GMprov Part 2 – Bargains & Interrogations

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Last week, I talked about peppering conversations with information so that any eavesdroppers can learn something useful. Today, I discuss how to improvise bartering and interrogations.

Before I do, let me share with you one of my favorite Improv exercises: the Bus Stop.  These are the rules:

  1. There is a bus stop with a short bench next to it. The bus is a very full bus (due to arrive soon), and it will only have enough room for one more person.
  2. Player 1 starts on stage, sitting in the first seat at a bus stop. This person is first in line, and thus is the only person guaranteed to get a spot on the bus. Goal: Player 1 wants to stay in the first seat so they can get on the bus.
  3. Player 2 enters the stage. This person is next in line for the bus, and will not get a spot on the bus, unless they can convince Player 1 to give up their seat. Goal: Player 2 wants that seat, so they will get the last seat on the bus.
  4. There is a second seat next to the first one, which is “behind” it in the line for the bus. The Second player can sit there if they like.
  5. Safety Rules: The second player cannot directly or indirectly touch Player 1, Player one’s chair or anything touching that person. They cannot cause Player 1 any real harm. (Threatening with pretend harm, such as revving up a pantomimed chainsaw, is perfectly fine.)
  6. If/When Player 1 is convinced to give up, Player 2 sits in the #1 chair. Player 2 stops being the character they were, and becomes a new ordinary person. If there is another willing participant, that person is the new Player 2, and a new scene begins.
  7. (There’s one more rule, but I’ll discuss it later)

That’s the set-up. If you’re playing with students new to improv, it might require showing them first, but they quickly get the hang of it. Players will quickly devise a wide range of ways to get Player 1 to move, but most of them fall into 2 tactics: the Carrot and the Stick.

The Carrot: Like a carrot dangling in front of a donkey, the player is tempted with something better than sitting in the Number 1 seat. Examples include showering a player with imaginary money, giving them the keys to a brand new car, and telling them that the pet store down the street is giving away free magic puppies.

The Stick: A form of negative reinforcement. The player is led to doubt whether the Number 1 seat is worth enduring their current situation.

As you can imagine, most players find the Stick far more fun, as they put on strange characters that are creepy, disgusting or downright terrifying.

bonejack tied up comical

So, the essential question is: what is the point of this game?

Answer: To see what happens when two people have conflicting objectives.

Two people want the seat, but only one can have it. Both people have an Objective, which gives the scene purpose (get the seat), energy (I want the seat now!), and a means of measuring success (I got the chair!)

Using this with rpgs: When running an adventure, it is important that you keep the Bus stop game in mind because both sides must have a stake in the outcome. If the opposition has no interest in the seat, there’s no conflict. If players have no interest, they won’t waste their time. If both sides want something they cannot share, that’s when conflict occurs.

Of course, this can be a literal thing (a MacGuffin like the Maltese Falcon or the Dragon Balls), but it can also be an intangible thing, like fame or love. A classic goal that shows up, especially in Superhero stories, is the Status Quo. Bad guys want to establish a status quo of pain, darkness and oppression, while the heroes try to maintain a status of truth, justice and the American way. Now, such finalized “there can be only one” goals are great for long term, campaign long objectives. For a simple bartering session or interrogation, though, it might not work. Before I tell you how to do it RIGHT, let me tell you how it’s often done wrong.

Back in college, I encountered a similar version of the Bus Stop game, simply called “The Chair.” Like Bus Stop, Person 1 sat in a chair, and Person 2 wanted to sit in the chair. No other rules were established, which led to the following problems:

  1. Person 1 would refuse to move for any reason, and those the scene would drag out forever, went nowhere, and often concluded without any feeling of closure.
  2. The only time Person 1 left the chair was when the person was physically removed (remember, no other rules,) which was a little scary to watch, and was quite unfulfilling on an intellectual level.

Now, why did Person 1 refuse to let go? Because they had no idea why they wanted the chair, or how important the chair was to them. They wanted the chair because they were told they wanted the chair- which is shallow and two-dimensional. More importantly, they didn’t know what the chair was worth to them, and thus the Carrot and the Stick have no effect- they only work if you can present something better / worse than possession of the chair.

Likewise, whenever I run the Bus Stop game, I’ll always have a student who refuses to leave the chair, no matter what the reason. A player could point an imaginary howitzer at them, and Player 1, 3 seconds away from annihilation, would still refuse to budge. This leads me to the last rule when I run a game of Bus Stop:

  1. If Player 2 can give Player 1 a legitimate reason to leave the seat, Player 1 must move. (Legitimate is defined as “if this actually happened to you in real life, you would not stay.”)

