Scared

… and I Feel Fine – An Actual Play Account

A while ago I wrote a review for The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse by Fantasy Flight Games. I liked what I read, and was eager to get a couple sessions of the game in, which happened around Hallowe’en. The following is an account of the first session.

Once the players had settled, we had a brief discussion of their characters, particularly their traits and what they meant. I chose to skip the voting portion of character creation and just go with each player’s depiction of themselves. Then I set the stage for them.

It was game night, all of the spouses and children were conveniently elsewhere, everyone was settled in with their beverage of choice. People in town had been getting sick and the news was reporting increasingly common incidences of violence. There frequently were the faint sounds of sirens in the distance. Then everyone heard a crash in the air, then the sound of an aircraft falling toward the ground, followed by a bone rattling crash and a small explosion.

They rushed out to find that two of the commuter seaplanes whose flightpaths pass over my house had crashed, one falling into my neighbour’s home, destroying it, the other hitting the road in front of my house, destroying most of the parked cars (including most of theirs), and then rolling in a fiery mass into the house across from mine.

Everyone jumped into action, splitting into two groups: one heading to the neighbour, the other going across the street where they could hear screaming and a baby crying.

I went across the street, but stopped at the wreckage; I saw something moving in it… a person! I jumped into action, called my friends and offered help to the injured man.

Then I died.

Fierce fighter

We saw little of this….

The infected tore my throat out with the requisite arterial spray and looks of disbelief and dawning horror from the other players.  Things got real after that. Taking down this single infected took the combined efforts of the entire group, as it likely would in real life if five regular guys pushing forty had to take care of things. One of the characters got bitten… and infected in the fracas. Not that he knew it yet.

Scared

…but plenty of this.

After taking the infected down, they got the woman and her baby from across the street and retreated to my house to ransack it for all it was worth. The sounds of disaster carried on all night; fire could be seen toward the city. A plan was made to get to one of the character’s parents’ boat and take it to one of the outlying islands where another character’s parents’ had a cabin.

Then morning came and I kicked out the other crutch: the people killed by the infected were rising as zombies.

I had risen as a zombie.

There was a brief discussion, and it was decided that they would do their best to avoid me, rather than crush my skull. It was heartwarming.

The group rushed out to the one vehicle that had been parked far enough from my house to avoid being destroyed…  thankfully it was <NAME WITHHELD>’s minivan. Everyone piled in and drove up onto the railroad tracks next to my house. They wondered at the lack of people out and about, the absence of people fleeing from the city, but decided to stick to the plan and headed away from downtown.

They made it a few kilometres, until coming to a pair of unmoving cars blocking a rail trestle that crosses the highway. The highway below was packed with unmoving vehicles with some visible infected rampaging among them and a few zombies waving in the breeze.  Unnoticed by the infected, the group checked the cars out; one was empty, the other had a vacant-eyed zombie in the driver’s seat and a rabid looking infected in the passenger’s seat.

Seeing the PCs, the infected went berserk, and the guys knew they had to take it out before the infected on the highway heard it and came swarming up the steep slope to the trestle. Two of them moved the empty car with some difficulty… it was out of gas… and the others moved into position to deal with the other car.

The zombie was dispatched without too much difficulty, but the infected managed to sound the car’s horn, which made the baby cry. With the full attention of the infected below now on them (and quickly making their way toward the slope), the van driver decided it was time to take matters into his own hands and sped toward the car on the trestle. Seeing this, the two PCs dealing with the empty car sent it careening down the slope, taking out a couple infected in its descent.

The van hit the car, and slowly pushed it down the tracks, until it finally knocked it clear when the tracks turned. The PCs all climbed back aboard in the process and gritted their teeth as the infected reached the moving vehicle and began to batter it with their bodies. The van sped up after knocking the obstacle clear, leaving the infected behind.

I had each player then narrate a descriptive scene describing something they saw from the van, or something they were feeling based on their experiences thus far. Then they arrived at their destination with the boat in the driveway… and the driver was nearly shot by his stepfather. The misunderstanding was resolved, and everyone assembled readied themselves for a boat journey as we ended for the night.

