Monday, February 27, 2017

Alien Hunger, Night 2. Daron's Story.

The story begins here
Interlude Scene CF 7

The characters plan to head away from the scene of their escape. They need some place where they can take a moment to figure out what is going on, and what they’re going to do next. I increase the Chaos Factor to 7, since clearly things did not go well in the last scene. Rolling against it, I get a random event: Altered Scene “PC Positive, Extravagance/Travel.” Nothing springs to mind for this, so I declare that they exit the scene easily. Not only does no one pay any attention to them, but no one will remember them later even if investigators show up asking questions.

The coterie heads to a local outdoor theater, a place used by various groups in the warmer months for shows and productions, but abandoned for now. It is surrounded by trees, and while the woods are sparse, they feel much deeper now. It is only a few hundred yards from the nearest main road, but the place feels primal, and ancient. It is also silent, and isolated. What few creatures would normally be prowling through these woods at night sense the unnatural presence of the characters, and either leave or hide.

They talk. For hours. About what they did and why they did it, alternating judgment, support, recriminations and accusations mixed with promises of support and love. They talk about what they are, what they’ve become, and what they now desire. They avoid the “v” word for as long as possible, until they admit that it’s sillier to avoid it when there really is no better word that any of them know. Aside from movies and a few books, neither Maya nor Daron really know what it means to be a vampire. Trent (rolling Intelligence + Occult, dif 9 (for the dead keep their secrets), and attaining 1 success) knows a bit more, enough to correctly warn his companions about sunlight, and the need to feed, and the need to keep this secret. They talk, in ever increasing circles about how this happened, who did this to them, if it was a test, or a game. The government or conspiracy, aliens or wizards. Every possible iteration of who, and what, and why.

They do not talk about Vince, or Mavis. And not one of them even think about Suzanne.

At the end, nothing is settled, but they talk out of habit, and out of a lack of anything else to do. And then, the night begins to come to an end. The question now is, where are the characters at the end of the night, and what do they hope to do next?

Daron—Transform/The public. While unwilling to approach law enforcement, Daron wants answers. Answers he knows none of them are able to provide. He plans to talk to a doctor, or at least a med student friend of his. He believes there has to be an explanation for this, and a way to undue it, no matter what Trent says. Trent is probably talking out of his ass, anyway.

Trent—Extravagance/Lies. Trent is fascinated by the power coursing through his veins, and the thought of all the myths and tales and magic he once claimed to believe actually being TRUE. He fully intends to see just what it is he is now capable of, and what being a vampire means. But he has no desire to let anyone else in on their secret. A good magician (or artist) keeps their tricks secrets, and he is well aware that certain divine truths are only for the Initiated. Well, now he IS the Initiated, and he’s going to get some answers.

Maya has the most complex problem ahead of her. Not only is she cursed to become an undead creature of the night, but she also has the most extreme curse of all the coterie, being turned into a repugnant and disgusting Nosferatu.  For her, I roll “Stop/Fame.” She is utterly horrified at what she has become, and just wants it all to end. She has no desire to let anyone know what has befallen her, and sees little if any hope for her condition.

Daron’s delicate attempts to bring up outside help are quickly shot down by both Maya and Trent. But, Trent’s enthusiastic embrace of what has befallen them repulses Maya and Daron. No one is on the same page, and the coterie can agree to little tonight. While they should stick together, they instead decide to attempt to return to their own lives, being physically, mentally, and spiritually drained.

And hungry. They are all still so hungry.

CF remains 7, as the characters didn’t really do anything this scene.

Daron’s Story
Sunday, November 8th, 1992

Daron heads home to his off-campus apartment. There are still a few things that I don’t know about the characters, so I’ll use the Mythic system to answer them. For example, does Daron have a roommate? He certainly doesn’t need one financially, but it’s always good to have a bro to hang with, or perhaps a girlfriend. Does he live alone? I decide that this is Unlikely, and the result is YES. He has the place to himself, and when he returns, he throws himself into the bed, and sleeps a sleep deeper than he has ever experienced. While he slumbers, his body shakes and violently convulses. If any were to witness, they would assume he was experiencing an intense epileptic seizure, but one that lasted minutes and hours at a time. Daron remains undisturbed, however, as it is merely his body going through its ultimate death, as it finally rids itself of anything resembling mortality.

When he awakens, he is aware of the filthy mess that was once his bed, but is neither horrified nor amused by it. It is simply a thing, a mess to be cleaned. The sheets and blankets and comforter are stuck in the trash, and he thinks that he will need to purchase a new bed. He showers and cleans himself, and, dressing well, he leaves, ignoring the blinking lights on his answering machine.  He’s going to get some answers of his own.

