Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Mmmmm...Rich Creamy Vanilla

God damn there's a lot of talky NPCs and things to keep straight in the Maze of the Blue Medusa.

My players are in the Reptile Archive, but they still don't have their Chameleon Woman paladin with them who actually cares about the Reptile Archive.

In addition to cleverly outside-the-boxing past the undead bees and the Scorodron, they re-visited the Laughing Lich and The Guys That Think The Dungeon Is Their Hell, they ran into The Guy That Talks Constantly To The Glass History Golem, The Guy That Plays the Weird Organ of Forgotten Sounds (Acontias Skink--renamed "cunt skank" by the girls after he turned out to be way too self-absorbed), The Guy That Transcribes The Things That He Hears From The Engine That Collects Forgotten Sounds, The Guy Who Wants To Overthrow the Dungeon's "Power Structure", and found The Teapots That Have The DNA of Every Adventurer Who Died Looking For Them, they also heard The Faint Tinkling Noise, The Murmuring Noise and the Strangely Haunting Plangent Music of Acontias Skink but I forgot to include the Moaning Golem Faces On The Bridge...

They also got the ranger's animal companion ape addicted to a Crack Beast and had to save it but mostly they talked a lot--and they were good at it, too. But the best part of the adventure was when they finally got in a real fight:

They walk out onto the narrow bridge, I rolled some Chameleon Women on the random encounters. Everybody failed their perception check.

The first one throws a net over the barbarian, the second casts a version of Web which makes the net extend over the barbarian and ranger, blocking the bridge.

Now Stokely is playing her barbarian for the first time, after having lost two characters in this dungeon already.

"How do we get out of this Web?"

"Well it's a strength check."

"Oh god"

"If only you had some way to make sure you succeeded on a strength check..."

"Oh yeah Rage"

Stokely's barbarian rages for the first time, picks up the nearest chameleon woman, natural 20s to throw her over the edge of the bridge. Then the ranger knocks and arrow, aces Intimidate and scares off the rest.

Then on the way back though the bridge room later, I roll another wandering monster check and get the result that tells you you're getting hungry.

So because everybody's been through the Gallery where time speeds up and food spoils, nobody's got anything. They gotta crawl down there to the bottom of the pit, butcher the chameleon woman and eat her. Then a random NPC party rolled up and they had to share.

D&D is such a good game you guys.

I also got to test out these things that All Rolled Up made (use the links, their website makes the Maze look straightforward):










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Monday, March 27, 2017

Jesse, Lester, Wendy

I tested the Demon City character gen rules (mostly the 5 skills plus miscellaneous bonuses system) by trying to see if they reliably produced the kinds of fictional characters I could see running around Demon City.

Here are a few tests I ran:

This is Jesse as he appeared at the beginning of the Breaking Bad...

Jesse Pinkman
Drug dealer
Role: Investigator (There's no horror investigation in BB but Jesse is motivated by money, so ok)

Investigator gains one extra Skill, free.
-The investigator gains one extra contact, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra Skill or contact, free.
-The Investigator's maximum Cash is 3.

Characteristics:
Calm: 2 (Average. Jesse flies off the handle but he never really cracks up until he gets heavily addicted later)
Agility: 3 (He manages to climb that fence and steal his rv alright)
Toughness: 2
Perception: 2
Appeal: 4 (Kristin Ritter, dude)
Cash: 3
Knowledge: 2

Skills:
Burglary/Theft: 4
Driving: 4
Stealth: 4
Streetwise: 4 (Instead of occupational, as a drug dealer Jesse's taken 2 pts in Streetwise)
Local Knowledge: 3
Science: 3
Science (Pharmacy): 4 (Jesse's probably not Chemistry 4 but he probably knows a lot more about drug effects than Walt)

So that's five skills plus one occupational--which has been replaced by an extra plus one on Streetwise and one extra for being an investigator--plus Science (Pharmacy) comes free with Science. Perfect!
I didn't give him Deception or Persuasion because although he does both, he has a decent Appeal so it might be down to that.

Contacts

Badger
Combo


Krazy-8
Skinny Pete
That girl he hides in the hotel with
That leaves him with 1 floating contact, who is probably one of the people who came to that endless party he threw.

Hey it worked. Solid.

------


Here's Lester from The Wire...

Lester Freamon
Cop
Investigator

Characteristics:
Calm: 5 
Agility: 1 (He's old)
Toughness: 1 (Ditto)
Perception: 5 (Maybe 5--I mean, he's not Sherlock Holmes but he almost never misses anything)
Appeal: 3 (I mean Chardine liked him)
Cash: 2
Knowledge: 4 

Skills:
Burglary/Theft: 2
Firearms: 2
Stealth: 2 (he does stakeouts) 
Hand to Hand: 2 (he was in the army, he smacks Bird with a bottle)
Occupational (cop): 6
Streetwise: 6
Deception: 4
Local knowledge: 5
Research: 6

So that's 9 skills. 5 skills, +1 occupational, +2 extra for being an Investigator. Leaving us one short. We could argue that "Occupational (Cop)" is covered by Research+Local Knowledge+Streetwise+Burglary/Theft. Also I seem to recall that Lester didn't know that much about, like, surveillance exhaustion arguments etc until the lawyer explained it to them a few times. 

Plus we could bump up his Deception by one if he takes the "add an extra point to a skill" option instead of the extra skill.

So...pretty close.
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Wendy Torrance
Housewife
Victim

-Victims max starting Calm is 4
-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal plus one.
(And they get other stuff not relevant here.)

Characteristics:

Calm: 1 (she's a wreck from day one but doesn't crack up)
Agility: 1
Toughness: 1
Perception: 3
Appeal: 3, maybe 4
Cash: 1
Knowledge: 2

Skills:

Occupational (housewife/mom): 5 (I'm gonna say she put 2 pts here because by any measure Wendy is a pretty awesome mom)
Persuasion: 4 (automatic for victims)
Humanities: 3
Humanities (horror fiction): 4 (confirmed horror film and ghost story addict

Ok, now I could max out Wendy's housewife, or mayyybe add like Driving, but those feel like cheats--she's 3 skills short. She learns how to work a radio and other maintenance stuff pretty well but those kind of happen after the movie start--arguably though they happen during the set-up, so they're "gained" in the exposition. Still "running a frozen hotel" is really only one Occupational skill.

Basically either the system is overestimating Wendy or The Shining movie didn't show us enough of her outside being a victim. Maybe she's got more going on in the book?

Also, y'know, The Shining is 2 hours long and The Wire and Breaking Bad are series.


What's your take?
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Saturday, March 25, 2017

This Robot Makes Accountants

So the indefatigable Ramanan Sivaranjan made an automated character builder for Demon City.

It's fun to make characters and try to figure out who they are, some people on G+ made some...

