Roleplaying

Blocks, Cookies and the King of Spain

dr-who-expo-t-shirtFor me, attending UK Games Expo in the past has meant preparing and running five or six games – and probably misjudging that prep until the last moment.

This year I chose to run only three games and opted to focus on adventures – or, at least, set-ups – that I have run before.

For Doctor Who, that meant that I rolled out my handy reference cards, quick pre-gen Time Lord character cards, my GM screen and the ‘War Doctor’ Special Edition rulebook.

On top of that, I wanted to try a little experiment, but more on that later.

As you can see from the picture, we had cookies. I think they were a bribe. It didn’t work.

Quick Session Overview

Doctor-Who-City-of-GoldSo, Saturday morning was Doctor Who (using the Vortex system) and I had a group of 5 (with an explanation for the missing player due to a last moment change of plans).

Three of the players were a mother, father, and son group – which actually had no impact at all. At one point, Kelly (the mum) had a choice to save one character from three knocked unconscious by blow darts — and to my surprise she didn’t opt for her husband but rolled a die instead!

I opted to use an old FASA adventure – The City of Gold, which finds the time travellers discovering the Earth of 2030AD ruled by reptiles. After an encounter with a T-Rex and the discovery of a worrisome (but stable) time bubble, they have to head off into history to prevent this alternate timeline from solidifying.

Favourite moment — the characters arrive in the Venezuelan jungle in 1543AD and, having travelled away from the TARDIS, fall for an ambush by Spanish conquistadors. The young lad character pulls his Psychic Paper and he seamlessly declares “I am a messenger of King Charles!”.

Seriously! I had to look that up during prep…

Tumbling Blocks

dr-who-tumbling-blocks-vortex-rpgI noted from running the system before that I keep forgetting Story Points – which allow you to retool, reduce damage, tweak the plot, etc. This time, I came up with the idea of co-opting Dread’s Jenga mechanic as a means of providing a team Story Point pool with an added layer of tension.

I used the Doctor Who Tumbling Tardis Tower Game I picked up from Amazon. I originally purchased the set to simply us as counters – but after I got the tower the Dread-style use struck me. And it worked beautifully. Stable tables permitting, I’ll use it again.

It worked beautifully – and stable tables permitting, I’ll use it again.

Whenever the players failed to make a roll, suffered a grievous wound, or wanted to use a skill they didn’t have – they could opt, instead, to pull a block from the tumbling tower. Sometimes that meant that more than one player would pull blocks consecutively.

The tower dropped twice during the course of the game – once close to the end, which led to an extra complication for them to resolve before concluding. Sounds of dismay and calls of guidance would follow in quick succession when a player declared they would draw a block.

Great fun. Thoroughly recommended.

Character Cards

sample-vortexThe family enjoyed the game so much that they went off and picked up the game from Cubicle 7, along with the 8th Doctor sourcebook, on my recommendation because at heart the volume provides you with a great selection of adventures.

They asked about the Quick Character Gen Cards – and I said that I’d put the link up on the website – so here’s that link to the print-and-play card sheets.

As covered in my earlier article on the Quick Gen cards, you have enough cards to create up to seven Time Lord characters and the abilities offer a good spread. The fewer players (and therefore characters) you have, the more likely they’ll need to spend Story Points to account for missing skills.

I recommend lamination, but you could just print them on a piece of stiff card or use paper and card sleeves. I prefer lamination because the players can then scribble on them with a dry-wipe pen.

Doctor Who RPG Vortex Quick Characters

Gallifreyan Games

Doctor-Shobogan-Standoff

The Doctor Who RPG needs to be played.

I need to run it more often – and take the time to get into the nuances of Cubicle 7‘s Vortex system.

Simple post really.

While the reception to the last series might be mixed – and I can’t think of a single creative realisation in any media that won’t raise an argument amongst fans – I enjoyed it a great deal.

Indeed, I think I’m enjoying thinking back on it now than when I watched it the first time.

