[Mage: The Suppressed Transmission] Introduction to Fireballs

Mage: The Suppressed Transmission is a Mage: The Ascension campaign I ran from the summer to winter of 2005 at Quarterstaff Games. I think of it as my first “real” campaign and present my session reports, mostly written just after the action, exactly as they are, excepting for the occasional typo correction. Continue reading


I just heard about the new podcast Gameopolis through a convention acquaintance. It’s so new that hosts Jeff and Mark only have two episodes posted as of this writing. It sounds good, technically and they have some nice sound effects and music sprinkled in there. The episode I heard first, a play session report of Car Wars 5th Edition caught my attention because it’s one I’ve played and enjoyed greatly in the past.

Usually, I have a hard time with board game-oriented podcasts, because the topic is so visually oriented and I’m just sitting there listening to people talk about their favorite game. And often, I’m not familiar with the game up for discussion, so it becomes an even more abstract conversation for me. The nice thing about session reports as Gameopolis plans to provide is the players describing their thinking and choices often helps to clarify how the game plays and the kind of play it encourages.

Plus, Mark and Jeff get points for being New England gaming podcasters. New England is sorely underrepresented in tabletop gaming’s online communities, so I’m glad to welcome them to the podcasting scene.

[Tuesday Board Game Night] Illuminati

This week for board game night at Quarterstaff Games, I set up a demo of Illuminati. As a Man in Black for Steve Jackson Games, I get to teach people how to play their games. It’s a pretty fun gig. Most of the time, I demo on the local convention scene, but I try to put in an MIB appearance to the weekly board game night as well, though I’m there more frequently as a civilian.

The core game mechanic is about conspiracies acquiring puppets with which to expand their domination of the world. Most of the fun comes from the silly cards — tonight, for example, the Republicans took control of Alien Abductors, while New York ran the Mafia — and the interaction between players as they strike deals and screw with each other to get ahead of everyone else.

We lucked out with five players who really got into the freewheeling nature of the deals and betrayals Illuminati encourages. Part of it, I think was that at least four of them were Diplomacy veterans and the fifth was no stranger to Illuminati himself. Thanks to that, we had a ton of terrific back and forth repartee, with everyone trying to make like they were everyone else’s friend, just before contributing to preventing them acquiring a group or fomenting discord by pointing out how perilously close someone else was to winning.

In the end, when one player had to leave just as another was on the brink of maybe winning, everyone else unanimously elected to call it a draw. It’s nice to play with people understand how to playact mock enmity while keeping a genuine attitude of good sportsmanship.

Mount Shasta School for the Gifted

Over on Eden Studios’ bulletin board for WitchCraft, Thom Marrion posted a quick write-up for the Mount Shasta School for the Gifted — which, in the case of the WitchCraft universe, is quite literally the case.

The first application that comes to mind is a model for a school days campaign. The curriculum Thom created lays out how players can expect their characters’ supernatural abilities to develop over four years of game time, although certainly with enough room for characters to avoid the danger of having exactly the same skillset as everyone else in the group.

Another possibility that comes to mind is a group playing the faculty and staff of such a school. Mount Shasta is small enough — fewer than fifty students at any given time — that the traditionally sized play group could easily take the places of heads of house, other teachers and support roles. You can have the usual school year lunacy with student projects gone awry and academic in-fighting; “colleague development days,” where everyone’s got to go on a quest for a book from Dilmun, say, or make a significant contribution to the surrounding community of Mundanes; and recruiting drives, since other Covenants like the Rosicrucians and Cabal of the Psyche like to hoover up as many Gifted suitable for molding as they can manage.

Something in Lake Champlain Uses Bio-Sonar

Cryptozoology blog Cryptomundo, which provided some interesting coverage of the summer’s major Champ sighting, also reported a presentation on the use of bio-sonar in Lake Champlain at ECHO Lake Aquarium in mid-July:

Bio-acoustician E. von Muggenthaler will discuss her research that led to the discovery of bio-sonar signals in Lake Champlain. Only dolphins and whales echolocate underwater, as a form of communication and as a food searching technique, and there are none in this Lake. What creature is making this high frequency sound?

Cryptomundo goes on to discuss Elizabeth von Muggenthaler’s research into the use of sound by animals for communication and navigation, including giraffes, rhinos and okapi.

Let’s think about just what’s swishing around the lake, sending out bio-sonar signals and generally befuddling your player’s characters in a game of paranormal weirdness.

It really is Champ.

