Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Luster Record-Journal: World-Building and Adventure Hooks

Tomorrow starts the actual play portion of the summer Shivewhen campaign. As stated earlier, I'm going to allow the players to guide where the campaign heads once they arrive in town. Based on their character builds, it's looking like this is going to be an investigation-themed campaign, but I want to allow for other possibilities for the game to develop.

One of the ways I intend to both introduce adventure hooks and to build up the unique setting of Shiverwhen is through the local newspaper. Available for a pittance, the Luster Record-Journal is published weekly and contains all the local news, travel advisories, and just plain gossip pertinent to life in Luster. In game design terms, it also provides the illusion of depth, the idea that the world is not a static place awaiting the PCs to decide what to do next. Some of the entries will be mere "fluff" or red herrings, but others may lead to new adventuring avenues or disclose services or allies available to the krew. Below is the first issue, which will be distributed at the game table tomorrow night.
The Luster Record-Journal 
Est. 4136 S.C.Vol. 47; Number 17 
Sabotage Confirmed in Mine Explosion 
The Luster Record-Journal has learned that the explosion which occurred last week at the Cokefire Combine #7 Mine was an act of sabotage and not the accidental detonation of excavation explosives as first reported. Guild-Captain Mortmer Shargborn confirmed the deliberate act during a public appearance outside of the Cokefire Combine offices in the city of Smoke, late Dransday afternoon. The explosion, which occurred during a shift change at the mine, has closed the site’s primary shaft and resulted in damages estimated at twelve-thousand slokens. No workers were killed in the blast, but seven were treated for minor injuries caused by flying debris.  Although no group has assumed responsibility for the sabotage, Tarkelhouse Agency contract-adjunct Freemor Twist has stated he believes the anti-industrial organization known as “The Tommy-Knockers” is behind the destruction. The Record-Journal will continue to cover the Tarkelhouse Agency’s investigation and bring you news as it develops. 
Luster Prepares for 165th Founders’ Day Celebration 
Preparations continue this week for the upcoming Founders’ Day Celebration. Workmen are refurbishing the town park’s bandstand and performing much-needed repairs along Gage Street. Residents are reminded that businesses and civic offices will be closed on Founders’ Day and that the celebration parade begins promptly at 10 o’clock in front of the Maiorhil’s Hall. Floats still requiring approval by the Founders’ Commission should apply for review no later than Gharday. 
Luster Historical Lodge Re-Opens this Week 
Luster’s long-closed Historical Lodge is schedule to open its doors once again, an event much anticipated by local scholars and history-philes. Bookman Aldor Rastson has confirmed that the final repairs of the Lodge are complete, and the repository will be open to visitors in time for the Founders’ Day Celebration. Local residents will recall that the Lodge suffered great damage from a fire that nearly engulfed the prestigious building last season. Although Bookman Rastson has informed this reporter that many of Luster’s old records were destroyed in the fire, a number of historical documents emerged unscathed from the blaze and, thanks to the generous contributions of benefactors, the Lodge will once again continue its mission of the accumulation and preservation of documents, artifacts, and other ephemera of historical significance to Luster and the Superstition Mountains region. 
Travel Warning: Mossies Sighted Near Highridge Turnpike 
Sharp-eyed travelers spotted at least three Mossies moving amongst the trees and scree-piles close to the Highridge Turnpike yesterday, presumably a fam-clan of the creatures looking for sustenance at lower elevations. Travelers intent on journeying along the turnpike are urged to take caution when crossing roadway bridges near the Glitter Freshet, close to where the giants were sighted. Although rarely dangerous to residents, Mossies are known to inadvertently damage structural supports on bridges and other spans, and attacks on humans by hungry specimens have been documented. 
Breakpile’s Repairs and Junk: Transportation repaired, Faded machines bought, and batteries recharged. Smithy work done on premises. #16 Atonement Street. Hours of Operation: 8 to 6 daily; other hours by appointment. 
Audition for New Season Variety Review: Dancers, singers, musicians, and comedic actors are now being auditioned for the upcoming theatrical season’s presentation of Ambleshod’s Cadre of Enticements. For information, see Jekins Ambleshod, Regency Theatre; G/D/K, 12 to 2. 
Artifacts, Documents, and Familiar Relics Sought: Have an interesting heirloom or family document you wish preserved for posterity AND receive ample recompense for? The Luster Historical Lodge seeks just such objects to rebuild its collection. See Bookman Rastson, 37 Straight Run Rd. Office Hours: 10 to 10. Ring bell.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Summer Campaign Begins

