Daydreaming About West Marches 

I’ve been having a craving for some good old-fashioned dungeon crawling lately, and that feeling that I could maybe squeeze just one more game in. Still I am not sure I want to have another regularly scheduled time that I have to dedicate solely to a game, and something more flexible I think would be more up my alley. And, like many gamers, I’ve read the classic blog posts about the West Marches style of play a few times before. While I’ve always kind of liked the idea behind it, my current gaming cravings are actually making me seriously consider starting up a West Marches game for the first time.

For those of you not familiar with the West Marches style game (and don’t want to read the link above), my key takeaways from it are as follows:

  • Exploration/Dungeon Crawl Focused: Classic old-school play, go out into the wilderness, and try to make your fortune braving ancient traps and terrible beasts. Not much of a ‘plot’ so much as getting rich and discovering the secrets of the region.
  • Dynamic Group/Scheduling: Unlike a normal game, there isn’t a set time or group, a session happens whenever the GM and enough players can get together to play one. This allows you to have a large group of people involved in the game while still keeping player count for actual sessions reasonable. It also means that sessions are not held up because someone is “missing” you just play with who is there.
  • Player Driven: Players are in charge of scheduling the sessions, and coming up with their goals for the session. The GM will come up with content, as well as rumors and clues to help give the players ideas, but the actual focus of the game is on what the players want to do.

That’s hitting all my buttons of what I want from my gaming right now, and so I figure it might be fun to give it a shot.

Thus far I am still in the high concept stage and haven’t started getting a group together or anything, but I’ve kinda been daydreaming and brainstorming for a little bit. In no particular order:

  • I’m thinking either D&D Basic (likely Moldvay), or, Torchbearer. Torchbearer is probably what I’d go with if I have my druthers, but it requires a little bit of hacking for a West Marches style game, and old D&D probably has a slightly lower buy-in threshold. Probably don’t want to do a modern D&D, as much as I love 4e, and do enjoy 5e, but the conventions have shifted away from a survivalist, resource management, style of play.
  • For the region, I am thinking of a place called “The Gulf of False Hope”. Across the sea from civilization, the Gulf has seen numerous settlement attempts in ages past, but all have fallen as the once great civilizations crumbled. The game takes place a few generations into a new settlement attempt, with some semblance of civilized society and established towns near the coast, while the interior is still mostly wilderness, with ruins of the previous attempts dotting the landscape.
  • Basically, just enough civilization to give the PCs a safe haven when they need it, but most of the region still being ripe for exploration.
  • I definitely want to include a mix of content:
    • Sources drawing from classic D&D modules, cool stuff I found online, some cleaned up random generator stuff, and of course plenty of my own content and creations.
    • I want to have plenty of stuff that new players could handle, but also stuff that might be out of the league of starting characters.
    • I think also a mix of vary serious fantasy stuff, and also some of the more goofy crap found in old D&D as well.
  • Actual ideas for content include:
    • A powerful green dragon makes its home in the area. Very dangerous, but its laid likely contains vast riches…
    • Beyond the mountains lies a desert, including a great trap filled pyramid.
    • Speaking of the mountains, I’d like to hide this classic module somewhere in there.
    • Some god old fashioned ruins, tombs of long lost knights, abandoned dwarven halls, an ancient coliseum, and crumbling castles
    • The Gulf itself is full of ancient wrecks and potential plunder,
      but also protected by creatures of the deep that have made their home there.
  • Definitely would like to meet new people and expand my IRL playgroup though this, perhaps encouraging established players to bring friends?

Still really in the daydreaming phase at this point, will let you all know if this goes anywhere!

Not Quite Dead Yet! A Quick Recap of the Last Month

Wow, it has been almost a month since I posted anything here, that’s my bad. Been a bit hectic during my normal writing time and on top of that I was busy with some fun gaming stuff as well.

The Good Shepherds: We’ll start with the bad news. Since I last posted about the Shepherds a full month and a half ago we have played exactly twice. The second time being on the 26th, during which we finally all came out and admitted that we didn’t feel all that much investment in the game. It’s a solid group, and we wanted to keep playing with each other, so we decided to put the Shepherds away and try a different game for a while. Right now it is looking like we’re going to be playing some version of Mage, I’ll keep you posted.

