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Gamecraft: Adding to the Game

Man…been a while since I did a gamecraft article.  Well overdue,  I think.

The topic today is what to do when you want to add something to the game that wasn’t there before.  This one will be a bit shorter, but let’s delve into the idea, what I mean, and how to go about it.

Not on the Master Clipboard

Homebrew doesn’t have to be bad! It can be fun!

I’m going to start with a small story.  Back a while, a friend of mine was running an adventure path for Pathfinder.  The AP was, appropriately enough, Rise of the Runelords, the first AP created by Paizo.  It was good fun, with me as a half-elf oracle along with a dwarf monk and fighter and a human sorcerer and rogue.  Life was pretty decent, overall.  One minor addition was that the GM wanted to include some things that, in other areas, might be considered minor artifacts.  The monk got a mask (luchador…long story), sorceress could turn into a dragon, rogue got a different mask, fighter got a special axe, and I got the ability to turn into an ooze demon…also long story.

The point, however, is that none of these things were, strictly speaking, statted.  The GM, inventively, made minor quests for us to go on.  After, we had these powers or items, and they…worked as they did.

The reason I bring them up is because these things helped to sepearate out our characters just a little bit.  We were already a ragtag bunch of misfits, borderline criminals, and a tendancy to be a bit…zealous in our approach, but these things, in some ways, added that much more to the characters.

Just a Dash…

The trick when adding something to the game is to make it worthwhile while not making it game breaking.  I’ve been in situations with both being present, and it created a sort of…problem.  Another example was when, in a Dungeons and Dragons game, the GM added in a gunblade.  Ok…I mean, not the worst idea.  The mechanism behind it was at least interesting, loading alchemical items to create effects.  However, it was…unbalanced, to say the least, doing overwhelming amounts of damage before enchantment and coming at no real cost to the character.

A good way to start adding something is to ask why you are adding it.  Take the two above examples.  The first was an attempt to make the characters special.  They added some confusion, character development, gave us something that was uniquely ours.  That, in my mind, is awesome and props to my friend Kevin for doing it.  The second is…fan wankery.  There’s nothing wrong, per se, with adding something from a popular fandom.  Pathfinder includes an honest to god brawler archetype for Captain America shield throwing and another for hunters that want to be Robin Hood.  Again…nothing wrong.  The problem is the focus.  It pulls things away from the character and instead makes it about the GM and his fandoms.

…huuuuuuuuh…

I’ve played homebrews in the past, ranging from fun (a few homebrews charms in Exalted) to the abysmal (an entire homebrews Final Fantasy game…) and it comes down a lot to how one chooses to incorporate them.

Balancing It Out

Really, homebrews additions to a game are easier than most people think, but harder than some would like to admit.  Ultimately, the trick is game balance and flavor.

Game balance is critical because no one (except that guy) likes playing overpowered characters.  Fewer like it when their character is rendered useless because of a broken character.

A simple way is to balance things against what exists already.  Let’s look at D&D for inspiration.

In the game, magic weapons are balanced to be appropriate for each +1 that would be added.  Looking at the lines, +1 can also be an additional 1d6 elemental damage.  There are, in the core, rules for fire, cold, and electrical.  For a long time, there wasn’t one for acid, but that was an easy homebrew: 1d6 acid.  It wasn’t markedly better than any of the others, so it had no real balance issues.

So, roughly, you had a choice of +1 to attack and damage or an extra 1-6 damage, but with a chance that you come across a monster that made that enhancement useless if they had resistance.

This is mostly why there was never a +1 enchantment that did sonic damage.  Sonic damage tends to have fewer monsters with resistance or immunity to it.  This is usually balanced by how difficult and/or rare it is.  Few classes have regular access (the Bard being an amusing, if understandable exception) and those that do usually have it attached to sub-par spells or abilities.  It’s a bit like an armor piercing bullet: most of the time, you’re better off using a regular one, but now and again, it helps get through that extra protection.

Home brewing in a sonic damage weapon would be tricky, because it’s not worthy +2, but it’s too powerful for +1.  The odd solution was to make it a +1 that only happened on a critical hit, but had a 1d8 instead of a 1d6 to help with the chances.  It’s not a bad one, just one that requires a bit more chance than most.

These are the kinds of calculations required to drop something into a game.  Theoretically, there’s nothing stopping you from entering anything you want (artifacts, potent powers, etc), but one should be careful about how they are introduced.

If I have once critique of the Runelords set up, it’s that the powers came at different times to different people and, while balanced, were difficult to incorporate sometimes.  My character was last in the running.  This wouldn’t have been so bad, and it was a fun addition to his character arc, but I only got to enjoy the trick it bestowed for the last 1/6 of the game, where others had gotten theirs much earlier.  By the time it entered into play, it wasn’t of much particular use, having been outstripped by the build and items I had acquired or built over time.  Similarly, our rogue got his item…a bit early in my opinion.  The item made him a powerful character at lower levels, and it became routine by the time he got to higher.  While rogues certainly need the boost a bit more than oracles, it was probably an early peak.

Which is the other key to remember: make sure people aren’t feeling left out.  Generally, when a wizard is starting out, it’s a good time to give them a cool item because, really, late game they don’t need much help.  Anything at that point is just gravy.  By contrast, a fighter at earlier levels is much better off, and granting him a potent artifact later on will make him feel all the better.  But really, seriously, don’t give one person and one person only access to this super cool stuff.  It’s…limiting.  Unless you want inter-party conflict over a single powerful item (happened once in an Exalted game where none of us trusted the other with the fabled Eye of Autochthon), it’s a poor maneuver since it shower clear favoritism.

And We’re Doing This Why?

This is the second bit.  Ultimately, a lot of homebrew comes about for flavor reasons.  Generally, people want to add something to the game that isn’t there, and usually, the reason is because they think it will add to the game.  This is where I need to add a word of caution, because this is probably one of the critical balances of the setting.

Namely, what is and isn’t a good addition.

Now, to be fair, everything about flavor tends to be subjective.  What works at one table might bomb at another and vice-versa. Part of it is feeling things out.  Generally, at the table I play at, the term “fan-wankery” gets tossed around a lot, and you can guess how much we approve of things like gunblades and giant swords being added where they have no place.  I’ve played at groups where those same things get added all over the place.

Why some games just need to die…

In my opinion, adding something like a gunblades to, say, a high flying fantasy adventure with magitech and steampunk elements is perfectly fine.  Heck, adding it as part of a technomagic society in a game is…ok, at least.  Randomly adding it to, say, Fâerun?  Probably not a great idea. Sorry, hung up on gunblades…

The point is, adding something, even something odd, can be done, and even done with a fair bit of fun, but the setting and characters should always be the focus.  If a character can benefit from, say, an alchemical spear that has an explosive tip, sure, why not?

In Short…

Make sure the game is fun for everyone! When you add something, don’t make it the focus, but just one more little neat thing about your game.

Exalted Third Edition

Oh, where to begin…

Once upon a time, there were games.  They were fun, yes, but hitting the level of epic power was almost always out of reach of all but the greatest of characters.

And then along came Exalted.  This was a game that drew on inspiration from everything that wasn’t Tolkien.  However, the game faced an uphill battle.  Solid rules were problematic, the game often haunted by mechanical quirks, and mathematical nightmares.

And yet…

There is something truly amazing about the game.

I’ve waited years to write this review.  So here it is.  *Deep Breath*

Grab your daiklave, ready your kung-fu, and get ready for the fight of several lifetimes.

This…is Exalted.

And the World Was Dark and Formless

The Exalted were made to kill things that made gods.

The Exalted were made to kill things that made gods.

In the beginning…there was nothing.  In the nothing dwelt beings of omnipotent power and might.  They were eternal, outside of time, simply existing.  But then, everything changed.  The Primoridals formed Creation.

