More Drama System Themes

Our new campaign is high on the drama, and what better system for interpersonal conflict than DramaSystem? This ruleset is easy to follow, easy to implement, and can honestly (IMO) be laid over-top of just about any game system, all in the name of extra drama, better character development, and a break from drawn out battle sequences. (You can read more about that here!)

Quick recap: each session is like an episode of TV, and has its own theme. There are lots in the book, but we’ve come up with a few more (and a few more before that). These themes worked particularity well for us in a game of loss, rebirth, and struggling to find your place in a dying world (aka zombies!!!)

Themes

  • Move
  • Stay
  • Fever
  • Limits
  • Weight
  • Healing
  • Searching
  • Hungry
  • Shift
  • Loyalty
  • Secrets
  • Heartbreak

Examples

The theme of the episode is pulled into each scene in various ways.

Stay

Our second episode had our second-in-command, the camp doctor, trying to stay the execution of hundreds of civilians by delaying the turnover of a list of less-valuable individuals to the commander. The doctor’s assistant learned of the list and had to decide if she should get her family and extended family out of the camp into the unknown, or stay and stick it out knowing the risks. The troublesome daughter needed confirmation from the doctor she should stay quiet about the small thefts of food from the kitchen. The doctor’s assistant and her baby-daddy were split up suddenly before a run (despite assurances such things wouldn’t happen). They forced the commander of the camp, in a later scene, to relent and promise not to let it happen again. And finally, the doctor assured her assistant that if things get bad and the camp falls apart, she’d flee with her apprentice and help her deliver the baby.

Hungry

A riot ensued at camp. The civilians became convinced the military leadership was eating better and more food than them. An NPC became hungry for blood as she sought vengeance. The second in command became hungry for power and his chance to claim the new outpost for his own. The mechanic demanded the local gang leader pay out his cut of black market profits in rations due to the apparent food shortage. The local gang leader, for his part, redoubled his efforts hiding stolen rations, and the spokesperson for the civilians became hungry for information when it became apparent the leader of the camp was hiding important information.

Shift

In this episode the raid commander tried to convince his lover she should leave her baby-daddy for him because he can take care of her better; he pushed her too hard and she pulled away. The mechanic explained to a girl he’d been looking out for he was leaving for the new camp and wouldn’t be seeing her anymore (so he could leave her). She shifted the power around, denying him and convincing him to get her to the new camp as well (even approaching his daughter to enlist her help). The commander of the old camp had the tables turned on her when her new second in command had her arrested and was going to have her executed. Almost the entire named cast of the old camp shifted over to the new one through a raid/rescue mission by two key characters. The civilian leader blackmailed the commander of the new camp into treating her as an equal, shifting the balance of power (at least for awhile). Our raid commander held his ground when his superior tried to convince him to think of killing his lover’s baby-daddy.

 

“Power is Power.”

One of the things I love about this game system is the tv-style drama. It reminds me of everything I love about teen drama shows, or even something like Game of Thrones. No one can keep all the power for long. Everything is shifting with each character’s own desire, goals and relationships are at the forefront of their minds. If another character can take advantage of them, you are out in the cold.

“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

And since everyone is scheming, someone is bound to foil your plot, even if they were intending to get to the same result. The number of times the characters have inadvertently stabbed each other in the back may rival the number of times they’ve done it on purpose in this campaign. If only they’d communicate with each other… but then, where would the drama be?


Have you played Hillfolk or otherwise used the DramaSystem?
What are your thoughts on it?

The Dagger of all Daggers

Our interest in writing RPG products stems from our love of playing RPGs. One of my favorite campaigns, and certainly our most epic one, is Way of the Wicked. Written by Gary McBride of Fire Mountain Games, this adventure path allows the PCs to be anything but good. (Specifically, it actually recommends they all be lawful evil.)

The Bull & The Bear coverSome years ago, we ran through this campaign, taking the time to explore the cities more than the adventure path may have intended, which is where the Bull and the Bear was born. The PCs began amassing a reasonable collection of taverns, some of which have been published by us since.

We enjoyed dropping a fair few 3rd party products into this PFRPG campaign, including the 101 New Skill Uses by Rite Publishing and Legendary VIII: Evil by Sam Hing and published by Purple Duck Games.