However, along the way, there’s an Altered Scene—“Move toward Thread, Persue Attention.”  I decide that there are only two threads currently active: 1) Discover what happened to them, and 2) the Police Investigation. Unsure which this related to, I decide to roll for it, even (1) or odd (2)…the result is 1. Since he was already heading to his med student friend, I decide that he simply finds him easily.

Now, who is Daron’s med student friend? I have no particular idea, so I use a combination of a couple random rollers I have to get: Zoe Steinberg, an Insightful Statesman who wants to abuse            atrocities, encourage the wealthy, and prepare knowledge. She’s a hard-partying friend of Daron’s, though one who keeps her illicit activities a closely guarded secret—she seems like an ideal pre-med student to everyone, save those who know her.  She’s not at her dorm, but working on some project in one of the Biology labs. It is Sunday night, and so there are only a few dedicated students still working when Daron tracks her down. They have the lab, and most of the floor, to themselves.

She of course is concerned for her friend, especially since he missed all the parties this weekend, and he seems so ashen, and distant. He explains that he has come down with something, and needs her help. She’s always been there to help before, though her earlier aid was more focused on getting him access to certain secured rooms and chemicals, never for medical advice. She’s willing to help, but encourages him to go to the campus clinic if there is something seriously wrong. He insists on her help, emphasizing the personal nature of the crisis. She agrees, and does what tests she is familiar enough with to do check.

After the initial, most basic ones, she stops. “You’re fucking with me here, aren’t you?” She says with a smile.

“What do you mean?” Daron asks.

“Your pulse. You don’t have one. And you're holding your breath. What, did you take some,” and with this she rattles off a bizarre string of sounds and syllables that Daron could never hope to replicate.

“No,” he insists. “I’m not ON anything. At least, nothing I know of. Something…bizarre happened on Friday night, I think, and when I woke up last night I was, well, I was like THIS. I haven’t eaten in the past few days, and I’m not hungry,” he lies, “and I don’t know what the hell is wrong with me.”

How does Zoe respond? Inspect/New Ideas.

“Ok, ok,” she says. “Let’s say, for now, I believe you. I still think this is a fucked up joke, but sure. Tell me what happened, and I’ll draw some blood and we’ll see what we can figure out. But if you’re right, I’m not sure what I can do to help—you really should be at the hospital, like…now.”

Does he tell her everything? He wants answers, and he needs answers, and right now, Zoe is his best bet.  I roll, considering it Likely, and the result is EXCEPTIONAL YES.

Daron takes a deep breath. “This is going to sound crazy, but I need you to understand. Last Friday night I was heading back to my place after rehearsal. I was going to get changed to head out and…Christ, I’m not sure if I even got home. I mean, when I woke up, I was still wearing the same shit I had on that day, so I don’t know. Anyway, yeah, heading home, park my car then…then the next thing I know I wake up in this fucked up basement….”

He tells her everything, more than he ever intended to. Trent and Maya, they had been there, but they had their own shit to deal with, but Zoe? Zoe he can trust. Zoe is his friend, and has done more fucked up shit with him than anyone else ever had. And once he begins talking, he can’t stop himself. 

He tells her about the hunger, and the blood. He tells her about Mavis, and how warm she was. He tells her about Trent and Zoe, and what they did to Vince. He needs her to understand, needs her to believe him. Unprompted, but sensing her doubt, he grabs a scalpel and shows her that he doesn’t bleed, and then they both watch in silent fascination as the cut closes itself before them.

How does Zoe respond to this madness? Break/A Plot.

Zoe stares at him, hard. Unsure of what to say, or what Daron expects her to say. She slowly stands up, saying “there’s, a um, test…strips I need to get. In the back. I want to check something.” And, as calmly as she can, she makes her way to one of the various rooms branching off the lab.

Daron grabs her, hurting her, holding her with too much pressure, too much strength. She gasps, but he barely notices. “Where are you going? You believe me, right? You don’t think I’m crazy?”

“Crazy? Daron, you just told me that you and your friends murdered people. Look, I don’t know if you’re high, or been fucked with somehow, or what, but I don’t know if you’re crazy or not. But I do know you’re hurting me, and you need help.”

Daron looks at the arm, the one that holds her as if she was a child, not really registering it as his own. He forces himself to release her, and calmly tries to reason with her. “Please, Zoe. I don’t know what’s going on, but it’s bad. It’s really bad. And I need your help.” Will she?—EXCEPTIONAL NO.

“I am trying to help” she says, and kicks him in the groin before making a desperate run out of the room. Daron barely even feels that attack, and grabs her again, desperately trying to make her understand “Zoe, please, Zoe, look at me, Zoe, stop, please stop, just stay, please stay.

