Saturday, July 31, 2010

Music in My Games

I use a lot of music in my games. In my opinion, not only does it add to the experience, but it helps ground me into the scene. It reminds me what is going on and what I'm going for in any given scene.

For every campaign I run, I try to craft a particular "soundtrack" for it. Meaning, I'll assemble a collection of albums and songs from my larger library that fits the campaign and setting. If you're interested in doing this kind of thing, you really don't need a massive library of music. When I first got started, I only had about 3 or 4 albums that I used all of the time.

If you've never used music before, the best way to get into using music with your games is to put it on in the background. So here's a list of music that might work for you as simple background stuff for your games:

For Combat

If you just want some exciting music for your games - to play while combat is running, for instance - I can't recommend the Epic Score group enough. Basically these are albums filled with epic-sounding music that you can just put on in the background during a fight and never have to worry about what track you're on. Also, I'd recommend the Savage Tongue by Ars Arcana for the same reason. As an interesting aside, if you listen carefully, you'll note that you've probably heard a lot of Epic Action stuff from movie trailers, commercials, or TV shows.

Also, Epic Action does a lot of work with tense and thrilling music as well. I don't have any of that material, however, so I cannot comment on that.

Follow the links above, and you'll find some great samples of their music.

For Mystery

Mystery, creepiness, and the unknown are strong themes in the 40k universe. After all, there's always the Warp and the constant threat of it.

For my games in Rogue Trader, I've been using a lot of the creepy tracks from Mel Gibson's version of Hamlet. However, that album is out of distribution.

So, if you're interested in picking up some generally creepy and mysterious music, I'll recommend Midnight Syndicate, and the Riven soundtrack. Midnight Syndicate is full of creepy music and sound effects. You can just put it and and let it ride without much worry. The one problem with it, however, is that its mostly gothic horror, which may not mesh well with a space opera.

The Riven soundtrack, however, fits very well with Rogue Trader. And it's readily available anywhere.

For Downtime

It may seem odd, but some of the most used music I have is what I call "downtime music" - music for when the party is just sitting around chatting. It's used quite often, because quite a good amount of time is spent having the Explorers interact with one another. For this, I would highly recommend the score for the HBO series - The Tudors. While the music is meant to be evocative of Renaissance Europe, it fits Rogue Trader because the 40k universe is one with archaic trappings.

Also, there are a number of great music tracks on the Mass Effect 1 and 2 soundtracks. While these tracks are much more evocative of a futuristic and sci-fi setting, you cannot just put in a Mass Effect music album and hit play. Only some of the tracks will end up working for you, so be ready to make a playlist of the tracks you want.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Character Profile: Rook

Here's a entry given to me by Nick for his character - straight out of the blue! Nick obviously plays our resident pskyer, using the Dark Heresy rules for his character, rather than the Rogue Trader rules. It's been interesting, to say the least, to see how they balance out and/or stack up.

Without further ado, here is Rook, in his own words.

+ + + + Decrypting………..Decryption complete + + + +

Classification: Personal Log
Author: Rook
Location: New Holocene Colony, Planet Vedic, Koronus Expanse
Date: 5622815.M41

For reasons I shall explain, my memory of my past is still incomplete. Perhaps my spelling it out on this data slate will help me to recall more.

As near as I am able to determine, I am between forty and fifty standard Terran years of age. I was born aboard a transport ship, (likely while it traveled the warp) to parents I have no recollection of. I survived a childhood on my own in the massive hive city on Firos Prime. Luckily for me, my telepathic talents developed at a very early age. Whenever I was desperate enough, I found I could read the minds of those around me, and even control them to a degree. Upon reaching puberty, I developed pyrokinetic powers as well. I became a Wyrd – an untrained, outlaw psyker, and my talents helped me to survive.

