Thursday, June 22, 2023

Morrow Project - Damocles, Review #2

Damocles, The Morrow Project.jpg

Onto module two! The first post of this series can be found here.


This module takes place once again in Michigan, this time eschewing the warmer southern portion of the state for the pine forests and rugged hills of the Upper Peninsula. Again players take charge of a Recon Team, the most basic Morrow Project player unit, this time with a slightly different cold-weather adapted load-out.

As is typical, players awaken in their bolthole (slavishly described with technical detail as to its functioning, despite this being unlikely to factor into play of the module) with little information to guide them beside outdated maps. Presumably motivated by exploration, or seeking some of the project caches listed on the map, they will leave and wander out into the harsh winter of the new world.

The module bills itself as a sandbox, and as such loosely describes the region of the Upper Peninsula the players will find themselves within. Features of note are the harshness of the terrain, massive wolf packs, gangs of brigands descended from "cons" escaped from a penitentiary during the War, a nearby outpost of lake-going shipmen, a distant off-map university town with steam engine level technology, and of course the Damocles compound.

The compound and its titular inhabitant, a military AI named Damocles, take up about half the module's description after the broad strokes of the region and the loosely keyed town of Wittsend (plus inhabitants). It is, in all respects, the intended locus of play.


Very basic, very homemade, 1980s chic. Two columns black and white. Minimum illustrations or maps. Some odd placement of sections, but for overall coherent and functional.

The supply caches are a good start to the sandbox, giving players immediate goals, and potential additional resources. Although, fascinatingly, the actual contents of the supply caches is left entirely up to the Referee. They are labelled on the player's outdated maps.

The module, in usually Morrow Project fashion, slavishly describes each and every component of the players kit, armament, and vehicles down to how many ounces of sunscreen the players have. While being a tad irksome to my usual tastes, this extreme detail isn't entirely without merit. The core premise of the game is that players are some of the last vestiges of the modern (at the time of writing) day now stranded in an alien world. What is in their kits is quite literally all they have of the old world (ignoring supply caches and such). As such it makes the play experience more visceral, particularly since the modules hold an unspoken but obvious expectation that players will leverage their detailed gear list in trade with the locals. And to this end the Recon Team’s detailed kit is actually quite useful.

The module opens up in the depths of winter, January to be precise, and this specific choice of season does well to lend the environment a distinct character of its own. The sketch of local terrain and clime makes sure to describe plenty of hazards and challenges for players to confront.

The real good stuff comes in the sketch of the region, which unlike the previous module Riverton with its isolated impoverished farmers, has far more ties to a wider world as well as a unique aesthetic to the region.

Notable details include a university city-state in Marquette to the northwest which is said to have steam engines and has attempted to introduce coinage to the region (with limited success). Details about schooling are given, including the note that local villages and woodsmen send their most promising youths on pilgrimage to the Northern Michigan University in Marquette to study (with notes on the particular subjects most valued and how the University has would-be scholars help maintain its fields, all very fun lil ways-of-life details). There is a widespread usage of flintlock rifles and muskets for hunting and a cottage industry maintaining them. A sketch of local governmental structures (or rather the lack of) is made with an emphasis on informal laws and appointed mediator-judges. Books are said to be valued, but rare, and apparently Shakespeare, Nietzsche and other classics are very popularly known and discussed. Delightfully it seems Ojibwa has made a comeback, intermingling with English and Finnish as the local dialect of choice.
One faction (though I hesitate to call them such, as they are not fleshed out enough to be a real faction, but they are certainly an implied faction) is the “cons” who are roving bandit bands formed from exiles and descendants of convicts who broke out of the state penitentiary. They are described as having "no society to speak of" and "initiation rituals" which, yeah, pretty typical 1980s attitudes towards imprisoned populations. Interestingly however, and in contradiction to the previous, it is briefly noted that the “cons” keep families in their camps and that books and horses are said to be the items most commonly traded for by these brigand bands, which has some delightfully implications. Another good detail is that there's a common belief in the brigand-gangs having a big conspiratorial alliance, which is said to be untrue. A good touch.
The social effects of prolonged raiding and low level warfare between the brigand gangs and settlements is also a good addition, as it further characterizes the settlement pattern of the region and its people. A lack of isolated farmsteads, walled towns, people going out to farm in groups and returning at dusk. These are all useful details for a Referee attempting to portray this post-apocalyptic society. And offer up some potential hooks.
There are also the Lakers, a group of nomadic ship-people who get a little mini-section. They’re wintering on a nearby island (connected by lake ice to the mainland), are suspicious and armed, but potentially hold large amounts of information concerning the broader world as well as connections to it for players.

