Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Sunless Horizon Play Report #2 (Sessions 3, 4, and 5)

Last session, the party started their adventure, went on a nice boating trip, were attacked by bugs, and then ate someone.

This time, we end the first "season" of the campaign with them completing their final objectives. And then they ate someone.


Unnamed - Oblidisideryptch 
Aemanda Tessier - Dom (only session 3)
Eni Léashvath - Vayra
Arok Tseyvar - Kwub (only session 3)
Erul Avedayati - PurpleCthulhu
Zoma - Justin Hamilton


More Walking
The players spent some time in Subrayada - giving the Overseer the capacitors they'd gathered, then going on a shopping trip. They managed to afford some more bullets for [PLACEHOLDER]'s new gun, and a knife for Aemanda.

They checked their map - the nearest objective was a Network Anteenna, from Network Station 32-c, only a mile and a half away. They leave, passing through Subrayada's front gate and a massive crack in one of the ship's walls. As they walked, the path in front of them split, over and over, until eventually they marched through a corridor only 10 feet wide. 

Then, they stopped. A 20-foot wide stream of corrosive liquid cut through one of the path's walls like a bleeding wound. burning through the floor and vanishing somewhere below.

[Unnamed] was immediately interested in tasting the liquid. When Erul's 10-foot pole (used for depth testing) came up tarnished and smoking, that attitude changed.

Eni decides fire fixed everything last time, and lights a torch, pushing it across the ground towards the stream. The liquid sputters and boils immediately, but does not burn. The party quickly realized that turning the dangerous corrosive stream into a dangerous corrosive cloud really wouldn't help their situation, and pulled out the torch.

Eventually they decide to block the flow with a wall panel. Eni bravely sacrifices their 10-foot pole to the task, and starts prying at the wall. The other PCs hear a pair of footsteps coming up from behind them - their special brand of violent paranoia is (at least time) unjustified, as the footsteps come from a pair of Sworn (Sworn are well-supplied direct agents of the Hierarchs, usually kept for actual wars. Subrayada has a few because of its proximity to a Coolant Sea, and with the rail line down the Overseer is at the top of their chain of command), out here trying to build a perimeter.

The Sworn warn them about the Network Station - traders have returned from there warning of Ghoul attacks. Eni responds with a... less than charismatic reference to Creationist Heresy, leading the more pious of the Sworn to blink in confusion. Luckily, the other breaks the tension, offering the party a round of drinks if they manage to make it back.

Having (barely) managed to talk to a person for 5 minutes without thinking about eating them, the party decide it's time for some lunch, and a test of Sunless Horizon's Rest system - instead of just healing, you get to choose 2 of a list of options (resting to restore Hope, using bandages and other medicine to restore Flesh, Scouting to change the random encounter table, etc.). 

[Unnamed] passes their Scout check, and decides to hunt down a group of bandits in the area. Aemanda passes as well, and removes one of the more threatening Obstacles. They start to move, and conceal themselves on one of the bandits' routes. Thanks to my poor initiative system, the fight turned into a massacre - each PC killed the bandit just below them in initiative, so initiative went to another PC, who then killed the next bandit, and repeat. (After this session we switched to a simultaneous system that seems to be working a lot better). 

The party loot the bandits, then travel the rest of the way to the Network Station.

Network Station 32-C

The Station is marked by a pair of enormous hydraulic doors, both stenciled with the station's designation. Over these stencils are unknown brownish symbols, scrawled by Ghouls to mark one of their nests. 

As the players crossed the doorway, they found a pair of heads on pikes (one Kaiva, one Disciple) staring at the entrance of the nest. Inside this front room is a round shaft leading deeper into the station, and a rusted scaffold drooping into the pit from the ceiling, bearing the antenna at its nadir.

While the players inspect the pit, they see a pair of wet, dark eyes - a Ghoul, staring back up at them. They decide to move down and try to parley - Eni descends on a rope and offers it some food. It accepts, but doesn't understand their language - Eni asks where the antenna is, but the Ghoul assumes they're looking for the last group of Jackals, and points to a small maintenance room on the other side of the shaft.

