The Alexandrian

Technoir - Jeremy KellerVornheim includes a set of stripped down guidelines for giving PCs a set of contacts in an urban setting: The PCs can hit up their contacts for information about a particular topic and there’s a table for randomly determining what their reaction to the question is. (Here’s an example of the system in practice.)

Technoir is built around a plot-mapping mechanic in which PCs are created with a set of contacts: When the PCs hit up one of their contacts, there’s a system for randomly determining what they know. (And here’s an example of that system in play.)

The Technoir approach is built around the assumption that the GM — taking into account the subject indicated, that subject’s position on the plot map, the contact’s relationship to the plot map, and the specific question that was asked of the contact — will provide an act of creative closure and figure out what the contact says. And, in general, that works just fine.

But I thought to myself: Wouldn’t it be useful and nifty if I had a Vornheim-style contacts table for Technoir? So that the rules of Technoir would produce the lead the contact was pointing them towards and then the Vornheim-like table would give some guidance on how they ended up pointing them at it?

The Vornheim contacts table includes some null value (“I don’t know anything about”) values, which don’t work well in Technoir. So I tweaked the table a bit and ended up with this:

d10
Response
1
Pretends they don't know anything, but tips off an interested party. (Who'll come looking and provide the lead.)
2
Give them inaccurate information. (This might be intentional or it could just be an honest mistake.)
3
Doesn't know anything personally, but can make introductions with someone who does. (The "someone who does" might be the node rolled.)
4
Says they don't know anything, but seems afraid to say.
5
Doesn't know anything, but somebody else was asking them about the same thing.
6
"Maybe. What's in it for me?"
7
Doesn't know anything, but has a different proposition for them.
8
Doesn't know anything, but has a vested interest in the PCs finding the answer and will pay for it.
9
"Maybe. Come back tomorrow." (When the PCs come back, something has happened.)
10
Knows the answer to their question.

 

If you’ve been hanging around the Alexandrian for awhile, then you know that I like procedural content generators. A few examples from the past include:

They’re useful for rapidly refreshing the core content of an open table. They’re valuable improvisation tools while running the game. And they’re an excellent way of getting your creative juices flowing when you’re creating content.

MAGIC THE GATHERING

Here’s a system proposed by Baldr12 on reddit recently. Take your Magic the Gathering cards (or use a random card generator) and draw five times to determine:

THE PROBLEM (Creature/Enchantment): This is the problem. It may have just appeared or it may have just gotten worse.

THE SETTING (Non-Base Land): This is the primary location. It’s either where the problem is located, where it needs to be solved, or both.

THE SOLUTION (Artifact/Sorcery): The macguffin that will solve the problem.

THE FRIEND (Creature): This is somebody that wants the problem removed or can help the PCs remove it.

THE ANTAGONIST (Creature): This is the person who doesn’t want the problem resolved. They may have been the one to cause it or they might be profiting from it.

EXAMPLE SCENARIO

Emissary of Hope - Magic the GatheringTHE PROBLEM (Emissary of Hope): An “angel” claiming to represent the Nine Gods is offering people absolution from their sins with the promise of immediate entry into a heavenly afterlife. Those who agree to the Emissary of Hope’s offer, however, turn up dead.

THE SETTING (Cursed Land): A place known as Devil’s Hollow, deep within the Old Wood.

THE SOLUTION (Envelop): An old holy ritual which will unknit the flames of the soulbright flamekin. Unfortunately, the Emissary of Hope has destroyed all the local holy books which contain the ritual.

THE FRIEND (Canker Abomination): These evil creatures of legend are coming out of the Old Wood. The local church is condemning them. But if the heroes investigate, they’ll discover that some of the canker abominations are speaking with the voices of those “taken to Heaven” by the Emissary of Hope.