Vermont’s favorite lake monster, fabled descendant of a bygone epoch, enjoys the security of shrouding in myth. The creature uses bio-sonar to navigate the depths of the lake. The PCs, on a cryptozoological research expedition, track the signal to a secluded cove . . . when all of a sudden, the source emitting the bio-sonar appears to multiply twelvefold.

Continue reading

The ENnie Awards Voting Booth is Open

ennies_i_voted _square_09The ENnie Awards, the roleplaying game awards determined by hobbyists, are open for voting. I found the breadth and variety of product rather dizzying. While I’d heard of most of the nominees, I don’t think I’ve even flipped through a tenth of them, let alone purchased to read or play — and I should point out that was largely by choice, as everything RPG-related I’ve been interested in over the nomination period either wasn’t included or didn’t merit a vote, in my estimation. So I made my votes in those categories where I felt sufficiently informed, namely Best Podcast and Fan’s Favorite Publisher, and submitted my ballot.

Go take a look over what’s up for an ENnie this year. Even if you haven’t heard of anything, it’s a great resource for finding out what came out in the last year that garnered enough internet buzz to merit nomination. The polls close August 1st, so get moving.

OGC 2009: The Year Evil Wins

Just want to give a quick shout-out to the hard-working staffers and gamers currently attending OGC, Nashua, NH’s Open Gaming Convention. They’re a great crowd who are fun to play with and I’m sorry I couldn’t make it this year.

If you’re in the neighborhood of southern New Hampshire, swing by this weekend and check things out.

[Mage: The Suppressed Transmission] Convocation

For the next few Fridays, I’ll post the session reports from Mage: The Suppressed Transmission, a Mage: The Ascension campaign I ran for four months in the fall of 2005 as an in-store game at Quarterstaff Games. These reports were initially posted to RPG.net as I wrote them and I haven’t done anything to change them, except fix the occasional typo.

This was the second extended campaign I ever ran, the first being a Mutants & Masterminds-based game set in Freedom City. Looking back, I think there’s a lot I did wrong or hamfistedly. But that’s okay, because I think it’s made me a better GM for the experience.

The idea for this campaign first came about when I read Suppressed Transmission, a printed collection of Kenneth Hite’s Pyramid column on history, conspiracies, nutbar science and occultism. The broad variety of mad, wonderful ideas in Suppressed Transmission seemed to me a perfect fit for Mage played as an urban fantasy campaign. That, plus characters and ideas mined from GURPS Cabal, another product of Hite’s febrile mind, gave me plenty of goodies around which to craft a story arc.

Unfortunately, I didn’t start writing post-session reports until the second or third session in, so for the set up, I must rely on my two and a half year old memory. There was once a whole folder of pictures, documents and notes I wrote up, but I seem to have deleted it in a fit of pique at some point in the intervening years.

For now, though, this is how it all began, as I recall. Continue reading

Draconis 2009

Last Friday, Draconis, Montreal’s bilingual gaming convention, updated their website for the 2009 convention. This year’s convention is October 16th – 17th at the Days Hotel & Conference Center. Guests of honor include Ryan Sohmer, author of the fantasy webcomic Looking for Group; Sean Punch, line developer for GURPS; and Lucien Soulban, noted freelance RPG writer.

Despite this being Draconis’ third or fourth year of gaming, I have yet to be able to check things out. From what I’ve seen on their website in the past, they have an interesting mix of traditional stuff like RPGA adventures and indie press games. With luck, I’ll have that Saturday free this year to head up and check things out.

The Voynich Manuscript

xkcd has a new theory on the provenance of the Voynich manuscript.

xkcd has a novel theory on the provenance of the Voynich manuscript.

Discovered in the early 20th century, and reputedly dating to the 15th or 16th century, the Voynich manuscript is apparently a mysterious text, filled with strange diagrams of plants and animals, accompanied by indecipherable writing. Hoax or historical artifact, the Voynich manuscript also makes a fantastic McGuffin. It could be an alien biology textbook, encoded prophecies dictated by Roger Bacon’s brazen head or even just a con to put one over on a trusting character.

Here are five things the Voynich manuscript could be in a roleplaying game:

1. A secret society’s monster-hunting manual.

The Order of the Vigilant Eye encoded its entire body of knowledge about the unearthly and unhallowed in these pages. Unfortunately, the cipher is so complex, readers often find themselves frantically translating on the fly while their compatriots hold off one or more menacing beasts. Continue reading