The rest of the PCs keep an eye on the Ghoul while Eni crosses over, and opens the door to the maintenance room. They are almost stabbed by one of the last Jackals - an Ayir named Alexis, with two broken legs. Alexis begs to be rescued, and the players bring her up to the first floor. The Ghoul they found leaves, crawling through a tunnel.

Then, they decide to descend all the way to the bottom, skipping the 3rd and 4th floors of the pit. At the bottom, they find the Network Antenna, hanging over an abyss. They can see lights blinking back at them from the bottom - it seems like they're miles away.

Like this, but upside-down. Sure looks safe to me!

As the PCs make a plan to detach the Antenna without it falling, a Ghoul starts to climb across the scaffolds above, from one room of the 3rd floor to another. As Eni disconnects the Antenna, [Unnamed] uses their duct tape to tape it to Eni's back. 

The Ghoul looks down and sees them. It coils and leaps, but [Unnamed] deflects it, sending it into the abyss. Its scream awakens the rest, and 5 Ghouls emerge from the 3rd floor. 2 start to climb the scaffolds to the top, while three descend.

This fight was the first test of the new simultaneous initiative system. 

Round One

Zoma and Erul both fire, the sound of their guns resonating in the walls. Both shots hit, one caving in a Ghoul's skull, the other puncturing its lung. Alexis throws a spear, stabbing through one of the descending Ghouls.

Round Two
One ghoul manages to reach the top floor, clawing at Erul before it dies of blood loss. Another simply collapses, falling from the scaffolds into the abyss. The last Ghoul resists Eni's poisons and bites them, before being thrown into the abyss by [Unnamed].

The PCs all rest, then decide to return to town and give the Overseer the Antenna. 

Oh Wow, a Real Conversation

Every obstacle between the Network Station and Subrayada had been cleared, so the PCs returned with no random encounters. After surrendering the Antenna, they take up the Sworn's offer of a meal. Eni immediately takes over the conversation, rambling about Keter's will. One of the Sworn, a Seeleh named Azad, rebuffs these arguments - the other, the Ayir Purnama, doesn't care (he's a pagan anyway).

Eventually, talk turns to more corporeal matters; Eni asks about becoming Sworn, and is told "Once you get the Overseer's Favor, they'll start giving you work - take it. Eventually, if you do well, they'll send you up to the Hierarch. This is a good time to do it, too - the Oasis Kingdoms are arming themselves, and the Lord Navigator's worried."

The Sworn also talk about the Mass Driver Aperture - apparently, some Skinborne say the own the place now. They don't usually hold territory; there must be something special about the place.

At this point, the players decide that direct exposure to vacuum isn't particularly healthy, so they sell one of their two guns to buy a Papersuit (thin foil spacesuit) and some air. They also made a backup plan - if they can't manage to afford the papersuit, they're just going to abandon the Houses entirely and try to make friends with the Sea People.

Luckily, the tiny amount of money they had was enough to buy a child's Halloween costume state-of-the-art spacesuit. Then, they leave town.

Even More W A L K I N G

The floor of their path quickly decays, eventually collapsing. 4 feet below is a reservoir of filthy, stagnant water. The floor returns after 60 feet. While Eni goes fishing (catching a strange crustacean), the rest of the party prepare to climb across the ceiling.

Eni slightly cuts herself on the ceiling's bars, while Erul falls off and lands eye-first on debris.

So, the party's priorities change immediately as Erul is now stuck in the reservoir and missing an eye. They all try to fish Erul out, and succeed.

(At this point, I gave up on my climbing system completely - it takes too long to resolve, and the failure tables are way too abrupt. If anyone has any good ideas, please put them in the comments, because this system has haunted me for months.)

After that incident, they make it to the Aperture without a problem.

It is Puzzle Time. You Have No Choice.