An average day in the Superstition Mountains
With my Monday night group down a player for the summer, we’ve put the Pathfinder Kingmaker campaign on hiatus until August and will be playtesting Shiverwhen as the summer campaign of 2013. I suspect that, unless the wheels all fall off, this will lead to a finalizing of the mechanics and the development of material to fill the holes in the rules. I’m very excited to see if the game works as a prolonged campaign instead of the single shot playtests I’ve been running.

Since it was a new game to everyone but yours truly, we spent last night generating characters and doing an overview of the setting to get everyone on the same page. The character generation process took some time, mostly because there’s only a single copy of the rules and the game has a skill point allotment process, but that is to be expected. I can whip up characters in fifteen minutes, but then again, I wrote the damn game. With familiarity and a spare rulebook to share, I expect this will be the usual time required for the generation process in the future. A short character generation is one of my many design goals for the game, after all.

Rather than lay a lot of groundwork at the start, I’ve decided that I’d customize the parameters of the campaign depending on what the players decided to run. One of the strengths of Shiverwhen is that, unlike D&D which is rooted firmly in its wargame roots, both experience and the all-import accumulation of social prestige can be acquired through a variety of methods and not just be killing monsters and acquiring loot. From the looks of things, the summer campaign is going to focus a lot on mystery-solving, experimentation and creation, and exploration rather than combat.

My three players eschewed the combat-oriented roles for more intellectual ones. This came about because everyone decided on doing a “palette-cleansing” campaign before diving back into the miniature-pushing battles of Kingmaker, and I whole-heartedly agreed. After giving them the premise for the campaign’s start, the players ended up creating the following three types of characters:

An Eclectician: As noted before, these folks are the mad tinkerers, mechanics, and gear-heads that can create strange gizmos and keep machines from Fading in Shiverwhen. His directing goal is to become a respected mechanic and weird-tech handyman that everyone comes to when they need things fixing. As the player has been itching to try out my Shiverwhen-based gladiator miniatures game, ‘Naut Fight!, I suspect there’s an additional underlying goal of building his own ghost-inhabited fighting machine to pit against the Lightning Lords.

An Uncanny: Another role that’s seen playtesting, our Uncanny is the group’s psychic who can read emotions and occasionally (10% of the time, anyway) use psychometry on objects and places. Given that it looks like we’ll be in gumshoe/Scooby-Doo mode for the campaign, this should come in handy. Having a psychic in the group should be a challenge for me as a game master, too, and I’m looking forward to meeting it.

An Archaic: This is a brand new role, one I’ve been meaning to introduce and literally banged the rules out for two hours before the session. The Archaic is an interesting role, combining aspects of the archeologist, detective, and scholar professions into a single career. The Archaic specializes in research and intellectual pursuits, and can perform preternatural actions to benefit his studies. The player is interested in the detective aspect of the role and looks like he has plans of becoming a law-enforcement agent of some sort. This gives me the perfect opportunity to introduce my version of the Pinkertons into Shiverwhen, as well as further flesh out the various repositories of information available to denizens of the autumnal lands.

The premise for the campaign is that the three players are all members of a “krew” out “on the prove,” the probationary period of fourth-class citizenship all residents of Shiverwhen undergo when they come of age. Having heard of opportunities to make a name for themselves in the town of Luster, situated high in the Superstition Mountains, the trio arrives in the community after riding a boxcar along the O & M Railroad line. They’ll literally hit the ground running, and provided they dodge the railroad yard’s “crushers,” will need to find lodgings and start sniffing around for opportunities to build a reputation.

My plan is to issue a weekly handout representing the town’s local newspaper and seed it with adventure ideas, then let the players decide what they’d like to investigate. There’ll be other adventure hooks along the way to nibble at, but until they finalize their short to mid-term goals, I’ll give them a lot to work with.

