Thursday, June 29, 2023

Ashes To Ashes Play Reports (#1)

Ashes to Ashes is a 30-something player play-by-post domain game run by the Unequaled, Inimitable, Et Cetera, Locheil - set in the City Qal Ashen, city of the deathless and the dead, last city of mankind in a world consumed by unending life. 

the intended vibe (art by Locheil)

the real vibe (art by Chris M-S)

Since the game is split into some innumerable amount of hidden Interweb Locations, and people have this terrible habit of always doing things, I've ended up conscripted into keeping track of... well, not everything, but at least some.

And since I have the special set of brainworms that makes me want to read and write play reports no matter how much it tanks blog readership, it's now everyone else's problem. So, here are three that are Complete, Comprehensible(ish), and possibly even Good:

- Reckmore and the Egg, a thousand-year-old bureaucrat trying his hand at dungeon-crawling

Teeth that Scream, the two evictions of the feral wizard Colorless Agum 

The Get-Along Boat, where a pair of exiles don't learn their lesson

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

City of Cities Actual Play

    Locheil's City of Cities, Iskadar. Built of five lesser settlements bent and stacked atop each other. Temples built atop train tracks atop temples, the homes of the rich looming, bent, above fields of unused fortresses. And pinned under its immeasurable weight, the Guts, where the sun - and the law - barely reach. And inside the Guts, the Hawthorne Autocar Works, staffed now by the Red Tooth mob. And inside the Autocar Works, our PCs:
  • Serafim Victorovich, who definitely isn’t a ghoul, no matter what anyone says and how many of his parts fall off.
  • Gerome Castaigne, a bundle of star-stolen knowledge somewhere under a pile of matted hair and tacky robes.
  • Corvette, a gargoyle “paladin” whose constant meditations let her move things with her mind.
  • Ana, veteran of the wars of Hell. Don’t ask which side.
  • Zipporah Viterbo, a city-speaking harpy with a knack for doors.
  • An armored car, which may not be “alive”, or “a player character”, but really did more to help than anyone else, and deserves a place on the list.
  • And, unfortunately, “Pigshit”, some kind of goblin who lives in the vents no matter what anyone tries to do about it.
    This set of walking disasters is under contract to steal a box - though they don’t know what’s inside, the fact that the cops confiscated it when it was imported means it must be worth something, and they’re driving it through the Guts on their way to lock it up.