This means that in most cases, Player 2 will always win (which, if you’re a teacher running a class, means more people get to play.) However, not all Player 2s win on their first attempt. Some of the shyer or less experienced players will attempt to creep out a player, but in an underwhelming way. They quickly learn that they have to up their game, and begin pushing the character to a greater and greater extreme. Likewise, some players attempt to bait someone with a Carrot, and when that fails, resort to the Stick.

How does this apply to rpgs: You, the GM, are Player 1.  You have the thing that Player 2 wants. Nine times out of ten, Player 2 is going to get SOMETHING, be it information, assistance, or something shiny- if negotiations are completely closed and they walk away with nothing that can help them, then everyone just wasted their time.  They need to get closer somehow, even if it’s the knowledge that they need something better to bargain with.

When improvising dialogue with a player, keep in mind two things:

The Carrot – What does the NPC want even more than the thing they have?

The Stick – What repulses the NPC so greatly that it surpasses their desire to hold on to the thing?

Your NPC can start at a ridiculously high asking price, and then bargain down from there. Alternatively, let the players offer greater and greater Carrots and increasingly threatening Sticks until the NPC is significantly motivated. (When in doubt, refuse the first offer.)

Interrogations: Remember that earlier rule “you can’t touch the player?” That might seem like a good rule for middle schoolers, but surely that doesn’t apply to your bastard-sword wielding murder hobos, right? Wrong!

In an interrogation, there are limits to what Sticks you can use (and that’s assuming you don’t have pesky things like “morals”).  If the interrogated party has priceless information that only they can share, they know that the players can’t kill them, thus removing the harshest Stick available the players.

Bartering on the Fly

In a perfect world, you’ll have plenty of prep time to plan what the NPCs truly want, and what strange errands you can send them on before you will yield.

However, we don’t live in a perfect world, and you might find your party bartering with an NPC you created 38 seconds ago.  In addition to all of the above advice, a few other ideas:

  • Money is pretty much worthless to players- it’s numbers on a page. Sure, you can accept it when bargaining, but it doesn’t create any dramatic tension. However, what if the NPC takes a liking to a minor piece of equipment that a player has? (Not their treasured heirloom, but something useful that they like.) Now the player is forced to choose: which is more important, their Wand of +2 Lightning, or the mission?
  • The exception to the above idea is if an NPC asks for an exorbitant amount of money in a very narrow window. For example, what about half-a-million dollars in 48 hours? Suddenly, the players feel the pressure to come up with a very large sum under possibly desperate circumstances. If you didn’t have time to plan an even trade for the players, this buys you time, and puts the emphasis on the players to come up with ways to scrounge up the money. Now they’re the ones brainstorming various side quests they can do to raise dough, rather than making you come up with it.
  • Get Personal – If the thing they are after is relatively insignificant (but you want to draw it out a little, so it’s not too easy,) sell it at the cost of a little public humiliation. Ask for a small favor from a character that is their least favorite thing to do. Make the raging berserker sit still, or the proud noble ask “pretty please with a cherry on top.” Make sure you differentiate between humiliating characters and humiliating people; some players have no problem singing and perform, but for others that’s a fate worse than death.
  • Mediator – To switch things up a little, make the players the impartial middle between two opposing forces, and make the players come up with the compromise. For example, they might need the help of a magistrate, but the magistrate is so busy settling a local quarrel over a stolen pig. If the players want help from the magistrate (they can’t wait), they must first act as the mediators between two feuding forces. This requires a little bit of prep work, but for a change, the GM doesn’t have to come up with what the terms of the compromise are; rather, the players must concoct a winning solution on their own.
  • Pay it Forward – If the players catch you completely unaware by their attempt to barter, let them have it- but like the Godfather, do it on the condition that they owe the enemy a favor in the future.
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GMprov – Part 1

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GMprov – Spontaneous Dialogue – Part 1: Eavesdropping

I only have a few years experience with GMing, so there’s little I can  offer in that field that others haven’t said before. However, I do have experience as an Improvisational Performer, and I’ve found the two have a lot of overlap.

Today, I’m going to focus on dialogue, specifically on the noble art of eavesdropping.

GETTING A CLUE

Inevitably, in any given adventure, the players will need to find out information. They might get this from a written clue, or from going zomb take off zigJack-Bauer on some captive, but sometimes they’ll just eavesdrop on a conversation already in progress. The first thing you need to figure out is:

What information needs to come across?

