Things I Learned From Playtesting The Lurker in the Limelight

Thanks to the selfless efforts of players throwing themselves upon the rocky shoals of my Ghostbusters adventure, I have gleaned the following insights on what needs revision:

  • Include research materials on Ecto-1’s load-out. Nobody thought to consult Tobin’s Spirit Guide. I suspect that was in part because they could have used a reminder such a thing existed.
  • It’s great to realize how severely one has over-prepared. It makes it so easy to pull material out of the air when you’ve had it tucked up your sleeve the whole time.
  • A 3d-1 cone of fire breath is too much for a Ghostbuster’s first day on the job — or first day at a new franchise, in Jim Monroe’s case. And they need some DR 1 padding in those flight suits.
  • The ending, as always, needs work. Typically I hover in a very uncomfortable area of not wanting to create a tightly defined “pixel bitch” solution, but not being very good at suggesting lines of thought to inspire the players to their own solutions that don’t amount to “we blast it a lot.”

All in all, it was a solid success. One of the most beneficial things I get from running an adventure is the things I make up on the spot then — like names and personalities for incidental characters — can be revised and presented less haltingly in the “real” play experience.

And now, after some updating of character sheets and my notes, it’s time to get on that Highway to Niflheim!

[Mage: The Suppressed Transmission] The House of Hermes

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 the occasional corrected typo. Continue reading

Lurker in the Limelight Playtest Tonight!

So the Lurker in the Limelight playtest got pushed back by a week, making tonight the night. Character backgrounds are written, sheets have been tweaked — I opted not to make slime blowers an option, as they’re presented as too much of a “solve all” piece of gear — the players have been wrangled and I’ve bashed out the sequence of events and character motivations to the point I feel comfortable running the game from memory. The notes are growing into a full-fledged adventure module, but I plan to keep them just in case of catastrophic brain fart.

I also resolved, for the moment, the question of mechanical representation of zapping ghosts with proton streams. After going over a number of different ways used in other games to represent ghostbusting — including the recent video game — I opted to go with Ken Hite’s “ghost blaster” in his Ghost-breaking article in GURPS All-Star Jam 2004. In addition to being native to GURPS, which is the system of choice for this adventure, it’s pretty straightforward. I don’t want blasting spooks to be tedious, so I’m hoping this mechanical take runs as quickly as it seems. This playtest will demonstrate whether that’s the case. And perhaps the biggest plus to playtesting tonight is, barring some revision work, I can turn my creative attentive fully to Highway to Niflheim, which has fallen so far back, it’s barely even on the stove.

Wish me luck!

[Tuesday Board Game Night] Tuesday Two-fer

I’m hit. Respawn!

This past Tuesday, I demoed Frag at Quarterstaff Games’ weekly board game night. Along with myself, three new players and one old hand played through three rounds. In the interest of time and sanity, we reduced the win condition from five frags to three. The rate at which we tore through, getting three rounds done in two hours, makes me think we should have gone with a four frag goal. I liked the speediness, but when a player only needs three kills to win, it can be hard to catch up from behind — particularly, as was the case with one beleaguered player, you simply cannot scrounge a weapon or a gadget to save your life.

The best part was when a husband and wife duo wandered in to check things out. They were sufficiently interested in the game I got the husband to take a turn. He took two shots at the leading player, which only dinged a little and then inadvertently left himself in position to get fragged to bits, but definitely enjoyed himself. The wife and he got into the game and both asked good questions about game play.

Reach for yer cranium!

After packing up Frag, we picked up some players who had wrapped up their Scrabble match and, since it was too late to start anything really involved, the Frag veteran, Luke, pulled out The Great Brain Robbery.

Now, Cheapass Games have a special place in my heart, as running across a stack of them at my college’s honor program lounge kick started my current interest in games in general. I particularly appreciate the “less is more” philosophy, because it really isn’t necessary to keep packaging the same accessories over and over again. The game design, I have discovered to my great, is sometimes less than sterling — I’m looking at you, U.S. Patent No. 1.

Anyway, despite my previous lackluster experience with The Great Brain Robbery, we had lots of fun with it. I think having six players really helped bring the madcap lunacy of zombies raiding a train — and then squabbling amongst themselves — for the smartest brain to the forefront. I actually wound up winning this one when another player became kingmaker by stomping on the locomotive’s brake for the final time while I happened to have the smartest brain in my zombie’s head — which was Yavin, beast from another world, with a whopping 225 IQ.

As it turned out, Luke is also a casual Lab Rabbit, one of Looney Labs‘ demo volunteers. I mentioned Northeast Wars, hoping to plant the seed for him to run some games there. The great thing about game nights like this is gives me the chance to meet gamers new to the area, like Luke, find out what they’re like and what they’re interested in. And it gives them the opportunity to meet the local community and find out what the regional gaming spots are, including conventions like Northeast Wars and Carnage.