THE ANTAGONIST (Soulbright Flamekin): The source of all this confusion and horror is a soulbright flamekin sorcerer who has taken up residence in Devil’s Hollow. The Emissary of Hope is the soulbright’s creation, trapping the souls of its victims into trees which become canker abominations. The soulbright then draws the canker abominations to itself and burns the wood, claiming the souls for itself.

NETRUNNER

Here’s a quick variant I threw together for using Netrunner cards to generate cyberpunk heists.

THE CLIENT (Identity): This is either the person looking to hire the PCs or the corporation the pseudonymous Mr. Johnson works for.

THE TARGET (Agenda/Asset/Upgrade): This is what they want.

THE JOB (Operation/Event): This desscribes the nature of the job. (You can draw this option multiple times to enrich the difficulty or the complications of the mission.)

THE PROBLEM (Asset/Hardware): This is a hurdle that is going to make finishing the job difficult. (You generally want to draw one problem for each job card you pull.)

THE TWIST (Operation/Resource): Finally, no heist is complete without an unexpected complication somewhere along the way.

 EXAMPLE SCENARIO

Traffic Accident - Android: NetrunnerTHE CLIENT (The Foundry): A lunar mining facility that produces the advanced materials required to build bioroids.

THE TARGET (Net Police): A division of the Lunar PD that recently executed a secret warrant on the Foundry’s databases. The Net Police now have a dossier containing information that the Foundry can’t afford to let out into the wild.

THE JOB (Traffic Accident): The lead investigator for the Lunar PD needs to be taken out of the equation, but it needs to look like an accident. Literally. The PCs need to sabotage her flier. Once she’s out of commission, the case will pass to her deputy.

THE PROBLEM (Deep Red): The deputy is clean, but the Foundry has access to the deputy’s passkeys. Unfortunately, the only way to use the passkeys is to gain access to the Lunar PD’s evidence databases. And those are hyper-secure. The only way to get reliable access from outside Lunar PD headquarters? Cutting edge Caissa ICE. You’ll have to heist a Deep Red unit with the latest Caissa releases.

THE TWIST (Rework): When they pull the file and burn the evidence database, the PCs discover that a copy of the secure file has already been made to a grand jury database. To finish the job, they’re gonna have to hit the courthouse!

The Strange: Eschatology Code - Bruce CordellBruce Cordell’s Eschatology Code is an absolutely fabulous introductory scenario for The Strange.

I’ve run it four times and the opening scene has immediately grabbed hold of the players, yanked them off their feet, and plunged them into a deep end of extreme excitement every single time. The rest of the scenario is a pleasant little mystery capped with a health dose of awesome.

As with Monte Cook’s Into the Violet Vale, I prepped a bunch of resources for the Eschatology Code while preparing to run it at GenCon this year. And now that this scenario, too, has been released to the public I’d like to share them with you so that you can use ‘em at your own table.

MISSION BRIEFING

Eschatology Code - Mission Briefing

(click here for PDF)

We’ll start with an ESTATES EYES ONLY briefing document. You can use this to pitch the scenario to your players. Or you can hand it to them as they arrive for the game.

(Note: DL1770 is an actual Delta flight that goes from Seattle to Sioux Falls to Minneapolis.)

GM CHEAT SHEET

Eschatology Code - GM Cheat Sheet

(click for PDF)

This cheat sheet should be fairly self-explanatory.

The OPENING SPIEL is a brief outline for introducing new players to both the rules and milieu of The Strange.

The DATE REFERENCE was designed to have the scenario dates land on the dates for GenCon when I first ran the adventure.

Most of the rest of the cheat sheet just consolidates the relevant stat blocks. However, I’ve also indicated where the appropriate HANDOUTS (see below) should be used. I’ve also added a few creepy details to flesh out the All Souls Church of Deliverance.

