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Poison City

Poison City

20160229_poison-city_paul-crilleyPoison City (by Paul Crilley) reads a bit like Rivers of London books by Ben Aaronovitch and a twinge like Charles Stross’s books about The Laundry. Probably more former than latter. And, perhaps, with a dose of Hellboy and Night Watch thrown in for good measure.

Gods, monsters, vampires, spirits, angels, demons, fae, and worlds outside our own, mixed up with folklore and mythology from across the world. Set against a South African backdrop, I’ve really enjoyed the first 200-pages of this book – despite my desperately poor reading speed and diabolical reading average this year.

I borrowed this from the library – as you can only get a hardback at the moment, following a release earlier this year – and I’m on my third renewal. I need to do better. I need to stick to the 25-pages of book a day target I intend for next year, but might as well get on with now. In the Goodreads Book Challenge, my effort stands at 3 books finished for 2016. I think that’s selling me short, but it might be right for whole books read. I need to find a way to account for articles, short stories, novellas and so forth. It’s all words and pages; all fodder for the creative process.

Gideon Tau works for the Delphic Division of the South African Police Service, dealing with complex and dangerous occult investigations. He has little support, aside from a cantankerous DCI from Yorkshire and a drunk canine spirit guide, but somehow he gets the job done – and that despite only a tenuous grasp of magic bordering on the amateur. While others in the Division have specialised, Tau’s grasp of ‘Shinecraft’ still relies on a physical focus – a wand – and sometimes he makes really bad decisions that land him in deep trouble with the wrong kind of entities.

All very entertaining and fast-paced. Feels a bit like an origin movie at the moment, skirting over a lot of ground with scant detail. The occult world holds a lot of surprises and here we glimpse dozens of them, with the lingering promise of many more books in a series somewhere ahead.

I can see potential in using this as the backdrop for a roleplaying game – Night’s Black Agents, World of Darkness or, probably, something driven by Fate. Light on magic, high on action, investigation and peril from entities beyond mortal ken. The Esoterrorists might work as well – as you’ll be wanting to Veil Out most of the action and magic seems more dangerous than useful in the greater scheme of things.

December 12th Update – So, I finished reading this over the weekend, having extended the renewal yet again.

Liked this a lot. Definitely an “origin” book for the series and without spoiling anything, which is tough, Tau makes a ton of enemies in the latter half of the book. He makes enemies amongst his friends, colleagues, associate organisations, angels, orisha and others – directly or by the result of his actions.

The state of play at the end of the books has multiple sequels splattered all over it with all kinds of angles – and I can see tabletop role play potential aplenty. Indeed, I can see even more potential now that I’ve finished the book than before. And angles on the world as well.

You could have a ragtag group of player characters made up of Delphic Operatives, minor supernaturals, wing-clipped angels, soul-damaged mortals, and possibly even Fae (though I’m inclined to believe they have a sordid and dark road ahead of them in later books that might put them mostly off-limits).

A game in this world would have all the repercussions of this book to deal with and still have a whole other world to consider.

Poison City was released in August 2016 and you can currently grab a copy in hardback or on Kindle. It’s well worth your reading consideration and certainly something I will come back to and re-read; most likely I’ll re-read with the intent to run a game against the backdrop, probably with Hollowpoint or the Cypher system.

Hollowpoint seems to fit for reasons that will become obvious as you read. The Cypher system with something dredged out of Gods of the Fall might work, too.

Historical versus Time Travel

Historical versus Time Travel

time-430625_640I have been preparing for gaming events later this year, which has included effort on both historical games for my own 214 system and consideration of adventures for TimeWatch, a GUMSHOE game. As the name hints, TimeWatch is a game about time travel, as yet unpublished, but due soon following a very successful Kickstarter last year.

It might seem quite obvious, but a historical game and one about time travel have a degree of crossover. If you take a historical game and drop people from the future into it, well it isn’t much different from locals solving the issue themselves.

Of course, with locals they probably won’t solve the situation by unravelling a time paradox or defeating a band of hyper-intelligent dinosaurs.

That aside, I have started to blend my adventures subconsciously, so I have to step back and think a bit.

