Harlem Hunters

I was too tired to run the finale of City of Mist: Dead of Night yesterday so instead we created our group of hunters for Harlem Unbound: Monster of the Week Edition.

We had an extensive brainstorming session for our group concept, and settled on a small periodical/alternate weekly newspaper, The Black Cat’s Meow. Our team of Hunters are not the owners but they are the heart and soul of the newspaper.

Blanchard

Using the Expert playbook, Blanchard is an aspiring playwright and novelist. He started his career as a black vaudeville actor on the Chitlin’ Circuit, where he was involved in a play derived from a heavily redacted version of The King in Yellow. This changed him in subtle ways, and he found himself driven to uncover the truth behind the supernatural which he now realizes is everywhere around him. He’s the archivist and a senior writer at the newspaper.

Starting moves:

  • Haven: Lore Library, Mystical Library, Protection Spells
  • I’ve Heard About This Sort of Thing
  • Often Right

Delia Ross

Based on the Spooky playbook, Delia is the up-and-coming society page editor and advice column writer. Her polished appearance hides another facet: she is the grand-daughter and apprentice to a successful if discreet conjure-woman (grandma has not yet been named). She doesn’t yet fully control her powers and as a result, struggles with side effects of occasional hallucinations, lust, and poor impulse control.

Starting moves:

  • The Sight
  • Hunches
  • The Big Whammy

Persephone Fox

Built on the Flake playbook, Persephone is a young conspiracy theorist who happens to be right more often that not. She is also Blanchard’s niece. Although few people take her seriously (aside from the other Hunters), Persephone sees all. and has a finely honed talent for investigation.

Starting moves:

  • Connect the Dots
  • See? It All Fits Together
  • Suspicious Mind

Whales

Based on the Hard Case playbook (2020 version), Whales is the workman of all odd jobs at the newspaper, a job he got thanks to Blanchard; before that he was a dockworker and day laborer. He served in France with the 369th Infantry “Harlem Hellfighters” and came back a changed man, now driven more by willpower than anger. If you need the printing press moved or the delivery truck loaded, Whales is your man.

Starting moves:

  • Hard Knocks: Street Fighter
  • Furnace
  • Unstoppable
  • Ascetic

As part of character creation, we created a relationship map between the Hunters using the ready-made backdrop included in Evil Hat Productions’ Roll20 modules for Monster of the Week.


Photo credits: Nathan Francis Mossell, c. 1882, University of Pennsylvania archives; James Van Der Zee, Strolling, 1925, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York; unknown; and Laborer (Stevedore Longshoreman, Norfolk, Virginia), from the project The Negro in Virginia, Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Next: Harlem Unbound

My bi-weekly campaign Ariadne’s Spindle, which explores the universe of The Expanse using the Fate system, is going swimmingly. Dead of Night, my weekly series of City of Mist, is reaching the Season 1 finale after about 25 episodes and very satisfying gaming. So here I am, planning another limited series, which will be set in Darker Hue Studios’ Harlem Unbound.

Cover of Harlem Unbound

This award-winning book offers Lovecraftian mythos investigations amidst the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s-30s. I have the original edition, which was statted for both the GUMSHOE (Pelgrane Press) and Call of Cthulhu (Chaosium) systems. A second edition has just been released under the auspices of Chaosium, statted only for CoC but offering four new scenarios; the contents otherwise look substantially the same. I may eventually purchase the PDF version to get these scenarios when I have a bit of spare change; however, neither of these systems floats my boat as GM.

Instead, I decided to use Monster of the Week (Generic Games/Evil Hat Productions), a game Powered by the Apocalypse with which I am very comfortable: I playtested the Revised Edition, I wrote a scenario for the Tome of Mysteries supplement, and along with Sean Nittner and Fred Hicks, I put together the five adventure compilations on Roll20. It’s like taking off my steel-toed boots and getting into my slippers.

Continue reading “Next: Harlem Unbound”

Carnival of Mystery

Our friend Bryanna ran a game of Monster of the Week last night for two other friends, Edmund, and me. It’s a custom mystery but she used some of the tools we (Evil Hat Productions) included in the recently released Monster of the Week collection modules on Roll20. It was gratifying that she found a lot of use from the material even running a brand new mystery.

Our hunters were members of a travelling carnival that tries to bring wonder wherever they go and help the towns we visit. We played Chief, a Spooktacular carnival master (Edmund); Lydia,, a Constructed tattooed woman (me); Valentine, a Hex stage magician (Steve); and Violet, a Pararomantic fortune-teller (Dani). All of these are from the newer playbooks released by Generic Games.