It was in the latter we pulled Black Spider – a magical weapon (and a then some). Though intended for use by the BBEG, it was allowed in our evil solo campaign. (I should note here this product received a poor review and indeed has some glaring oversights.)

This blade was legendary in the course of the campaign. One moment I still clearly remember was when many of the party had fallen, with only the rogue (myself) and our anti-paladin remaining. Both of us were near the death. The righteous paladin still stood before us, and with the blade knocked from my hand, and my companion drawing her last breath, I was sure we were done for. Then this diminutive construct unleashed its fury upon the virtuous knight, scuttle across the floor before actually puncturing through his calf (hello double nat 20!). Perhaps it stole a bit of the thunder from the characters, but it earned this weapon much favor from its master.

Very recently we decided to revisit a version of Way of the Wicked: an alternate reality with some minor and some glaring differences. All of the PCs are rogues. The valiant Mitrans in the country are unknowingly demon worshippers (those pesky demons and their deception filled long game!). Our PCs did not start in prison (which made sense, but if you haven’t played WotW as intended, give at least the first module a go – it’s amazing!).

Some things have stayed the same, and one such similarity is the presence of Black Spider. With the switch to 5th Edition as the framework (as well as some of those glaring oversights), we’ve had to adapt the blade. Here is our modified version below. Again, a big shout out to Purple Duck Games for creating an amazing (and overpowered!) collection of weapons, as well creating one of my favorite weapons to date.


BLACK SPIDER

Weapon (dagger), legendary (requires attunement by a creature that meets all the listed requirements)

Requirements. A creature that wishes to attune itself to Black Spider must meet the following criteria.

  • Any evil alignment.
  • Proficiency in Dexterity (Stealth) checks.
  • Sneak Attack feature.

Black Spider grows in power with the creature it is attuned to. When a creature attunes itself to Black Spider, it gains all of the benefits listed for a creature of its current level.

  • When you reach 2nd level, Black Spider gains a +1 bonus to attack and damage. The dagger maintains a telepathic bond with you, and regularly urges you to commit acts of violence.
  • When you reach 4th level, Black Spider can animate itself and act independently from you. When it animates, the barbs lining the blade twist and act as spidery legs. Black Spider maintains its telepathic bond with you and follows your instructions, unless it can cause more carnage by doing something else. Black Spider’s starting statistics are below.
  • When you reach 6th level, the telepathic bond between you and Black Spider allows you to see and hear everything occurring within 60 feet of the dagger as an action. This effect can be ended as a bonus action. While using this feature, you have disadvantage on ability checks, saving throws, and attack rolls until the start of your first turn after ending the effect.
  • When you reach 8th level, Black Spider can urge you to overcome certain conditions. If you fail a saving throw and become charmed, frightened, paralyzed, or stunned, you can use your reaction to reroll the saving throw. If a condition allows a new save to overcome it at the end of each of your turns, you have advantage on it. If you are unconscious, Black Spider can use a bonus action to deal 1 hit point of piercing damage to wake you. Black Spider Enhancement: Armor Class increases by +1 (natural armor), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (add +1 to Armor Class,stealth skill, and Stab action to hit and damage), Challenge increases to 2 (450 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 14 (4d6), Multiattack action is added adding one additional attack per round. Black Spider’s CR 2 version is below for your convenience.
  • When you reach 10th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +2. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1.
  • When you reach 12th level, attacks made with Black Spider score a critical hit on a roll of 19 or 20. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 3 (700 XP), Sneak Attack damage increases to 21 (6d6).
  • When you reach 14th level, when you make a sneak attack against a creature, you can gain half of the sneak attack damage as temporary hit points. Once this feature has been used, it can’t be used again until you have finished a short or long rest.
  • When you reach 16th level, if you have surprise when you make your first attack with Black Spider in an encounter, you deal maximum damage. Black Spider Enhancement: Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Challenge increases to 4 (1,100 XP), Sneak attack damage increases to 28 (8d6)
  • When you reach 18th level, Black Spider’s bonus to attack and damage increases to +3. Black Spider Enhancement: Stab action to hit and damage increase by +1
  • When you reach 20th level, if you are hidden from your target when you hit it with Black Spider, it must succeed at a Constitution saving throw with a DC equal to 8 plus your Dexterity modifier plus your proficiency bonus or die. Once you have used this feature, you must finish a long rest before you can use it again. Black Spider Enhancement: Proficiency bonus increases by +1 (affecting skills, and Stab action to hit), Hit Points increase by 7 (3d4), Dexterity increases by 2 (adding +1 to AC, Stealth skill, Stab action to hit and damage), Sneak Attack damage increases to 35 (10d6), Black Spider can make three attacks per turn with Multiattack.

