Thursday, 29 June 2017

Night Witches: Character Concepts

I love the Powered by the Apocalypse Game Night Witches by Bull Pulpit Games.  Unfortunately I don't get a lot of opportunity to play it.  Due to a lack of players and interest from the players that I do have.  I also don't get a lot of opportunities to actually play as a player.  So I thought I'd write up some character concepts that pop into my head after cursory glances over the Playbooks.  All of these characters use prompts from their respective Playbooks.  The only thing that is new about them is how I've interpreted those choices to make characters that I find interesting.

Junior Lieutenant Yulia Salenkova
Sex: Female
Uniform: Ill-fitting
Body: Broken
Eyes: Expressive
Home Town: Bryansk
Who you write to back home: Your dead Child
Yulia is a Sparrow a bird prone to flying away from its problems.  She comes from Bryansk a town that was overrun by the Hitlerite Bandits early on in the war.  During the initial invasion she lost her young daughter and was separated from her husband (who perhaps can show up a soldier or a partisan later on in the game).  Yulia is a Dreamer, she lives in her own world.  A world where her daughter is safe and well staying with relatives far from the front.  Mentally she is broken and defeated, deep down she joined the 588th as a way to commit suicide by War.  I imagine her using the move Reach Out a lot to write letters to dead daughter.  Accumulating a bundle of unsent letters that her comrades might discover in her foot-locker in the event of her death.  As a game progresses she might evolve to become a Protector and constantly volunteer to act as Vedomaya for other aircraft.  A huge inspiration for this character is that of Calamity Jane as portrayed by Larry McMurtry in his book Buffalo Girls.

Sergeant Polina "Polya" Makarova
Sex: Female
Uniform: Sloppy
Body: Tough
Eyes: Laughing
Home Town: Zhelenogorsk
Who you write to back home: your baby sister Valya
Polya is from Zhelenogorsk, compared to Saratov or some of the other places in Western Russia it's in the middle of no-where.  Her father wanted two sons, but ended up with Polya and her baby sister Valya.  She received her training as a pilot from the local youth agricultural club.  Polya is a Hawk and something of tom-boy.  I see her starting out as an Adventurer and slowly becoming a Misanthrope.  Only avoiding disciplinary action on account of her skill at the stick and a chestful of medals.  The one thing I decided when I came up with her concept was that she wouldn't be a rank climber.  Meaning she wouldn't sleep with higher ups to advance her career.  For all of her wild behaviour Polya is an incredibly chaste girl.  In fact having grown up in the country she knows to be suspicious of boys that sweet talk.  Since usually all they want is a roll in the hay.

Junior Lieutenant Dariya "Dasha" Yegorova 
Sex: Female
Uniform: Regulation
Body: Graceful
Face: Honest
Home Town: Moscow
Who you write to back home: "The Editor"
Dasha is an Owl and a Zealot.  A bit of a cliche when it comes to Night Witches.  What makes her special is the reasoning for this combination.  She's an undercover correspondent for Pravda, the Soviet Propaganda newspaper.  I don't see Dasha as being a Zealot in the traditional sense of an unflinching fanatic.  I more see her as an enthusiastic student that truly believes in Marxism.  Perhaps not realizing that the reality of the Soviet State is not the same as what she reads and writes in her literature.  A huge inspiration for the character is Joseph Fiennes character in Enemy at the Gates.  I see Dasha as latching onto a Ace Pilot among the group (someone playing the Hawk Playbook would do nicely) and reporting on their exploits.  For an advancement the Raven move Permanent File would be a great way of simulating her articles in Pravda.  

So there you have it three Natural Born Soviet Airwomen.  Feel free to use these concepts in your own game if you like.  If you like this post be sure to comment and +1, who knows I might write a sequel.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Campaigns I'll Probably Never Get to Run: Shanghai 1930 Part 2

We return once again to the vice-riddled city of Shanghai 1930, a Call of Cthulhu Campaign minus the Mythos.  Last time I laid the groundwork in terms of setting and the game system that would be used.  This time I plan to lay out some of the character archetypes, that would be appropriate to the campaign.  I also plan to cover some rules that I think would greatly benefit the campaign.  Without further ado let's get started.

