Brief Overview

Ben Bell was not quite dead. He had been burned to a crisp a few minutes earlier but before out heroes’ eyes his skin regenerated – much as they had seen Luthor’s when he nearly had an arm torn off by one of those strange demon beasts. And they learned that Bell had concealed a spherical gem in a convenient… body cavity.

A little bit of intimidating interrogation on Dr. Greenfield in a rented tavern room revealed that he had expected to find a crypt here. His research had indicated that centuries ago a Viking, Hjort Dragon’s Bane, had been marooned to the south of “Vinland”. He eventully returned to Scandinavia. He told tales of encountering dragons in what Greenfield believed to be modern day Brazil. Hjort had also returned with a strange gem he had looted from a temple near a mammoth river.

Greenfield had come across a manuscript telling how in the 14th century Sir Hugh Neville had acquired the gem in question. He had been attempting to get funds fr the digging of a gasline in that area to look for a cache Greenfield had found evidence of beneath what was now Leadenhall Market. It was then agents of Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy contacted him. He was interested in occult artifacts and had found a temple in Brazil – one missing a gem… It was then that Stephens provided the funding for this digging. However as a loyal, though perhaps unscrupulous, servant of her majesty, Greenfield was hesitant to turn over such an item to Stephens.

Our heroes kept Greenfield and Bell at the Kerberos Club for the evening. The next morning they took a train to Exeter College at Oxford to gather Greenfield’s precise notes. However on the trip their train was attacked by Byakyee – giant bat-like creatures, apparently attracted to – or perhaps summoned to find – the gem. The creatures landed on the roof of the train and cut their way in. There was quite a scuffle but our heroes managed to overcome them.

Notes

We were a little silly during this game – even by our standards. This was our first game in a while with Christmas holidays. Of course scheduling problems hit us after this game session as well with scheduling issues followed by a medical scare with my daughter (she’s fine now, though while it was going on gaming obviously took a back seat).

We continued finding or Wild Talents feat – still a bit heavy on action, though it was neat seeing some characters I’d anticipated being more foes deciding to work with our heroes (Bell and Greenfield). I had some spreadsheets prepped in advance that allowed action to flow much smoother and I’ve further tuned them for the next session.

While I’ve done a decent amount of research on Victorian London, the next few sessions will probably take place away from London – a journey to Brazil, dealing what is found there, etc. The beastie Hound of Tindalos that was mentioned in the previous session is still at large, something that will be resolved in the coming sessions.

I’m clearly allowing some influence from H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos to appear in this game. Back when I had a regular Star Trek game it was something I used often as well. Some day I’m going to have to get a Call of Cthulhu game going – one of those games I’ve owned for ages, played a few sessions here and there, but never had an outright campaign.

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My current campaign, about to awaken from its Christmas hiatus, uses the Wild Talents role-playing game, published by Arc Dream Publishing. Wild Talents is built using ArcDream’s “One-Roll Engine” (ORE), much like how the d20 System is at the core of the newer versions of Dungeons & Dragons. ORE is used for a variety of games including Reign (fantasy role-playing with an emphasis on the characters becoming in charge of organizations), Godlike (gritty World War II super-humans), Wild Talents (more generic superhero gaming), A Dirty World (Noir role-playing), and Monsters and Other Childish Things (school kids with real monster buddies – Call of Cthulhu meets Calvin and Hobbes).

The various ORE games are customized to best suit the needs of the genre they are modeling. For example, Monsters and Other Childish Things uses a fairly simple version of the rules, without much detail when it comes to hit location in combat but a lot of emphasis on what motivates our little tykes. A Dirty World has pairs of opposing ability scores (like Purity vs. Corruption) such that as your character improves in one area he may diminish in others, much like how characters in Film Noir change throughout the course of a film, hitting rock bottom, pulling themselves back up, give into their vices, etc. These abilities don’t improve like in traditional RPGs but rather move throughout the course of a game. Godlike and Wild Talents default towards a gritty and deadly game, with hit locations and bullets that can down most heroes in a single shot to the head, though Wild Talents has genre emulation rules to handle less gritty settings such as a Silver Age inspired game.

