Thursday, March 11, 2010

Dry Spell

It is a dry season for me as far as gaming is concerned. Work has eased up a little bit but promises to come down in a raging torrent by the beginning of next month, what with the news that I’m being handed another department to run. This has its respective pros and cons- and I am reminded of the age old adage which says that crisis lends its share of opportunities. Far from complaining, I continually thank my lucky stars. At the very least I have a job and this counts for very much in these curious times we live in.

That said, I foresee no further sessions of Mutant Future (or any gaming, for that matter!) perhaps until the first week of April at the earliest. I thank the Pancreator that the inhabitants of this third world paradise I am constrained to call home have an apparent collective fixation with Holy Week. This means, amongst others, that work tends to stop as early as the day after Palm Sunday. Maybe (just maybe), I can wangle some seriously fun gaming time on that week.

In the meantime, I’ve taken the opportunity to catch up on my reading (both gaming-related and otherwise). Amongst the items I am presently going through include Urutsk, World of Mystery (‘UWoM’). These are two downloadable PDF documents written by Kyrinn S. Eis (who also maintains a blog here). These documents appear to be beta versions of a players’ book and a referees’ guide.

It is a fact that I don’t post on my blog now as much as I would want to – I’ve learned to accept this as part of my present circumstances. The same is true with my attempts to follow the posts on many blogs I have grown to love. I’ve followed Timeshadows blog for some time but only recently had I managed to find the breathing space to go over UWoM. I must confess that I have not had the chance to go over this as completely as I want to (and I’m still going through it as I write this) but so far, it’s beginning to fire me up as inspiration for future games.

Briefly, my take on UWoM is that it is a science-fantasy RPG background and system. It’s got the elements I automatically look for in such a setting: galactic-scale cataclysms, weird and wonderful flora and fauna, aliens, humanoids, a liberal mix of tech levels, swords wielded alongside blasters, guilds, religious wars, the rise and fall of empires- just to name a few.

The writing style in the opening of the players’ book grabs your attention. It puts you right there with a minimum use of words-

“I want you to imagine or remember the wilderness in or around your area. If you live in a city, think of the area with the most trees, parks and open fields. Now imagine all that twice as vibrant and close and dense.

If you live by the coast, imagine the worst storms you can remember. Anywhere else you may live, jungle, desert, etc. imagine or remember the same intensities but keyed to those locales you know best.

Now raise the sea-level three feet (roughly a metre). As the planet is generally flatlands not much higher than sea level, most Trees have developed long torpedo-like seed pods, similar to mangroves which allow them to grow from under the water. Cedar and cypress, sequoia, everything simply adapted to the added three feet of water.”

In three starting paragraphs, I found myself in Urutsk already. This is something I have not seen in a long time in gaming material, and I find this very refreshing.
The fluff associated with UWoM spans centuries and concerns events which can be very convoluted and often-times violent. My impression here was something very akin to the political-military machinations in Frank Herbert’s Dune. This provides the players a lot of leeway as regards the kind of games they want: whether these are dungeon crawls, stand-up fights or a lot of skullduggery and covert ops.

Speaking of stand-up fights, I can’t help but agree with the spirit of the writer’s advice at the beginning of the combat section in the UWoM players’ book:

Also my understanding of combat is heroic by virtue of its terribleness, and the amazing fact that some fighters survive at all, and not by dint of cinematic illusions or desires for wish-fulfillment.

While certain more forgiving elements have been included, in general these rules are justifiably lethal at all levels of play, and even heavily armored foes are capable of being instantly slain by exceptional strikes.

My overarching advice is for player-characters to avoid combat under all but the most favorable conditions, and even then, to be prepared for the loss of said characters, as healing in the early Autumn era is in no way as common or miraculously effective as in many other games.”

This resonates positively with me. This is how I see combats being played in my games as well.

I know I’ll be re-reading UWoM after I finish my first reading. Even as I’m going through it, I’m finally convinced to run that science fantasy game of a rather different sort from my current Mutant Future one. Along with this, I’ve this hankering to revisit Dune, Book of the New Sun, and Tales of the Dying Earth in the next few weeks.