Shanghai 1930 Occupations

One of the things that draws me to the Call of Cthulhu system for this campaign, is the myriad of Occupations that the players can choose from.  Volume 2 of the Investigator's Companion is a particularly good resource for this particular game.  As it has many of the occupations that I think would be interesting to see in such a campaign.  Occupations such as...

Native Chinese

Gangster, Shifty Account/Lawyer (Legitimate Business Face-man), Police Detective (French Concession Police or Shanghai Municipal Police), Smuggler/Pirate, Hitman, Bartender, Bookie, Small Business Owner, Political Boss, Company Officer/Executive, Thug

Refugees (White Russians, Central European Jews, German Entertainers  and closeted Homosexuals) 

Dilletante (former Russian Aristos), Military Officer (fleeing the Bolshevik purges), Student/Intern,  Cocktail Waitress, Hooker (former Russian nobility, working as high class call girls), Entertainer, Bartender, Rabbi, Russian Orthodox Priest (use Catholic Priest occupation), Jazz Musician, Legitimate Musician, Con Artist, Political Activist (White Russian emigres continuing the fight against the Bolsheviks while in exile, use the Communist/Radical occupation), Mercenary (Work for Chinese Warlords, Bodyguards to Gangsters or French Concession Special Riot Police), Antique Dealer

International Settlement 

Small Business Owner, Company Officer/Executive, Writer, Spy, Foreign Correspondent, Missionary (British, American Protestant or French Catholic), Editor (Local Foreign Language Paper), Dilettante (The Idle Rich of the Western World come to sample what he Paris of the East has to offer), Soldier/Marine (British Army, American Marines, Annamese French Colonial Troops, Italian Marines and Japanese Infantry), Police Detective (French Concession Police or Shanghai Municipal Police), Ambassador (Foreign Consul), Gambler, Con Artist, Hit Man, Gangster, Burglar, Film Star (Remember Charlie Chaplin is staying at the Cathay Hotel in Shanghai around this time)

Special Rules for Shanghai 1930


Since opium is a significant source of income and vice in Shanghai.  It only seemed fitting that I include rules for the consumption of it.  This was lifted from Call of Cthulhu Secrets of San Francisco. 
Duration: 1d3+1 hours.
Duration Effects: all Sanity checks with a +10 percentile chance of success.  The effects of any insanities that an investigator might be suffering are negated for the duration, and the investigator can ignore all CON rolls against pain. 
Duration Side Effects: immobility for 1d2 hours, constipation, and nausea.  Each time opium is smoke an investigator makes a Luck roll, a failure results in the loss of 1d2 hit points
Addiction: after 1d6 uses the investigator is addicted, needing to take the drug once a day.  Failure to do so results in agitation with all skills except Cthulhu Mythos reduced by half normal value.  If the investigator can stay off opium for 1d3+3 weeks, requiring a POW x3 roll per week to do so, his or her skill levels return to normal. 
Cthulhu Mythos: investigators have a chance equal to their current skill level of receiving frightening otherworldly visions costing 0/1d3 points of Sanity each time they smoke opium.


Gambling is also another big part of the atmosphere in 1930s Shanghai.  The Westerners & Japanese were fond of Roulette & Cards, while the Chinese primarily focused on mahjong, fan-tan and dice.  I'll have to keep looking for rules for the Chinese games.  Until then here are rules for Roulette, Poker and Blackjack lifted from Call of Cthulhu King of Chicago.
Blackjack: Player and dealer roll against their Luck scores each round until one fails--if both fail during the same round, ties go to the house.  The minimum bet is $10; it pays 2 to 1.
Roulette: The player's chance of winning is equal to his POW plus 1%.  The minimum bet is $10; it pays 5 to 1.
Poker: There are four players each game.  For every new hand, each player rolls against his Luck score each round until only one player is left--the winner, who takes the pot.  If all players are eliminated in the same round, the one with the highest Luck score wins.  The minimum bet is $10, but if no winner is declared after the first round, add $10 to the pot for each player who advances to the to the next round; this procedure continues until a winner is declared.

