Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Prologue: It's Not the Heat, It's the Catpeople (GURPS: Reign of Steel Solo Playthrough)

I've been wanting to play in the Reign of Steel setting for years now and I finally found my muse in the form of Morning Coffee Solo Variations, a solo gaming engine being developed based off of the Mythic GME I'm always talking about. I started thinking this through days ago and, honestly, I just hate crunching numbers right now. I'm not sure why. Summertime blues, maybe. So I didn't bother actually making character sheets and approached with more emphasis on creative storytelling (which is really usually how my solo playthroughs end up anyway). I like to get all my rolling done first, then write the scene afterwards, which seems not to be the standard.


When has BW ever been 'normal' anyway, amiright? Here's what I came up with. I'm not sure if I'll continue the story or not, as this was more about testing out the MCSV than anything else. Still, one never knows. Amazing artwork is always inspiring...

SCENE ONE PROPOSAL: Heracles and Megara are scouting the jungle alone, looking for leads on Red Dawn.
CHAOS DIE ROLL: Unmodified (0)
ORACLE QUESTION 1: "Will there be combat in this scene?" [50/50, (6)"Yes"/(8)Unmodified]
ORACLE QUESTION 2: "Will the combat be against Red Dawn?" [Likely, (5)"Yes"/(4)But...]
ORACLE QUESTION 3: "Will the two win the confrontation?" [50/50, (5)"Yes"/(5) Unmodified]
RANDOM EVENT GENERATION: [http://tangent-zero.com/zero_dice/zero_dice.htm?&pic1=0601.png&pic2=0461.png]

INTERPRETATION: Heracles and Megara discover a small encampment of Red Dawn soldiers and, after studying, decide to attack. There seems to be only a few soldiers and, while they put up a fight as best they can, it's clear that the soldiers are actually in the final throes of some sort of illness and are easily defeated.

Stalking slowly towards the firelight they'd seen in the distance, the two artificially created soldiers acted as one. It wasn't quite a full moon but with the clear sky overhead, there was plenty of light to hunt by. Their prey, a human resistance group known as Red Dawn, had been active in the jungles for several years now - something the Caracas AI could no longer tolerate. True, it was ruthless when it came to dealing with captured humans, but it wasn't the worst place to live, if you could find a cave and just leave everyone alone. That's what many did. Reports were that there was upwards of a few thousand still living in the Andes. Caracas was fine with that. Ambushing and destroying dumbot convoys though? That was too much.

The program to develop biological androids had yet to be fully tested, in fact. This was a trial run of sorts. A company of the latest models - dubbed 'Panteras' by those who'd seen them and lived - had been released into the field a few weeks ago with instructions to hunt down and eradicate the Red Dawn by whatever means necessary. It was only a matter of days before the accompanying exterminator robots proved too slow or unable to pursue more abstract lines of reasoning. They were dumped within the first week, gladly recalled for other duties. Of course the accelerated growth tanks and breeding gave the Panteras an edge that no amount of programming could - and just to be sure, they'd undergone some intense basic training. Every single Pantera in the field had successfully stalked and killed human prey under controlled conditions. Now, with the collars off and full autonomy in completing their task, the Red Dawn wouldn't last long.

Some conversation drifted through the thick undergrowth but it meant little to the hunters - spoken language wasn't among their serious training. Just enough to understand orders, and that only in English since that was still a lingua franca among the AIs. The voices sounded weak though, and had it not been for the three days of near constant skulking and scouting, the Panteras might have planned a little better. As it was, they were tired of this cat and mouse game. Time for the cats to play.

A simple glance from the larger one - the male, dubbed Heracles by his bot trainers - was all the signal that was needed. Rushing the final few yards to the circle of worn soldiers was easy when you weren't slowed down by boots or armor. The first one to fall never knew what hit him - a well-placed blade silenced him forever. Next, Heracles leapt at the only other human standing who, with eyes wide, managed to wake the others with his gurgled cries. Stealth switched to full combat when Megara, the other Pantera, opened fire with her assault rifle from cover and dropped two of the Red Dawn members before they could grab their weapons. The last soldier, a young lady full of bruises and cuts, scrambled backwards until hitting a tree trunk. She wasn't even trying to fight and it didn't take a translation to understand she was terrified.

Certain the camp had been cleared but for the girl, Megara emerged from the jungle with her weapon at the ready. Heracles glowered down at the girl but hesitated. Something wasn't right, and Megara could sense it too. These people shouldn't have gone down that easily. A closer inspection of the bodies, and the cuts on the cowering girl, and the Panteras could see the reason: The soldiers were sick. Real sick. It wasn't part of the training to understand why, or to even care, but something stayed Heracles' hand.

