Krivash the Roach: Part 6

I miss my mom sometimes.

She wanted me to be a good kid, and I wasn’t.

The police don’t really help us—we’re thieves.

Krivash pounded on the elevator door, willing it to go faster. His antennae flicked about, probing and brushing the walls in agitation. It was a larger elevator, able to carry several dozen people at once, maybe even a small car, but Krivash was alone. It was late at night.

Krivash hadn’t understood. He had only ever taken care of himself, and he had only ever taken care of those around him. He wanted to make things right when he made things wrong. He wanted to fix the things he had broken. He didn’t want help. He didn’t ask for it. He just wanted to be left alone to choose for himself.

He didn’t want a life where he had to do what he was told. No one had ever told him what to do, and he certainly wasn’t going to be told what to do now. Krivash could take care of himself.

So why did Ashraya care? She was messing with his life and the lives of his friends.

I don’t want to see you turn into someone like him.

Krivash finally understood. She had made a mistake, and she wanted to make it right. She wanted to fix what was broken. Krivash had been so self absorbed—he assumed other people were that way. It’s the way it had to be, right?

The truth of it was evident: he was in the elevator, wasn’t he?

The doors chimed politely and began to open carefully. The moment the gap was big enough he squeezed through he began running. The distance suddenly felt insurmountable. It was one of those nightmares, where you were running but your arms and legs were stuck in sludge.

The house was within sight, at the end of the block. He didn’t see Grimmel’s vehicles. Krivash almost stumbled and fell when he heard the distant pops of gunfire. A couple stuccato bursts and then all went quiet.

He kept running, although he desperately wanted to curl up and hide. His head was a swirling torrent of fear.

The street lights nearer Ashraya’s house were out. They didn’t seem broken, and Krivash still didn’t see any of Grimmel’s thugs. Krivash could see that houses door was ajar. He crept up the stairs.

Their home was destroyed. The door had been kicked in, and the coat tree was knocked over. In the living space, the TV was on, some television show continuing on as though nothing had happened. There was a spilled drink on an end table, dripping into the carpet. The couch had blood on it. There were bullet holes across several of the walls.

Krivash crouched down to take off his shoes like Ashraya asked, trying to pretend like everything was okay, but then the tension in his stomach was too much. He vomited. He was coughing when a heavy booted footstep came out of the kitchen.

“Roach? The fuck are you doing here?” said a man Krivash had never seen before.

Krivash coughed a couple more times to buy himself a few seconds, then composed himself and tried standing up. “Grimmel sent me. Wanted me to—”

A couple rushed foot steps and something heavy slammed into the strange mans head. He crumpled to the ground without a sound. Ashraya was standing there, holding a heavy looking lamp. There were years streaming down her cheeks.

“Krivash—you—you told them about me?”

Krivash stood up. “No! No I was coming to stop them!”

“They shot Lafid, because you told them about me.” She screamed at him, her emotions spilling over. “Krivash—we just wanted to help you, you—”

A bullet hole appeared in her forehead. Ashraya collapsed to the ground. A pool of blood began to seep through the carpet.

Krivash whirled around and saw Cyan standing there. A smoking gun in her hand. A van of thugs behind her. In the distance, sirens could be heard all across the Ring.

“Cyan—what did you do?” Krivash shouted at her. He collapsed to beside Ashraya, desperately trying to figure out what he should do.

“Roach, why did she know your real name?” Cyan said, her voice quiet.

Krivash didn’t answer. He stared at the dead woman.

“You were the snitch.”

“You just killed her! You killed her!” Krivash shouted into the ground. “She was gonna help—” He stopped. Grimmel’s men were gathering. Krivash stood up. If he was found out to be the snitch by all of them—

“Krivash—you bastard!” Lafid shouted behind him.

He lurched out of the kitchen behind Krivash. He had been shot several times in the chest and neck. His expression was of anger and grief. As Krivash turned, Lafid wrenched a police baton through the air, and it cracked against Krivash’s skull.

As the heavy pan connected with Krivash’s head, something in his right antennae popped. Krivash fell, and he could see the broken antennae dangling in front of his face. Gunfire from behind Cyan whizzed past into the building, cutting down Lafid where he stood. Krivash clutched at his head and rolled into the living room. He was in too much pain to stand, and he didn’t know whether it was all physical.

The sirens were getting closer. The men definitely heard this exchange. Some of them were calling up, saying they had to get out of here. Cyan was frozen in place.

