Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Curse of Strahd #2 - Into Death House...

Please note this is a continuing campaign diary. If you haven't read the first session, you should start there. Also, like last time, if you're intending to play in Curse of Strahd you shouldn't read this series. Whilst I've changed a great many things, and tweaked it like any GM will, this write-up will still give away many many spoilers for those wishing to play the game.

If you missed Session #1, please find it here!
(Image from Mike Schley.)
Face to face with a looming townhouse, with not another soul around except for two lonely and frightened children, our heroes had little choice. Though they were cold, wet, and injured from their journey through the woods, they could not ignore the pleas for help from the children - Rose and Thorn. They'd heard the sound of monsters in the basement, and their baby brother was still in his room in the attic... The party couldn't turn away.

Asimi scaled the front of the building, attempting to get to the top landing - in and out - with the baby. However, when she made it to the second story, a raven flew onto the perch she was hanging from. At first it cawed and danced back and forth, but when Asimi tried to shoo it away, it nipped at her ear. Arkaeous sensed magic emanating from the house and the bird, and shot at it with his Eldritch Blast, but the bird evaded and flew away. Seconds later, a great wind and a grim presence, spread over the area and threatened to tear Asimi away from the building and dash her against the ground. She managed to pry open the window shutter and slip inside to relative safety.
(Image from Wizards.)
Arkaeous also noticed that the two children were in fact illusions, and secretly gave this information to Rowena and Mizhena. Informed, yet playing along, they entered the house and instructed the children to wait outside. When they turned back around, the child-illusions were gone.

Inside the house, they discovered that all the rooms were dark. Everything seemed in good repair, but abandoned. Quickly, they began to ascend the central staircase to reconnect with Asimi, but on the way Mizhena inspected some of the wall hangings and moulded plaster scenes decorating the walls. Each one at first seemed beautiful - depicting scenes of youths dancing among orchards, or animals frolicking in the forest - but the longer Mizhena looked, the more darkly twisted they became. The youths weren't dancing, but fending off bats as they bit at their hands and faces. The animals weren't frolicking, but running from hungry wolves. Further, the more she looked at these scenes, the more she became convinced she heard them - the fluttering of bats wings, and the howling of wolves.
(Image from missquitecontrary.)
Eventually, the party reconnected with Asimi who had found herself in an old yet elegant ballroom with an ornate harpsichord in one corner. She had been inspecting the harpsichord and had discovered that several of the keys were rigged up to trip lines throughout the construct. She didn't know what the mechanisms did, but made a mental note and they continued upwards.

The party reached the third floor, where they discovered that the well-kept nature of the lower two floors did not reach the third. Thick dust, as if from centuries of disuse, covered everything. The floor was rotten and spongy below their boots, and the walls were faded and damaged from mould. Furthermore, they were confronted by a black suit of armour fashioned with a wolf's head helmet. Asimi moved to investigate, and the armour animated and began to attack. The fight was short but brutal, ending in an incredibly frustrated Rowena striking the helmet from the gorget, and destroying it entirely. Asimi recovered some valuable-looking armour shards and they pressed on.
(Image from enjin.)
The party found a large portrait of the Durst family - the owners of the house - showing the two children they had met, standing in front of a stern looking couple who were obviously their parents. The father held in his arms a small bundle which was obviously a baby - the children's baby brother. The mother, however, looked at the baby with obvious scorn on her face.

Mizhena continued to investigate the wall mouldings, and discovered a scene of writhing snakes. As she stared at it, she began to hear hissing and, pressing her hand into the wall discovered that it was a secret door that slid back to reveal a staircase into the attic. Without wasting time, the party journeyed upwards.

Upstairs in the attic, the wear and tear on the house was even worse. Cobwebs covered every surface, and the air around them was heavy with dust, spores, and the stench of ancient death. The party discovered a door held closed with a padlock that had rusted and fused into a brittle clump. With little effort, Mizhena was able to push into the room.
(Image from Andre Govia.)
On the other side, the party discovered a cell, with a barred window in the back, two small beds, a chest of toys, and a to-scale dollhouse of the house they were in. In the middle of the room, they also found the small skeletons of two children, as well as the shreds of clothes they recognised - these were the bodies of Rose and Thorn.