It sometimes doesn’t help that I set both time travel and historical adventures in the same period – the Elizabethan end of the 16th century. No, the temporal operatives don’t always end up there, but the historical characters do because that’s the period I’m most comfortable with.

To get over this, I been trying to set the time travel in periods apart.

For upcoming events, I have a new adventure that starts in the 21st century and then drops back to the 20th century for a resolution (well, it might do… that’s the problem with time travel agents and the whole business of temporal mechanics). It takes me out of my comfort zone, but does mean I do that thing I love so much – research.

While I took history as a degree, I always shied away from the modern history. While I had to do a little – the modular set of the course meant you couldn’t avoid it – the majority of the history I studied preceded the Industrial Revolution. In hindsight, maybe if I’d balanced the course a little I would find it easier to come up with more varied historical adventures.

On the other hand, coming up with any adventure for a time travel game comes down to a quick Internet search for events in a given period and then some link-trawling for juicy details. Find a conspiracy and read up on it. Identify an event and see if someone else has considered what might been if it didn’t happen. Some of the conjecture will be studious and well documented, while other thoughts might come from enthusiastic amateurs. Whatever the source, most players won’t know or care provided you give them an exciting and action packed adventure.

Somewhere in the midst of this posts I have lost my way. I feel the only solution might be to go back to the beginning to try and figure out what went wrong…

Out of the Blue Adventure Design

Out of the Blue Adventure Design

One good gumshoe studies another
One good gumshoe studies another (Photo credit: scampion)

I’m having a weird revelatory experience with roleplaying adventure design at the moment. Key features of a tabletop gaming session come to me at the last moment.

I always have an idea in mind – and then I get on with it. Recently, I have had ‘moments of inspiration’ that catch me utterly off guard.

These have been happening at odd moments. In the last fortnight, I have had revelations:

  • 20 minutes before a convention adventure, while in the bathroom
  • the same evening as a game when I was exercising on the stationary bike
  • a week before the next session, while pondering something unconnected in the shower

I don’t normally have these ‘moments’. I mean, I probably have done in the past – but, at the moment, they seem to be coming in relatively thick and fast. I have an adventure… I have a plan… And, then I have a last moment flash and change something.

I have had some very positive comments on the first revelation. The con game went from ordinary to rather different – starting at the end to ramp up the action and, as it happens, home in on mechanics of combat and general skills in Gumshoe.

The second revelation meant I started the Dragon Age adventure this week with an unexpected attack from within the party. The group, roused from sleep, found one of their number, the Circle Mage, raging and steeped with the blood of innocents. Swords out and game on! In a group that have a little history, this actually made for a nice turn of events.

Next – well, that would be telling. Don’t want my local gaming group knowing what I have planned. Suffice to say, it has changed from what I thought originally would come next, thanks to a eureka moment.

I kind of like this – but, I could do with a more predictable delivery mechanism! I suppose it might be useful when I’m coming up with adventures to make a few notes and then set them aside. Giving them a time to gestate could provide me with more revelations to work with. I have had a tendency in the past to stick to the letter of a plot too rigidly – whereas, over the last year or so, I’ve loosened a little and winged sessions more effectively through the use of a base of prep and nothing more.

TimeWatch especially has shown me the value of this approach. If I prepare too much, I’m only likely to end up with reams of notes going unused. As a result, I have tended to read a lot while coming up with an adventure, made a few notes – nothing more than a side of A4 – and then riffed on the notes, events in the game and player comments. It has led to some pretty entertaining gaming that fits the expectations of the players more and provides more entertainment as a result. Sometimes, tales of the expected works far better and turns out as more of a surprise.

I wonder what I’ll come up with next. I suspect it won’t bode well for the players…

Storming and Cliffhangers

Storming and Cliffhangers

bookhoundsI have had a busy gaming long weekend, running Numenera and TimeWatch at Concrete Cow and Bookhounds of London last night, for my local gaming group. Despite 8 hours gaming I have incited very little dice rolling and managed to get by on minimal prep, which works out fine for me.

I have found with many games that despite the mechanical need for dice, their appearance always seems to be far less frequent than I’d imagined. The story seems to take over and when the dice appear it always seems I’m suggesting it out of guilt. I feel like they’ve made the attempt to turn up for the game so they should get rolled.