    The first session is, of course, spent plotting - the cops are taking their car through “Ropewalk Lane” - a winding, tight, generally horrid little road perfect for, as an example, blocking with an armored car on one side, a gargoyle on the other, and every other available goon shooting from the balconies.
    Zipporah’s in with the Dockworker’s Union gets them to happily say exactly what’s in that box (a probably Quite Cursed combination of tome, glass sphere, and golden death mask) and who it’s for - sent from the Duly Elected People’s Government (oligarchic dictatorship) of Haracaa to one “Ialanna Merce”. They also have a record of what the box looks like, so the PCs soon split up even further to go get a copy or twelve made.
    Corvette wanders around bars on the Lane, going on about the wonders of punching cops (which isn’t very hard to persuade people of, with the Great Strike only ending a couple years ago), as step one of inciting a riot when the time comes.
    And then the time comes.
    The van holding the box and its police car escort are blocked by the armored truck - and when the first cop gets out, complete pandemonium. They get Pigshit’s patented bag full of rats over their head as Ana starts shooting from the armored car’s window… once, before taking a round right through the seam and into her ribs.
    As Zipporah’s gun jams, and then jams again, Corvette tears open the back of the van to come face-to-face with a cop in powered armor, whose gun also jams, turning it into a fistfight that Corvette, backed up by a dozen rioters, slowly starts to win.
    Rain freezes on the barrel of Ana’s gun as the cops scatter into doorways and alleys - half of them carrying a surreptitiously tossed rat or two with them, thanks to Pigshit, who then crawls between the power armor’s legs to start searching the van.
    Soon, one cop makes their way to a third-floor balcony, giving Zipporah the chance to jam her gun again, then stumble through an attempted flying tackle, and then get hit on the head with a vase. Fortunately, just then Pigshit finds the box, and Corvette snaps one of the power armor’s legs - but as the players pile into the armored car, one of the cops peeks out of a doorway and asks them if they’re with the Pulps, a local wizard-gang.
    And Zipporah says yes, so the plant hops into the back seat of the armored car as it peels away - and is then, promptly, tied up. The police don’t follow, thanks to a set of spike strips, Corvette tossing the power armor in front of the van, and Ana taking a couple shots at the tires. Unfortunately, when the PCs creep into an alleyway to open up the box (in case it shoots poison darts or something - better to know before the boss gets his hands on it), they’re interrupted by the Pulps’ agent, in a giant kookaburra mask and filthy coat, falling directly onto the car’s roof and demanding his loot.
    Instead, Pigshit gives him a rat, and then a rat, and then when Kookaburra reaches down to grab what is, in fact, a third rat, Gerome tries to shoot him in the hand with a pocket crossbow. Kookaburra does some kind of Wizard Business to cover himself in acidic slime - which protects from the crossbow bolt, but very much does not save him from Ana driving the car under a low bridge and scraping him off.
    Unfortunately, the rest of the Pulps take this as their signal to start chasing with a car of their own, driven by a steel Daedalus war-construct (in a fetching scarf) and followed by a flying harpy, who tries to glue the armored car’s back wheels to the ground using magic before taking a crossbow bolt from Gerome right to the wing joint.
    And then, Corvette leaps from a rooftop to land right in front of the Pulps, takes the hit from the car with only a light… 10… damage, and completely totals it. Then, as the Daedalus and their passenger get out, Ana reverses the armored car right into them.
    Unfortunately, the Daedalus is completely immune to small arms fire - so Gerome ducks into an alleyway to use some Thief Metagame Story Altering Nonsense™: having “already” gotten a smuggler friend of his to hide him a little tool in a nearby alley, in case of some kind of car chase or giant robot - a hand grenade.
    A paper airplane drifts down into the alleyway as Corvette uses her telekinesis to hit the Daedalus with their own car, and then drop it right on top of them, pinning them to the road. Gerome stumbles out of the alleyway (thankful he can keep his grenade for something else) and, for just a moment, reaches out to the paper airplane before running over to steal the Daedalus’s scarf. Which is good, because after he turns to pull the scarf out of the pile of scrap car parts, the airplane unfolds, glows a bright red, and explodes - thankfully damaging no one.
    The second paper airplane, however, airbursts, blowing Corvette’s hand off. And that’s enough to convince the PCs that discretion is the better part of valor.
    Back at the Autocar Works, the PCs are patched up (with the wonderful medicine of “a bunch of old rags” and “grain alcohol”) just in time for the box’s buyer, Ialanna Merce herself, to arrive. Fortunately, she gladly pays extra hazard pay for injuries - and even better, since Gerome has his face covered with his new scarf, and hasn’t yet spoken to her, he can pry an extra 50 crowns from her by simply pretending his jaw’s broken.
    And with that, the job is complete.

Friday, June 9, 2023

No Other Options (Delta Green Play Reports + Reviews)

No Other Options was a short Delta Green campaign I ran earlier this year, when I was suddenly struck with the realization I had run nothing since Orbiters playtesting. And, with it done, I decided why not both write a play report (for fun) and reviews of the shotgun scenarios used (also for fun - that's my motivating force): STOP REPO, Cold Book/AGAINST ALL ODDS, and Withdrawals.

It is January 2006, in the purposeless town of Green River, Pennsylvania - and the local autonomous section of Delta Green, K-cell, is going through hard times. The prior K-cell has disappeared (and no one will say why), and the new team is made only out of two people - the field agent, Josephine Willow, and the intelligence source, Lucy Phillips.