The party began to investigate the room when Arkaeous reached for the toy chest. A ghostly hand reached out to stop him, and the party were startled by the apparitions of Rose and Thorn. Arkaeous examined the ghosts and found them to be entirely different from the illusions - these were real, yet good-natured, undead.

The ghosts talked to the party, and told them that they had been locked in here by their parents, and had starved to death. Their parents spent a lot of time in the basement of their house, and must have forgotten about them. They also talked about their baby brother, who they revealed was stillborn. Further, as they talked, the party realised that the baby wasn't in fact their full brother, but their half-brother - a bastard child of their father and the house keeper...
(Image from Wizards.)
The party wanted to put Rose and Thorn to rest, but Mizhena declared that it would be impossible without putting them in their correct tombs. Rose told them that they had a crypt in the basement built for their family, and pointed to the dollhouse which showed the layout of all the rooms, including many from the basement. Rose instructed the PCs on how to access the basement - a code to be played on the harpsichord downstairs that would unlock a secret stairwell in the attic. The PCs decided to take the bodies with them to be interred.

When they tried to leave, however, Rose and Thorn became scared. They didn't want to be left alone again, and pleaded with the party to let them come with them. This, naturally, meant they needed to possess two of the party members. Feeling compassion for the children, Arkaeous and Rowena agreed to have Thorn and Rose possess them respectively. Whilst the two of them retained their own minds, they began to become agitated - Arkaeous became frightful, and Rowena became bossy (even more so than usual).

The PCs travelled back to the ballroom and played the notes. As each note chimed, apparitions were summoned into the room. First of twirling aristocrats, dancing to the tune. Second of a caped and regal figure, standing in the doorway to the room, looking in balefully. Third of a massacre, of the caped man moving blindingly fast throughout the room tearing throats and bowels from the revellers.
(Image from Halloween on Earth.)
After the third note, a loud clunking sound could be heard above as the secret door was opened. The party, terrified of what they'd seen, travelled upwards, entered the musty and cramped secret stair, and began their descent into the basement of the haunted townhouse... But not before Rowena caught a glance of her reflection in a strange mirror, seeing her face withered and aged beyond recognition. The vision lasted for a blink of an eye, but left her shaken. A portent of what was to come? Only the land of Barovia could know for certain...

The party made it to the bottom of the stairwell, and found themselves in a rough-hewn, clay-cut warren. They followed the sketched floor plan they had created by copying the dollhouse, and discovered the family's crypt. Inside, they laid down the bones of the children, and Mizhena gave them their final rites. A hush fell over the party, and the spirits of Rose and Thorn left Rowena and Arkaeous. The children were at rest, but the monster - the thing in the basement - and the constant chanting they could hear remained...
(Image from megalithic.)
The party continued to explore the warren, and discovered several sleeping chambers for far more than just a family. These chambers included the possessions of what seemed to be cultists, not servants, and spoke of potential blasphemous rites that the Durst family had been undertaking. Eventually, they found several locked boxes which Asimi threw open with the flick of her thieves tools. Within they discovered several objects of a fell disposition, as well as a silvered short sword and a sack of silver pieces.

Continuing on, the party came to a ritual room, dominated by a wooden statue of a man with pale skin and striking angular features - the same man they saw in the vision who butchered the revellers in the ballroom. With one hand, the statue held the collar of a wolf. In the other, he held a misty-coloured orb. Around the room were pillars upon which hung chains from which dangled the broken remains of a score of sacrifice victims.
(Image from Tribality.)
Arkaeous inspected the orb, but in his curious haste, fumbled it and it shattered on the hardened clay floor. Instantly, living shadows melted from the walls and began to attack. The shadows proved immune to the weapons of the party, save for the silvered short sword. Asimi tried to figure out a solution to their problem, as they were quickly being driven back, when Mizhena fell to the ground clutching her wounds. All seemed dire, when Rowena lay her hands on Mizhena, and then put two and two together: the silvered short sword repelled the Shadows, so she instructed Asimi to scatter the silver coins along the floors to create a wall. This delayed the Shadows long enough that with the aid of fire and spells, they were able to defeat them or drive them from the room.