Krivash slowly, staggered to his feet. He had done this. All of this. They were dead. They were dead. Cyan is a killer now. It was his fault. Cyan stared at him, her eyes already blank and her expression slack. She knew what this meant—Krivash being the snitch meant she was dead, too.

No.

Shoot me, Krivash said to Cyan.

The look on Cyan’s face crumpled, and she began to blink away tears.

Shoot me or they’ll hurt you. Krivash urged.

Cyan closed her eyes. She lowered her gun.

You said you’d give me up, remember? Krivash said. Shoot me!

He just wanted to make things right. He just wanted to fix what was broken. He didn’t mean to steal a truckload of guns. He didn’t mean to get them all mixed up in this. He didn’t mean to get Ashraya and Lafid killed.

Cyan, you have to—

“The roach is the snitch.” She called out. She sniffed away the tears.

A lot of confused and enraged voices sounded behind her, and then they all surged towards the house. Krivash turned and ran for the far window across the living room. Cyan fired her gun a couple times, breaking the window pane for him.

“He’s getting away!” Cyan shouted. Her eyes were puffy, and she wiped her nose with her off hand. She looked defeated, and alone. I did this.

Krivash paused for a moment at the broken window. The broken faces of Ashraya, Lafid, and Cyan all stared at him. His legacy.

Krivash pounced through the window into a narrow alley. The broken glass stabbed at his feet, but he didn’t fall. He turned  left and ran. Behind him he heard more angry voices, and a couple gunshots ricocheted off the walls.

The sirens reached a crescendo as several armored vehicles with flashing strobes pull up to cut off his escape. Gunfire erupted all around Krivash as police and gangsters began exchanging fire. Krivash scrabbled under a car. The end of his broken antennae jammed into the ground, and it hurt. He emerged from the backside of the vehicle, got to his feet, and kept running. From up the street, another of Grimmel’s transports smashed into a police vehicle. More of Grimmel’s people hopped out and began another firefight.

Krivash sprinted for the next alley, and several people shouted after him. A couple thugs gave chase but eventually had to stop and turn to defend themselves.

As the distance grew, it became quieter. The air became calmer. He could still hear the gunshots somewhere distant. Krivash kept running. It was the only thing he was good at.

He eventually found a quiet place near some empty dumpsters. He crouched down behind one. His world was spinning, and Krivash wanted to give up, to quit, to hide, but he didn’t know how. He never wanted responsibilities, but now he was the one responsible. He could see the stars above him now, and the starry eyes held nothing of their comfort. He was being judged.

He pulled his legs up to his chest, wrapping himself in a hug. He sank his head down and sobbed.

I didn’t kill them.

But I killed them.

His antennae twitched, and it hurt.

Krivash wasn’t sure how long he’d sat there. It was still night cycle when he stood back up. The gun fight and sirens had quieted down several hours ago. He emerged onto another unfamiliar street and looked around. More houses, but this side had more bodegas and shops. One billboard caught his eye against the darkened buildings: it showed a bunch of people lined up, all wearing uniforms and looking skyward. Words flashed across the screen.

Join the Starfinder’s today!

Krivash returned to the dumpster and emptied out his coat. He threw away the trinkets, baubles, and partially eaten pieces of food he’d accumulated. He pulled out his gun, which Ashraya had given back to him all those weeks ago, but then put it back in his coat. He shook his coat twice, brushed away dust and debris, and the coat was partially returned to it’s deep brown glory.

Krivash made his way to the docks. At first he thought the Starfinder building would be directly under the sign, but he was mistaken. A lively old lady in a shop laughed at his haplessness, but then directed him towards their building when she thought he might cry. By the time he arrived, it was several hours past morning.

For having such an impressive billboard, the office was very plain and tidy. He wasn’t sure what he expected, but it seemed like any other administration building. Krivash walked up to the counter where a greenish blue Vesk was seated. The barbs on her scaly skin were all smoothed back, and there were delicate intricacies to the patterns arrayed across her visible scales.

“Hello! How can I help you?”

“I’d like to join the Starfinders.”

“Oh! That’s great! Do you have time to fill this out?” She shuffled through pads and papers for a moment before handing him a data slip and a pen.

Krivash stood there and looked at all of the questions. Name. Date of birth. ID number. Emergency contacts.

I—I don’t know any of the answers.”

The nice lady looked at him, concerned and a little confused. “Well—we can work around that. But I do need something from you to prove who you are.”

“A nice man named Lafid signed me up.”