ORE uses what in gaming terms is usually called “buckets of dice” – your abilities and/or skills are rated by how many dice you get to roll when your character wants to do something. However, unlike most games, this one roll is used for things like initiative, accuracy, damage, etc. – all at once. What you do when attempting some action is roll the indicated number of dice and looked for sets of two or more. From this you find the height and width of these sets. For example, if you roll 7 dice (always ten-sided) and get 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 10, 10 you have two sets, one of 3×4 (i.e. three rolls of four, a height of three and width of four) and one of 2×10.

Any matched set is normally a success. As height determines the quality of your roll, tasks of greater difficulty might have a minimum height requirement. In games that use hit locations, lower heights represent limbs while a height of 10 represents a head shot. The width of your roll represents your speed. For example, in combat all characters first declare then everyone rolls simultaneously. Widest roll goes first. Also, wider rolls typically do more damage.

So which is better, height or width? The answer is it depends on the situation. If you are trying to shoot first, width is more important. If you are going for a head shot, height is more important.

Obviously if someone is taking some action against you, you might want to stop them. This is represented in actions like dodging or blocking (or in various social combat actions like those which are often found in A Dirty World). Matches you get in these rolls count as “gobble dice” which allow you to remove dice from an opponent’s die pool after they have made their roll. So a set of two with one gobble due becomes an unmatched roll, turning into a miss.

The various ORE games all use this engine at the core of their system. The different games have different permutations, depending on what they are trying to accomplish. This includes things like vehicle combat, superpowers, multiple actions, doing your homework while your pet monster is distracting you, etc.

Finally, though I indicated all dice are ten-sided, there are in many ORE games special dice. In this post I’ll be referring to the dice as used in Godlike and Wild Talents, but other games have similar concepts using different names. The first kind of special die is called a Hard Die. This is a die in your dice pool which is always a ten. If you have two hard dice you always get a success. This is handy to represent powers which always work. It is also useful to represent deadly accuracy, but uncontrolled deadly accuracy – you can’t shoot to stun for example, or you can never do anything but teleport maximum distance or fly at maximum speed. You will succeed, but without any finesse. This is usually a good thing, but in the two Wild Talents campaigns I’ve GM-ed we quickly learned it was important to use Hard Dice carefully. In character generation, Hard Dice are typically twice as expensive as regular dice.

There is also the concept of the Wiggle Die. The term does sound a little silly. A Wiggle Die is a die which you can set to any value you want, decided after you roll any regular dice in your pool. This is extremely valuable, as a single Wiggle Die, paired with any other die, guarantees at least one success. This is fantastic for representing a very skilled character, such as Batman from DC Comics. Wiggle Dice are typically four times as expensive as regular dice.

ORE is a system that is hard to classify as rules-light or rules-heavy. The basic rules of all the games are pretty simple. Some games, such as A Dirty World or Monsters and Other Childish Things are kept deliberately simple as far as rules go. On the other hand, Godlike and Wild Talents, while keeping their simple core, have a lot of different possibilities, given all the permutations when it comes to possible abilities. Even at its most complex, no ORE game approaches the complexity of a Hero System or GURPS-style engine. I’d say that Wild Talents falls a few notches below games like Dungeons & Dragons when it comes to complexity. I’ve rather enjoyed the system – it makes GM-ing pretty easy when it comes to prep-work and it allows for a ton of player flexibility. I’d suggest checking out Arc Dream’s web page for more info, free downloads, etc. if you’re looking for more info. In the future I’ll take a look at individual ORE games, but first I wanted to discuss the system as a whole.

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I’d originally thought about doing a Wild Talents review (or continue) going through the Doctor Who game today, but got in an old-school kind of mood.

