounds laying down and saying “ow”, people running for cover, etc. Was that the most optimal and efficient move? No, it was the most human.

I definitely see certain characters gravitating towards certain Watchtowers and Orders. Vasily is a shoe in for Thyrsus, and a think Zac will make a great Mastigos. Mulder would make a great Guardian of the Veil (if his concern was protecting knowledge), Mysterium (it it was uncovering knowledge) or Free Council (if it was sharing knowledge with the world).

What could have been improved

After the first fight, the subsequent combat encounters felt tacked on. The realist in my understood there were lots of terrorists on the train and that we would have to confront them, but I think I would have been happier narrating over those combats, or flashing back to them. I do think the combats had a value of injuring our characters and putting a healthy fear of the terrorists in them. We certainly feel very “mortal.” The downside was that they didn’t feel like the advanced the story much, besides saying that we survived several encounters. This doesn’t upset me so much as it makes me eager to circumvent combat in the next session.

I’d like to see some of the character’s issues rise more to the surface. Vasily, for instance, values human life and doesn’t want anyone to die, even our enemies. Simone is terrified about her brother and doesn’t care if a terrorist (or twenty) has to die to keep him safe. Zac is filled with wrath and anger. He got shot early on and if not for Vasily’s aid probably would have bled to death. I think that between these characters with very strong views, we should have more conflicts. The few of them that came up were cool, essentially Vasily realized that Simone wasn’t intent on killing people, just saving her brother and she realized Vasily wasn’t going to get in the way, he just wasn’t going to do any shooting of people. Which is particularly ironic because Simone is terrified of guns. I liked this and I’d like to see more.

Actual Play – The Inevitable Electric Boogaloo (8/23/2009)

GM: Eric Fattig
System: World of Darkness (mortals)

I call it inevitable because Fattig really wanted a better name for the chronicle. Sadly he used it as a placeholder name once or twice and it stuck. The power of naming is great and is hard to undo.

The session started with character creation, with the following parameters. We’re all mortals who travel regularly. We are currently on a continental train traveling west and have something or someone (besides ourselves) on the train that we care about.

Here is our cast:

Simone Bleach, a beautiful girl who’s always wanted a better life than she could afford. Now she is an amiable drug dealer. On the train is her young brother David Bleach, who she is taking west to enlist in the army, an idea she hates.

Justin Washington, a Vietnam war vet who performed admirably during the war but cracked under the pressure, now an old hobo who talks to himself. Washington (or Uncle Washington as Simone has started calling him) knows that his old Lieutenant is on the train, the same one that cost the lives of his platoon. Washington wants nothing more than to kill this man.

Saph, a run away. Saph is young, pretty and decidedly beneath the law. She’s been stealing tickets, food and cash to keep herself on the move. Over time however, she has taken a fondness for the elderly conductor. They rarely speak beyond “Tickets Please” but from his kindly smile it is clear that he shares some affection for her as well.

Vasily, an herbal doctor with an “all natural” cure for everything that ails you. Vasily constantly experiments and believes he’s found the new miracle supplement and carries the ingredients on board.

Zac Green, a country singer traveling west for a gig. Zac is accompanied by his band and has with him the just written sheet notes and lyrics to a song he is sure will be a hit.

Mulder, not the special agent. This kid is a freak, he’s been trapped inside for the last 10 years watching x-files, looking for government conspiracies and practicing Tae-Bo. Mulder is his real name, he had it legally changed. On the train is a non-believer who is attending the same convention as him to debunk his finding: A Alien Artifact! (also on the train)

A framework of the story.

We started with an exposition scene, giving each player a chance to establish their character and do introductions. A few characters were assumed to have previous relationships (like Vasily and Simone, both who study pharmaceuticals), but otherwise we had a typical “you all meet in a bar” scenario, though in this case it was the dining car. Bringing all six characters into the scene took some finagling, but it worked. We also met a few of the NPCs which I suspect will be important later in the game.

Dinner got interrupted by a horribly smoky grease fire in the kitchen, which forced a mass exodus of the dining car. Our choices were forward into a very busy coach car or back into a sparsely populated sleeper car. To a one we went forward, demonstrated some of our natural skills in acquiring seats and used our investigatory skills to search for the alien fetus they must have been burning in the kitchen, insane idea courtesy of Mulder.

After a while it became clear that a) nothing was happening in the coach car and b) our Storyteller wanted us in the sleeper car instead. We moved to the sleeper car, had some more antics and then had the piss scared out of us (three of four of the men this was literally true for) when terrorists boarded the sleeper car. They wore gas masks and body armor, armed with assault rifles.

None of us having a death wish we all complied with the terrorists, though Vasily insisted that he required his wheelchair, to which Simone was pretty sure they were going shoot him in both legs so he really did need it. Thankfully then seemed content to heard us all into the cargo car at the back of the train with a warning that if we followed their orders we would make it out alive. Cut!