And with that, she stops. She is still terrified of him, and horrified at what he had told her, but she does as she is told, and stays. Her sudden acquiesce frightens Daron more than her attempt to flee. 

“Ok, great,” he says. “Um, how about we sit back down? Is that ok? Or, just move away from the door, alright? Please, just come over here and sit down? Zoe” he focuses himself on her “sit.”

Obediently, and quietly, she sits herself down on the nearest stool. While she says nothing, her face betrays the growing sense of existential terror building within her.  Daron himself understands something of that terror, as for the first time, the essentially alien nature of what he has become begins to dawn on him. He is freaking out, and unsure of what to do next.


His first thought is of Vince, and of how Trent did what he had to do. Or so he claimed. He looks at the scalpel on the table, and looks at Zoe. Beautiful, clever, fun Zoe. Of her warmth, and her touch, and of Mavis, and of how cold he is, and how wonderful and peaceful it would be to be warm again. Of how it was her fault, really, if she had just been his friend, had just LISTENED to him, he wouldn’t have to do this.

But, no. He doesn’t know what he is. But he knows he’s not a monster. He talked Suzanne down, and he talked Maya down, and he can talk Zoe down, too. He was always good with a speech when he had to, and this time will be no different.

“Look, Zoe,“ he says. “I…like I said, I think I got hit with some chemical, like, maybe some of that nerve gas shit, or some crazy LSD or something. I don’t…I don’t even know anyone named Maldvis or whatever her name was supposed to be. I just, I’m really messed up, and you’re right. I’m going to go to the hospital and get some help, ok? You were right, and you did help me, and now I’m going to and get some real medical help. Thank you for listening and, I really am sorry that I grabbed you—I shouldn’t have done that, especially with you helping me so much. Just…just write all this up to, you know me, having another crazy weekend. I mean, wouldn’t be the first time I can’t remember something, right? And it’s all so fuzzy and messed up, like a dream, and I don’t even think there WAS a basement—I think I was just in my apartment all weekend, ya know? I think, yeah, one of the guys had dope or something, but it was laced with, well, fuck if I know, but it was like, whoa, ya know? Like, really. So, ok, I’m going to go to the hospital now, ok. Zoe? We’re cool, right Zoe? I mean, you don’t need to tell anyone about this, because I’m going to the hospital, right? Zoe, please, let me know everything is ok.”

Zoe looks at the cold, hard eyes in front of her. Eyes that remind her of someone she once knew, someone she trusted and even loved. But the eyes staring at her belong to no one she has ever seen before. “Sure,” she says, forcing a laugh, telling this stranger in front of her what he needs to hear to let her go. “We’ve all been messed up before, and have crazy dreams and shit. But, um, whatever you got, it’s bad, ok? You really should go and get to the hospital.”

“Right,” the stranger says. “I’ll go right now,” and neither of them are fooled by his lies.

Daron walks quickly out of the Biology building, grateful to be away from the lights and the smells, and from Zoe, and from the fear of what he was ready to do to her. Thoughts of her, and what he had wanted to do, threaten to consume him, but two things bring him to his senses. The first, is the cold, refreshing feeling of snow falling on him, the first real snow of the season, blanketing the campus. Making it looks pure, and new, and innocent. A world where any problem is over at the end of the semester, and everyone knows that nothing they do here has any real consequences, no matter how horrible it may seem at the time.

The second is the flashing lights and sirens of police cruisers driving onto the campus. 

The story continues with Trent

Thursday, February 23, 2017

A different take on Solo gaming

I’ve been trying to figure out how to effectively run a module in a solo game, but hadn’t really been satisfied with anything I've tried. I stumbled upon this post over at Lone Crusader, which inspired me to tackle the issue from a different angle. Instead of using the various emulator tools to replicate the GM, instead one would use them to replicate players. As any GM knows, players are a uniformly chaotic and unreasonable lot, so using a series of charts to determine their motivation and intended actions seemed to fit.

As a test run, I take out one of my favorite modules of all time, Alien Hunger. I’ve run this for roughly four different groups, and I still hold it up as one of the best modules Vampire ever produced.
With that, I create a number of PC’s, which in and of itself is unusual for a Solo game. Not having any strong character ideas in mind, I use the U.N.E. to come up with the basics. In the module, each character begins as a mortal, but is changed in the opening. But, they need to have some tie to each other, both to make the group more cohesive, but also to damn one with the sins of the other. As such, I decide that the characters are all students at the University of Denver. They are acquainted due to shared membership in “Mystic Theater,” an independent student run trope. The time is Fall, and the year is 1991—roughly when the module was produced and otherwise for no real reason.  Mechanics are based on the 1st Edition of Vampire: The Masquerade.