I had a lot of fun running The End of the World: Zombie Apocalypse, and the players enjoyed playing as themselves. So… what will happen next? Will we uncover the cause of this sudden and drastic change in reality? Will the PCs make it off the island? What will the world’s response be? How widespread is the event? What happens if <NAME WITHHELD> succumbs to his infection on the boat? Will the secrets of Quarantine Zone 4 ever be uncovered? Hopefully we get another session in soon so we can find out!

book shelves

5 Comic Book Storylines to Steal

When I am running adventures, I steal shamelessly from all kinds of sources. Characters, themes, storylines, names, places… nothing is safe from pillaging. One of the formats I love using as an idea mine are comic books. Those would be graphic novels if you’d rather use the name given to legitimize the form in recent years. While I will undoubtedly cover some of the specifics of what I’ve used and how I’ve twisted it to my own ends, I’ll start today by going over five series’ or storylines that are ripe for adaptation to the game table.

  1. Y, the Last Man – Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, Goran Sudzuka, and others (DC/Vertigo)

This is one of my favourite series’ probably of all time, but I may be biased as the post-apocalypse is among my most beloved sub-genres. In this series, following an event in the first issue, Yorick Brown (and his pet monkey, Ampersand), become the last male creatures on Earth. We then follow Yorick and a small retinue as he attempts to travel from where he is in the US to meet his girlfriend, who is in Australia when the extinction event occurs. The series explores themes that a lot of good post-apocalyptic material does, such as the cost and value of humanity. Its set up however, with billions of women still alive after the disaster, also handles the topic of gender roles and gender inequalities without being exploitative.

  1. Planetary – Warren Ellis and John Cassaday (DC/Wildstorm… or maybe DC/Vertigo now… or possibly just DC Comics…)

This one is an easy setup for any game that employs hopping from location to location and investigating what Monte Cook would call “The Weird.” Simply put, the series focuses on archaeologists of the unknown looking into strange phenomena while dealing with their personal demons. Many of the issues of the series could be easily adapted as adventures for GMs running a Planescape type campaign or who are playing The Strange or Numenera.

  1. Preacher – Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Preacher has a setup that isn’t atypical for a roleplaying game campaign: Jesse Custer, a minister who has accidentally been granted immense power, is traveling across the US with an ex-girlfriend and an Irish vampire on a search for God. Along the way, they encounter numerous challenges both celestial and fiendish in nature, as well as dealing with Jesse’s family. While the setup is a fairly classic hero’s journey, the execution is phenomenal and will leave any GMing reader with a ton of ideas that will challenge their PCs skills as well as their morals.

  1. DMZ – Brian Wood, Riccardo Burchielli, and others (DC/Vertigo)

Set on Manhattan in the near future, during the second American civil war, DMZ follows reporter Matty Roth as he navigates the treacherous morass of factions active on the island in order to get at “the truth.” The series’ plot is winding, and effectively shows that good and evil are fictions; all of the many interest groups present in the series take horrific actions at different times, and the reader often feels that they are justified in doing so. Yes, I prefer shades of gray to the black and white storytelling we are often subjected to, and the games I run often reflect this.

  1. Morning Glories – Nick Spencer and Joe Eisma (Image Comics)

Hey, a comic series that wasn’t published by a DC Comics imprint! Morning Glories is set at the eponymous academy, where a lot of weirdness is going on. This series has it all: murder, torture, occult phenomena, secret twins, flashbacks… and it all works. From the time that Casey’s father tells her he doesn’t have a daughter to <redacted> your mind will be filled with enough twists and turns to last several campaigns… and your players will love and hate you for it!

What comics have you read that have inspired your campaigns, or even your characters? Sound off in the comments below!

How’d That Happen? (5 Ways to Use Plot Twist Cards)

Plot Twist Cards for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game

Well over a year ago I posted a review of GameMastery Plot Twist Cards: Flashbacks on Paizo.  This product is described as a “vividly illustrated deck” that “opens up a new experience of shared storytelling, providing players with ways to suggest events during any adventure.”  The idea is players get one of these at campaign start and at every level, and they can give the card to the GM to suggest a possible way for the events to play out.