So continuing from our introductory post, let us take a look at the introduction to the D&D Basic Rules (Mentzer edition).

We get a basic introduction to “What the D&D Game Is All About”.  There is a “mission statement” of sorts embedded within:

In the D&D rules, individuals play the role of characters in a fantasy world where magic is real and heroes venture out on dangerous quests in search of fame and fortune. Characters gain experience by overcoming perils and recovering treasures. As characters gain in experience, they grow in power and ability.

While I certainly games in various styles, that really was the style that always seemed to work best. Not necessarily mercenary type characters, but characters in search of fame and fortune. And forced to choose between the two, fortune would almost always be the preference. That’s not to say our heroes did not do good deeds — it was always fortunate that the treasure-laden dungeons were inhabited by baddies intent on nefarious deeds.

We then get a basic breakdown of how the book is divided. It then tells us how this deals mostly with dungeon adventures and covers characters of 1st through 3rd level and tells us of the other two sets in the game –

  • D&D Expert Set covering 4-14th levels and wilderness adventures
  • Companion Set, covering 15-36th levels

Technically, the Companion rules as described here never came out. There was another revision of the game, resulting in new Basic and Expert sets followed by 3 more sets –

  • Companion Set, covering 15-25th levels as well as rules for dominions, mass combat, tournaments, wrestling, and an introduction to the planes of existence.
  • Masters Set, covering 16-36th levels as well as rules for becoming immortal, weapons mastery, and greater details on the planes of existence.
  • Immortals Set, covering Immortal PCs.

D&D Basic Rules by Frank Mentzer

I got this new series of sets and enjoyed them, especially since this is the series that I believe introduced the most people to D&D and therefore most people I gamed with were introduced through this series. However, I always liked the Tom Moldvay version of the D&D Rules more. It’s probably more a stylistic/personal preference. In any case, we’ll continue our trip down memory lane focusing on the Mentzer incarnation of the D&D Basic Set.

We get a discussion about the rule booklet being drilled with holes so you could cut the pages apart and arrange them in a three-ring binder, with the suggestion you could rearrange the pages and mix them with corresponding sections from the Expert and Companion Sets.

There is also a discussion that while the booklet is referred to as rules, everything within is changeable, with the purpose of the rules being “to provide guidelines [emphasis theirs] that enable you to play and have fun, so don’t feel absolutely bound to them.” While I think the 3rd and later editions of D&D did a lot of good things, one unfortunate thing was having a rule for everything. One thing I discovered when trying to houserule D&D 3.0 is everything is pretty tightly linked together – making one change quickly causes a ripple effect.

We then have “Definitions of Standard D&D Terms. It introduces some terms which are still very familiar such as DM, PC, NPC, and party. There are also some terms whose definitions I found interesting. The rulebook refers to the setting as a dungeon, reasonable enough. It then refers to a purchased dungeon, called a “dungeon module”. This is a term which has fallen somewhat into disuse in gaming circles though it still appears. I’m fond of it for some reason.

The definition for adventure struck me as interesting –

Each game session is called an adventure. An adventure lasts for as long as the players and DM agree to play. An adventure begins when the party enters a dungeon and ends when the party has left the dungeon and divided up treasure.

We never used that definition – I have fond memories, both as a player and a DM, of setting up camp in the Caves of Chaos, especially in cleared out lairs.

We also have definitions for certain special players. We have the mapper, the player who is responsible for drawing the maps based on the DM’s descriptions. This is something of a lost art in gaming I think – I know for my 4e game I used the Maptools application and gradually revealed the dungeon as the players explored it. We also have the caller who is responsible for being the primary interface between the DM and the players – kind of the spokesman for the players. To be honest, even back in the 80s we never made use of a caller and rarely used a mapper. It might be interesting to try out some time.

We then move to a definition of monsters.

As details of the dungeon are revealed, the player characters will meet “monsters” which they have to avoid, talk to, or fight. A monster is any animal, person, or supernatural creature that is not a player character. A monster may be a ferocious dragon or a humble merchant.