The village of Wittsend (the only described settlement sadly) is presented well, in terms of what the players from the past will notice: lack of power lines and such (being stripped for metal), more barns. And has a complement of colorful npcs organized into lil factions with their own wants.

And lastly, there is the titular Damocles. An ancient military AI busy squatting in its old compound fulfilling ancient directives while sending out strange robotic scouts to plunder metal for repairs from the surrounding area. Damocles's compound forms an open ended mini-dungeon for players to deal with. It is heavily (and I mean heavily) armed and there are extensive notes about the history of the compound, its fancy tech, and features and some neat (if clumsy) storytelling via the various corpses of the long dead base personnel and the commander’s journal.

Damocles bills itself as a sandbox, a space for Referee to build a campaign off of. And it almost, almost gets there. Yet I find it to have fallen short, lacking a robust framework of factions or points of interest or intersecting motivations or anything to really sustain long term play. It alludes to these things, yes, and sketches out a potential sandbox. But the actual work of filling it is left, in a very early roleplaying game fashion, to the Referee.

In truth there is just Wittsend, Damocles, and some threads leading off the edge of the map which is otherwise empty.

I would probably need to be more familiar with the cultural milieu of the 80s in order to understand some of the stuff going on with the module's treatment of Amerindians and such. I've mostly glossed over that, and the bits with the Finns as well, but the way the Morrow Project approaches ethnicity will come up again in later modules and while not egregiously bad it's certainly... interesting. Depictions are very stereotypical even if intended as friendly.


The Morrow Project is different from most other post-apocalyptic media, particularly in the RPG-o-sphere, where most works tend to run either gonzo (Gamma World, Mad Max) or at least cinematic (Powered by the Apocalypse, Walking Dead). Morrow Project meanwhile engages with realism on an interesting level, being concerned with such details as farming and clothing and infrastructure. This often generates tension however, with the other half of the game, which is very much about heavily armed players blowing and shooting shit up. Nominally however, the game is about “rebuilding civilization” and as such is concerned with infrastructure, hygiene, farming, and other such features of the apocalypse.

It’s what has made me so fixated on the game and its modules and often what frustrates me with it, because I don’t want another several pages of statted up guns I want more ethnographic sketches about these post-apocalyptic societies!

Overall, despite its flaws, the Damocles module sparked my imagination. With a bit of work it can be expanded into an actual sandbox worth running and most of the ideas it does present are interesting and fun, there simply is a need for more of them in order to flesh out the environs. Having read it, I am enticed to find out how players would interact with the contents, and in that regard it is a success.


I really like how the Lakers exist in this module, and particularly how they tie in with the local glassblower, it's an actual proper seed for sandbox intrigue and offers a way to draw players into the wider setting. And it does this through a criminally underused historical industry, that being the production and trade of glassware.


The map for this module places it firmly in the region east of Marquette, just below grand island and just south of Munising, Mi (the rough location of which is marked as 'ruins' on the map). Continuing the Morrow Project tradition of loosely copying real world locations. The module even recommends purchasing a copy of USGS MAP NL 16-5 for Marquette, which is a charming little detail.


It's nice to see Michigan’s wolf population has returned after the nuclear war. Personally I would have gone with some mixture of feral dogs interbred with coyotes and wolves.


For some reason the module uses “upanite” which is an odd exonym, given that “yooper” is the commonly accepted term for the Upper Peninsula's inhabitants since the 70’s at least and sounds much better to the ear.


Damocles is, for its flaws, much better tied into a region than Riverton which mostly just nebulously existed all on its lonesome. With Wittsend there is a sense of being placed in a broader world, and I’d love to expand the Upper Peninsula as a setting using this module as a base.


It's strange to read about harsh, all consuming winters and omnipresent cold when the Upper Peninsula of my lifetime has gotten warmer and wetter even in deep winter due to climate change.This cold will actually come up in future modules, as it ties into a bit of a cross-module theme of an oncoming ice-age triggered by the nuclear war.


While mostly a sandbox, the module has some odd bits of railroading, or rather not so much a railroad as an expected unfolding of events it presents to the Referee.


The encounter with the local boy, in buckskins, busy cursing, shooting, reloading, and shooting his flintlock at the tank with robotic arms currently dissembling his snowmobile is a fantastic introduction to the new world for the players and makes me want to run the module for just that bit alone.