At the time I wrote the review we’d recently introduced those cards, as well as the first set, as a means of putting a little power in the hands of the players as a reward for keeping a campaign journal. Before each session the player could read their journal and, assuming it was half decent, gain a card to redeem at a later date.

Since then we’ve played around with them a bit more, and, well, it’s been a bit of time since we added them to our gaming tool kit, so it seemed fitting to talk about them again, specifically, some cool ways you can add them to your campaign.
Deja Vu cardEach of the cards features the card name that represents a theme, a spot with a mechanic associated with the theme, and then four potential story points.  (I should note the flashback set often had me pondering exactly how the association between the story point and the card name was made, and if you are only going to pick yourself up one of these decks, I strongly suggest it be the original one.)

  1. Reward System. When we started using these cards, the GM gave them out to players for their player journals.  Like the hero point system, players can retain up to three cards to use for something awesome, or just to make things work out a bit more in their favor.  The difference here is that the card has to fit. Your charming female rogue is trying to distract that city guard while her friends sneak ill-gotten goods out of town? That lust card might do the trick when your roll went poorly – or your GM planned on having him not be easily distracted. Ours have also been used to steer the campaign in a different direction, with the cards sometimes having far reaching impacts. (I once used a card to put a personal nemesis of my character in a tight spot. The card assisted me in having her kicked out of her flat, and ended up causing most people to look at her like contagious disease.  With her life falling apart, the once wily woman came to my PC, who was disguised, looking for help.  I gave her shelter, let her get really comfortable, and hired her to work in my tavern. Then I brutally stabbed her in the back as I revealed my true identity. Ah, evil campaigns…)
  2. Player Inspiration. If you don’t want your players to collect them, or don’t like the idea of the reward system, or you don’t like giving them that much plotting power, you can also hand them out and use them on a smaller scale. One card per player per night. They hand them back at the end of the night.  If the players are in a situation where the card fits, they can use the mechanics of the card to aid them: +20 on a Diplomacy roll; Target becomes confused for 3 rounds; An ability or effect lasts 1 round longer than normal, etc.
  3. GM Inspiration. How many times as a GM have you hit a session where things are just lagging? The PCs aren’t following the leads you laid out, you don’t want to have a random band of thugs jump out an attack them just to liven things up, and you need a little inspiration.  Grab a card.  You might have to stretch your imagination a bit, but I promise the name of the card and those little story points on the bottom should get you thinking, and inspire you (and hey, if that first card isn’t working, just grab a second one). Plus the pictures alone can get your mind plotting.
  4. Plot Point. It’s almost a game in a game.  Draw a card before the game session and see if you can tie it into that night’s adventures.  It’s up to the GM and the players to make this happen, and we’ve found it amusing how easily some of these just naturally fit into what is to come.  Some cards seem to be the theme of the night, even before we knew what would be drawn.
  5. Plot a Campaign.  Either deal a series of them and draw inspiration on plotting your homebrew campaign, or shuffle them up and lay them out like a tarot reading. Past, present, what’s to come – it’s all there, and it could just be magical. At the very least it gives you a great starting point, with all kinds of potential plot hooks.

While I haven’t seen it done, I’ve also heard of the cards being used for board games like HeroQuest and Castle Ravenloft, or being shuffled up with a Harrow Deck.

Have you ever tried out the Plot Twist cards? What’s your most memorable use of a card?

lights

Freebie Friday: Easy-Peasy Yule Lights

In 1895, U.S. President Grover Cleveland proudly sponsored the first electrically lit Christmas tree in the White House. It was a huge specimen, featuring more than a hundred multicolored lights. The first commercially produced Christmas tree lamps were manufactured in strings of multiples of eight sockets by the General Electric Co. of Harrison, New Jersey. Each socket took a miniature two-candela carbon-filament lamp.

