Second Colossus of Atlantis Playtest

October 24, 2016


The second playtest was done with seven players over four hours. In that time we got through seven turns. That was good, but still about twice the speed that the map game requires. EDIT: should be half the speed. So it needs more work, a bit more than I was hoping for, but there is still three months to go for playtesting and refinement.

Feedback – Keep

Players liked the monster, and liked the decision-making around which card to play on which option when governing their home cities. They liked the distinction between troops you could build and troops you could move (but there was also comment around how hard it was to verify the second part).

I think that using an exploding d4 for combat worked well. Mostly the bigger armies won, but there were a couple of upsets. I have 40 12 sided Roman/Greek numeral dice numbered 1-4 on the way to me now. Much easier to read than the traditional pyramid shaped dD4.


Feedback – Stop

Swapping Technology cards was annoying – players would have preferred a more consistent set of cards each turn. This might be mitigated in actual play, as I was swapping the cards around each turn so everyone got to see a range of game abilities. I was also swapping player roles around for the same reason. It was noted that the Lawyer has no map game ability, making it feel under powered.

While the movement phase was one minute long, the attempt to make all players move at the same time did not work well. Too much hanging back on final troop commitments. I need a system that is otherwise sequential, or allows all players to plot movement at the same time.

Trade – was not working as a tool for giving players something to do each game turn. Once you had a good trade deal, you stuck with it for most of the game. I think I am going to have to admit failure, and go back to something like a commodity card based trading system. If I do this, then it may make sense to create a Merchant role among the players.

City improvements were spiky, and luck with card draws dominated the early game. It looked like players preferred the Orichalcum upgrade path for slow but steady city improvement.

Comparing research scores between all players was another step where the counting was taking too long. While I was trying for a mechanic that prevents people from getting too much or too little research, I need a faster way of implementing this in the game. The DOOM input was also too time consuming (as it turned into an auction, that involved calculating square numbers).

Feedback – Start

I need to create some sticky labels for troop counters, so that the number of tokens in play is reduced to the minimum needed. Once people had >10 tokens in a region a lot of time was spent on counting tokens. Other feedback from the players: more monsters, more uses for money and a faster way for resolving diplomacy.

I am thinking that I should have Colossi involved in the game from the beginning, and provide more choices around how they are powered up. I did think about having a “King of Tokyo” mini-game, but don’t see a way to insert it without it costing more time.

Next Steps

I spent a bit of time on Sunday mulling over the feedback and scribbling ideas down. I think the way forward is to expand the role of the home city and its options, making them the core of the map game.


The idea here is have eight options on the player’s city map. Each map table will then have a number of regions that players can compete over (might be eight, might be 13). Each player gets a set of numbered objective tokens, so that we can determine which armies are going where.

The Tarot cards, rather than being used to represent city improvements, are instead used to represent Victory Points for controlling a region, and with Major Arcana cards also spawning Orichalcum (which is then used to upgrade cities). The deck will need to be reshuffled after about six game turns.

The ordinary playing cards, continue to be used for city options. Players should get six cards to allocate between the eight options. My thought here is to divide the options into two main types: actions this turn, and preparations for next turn. I am thinking about being able to use cash in place of a card, e.g. you can spend $10 to replicate a value 10 card. If money is scarcer than it has been in the first two playtests, this could be an interesting option. but if money is too easy to find, then its not going to make a better game.

Possible Map Turn Sequence

  1. Allocate Governance cards and Objective Markers (one minute)
  2. Reveal cards/markers (one minute)
  3. Move Hoplite, Trireme, Leader, and Colossus tokens from City option box to the Map Region that matches their objective marker (one minute).
  4. Resolve conflicts (if any) (ten minutes)
  5. Players not involved in conflicts can do other map admin work (e.g. handing out research cards)
  6. Collect rewards from winning conflicts (VP cards, cash, orichalcum, one use vote cards, trade cards, etc). (two minutes)

I was thinking that letting players challenge each other to combat would be cool and fitting with the Greek theme, but I see too much risk of it extending the time taken to resolve each turn. I really need map game turns to take no more than 15 minutes.


Just a quick idea: cap the number of Research points at the game turn number. This avoids the problem of comparing player scores, and puts a hard limit on how much research each team can do.

First Colossus of Atlantis Playtest

October 9, 2016

Yesterday I had four people who kindly devoted four hours of their Saturday afternoon to the “half-baked” playtest of Colossus of Atlantis. In that time we got through five game turns, which is not too bad for a planned six hour game, but definitely has room for improvement. Part of this can come from making the game simpler, part can come from more rigorous time control by Map GMs – every table should have some one/five minute Sandtimers.