Friend
Accounting Specialist

Calm: 3 Contacts: 5
Agility: 2
Toughness: 3
Perception: 1
Appeal: 1
Cash: 5
Knowledge: 5

Skills
Athletics: 4 
Outdoor Survival/Tracking: 2 
Firearms: 3 
Other Languages: 6 
Hacking: 6 

No big surprise how the accountant with hacking 6 ended up with maximum cash...


Victim
Furniture Finisher

Calm: 3 Contacts: 5
Agility: 4
Toughness: 4
Perception: 4
Appeal: 4
Cash: 5
Knowledge: 4

Skills
Firearms: 5
Stealth: 5
Electronics: 5
Fancy Driving: 5
Mechanics: 5 

Also rich--this dude is like some seventies TV detective and you see him like wrestle a shark and beat a Grandmaster at chess and uncover a conspiracy and then at the end of the day cops are like who did you say you were? and he's like oh I finish furniture.

Alright I gotta go figure out our D&D game tomorrow. Have fun be safe or don't be safe whatever, now a word from our sponsor...
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Friday, March 24, 2017

Distracted From Distraction By Distraction

...that's a line from TS Eliot. He was a well-educated creative genius and a grotesque anti-Semite, back in the days when that combination was still possible. It no longer is--so we'll have to listen to someone else if we want any insight into the job creative people have in times like these. Here's Toni Morrison, talking at Portland State University. She has just finished reading off some racist quotes from eminent Americans:
Nobody really thought that Black people were inferior. Not Benjamin Franklin, not Mr. Byrd, and not Theodore Roosevelt. They only hoped that they would behave that way. They only hoped that Black people would hear coon songs, disparaging things, and would weep or kill or resign, or become one. They never thought Black people were lazy—ever. Not only because they did all the work. But they certainly hoped that they would never try to fulfill their ambitions. 
And they never, ever thought we were inhuman. You don’t give your children over to the care of people whom you believe to be inhuman, for your children are all the immortality you can expect. Your children are the reason that you work or plot or steal, and racists were never afraid of sexual power or switchblades. They were only and simply and now interested in acquisition of wealth and the status quo of the poor. Everybody knows that if the price is high enough, the racist will give you anything you want.  
It’s important, therefore, to know who the real enemy is, and to know the function, the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language and so you spend 20 years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Somebody says that you have no art so you dredge that up. Somebody says that you have no kingdoms and so you dredge that up. 
None of that is necessary. 
There will always be one more thing. The strategy is no different than bombing Cambodia to keep the Northern Vietnamese from making their big push. And since not history, not anthropology, not social sciences seem capable in a strong and consistent way to grapple with that problem, it may very well be left to the artists to do it.
For art focuses on the single grain of rice, the tree-shaped scar, and the names of people, not only the number that arrived. And to the artist one can only say, not to be confused, [sigh] not to be confused. You don’t waste your energy fighting the fever; you must only fight the disease. And the disease is not racism. It is greed and the struggle for power. [Audience member murmurs in agreement]
I think of this a lot: "...the very serious function of racism, which is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work." I am going to go ahead and make the leap that this applies to a wide variety of prejudices.



The Braindead Megaphone

Another novelist, George Saunders, describes a similar situation in his essay The Braindead Megaphone:
Imagine a party. The guests, from all walks of life, are not negligible. They’ve been around: they’ve lived, suffered, own businesses, have real areas of expertise. They’re talking about things that interest them, giving and taking subtle correction. Certain submerged concerns are coming to the surface and — surprise, pleasant surprise — being confirmed and seconded and assuaged by other people who’ve been feeling the same way. 
Then a guy walks in with a megaphone. He’s not the smartest person at the party, or the most experienced, or the most articulate. 
But he’s got that megaphone. 
Say he starts talking about how much he loves early mornings in spring. What happens? Well, people turn to listen. It would be hard not to. It’s only polite. And soon, in their small groups, the guests may find themselves talking about early spring mornings. Or, more correctly, about the validity of Megaphone Guy’s ideas about early spring mornings. Some are agreeing with him, some disagreeing — but because he’s so loud, their conversations will begin to react to what he’s saying. As he changes topics, so do they. 
....In time, Megaphone Guy will ruin the party. The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy. They’ll stop doing what guests are supposed to do: keep the conversation going per their own interests and concerns.
Both the villain and the victims are more broadly defined but again the point of the weapon is the same--distraction: "The guests will stop believing in their value as guests, and come to see their main role as reactors-to-the-Guy." The Megaphone--like Morrison's racist--keeps you responding to the distractor's concerns, rather than building things that respond to your own.

Extremely Important and Massively Uncomplicated

When considering the social issues outside our gameworlds in 2017 we see a series of problems that frustratingly combine the following two qualities: they are extremely important and massively uncomplicated. Should black people be shot by police? No. Should trans people be able to go to the bathroom? Yes. Are illegal immigrants a major threat to our country? No. Should gay people be allowed to marry? Yes.

The only reason the country's discussing these things is the Megaphone. There are adults who think that, like, Black Lives Matter is a terrorist organization but they're not intelligent or reachable via games or anything else predictable. These are open-and-shut-cases.

Important but not complicated. Artists and critics--especially in the sphere of games--are not used to thinking with this category. We are used to thinking that the artist who tackles the Real World Issue is doing something deep and difficult. But in reality, the designer or GM who goes "Ok, stop trying to figure out how to beat Tomb of Horrors and consider this: what if orcs are just like you and me and like colonialism is bad?" is lowering the tone of the conversation. They are asking us to stop a complex problem-solving exercise that might actually be helping us sprout neurons we could use later for some practical purpose and instead think about something intelligent people in 2017 cannot possibly disagree on: colonial genocide is bad and orcs are fictional things with no moral reality and if you're a grown ass human who acts racist because they played a game (or drank a beer or lost a bet) the problem isn't games it's you being so impressionable.

What makes social problems thorny for the kind of people that are actually going to read your blog or play your game isn't that they don't know racism or sexism or any other -ism is bad--it's that, as Morrison says above, greed and the struggle for power make people compromise their principles--or refuse to formulate them well enough to know they're violating them. I know several indie gamers who have admitted privately that they are scared to speak out against the abusers in their community for purely financial reasons--or because they know the price of speaking out is the abusers will turn on them. It's the worst version of professionalism.

Saunders continues:
We’ve said Megaphone Guy isn’t the smartest, or most articulate, or most experienced person at the party — but what if the situation is even worse than this? 
Let’s say he hasn’t carefully considered the things he’s saying. He’s basically just blurting things out. And even with the megaphone, he has to shout a little to be heard, which limits the complexity of what he can say. Because he feels he has to be entertaining, he jumps from topic to topic, favoring the conceptual-general (“We’re eating more cheese cubes — and loving it!”), the anxiety-or controversy-provoking (“Wine running out due to shadowy conspiracy?”), the gossipy (“Quickie rumored in south bathroom!”), and the trivial (“Which quadrant of the party room do YOU prefer?”). 
We consider speech to be the result of thought (we have a thought, then select a sentence with which to express it), but thought also results from speech (as we grope, in words, toward meaning, we discover what we think). This yammering guy has, by forcibly putting his restricted language into the heads of the guests, affected the quality and coloration of the thoughts going on in there. 
He has, in effect, put an intelligence-ceiling on the party
We've seen this everyone-must-talk-about-something-stupid dynamic several times coming from inside games: GNS, chainmail bikini prudery, edition-warring, etc. but now there's a new dynamic at work--the mainstream press is noticing D&D.