The PC’s are:
Daron Blair—a wealthy and charismatic party boy. He’s the source drugs and other party favors, but despite his “bad boy” ways, he is in many ways the most likeable and friendly of all of them. He doesn’t much care for school, and loves a rollicking good time. He is impetuous, but fundamentally decent. He joined Mystic for fun, especially when they do the more shocking and edgy plays. He has been turned into a Caitiff, and has the vampiric powers of Auspex (Heightened Senses), Dominate (mind control), and Potence (Supernatural Strength).

Trenton “Trent” McCarthy—an art major. He works construction during the summer, and picks up whatever jobs he can during the year. He’s an odd combination of pragmatic (he focuses on practical arts that can sell and is currently involved in home improvement) and mystical (he’s a Wiccan). He’s busy, and lonely, and joined as a way to make some friends at college. He doesn’t much care what kind of plays they do, since he’s always focused more on the set design (tough, as they have no budget), and is relegated to minor roles. He is a Toreador and has the vampiric powers of Auspex (Heightened Senses), Celerity (Supernatural Speed), and Presence (Emotion Control).

Maya Lopez—a passionate sociology major, she is focused on changing the world, and believes art is key to that. She likes Mystic when it produces plays that really challenge the status quo, though she’s also extremely energized and is involved in a half dozen other groups, from activists to athletics. She is a Nosferatu—a hideous and terrifying breed of undead with the powers of Obfuscate (Invisibility) and Potence (Supernatural Strength). Her clan gives her access to Animalism (animal control), but she has no natural gift with such beasts, and will have to learn it later.

All character clans were determined at random, so it was just odd luck that the art major ended up being part of a clan known for their artists.

In the module, the players are locked up in a basement with three other characters, whom they also know at least peripherally. For the example characters, “Vince” was one of the character’s husband. I kept the names but used the U.N.E. for fresh details. They’re equal members of the trope.

Mavis—generally stuck being the stage manager with few roles of her own, Mavis is a reasonable and friendly English major. She is Maya’s best friend, and the two have frequent and passionate discussions about eurocentrism and implicit bias in academia.
Suzanne—Suzanne is going to be a star, everyone knows it. Or at least, they all know that she told them. A theater major, she works with Mystic to take on more challenging rolls and hone her craft, though really, it’s because she’s just not good enough to get the lead on the main stage. She really gets along well with Daron, and she loves to host a good party.
Vince—the burnout who is only technically a student. He doesn’t have his own place, instead hopping from one dorm to the next. He’s a vagabond, and a user, but he’s honest, and always someone his friends can rely on, at least when he’s not too high. When he’s sober, he’s actually the best actor they have, though the influence of Daron and Suzanne aren’t doing him any favors.

Scene One – The attacks
CF n/a. Prelude scene.

The players are approached by the vampire scientist Prestor, seeking subjects for his experiments. He believes he might have found a cure for vampirism, but dares not reveal this to others of his kind without proof. As such, he is grabbing a collection of guinea pigs—his plan is to artificially turn them, and then use the serum to return them to their humanity. If all goes well, they’ll be back to their lives after the weekend, no worse for the wear. He has no desire to harm them, instead relying on his Dominate power to bring them to heel.  He needs to roll his Wits + Subterfuge (8) versus their Willpower. They roll their Willpower versus difficulty of 8 to resist.

Daron (Willpower 5) 5 vs 2
Maya (Willpower 6) 3 vs 4
Trent (Willpower 5) 6 vs 1

Maya alone is able to put up a fight against the vampire’s powers, and she remembers in vivid detail the circumstances of the attack. She still eventually succumbs to his power, though.

Scene Two—Fiery Awakening
CF 6. No event.

Prestor’s plans didn’t work out. Others of his kind heard of the danger he represented, and in fear lashed out. They sent their best to eliminate this threat, leaving his broken and mangled body staked to his parlor, and burned his home to the ground, unaware of or unconcerned about the mortals he had captured. Fortunately for them, all were locked in his basement, and so the flames are not yet an immediate threat. All of them awaken in the dark and forbidding basement. With Prestors death, Mavis, Suzanne and Vince regain their mortality, but Daron, Maya and Trent are not so fortunate. The PC’s awaken last, wracked by pain and hunger. The others are scared, but in far more possession of their facilities. How does each character react?

This is where I use the Lone Crusaders method. I roll a “Mythic Event” for each character to see what they initially plan to do, of course interpreting each result based on what I know of the character and their current situation.