The test focused on the map game. As there were only four players, I kept the map to seven regions. Each region is identical at the start of the game, but changes quickly as it is colonized by the players. The number of regions means that from turn three onwards, there are no easy gains for players.


Region Map

On the picture below the Yellow Circle token indicates Eris (“Strife”) in that region. The Red Shoggoth is a monster. The domino tiles are hoplite units, while the Chess Knights represent Leaders. The Tarot cards are unique colony upgrades, while the normal playing cards are turn based governance choices. The red hexagons are orichalcum mines. The green castles are fortresses. At the bottom you can see the grey plastic colossi.


Mid-game situation

Between game turns we glossed over most of the Council phase, but allowed players to pick some research advances, as this allowed me to see how they interacted with the map game. We also got to see how Colossi changed the game in turn 5. The scary monster became easy to drive off.


End of Game Scores and Research

The tally in the DOOM column is actually the sum of the turn by turn Victory Point scores. As you can see there is quite a spread in the VP scores. Gold had a few poor card draws and was subject to card loss from Tribute to other players more often. We did not focus on DOOM in the game, so I will need to make that a focus of the next playtest.

I asked for Keep, Stop, Start feedback. I was told to keep the laminated region maps (good for writing on), the monster threat, the colossi (a clear signal of reaching the midgame), and the permanent region upgrades from the Tarot cards (which made the regions distinctive). I was told to stop exploration (the Major Arcana event cards were too wide ranging, and the process of looking up what each meant took too long) and stop the process of comparing “high suit” scores in the normal playing cards (it was tricky with four players and seven regions, scaling up to 13 regions and seven or more players was going to be time consuming). I was told to start putting more quick reference information on the region maps, prepare role reference cards for the players, to schedule a mid-game lunch break, to rethink how population growth would work, put something to track the game turn number onto the map tables, make city size relevant to city functions other than tribute and trade, and to have collateral damage from combat. There needs to be a simple way to track and reference technology unlocked by research.

There was a lot of minor feedback on the rules – areas for clarification and consistency.

Income was not a major constraint on player actions. Trade deals were usually in the $35-$45 range, but as the card values went up and down, new trade deals were more rare than I thought they would be. If you already had a good trade deal, moving your governance cards into other options was better choice.

We had a couple of PVE and PVP combats. The monster was usually driven off, and regions did change hands. The dice pool combat system worked, but the process of assembling the pool is a bit fiddly. So I will think about how that could be improved.

The turn sequence needs some work – especially around the timing of combats and the order of resolving the governance options for regions.

When it came to Orichalcum, my gut feeling is the current game mechanics do not work well. Players should want Orichlacum and Vril, it should be awesome to get and use. So I need to rethink how it fountains into the game, and what players can use it for.

So quite a bit to keep me busy until the next playtest in Christchurch in two weeks, but the concept and core mechanics seem viable, so the first playtest was a success.



Building a better tech tree

June 28, 2016

I have had a stimulating couple of weeks working on some ideas for Colossus of Atlantis II. One goal for the redesign is to have a better tech tree. Last time the research game was “go fish” in the card deck, followed by “collect a set” trading, and for some of the teams, eventually building a colossi or two. I think I can do better next time. Ideally I want every team to have the chance to put Colossi on the table in time for them to make a difference. I am also keen to move away from people holding large piles of cards for trading – I want trade negotiations to focus on a contract like piece of paper where people haggle over the split of profits.

Tech trees have always been a staple of RTS games, but they go back further, to the old Civilization boardgame (1980), if not earlier.

Some of the design questions you need to consider in building a tech tree include:

  1. Is the research order set? How much choice do you want to give the players – this can be crucial if there is a system mastery challenge where some options are better than others.
  2. Is the research order known to the players? If its known it can be a spoiler, if it is not known the uncertainty will change player strategies.
  3. Can steps on the tech tree be skipped? If players do screw up, is there a catch up mechanic?
  4. How much control do the players have over the research effort?

Technology developments can be great rewards and motivators. Its a way of adding complexity to the game as the players master the core rules of the game, by adding new capabilities to the game mix.

Time is a constraint in megagames. You will only be able to process a finite number of game turns. If you make the tech tree too big, teams will never complete the end of the tree, and this may disappoint the players. This suggests you need to calculate the resource fountain or flow dedicated to research, against the cost of the options. You definitely want a playtest of the system. After several turns what does it look like for teams that focused on research, ignored research, or did a bit of research?

Because technology can be used to change the game rules, you also need to consider how this change is reflected in game state information. All the other players and GMs need to be able to verify and understand the research outcomes. Keeping things simple is always a good idea.

In real life, tech change tends to be evolutionary, not revolutionary. One thing I would not want to do, is to have one option in the tech tree that is a dominant strategy. Some teams will spot it, others may well miss it until it is too late.