The Primordials, Titans of immesurable power, shaped Creation, gave it laws, formed life, created the gods to act as custodians and guardians.  To the greatest, the Incarnae, were given the most power.  Yet, they feared their creations, and thus bound them with the Great Geas, that none could raise a hand against them.

But the gods, for various reasons, sought to rebel.  Autochthon, the Great Maker, weary of his Titan bretheran, aided the wayward gods, as did his sister, Gaia.  In his power, Autochthon forged shards of power, then bestowed them to the Incarnae and Gaia.  Thus, the Exalted were born.

Servants and weapons of the gods, the Exalted did the impossible: they beat the Primordials.  For their ability, they were given rule of Creation while the gods dwealt in heaven.

Of the Exalted, the greatest were the Solars, chosen of Sol Invictus, the Unconquered Sun.

However, in their death throes, the former Titans cursed the gods that had risen against them.  While they were ready, they did not foresee that their curse would slide to their Chosen.

And the Exalted slipped into madness.  The Solars bore the curse most heavily, and as a result, the Dragon-Blooded and Sidereals rose against them, slaying them and binding them into a prison.

Thousands of years have passed, and times have changed.  The Dragon-Blooded, weakest of the Exalted, now rule the world.  The Lunar mates of the Solars wage endless war against them and the Sidereal traitors.  But the Scarlet Throne is empty, and the world is on the brink of destruction.

And the Solars, the mad God-Kings of a lost era, have returned.  For salvation, or destruction, none yet know.

The story of Exalted hits a lot of the right notes: epic tales of heroism, the Titanomachy, fatal flaws, and a chance to truly make a difference.  The setting and various Exalt types allow for a lot of diversity of play.  Further, it gives a lot of weight to what you are.  You’re not just some random adventurer, you’re the chosen of the gods, remnants of a struggle of a previous age.  Further, you’re flawed, and that flaw is built into the game itself.

First Impressions

Ok, I will not lie, when I saw the cover, I was a bit…underwhelmed.  The art itself wasn’t bad, just that the front cover of a game like Exalted should really wow people.  Then I opened the book.

There is a lot to like about it. The artwork is, for the most part, simply amazing.  It really evokes the concept of the mythic hero of old rather than the anime feel a lot of folks felt second edition was going for.  The art feels like it’s a mixture of ancient myth and modern storytelling.  The page design is also beautiful in a very subtle way.  The page looks like papyrus with small art in the margins.  That art is quite interesting itself, changing from section to section.  Overall, it’s a beautiful design.

If I have some gripes, it’s the lack of style consistency.  The art can be anything from anime to almost three dimensional art.  As a result, it can be jarring going from one to the next.

I am Become Death…

So…making a super-powered demigod…shouldn’t be too tricky…

Character creation for Third Edition has a lot of familiar hallmarks, particularly if you’ve played Storyteller games in the past.  The first step is your concept and caste, which are closely related.

Every Exalt (cept one, later) has divisions called Castes which are meant to evoke certain archetypes.  For Solars, these are:

  • Dawn: Warriors, champions, and generals.
  • Zenith: Priest kings, prophets, and holy warriors.
  • Twilight: Savants, occultists, and crafters
  • Night: Spies, assassins, and scouts
  • Eclipse: Diplomats, bureaucrats, and outriders
Some people want to read very quickly...like me..

Some people want to read very quickly…like me..

Each caste does something really well.  If you want to put the hurt on, it’s hard to beat a Dawn.  If you like to sneak, Nights are probably good.  Want to be a consummate diplomat?  Eclipse would be good.

These are flexible.  There is nothing to say that a Dawn cannot be a sorcerer or a Night cannot be a warrior, but they have several benefits that others would not in their archetype.  Each caste has a set of abilities you can choose.  Dawns can choose any weapon category, Nights are adept at quickness and subtlety while a Zenith can give rousing orations and convince even the most hardened rivals to his cause.

Further, each has some abilities tied to their specific caste called anima effects.  Animas are expressions of your soul made manifest when you use your power.  Dawns can frighten anything, Twilights gain several mystic abilities, and Eclipses can seal oaths with supernatural consequences.

Ok…that’s step 1.

The rest of creation is more freeform.  Attributes, like World of Darkness, are split into Physical, Mental, and Social, and you similarly choose a primary, secondary, and tertiary.  The difference is…your tertiary is the secondary in Vampire.  Yep, you’re a superpowered demigod: it has perks.

Abilities are like skills: more focused and refined and usually what your roll in conjunction with an Attribute.  Abilities are also what your powers, called Charms, are keyed off of (at least as a Solar) and so it is important to know what you want to focus on.  As I mentioend, each Caste has some abilities they’re better at.  Unlike 2e, these aren’t set in stone.  Caste abilities are selected from a group of 9, and you choose 5.  It allows for some flexibility before choosing favored abilities, which are similar.

A new concept, and one worth talking about, is the supernal ability.  Supernal abilities allow you to ignore Essence (think level) requirements for charms.  This is…well, it’s what lets you do a lot of your nastiest tricks.

Merits are particularly interesting in this game.  They encompass a lot of odd abilities.  For example, Artifact gives you control of a powerful relic.  It could be a sword, a set of armor, a globe which stabilizes reality around you, or a mech called a Warstrider.  Another, more mundane example, is Backing, which represents an organization supporting you.  Merits are small benefits, but measurable in how you build your character.

Last are some odd stats unique to this game.  If you’ve played or know anything about the Storyteller system, the conecept of a Power Stat should be familiar.  This game has Essence, which is a measure of your character’s inner power.  This manifests as motes, your fuel stat.  Third edition breaks from tradition a bit in that Essence is no longer a purchased stat, but increases as you progress in experience earned.  Solars still have the best mote pools, so there’s that.

The last bit to discuss is experience, which is actually quite fun.  You get normal experience points usable on anything, and then there is what’s called Solar Experience.  Solar XP is…kinda like bonus roleplay XP.  You can earn it in several ways, but the most common is good roleplay (including your flaws coming into account) and what are called role bonuses, which is doing something your caste is supposed to do.

With some bonus point spent, life is good, and your character is good to go!

Surviving in a World of Gods and Monsters

The system of the current Exalted is revamped from the old storyteller system.  If you’ve played any White Wolf games in the past, the system will be familiar: d10 dice pool, success at 7 or higher, 10s are doubled.  After this is where things get streamlined.

Dodge charms...

Dodge charms…

Combat draws heavily on inspiration from Dissidia: Final Fantasy of all things.  Your initiative is built and acts both as a turn order mechanic and as fuel for launching an attack.  When you build it enough, you can launch a decisive attack, which will damage an opponent’s health.  It’s simultaneously intuitive while allowing for a lot of different tactics and strategies, particularly with the various powers of the Exalted.  You can save up for one mega blow or do a ‘death of a thousand cuts’ strategy.

One aspect that (thankfully) got an overhaul is social interactions.  Second edition had what was referred to by the devs as “yelling at each other until one person ran out of willpower.”  It was boring, flat, and allowed for some serious abuse in the right hands.  The current system plays off of what are called Intimacies.  These are things your character cares about, be they people, objects, or ideals.  They vary in strength and can mean a lot of things, but they are both your defense and weakness for social activity.

If someone wants to influence you, they have to play off of an intimacy.  They might try to convince you to betray your friends with the idea that they have your spouse.  However, you can also use them to defend, so you can invoke your principle of “I can’t abide a traitor” to defend against it.  This system is interesting since it encourages players to be inventive.  Intimacies are simultaneously your biggest weakness and only defense.

Crafting is also it’s own minigame.  Basically, doing crafting activities earns crafting experience in a few flavors.  As you build bigger projects, your experience type goes up.  It eventually allows you to build artifacts, including the coveted N/A (or beyond the normal 5 dot) artifacts.  These can potentially change the world.  So…better start crafting those horseshoes.

There are systems in place for mass combat, combat on ships, raising animals, poisoning people, surviving in the environment…just about anything that might go crazy.