Increase Pain
Return News
Usurp War
Overthrow Success
Adversity Spiritual
Triumph of Jealousy

Daron is bent over, going through the worst withdrawals he has ever experienced, groaning and moaning in pain, utterly useless. Trent gets his wits about him, and asks the others what is happening, what is going on, where the hell ARE we? Maya declares that there’s no time for that bullshit, we need to get the fuck out of here! Mavis goes to tend to Daron, hoping to help him, unsure of what else to do. Suzanne is lost, praying with the passion of the newly converted, fearful that they’re in some serial killer’s lair. Vince is too busy explaining how they’ve been captured by the government, man, just like he was always saying, and lights up a joint.

Most don't accomplish much. Vince wastes his time in pontificating, Suzanne is praying, Trent is trying to figure shit out. No roll for Trent to "gather information", as everyone is too distracted or full of useless opinions. Maya takes the initiative, and heads to the door, looking for an escape.

Trent has the Discipline of Auspex (Heightened Senses), and none of the characters are in control of their abilities. Vince’s Zippo lighter freaks out Trent, both for the blinding light it emits and the fire which, in some small way terrifies the bestial part of him. He \orders Vince to put it out. Cha + Leadership roll—failure. No one, especially not Vince, cares what Trent says. Maya, ignoring the yelling behind her, reaches out to the handle, only to burn her hand badly on the door, and screams in pain and an unearthly rage.

Daron is losing it, and Mavis so close, and so warm and inviting. Each PC needs to make a Frenzy roll. Vampire is a game of playing the monster, and that means sometimes the characters react in horrible and terrifying manners. As these PC’s have no idea what they are, and are near starving, they are singularly unprepared for the now alien emotions rolling inside them.

Trent, for Vince’s generally assholery towards him.  He is angry and humiliated, Self-Control diff 5. Failure. He will attack Vince.

Daron, for Mavis’ availability and his own desperate hunger. Conscience diff 5. Failure. He will feed on her.

Maya, for the pain and frustration. Courage diff 7. 3 Success.  She, alone of the PC’s, can choose her own path.

Maya calms down for a second, forcing herself to breath and think. Her moment of reflection is broken by screams of rage, as Trent begins to yell and scream at Vince to put out the damn light. She hurries down to see Trent leaping on Vince and pounding him into the ground, as Suzanne’s insane prayers become louder and more desperate. (neither Trent nor Vince is much of a fighter, and so I rule that Trent’s frenzy and Celerity more than make up for the lack of combat training).

Does Maya intervene, though? The sudden shocking violence would give anyone pause, and so I make her roll Willpower to see if she can recover in time to do something. 4 success, she does. She rushes in and pulls Trent off, gazing at horror at his distended teeth and inhuman appearance. She turns to Suzanne and orders her to take care of Vince, but seeing Vince bleeding awakens an alien hunger inside her as well. Maya forces herself to resist her primal desire. Suzanne is useless, and Trent is still desperate to get to Vince. Trent and Maya struggle, with Maya easily holding him back.

Daron comes to, at least to an extent, and looks at the corpse of what once was Mavis, unaware and seemingly unconcerned about the others. Suzanne continues to freak out, as does Trent. How does Vince respond? I roll another event, and get Break a Burden. Now, what does this mean? I decide that, for Vince, Trent is the burden, and he intends to break him.

Vince shouts at Trent, “What the fuck was that, you fucking asshole? What the hell is the matter with you? No one likes you, you fucking dick, and you don’t get to push people around. You’re only here because Mavis felt fucking SORRY for you!” With that, he walks up to Trent and flicks the lighter in his eyes. “Asshole!”

Trent leaps back in pain and rage, but Vince, for the first time, SEES Maya, and the horrible changes already overtaking her. Staring at her, he stammers “What…what the fuck happened to you? What did they DO to you?” How does Maya respond? Harm/Food. The blood falling in rivulets down his face is too much for even the put together Maya. “I think” she says “that they did THIS” and she grabs the helpless burnout. Trent (still in the grip of Frenzy) leaps in as well, and the two drain the helpless mortal.

Everyone has killed, and everyone needs to deal with that. In Vampire, they need to roll Conscience to see how they respond to the horrible acts they've committed.  Everyone but Trent succeeds. Which means Maya and Daron are horrified by their actions, and guilt and shock threaten to overwhelm them. Trent loses a point of humanity, and shrugs off his actions. After all, it wasn’t HIS fault. “Fuck you, you dumb asshole” he shouts at Vince’s corpse. “Should’ve just listened to me.” Daron and Maya are aware of their surroundings.