From that point on, electrically illuminated Christmas trees, but only indoors, grew with mounting enthusiasm in the United States and elsewhere. San Diegoin 1904, Appleton, Wisconsin in 1909, and New York City in 1912 were the first recorded instances of the use of Christmas lights outside.

Over a period of time, strings of Christmas lights found their way into use in places other than Christmas trees. Soon, strings of lights adorned mantles and doorways inside homes, and ran along the rafters, roof lines, and porch railings of homes and businesses.

(Wikipedia)

Household Magic coverWhile we all love looking at the bright coloured lights once the job is done, I’m not sure anyone enjoys hanging them.  Inside you are tripping over decorations and fighting to get the string around the tree, outside it’s the ladders and the cold weather nipping at your fingers.  Either way there is the tangled strings, the burnt out bulbs, and the sheer frustration.  It got us daydreaming about possible answers, and with the recent release of Letters from the Flaming Crab: The Household Magic Catalog, the magical solution was right at our finger tips.

 

EASY PEASY YULE LIGHTS

Is the dreary dark weather of Yule time bringing you down? While warm fires and soft light brighten up the interior of your home, those dark evenings make the outdoors oppressive. Bring a little cheer to the outside of your abode with minimal effort. Our self stringing lights easily brighten up the exterior of any dwelling, and can be hung on a building, a tree, or a fence; the possibilities are limited only by your imagination.

Easy Peasy Yule Lights (Wondrous Item)

Aura faint transmutation; CL 3rd
Slot none; Price 1,500 gp; Weight 200 lbs.

DESCRIPTION

This 50 foot length of green silk rope is studded at 6 inch intervals with tiny silver bells. Upon command, the rope snakes forward, upward, downward, or in any other direction the user wishes, at 10 feet per round. The delicate silk rope can fasten itself securely to rough wood, nails, and other non-slick surfaces as its owner desires. It can unfasten itself and return in the same manner.

A length of easy-peasy yule lights can be commanded to light up for four hours. When lit, tiny globes of light form inside the bells and illuminate an area as a torch. The lights can appear as whatever colour or combination of colours the owner desires and can remain static or twinkle at varying speeds as desired.

The process of creating easy-peasy yule lights weakens the rope they are made of. If they are subjected to more than twenty pounds of weight the length of easy-peasy yule lights snaps and become non-functional.

CONSTRUCTION

Requirements Craft Wondrous Item, animate rope, dancing lights; Cost 750 gp

If you are looking for other fun household items for a magical world, check out the latest release from Flaming Crab Games.

5 Times A Favorite Show Referenced Dungeons & Dragons

I have only been gaming for a few years, which is a drop in the bucket compared to many gamers. In times past, before I met my husband, references to RPGs in my favorite TV shows went virtually undetected; the witty banter continued, the scene changed, or it went over my head. After I met my husband and learned a bit about his hobby, I would roll my eyes at the references, or tell my husband x show mentioned his favorite hobby, so, you know, it isn’t all bad and maybe he could watch it with me.

Once I picked up a handful of dice and embraced my inner geek, I started getting a thrill out of the references. They were a nod to my new hobby, a secret shared between me and a favorite show.

And there are loads of references out there. RPGs, especially Dungeons and Dragons, have a huge following, and a broad range of fans. And it isn’t like we all sit around in our basement living in an imaginary world where we pretend to be high level wizards (not all day, every day anyway – sometimes we might go for a fighter!)  We are often functioning members of society with jobs, families, responsibilities and commitments.

Either to appeal to us, or because TV show creators, producers and writers love RPGs like we do (and might also break out the dice during their time away from the studio) references to this beloved hobby show up now and then. Recently, Netflix released Stranger Things, a show that starts with a group of young boys playing Dungeons & Dragons. Numerous references are made throughout the season, and even non-RPGers would be hard pressed to miss the big nods to the geeky hobby.  The cult-classic Community spent a whole episode following the college students as they explored the adventures fellow student and Dungeon Master Abed had in store for them. There are numerous other shows, some of which seem more likely than others, that pay homage to the beloved game, so without further ado:

Here 5 D&D references from some of my favorite shows:

  1. Veronica Mars

    2.13 “Ain’t No Magic Mountain High Enough”

    Dick: “I think he took Ghost World up to his room. They’re probably up there making love. Or playing Dungeons and Dragons. Or both, at the same time.”