I joined an underhive gang. The Imperium’s laws regarding the sanctioning of psykers meant little to most of the underhive, and my powers gave us an edge. They called me the Rookie. The name stuck even once I became one of the senior members of the gang. Through the gang that became my family, I thrived. Perhaps we did too well. Due in no small part to my now fully developed powers, we expanded greatly and came to control the majority of the underhive. Our influence began to encroach upon the industry of the city above. Eventually, the Arbites took notice, and chose to intervene. They stormed the underhive in force, with an entire infantry regiment of Mordian Iron Guard to support them. They slaughtered us, killing everyone even remotely involved in our affairs. I alone was spared, as psychic fodder for the Black Ships.

Years must have passed before I finally reached Holy Terra. It is a period I prefer not to reflect upon. The Scholastica Psykana found me to be untainted by the warp, but I suppose they did not like my attitude. I can’t imagine why. They blocked most of my memories and implanted fabricated ones more suitable to their needs. I still don’t know what else they did to me in that time, or why every square centimeter of my skin is covered in scars.

I became a sanctioned psyker, and a fanatical devotee of the Holy Inquisition. I spent another two decades in service to the Ordo Hereticus. During that time I committed untold atrocities against citizens of the Imperium, all in the name of rooting out the heretics that hide among them. With my ability to read minds as easily as most read the words on a page, I was an extremely useful tool to the Inquisition. However, over time, my mental conditioning began to erode. After all, I was a telepath, and even the Scholastica Psykana is not infallible. When I finally broke through the blocks on my true identity, my faith in the Emperor and his Holy Inquisition was shattered.

I fled as far as I could go. If I am lucky, the Ordo Hereticus thinks I am dead. Now I find myself out beyond the edge of the Imperium of Man, in service to a planetary explorer named Ishi, and through her, the Holocene Dynasty. My best chance lies in remaining with this Rogue Trader’s crew, though it seems like it will be only a matter of time until he gets us all killed – or gets the rest of us killed, I should say. My memory is still a mess, but whatever happens, I will never go back. I will never again allow myself to be used to harm innocents in the Emperor’s name.

+ + + + End Transmission + + + +

Monday, July 26, 2010

Eighth Session - Drama Amidst the Crew

This session began one of the things that I was most excited about in Rogue Trader, the dealing with the operation of a large number of crew members. Mainly because it's like the drama of ruling a kingdom...only you're in space.

The session started out with two crew members who had become infected by the Warp and whose conditioned had worsened dramatically. Way back at the second session, two crew members became infected by the Warp. A chance encounter caused by a failed roll by the Navigator. However, the Explorers ignored this little incident so I had it come back to haunt them.

Now, months after the incident was reported, bleeding runes appeared on the crewmen's skin and they were now crawling up the walls and across the ceiling. The Rogue Trader and the rest of the Explorers gathered in the ship's sick bay to discuss what to do about the incident. Unfortunately, the crew members who had any knowledge about the Warp were involved with other duties (their players were not present).

Faced with no other option, the command crew resolved to put the infected men out of the air lock. They assembled a number of armed guards to do so. As the two men were facing their long walk to the airlock, Sitara, the Explorer's former Astropath appeared before them, pronouncing a number of cryptic messages.

The Rogue Trader, playing true to form, cried out and actually broke out a bit in front of the men. Fortunately, the Arch-Militant was able to keep the guard in line and they were eventually able to get the two poor Warp-tainted souls out into the vacuum of space.

The Fallout

What followed then was the real meat of the session - dealing with the rest of the crew. By this time, of course, the general crew populace were becoming panicked with the news of warp-tainted crewmen. And once news of their fate started circling, wild speculation began to spread. How many people on board were warp-tainted as well? Who would be shoved out of the air lock next?

Thanks to the quick thinking of the Explorer's Seneschal, the rumors were quickly quelled and the men who saw the Rogue Trader in his moment of weakness were made to keep silent. Because not all of the rolls the Seneschal made were perfect, I ruled that instead of the whole entire crew thinking that they were Warp-tainted, it was mainly the crew of the Lucien's Folly who believed that they were somehow cursed.

This, too, was abated by the Seneschal, who was able to rally the former crew of the Lucien's Folly with a heroic speech about his own trials and travails and the sacrifice of the former Rogue Trade who led their small fleet.

