Thursday, April 21, 2011

Scoring Orpheus

I've been running White Wolf's Orpheus for about 10 months now.  For those that are unfamiliar with the material, it was a limited-run, six-book series set in their old World of Darkness.  It focuses on agents working for an organization that investigates hauntings and ghostly phenomena.  Uniquely, these agents are capable of either projecting their spirits from their bodies, or being cryogenically "killed", and revived at the end of their mission.

I've always felt the strong need for music with pretty much any game I'm playing.  Even board games need a soundtrack.  Orpheus is especially cinematic, and I have given more thought to scoring this game than almost any other aspect of it.

The authors specifically cite the "Movie Model" as a method of presenting the game material: the game should be paced like, and have the feel of, a modern horror/suspense/thriller flick.  To that end, I've used a lot more of the mainstream, popular, summer blockbuster sort of tracks than I usually do.  Each song has a particular scene or character associated with it, and what follows is an idea of what I was trying to achieve with each bit.  They are listed more or less chronological order, and spoiler-free.

"Plane", by Jason Mraz.  With its dreamlike instrumentals and soft-voiced, poetic lyrics building an elegantly-delivered catastrophe, it was the perfect choice to introduce the first major upheaval to the players' world.  It evokes images of flight, not unlike projecting, but also the inevitable and dramatic crash.

"Resistance", by Muse.  The player characters are still dreaming, but now it's a dream of hunted, persecuted isolation.  However, Resistance isn't just about persecution: it's really about love against that persecution.  The crucible has only each other now.

"World So Cold", by Three Days' Grace.  By now, the crucible has begun to become aware of the depth and breadth of the horror arrayed against them.  The little threads are coming together into a woven tapestry, and the truth is turning out to be more sad and terrible than they thought.  This song specifically is used to narrate the particularly tragic storyline of one of the signature characters, who loses someone he loves when she succumbs to something truly horrifying.

"The Animal", by Disturbed.  All about giving in to the hungers of the baser nature of the spirit, and the corrupting influence that it wields.  Some of the worst enemies that the crucible faces is their own inner demons, as with the characters in any World of Darkness game.  This song adequately describes the descent into hunger and madness.

"New Divide", by Linkin Park.  A song that has yet to be used in this game, but will make its appearance at a time of revelation and discovery.  It describes a pivotal moment of crucial choice, when the crucible will have a chance to set a chain of events into motion that will result in a dramatic upheaval of their own.  Perhaps a chance to take back some of the power?

"This Is War", by 30 Seconds to Mars.  A melodramatic call to arms, unapologetically theatrical.  Unlikely to make its appearance until we get close to the end.

"Blood Theme", by Daniel Licht.  A very creepy instrumental piece that is short but extremely evocative.  I can't really talk about when this one will be used, but I have big ideas.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

New D&D game commencing

Commenced, actually, we had the first session last week.

I wanted to run something extremely episodic; a game with a short attention span.  When I write, I have a tendency toward long arcs and big reveals.  This has served us well in the past with some really good stories; my favorite culminated in the players' actions ultimately slaying a god and annihilating the world he had created.  These themes have been presented by other writers more talented than myself, but I'd like to think I was able to frame them in a fashion that was compelling and meaningful for the participants.

So on to other things.  This game is based in Sigil, the City of Doors, and work for a company that specializes in interplanar delivery, recovery, and acquisition.  Each adventure arc will involve heading to some fantastic locale in the multiverse with the intent to complete a job.  Right now, the PCs are headed to the City of Gloomwrought, in the Shadowfell, on board a githyanki planar barge, making a fairly 'routine' delivery of goods and passengers.  Almost immediately upon arrival, they were set upon by a powerful fey sorceress who sought to abscond with one of the passengers.  He was a warlock, sworn to her under a fey pact, payable on death.  He's not actually dead, just visiting the land of the dead, but the Lamia Sorceress ignored the distinction. 

We only got a few turns into that fight, but afterward the players will find themselves more entangled in the local dealings of Gloomwrought than they had originally anticipated, and hilarity will ensue.