If these are allusions to a major villain that won’t show up for 5-6 adventures, be as vague as you want. However, if the essential information is simply “Players need to get a key or they’re stuck here,” subtlety can result in PCs sitting around in a cell until they’re rescued by divine intervention or they starve.

Recent Example: In the adventure I mentioned last week, a group of Ghost Pirates raided the city for gold, jewels, and anything else shiny (including hubcaps). Our heroes successfully discovered the evil Captain Blackstache’s weakness. Now, the goal was to steer them back to his ship for an epic showdown.  To guide the way, I had a spectral rowboat float over their heads. *I* knew it was heading back to the ship (so all they’d have to do is follow it,) but the vampire of the group volunteered to scurry to the bottom of the boat and listen on what they’re talking about.

In this case, the essential information I had to convey was “We’re going back to the ship, where Blackstache is waiting!” Now, I could just have a character say, “Hurry up, back to the ship, where Blackstache is waiting,” but that wouldn’t have been any fun, especially for a zany series like Skeleton Crew. What other ways are there?

  1. Slip of the Tongue – Rather than stating the info it outright, slip it into a longer sentence or a paragraph. If it’s a minor part of a natural sounding dialogue, it will seem less forced.

So what should you talk about? Ask a man to give a minute-long speech, he’ll likely fail. Ask him to share what irks him, he’ll go on for ten minutes. Which leads us to…

  1. Rant and Rave – People love to complain. If you want to get a character talking, give him something to complain out.

To continue with the Ghostly Rowboat, I wanted to convey the essential “back to the ship,” but I wanted to slip it into a rant. So, to make the rant realistic, I grabbed a random piratey name, Anais (I recommend stashing a few names before any adventure. Personally, I love the Writer’s Digest Character Naming Sourcebook). Thus, the ranting went a little like this:

“Man, that Anais thinks he’s such hot stuff. I saw that shiny set of spoons first, and he ripped it right out of my hands. You saw it, didn’t you? I bet you, by the time we get back to the ship, he’s already there, waiving them spoons under Blackstache’s nose. ‘Ooooooh, look at me, I’m such a good pirate.’. And he’s going to get first dibs on the loot, and he’s going to have that smug expression on his boney little face the whole time. What a jerk.”

This feels REAL because the character’s goal is not to relay information—however, he gives the same useful information across, as well as a whole bunch of useless stuff. Also, with an angry rant like the above, I could carry on until Wizards puts out D&D 6th Edition.

(As an added bonus, it sets up a great minor character for the pirate character. In the same adventure, Blackstache barked an order to the nearest NPC, which I declared was Anais. When a PC sent him flying off the ship into the water, a nearby pirate muttered, “Y’know, I never liked that guy. What a jerk…”)

Don’t be afraid to use your own real pet peeves as inspiration. Sure, it might be hard to work your pro/anti “Phantom Menace” rant into a medieval fantasy world, but most problems are timeless: coworkers, relationships, traffic, bad food / service. Given a reshaping, you can even make technological rants work for any age.

Grok: And then  Warlord call for Grok.. only Warlord call Grok’ IT Guy,’ ‘cuz Warlord no know Grok’s name. Grok is “It Guy” cuz Grok fix the Its.  Warlord say, ‘Catapult no work. Kicked it with boot, still no work.’ Grok say, ‘Haz Warlord kicked catapault again? Re-boot?’ And Grok re-boot catapult, and it work. And does Warlord thank Grok? No! Warlord glare at Grok, like it Grok’s fault it no work in first place. Grok no built stupid catapault, Grok only fix stupid catapult. Grok say long time go to Warlord, ‘Warlord need buy new catapults.’ Did Warlord listen to Grok? No! No one listen to Grok.

  1. Teaching Moment – The rant is great when you have only a small bit of information, but what if you got a lot to explain? Answer: Nature abhors a vacuum. Or, in other words, knowledge must gracefully goes from those who know to those who don’t know. If both people know the info, why would they spend valuable time speaking it aloud?

Note: Author Dan Brown is notorious for breaking this rule. He’ll have Prof Langdon racing against the clock, running for his life- only to spend 20 pages explaining something to an expert who’s ALSO AN EXPERT IN THE SAME SUBJECT.

However, if a PC eavesdrops on one NPC who knows and one who doesn’t know, they might be lucky enough to overhear an info dump. Here’s a sample that only slightly steals from a certain Monty Python movie (Bad Yorkshire / Cockney accents optional).