I enjoy  the sense of growth and rebuilding in the module. People are hoping for things, have dreams, the townsfolk want a school, the glassblowers are hoping to make a trade deal that will get their glassware traded all across the lakes. It fits well with the player's presumed mission goals of helping rebuild civilization.

Tuesday, May 2, 2023

Wizards Rule The World (badly)

Wizards, that's wizard with a capital W, tend to be egomaniacs. It comes with knowing esoteric secrets to bend the universe to your will. They tend to get big ideas, big appetites.
Presume for a moment, that there is an ambitious wizard. A dark lord if you will. They've set up their fortress, mustered armies, and brewed up monsters to serve them. Pretty soon their expanding their personal fiefdom and waging war on the world at large, or at least those bits closest to them. If their a particularly smart wizard they might even try to play in the local political playground of shifting allegiances and motives.
Eventually though, more often than not, the wizard unsettles the existing power structures enough that someone, or an alliance of someone's comes along and kicks their door in, blows up their fortress and scatters their armies and creations.
The wizard likely dies and the remnants of their little empire become brigands and wandering monsters that plague the countryside, if they aren't recruited into the retinues of winning side that is.
In celebration of Pig-Faced orcs | Original D&D Discussion
In the wars wake veterans of the winning side might well become monster-hunters or mercenaries or brigands themselves and form a class of wandering rogues, neer-do-wells, and problem solvers. Adventurers.

Meanwhile the dark fortress lies in ruin, but a ruin still packed with the accrued wealth, occult artifacts, and other seductive treasures that the winning armies missed during the sack. Inevitably such plunder lures your usual miscellany of scoundrels. Perhaps one or two are magic users themselves and they dig up arcane secrets out of ruins, ally with remnants of the old wizard's armies, and starts the whole process over again. 

Now iterate, repeat this process for a couple hundred years till the ruins of wizard fortresses and holdings litter the landscape. Every time an upstart new witch king is smacked down you have shattered armies bumping around and suddenly a market flooded with arcane artifacts and treasures.

What about the previously mentioned victors, those powers that be? 

More likely than not they're simply the descendants of those wizards that managed to actually succeed in carving themselves out a kingdom and sustaining a lineage. The truly effective ones are the ones who incorporate the creations of defeated wizards into their ranks.  
In fact its likely all the world is ruled by wizards, to one degree or another, at the very least anyone in power is keenly interested in the creations of wizards. Feuding, fighting wizards who have big egos and a tendency to try and build their own little empires on the ruins of generations of other feuding wizard rulers. 

It is an inherently adventure-some world, the constant cycle of wizards making monsters (an entire world built on "a wizard did it") and fighting with each other both produces ruins to loot and class of itinerant adventurers to hunt that treasure and deal with the general resulting mess. 

It supports both gonzo and pulpiness, everyone is building armies out of the defeated troops of other wizards and steal each others magical secrets and arcane technologies. Dials can be turned for each element. Want more ancient ruins of past civilizations? No problem, sprinkle in some of those. So many pulp ancient civilizations are sorcery themed anyway.

Such a setting provides the "aesthetics of ruin" but with a route potentially circumventing the typical fallen empires.

Monday, February 6, 2023

Delegation, Dismemberment, & Disability

This post is still half-formed, but I'd prefer to put it out now and prompt some discussion rather then spend an eternity polishing it into whatever precise point I don't really have.


A sentiment I have seen expressed is that a character losing a limb or otherwise suffering debilitating injuries ruins play for them. While I do not take issue (or I like to think I don't and actively try as best I can not to :P ) with what someone else prefers, I do find there is a note of something ableist about the assumption that a character is ruined once their disabled. At the least it betrays a lack of creativity in playing them. 
Add to this the pervasive notion in action orientated fiction, particularly fantasy, that the protagonists, 'heroes' even moreso, must be men of action (or woman of action still obeying the same archetypes). Characters who coordinate rather than use brute force are usually evil schemers, almost certainly so if they're men. This is part of the general fascistic anti-intellectualism in much of fantasy. A veneration of men of action and a vilification of the weak (and lookatthat, frequently, disabled) 'cowardly' schemers. I realize this is strong language, but it is a prevalent thread in our society and expresses itself in media intentionally or not, and the roots are, well, fascistic obsessions with strong, brave action orientated "heroes."