Devil Survivor: We got 2 sessions in during the last 4 weeks, one I had to miss because of a dental appointment, and the one this week Caine’s player had a scheduling conflict. I’ll include a more detailed recap when I write up our next session, but the short version is that our pair of heroes have armed a rebel group with the demon summoning program and Caine got himself a new demon.

And here is a quick rundown of the fun stuff that kept me from writing about fun stuff.

Triforcebearer: A lot of the writing time I DID have was dedicated to this instead. It is a collection of Zelda races as classes for Luke Crane’s old school dungeon crawl game Torchbearer. It was a pretty fun exercise making them (even if a good chunk of the class abilities are just lifts from existing classes), not to mention I am happy I actually FINISHED a homebrew, instead of just stopping at the half-baked idea stage. I haven’t got a chance to playtest them yet, but I hope to do so in the future if I get a chance.

Video Games: Probably really my primary hobby, even if I blog about RPGs more often. The fact that you don’t have to schedule play time with several other busy people contributes to that a bit, I’d say. Eitehr way the last month or so has been a sweet time for gaming for me, with some highlights including:

  • Breath of the Wild – Probably an obvious one given the fact I just mentioned my Zelda homebrew above. It’s a high quality game, and the ability of the switch to play it on the go is pretty neat as well. I still actually have like 10 shrines left to get before I get all of them. Might not be my favorite Zelda game of all time, but it is really close.
  • Nier: Automata – Picked this up after hearing some really good things about it, and was not disappointed. is solid in both the story and gameplay department, something Platinum Games, does really well. Would highly recommend
  • Persona 5 – Just came out Tuesday, and I have had class and other things keeping me from diving deep into it, but I have been hyped about this game for a while, hopefully it lives up to it.

Gamestorm: Just this last weekend we had our local gaming convention here in the Portland/Vancouver area, focuses on boardgaming and RPGs and all around a good time. When I first went, I’d go with a huge group of friends and we’d just check out games from the game library and hang out together the whole con. As folks got busier and the price has gone up, less of my friends go, and this year it was just down to me and a few that were working the convention. I spent a lot of time in organized games with randoms this year, which has some of its own charms. Some highlights:

  • Twilight Imperium – Game was scheduled to start at 9am. I ended up leaving at 8:30pm. It took a while to set up and tear down (the game owner had been at it an hour before we were scheduled to start), but most of that time was just due to the fact that we were playing with 7 people. I generally don’t much care for “I have to wait for my turn” as a complaint in board-gaming, but it was a lot of downtime in the game, and there were so many people that you couldn’t really interact with them. I think it was worth the time investment, but I think I would prefer to try it with 3 to 5 players instead of 7. At least I get the gamer cred for having finished a game of it!
  • 5e – I wanted to get some D&D in, and they had a lot of slots open. I grabbed the wizard pregen and named him ‘Mizzerio the Great’ and spent my time speaking in the wizard voice. Not exactly a deep character but was fun for a big con game. I generally prefer 4e, but 5e isn’t really a bad edition altogether. Killed some Kobolds and lava demons, and had a good time all around.
  • 13th age – Killed more kobolds, AND a corrupted dragon! I hadn’t played 13th age before but it was pretty neat. Fun fact that in both this game and the 5e game the Kobolds attacked us immediately after my character tried to greet them. Not like you show up to con games expecting to talk your way out of a fight, but the parallels were pretty funny. GM did a good job getting some roleplaying in for everyone considering how many people we had, so that was nice.
  • Shadowrun: Anarchy – tried out Shadowrun’s new “lighter” version. Still a pretty big book, but it is noticeably smaller than the 5e one, so I guess that counts? This session was early morning on the last day of the convention, so there was literally only one other player for this game. Our goal was to kidnap this guy, and drop him off at another corp (who didn’t want him there). The kidnapping went smooth as it could go, we basically convinced the mark to walk right up to our van and my Troll gangleader just put him in a choke hold and off we went. The other place was guarded, and we thought we could try to talk our way past them, but then they asked for my ID (which I did in fact have a fake one, but it was in much smaller print than my characters real, criminal id). I pulled my gun on them and we got in a fight. I ended up arrested, and my partner ran away cause of some bad luck with dice on our parts. Mission failed, but still a fun time.
  • Battlestar Galactica – Got a chance to play this with about 5 people. There were no cylons in the first deal of the cards, so the human side did really well and had practically won by the time the cylons second set of ids were dealt. I and the other brand new player were both dealt Cylon cards at that time, and so we had no real chance. Still a neat game though.
  • Dungeon Busters – A cute tiny game about beating monsters in a dungeon. Play the lowest card and you get points if the group still beats the monster, but lose points if the group loses. Really small but I thought it was fun enough to grab after the convention.