If I can’t game for now, I’ll at least put the time to good use.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Episode Eleven - Dungeon Crawl

ML’s note: I had a general idea of some plot to spring on the group but as things would turn out, my players had their own ideas. Not that I’m complaining- it was a fun game: lots of role-playing, conflict, interaction and high-grade bantering all around. We finished at about 12.30 a.m. and Doc Ben-g had to be in the hospital at 8 in the morning (ouch!). I found the session a bit disjointed and the group disorganized- but hey, I’m only the Mutant Lord.

It’s really as much my players’ game as it is mine!

When we last left our intrepid band of adventurers, they were holed up the lowest holding chamber of the automated artifact that was once Research Station Gamma in a forgotten age.

They make ready for what they fear is another attack by the guardian ‘bots of the station. The gigantic double doors roll soundlessly to the side. Weapons are raised and a pair of utility ‘bots roll soundlessly inward supported by a globular construct they’ve never seen before.

ML’s note: For want of a close image-analog, I described this somewhat like a larger version of Darth Vader’s interrogation robot from Episode 4.

Sounds of firing and combat filter in from outside and are muffled.

“What is going on?” muses Zed. Shai adds that it sounds like another fight is in progress in the levels above.

The utility ‘bots seem harmless at first. Then Ratchet tries to fool around with one and narrowly escapes getting brained by a mop. All hell breaks loose as the group breaks into a free-for-all, putting down all their attackers. The utility bots’ globular back-up proves tougher to kill but soon ends up similarly as a mass of fused circuits and burning parts.

Knowing that they can’t stay in place all day, Shai orders an armed reconnaissance to the upper levels. Zed, Shai, Link Seyz and Marcus head upwards by rail-car in search of the missing Orua. The android mechs Ratchet and Mirage stay behind with Kyoshi to salvage the wrecked ‘bots. They find that the globular construct is not a robot but a sophisticated vehicle piloted by some geneered dwarf para-human. It was once called a Mini Advanced Field Operative [MAFO] during the Age of the Ancients.

In the rail-car, the recon party surveys the upper levels of the Station and sees it damaged and littered with broken ‘bots. Also, there are many torn and burned bodies of attackers – humanoid pigmen of fearsome countenance. Suidoids! The place looks like it was attacked by Suidoids but these were beaten off.

“Looks like we’ve stumbled into some fight,” muses Shai.

As the rail-car goes higher up the structure, the recon party sees Orua looking down at them from what appears to be the sixth tier within the central column. She also has three humanoid plant-men in tow.

Arriving at level six, the recon party are glad to meet up with Orua. She claims she doesn’t remember much but claims to be able to talk to the ‘brain’ that controls the whole place. She introduces her vegetive humanoid friends as the ‘Xodal’ (they all answer to that name).

ML’s note: Her new-found friends are Vegepygmies – humanoid plants I picked up from Expedition to the Barrier Peaks. Perfect for intelligent plant mutants.

The Vegepygmies are wary of Orua’s newly-arrived friends. The say the fauna are dangerous – particularly the artificial one (meaning Link, the Android). Despite Shai’s attempts at desperate peacemaking and negotiation, the argument ends badly and a disturbed Link Seyz goes into overdrive mode and shoots one of the Vegepygmies. He is tackled by his companions; both Shai and Orua just barely restrain the others from piling on and trashing the Android.

Shai eventually makes peace with them and as a sign of good faith, hands over the laser pistol of their dead friend Max. Talk turns to humans. “Who’s a human?” asks a Vegepygmy.

“I am,” answers Shai confidently.

Override protocols kick in. Long dormant systems come to life. Link Seyz and his original Terminator- series protocols come to fore. He looks around with new purpose – and finally understands his true nature.