And--as any freelancer is going to tell you--the articles about RPGs are not going to be well-paid or with long enough deadlines to produce new research. And they are going to be occupied with that thin slice of the Venn diagram where the game-relevant overlaps with general public interest--and the writers will be under tremendous pressure to be...entertaining, conceptual-general, anxiety or controversy-provoking, gossipy, trivial.

Saunders sums up: There is, in other words, a cost to dopey communication, even if that dopey communication is innocently intended.


Educating the Conqueror is Not Our Business

After her speech, Toni Morrison got questions--and they illuminate how having to deal with The Megaphone impacts art and artists:

I love Latin American literature and Russian literature. It never occurred to me that Dostoyevsky was supposed to explain something to me. [Audience chuckles] He’s talking to other Russians about very specific things. But it says something very important to me, and was an enormous education for me. 

When Black writers write, they should write for me. There is very little literature that’s really like that, Black literature. I don’t mean that it wasn’t necessary to have the other kind. Richard Wright is not talking to me. Or even you. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. LeRoy Jones in the Dutchman is not talking to me. He’s talking to some White people. He’s explaining something to them. It may have been very necessary. It certainly was well done. But it wasn’t about me and it wasn’t to me. And I know when they’re talking just past my ear, when they’re explaining something, justifying something, just defining something. [Glass thunks.]

But when that’s no longer necessary, and you write for all those people in the book who don’t even pick up the book—those are the people who make it authentic, those are the people who justify it, those are the people you have to please, all those non-readers, all those people in Sula who (a) don’t exist and (b) if they did wouldn’t buy it anyway. But they are the ones to whom one speaks. Not to the New York Times; not to the editors; not to any distant media; not to anything. It is a very private thing. They are the ones who say “Yeah, uh huh, that’s right.” 

And when that happens, very strangely, or rather, very naturally, what also happens is that you speak to everybody. And even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large....

[Another question]

So the question is “What do you do…?” Well, educating the conqueror is not our business. Really. But if it is, if it were, if it was important to do that, the best thing to do is not to explain anything to him, but to make ourselves strong, to keep ourselves strong.


Sad Unicorns


In times when the worst ideas are popular, when, as Yeats said...The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned/The best lack all conviction, while the worst /Are full of passionate intensity there is a pressure on creative people to use their platforms to point out the worst-ness of these ideas. To make their art this:
...but what Sad Unicorn games and the sloganeering that they encourage do is simply allow a degraded culture outside the conversation you're trying to have create a degraded culture inside the work.

You can't do that because (among other things) it doesn't work. When the world is dumb, you don't dumb-down, you smarten up.

You do not go "Well we have to put off the nuanced conversation til later". You do not go "Well this may be valuable but this isn't the time or context for that work". You do not surrender to the Megaphone.

You create a more sophisticated thing--you create an internal conversation that is meaningful to you and to good people, and the internal energy of that will pay off when it's needed, "even though it begins as inward and private, and gets its own juices from itself, the end result is it’s communication with the world at large" because you will have made yourselves and your people strong.
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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Liking, Sharing, Zealotry, Games

So I was listening to the Longform podcast and somebody who runs a web magazine was talking about the kinds of nonfiction that were popular on the site.

Those kinds of true crime stories, he was saying, where there's like a few guys out in middle America and they get mixed up in some Cohen brothersy yarn of guns and betrayal and assbackwardsry--people love those. You can read the stats, people read them all the way through, they eat them right up.

But, he went on, they don't share them. They don't go on Facebook and go "Hey everybody read this Cohen brothersy yarn of guns, betrayal and assbackwardsry, you'll love it!"

Because why would you? You liked it, you don't know if any of your friends would. There isn't much to say about it other than "Well that was crazy"""Yeah and the part with the ice and the piano""OMG I know!".

And of course this is our whole economy now: the kind of things that get shared vs the kinds of things that don't.

Well what do people share?

People share opinion--even opinion they don't agree with--because then they can have a conversation about it. And also because their agreement or disagreement says something about them--which they broadcast to people--then people know what they're about (people knowing what you're about attracts like-minded people. And everybody in this life needs like-minded people.)

Women share more than men, that's science. (It's also science that women buy more stuff than men, I've seen estimates at like 70-85%.) A lot of that sharing is quick notes about taste. I like this, these. Again, this says something about you, which like-minded people will notice.

Zealots share more than anyone. Zealots will share things whether or not anyone cares (though some of their acquaintances always will--specifically other zealots. This is why all forms of zealot now have insane online zealot networks.) Therefore extremism will be disproportionately shared. This is why, for instance, Something Awful goons' accusation that James Raggi cavorts with Nazis and I am one are more widely shared than the proven facts that they're lying, he doesn't and I'm Jewish. The accusations excite zealots, boring facts do not.

Which is all to say: things get shared more to the degree that they make a statement, that they have a point. Hell: my "Always Share Kingdom Death" policy is specifically because it helps makes a point. Controversial things become well-known because their mere existence, whether good or bad, makes a point and suggests some discussion of something outside themselves.

There are very good things that get neglected by the sharing economy: often the most evocative and otherworldly game-writing is the least shared simply because it is otherworldly, it isn't immediately and obviously telling us something about something or about the person who is sharing, it just is and is good, like thick coins of pepperoni on a lake of extra cheese. You find Thief of Baghdad or Svankmajer's Alice and go why didn't anyone tell me about this? --well because it makes no point.

This blog entry has one though: be aware of the dynamics of sharing--and especially of what you like but don't share. And consider changing it up once in a while. It is, after all, called "the web" for a reason.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Demon City Character Generation

This is stuff for the new game I'm writing and painting, Demon City, donate to the Patreon here.

CHARACTER GENERATION

This'll all be laid out in a fancier, easier-to-follow way in the final book, and I
m pretty sure I can get it all to be obvious right on the character sheet, like I did with Night's Black Agents, but this'll do for now to get people up and running who want to roll...

There are two ways to make a character: totally random and custom. To make a custom character, simply read down this page in order and follow the directions. To make a totally random character, scroll down to “Characteristics” roll 1d10 divided by two (round up) for each characteristic, then scroll up to Roles—pick or randomly roll a Role (keeping in mind each group can only start with a maximum of one Problem and must include at least one non-Friend), adjust your Characteristics (points over a maximum for a given Role are lost), then follow the directions for Occupation, Contacts, Skills, and The Rest.

Random characters will, on average, have better Characteristics than custom characters.