Here lies another thing which I think has been lost in newer RPGs – the idea of avoiding monsters. In the 3rd and 4th editions of D&D encounters are designed to be carefully balanced against the party of adventurers. Some of my fondest gaming memories are of encounters with foes that did not involve a fight. The wandering monster you run into when you are trying to get out of the dungeon, are low on hit points and out of spells. I recall my brother, his 2nd or 3rd level magic-user encountering goblins he was not prepared to fight, bluffing his way out of the encounter. “I am… the Wizard.” He then pulled out a jar with a spell component – probably a live spider for spider climb (this was AD&D) – and claimed it was a goblin he had polymorphed for failing to obey him. Excellent times. I think those older rules, with less balance, encouraged that behavior far more.  If you are a 1st level party going through the dungeon and you encounter a minotaur, you would be well-advised not to fight it head-on. The odds of your victory are low and if you do win, you will certainly suffer massive casualties.

We then reach a discussion of encounters, used to describe a meeting between PCs and monsters. Encounters may lead to a fight, often called a melee. I’d like to thank D&D for adding the word melee to my vocabulary at such a young age.

Next up is a section entitled “Use of the Word ‘Level'”. They did a pretty good job defining this, as I never had difficulty distinguishing between levels of experience, monsters, spells. and dungeon. As characters rose in level I was uncertain if that meant that all dungeons were supposed to begin with 1st level dungeons (i.e. with mainly 1 Hit Die monsters) even as characters advanced – that seemed silly early on, though the rules seemed to at least suggest that. I think that system would work best when playing in a “megadungeon” — some gargantuan, deep dungeon, like the famous Greyhawk Castle Dungeon.

How To Use the Dice

Following this is a section on “How To Use the Dice”. This section was so vital for us new gamers faced with these oddly shaped dice in our basic set – made of cheap plastic with a wax crayon to fill in the etchings on the dice. I remember it being hard to get ahold of these funky dice so it was important to take good care of the dice the Basic (and later Expert) sets gave you. Imagine my surprise when I found a hobby shop in my hometown with loads and loads of dice – and games beyond D&D – and even beyond A&D…

The final section is “How To ‘Win'”. This section states that the DM and players do not play against each other, despite the DM running the opposition. It also says that the game is not even “lost” if a PC dies, as it is a simple matter to roll up a new PC. The goal is for everyone to have a good time. And as a DM I learned that’s a tough balance to maintain. You didn’t want to make things too easy for the players but being the killer DM wasn’t the best option either. But fumbling about the same time the other players were learning their roles was so much fun.

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My introduction to D&D was in 5th grade on a snow day. Our next-door neighbor had gotten the D&D Basic Set for Christmas and no one could make head or tails of the rules. This was the Tom Moldvay version of the rules, pictured in this post.

I managed to get my own copy of the rules and thought it was amazingly cool. It was hard as hell to understand, but it screamed geeky coolness. It was also a gateway for friendships with like minded geeks, something whic led to friendships with some people I’m still in touch with through the magic of Facebook nearly thirty years later. Excuse me while I stare at that number.

There’s something of an “Old School Renaissance” movement going on right now, rediscovering the history of fantasy gaming. A lot of it centers around the creation of “retroclones” – using the Open Gaming License (OGL), developed by Wizards of the Coast for the 3rd edition of D&D to allow for licensing of D&D rules and terms, to backport to older versions of the games. The ones I’m familiar with include:

  • Swords & Wizardry – inspired by the original edition of the game that evolved from the fantasy wargame “Chainmail”. It is available in two versions, the main rules and the “white box” rules, which is a more stripped down version of the rules.
  • Labyrinth Lord – inspired by the D&D Basic and Expert sets with add-ons to capture the feel of the original edition and AD&D (the latter forthcoming at the time of this writing).
  • OSRIC (Old School Reference and Index Compilation) – Inspired by the 1st edition of AD&D, I believe this is the first of the retro-clones.
  • Basic Fantasy Role-Playing Game – This one feels a bit like D&D Basic/Expert rules with features from AD&D and D&D 3e sneaking in.