And among the men (and women) of action, note how rare is it for characters to suffer injuries which fundamentally change how they relate to the world. Or even for that matter to suffer injuries that inconvenience them for substantial periods of time. Power fantasy seems to forbid ever becoming incapacitated beyond a stagger and perhaps leaning upon a friends shoulder. Where are the scars? The amputations? The wounded being carried from the battlefield? 
To that end, often when people seek to include disabled characters in fiction or roleplaying the power-fantasy approach of granting some power, or technological means of circumventing their disability is extremely common. Which is understandable! Its a power fantasy! But what is lost is nuance. As well it comes at the cost of exploring modes of Adventure that aren't bashing things and fighting (a general problem in much fantasy).
Furthermore! Lack of injury also cuts off a source of interaction with the world and ends up obscuring and diminishing people who occupy traditionally supporting social roles like healers.

Injury needn't remove characters from play, it simply requires re-framing how they interact with the world. Dismemberment and debilitating injuries are an opportunity for lateral growth and a chance to change up how you play your character. And debilitating injuries naturally fit into existing structures of play. Namely, hirelings! 

The Hireling To Apprentice Pipeline

Hirelings and henchman are an immensely useful asset, and Apprentices are a natural evolution of the henchman. They form excellent back-up characters, moreso than random hirelings, as your already invested in them, and to add on top of that, they naturally provide structure for retirement and delegation, as apprentices can be delegates that players can play to carry out their characters wishes. In this you have extra-characters, more characterful than a more generic hireling, to act as extensions of the player. 

For disabled player characters this is the natural route to interacting with the game world, the preexisting structure of henchlings offers the means to play a more coordinator type character.


Retiring characters can be unappealing, but becomes substantially more interesting with apprentices involved as there is now a character who has been developed already ready, with direct connection to the previous character and their legacy/impact upon the game world, all ready to be used as the new player character. 
Furthermore, retired does not mean out of the world, simply incorporated into the background. In many ways its an investment, both retirement and apprentices serve to sink players into the social fabric of worlds. And when retirement is a natural life stage for all characters, it makes the prospect of characters who influence things not from the front of the show but the back more appealing.

Delegation & Deliberation

The concept of delegation is simple and stolen from this blogpost for the most part. Its a variation on the basic procedure of play. Instead of "describe situation" "players act" "describe result" it becomes "learn about situation through an intermediary" "order actions to be taken" "intermediary carries them out." It is a naturalistic extension of existing procedure to handle, well, delegating.

It is utilitous both in more broadly for handling expeditionary play, and more specifically for handling characters who work for intermediaries. In many ways it is simply a re-framing of an existing evolution in play adventure games can often go through. 

Now the other option alongside delegation is to simply take directly control of henchlings and lackeys and see through their eyes. Which works well too, however I would suggest that delegation can center play on the coordinating character, keeping them the center of the players play.
The gist of all this is that the existing setup of typical adventure games are well suited for fitting disabled characters easily into the playstyle.

Now it is important to clarify that OSR adventure-gamey aren't inherently better at handling disability, rather they simply offer a different avenue of exploration.

I am not disabled. But I am queer, and the situation feels reminiscent of the matters of queerness in fictional worlds. Namely that a smoothed over "empowerment" style oft feels lacking of a certain meat and chewiness to it. There's criticism to be had with this, perhaps turning disability into some gameable element isn't an ideal route. Furthermore, I have focused upon physical disability here, and also, though unstated, on disability as result of injury. Mental disability is its own ballpark to be honest and I leave to be explored by others.  
When it comes to technological compensation and "solutions" one must be careful, lest you fall into existing traps of eugenistic thinking that see's disability as something to be fixed. Prosthetics and other tools are just that, tools, that come with their own exsperiances and requirements to use.

In general it is valuable not to think in terms of costs or bonuses, as games tend to do, but think laterally in terms of how it changes a characters interaction with the world. The taxonomical math nerd urge to assign mechanical reward or mallus must be ignored. 

Hirelings are a good solution in OSR gameplay context as its part of the existing playstyle, but there are implications to consider nonetheless; the relying upon others, or being a burden on others, not to mention the matter of wage relations for care which are a contentious and tricky subject. For the purposes of an OSR-y game where your playing skullduggerous dungeon delvers its less direct, but nonethelss still there.

See this excellent blogpost that elaborates on the matters here.

Saturday, February 4, 2023

Simple Reaction Rolls

When encountering NPC's or a group whose disposition is uncertain to the Referee, use these procedures.
Roll 1d6...
  • High is positive, low is negative
  • The exact number rolled can be used as the number of key social interactions an NPC will field before getting fed up and 'resolving' the encounter*
  • A positive reaction does not necessarily equal full-friendship, but it does mean an otherwise hostile war-band might simply tell players to get lost instead of outright attacking.
  • Likewise a negative reaction may mean outright attack, or it may just mean being snubbed or berated.