    BONUS? They did it more than once.

    2.04 “Green Eyed Monster”
    Jackie to Wallace

    Jackie: “Get back ladies; he’s mine! You really are a basketball star, aren’t you? I mean I’m not just smacking the ass of some Dungeons and Dragons geek, right?”

     

  2. Supernatural

    7.20  “The Girl with the Dungeons and Dragons Tattoo”

    The RPG in question is not just referenced in the title of this episode; just as Charlie, a computer hacker who stumbles into the world of weird, thinks she has broken the password, a voice taunts her with “Nice try Zero Charisma.”

     

  3. Gilmore Girls

    2.13. “A-Tisket A-Tasket”

    Lorelai begs Luke, the local diner owner to jump in and save her from being set up with one of several random suitors during a picnic basket auction. When he wins her basket, she calls out: “Sorry guys, don’t feel bad; I’m totally into Dungeons and Dragons.”

     

  4. The Simpsons

    3.5 “Homer Goes to College”

    Homer: “We played Dungeons and Dragons for three hours, and then I was slain by an elf.”

  5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer

    7.22 “Chosen”

    Giles: “I was a highly respected watcher, and now I’m a wounded dwarf with the mystical strength of a doily.”

What show have you seen that referenced D&D (or another RPG)? Share in the comments below!

Dinosaurs go fishing

5 Things I Didn’t Do for Dinovember

Thirty days.  For Dinovember we had to come up with a new idea for the dinosaurs. Every. Single. Day. For thirty days. And with us being several years into this tradition, and the rugrats horribly disappointed if there are repeat adventures, it gets harder.

dino-builders

I always mean to spend the time between one November and the next coming up with new ideas, but time ticks by. At first I’m just happy to be rid of the prehistoric dino-trouble, and then as the next November gets closer, I get excited – but I forget to get planning.

dinosaur rockstars
So Dinovember arrives and, inevitably, midnight rolls around, I’m exhausted from being up so late working, and I curse those damn plastic reptiles – and myself for ever introducing it.  Sometimes I have something brilliant planned, sometimes something basic, but each time I was at a loss I would look hopefully at my husband and he would either suggest something that’s been done, or come up with something a little less than helpful.

dinos making Christmas cards

Here are 5 ideas I did not use this Dinovember:

  1. dinosmoothie“Just stick them all in a pot, and turn it on.  We can have a big plastic dino-soup. Maybe stick a dinosaur head on top of it. They can find it like that in the morning.” (While I was away for a night this month, he actually did go for the blender, but he fought the urge to turn it on.)
  2. “What if we just sent them to live with someone else?” (We actually sort of did this here.)
  3. “Just skip it.  Maybe they won’t notice.” (I thought about this one more than once, especially after Rugrat #1 started making his own when he couldn’t find what we set up.)
  4. “You could just hang them from the ceiling fan, Mission Impossible style.” (You know, because the kids wouldn’t use them to pull the whole fan off the ceiling, or turn the ceiling on and have the toys become dangerous weapons.)
  5. “They could kill me.  The kids could find them standing over my dead body. Please. I’m so tired. And the police would have photographic evidence of the killers.”

And now December has arrived and the dinosaurs’ home is once again the plastic bin. While I still stumble on them from time to time (darn those rugrats for not cleaning up!), the trouble they cause is mostly nil until next year. Which should hopefully mean I can spend less time assembling dinosaur buildings and accessories, and more time on writing projects.Dinosaurs watching Rex play in town.

Dinosaur terrorizes cardboard city.

And, in case anyone was wondering, Elf on the Shelf does not visit this home.  No, if that obnoxious little creature shows up here hoping for a new pose, it might just inspire me to use idea #1 above, or a Christmas variation; I’m all tapped out of creativity when it comes to toys for a bit.

Time to relax with a glass of wine and get back to thinking about gaming projects.

Merry Christmas from the dinosaurs