These retro-clones have become more important to old-school gamers given that Wizards of the Coast, earlier this year, pulled all their pdf reprints from online shops like rpgnow.com. I think that’s unfortunate, especially regarding the older editions. I read one of their concerns was finding pirated pdfs of new books online. I can appreciate that concern, especially given the importance of getting the initial sales from a new book, but I’m not certain of what advantage it was pulling the older games. That said, the Tom Molvay version of the D&D Basic and Expert rules was never made available in any case.

Last night I was flipping through my copy of the Moldvay Basic rules (not my original, which vanished somewhere in various trips to college and moving to Massachusetts a few years after graduating from UConn). And that gave me the idea of doing a gradual review as I reread the rules in detail, trying to forget things I’ve taken for granted for years and years. It probably won’t become the main focus of this blog – I’ve got an active Wild Talents game that will probably consume a lot of my time. I’m also not a hardcore old-schooler – I like old and new games. I had a lot of fun playing D&D 4th edition – more fun than I did in the 3rd edition, which I also enjoyed.

So we’ll start our review with the Erol Otus cover. Erol Otus’s illustrations appeared in many of the classic D&D products of the 70s and 80s. In this cover you’ve got our heroes descending into a water-covered level of a dungeon to fight a green dragon – I’ve never understood why dungeons and dragons so rarely appear on the covers of Dungeons & Dragons products… Though I think we can give a pass for the original 1st edition AD&D covers, especially demon idol on the Players’ Handbook. The Basic Rules indicate it is for 3 or more adults, ages 10 and up – an odd definition of adults. I was 10 when I started playing and felt all mature and adult. Not from playing D&D, just from feeling all mature and adult at the age of 10. I believe this trend would continue until adulthood, upon which you discover how little you know.

The foreward starts off with Tom Moldvay talking about an encounter with a dragon to set the mood. He then talks a little about the history of the D&D rules – how they were originally designed for people with a background in gaming and of the numerous questions the TSR staff answered since its release. He does indicate how he’s tried to stay true to those earlier versions but make this set more understandable. Having obtained both the previous Basic rules (by Eric Holmes) and the original “white box” version of D&D I’d have to say, though this version was tough (but fun) for my ten-year old brain, it was a vast improvement in terms of comprehensibility.

And we’ll end with that. I think I’ll be able to cover more in future installments, but I wanted to also set the stage for what I was intending. Though I also intend on working my way further through the new Doctor Who game and work on my Wild Talents game. And some posts to my political blog, so this may take a while…

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Doctor Who RPG

Doctor Who RPG

My first encounter with Doctor Who was in the 80s. I was in High School and kept seeing FASA’s Doctor Who RPG at Waldenbooks. I was curious about it but wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. My father mentioned to me he’d seen the tv show on PBS.

Being über-cool in High School, one Saturday night I was home and happened to see Doctor Who on Connecticut’s Channel 49. I remember the episode – it was Meglos, featuring time loops and an evil cactus monster. I didn’t quite follow it but it was sure neat. A few weeks later I caught it again and they’d begun running the 5th Doctor episodes. Most people have a Doctor who is their personal Doctor. For me, it is the 5th incarnation, as portrayed by Peter Davison.

My brother and I played the FASA game quite a bit — one of the really neat things about Doctor Who is it really lends itself well to small groups. I thought the  FASA game was pretty neat — it was basically the Star Trek RPG modified somewhat from a percentile system to a 2d6 ability vs. difficulty (via resolution table) system. Looking back, I have to say the system really wasn’t quite right for Doctor Who. It was very tactical and not well-suited to lots of improvisation — indeed there were no rules to even attempt something unskilled. That didn’t stop us form having a lot of fun with the game. The supplements were pretty neat — they get criticized a bit now for violating canon with some of its assumptions. For example, they posited that the Meddling Monk was an early incarnation of the Master. And the adventures were pretty neat. They reminded me of the GDW adventures of the day, especially Twilight: 2000 — a basic adventure outline, lots of details on NPCs, maps, expected events, etc. They seemed incredibly loose at the time.