Trent stands up, his eyes falling on the babbling Suzanne. “Would you, for the love of god, SHUT! THE! FUCK! UP!” Does she? Mythic roll, 50/50 chance--NO. She panics and keeps praying, more intensely than before. “SHUT UP! SHUT UP! SHUT UP!” He cries fangs bared. I decide he is unconsciously trying to use Presence to impose his will on the mortal. He needs to roll Charisma + Intimidate (diff 5), and fails, his rage only sending her into more of a panic. What do Maya and Daron do? Waste Masses and Increase Military respectively.  Maya sighs “I can’t think, and she does need to shut up,” and prepares to do what needs to be done.

“Wait,” says Daron, taking charge for the first time. He walks over to her calmly and with focus. “Suzanne. Suzanne look at me. You need to calm down, everything is going to be ok, but you need to be quiet.” He is the groups natural leader, and he is unconscionably using Dominate. He scores 1 success. She quiets down, for now, but is still locked in terror.

The three look at each other, really look for the first time. “Ok” says Daron. “What do we do now?”
Trent looks at Maya, and with his heightened senses he can make out just enough, feeling his skin crawl at her unnatural visage.  Maya says “We need to find a way out. There’s…a fire or something upstairs, and the we can’t see shit.” She looks at Trent, concerned. “We’ll need light.” Trent doesn’t respond, transfixed by her hideousness. “Trent? Are you going to freak out?”

“No,” he says. “It’s just that…Maya, I’m not sure it’s a good idea.” 

“It’ll be fine Trent,” she says, hoping to placate him. “Here, you hold the lighter. You be our guiding light, ok?”

Carefully, Trent flicks the lighter, and they look over the room. The dark, barren basement, the bodies of their friends, the shaken Suzanne in the corner, too terrified to even look at them. Trent carefully avoids looking at Maya, but Daron isn’t prepared for what he sees.

“Maya…” he begins carefully.

“What? What’s wrong?”

Trent interjects, “I think we’re all the worse for wear, but we need to focus on getting out, right Daron?”

Charisma + Leadership for Trent 1 success.

“Oh, um…yeah, right. We can worry about...” Daron stumbles over his words, but quickly recovers. 
“We can worry about everything else afterwards.”

“Right” says Maya. “Ok, the door is a no go. Is there ANY other way out of here?”

“Doesn’t look like it,” says Trent.

“Well, we’d better hope so. If the fire doesn’t kill us, the lack of oxygen WILL.”

Trent snaps his head towards her, harshly, realizing suddenly that he hasn’t actually breathed the entire time, and pretty sure that she hasn’t, either. Has Daron? Probably not, he decides. “Right,” he says, keeping his thoughts to himself. “Maybe there’s some tools or something we can use.”

The coterie hunts around, each thankful for any excuse to distract them from what just happened, and what they had done to those they called friends. An unspoken decision was reached, to avoid and ignore everything they could, to focus on survival and escape above all else.  

Each needs to make a Perception + Investigate roll to find the other way out, difficulty of 6, three successes required. Daron gets 2, Maya fails, and Trent gets 4. 

Maya is busy looking (unsuccessfully) for tools, but Trent notices something…odd about a piece of the wall. “This is…hey guys, come over here. Check this out.” Maya notices nothing unusual, but Daron says “Is that?”


“What are you two talking about?” Maya demands.

“Put your hand here” Trent says, deliberately avoiding touching her. “Feel that? Feel that it’s a bit cooler than anywhere else? Look, I’ve done my share of construction on some of the old houses around here…I think this wall is hollow. In fact (Intelligence + Repair, diff 7, 3 Success), I think this might lead out to a storm drain.”

“What, like a sewer?” asks Daron.

“No, no, a run off for the snow melt and the like. It’s been pretty dry lately, so it should be safe. We need to break this fucker down.” With no tools, Trent and Daron decide to ram against it. Combined, they get 3 success. “That’s a tough wall,” says Daron.

Disgusted, Maya orders the boys away and takes a crack at it. She gets two success, and two for her Potence. She bashes the wall down, leading to the storm drain. Trent and Daron share a look, mutually unsurprised at her strength. “What, you think a little girl couldn’t handle it?” says Maya, and heads off. The other two say nothing.

Do they remember Suzanne? I had almost forgotten about her, and they are in an extreme emotional situation. Still, she has some meaning, either as friend, meal, or a threat due to her witnessing their actions. I decide the odds are Very Unlikely, but get a result of EXCEPTIONAL NO. Distracted by their own concerns, the three vampires leave the terrified mortal behind.

They escape out the storm drain, travelling far down until they reach an access point and climb back to the surface. In the distance, the see the house still engulfed in flames with emergency services all around.  Maya asks “Should we go to the police?” Without hesitating, both Daron and Trent say “No!”