With no information and no manpower, K-cell is tasked with the defusal and destruction of the neo-fascist Heralds of the Great Race, with their upcoming strike on Herald leadership (mission HYACINTH) coming in less than a month.

Fortunately, K-cell also has access to a set of “friendlies” - civilian getaway drivers and gravediggers, sent out to work days before or hours after the gunfights. And these friendlies are our PCs:

  • Helen Cross, a political journalist at the Green River Herald

  • Finnegan Morrison, a former nurse turned mortician

  • and Jethro Onassis, a veteran turned wastrel

STOP REPO Play Report

A month before HYACINTH, the friendlies are left $10,000, a handgun, two magazines, and a pair of messages in a post office box: instructions to obtain four cars abandoned by the last K-cell and now being auctioned off, and details on the cars themselves - a crashed vehicle with “GSA-4014” on its license plate, a red truck with a covered bed (the “highest priority” for K-cell), a green sedan, and a Dodge Caravan with “firestarting tools”.

The next morning they run off to the auction lot - three of their cars are already gone, but while Helen wins the auction for their sedan (while being spied on by a woman with a walking stick), Jethro and Finnegan manage to wheedle information out of the other auction inhabitants - the red truck was illegally (“no, it’s an accounting error, i promise”) sold before the players arrived, GSA-4014 would be in the city scrapyard, and the Caravan was confiscated for the police for unknown reasons.

one of the best parts of any modern-world game is everyone involved trying to remember how earth works
    On their drive out, they’re trailed by the other bidder, but Cruelly, Terribly prevent the operation of American commerce by leading her through a drive-thru, waiting for someone to block her from behind, and starting a deeply unhelpful phone conversation made entirely out of first lies, and then threats of “Sandoval” tossing grenades through the PCs’ windows while they sleep.


To throw her off, they hide the car with some of Jethro’s most questionable friends, and then stroll over to the address of the truck’s new owner. A convoluted plot including a Distraction Brick, rolled-up newspaper, and decorative frog sculpture gets them behind the wheel and, once they pick up the sedan, heading out of town.

They meet Josephine in Absolute Dead Nowhere 

Pictured: Absolute Dead Nowhere

to hand things over - a pair of 55-gallon drums marked PART A and PART B from the truck, and a bag of $2,000 in euros, another gun, three passports, a toolbox, two bulletproof vests, and a pair of grenades hidden in various places within the sedan. The toolbox, a grenade, and three passports (for a “Lukas Barnett”, “David Clements”, and “Rebecca Bowers”, none of which the PCs recognize) are given to the friendlies, and the rest is taken back to K-cell.

As Josephine leaves, she hands Helen a burner phone, and an odd statement about how “our forebears” in the last K-cell can rot, for all she cares.

STOP REPO Impressions

STOP REPO has a kind of inconvenient structure - a set of sample vehicles, contents, and locations meant to be shuffled around by the GM, along with other “sample” obstacles and benefits. This system means that the scenario is necessarily missing useful GM tools - a clock or schedule for the pursuers (“S-cell”, as written), locations for the vehicles, or even an actual amount of them. This leads to a conflict with the scenario’s own advice - while it recommends a progression through time, with artifacts being prodded and illegal items uncovered as the PCs race to find the cars, it not only doesn’t, but can’t provide any kind of timeline or schedule for its NPCs.

 This lack of information even makes the scenario longer - space that would fit a list of what items are in the cars is instead used to tell the GM of the kind of items that should be in the cars when they make them.

It also has some issues with its introduction - the PCs are said, no matter what, to arrive at least a day after the auction begins, by which time many of the cars have already been sold. It does not, however, provide anything that prevents them from arriving immediately on the first day with all their money, apart from not having been given the mission yet - the petty corruption of having some of the vehicles sold beforehand was an addition of mine, trying to patch this.