For example, the Degradations of Skaro – I so want to investigate that concept more and the horrific experiements actualised by the Dalek Command upon their own forces in the battle against the Time Lords.

I want to delve more into Gallifrey as well.

When I ran a couple of games at conventions this year, I offered a Shobogan as an option amongst the characters. I don’t consider these Outsiders in Gallifreyan society so distanced from the common citizenry that they can’t interact.

In the New Adventure All Consuming Fire, the Seventh Doctor refers to the Shobogan as New Age Time Lord dropouts. In the recent Hell Bent, the Doctor starts the episode living amongst the simple and peaceful Shobogan in the outback of the Gallifreyan wilds. They seem interesting enough to make more of, to understand how they have taken to a simpler lifestyle and cast aside all the pomp of “High Gallifrey”.

When Cubicle 7 originally released the boxed set of the Doctor Who game I attacked it with gusto and set about creating stats for all the various characters of the new series. I think my first attempt was in statting up Charles Dickens from The Unquiet Dead. I could do with recapturing some of that figure for invention while I have the recent series fresh in my mind.

While I’m at it I could do with reviewing a few of the more recent books also, as I’ve really enjoyed reading them and scribbling notes about what I’d like to use out of them. It seems a long while since I last wrote something – and All Time and Space is the answer to all my calls for morer adventures that I might have mentioned in the reviews for one-shots like Cat’s Eye, Medicine Man and The Ravens of Despair.

Quick Doctor Who Characters – Part 2

doctor-who-vortex-quick-charactersI ran The Blood of the Zygons this last weekend for Doctor Who (Vortex system) and I declare Quick Characters a workable option. Not flawless, but workable.

I introduced the base game mechanic (2d6 + two character scores) and got going with the adventure.

When the time came for some action, I laid out the college cards – which show the Attirbutes and a Trait or two – and asked the players who wanted to meet a challenge which card they wanted. At that point, most of the players committed to taking a card. I had the roll based on two Attributes at that point.

Next challenge, I revealed the bottom row of cards, which display Skills and an Attribute adjustment, with a Gadget thrown in for good measure. The players all opted to take something straight away this time – probably because the unfolding adventure put them in immediate peril.

The final card followed before the scene closed and the theme music cut in.

I Don’t Have That…
Over the course of the game, I did find once the characters split up some found having the right skill an issue. When I declared a combination of Attribute and Skill, the response was they’d have one and not the other. With a full character, this would simply be a Skill with a low or zero value.

I think I’ll plug that gap with Story Points. In a short convention game, Story Points don’t actually get spend as quickly as you might like as a GM. At a push, characters in a bind can get a Skill in something – as a one off – by spending a Story Point like the “Like This, Doctor” ability. A straight +3 modifier for a single Point should suffice and make the difference where there’s a shortfall.

That should keep the story moving and the Story Points flowing, so by the end of the adventure the players might get the sense of impending doom that comes with a Story Point overdraft…

Link to card sheets:
Doctor Who RPG Vortex Quick Characters

Quick Doctor Who Characters

IMG_20151011_160018-2I’m running one or more convention games of Doctor Who (from Cubicle 7) over the next few months, starting with this coming weekend.

This past weekend, I finished creating a set of “pre-generated” character cards for the game.

Essentially, they’re not complete characters by any measure – just enough to get through a session. While I could easily have done six or seven fixed character sheets, I have been pleased with card-based characters when running The Dee Sanction and Night’s Black Laundry. My thinking, why not!

I plan to lay the cards down on the table and players get to choose one (or more) from each row as the game progresses. In practice, when someone pushes a challenge, then would be a good time to choose a card.

Alternatively, they could take one from each row at the start of the session. Or I could hand them out at random. That’s the approach with the other games I’ve used character cards. Indeed, my last game of The Dee Sanction generated some fantastic characters right off the bat based on the cards alone.

I think these cards might warrant some tweaking to achieve something like that. I’d quite like to add a random naming suggestion and maybe a motivation or two.