Putting this all together in a new package

I usually have about four hours available for a megagame, and get through about eight 20 minute turns, after briefings and delays are taken care of. So I want less tiers of research than I expect game turns. I think the tech tree should be open knowledge to the players, especially as I want to run the game more than once.

Because each team should have five players, that sets the upper bound of research effort each turn – five attempts to generate research points and buy technology cards. That means no more than five branches on the research tree. With the mechanics I have in mind, at the start of the game a player should be generating 1-12 research points a turn. By the end of the game, a player should be generating 2-24 research points a turn.


This is a table I put together quickly, so the numbers might be fine tuned later. It has four tiers of research, although I might extend it to a fifth tier as well. There are two concepts represented in the cost/reward structure – diffusion of knowledge and diminishing returns.

The first team to research a breakthrough pays the highest cost, but reaps the greatest reward in Victory Points. The costs diminish as the knowledge is spread throughout society, but the Victory Points drop more quickly to zero. This can be done by building a card deck, set in a prearranged order, so the cost of the top card is the highest cost, and so on down to the cheapest and last card.

If a team focuses on maximising research, they should unlock most of the tech tree within five turns, granting them three or more turns to enjoy the fruits of their labours. A team focusing its efforts elsewhere, can catch up with a bit of effort.

I do have some problems to work on. First, I need a way to make it clear who gets the privilege of choosing cards first (it could just be random).

Second, because I need to keep the research card decks in one place, but my initial map design has multiple maps where research can be generated, I need to find a way to accurately transmit information about research (do I give the players cards or token chips, or rely on Map GMs to coordinate the information).

I also have not decided exactly what the research will do, but it is likely to be a mixture of:

  1. Adding more units to a team’s force pool.
  2. Improving the capabilities of controlled units (e.g. rolling a d8 rather than a d6).
  3. Changing game rules.
  4. Unlocking new types of units, such as the Colossi.
  5. Allowing the build of ancient wonders of the world.

One option I am considering, is allowing a narrow thrust up the tree to unlock the Colossi at Tier IV or V. But all the branches of the tech tree lead to Colossi (each gives the Colossi a different capability). After all, making a game about giant steam bronze robots, and not letting the players use and enjoy such leviathans, would not be good design.


Rebellion Bingo

June 13, 2016

A_cavalry_patrol_sabring_the_rioters_in_the_streets_of_ComanestiThis is an idea for a taxation-rebellion mini-game mechanic, useful for megagames set in agrarian economies where the peasants do not really care who is in charge, so long as they do not “tax” too much of the harvest.

Each tax region in the game gets its own “bingo card” with a grid of boxes. If control of the region changes, the player who lost control gives the province card to the player gaining control.

When a player desires tax income, they queue for the appropriate map GM’s attention and present the Tax Card. The player indicates which boxes on the Tax card they wish to strike out, and these are filled in with a permanent marker. The map GM then consults a master reference to check if any of the boxes struck out triggers a rebellion. This look up step is likely to be the most time consuming step in the process, so I am continuing to think of ways in which this process could be refined. Keeping the number of boxes to a small number, say a dozen, would be one way of managing the information. Another might be to draw the boxes in a pattern shape, making it a bit easier to visually identify.

As an additional modifier, some boxes do not trigger rebellion, but just increase the future strength of the rebellion. If a player strikes these, the GM can give them some feedback on grumblings of discontent among the peasants.

This might interplay with military actions, in that raiding a province is represented by harvesting tax in a just conquered province, and then leaving as the peasants erupt in rebellion. Some experimentation is required to determine a hard cap on how much tax a player can collect in one action, otherwise someone is sure to say “I’ll tax all 20 boxes right now thank you”.

Tax regions that are likely to be more rebellious could have more than one trigger box to start a rebellion. Some trigger boxes could be made conditional, such as “trigger rebellion only if tax collector’s capital region is more than X distance away”. Another twist could be a “insurrection” modifier, where if there are rebellions in adjacent tax regions when a player collects tax, then they must strike out an extra box without collecting revenue.

Conversely there may be options a player can implement to reduce the chance and strength of rebellions. Keeping a garrison in the province is an obvious one. Another is allow structures or organisations to be built (e.g. Palaces and Bureaucracies) that reduce the number of boxes struck out when you tax.

10 Megagame Concepts

June 12, 2016

Here are ten concept outlines for different megagame scenarios. Some are revamps of games I have run in the past, others are new. I am posting these so I can get a sense of what sounds interesting to potential players, so expressions of “like” and “dislike” would both be useful.

I am also making a decision to “pivot” and “rebrand”. In the past I have called these “Grand Strategy” games, often shortened to “Grand Strat” by the Buckets of Dice crowd. The world wide success of Jim Wallman’s Watch the Skies game leads me to think I should adopt what appears to be the global brand name, in order to boost recognition and hopefully attract a few more players.