I’ll try to keep you all more up to date in the future!

Actual Play: Devil Survivor 22XX – Session 7 – Monday’s Mania (part 4)

This session, as Caine’s player put it, “We walked down some stairs”. It was mostly a conflict session with a lot of the time being spent in OOC decision making and mechanical resloution, so while we played for a normal ammount of time, not very long passed in game. Ven and Caine had just made it to the emergency Stairwell, and the suits that were raiding the lab were attempting to chase them down. They got down about half a flight of stairs when the suits caught up to them. They considered having their demons hold those guys off, but I made it clear that Wendigo would not survive that, considering his previous injuries.

They opt for trying to delay them instead, Wendigo using his bufu to freeze the floor, and Jackalope using his confuse power to stop a few of them. The demons help, but Ven’s dice go cold, and Caine makes much more progress than Venkata does. Another throw of the dice like that, and Venkata takes a bullet to the leg, while Caine reaches a door into another hallway. I tell him that if he just keeps running at this point, he likely can get away, but that means leaving Venkata to deal with their pursuers on his own.

Caine elects to stay behind and help out (earning a humanity gain roll in the process), and directs Wendigo to go back and help. Caine’s directions to “help” are rather unclear, and a few ideas are tossed around, so I have Wendigo look to Ven for guidance which is met with an equally vague “Fucking DO SOMETHING!”. I decide to default to Wendigo’s base nature, which is combat.

Wendigo manages to take out one of the guys with its Bufu skill, and Caine barely misses hitting another one with a thrown lead pipe. Ven makes it to Caine and the two leave Wendigo behind after all as they make good their escape. Jackalope manages to heal Ven’s bullet wound, while Caine’s COMP informs him that his demon was “lost”.

The pair debate their next steps, and, feeling short on leads, decide to go to the protest. I’d intended this meeting to be exclusive to the protest, since they were going on at the same time, but I’ll likely let them show up for the tail end of it. Not really sure how well I handled that chase overall, but I think it was a good time for everyone involved.

Actual Play: Devil Survivor 22XX – Session 6 – Monday’s Mania (part 3)

We picked up right where we left off, the Pixie they let go vanishing around the corner of the hallway. Wendigo is injured, and Jackalope is exhausted (and exposed to Caine for the first time). Caine feels betrayed that Venkata didn’t tell him about his demon earlier, especially since Caine laid all his cards on the table. Venkata mostly blows him off, saying he had no reason to trust Caine, and if he wants to bail, he can. Caine wants to know what happened to his friend, so he decides to stick around for now, and the two continue on to the lab.

The Lab area is fairly secure, with video cameras and an electronic lock, but they manage to get inside by scanning Chris’ comp on the reader by the door. They arrive in the lab in question a bit before the guy they are trying to meet, and poke around for a bit. They consider trying to hack into some of the terminals, but they are fairly secure and might trigger some of the security systems if they fail, and so they decide not to risk it.