Black Spider is both greedy and jealous. You have disadvantage if you make a melee attack with a weapon that is not Black Spider. This penalty does not apply if your attack is made with a weapon in your other hand when you are fighting with two weapons.

 

 

 


What’s the most memorable weapon you’ve used in your game?

So Many Pets, So Little Time

The Dire Rugrat Family Tails of Equestria Campaign, Part 1

Who’s Who in Equestria

Excitement was high in the Dire Rugrat household, Daddy Rugrat had read the Tales of Equestria rulebook, and all three rugrats, as well as Mummy Rugrat, were excited to make their PCs (pony characters) and start adventuring in Equestria. I went to the River Horse website, downloaded the PC sheets, one for each type of pony, and everyone set to work.
Rugrat 3 created Cup Cake, a riotously coloured unicorn with purple head and flanks, green legs, black eyes and horn, crimson tail, and I think a green mane. Cup Cake’s cutie mark is a diamond on a purple and green cake… maybe. It’s hard to be certain. Her chosen talent is the ability to create force fields, and her very appropriate quirk is a short attention span; her Element of Harmony is Magic, which has yet to have much effect on her…
Rugrat 2 created Thunder Gust, a pegasus with green body and blue mane and tail. His cutie mark is three clouds with lightning shooting out of them, and his Element of Harmony is Honesty.
Against my better judgment, Rugrat 1 was allowed to create a changeling (rules for changeling characters are in The Bestiary of Equestria [review forthcoming], which Rugrat 1 was expressly asked to not read…. but he did anyway, because children know it is better to beg forgiveness than ask permission…) named Shiftwing. Shiftwing chose laughter as his Element of Harmony, a fear of bees (just like his player) as his Quirk, and chose to upgrade his innate Morph Talent rather than selecting a second one. Rugrat 1 will be a rules lawyering powergamer in the future, I fear… but we will love him anyway.
Finally, Mummy Rugrat created Calm Heart, a light brown earth pony with darker brown mane and tail. Her Element of Harmony is Kindness, her cutie mark is a heart with two crossed band-aids set on it, and she selected Healing Touch as her Talent, and Messy as her Quirk.

A Day at the Market

The game started with the PCs at the weekend market. Calm Heart was looking for more bandages, Thunder Gust wanted some eggs, Shiftwing was searching for a solar powered lamp, and Cup Cake wanted toys. So many toys. While they were shopping, they came across a cute, but very rude bunny. The ponies interacted with the aggressive rodent in humorous fashion, until his pony, the famous pegasus Fluttershy, found them together. Realizing their obvious animal wrangling skills, and needing someone to take care of the Mane Six’s pets while they went off adventuring, she recruited them like a a shy, pony Gandalf asking Bilbo Baggins to give up his comfortable hobbit life. The PCs agreed of course, as there’d be no game otherwise, and they visited Fluttershy at her home outside the Everfree Forest.

Look at the cute little bunnies!

Everything Goes Wrong

At Fluttershy’s house, the PCs met the rest of the Mane Six, the most famous ponies in all of Equestria! And after a brief introduction to the Mane Pets, the Six were on their way.
It didn’t take long for everything to go wrong. The unruly pets, spurred by the very poorly named Angel Bunny, misbehaved. The PCs attempted to treat them to their favourite things, Cup Cake obsessively looked for the chocolate mice that she knew were the favourite of Twilight Sparkle’s owl, Owlowiscious, but Calm Heart stepped on Angel’s tail and set the foul tempered rodent off! He bounced through the house, riling up the already agitated pets. They smashed things, knocked over furniture, and finally escaped out the front door left open by Cup Cake in her fruitless search for chocolate mice.