Mean voice: Okay, you stay here and make sure he doesn’t leave.

Gruff voice: Right. Will do. Um…

Mean: Yes?

Gruff: Who is “he”?

Mean: Him. In there. The prince. The one locked up.

Gruff: Oh right. Yes of course. Ummm…. Which prince?

Mean: Of Freedonia. The one the emperor kidnapped. To hold as hostage, so the Freedonian Queen will agree to the trade agreement. Is anyone of this getting through to you?

Gruff: Oh, yes sir, of course sir. Only… um, could you repeat that again sir?

Mean: Starting with what?

Gruff: Just everything after the uh… time you opened your mouth…

Gruff: [Exasperated Cry!]

  1. Magic Lampshade – If you don’t have the time or the confidence, simply break one of the golden rules above, and have another NPC call yourself out it.

Pirate Bosun: Row harder! We got to get back to the ship!
Lackey: What are you telling me for?! I know that already!
Pirate: Quite yer yapping!

OR

Pirate Bosun: We’ve got the prize!
Lackey: Quiet you idiot! If you keep yelling it out like that, someone most overhear and find out that we got the prize.
Pirate: Oh, right.

FINAL TOUCHES

Here are a few other tips to make your overheard conversations pop:

  1. Stuck in the Middle – It’s rare that an eavesdropper hears the beginning of a conversation. One of my favorite lines from the Simpsons is Bart saying, as someone else rushes through, “So I says to Mabels, I says ‘Mabels…’” I don’t know WHY it cracks me up, but between the New Yorker improper grammar and the idea that Bart knows someone named “Mabel,” but it’s a wonderful non-sequitor that feels real. If I have the forethought, it’s sometimes fun to start with the punchline of a joke, hinting at a strange story. Here’s a fun one:

“And then I said, ‘but Madame, that’s NOT my broadsword!’ Get it? Get it??”

<shameless plug> If you want more Punchlines, you can find more in our “Handbook for Saucy Bards,” available in the Tangent Tidbits Store </shameless plug>

  1. Asymmetric Games – All conversations need two or more people. However, trying to play two different characters at the same time can be tricky, especially if you love silly voices. However, it doesn’t have to be an EQUAL conversation. One can do all of the explaining and ranting, and the other person can just answer in “y-ups,” grunts, Hodors, or, depending on the species, “gronks.” One of my favorite episodes of the anime Cowboy Bebop is Episode #2, Stray Dog Strut. It involves a pair of minor scientists, one of which is lamenting who deep in trouble they are (with a heaping side dish of exposition.) His lackey, for 90% of the episode, only responds with a nasal “Seems that way.” It’s the perfect example of how a non-committal sycophant can turn an everyday expression into a catchphrase.
  2. The Purloined Letter – If you’re weaving a mystery, you will have to drop some hints along the way. One of the best ways to hide the info is in plain sight, i.e., in the middle of a wide info dump. For example, if the PCs overheard a butler saying,

Jeeves: Make sure you near the back door around 7 to answer it, the shop man is coming by with a delivery, and make sure he has every item: 4 jars of varnish, 2 cans of lye, 1 roll of butcher’s paper. And make sure you count this time before you sign!”

Roger: Do I have to wait down there? I here funny noises sometimes, when it gets dark.

Jeeves: That’s just the boiler room. Now move it!

When the players hear it, the first thing they might notice is poor Roger’s complaint about the noises. However, it’s only later that they realize the true info hidden— when they learn that lye was the poison used to kill Great Aunt Tabitha. Did Roger miscount, or did someone sneak off with a jar of lye when Roger was distracted?

NEXT WEEK: Intentions and Bargaining!

Inktober Day 20

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SC Preview: Padre Vinnie Sargento. Terrible priest, great exorcist.

Monica Marier Author

Here’s today’s Inktober offering. My dad always used to do the Fr. Guido Sarducci voice and routines for me and my brothers when I was younger. My brother Dave and were joking recently that he’d make a great character in a supernnatural campaign so we made a tribute character for him: Padre Vinnie Sargento. Mmm. Vintage cheese.

10_20 The Padre by Monica Marier

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Inktober Day 19

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Another SC RPG character preview: the ghostly silent movie star, Chucky Crumb!

Monica Marier Author

Hope everyone had a fun weekend! I was busybusybusy, but I had a great time hanging out with family.

