BPRD: The Celestial Legion

Printouts of the character sheet and biography for Sparky, Nikola Tesla's electrical golem.

Sifting through more stuff in the wake of purging empty boxes, I came across a trove of materials from convention games I’ve run over the years: several Ghostbusters scenarios from Carnages past, Unknown Armies‘ archetypal Jailbreak, and this particular gem, The Celestial Legion. It’s a Hellboy/B.P.R.D. adventure I wrote back when I was getting around to more conventions in New England than Carnage. Forgive me, purists, because it was written using mainly Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy film as inspiration, because that was my first real experience with the character. Only in the case of my conception of the B.P.R.D, most of the team members are weirdos like Sparky here — the Russian werebear assassin, the psychic supermodel — plus the much put-upon token normal agent, whose most-used piece of gear was the clicker gadget on his belt to track the collateral damage tally.

The sharp-eyed may note that the player materials I make are heavily patterned after the sample characters in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel role-playing games: short bio, some notes to guide how the character might act and look at things, and a full character sheet on another page. In this case, it was because I ran the game using Cinematic Unisystem and may have borrowed more than a few pieces of art from the sample character spreads for character portraits. (Sparky’s particular portrait is a work called Creacion del golem by Gabos on DeviantArt.com.)

I still feel proud of The Celestial Legion for being one of the more robustly documented adventures I’ve written, but I think the second and third acts need work. As is my bad habit, I came up with a great concept, detailed how it all kicks off and then the detailing and robustness of what might happen trails off as the narrative progresses. The more I think about it now, the more I realize I can’t tell you what the climax of the adventure is, or how it pays off the prior scenes.

Arkham Horror LCG: The Midnight Masks

Player markers for Skids, Wendy, Agnes and Daisy cluster on the starting location for a scenario of Arkham Horror: The Card Game, with clue tokens scattered before them.

Playing with old school Arkham Horror standees and fancy tokens from Stonemaier Games, courtesy Carlo.

Picking up after playing through The Gathering, Ray joined to make the group a quartet. Ray played Wendy, while Carlo, Tom and I kept Daisy, Skids and Agnes, respectively.

This was not an easy scenario. Three players handled The Gathering really well — way better than my two player attempts previously — but we struggled to get any traction with Midnight Masks. Every other encounter card took away the resource we had to accumulate to advance to victory. Carlo thought it was just a rough draw, but I’m inclined to think it’s a deliberately tough scenario, with the intent that the players do the best they can and get out. Possibly it’s to teach players that knowing when to resign is important in campaign play like this. It’s certainly in keeping with the themes of Lovecraftian stories and role-playing. Most anecdotes about doing well in a Call of Cthulhu scenario — for relative values of well — end with “and then the survivors ran.”

Second time out with Agnes, I found her even more perplexing. She’s not a strong investigator, but that’s what I found myself doing. In retrospect, I should have looked more closely at her spells, as they’re more about dealing with enemies and interfering with the encounter deck.

Next time we play, I’ll keep that in mind as discover whether what we uncovered during “The Midnight Masks” will be enough to help us through the final chapter of this Arkham Horror mini-campaign.

Prime Wardens Are Go

A collage of the achievement screens for unlocking the five Prime Warden variants in Sentinels of the Multiverse.Thanks to the industrious players over on the Sentinels of the Multiverse video game forum, the unlock conditions for the Prime Warden identities were all figured out over the last couple weeks. After an extended hiatus from the digital version of Sentinels — Steam had me down as last playing in September — I decided to see how many of the Prime Wardens I could unlock over the weekend. I have a certain affection for this team, because they were the first set of promo cards that I got directly on my own, as part of preordering Wrath of the Cosmos. I’ve never known how to use them because I don’t get to play in reality as often as I might like, but I feel an attachment to the team as the promo cards that I didn’t proxy.