ROLES

Roles are kind of like classes in other games, but instead of jobs, they describe what your relationship to The Corruption that Demon City characters investigate when the session starts. Characters can grow out of their original motives over time, but this is why they start.


Curious

The Curious character is motivated by fascination. Typically an academic or a former paid Investigator, the curious character wants to know what’s causing this problem, where did it come from? And maybe even…can it be controlled?

-The Curious character’s Calm is treated as 2 lower for the purpose of any test which might allow the character access to hidden knowledge. Make a note.
-The Curious character gains 3 extra Knowledge Skills or 5 extra free points in existing Knowledge Skills.



Friend


The Friend doesn’t know what all this is about and doesn’t want to guess. But the friend is loyal to someone else on the case and that’s what counts.

-Every party must include at least one non-friend.
-The Friend gains an extra die when protecting whichever character they are close to from direct physical harm. This can exceed the maximum 5.
-The Friend maintains a sense of detachment and perspective, giving them a +1 to Perception or Calm, free.



Investigator



Someone wants to get to the bottom of this, and they’re paying the Investigator to do it. The Investigator is typically a private detective, or--up until the supernatural gets obviously involved and the department decides it's bullshit--a cop, but they can also be a journalist, an insurance adjuster, or almost anything else.

-The Investigator gains one extra Skill, free.
-The investigator gains one extra contact, free.
-The Investigator gains one extra Skill or contact, free.
-The Investigator's maximum Cash is 3.



Problem


Like the Victim (below), the Problem starts the game having already come in contact with the enemy, only for the Problem, the scars are not just mental, but physical and even spiritual. The Problem is manifesting strange abilities and aversions. The Problem may be possessed, they may have dawning psychic abilities, they may be turning into something more than human. 

-There may only be one Problem per game group
-Problem’s max starting Calm is 3
-Each session, the Problem gains abilities specific to the brand of Problem they are. In the final rules, there’ll be an option available for the kind of players who want to actually choose what kind of paranormal creature they’re becoming, but for now only the option where it’s a surprise is available.


Victim

They say victimhood doesn’t define you--well, for The Victim it does, at least at the start of the game. Something terrible has happened to the character or one of their loved ones and it’s left a scar.

-Victims max starting Calm is 4
-Victims’ earnestness is manifest—they automatically gain the Persuasion skill equal to their Appeal plus one.
-The Victim is privy to special information, the victim was there—the Victim gains an extra Perception die when in the presence of any clue associated with the crime or kind of crime they were witness to. This may exceed the usual maximum.
-The Victim gains an extra die in combat with any entity they believe to be responsible for the crime that has traumatized them. This may exceed the usual maximum.
-If the initial crime is solved and avenged--the above bonuses apply to investigating and fighting all supernatural threats.

CHARACTERISTICS

Characters in Demon City have Characteristics and Skills. Characteristics are broad descriptors, skills are things which require specific training that not all modern humans can be expected to possess.

Some common learned aptitudes like swimming, driving, using a cell phone are so common that they do not have a specific skill associated, but the lack of that ability is noted separately. All of these numbers are called “Stats”.

To make a new custom character, roll 1d10 divided by two (round down, unlike a totally random character) seven times, then assign the characteristics as you see fit.

If you decide your character has a major disability not covered by a low Toughness score—they can’t, for instance, see or can’t hear or can’t walk without assistance or have one arm or one hand—they gain 2 extra points to put into Characteristics of their choice. 

Characteristics for humans are ranked 0-5 
0: Terrible
1: Bad
2: Average
3: Good
4: Very good
5: World class

These are:

Calm
Agility
Toughness
Perception
Appeal
Cash
Knowledge

(CATPACK for short)



OCCUPATION

Any modern occupation is fair game in Demon City. In the final game there’ll be a list of jobs you might have for inspiration but other than determining what your Occupational Skill is (see below) and your Contacts, it doesn’t directly impact anything in character generation. So just go ahead and pick something for now.



CONTACTS

The number of contacts you have when the game starts is equal to your Appeal or Cash, whichever is higher. 

Contacts are people you know and can ask for a favor. One will be associated with your job, you can assign the rest at the start by randomly rolling on a Vornheim-like chart I haven’t made yet or let them float until you decide you want to have a contact in a certain field.

(If you let them float, when you want a contact you make an Appeal check against a Host-chosen number (depending on how likely your character as-played-up-until-that-point would know such a person) to see if you happen to have one. Once you’ve filled up all of these slots you have to meet new people in-game.)


SKILLS

Skills are associated with a characteristic—they are ranked 1-9 for humans and are always at least one point higher than their associated characteristic score.

New characters start with 1 Occupational Skill at Perception +1, which is a custom skill representing what they know about their own job (things like student and stay-at-home-parent count). If your job already is a skill on the list, like, for instance, you’re a burglar so your job is basically Burglary/Theft, you may choose to take that skill at Perception +2 instead of taking the Occupational skill. 

In addition to any Skill budget provided by their Role, new characters get:
-The Simple Way: 5 Skills at (whatever the associated Characteristic is) +1
or
-The Complicated Way: 10 Skill Points which work like this-- a whole new Skill at (Characteristic+1) costs 2 points, and adding points to a Skill after that costs 1 point. Maximum of 9. Spend them all now.

If your character can’t swim, drive, read, or use a cell phone/computer, you get 2 extra skills or 3 points to use on existing skills for each of these problems you have.



The Skills and their associated characteristics are:
(purple stuff was added March 25th)

Agility
Burglary/Theft
Driving (it’s assumed you can drive, this is fancy driving, and also general car trivia)


Exotic Weapon (this includes pre-modern things not covered under melee or firearms like bows, throwing knives, whips, etc. You have to pick one specifically, but you get it at +2)
Firearms
Pilot/Drive Other (anything not a car that requires training: motorcycle, boat, helicopter, plane--pick one)
Stealth


Toughness or Agility, whichever is higher
Athletics (choose a specific sport or kind of training: swimming, triathalon, tennis, mountain climbing, etc)
Hand to hand combat (includes using most melee weapons like swords, clubs, brass knuckles, etc, and knives when not thrown)


Perception
Occupational (soldier, student, truck driver, etc—this represents your current job)
Outdoor Survival/Tracking
Streetwise
Therapy (talking other people down from disturbing incidents)


Appeal
Deception (this includes both ability to disguise yourself, and acting/lying generally)
Persuasion (this is mostly just what Appeal is used for, but it’s a skill because otherwise a character with Deception would always be better at lying than telling the truth)


Knowledge
Electronics
Explosives
Hacking
Humanities (you get Humanities equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Literature, Anthropology, History, etc—you get that free, at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)
Law
Local Knowledge (this is for wherever you live now unless you specify otherwise)
Mechanics
Other Languages (Pick one)
Paranormal
Science (you get Science equal to Knowledge+1 and choose a specific subject—Biology, Chemistry, etc—you get that free at Knowledge+2. Additional concentrations cost the same as getting an all new skill but are also at Knowledge +2.)