In use, characters will possess any Skills not listed, but they’d have a value of 1. Or zero. I don’t want to go down that route. I’d rather people stick with what they’re good at. Otherwise, players can make rolls based on Attribute alone if no one has the right Skill at the given location or a specific scene.

I tweaked the character generation process of my Call of Cthulhu game on the same basis around skills. I dislike the standard method that creates characters with tiny percentile chances of success on skills.

All characters start with 12 Story Points. Because I’ve created the cards without the full spread of abilities, I don’t want to penalise them further! While I have given everyone a gadget worth a Story Point, it still doesn’t quite compensate.

The three cards align in a column. I noticed that you could actually boil the standard character sheet down into a half an A4 column – so, why not do it with cards.

sample-vortex

The top row of cards has each of the six classes from the Time Lord Academy, plus a Gallifreyan who opted to ‘go wild’. The Shobogan made their appearance in Classic episode The Deadly Assassin. I wanted a non-Time Lord as an option, but with the potential to be involved and of value. Herein, the Shobogan fills the base roll of a more physical Gallifreyan.

The middle row has aspects of personality, which serve up good and bad Traits.

The bottom row fits a sort of career path, offering an extra Attribute point and key Skills. Also, extra Traits and a Gadget.

My adventure concerns students escaping Gallifrey at the start of the Time War, which (from a plot perspective) excuses the shortfall in points here and there. They are, however, the best and brightest the Academy has to offer.

Link to card sheets:
https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B2zIvdT-XhJieFlRMkQtZks0NXc&usp=sharing

More Capsules Please

Doctor-Who-coverNot so long ago, Cubicle 7 released several short and punchy PDF only adventures for Doctor Who. While they have since spent their time concentrating on the Sourcebooks for the individual Doctors – with some excellent content – I’m hankering after more of the snappy capsule adventures.

With the promise that they’ll soon be filling the current core rules void with a swanky new edition featuring Peter Capaldi, would there be a better time to support that release with more PDFs. When a newcomer tries the game for the first time, they will have already spent almost £40 – so, they’re unlikely to go all in and spend another £25 or more on a Sourcebook. However, having finished the introductory adventures, why not draw them in with something a tad more accessible and cheap?

Doctor-Who-Ravens-of-Despair-DWAITASCat’s Eye, Medicine Man and The Ravens of Despair are all less than £2 a pop in PDF, which seems a lot more practical and less of a gamble. I think The Ravens would probably be the best bet for a Capaldi-centred game while, thematically, Medicine Man suits Matt Smith and Cat’s Eye feels more David Tennant. Admittedly, it’s the Doctor and should be pretty interchangeable – and if you run a game for a player-created Time Lord and crew, it doesn’t much matter.

That aside, I thought these little adventures were great fun and great value – you can read individual reviews of Cat’s Eye, Medicine Man and Ravens over on Geeknative. I’d just like to see more – and the opening of the new series mid-September seems a prime time to launch them.

Wing It for Adventure

winter_for_the_adept_wallpaper_by_hisi79-d5zdo7xI ran the third and final session of the adventure Ice from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook at the weekend. I think I could have finished this in two four-hour sessions, but we had more of a social thing going on and the focus wasn’t quite there. At a pinch, I think you could throttle this up to run in a single session or at a convention, but you would need to keep all the action tight.

On top of that, you would need to be really sharp in hitting the beats associated with building the threat. The ultimate secret of the icebound alien colony doesn’t work so well unless you have done ground work on the back story. I think, despite having three sessions to run it over, I failed to do enough of that very ground work. Ah well – lessons learned.

Overall, I enjoyed running the adventure – though I found myself increasingly improvising and casting the system to one side. I have to say that has everything to do with me and nothing to do with the Vortex system. When I want to get a game to a conclusion, the system goes out the window. Yes, the players still roll dice – because many of them enjoy that part of the process – but the nitty-gritty mechanics don’t trouble me.