The party opens the sliding door to the Aperture. On the other side is a ladder leading up, and an airlock.

Everyone except [Unnamed] and Zoma go up the ladder, to the control room.


Control Room Objects
Console: Joystick, Red button (fire), green button (load)
Loader: Marked “No Personnel - Electrical/Crushing Hazard”. A large set of rollers lead into it, and it's connected to the breech of the mass driver
Floor Panel: Marked "Warning - Electrical Hazard. No Detach"

Eni immediately messes with the console. After some experimentation, Eni finds that the green button turns on the loader and energizes the rails, while the red button opens the barrel cap (the barrel is capped to ensure everything stays airtight) and releases the rails' energy.

Then, [Unnamed] and Zoma open the airlock, and float outside. Here, they find the Turret Ring, which connects the Aperture to the worldship's hull. They also see a single star, just over the hull's artificial horizon.

They both come back through the airlock, while Erul and Eni jam the loader with a metal pole. Then, they make a plan - the pole should short the rails next time they try to charge, so the inside of the barrel should be safe, or at least safer. [Unnamed] will out into space, then Eni'll cycle the gun again, and [Unnamed] will climb into the barrel while the turret cap is open. Zoma will go with them to make sure nothing weird happens.

The plan works... mostly. [Unnamed] makes it in without a problem, but Zoma notices the star they saw earlier is a lot closer now, and looks to be about 6 lights. Then it gets closer. And closer. Because it's a Skinborne ship, coming to take apart the Aperture and attach it to the Ark.

At this point, everyone panics. [Unnamed] hovers inside the barrel, hoping the ominous blue glow of the rails subsides before they drift into one of them, while Zoma completely abandons him, barely making it into the airlock before a pair of Skinborne emerge from the ship.

As the Skinborne move to the airlock, [Unnamed] begins stripping the mass driver's rails, ending up with 4 8-foot long cables studded with electromagnets. As the rest of the PCs hide in the ladder, [Unnamed] hatches a quite risky plan - they start to tie the rails together, and reconnect to them to their power source, explaining the plan by hammering on the walls of the turret in morse code.

Eni climbs up to the turret and hits the red button, opening the turret cap. [Unnamed] floats out of the barrel, throwing the rails as Eni hits the green button, charging them. The rails make contact, and both Skinborne convulse violently - one cracks their helmet's faceplate on the hull, and the other one wraps around the rails.

After a few minutes, a third Skinborne opens the ship's airlock, sees the two corpses, and goes back inside.

The PCs loot the bodies (getting a pair of lightly scorched Papersuits along with some tools), then they start the long trip back to Subrayada.

The Ceremony of Favors


At that point, the campaign (or at least its first season) ended. But, I'd prepared this little epilogue, so why not use it?

After the party returned to Subrayada, they spent a few days waiting for the Maglev Rail to be repaired. They were all formally invited to the opening.

When they arrived, the Overseer's Herald brought them up onto the train platform, and pushed them down in front of the Overseer. The Overseer signed, and the Herald translated - "You will be as hands to me. My orders will be obeyed, and in return, you will be elevated further. Look to me."

The Herald pulled their heads up to look at the Overseer, and dragged a thin knife across their foreheads. The Overseer bent down to taste the blood.

"It is sweet - you are Favored."

  1. Simultaneous combat is definitely the best option for this game.
  2. The Difficult Terrain system isn't really working how I had hoped. I'm currently debating whether to try a pointcrawl-like Difficult Terrain minigame, or just drop the subsystem entirely. If anyone has any suggestions, I'd really like to hear them.
  3. The game doc needs a lot more resources to be run by anyone but me - the Obstacle and Encounter tables are all placeholder, there's no guidance for if the PCs abandon the Houses, etc. This is my highest priority for the next version.
  4. And finally, this is a working concept. Even after all the work I'd put into this setting, I was still (very slightly) unsure if it would work for an RPG.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

sunless horizon rambling

i n t r o d u c t i o n
I am very lazy. Instead of writing something with actual substance, here's both a pile of pictures, and some vague rambling about video games.

first bit - the pictures

much of Ein Soph has decayed, becoming a wellspring of new life
some has not.
second bit - the rambling

zoop woop veyedio gaems

I steal all sorts of concepts and ideas from video games for Sunless, simply because it's all easier to reach. I can go "hm yes, maybe this game has good ideas", and then just play it for ~30 minutes, and see the good ideas! (yay)

So here are some veyedio gaems that I am mercilessly deconstructing and scavenging. Also, hey, maybe some of them look like fun.

