Monday, October 25, 2010

Interlude - Outpost: Wake

Wake is a series of planets in the Winterscale's Realm sub-sector, named after its spectacular planetary architecture. Legend has it that the planets within this system were transformed with a mega-invasive crystalline growth from a cosmic anomaly known as the Ravager. Hence, the system's name - Wake - for it is said to live in the "Wake of the Ravager". (Bonus points to anyone who knows the reference I made here.)

A view of Wake and its largest planet - Sirocco ; many of its moons bear the mark of the Ravager

Wake has an importance second only to Footfall in the Koronus Expanse. Its importance is due primarily to the fact that it forms a gateway into Winterscale's Realm, the most settled, colonized, and frequented sub-sector within the Expanse. The most travelled and well-known warp routes all pass through Wake. It is a strategic place to stop off for supplies as one travels further into the Expanse.

Wake's unusual crystalline structures also provide the system with a vast wealth of minerals. Everything from water, to silicon, to quartz, to galluim can be found here in abundance. The Wake system is constantly being mined for its resources by countless mining vessels and exploratory ships. The thousand thousand mining claims made all over the system are cause for numerous battles and fights over territory in this outpost on the frontier.

Wake's sun is called Mercurial, due to its flickering and erratic luminescence, particularly notable at a distance. It is an approximately the same size and age of Sol, the Terran sun. However, one would never know by looking at it. The star is surrounded by a thick mass of crystals which distorts the star's light, constantly refracting it. Now and then, solar flares from Mercurial will set the cloud of crystal fragments alight, causing dramatic light shows across its surface and throughout the Wake system. This thick cloud of crystals is constantly replenished by the planets that rotate around Mercurial.

The each of Wake's planets feature massive crystals, most of which are size of continents. These crystals jut out of the system's planets constantly shed shards and fragments. Many of these crystal spines have their own atmospheres. Some even have their own ecosystems and weather patterns. As each planet rotates, it continually flings fragments of these crystals into space. Some are as small as grains of sand, others as large as cities. As the system continues to age, it is predicted that eventually the planets of Wake will resume their spherical shape, casting off the excess crystals over the course of aeons.

The political seat of Wake is Spire - a large spaceport and community located at one of the tips of the smaller crystalline spines of Wake's largest planet - Sirocco. Spire is a built on top of a crystal spine of obsidian, one of Spire's larger exports.

The outskirts of Spire - the city itself sits at the tip of an obsidian crystal.

Spire itself is a city crafted primarily from the obsidian around it. Most of the city's architecture was constructed to mimic the surrounding landscape. This unusual construction makes it a darkly glittering city with buildings made from hollowed out obsidian spines mixed in with buildings made to look like obsidian spires. Dancing all over them are thousands of holographic advertisements and messages. As a frontier city, Spire is a city where anything and everything is bought and traded.

The Governor's Palace on Spire

Notable is Spire's high population of cultists. These pilgrims have come mainly from the Calixis Sector seeking refuge from religious persecution. All of these cults are Cults to the Emperor as Chaos cults and the like are not tolerated. However, here in the far reaches of the Koronus Expanse, a cult to the Emperor which does not share the precise teachings of the Ecclesiarchy need not draw the raised eyebrows of the public or worse...the examinations of an Inquisitor.

Above Spire is its all-important outport, a vast array of small space stations which provide a place to dock for the hundreds of ships which come to Spire on a daily basis. Repairs and maintenance is performed at the outport, far above the frontier mega-city.

The political head of Spire is Governess Ophelia Winterscale, cousin to Calligos Winterscale. As the political head of one of the most important ports in all of the Koronus Expanse, Ophelia Winterscale wields tremendous political power. Ophelia is known for her unassuming and informal manner. She does not tend to dress or speak the part of a noble and even prefers to conduct meetings in Low Gothic if allowed.

One of Wake's four planets - Cyclops - with its moons

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Session 12.5 - Epic Moments in Role-Playing

Build to the Awesome
When last I left off on the blog, Rob's Astropath, Zachariah was seething with rage against the pirates who were now accompanying the Rogue Trader fleet.

Here were the very people who enslaved him and also caused him to lose his arm. So what does he do? He has a meeting with the Rogue Trader of the fleet explaining his desire to vet the pirate captain of the other fleet. After all, can a pirate captain be trustworthy?

However, in a complete breach of protocol, the Astropath marches up to the bridge of the Ferral Wolf and hails the captain himself, summoning Pirate Captain Tor to his own personal chambers.

This highly irregular breach of procedure and protocol caused the captain to give pause. But he relented all the same. Tor then left his ship and docked inside of the Ferral Wolf, bringing his entourage along with him.

What then happened was a series of tense, show-down type moments, as the security team of the Ferral Wolf scrambled to receive this very unexpected guest. (Remember, the Astropath didn't give the Explorers any warning. He just said, "Get your ass over here!")