Maya looks at them, her calm demeanor of the night just starting to crack. “But, we didn’t….we were victims. We may need a lawyer, but…”

Daron looks at her and says “Look, Maya, no one can know what happened ok?  Or that we were there. They wouldn’t understand. Fuck, I don’t understand, and I fucking WAS there. What we did, what happened to us…why we were there and what the hell is going on? We just… can’t right now. We just,” he looks around, as the crown of pedestrians and curious onlookers grows. “We just need to get the hell out of here. Like, yesterday.” They leave the area, and with their escape, the first chapter ends.

Does Suzanne survive? The module is pretty unequivocal that the mortals die if left in the basement, but they did open the storm drain, which changes things. I give the odds at “very unlikely.” And the result is YES, she survives. But, I decide, she’s traumatized, in shock, and suffering from asphyxiation. It will be awhile before she can provide the police with any information, and what are the odds anyone would even believe her story?

Part 2 begins here

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Review of Mage the Ascension: Refuge

White Wolf has partnered with Asmodee Digital to create two new mobile games, one based on Vampire: The Masquerade  the other on Mage: The Ascension. In a previous post, I reviewed the Vampire game, We Eat Blood. I've finally had a chance to check out the Mage one, Refuge. In short, while it falters as a game, it's a gripping and enjoyable short story, and it feels like at lease some of your decisions actually matter.

It's difficult for me to review Refuge without subconsciously comparing it to We Eat Blood. But, each deserves to stand, or fall, on their own merits. As such, this review will be divided into two parts. Part one will look at Refuge on its own terms. Part two will be a comparison of the two, for those who are interested but undecided on which, if any, to check out. 

The writing The writing in Refuge  is fantastic, and easily the strongest element of the game. I've never had a chance to read any of Karin Tidbeck's writing before, but after this, I'm eager to seek out more of her work. The world she paints initially is lived in and believable, which allows the more fantastic and bizarre elements to stand out all the more strongly. All the characters seem to be real with their own lives and goals; even the most minor of walk on characters. I felt like I knew these characters, that they were part of my life, and I cared about what happened to them, and how my increasingly bizarre. world might affect them.

The characters You play as a specific, defined character. You don't get to pick your name, age, background, or anything else. You're Julie, a bookstore clerk by day, volunteer by night.  While some may balk at such specificity, it really is HER story, and by making her world feel real and alive, the game takes on a more universal appeal. The other characters are very well drawn, even those with only a short appearance. You know them, they know you, and that's sometimes all you need to care about what happens.

The art It's a pretty straightforward interactive narrative. The only creative bit when it comes to art is when your character experiences magic, or magick. Then, the screen blurs and fades and static takes over, and it really feels like the world is out of control and unpredictable. It's a neat effect that makes what is essentially text on screen feel more dynamic that it has any business being.

The choices It's interactive fiction, so the draw is the story, not the "game." And while some choices seem meaningless, and the narrative is going to move forward regardless, others seem to have more weight. Some I felt like I was choosing at random, particularly the more mystical and bizarre choices left me stabbing at the screen just because. I didn't really understand the symbolism of what I was seeing, and I could only guess with the author was thinking. Eventually, I stopped worrying about it and just made "gut" choices. I don't know the difference symbolically between an airship and the underground, but, dammit, I've always dreamed of being on an airship, so we're going that way! 

But, at the end it DOES seemed to have mattered. You're choices decide not only the end of the game, and who you stand with, but the fate of the world around you. You're not just concerned with yourself, but with everything. The world is no longer on the precipice, but has begun the slide towards its destruction. Do you look to the past and it's golden ages for wisdom and guidance, embrace the future and hope that the only way out is through, or give into nihilism and the blind faith that after this world ends, whatever comes next can't be any worse?

I highly recommend picking this up. Yes, it's interactive fiction, which if you hate won't work for you. But, if you're willing to go on such a ride, this is one to check out. 

Comparing We Eat Blood and Refuge

It's almost unfair to compare these two. They're telling different stories with different themes and needs. Personally, I prefer Refuge. The characters feel more real, the choices seem to really matter, I felt far more connected to the main character, and was far more engaged the whole way through. Also, the plight of desperate refugees on the edge of the world seemed more pertinent and engaging than strung out hipsters in L.A.

Also, while Blood often has a specific path through the story, and failure results in death, Refuge follows your choices however you go.  As such, Refuge felt far more like a real "prelude" in the White Wolf RPG sense. 

The both have their positive and negative qualities, of course, and both are worth checking out. If you have to pick just one, go Refuge, but pick up We Eat Blood when it goes on sale. They're both a journey worth taking. 

It's also made me incredibly excited to see what the do with Mage going forward!