It's exciting, having the entire multiverse at my disposal.  Virtually any crazy idea I get can be adapted in some way to serve as storyline material.  Unfortunately I do have to sacrifice a certain degree of continuity; recurring characters and locales will become more difficult to justify. 

We are short one player for this game.  We have a Dwarf Fighter, an Eladrin Wizard, a Changeling Rogue/Warlock, and an Elf Avenger.  I'm NPCing a Human Bard for the time being, but I find that running a PC is a very involved process in 4E.  Ideally, we'll recruit a fifth player, but I'm considering converting the character over to a set of monster block stats for brevity's sake.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Bridge of the Venerator

Layout for the Venerator scenario listed below.

The Last Flight of the Venerator

This was written as a four-player scenario for Warhammer 40k, with two teams: Space Wolves and Imperial Guard vs. Chaos Marines and Orks.  My primary intent in writing this was to create a game with strong narrative and cinematic elements, and of course to create an enjoyable gaming experience.  A referee or game master is not needed, as this scenario more or less adjudicates itself.  We haven't played it yet, as of time of this writing, so any game balance issues are as yet undiscovered.  Fortunately I'm blessed with a gaming group that really doesn't worry too much about such things; we're looking for a fun game rather than an intense competitive experience.  As a scenario, it's pretty heavy on special rules and random elements, and I expect it will take a long time to fully play out.  I have high hopes for this one.

The Last Flight of the Venerator
A 4-player scenario for Warhammer 40,000

“Get your men into the fight now, Colonel! The heretics' ritual site has got to be down there somewhere. We'll fire on your mark. Let us know what you find in that mess... sorry Colonel, stand by, it sounds like there's something on the ship's hull....”

-Inquisitor Damiana Lin, Ordo Malleus
Transmitting from the bridge of the commandeered Planetary Defense ship Venerator (final transmission)


War has gripped the planet of Garryx for generations. Situated rimward of the Eye of Terror, Garryx has endured longer than anyone in the Administratum expected. It is now the final days of Garryx's struggle, and decades of strife are culminating in a last-ditch effort on both sides to achieve total planetary dominance.
Having expended the lives of millions of fanatic cultists, the forces of Chaos have no other choice than to take to the field of war themselves. They have secured the ruins of the great Basilica Imperialis in the heart of the burned-out capital city. Tonight, they are performing a vile ceremony in the Basilica, using the collected spiritual essence of ten thousand ritual victims sacrificed worldwide. If they are successful, they will open a warp-rift directly to the Eye of Terror, ensuring that Garryx becomes a beach head for the Ruinous Powers. They have contracted the services of ork mercenaries, paying them in food, fuel, and most importantly, weapons.
Ever-vigilant for signs of growing corruption in their sector, the Adepts of Cadia have deployed a contingent of guardsmen to attempt to crush the heretics and abort their ceremony. The guard is supported by a small but elite Inquisitorial kill team from the Ordo Malleus, and a force of Space Wolves from nearby Fenris. The success of their venture will hinge entirely on whether or not the Imperial loyalists can prevent the heretics from completing their ritual.


Each player will build their army to 2000 points, using the standard force organization chart.


The board will be 4' by 8'. Terrain will be assembled in a mutually agreeable manner. Roll off; the winning team chooses who goes first. The team that goes first then chooses which long table edge will be their deployment area. They will then deploy their entire army, except for any units in reserve, up to 12” from the long middle line of the table. Then the second team deploys likewise, and may attempt to steal the initiative as normal. Note that the Chaos player must place a suitable piece of terrain representing the Basilica Imperialis deployed in the middle of their deployment zone, and must place one of their HQ units within, representing the ritual casters.