I liked the way the characters starting to do their own improvisation around the situation. When they realised that they didn’t have an easy escape route, they used some fast talking and deception to find an alternative. The adventure has a traditional aspect of putting the TARDIS off-limits early on, so Tegan and Nyssa found a way to get it back – and then I threw the big threat in their way. Panic ensued, followed by the sonorous tones of the Cloister Bell. Yes, you have the TARDIS back; no, it won’t budge because the time rotor is making all the wrong sounds.

I enjoyed running the game and all the players go involved for the final session (after some patchy player participation in earlier sessions). The final showdown had just the right level of cricket involved (it was the Fifth Doctor!) and a final-final scene with a touch of Flash Gordon about it. Did the villian die or did he simply slip away to return another day?

Kit for Adventure

So, I ran the second session of the adventure Ice from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook.

Running Doctor Who

The key to the game seemed to be having the right equipment at the table to facilitate the fun. I’m familiar with the rules – so, there’s no need to have my Limited Edition War Doctor-sporting rulebook on display. The core book sits on the floor or a chair nearby normally, as I only really need it if the players ask me a tough question and they really want an answer (rather than enthusiastic hand-waving).

Instead of the rule book, I use the Gamemaster’s Screen [A] (which would appear to be out of print, so if you want one you’ll need to try the secondary market). I find this screen a lot more useful than many other examples of the same (you know who you are D&D 5e), as it includes a plethora of immediately useful tables and information.

For the adventure, I just have the whole text available as a PDF on my 7 inch Tablet [B], although I also have occasion to do the same with a smartphone or laptop. Depends on the table space available. I keep notes in a TXT file or similar and any additional images or information in a folder on the desktop.

If I want to make real world notes, draw notes, scribble maps or present clues/riddles, I use my hand Dry Wipe pens [C] on my equally handy Super-sized Dry Wipe Cards [D]. Why use up all that paper and sticky notes of old, or roll an enormous battle mat across the table? If I’d had a battle mat it wouldn’t have fitted it on this table without getting in the way.

I keep notes on the cards and, as here, create a reference map of locations the characters have been or can visit [E]. Later in the game, I also drew a picto-glyph clue for them to refer to.

IMG_20150627_191447

Yeah – not overly subtle. However, it did have them wondering just what the alien’s had going relationship-wise. All at each other’s throats or not?

I have recently got hold of some Clear Plastic Stands [F] that work with my dry wipe cards. Took a bit of trial and error to finds ones that fitted – some clearly had some sort of thin card in mind and wouldn’t take a plastic card at all. Others would take half of one or the card simply slipped out and fell over.

In this instance I used the cards in stands for a map; in others I have used them for game aspects, key information or even quick character sketches. I experimented with create a dungeon – though I suspect I would have to be really keen to get all the work done for that.

I use a combination of standard dry wipe pens and Staedtler Correctable [C] – which you can rub accidentally with a finger or hand without loss. To remove, you use either a slightly abrasive tissue or cloth or they include a felt eraser on the other end. Combining both pens means you can have elements easily removed – like the difficulty to access a location in this adventure – and more permanent elements – like the location name – that need to stick around as long as you have a need.

My othered preferred point of reference in a game with locations (or a map) are miniatures for each playing; mind you, I’m not looking for tactical placement or accuracy. Here I use the Doctor Who figures from Character Building [G] with only a light regard for accuracy. I have the Fifth Doctor right, but for Nyssa I used Amy and Tegan got River. They’re both female – I got that bit right!

I have mentioned before the benefits of a stab of sound here and there – and for that I need my HMDX Jam Bluetooth Speaker [H]. I used it with both my phone and tablet – using the little cable that comes with it. Bluetooth is great, but in this situation it makes sense just to use the cable and conserve power! After the summary of Part 1, we had the theme tune. Later, I had some spooky atmospheric music as the team explored. Then, upon outlining the worrisome cliffhanger, a rousing turn of the closing theme followed. Perfect to frame a proper session of Doctor Who.

Finally, a nice Cup of Tea [T]. The Doctor would approve.