World War One Service (Also Russian Civil War)

Character Military service in the First World War is often overlooked in Call of Cthulhu.  I have tried since discovering the game, to find a way to remedy this.  After acquiring a copy of the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion, I think I finally have the answer I've been searching for.

The rules go something like this, for every year served (to a maximum of four) the character gains 15 skill points and loses 1d3 sanity points.  The skill points are distributed among one of the packages listed below.* This can be used to represent service in the Trenches of France for British and American characters.  It can also be used to represent service in the Russian Civil War for White Russian exiles.  A number of Chinese served in the British & French Chinese Labour Corps.  These rules can be used to simulate their experiences in the trenches or while working in Allied Munitions Factories.

Intelligence Officer: Bargain, Cartography, Climb, Credit Rating, Dodge, Handgun, Hide, Jump, Listen, Meteorology, Navigate, Other Language, Persuade, Psychology

Officer: Bargain, Climb, Credit Rating, Dodge, Handgun, Hide, Jump, Listen, Navigate, Persuade

Rifleman: Bayonet, Climb, Conceal, Dodge, Fast Talk, Hide, Jump, Listen, Machine Gun, Rifle, Sneak, Spot Hidden

Sapper (also Chinese Labour Corps): Climb, Conceal, Dodge, Electrical Repair, Explosives, Fast Talk, Operate Heavy Machinery, Jump, Mechanical Repair, Rifle

Munitions Worker (Chinese Labour Corps): Chemistry, Mechanical Repair, Operate Heavy Machinery, -1 Appearance

A Word on Languages

Linguistically the Shanghai 1930 campaign would be incredibly diverse.  Moreso than the standard Call of Cthulhu game where most of the characters speak the same language (i.e. English).  English will probably be the standard for American and British characters in the International Settlement.  In the French Concession it will likely be French, or Russian.  For many Russian ex-nobles French would be their first language with Russian being their second.  In fact many Russian women in Shanghai made their living teaching French to the children of upper-class Chinese.  Japanese will also be not be unheard in 1930s Shanghai, with a significant Japanese community residing in the International Settlement.  Complete with a garrison of Imperial Army soldiers.  In terms of Chinese Dialects, Mandarin is unlikely to be heard outside of a Courtroom or among the company of intellectuals.  Whereas Cantonese is primarily spoken in Hong Kong and by some businessmen in Shanghai.  The City and the surrounding country-side's dialect of Choice is Wu or "Shanghainese".  

Wrapping Things Up

Before I end this post I felt I should explain some things about what I have written so far.  These occupations are mostly meant to represent, the high-rollers of Shanghai.  If I were to sum up this campaign in a few words it would probably look something like this.  Boardwalk Empire in 1930s Shanghai.  The game would primarily deal with backroom deals between the various factions of the City.  Any conflict will most likely come from outside the city, in the form of outside forces.  Throwing a monkey wrench into an otherwise well-oiled machine.  This is a game where a lot of notes would be passed between the individual players and the GM.  The players would switch sides as it suited their character's ambitions.  I personally would encourage a wide variety of characters from all three of the factions.  Perhaps even going so far as to ask the players to make three different characters.  Meant to give the players something to do, when the action isn't centred around their initial character's sphere of influence.  So there it is Shanghai 1930, a campaign I'll probably never get to run.  What do you think?  Be sure to comment with any thoughts you may have.

*Note: Only some of the packages have been included from the MoNC, if other packages are wanted, you can find them there. 


