In addition to the character building rules, the book provides a gazetteer for Star City, a metropolis created by a "space god" in the 1950s off the shore of Connecticut. Star City provides the setting for many (but not all) of the Savage Tales and Plot Point Campaign adventures.
The campaign itself has a nice mix of different types of adventures, as well as a thru-line plot about building up to a massive rebellion and some fun twists and turns along the way. A "mission generator" provides the ability to create adventures on the fly or to link to the various Savage Tales provided.
The idea of playing supervillains has definite appeal for many players; however, there's a set of moral quandaries provided in the course of the campaign that seems intended to push the villains towards redemption. I could easily see this going sideways, with players sticking to their villainous origins throughout - if half the table turns good and the other half remains evil, running the campaign from there could be a major challenge.
My only other concern is theoretical - some of the missions are extremely challenging, and I could easily see high character fatality rates and TPKs from many of them, although I have not playtested them to confirm this. If I'm right, some groups would be turned off by the need to generate new characters on a regular basis.
Overall, I like Necessary Evil's storyline and setting, but I'm not sure I'd run it with either of my groups - the challenge level in particular might be frustrating for my less-experienced table, and the more-experienced one would almost certainly be in PvP mode before the end of the campaign.
I just finished listening to the first episode of the Dungeon Master's Ludus, a Secret Cabal Gaming podcast. I've been listening to the Secret Cabal for some time now, and this is their first effort at a focused podcast on gamemastering (not just dungeon mastery, despite the title). The podcast features Jamie and Bender, two of the members of the Lords of the Dungeon, and the two who tag-team GM for that podcast.
The first episode was, appropriately enough, about starting a campaign for your group. Overall, I think it was a pretty thorough discussion, covering topics like top-down vs. bottom-up world building and establishing different types of story arcs (epic, episodic, etc.). One particularly useful tip that I use myself is the idea of a character template for the players, some set of constraints on the PCs that make them more likely to gel as a team. For example, in Children of the Apocalypse, all the PCs are recent graduates of the Greatschool of Peterborough, and as such in a period of obligated service to the Lord Protector. This lets me, as GM, issue them missions as orders to get the plot rolling, but also leaves them some freedom to explore after the initial couple of adventures.
A couple of items could have used inclusion in the podcast. The topic of system and genre really, in my mind, isn't separable from campaign design. Even with the exact same world and basic story, a Fate campaign is going to have a different flavor than a Savage Worlds or GURPS campaign. Similarly, some systems (like D&D) are genre specific. I think a discussion of the interaction between system, genre, and campaign design would be really interesting, and perhaps they'll pick that up on a later podcast.
Second, the concept of a Session 0 didn't really come up, although on several occasions they alluded to player participation in campaign building. A formal session 0 designed to build the characters and the world can make the players far more invested in the campaign, and I'd recommend it for just about any group.
Overall, I think the Ludus podcast was a good source of information, and certainly passed along some ideas I plan to implement in my own campaigns. I look forward to future episodes.
Saturday was my first chance to break out Rising Sun, the Kickstarted game of diplomacy and battle from CMON. We played a five-player game using the standard five clans, Lotus, Koi, Bonsai, Turtle, and Dragonfly (me), but did include the Kickstarter exclusive monsters. Both the Kaiju and the Phoenix from the Kickstarter came into play.
This is a game that will absolutely reward repeat play- there's a lot going on in each turn, and anticipating (or influencing) the other players' strategies is critical. In the first phase of each of the three seasons of the game, the players have the option of forming bipartite alliances, which provide significant benefits later in the game. With five players, we always had an "odd man out" alliance-wise, which left that person more flexibility but cost in terms of actions. In particular, the Koi clan never had the chance to build strongholds, and so, by default, could only place one or two figures each turn.
In the political phase, players choose a "mandate", basically one of five actions. This phase is where alliances matter most, because the ally of the player choosing the mandate also gets the bonus from that action. For example, choosing a "Train" mandate allows the player who chose it and the allied clan to purchase season cards (such as monsters or upgrades for shinto priests) at a discount of one coin, whereas everyone else has to purchase at cost.
At three points during the political phase, there is a kami turn, in which players who have invested some of their shinto in worshipping the gods can gain benefits, such as increased honor (the tiebreaker in the game), coin, or extra moves.
At the end of the political mandates, war happens in preselected provinces. Winning a battle in as many different provinces as possible provides a massive bonus to victory points at the end of the game. Battle resolution has an interesting bidding mechanic, where there are three possible actions before the battle occurs and one after, but only the high bidder gets to perform each action.
The first action is Seppuku, which kills all of the player's own forces in a province but awards massive honor and significant victory points. Next is Take Hostage, which allows the winner to take a hostage from the battlefield, removing that figure from play and also gaining victory points; third is Hire Ronin, which allows the use of any ronin resources acquired earlier to bolster force in the province. After the battle is resolved, the winner of the Imperial Poets bid gains victory points for each figure killed in the province, regardless of side.