Special Rules:

The Venerator: In close orbit above the battlefield is the Planetary Defense ship Venerator. In these final days, it is one of the last still functioning, and it has been commandeered by Inquisitor Damiana Lin. She is using it as her remote command center, and will use its orbital weaponry to aid the Imperials if she can. The Venerator is represented by its own board, assembled from Space Hulk tiles, with a smaller game run simultaneously. The complete rules for this sub-game are listed below.
Orbital Lance: During their shooting phase, the Imperial Force can fire the Orbital Lance. It is a S10, AP1, Large Blast weapon. Due to inexact targeting methods, it does not correct for firer's Ballistic Skill when it is fired. If the Orks gain control of the Venerator, obviously the Imperials lose this asset.
Guidance Systems: The Imperial forces may benefit from the targeting assets hardwired onboard the ship. Each turn they may either reroll a scatter die from a weapon fired (including the Orbital Lance), or force one enemy unit to reroll their successful cover saves.
At the end of each game turn, immediately play two turns on the Venerator board, according to the rules listed for that peripheral scenario. Then return to the main board for another turn, alternating back and forth.

The Basilica Imperialis: The Chaos forces are channeling massive amounts of psychic energy through this ruined structure. The Chaos HQ unit deployed in here (referred to as the Channeller) may not voluntarily leave this piece of scenery, though they may shoot, assault, and otherwise use any abilities they possess as long as they do not leave. Thanks to the gathering daemonic powers, the entire unit claims a 4+ Invulnerable save (Improved to 2+ against anything with an unlimited range, such as the Orbital Lance, etc.) and gains the Eternal Warrior special rule. Any other unit entering the basilica is unaffected by this, and treats the building as conventional cover. The Imperial forces claim victory if they can kill the Channeller or cause it to fall back from the basilica.

Gathering Warpforce: At the beginning of each of the Chaos Marine player's turns, roll a d3 on the following table to represent the effects of the ritual. As the game progresses the ritual effect strengthens, so add the number of the current game turn to the roll. Effects are cumulative.

2- No effect.
3- No effect.
4- Gathering Darkness- Any unit targeting the Channeler with a shooting attack must roll to see them, exactly as per the rules for Night Fighting. If this result is already in effect, the entire scenario gains the Night Fighting rule.
5- The Haunting- Warp-spawned whispers and visions of horror flutter through the minds of nearby conscious creatures, making them jump at shadows. Any units that currently claim a cover save must make an immediate pinning test. If this result is rolled a second time, any units failing the pinning test must remove d3 models as their compatriots succumb to terrified insanity.
6- Blood Madness- The Basilica exudes an aura of murderous rage. All units within 6” of the Basilica gain the Furious Charge rule. If this result is already in effect, then all units within 6” also gain Preferred Enemy against all enemies.
7- Warpstorm- Bolts of fell energy crackle from the growing warp rift. Randomly determine a unit within 12” of the basilica (other than the Channeler). That unit sustains d6 S6 AP3 hits that ignore cover saves. If this result is rolled a second time, increase the range to 18”; and choose two random targets (which may be the same unit twice).
8- Pulse of Mutation- As the fabric of space-time begins to shred, a burst of pure chaos seethes out of the rift. Every unit within 6” of the Basilica (including the Channeler) must make a Leadership test. They suffer 1 wound for each point that they fail the test by. These wounds ignore armor and cover saves, but invulnerable saves may be taken as normal. If this result is rolled a second time, resolve it as above, except that the leadership test must be taken at a -2 modifier.
9- The Gate Opens- The ritual reaches its culmination, and the Warpgate to the Eye Of Terror opens, vomiting all manner of horrors into reality. The game ends in victory for the forces of Chaos and their allies.

Fighta-Bombaz: The ork mercenaries have dominated the skies of Garryx during these last few months. At the beginning of each Ork player turn, the Ork player may choose to order his air assets to attack either the Venerator or the Imperial forces on the ground. Ork logistics being an imprecise art at best, the ork player then rolls on the appropriate table below:

Attacking the Venerator: (d6)
1- Blow 'em Open! The Orks manage to blast open the service hatch, enabling a third access point for their boarding teams. Treat further results of 1 as Get 'em Ladz!
2- Get 'em Ladz! The orks manage to land extra boarding teams on the hull. Immediately place an ork slugga boy at each access point, or as close to the access point as you can.
3- Targeting Array Damaged! Did they deliberately try to take out the comm systems? Unlikely. Regardless, the Imperials no longer benefit from the Venerator's Guidance Systems. If this result already applies, reroll.
4- Damaged the Main Gun. Careful ladz, the boss probably wants that thing intact. The first time this result is rolled, the Orbital Lance will now scatter d6” even if a Hit is rolled. The second time, it becomes S8, AP2, Large Blast. The third time, it ceases working entirely. Results are cumulative.
5- Direct Hit! The ship lurches dramatically as a Fighta-Bomba crashes on the hull. Every model on the ship takes a S3 hit.
6- Firestorm! An ork missile punches through the hull and explodes, devastating the ship's interior. Every model on the ship takes a S5 hit.