Reciever - Fairness in Hyper-Lethal Environments

Reciever is the fastest, most utterly ridiculously lethal game I've ever played. You play as a person(?) wandering through an infinite purgatory of fancy apartments, hunting for audio tapes and fighting drones and turrets.

It would be incredibly boring if it didn't hate you so much. You can't just reload your gun, you need to mash 8 buttons in the correct order to go through the process of firearm operation step by step. 

Fights with the drones aren't even really fights in the traditional sense - either you see the drone first and knock it down with a single well-placed shot, or it sees you first and you frantically dump your entire magazine into it while screaming, then die.

look into the eyes of death

Despite this, it has one thin barrier between you and not-being-you-anymore - every enemy forgot to turn their headlights off, and they're so powerful the light glitches through walls. 

It's nearly impossible to be surprised - even if you don't notice the huge blue light (which is also the only blue thing in the game), the little *beep* they make a second before they attack will be burned into your mind.

This gives some good advice for the equally lethal combat found in Sunless Horizon (and the majority of other OSR games) - warn the players about monsters. For example, no one in Sunless Horizon has darkvision except the Disciples, so any group of wanderers would be bringing light. While Disciples are harder to see, they're easy to hear, thanks to their constant static-filled chanting.

NaissanceE - Inhuman Architecture

NaissanceE is a platformer(?)/walking simulator... thing, where you walk through a seemingly infinite purgatory of machinery and stark colors. Are you starting to see a theme?

The game is incredible at making you feel like you don't belong - the lights shift instantly from pitch-black to blindingly bright, you spend 5 minutes crawling through a tunnel barely taller than you are only to emerge in front of a mile-long chasm, electricity arcing across it in massive bolts. Nothing here it built for you. You should not be here. You do not fit into it's world.

A lot of what's been written about Sunless Horizon is very "woog darkness claustrophobia argh", but that's something I'm trying to move away from, into a less predictable framework.

You should absolutely watch this video, which explains the game better than it could ever be described in text.

Pathologic - Just Utterly Ruining Your Player's Lives
H E Y - this has spoilers for Pathologic, so if you don't want that, go away ok cool

Pathologic is a Russian survival horror game where you work to cure a plague in a rural steppe town. Pathologic is incredibly unpleasant to play - the vast majority of your time is spent slowly trudging through town over and over, the combat is odd, slippery, and terrible, and the game has a slight habit of not actually telling you how to play it.

However, it's very interestingly cruel - for example, on your second day in town, all prices increase tenfold without warning, dragging you down from a place of "I can easily afford stuff, I thought this game was hard!" to "Maybe I should sell my only weapon so I can buy food and survive another day."

It's incredibly unstable - things just change (always for the worse), with no warning, and you just have to deal with it. You can never be prepared for what happens next, it's all awful forever.

This is surprisingly easy to accomplish - a few timetables similar to those found within A Pound of Flesh can set up a framework for multiple types of events, from war between the Navigator Houses to the Disciples' Last Crusade. This idea's also useful in any game - have tables for the living Moon coming to kill everyone, the invasion of the Icthyan Empire from beneath the sea, or the rise of Hell and upending of all of the cosmos.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Canyon, a 200 Word RPG

Edit - Vayra of Mad Queen's Court has made an expanded and fancier version of this game here.

Even though there's no 200 Word RPG contest this year, I was so excited about making one that I did one anyway.