“Oh! Lafid!” She typed hurriedly at her terminal. “Yes! Okay, I’ll get this processing. He put in a special word for you.”

Krivash’s antennae twitched, and it hurt.

The world was threatening to spin again. He stood there, as still as he could, worried that if he moved, everything might crumble around him. He remembered sitting at the table with Ashraya and Lafid as they talked and laughed.

“So—what do you want to do in the Starfinders?”

“I want to be a diplomat.”

The vesk lady nodded agreeably. She kept working for a minute or two. Krivash could sense that she was trying to make small talk. Chit-chat.

“What do you want your name to be in our system? I only have your first name.”

“Krivash… the Roach.”

She hesitated and tilted her head in amusement. She informed him on the rest of the proceedings, where the shuttle was taking the recruits, and what to expect. At the end she smiled and waved as he left, reminding him again and again what time to show up at the dock.

“I’m sure you’ll make Lafid proud!” She said as the door opened.

Krivash’s antennae twitched.

And it hurt.

 

 

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Quest Writing

So I’m about to come out of hiatus for the Nemo crew and their DnD game. We took a break because during the holidays we couldn’t consistently have everyone there. It was a good time to take a break as well.

I used some of that time to talk to them about alignment and character motivation. A couple times now characters have used a version of the phrase, “Why are we doing this again?”

That’s fine if you are losing track, or your attendance hasn’t been perfect, but there was one line said that made me really start thinking about characters and quests. The tiefling cleric player said to the other players:

“I know Dan is trying to steer us towards this…”

I have been thinking about that line basically since she said it. I want my players to feel like they have choices, but more importantly that those changes matter and will affect the world around them.

Around the same time, my Rogue Trader players were busy trying to figure out where they belong in war on Port Footfall. Without any discussion, or even any questions, they sided with one merchant over the other. The decision made sense to them emotionally so I wasn’t too worried, but what I found interesting was that they sided with him without knowing what he was asking them to do.

It occurred to me (and was revealed to me by some more experienced GM’s online) was that I was doing this all wrong. I was writing grand scenarios and plot twists and stuff, when really that should be on the players. They were playing like they were actors in a play. There was a script, and they followed it.

Now— that’s not a bad way to play. But what was missing was character engagement. The players were doing what was asked of them, or picking from a limited number of choices instead of making their own.

Players making their own choices is what the core mechanic of RPG’s is. In my quests, I still put plenty of things in their path that they could choose to interact with and would change the course of events, but even more fundamentally, the players didn’t choose this quest for themselves. They didn’t say to themselves, “Hey! Let’s bring a Merchant Fleet to the Koronus Expanse and establish Battlefleet Koronus.” or “Hey! Let’s go bring down a rival merchant and steal a bunch of his assets.”

I had inadvertently made the choice for them. This gets tricky the more you think about it though, because the GM needs to prepare and the like. But what I missed was that I didn’t provide them options. I can still prepare quests, but it needs to be their choice to go on them.

It’s why my players went to Rain all died that one time. For the first time in the game I had let them loose and they chose an adventure to go on.

It’s why some of the greatest stories are simple. It’s why the heroes journey is so prevalent. There is a deed that could be done, and the hero wants to do it. Whether it’s taking down Darth Vader or riding eternal on the Fury Road; adventures need to be fun because someone wants to do it.

So I’m going to change the way I write quests. I will present issues and let the players decide what to do. I’ll still write all of my planned quests, but they will have to be the ones to choose to do them. I will instead present them with some primal reward, whether its rewards or revenge, but I think the possibilities will be a lot more satisfying to discover if the characters are finally in the story. So to speak.

—DTM

Fantasy v. Sci-Fi: My GM Preference

I’ve mentioned before on this very blog that I have loaded myself up with stuff to do.  But one thing I don’t think I’ve spoken too much about is that I am a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Game Master for my coworkers.  I figured a lot of them might find it fun, and at the very least we can broaden some horizons and introduce my coworkers to another side of myself.

Recruiting players at work was fun.  I had to try and find people who would be in it for the long run, but I also wanted to find people who had never played a tabletop role-playing game.  I wanted to make sure we had both enough boys and girls.  To my surprise I actually encountered a lot of eager candidates.  With players selected, it was time to make a world.

I drafted up a map and a couple cities and dove in hard on development.  As of now we are on holiday break, but we have played approximately fourteen sessions— all about two hours each.