Attacking the Ground Forces:
1-2 Grot Bomb: A grot piloting an explosive missile shrieks out the last and greatest moments of his life. Place the large blast template on any target, and then scatter it as normal (BS of 3). Thanks to the Grot's piloting skills, the scatter dice can be rerolled, though the second result stands. The bomb hits at S8, AP3.
3-4 Strafing Run: Firing twin-linked big shootaz, a speed freek causes death from above. Place two markers (coins are suitable) and scatter each one 2d6 inches (do not scatter results of Hit). Then draw a line between the two markers; every unit that is bisected by the line sustains 2d6 S5 AP- hits. Any units that sustain casualties must test for pinning.
5-6 (Very) Steep Dive: Treat exactly as a Strafing Run, above, but nominate one of the markers to be the fiery terminus of the speed freek's exploits (before rolling the scatter). After the strafing run is resolved, place the large blast template over the terminal marker. Anything hit sustains a S9 AP4 hit. Finally, the spot is marked with a crater or suitable wreckage, and counts as Difficult and Dangerous terrain (due to fires, unexploded munitions, etc).

Peripheral Scenario: The Bridge of the Venerator.

An endless tide of ork boarding teams assault the Venerator in a bid to capture its bridge. Defending it is Inquisitor Damiana Lin, Imperial Guard Sergeant Pollus Tyler, and a small team of conscripted Planetary Defense Force soldiers. If the orks can sieze the helm, they will capture a key asset from the Imperium. The Inquisitorial forces have an ace in the hole, though, in the form of an Eversor Assassin lurking somewhere in the ship.

The Bridge: The bridge is assembled using Space Hulk tiles as showed above (note: this is cut-and-pasted from the scenario pack I initially wrote.  I'll post a photo of the board soon). The game is played similarly to a game of Warhammer 40,000, with a few variations. There are a few locations on the bridge wirth noting:

1- The Helm. Inquisitor Damiana starts on this square. She does not need to remain here.

2- Sealed Hatch. The orks didn't manage to blow open every access hatch, but they still might. This can be used as another invasion point by the orks if they score a Blow 'em open result on an orbital action roll.
3- Invasion Points. These are the hatches that the orks have blown open with crude meltabombs. Swarms of orks jockey for position here, but only a few can fit through at a time. At the start of each ork turn, the ork player places 1d3 ork Slugga Boyz as close to each invasion point square as possible.

Imperial Forces:

Inquisitor Damiana Lin
WS    BS    S    T    W    I    A    Ld    Sv     Gear
4         4      3    3     2     5   2     10     4+     Autopistol, Power Sword
Field Generator (see below)

Inquisitor Damiana carries a sanctified Field Generator, making her 4+ save Invulnerable

Sergeant Pollus Tyler
WS    BS    S    T    W    I    A    Ld    Sv    Gear
3        4       3    4     2    4    2      9      4+     Laspistol, Power Sword
                                                                     Carapace armor

Sergeant Tyler is fanatically dedicated to the Inquisitor. If she is in the same board segment as
sergeant, he may reroll all missed shooting and close combat attacks.

Planetary Defense Troopers
WS    BS    S    T    W    I    A    Ld    Sv    Gear
  3       3      3    3     1     3    1     7      4+    Lasgun, Carapace armor

Eversor Assassin
WS    BS    S    T    W    I    A    Ld    Sv    Gear
5        5       5     5    2     5    3    10    5+     Bolt Pistol, Power Weapon

“He Could Be Anywhere...”- The Assassin is not deployed at the beginning of the game. Rather, the Imperial Player may place him anywhere on the board at the beginning of any turn other than the first. He may act as normal that turn.