1. Warring States

This is a historical scenario, set in the Warring States period of Chinese history, from roughly 320 to 220 BCE. I once ran a play-by-mail game of Diplomacy set in this period of history, so I have done some of the needed research in the past. During this era seven major kingdoms competed to be the first to unify the land that became known as China. It was a time of great development in literature, philosophy, technology, economic and military affairs. At the start of the game, armies would be small and based on chariot borne nobles supported by poor infantry. As the game progresses, cavalry, crossbows, iron weapons, and mass conscript armies would be developed.

EN-WarringStatesAll260BCEKey elements of this game:

  1. Combat resolution will be inspired by Sun Zi’s Art of War, i.e. it will rely strongly on psychological factors and bluffing.
  2. Kingdoms will have to make tradeoffs between trying to expand the territory they control, and trying to develop their Kingdom – the surplus from the rice harvest will only go so far
  3. At the start of the game, changes to the map state can only be done by the King (team leader) but only if one of their advisors (other team members) recommends the move. As the Kingdom develops, new developments will allow more options for map interactions. For example, developing professional generals will allow advisors to move armies on the map.
  4. Diplomacy is crucial to success.

2. Sun and Starship II

This is a revamp of the 2012 Buckets of Dice game, and on a theme I have used several times before. It is a space opera scenario in which noble houses in a great space empire compete for power, wealth and glory, while pirates and warlords gnaw away at the borders of the empire. Most (80%) of the players will be nobles organised in teams and some (20%) will be independent “raiders”. Noble team goal is to gain control of the empire, all players are trying to get the most wealth, and glory (from combat victories).

2000px-Spaceship_and_Sun_emblem.svgKey elements of this game:

  1. universal basic income – every player gets $1 of game currency per minute of game time
  2. to represent the decadence of the Empire, whoever is currently Emperor (and a few of their friends) will have access to a table of food and drink
  3. nobles will alternate between time in committee meetings, team meetings, diplomacy and the map, raiders will spend nearly all their time on the map or diplomacy
  4. rather than one committee, there will be seven committees with the following broad functions: Justice – $ fines for nobles. Trade – creates new movement and trade routes on the map. Colonies – appoints/recalls sector governors. Intelligence – determines which “Black Swan” events occur next. Atomic Power – provides the atomic power that makes Dreadnoughts awesome. Defence – appoints/recalls fleet Admirals. Apparatus – screws around with the other committees.
  5. combat will be based on a “bucket of dice” resolution: Battleships roll 1d6 each. Dreadnoughts roll 1d12 per point of atomic power spent. The side with the highest score wins. Battleships with matching die rolls in your fleet are eliminated as casualties (yes, this hurts the stronger side more). Dreadnoughts are never destroyed – they just go to the repair yard for a length of time based on battle damage.

3. Fall of the Elder

This is a new fantasy scenario with teams of elves, dwarves, humans and individual dragons. The different Kingdoms are competing for magic, gold, and land. It is based on the 1970s boardgame “the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”. The elves and dwarves start with all the good farming land under their control and control most of the ancient fortresses. Humans start in the miserable wastelands, where the dragons also dwell.


Key elements of gameplay:

  1. 20 minutes of gameplay represents roughly twenty years of gametime
  2. the elves score points for accumulating magic power (and not using it)
  3. the humans score points for gaining land and breeding more humans
  4. the dwarves score points for accumulating gold (and not spending it)
  5. Dragons score points for eating elves, dwarves and humans, stealing their stuff and destroying anything they can’t eat or steal. You can think of them as 100 ton vultures.
  6. heroes are important, Elves train heroes with magic, Dwarves buy heroes with gold, Humans find heroes when they are defeated, and Dragons … well, they are more anti-heroes.

4. Operation Unthinkable

This is a new alternate history scenario based on the actual British plan to attack the USSR in July 1945, following the defeat of Nazi Germany. Teams are based on the combatant nations at the time (USSR, USA, UK, and France). Most (80%) of the players will be military officers working at the Army level with the other players filling political, naval, or air command roles.

Marcia_nel_fangoKey game elements

  1. this will be a double blind map system, i.e. the teams will have maps in different rooms, and will have limited information on enemy dispositions (fog of war)
  2. the game will last from midsummer 1945 to early winter 1945
  3. army officers will have one of three roles: logistics – making sure the army has enough supplies, intelligence – team communications, command – making attack/defence decisions
  4. air command chooses between battling for air superiority, ground support, or strategic attacks on logistics
  5. yes, the allies will get the nuclear option (at a cost of VP)
  6. the game will focus primarily on the front in north Germany, other theatres of operations (e.g. Italy, Japan, Greece, Iran) will be handled in an abstract manner.

