Oh So Quiet

Nothing like the sound of silence to help focus the mind, right? Oh, and also it makes a blog look empty and forgotten…

Never so much. If only my brain would be that silent in the midst of the shower, on the commute to work, or upon the trip to the shops to purchase chicken thighs.

I do have a piece of writing to complete by the end of January not related to 214, which must take priority. Or else.

However, that’s not to say that my mind has been laser-focussed on said task. By no means. Worryingly not so. Even though I wish I could switch all other thought processes off for a while.

No. I have been considering two things.

Firstly, introducing random tables into the core rules to allow for the simple creations of characters from scratch. I believe I have some sort of structure gathering form. Like the cards I have been using for playtesting, the tables used for this process would have thematic links. I believe that each element of a table would present skills or traits, and then point directly to another table for the next roll in the series. Each entry on a table would, potentially, lead to a different next step.

It would present a life path of sorts. Although, I believe that too grandiose a title for three or four tables loosely gathered. A series of unfortunate events.

Secondly, I have been ruminating on the possibility of pulling together a collection of these tables to test them. In that regard, the intent was to utilise them in facilitation of a game akin to Space: 1889. Well, not akin. It would be the Space: 1889 background and an adventure cobbled together from flicking through a few old supplements.

However, the work never really for off the ground – and I ended up seeking a different alternative. Specifically, Savage Worlds. This, alas, was an error of judgement. I have not found solace or common ground within the soft covers of Pinnacle Entertainment’s hallowed volume of fair repute. I think those who favour the system have other needs than my own.

Anyway. Busy. And yet, not entirely focussed on matters of 214.

On the other hand, I very well may find myself running one or more sessions of The Dee Sanction at Conception, end of January, on the southern shores of England. After Indiecon, where my efforts to run Paranoia didn’t quite go to plan, I believe that the better rendition of 214 lies with supernatural investigations in Elizabethan Europe, for the moment.

(And, yes. I do have a great deal of time and respect for the diminutive and screech voiced Icelandic alternative rock singer songwriter, Björk. Thanks for asking.)

Playtesting at Dragonmeet

Statue of Infant Jesus of Prague (copy) with g...

Dragonmeet 2014 at the ILEC Conference Centre saw me running another playtest session of 214. I ran The Dee Sanction setting using a new adventure called “The Holy Wax Infant of Prague“. I had five players and a table in the open gaming area (where I had the opportunity to build my own table).

I think it likely I’ll post more than once about this session as I consider it a little more and have the time to ruminate. For my own part, I had a bigger adventure in mind than I could fit into the time available, so it definitely didn’t feel “whole” to me.

Part of that came down to the confusing arrangements of the gaming area for the event – where for the first half hour I – and other GMs – spent quite a while telling people they’d come to the wrong area. I’m not certain we helped much – as we found out later we’d directed them to the wrong other place.

Anyway – as I sold the premise as a game about investigating the unknown, the magickal and the supernatural, I needed more of those. The way the adventure panned out, it turned out to be a far more mundane investigation of wrong-doing. That’s all well if you’re running the game and want a change of pace, but for a convention game I need to run something that showcases what I feel the game’s about.

It didn’t feel like it went badly. While we had a few real world distractions, the players remained engaged and worked together to fathom the mystery of the wax infant, the monks and conflict in a north Moravian valley.

The best feedback I had at the time related to the character cards. I posted about a minor redesign, so those saw play for the first time, including handy new name generator at the top. The feedback suggested these cards provided a rather neat way to quickly create and encapsulate a character from which players could then spin off their own slant.

The talents and expertise listed, by and large, gave a good spread of abilities with little overlap. One player queried whether you could use more than one card to influence a roll – and I said yes. However, the feedback suggested that this would likely be very difficult given the ability spread. On a rare occasion, a real focus of very narrow expertise might allow a player to do this, but most not.

Generally, a good session. Could be cleaner and better suited to showcasing the setting, but the game mechanics seemed to work well. I did rush the end a bit, so I didn’t give the right level of in-game respect for those characters who had redeemed themselves through discarding Incriminating Evidence. I don’t think anyone managed to get down to zero, but at least one player got damned close. On the other hand, another characters acts of atrocity against persons of “the Church” probably garnered them a few fresh black marks against their name and reputation.

One-off Adventures

English: Stationary bicycle Česky: Rotoped Deu...

I had one of those inspiration moments again last night, though this one took place out in the garage on my exercise bike. Those thoughtful moments alone seem to be a fertile time for interesting thoughts.