A couple of screenshots from last night’s game:

The relationship map between our hunters using the template in Evil Hat’s Roll20 modules.
The playmat, as customized by Bryanna with images she chose but using the Evil Hat format and tools – right when I rolled that big juicy failure that advanced the countdown clock!

City of Mist: Crime Board

After 16 full episodes, running our City of Mist campaign continues to be a high point of the week for me. Here is the “crime board” page; the first image shows the investigation in the first story arc and the PCs’ circles of influence:

The second shares with my players Detective Suarez’s investigation of the crew in connection with the museum theft of the second story arc.

Just for fun. The boards are set up in Roll20.

City of Mist: Fight!

The one thing in my life that has improved thanks to shelter-in-place is moving our online game of City of Mist from a biweekly schedule to weekly. It makes it easier to keep momentum.

Here is our Roll20 board right now:

City of Mist: Dead of Night, Episode 1

Sin-City by Paulo Barcellos Jr., CC BY-SA 2.0

Last episode, I opened our first case in our City of Mist: Dead of Night campaign. I started us easy, with the intro adventure provided in the All-Seeing Eye Investigations Starter Box Set.

Although I often have a hard time retrofitting published adventures to a specific group of player characters, this time it turned out pretty easy. Because of the characters my players had created, i.e. pure chance, we had pretty good hooks for the scenario even though it’s based on a completely different crew. Since this introductory scenario is full of handholds for a new crew and MC, it was very reassuring to rely on it rather than second-guess myself. Episode recap after the cut to avoid spoilers.

Continue reading “City of Mist: Dead of Night, Episode 1”

City of Mist: Dead of Night

Fresh Start

New month, new year, new decade: I finally launched the City of Mist game I had been prepping since late November, running online via Roll20 and Discord. I’m not ready yet for a game review, but here is what’s going on with the campaign setup and launch.

I had backed this Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game at the PDF-only level in the original Kickstarter funding campaign in 2016. Since then, I had received not only the materials covered by backer tier, but a goodly number of supplemental materials since publisher Son of Oak Game Studio was generous with free content to backers. But that bounty became daunting: there seemed to be so much reading to do that I kept pushing in back in the reading queue in favour of shorter games and fiction.

When I did start reading, however, I was soon swept away by the atmosphere in the setting portions, and delighted to finally see an interesting mashup of the PbtA structure with the narrative weight of Fate Core‘s Aspects under the guise of “tags.” But I will review the system in another post when I have played enough to be satisfied that I really grokk it. Suffice it to say that I soon found myself planning an online campaign.

Continue reading “City of Mist: Dead of Night”

Kickstarter arrivals

I’ve had a couple of Kickstarter campaign deliveries in the last couple of weeks. First, the Zine Quest entry by Lauren McManamon and Jesse Ross (Hedgemage Press), Girl Underground, a game Powered by the Apocalypse:

Contents: The game is really interesting and I definitely want to run or play this soon. I particularly like that although the Girl playbook is narratively central to the game, the Companion playbooks all feel interesting and exciting to play, not mere sidekicks. Other favourite feature: GM support for adventure-building includes an array of fantastical locations with prompts, NPCs, plot hooks, and guidance for scene-setting.

Even though I already have two games booked at Big Bad Con, I’m now considering running this at Games on Demand in October, or maybe running it online for friends this summer.

Format: It makes a better ebook than print zine because the text ends up so small I can barely read it even in good light. That said, the layout is elegant and the art lovely.

Second arrival: Paladin: Warriors of Charlemagne by Ruben in ’t Groen (Nocturnal Media/Gallant Knight Games/Chaosium), a game based on the rules from Pendragon:

Contents: The book is massive, with over 450 pages, and excellent. The Pendragon v5.2 rules are carefully adjusted to reflect the Frankish empire, and the rich setting section is well written. It’s exciting for me to read a game based on these tales, which were as present or more in my youth’s reading lists as Arthurian legends. Edmund is planning to run a campaign starting very soon.

Format: The text is small but not as tiny as Girl Underground‘s. The book binding, end pages, gilt page edges, bookmark ribbons, covers, and section headings are beautiful. The pleasing layout is similar to that of Pendragon, but in addition the red headings (rather than blue) make it easier to navigate quickly.