5. The Crescent Stars

This is a new space opera scenario, set in a future where humanity has colonised the stars but is just as disorganised as it was on Earth. The main teams are the Solar Union Colonial Committee, the trading Combines, and the Comitas (the free traders). Independent players are the mercenary captains and the system Dictators. The Solar Union tries to maintain peace and stability while encouraging free trade, while everyone else is trying to make money and gain power over the booming sector trade.

Artist’s_Impression_of_a_Baby_Star_Still_Surrounded_by_a_Protoplanetary_DiscKey game elements:

  1. rather than trading cards, trade deals require the signatures of the players who control the systems the trade route requires. Each trade deal is worth a fixed sum of cash, split between the signatories in an agreed way. Each trade deal has a time limit within which is must be successfully negotiated.
  2. As the game develops new movement and trade routes appear
  3. universal basic income (see above)
  4. the combat system will involve very small numbers of units (not more than a dozen tokens per side) and a conflict between two systems should be resolved in under ten minutes through a card play system
  5. technological research.

6. The Colossus of Atlantis II

This is a bronze age steampunk Cthulhu mythos fantasy game, first run in 2010. At the start of the game the players are all members of an Atlantean noble House, as it starts to use its superior technology to conquer the world. Atlantis being Atlantis, corruption will set in and eventually doom will fall on Atlantis.


Key game elements:

  1. robust Athenian style Greek politics (this time we will make sure the democratic constitution cannot be destroyed by the players at the first assembly meeting)
  2. profiting from trade routes, using the negotiation system outlined in Crescent Stars (see above)
  3. universal basic income (as above)
  4. technological research with the goal of building the best giant bronze colossus to smash your way across the landscape
  5. occult research with the goal of summoning the best eldritch horror to devour your enemies with.

7. Pax Victoria II/Flower Power II

SAMSUNGThese are retro-future grand strategy battles for fantasy worlds with World War I to World War II technology. The main change from earlier games is to greatly reduce the number of units, for each player on your team you should only have 2-5 units to keep track of, and to place more of an emphasis on sea power.

Key game elements:

  1. alliance diplomacy and coalition warfare
  2. making tradeoffs between importing off-world technology or mercenaries, and developing you economy or expanding your own military.

8. Crusades II

Revisiting a scenario last used in the 1990s, its a medieval holy war to liberate/defend the sacred sites of several major religions. Within each broad coalition of coreligionists are smaller teams that have their own goals and hidden agendas.

Key game elements:

  1. diplomacy and arguing about religious doctrine
  2. trading spice and sacred relics
  3. rare and relatively important battles, as big armies are fragile
  4. lots of sieges and raiding
  5. limited information about where the enemy armies are (so lots of opportunity for selling information and double crossing).

9. Revelations

And the heaven departed as a scroll when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places.

A modern day apocalypse with the armies of Heaven and Hell fighting it out over what is left of humanity. Humans can pick a side or go it alone. Did I mention the zombie hordes? Yes, there will be zombie hordes. Learning from the 2011 Apocalypse America game, the economy will not collapse in turn one and leaders should be able to feed their armies for a while.

John_Martin_-_The_Great_Day_of_His_Wrath_-_Google_Art_ProjectKey game elements:

  1. as much gonzo pop culture kitsch as we can cram in
  2. resource scarcity, supplies are unreliable and will be fought over
  3. the map of Earth will be global, but the landscape will have been altered by various disasters and calamities
  4. the number of combat units will be kept at a manageable number (2-5 per player)
  5. to represent the scale of mundane, divine and infernal powers, a polyhedral dice pool “roll and keep best two” combat system will be used, e.g. if ordinary three human armies roll d6s and two Angels roll d12s you might roll a 3, 5, and a 6 for the humans and a 2 and 12 for the Angels, so you keep the rolls of 6 and 12 for a total of 18.

10. The Cold Stars

…the cold stars shone in mockery… – Mary Shelley

This is a bleak post-apocalyptic space opera. Humanity colonised the stars, but then something happened to sweep away most of human civilisation. The survivors hide in deep space or hidden outposts, because they know they are being hunted.

Alcyon_(star)Key game elements:

  1. isolation – this is a limited information game, with different teams being placed in different rooms
  2. exploration – if you make contact with other human survivors, you can start talking with them again, if they don’t kill you first
  3. hidden information, while the broad shape of the map will be clear, small boxes will be used to conceal information
  4. trade – everyone has a clue in the great puzzle, and everyone has something useful for survival, but every trade you make increases the chance that the hunters will find you
  5. the combat system is based on avoiding combat – whatever is hunting humanity has more advanced technology and outnumbers humanity a million to one.