Call to Adventure

winter_for_the_adept_wallpaper_by_hisi79-d5zdo7xI recently played the first session of the Ice adventure from the Eighth Doctor Sourcebook.

I’m not running this as a campaign, per the intentions of the supplement, but as a standalone. I felt that the adventure would work quite nicely that way.

I also used the Fifth Doctor and Nyssa as the characters at the centre of the adventure. The adventure slots into the continuity between Time-Flight and Arc of Infinity in the series (between Season 19 and 20), where several New Adventure novels and Big Finish audio dramas probably all dwell.

As it happens, this choice came down to the players. One loved the Nyssa character and wanted to play her, so it seemed to be just right. Ice involves rooting around in caves beneath a frozen planet and somehow that seemed perfectly Fifth Doctor as well.

All this isn’t really the point of this post. What I wanted to mention was the fact that I punctuated the session with music.

At the start of the adventure the TARDIS arrivals unexpectedly on a cold planet. Unexpectedly arrivals are not unusual in Who. In this case, the cold is the unusual part. The TARDIS feels cold. So, the Doctor’s curiosity gets the better of him, as how could a planet penetrate the TARDIS like that?

After finding suitable clothes in the Wardrobe, the two character ventured out and I described the desolate, glacial scenery. And the cold. They trudged a bit and casting around they realised that something lay beneath the ice, some relic of an alien city.

At that point, a snowmobile appeared in the distance. Nyssa hid while The Doctor bid a cheery hello to the newcomer. While conversation ensued, Nyssa became aware of an odd vibration in the ice. Or was it more of a tremor?

A moment later, mid-conversation, the guy on the snowmobile wheeled it around as the ice creaked, shuddered and then cracked. Sheets of grey-blue ice jabbed skyward while others dropped into the abyss. Both characters made a leap for safety, The Doctor fell, only for his fingers to catch an edge.

As The Doctor struggled to get up, aided by the stranger, Nyssa looked across the ice field. Jagged streaks patterned the surface, now covered with pits and holes. In the distance the TARDIS…

And then it dropped out of sight.

Queue the stab of the Who theme. POW.

If they hadn’t got in the mood up to that point, the theme made all the difference. We’re all suddenly bobbing about and squeal wee-woo.

It set the mood and also served as a way to cut to the next scene, as the snowmobile ground into the waiting camp beyond the mountains. No need to worry about the journey between or the uneasy silence from the stranger. The Doctor and Nyssa could worry about the TARDIS later – they had new people to meet and a mysterious city to uncover.

The theme worked really well. I can’t say that music works for everyone, and as a background noise it will be Marmite for some groups. But in that moment, the stab of the Theme worked wonderfully well, just as the outro version of the theme worked well at the end of the session, just as I revealed the cliffhanger revelation.

I recommend giving it a try, whatever the game. If you can find a theme tune, go for it. I can see it providing a valuable and rather entertaining framing motif. If you follow the TV serial approach to games, it doesn’t always have to happen at the same time. Some shows you can go five, ten, even fifteen minutes before they kick in the theme tune and the opening credits. In a longer drama or serial, they have a degree of leeway – as do you in running a gaming session.

Find a tune. Set the tone of the session. Hit the danger or reveal the cliffhanger from last session – and then play the theme.

Original art (cropped for this post) by deviantart contributor hisi79

Classic Thrills and Adventure

Faux Rocket Rangers recruitment posterMars holds remnants of an advanced civilisation, now fallen into barbarism. The sweaty depths of Venus holds danger and savage beasts, certain to catch ill-prepared travellers unaware. And beneath the cratered face of the Moon, relics of a subterranean people suggest this rock holds secrets more fascinating than it’s drab surface might suggest.

A familiar situation, whether you’ve been watching Doctor Who or you’re a fan of 19th and early 20th century science fiction. The solar system contains more promise for explorers than at first one might expect. Earth alone no more, for out there in the midst of the star speckled void lies the evidence of civilisation, some of it pre-dating our own.

This is the backdrop for Rocket Age, from Cubicle 7. (more…)