I’ve made a lot of references to it, so here’s what Charms are.  Charms are, more or less, your supernatural powers.  They range in potency and effect, but generally start simple and grow in power, expanding on the simple to be more potent.  As an example, let’s go to my favorite of the combat trees: brawl.  Brawl is unarmed combat, and more brute force than anything.  One of the starting charms gives minor bonuses to grapple a foe and some extra initiative.  This leads into charms that let you secure a foe with strength, maintain you grapple longer, grab foes well outside what you should be able to, and shake a foe the size of a mountain to death.  That’s not even the apex.

There are other powers you can access, including supernatural martial arts such as the iaido based Single Point Shining Into the Void and the insidious Black Claw style (use love as a weapon!).  The last is sorcery, which is powerful even by Exalted standards.  At first, it lets you summon swarms of obsidian winged butterflies that cut your foes apart.  It goes up from there.  These powers require a bit more in terms of rules and investment, but allow you to pull some interesting tricks.

Lunars can sometimes have a temper

Lunars can sometimes have a temper

All of these powers are designed so that your character will grow in power.  You start potent enough, but can get even more so over time.  Of note is essence, a stat which increases slowly as you gain experience.  This is what locks most powers.  However, your chosen Supernal ability lets you bypass this, making you gain potentially hugely powerful charms from the onset.

One last bit is equipment.  Equipment in the game is a bit more abstracted than usual.  Weapons and armor fall into light, medium, and heavy with unified stat blocks.  Adding tags is what makes weapons unique.  This works well enough, though I’m waiting for more armor tags than the two that currently exist.

Artifacts are far more variable and far, far more potent.  Each is simply superior to the various counterparts.  Further, artifacts grant access to evocations, powers unique to the weapon which can do things ranging from generating deadly poisons to protecting the user from harm to generating active volcanoes when striking the ground.

Crunch-wise, the game does an admirable job on a lot of fronts.  Overall, the game makes you feel properly powerful, but has it’s own limitations.  Combat can go a lot of ways, but can also lead to potentially slow combat.

The Good Fight

What do you send against characters that gods fear?

Amusingly, despite what you might imagine, the Exalted have no shortage of foes lining up to knock them around.  The myriad of enemies the Exalted Host face are diverse and ever present.  To be certain, your characters are never without someone to face.

Tradition holds that there are four main types of antagonists: character vs. character, character vs. the supernatural, character vs. nature, and character vs. self.  All of these are possible in Exalted, and all of them have their place.

The most important conflicts are Exalted vs. the problems around them.  These could be several things, ranging from a petty tyrant to a rogue spirit to another Exalt.  Let’s cover a few.

Not pictured: the Exalted about to try to fight these things

Not pictured: the Exalted about to try to fight these things

Mortals aren’t overall powerful…but there are a lot of them.  A lot of the people you will encounter are mortal.  They may not be powerful, but they are numerous, and, on occasion, break into some crazy territory.  In this edition, mortals can cast sorcery, a departure from previous editions.  Some can grow potent in combat.  That said, most of the time, they’re there are background, NPCs, and for them the setting is less ‘crazy awesome’ and more ‘cosmic horror.’

There are creatures slightly above mortal.  Giant man eating boars, sharks that swim through mists, mortals crossed with animals, and mutants from the Wyld.  These are usually threatening…but might also be allies.  Often, an exalt will befriend (or perhaps tame) such entities.

Spirits are another matter.  “Spirit” is a somewhat nebulous term in Exalted, but a few commonalities are that they are non-mortal creatures which are normally insubstantial but can manifest.  They embody many types, ranging from elementals to demons to gods of Yu-Shan.  Spirits are numerous, varied, and thus can be a varied foe.  They range in power, with the least being slightly more dangerous than, say, a bear, and the most dangerous being deadly even to a full circle of Solars.  Basically, think animism: if there’s a concept, there’s probably a god attached to it.

Fair Folk are…odd.  They’re from entirely outside of Creation, and thus are…kinda nothing given form.  Think Lovecraft elves…which is basically what they are.  They have varied goals, but they tend to mess with reality in a lot of ways.  Like spirits, they’re a varied and strange lot.  They tend to be more perfect than mortals, but they’re also empty.

Some entities are powerful that simply…exist.  Behemoths are one, giant monsters empowered beings of great potency.  Other creatures, strange and powerful, exist throughout Creation, the giant living mountain Juggernaut and the strange Mother Bog, a living swamp.

One nugget of wisdom for RPGs: nothing tests any character quite like one of their own.  This is every bit as true in Exalted, perhaps even more so.  Exalts come in several flavors, and more are being revealed.  Here’s a breakdown:

  • Solars: Not every solar works at the same goals…in fact, many will disagree with one another…and they’re every bit as powerful as you.
  • Lunars: These are barbaric shapeshifters seeking to topple the Realm.  Oh, and one was probably your spouse in a past life.  How that will play out is a bit…ambiguous…
  • Sidereals: Over half of these guys want to kill you.  The others mostly just want to control you.  All of them have been the secret masters of Creation for thousands of years…and most likely won’t want you to interfere.
  • Dragon-Blooded: The least powerful, but by far the most numerous, of the Exalted, whose power is passed through bloodlines.  They run the Realm, and are what most people think of when they hear “Exalted.”
  • Abyssals: Deathknights who fight for the Deathlords for the Underworld…the DeathWorld!  Dark mirrors of the Solars that draw power from destruction.
  • Liminals: Exalts created from the madness of a driven mortal combined with a strange force known as the Dark Mother, these Exalted often work as ghost hunters and mercenaries.
  • Exigents: New to this edition, these are Exalted powered by the Divine Fire channeled through a god.  They are a wide and varied lot, each one ranging in power, abilities, and purpose.

These are those found in the core book.  More exist, including the corrupt Infernals, the mysterious Getimian, and the steampunk Alchemicals.  Each offers unique challenge, methods, and dangers.  Further, each has a unique take on the setting.  Sidereals are most often thought of as a mixture of spy stories with martial arts epics and legal thrillers, as an example.  Each can do many things, but their powers and abilities all drive them in slightly different directions.

I have made mention of this, but it bears repeating: Exalted is a different beast from a lot of games. Most games have you focused on advancement.  Don’t get me wrong: upward drive is a thing in Exalted, and the more powerful you get, the more the world bends to your will.  But…that itself becomes the question and the main drive of the game.

You are powerful.  No mortal can hope to challenge you.  Even from the start, you are well beyond mortal kin.  With the simple application of an excellency, you are scores above others.  Supernal abilities, martial arts Mastery, and sorcery simply make that all the more distinct.

Exalted, then, becomes about the story the character will tell.  The characters are powerful, larger than life, and, in the end, their actions will have greater consequences.  Much as with Greek tragedy, the flaws of a character can (and likely will) lead to their downfall, and that fall may well take the world with them.

But…here’s the thing.  It doesn’t have to.  The Exalted are every bit capable of seeing the way out of things.  They could, potentially, save the collapsing world and restore balance.  Just as easily, they could tip the balance into the fire.

Some Closing Thoughts

Third Edition has done a lot of good for the Exalted franchise.  The battle system is a lot cleaner, the various abilities are far more streamlined, the various types of exalts feel good, and the look and feel of the game is fantastic.  If you’re an old fan of the game, I suggest picking it up.  If you’re new, then it’s well worth a look.

At the time of publishing, I’m using an advanced preview for the book.  Some errata and additional charms are soon to be out with the full release.

Tell your story

Tell your story

Shadowrun

Genre mixing isn’t a new concept, just one that isn’t always popular or well conceived.  When done well, it can define new genres, or even revitilize some that were lost.  Combining elements of classic fantasy such as knightly orders, mysticism, and a struggle of good vs. evil with science fiction elements of space exploration, high technology, and galactic empires gave us Star Wars.  Mixtures of science fiction of old with modern storytelling gave us the steampunk genre.   When done poorly…well, you get a lot of B movie fodder that should never see the light of day.