Perception or Knowledge, whichever is higher
Forgery
Medic
Research


The Rest


Looking at the details you’ve got, tie it all together. Give your PC an age and a name and decide what they look like and you’re ready to go.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Three Shadows (Escalating Inventions)

Fantastic genres usually work via escalating inventions: they show you a star destroyer at the beginning and the Death Star in the middle and a multi-starship fight on the Death Star at the end.

Sci-fi and fantasy settings (and the kind of sci fi and fantasy stories where the whole story is within one of those settings) generally put the inventions right up front. The first scene has something our world doesn't: a wizard, a Hobbit-hole, whatever. The inventions here are often things you could make a toy out of --they are objects, creatures, buildings. They are things.

Horror typically does not work that way. A lot of game masters who are very comfortable with sci-fi and fantasy aren't sure how to do horror and one reason is the inventions are more ephemeral, rely more on techniques specific to the medium they are in (word choice, pacing, lighting, camera angles etc) and depend less on invented things than invented events or situations.

Simply: a dragon puts you firmly in fantasy. A vampire doesn't quite get you to horror without some other stuff.

Horror involves, unsurprisingly, the deployment of horrific inventions, but what makes them scary is the way they're deployed. There are basically three kinds of inventions in horror and they generally appear in a strict order.

When you're laying out a horror scenario, here are some things to plan beforehand:

1. Unsettling Things

The first strange invention in a horror story is usually unsettling, but that's it. It's not gory, elaborate, or necessarily supernatural it's just off.

The camera pans across a burned district, every home a pile of incinerated trestle-work, bent crosses and blackened furniture, and then, somehow, in the middle of all of this, one lone home utterly untouched--green lawn, painted shutters.

The unsettling thing is usually the intimation of a problem (like Jack's manuscript in The Shining), a clue (the way the old Count refers to the wolves howling as music, the lights flickering in Stranger Things) or just moody symbolism (the deer in Get Out), but the players don't know which at the time. The unsettling invention makes you go: what happened here? The ambiguity adds to the mystery.

The more unsettling things you can think of, the more it becomes a psychological horror story (Rosemary's Baby barely moves past The Unsettling, David Lynch's films live there). The more of them actually end up being explained by the resolution the more satisfying it is as a mystery story.

In game-mastering terms: it is good to think of an opening unsettling image. That is--as much as a monster or npc--something you have to invent before you begin running your players through a scenario. If you can't think of anything better, a bizarrely-injured corpse is as durable a standby as meeting in a tavern.

Speaking of corpses...



2. The Effects

This kind of invention is often the Big Moment in a horror movie, and frequently a place for body horror and/or gore. Whatever the menace is, it's gotten to a victim and, more importantly, gotten to them in a distinctive way. The chest-burst in Alien, the head explosion in Scanners, the guy nosebleeding and freaking out in Get Out, the swimming pool in Let The Right One In, the various gurgling lunatics in Lovecraft stories.

The important idea here is: the terrifying display of the menace's effect on the world is in itself a horror and a thing to invent, as much as the creature itself. If you can see it before you actually see the menace, you ratchet up the tension.

You don't need many of these--one good one will get you all the dramatic juice you need. But you can do more--the more you do, the more story becomes a gore or survival-horror type situation. Scenarios which emphasize panic but don't spiral toward any specific monster image--like Suspiria or Carrie--can rely a lot on these.

3. The Menace

This invention is the most similar to what you'd get in any game--this is the monster. It can also be a person, a group of people, a place, even (in the case of Carrie) a special effect, whatever, the point is the whole situation has been building toward this and it better be scary.

The best advice I can give a GM on this score is that the menace at this point has to have some kind of unexpectedness about it. A typical heroic tale can get away with a final showdown with a guy you knew would be trouble all along, whereas in horror there has to be some sort of element of reveal to it. The dad turning out to be a vampire in Lost Boys, the impossible rooms in The Shining, the full scale of the creature in Alien. Save something for that last scene.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Getting Things Done In Demon City


More Demon City--donate to the Patreon here. I think I'm doing some new Druid spells for 5e tomorrow.

Demon City will be pretty rules-lite, but I've given some thought to how the rules it does have will be presented.

The rules themselves will be on the left-hand pages of the book, notes on the implications of these rules (asterisked here) will be presented on the facing pages.
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As in most tabletop RPGs, Demon City proceeds according to a simple scheme: the Host describes the situation(s) the characters are in, the other players say what their respective characters try to do. When failure might have interesting consequences*, the rules and dice get involved.**

Simple example: Marty might come home late and drunkenly fumble at his apartment door lock before getting the key in, maybe even dropping the keyring in the process. But eventually he'll get it open, so there's no need to roll dice...

...unless (whether or not Marty knows it) Marty's brother is lying on the other side of the door about to bleed out. That's when you'll want to roll some dice.

EDIT: These rules revised Thursday March 23rd

Task Resolution

Basically, for most tasks, the player rolls a d10 vs a Target number or the Host rolls a d10 and if the player beats the target number or gets a higher roll than the Host, the task gets done, if not it doesn't and some consequence of failure ensue.

There are some hitches, though:

-There are many cases where the sides roll multiple d10s. Their official roll for the purposes of deciding the contest is whichever of their rolls is highest. So if you roll a 6 and an 8, your "roll" is 8.

-All character stats are ranked from 0-9 (or possibly more, with no maximum, if the supernatural is involved), high numbers are good. If two characters (player's characters or a player's character and an NPC) are competing at a task (say, in a footrace) then whichever has the higher stat gets to roll an extra die. This extra d10 is called the Skill Die.

-Likewise, for tasks where characters do not directly compete (Marty trying to pick an electronic lock, for instance) all tasks are ranked in difficulty from 0-9 (or possibly more, with no maximum, if the supernatural is involved). If the stat number is higher than the Target number, the player gets to roll an extra die and use the better of their two rolls (the "Skill Die").

-Having the Host roll even for the difficulty of dealing with inanimate objects (opening a lock on time, locating a file, climbing a wall) tends to personify the environment--the electronic lock is programmed by someone and Marty's attempts to crack it are against the skill and effort put in by that programmer. However, when there is no way to imagine any animate force actively resisting--like in the example of Marty drunkenly scrabbling at his own lock with his own key--the Host can just assign a static difficulty number to be rolled over (player must roll over a 3, for instance). Recommendations of when to do this and what the numbers should be come later, but just to nail down the basic system, know that the the opposed roll is usually preferred when it's a toss up.

-If a task targets someone who is distracted (pickpocketing someone who is watching a car crash happen, for instance) or doesn't know they're there the perpetrator also gets an extra die (the Distraction Die).

-If a task has some other outside factor introduced that makes it more likely one side will win (if someone has a head-start in the footrace, for example) then that side gets another d10. This extra die is called the Situation Die. You can have up to two Situation Dice representing distinct advantages (ie two advantages that would, individually, still be advantages without the benefit of the other advantage--like a headstart in the footrace plus your opponent is running over uneven ground).