* Use it likes this: suppose Jorge rolls up to the wealthy burgher Hesod to try and convince him to sponsor their expedition to the old ruins and see if the burgher knows anything about their rivals plans, the Referee rolls a 3, a fairly neutral reaction with 3 'chances' to get information or make arguments, Jorge must consider how to use this short bit of attention he has out of Hesod. Firstly, he rattles of his request and reasons why, Hesod isn't convinced, he tries again and the burgher is still apprehensive about the idea, does Jorge use his last chance before the Burgher dismisses him to switch tracks and learn about the rivals or try to get funding one more time?

It doesn't need to be overthought, or argued over the precise number of "tries" just use it as a rough resource mechanic, attention and patience is a resource after all! Negotiate with players. One social action could be a Question, or any sort of exchange of goods (seduction leverages sex, intimidation leverages fear or threats, trade via barter is a classic).

Also have a mass combat post

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Secret Santicorn - d10 Imps

Tony DiTerlizzi on Twitter: "Sketchbook Saturday: Hieronymus Bosch-inspired  imps, 2016. #hieronymusbosch #imp #devil #sketchbook" / Twitter
Tony DiTerlizzi

For secret santicorn Morgan requested d10 types of imps and their quirks.

1. Ossiphagos
Femur crunchers who steal and gnaw on the bones of condemned souls, regurgitating up fragments to be pasted to themselves as armour. Carry themselves with a hyena like swagger. Hired out by imp gangs as enforcers.
2. Registrarite
The most bookish and stuffy of imps, oft seen lugging around tomes which dwarf their minute bodies. Overworked and cranky. Can animate their doodled marginalia as ink sprites to perform tasks.
3. Harbinger
Accoutred with clarions, trumpets, and megaphones. Arrive in a cacophony to announce a devil's coming in baroque rhyming rap. Employ (often shoddy) pyrotechnics in time to their sick beats.
Work in teams, tasked with dragging recently departed souls down to hell. Personalities of used car salesmen rolled into a greek chorus, never letting you get a word in. Bribable. Armed with mancatchers.
5. Badinager
A professional conversationalist imp, witty and abounding in japes. Often employed in the retinue of devils as entertainers, holding a jesters immunity. Reviled by their cousins for selling out the one thing imps hold as their own, humor and insult.

6. Psychophile 
An imp addict and connoisseur of distilled souls. Prolonged usage leads to absorbing characteristics of former souls. Psychophiles are beset by conflicting personalities. Often such imps can be found running their own soul-stills.

7. Jacobin
A radical imp emancipation who stuffs themselves and other imps full of fiery pamphlets, literally, reasoning that the only sure way to make sure their message reaches people is to put the words in their very heads. Carry hacksaws.

8. Artillerist
Powder-stained, hauling shells bigger than themselves, they work the dispaterian artillery batteries and are deaf as doornails. Have a disconcerting, even by imp standards, gallows humor about them.

Small, contortionist imps, armed with a variety of prying and jamming implements tasked with carrying out all sorts of petty malfeasance. Excellent working knowledge of joinery and construction with a compulsive eye for mischief. Talk like mechanics.

10. Bottled
An imp condensed down and packaged up for transport. Squirm and wriggle, peering out of their little bottles with big eyes. Plead to be let out and will almost certainly wreck mischief and revenge if released.

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Skorned Cyborgedpunks One Shot - Play-Report

Min Yum

Play report of a cyborgedpunk one shot I ran for Wizard Lizard.

Rules were barely modified Skorne (str/dex/wil got swapped for bod/ref/mox), and FKR thinking. WizLiz's character was Zardoz, a low down paranoid punk in a trenchcoat with 4 hits, a 3d-printed pistol, and a brain linked drone. Accompanying him were two fellow punks Tom and Chelsea, similarly equipped (except for Tom who had one grenade). The scenario was a simple meet and trade of some non-gmo seeds that were stolen from Uber-Santo, a calory-company with a stranglehold on foodstuffs. Of course it went horribly wrong....

It was late at night in the Noreaster Megalapolis and a storm was blowing in. The streets were already half-flooded with scummy water and through the sheets of rain the sea-wall's red eyes blinked on and off.