Canyon is a duet game about resource management and unexpected solutions, set in a largely undescribed post-apocalypse. I haven't gotten to test it yet, but I'd like to.

Game Text

You are a scavenger, in a destroyed world. You've been in a horrific car crash, breaking your leg and leaving you trapped. HOME does not know where you are.

There is one stat - PAIN. Start at one PAIN, gain one whenever you move or are attacked by the Ghoul, roll 1d6 > PAIN to act. Die at 6 PAIN.

There are 3 locations.

*Car Front*
Start here. 
Radio: contacts HOME, needs BATTERY
Headlights: make LIGHT, only forwards
Metal Tube
Vodka Flask
1 bullet
Door: destroyed, leads Outside.
Windshield: destructible, leads Outside if broken.

*Car Back*
Canned Meat
1 bullet
Heavy Metal Box
{ Flare Gun: 1 flare, makes LIGHT }
{ BATTERY: runs out after 1 use }
{ Flashlight: makes LIGHT, needs BATTERY }

The Ghoul waits here.
Gas Tank: mostly full
Gun: 1 bullet

The Ghoul is AFRAID OF: light, pain. ATTRACTED TO: sound, food. It is stronger than you.

Each turn, you can move once and act twice, and the Ghoul moves and acts once. Grabbing an item does not count as an action, but failing the roll to act does. In 8 turns, the sun will come up.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Sunless Horizon Play Report #1 (Sessions 1 & 2)

After a couple years of setting work, a few months of seeecret system work, and a week of campaign prep, I've finally managed to run Sunless Horizon, my sci-fi/horror setting.

This campaign is somewhat light on the horror, because it turns out I don't know how to run horror. I'll figure it out eventually (maybe).

Note: this does reference Sunless Horizon's system a bit, but all of it should make sense.

Unnamed - Oblidisideryptch (joined on Session 2)
Aemanda Tessier - Dom
Eni Léashvath - Vayra
Arok Tseyvar - Kwub
Erul Avedayati - PurpleCthulhu
Zoma - Justin Hamilton

The characters were conscripted by the Overseer of Subrayada, a small fortress-town on the edge of House Chaigidel. The Overseer signed to her Herald, who said the Maglev Rail outside of town has failed. It's the town's artery - without it, there's no connection between it and the outside world. The Herald continued, saying the rest of the town's Jackals have gone missing after being sent on the same mission.

Then, the Overseer nodded, and the Herald said that she will give the PCs all her favor after the train is repaired. The Overseer waved again, and a small machine prints out a piece of plastic, on which is a map.

Numbers here are for Route Stats - random encounter table/number of encounters per half-mile/distance in half-miles.

A Trip to the Beach
After being given their mission, the PCs leave Subrayada, heading on the half-mile journey to the Coolant Sea. Eni decides to take the lead, rolling their incredible Analysis stat for a Pathfinding check.

And rolling a 1.

Eni decided to take a "shortcut", neglecting to mention that the shortcut would take them through a Red Zone - fully functional areas of Ein Soph, used for esoteric industrial purposes.

The path turns downwards, into a pool of reddish mist that swings back and forth like a tide. After long discussion (and a small amount of exposure), the PCs decide to light one of their torches and slowly push it into the mist. As the heat of the fire reaches it, the mist recedes - not burning up, but moving, almost like it was alive.

Note to Self: everyone will try fire on mists - don't have it work.

As they start to cross the mist, they hear footsteps behind them. They decide that caution is best, and continue before dousing their torches on the other side. They hear the footsteps progress, a cry, and then they recede.

They continue upwards, away from the pool of mist. Soon, they reach a gargantuan plain of metal, lit by cold white light. Eni immediately turns them around to head down a second path, which descends until opening up into a huge chamber - the Coolant Sea.

The Coolant Sea is a Region Node - one of the four types of map in Sunless Horizon (Region Nodes are small hexcrawls, Structure Nodes are dungeoncrawls, Abstract Nodes are for cities and other places where exact location doesn't matter, and the fourth is the pointcrawl map used for overland travel).

