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Fear and loathing in Russia, with demons

Well, despite a semi-hectic real life schedule leading me to not get as much prep work done as I would have liked, I’ve managed to run a few non-horrible rpg sessions. After a long while of not running anything, it’s slowly coming back. I guess GM:ing is sort of riding a bike – you can get better at it over time, but once learned you never really forget the skill. Also like the bike, now and then you crash and fall in a spectacular fashion no matter how good you are…

Anyway, last Tuesday we had the first proper session of an Exalted game. The story starts in Nexus, and I had a bunch of plot threads semi-ready and went with what the players decided to do. Mostly things went in expected directions, but there were quite a few surprises to keep me on my toes. Apparently things seemed to progress in a logical fashion, which is nice, considering that behind the scenes I was desperately trying to integrate multiple fast-mutating plot threads together. We’ll see how this goes; at the moment the characters have recovered a few (apparently minor) artifacts and are trying to figure out the meaning of a symbol which gives some of them foreboding flashbacks from the past. Things are made interesting by the fact that the party isn’t exactly in agreement about how best to proceed… White Noise’s stealthy and paranoid approach to things is not quite in synch with Khamyn’s “go forth my followers and fetch me information!” deal. Oh, and they have a First Circle demon in their basement, happily building a nest from various spiky bits. Will the Dragon-Bloods come gunning after the party looking for stolen loot? Will the Wanderer decide to go “fuck this” and revert back to the Immaculate faith? Will Damien the Black Sword decide to pay the brothel another visit (“to gather some more info!”)? Stay tuned.

On Sunday I ran the one-shot scenario Machine Tractor Station Kharkov-37 to a bunch of people, with good results. As expected, the scenario worked very well and the pregen characters had just the right amount of built-in friction and mutual paranoia to keep things from being too easy. Most of the game went in a straightforward fashion, with creepy stuff getting discovered bit by bit and the characters going into “oh shit, let’s leave now mode (smart of them). Things took a sudden and Paranoia-style turn at the end, when the TASS leader decided that the Commissar knew too much and tried to discreetly execute him. The keen-sensed Commissar threw a spanner into the works, however, by partially dodging the bullet (literally) and running for the trucks, trailing blood and shouting “help, he’s gone mad!”. At the same time, the TASS leader was shouting something to the tune of “stop, traitor!” and confusion reigned supreme. Things wound up with the Red Army medic blowing the TASS thug’s head off with a rifle and with the Red Army group doing a “tactical retreat” from the spot. All in all, a grim but fun DeltaGreen-meets-Paranoia game session. I also used the game as an excuse to test Stolze and Detwiller’s Nemesis game system instead of using BRP, and it worked pretty well. Needs some tweaking, the stock skill list isn’t that hot and this one is probably much better – but overall is seems like a solid engine for low-power horror games. Seeing as the same engine is used in the superhero game Wild Talents, it apparently also works for high-power stuff. Oh, and Stolze is working on Reign, which uses the same “ORE” system to drive some sort of political fantasy game. It’s pretty versatile, though of course needs tweaks depending on what sort of game you want to run.

In any case, I think this became my system of choice for Cthulhu-type games, it works and is lightweight enough. The next time I use it I’ll probably give the alternate combat rules a try, they sound like they might work (even) better than the default ones – which aren’t bad by any means.

On Thursday we’ll be doing Exalted again. I’ll have to find some time today to prepare a bit, since tomorrow night I’ll probably be playing VTES at Valter Cafe – Andrea of EC2006 organizing fame is coming to Finland (from Italy) and we’ve promised him gaming company.

Published on by Orava, tags , , , , , , , ,

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    by WinstonP

    Thanks for the kind words- somebody else pointed me to your blog (when you mentioned buying MTSKh-37) and I’ve been dropping by waiting for the results. Too much time on my hands perhaps.

    Ah yes, Liubimova… I pulled the names from a book about the purge of the various sciences in the 30s, and didn’t realize name endings depended on gender. Ooops. I must put together that errata page…

    The fact that the party destroyed itself even before the Big Bad arrived it priceless.

    Feel free to drop by Yog-sothoth.com and have a look see at what happened to other folks at the Station. There’s one full write-up (the same as posted to rpg.net) as well as a few others.

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    by Orava

    Wow, the author himself :). First off: that was an excellent scenario, and I don’t wonder at all about all the praise it has gotten. Tons of detail, excellent flavor, and very creepy in places. It’s strange it’s “just” a monograph at the moment, that thing warrants a “proper” print run in a more high-quality format. It’s very, very good and something to be proud of.

    The ORE conversion was pretty straightforward, I found some conversion guidelines on the Nemesis size and used them with some twiddling here and there. Thanks to the detailed PC character descriptions, figuring out the failed/hardener notches on the Madness Meter was also pretty easy. No problems in that regard.

    About the scenario: without giving away too many spoilers here… I can’t recall a single favorite short moment, but the arrival of the characters at the site and the slow discovery of bits and pieces of disturbing stuff, with the mounting realization of the true extent of the horror that had happened here, was great fun to run. The PCs split up and I was running various search parties in tandem, switching viewpoints now and then. Worked quite well I think, though there was some idle time for some players.

    We had period Russian music playing at low volume on an iPod, and one of the players had lived in Russia (USSR) when she was younger (and no, she didn’t catch too many outright mistakes other than some naming weirdness). We also had cabbage soup and some vodka shots :). Thing is, we’re in Finland and everyone here could well appreciate the difficulty of moving two trucks through half-muddy, half-icy roads, and in general had a pretty good idea of what the environment described in the scenario was like… maybe it wasn’t quite as “alien” to us as it would be to some U.S. players. The social situation was, of course, quite alien; something we had read about (a bit) at school but otherwise was part of “something horrible that happened in the USSR was back then”.

    So, fun was had by all, and I can’t find much to criticise in the scenario. Sure, some names were a bit “wrong” to a native, and some small details here and there were left a bit murky, but nothing major; I usually find a lot more to nitpick about in pre-gen scenarios. The amount of detail given was truly wonderful, in general. There was a small metagame problem at one point: the discovery of the page of text in the truck (near the body) prompted my players to start planning to do the smart thing, i.e. leave before nightfall, make camp far away, return in the morning. Fortunately their internal schisms disrupted this plan, but it might well have worked. I suspect a lot of players will have the same idea, so maybe having that plaintext journal page be a bit harder to find (so that it would not easily be found the first day) might be a worthwhile tweak to make? Dunno.

    An amusing detail: the PCs never even saw the Big Bad in the scenario, everything ended the first day they got to the site. The game still worked, the creepy surroundings played the part of the “monster” quite well enough, and the PCs did the rest ;).

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    by Bret Kramer

    I’m glad you enjoyed the scenario. Sounds like things did go according to plan. How much work did it take to adapt it to the ORE system? Any favorite moments?

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