Saturday, 24 June 2017

Campaigns I'll Probably Never Get to Run: Shanghai 1930 Part 1

So I recently took a look at the Hillfolk expansion Blood on the Snow.  Hillfolk is a tabletop role-playing game that uses the Drama System, it was created by Robin Laws.  You can find the game over at the Pelgrane Press website.  While I have never used Hillfolk as written, I have been very impressed by it.  The Game's books include some of the best campaign pitches and adventure seeds, I have ever read.  So while scanning Blood on the Snow, I came across a seed that sparked my interest. Shanghai 1930.  Now I will admit, the title is not what captured my attention.  Prior to reading the pitch, I had known nothing about Shanghai during that era.  What caught me was the nutshell, elevator Pitch that was given for this campaign.  The following quotation is taken from Blood on the Snow, page 43.

"In the sin-drenched free port of 1930s Shanghai, criminal gangs, refugees, revolutionaries and adventurers vie for power as a new world war looms."

Needless to say that little bit of writing is what caught my attention.  I was still a little skeptical due to still being unfamiliar with Shanghai in that time period.  Further reading of the campaign overview helped to alleviate any skepticism I may have had left about running a game in that setting.  There were plenty of factions with conflicting interests, to make for an intriguing background, to run a campaign through.

Shanghai during the 1930s was city of sin, violence and fast money.  At the time the city was the centre of China's national and international opium trade.  Business was doing so well that many Shanghainese gangsters had set themselves up with positions within the cities Police force.  To ensure that business continued to run smoothly.  As one of the world's only free ports (a city one could enter without a passport) Shanghai was also a safe haven to many European Refugees.  Most notably White Russian emigres, European Jews fleeing the emerging right-wing political parties.  As well as many German entertainers & closeted homosexuals seeking to escape the right-wingers.  The White Russians (Russian aristocrats or any Russians that opposed the Bolsheviks) are a particularly interesting case study.  Having fled through Siberia into Shanghai, they were literally stateless.  Aristocrats that had lived lives of luxury now shared dingy apartments with as many as two or three other families.  Many took up whatever jobs they could find.  In the case of the men hardened by five years of fighting against the Bolsheviks in the Civil War, they became bodyguards to Chinese mobsters.  It was often considered to be a sign of prestige to have White Russian bodyguards.  Others opened bars, cafes, turned to grifting and con artistry.  While others still continued to fight the Bolsheviks by passing out anti-communist literature and giving speeches from soap-boxes to anyone who would listen.  The women often took up work as cultural instructors to upper-class Chinese families.  Teaching European style dancing and music.  Though a large portion of them ended up working dance halls and brothels.  Many of them hoping to entice rich American and British businessmen into marriage, which would mean a passport and a ticket out of Shanghai.  German musicians found they were most welcome, finding employment in the numerous Shanghai nightclubs.        The nightclubs are often frequented by American, British and European businessmen that reside in the International Settlement.  Here to make their fortunes in the import/export business, banking and shipping industries.  They are followed by foreign correspondents, reporting on the goings on of the city.  Artists fascinated by the in-vogue Oriental culture, missionaries seeking to save the souls of this modern day Gomorrah.  As well as numerous foreign spies keeping an eye on political situation of the city.  At the height of the Chinese Civil war between the Nationalist and the Communist Forces, several countries have a vested interest in the outcome of this conflict.