10_19 Chucky Crumb by Monica Marier

Today’s another illustration for the Skeleton Crew RPG. This one is the ghost of a silent film star comedian. I was inspired to draw on my favorite actors like, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Charlie Chaplin, and there’s a bit of Groucho Marx thrown in there for good measure. In the end he looks a bit like one of those Red Skelton sad clown paintings, but I tried to emphasize the soulful tortured eyes that all the silent comedians had.

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Inktober twofer

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Monica Marier gives us two inked previews of SC RPG characters, undead noble Headless Hob and the wight Caomh Culainn

Monica Marier Author

I missed yesterday’s post due to force majeur so today I’m posting a two-fer. These are both character illustrations for the upcoming Skeleton Crew RPG book character creation section for ready-to-plays. The first is a Jacobean scardey-cat called “Headless Hob.” I approached him as sort of a “Canterville Ghost” meets Scooby Doo villain and he came out looking darling. The next is rougher and more visceral. It’s supposed to be an ancient Celtic warrior wight. I was inspired by the traitor ghosts in Return of the King. I think it would read a lot better with a black background or some other finessing. In retrospect this was a hard one to do with just ink. Anyway. More tomorrow. Bye!

10_1710_18

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Open the Gates! – Open Ended Adventures & Skeleton Crew

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In the GM scheme of things, I’m relatively new. I’ve created several adventures for Skeleton Crew and my other games, and heard positive feedback. However, they would definitely fall under the “on the rails” category. In the case of the Masters of Umdaar game, the characters were literally in a single hallway, without a single side branch they could veer down. Of course, that was a 2-hour demo game, but Sophie Lagace’s blog inspired me: could I create a really short adventure that wasn’t on the rails? If New Manchester, the SC city, was so such a great setting, why not show it off some?

SPOILER WARNING:  If you’re signed up for the Skeleton Crew game this Saturday at Victory Comics at 12pm in Fairfax, VA, this contains a few spoilers. If you’re in the Northern Virginia area and you’re not signed up, WHY NOT?! Post here to reserve a spot!


maria eyes serious

THE EXPOSITION: BLACKSTACHE’S REVENGE!

When I started writing the adventure, the following quote was bouncing around in my head:

“I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom;” – Nick Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

That was my goal: to create an adventure with a strong start, but no predetermined “bottom.”  Here’s the premise I used for the story, based on a comic idea cowritten by Monica Marier.

The story begins in Oldetown New Manchester, next to the old Town Hall, which is now a historically protected building. It is the local holiday Name Day, and the streets are filled with tourists, small-fry politicians, vendors, and street performers.  The smell of funnel cake permeates the evening air.

Mayor Mayer reaches the podium and gives an unenthusiastic speech, which includes the following exposition:

The city of New Manchester is celebrating Name Day because, on this day in 1689, a group of ragtag villagers and tradesmen defeated an invasion by vicious pirates. Until then, the community had been nameless waypoint between other settlements, but after their victory, they christened the area New Manchester.

As Mayor Mayer is wrapping up, storm clouds blanket the sky, and a glowing rowboat descends from the sky, landing on the steps. Enter Blackstache, a skeletal pirate of glowing green light, dust, and hate (with a surprisingly well kept mustache.)

“These be nuttin’ but lies! I know, for I was there- Captain Blackstache! (Not Blackbeard, that poser came later.) Me and me mates weren’t invaders… this was OUR home! It was our place of refuge, and them traders wouldn’t have been nuttin’ if it weren’t for us. This town ‘ad a name- it was Pirateton! And in the name of the Skull Dogs, the Sea Vultures, and meself, I claim it Pirateton once more!” [Insert Arrs and other piratey language here.]

From his rowboat, several other skeletal pirates (these looking a little more solid) join Blackstache’s side. Together, they grab Mayor Mayer, and make their way through the crowd to the street. Overhead, a dozen more spectral rowboats glide overhead, heading inland under a canopy of darkness.

THE FIRST BLOW

The heroes will hopefully get involved at this point (the precon character Zomboy has the aspect “Superhero in his own mind,” which can definitely be compelled for this purpose.) If the players don’t give a reason, maybe the skeleton henchmen start robbing the crowd members, including your heroes. In my Roll20 Game, the person playing the little girl Peek-a-boo demanded Blackstache give her his awesome tricorn hat.