Well, That Happened…

Sorting themselves out, the PCs realized the pets had escaped… in different directions into the ominous Everfree Forest. Deciding that the mess in Fluttershy’s house could wait, the PCs set off into the forest to effect a rescue. They started by following baby alligator tracks down the river which eventually led them to a small island. Flying above the island was a blue bird with a funny green feather frill, a mohawk! Pinkie Pie’s pet alligator, Gummy, had firmly chomped down on the frantic bird’s tail feathers, and wouldn’t let go. Thunder Gust and Shiftwing (morphed into pegasus form) flew up and attempted to remove the alligator from the bird, which they did, but their actions resulted in Gummy plummeting toward the ground (and near certain doom), until the distractable Cup Cake used her telekinesis to catch him.

Don’t Let the Cuteness Fool You!

Scary Monsters (and Diamond Dogs)

After rescuing Gummy, the PCs decided to follow the faint dog howls to a small hut, surrounded by variously sized holes in the ground. Applejack’s dog, Winona, was tied up in front of the structure, and she was upset about it. Using stealth and guile to approach Winona without her making any noise, the PCs managed to free her and made it nearly away before attracting the attention of something underground. Moving quietly, the PCs managed to avoid the diamond dogs who had taken Winona captive, though those greedy hounds may come into play again if the PCs don’t escape the Everfree Forest soon.
While following a smoke trail, the PCs ran into the mysterious rhyming zebra named Zecora! Zecora gave some cryptic advice and gave each pony a healing potion for their journey.
Continuing to follow the smoke, the PCs left the Everfree Forest and entered a craggy, rocky canyon with pits and holes in the canyon walls. From the canyon mouth, they could see Rainbow Dash’s turtle Tank! Tank’s helicopter backpack apparatus was broken and the poor turtle was helplessly caught on a stone spur. Thunder Gust flew toward the turtle and got him free, but drew the attention of a fearsome quarray eel in the process. A breathless scuffle with the quarray eel ensued, in which Calm Heart, as well as Thunder Gust were swallowed whole by the monster! Cup Cake and Shiftwing (morphed to look like Cup Cake) used their telekinesis to get their companions free, and the four narrowly escaped back into the Everfree Forest with Tank.

What Happens Next?

With three of the Mane Six’s pets rescued, who will the PCs attempt to find next? Will it be the wise owl Owlowiscious? The prissy pussycat Opalescence? Or naughty Angel Bunny herself? You will just have to wait until part 2 to find out!

Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

Last October our family started this fun series of children’s adventures. We had an ESL student we had hosted some time ago visiting for a few days, and it seemed like a great activity we could all enjoy.  We shared a review of Adventures in Wonderland #1: Chasing the White Rabbit at that time, and the kids loved it. So much so Kelly ran the second adventure the same night with only a quick scan of the PDF before playing. The third was played the next day.

Then a long time passed. Our former student returned to Japan. The kids begged and begged to find out what happened to the white rabbit. We played another fun kids adventure. And eventually a new chapter in the AIW series came out.

With Rugrat #3 old enough to not be napping, but young enough she can’t quite grasp everything that’s going on, we set her up as Kelly’s animal companion. She sat on Kelly’s lap, rolling her own set of dice randomly and chiming in to repeat what people said.

“Perfect summer day.”

 

Continue reading Adventures In Wonderland (1-4)

doorway to another time

Way of the Worlds – A Design Journal

Last week I detailed my thoughts about Paizo’s new Starfinder Roleplaying Game. While the game itself is competent, if uninspiring to me, Kelly and I decided to use it to run a new campaign, partly in order to test the game out and see how well some ideas we have for products might fit. It may not be my favourite game, but hey, if you want to earn a few credits, you sell material for the systems that people will buy products for, right?

Here we go again…

Instead of taking the easy road and running straight from pre-existing material, Kelly suggested running a game inspired by a show she’s devoured on Netflix: Outlander. This is nothing new; Kelly works from home and occasionally the television is on in the background while she goes about her business.

If you aren’t aware of the premise, Outlander is about a young, married nurse who travels from 1945 Scotland to 1743 Scotland where she meets and falls in love with another man. The show is beautifully filmed, and is full of drama, intrigue, brief bouts of vicious brutality, and, of course, romance. It is well worth watching, if you are looking for something in the vein of A Game of Thrones with 100% more men in kilts and 80% fewer naked young women standing/writhing/being… seductive(?), during expository scenes.

But wait, there’s more!