Musketeers versus “Godzilla”

May 29, 2016


14 May Session

There was a fight with the handbag unicorn demon. It was pretty awful, with people getting arms broken and faces chewed up, a vigla’s head getting ripped off.
The Eclipse Demon of Variable Name slowed time down during a lightning flash and offered people bargains. Vitus agreed to lose 1 MP forever, in exchange for mana and healing. The other PCs refused, but Magistrate Karen Ivanovich appeared to make a deal, as she also started healing. The Eclipse Demon specifically refused to treat with Talia, as she is still bound to the Raven Queen. Karen eventually called the Demon to heel, and some conversations followed during which you learned:
  • Karen got sent to activate a weapon to deal with the two sleeping powers (NB Karen does not know that the party is responsible for releasing them)
  • Karen’s other choice of suicide mission was leading the forlorn hope against Fort Zurgan
  • Vitus used Witchsight to discern a death rune marked on Karen
  • Karen revealed the presence of a Moon Gate in the Warden’s complex on the Island of Monsters.
The party then healed up and proceeded to the mine and its sealed vault. Karen revealed that what was inside the vault was Prince Umal, son and grandson of Mal. The mine entrance was the scene of a massacre, and Secundus could tell that the bladework was in a longsword style he was familiar with. The elevator was damaged, so the party made two trips for safety (and in the background I began keeping track of a countdown clock).
Outside the vault, the party encounters Maranth, first Sword of the father. She warns the party to back off, they refuse, so Vordar assassins materialise and attack (and Maranth exits stage right). In this fight a key role is played by the unicorn handbag demon, as its gibbets a couple of the Vordar. Pyrias is badly wounded by an early critical hit to the leg, and if I recall correctly both Talia and Pyrias are incapacitated by mid-fight. Vitus gets disarmed, loses the lantern, and Secundus manages to fumble and set himself on fire from the lantern oil. Vitus casts wrack and starts burning the Vordar, and the accumulated losses see the last two Vordar teleporting out (although one of them took enough damage to die on rematerialising I think).
The party enters the sealed vault – which requires using the horn of the unicorn demon as the key to bypass. The outer room was a library, the inner room contained a laboratory and the imprisoned husk of Prince Umal. There is bargaining, Umal desires revenge on the Maxlace family, who experimented on him, as well as the life blood of a willing sacrifice. There is some bargaining, and Umal eventually agrees to spare one member of the Maxlace family – but the party must choose who is live. In exchange Prince Umal will deal with the two sleeping powers that have awoken.
On the way out, there is an earthquake while people are in the damaged elevator. There are some narrow scrapes and bruises, but the party escapes alive, and walks back to the Maxlace mansion. Where they are welcomed by Karia Angel Eyes, who is only too delighted to inform that Prince Umal has revenged himself on her father, and dragged her useless sister Daria away to find the Spear of the Black Emperor in town.
In the far distance, the rumbling cannonades of the assault on Fort Zurgan can still be heard as the party tries to get some sleep. Its unlikely to be pleasant dreams with not one, not two, but three ancient powers of great evil converging on the poor town of Aldarsh…