The illustrations… Well, the first backers-only PDF version had raised a hue and cry with the poor quality of some illustrations. In response, Nocturnal Media and partners commissioned new art to replace the most egregious pieces. The art is now technically competent but often flavourless. Unlike the famous pieces from the public domain, most notably those by Gustave Doré, few of the commissioned illustrations evoke the Carolingian setting and not just some generic European medieval fantasy.

And this gem still made it as the chapterhead illustration for Chapter 17: Foreign Cultures. RLY? I can’t decide which this least evokes at first glance, Charlemagne’s paladins or foreign cultures. Except the cis het white dudebro culture, which is foreign to me.

Still, the book is overall a good purchase and I think we’ll have good gaming with it.

The Warren: City Park

On Sunday night I was scheduled to run an episode of Blue Rose, but for a variety of reasons this was not a good time emotionally-speaking. However, the whole group was available and eager to play so instead I ran a light-hearted adventure of The Warren (Bully Pulpit Games) by Marshall Miller. This game a sort of Bunnnies & Burrows powered by the Apocalypse, very easy to run with minimum preparation,

I used the “City Park” playset created by Kristin Firth and Eric Mersmann. It’s based on Central Park in New York but we decided to set it in Austin, Texas instead. This matter because of the weather, wildlife, plants, etc. Because it had been a crappy week, we agreed to make it more My Little Bunny than Watership Down.

Our Rabbits

Nutmeg the Thumper (female), a Strong rabbit; a young, energetic, go-getter, with a short-haired white coat and a black streak. She had an ongoing dispute with Oakley the squirrel, who kept getting to the best acorns first. Played by April.

  • Character Move: Thumper. When you cuff, kick, or knock another rabbit about, you may roll +Strong instead of +Shrewd when you Speak Plainly.

Pip the Swift Runner (male), a Swift rabbit, young and overconfident; the best runner in the warren, he would do anything on a dare. Played by Adi.

  • Character Move: Swift Runner. You have never met an animal you couldn’t outrun. When you Bolt, treat a roll of 6- as a 7-9.

Fluffy the Hutchwise (male), Shrewd rabbit despite being less than a year old: given to a child as an Easter gift, but left in the park to “run free with his rabbit friends” when the realities of caring for a house rabbit sank in. Known for his long soft coat, and floppy ears, a bit unkempt at this point. His rival for expertise on humans was an escaped laboratory rabbit called 76, with a very different perspective.

  • Character Move: Hutchwise. Raised in a cage or hutch, you are familiar with humans’ routines and mysteries. When you Pay Attention to humans, add “Why do humans do that?” to the list of questions you can ask. The GM will tell you a truth and a falsehood—pick whichever is more interesting or useful.

Peanut the Pigeon-Speaker (female), a Steady and experienced rabbit, currently pregnant. Her short coat’s shades of gray and ring marking around the neck made her look uncannily like a pigeon, so she had forged a bond with them.

  • Character Move: Circles of Life. The fight for survival makes for some strange bedfellows. When you first use this move, choose another type of animal with which you have history and rapport.
Continue reading “The Warren: City Park”

RPG test drive: Turn

I had a chance during the holidays to play with one of my online groups. You know how hard it can be to get a group together, especially when they are spread in different time zones; when the friend who was supposed to run the adventure had to ask for another week to prepare, I offered to run something in our original time slot so we would not lose our precious gaming time.

Since this group has greatly enjoyed Golden Sky Stories, I first thought I would try running Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, but I just can’t quite grasp how play proceeds, let alone explain it to others. So I decided to playtest Turn: A Game of Shapeshifters in Small Towns instead.

Turn (Daedalum Analog Productions) is “a slice-of-life supernatural roleplaying game set in the modern era”; I think of it as Northern Exposure meets Teen Wolf, or Twin Peaks done by Studio Ghibli.  It’s written by Brie Beau Sheldon and recently had a successful Kickstarter campaign (where you can find the beta playtest version, freely available.) Here is what the author says:

Players in Turn are shapeshifters in small, rural towns who must balance their human lives and habits with their beast needs and instincts in quiet drama. Their baser natures will challenge them as they strive towards goals from everyday tasks to life-changing experiences, and they will need to find comfort in one another to make it through without becoming stressed out.

Turn is part of the family of games Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA), which means that a lot of the setting and story creation comes from the players, not just the game-master. Starting a game involves group creation of the small town where the stories will unfold, and player characters are designed by picking one human role and one beast archetype and selecting from their menu of options to customize your characters.

Continue reading “RPG test drive: Turn”