While Outlander is a great place to start, I don’t want the game to primarily take place in the past with only framing sequences and flashbacks in the present. So looking at other stranger in a strange land tropes, I have taken inspiration from the DC Comics character Adam Strange, particularly the Adam Strange: Planet Heist miniseries by Andy Diggle and Pascual Ferry as well as, to a lesser extent, the Adam Strange: Man of Two Worlds (which I believe is just called Adam Strange in its original mini-series release) story by Richard Bruning and the Kubert brothers. Adam Strange also led back to his sword and planet forebears, John Carter (of Mars!) and Carson (Napier) of Venus, both created by Edgar Rice Burroughs of course. As an aside, I’ve always preferred Carson to John Carter.

What do we do now?

So, now we have our premise of a young, affianced diplomat (yes, she is an envoy; our frustrations with this class are pretty well tested) who randomly travels from 317AG to 4717AD Korvosa on Golarion where she will meet another appealing young man who is completely different in temperament from her fiancé. Plenty here to create romance and drama, right? But what will the characters do? Where’s the adventure?

Here I look to pre-published material. While the first Starfinder adventure path is far from complete, I can look to the description of the adventures that comprise it, and adapt from those plot to literally collapse the Pact System via a weapon of mass destruction (called the Stellar Degenerator in the AP, but which I have renamed the Maw of Rovagug for… reasons). From here I have sketched out a solar system spanning series of events, full of action and tense negotiations.

starfarer's companion coverWhile in Korvosa, I am adapting the mostly fantastic Curse of the Crimson Throne adventure path to the Starfinder system (with a little help from the Starfarer’s Companion by Rogue Genius Games). There’s a lot of drama already baked into this adventure path, and set in a pre-Victorian England and France inspired Korvosa, with sharp divides between social classes and plenty of unrest, it is already proving to be exciting! Having the two adventures running concurrently also allows me to move the action from one setting to the other when Curse of the Crimson Throne hits a portion Kelly is less likely to enjoy (namely anything involving a dungeon), or when there is extended travel through the Pact System.

What’s your inspiration?

I really enjoy adapting material that I enjoy into game material, and the rewards thus far have been immense. This has been a great campaign so far, with a lot of drama, and possibly some hard choices looming. It feels a lot like Outlander by way of Battlestar Galactica.

Does it sound appealing to you?

What material have you adapted for gaming, successfully or not?

What material do you think is ripe for adaptation?

Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

broken car

Help, I’m Alive! – Deadworld Design Journal 1

As with so many things, this all started with Kelly telling me she had watched something she really enjoyed. In this instance it was Van Helsing, a television series that details the activities of a mysteriously badass woman who kills vampires in a post-apocalyptic world. She then had me watch it as we worked in the evenings after the rugrats had nested for the night. I liked it well enough. As Kelly suspected, it gave me a few ideas I could translate into RPGs.

She then started watching Z Nation, which she really got excited about, so, once again, I started watching it with her (she kindly allowed me to start at the beginning). I was leary at first.

I’ve watched The Walking Dead to the end of the seventh season. I read the first hundred issues of the comic book. I stopped both because I found them wearying. Their relentless bleakness made me wonder why any of the principal characters wanted to survive aside from sheer masochism. I liked Z Nation more than TWD (or Van Helsing for that matter). It was cheesy, had some bad acting and questionable production values, but its bones were good. And the scenarios and ideas in play seemed like someone had translated their zombie apocalypse gaming sessions into an awesome series of short B movies. In short, its makers remembered that sometimes its okay to be fun or silly, even in the midst of death.

Shortly after I started watching Z Nation, Kelly asked if I wanted to change campaigns while we were on vacation; switch from our Supernatural inspired modern occult investigation campaign to one set in the zombie apocalypse. Sure, I said, thinking that this would be a short term thing. I should have known better….

Location Matters

I didn’t have a lot of time to prepare, so I lightly sketched out zombified North America. The best zombie entertainment, in my opinion, begin in the aftermath of whatever apocalyptic event brought the world to its knees, so I decided to set our game four years after Z-Day. Our game would start in Virginia, at the University of Virginia per Kelly’s character’s background. A portion of the University has been turned into a secure compound under a chauvinistically tyrannical thumb. The rest of the campus is kept free of the dead and other riffraff by the compound’s soldiers, who also make scavenging forays into other less friendly territories. Women, children, and the elderly take care of the compound itself, ensuring that it runs smoothly and that the soldiers are comfortable.