At first glance, it’s hard to figure out which category Shadowrun should fit into.  I mean, dungeon fantasy in the vein of Dungeons and Dragons combined with a cyberpunk setting seems…almost antithetical.  Orcs with cyborg limbs?  Trolls providing covering fire?  Mages casually browsing the internet for information on spirits on a conspiracy website?  Dragons doing a hostile takeover of a megacorporation?  These images are…odd, to say the least.

And yet…Shadowrun is currently on its fifth edition.  Clearly, they’re doing something right.  Guess it’s about time to take a gander.

Jack in, ware up, and get ready, chummer: we’re stepping into the shadows.

Casting a Shadow

Watch your back...

Watch your back…

Shadowrun works off of an alternate history.  Hovering around 1989, things start changing.  Small bits at first.  Different presidents and the like.  However, two big shifts are of critical importance to the story.

The first is a law granting corporations the right to own land and extra-legal rights.  In other words, corporations become their own, self-governing entities.  This leads to the rise of megacorporations, massive corporations with capital to match.  These corproations, by and large, become the ruling body of the world at large.

The second is just as important: magic returns.  A few things come from this.  Elves and dwarves start being born among the human population (which isn’t so bad) and humans start mutating into trolls and orcs (which is described as a highly painful process).  Mages of various stripes begin cropping up again, spirits drift into the world, and dragons come back.  That last bit is world shaking, as these are beings of immense power that have goals that range from corporate takeover to starting a late night talk show…

Both of these things reshape a lot of the world.  In America, the Native Americans tap into magic for all its worth, declaring their independence after their land is handed over to megacorps.  When war is declared, they ignite several volcanos to hammer their point home.  Elves form their own nations, an international registry is formed, the world gets high tech with internet, cybernetics becomes common, the earth starts taking its anger out on humanity…you get the idea.

The end result is the world you start in.  Most people are trying to scrape by, but the megacorps make doing so a living hell, the term ‘wageslave’ being common…and highly accurate.  Some are born or pushed outside the system.  See, there’s a worldwide registry, and people have a system identification number, or SIN.  Those with are part of the system, SINners.  Those outside, the SINless, have to fend for themselves.  Some turn to crime, others to mercenary work.

And others start working the grey area.  These people are known as shadowrunners.  They pull odd jobs, ranging from corporate espionage, to wetwork, to…just helping a family find their lost daughter.  Most are far from saints, but they do what they need to get by.  Most games assume you’re a bit south of a law abiding citizen, but that you’re not a sociopathic murderer.  Note I use the word “assume.”  You get all types, after all.

The setting is…nuts.  I mean, the weird thing is that it makes a lot of internal sense: magic comes back in a roughly modern setting and corporations are granted extraterritorality, so what happens?  Megacorps and magic becoming widely adopted.  Outside, the setting seems insane, but as you dig in, and internal logic starts for form.  That said, the setting itself doesn’t really need to make sense from our perspective.  The good thing is that it is internally consistent and goes out of its way to keep the themes and flavor no matter what.

One odd bit of fun is that the setting itself isn’t static.  New editions don’t just represent new mechanics, but also tend to be an update of the setting.  This can be fun since if you like the old mechanics, you can just continue to say you’re playing in a different setting than the updated mechanics.  It also gives the feeling of an evolving world.

Run, Run, Fast as you Can…

Shoot straight…

Making a shadowrun character is…kinda tricky.  Various editions have had different ideas for how to go about it, ranging from point buy to priority systems.  As a result, I’m going to talk about it in more broad strokes.

Generally, most shadowrunners are built on the concept of an area of expertise.  Hackers?  That’s a thing.  Blasty mage?  Also a thing.  Front liner cybered-to-all-Hell-and-back, a.k.a. street samurai?  You see where this is going.  Shadowrun has several ‘archetypes’ which they give, characters statted out and ready to go with a general idea in mind.  These range from mystically inclined gunslingers to cybernetic warriors with a code of conduct.

One thing of note: the sharpest divide is between those who will use augmentation, be it cybernetics, genetic crafting, bioware, or whatever, and those who will not.  Usually, cybernetics are taken by characters who will not use magic (or who aren’t technomancers, more on that later).  See, cybernetics eats your soul a bit.  Each time you lose it, a bit of what you are slips away…and a each bit would make your magic a bit weaker.

Speaking of magic, there’s a couple things about it.  First, every character chooses whether they want magic or another stat called Resonance.  There are a few kinds of magic users.  The first is the traditional magician.  They can range from spirit shamans to blasty mages.  The second major kind is adepts, which are physically inclined.  Kinda mystic monks more than mages.  Mystic adepts blur this line.

The other character type that’s a bit odd is the otaku/technomancer.  They’re related…vaguely.  Early editions of the game didn’t have the idea of wireless internet (hey, it was the 80s), so the concept of the wireless matrix evolved slowly.  Otaku were originally folk that could hack the internet without need for a cyberdeck.  They basically could tap in with just a datajack and raw will.

Technomancers are…stranger.  They’re capable of hacking the wireless internet with their minds alone.  No one is entirely sure how, mind, and the corps have a lot of curiosity…which is reason enough for most to run in the shadows.  They have almost mystical abilities on the Matrix, able to summon sprites, channel a power called Resonance into fantastic abilities, and…well, hack the internet with sheer force of will.  Like mages, their connection and powers start to fade as their Essence vanishes.

One stat of note is called edge.  Edge is…kinda the luck stat of the game.  Only players (and dragons…) possess it.  It lets you do things like add dice, up your chances at success, or have a bit of fortune.  In a pinch, you can also burn edge permenantly to do things like not die…which is useful.

Experience is called Karma, and…it’s a bit of a muddy concept.  Early editions required you to do things like turn down money, donate it, or the like, for the sake of character advancement.  Karma was literally good karma, and doing heartless actions caused bad karma.  Newer editions got rid of this.  Reputation became a more important idea, with notoriety being a far more problematic issue, and Karma merely being reduced for things like wetwork.

Characters in Shadowrun can be a diverse lot, but tend to fall into certain archetypes.  Street Samurai are your warriors, deckers hack things, adepts hit things hard enough to kill them.  Most editions have qualities, positive and negative, that are robust and help flesh things out.

Sixty Seconds of Pure Mayhem

A friend of mine once described Shadowrun as “Bad people doing bad things to other bad people for money.”  While it’s certainly possible to explore other concepts, the game is ultimately about playing mercenary living in the grey areas of life.

Conserve Ammo…

On average, the game plays something like this: you get a job offer from someone called ‘Mr. Johnson,’ who is anyone that hires Shadowrunners, and then you go on intelligence gathering, then planning.  And then the run starts.  Everything is done for cold, hard nuyen…usually.  Sometimes you do things for favors, sometimes you do it for glory, and sometimes…you do things just because you want to help out the nice couple find their runaway daughter…who inevitably turns out to be a blood mage or an insect shaman or a cult leader.  These things happen…

Generally, things don’t go according to plan.  Think Firefly: things don’t go smooth.  Maybe you get backstabbed by your employer.  Maybe that info you got was out of date.  Maybe Lone Star got swapped for Knight Errant and now your tactics need to change.  Maybe you just fail that one disguise test.  Half the fun of the game is dealing with things going sideways.  Creative GMs really make the game that much more exciting.

And exciting is exactly what you want from this game.  It’s tense: yeah, you’re a superhuman badass mercenary, but when you’re up against elites like Ares Firewatch or the infamous Renraku Red Samurai, you’re going to want an edge, probably more than one, and exploit it for all it’s worth.  Every fight, every run, feels tense.  And that, chummer, is why they pay you the big nuyen.  It’s also what makes or breaks most sessions of the game.  Shadowrun is…usually pretty unforgiving.  Magic is risky, healing is difficult, and nothing can revive the dead.  But the risk makes everything much more fun.