Combat Drugs- The Eversor Assassin's brutal combat skills are heightened by the presence of a cocktail of metabolic enhancers, pain supressors, and psychological disinhibitors. During his assault phase, instead of making his conventional three attacks, he may make one attack against each enemy model in his board section.

Meltdown- When the Eversor Assassin is slain, his body quickly disintegrates into a caustic and toxic sludge. All models in the same board section as the Eversor, friend and foe alike, take 1 wound that ignores armor saves.

Ork Forces:

Freeboota Slugga Boyz
WS    BS    S    T    W    I    A    Ld    Sv    Gear
4         2      3    4     1     2    2     7      6+    Slugga, Choppa

The attacking ork force may lack the training and firepower of the Imperials, but they more than make up for it in terms of sheer numbers, and with the brutal hammerblow attacks of the nearby Freeboota kraft:

Boarding Teams- The orks have an effectively unlimited number of attackers. At the beginning of each of their turns, they may add d3 Slugga Boyz at each invasion point. Each model must be placed as close to the invasion point square as possible, if the square is already occupied.

Burna Boyz- A few more creatively destructive orks brought burnaz with them for the assault. Any time a Boarding Teams roll would deploy 3 orks, the ork player may opt to deploy a single Burna Boy instead. The Burna Boy has the same profile as the Slugga Boyz, but also carries a Burna. The Burna is a single-shot weapon that places a blast marker in any board segment within 12 squares. Any model in that segment immediately takes a S5 hit that ignores armor. Until the blast marker is removed, no model may enter its board segment, and all squares in the segment blocks line of sight. The blast marker persists until the beginning of the ork player's next turn. After the burna boy fires his burna, remove him and replace the model with a slugga boy model. Burnaz may not be placed in Overwatch.

Gameplay: The standard rules for Warhammer 40k apply, except as noted below:

Movement: All models can move up to 6 squares in the movement phase. They may move through squares occupied by friendly models, but may not end their moves in an occupied square. Diagonal movement is allowed, except when turning a corner. Models that are suitably armed may enter Overwatch, as described below, but may not move.

Shooting: All weapons have their range normalized to 12 squares. Pistols and Rapid Fire weapons are capable of entering Overwatch, as described below. Models may shoot any target that they can see within 12 squares. Friendly and enemy models block line of sight. Models may see around corners, but they may also be seen around corners if the model targeting them has clear line of sight to a single adjacent square. A model being targeted around a corner has their armor save improved by +1.

-Overwatch: certain models may go on Overwatch during the movement phase, setting themselves up to take shots at targets of opportunity. Any model armed with a Rapid Fire or Pistol weapon may choose to go on Overwatch during the movement phase. To do so, they must remain stationary and may not strike blows in assault. Models on Overwatch fire twice per turn in the shooting phase, and may fire at two different targets. In addition to this, they may interrupt the enemy's turn in order to shoot at them, attempting to suppress and kill their targets through massed firepower. At any point during the opponent's movement phase, a model in Overwatch may interrupt the movement of a target that they can see and take two free shots at them. Each model may only do this once per enemy turn, and note that these free shots must be fired at the same target.

Assault: There is no assault move. Any model adjacent to an enemy makes its attacks, and divides those attacks any way it sees fit among any eligible targets. Diagonals are considered adjacent. Blows are struck in initiative order. There is no combat resolution or Morale test, and models do not get locked in combat and are free to move away in subsequent turns.

Setup: The Imperial Player deploys Inquisitor Damiana on the Helm square marked 1. Sergeant Tyler is deployed in the same segment as the Inquisitor. The Imperial player may then deploy 6 Planetary Defense troopers anywhere in the ship. The Ork player receives the first turn.

Victory Conditions:

Orks: Clear the bridge of all opposition. The Orks win when there are no Imperial models left on the board. The Orks then gain control of the Venerator, and may use the main gun if it is still functional, exactly as the Imperials use it.  The guidance systems, however, are beyond them.

Imperial: Highly unlikely! They need to hold out as long as they can, providing logistical and fire support for the ground forces, while staving off the orks. In the event of an Imperial victory on the ground, the defenders of the Venerator may consider themselves victorious if any of them are still alive!