Next week begins the actual play portion of the campaign. Expect posts about that campaign, actual play reports, and new material, monsters, and other such ephemera after the PCs experience it for themselves.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

“The Perils of the Book Trade” Introductory Scenario

NTRPG Con marked the third time I’ve run “The Perils of the Book Trade,” a scenario intended to introduce beginners to Shiverwhen and demonstrate the overall “familiar but not familiar” theme that (hopefully) permeates the setting. It’s a simple investigation adventure, one that features some combat, but is equally about meeting the inhabitants of Shiverwhen, seeing some of its sights, and putting the old thinking cap one rather than murdering monsters in holes in the ground. So far, it’s been well-received by those who’ve play it and it provides just enough danger to be thrilling, while not so challenging to sour new arrivals to the game.
"Perils of the Book Trade" underway

The scenario involves the PCs getting hired to do a little pest-control at a newly-opened business in Shiverwhen’s twisted reflection of New Orleans, the city of Rowd (also known as the “City of Midnight” due to its nocturnal economy and lifestyle). As new arrivals to the city, the PCs are living in a shanty town along the riverfront, desperate for cash to buy their next meal and the opportunity to start building a reputation to better elevate them up Shiverwhen’s very important social ladder. Thankfully, once a thin, scarecrow of a man wearing a scholar’s coat and a natty silk cravat drops into their midst, the opportunity for both money and a patron appears.

The characters swiftly learn that something is in the process of putting this gentleman out of business, running loose amongst the man’s book collection and literally devouring the tomes found therein. Somebody needs to put down these menaces before his entire library is consumed and it needs to be done now! Like themselves, the businessman is a recent arrival to the city and that makes his quandary low priority for Rowd’s status-conscious constables. With no one else to turn to, the hiring of down-on-their-luck status seekers is his only hope.

From that humble beginning, the PCs find themselves contesting a clandestine scheme to drive the man out of business. Following scant clues, the characters journey to several locations within Rowd, questioning suspects, and trying to put together the reason why the humble businessman has made an enemy. Eventually, if their efforts are successful, the characters learn the location of the masterminds behind the scheme and confront them in a ruin outside of town. Depending on how fast they solve the crime, this final battle can be either an evenly matched contest or one involving horrors best left alone.

Of the three times I’ve run this scenario, the players have defeated the bad guys once, ran out of time once, and been taken captive and had to be rescued by another group once. The capture of the PCs led to the businessman’s death and the destruction of his business in a nasty fire. Hopefully, the fourth group to run through “Perils” at Conneticon 2013 will prove victorious.

D10s, D6s, glass beads, and Mountain Dew powered the game

“Perils of the Book Trade” originally featured six pre-generated “roles” for the players to choose from. These were:

The Ballisturgist: a would-be gunslinger who has the best weapon available—provided it doesn’t succumb to the Fade or he gets caught carrying it.

The Combatant: a melee fighter that swings a wood axe in battle and can take a lot of hurting before succumbing to his wounds.

The Uncanny: a psychic with the power to “read” people and objects, garnering clues as to their current emotional state or who has touched them last. The Uncanny also understands the secret language of old buildings and is able to question a structure about certain events.

The Kindler: the group’s cheerleader, healer, and good luck charm rolled into one. The Kindler can heal injuries, increase the chance of succeeding at tasks, and allow a failed attempt one more chance.

The Esotericist: a student of the occult capable of performing several minor magical actions, including divination, cleansing objects of malicious enchantments, and providing a small boost to the odds of succeeding in an action.

The Scrivener: a writer able to literally revise reality to better suit the characters, allowing the Scrivener to make small changes to people, items, or conditions simply by putting pen to paper.

When I submitted “Perils” to the events list for NTRPG Con, I was asked if I could run the game for eight players instead of the usual six. Luckily, I had some other roles I wanted to introduce into Shiverwhen, and increasing the number of potential playtesters allowed me to add two more roles to the pre-gen pool. These new additions were:

The Eclectician: an arcanic-mechanic capable of not only staving off the Fading of machines and other complex devices, but possessing the power to sabotage them. The Eclectician is armed with a gimcrack “stun gun” to temporarily incapacitate opponents.