This post isn’t about that game, but I just want to establish that I’ve been running two campaigns for several months now.  The contrast between doing sci-fi versus fantasy has been illuminating for me.  When I have more knowledge and experience I may do a more speculative post on the pluses and minuses for running sci-fi versus fantasy, but this one I just want to talk about what it personally represents to me.

It comes down to choices and consequences.  My style— as I see it— is that I love having a greater theme at play that will require my players to make a choice and deal with a consequence.  I love seeing how my players are going to respond in an imaginary situation.  I do not like clear cut choices.  I am not a huge fan of Good v. Evil.  I love throwing my players into a grey zone and seeing how they decide what to make of it.

What I love about sci-fi is that for me a lot more of the game is about consequences or outcomes, while fantasy seems a lot more about making choices.  And it’s all because in one setting magic exists.

Now obviously you can write either setting to encompass any theme, but in general I feel as though there is a pretty clear divide.  Fantasy is a realm where magic and alignment are massive forces in play and the players must deal with things as they rear their heads.

The peoples are hungry because their crops all wilted.  What do you all do?

We cast “Plant Growth” at a lowly level 3.  It rejuvenates the land and instantly grows much of those lost crops back!  Or we find (or create) a supply of food and extort the starving populace for all of their hard earned gold.

You can essentially orchestrate anything you want since there is powerful magic out there.  You spend more time thinking about the solution because anything is achievable, and the quest is more about whether you want to be good or evil or neither.  Whether or not you get them food is moot since magic will solve the problem, but what you choose the outcome to be is where the game becomes fun.  It’s not a choice of whether or not its possible, but where you stand in the greater scheme.

Sci-Fi is much more difficult because you must solve problems without a wand to wave.  You cannot create from nothing.  The choice that you make to solve the problem often comes with its own consequences that will also need to be dealt with.

There is plenty of food and fuel in most futuristic settings, but now the problems become how they are allocated and utilized.  Great power exists because such power is needed to keep humanity strong in the vast, inky ocean that is space— but people are behind that power.  There is no clear good and evil when there isn’t a great, neutral power like magic to draw upon.  Whether or not the outcome will work out in the end, the players will have to choose— often the lesser of two evils.

The people are hungry because the crops all wilted.  What do you do?

We can help the city recoup their losses by helping re-sow their farms.  But that will take time and we will lose out on other opportunities while we toil on this planet.  Or we could spend a lot of money and bring them food to survive the season.  But that will cost us all of our resources.  Or we can steal food from another planet and bring it all here.  This population will eat while the one we stole from will starve instead.

I’ll reiterate: you absolutely can spin either setting to be about good and evil, or choices and consequences.

Fantasy seems so much less concerned when it comes with choices because you choose the outcome before you begin.  We need to help the people, or we need to slaughter the enemy.  Both are possible, but which is better for us?  Are we good or evil?

Sci-Fi is about the hard choices.  A pirate fleet is coming to raid the frontier cities, but we can only defend one planet since space travel will take too long.  Which colony do we save and which colonies do we doom?

-DTM

I’m Finally a Game Master

I did it, Emily.  It’s been a long, arduous, frustrating road.  But I did it!  I’m a Game Master!

My first overarching quest is coming to a head!  Not by itself impressive, but what is is that my players are slowly realizing that the scenario is bigger than them— and how important the decisions they have (and will) make will echo in the halls of eternity!

Whoo!  I successfully communicated the ideas and themes behind this plot-line in a way where I didn’t need to ham-fist exposition.

My players thus far have made very straightforward decisions based on where they think they are supposed to go.  The problem with that is they do what they think I want them to do; as if the game is scripted and they are just parts in a play.

But in the last session, when faced with a political decision, it forced them to take a step back and realize that there is more to this than simply showing up and rolling dice.

To be frank, I don’t think some of my players enjoy this part.  But this is what I want the campaign to be: choices.  I want my players to find themselves in situations where their actions and choices are going to shape the world around them.

But my worry up until recently is that they wouldn’t care about making an informed choice.  They do care about the game and having fun, but it would be easy for them to be like, “Uh, that one- I don’t care, where is my laserfist.”

<exposition.exe>

The quick version: the players had made it through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse and they moored up at Port Footfall.  They met the rich merchant Zulfikar Raheem.  He has worked with them on a few jobs, but then it starts to become apparent someone is messing with Zulfikar’s affairs.

Zulfikar suspects (and with provided evidence from the players, ascertains) the Kasballica Mission is trying to screw him.  He implores the players to go distract the Kasballica in a gambit to buy him some time.