-Generally, external problems which make the task harder (like Marty being drunk while trying to open the door) are worked into the difficulty number of a task, but if there is some reason they can't be or haven't been already, the Host may subtract up to two Lost Dice (down to a minumum of one rolled die) to account for problems.

-In the case of a tie (around 10% of the time, depending how many dice are involved) the Host must think fast: the situation becomes more complex, but not in a way that immediately decides the contest. The task can be attempted again in the new situation. For example: if Marty and the Host tie as he's trying to open his door then the Host might declare that blood has begun to seep out from under the door and one of Marty's passing neighbors has noticed.

-If a character rolls a 10 and wins (ie not a tie), they have a critical success, if their best roll is a 1, they fumble. If both sides' best roll is a 1 when two characters are competing, the situation gets worse for both sides. (Most people reading know what "crit" and "fumble" mean so while the final text of Demon City will give some examples, that's all you need to know for now.)

-This all gets more complicated in situations when different characters are trying to do different things that all affect each other at the same time. Combat is the most common situation like this but it could also apply to, say, trying to fix a radio antenna before a metastasizing Crysoloth destroys the building it's in. Like most games, Demon City has special rules for that...


Action Rounds: Slow Motion and Clashes

Like in most RPGs, special rules are used to resolve action. A footrace isn't "action" as defined here because the competitors usually aren't interfering with each other. A car chase can be, though, because cars can cut each other off, knock each other off the road, etc. And combat is always action.

I'm going to describe combat using some D&D terms here because this is a D&D blog so you probably get it--and it'll be faster than describing it from the ground up the way it'd be written in the final book. Basically, there's no initiative but there are rounds. Action's generally going to be over in fewer rounds than D&D, but each round takes a little longer. If it's necessary to know, rounds take about 6 seconds of activity--but a Demon City round might actually represent a narrower or longer slice of time, because essentially a Demon City round only establishes what the next action in a conflict (or set of conflicts) is.

Think of it like a comic-book panel or a shot in a movie--the Round exists to establish what happens in that panel.

This action system is based on "Clashes"--the most important difference between a Clash and the combat in a D&D round is only one party in a fight can succeed at a time. You shoot or are shot, punch or get punched, etc. If you're shot, you don't get to shoot back until the next round (assuming you live).

This is also one of those systems where everyone announces what they're going to do before the first person actually starts to do it. This is slightly less intuitive than resolving an action as soon as it's announced (the D&D way), but I think there's a payoff in that it more closely reflects the fast-but-tense way combat works in horror and crime fiction.


When the Host announces you've entered Action Rounds:


Slow Motion Phase

1-Whatever entity involved has the lowest Agility (Ties are decided randomly) announces what they plan to do. This can't be an if-then, they gotta decide. (Actions can normally only target one foe at a time--exceptions will be noted when we get around to specific abilities and weapons.)

The Host can begin to describe everyone noticing this slowpoke getting ready to do whatever they're going to do--as if everyone is watching slow motion.

One piece of advice: write down player characters' names in ascending order of Agility, so you can do this the same every time. Resolve ties between player at the beginning of the game to make life simple.

2-Figure out how many dice this character has for their action:
  • As with simple Tasks, a character with a higher Stat than the Stat they're targeting gets to roll an extra die--the Skill Die. Most close combat actions in combat (kicking, punching, knifing) rely on Agility or Toughness, whatever is higher, or Hand To Hand if they have it and target the foe's Agility or, if they have it, the foe's Hand-to-Hand combat skill. All shooting relies on Agility (or Firearms or Exotic Weapons if applicable) and targets Agility. Once a foe is grabbed, actions generally target a foe's Toughness. 
  • If you are only actively defending in a round, you get an extra die, the Defense Die.
  • Anyone with a situational advantage (high ground, etc) over whoever they're directly facing off against also gets an extra die (Situation Die).****
  • If you successfully used a defensive action to dodge, or block, parry an attack in the previous round, you get a Situation Die in the round after, as you've improved your position.
  • Another Situation Die is also available to anyone if the character has a second distinct situational advantage on top of the first one. Like their target is both tripping and is handcuffed. This die is also used if someone is attacking (or parrying) with a weapon that is better in the specific situation than the one their opponent is attacking or parrying with. For example, if two characters are fighting under a twin bed, the combatant attacking with a knife or claws will get a Situation Die against a target using a longsword (which needs more room to maneuver), but in most situations it'd be the other way around because the sword has better reach. And all of them would have a Situation Die over an unarmed combatant. This is the main way weapons are differentiated in Demon City (and in horror films)--by the situation in which they are most useful. 
  • Nobody in a Clash can get more than 2 Situation dice.
  • There's a bonus for teaming up on someone: The second and subsequent characters to target a given foe  in the same clash get an extra d10, the Distraction Die. The first character to attack that foe doesn't.
  • Anyone who has taken at least one injury during the fight loses a single die (the Lost Die for Injury)--down to a minimum of one die. 
  • Other external difficulties in the situation not otherwise accounted for (by, for example, someone directly opposed already having gained a Situation Die) can be accounted for by Miscellaneous Lost Dice.
  • Nobody able to act in a Clash can lose more than 2 Miscellaneous Lost Dice this way or go below a minimum of one die.
  • So the maximum dice anyone could roll would be 5: A d10 to start + 1 Distraction Die or Defense Die + 1  Skill Die + 2 Situation Dice + no Lost Dice.


3-Second-least Agile creature announces next and collects dice for their action, then the third-least Agile, etc. until they're all announced.


4-Any action that couldn't interfere with anyone else's action (ie the order in which it happens doesn't matter) is resolved, using the Task rules above if necessary--and narrated.

(For example: Agents Pfister and Foreman are on a two-story roof trying to punch each other, and Lieutenant Hyder announces he is trying to get away. Since nobody named him as a target and he has no target, nothing Hyder is doing will affect who punches who first or hardest, so Hyder gets away. If Hyder had announced he wanted to escape by jumping off the roof, then Hyder's player and the Host just roll off-Agility vs a difficulty number decided by the Host--to land safely on the ground.)


The Clash

5-Everyone else now collects dice and rolls--this group of competing attempts to do things first is called a Clash. Everybody involved in a Clash rolls d10s at once, as above under Task Resolution.

It's possible for a fight with characters squaring off against multiple opponents to actually made up of multiple clashes, so long as none of the personnel trying to interfere with each other overlap. So Alfred and Bebe could be fight Ceelo and Didi and Eve could be fighting Fifi and that would be two clashes. If, however, Fifi was trying to pickpocket Alfred it would all be one Clash.