What I really liked about this session while the game was mainly about the crew dynamics, it was as serious as any other life-and-death RPG session. Here was the crew of their fleet, starting to panic, starting to loose morale. It raised those great questions in a Rogue Trader game - how do you keep tens of thousands of souls together through space, the Warp, and other planets? How do you keep the whole thing from falling apart?

Thereafter, the Seneschal began to receive visions from the deceased Astropath - vision about the rest of the lost Rogue Trader fleet...and it's possible location near the Undred-Undred Teeth. But before they could do anything about these visions, the Rogue Trader ship came across something very unique...a Space Hulk. But that's for next time!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Life Aboard a Ship

As I've mentioned before, I take a lot of inspiration from the Gaunt's Ghosts series of books. Part of the fun of the books is that it basically deals with the everyday drama of military life in the Imperial Guard.

So, basically, I took a lot of inspiration from that. I thought about how the various crew members and crew factions were interacting, and how each would respond to their mission differently. Then, I let the PCs deal with the ensuing drama.

One major thing I stole from the Ghosts series is the section of the ship I call "The Follies". The Follies are basically the underbelly of the ship. A place where civilians, hangers-on, and unlisted members of the ship live. It's a tiny little meta-community which allows the rest of the ship to actually function. If you're looking for a red-light district, its in the Follies. Get pregnant while on board and need child care? In the Follies. Looking to gamble? Swap holo-vids? Get black market items? Or even just buy a drink? In the Follies. The Ghosts series refers to that section of a ship the swelter decks or low decks.

Basically, it's where the crewmen go to unwind or just "be themselves" when not on duty. In any case, I liked this idea so much I incorporated it into my game. But I also like it because it's very much a 40k sort of thing to have in a setting. It reinforces the idea of massive ships that sail through the stars for years, and being entire communities unto themselves.

It's a great place for adventure. A Rogue Trader ship could even have its own little underhive! It also allows a Game Master and players to have some "traditional" roleplay. For example, you could stage an encounter at a tavern in the swelter decks or start out a scene with a minstrel playing for an audience. It helps ground the party into something familiar before you go out and do something totally alien and unique.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

And Now...Some Ships!

Rouge Trader has given me a good excuse to get some new minis. Ships in particular. Here's a shot of the Explorer's ship and their new acquisition, the Angevin's Blade. A fellow player is a stickler for having the right mini for the job, so here we have both a frigate and a raider.

I splurged a little and got a Rogue Trader cruiser for a good price on EBay. So here that is.

Here's a detail shot. I love how the back of the ship is like a miniature city with a huge dome and spires around it.

Note the size of our Rogue Trader frigate compared to the cruiser! The cruiser is easily four times the size. And the frigate holds 30,000 people in it already. It's already a floating city and a cruiser is four times the size...I just can't get over that. The broadside cannons alone are the size of modern buildings.

And here's a general shot of some of the other frigates I have painted up as well.

Painting the Minis

Probably the best thing I can say about the ships are that they are extremely easy to paint. I based all of them in black and dry brushed them their primary color. The Battlefleet Gothic ships have such texture that they're very easy to dry brush. And because you're not doing a mini of people, you aren't plagued by the small vital details that need to be right - like faces, eyes, and hands.

The biggest drawback is storage. I don't know how I'm going to store these little guys!

All for now.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Using the Micro/Macrocosm Divide in Roleplaying

Had a great session of Rogue Trader tonight!

As we played through it, I think I had a revelation on how I want to do a lot the game's broader actions (and perhaps a better insight of how to run a Skill Challenges in 4E).

As I've been listening to the Minions of the Monster Master, I've really been taken with the game With Great Power, which has the players and game master sort of determine the success or failure of any character before roleplay. Basically, you "script" what you want to do first, find out if you are successful or not, and then actually sit down and roleplay the result of your actions. If you fail your test, then you get to determine how you failed, etc.