The party, nearly broken and exhausted, slumped to the floor. They would set camp in this room, defend the doorways, and rest for a few hours before they pressed on into the Death House.

And that concludes the second session of our Curse of Strahd campaign! I hope you enjoyed it, and that you come back next time for more.

Edited by Amelia Sarif.

Monday, 28 November 2016

SNIPPET! Ameshirel: A World Reforged - On the Nature of Scofflaws

Ameshirel: A World Reforged is an upcoming setting and campaign being developed as the flagship setting for the system Do or Dice which is currently in development. This setting and system will be teased and released in snippets, a few pages at most, such as this.

The sixth snippet for Ameshirel: A World Reforged concerns the nature of Scofflaws, the central 'protagonists' of the world. Unburdened by law or the threat of sin, they are able to do anything though without the safety that civilisation provides...

You can download the one-page snippet as a PDF here!

(Image from Rue Ink, used with permission.)
More snippets will be shared regularly, as the setting of Ameshirel: A World Reforged is uncovered from the ashes of the Age of Ascension!

Sunday, 27 November 2016

This Week: Birthdays, Murder, Ameshirel & Seuss!

Welcome to This Week, a weekly series where I discuss all the gaming (both video and tabletop) content I've played, made, prepped, run and seen that's cool this week. If you want to see what I got up to last week, go here.

This week was another special one: it contain my and my partner's birthdays! That's right, we were born 6 hours apart, though in entirely different hospitals (so we can't have been swapped at birth, as I know you were thinking). Subsequently, we tend to combine our birthdays and because this was our 25th, we went big!

Let's jump in with what I've done This Week...

What I've Played

The bigness was actually thanks to our amazing friend Alex who decided to run a Murder Mystery LARP party for us. It was set in a terrible suburban street in Melbourne, in the 70s, so we had a blast. There was a cult (which may or may not have been a sex cult - we haven't gotten to the bottom of that yet) as well as drug dealers, and all sorts of nonsense. It was hilariously fun, and luckily we got a few photos from our Polaroid. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
(I'm really sorry about the chest hair...)
I just want to add also that Alex has never GMed or prepped a tabletop RPG, let alone a LARP before, so this was incredibly successful for a first game. I'm looking forward to what she runs next (because I know for a fact it's not going to be the last). I'll let you all know how it goes!

We also, this week, got a chance to play both Werewolf and Codenames. Whilst it wasn't the first time I'd played either, it was a lot of fun to play them again, and it's somewhat rekindled my love of social games. I'll be talking more about them - and probably making a few of my own - in the weeks to come.

What I've Made

Speaking on things to come, Do or Dice is now in a properly testable state! The game is ready for some serious live tests, and I'll be looking for GMs to take the reins with a few preview copies early. If this sounds interesting to you, please let me know in the comments below, and I'll see what we can do. But this also means I'll be starting the proper home game for it in the new year... Which means that Ameshirel: A World Reforged is close! I'm very excited for this, because it means I'll have even more content to share with you soon.
(Image from William McAusland, used with permission.)
Which leads me to the snippets. You may have noticed that this week I didn't post one up - that's because a) I'm starting to ramp up on a few projects, and I am stretched thinner than I have been previously (I'm also moving house soon, so things are a little extreme right now), and b) I'm getting to the end of the easy stuff to share - the races and basic concepts. That means we're probably going to be getting into more meaty subjects in the coming weeks, which means more time is needed for writing. I'm hoping to release one every fortnight, but they may be a little less or more frequent as the topic allows.

I will keep you all as up to date on Ameshirel: A World Reforged and Do or Dice as I can... I'll probably share our Same Page Tool with you very soon, as well!