ML’s note: Much of this was fun and loose role-playing. Trust my players to turn this into another intriguing plot hook that drives the story onward. This is when I learned to apply something I read from an improv-gaming book: say yes often, and just let go…

Eventually, they return to the holding chamber at the lower levels. Nobody posts guard at the portal and everyone is busy checking out the stuff scavenged by Kyoshi and his Android buddies from the wrecked ‘bots. Putanesca is thrilled to meet fellow plant mutants.

The stay-behind party did well and managed to salvaged 2 stun pistols, 2 car battery-sized Radioactive Batteries from the utility ‘bots and a working Plutonium Clip from the MAFO. Mirage and Ratchet fairly beam with pride after successfully jury-rigging the stunners to run off the Rad Batteries.

Then, it happens: Link Seyz finally gives in to his prime directives as a Terminator- and attempts to shoot Shai in the back. The group manages to prevent this in the nick of time and end up piling on the Android. They cobble up metal binders to secure his arms and wrists. All the while, the Vegepygmies grow convinced just how crazy and unstable the Fauna can be. Particularly the ugly artificial one. Link Seyz vows to make pumpkin soup out of the pygmies.

As the group is engaged in their private brawl, another janitor ‘bot comes in and begins to clean up the mess on the floor.

ML’s note: The group was surprised as no-one bothered to keep watch. Tsk, tsk. Bad dungeoncraft.

The ‘bot is trashed by Ratchet and Mirage who are eager to try out their newly juiced-up stunners on a moving target. But this is not before it radioed for assistance.

Still engaged with the ruckus with the Terminator, they are attacked by 2 MAFOs responding to the janitor droid’s distress signal. The fight that follows is vicious as it is unexpected. The MAFOs have gravitic boosters and sport plasma pistols. Williis, Shai’s Rat mutant retainer is killed by a plasma bolt. Orua is badly injured by a sizzling blast.

Mirage and Ratchet use the stun pistols effectively on the MAFOs. These are immobilized but at the price of burning out both jury-rigged weapons.
Putanesca changes shape and forms a living mass of creepers. She lassoes one of the stunned, floating MAFO down to the ground. The group piles on and with great difficulty, manage to get it open. Kyoshi finds what he expects to see: a stunted mutant dwarf in a ‘pilot’s’ seat. He violently twists the neck of the dwarfish para-human ‘pilot’ and takes its place at the controls.

He tries to figure out the controls. It’s a tight fit as he is in leather armor while the para-human was naked and just wired in place. He winces at the notion of stains on the seat he now occupies.

ML’s note: I remember a resounding “Eeewwww!” from everyone in the game table.

While the party is engaged, Link Seyz tries to attack Shai again but fails. He is pulled away and the party argues what to do with him. Shai learns from the Vegepygmies that there are supplies at the top of the tower and perhaps a way out. They claim they were stunned in the desert and flown in by their captor droids in a flying ship that landed on the tower’s roof.

They all agree to keep Link restrained and to swiftly ascend to the top so they can find a way out.

ML’s note: I’d have thought things would be easier if the party came together and figured what to do first but as they would have it, some active role-playing still came first.

The other MAFO comes to life and attacks again. Otiis, Shai’s second mutant retainer is killed by a burning plasma bolt. Kyoshi believes he has the measure of his MAFO but sends it zooming out of control. It hits the wounded Vegepygmy and kills it. Its laser pistol-armed companion considers shooting him but again, cooler heads prevail at the nick of time. It was an accident, they claim.

Kyoshi pops the lid and mumbles “ooops”, shrugging sheepishly.

They fire back destroying the other MAFO- wrecking it so that nothing remains for salvage.

The party (much as who remains) piles into the rail car and ascends. They encounter more ‘bots going down to the first level and heading out the exit. The Station appears to be in the process of being sealed. Other droids are cleaning up the detritus from the earlier battle. They are left alone by the ‘bots.

Finally they arrive at the top. It is a huge circular structure honeycombed with chambers, corridors and rooms. There is so much to see, so much to do, they can’t make up their mind where to go.