After the FASA license ended there was a one-off Timelord RPG. I believe it came out around 1993 or 1994 — I know I picked it up in summer of ’94. This being the start of my post-college gaming hiatus, I never had the opportunity to play it but it seemed like a reasonable adaptation. It was more stylistically similar to the television show than the FASA game, with a fairly simple task resolution system. The authors have released the game for free – you can download it from scribd or here. (Be warned that the latter site greets you with a screeching TARDIS sound – I hate web pages that greet you with sounds…)

The newest incarnation of the game is made by Cubicle 7. I’ve been very impressed with their output over the last year or so. They also make the Starblazer RPG, based off the British comic book. I’ve never read the comic book, but the RPG is perfectly suited for generic space opera. They also make the Victoriana RPG which  has proved to be an excellent resource for my 19th century Wild Talents/Kerberos Club campaign.

I’ve not fully read through the newest incarnation of the Doctor Who RPG, having just received it yesterday and having given it a preliminary scan and begun working my way through the players book. Below are some random impressions I’ve taken from it:

  • First of all, this is an expensive RPG. In the US it has a cover price of $60.00, though I got it for much less at Who North America.
  • Going against the grain of modern RPGs, the new Doctor Who RPG is a boxed set. I’d forgotten how neat boxed sets were and Cubicle 7 makes the most of the format. Player, GM, and Adventure books. Also character sheets, gadget sheets, etc. And it comes with dice!
  • The production values are good, quite similar (no doubt deliberately) in style with much of the officially licensed Doctor Who non-fiction of the past few years. Glossy color, lots of pictures from the series (all images are, I believe, of the adventures of the 10th Doctor).
  • To try to balance things out, more powerful characters have a lower maximum of story points, which, I believe, can be used to modify reality in the player’s favor. This makes it easier to model a campaign with a Timelord and his companions.
  • The rules don’t make much an assumption as to what sort of game you’ll run. It suggests the Doctor and companions (old or new) or characters of your own creation. The rules make it possible to make new Timelords, aliens, etc.
  • One of my favorite things is the game encourages the use of words vs. guns, very much in keeping with Doctor Who. In action scenes characters who talk act first, followed by those who run, perform non-offensive actions, and finally those who fight. Also, non-combat skills can be used vs. combat skills. An example in the rules features Mickey using his Convince skill in a quick contest against a Cyberman who is using Marksmanship. Basically the Cyberman is intending on shooting him while Mickey is trying to convince it to take him alive. I really like this idea a lot — too often games say they discourage violence but I see lots of instances where this new game gives the tools to do so. I started a thread about this on rpg.net and hey – it’s four pages now. That’s a first for me… (My rpg.net handle is Breschau of Livonia.)

I’m stil working my way through the game, so I might post more impressions. That said, I think this’d be a blast to run. I’d probably have a ton of fun with the the time travel aspect of it, especially to the past, as I love history. Maybe after our current Wild Talents game runs its course. So many games, so little time…

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Brief Summary

The session opened in December of 1864 at the Kerberos Club. Fellow member of the club, Bryan Quinn, Member of Parliament, asked the characters to accompany him to a reception for the visiting vice-president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander Stephens. MP Quinn explained that the Club had reason to believe Stephens was up to something in London – he’d been funding research that Professor Ian Greenfield of Exeter College at Oxford University had been performing.