28 May Session

This session started with passion changes and arete checks to reflect decisions made in the previous session, with Crozane dropping his passion for protecting the innocent and increasing loyalty to empire.
Plans were debated – the problem with warning people in Aldarsh was the issue of “What happens when they ask us how exactly it us that we know that the sleeping powers have awoken?” not even the plight of those near to their hearts could swap the party from leaving the Maxlace mansion and its temptations. Vitus did project his sight into the town, and found Alfandi skirmishing with the Garrison, and civilians being murdered in the streets. Vitus searched for Florenzia, finding that the hospital had been overrun, but Florenzia had made it to the town citadel, where she was extracting mana crystals.
The party decides to sleep. Arete checks are made, Crozane fumbles, and experiences a nightmare where he is in a warehouse in Aldarsh, being sacrificed by Vordar, over and over again. At sunrise there is a round of failed Willpower checks, so little magic regeneration happens.
An Imperial Frigate passes overhead, travelling to the west. Its on fire. Its a dark day, with feeble sunlight, constant rain, thunder and lightning.
Lady Karia Angel Eyes offers the party a champagne breakfast. By late morning Talia is the only one both sober and clothed. People regain Luck Points from carousing and start on a liquid lunch, when Anander Rotrant turns up to guilt trip the party into actually doing something about the crisis they have caused. The party realises that their chances of escaping overland on foot, or defending the mansion against a horde of swamp elves are pretty slim, and getting behind the town walls might be the sensible thing to do.
On the way into town, Talia crits Perception, and spots a swamp elf ambush. While the Alfandi outnumber the party 10:7, they are mooks (50% skills, 2 Actions, knocked out if reduced to 0 HP in any location). Because of the wet weather, I make the check for firing pistols harder, and only Talia and Secundus score hits. Vitus is the only player badly injured in the fight, taking nine points to his right leg, but with a couple of critical hits from Karia and Anander the fight turns towards the party quite quickly. Talia captures a couple of the Alfandi alive, and then proceeds to try a ritual to regenerate the mana storage gem acquired earlier. Talia does not get the first sacrifice right, but Karia assists with the second and +13 MP are placed in the gem (and Talia loses a few arete points).
The party reaches town without further incident, but can see that the garrison is unsettled. They go to their old hotel, but the first floor is burnt out, and the second floor hallways is strewn with bodies. So they park the NPCs at the Maxlace townhouse and go to the citadel. Its crowded with petitioners, and the party balks at paying a 500 silver bribe to see the commander. So they go off to the new imperial temple, find its packed, think about going to the old imperial temple, but realise its probably flooded. So they go back to the citadel, pay the bribe, see the commander, and get a commission to find a Vordar death cult inside the town walls and deal with it.
Using a mix of sense blood and project sight they find where the cult is probably set up – the warehouse owned by von Schenke, where they went to a party earlier in the week. They case the joint, detecting wards and a few ways in. They sneak up an alleyway, and Talia neutralises the wards. Vitus scouts with his projected sight, but something inside can see him, and he takes wounds to the head and leg fleeing the scene. The party then gets Secundus to use brute force and ignorance to batter their way in. Now the party can see Marantar, first sword of the Father, who challenges Pyrias to a duel, which he accepts.
Pyrias has four actions per combat round, but Maranth is a mystic with six actions, three of which must be used for parrying or evading. Both duellists have high combat styles (>90% for Pyrias and 110% for Marantar). Its a very long fight – four combat rounds, almost twenty seconds, but while Pyrias is outclassed, the whip Maranth wields just doesn’t do enough damage to seriously threaten Pyrias. Maranth eventually casts some damage boosting folk magic, but Pyrias manages to get a critical hit to disarm her, followed by a second critical hit which she fails to evade to kill her. Her blood, however, is the trigger to activate the runes covering all the surfaces of the warehouse interior. Vitus starts setting the warehouse on fire, Pyrias and Secundus argue over who should get the whip, Crozane picks up the body and hears a “run away little boy” voice in his head, Talia just runs for it, but stumbles and falls over (eventually being the last one out of the building). While Vitus manages to endure the fire damage, he fails to resist against magic and is overwhelmed.
Outside the burning building, the party realises that Vitus is now a beacon, calling the father towards him. Two attempts are made to steal boats to flee downriver, but everyone in the party fails two boat handling checks in a row (its not a common skill in flying cities). So the party heads west, with an improvised sled to carry Vitus. They run into stragglers from the Imperial army, the assault on Fort Zurgan has failed. As they near the now abandoned Camp Fortitude they see the Mother and the father in the distance. Shrieking and hammering the earth, the ancient powers turn towards camp Fortitude and begin moving towards it like Godzilla coming up on Tokyo. Pyrias lost an arete point for suggesting it was his musketeer’s duty to shag the Mother Monster.
At this point the standard RQ rules went out the window as being unable to handle a mythic encounter and I improvised wildly. What the party was able to do was turn the fort powder magazine into a giant land mine, with the magazines copper sheath roof being ripped up for shrapnel. The party then hid in a barracks building, and used a cheap folk magic spell to light the magazine off when the ancient powers began battling over the fort.
Vordar assassins attack the party, but three are killed in the first round, so it does not take much effort to eliminate the remaining two. Belnath, the vordar cult leader, attempts a mythic level attack on the Mother, but rolls a 00 fumble, so I rule him as devoured on the spot.
I gave the ancient powers 100 mythic hit points, and allowed the powder magazine explosion to do 1d100 damage to them. Whichever monster gained the advantage in a combat round did 1d10 mythic damage, and we had a round where they tied and both inflicted damage on each other. Magic warps the neighbourhood, and makes it both difficult and dangerous for the PCs to intervene, they leave the barracks building before it is destroyed, and shelter against the interior wall of the fortress. Crozane and Pyrias are splashed by “mother’s milk” and the acid forces them to abandon most of their armour and equipment. Talia is taken out by a surge of plant rune energy, collapsing into an orgasmic heap.
The Empress Alexandra, the largest battleship in the Imperial Fleet appears in the distance. Unlike the small frigates it can travel safely in the poor weather.
Prince Umal intervenes with the spear of the Black Emperor, and does 1d10 mythic damage on the monsters. The Alexandra unleashes a 100 gun broadside. Both of the great monsters are down. The Eclipse Demon then turns up, attacks Umal, and gets its wings broken. Karen Ivanovich, who was presumed dead, also turns up (its a safe bet that the Eclipse Demon resurrected her, and her being alive allows her to rollback some of Umal’s power). The Alexandra starts to turn, and the party quickly relocates so as to not be between its guns and Prince Umal. Karen manages to grab the black spear, and runs. Umal smashes the Eclipse Demon into a cloud of feathers and eyeballs, then chases after Karen. Talia casts a spell to entangle Umal, which allows Karen to escape, and then the Alexandra hammers Prince Umal with a second 100 gun broadside.
So, a victory of sorts for the Silent Legion, with three ancient powers defeated. But it might have been better if the party had managed to not unseal the ancient evils in the first place…