Zardoz, alongside his fellow cyborgedpunks Chelsae and Tom were crammed into their shitty little car, parked somewhere in the recesses of the old port district down below the sea-wall, among the looming concrete warehouses. It had been a difficult drive through the ankle deep floodwaters and for a week they'd been feeling the heat of the calory-companies for the packet of gmo-free seeds they'd stolen. Which is why they'd arranged a meeting to sell them off with a certain De Graaf, a gangster of ill repute.

They had the address and decided to show up early, parking the car in an alley across the street from the warehouse. Chelsae nervously played a digital game while Tom slicked back his hair, and Zardoz stews in mix of pills and muted frustration.

Settling in for some reconnaissance , Zardoz pops out his little brain-linked drone and sends it out into the rain to do a bit of preliminary scouting. A brief look in infrared tells him that the buildings still a tad busy this time of night, light leaking out of the shuttered windows. An attempt is made to fly the drone in through a ventilation shaft but the rain and thick walls cut the signal (failed a moxy roll) and the drone returns on auto-pilot.

Zardoz mutters to themself and notes the old cctv cameras on the place then settles in to wait for the pre-scheduled time. 

Map of the warehouse

The waiting ticks on and Zardoz is just about ready to get up and drag Tom and Chelsea in early when a silvery SUV comes splashing out of the night and pulls up in front of the warehouse. Five figures in suits and raincoats hop out, two dashing inside through the main entrance, and the other three briefly staying outside to attach something to the wall, then going in leaving one reaming standing guard over the door. Presumably the mafiosos had arrived.

Zardoz, with some colorful language, tells Tom to check out the SUV while he and Chelsea saunter up to the door. They all hop out of the car into the pouring rain, and jog across the street. As they approach the raincoated guard goon's hand briefly strays to a bulk under his coat, but Zardoz belts out the password and he gestures them inside. Zardoz stalls for a moment with some excuses about arriving early but not wanting to scare them, in order to gauge the situation. Tom's glance into the SUV reveals its empty and he surreptitiously rejoins the other two. As well, a glance to what the goons had been attaching reveals a camera-jacking unit, the kind burglars use to setup an impromptu warning system using a place's own security.

Zardoz is feeling mighty paranoid and fingers his gun as they pass the guard goon.

Inside they tromp through a dingy reception room, down a hall, and into a cubicle filled office space. A lone late night worker scampers away after the guard-goon gives a glare, and the trio are shepherded into a tiny little conference room (upper left hand, pink dot).

Inside, sitting at the table end closest to the door, was De Graaf, a smiling dutchman in an art-deco suit, with a little mustache and a colorful brain-cartridge showing behind the ear. Next to him, a reedy, officious looking youth in a too-big trenchcoat covered in faded patches whose clutching a duffel bag to their lap. Behind De Graaf stand two goons, near twins to the doorman.

De Graaf smiled sleazily as they entered and beckoned them to sit. Met by  Zardoz giving him the evil eye, before he sits and beckons Chelsea and Tom to as well. De Graaf begins to welcome them with a beaming smile only to be cut off by a rather rudely worded "lets get down to business" from Zardoz. He sours, but regains his composure and does indeed get to business, gesturing for the youth and saying "Busara, this is your deal, will you be a dear and show them the money." To which the youth obliges, unzipping the duffel bag and tilting it to reveal the rubber-banded cash wads within.

Zardoz wishes he had taken his meds. Then asks Tom to pass them the packet, is corrected that he's the one with the packet, and produces it from his coat. The kid looks ready to hand the cash over there and then but De Graaf politely asks for a sample. Zardoz wrestles a single seed out and holds it up. But before anyone can do anything one of the goons (who has opaque eyes) behind De Graaf starts cursing.

Everyone suddenly realizes their wi-fi connection is down, no signal. Somethings jamming the building. De Graaf's smile vanishes. The kid looks nervous. Chelsea curses something. A snatch is heard of the opaque-eyed goons frantic whispering "cameras are down" and De Graaf hisses a challenge, "Did you sells us out you fuckers" the kid is eyeing the seeds and the goons hands are straying into their coats.

Zardoz screams "YOU MOTHERFUCKER YOU CALLING ME A SNITCH" and whips out their shitty little 3d-printed pistol to shoot De Graaf there and then. The situation has escalated so rapidly that De Graaf doesn't get a chance to respond as Zardoz caps him in the neck and torso, jerking the mafioso back in his chair as blood splatters on the wall and goons behind him. Dead.

The goons have whipped out their pistols, sleek metal deals and open fire on the trio. Chelsea had already hit the floor, but Tom and Zardoz get the choice to shoot back (and suffer 2 hits) or dive beneath the table.