"Human is Red Dawn, yes?" he inquired in his deep voice. "Human knows where there are more Red Dawn...?"

The question was clear enough, even in a language more foreign than the girl had ever heard before. She looked back and forth between the two before pointing off towards the West and chattering away unintelligibly. The Panteras weren't impressed and likely would have ended the girl's misery right then if she hadn't started scribbling in the dirt. It was a crude map but one which Heracles and Megara, having been around most of the jungle either in-person or in simulations, could identify. The girl was indicating a location at the foot of the Andes mountain range about seventy-five miles east of Lima compound. It would be another day or two of traveling and they'd have to check in with their robot masters... but it might turn out to be worth it.

The girl finished her map and sat back. Not more than ten or eleven years old, it struck the two biological androids that the trio was likely fairly close in age. The accelerated growth hormones had drawbacks, though not to the machine overlords. Life expectancy for Panteras was, at the outside, three and a half decades. Given the nature of their existence, not many would ever last that long anyway. They turned away, leaving the girl alone and soon to fall victim to whatever had begun its work in her already.

Life expectancy for Panteras was still probably longer than most humans nowadays...

[So that was fun, and not altogether a disaster! I enjoyed the ease of not flipping back and forth in the Mythic book, and I really like the streamlined presentation for using Chaos. I'll link to the MCSV once it's published for all you Bwogonauts to run out and grab it for yourselves!]

With Brightest of (Post-Apocalyptic Jungle) Greens,

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Bwogonauts Have Friends Too...

Solo gaming is a labor of love.

I was recently reading someone's ideas for a specifically singleplayer roleplaying experience and it reminded me a lot of various half-finished Notepad documents scattered around my hard drive. For myself, nothing is more random or boring than my day-to-day life. That lovely paradox literally oozes story potential. I have children so, yes, "literally oozing" is an accurate description of many days around Casa de BW. Is there a way to tap into Real Life and use it as inspiration for storytelling? I've heard rumors to the effect that that's exactly what people who write books do but to ordinary Bwoggers like us, it often seems like Magical Magic From Magicland. I mean, sometimes we just want to roll dice and pretend to stab orcs in the face - we shouldn't need a night class to teach us that... right?


Aside from that probably being the easiest credit in your university career, I think I can distill some themes from the my myriad digital ramblings and, with actual inspirations like [games you've already checked out because you're a regular visitor to the Bwogosphere]. I guess this might count as something more along the lines of a generator itself, but that's okay because it's the kind that doesn't use fossil fuels and you can setup on your rooftop with ease. Or maybe your sheep field, where you grow your... sheep? Sure. That's how farming works, I think.

So I think there are a few key pieces here, and I'm going to use language that leans less on the 'gaming' and more on the 'story-crafting' side, since that's usually how I tend to think of my solo sessions:

The Setting: Where does your story take place? What's the lore? Do you want to have a complete lore before you being or just build as you go?
The Hero(es): Who are your main characters? Secondary characters? Are you generating them with a system or just writing up a bio?
The Metric(s): What is your primary standard for meeting or failing to meet progress towards a goal?
The Goal(s): What is your character or party trying to accomplish? What are they working towards?
The Random Stuff: What are some things that might happen in pursuit of your metric(s) that you could use as indicators of plot twists in your story?

I think that's probably a good start. Answers to those five questions will go a long way into laying the groundwork for some cool storytelling. I wouldn't rely on a system too much for mechanics but character creation is usually my favorite part of a game and there are some systems that do that really well. To use a recent conversation about a possible play-by-post game, let's see how this might actually work in practice. The relevant backstory is that I love learning new systems, even if I don't end up liking them, and I'm always wondering about solo application. I'm currently learning the Vampire: the Masquerade (V20) system, and I have always loved the Deluge setting (available for pay-what-you-want at the link). I was wondering aloud if there was a way to combine playing vampires (which, in my mind, is an excellent survival/horror genre when I place emphasis on survival over crazy blood mysticism or cut-throat politics) in a setting where it's been raining non-stop for a century. The answer, spoiler alert, is 'duh', but let's see how we do anyway:

The Setting: Deluge - planet Earth after it's been raining non-stop for a hundred years. Post-apocalyptic but very wet, dreary, and full of odd combinations of high-technology and improvisation. I don't want much more than our current day technology, I'd say the story will take place in roughly 2100AD, with it having starting raining heavy and the rapid rising water levels didn't allow for much advancement beyond 2015-level tech. Some, but not much. Settlement generation, when needed, will use the system in Deluge, which is very quick and easy and lovely. We'll center around Maple Hill, a previously generated settlement I've had for a few years but never did anything with. A population over 100k, with a population delta of "exodus" and both having and needing people as resources - I'm going to say this means something dark is going on in Maple Hill. I want to have vampires, so maybe it's that the city pays for blood, organs, and limbs. In a post-apocalyse setting, that's gruesome enough reason to say a city needs people, has people, and that no one stays long. Add in that the city might be run by vampires and you're good to go.