Gaming Shanghai 1930 - Choosing a System 

So when I decided that I would love to at least write some notes on campaign in 1930 Shanghai.  The immediate question that popped into my head was.  What system should I use?  Shanghai 1930 was written with Hillfolk's Drama System in mind.  I personally find it hard to convince players to play systems primarily focused on story-telling.  I needed something that had potential for quick and easy combat, but was also capable of supporting the Genre.  One system that popped to mind was GURPS.  The Generic Universal Roleplaying System.  Their World War 2 line of sourcebooks were only a decade or so removed from when the events of the game would take place.  I particularly loved the Templates from those books and the National Advantages/Disadvantages packages for each country.  There were a number of problems with using GURPS however.  While I have read many of the sourcebooks as inspiration for campaigns with other systems.  I have never actually run a game of GURPS.  Another problem that arose was that GURPS as played out of the Basic Set is not very structured.  Which was something I was looking for, for this particular campaign.  One of the reasons that I loved the Templates from the WW2 Sourcebooks was the structure that they gave character creation.  A problem I have had with players before is that they will choose any skill they think they can get away with.  Creating an incredibly game-breaking character, which fictionally has no real business being in the story.  The WW2 Templates, give the players a selection of skills that is required to play that character's occupation.  Most of which are heavily combat focused, while the players get to flesh out their characters with the remaining points.  Something else I found somewhat lacking was that the WW2 Sourcebooks lack, National Advantages/Disadvantages for Chinese Characters.  As well as National Advantages/Disadvantages for White Russian Exiles, despite having a list for Soviet Characters.  I wasn't confident enough in my abilities as a game hacker to create lists for those Nationalities, that would satisfy my own strict demands for this game.

The next game that sprang to mind ended up being the one that I picked.  In Blood on the Snow's pitch for Shanghai 1930, there were three lists of character archetypes, for each of the three factions.  As I read through them I started thinking, this is like I'm reading through the Call of Cthulhu Investigator's Companion Volume 2 all over again.  Typical Call of Cthulhu is played in a primary setting of the 1920s, 1930s if the Keeper decides to stretch the timeline a little.  Thinking about it for a while it seemed to be the perfect fit.  Take out the Mythos elements and you have the makings for exactly what I wanted in a system for this Campaign Idea.  In COC you usually play, somewhat wealthy individuals sneaking around, trying to save the world from creatures beyond our understanding.  In Shanghai 1930, a large portion of character archetypes are wealthy or keep the company of wealthy people.  Instead of sneaking around to stop the machinations of otherworldly abominations.  They sneak around expediting their own selfish machinations.

So there's my pitch for Shanghai 1930.  A campaign I'll probably never get to run, due to a lack of players.  I'll post part two to this post later.  In the meantime, feel free to comment and give feedback on my pitch.  Have a good day and keep gaming.

Friday, 16 June 2017

Thogetor Hawklight

This is the story of Thogetor Hawklight, my first major character in tabletop role-playing game.  Now unlike a lot of people writing about tabletop role-playing on the internet.  I got my start in the hobby, with Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition.  One of the most reviled editions of that particular game ever published.  In an attempt compete with the MMORPG craze of the early 2010s, Wizards of the Coast made a game meant to appeal to the players of such games.  Most people consider it to have been a flop.  Turning new players off, with the slow combat system and old ones off with gimmicky character options, rewriting of certain campaign settings, in order to include those gimmicky character options.  I played it for a total of two years in high school and spent three years prior to that poring over the rulebooks with no one to play with.  D&D 4E was like my first serious relationship when it came to tabletop roleplaying games.  Sure it took your virginity, but the relationship ended in disaster because you really didn't know what the hell you were doing.  Now neither of you will talk to each other.  D&D 4E was my first game and Thogetor Hawklight was my first character.

Who was Thogetor Hawklight?  That's sort of a difficult question as the answer is quite complicated.  While playing him I found that he had something of an identity crisis.  Before he was Thogetor he was a generic Human Barbarian, whose name I have long since forgotten.  Generic Human Barbarian was a character I played in a sort of home-made D&D wannabe that I saw an at-the-time casual acquaintance of mine playing at lunch in High School.  He was GMing this home-brew for his sister and her boyfriend.  I sort of asked if I could join, by showing that I had knowledge of role-playing and wouldn't need to have it explained to me.  We rolled up a character, which was pretty much a collection of hit points determined by a random d20 roll, a name and an occupation.  The highlight of this home-brew was my character fighting minotaurs with a giant two-handed fish.  My knowledge of role-playing impressed this casual acquaintance and he invited me over to his house when he found out I actually owned rulebooks for D&D 4E.  Thogetor was rolled up that very weekend.  Along with another fighter that I never really played much after.  The name was taken from a random online generator, it just stuck and I never bothered to change it.