Key amongst those thoughts, I have decided to focus on 214 as a system designed primarily to support standalone adventures. While I have no issue with the idea of a campaign, a lot of my personal gaming tends towards one-off adventures. I might run them over one or more sessions, but when the adventure ends we often won’t come back to those characters for a while – or at all.

Equally, when I run an adventure at a convention, I tend to run it again and again with the same set of pre-generated characters.

Why would I want to spend time worrying about campaign play and balance, when I can keep my focus on one-off sessions like this?

At a convention, 214 shines; you have a system for generating new characters quickly with either cards or the roll of a few dice. You can have a session up and running in no time, without the need for a fixed bunch of character sheets.

That doesn’t mean that the game won’t accommodate progression of the setting. For me, that seems to make a lot of sense. You can get the story moving forward and develop that instead, without worrying about the characters. It seems to me that the characters are just a cog in a greater machine, perhaps a bit like grogs in an Ars Magica game.

The characters in 214 facilitate telling a single story in an overall tale. The fight against uncontrolled witchcraft, heresy and magick in The Dee Sanction is an ongoing battle, fought over a period of almost twenty years while Dee retained the ear of the Queen and Walsingham lived. Around 1590, following Dee’s return from Europe and Walsingham’s death, the tale comes to a close. The game picks up specific events and threats to the Crown during that time, but only key characters in Elizabeth’s Court remain constant – the lowly characters in player control come and go, serve their purpose and then fade away.

The stories of 214 are bigger than the characters, but what the characters achieve is not without significance. They attain incremental goals that support the greater cause. They shine like fireflies for a moment, then die. As it happens, I have an explanation for this in game terms, but I’m still working on the details. Each setting will have some consideration of ongoing story and why characters come and go.

Trust me, it all makes sense.

As it stands, when I get to writing up 214 as a system, it will support several story frameworks. Each will include background, portraits of non-player minions and patrons, campaign notes and tables for randomly creating characters. I have several settings in mind, including The Dee Sanction and Complex 214 (the background for which is evolving even as we speak).

More on that in another future post.


Embrace the Dark Side

character-generation-cards-dee-sanctionMindful that I have to get running playtest sessions with all of the essential components in place, I have been working on the cards for The Dee Sanction. I don’t need a complete set, but I need enough to make the process of character generation straight from the deck a random and slightly unpredictable process. On that basis, and the assumption that I might have a session with up to 6 players, I want at least 9 to 12 cards for each category of card.

The cards break down to Unethical Ends (a past profession), Hermetic Flaws (lore or an artefact that you have been exposed to in the past) and Secret Affiliation (a society or organisation you have fallen in with). In each and every instance, these cards indicate something that can be held against you. This isn’t necessarily the simple presentation of a fact – like once being a Horse Trader. The issue comes with what you chose to do or how you acted – what dark deeds and misbegotten truths lie in your past.

So, you have:

  • a profession that has bought you notoriety (if not outright condemnation and threat)
  • the knowledge from within a forbidden book of lore or magickal artefact (frowned upon, if not outright condemned, by the Church and Authorities), and
  • association with a secret society (at odds, if not outright condemned, blasphemous and treasonous, with the common law and crowned monarch, her Majesty Queen Elizabeth)

Awkwardly, all these sources provide you with more expertise and knowledge in staying alive and ahead of the game than anything covered in basic training when inducted into Walsingham’s secret gnostic taskforce, the Dee Sanction (named after both the respected Doctor John Dee and the secret act of government revoking certain aspects of An Act Against Conjurations, Enchantments and Witchcrafts, 1562, in respect of the learned battle against ruinous and heretical forces in league to bring about the downfall of the House of Tudor).

As a character, you have found a way to pay back your hidden debt to society. The Spymaster of Elizabeth’s Court has the potential and influence to offer you a blank slate and, perhaps, you might find some measure of spiritual absolution at the same time. While only God can offer forgiveness, you need to find it within yourself to accept and embrace it when offered – and how can you do that with such a weight on your conscience?

Each card in the character generation process presents certain traits and areas of expertise that you can tap into to drive success in a Challenge. Your Unethical Ends, for example, offer skills and experience frowned upon by the unyielding Guild system, the Church or the law of the land – but they can, nevertheless, prove useful while combating villainy, curses and monstrous assault. In The Dee Sanction, embracing your dark side may prove the only way to pay back your debt to society, your faith and your Queen.