In Gumshoe last night, we had a couple of dice rolls over a 2.5 hour game – and one of those rolls happened in the first few minutes, when a potential patron spontaneously and messily expired. It doesn’t feel wrong in Gumshoe for this to happen, because the game’s about clue, finding them, and pretty much managing it the whole time without needing to mess around with dice. On the other hand, players quite like rolling dice.

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TimeWatch: Paradox Induced Migraines

TimeWatch: Paradox Induced Migraines

Elizabeth_I_(Armada_Portrait)This Saturday past, I ran a session of the Gumshoe time traveller TimeWatch, by Kevin Kulp, at the Dragonmeet convention in Kensington. Not yet finished, funded or available (my understanding is it’ll be Kickstarted some time soon), I ran it from a playtest copy of the rules and a very brief outline for an adventure. I hope to hear news from Pelgrane Press in the not too distant future on getting TimeWatch out to everyone!

I had originally intended to run the game riffing on the Timemaster adventure Sea Dogs of England, but it really didn’t matter. Aside from the non-player characters John Harrington and Heinrich, and a plot to kill the Queen, nothing that happened in my adventure featured in the Sea Dogs. Indeed, having read the adventure and prepared a page of notes, I used virtually none of it and, instead, improvised the whole 3.5 hour adventure.

In the end, even the session name, Drakes and Dragons, had nothing to do with the game we played – having had everything to do with the unused plot of the Timemaster adventure.

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Book Piles and Gumshoes

Book Piles and Gumshoes

I have been reading like a demon of late. In the last couple of weeks I have finished reading three books – Life in a Medieval Village, FlashForward and The Esoterrorists. Admittedly, I had reached the halfway point in one and another amounted to only 88 pages; but, I’m impressed even if no one else is.

I have reasonably good cause to read each of these volumes. I have far too many books lying around the house not to have considered long and hard, before coming up with a plan. If I don’t channel my reading activities, I’ll get no where. I need to read with purpose to get through the backlog and to fulfil associated commitments.

For example, I’m reading historical texts at the moment with the aim to write one or more supplements for Maelstrom. I have a very brief outline in mind for a supplement relating to travel in olden times; and, I also have a couple of adventures simmering on the sort of heat that would make getting a hard boiled egg sorted before lunchtime something of a hassle.

In the wisdom of the TV executives, FlashForward – the series – got cancelled. While the series suffered from a dip or two because of the comings and goings of the crew and direction behind the scenes, it ended triumphantly, in my opinion, with an excellent cliffhanger. Indeed, the cliffhanger galled no end in the knowledge that nothing would follow. So, I read the novel that inspired the series in the hope of getting something back. I warn you – no matter how entertaining a read the novel might be, it has very little in common with the TV series. Or, more correctly, the TV series took the principle of the novel along with a few names, then wove a completely different cloth from the small wraparound shawl created by Robert Sawyer.

Finally, I read ‘The Esoterrorists‘ because I needed something else to take on my trip to Oxford. I have already read the excellent ‘Trail of Cthulhu‘ and wanted to see the Gumshoe system from another angle. I also started to read the futuristic version of the Gumshoe (still in playtest); but, I’ve been struggling a little (probably for want of an iPad!). Overall, I’m thoroughly enjoying the investigation-always-works-because-it-has-to angle of the system. I have read a lot of adventures and campaigns that all too easily ground to a halt because they depending on something happening that sometimes didn’t. Yes, as a gamemaster you could steer the characters in the right direction or drop hints to the players; but, Gumshoe gives you a system to support this within the structure of the game.

You don’t bend the rules with Gumshoe to make an adventure work. The experience and skill of the team allow them to find out what they need to know simply by looking for it. And, just in case you didn’t include every skill amongst the characters in the team, they can each have a build point or three held back to use in a “Oh, I haven’t read Sumerian since my Ancient Cultures course at the University…” moment.

Now, I want to use the Gumshoe system for everything with an investigative bent. ‘Doctor Who’, for example, could be a perfect fit, because finding out what’s happening always means more to each episode than any scuffling that might happen – and the General skills of Gumshoe can handle chases when they happen with the roll of a few dice.

Anyway… I must get back to reading. Writing blog entries takes up valuable page-turning time.