What I've Seen

Today I also got the opportunity to visit the Dr. Seuss Gallery in Melbourne which, if you haven't been, you should check out! It's only two rooms, but each is filled with pieces from his life - including his highly political and snarky commentary on his rather stuck-up neighbours at the time of drawing. Located at The Block arcade off Elizabeth and Collins in the CBD, it's a really interesting look into an amazing mind. I've added a picture of one of my favourite pieces that I saw.
(Image from The Art of Dr. Seuss)
There was also a rather fun quote on the wall, which I feel is the best summation of the "What is a Roleplaying Game" section in every single RPG book... "If you never did, you should. These things are fun, and fun is good." Beautiful advice!

That's all for This Week this week. I'll talk to you next week, and tell you of all my adventures again! In the mean time, fill your own week with as much awesome as possible.

Sunday, 20 November 2016

This Week: Free Games, Insanity, Black Mirror & RollPlay!

Welcome to This Week, a weekly series where I discuss all the gaming (both video and tabletop) content I've played, made, prepped, run and seen that's cool this week. If you want to see what I got up to last week, go here.

This one's a little light. Firstly, I've been very busy (as I discuss below) and it's been very hot in Melbourne (today, at least, which is melting my brain even now). I do apologise.

Let's jump in with what I've done This Week...

What I've Made

I released (for free) a super short and sweet game called I'd Like You to Meet which can be found here. This game was inspired by a thread on the RPG Opinions group on Facebook - a rather great group, if you're into RPGs. The thread was talking about games for convention spaces (in this case, PAX Aus 2016) and how a) players want a complete experience in as short a time possible to move onto the next thing, and b) con-floors are so damn loud that often people can't hear each other. So I made a silent game that could be played in a few minutes. Enjoy!

(Image created from pieces at game-icons.net.)
I'll be releasing more small games like this, for free, over the coming months. Expect more weird and (hopefully) wonderful things!

What I've Run

NOTHING! No, seriously, this is getting to be a problem. I haven't had the chance to run any games for a while now. I'm starting to go insane, in fact. Watch this space for more examples of my insanity.

What I can say is that my Curse of Strahd campaign should be starting up again in 2 weeks (right folks?!) and that on December 10th I'm running Sagas of the Icelanders as a one-shot. Thaaaaats about it. Depressing, huh? Things are just very busy at the moment. We're planning on moving house in the next two months, and a few of my projects are ramping up into overdrive (which is good news for those of you who like my work *desperately waves to my one fan*)

Anyway...

What I've Seen

I finished watching Black Mirror at the very start of this week, after a few weeks of watching it. I hadn't seen any before this, so it was three seasons in one go. My honest opinion? It's our generations The Twilight Zone, except that each episode could easily be the news... In maybe a few years time.

(Image from schmoes know.)
Now, I mean everything by that review. I mean it's great, and its influential, and it's important, and challenging, etc. I also mean it's ham fisted as all hell, and in a lot of cases, is pretty predictable (after a while) and pretty gratuitous. Once you get the cadence of the show, everything seems samey (except for one glaring exception, which I won't spoil here). It's also horrendously depressing. Watch it at your own risk, but do watch it, at some point. It's worth it.

Otherwise, I've been watching a lot of RollPlay again. To be honest, after Swan Song and Mirrorshades both ended, and West Marches disappeared into thin air, I lost a lot of interest in RollPlay. The shows that came afterwards didn't grip me as much, and I stopped waiting between weeks for the next episodes... Then RollPlay Blades and Dogs in the Vineyard came up.

(Image from itmejp.)
Whilst Dogs is a one-shot, and therefore I've seen all there is to see (holy hell you should watch it!), Blades is an ongoing campaign. And the cast is amazing. With Geoff, Wheat, Anne, and Zeke, we re-collect my four favourite players in one spot. Add to the John-fucking-Harper, the creator of the game. Yeah, it's incredible. It's no secret how much I love Blades in the Dark, so to see it played every week by great roleplayers is really inspiring (and driving me insane because my next session isn't until JANUARY!)