I should also say that every character type has their own variety of insane.  One group I played with was a technomancer, a military sniper, a rigger, a martial artist, and a troll with an assault canon.  Everyone had something to contribute, and everyone was a bit…nuts.

I mentioned a while back that dungeon fantasy and cyberpunk work well together.  Well…at least not as strangely as you might initially think.  See, ultimately, dungeon fantasy is about a bunch of adventurers going out, killing things, and getting treasure.  Cyberpunk is usually about getting a job, killing people, and getting paid.

See, everything is ultimately motivated by advancement and money.  And that’s the Shadowrun formula in a nutshell.  It takes the notion of adventure and boils it down to what it really is: killing things for fun and profit.  Yes, you can do good, and for your own sanity, your probably should, but…well, the whole “bad people doing bad things to other bad people for money” bit really does sum up your life.  To quote Zengeif, “Just because you are bad guy, doesn’t mean your are bad guy.”

Light Up the Night

In a lot of ways, Shadowrun defined the cyberpunk tabletop scene along with the lesser known Cyberpunk tabletop game.  What I will say is that Shadowrun thrives off of it’s flavor, which it has aplenty.  Mechanics can end up a bit messy, and the edition shifts always bring detractors.  Questions of game balance, metaplot…yeah, a lot of that is problematic at times.

In the end, though, nothing beats out the way Shadowrun styles itself.  Whether you’re doing a grim black trenchcoat game or a balls-to-the-walls insane pink mohawk game, Shadowrun has something for you.  It’s crazy, it’s bonkers, and it’s sometimes a trainwreck when it comes to mechanics.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you’re interested, there are a couple video games, particularly Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall, that are worth a look.  Otherwise, 5e is a friendly edition to start on.

 Well, omae, that’s all from me.  Next time I’ll be delving back into World of Darkness again.  Kinda hoping to get the new M:tAw…but not overly so.

And remember…

Never cut a deal with a dragon.

Mage: The Awakening

Ok, here we go.

Mage: The Awakening was the spiritual successor to the much loved if oft maligned Mage: the Ascension.  Aside from making the abbreviation conventions of the internet a nightmare (MtA hits both…), the game itself became…somewhat controversial for a number of reasons.

I’m going to be looking at Mage 2.0 as found through the newly christened Chronicles of Darkness.  It’s gonna be a bit of a walk, but here we go.

Pierce the veil, see through the Lie, and reach to the Supernal.  This is Mage: The Awakening.

In the Cave

Plato’s Republic is an interesting political discourse in early thought on the idea of society, the role of leadership, and the concept of what reality is.  It’s been inspiration for such work as The Matrix, is still used in political discourse today, and, as it happens, is one of the influences of the influences of Mage: the Awakening.  Gnosticism is a kind of blending of Aristatilian thinking derived from Plato mixed with Judeo-Christian theology and, yes, I know that is a gross oversimplification and may ruffle some feathers, but I have another blog for theological questions.

The Cave analogy is perhaps the most famous discourse from this work.  In it, the idea is that there are people, chained, and forced to look only at shadows of objects as they pass on a wall.  They have no knowledge of the outside world, no context to place these shadows in, and so accept the shadows as reality.  And why not?  They have known nothing else.

It means something, yes...but what?Now imagine freeing one.  Letting him loose and letting him escape this cave.  Now he sees the world as it is, bright, full of color.  He sees the shapes that make the shadows, full and vibrant.  He sees the light for what it is, and many things besides…and then he goes back.

Mage is built on a similar premise. Long ago, it is agreed, some humans learned to tap the true world, the Supernal realms, these pure, untainted notions of reality, not muddled in the muck and ire of reality.  These were the first mages, and they collected their wisdom and knowledge to try to create something more…but there was a problem.

At some point, however, the Lie perpetuated.  Reality was made mundane…and deliberately so.  Some force guides the Lie, the Exarchs.  Dividing the mundane world from the Supernal realms, those realms of pure thought and understanding, is the Abyss.

And so Mages find themselves trapped.  They see the Lie for what it is…but they cannot act fully while trapped in the mundane world.

The Mage reboot stripped a bit of the certainty from things.  Originally, mages derived from Atlantis, and the Exarchs were those god-kings who ascended to the supernal realms then burned bridges behind them.  The current game allows for some more flexibility in narrative, which becomes apparent as we go into the next segment.   Atlantis is still included in the Pentacle’s background, but what it is is more a call to a time before the Lie.

Do You Believe in Magic?

Trench coat, magic gestures, archenemisis. Check check check

Mages operate around the same kind of character creation as most.  That said, a few interesting things are worth noting.

Mages each have a Path.  This is what supernal realm beckoned them to the Watchtower located at its heart.  It shapes a lot of what a mage is at a raw state.  Each also has two ruling arcana, those magics they will excel at.

  • Acanthus: The Acanthus wield the arcana of Time and Fate, known as Enchanters when benevolent, and Witches when…perhaps less so.  The Acanthus tend to be subtle, but it’s amazing what a few coincidences can do…
  • Mastigos: The Mastigos are Warlocks and Psychonauts, using the power of Mind and Space.  Forged in the fires of the hellish Pandemonium, they seek to master themselves…and others…
  • Moros: Necromancers and Alchemists, masters of Death and Matter.  The Moros tend to be somber individuals, but never underestimate a mage that can call up ghosts and rip out the ground under you.
  • Obrimos: The Obrimos use the very raw power of Forces and Prime.  Known as Thaumuturges and Theurgists, an angry Obrimos could well be considered to call the wrath of God upon his foes.
  • Thrysus: Shamans and Ecstatics, the Thrysus use the powers of Life and Spirit to bond with the natural world in all ways.  In touch with their primal forces, they can command both spirits and life around them.

Each also comes with inferior arcana, but I prefer to look at strengths.  Each can fill a variety of roles, magic being

While a Path dictates what a mage does in a raw manner, Orders dictate what they believe.  Orders are divided into…really 5, but more like 4+1 with the new set up…let’s explain.

There are four orders called the Diamond, sharing similar origins and have division of roles one might expect from a small government.  They are:

  • The Adamantine Arrow: Battle mages, who see life as a test, and that the world itself is a crucible.  They are the combat mages, and they have similar structure to a military.  Their particular Hubris is the tendency to overestimate their own abilities.
  • Guardians of the Veil: How far would you go to save the world?  The Guardians are spies, saboteurs, and, yes, assassins.  They believe that they sin so that others won’t need to, taking on the tasks other mages won’t.  They also have, unsurprisingly, a lot of secrets.
  • The Mysterium:  Knowledge is power, and the Mysterium are the ones that gather knowledge.  The lorekeepers of the Diamond, each one uncovers knowledge.  A bit of Indiana Jones meets Harry Potter…or Harry Dresden…
  • The Silver Ladder: Well, someone has to be the bureaucrats.  I kid.  The Silver Ladder are the leaders, negotiators, and occasional peacekeepers of the Diamond.  While not necessarily always in charge, they tend to know what needs to be done.  They also seek to bring all into enlightenment.

So, who’s the +1?  Well, the Diamond is all well and good…but they are hardly the only magical groups.  Eventually, a bunch of the groups of more modern thinkers decided to band together, forming the Council of Free Assemblies, or Free Council.

  • The Free Council: These guys round out the Diamond to become the Pentacle.  They are libertines, pushing boundaries and seeking to push humanity into Awakening.

A Mage, however, is only as good as his magic.  This is where things get interesting.  There are several arcana, and each Path gets two.  Arcana themselves are highly flexible, able to achieve a variety of effects.  As such, choosing them is what makes your mage…well, you.

One fun bit is that Mages retain a virtue and vice, but rather than integrity, have Wisdom, a measure of how well in check a mage is.  One aspect that’s important is Obsessions, which are long term goals, and grant unique arcane experience.