The reception had Vice-President Stephens, Confederate ambassador James Murray Mason, and Professor Greenfield. As Quinn suspected, hosting two members of the Kerberos Club of African descent was somewhat disconcerting for many of the guests, serving to loosen tongues. Our heroes learned a variety of facts:

  • Professor Greenfield had been purchasing controlling shares in various organizations that were performing much of the excavation for gas lines, underground railways, etc. in the interests of making archeological discoveries as a side-effect of all the digging.
  • Professor Greenfield was not independently wealthy but was, as the Club suspected, getting financial support from Stephens.
  • Professor Greenfield was the son of American Loyalists who relocated to England after the American Revolution.
  • There was some sort of commotion during an audience Stephens had with Her Majesty, Queen Victoria. She expressed her disapproval of the Confederacy’s peculiar institution.

As the evening went on, a pair of waifs, one large and one small, entered the hall. They needed to speak with the Professor. Luthor chatted with them and discovered they were brother and sister, known as Big Hand and Little Hand. He took them to the professor where Little Hand explained how Ben Bell was not happy with the digging and needed to stop. Greenfield took a cab to deal with the matter with our heroes graciously accompanying him (though he did not seem to appreciative).

As they approached the dig sight at Leadenhall there was a big explosion – the sound of a gasline exploding. They saw the site of some digging, either for a railway or sewer, partially collapsed. The bottom was still on fire with the smell of cooking flesh and a moaning sound. John Henry stayed at the edge while Luthor jumped down. He dragged the severely burned man at the bottom to John Henry who pulled him up. They saw the burned man had been covering up a shaft. Out of the shaft emerged a trio of horrific figures, clad in clothing centuries out of date and appearing vaguely human but… transformed somehow… into beings with no curves, but all angles. They raked at Luthor with horrific claws dripping of a greenish ichor, nearly severing both his arms. The rest of the team ran to assist him (some faster than others), with much teleporting, summoned ancestors, and swinging of big hammers before they finally destroyed the creatures.

A prostitute, Polly, who had been holding up a wall at the time of the explosion explained how some… dog thing… had emerged first and fought with the burned man – a man who they could see was rapidly healing. The hound appeared much like angular beings, also dripping a nasty ichor.

Notes

This session was largely an exercise in getting used to Wild Talents again after a long hiatus. It went pretty well, we definitely seemed to have a better grasp of the rules this time around. Some of the players will be making tweaks to their characters as a result of the first session. John Henry was initially generated as a strong, but normal, human. He’ll likely be changing to have at least one wild die in his Body stat, meaning when rolling his dice pool he will be guaranteed of at least one success in Body-related tests. Mbizi wants to make certain his character gets a chance to be  inspirational in pursuit of his causes so he’ll be adding to his social skills.

The creatures in the first session are inspired by the Cthulhu-Mythos tale The Hounds of Tindalos by Frank Belknap. The humanoid variants weren’t too tough an opponent. The hound itself will likely be appearing in the future, probably the very short-term…

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So as you can see from earlier posts my group spent a fair amount of time going back and forth between modern, 1950s, 1930s, and Victorian-era gaming. In the end we decided on a game set in the Victorian Age with lower end superheroes – for those who are familiar with Wild Talents, a point value of 175. You’re basically talking characters who have one or two superpowers or who have focused on super-attributes. I like this level as it keeps the characters and their other abilities at the core.

Initially we had decided on a game set towards the end of the age to set up a possible encounter with Jack the Ripper. However, I fell into my infamous research fetish – a desire to know ever single possible detail about Victorian London of 1887, something that is just not going to happen. That is when I decided it would be best to use the Kerberos Club, which is an alternate reality in which, over the course of the 19th century, the world gets odder and odder and history diverges more and more. In this setting, Prince Albert and Queen Victoria separate as he becomes more and more concerned about how Strange his wife has become. As a result he lives far longer but is also not around to negotiate the Trent Affair, causing the UK to declare war on the United States in 1861, resulting in Confederate Independence. Ironically, the United States and United United Kingdom draw closer together after this and the Confederacy turns into a rogue nation, getting more and more tradition-bound and backwards, delving into dark magics and ancient religions (major inspirations from Call of Cthulhu and other Lovecraftian horrors).