They wait until Liam shows up, who is rather ragged looking, and a bit freaked out that there are some random strangers here. They level with him and get him to calm down a bit. He tries to keep them from getting involved, until they reveal that they already know about the Demon Summoning Program, and that demons are on the loose in the Arc. He says he, Chris, and a third man named Matthew found the source code on an old salvaged server and managed to get it working again. They were going to keep it a secret, but he ended up sharing the program with a buddy of his and security, and now it seems like the Admins are out to get him.

Venkata asks him about Vanessa, and he doesn’t know much, but he does know that a strange woman was bothering them about the program, telling them to get rid of it, and he wasn’t sure how she knew about it. He also briefly mentions that Matthew might be involved in a cult or something, or at least, he found him a little creepy.

In retrospect, I think the conversations should have gone on a little longer, as there was more information the PCs wanted AND more information I wanted to give them, but at that point, Liam suddenly jerks, and seems to come under possession by a demon. The demon says people are coming, and Jackalope seems to corroborate. They ask about a a back way out, and the demon points them to an emergency exit.

This Demon decides to make its own way (using the PCs as bait to make its own escape), but does tell Venkata it noticed that Vanessa avoided Matthew to the point where he suspected they knew each other. Really that was a bit of information I just forgot to get out sooner, so it was kind of awkwardly thrown out there, but it worked well enough. The PCs make their way to the emergency exit and we end right as the alarm goes off and the suits notice them.

It was a nice short and a sweet session, and I think the PCs have been really coming into their own. I’m not really sure how I feel about Sorcerer as a system as it feels like we are hardly playing it and more just using its dice conventions, but the game itself is going really well in my opinion.

Next week we’ll likely start with a chase/fight which should at least get some dice rolls going.

Actual Play: Devil Survivor 22XX – Session 5 – Monday (part 2)

We picked up this week right where we left off last time, with the demon Wendigo charging at the Jack Frost to start the battle. This was any of our first combat in sorcerer, and we were all a bit shaky on the rules, but we dove right in. Wendigo and Caine both got a bonus to their first action roll due to surprise, and the Pixie and the Jack Frost both had fairly bad stamina, so I thought it would be a rather one-sided fight. Caine ended up looking for a weapon, and I told him there was a pipe he could pry off the wall with some work. Wendigo wanted to get bite and claw at the Jack Frost. The two fairies wanted to stop that big monster, and Venkata and Jackalope were taking a wait and see approach.

We roll the dice, and even though the fairies aren’t rolling very many dice, Jack Frost kills it on init/attack (which I find weird is the same roll, but that is how the game works), turning right at the last moment and sticking Wendigo with a Bufu (Lethal special damage fluffed as an ice shard). Wendigo goes down with some heavy lasting penalties, while Caine can’t get the pipe free with a single action (due to a failed roll).

I point out Venkata has the chance to bail, but he doesn’t take it, instead, he sicks Jackalope on the Pixie and tries to banish the Jack Frost. I didn’t make ordering the demon an action, because at the time, the demon was already waiting on a attack/flee order, he wasn’t demanding anything TOO specific, and if the demon was going to help or not wasn’t a question at this point. Caine finishes prying off the pipe, while the fairies both try to defend themselves.

Jack manages to get off another Bufu before Venkata can really test his luck, which takes him pretty deep into the negatives (5 lasting damage, and way more temp damage). While Jackalope and the Pixie both manage to defend themselves against each other.

Most of the demons are already running up to the limits of how often they can use their powers in a conflict, so the rest of the fight is a bit less lethal. Caine and Jack Frost clash a little, neither really hitting each other, but they do exchange a few puns. Meanwhile Jackalope gets a few minor penalties on the Pixie. The fight ends with Caine getting a total victory on an attack vs Jack Frost, which I mistakenly apply the edged damage table to instead of the blunt, causing him to be destoryed (banished). I said he had earned the Jack Frost’s respect and so he’d get a bonus if he tries to contact something in the Jack Frost family in the future. At the same time the Pixie gets barely taken out of the fight, and so tries to surrender.

They take the opportunity to try and get information out of her, and she willingly tells them what she knows, but it quickly becomes apparent that she doesn’t know much. She says she is working for the queen of the fairies, Titania, and was out hunting for “Camps”, which it takes them a little bit to realize she means COMPs.