After the weekend over at the acquaintance's house (who will now be referred to as GM to protect the innocent), I went home fired up a third-party character generator that GM had found online.  Revising the initial character that I had created over at GM's house.  Thogetor had this habit of going through revisions, as the group of players that eventually formed around GM and I came to understand the game better.  Realize that their initial character choices weren't that strong and the like.  He went from just a simple 1st level generic human barbarian with alright, but kind of par for the course Ability Scores.  To a revised version of that, wielding a Greatsword or a Battle-Axe in both hands, depending on which I preferred to use at the time.  To finally this 'roided out version with insanely high Strength and Constitution with a dump stat of 4 Intelligence, wielding a Bastard Sword.  It was this final version that saw the most mileage reaching just short of Level 11 or 12.  It was a Rageblood Barbarian, multi-classed with a Fighter that left the biggest impression on me.

The revised versions of Thogetor took a great deal of inspiration from Conan the Barbarian.  More along the lines of the Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, than the stories written by Robert E. Howard. At that particular point in time Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, were the only real reference I had to emulate a barbarian.  I had read on Wikipedia that the D&D class had been largely inspired by Conan and had wanted to incorporate him into playing my own character.  Thogetor wasn't very big on background or personality.  I pretty much ripped off Conan's own backstory as described by Wikipedia "Son of his tribe's blacksmith, left home with a Dwarven trading party to fight against Orcs in search of adventure."  Thogetor's primary focus was combat effectiveness, which he had in spades.  His job was largely DPS and acting as a Tank alongside our party's Fighter.  Thogetor's shield-brother was the Dwarven Fighter Darok Ironfist.  Again a largely combat focused character, who really didn't have much in the way of personality.

Speaking of personality the young warrior of clan Hawklight seemed to never be able to make up his mind on what his was.  At times he'd just be silent and brooding, other times he'd be incredibly energetic.  His intelligence also never seemed to match what his stats said it was either.  Sometimes he'd be incredibly witty and eloquent, other times he'd just yell any stupid thing that'd come into his head.  All of this was largely due to me getting drunk on the placebo effect of thinking my tankard of ginger ale was in fact filled with the real thing.  Depending on my intake of the soft-drink, I could be as obnoxious as any roaring drunk that's had one too many.

Some of the highlights while playing this character.
- Getting to let out my inner wild man.
- Being able to say that I clotheslined a halfling.
- Kicking in the door of Tavern that was racist towards Dwarves expecting to have to fight it's entire clientele.  Only to get a bunch of odd stares because the GMPC wizard had used the invisibility spell on our resident Dwarf Darok Ironfist.
- Making bad jokes and puns when Thogetor went through his "witty phase" most of which consisted of making fun of whatever manner I had killed a monster in.  Sneaking up on a guard to cut his throat and then asking "What are you doing in this neck of the woods."  Throwing a decapitated Lizardman Head at another Lizardman and shouting "Heads up!"

Largely though Thogetor was a product of my youthful enthusiasm, immaturity and inexperience with what role-playing is really all about.  He did play an integral role in forming my identity as a gamer though.  I look back on his accomplishments with a mixture of pride, dismay, shame and amusement.  He was a fun character to play and honestly I hope to one day bring him back.  I've read that some role-players keep standard characters that they bring back and play over multiple games.  Sort of like how ventriloquists have a stable of puppets, that they use on stage every show.  Perhaps Thogetor could be one of mine.  I don't play the fantasy genre of RPGs as much as I used to, but if someone ropes me into playing D&D again or Pathfinder or Dungeon World.  Chances are that some incarnation of my Conan Expy Thogetor Hawklight triumphantly return once again!