Mage the Ascension: Refuge and Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood are available for Android, IOS, and PC

Friday, February 17, 2017

Review of Vampire: We Eat Blood

White Wolf has partnered with Asmodee Digital to create two new mobile games, one based on Vampire: The Masquerade  the other on Mage: The Ascension. I have a chance to play through the Vampire one, "We Eat Blood," twice now. All in all, I'm unimpressed.

I was extremely eager to check out this game when it was released. A new Vamp video game, and in the form of a "choose your own adventure"? Cool. I mean, not Bloodlines II cool, but still. Sounds like fun! Well, it was less fun than I had hoped.

The writing This is a hit or miss thing. The actual story and emotions worked decently, if awkwardly. The characters were bit overly verbose given the situations they find themselves in. But, I'm willing to forgive this. The game unfolds through a series of text messages, and you need to let the characters ramble on a bit to help the player understand what the characters are going through. So, the actual writing varies from amazingly evocative to just trite and trying too hard to sound hip and cool. It's all a bit pretentious, honestly, but Vampire has always had "unearned pretension" baked into its DNA. It's part of the enjoyment of the game.

The characters The only characters we get to know, really, are Case (the character you play) and his best friend and fellow suddenly-turned-vampire Izzy. Case is kind of a self-centered jerk. At first,  I was all right with this, he's a flawed protagonist after all. But playing it more, I don't think he's supposed to be a "jerk"--I think he's supposed to a lovable rogue. I really didn't like the character I was forced to play, and generally found myself uninterested in what he was up to, or how he felt about all this. And, yes, you have one character you have to play--you get no choice on name, gender, orientation, background, or anything. Some have an issue with this, but I accept it as necessary for the game they were making.

Izzy is a bit more of a cipher. There's more going on with her than you know (at least until the end), and you never get a chance to actually be her friend and ask more about her and what she's dealing with. She's sweet enough, but a bit of a blank.  Most of the other characters don't get enough time to really come through as more than two-dimensional, but it is a short game and told solidly through the point of view of the self-involved Case.

The art a lot has been said about the art of the game. You and Izzy are artists, so you constantly are sending each other sketches and paintings Some people love them, but it didn't work for me. They seemed too similar--a carefully painted picture from a vivid dream is done in the same style as a quick "I'm trapped in this room" sketch. Also, the artwork is all kind of contemporary "modern bizarre" style. Just not my thing. When I think "art of Vampire" my thought goes to Bradstreet--clean, elegant, yet emotional and vivid. Images that draw me into the world of darkness, and its lush world. These seemed like "yup, that's a bizarre image of a bus!" but did nothing to move me or enhance the game.

The choices this is where the game falters. It's an "interactive narrative," so obviously there's a strong story, and you have limited say in how it progresses. What surprised me was how LITTLE that say actually was. You have a handful of choices that actually change the narrative, and these seem mainly limited to the opening part of the game. Other than that, choices are just, well, false. Either nothing really changes, and so your choice is meaningless, or there's one "correct" path out of an encounter, and anything else results in game over.

This might be a limitation of the genre, but honestly I was hoping for a bit more "branching" in the story, as choices made earlier on directly impact later parts of the game, and so MY game would be inherently different from yours. Worse, some times the game "forgot" what choices I had made. For example, I had a choice at one point between two victims. I chose, for roleplaying reasons, option A. The game later made a comment about how I had victim B's blood running through my veins, even though I had let that one go.

So, the first play through was...ok. The story (baring death and try again, and this time do it RIGHT), was very interesting. The new world of Masquerade, while only seen in glimpses, was appropriately horrifying and exotic. The language was pretentious, but still drew me in enough. I rated it as "decent, though probably could have been done better."  The second play through really soured me to it, though. I saw how many of the choices were false, and how often I died, and how those deaths were just a tool to keep me on the path. For example, I was in an apartment, and had a choice to leave or investigate. Afraid of what had happened there and worried for my safety, I decided to rabbit. As soon as I did--boom, game over. There was someone right outside waiting to kill me. But, I could stay there the rest of the night, poke around to my hearts content, and no one ever threatened me.

Um, I thought someone was outside coming to kill me? But no, the death is just a tool to make sure you get the item you need for the plot to move forward.

As a final aside, there's some controversy surrounding the author, Zak Sabbath (nee Smith). He apparently has a rep for some unsavory online comments and activities. I don't know how much, if any, of these are true, and to a certain extent, I don't care. He may be great, or a dick, or (more likely) somewhere in between, but it's not the job of an artist to be a "good person" but to create "good art." As a person, I cannot speak of him. But as an artist, I have to say that his work was disappointing.

If you're a fan of Sabbath's other work, are desperate for new Masquerade material, or love interactive fiction, pick it up. But only play through it once, and make that YOUR story. Otherwise, I'd hold off and see if they put it on sale in a few months and give it a look see then.

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