Let’s Make Some Magic

So a mage is basically a human.  Of course, most humans can’t call down the wrath of heaven in the form of a lightning bolt.  A mage’s magic is highly flexible, and gives them an edge.

The various Arcana give mages their powers.  In fact, there’s an entire system behind it.  Second edition makes this…well, not easy, but certainly does the process pretty well.  There are a total of nine steps…yeah.

I won’t get into details, but one thing that’s nice is the Reach mechanic.  Basically, Reach is a determination of how tricky your spell is.  It can lead to some nasty backlash from Paradox, but it lets you quickly quantify how difficult a spell is.

Other inclusions are Yantras, which are objects which help you, and a new system for how Reach interacts with Paradox.

Free Council can be a bit…odd at times

One new magic system worth mentioning is Attainments.  These are tricks your mage picks up, ranging from mage armor to the ability to use magic on a target you just have a sample of hair from.  These are useful tricks, but not necessarily things your mage will pick up.

Wizard Wars

So, you might be wondering, what exactly are the Mages…well, doing?  They have an antagonist, right?

It’s a bit complicated, but yes.  Most mages end up struggling far more against their own kind than anything.  A mage might run afoul of spirits, for example, but nothing will make a mage think like another Mage…well, almost nothing.

The first enemy you’re likely to hear of are the Seers of the Throne.  Remember the Exarchs?  Well, the Seers serve them.  The Seers are basically mages who decide they want the power…and don’t want to share.  They have a lot of power, particularly as they are far more in tune with the world.  However, they also suffer from paradox and hubris.  The Pentacle fights an ongoing war with them, each order in its own way.  In a lot of ways, these are the inheritors of the Technocracy: mages who have decided to perpetuate a narrative to the people to deny magic.  Unlike the Technocracy…they’re unambiguously the bad guys.

The second set of mages you’re likely to deal with are Left-Handed mages.  These are those mages which are deemed dangerous or morally wrong, usually whole legacies.  They cover a lot of ground, but tend to fall into a few broad categories.

  • The Mad: Well, some mages just…snap.  If that Wisdom stat ever hits zero, you likely join this delightful category.  Most mages have an obsessive focus, and, worse, leaks magic.
  • Banishers: Those mages who kill their own.  While one could argue many mages train to do this, Banishers do so for the sake of destroying mages entirely.  Some are simply those who hate their own kind, but some suffer from twisted Awakenings, and retain Integrity rather than Wisdom…making their descent to madness rather quick…
  • Liches: Immortality.  Is that not a dream of humanity?  Liches take this a step further, finding ways (usually highly immoral) to extend their lifespan and cheat death.  The problem being, many cease being human entirely.  Simply extending life isn’t enough to make one a Lich: you have to do something like stealing a body to qualify.
  • Reapers: The others might seem almost sympathetic.  Reapers?  Not so much.  Reapers are those that harvest human souls to extend their own power.  These are…well, bad, bad people.
  • Scelesti:  And the last bit that really hammers home the “evil” bit, these are mages that make deals with the Abyss.  They range a bit from curious but misguided to absolute monsters and nihilists.  Nevertheless, they channel infernal energies and are, by nature, dangerous.

Antagonists can also be various other entities.  Mages are slightly more likely than others to encounter supernatural beings outside of themselves, due in no small part to their thirst for knowledge and power.  That said, the most dangerous antagonist is…something else.

Magic Old and New

Ok…I’ve avoided doing this to now, but I think it bears mentioning because, theoretically, Mage is supposed to be a horror game.

Ascension had it’s own elements of horror, but it took a lot to really dig in and see why.  See, the real horror of the game came in when you realized that both the Traditions and the Technocracy were horrifically flawed and potentially right at the same time. The Traditions argue (correctly) that the Technocracy has been stifling human creative ability.  What’s more, the Technocracy has made humans blind to the supernatural, allowing monsters of all stripes to prey on the unsuspecting masses.  But the Technocracy is also correct that magic is unstable and inherently creates tyrants of those who have more power.  Their methods, while restrictive, give things like medicine and technology that everyone can use.

But the real horror is that there is no third option.  Both sides are willing to commit horrid atrocities in the name of their cause…but the other options, Nephandi and Marauders, are far worse.  It was a great example of a world of grey morality, where you had to weigh for yourself what the best method was, dedicate yourself to it, and hope the flaws wouldn’t damn you.

In it’s first iteration, Mage the Awakening…just didn’t have a lot of horror to it.  Abyssal entities were a thing, but poorly defined and usually quite simple to handle.  There were entire sourcebooks dedicated to bringing horror back to the game.  To it’s credit, the gameline did that well, eventually bringing cosmic horror to the setting in a way it hadn’t been seen before.

That is one reason I like the new system.  See, your greatest enemy isn’t some Abyssal entity or the Seers.  They are bad, yes, but the real horror…is yourself.

It’s a constant theme, even in the mechanics.  Mages are all dangerously obsessed, indicated by the fact they have a mechanic called Obsession.  Reach exceeding grasp?  A thing which causes paradox.  Even your violation of your morality is called an Act of Hubris.

All this is driving home a simple fact: your mage is a powerful entity only really held in check by other Mages and the Lie.  It’s a personal horror, not unlike Vampire, really.  The fact that you have to deal with a hostile universe set on trying to suppress your abilities and twist your existance just adds to it.

 Final Thoughts

Mage: the Awakening was…kinda a mess.  Don’t get me wrong: it was an enjoyable character building exercise, but it had a slew of mechanical issues and it never really felt like the rest of the World of Darkness.  The second version has gone a long way to cleaning up the mechanics, and has done a bit of work in the horror angle.  Overall, I’d say this is a much more solid system and would heartily recommend checking it out.

Next up, we get into more of the limited splats with Promethean 2.0. Now…what did I do with those electrodes?

Werewolf: the Forsaken

The Apocalypse is done, so now it is time for a new bent on things. Werewolf: The Forsaken was the second gameline released in the New World of Darkness line. It is also the second to undergo an update to the new rules set. And good for it, too. I won’t be covering what the game was like before because…well, frankly, I thought it was a mess…

Pack your silver and get ready to hit some spirits: This is Werewolf: the Forsaken.

This Story is True…

Good sir, you appear to have a lupine on your back.

The first thing you’ll notice about Werewolf is that the background of their story is a bit more unified than Requiem was. Werewolves generally agree: long ago, the spirit world and the flesh world were much closer together. Werwolves are the children of two powerful entities: Luna, the spirit of the moon, and Father Wolf, a hunter and peacekeeper.

However, their children saw that Father Wolf was growing weak, and so they took his life. Not all did, but enough did that they were able to overcome and kill him. Luna, in her rage, cursed her children, forsaking them. Despite this, she still loves them, and does grant her gifts through asupices.

The story of children overthrowing their father is an old one, and worth noting here is the unsaid issues most of the time: once Father Wolf died, it fell to his children to take over protecting and patrolling the Umbra.
So that’s you: basically a beat cop/boarder patrol who makes sure the spirit and flesh are kept apart, unlike you.

Flesh and Spirit

Werewolf characters are made much in the same way all others are. You choose your X axis (Auspice) and your Y axis (Tribe). Auspices are determined by the moon, while Tribes are the choice of prey you choose to hunt. Both factor into what a Werewolf is expected to be with regards to Renown, a sort of secondary experience mechanic.
The Auspice choices are:

Cahalith: The Gibbous Moon. These are the bards, lorekeepers, and war chanters of the Forsaken.

Elodath: The Half Moon. Elodath are judges, mediators, and diplomats, trying to weigh in with an even hand.

Irraka: The New Moon. Stalkers, spies, and assassins, the Irraka are the unseen threat of the Forsaken.

Ithaeur: The Crecent Moon. Spiritualists, mystics, and theurges, these werewolves mediate between the spirit world and the rest of their kin.

Rahu: The Full Moon. Warriors, strategists, and guardians, these are the purest warriors of their kin.