The pirate captain arrived and was escorted by the Explorers' own armed guards up to the Astropath's chambers. Just before entering the chambers, however, Tor turned to the Seneschal, who was present. He just basically laid it all out there and said, "So...what is this about exactly?"

Now, all the while, the pirate captain had set up a secret vox transmitter on his person and had it sending blips over to his ship. If vox transmission stopped for some reason (due to the captain's heart stopping, or simply a loss of signal), then the pirate ship was poised to ram the Explorers' ship as well as open fire.

Bringing the Awesome
For me, this was an epic moment for the campaign and one of the things I wanted to get out of Rogue Trader. Here was the ship's Astropath, bent on revenge, seething with anger. Here was the pirate captain, wanting to do right by his crew and ship. Because this was so momentous, I paused for a moment and really shone a spotlight on the event.

Think about it. You have two frigates lined up beside each other. Each one manned by close to 30,000 people. And all it would take for these two massive ships and populations to start firing on one other is for the wrong person to panic at the wrong time or for the PC Astropath to want too much vengeance.

I described in that moment what it would take for two such ships to go to war. In that moment, dozens upon dozens of fighter craft were powering up their engines and arming their missiles. Massive macro-cannon batteries were plotting firing solutions. Enginseers were preparing to fire up void shields, boost power to the sub-light engines, and divert power from non-essential systems. Basically, 60,000 people were all on edge, all preparing to go to war, all because one person needed his pound of flesh. But that is the world of Warhammer 40k. War in the grim darkness of the 41st century is often fought for far less.

Ultimately, the Astropath did not melt the pirate captain's brain, but he did essentially torture him. And that's because Tor never had anything directly to do with his enslavement. Or his loss of the arm. However, he still was made to see the Astropath's long-suffering aboard the pirate vessel and all of the other torments that he received.

After that long moment, Tor and the Astropath actually came to an understanding. Which was sort of epic in and of itself.

The crew then proceeded to make their way to Winterscale's Realm. Where destiny awaited them.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Twelfth Session - Escape and Torment

So this session precipitated, for me, an epic moment in roleplaying. A single moment that encapsulates with Rogue Trader is all about. That epic moment deserves its own post and will be discussed at greater length there.

The session started off with the group recovering from their escape from Footfall. The Explorers took stock of their crew and ships as well as the small pirate fleet accompanying them. It turns out that the pirate fleet is now accompanying them out of Footfall as a direct result of player actions.

The battle pskyer of the group puppeted the pirate captain into accompanying them out of Footfall. This action led to the captain's death, but it gave the Rogue Trader Dynasty a chance to prove to the pirates that they were the better way to go. After all, it was the pirates' own second-in-command who ultimately killed the captain. As the Rogue Trader said, "Hey, if you join us, we won't kill you."

So now...the Explorers have pirate allies. The same pirates, by the way, who press ganged three of the player characters. Interesting. And not what I would have expected at all.

This session was spent mostly dealing with that the subsequent fallout. Mainly, the crew in the PCs' fleet was unhappy about having pirates tag along with them. Not only that, but the two pirate vessels were roughly the equivalent of the Rogue Trader's fleet. A frigate and raider against a frigate and raider.But also, these pirates were the same pirates that had once captured and enslaved three of their senior staff.

All of these meant that the session started off with tension. The crew's morale was low. The pirates and Rogue Traders were trying to feel each other out. And then, into the mix steps the Explorer's new Astropath.

Rob's Astropath was not just a former slave of the pirates - he had taken mortal wounds and been brought back from the brink of death. As a result from the battle of Footfall, he lost an arm. (Rob's player had to burn a permanent point of Fate to keep from dying.) Now, the Astropath awoke and seethed with rage. The pirates...they had done this to him. They had caused him this pain and entrapped him all those years aboard their ship. Now, he was going to have his vengeance.

More on that in the next post.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

There's Always Room for More Figgity Bits!

Long ago, I learned that players love manipulatives. Cards, hand-outs, etc. One can go over-board, of course. No one wants to read your 50+ page of fake world history for your home-brew world. (Okay, there are some people like that. But few.)

However, just a little card or token can be a pretty neat thing to hand over to a player. That's why I came up with this:

It's a large card that I gave a colored border to and filled with text, describing an innovation that the Explorator recently came up with. It's a sort of "ion grenade" which makes technology go amuck by messing with the machine spirits. I guess I could have just emailed him this info or wrote it down in my notebook, but what I'm learning in this campaign is that that stuff often gets lost. You forget about it. We've all been there, right? Ten sessions later, the GM or the player perks up and says, "Hey! Remember my thingamajigger?" This helps as a sort of reminder. A placeholder that says: "Hey there, I have this now."