That's all for This Week this week. I'll talk to you next week, and tell you of all my adventures again! In the mean time, fill your own week with as much awesome as possible.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Free Game: I'd Like You to Meet

I have a grand dream of someday spending all my time writing, making, and running roleplaying games. To be honest, I'm doing a good effort of that now - running a ridiculous amount of games, and actively working on more than makes sense. However, I am also forced to spend a lot of my time doing other things, like working, etc. Granted, that work is still in the video game industry, so I am not complaining. But my eventual goal is to transition 100% from video games to tabletop games - my true passion.

In the meantime, here's one of the games I've been working on. Actually, this one is fresh out of my mind with no active playtesting yet. I'll be doing that, and sharing my experiences, in future posts, so stay tuned. For now, let me introduce you to I'd Like You to Meet (was that as confusing as it sounded to me? Good.) 
(Image made with the help of Lorc from game-icons.net.)
I’d Like You to Meet (ILYM) is a “silent” semi-live action game for four players, played with a deck of regular playing cards, seated around a table. In ILYM, you play as one of four family members: The Mother and Father meeting their Child’s Paramour for the first time.


It's a little unorthodox, but that's sort of the point. Once I get around to releasing my other projects - specifically Slugball, Sorcery & Secrets! you'll realise that unorthodox is par for the course.

I've also been considering starting a Patreon account, to maybe kick this into gear. The funds I'd receive (if anyone was amazing enough to fund me) would help cover the costs of professional art, proof readers, what have you. I'd also like to start streaming some of my process, but that too would come with some costs. A Patreon would also enable me to just do this more which would mean more games being made.

If this is something you'd be interested in, let me know in the comments (or yell at me on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, or randomly on the street without context).

Anyway, enjoy I'd Like You to Meet!

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

What I Learned During MIGW 2016

I've now written about the Melbourne International Games Week twice, once before hand, and once in last week's This Week, but now it's finally time to reflect on what I learned there. And there's a lot...

I think the best way to break it down is in three parts: the theme of GCAP16, the most interesting talk I went to, and my key take-aways from the whole week.

I want to preface this by saying that, going into MIGW, I was terrified. I have quite a few confidence, anxiety, and impostor syndrome issues that I battle with. It may not seem like I do, because I'm good at talking to people I know, but these things lock me down when I am faced with talking to those I don't know.

Correction, they did lock me down. MIGW shattered that. Thanks, MIGW!

The Theme: The Shoulders of Giants

This year's theme was "The Shoulders of Giants". We opened GCAP with a keynote from Corey May, who talked about standing on the shoulders of industry Giants, staring into an unimaginable fog of uncertainty, filled with goblins of despair. He talked about how game development was like going on a quest - and like any good quest, you need to gather your party, follow your map, and to watch out for quicksand, alchemists and the strange advice of oracles.

The theme resonated throughout the two days of GCAP, and really hammered home two things: by standing on the shoulders of our Giants, we can see further than we could already, and that we already are Giants. Everything we do, which furthers our fellows, is Giant of us. We freakin' got this!

This theme really helped me, in a very profound way. I've always been prone to hero worship (just ask my heroes!) but I've always shied away from fan-culture. I don't want to bother my heroes, but I desperate want to learn from them. This theme told me, frankly and unabashedly, that everyone has heroes, and that they are at once both Giant and my peers. We are all in this...in everything...together.

My Favourite Talk: Finding Peace in Chaos

Morgan Jaffit has a conversational way of speaking. It's weird. It's like he's having a casual chat with you on his veranda, whilst you're both drinking something nice, cold, and not-too-alcoholic. But he's speaking to a crowd. A big crowd, in fact. Seems I'm not the only one who wanted to hear him speak!

He's spoken before - quite a bit, actually. And as he said, this was his last for the foreseeable future. His reasoning? He's good at it. He knows how to do it. He's comfortable doing it.

And that was his lesson.