6-Whoever rolls highest in a Clash takes their action

If a successful action involves damaging another character:
  • With most weapons, the attacker rolls damage as follows: They take a number of d10s equal to the target's Base Toughness, roll and take the lowest, and the target subtracts that number from their Current Toughness. At Current Toughness -1 they are out of the fight and roll on the Injury table (that'll be in a later entry). So if you have Base and Current Toughness 3, someone shooting you would roll 3d10, take the lowest, and subtract that from 3. If their Toughness is 0 you still roll one die.*****
  • Some few weapons (supernatural abilities, high explosives at close range) do Massive Damage. In this case you roll one die for each point of the attacker's stat and take the highest.
  • Kevlar and other protection raises your Base Toughness for these purposes.
If a tie for first occurs, the situation stays mostly the same as it was before the Clash and nobody's action takes, but the Host changes something in the situation that affects everyone in the Clash, like: the roof could begin to collapse from all the weight on it.


7-No other action in that Clash occurs--even if, say Ann successfully kicks Bill and Cassie just wants to help Ann up off the ground, we have to wait until the next Clash to see if Cassie manages to do that. The Clash only resolves one action at a time, even if the entangled actions aren't opposed.

If there is more than one Clash involved in the Round (ie there's another, non-overlapping group of people tussling as-well), it is resolved as in 6, with the highest roller acting.

8-Anyone who is present, out of the fight, still alive, and who needs to roll on the Injury table because their last roll wasn't conclusive does.


9-If characters are still involved in Action after all that, start over at 1 above.

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ACTION CHEAT SHEET


1-Slowest character announces action
2-They collect dice
3-Other characters do in reverse Agility order
4-Unresisted actions take place
5-Everyone rolls
6-High roller acts
7-Any other Clashes resolved as in 6
8-Injury rolls
9-Start over at 1

Possible Dice:
Skill Die (Attacker Stat>Targeted Stat)
Defense Die (For only defending)
Max 2 Situation Dice (for misc advantages incl. superior weapon & successful defense last round)
Distraction Die (2nd and subsequent attackers in the same clash)
Lost Dice for Injuries
Miscellaneous Lost Dice (max 2)


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Notes I'd put on the facing page:

*Note that failure doesn't have to have predictably more interesting consequences than success--just consequences that are also interesting.

**As in many other games, dice also occasionally get involved when the Host (or even a player) just thinks it would be interesting or more fair to introduce a random element into a part of the game they normally control. For example if a player steals the first car they see, the Host might randomly roll to see what kind of car it is.

***It's possible more than one Skill die gets handed out to opposing sides this way if a fight is sufficiently complicated. For example:

Alfie---->Betty----->CeCe

If Alfie (Firearms: 9) is trying to shoot Betty (Agility: 5, Firearms: 5), who is trying to shoot CeCe (Alfie's friend, trying to flee with Agility 1)), both shooters have a higher stat than their targets, and Alfie and Betty will both get a Skill Die despite being on opposite sides and despite Alfie being better at shooting than Betty. CeCe will also get a Defense Die (only running away).

So if he and Betty try to shoot each other, he gets a Skill Die and she doesn't. If Betty targets CeCe, both Alfie and Betty get a Skill Die but Alfie gets a Distraction Die too, keeping him at least one up on Betty, all other things being equal.

****The value of this extra die means that combat in Demon City will involve a lot of players and Hosts discussing what does and does not constitute a situational advantage. This is good. This is what the players should be doing: talking about the fictional situation as if it were real so everyone is imagining the same events as much as possible and making interesting decisions about how to use the situation. More than one of the entities involved in the Clash can get this Situation die.

*****Humans generally have a Toughness between 0 (feeble pensioner or newborn baby) and 5 (world-class athlete), if you're wondering how long these fights last. The actual negative number past -1 doesn't matter, so any successful hit on someone with 0 Toughness puts them in the Injured box.

Note also the comments below pre-date the March 23rd edit:
 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Hunter/Hunted in Demon City


There's a clue. They roll, or scan the handout of the crime scene. They don't get the clue.

This is usually presented as a minor apocalypse in horror/mystery type games. Whatever can be done?

Call of Cthulhu, Chill, and their ilk get around it by (in many modules anyway) strenuously advocating railroading or at least the tools of railroading,  Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Dark and their ilk get around it by deciding you always get the clues if you need to, and Dark Heresy--iirc--does both, and many other games just avoid talking about it altogether.

As far as I am aware, the professional roleplaying game design community has, on this score, failed you.

Demon City won't do that--it's going to have very specific and very detailed advice on ways Hosts can make scenarios based around investigations.

One very useful building block of this is described in the retropost below: 5 years is a long enough time that some of y'all might not have been around so I'm posting this to tide you over while I write up some rules I'll post probably tomorrow.

If you're interested in Demon City, the Patreon is here. Thanks to everyone who helped out so far, with only a few more backers, it'll be done by Christmas.



Hunter/ Hunted

So I was reading through a mostly very good supplement and I came upon the following paragraph in the DM advice...

"Be wary of plot construction that demands characters accept captivity to gain crucial information. Many players would sooner 
have their Investigators trepanned by the fungi from Yuggoth than accept even a brief sojourn in comparatively cushy confinement. Unfortunately, with this player type, you won’t get very far by pointing out that getting captured is a Pulp staple. Their attitude is rooted in a deep-seated desire to maintain emotional control, and is not typically susceptible to argument."
Ummm…what?
Players do not rebel at the idea of scenarios that "require them to accept captivity" because of some psychobabble.

They don't like it because, after the scenario starts, if there is any situation that they cannot get out of simply because the story demands that they not be able to get out of it (remember they are there "to gain crucial information" not "because they fucked up and logically would not be able to escape") then they are not actually playing the game for the length of time it takes to endure that situation.

It's like a cut-scene in a video game. Fine, have it, but don't make me press "talk" "talk" "talk" until the NPC dispenses the information.

This is why people don't like railroading. It isn't playing, it's listening to the GM tell a story, with maybe a little "Ok, when I say Free you say Bird" going on.

Now many players may like having the GM tell them a story, but it is not, strictly speaking, the activity many of them signed up for, so it is as much an interruption in an RPG as the GM stopping play to juggle for ten minutes. Hey guy, juggle, maybe I'll like it, but if I don't, it's understandable since I showed up to play, not watch you juggle.

This is followed by some not necessarily bad but frustratingly--and all-too-familiarly for GM-advice books--vague language about avoiding railroading…
--Structure can be difficult to achieve in the roleplaying medium. Guide the players too little and they lose the thread, resulting in a loose and sloppy narrative that provides none of the neat, order-making pleasure the genre is meant to provide. Guide them too much and they feel that their freedom of action has been taken away from them, and that they’re merely observers moving through a predetermined sequence of events. (As you probably know, this latter syndrome is known in roleplaying jargon as railroading.)