The Kasballica Mission hires them to do a job; that job was to fuck with Zulfikar’s affairs.

The mission is to go to a mining colony and setup a facility that will break the compact Zulfikar has with a Rogue Trader.  They go to the mining facility and realize that the planet itself is embroiled in its own conundrum.  So the players need to wade through the planets politics while also furthering their own ends.

Then for the first time the players asked themselves what they are doing.  Thus far they have been making whichever decision is presented to them.  But once they started to understand the stakes involved with the planet, and with their various political relationships, they finally started asking questions of themselves.  Not questions like, “Where are we?” but more like, “Why are we doing this?”

They slowly started to question the ins and outs, the benefits and consequences, and that’s when I ascended to a new level of Game Master.  That is when one of my players asked himself, “What is Zulfikar doing?”

I had done it.

It’s the moment I was never sure that would come because it was heavily dependent on my ability to playact a story for them.  Playact it in such a way that the pieces fit together, but might not be presented in order.  And in that session my players began inspecting the pieces and realizing that the picture is far bigger than they thought.

Now to be utterly fair, maybe my players had greater faith in me than myself.  Maybe they had been piecing it together and just making notes until the end.  Usually after sessions I get a lot of, “It’s fun!” and “Campaign is awesome.”

But this was the first session where I began to see them deliberate.  To engage with the story and talk about their investment.  Listening to them make theories and compare evidence.

I will never be able to fully describe the feeling.  I think I have a long way to go to become a GM of legend, but its good to have affirmation that the setting I’ve built is doing its job.

This post comes out on Friday.  The following Saturday I have to run the game again.  I cannot wait to see what happens next.

-DTM

I Back-flip Into Holes

I’ve always envied you Emily.  You have maintained a focus on yourself and your goals your entire life.  You’ve been falling down holes for years.  And luckily its usually the same hole!

My hobbies shift with the times.  I get really into various things for like a year or two and then I move to something else.  Well recently I sold off the majority of my Magic cards.  I also traded in a huge portion of my Batman comics because I just couldn’t keep up.  Last year I was in an in between phase when I decided to run a Rogue Trader RPG campaign.

Its probably my only solid hobby right now.  I am reading for entertainment less, I’m not getting through my video game backlog, and I have essentially stopped watching shows.  I fancy myself an ‘immersive GM,’ so I spend my time writing what I hope are interesting settings, quests, and enemies.

I bring all of this up not to brag but to emphasize how much time I spend on this.  I’m always thinking about it, planning for it, and writing down ideas and quest lines.  Most evenings after work I probably sit down and write at least a little bit.  I agonize over it, but I really love it.  It’s fun and satisfying!

But Emily, I back-flip down holes.  I throw myself into whatever my current hobby is hard.

So I decided I’m going to run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign for my work.  Some of my coworkers will get to be players in their very first campaign.  I’m going to have to write a campaign that’s not only exciting, but introduces these people to the campaign setting.  On top of all of that, the quest line needs to slowly teach them how to play the game.

One campaign was sucking up a huge portion of my time.  Now I’ve agreed to two!  I’m going the distance.

Did I mention I’ve never officially run a Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition campaign before?  So I need to learn how to GM it like a boss.

But fuck it, ya know?  I’m enjoying writing.  So much so that I am considering writing an official book.  So to keep my writing muscle flexing and getting swole, you and I are starting a brand new blog in which we will write a story back and forth, 500-ish words at a time!  Starting next Friday?!

BUT FUCK IT, YA KNOW?  I’m going to start my own writing project on my own goddamn blog.  I have been playing with the idea of writing a motherfucking prequel story to the Killian Rage from my goddamn Rogue Trader campaign.  It would be my first semi-serious online novella series.  Just to see how it goes, fuck it.

You may occasionally trip and fall into a hole Emily.  And its refreshing to see someone so dedicated to their self and their hobbies.  But I’ve never been known to trip.  My hobbies go too fast and hard for me to nurture them appropriately over the course of years.  So if I’m going to full enjoy a hobby, the only way I know how is to overload the machine and shove the whole damn thing into a hole.

And then I’m falling; surrounded by the elements of my work.  Running two campaigns, and potentially three blogs at one time?  Sometimes you see the the ground rushing up to meet you and all you can do is point and scream:

“ROLL INITIATIVE!”