The Kerberos Club itself is made up of people “touched by the Strange” and is dedicated to protecting society as best it can from being unduly influenced by the Strange. It is not quite a superhero team, but more a loose confederation of superbeings who have a common purpose and are able to take advantage of the club’s considerable resources, especially useful for non-white males.

I decide to begin the game at the end of the year 1864. The Confederacy has established itself as an independent nation and Abraham Lincoln has just been reelected for ending the dual front war with the UK and CSA without further loss of territory and some semblance of honor, with the addition of a post-war economic boom.

We have four characters in our group. In no particular order they are:

  • Mbizi – Escaped slave from the United States (pre-Civil War) – killed his master with his powers. Mbizi is able to summon beings he refers to as his ancestors. If you’ve ever read the New Universe comic DP7 and remember Randy O’Brien, you’ll have a good idea of what his powers are like. Mbizi descends from a South African Xhosa who was traveling abroad to West Africa for currently unknown reasons. Mbizi’s powers are centered on his ancestors and he has no other powers, though he is a skilled fighter and orator. Mbizi is dedicated to ending the illegal African slave trade, delegitimizing the Confederacy, and securing the independence of the Xhosa and other South African groups.
  • Larry (surname unknown at present) – Two-bit thief from the East End, Larry unhesitatingly accepted membership into the Kerberos Club as opposed to scraping by and staying ahead of the police. Larry has a very limited teleportation, or blinking ability. He has minimal conscious control over it and it seems to function only to allow him to better position himself to attach someone (i.e. blink behind them) or to unconsciously avoid harm (blink out of the path of a bullet). He’d very much like to be able to control the teleport as, while no longer a full-time thief, he certainly still likes valuables and being able to teleport through a door would be handy. In combat he tends to favor an iron pipe.
  • John Henry – “The name is Brown, John Henry Brown, sah.  I’m a free man on accountin’ I beat a steam drill with these hea hands my hammer and with the blessin’ of tha Lord, AMEN Brother!” Yes, that John Henry is also a member of the club. He is loyal to the club but even more dedicated to punishing those who supported slavery and proving his superiority over machines. He is incredibly strong and very deadly with his hammer – and very difficult to hurt. Not incredibly bright, but very driven.
  • Sir Luthor Smithson, KCMG, Esquire, Captain (ret), Colonel (ret) – Luthor was a born London gutter rat, and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy more than 250 years earlier. It was there that his unique abilities were first noted – particularly when he sided with the Royalists and was executed – repeatedly and unsuccessfully. With the re-establishment of the monarchy, Luthor came to the attention of Charles II. Fighting as a naval officer in the Second Anglo-Dutch war, then again in the Third Anglo-Dutch war, saw him rewarded for bravery under fire again and again. Strange rumors about him (specifically the ones about him being unkillable and therefore possessed), led him to be reassigned to the army, where he fought in the Nine Years War against the French, and then later the War of the Spanish Succession against France and Spain. Afterwards, Luthor spent a lot of time traveling the world, advising and participating in numerous small wars and studying all over the world. Recalled to service by a disbelieving crown for the French and Indian war, he was then shunted to the Royal Expeditionary Force fighting in the Cape Frontier wars, followed by recall to fight in the Franco-British war, and then later in the Anglo-Russian war. At which point Luthor took service with the government’s diplomatic branch, and began traveling the world.

I’ve noticed some interesting things about the characters. First, for the age it is unusual that a pair of the characters are of African descent. That does fit in quite well with one of my plans of using the Confederacy as one of the main baddies – indeed the first adventure features a visit from Vice-President Alexander Stephens of the Confederacy.

There is also a potential conflict between Mbizi and Luthor, given Luthor’s involvement in the Cape Frontier Wars against the Xhosa. Not sure why it is, but those two players always seem to make characters who have some amount of conflict between each other – and this one was totally unintentional…

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