Argent Adept was, weirdly, the trickiest for me to unlock. I had a couple false starts as I bounced among devices and had to ensure multiple times that I had met both halves of the unlock. As the Adept is well-suited to making this happen on his own, the second half came down to remembering whether I had indeed played all the instruments. Captain Cosmic’s Dynamic Siphons are always helpful to the Adept using powers off-turn.

Captain Cosmic and Tempest unlocked in the same session in Dok’Thorath. Prime Warden Argent Adept and America’s Greatest Legacy put their powers towards helping Cosmic dig through his deck for Energy Bracers, and have the cards to pay for redirecting damage from Abject Refugees. The Visionary came along to sift the environment for the refugees themselves and ablate the less ignorable cards.

By the time Captain Cosmic’s variant was unlocked, we were well into the game and Tempest had inadvertently set up most of what he needed for his own unlock. Adept and Legacy assisted in fishing out the remainder of his unlock setup and the game ended with Tempest administering the coup de grace on Argent Adept’s turn.

Fanatic versus Apostate went quietly. Argent Adept and America’s Greatest Legacy led the team again, to help Fanatic dig for cards, since the Redeemer variant doesn’t start with a damaging ability. Dark Visionary minded the top of Apostate’s deck, getting the demons in play that Fanatic needed to clean up for her unlock condition.

For Haka, I played cautiously, because I don’t relish deliberately incapacitating heroes. Once Savage Mana was out, I made sure all of Ambuscade’s devices were stashed there before eliminating the other heroes. Captain Cosmic and the Wraith’s big finishing moves took out two heroes in one turn, and then Haka was able to polish off the rest, before restoring himself to full health and then closing out the game with his own big finisher to clean Ambuscade’s 1 HP clock.

We Have to Betray Deeper

If you care about spoilers for Betrayal at House on the Hill scenarios and its expansion, Widow’s Walk, gloss over the photo below and really the whole post.

Components of a successfully completed Betrayal at House on the Hill scenario and a smartphone timer reading 29:12.

Photo courtesy Chris Griffin.

In this particular scenario, “The Manor of Your Demise,” the haunt consists of resetting the house and playing a sub-game in which the explorers search for the original triggering omen, the Box, with a 30 minute time limit. If they trigger a haunt within the sub-game before finding the Box, they start a new game with a 15 minute time limit. And so on, and so on.

We lucked out and finished the scenario after 48 seconds, thanks to Box being on top of the omen deck. It was pure, unadulterated luck, as two separate people shuffled the omen deck, but it was a pretty cool coincidence — especially since one of the players had announced he had a hard out to go make a pizza.

One thing I’m curious about is the number of timers that may be at play if multiple sub-games are initiated during the course of the scenario. The text in the Survivor’s Guide refers to starting “a timer” (emphasis mine) and never refers to stopping a timer, which say to me that the 30 minute timer keeps running even when the 15 minute game begins, and both the 30 and 15 minute timers keep running if a 7.5 minute game is initiated, and so on, and so on.

If that’s the case — and one of my fellow players argued that multiple timers didn’t make a whole lot of sense, but I’m sticking with the distinction between a timer and the timer — then does the victory condition of finding the Box omen end the haunt the explorers are currently experiencing, or the entire series of nested haunts? The wording refers to “this new game,” which again suggests to me that for every new sub-game begun, it has be to resolved before the explorers get kicked out to try to resolve the prior sub-game.

But I may be overthinking things.

Carnage Munchkin

This past weekend, I spent some time weeding my game library. One of the treasures I stumbled across was this pair of cards from Munchkin Carnage, a fan-made version of Munchkin made by longtime friend of Carnage, Tom Mechler, which he ran at Carnage on the Mountain in 2013, the convention’s first year at the Killington ski resort. The hook was that players would encounter convention staff and other Carnage references as monsters, treasures and so forth in the course of the game. In my case, I got recognition as an role-playing game field marshal for Carnage — though I’m pretty sure that photo is of me running a Hellboy scenario at Northeast Wars — and as the producer of Carnagecast.