The Hero: I don't quite know yet. There are elements of V20 I like and many I don't. I may just mix up my own version, using the system as inspiration. This may mean I set up my own homebrew mini-system for vampirism, but for now let's just say our character is named Wally and he's just woke up alone, confused, and soaked to the bone. His clothes are drenched in more than just rainwater and mud - there's bloodstains all over the front of his shirt, and there are rivulets of bloodied water running away from his location into the lush jungle undergrowth. It's dark - Wally knows it's not just overcast but nighttime - and, somehow, he can see everything like normal. Well, sort of normal but... different. We'll use all this to discover and define the vampirism as we go.

The Metric: There are a few things that I know I do, or need to do, daily and yet that I don't always succeed at. One thing is eating refined sugar, or just healthy eating in general. Another is getting outside for a walk (as opposed to driving or sitting on the porch). We homeschool and I (try) to organize and get that done on weekdays. I'll leave it to you, dear reader, to decide how often I meet any two of those goals daily.

The Goal(s): As a vampire, Wally will need to feed. What this means, I'm not sure yet. Does he need to drink human blood or does animal blood count? What happens if he skips a night? Can he leech bio-energy instead or actually drinking blood? Whatever it looks like, one defining component of Wally's vampirism will be that he needs to sustain himself daily (optimally). That's an easy goal. Another goal might be personal safety - Deluge is wonderfully harsh for the unprepared. Immortality doesn't go for much if you're buried in a mudslide or attacked by humanoid bears. Finding, building, invading, or otherwise obtaining some sort of personal dwelling will be another goal. Note that while the first goal is likely to be something Wally has to face every day the second goal will, in theory, reach completion. Those are two goals that seem good to start with, and let's just add in that Wally is a little amnesiatic from the experience - that'll be for the random bit later on. Let's assign the goal of "healthy eating" to "Wally needs to feed daily", with the added piece of "avoiding refined sugar for the day" meaning something particularly significant happens surrounding the feeding - he gains a new trait, learns something about how to feed, finds an alternate food source, etc. I like my sweets, okay? Stop judging! Alright, so let's have the goal of "taking a walk outside" tie to the "establishing a safe-house" piece, which makes sense because I won't be taking walks in December - it's a temporary goal on both points. Finally, let's tie that "successfully educated the Bwoglings" to "uncovering the truth about Maple Hill". That looks good for now.

The Random Stuff: Let's say that Wally has a hard time remembering things, probably because of the trauma of becoming a vampire. Whenever I wash a full load of dishes during my day, we'll let Wally remember something cool. I'm making a running change to our goals because I know myself - we'll move that goal about sweets here, because it fits better under this category, and because I like chocolate. So sue me. Whenever I have a day where I don't consume refined sugar or heavily processed foods, I'll add a new trait or ability to Wally in some fashion. A final one will be that whenever it rains in real life, measured by my actually seeing precipitation falling from the sky, I'll have what I call a Major Event happen. I'll make a list of what these could be and then just roll on it when needed (at least one should probably have Maple Hill somehow).

Review: So we now have a character, Wally, who has just awoken to vampirism in a rain-soaked post-apocalyptic Earth. We have a few metrics in place to keep the story moving with plenty of room for the unexpected. We have a particular location in the setting, Maple Hill, that is ripe with potential as a setpiece tailored to Wally's story, for good or ill. 

Already, there are all kinds of vampire lore bits that need to be answered - sleeping during the day, sleeping in a coffin, etc. We'll discover those as we go. The same goes for the setting, as we're establishing it from the perspective of a single character, but I think it's more fun that way. I won't promise to continue Wally's story but if you happen to stumble across a great story of your own and want to share, feel free to comment about it!

With Brightest of (lush tropical overgrown urban ruin sprawl) Greens,

**Special thanks to Friends of BW - S.B. and the Lone Wolf Roleplayers, and Lucia Sweet. Ya'll rock!**