The Sorsinger: part folk-singer, part bluesman, and part exorcist, the Sorsinger knows some of the old songs, and those songs have power. With the strum of his guitar, he can ferret out Nihoul’s agents, calm savage beasts, and hide in a crowd with preternatural ability.

Down in Texas, the players chose to run the Ballisturgist, the Combatant, the Kindler, the Scrivener, the Eclectician, and the Sorsinger, leaving the Uncanny and the Esotericist behind. Despite not having those two roles in the midst (who would have greatly aided the hunt for clues), the PCs were able to track down the bad guys and stop things before the really nasty stuff happened.

While the original six roles had already been playtested, this was the first time the Eclectician and the Sorsinger saw play and the results were mixed. The Eclectician worked out fine. His gimcrack stun gun helped out in battle and his familiarity with machines played a vital role at one point. The Sorsinger wasn’t such a success and the blame is entirely my own. The Sorsinger had a repertoire of songs available to him, but only one of them saw any use due to the construction of the scenario. I should have provided that role with one or two other songs that could have an impact on the investigation, but I planned poorly. And since the Sorsinger isn’t really a combat role, that left the poor player with not a lot to do throughout the session. Nevertheless, the playtester enjoyed the game and provided me with valuable feedback on how to smooth over some of the rough spots. So both a very big “thank you” and an apology go to Nakia Pope for being the guinea pig and official first sorsinger ever in Shiverwhen.

As an interesting aside, “Perils of the Book Trade” was recorded in its entirety in audio format as part of one player’s scholarly pursuits and parts of the transcript may appear in his final dissertation for future researchers to peruse and cite. That’s a pretty cool cherry to top an excellent playtest session with.
Ultimately, I intent to include “Perils of the Book Trade” with the game as the intro/sample adventure that accompanies it. I’m also considering the possibility of releasing a “quick start” version of the game (and yes, unfortunately that means the “cripple-ware” version) with “Perils” attached, much like Chaosium has done with the classic “The Haunted House” (AKA “The Haunting”) with their Call of Cthulhu quick start rules. The adventure is easy enough to change to suit any game starting in a large town or small city, making it both an excellent introduction to the game itself and a Shiverwhen campaign. Time will tell what route I pursue.

Let me close with a “thank you” to the NTRPG Con 2013 playtesters: Ryan Beam, Richard J. LeBlanc, Jr., Nakia Pope, Nick Mizer, Mike Reed, and Kelly Rowe. You all contributed to making Shiverwhen a better roleplaying game and you’ll be duly credited in the book.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A Playtester's Impressions of Shiverwhen

One of the six players who sat down to participate in my NTRPGCon session of Shiverwhen has posted his impressions and evaluations of the scenario and rules over on the blog, Save vs. Dragon. I'm extremely pleased that his response was so positive and that the game and setting seems to be doing what is intended. It makes me believe I'm definitely on the right track and that there is an audience for the somewhat jumbled and esoteric place that is Shiverwhen. You can read that post here.

My favorite quote from the post has to be:
That's our fault, not Michael's (who is a really great GM, BTW). Ironically, our bass ackward investigation style seemed to allow us to try out some of the games talents and skills that are meant to be used outside of combat... and it's the character types, their talents and skills, and how they require the player to get involved, which really breed the game's flavor.
Not only does it give me props as a game-master (or to use the game's lingo, Tender), but hints at the fact that Shiverwhen is more than just murder-hobos amok and it's designed to draw the player into the setting. In Shiverwhen, there's a specific mechanic that (hopefully) keeps the skill-based challenge resolution aspect of the game from being simply "I use my XX skill. I succeed. What happens?" I'll have more on that in the weeks ahead, but in the meanwhile, please enjoy a first-hand look at Shiverwhen not penned by myself.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Ushered Back to Shiverwhen

My poor forever-autumnal world has endured a great deal of neglect for the past few months. The reason for this is the usual pile of projects that can be hewn away at but never completely defeated, much like the strange phenomenon known as the Dwine that plagues Shiverwhen. However, like a shaft of faded sunlight breaking through the cold morning mists that obscure the valleys of the Superstition Mountains, hope has been sighted.