What rocked

The story ended on a cliffhanger, a moment of suspense that has us all wondering what is going to happen next.

The character interaction was fun, if somewhat drawn out by a lack of external stimulus. I like some of the connections that developed and I appreciate that Fattig (the storyteller) gave us time to develop some of these connections.

Our actions had repercussions in the fiction. For instance, Simone conned some poor arthritic guy out of his seat saying it was for her elderly uncle. Later when he came back and found the very healthy looking Zac in the seat, he was annoyed. I can’t stress how much player agency in the game means to me. If our characters can’t change the story, we might as well be reading the storyteller’s short story he wrote. Understanding that in this game, the storyteller has a plot, he still gave us the latitude to color the story to our tastes.

Characters were created with a situation presented clearly to them. We’re all on a train, and we’ve all got someone or something on that train that we really care about. This means that the conflict Fattig presented us with (terrorists taking over the train) is something we HAVE to respond to. Very good call there.

Fattig showed us repercussions without pulling the “GM is god” move. Instead of making it impossible for us to oppose the terrorists he had some random NPC get in their faces and quickly had his head blown off. This is a powerful tool for establishing how dangerous our opponent was without de-protagonizing the player characters.

What could have improved

Some scenes had too little structure and had no mechanism to move the story forward, thus leaving the players feeling a little forced around. Specifically when we all went to the coach car, it became clear that Fattig wanted us in the sleeper car and so he had to contrive all these ridiculous reasons to get us there. My thought is that either a) it shouldn’t matter which car we were in when the terrorists arrived, they herded us all to the cargo car regardless or b) Fattig should have just framed the second scenes as “being smoked out of the dining car, your all in the sleeper car, which is mostly empty besides you and a few others that also were escorted out of the dining car.” This would have established that we weren’t being punished for being PCs, just everyone in the dining car moved to the sleeper car and would make a natural transition.

One of the NPC interactions felt forced. The character Lawrence showed up to help pay the bill for Vasily when his card didn’t go through. It was actually my idea for something like this to happen, I suggested that before he introduce NPCs in a conflict situation, he introduce them in a mundane one first, also if they were an NPC that we’re supposed to ally with, make sure they are introduced in a positive light. He was going for the “Hey, let me give you a hand” angle, which I think is a good one, but because the was helping the character with the highest resources, it felt forced. I would have recommended that either a) he help one of the poor characters or b) Fattig suggest some kind of out of the ordinary, suggestive of the paranormal, situation. For instance, as it happened first his credit card was declined, and then his bills were counterfeit. Instead of trying to rationalize how he could have gotten counterfeit bills, I think it would have been more powerful to say “And it’s weird because you know you pulled those bills out of the ATM before you got on the train, so they had to be legit, but now it’s clear they are missing the sown in strip.”

We lacked enough external stimuli. On of the things you always notice in stories is that the protagonists always have something else going on in their lives before being presented with the plot. It isn’t always something big, but it gives another dimension to the character and gives them something else to interact with besides the central plot. John McClane is my go to character for every situation. What is his issue when the movie Die Hard starts? He wants to get back together with his wife. It causes some conflicts in the beginning (as he gets in an argument with her over changing her last name) but what it really does is set up John to have a motivation and something else that is always niggling at him when he is fighting they, hey notice the coincidence, terrorists! I think Fattig got half way there be enforcing that we all had something on the train we cared about but needed to go the next step of threatening that thing in a way that has nothing to do with the terrorists.

In my case I invented it for Simon. She started the session arguing with her little brother about enlisting.

For Vasily, I think his weasel should have started looking sick, or escaped from its cage, or some of his samples look aren’t being kept cool enough and they will spoil if he doesn’t get them a cooler place, etc.

For Saph, there could be a PI on the train hired by her parents, or at least that is what she thinks he is. Or, the kindly conductor would be walking down the halls looking at the train looking fondly at the cars and mention off handedly that he is retiring and this is his last ride.

Zac could have gotten in an argument with his band members, or one of them might be sick, or maybe one of the is threatening to quit because he doesn’t see his family enough.

Mulder, frickin anything could have happened. He saw a UFO keeping pace with the train. Some middle aged conservative lady starts talking to him in Klingon, he spots his rival on the train (the one that is going to debunk him at the conference they are both going to) and his rival reveals that he knows about Mulder’s alien artifact, etc.

I bring these up as some sparks because I think they could still be implemented as the game goes on (or something to the same effect). I also recognize that John McClane is one guy, and we have six protagonists, which makes creating these personal issues much more difficult to fit in a session.

Overall I had a great time. My criticisms aren’t complaints by any means, they are suggestions for next session!