Flee to the Koronus Expanse

Rogue Trader is an RPG system set in the 40k Universe.  The primary setting is the Koronus Expanse; a vast region of space beyond the Halo Stars.  It sits behind two great Warp storms: the Screaming Vortex and the Void Dancer’s Roil.  The gap between the two is known at the Maw.  What makes the Koronus Expanse the primary place setting is that until recently it had been lost.

Faster than light travel involves entering an alternate dimension known as the Immaterium, more commonly known as the Warp.  A realm made of emotion made manifest and an infinite number of daemons.

The route through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse was re-discovered within the last two or so hundred years.  It’s an entire segmentum of the galaxy with hundreds of millions of planets for the taking.  The players play as a party of explorers under the helm of a person known as a Rogue Trader.  A Rogue Trader has been granted the right to represent and claim planets and territories in the name of the God-Emperor of  humanity.

So go explore and have fun!

So naturally I did not start my group in the Koronus Expanse.  I started them in the Calixis Sector.  I have seven players and five of them have never played Rogue Trader, it’s a brand new d10 system they need to learn, and the classes do not translate straight across to fantasy (i.e.  there is no designated ‘tank’ or ‘healer).

I wanted to start my party in the Calixis Sector because its a much easier place to introduce the world.  It’s a part of the galaxy under the influence of the Imperium of Man.  I never liked the “you all meet serendipitously” method of starting a campaign- so I like to start them in a “you’ve all been hired for X” plan.

Writing the ‘Opening Mission’ was the most difficult thing I’ve written by far.  Mostly because I wanted to introduce almost all of the mechanics of the game to them.  Combat, Space combat, interaction challenges, exploration challenges, covert ops challenges, space travel, warp travel, investigation, purchasing personal things, outfitting the ship, entering and exiting port, etc…

So I wrote an escort mission.  My players began on the Hive World (industrial/labor planets) of Gunpoint and they commandeered a ship that was provided for them and they set off.  A lot more happens in between missions but the short hand goes like thus:

The players were assembled on the planet Gunpoint.  They were briefed: they had to go to a penal planet of Sheol XVII.  They needed to escape Gunpoint, however, because there were armed men hunting them.  They were promptly ambushed but managed to escape.  Once upon their ship they fled the planet.  The first mate aboard the ship was named Havoc, and he explained a little more of the situation.  They made their way to Sheol XVII.  Having duped a pair of ‘police’ ships, they got inside the planets perimeter.  They picked up a man named Killian Rage.  Havoc and Killian Rage go way back, having known each other for several decades.

Killian explained that Sarvus Trask, a prominent Rogue Trader, was hunting him.  Sarvus betrayed Killian; he used him as a scapegoat for a political deal and had him imprisoned as a sign of good faith.  So now Killian Rage is attempting to return to the Koronus Expanse and Sarvus is trying to stop him.

Once they escape Sheol XVII they go to the feral world Endrite to raid a facility belonging to Trask.  They successfully make it planetside, make their way on foot to the facility, and raid it for all of the supplies.  Unfortunately though, the supplies that were supposed to outfit their ship were merely cleaning chemicals.

They then went to Thical, a prominent hive world near the Maw.  They went to fence the stolen goods but they were met with a counter proposal from their agent: retrieve my stolen valuable thing and I’ll pay you well.  The players expertly infiltrated the facility and found the relic, but had to chase the men down to retrieve it.  They returned it to the agent who paid them and re-supplied their ship.

As they were about to leave Thical Sarvus Trask found them.  In the final days of the re-supply he encountered and captured Havoc in the city.  Amassing a fighting force, he appeared suddenly, murdered Havoc in front of them, and stormed the players ship on the dock.  It was a fight for their ship and their freedom.  It also turned out that their one time ally had been paid to turn on them and dealt a serious blow to the ship.  During the battle several players were critically wounded including Killian Rage who had his left arm completely chopped off.

They escaped after repulsing Sarvus Trask and fled to Port Wander, the final stop this side of the Maw.  On Wander they got their ship re-supplied, hired a new crew, and fixed their broken components.  Once ready, they plunged through the Maw into the Koronus Expanse.  Port Footfall is the stop on the far side of the Maw.  Once on port, Killian introduces them to his old flames father, Zulfikar Raheem, who pays them handsomely.

And then Killian leaves, unsure whether he’ll ever see the party again.

So a lot of this mission was a “connect the dots” sort of mission that allowed me to teach my players the various components of being alive and in the 40k universe.  A lot of this was just me being like, “Hey, this could be totally cool.”