In retrospect, making Podcaster with a live mic a level one monster is rather poetic. Carnagecast never got the traction and audience engagement that I hoped for. It was a great learning experience, though, especially with learning to recognize your audience’s behaviors and interests.

Arkham Horror LCG: The Gathering

Wendy and Roland's marker cards cluster around the Attic location, teeming with clue tokens.

Wendy and her friend Roland explore the attic of the nightmarish Escher monstrosity her home has become.

At the risk of excess melodrama, the Arkham Horror card game has been a bit of a light at the end of the tunnel for me. Fall’s traditionally a busy time of year for me, with both Carnage in the offing and my professional commitments. Once it was pretty clear that the game would be available November 10th, I wanted to make a point to get the first game in as soon as possible. Usually, I get a game and it takes two or more months to get some people together to play it, especially in November as we’re all wiped from Carnage and the holidays are ramping up. So I was pretty happy that my friend Tom was free last night and interested enough to give the game a try. Three and a half hours from purchase to play is probably a new record for me.

The first session is always a learning experience. Fantasy Flight’s new model of a short rulebook and a longer, encyclopedia-style volume of rules concepts worked pretty well. The short Learn to Play rulebook basically walks you through setting up and playing the introductory scenario. I noticed what seemed to be some discrepancies in card names and numbers when assembling the encounter deck, so I think that may have affected this particular session, since not every ghoul made it into the encounter deck.

Like Netrunner, Arkham has an action economy. Each investigator can do three things on their turn, selected from a list of choices, including things like draw a card, gain a resource, investigate a location and so on. Figuring out the efficiencies of the game — when and how is it best to gain resources, for instance — is going to be one of the first steps to being a better player.

In this first session, Tom and I took the approach of pushing through the investigators’ act cards as quickly as we could, reasoning that the advancement of the agenda would only make ours lives more difficult. In retrospect and without divulging spoilers, that may not have been the best choice, as it meant we didn’t spend time exploring every location or drawing useful cards from our decks.

On first blush, I like the way the game plays. It has an elegance that comes from how both Netrunner and Eldritch Horror mapped mechanics to their respective themes. It’s very role-playing game-like, with unexpected developments built into a scenario and not necessarily loss conditions, but “worst result” situations.

I’m a little concerned that there’s not a lot of meaningful replay value in an individual scenario, unless one enjoys taking every possible character configuration — now Wendy armed for combat, and then Roland as a hyper-investigator, and how about Daisy with guns! — through the story line, which reminds me an awful lot of grinding characters through certain entries in the Final Fantasy console franchise, or playing against progressively higher difficulty settings. The flip side of that is Fantasy Flight has a steady stream of expansion products planned that I may never have time or inclination to go back to the core box scenarios, unless I’m teaching the game to newcomers.

Netrunner certainly taught me that one new product every month will challenge my ability to squeeze in both modifying decks to take advantage of new investigator cards and carving out times with friends to play through the new scenarios. Deckbuilding in Arkham is less onerous than Netrunner, happily, as it’s a single 30 card deck and players don’t develop a new list for league night every week.

And I’m curious to see how deckbuilding works out over the course of a campaign. If people play the scenarios as they’re released, rather than waiting until the full cycle’s worth of cards are available, how many of them are going to utilize the rules for paying to swap cards in and out?

Turning of the Seasons

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Perhaps unsurprisingly, my major stumbling block in this one-shot against Progeny, “Turning of the Seasons,” was failing to take into account the scions that Progeny had in play. Once I finally trained myself to check whether Scion of Frost was in play — and thus would negate or worse the damage a hero was about to deal — we were in the second Steam game.

Playing more conservatively helped as well on the second outing. Putting Captain Cosmic’s Vitality Conduits early, and then flicking their ears with Guise’s Tough Choices helped keep hero HPs above 0. I still lost Cosmic himself in this round, but he’d helped Skyscraper and Guise keep back incapacitation long enough, and then Skyscraper’s Thorathian Monoliths, with some Rest and Recovery action in between, kept the damage at bay, and then Compulsion Canisters got most of the work done. As it was, it was the Freedom Fighters that took Progeny down completely, because it turns out that if Guise is immune to damage, he doesn’t have the opportunity to redirect it with Total Beefcake.