Beyond the compound’s environs, the US is a patchwork of disparate factions vying for limited resources. The larger a community was, the harder it was hit on Z-Day, so there is marginally more safety from the dead in the less populated regions of the country.  Much of Kansas is controlled by a charismatic clergyman and his chosen Redeemers. There is a roughly triangular region anchored by Chicago, Springfield, and Indianapolis where the sun no longer rises. Locals of this area have taken to calling it Neverlight, outsiders merely say that it is Always Dark and avoid the area. It is rumored that there are… things… in the dark. Texas is reputed to be free of the dead and is ruthlessly controlled by four Oil Barons. The waters have reclaimed southern Louisiana; New Orleans is now generally known as The Sunken City. There are points of light as well: the southern tip of Vancouver Island has been walled off and is free of the dead, if rumours are true, though one must endure eight weeks of solitary quarantine if they are to join Utopia, as it is called by the desperate. There are other safe zones out there, somewhere.

Alert Status Red

Being set in the zombie post-apocalypse, zombies will of course be well represented. Regular, lurching zombies, fast zombies, plague spewing zombies… they’re all in there. People with their myriad array of abilities and allegiances of course will likely pose the biggest threat, ultimately. But there needs to be more… Taking a page from Resident Evil and Resident Evil 3, tyrant and nemesis-like undead menaces will present themselves from time to time.

The dead are comprised of more than just zombies as well. As described above, there is a region that never sees daylight. What kind of undead creatures could thrive in such a place? I can think of one or two.. or perhaps more. And… and this is my favourite part… there are ghouls. Yes. Ghouls. What is terrifying to people inured to the horror of the zombie apocalypse? Dead things that are social, intelligent, and ever-hungry for living flesh are. The ghouls, and their queen, have plans. And while they would love to see the population of humans increase, it would certainly be to the detriment of the general quality of life…

The End is Here

I think that is enough to chew on for the time being. Next time, I will discuss the system, resources used, and some house rules that have been implemented to better simulate the system’s implementation of the theme.

Comment below!

What have I missed? What kind of things would you like to see in your zombie apocalypse? Sound off in the comments.

Two bees on a flower

A Buzz on Spring Break – “For The Hive” Play Account

Ah spring break. A glorious time full of fun and excitement and a break from the monotony of every day life.

And as a work from home mother of three small children with no child care, it is also a really long two weeks where I struggle immensely trying to juggle work  and rugrats intent on getting up to no good (I believe it was day two that Rugrat #2 shoved half a dozen smurfs into the baseboard heater while I was showering).

Gardening, baking, colouring pictures, and Pokémon Go can go a long way, but Ken and I decided spring break was also the perfect time to break out another RPG adventure for the kids. We agreed it was time to play For the Hive, a really well reviewed adventure written by J Gray and published by Playground Adventures.  I thought it could be fun to add a fourth player to our game, and I suggested we try bringing another child into the mix. So a couple of weeks ago I called the mother of Rugrat #1’s best friend.

It was an awkward call because I have never broached the topic of RPGs with other parents. “So, uh, hi Parent! Do you have a minute? I wanted to talk to you about something.” Immediately I realized it sounded bad, like her child had done something wrong.  She was driving, using her car’s speaker phone, so there was also that awkward bit where you feel like you have to talk extra loudly while introducing role playing games to someone when you can’t even see their face to gauge their reaction.  She’s awesome though, so with the promise of letting her look over the adventure before we played it, she said it was a go.

Time to Game

A week and a half later, the first Saturday of Spring Break, was the big day.  Rugrat #1 & #2 were bouncing off the walls with the impending arrival of Friend 1, who arrived grinning ear to ear.  Getting the game started proved a bit tricky. We had gone ahead and premade the characters for the kids, guessing what type best suited Friend 1. The sheets were bang on, but the lure of the pawns, tokens, and visible map were strong. The kids kept trying to play them like a board game and had trouble listening. Eventually, with food in their bellies, Rugrat #3 safely in her crib for a nap, and pawns and character sheets sorted out, we began.

for the hive coverHere is where I jump in and say that if you want to read a review of For the Hive, you can find Ken’s here.  There are also some reviews with the product here.