As soon as a conflict occurs, I want to establish the following things:

  • The Crew is divided into two gangs of pirates, the Skull Dogs and the Sea Vultures- for the sake of the session, I had the Skull Dogs be the melee fighters, and Sea Vultures be the long range marksmen. They CAN suffer stress from mental and physical attacks. (If Caomh Culainn is in the party, he’s the only one who can Intimidate them, or it’s +2 harder for everyone else). If beaten, they can be questioned.
  • During the first scene, Blackstache is invulnerable to all physical and mental attacks. All physical attacks go straight through him, and because he’s invincible, he laughs off any intimidation attempts. I go more in depth about Invulnerabilities in the Skeleton Crew rpg rulebook, but in a nutshell, it’s a Compel- the first player to discover a physical or mental immunity gains a Fate point at the end of the scene. Any attempts to capture him will ultimately fail. More on that later.
  • Blackstache’s objective in the first scene is to kidnap the Mayor- it IS possible for him to fail, meaning the player do have a way of winning the Conflict. If the Mayor is rescued and is not recaptured in the next turn or two, Blackstache will give a conditional defeat; automatically escaping without his prize. If the players don’t rescue her in a few turns, he’ll leave with her. After he leaves, any crew still around will continue fighting until they are defeated or concede.
  • Blackstache and his crew are greedy to the Nth degree, but not very well organized, and a bit on the dump side. It’s pretty clear that they hadn’t really planned this whole thing in depth. If questioned about their demands, they’ll start with “take what is ours!” and then waffle a bit if you ask for specifics.

Making them Care: At this point, hopefully the party is eager to twart Blackstache. If not, you’ll have to make them interested. Some options:

  • Have a skeleton crew mate hint about gold on the ship.
  • Have the mayor (or, she’s abducted, the deputy mayor) pay you.
  • Have the pirate rampage take out the city’s power and cell towers (thus, disrupting all TV watching.)
  • Have the skeletons kidnap a love interest or family member of the party. (Stupid boyfriend, always getting kidnapped!)

Beating Blackstache

So, to repeat what is established above, the players cannot beat Blackstache as they are at the beginning of the adventure?

Q. How do they break through Blackstache’s invulnerability

A. Anyway they come up with.

Really, any scheme they concoct can potentially work. For a comedy/adventure game like this, no scheme is too stupid, so long as it requires a little effort. That’s the goal: an adventure that can go anywhere the players want. In a more complex system, this might be a bit harder, but luckily Fate is loose enough that it can be done on the fly.

Of course, to be safe, I have a few things preplanned:

  • Weapon / Invention: If they want to build an invention, I would use the “Building Invention” rules, as they appear in the SC book (it’s essentially a variation on the Challenge rules). This makes the players struggle as they scrounge the city for essential parts, even as the pirate gangs create chaos around them.
  • Ritual: Using the same rules as Invention, but with a magical twist.
  • Book Run: If they want more info, they can swing by the library, where they’ll find the condescending Librarian Dezi Dewey.  She greets them on the steps, and tells them the essential book they need, “Journal of Goody Goodwife,” is a blue book in the Reference section (no, you’re NOT allowed to check it out!) Upon entering the library, you find the place ablaze, as some lesser skeleton pirates are wrecking havoc. Getting the book can be run as a Challenge or a Contest. For results, see “Useful Info” below.
  • Achilles Heel: maybe Blackstache has a secret weakness, such as a magical talisman that gives him invulnerability. Maybe it’s closer to a horcrux, such as a part of him that is stashed somewhere else, like his heart in a music box, or his soul in a hourglass. This is a good plan b if the party is adamant in charging after Blackstache (who’s residing on the ship) before learning how to hurt him. No doubt his weak spot would be kept near him for safekeeping, probably in his cabin.
  • Séance: If your members try to gather information from the dead (in their lair or in the Oldetown cemetery) they’ll be able to talk to actual colonial residents. Using the info from them (or even bringing the spirits along), and leverage, shame or even scare Blackstache for good.

What info can you find? There are several options:

  • Blackstache had united two warring pirate factions based out of Pirateton, the Skulldogs and the Sea Vultures (who were bitter rivals.) It is possible to wedge them apart.
  • Blackstache was honest that the pirates were the founders of Piraton, but he neglected to mention that the mob that drove them off consisted of their fed-up wives and lovers. The very name of these old flames wills them with shame and fear. If you can resurrect or impersonate them, expect them to run for the hills (perhaps after a Mental Conflict?)
  • Blackstache’s real name, Bartleby Briganmeyers. Names have power, and potentially, the name is all you need to cause him to quake. This can be used in a binding ritual, or be added on top of an attack spell. If there’s no spell caster in the party, maybe just mentioning the name will break the shield. Of course, you can always start a social conflict and shame “Bartleby” with just how ridiculous his name is.
  • Burial Site – this one is not information I would OFFER, as I imagine Blackstache as dying out at sea. However, if players insist on finding his burial spot, your sources will reveal that his corpse wound up on a small island off the coast. As any Supernatural fan knows, you can always salt n’ burn the body.