Zardoz flashes back to their time "training" with Tom in their shared living room "if things go to shit Tomy, what do we do?" "we de-escalate?" slap "no, Tomy, we blow shit up"

As they dive under the table Tom chucks his lone grenade, and they hear it clunk, thump and bounce towards the goon's end. Zardoz belatedly realized they didn't grab the seed pouch. And then the grenade goes off.

Deafened. The table splits under the explosion. A shard of wood buries itself in Zardoz's arm (-1 hit). Chelsea's curled in a ball. And Tom's panting. The two goons and the kid two are dead, slumped against the walls with the ruins of the table before them, faces and torsos torn up by shrapnel (made a luck roll for each, and all came out bad).

The seedpacket was blown to smithereens but some of the money and duffel bag managed to survive (luck roll bad, luck roll good), fluttering around in the air. Zardoz starts grabbing wads of cash. The door had been blown off its hinges, and the guard-goon was lying groaning a little ways away. He starts struggling to his feet. Zardoz yells for Tom, who stumbles to the door way pistol drawn.

Not fast enough unfortunately (failed opposed reflex roll), the goon outside had struggled to his feet and whipped out an uzi which he promptly sprayed through the doorway into the room catching Tom square on (-3 hits). Tom topples back into the ruins of the table bleeding from slugs lodged in his torso, thigh, arms.

Zardoz curses and dives for the door, unloading his entire pistol at the goon till the plastic frame melts. The goon screams as his legs are hit (-2 hits) and he crumples to his belly again. He sends a few wild shots, but Zardoz is hiding behind the door frame. Tossing his melted pistol aside, Zardoz dashes over to the other side of the table ruins and loots the dead goons metal pistols.

She yells to ask if Chelsea had gathered the money, only to find she's not listening at all but yelling in air the way people do when talking over head-comms. Without a moments hesitation Zardoz shoots Chelsea dead watching as she crumples with bullets through her jaw, brain and lungs. Zardoz crawls over, searching the body frantically.

"Tom, Chelsea was a fucking rat"
"Oh wait, you're dead"
Moans of protestation from the not yet dead Tom.

He finds a suspicious wad of cash, and a business card that says "special manager" and a phone number on it. Shoves both in their pocket, then glances over the ruined table. The goon outside has been crawling on his belly towards the door, leaving a smear of blood on the floor. He lifts his uzi up too shoot, but Zardoz ducks down again into cover.

Thinking fast, he props Chelseas dead body up and uses the corpse as a meat shield, popping up without warning. The goon panics and unloads his uzi, most of the shots sink into the corpse (armour 2) but a stray bullet catches Zardoz in the shoulder (-1 hit). Fortunately Zardoz's own fire makes short work of the goon, ending him for good.

Zardoz is crying, and whips their nose on their arm shoving the last of the cash into the duffel bag. Distantly they hear the sound of tramping foot and banging doors coming from the main entrance. He grabs the duffel bag and books it, leaving Tom for dead.

Zardoz makes a run for it through the cubicles, and exists south just as figures in black armour burst into the office space and head for the conference room. As they run down the hallway they briefly pass the late-night worker from earlier, cowering in an office. Asking for directions, the worker points southward. Zardoz continues on but darts into one of the rooms along this hall and angles for one of the narrow windows.

He chucks the duffel bag through and start carefully squeezing out, almost dislocating his already injured shoulder, halfway through and nearly stuck they hear the tread of boots from the south, and manage to squeeze out landing on a dumpster in the alley behind the warehouse just in time to hear the room's door kicked in and weird garbled radio noises.

Zardoz sneaks northward through the rain down the alley, heading for their car, and ends up out in calf-deep floodwater creeping along the northside of the building. Peering out onto the road between him and the alley with his car. There is a black APC parked, with two black clad uber-santo paralegals toting smg's guarding it (and the front entrance of the warehouse) standing next to them is a severe woman in an executive suit and mirrorshades with a translucent umbrella, intently fixated on her PDA.

Zardoz uses their drone to create a diversion, flying the poor little thing through the rain and past the paralegals, before turning its little speakers to full blast and playing music. The corpos all turn, and he makes a dash across the street, easily concealed by the pounding rain. As he runs he hears a burst of automatic fire and (failed a luck roll) the brave little drone dies in a fiery pop.

Safe in the alley, Zardoz crams himself into their shitty little car and starts the engine up, luckily the rain masked its starting, and carefully backs down the alley and out the opposite side.