She’s a bit confused by them calling their COMP a medical device, since as far as she knows, it’s just a tool that “Hunters” use. Her only explanation on why she is looking for a COMP is that the queen told her to. I hadn’t really decided if she actually knew why the queen wants them or not, but they assumed she did not and didn’t follow up.

Caine asked if there was a way to help Wendigo, and she suggested either to give him his need, or to give him a few life stones. It was getting late irl, so she then asked if she could leave, and they let her go. They probably could have demanded money or a life stone or some such from her, or maybe even formed a binding with her, but decided not to bother and just let her fly off.

Fun session overall, even if the combat was a little wonky. Next week, we’ll probably deal with the fallout of Caine discovering Venkata has been hiding a demon from him.

Recap: Devil Survivor 22XX – Sessions 2, 3 & 4

My Wednesday night Sorcerer game done in SMT style have actually still been meeting every week since Session 1, and it is actually going fairly well. Text based games are fairly different beasts when compared to in person or online voice games, but one of the perks of which is having a log. As one of the key reasons I write APs is to help me remember what happened, the logs kind of hurt my motivation to actually get them out. The commentary, on the other hand, I think is still pretty valuable (to me at least), which the raw logs don’t capture, so I really should try harder to get those out on a regular basis.

For now, just to clear out the backlog on the three sessions since my last post, I’ll just give a high level recap of the events of the last few sessions.

Session 2 had Caine and Venkata go to Christopher’s house on the promenade, a large, open, upper class residential, shopping, and meeting space near the top of the building. They arrive and find police having partitioned off the building, and seem to be searching it.

Venkata is recognized by one of his contacts on the force, Frank Erickson. They let slip that they know Chris is dead, which the police didn’t actually know yet. They fail a roll, and so Frank wants to take them in for questioning, but they basically want to try again. The conversation sorta devolves into a ‘”Come on”, “No way”, repeat’ thing. I feel it was some bad consequence setting on my part.

I end up giving them another roll to avoid getting arrested, and they manage to get a bit out of Frank in exchange for what they know (although they leave out the details of whose greenhouse it was or where the body is). In return, they find out that the Arc’s de facto leader, Samuel Ryan, is looking for Chris, and that the symbol they found is for some cult called “Immaculate Genesis”, and that Venkata’s mom worked the case a while back. They decide to look into the cult and Caine thinks he might know someone who could tell them about it.

Session 3, Caine goes and meets his ‘contact’, who also happens to be his Bartender. Caesar O’Connor, owner of O’Connor’s Pub, and something of a community/activist leader among the lower class of the Arc. Caine’s timid nature, plus a combination of forgetfulness and inexperience on his player’s part, lead to O’Connor controlling much of the conversation. While the cult never came up, he did learn O’Connor’s take on the lockdown, that Ryan did it to trap a good chunk of the farmers outside so they couldn’t come to the demonstration they were planning. O’Connor extracts a verbal commitment from Caine to show up at the demonstration. And Jackalope causes a bit of trouble but Venkata manages to reign it in.

It is getting late, and given the information they withheld from the police, it is likely not safe for either man to go home, so the duo crash with a contact of Venkata’s, in a less than legal “hospital”.

Session 4 started with Caine’s COMP getting an email for Chris, in which one of his friends asked him to meet during the demonstration. They debate it for a bit, before deciding to meet with this guy and find out what he knows. I give them plenty of time before either event to investigate more or change their mind, but they decide to just get there early.

One failed roll later and I decide to introduce some wild demons. They encounter a duo of two iconic Fairy Race demons, Pixie and Jack Frost. They listen in on the two demons chattering away (about eating humans, about how they are looking for something for their Queen, about how the human world is strange), until Venkata tries to simply walk past them.

There’s a bit of confusion for a bit because I thought he was still trying to be stealthy, but apparently he is hoping ignoring them will be enough. The Pixie notices his ‘Camp’ (COMP) and tries to get his attention, which freaks Caine out enough that he sicks Wendigo on the wild demons. I kinda threw these demons in on a whim, so I didn’t have them statted out in Sorcerer, and haven’t reviewed the combat section in forever, so we called it there and will get into a demon fight next time.