What else did I prepare?

  • Blackstache’s stats.
  • Several levels of skeletal henchmen. Taken strait from the SC RPG rulebook, plus a few pirate aspects:
Skeletons are puppets of dried bone, controlled by a necromancer from the outside. They have no memory or emotion, and no connection to person they used to be- they are practically robots with a grim skeletal smile.
Skeleton Aspects –Undead – Skeletons are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities.; No Pain; Rattling Bones.
Commonly Level: Average (+1)
Stunts: Brainless – Skeletons are immune to normal mental attacks. They may not actively resist any mental Aspect placed on them (ex. attempts to lure them to a better spot, attempts to distract them.)
Autonomous Parts – It is possible for a skeleton’s body part to keep moving, even after it has been severed from the rest of the body.
Wight Stuff (Good +3 Only) – Skeletons of Good +3 or higher are considered Wights. They lose the Brainless stunt. However, they grant +1 to any Attacks they make with Fight (but not defending.)
Alternative: You may have the skeletons be resurrected marksmen (musket men, pirates, crossbowman.) If so, replace all Fight skills with Shoot.
AVERAGE (+1)
Physique   +1, Fight +1
Stress: No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.
FAIR (+2)
Physique   +2; Fight  +2
Intimidate   +1; Wilderness +1
Stress: One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.
GOOD (+3)
Aspect:  Undying Rage
Physique   +3; Fight  +3
Intimidate   +2; Will +2, Wilderness +2
Notice +1, Athletics +1
Stress: Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
  •  Some useful locations, like Hubris University, Bell & Cat Magic & Book Shop.
  • Phone a friend: If the players are lost or failing to come up with an idea, I was prepared to have an NPC call them up and guide them to a conclusion, such as Ol’ Man Jenkins, the Caretaker at the Library and/or Graveyard; or Prof Ephipany at BIFZAP Research labs.
  • Had a list of funny colonial names:
    Bartleby Briganmeyers
    Goody Goodwife
    Upton Ecclaire
    Charity Miser
    Amias Cork
    Primrose Hedge
    Jotham Lazarus
    Winston Ermergaurd
  • Because this was a Roll20 game, I had a few maps handy, like an Oldetown cobbled street, a modern city street, a library (with flame tokens), a pirate ship (inside and out), a graveyard, etc. Roll20 isn’t perfect, but it’s darn handy (I could write a whole blog on it, and probably will.

My first test with it was a huge success. It ran about 3.5 hours, but at least 30 minutes of that was figuring out how Roll20 worked.

What are your thoughts? Share your awesome stories.

If you haven’t already, sign up for the Skeleton Crew Beta test, and receive a FREE copy when we release.

Bite-Sized Game Events!

Standard
Melodramatic much?

Melodramatic much?

Skeleton Crew RPG Game Events!

Later this month, we’ll be releasing the Skeleton Crew RPG (sign up early here). In honor of that, we’re hosting a slew of free day events.  Here at our 3 current games, (although we’ll probably try to squeak one more in).

Sun, Oct 5 @ 12-3pm – Game On! Comics – 310 Dominion Rd NE, Vienna, VA 22180

Sat, Oct 11 @ 6-10PM – Online Game, hosted through Roll20 & Google Hangouts

Sat, Oct 18 @ 12-3pm – Victory Comics – 586 S Washington St Falls Church, VA


In the meantime, here’s another sneak peek at the rulebook. This week: Vampires!

Vampire Bloodlines

Thousands of years ago, the original vampire curse mutated into several different strains.  These different strains, called Bloodlines, are the foundation for all of the great vampire families. While dozens of unknown strains still exist, here are some of the more prominent houses:

Drakfiul – The House of the Dragon – The Drakfiul can claim the lineage of Dracula himself. They are the “old money” of vampire world, picking new initiates with care.
Strengths: Strong, fast, near impossible to kill (without beheading AND staking).
Weaknesses: Weak in daylight; garlic, entering houses; require grave soil; stakes (esp. holly, oak)
Origin: Eastern Europe, approximately Romania.