I’m a “Mastermind-Achiever,” Apparently

This BrainHex quiz is based around video games, but I can see where some of the areas of inquiry would be of interest to roleplayers, as well. My results are true enough. In dungeon delving games, I find myself disappointed if we don’t get to explore every corner or find afterward that the party “missed” something because of a bad Search roll or through inattentiveness. I also spent an inordinate amount of time cleaning out the dungeons, cellars and caverns of the Baldur’s Gate series, which was probably my formative experience of the dungeon crawl.

[First sighted on Jeff’s Gameblog.]

MastermindAchieverYour BrainHex Class is Mastermind.

Your BrainHex Sub-Class is MastermindAchiever.

You like solving puzzles and devising strategies as well as collecting anything you can collect or doing everything you possibly can.

According to your results, there are few play experiences that you strongly dislike.

Learn more about your classes and exceptions at

Your scores for each of the classes in this test were as follows:

Go to to learn more about this player model, and the neurobiological research behind it.

Feel free to take a copy of your BrainHex icon and display it anywhere you wish! Simply right click and choose “save as”. All we ask is you provide a link to anywhere you use our images.

Thanks for taking part in the BrainHex survey!

[Suggested Reading Material] Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries

A book that has influenced my thinking about local spookiness since a teacher used it as a source for campfire ghost stories on school camping trip in 1994, Green Mountain Ghosts, Ghouls & Unsolved Mysteries by Joseph Citro is a buffet of Vermont ghost stories and weird tales from real life.

Take, for example, the section entitled “The Hubbardton Horror,” relating how Hubbardton villagers marched to the Castleton medical school to take back the body of Mrs Penfield Churchill, stolen from its grave by “resurrectionists.” That could either as the base for a ghost-oriented story or a more prosaic horror thriller set in the nineteenth century.

Citro’s made a cottage industry of cataloging New England oddities with follow-up books including Passing Strange and Weird New England, so you’ve got plenty of titles to search out in your local library or bookstore.

All Games Considered Wins Best Podcast ENnie

Congratulations to Mark, Carol, Mags, Ben and everyone who has contributed to All Games Considered over the years. Their hard work in putting the show together has earned them the recognition of the fans in the form of the 2009 Gold ENnie for Best Podcast. You can read the entire list of ENnie winners here.

I’m glad to see the voting body of the ENnies recognize All Games Considered‘s quality content. Now go get that Parsec!

[Mage: The Suppressed Transmission] Passage Through Shadow

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 the occasional corrected typo. Continue reading

The Arcana Wiki

Curated by Jürgen Hubert, the Arcana Wiki carries on the legacy of the Suppressed Transmission columns. So you can tell it covers a field near and dear to my own heart. As the introduction says:

Legends, mythology, UFO lore, Conspiracy theories, Fiction, and even (seemingly) mundane cultural traditions from other countries. These can and have been used to inspire role-playing game adventures and even entire campaign settings. This wiki aims to collect information about all those, ready for gamers – and then adds suggestions by other gamers – for actually using them in your game.

Right on the front page is a random selection of topics hosted at the wiki, with such tantalizing titles as “Huge Sea Worm Captured in Britain,” “Oasis in the Ice” and “Library of Lost Books.” I’m already getting ideas just from combining those three titles together.

Role Playing Public Radio

Role Playing Public Radio first came to my attention, I think, through their audio skit adaptations of poster Ab3’s stories about the off-the-wall crew with whom he used to roleplay. Take, for example, the archetypal tale Achy Breaky Mythos.

It’s been a very amusing ride since then. The two hosts of the show, Ross and Tom, have an amiably antagonistic relationship. While both have dry senses of humor, Tom’s is characterized by a kind of po-faced lunacy, as can be heard in the regular segment A Letter from Tom, wherein he may wax poetic about illithid or the awful depths to which his character descended in a particular game. Straight man Ross does his best to bear up in spite of it all.

The topics span the spectrum, usually with an eye to helpful GM advice, although there have been episodes directed towards players as well. There’s a strong bias towards modern and horror gaming — both have strong Call of Cthulhu backgrounds, and Ross is a contributor to the Monsters and Other Childish Things line with Curriculum of Conspiracy.

In addition to their audio plays, RPPR also has an impressive of actual play recordings. Right now a Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition campaign called The New World is in progress — which itself spawned a ransomed PDF supplement. Past highlights include a Call of Cthulhu scenario played at Gencon called Dig to Victory! and The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus, adapted from the L. Frank Baum novel.

The show sounds good, the hosts’ banter keeps things lively and the topics are varied and interesting — albeit sometimes just for how differently Tom or Ross sees something than I do. Episodes can be played directly from the website, as well as downloaded there or from iTunes. Check them out soon.