COLD BOOK / Against All Odds Play Report

Over two weeks, as the PCs spend long nights practicing with lockpicks and handguns, they notice a news report - a car plant has been bombed, and the security cameras caught a pair of indistinct figures placing a pair of 55-gallon drums inside.

Eventually, a new package appears - a demand to “clean up, and keep them quiet” attached to pictures of a motel room coated with blood, an abandoned house, and two matched pairs of person-and-building, labeled “Witness 1” and “Witness 2”.

They run off to grab all kinds of equipment - drywall paste, paint, bleach, lye, painter’s suits - then hurry over to the motel, which is already in a state of pandemonium, though fortunately the police haven’t yet arrived, though they’re already on the way.

Jethro shouting about being an EMT and commanding passersby to “help” by doing worthless tasks distracts everyone for long enough (and gets one of them to mention the blue truck K-cell tossed the bodies in and left with) for the other two to duck into the room’s back window, do some panic speed-cleaning, set their suits on fire in a garbage can, and run before the cops arrive.

The two witnesses are also easily persuaded to shut up - “1”, a worker in a gas station K-cell stopped at on their way to the motel, is handed Jethro’s girlfriend’s DEA business card then steamrolled into handing over the security camera tapes, and not talking to the local cops - it’s a corruption investigation, he says, you can’t trust them. “2”, a woman living in Green River’s suburbs, is equally receptive to Helen’s journalist-vibe and warnings about the kind of inconvenience that talking to the police brings you - long hearings, bail reports, an entire system rolling onwards and dragging you along with it for years.

Finally, the house, far out of town and behind a cover of trees - the truck K-cell used was abandoned here, and searching the house finds a trail of blood leading to a unpowered chest freezer, with a note atop it from K-cell, apologizing, warning that the bodies have to be destroyed, and promising $25,000. Inside are five bodies, absolutely mangled - missing corners of heads and shattered arms. And they’re still actively bleeding, and when Finnegan grabs the first one to drag it to the septic tank it’s feverish.

As is the second body, and the third, and the fourth. And the fifth, clearly dead of blood loss yet still bleeding, mumbles - “a quiet place to sleep, the day starts tomorrow”. By the time it’s dumped into the tank and the lye is prepared, all five corpses are standing there, perfectly still and murmuring. And when the lye hits them, they all scream as the tank is sealed above them.

COLD BOOK / Against All Odds Impressions

This scenario has the same basic idea as STOP REPO - a set of tasks that have to be done on a time limit in the form of a pursuing investigator (in this case, the police officer Boris Kelly), but that gives no schedule or behavior to this pursuer. As written, it even gives the PCs days to complete their goals, such as investigators not reaching the motel room until the second day of their work, meaning (as this group did) you can pretty easily just not interact with the police at all.

As-written, the scenario includes an extra objective - one of the mission’s targets, the sorcerer Joshua Kincaid, survived the attack and is now under police protection at the local hospital. This piece of the mission never appeared (around the end of COLD BOOK I dropped off of the face of the world for a month for accursed reasons, and afterwards moved directly to the third and final scenario) and for the purposes of this campaign, I’m kind of happy about that - preserving the quietness of the campaign here made the spike in the final scenario far more noticeable.

Withdrawals Play Report

A week later, Helen gets a call on her burner phone - Lucy says that “the work is done”, but that they need to come over to this safehouse now. When they arrive, she’s more or less consumed by stress, coming up to the door with a pistol in hand and not putting it down as she rambles about torching the last Herald headquarters in an abandoned warehouse, Josephine being shot, and mentions of “the defectors”. She’s planning to hold out here for a few days, until Josephine is conscious - she hopes to question her about what she saw inside, too. 