Morgan spoke about waxing and waning, ebb and flow. In everything. In his life, and in his design. He talked about adding heaps of things, and then pruning it back. Making it awesome, and then making it work. Once it works again, make it awesome once more. Keep going until you're satisfied...because you're never really done.

He also spoke about, as I touched on, not being comfortable. Basically, he said that whenever you feel comfortable, make yourself uncomfortable. Comfort leads to lack of creativity. It also means you're not learning as much as you could.

I got the chance to speak to him afterwards, and I let him know what his words meant to me. I hope I get the chance to speak to him again, soon, because damn it if it wasn't the best thing about GCAP.

Whilst not in the same talk, this theme was carried elsewhere, and most notably by Kamina Vincent, who said something I've heard a lot recently: you need to know what you don't know. Find out what you're unsure of, what makes you uncomfortable, and face it. You'll be better for it.

My 7 Key Take-Aways

There were a lot of them, but I've managed to refine it down into 7 dot-ish points. I'm writing them as tips, but take what you will from them... Here we go!
  1. Be honest. Honestly talk to people, about yourself, and your work. People appreciate this, and who knows, they may have good insights... More importantly, they may open up honestly about themselves, too. That's awesome, and that way friendship lies!
  2. Be enthusiastic. Listen to learn, not to reply. You never know (seriously, never) what someone has inside their mind, so if you get the chance to hear about any of it, you should be keen. Be enthusiastic to find out who they are!
  3. Be willing to not know/understand. We don't know everything. We need to know what we don't know. If you're confronted by something you don't know: shut up and listen to those who do. If you're confronted by something you don't understand: ask questions until you do. If you're honest and enthusiastic above (and, rule 0, not being an asshole), then they should be willing and even enthusiastic themselves to enlighten you. If they're not, that's ok... No one owes you an explanation. Remember that.
  4. Be willing to screw up. We're not perfect, and we will screw up. Accept that it will happen, own it when it does, and be welcoming to feedback. Someone telling you that you screwed up isn't them hating on you - it's them letting you know how not to screw up again. Let people know that they can call you out on things when you invariably do screw up, and you invite trust. Again, that way lies friendship!
  5. Be attentive to yourself. You'll need a break. Take one, when the time comes.
  6. Be attentive to those around you. Hopefully wherever you go in life, there will be people around you dissimilar to yourself. Understand that they need different things. Don't assume - ask them. Enact their advice. You will always be wrong about them, unless you ask. However, see #4 again, because this will happen. You will screw up, but that's ok. Ask, ask, ask.
  7. Be willing to trust people. Just as you're being honest, be willing to trust that others are being honest too. People need to know that others have faith in them. Trust them. Return people's trust. Don't break it.

Final Thoughts

MIGW has been the best thing I've ever done. Seriously. I loved when it was on, and I'm eagerly awaiting next year's expanding Games "Week" (c'mon, folks, it's 10-bloody-amazing-wonderful days!)

I'm so thankful to everyone who I met, everyone who I spoke to, and everyone who had something to say and to show to other people. Our industry has flaws, but MIGW gave me hope where it's often lacking. I finally feel a part of this community.

I wanted to say, once again (because I know I said it on the night of AGDA, but hell, it needs to be said again!) a huge THANK YOU to Antony Reed, Liam Esler, and everyone else involved for setting everything up. You all rock - so freakin' hard - and I love you for that.

Monday, 14 November 2016

SNIPPET! Ameshirel: A World Reforged - On the Nature of Magic

Ameshirel: A World Reforged is an upcoming setting and campaign being developed as the flagship setting for the system Do or Dice which is currently in development. This setting and system will be teased and released in snippets, a few pages at most, such as this.

The sixth snippet for Ameshirel: A World Reforged concerns the nature of Magic, and how the upheaval of this fundamental part of life has fractured the world. But where there is calamity, there is also new opportunity...

You can download the one-page snippet as a PDF here!

(Image from Rue Ink, used with permission.)
More snippets will be shared each week, as the setting of Ameshirel: A World Reforged is uncovered from the ashes of the Age of Ascension!