Really Time To Game

With everything set, the adventure began.  Ken adjusted it slightly, setting it at a nearby library we like to visit, but as written, the adventure makes it easy for players to become invested – who doesn’t want to help a friend, and save a bee hive while they are at it?

Friend 1 sat quietly and super still, listening intently as the story unfolded.  Rugrat #1, who is seven next month, squirmed and wiggled, which is typical for him.  The key things Bzzercup had to say could have been stressed better to the kids (the Rugrats had trouble focusing), but that was not the adventure, it was our kids and the delivery of those facts – a good reminder not all kids focus as well as Friend 1! GMs playing with kids for the first time: remember your audience! 

Rugrat #1, who is an anxious child, had a lot of difficulty with the idea of shrinking in size, even when we stressed it was just pretend.  With some convincing from Friend 1, he reluctantly agreed, and we were are able to set off across the grass to the hive.  Here the beautiful map came into the play.  The kids loved this map, and we had to run off to print a few extras (how hard sharing can be).

One of the big things I noticed running this adventure for kids is how much (at least mine) needed to be reminded we were doing this together, that we were a team, and that we all had to help each other.  It’s a hard thing to learn – accepting you won’t excel at everything, but that what you may not be able to accomplish someone else on your team can.

A great example was the magical looking glass lost in the huge expanse of grass.  Rugrat #1 was super upset he couldn’t activate it, but I pointed out that without him we wouldn’t have even known what is was or what it could do. Teamwork let us jump forward across the lawn (but downside – he didn’t get to come across the praying mantis he saw in a piece of art, and there was a bit of an upset about that).

So How’d They Do?

Simply put? They succeeded in the goal of the adventure.  And not all groups do.  There were some hurdles though.

One major thing Rugrat #1 had trouble with is things not going his way.  This is a fun little educational adventure, but (much like any other RPG session) the joy gets sucked out a bit when a player throws a tantrum and storms out of the room because his dice aren’t rolling well. After being given the chance to calm down, Rugrat #1 did rejoin the party, and he was just in time for the big final show down.

Rugrat #2 remained quiet for most of the adventure, chiming in during combat to grin and yell “I hit it!” (naturally we made him a barbarian). He was feeling a bit under the weather and lounged across his chair, with his feet on me, or sat on my lap for most of the adventure.  When Ken and I game we sit in the basement on a big day bed with a table nearby.  It’s super comfortable. It’s also a space that would have kids bouncing all of the place and playing with pillows.  Be sure to find a space the kids can focus, but everyone can be comfy – sitting on our hard wooden IKEA chairs for a couple of hours with a four-year’s bony bum wiggling around wasn’t exactly ideal.

Over the course of the adventure, Friend 1 would randomly grin and exclaim “This is so much fun!”, making the afternoon so much better. He was the wild card for us as we’ve played with the Rugrats on a few occasions, and I must say he was a delight.  (There may have been mumblings afterward of sending Rugrat #1 to his house next time and having Friend 1 come by and game on his own.)

Final Thoughts

Rugrat #1 and his friend told us they had completed a unit on bees in school, and knew most of the bee facts that were shared during the adventure, but Ken and I found them interesting. I would recommend that anyone GMing to the younger crowd makes a point of these facts. It is really easy for them to get lost in the excitement of the adventure, and they are pretty interesting (plus a great educational take away).

Rugrat #1 hates conflict. And not being awesome. Obviously these are serious hurdles with Pathfinder.  On more than one occasion he stormed off, hiding in his room. I’m not sure there’s a great way to avoid this if you have a similar child in your life, but reminding him (or her) ahead of time about teamwork is a good idea.  This adventure also did a great job of not having the players “kill” anything.  Opponents were paper wasps.  Wasps actually made of paper (and it was a great tie-in to a previous PGA adventure).  This meant instead of killing a living thing, characters destroyed or ripped the paper, defeating the paper wasp – a very nice touch for children who are sensitive or otherwise upset by violence. I think this made it easier for Rugrat #1, and Rugrat #2’s favorite thing was “ripping the paper wasps.”

All in all, the Rugrats and Friend 1 had fun with this adventure, and both older kids said their favorite thing was helping the queen bee, but it seems Adventures in Wonderland is still the reigning favorite, and the Rugrats are eager for more of that soon. (More on that later!)

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!