ML’s note: Later on, my players told me that this game gave them so many options, they felt like they were literally free to do whatever they wished (and could follow their wishes)- explore the place, loot the rooms, bash ‘bots, and so on. I took this as a compliment. At least I knew I wasn’t railroading people in this one.

They decide to explore the rooms. After a while they end up in a large cavern-like garage. Looting the place, Marcus finds a backpack with something like a box inside. They keep it for future use.

Xodal, one of the remaining Vegepygmies, points out an elevator lift platform in the garage and they take it up to the roof deck level. They are standing on the level below the roof of the Station. Above is empty space and then the dome of the hollow shell of the ‘mountain’ above them. They can see for hundreds of feet around enclosed by the shell.

They find an entrance and a lobby into the structure. Not being able to agree the party splits up again.

Shai asks Putanesca to form tendrils (she’s gotten quite good at this already), and together with the Vegepygmies, they climb the roof. Kyoshi flies on ahead and finds a parked aircraft on the other side of the rooftop level. It enclosed by walls. They make for it.

Meanwhile, Orua goes inside the structure. She is attracted by a holographic waterfall on what should be the far wall of the lobby. As she touches it, her hand disappears beyond it and a metal hand suddenly grabs her. She is forcefully pulled her inside the hologram.

Her remaining companions follow cautiously. Perhaps it is the knowledge that the ‘bots tend to tote plasma guns. They see a security ‘bot carrying an unconscious Orua- floating away.

ML’s note: The party had surprise but didn’t attack. Maybe they remembered what happened to Max (and the two Rat mutants…)

They keep following. It enters a door. They follow find it is an elevator. It takes some time to figure it out and when they do, it goes down one level. They are in a passage filled with doors leading into dormitory rooms. More salvaging and looting- Zed finds two cigarette lighters and an artifact that looks like a bracelet with tiny gem-like buttons under a tiny metallic grille. They decide to figure it out later when they have the time.

Marcus was keeping watch in the passage and sees the door at the end of the open. This time it’s a utility droid- carrying the still-unconscious Orua exiting from the room. It disappears down the corridor.

They know they’re back in the labyrinthine center of the structure but they have little aught choice.

They just have to keep following the ‘bots.

Final note: Pardon my writing style if it seems I'm rather disjointed in posting this one. Apart from the fact that this was a pretty loose game, I'm still not 100% operational as I write this.

Have a good week ahead of you all!

Monday, March 1, 2010

The New Generation

Apologies for a fairly long lull in posting. I’ve been downed by a bad cough and cold and am only just recovering now. I foresee that I may not be able to continue with this week’s scheduled game on Friday, what with the need to take things easy and more work that’s come in. On top of this, one of my legal assistants suddenly resigned, leaving us with a lot of backlog.

There’s always next week, so I hope my players bear with me on this. It seems I don’t get sick as much as I used to but when I do manage to catch a whiff of a bug the effects tend to be, well, debilitating.

As I spent most of the weekend just sleeping and resting, I was awakened yesterday afternoon by my four year old son, Joshua who grabbed a book from my bookshelf at the head of our stairwell at home. My son then sat down right in front of me and opened the book with great seriousness. He went on to start relating to me what he believed the book was about. With my brain still emerging from sleep and fuzzy from the meds I had to ingest, I remembered him talking about animals and sick creatures. He went on for about fifteen minutes and started counting the pages of the voluminous tome as well.

I finally could not restrain myself and, ambling over to Joshua, checked out what book he selected for that day. On earlier occasions, he pretty much did the same thing with my copies of Anderson’s ‘Young Flandry’, a collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s tales and ‘Germany’s Luftwaffe Ground Divisions’ by Osprey books.

Naturally, yesterday was quite different. As you can see in the enclosed photo, Joshua’s selection for Sunday afternoon was my very much dog-eared edition of Bruce Streling’s Schismatrix. Unless I am mistaken, I picked this one up during a trip to Melbourne, Australia in May 2000.

I’d like to think my kid is on the way to reading the great classics of SF and history. Who knows? Is it too far fetched to wish that this can get him started on this ‘gaming thing’ his dad is so gaga about?