And here's where I made a tremendous, obvious mistake. The players start in hex 1.1. The goal is in hex 2.1. This leaves 7 hexes (all the most interesting ones) just... there, with no real reason to explore them.

Oh well.

Why Did We Take a Trip to This Beach?
The cracked, rusting deck of the worldship curves down into a miserable lake of knee-high stagnant water, with pools of prismatic chemicals drifting on it like clouds. A shattered tower juts out of the water like a broken tooth, and a flipped raft bobs up and down with the slight tide.

The PCs wasted no time, immediately splitting up to investigate both the tower and the raft. The tower was ruined and covered in Sea People graffiti, with only a single growing machine still working, and all its crops had already been harvested.

Some of the other PCs flipped the raft, uncovering a pair of waterlogged corpses, that seem to have been preyed upon by wandering water-striders. The players dump both of them, taking a pole to use as an oar, and start moving towards the mile-high power line they can see in the distance.

As they slowly make their way past the vines and roots that cover the water here, Eni looks up, and notices movement, a few stories up on one of the towers. Then, they see guns - simple rifles poking from many of the buildings, tracking them as they move.

They realize that a town has sprung up, holding on to the sides of the power conduit like a leech. They've all been told stories about the Sea People - about how they're violent and paranoid, and despise the Houses.

While Eni suggested lying about their work, and pretending to be independents, they decided to hide instead, slowly rowing around until they reached an unoccupied piece of the cable. Zoma was chosen to climb up, passing his climb roll and reaching a boxy outcrop 50 feet up.

At this point, I realized that the game's climbing/crawling rules took to long to figure out, and were too safe. Something to fix in the next version, I suppose (argh).

 As Zoma thought about how to force the box open, the players saw 4 shapes bound across the towers - strange feathered crickets, each the size of a man.

Bugs are Fun
This was the first test of Sunless Horizon's combat system, and it felt like the first test of a combat system.

The tremendously overcomplicated action-based initiative system took 15 minutes to do on the first round, and the idea of declaring actions before you roll initiative, which was intended to provoke planning, actually took the feeling of control away from the players, as after initiative rolled everything became the GM declaring what they were doing.

The fight went well - my auto-hit + hit location attacks were pretty quick, and the low HP pools on each side meant the fight only lasted 2 turns (which would've only taken like 10 minutes if it wasn't for that terrible, awful initiative system).

What? Why?
Zoma forced the capacitor box open with his shiv (breaking it in the process), while [unnamed] tore open the crickets, looking for anything edible.

They all decided that things had gone pretty well for them, so they could probably afford to spend some more time in the Sea. They moved south, to inspect a Sea People watchtower. The tower was occupied by one rifle-armed person - while two PCs pretended to be from a nearby Sustainer Cell, [unnamed] climbed up the side of the tower and killed the sentry. Now, they have a gun!

At this point, all the PCs go completely feral.

Erul suggests that they should just eat the sentry, and most of the other PCs agree, despite the fact that it's been less than a day in-game, and they enough food for 3. Then they steal the sentry's pants.

After their descent into madness, the PCs all return to town, delivering 3 capacitors to the Overseer, and selling the last one for 5u - enough for one day of food.

There are many conclusions that can be drawn from these sessions:

  1. As a system, Sunless Horizon is a flaming ruin. The climbing/crawling rules are (currently) a complete waste of time, initiative takes years, everyone is sad, everything is bad.
  2. Don't put the start and goal of your hexcrawl right next to each other (how did I even do that).
  3. I desperately need a good introduction to the setting (one is currently in progress).
  4. I don't know how to write session reports (please tell me what I did wrong).
  5. My players are really nice to deal with this nonsense.

Sunless Horizon Beta 2.3 Release

Commissioned from Scrap Princess excited screeching I've been posting about  Sunless Horizon  for about a year, and after finally gettin...