What's interesting is that in the campaign, out in the depths of space, the Explorator can do these sorts of things. In a Dark Heresy or Deathwatch game, innovating or inventing would be strictly prohibited. That said, I suppose that a tech-priest could always "rediscover" old technology.

So here's what he came up with:

Gear Shriek

Class: Thrown; Range: SBx3; Damage: Special; Pen: 0; Special: Blast (2)

Upon detonating near a technological device, roll 1d10


1 grenade fails, no effect

2-3 machine spirits confused - device is unreliable/operates erratically

4-5 machine spirits panicked - device operates continuously on current settings for 5-10 rounds

6-7 machine spirits frightened - device very difficult to use or control, -20 to -40 on rolls

8 machine spirits scared - device locks and will not activate for 5-10 rounds - this is the *intended* result

9 machine spirits maddened – device continuously one and rate/speed of operation increases and at the end of operation, the device is damaged or destroyed; machine spirit may be permanently affected (GM's discretion)

10 spectacular/bizarre event, GM's discretion

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Eleventh Session - The Domino Effect

One of the most fun aspects of a game is when it takes on a life of its own for me. The point or points in which I have completely let go of the reins and am only reacting to what the players do is pretty much the high point of any campaign that I run.

While that has certainly happened many times in this current campaign, it certainly started a large chain of events in the Eleventh Session.

Quick recap - The Explorers were at a ritual Foretelling, conducted by the Witch of Footfall. In the middle of it, Footfall is attacked by a Chaos fleet.

The session was planned as a series of large set-pieces.
  • Set-piece 1 was a fire-fight with some pirates, who were using the chaos of the moment to hopefully reap vengeance on some of the Explorers.
  • Set-piece 2 was a scramble across suspension bridges to a shuttle craft so they they could escape, all the while being fired upon by a flyer.
  • Set-piece 3 was a space-battle as the PCs tried to escape Footfall.
In our current game, three of our player characters are interconnected. The Explorator, Void Master and new Astropath all chose Press Ganged as their Trail and Travail. All three of them chose to have been prisoners aboard the same pirate ship. While on board, all three of them staged a mass riot and escape, breaking free from their servitude and linking all three of them. However, I noted that this didn't really provoke much roleplay when the session were actually under way. And that's because while this past was written into their backstory, they didn't really experience it.

So, I threw them a softball and see where they went with it. A had the very same pirate crew that captured them show up at Footfall. During a sudden attack on Footfall, the pirate crew made their way towards the party, hoping to settle some old scores.

That's when the PCs stepped in. The Explorers' battle-psyker took control of the pirate captain's mind because the pirate captain happen to be at the Fortelling alone (a requirement for attendance). With no one else to note what was going on, the pirate captain started marching around with the Explorers and barking sudden commandments to his fleet.

However, the rules for mind control in Rogue Trader being what they are, this was no charm person or dominate person spell. You can only control someone's body like a puppet (making it look unnatural) or issue them short commands. All of which made the pirate crew was suspicious. Making them extra-aggressive.

How it went:
Set-piece 1
Of course, who do the pirates fire on? Not the battle-psyker, but the ship's new Astropath, who they bore a grudge against anyway. Obviously, he was the one who was controlling their captain's mind, right? After being fired upon by a melta-gun, the ships new Astropath's arm was mostly melted, due to Wound damage. Not good.

The Explorers tried holding the pirate captain hostage to get the pirates to back off. But pirates being who they are...the first mate fired upon his own captain and killed him. At that point, the Rogue Trader did something extraordinary. He called out to the pirates and said, "If you join me, I won't shoot you."

While that didn't convince the pirates immediately, it did put the seed into their mind. It was the serious ass-whooping that they received from the Rogue Traders in the midst of mass chaos and confusion that pushed them over the edge. Also, the Rogue Trader made a hell of a charm check.

The end result was that the Explorers

Set-Piece 2
Who ever said that Rogue Trader characters were too powerful and couldn't be challenged? As the Explorers made their way to the shuttle craft, they had to cross over a number of suspension bridges, all linked to various pieces of debris floating in space. That's what Footfall is, after all, just a collection of space debris that's been built upon.

While they were scrambling over the bridges, a flyer dove in on them and attacked. I used the stats of the Aquila Lander from Into the Storm. It's definitely not the worst flyer in the game or even close to it. But it put down the Astropath. Yep. He had to permanently burn a Fate Point to keep his character in the game. Now, he sports a cyber-arm for his troubles. And that's just the beginning! Kudos to Rob for taking this severe injury so well.

So, here's the thing to remember - the Astropath's arm was melted mainly because the battle-psyker took control of the opposing pirate captain. The results of this would see serious repercussions in later sessions.

The flyer was even actually able injure the Arch-Militant. However, after firing their newly acquired melta-gun at the flyer and some firestorm action from the battle-psyker, they were able to finish it off.