A Simple Plan

Mint victory against Citizen Dawn with Fanatic, Absolute Zero, Ra: Horus of Two Horizons and Tempest.

Citizen Dawn has a rightful reputation as a difficult villain if you aren’t specifically arming against her with techniques to take citizens out of her trash or mitigating her one-shot surprises. With the line-up offered in A Simple Plan, those tactics aren’t really options.

I’ve been practicing against one-shots on iOS and then taking what I’ve learned there to go for mint on Steam. In this game’s case, it took me five or six plays before I even beat Dawn at all. Some of the strategies I tried included:

  • Using Wrathful Retribution on turn one to get Citizen Anvil’s blanket damage reduction off the board.
  • Allowing multiple copies of Return with the Dawn to keep citizens out of the trash — worked okay, but wound up flooding the board with more villain damage than I could handle.
  • Directing Citizen Hammer’s first damage instance to Absolute Zero, who reacts with Isothermic Transducer and saves everyone else from getting toasted.
  • Banking on Citizens Summer and Hammer recurring and then using Flesh of the Sun Good to prevent their fire damage, thus allowing heroes to focus their damage where it was most pressing.
  • Getting rid of Dawn’s ongoings as soon as Absolute Zero could play Fueled Freeze. Several games, I ignored them to capitalize on Drawn on the Flame, but her cranking out minions was more trouble than 4-5 points of damage to non-hero targets was worth.

And a lot of it was just luck. Return with the Dawn could be kind or cruel, depending on whether it resurrected someone like Anvil, who’s just doing damage, or Truth, who’s stopping you from dealing your team’s own damage where it really matters. Citizen Dawn may go nova and stay that way for turns on end while you have to suffer the slings and arrows of a trickle of citizens, or immediately flip back on the very same turn because there were enough citizens in play and in the trash to satisfy both conditions. I’d like to say I plan things like that out, but it really is just luck.

Nightmare Walking

Defeating Gloomweaver, Skin-Walker in Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Video Game

After a test run of this week’s Sentinels of the Multiverse one-shot on iOS, I thought my “for reals” playthrough on Steam was going to be relatively straightforward. I forgot, though, that my first play ended in a mint thanks to a great deal of luck, climaxing in an Inventory Barrage that did just enough damage to Gloomweaver to end the game.

For the Steam playthrough, I lost the first attempt and squeaked by on the second, resulting in a near mint issue. From my recollection, the main differences in the Steam games were not spamming Stun Bolts as heavily against Gloomweaver, never making use of Thorathian Monolith and shifting from using Super Scientific Tachyon’s Experiment to the more safe Research Grant.

For a villain that never destroys hero ongoings or equipment, this felt weirdly like an instance of having a hard time gaining traction. Once Skinwalker Gloomweaver flips, he’s gaining HP back every time a target is destroyed and playing a card when cultists are destroyed. There was plenty of damage options among the heroes in play — except when fricking Profane Zealot pops out yet again — but it’s hard to feel like one’s making progress when Gloomweaver’s playing yet more cards and healing up past where he was when the attack began.

In that regard, the Skinwalker variant is a nice upgrade from the original Gloomweaver, who’s kind of a cakewalk. This one keeps churning out minions, and some of his cultists are true pains in the ass, like the aforementioned Profane Zealot, as well as Cursed Acolyte.

And interestingly, last week’s Harbinger of Melancholy pairs with this week’s one-shot to mimic a challenge mode, in which the group plays against Spite, Agent of Gloom and, on victory, immediately plays against Skinwalker Gloomweaver with their present card set-ups and HP values. Fun, right? Personally, I’m a little nervous of when Handelabra implements challenge mode. Is that the future of weekly one-shots?