The point is - roleplay is continuous and unbroken once it starts. I think that I might start incorporating some of this into my Rogue Trader game.

The Dilemma: Spicing Up Broad Actions and Skill Challenges

One thing that Rogue Trader encourages you to do is to truncate broad or time-intensive actions with a series of dice rolls. For example, an Exploration test, which is used to find something during an Exploration Challenge, is a series of dice rolls which accumulate degrees of success. A lot more fun than the old fashioned hex-by-hex exploration of a map in the original D&D.

Now, understand that I like this sort of mechanic. I like it because it's a lot better than the old days of making a check and then seeing if you made it or not.

However, there is this sense of reducing a lot of cool roleplaying into just a series of dry die rolls. Many of my sit-down plays of 4E skill tests have resulted in this kind of experience. The GM describes what he's looking for, the players justify how their skill might help, and a process, which might have resulted in neat roleplay is reduced to just dry dice rolls.

However, in this latest session, I think I've found out how I want to handle situations like a 4E skill test or some of the broad dice rolling mechanics we've been using. And that's this - going all the way back to our first session - handling the dice first and then narrating afterwards.

The Seed is Planted

The solution for this situation sort of evolved organically. As I will report in the next game write-up, the crew's Seneschal had an issue with crew morale. A few crew members were highly disturbed at some supernatural events they had witnessed aboard their ship. Now the Seneschal wanted to quiet them up before wild rumor and superstition spread throughout the ship.

I had the Seneschal explain to me what he wanted to do. I had him make a series of rolls based on what he was trying to accomplish and how he wanted to accomplish it. Essentially, the Seneschal attempted to make the crewmen know that spreading wild rumors and fear throughout the crew would be dealt harshly, but keeping things quiet would result in valuable reward. And if any of the crew blabbed about what they witnessed, all of them would suffer the same fate. We made a few rolls to see if he could accomplish this broad action and we determined that he could.

However, after he made a long series of rolls determining this, we sat down at roleplayed the culmination of his efforts. I staged a scene where the Seneschal interrogated and grilled one of the crew members who had witnessed the supernatural event. He got to describe the scene and the room that the interview took place in. I described the guardsman he was speaking to and his reactions. What was neat about this is that we didn't pause all that often for dice rolls because the result of the scene had already been determined. Thus, both the player and I could build towards that final, expected end.

When Things Really Went Right

Later that night, we really refined this when the Seneschal dealt with another morale issue. Some time ago, the Rogue Trader crew had rescued some Free Traders from certain death. These newcomers were not mingling well with the rest of the Rogue Trade crew.

First, the Seneschal and I talked about the situation openly and what was going on. Then, he explained to me in general terms what he wanted to do to try to solve the problem. He made a series of rolls and we determined that he was successful.

Thereafter, we roleplayed through a scene where the Seneschal spoke to the crew. But what was neat about this, was that we knew what the end outcome was to the situation. So as he would lead the scene in a particular direction, I could follow him with my own NPC reactions.

The best part? A long, continuous scene of roleplaying with no dice rolling to interrupt the situation. Certainly not something I would want to do for every roleplaying situation, but I think I might just have to keep using this technique in my games.

The Process

Again, stealing from With Great Power and 4E, the way this system would work is this:

Scripting: Determine with the player generally what they want to do and how they are going to do it. Talk it out.
Rolling: Make a series of rolls and determine how successful they are.
Roleplay it: Now that you know how a given scene is supposed to play out, roleplay it out with the players, allowing the scene to be led in particular direction.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

And Now for Something Completely Different

Behold! I bring you the finished model for the arch-militant of the group: Karacus.


Karacus comes from an unlikely background for an arch-militant. Born and raised on Dynasty Holocene's homeworld of Norn, Karacus grew up as a laborer and servant, someone on one of the lower rungs of society's ladder.

However, during a party one night, one of the younger Holocene children ran into an altercation with some bullies of nobel descent. Harsh words were exchanged. The exchange turned into a challenge. And soon, young Severus Holocene was facing five, well-armed and well-trained noblechildren of the powerful House Dexen. Unable to defend himself against the five much larger teens, Karacus stepped in and defended the young Severus. Almost a giant even as a teenager, Karacus was able to fend off the well-trained assailants.