But a small portion of the missions were me reconciling my last campaign that was a failure because I had never GM’ed before.  My first campaign as GM was fun but it got super duper turbo derailed because I didn’t understand how to tell the story.

Killian Rage was an NPC pirate lord in my first campaign.  For me, and I think for my players, he was one of the popular elements in the campaign.  So I began having him show up just to keep interest high and to give them a “Team Rocket” sort of half-antagonist.  He was eventually killed by the party.

Killian Rage represents me in the campaign they are currently playing in.  I gave him no voice, I made him very Mary Sue, and he didn’t talk much but he always knew or had just what the party needed (because I am the GM).  His plan to get them to the Koronus Expanse was a representation of my first campaign and how it goes terribly wrong.  Killian assumed it would be really easy since he knows everything he needs to but doesn’t consider that others will act in ways he can’t predict.  My players behaved in ways I didn’t predict.

Sarvus Trask kills his blood brother Havoc in front of him and Killian becomes ‘disarmed.’  He literally lost his left arm when Sarvus Trask cut it off, a nod to my loss of control from the first campaign, and his brother  Havoc was killed in front of him, a nod to Killian dying in the first campaign.  And when Killian lost Havoc he was lost without him- a feeling I felt when Killian was killed in the first campaign.

So the ‘Opening Mission’ ends with Killian introducing the party to Zulfikar Raheem.  Zulfikar agrees to pay the party when he learns that Killian lost Havoc.  Zulfikar had a daughter once, but she fell in love with Killian and left with him to go on adventures.  She never returned, and Zulfikar blames Killian for her absence.

So when Killian returns asking for a favor (that he knows he has no right to ask) Zulfikar only grants that favor when he learns that Killian is experiencing the same grief that he is.  He pays them, but as a mockery to Killian.  As Killian is leaving the facility, unsure of his future in the Koronus Expanse, he dons Havoc’s blood stained cloak and leaves.

The mockery and departure of Killian, and generous payment to the players, is a reminder to myself that this campaign is happening because of the mistakes I made in the first one. I learned from my experience and here we are now.  My first one was a confused mess but it makes me a better GM for my players now.

My players are here, they’ve earned their wings, and now I don’t need to escort them anymore.  

I feel like this campaign is already way better than the first.  For instance, people actually liked Killian as an NPC.  I even had an instance of a player conversing with him in character.  That last session where they make it to Footfall and Killian leaves- I have been told was a really good session by a few and in one instance a players favorite they’ve ever been in.

That makes me smile to think about.  I think I have a lot of room to grow as a GM in this campaign and I look forward to it.  So yeah, I feel better about this campaign.  Especially now where we get to the point where its really easy to lose control.  But I’m ready.

And don’t worry.

Killian will be back.  Eventually.

-DTM

 

Xenoblade Chronicles: A Review

I really enjoyed your post about your ferrets.  It was shway Ze Frank.  I’d write some about my lizard but he doesn’t do much in the long term.  His would be weird like:

Dear Diary,

Today I noticed a perspective mate in my domain.  I went to mate with her but as luck would have it, it was simply my own reflection on the glass.  Now I must sit here bearing the embarrassment of my swollen, black beard.  I will flex it at the passing humans as a show of dominance, though inside I am deeply alone.  I will hold a court of crickets tonight to assuage my lizard dong.

This past weekend I finally fucking beat Xenoblade Chronicles with an ending playtime of 108 hours.  And it felt so good.  I will note that its a different game than Xenoblade Chronicles X.  Which is yet on the horizon.  I played the version on the New 3DS.  I was itching for a good RPG to get invested in and Xenoblade Chronicles beat out the other games I was trying out.

Xenoblade Chronicles starts you out in a small “Homs” city located on a celestial being known as the Bionis.  The city is modestly thriving in the wake of a grand war with the metal beings from Mechonis.  Things go south when the Mechonis strike again and force a young man by the name of Shulk to wield a legendary weapon known as the Monodo.  Seeking retribution against their assailants, Shulk and his friend Reyn leave to find the Mechonis and destroy them once and for all.  The story is grand in scope and takes you to many unique places; though its cliched in a few ways.  There were plenty of moments that caught me off guard and kept me wanting to play.  The characters motivations and development are awesome, all make sense, and you really begin to understand who they are through the game.