After the Explorers finally got on their shuttle, they were able to fly back to their own ship under heavy fire and make their way out of Footfall. A distraction was set up by their tentative allies, the Naraghast. A small fleet of Imperium ships, led by their staunch ally Admiral Balter provided more cover.

Set-Piece 3
Next, we staged the battle, minis and all. The party's objective? Maneuver their vessel across the battlemap safety, while battling and dodging the enemy Chaos ships.

On the Rogue Trader's side was their two ships (a frigate and raider) and three pirate vessels (a light cruiser, frigate, and raider). Up against them was a chaos cruiser and three frigates. Now, I will say that I certainly had not planned for the PCs to have so many ships (four) on their side. The reason they got help was as a direct result of the Rogue Trader's coercion of the pirates.

Having a space battle with so many ships was certainly daunting. Particularly when the rules lean heavily towards the campaign being about one vessel. In the end, what I did was to assign each allied vessel to a player and have them make the appropriate rolls. The players were also able to make their regular character rolls to boost their own ship, since all of the PCs stayed aboard the main Rogue Trader vessel.

As I've said on some of the comments here, what makes combat in space difficult is the fact that all vessels involved have to move. So, each turn, you're having to adjust the entire field of combat. That said, I still like the combat very much. I just need a bit more practice with it. And, to be fair, the space combat system was clearly never intended to have a large field of battle with numerous ships on it.

The result of the battle was fairly spectacular. The allied fleet concentrated fire upon the cruiser and destroyed it with appropriately spectacular results. As it was destroyed, I joked that whenever a ship bites the dust in Rogue Trader, there's always that chance that the Warp Field generator is disrupted and the destroyed ship creates a warp storm. Heh. Careful what you joke about.

Then, they scrambled past the exploding vessel and veered around space debris. In a turn of events worthy of Star Wars, a raider pursuing the allied fleet rammed into the space debris, destroying it in the process.

Just as they thought they were all clear, the pirate's light cruiser was fired upon by the Chaos fleet at was destroyed before it made it clear. The result of the pirate cruiser's destruction was a warp storm, which threatened to suck in the remaining pirate fleet. It did not, but it did suck up one more chaos vessel, demonstrating how deadly Rogue Trader space combat can be.

Friday, October 8, 2010

And now we pause yet again for some of the Awesome.

Many thanks to my buddy Duck Sauce for bringing this to my attention. Once I beheld it, it was so awesome that it needed its own post. That is all.

Wizard's new ad for D&D:

And now here's where it's from - a short from the 2006 D&D movie competition:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Prepping for a Game

I have found over the past 8 months, with the addition of a new child, my prep style for games has radically changed.

The thing I used to do was put in a massive amount of prep work up front. I'd build the world, create NPCs, build plot lines, and have everything in near-publishable format before we took off. I'd even create stat blocks and tab monster entries. Then, after the game got started, I let the world take care of itself. Because I had put so much time and effort into the NPCs and the world, I created whenever the PCs did something, it was very easy to figure out how my world and cast of characters would react. My session prep, then, was to just take a few notes about what the various factions of my world would do.

Now, it's much different. Now, I literally can't put in the intensive prep work up front. So it has to be spread out over the course of the campaign. Plus, there is a lot of re-reading the rules and refining my knowledge of how the game works.

In my past two campaigns, I had about a week or two to put something together resembling a campaign. What I came up was a very rough, very bare skeleton for a campaign. Basically a very broad and open-ended outline. On that outline were what I thought the major events of the campaign would probably be (subject to change, of course), and most importantly, the major themes of the campaign. Then, I start filling in the world and campaign outline in-between games. It's very different for me but I'm getting used to it.

Something new for this game...I now extensively email my players about their characters' agendas and what they want to get done. This sort of happened on its own. The Rogue Trader player, Matt, started emailing me with orders he was giving to their entourage. I would respond back and then we would see his orders carried out during the course of the next session.

However, now that emailing habit has started to spread to the other players. I find it to be tremendously helpful in maintaining interest and momentum for the campaign. When I've tried to do this before, it's usually failed. People are busy with their own lives, etc. I'm not sure why this campaign has provoked this much outside-game buzz. But there you go.

Something I've always done is to write notes on what they did last session and consider how it will affect the game world. Then, I bullet point a few things that I definitely want to happen in the next session, usually as a direct result of what they did previously. But I allow room for them to change.

One more thing, and this is big: I am constantly prepping certain big scenes or big reveals in my head. Cutscenes and set pieces, if you will, that will come up later in the game. I even have them set to music. I don't know when they will come up, but when the PCs do something that I think warrants the big reveal, then I'll whip it out, perhaps tweaking it for their specific actions.

What about you all? How do you prep for a game session? I'm curious to hear.