A character generation system for D100 games

May 9, 2016

dice-160388_1280Just mucking around with some ideas for a character generation mini-game, riffing off Revolution D100 and Amber. There is just something about the 3-18 range for primary attributes (Strength, Dexterity, Charisma, etc) that just feels right for gaming. Even if it just nostalgia for my misspent youth sending fighters into the AD&D’s DMG random dungeon generator/blender. In a similar style, a percentage based skill system is one that is intuitive for use in play – you have a good idea of success/failure odds. But so many games never really use the numbers generated in the 3-18 range – they get used instead to generate secondary attributes that are the ones which get used in game play.

One of the options in Revolution D100 is to use the 3-18 attribute scores as resolution points in conflicts, so Charisma might be used in a verbal debate, Dexterity in a chase scene, and so on. With individual contests costing 1d6 or 2d6 resolution points, then sooner or later a 13 in an attribute will prove better than a 12. I am not exactly fond of either random 3d6, or point allocation systems, and inspired by the competitive character generation system used in a couple of diceless roleplaying games I have come up with this mini-game:

The six primary character attributes are: Strength (STR), Dexterity (DEX), Constitution (CON), Intellect (INT), Will (WIL), and Charisma (CHA).

  1. Each player makes a secret bid from 3-18. This bid must be unique to this player, e.g. if you have already made a bids of 17 and 18, your bids must be in the 3-16 range. Players may not collude on bids.
  2. Players reveal all bids simultaneously.
  3. The player(s) with the highest bid allocate the bid to one of their six attributes, and gain +1 Hubris.
  4. The player(s) with the lowest bid allocate the bid to one of their six attributes, and gain +1 Tyche.
  5. The player(s) with other bids allocate the bid to one of their six attributes, and make a notation next to it that they have gained +Skill.
  6. Bid allocations are public knowledge.
  7. If there is no clear distinction between bids due to tied bids, then Hubris trumps all, and Skill trumps Tyche. For example if everyone bids 18, everyone gets +1 Hubris and no Tyche of Skill awards are made. If Half bid 18 and half bid 16, the high bids get +1 Hubris the other bids get +Skill, and no one gets +Tyche.
  8. After all bids have been resolved, all players check and compare the characteristic scores across all the characters:
    1. If your character has the highest number in an attribute (even if this was not originally a winning bid) gain +1 Hubris.
    2. Repeat this process for Tyche (lowest number) and Skill (other numbers).

Tyche lets you minimise any harm to you, reducing it to a one point, even if it would normally be a situation that clearly should result in death such as bring trapped in a burning building, public execution, being abandoned in the middle of an ocean, etc. Tyche points refresh at the end of the current mission. I figure every player will want at least one point of Tyche, so everyone is likely to try and make at least one low bid for an attribute during the character generation mini-game.

Hubris lets you turn any roll into a critical success, but each time you do this you gain Nemesis points equal to the tens roll. Hubris points refresh at the end of each session. The minimum Hubris gain each session is equal to the base Hubris score. When Nemesis reaches 100, the GM will send a suitable Fury to punish the character. I figure every player will want some Hubris to drive the action forward, but too much of it is obviously tempting fate.

Skill is a bonus to initial character skills. So if you had STR 12 and DEX 9 and they were not Skill scores at any stage of the character generation process, then your initial combat skill would be (STR+DEX) 21%. If both were Skill Attributes, then your initial combat skill would be at least 42%. If your DEX then turned out to be the lowest DEX score in the final comparison, but STR remained a skill score, your final starting combat skill would be 54%.

If we nudge the attributes up a little, to more heroic levels of 15 and 13, but keep the other variables the same, then the final starting combat skill would be 71%. That is probably the sweet spot, as I have seen a fer articles opining that 65-70% is the sweet spot for making players feel that their characters are competent.

Doing some quick maths – its impossible for a bid of 18 to ever grant Skill during PC generation, so the best possible Skill combination is 17+16, which is 33. So the best possible initial skill would be 99%. Which is not something I anticipated when I threw this together.

I must try and corner some people to do a run through of this at the next convention I go to.