This past weekend saw me running the second public playtest of my nascent roleplaying game down at the North Texas RPG Con. The feedback was predominantly positive, both in regards to the setting and the system that powers it. The negatives all concerned aspects of the game that I, myself, have issues with or had to do with basic plot elements of the playtest scenario I presented. It gives me confidence that the course I’ve charted is generally sound and that, although tweaking and revisions are inevitable, I’m mostly hitting the moving target of the game’s design.

The most surprising and simultaneously pleasing development which occurred at the playtest was that the players grasped what I was going for with the Shiverwhen setting. Considering the vast array of eclectic inspirational sources that went into creating Shiverwhen, I anticipated that the game world would not be quickly accessible or comprehensible to someone coming into it cold (no pun intended). I’m still wrestling with the perfect elevator pitch for the game, meaning I’m without a concise introduction to set newcomers’ minds inside the game’s environment. Despite this lack, the basic premise I gave at the start of the event put everyone in the same frame of mind and excited their imaginations as well. One playtester later reported he’d been thinking a lot about Shiverwhen, both the place and the game, ever since the session ended. Hell, even Erol Otus told me he loved the name.

Buoyed by the positive reception of Shiverwhen down in Texas, I’m going to attempt to revitalize this blog in the weeks ahead. Not only did the playtest rekindle my desire to develop the game more and continue my efforts in the gentle art of world-building, but I’ve got a summer-long playtest campaign schedule to start next week. With one of my regular players out of state for the summer, I proposed the idea of playing Shiverwhen throughout the hot summer months until he returns and we can pick up our current campaign where we left off. Thankfully, my remaining players agreed and this coming Monday will see character generation and an introduction to the campaign’s sandbox setting. From there, anything might happen (including the complete disintegration of the campaign, but let’s not think autumn thoughts in that regard). Since there’s no Shiverwhen material available other than what I create, I suspect I’ll be cranking out ideas for the campaign, most of which will serve as fodder for this blog. Expect an increase in posting here throughout the summer as I share that material, session reports, and other items of Shiverwhen interest here.

I’ll begin with a brief recap of the NTRPG Con playtest in the next day or two. As I’m running this same scenario next month at Connecticon, it won’t be a detailed report, but it will hopefully demonstrate what Shiverwhen is about and what type of stories are possible in the place where autumn never ends. Following that will be a post about some of the game mechanics, a frightful inhabitant or three, and a post about the beginning of the playtest campaign. I hope you’ll find what is forthcoming both entertaining and enlightening, resulting in a whetting of your own desire for a taste of my next big RPG vanity project once Stonehell is complete.

Until then, stay warm, friends, keep an eye on the shadows, and sleep to the sound of rustling leaves outside your windows.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Post-Con Recovery

I'm back from my "three cons in four weeks" tour and getting settled back in. I came home with a few projects awaiting me and the need to do a final run on the remainder of the Stonehell Dungeon sequel. Once those are complete, I can devote more time to developing Shiverwhen material. I just wanted to ensure folks the project continues forward, even if I am silent from time to time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Gallery of Fading Dreams

I have very specific ideas of what Shiverwhen looks like. The landscape, people, tools, and other particulars run through my head and there exists certain parameters to help guide my decisions whether or not an idea or image is Shiverwhen material. Unfortunately, although I possess a modicum of ability to describe such imagery with the written word, I lack the talent to depict what parades through my brain in other mediums.

In order to combat this handicap, I keep a folder full of photographs, illustrations, and other depictions that I encounter online which best summarize my Shiverwhen ideals. The lion's share of the files in that folder come from The Retronaut, a wonderful storehouse of obscure images from the past. Other pictures have been culled from a variety of online sources, including Facebook groups dedicated to images from abandoned asylums, crumbling buildings, Gothic art, and similar, less mainstream topics.

To better express my design goals when crafting the Shiverwhen world, I'll post some images from that file here from time to time as part of the "Gallery of Fading Dreams." Some will be horrific, others beautiful  but each likely bears a hint of odd incongruity, for that is the trait that best defines Shiverwhen.

The following are a small sample of Shiverwhen's population, the people you might meet as you explore that autumnal world.