Severus's father took note of Karacus's deeds and somewhat adopted the boy, watching him grow up as a servant in the Holocene palace. When Karacus was old enough, Severus's father used his considerable influence to place Karacus in a military academy, where he excelled. And no one ever bullied him.

When the Holocene homeworld was overrun by orks ten years ago, Karacus and Severus stayed behind with the last evacuation ship to defend the last grain of their home soil. They both watched as the orks finally completed their invasion and again later when the Adeptus Astartes came in to wipe the planet clean.

Bereft of a homeworld and much of its fleet, Karacus and Severus formed their own mercenary company and spent the next decade of their lives building a formidable mercenary army. It is there that they met Kai Etchdar and Mallum Bar, the void master of the ship.

Model Design:

As I stated before, the giant power fist that the model is wielding comes from a super-ape that Reaper makes. I simply sawed off the figure's hand and put the over-sized gauntlet on its wrist. The power pack is simply the hammer end from an extra Durgen Madhammer fig that I have.

At the last minute, I put on some of Durgen's grenades on the back of the figure, just to make it look even more decked out with weapons and such. Ironically, the real Karacus doesn't use ranged weapons all that often, but by the time I realized this, I had already modded the figure. Oh well - I think I can still encourage the arch-militant's player the ranged weapons are fairly necessary.

Overall, the model came out great and I couldn't be more pleased. Especially with my first serious mod-job. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and advice!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Seventh Session - Unexpected Guests Pt. 2

After spending a long time getting to know the Scylla, the crew returned to their ship. There, they learned from their NPC Navigator that their ship's original purpose was to house a terrible daemonhost and expel the creature to the furthest reaches of the known galaxy at the time. Their ship, the Ferral Wolf, was given one Inquisitor Holocene to accomplish this task.

Piecing together different parts of the puzzle, the crew discovered that Inquisitor Holocene traveled to Vedic long before the Koronus Expanse was officially discovered and deposited the daemonhost there. The Scylla arrived when they attempted to tamper with the coffin housing the daemonhost.

Interestingly enough, the players immediately picked up on the fact that the Scylla and the city they were protecting was even older than the daemonhost and their ship. So they must have been there when Inquistor Holocene first arrived on Vedic. The question remains - what were they doing there?

Thereafter the Explorers were able to trade some of their technology for information from the Scylla. After much discussion, the new Pskyer PC asked a clever question of their new visitors. "Where exactly are you from?"

Pointing to a large map of the galaxy, the crew uncovered a foreboding fact, the Scylla come from the same region of the galaxy as the Tau. And yet they were able to travel that distance to the planet of Vedic instantly.

I'll sum up the rest of what they found out in the session with a little encyclopediac file.

The Scylla

Origins: Human. The Scylla are a large empire of humans who originate from a time before the Emperor. They have no idea who or what the Emperor of Mankind is.

Technology: The Scylla seem to be more advanced than the Imperium in some ways, but far more primitive in other ways. For example, they seemed to have never seen any kind of holographic technology before. Instead, they rely on projection technology, which involve images projected onto blank surfaces with a series of lenses. However, they possess personal force fields, which can be combined to form stronger fields. Their ships are smaller and have less firepower. However, they have far greater numbers of ships. The Scylla's armaments rely heavily on force field technology and advanced melee weaponry, such as monoblades and fractal crystals.

Space Transportation: All ships piloted by the Scylla have the appearances of ancient barges, though each is made from a series of bronze-colored alloys. The Scylla do not use the Warp to travel but appear to somehow fold space. The folding of space is facilitated by members of their crew who hold what appear to be shepherd's crooks.

Society: Pskyers in the Scylla appear to be openly tolerated. Castes and societal rank with the Scylla appears to be even more regimented than it does in the Imperium. For example, slavery is openly practiced and embraced at a part of life.