Zardoz drives away into the rain, taking a hit of some hypno-air and calling up Mannie their contact, to tell them everything went to shit.

And then, to quote the player....
""....and then I drive with no destination, just for the sake of it, and my hands are shaking and I'm biting my lower lip so hard it's bleeding
And I stare at this massive ad in the distance of some kind of playboy millionaire chilling on a real beach at the sea and it says "THIS COULD BE YOU"
so I don't see the truck
End scene"
All together a very good one shot.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

How I Run Diceless Violence

I enjoy using Hits, their simple and effective lending themselves well to decisive combat with clear stakes. Generally I give player characters 4-6 hits (depending on the degree of grittiness) and have 2-3 hits as the "base damage" from blades and simple weapons or so such.

Hits are an ongoing event, not a thing you Have. It's an abstraction to tell you what sort of effect to expect. It's more about showing the effect violence will have, rather than an individuals resistance to it.

Conversely you can treat hits more traditionally, as dramatic points of saving grace, if you were so inclined. I would argue however, it is easy to give a bit more cinema to fight simply by upping the number of hits (as Skorne does) while keeping their impact. A more horror-violence approach, would use less and place more cost onto actions. To do something will cost something, to do nothing will cost more.


The "I pick, you choose method"* where one side declares their intent and the opposite decides whether to let it succeed or take exchange damage. With the small margins that Hits give a player this becomes a very attractive bargain. And vice versa for npcs, monsters, and so forth. 

Riffing off this we come to more general dilemmas, "suffer hits" becomes an easy mechanisms of imposing costs onto choices. I personally mix it up between pick and choose and entirely player facing costs.

Example :

Margot is brawling with a guard. She has the option to take 2 hits, while giving none, but ensuring the opponent is pinned down and takes it; wrestling the guard to the floor despite his slashing knife...
Example :

While dueling a pig-man, Lot is charged and given the option of taking 3 hits, or getting bowled over the parapet edge onto a nearby roof, and out of the fight. Lot chooses his own skin over blocking the walkway and takes the tumble...

Two men are wrestling on a bridge as one of them holds a knife and the other is bleeding

Don't think of fights happening in discrete segments, like a turn-based video game's trade of blows, actions flow into and from one another; momentum and weight matter. The previous positioning informs further actions and positioning.

Example :

The dragon slams Jorge into the ground, knocking the wind from him and crushing ribs (-3 hits), he drives his sword into the wyrm's leg as it pushes down, and the wound makes the dragon recoil (-2 hits),dangling Jorge in the air as he holds onto his sword...
Alternatively fights can be abstracted out, hits taken can be elaborated into broader pushes and retreats or the tallied results of a dust-cloud obscured brawl. Likewise time can be stretched and contracted as needed.

Example :

Pent and their hirelings held the line against the grub-dog onslaught suffering 2 hits each in the process, while Maureen cut her way to the capstan, taking 1 hit, and released it, dropping the gate closed...
Note also how in the previous example a numerically superior enemy is treated more as an environmental hazard than as discrete individuals. 'Blobification' of monsters and npcs (friendly or hostile) is a useful tool. For visual reference consider Kurosawa film where large groups move as one, and repeat emotions and movements for larger impact.

When running proper blob on blob violence; that is, unit skirmishes; said 'blobs' or detachments, to steal a turn of phrase from Into the Odd, can be assigned with stats as an individual. Maneuvers for units should be broader and more basic, retreats, pushes, and holds mainly. Consider morale heavily, when units break (at 0 hits perhaps), and so forth. A handy way of handling large scale fights is to treat them as series of decisive clashes, punctuated by retreats, regrouping, and repositioning.

Example :

Holland holds the road with his spear armed villagers against the mercenaries, the two groups collide and the villagers fall back having suffered a whopping 4 hits, but held firm thanks to Holland's exhortations. They retreat behind the nearby stonewall, and Calliope's villagers ambush the pursuing mercenaries, bloodying their noses (-1 hit) and sending them back onto the road...
Individuals in mass combat, unless targeted, can come out suffering a lesser form of whatever was inflicted on the detachment. So an individual fighting in a shattered unit might come out with musket ball through the leg and bleeding from a head wound. But a character fighting with a lightly scuffed unit may come out perfectly hale.  

Hits should renew frequently with rest, in fact it may be best to have them automatically renew any time there is an interval between fights. Rely instead on injuries and effects to have lasting consequence and inform future conflicts. A grievous leg injury, for example, would effect a fight.
This is of course suited for a grittier aesthetic approach.