The third act of Andy Slack's gaming blog

Archive for December, 2018

Lessons from 2018

2018 has been a very instructive year on the gaming front, and this year you’ve already seen several lessons learned…

But wait, there’s more…

  • I’ve realised that I don’t actually need any figures at all… I run face to face games in other peoples’ houses using their figures or none at all; VTT games use tokens; and solitaire games which need figures can also be run on VTT. A small emergency stash of paper minis is more than adequate.
  • I love Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan’s work and have now tried to run four of his campaigns in succession; Eyes of the Stone Thief, Heart of the Fury, the Pirates of Drinax and the Dracula Dossier. All of them have fizzled out after a few sessions at most. So while I will still read his output and be inspired by it, I will stop trying to run it; there’s something about the interaction between his campaigns and my groups that stops them working for us, which is a great pity.
  • Everything is quiet on the gaming front at the moment, but one thing I’ve learned from blogging is that happens every year at about this time; so I’ll kick back, enjoy seeing the family for a while, and see what January brings.

So much for 2018. Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year, and I’ll see you on the other side, if spared.

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Conspyramids and Vampyramids

“I care not what puppet is placed upon the throne of England to rule the Empire on which the sun never sets. The man who controls Britain’s money supply controls the British Empire, and I control the British money supply.” – Nathan Rothschild

The Conspyramid

While preparing for the recently-abandoned Dracula Dossier campaign, I built a conspyramid using the Dracula Deck, and realised I could use that technique  for other campaigns too.

Perhaps I should translate that. Here’s a picture of the example conspyramid from Night’s Black Agents…

This is a very clever GM tool; you can think of it as a flowchart, or a dungeon map of the opposing forces. Players start unravelling the conspiracy by finding one node, typically one on the bottom row. They find clues alerting them to communication channels between the nodes (represented by the lines connecting them), and follow those to find and investigate other nodes. Eventually they reach the core leadership of the conspiracy, and either they or the Big Bad Evil Guy(s) die horribly.

The Dracula Deck is an optional accessory for the NBA campaign The Dracula Dossier; a custom card deck with one node on each card – you deal them into the conspyramid more or less at random to build your conspiracy. There’s no guidance on how to connect them, but I found that placing cards on nodes immediately suggested links – person X would logically talk to organisation Y, for example.

If you’re not playing NBA, you can use random encounters from whatever game you’re playing instead. In Traveller, nodes could be patrons, cargoes and whatnot. In D&D, they could be monsters – you could use the hierarchical level as the relevant monster table, with level 1 encounters on the bottom row and level 6 ones on the top.

In the real world, conspiracies are abandoning this sort of hierarchical structure in favour of cellphone-coordinated flashmobs and independent cells connected only by a shared ideology, which is much harder to deal with – there is no head to cut off the snake. In the Dracula Dossier, I can explain the hierarchy by saying the Count is at heart a 14th Century warlord who is not down wit’ da kids, and in other games you can say that interstellar travel times or low-tech societies encourage the conspiracy to use such a structure.

The Vampyramid

The other clever GM tool that goes with the conspyramid is the vampyramid; while the former gives structure to the conspiracy itself, the latter defines how the conspiracy will respond if the PCs poke it with a stick; here’s an example…

So for example if the PCs cause trouble for a level 1 conspiracy node, it might respond with one of the options on level 1 (“Reflex”) of the vampyramid; bribing the PCs, framing them for a crime, shadowing them, or probing their defences with a low-level attack. At this stage, the conspiracy doesn’t take them seriously so the higher levels are unlikely to be aware of them; the local goons are acting by reflex without orders from above. Messing with higher level nodes “unlocks” the equivalent level of responses, which grow rapidly better planned and more deadly.

As a group, my players don’t want to play the Dracula Dossier campaign, but both the Conspyramid and the Vampyramid go into my GM toolbox for future use. I recommend them to the house.

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