So that’s the X axis. A lot of it has to do with what kind of werewolf you want. One particular note is that werewolves on the hunt cause different effects. An Irraka, for example, leaves his target unaware, in a state of blissful ignorance of what will befall him. Each also gives benefits, such as an Elodath being able to control a werewolf’s rage.
Beyond Auspice is a Tribe. Each Tribe is a collection of Forsaken that band together to deal with a specific prey. I’ll detail prey more later, but here are the tribes.

Blood Talons: “Offer no surrender you would not accept.” Proud warriors who strike their enemies with unmatched fury. Monsters of the highest caliber, these are the most likely to practice war instead of hunting.

Bone Shadows: “Pay each spirit in kind.” Mystics and dealers with the Shadow Realm. The most adept at dealing with spirits and the Gauntlet.

Hunters In Darkness: “Let no sacred place of your territory be violated.” Those who hunt from cover of night. The quintessential terror in things unseen.

Iron Masters: “Honor your territory in all things.” More modern werewolves who dwell in cities. They are highly adaptable and adept with the modern.

Storm Lords: “Allow no one to witness or tend to your weakness.” Leaders and cold, ruthless warriors.  They lead by example.

Five different ways to die…

Of course, a werewolf is nothing without the ability to shapeshift, which, thankfully, is well integrated.  Much like Apocalypse, there are 5 states: human, almost human, hybrid, almost wolf, and wolf.  One of the more interesting aspects is that each one has a role in combat.  The wolf form, for example, excels at speed, while the hybrid Gauru form…basically lets you rip to shreds anything in the area.

Gifts are nice abilities that werewolves can get.  Some of them are fairly simple (making sneak attacks that much deadlier) and others are a bit more interesting (ability to control elements).  Much of them are based upon your Renown, so a lot of your tricks get more powerful the more honorable you are.

Harmony is the replacement for integrity and is likely my favorite aspect of the game. But, then, I like mechanics that try something new within a system. Basically, it works like this: harmony is not a straight representation, but rather a measure of where you are in light of your dual nature. Higher harmony represents gravitating more toward humanity, while lower represents gravitating toward spirit. This means that the ideal point of balance is 5, where you would strive to keep yourself. Going too far in either direction has drawbacks. Going too human makes it harder to enter the spirit world, eventually becoming impossible. Going too spirit gives you bans like other spirits. Both make it harder for you to resist going into a frenzy.

What is a Hunter…

…without prey?
Werewolves fool themselves: they think they are the apex predators, but the fact is, things hunt them right back. As I mentioned, each werewolf has a specific thing they hunt, but the truth is, it’s more like an out and out war. There’s also nice little breakdown of the possible antagonists.

The Blood Talons…hunt other werewolves. Their most common foe is the Pure, werewolves who feel that the killing of Father Wolf was a mistake. While they have no Auspices, they do have potent rites and totems due to their stronger connection with the spirit world. The Pure divide into their own factions. The Ivory Claws are the purest of the Pure, looking to genetics and breeding as well as being top dog…or wolf. Fire-touched are prophets and priests, often having access to strange and powerful rites taken from spirits. Finally, Predator Kings are…just monsters, every bit as fierce as a monstrous werewolf of legend.  As with many games, nothing quite tests a werewolf like fighting his own kind, and it’s a small wonder that the Blood Talons are often just as feared as they are respected.

The Bone Shadows hunt spirits. Spirits are a strange and varied lot, but a Bone Shadow knows enough to exploit weaknesses of Ban and Bane to keep them in check. Most other werewolf tribes respect them for this reason, if no other. Spirits can be of almost everything…except humans.  Spirits are almost ubiquitous in the World of Darkness, and

Hunters In Darkness hunt anything in their territory, but reserve special hatred for the Hosts, strange proto-spirits that seek to alter the Gauntlet itself. The two primary are the Azlu, spider hosts that burrow into a human and turn it into a giant host crawling with spiders, and the Beshilu, rat hosts who do the same thing…but less subtly. The Azlu want to strengthen the gauntlet so that everything falls into their webs, which they can then devour. The Beshilu have the opposite goal, gnawing through the gauntlet in the hopes of freeing their god, the Plague King. What is tricky about these is that when ‘killed,’ they dissolve into dozens, if not hundreds, of spiders or rates. If even one survives, it can bring the whole back.

Iron Masters…hunt humans. They keep werewolves safe from such things as predatory extortion or humans discovering them. Also, humans are well aware of the silver weakness werewolves have, so they can be dangerous in that regard. Their preferred territory is cities and there’s a note that they will tend to be the most likely to interact with and hunt other supernaturals as a result. Iron Masters, therefore, might be called on to hunt vampires, mages…and stranger things.

Finally, Storm Lords fight the Ridden, possessed physical creatures. These entities are far more dangerous than the concept would suggest, especially as they are very secretive and difficult to track down. And once you find them, you have a supernatural creature capable of doing strange powers and is a physical conflict.

Well, this could suck

Of course, there’s one bit of prey that really defies this: the idigam. The idigam are…weird. What they are, their motives, their abilities…are all difficult to ascertain. They are spirits, yes, but not the run-of-the-mill variety. They have two forms: unshaped and coalesced. The unshaped are…well, damned near impossible to fight. Their ban and bane changes in between rounds, meaning that it’s impossible to pin down. They’re also capable of doing…weird stuff. When they coalesce, they gain a ban and a bane, and are now in a more or less solidified state. Thing is, they actually get more dangerous, not less. They basically level up in power (leading to them actually being able to get higher than the scale goes…) and allows them to interact with the world in a more focused way. For that, they gain a bane, so they can be more readily killed. However, even there, they’re unpredictable, having bans and banes that are seemingly random, often related to how the coalesced.

The antagonists presented are a diverse and potentially challenging lot. What’s more, each has unique problems that are presented to werewolves.  As I mentioned, one of the themes of the new Werewolf game is that you’re a hunter, yes, but you’re also the hunted.  It’s easy to see how some of these ‘prey’ might be every bit the hunter a werewolf can be.

Final Thoughts

I will not lie: of all of the game lines, Werewolf: The Forsaken was always the game line I was most disappointed with. It didn’t have the solid mechanics of Requiem or the later over the top potential for camp that Awakening would give. The release of 2nd Edition has gone a long way to soothing those particular issues, giving a solid theme and a well thought out list of mechanics.  The game is far more coalesced than the 1st edition was, and I think feels less constrained to the prior game, much to its benefit.

Next on the list is…Mage: The Awakening…*sigh*  Well, who needs cohesive mechanics, yeah?

Vampire: The Requiem

Hi, I’m Sean, and I write a blog…

Sometimes…

There is, perhaps, no more iconic sapient monster than the vampire. It should come as no surprise that the World of Darkness launched both of its lines with them. But there would be a change. As I mentioned, there was no more unified mythos, no more overarching organizations. This would be a personal game, one aimed at the player. Vampire: The Requiem would prove far less iconic than it’s predecessor, but it would act as the launch of the line twice over, first with Requiem, then with Blood and Smoke, which later became Requiem 2nd Edition.

Get ready to listen to the children of the night. This is Vampire: The Requiem.

The Shadows of Humanity

How did the vampire come to be? That question is not something easily answered by the Kindred. Unlike Masquerade, the origins of vampires are shrouded. Much like with humanity, there is no one definitive answer.

There are theories, of course.  Echidna, an ancient god, or shadowy demons.  Nothing solid, of course.  This leaves room for more…recent histories.  Rome was the rise of the Vampire.  They saw the rise and rapid fall of various empires and kingdoms.  They shaped history, always in the shadows.

Probably one of the more useful things to know is that most of the setting focuses not on the past, but the present.  This is helpful for a number of reasons, including giving information for what is happening now and allowing the storyteller a chance to sort things out.  One of my favorites is Montreal, where a nameless entity has set up residence and laid down a new law for vampires.  Those who don’t pay attention to the law are obliterated, and what’s worse, blood sorcery has utterly failed.  Makes for a unique game.