And then there is the typical cop-out…
--The trick to successfully running investigative scenarios is to strike the right balance between the two extremes.
No, the trick is not to balance. (Secret aesthetic law: balance is almost never the answer to anything.) The trick is to:

1) clearly define the term railroading for the GM, and then
2) provide the GM with tools to avoid it if s/he wants to.
So, how do you know if you're railroading?
Its a long fucking story, but basically it's easier to tell when you're not--here's how:
In a non-railroad the PCs are given choices that result in the PCs encountering substantially different (yet still interesting) scenarios than if they had made other choices--preferably scenarios they could potentially have seen the dim outline of while making those choices*. In a railroad, they are not.

In edge cases, it is best to ask yourself How different could this have worked out if the PCs had made different choices? The larger the difference the less of a railroad you got going on.
Anyway, there seems to be a popular myth that while yeah, it is easy to avoid railroading in a location-based D&D adventure, it's almost impossible to not do it a little in Call of Cthulhu or likewise horrorish scenarios and these things are really more about atmosphere and set-pieces anyway so why worry about that?
Well, honestly, if you're happy with that, cool beans and carry on.
If you are not, I am going to describe a very simple but effective way to totally not railroad people in a horror game (or really, any investigation-based game).
Note this is not the only way, but it is, like a dungeon or a sandbox, a simple, durable structure you can use that has meaningful choice built into it.
I call it Hunter/Hunted.
-The idea is simple and comes from about a million horror and cop stories: sometimes a scene happens because Sam Spade has found out about a baddie and sometimes a scene happens because the baddie has found out about Sam Spade. And, there, aside from a few stops for bourbon and kissing, is the plot of everything from Lost Boys to Blade Runner.
-Most investigative scenarios advise breaking things up into "scenes"--the idea is you have a scene, find clues in it, these clues lead to the next scene. They then usually cover their ass by saying either "if the PCs don't do this or find this clue or go to the wrong place give them a bunch of hints or a prophetic dream or otherwise nurse, nudge, or nullify them until they go to the next scene" or just give some vague advice like "hey Venice is interesting, think of something"
-Not so here. Or not exactly: Basically we keep the "scene chain" structure. If the PCs go from clue to clue in a timely fashion like good investigators they follow the scene chain. However, we also give each scene a twin situation, this twin is what happens if the PCs don't follow a given clue, follow it up the wrong path, or otherwise take too long (in-world game time) to follow the clues. In this twin situation, typically, the PCs have taken long enough to figure out what's going on that the enemy has noticed their efforts and started hunting them.
-In the twin situation, the GM decides how long it will take (in-world) and what circumstances are necessary for the enemy to be able to track the PCs and starts the clock running. The enemy then catches up with the PCs at whatever point it logically would if it was using whatever tracking abilities it has (whether this be psychic powers or enhanced smell or because Twitty says she saw Mac D talking to a cop next to the sub shop). The GM may drop clues as to their hunted status along the way.

-In situation 1, the PCs are investigators of horror or violence, in situation 2, they are victims of it. This matches rather nicely the twin roles nearly all horror and investigator protagonists have in these kinds of stories. So at each stage of the adventure you have an "i" version and a "v" version of each scenario.**

-The enemy has a locus: usually in physical space. Like: that island Cthulhu is under or the gangster's safe house.

-At each "Investigator" stage, you move closer to the locus (or finding out where it is). At each "Victim" stage, the enemy sends someone or something out from the locus to get you.

-IMPORTANT: Usually the enemy comes in a different form at each stage. You don't meet actually Cthulhu or actually Al Capone until the last stage. The first few stages feature their agents or otherwise indirect confrontations.

-Also important: at each stage, a clue is left. The clue leads to the "i" version of the next scenario.

-Example:

Opening: PCs are on their way to England on a boat to investigating the Proverbial Mysteriously Dead Uncle

1i--the nurse is clearly a disturbed woman (in the cafe) you don't know why
1v--terrifying dreams of faceless people (wherever you are) that might make you lash out at your fellow PCs (dream anagram of a doctor's name)

2i--the doctor's office is full of strange specimens (SAN check!) and tomes
2v--a(nother?) nurse is following you and attempting to drug you(wherever you are) (has distinctive uniform from a certain lab)
3i-the doctor's laboratory is filled with horrific creatures (and the doctor's in here)
3v-the doctor appears (wherever you are), a strange creature emerges from his featureless face (wherever you are) --a decent add on here is a chance that the doctor drugs a victim and drags him/her back to the lab or, if injured, runs back to the lab, leaving a blood trail. Either way the encounter at the lab--if it happens--is significantly different than if the PCs had just gone straight there and surprised the mofo
(this adventure brought to you by the lyrics to Sister Morphine)
-The "victim" role may seem passive, but in a sense the victim has more freedom than the investigator in terms of defining the terms of the conflict. Let's say we have the simplest scenario available--the PCs are being stalked by a werewolf. Even if the PCs are totally passive--they have the entire planet to walk around on. Will the werewolf attack them in a taxi, on a plane, in a hotel room, underwater? Depends entirely on where the PCs themselves go. You could even say to them: "The sun has gone down, according to what you've seen, the werewolf will be active within half an hour…". If the PC is in, say New York City, the number of resources s/he can bring to bear or changes s/he can make to the battlefield are infinite.

-Victim scenes require you to think like the monster: you are an insane doctor bent on injecting people with a "sacred" serum that makes their faces come off. You've discovered a flapper, a librarian and a drug addict are trying to interfere with your plans, What Do You Do? Where are you? What tools do you have access to? What information on them did they--via their actions to date--give you access to? Use it.
-In many adventures, there is no reason this system should not be transparent--making it clear through events and other characters that "it is vital to find Whatsitsnuts before it finds you".
--Broadly, any structure which has meaningful choice works like this: there are interesting choices leading to events, each event gives the players a unique resource or unique problem they did not have before--even if they all lead to the "same" place in the end, players end up there in the Final Chamber with different tools, perspectives, advantages or disadvantages.
-How do you avoid even the appearance of railroading? Just remind them how they got where they are. Go ahead and tell them where they'd be had they done otherwise.
-Another avoiding-railroading tip: include problems that are clear but open-ended, like: this puzzle requires you get us something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue and shove it in this slot. A real-module example is the "tooth door" in James Raggi's "Death Frost Doom"--you need to drop a tooth in a basin to open a certain door. Where you get the tooth from is your business, but the place is fairly isolated. There are a lot of graves around…but also a few other PCs…and that NPC down the mountain...

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*i.e. "left door or right door" is little better than a railroad, whereas "left door that, if listened at, reveals a chittering noise or totally silent right door" is definitely a non-railroad.

**Important clarification:
The Victim scenario is not nursing the PCs back on track by doing an ass-pull. In Hunter/Hunted the "Victim" scenarios are entirely logical, predictable-using-internal-gameworld consequences of the PC's failing to find the foe. i.e. if you don't show up at the safe house in 3 days, that's enough time for the goons to track YOU down. No alteration of the gameworld's internal logic or consequence chain is required. Pure cause-and-effect. the villain is not running into you by coincidence, it's because you dawdled and they managed to track you (thus the ticking clock).

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