Actual Play: The Good Shepherds – Session 11 – Tomb Raiders

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I posted last week about trying harder to drive more when I wasn’t really feeling it, but I am not sure if I lived up to that last night. It wasn’t really apathy like it was last week, as it was a rather ill-timed headache/migraine. While I took some Ibuprofen right before we started, I didn’t feel any real relief until after we ended. I am also fairly sure (we play via voice chat online) that Nymn’s player was sick as well (he certainly sounded sick). My focus wasn’t all there, and I had to step away once or twice, but I will recount what I remember.

We started off finishing leveling up the crew. We floated a few ideas, but we were having trouble committing to anything. Eventually, we settled on the fact that we wanted a workshop for Nymn to invent in and such, and, lacking any better ideas for what to do with the other upgrade, put it in quality weapons. It’s probably not the choice we would have made if we were all in the mood to advocate for getting what we thought was “the best” decision, but they’re both choices that should be “nice to have”.

Anyway, we start out with our “Demonic Notice”, in which we get called in by Lady Penderin, the noble we helped out in session 5. None of us REALLY remembered her except the GM, but I did seem to recall that Sarge hadn’t met her, Sola did. Sarge doesn’t really trust her all too much, mostly due to meta concerns (my headache, I think being among them), so he refuses to give her his real name. She doesn’t like Scurlock much either and we trade some information with her.

We get stuck on deciding jobs again, which seems to be a bit of a sticking point for us as a group, but again about half of us are not in top medical form. Lady Penderin offers a job with the reward being some amulets to like, resist undead fear or something? I am utterly convinced they are cursed or going to track us or something, and so ask some very specific questions utilizing my “like looking in a mirror” ability to try and determine they aren’t.

My questions are answered to my satisfaction (barring “From a certain point of view” type bullshit, but I’ve yet to have any issues with my current GM in that regard). I’d still rather say no, but I have nothing to offer as an alternative to it, so we end up going for it.

The job is to break into some guy’s tomb, steal something he was buried with. The twist is that it is in the lost district, and that another gang (The Silver Nails IIRC) is also looking for it. We decide to take our boat out (to get past the lightning barrier), land near the graveyard in question, and make the rest of the way on foot. We botch the engagement, and so our landing zone is full of ghosts. We manage to ward them off with our spiritbane charms and sneak to the graveyard in a few quick group actions.

We have to locate the right tomb, and so we end up rolling survey, which results in a crit! We manage to find it before our rivals even know we are on their turf. The door is locked with some magic stuff, and so we just decide to break it down. Nymn has the ability to wreck quite, and so we don’t have to worry about making too much noise. It’s a really useful ability, but it does make my heavy investment into wreck (back when Nymn’s player was playing Loki) kind of irrelevant.

We get inside, only at THIS point to realize we have no idea what we are looking for. We do a quick flashback to get told that it is a golden eye, and it is likely inside this guy’s coffin itself. We debate just prying it open, but I decide to look for traps. I have to push myself cause I believe the only PC who had study at this point is Sola. But thanks to that and some help I manage to find another magical trap.

We try to disarm this one, fail (making the situation desperate), and then just decide to smash it, grab the eye, and run. A success on that roll means we make it out just in the nick of time, before a stone slab would have trapped us in there. We manage to sneak back onto our boat, and get out of dodge with the Silver nails never even knowing we were there.

We roll unquiet dead on our entanglements, the ghost whose tomb we robbed is pissed at us for taking his eye. And downtime ends up mostly being recovery and training. I bench Sarge to let him recover from his stress and minor injury, and will bust out Sola again next week.

Not much exp going around this week, except for Nymn who did alright for himself. I got a whole lot of nothing, mainly because my head still hurt and I wanted to finish more than I wanted to lobby, but I might take another look and see if the group agrees with me if I find anything now that my head is clear.

Hopefully Sola will get to bust some ghosts next time!