Making Your Monster

A whole new monster.

Vampires in Requiem would lay down the foundation of how supernatural creatures would be made in this World of Darkness. The formula would mutate and shift slightly, but it was usually followed to at least some small extent. Here’s the way it works.

There are two selections that will make your character, with an optional third. The X-axis would be your…subrace, for lack of a better term. Think of it as how your character naturally would develop outside of any external influence. The Y-axis, then, is that external influence. This is usually, though not always, a group or organization. It may simply be a philosophy, or some concept to reach.

In Vampire, your X-axis is represented by your Clan, general vampire characteristics boiled down to archetypes.

Daeva: Vampire as seducer. These are social vampires who mostly hunt through honeyed words and being drop dead (pun totally intended) gorgeous.

Gangrel: Vampire as beast. These guys are pretty much there to be that monster everyone talks about. They’re close to animal in instinct.

Mekhet: Vampire as menace. These guys know things and can stay hidden for ages. Shadowy and mysterious, they won’t kill you. Not right away…

Nosforatsu: Vampire as nightmare. Creepy. That’s the way you want to imagine these guys. They are, simply put, vampires as the spooky monstrosities they were classically.

Ventrue: Vampire as noble. These guys are the vampire that basically tells you what to do. Think the depiction of a vampire aristocrat, and you’ve basically got this.

Each clan has Disciplines, innate supernatural powers that they can access, and a weakness. Nosforatsu, for example, have the ability to walk unseen, be stronger, and cause people to panic. They also are really, really off-putting and take penalties when interacting socially.

After that selection, you get to choose your Covenant. These are the large organizations that span the vampire world. They are:

Carthian Movement: Vampires who are attempting to undermine the status quo. Part democratic anarchy, part socialism, and part liberation movement, their main goal is to roust control from the elders and form a more equitable vampire society. At least, that’s what they say…

Circle of the Crone: An old tradition of vampire pagan practices mixed with witchcraft. Their power, Crúac, is an ancient form of blood magic. They practice a simple ideology: vampires are monsters, and that’s OK. Rather than trying to pretend to be human, accept what you are and roll with it.

Invictus: The vampire aristocracy. These guys have wealth, power, and connections. Living for a long time helps. While most of the other Covenants resent them, it’s hard to deny they have serious influence, both over vampires and over mortals.

Lancea et Sanctum: So…these guys are fun. They are, for all intents, the church of the damned. They believe that Longinus, the soldier who pierced the side of Christ, either was a vampire who drank his blood, or drank his blood and became a vampire. They think God cursed them, and so they need to play out their roles. They have a blood magic called Theban Sorcery which grants them the ability to pull some biblical tricks.

Ordo Dracul: The Order of the Dragon…specifically Dracula. They want to take the good parts of being a vampire and eliminate the weaknesses. They’ve made some decent progress on that, represented by the Coils of the Dragon, innate practices that alter the vampire condition, sometimes subtly, sometimes drastically. They also have (as of 2nd edition) the scales, similar abilities that can be done to others.

These Covenants become social circles and inform your character quite a bit. For example, Carthians are usually pretty active firebrands, while those of the Ordo are usually a bit reclusive and…unhinged.

The last, optional stage is called a bloodline. Bloodlines are essentially mutations in the Clan that leads to an offshoot sub-clan. This often, though not always, leads to a unique bloodline discipline that cannot be learned outside of it. Requiem has literally scores of these, though 2nd edition, thus far, hasn’t translated them. Some examples are a Nosforetsu offshoot that developed in the Middle East to hunt down Dracula (yes, seriously) and a type of Mekhet that was made to act as bodyguards and monster hunters.

After, we get into merits, and, I have to say, this is where Blood and Smoke got it’s hooks into me. Merits before were a bland, dry affair. In this, they’ve been recast and retooled. Some of the more interesting ones are a style merit related to be more in control during frenzy (more on that later) and a set of blood oaths one can swear to an Invictus liege. These are a huge improvement over the ones found in the original, and I’m seriously hoping the trend continues.

Life as the Damned

What does a vampire do? I mean, we all know about the feeding, the magic, etc. But day to day, what will a Kindred do in their off time?

The answer is…whatever they can to get by. Being a vampire is a curse for a reason. Sure, the Circle may insist things are just peachy, and the Ordo is trying to make lemonade, but at the end of the day, you’re a literally damned monster.  You keep a veneer of humanity.  Unlike before, you don’t have a virtue and vice like humans.  Instead, you have what are known as Masks and Dirges.  Your mask is what you present to humanity and, most of the time, to other Kindred.  You might appear as a sage, an autocrat, or a scholar.  Your dirge…is what you are in the dark.  It’s your true self, when the lights are out and no one is looking.  These concepts are fantastic for character building, and really help with understanding how vampires in the world will function.

Lets start with obvious weaknesses: sunlight and fire. These hurt.  Like, a lot.  The closer you are to human, the less it hurts, so there’s some incentive to keep up your humanity.  Of course, the more powerful you are, the more it hurts as well…

Now for the less obvious one: the Beast. If I was pressed to name only one thing Requiem did very well, it was to emphasize this aspect. The Beast is there, always, lurking, waiting. In 2nd Edition, we get some more analysis of what the Beast really is, including the aspects of the beast (Competitive, Monsterous, and Seductive) and the idea of the Beast bubbling just under every Kindred’s mask.  The Beast is the monster, and it’s why you keep you humanity going strong.

The Beast will break out. It’s not if, but when.  When it does, your character begins to frenzy, aiming to kill, feed, and survive.  Aside from violating the masquerade (and playing merry havoc with your humanity), it’s not good to lose control.

How do you keep your humanity?  2nd Edition included the concept of touchstones.  These are parts of your former life or human persona that keep you grounded.  You can use them to leverage yourself and make yourself fight off the humanity loss.  This was great from a meta-perspective.  It gives your character a connection with the world.  Further, these help to give you some leverage to keep your humanity.

What Monsters Fear

Oh, it’s not all good, though. See, in addition to your weaknesses, you’ve got a real lineup of things that want you dead…er, deader. Requiem also set up a concept that would be followed throughout the game lines: enemy factions. While Masquerade had the Sabbat, Requiem folded them into a more mysterious enemy: VII. No, no one knows what it means, but they’re seriously spooky. They are vampires, that much is certain. Beyond that? They’re an enigma. They come by, kill vampires, and disappear. Any attempt to get information out of them fails. No amount of torture, blood bonds, or mental domination will help either. Mental scanning only reveals one thing: VII, hence their name. They’re pretty open ended villains, and effective, besides.

Hoot, hoot, monterf******

The other big antagonist is the Strix, added a while back, but being brought to full light with Blood and Smoke. These are…vampiric…things that resemble nothing so much as incorporeal owls. Where are they from? Why do they think of vampires as wayward kin? No one is quite sure. They do really, really hate the Kindred, though. The reason is simple: vampires try to be human. Silly, silly vampires. And many seem to exist to torment vampires. Oh, some just seem to possess corpses for kicks. Others seem to make vampires a primary target. The latter is troubling because a lot of them are possessed of a rather low form of cunning. One example: a strix that wants to end the masquerade…and is frighteningly effective at it.

Requiem For a Dream

Requiem is probably one of the more plotted out of the splats I’ll be covering, particularly 2e.  I’ll say this: it’s a damn solid game.  There’s a lot of open endedness to it that lets you explore facets of play without worrying that some 10,000 year old vampire will wake up and eat you.  If you haven’t ever played, check out the 2nd edition book.  It’s a solid game and well worth exploring.

Next up, Werewolf: The Forsaken, or, Why I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Updates

Mind Swords!

MINDSWORDS

 

I…got bored…as I am wont to do.  I could have been cleaning my apartment…but noooooooo…

Anyway, enjoy the random folk who make/control swords with their brains.