“The defectors” certainly piques the PCs’ interest, and at this point Lucy’s certain she won’t be around long enough to tell them later, so she does - that’s what happened to the last K-cell. A couple agents switched over to the Heralds, and killed the rest. Lucy and Josephine have barely rebuilt, with nothing but filing cabinets full of encoded documents and unlabeled boxes. They don’t even really know what the Heralds are - there’s no recovered scripture (if they even have scripture), no recovered internal communications, they don’t even call themselves Heralds.

Helen runs around the house boarding up windows and hiding her car while Finnegan settles in for a long day of medical care - since there’s already, clearly, something deeply wrong. Along with the gunshot wounds, Josephine’s skin are little cubes, silently spinning. And when roused from her painkiller sleep, she says her memory just cuts. There’s a room in the warehouse, with a shape, and when she saw the shape she saw a meadow, and the flowers all of hands, and when she walked through the meadow she woke up here, in this bed. She has no memory at all of the building burning down.

With her falling back unconscious, Finnegan grabs some tools and digs out one of the cubes, leaving it spinning in his hand. With the size it is, some of the other cubes would have to be scraping against, or even inside of, her bones. While he tests the cube, Helen drives out on Lucy’s directions to pick up some of K-cell’s abandoned HYACINTH documentation, and on her way back, catches sight of a van parked across the street, watching them. A passenger they do not recognize, and the woman who trailed them from the auction in the driver’s seat.

Now the PCs take turns; one person staring out the window at the observers, and the other tearing through the HYACINTH documentation, finding nothing useful. Just records of dead men and burnt-down houses. 

Eventually Finnegan gives up on finding anything about the cubes, and goes to take out a second, this one from Josephine’s hand. But while the hand seems unaffected while the cube is there, when it’s removed it leaves exactly what it “should” - a hole, surrounded by scraped bones and crushed muscles. And the cube is steaming, slightly, and her body is getting hotter, the familiar too-warm dampness of the Herald bodies. 

The van vanishes as the PCs toss Josephine into an ice bath and keep searching K-cell documents and peering out the window until 4 in the morning, when Helen sees the van coming back, with five armed Heralds inside. 

Suddenly, Josephine is moving - and as everyone piles themselves and their equipment into Helen’s van, she starts collecting electrical parts - a whole microwave, some pieces of wire, a metal pipe, a car battery. And while Helen smashes her van through the garage door, and turns away from the Heralds, she starts sticking them together, stabbing holes through them with the screwdriver as she mutters - “the hands know what to do with it, the shape”. 

Finnegan opens his window and drops his grenade out - and in the dark, the pursuing Heralds don’t notice it until it goes off. Then the PCs turn around, running over one Herald as the second raises a shotgun and shoots Helen through the windshield, knocking her unconscious. Between the bomb and the car crash, everyone involved is already half dead, and the gunfight soon dissolves into a mire of missed shots and cowering, until Josephine dismembers one of the Heralds with her device - a railgun.

Then, she turns in circles in the middle of the street - “I feel like I have something to do. I don’t know if I can go there.” Eventually, she settles on a direction, and walks away - and when Finnegan goes to follow, she doesn’t stop him.

Withdrawals Impressions

Withdrawals is the most difficult of these to say anything about, both because it’s the one I have the least problems with and because the way I feel about it is hugely warped by making it the conclusion of the campaign. I think it’s presented well - a time-based adventure being made almost entirely out of its timeline, that gives compact and usable stats for its NPCs, and that starts with an introduction for the GM that explains exactly what’s happening.

I would say that its timeline is overstretched - while in No Other Options everything happened over the course of something like 18 hours, the same sequence of interrogation and spying vans takes six days as-written, leaving many of these days almost completely empty of things to do, as the cultists break into different houses, creep around in a succession of different cars, and the unconscious Agent answers no questions.

In retrospect, I think that for the purposes of No Other Options and its tone, Josephine building a railgun is a pretty sharp turn into a much pulpier direction than much of the game. I probably should have come up with something more subdued, though my players were actually completely fine with it.

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...