The bidding options make combat really tricky and make coin resources really important. Several times a clever bid changed the course of a battle, and clever bidding ended up being decisive for the end-game win.
In sum, Rising Sun is a complex game with a lot of challenge and strategy, and a whole lot of fun. The components from the Kickstarter are magnificent, and I'm already looking forward to my next game.
I just downloaded the Cliffhanger cards for the Savage World of Flash Gordon, and they present some interesting possibilities for improvisational gameplay. I'm still thinking these might present a challenge for the GM, but looking them over in detail, I can certainly see some possibilities for how to implement them in various games, not just in Flash.
Out of the Frying Pan: A much bigger problem appears, wiping out the earlier problem. This is perhaps a form of Summon Bigger Fish, but I could envision the bad guy in an encounter suddenly being squished by a much larger beastie...
Captured: This one is straightforward in description, but one of the harder ones to implement in practice. For whatever reason, the group is taken prisoner and must escape, fight in an arena, etc. I think a GM would require some seriously fancy footwork to capture the party arbitrarily in any randomly selected situation. Of course, there's always Rocks Fall, Everyone Dies...
Environmental Hazard: Another easy one - the ship catches on fire, the room starts to fill with noxious gas, quicksand out of nowhere. I see no problem dropping this into an encounter at all.
Disaster: This one is trickier - some sort of disaster occurs, dispersing the enemy and threatening the adventurers and the locals alike. Earthquake, sudden volcanic eruption, power plant explosion, etc. The reason I think this one is trickier is scale - you need a BIG disaster that fits the locale, and not every adventure takes place on a convienient volcano.
Perilous Portal: I like this one for getting a party that has gone off the rails back onto them. The party gets transported somewhere else, leaving the enemy behind. Finally, the GM can use the material he actually prepared for tonight!
Reinforcements: Another easy one - more bad guys show up, but the players get more bennies. This one looks like a lot of fun, especially if the players really take advantage of the extra bennies to wreak some havoc.
Overall, these cliffhangers seem workable in most situations, but I'd be a little hard pressed to deal with the Disaster and Captured scenarios without some prep. I think for the GM, knowing the players can invoke a cliffhanger at any time really requires some advance work and thinking to have some of these options on deck so that she's not caught flat footed.
Arisia 2018 is over, and as usual, was a great time. This year I kept the con fairly low-key, without committing to attend very many events, and so I spent a fair amount of time browsing the Dealer Room and the Art Show, listening to the musicians scattered around the con, and costume-watching.
This year’s attendees included my wife and my two sons, and we all arrived Friday afternoon to a fairly smooth process of checking in to the con and to the Westin. Both boys are now old enough to roam the con freely, but all four of us ended up in the attached Irish pub for an early dinner. Dinner got us to the first passes through the Dealer Room and Art Show, and that pretty much finished up the evening for us.
On Saturday, I took advantage of the hotel room to sleep in (no boys or dogs to wrangle), and enjoyed Starbucks in the lobby for breakfast, and the pub for lunch. We also enjoyed themed cocktails at the bar, including a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster and an Elixir of Valor. Saturday evening we caught the folk-ish band Murder Ballads.
Saturday also saw the first round of Savage Worlds at the con, a session of Children of the Apocalypse with 8 attendees. Happily, most were experienced Savage Worlds players, so we were able to get right into the action. This particular adventure had a lot of combat, with veteran adventurers going up against a mad scientist creating powerful magical creatures from kidnapped priests and acolytes. Highlights of the session included a perfect kill-shot on one of the creatures from the Sherzi musketeer, as well as the treasure hunter catching the mad scientist in mid-escape and finishing him off.
Sunday morning was a chance to play-test New World Magischola: House Rivalry, a board game of competing houses in a magic university based on a popular LARP. The game was a lot of fun, with players joining clubs that gave them points, but only if they successfully met certain conditions, like not using personal pronouns or speaking only in whispers or song. I did manage to win the House Cup for my house by virtue of some careful course selection to maximize end-game scoring.
Sunday afternoon was the first public playtest of Legion of Liberty, with 7 attendees fighting the Battle of Salem (based on the real historical event of Leslie’s Retreat). Paul Revere, the Silver Speedster, did not fare well in the fight, but the team of young superheroes did prevail against the smaller but more experienced Royal Superhuman Regiment greycoats. One highlight here was a missed fireball actually killing an invisible greycoat who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
I always recommend Arisia to anyone interested in sci fi, fantasy, gaming, anime, comics, or any other sort of fandom, and it seems to improve every year. I’m looking forward to more Savage fun at next year’s con already.