Aurelium – House of the Golden God. Centuries ago, the Aurelium recruited new members through religion- now, they prefer to through teen gangs and new age yoga groups. High ranking Aureliums will often travel from city to city, setting up covens like franchises. They are typically rich, but would be considered “new money”- all flash, no class.
Strengths: Reach full strength shortly after being turned; fast; persuasive
Weaknesses: Killed by sunlight and stakes; cannot use powers without turning ugly
Origin: Ancient Greece

DeBuffed – If you couldn’t tell, Aureliums are inspired by the Buffy-verse- these guys make great low level henchman.  Perfect for GMs that love throwing in conflicts all throughout an adventure.

orlon eye red

Orlok – The House of Secrets – Orlok vampires are not sparkly and seductive- over time, an Orlok deforms into a bald, bat-like monster.  Unlike most vampires, they can go years without feasting- when they do feast, they can wipe out a village in a month, like a plague. Orloks are often live alone or in pairs- preferring the company of animals over humans.
Strengths: Transformations; potent magic; slippery; animal mastery.
Weaknesses: Die in sunlight; not very physical.
Origin: Unknown (Possibly Europe)

Jiangshi – The House of Life. They are the hopping vampires of China. Rigor mortis causes the joints to stiffen, so the vampire must hop instead of walk. A Jiangshi bypasses the need for blood, preferring to suck out the victim’s life force directly. Jiangshi share a lot in common with zombies, in that they are smell of rot and are covered in fungus. Jiangshi do not mingle with mortals, but will work in close families, recruiting new human members from their extended human bloodline.
Strengths: Strength; resilience; life draining
Weaknesses: Sunlight; fire; stiff; repelled by mirrors; peach tree wood; passages from the I Ching
Origin: China

Fifillet – The Fifillet are too loosely knit and new to form a “house”- it is unclear if they are actually sired like other bloodlines, or if they are reanimated “naturally,” due to certain conditions, such as being buried in unhallowed ground. Most of the Fifillet act as incubi and succubi, feeding on lovers- however, some are known to feast on children. A few Fifillet are mischievous pranksters, taking on the form of the Will o’ the Wisp to divert travelers; others seek vengeance, or have malicious intentions.
Strengths: Unknown
Weaknesses: Unknown
Origin: Louisiana

Strix – House of the Owl – The Strix are fierce vampires with animal-like tendencies- they are wild hunters, preferring active prey rather than sleeping.  While they drink blood, they are also known to eat or tear out the victim’s organs. Luckily, reformed Strix are quite happy drinking animal blood, rather than human. In monstrous form, they bear the claws and wings of owls, and have a second set of teeth behind the first.
Strengths: Fast; fliers; savage attackers; sixth sense (for death)
Weaknesses: Feeding-frenzy; decapitation; weakness to sickles
Origin: Unknown (Possibly Greece)

Talamaur – House of Shadows – The Talamaur are skilled mediums, able to enslave ghosts to do their bidding. Their bodies are normal looking and relatively weak, but they are capable of casting astral projections- these ghostly forms cannot be killed, but “wounding” s projection will bear marks against the Talamaur caster, revealing his nature.
Strengths: Hiding; sixth sense; necromancy; astral projection
Weaknesses: Smoke; fire; sunlight
Origin: South Pacific

Sasabonsam – House of the Bat – An elder Sasabonsam is more bat than human, with powerful wings and shriveled arms. Each Sasabonsam prefers to live alone, but he’ll create a retinue of ogre-like thralls, called Asanbosam, to form his network of bodyguards and spies.
Strengths: Iron-strong teeth & claws; surprise; mighty wings (Sasabonsam); beefy (Asanbosam)
Weakness: weak arms (Sasabonsam); deformed feet
Origin: Western Africa

Lamia – House of the Seven Gates – The Lamia are perhaps the oldest vampire house still standing, dating back to the Babylonian priestesses of Ishtar. They are a matriarchal society- while a few rare males are admitted into the rank, they are deemed unworthy to hold any political power. The Lamia are associated with the snake, and take on reptilian features when aggravate; they must also shed their skin every few months.
Strengths: Speed; seduction; ancient knowledge; transformation
Weaknesses: not fliers; emotionally unstable; decapitation

Kukudhi – A Kukudhi is the ultimate stage for a vampire- it has feed well for enough centuries that it is no longer vulnerable to light and no longer needs to sleep. It will also reach its peak in strength and power, and may hide a massive monster under its normal sized frame. It can still be killed if it is staked and beheaded, and in its large form, is particularly vulnerable to hamstringing.