The games story feels really well written, but its clearly from a japanese writer.  It felt a lot like a Kingdom Hearts story was placed in a Phantasy Star realm.  It was a very cool, fresh setting.  The game world is fucking huge!  The people live on the Bionis’ body, which is literally a tremendous creature that all biological life spawned.  You can look into the sky and see pieces of it depending on where you are.  The areas feel unique and expansive and there is plenty of reward for exploring.  There is a day and night system and the weather can randomly change!  These also effect what types of creatures are free roaming the world as well so it all feels really interesting and new.

The combat system was functional if clunky, but in a good way.  Its a real time combat system and plays an awful lot like Final Fantasy 12 with some MMO elements.  You control your character and you can run around and they’ll auto attack, but you have a tray full of secondary abilities and attacks that all have a cool down after you use them.  It was a little daunting at first but it became really second nature pretty quick.  You engage enemies in very fluid way in the game.  They are just running around and you can see their level before engaging.  Its one of my favorite things about Xenoblade Chronicles: there isn’t a single place they won’t let you go (barring a few story driven areas).  If you aren’t supposed to be there all you’ll really know is that suddenly the goddamn ants are like LVL 900 and really fucking pissed that you walked across their field of view.

Even though the main character is Shulk, you can at any point switch out your party members- including the one you control when you run around the world.  As your party grows you have to adapt to the enemies and its really nice to be able to be like “Man Shulk sux0rs right meow time to play as a different character!”  The characters all play really differently and are well balanced.  It gives you the freedom to switch out skills and party members to really dial in a new strategy based on your enemies.

There is quite a bit of infrastructure elements that get really confusing really fast and I found myself learning about things I could do with my characters way too late in the game to really abuse it.

Your characters can have affinity with one another and affinity with cities in the game.  You get this by playing with them in your party and the higher their affinity the more things you can do.  Cool battle buffs, more trading in cities, and eventually you can start finding Heart-to-Heart moments where you can play out little conversations between characters.  They are charming and really flesh the characters out.  That’s not the part that was hard- I accidentally missed the part where they tell you can have characters give gifts to one another which fucking helps.  I missed the bit where you talk to this unmarked kid to work on upgrading certain elements in a city.  Certain elements of the game I mostly didn’t use, even though I knew how.

The game has a lot of polish to it.  The menus can be confusing, but the game tries to make up for it by helping you organize it.  It’ll let you know when an item might be useful in the future, it’ll prevent you from buying skill upgrades you’ve already upgraded.  The fast travel system is fucking dope.  Since you can go anywhere anyway they let you fast travel at a moments notice to any previous landmark that allows it.  You could be at the gates of the final dungeon and be like, “Whoops I need some muthafuckin’ steel yams” and just teleport back to the first city.  They allow you to change the time of day at a moments notice as well which is handy for side quests and finding certain people.  You can save at any time which is a fucking delight.

My 108 hour play time probably wasn’t typical.  The main story quests give you a cool little arrow on the screen that points you in the right direction, which is pretty handy but it does take a lot of the mystique of exploring out of certain areas.  I did a shitload of the side quests (of which there are hundreds) and many of them are tedious.  They are easy- you know the standard “I need 6 Vorpal Farts” and “Go kill 7 Lizard Boners” but the problem is that many of the missions require you to go back to the specific person who asked you to do it.  Those bastards move around during the day, which is cool because the world feels fleshed out and scheduled, but there isn’t a way to quickly locate them.  Much of my time would be going back to town and running around for an hour finding them all.  And that’s assuming that the stuff you were doing is easy.  Later on the missions get really esoteric.  It may sound easy to kill 7 Lizard Boners (mirrors do nicely) but did you know that Lizard Boners only spawn in the swamp, in a certain area, at night, and it has to be foggy, and only one spawns?

My advice to you if you decide to play this: just FAQ the side quests.  I’m sure you could do most of them without help, but you’ll save so much time just looking up item and person locations.  There wasn’t a single side quest that was relevant to the main story line so you shouldn’t FAQ a spoiler on accident.  Also- if you are in a city, and there is an NPC with a name instead of “Colony 9 Citizen,” talk to them, it boosts your affinity with that town which you need to abuse.

I absolutely recommend Xenoblade Chronicles to anyone looking for a pretty straightforward RPG.  I wouldn’t say it breaks any new ground but at the very least it has a huge world to explore and a very good story.  You can get it on the New 3DS which is stupid handy since you can just close it to pause it at any time and pick back up whenever you have a moment.  I’m excited that games of this size could potentially be normal for handhelds.

Final thoughts: Loved the world, enjoyed the story, use a FAQ for side quests, talk to everyone, Riki is best character.

8.5/10

-DTM