OTHER RESOURCES

In addition the mission briefing and master cheat sheet, I’ve also prepped these resources:

  • Cypher and Ability Cheat Sheets: These are designed to eliminate book look-ups for the pregenerated characters in the adventure. I’ve found that they save about 20-30 minuets of playing time, so their use greatly improves the pace of the scenario if you’re using Eschatology Code as  a one-shot for introducing people to the game.
  • PC Tent Cards: Once again featuring the pregen characters. I prep these and put them in the middle of the table. As people approach, they can select whichever character looks appealing to them and put the tent card in front of them. It’s a nice, quick way to facilitate character selection and also means that you (and other players) can quickly identify who’s playing who with a quick glance during play. These files are designed to be printed with Avery “Small Tent Cards” (template 5302), but you could also just print them on normal cardstock. What you need to do is take each A file and then flip it and print the matching B file. (Each sheet has four tent cards, so I’ve designed the three files so that I get two complete sets of character names if I print all three (to minimize wastage). If you just want one set, print sets 1 and 2 and you should be good to go.)
  • Eschatology Code Handouts: These include a blueprint reference for the 787 flight the PCs are on at the beginning of the scenario; an informational handout for the All Souls Church of Delivereance; and graphical handouts photoshopped from the scenario. (These graphical handouts are designed to be printed as 4 x 6 photos.)

 

Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock only survives in a well-thumbed manuscript. Literally well-thumbed: The edges of its pages, worn thin by apparently decades of use as a playhouse prompt script, are disintegrating.

But that’s not all: The manuscript’s cover sheet has been lost, taking with it the original name of the play and the author’s name. The last few pages are also missing, taking with them the end of the play.

Despite being battered and beaten, the play has survived. And it brings with it a host of mysteries and enigmas.

First, and perhaps foremost, is the play’s anonymity. Take any half-decent, anonymous play from Elizabethan England and it won’t be long before the question, “Who wrote this?” starts attracting answers of, “William Shakespeare”.

Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock, on the other hand, is a very good play from Elizabethan England, so it shouldn’t be too surprising to discover that the name “William Shakespeare” has been periodically dogging its heels for at least the last couple of centuries. But the heat really cranked up in 2005 when Michael Egan picked up the torch. Egan didn’t just content himself with writing a mammoth tome making his case that Shakespeare was the author of “Richard II, Part 1″ (as he called it): He wrote four. And then he followed it up with a blitzkrieg of publicity.

Which, to make a long story short, is how the play finds its way into the apocryphal cycle of the Complete Readings of William Shakespeare. And thus poses its own problems for me to solve.

THE TITLE

First, let’s talk about the title. Egan makes the compelling case that the identity of the play itself serves a proxy fight for the authorship debate: The earliest critics of the play referred to it as simply Richard II (because it was fairly standard practice for Elizabethan history plays to be named after their reigning monarch). But this created obvious confusion between this play and the better known play of the same title by Shakespeare.

At this point, the play’s identity splits: Those who believe that the play is written by Shakespeare (along with a few who don’t) start referring to it as Richard II, Part 1. But those who don’t ascribe to Shakespeare’s authorship (and want to distance the play as much as possible from Shakespeare’s work), strip Richard’s name off the play entirely and refer to it as either Thomas of Woodstock (or simply Woodstock).

On the gripping hand, I find either approach to be fraught with problems. On the one hand, titling the play Richard II, Part 1 is deliberately provocative. It thrusts the authorship question front-and-center while simultaneously demanding an opinion before one has even had a chance to experience the play (let alone the evidence). It’s presumptuous in its assumption.

On the other hand, titling the play Thomas of Woodstock is to promote the character of Woodstock to the role of sole protagonist in a way that I, personally, feel significantly distorts the narrative of the play.

So I split the difference: As a title, Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock is (a) clear; (b) assumes nothing; and (c) distinguishes it from the other, more famous, Richard II.

DEBT TO FRIJLINCK

In an age of pervasive googling, I was actually surprised to discover that a photographic facsimile of Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock wasn’t available online. Of course, even if it were, it wouldn’t do me much good: While I’ve become intimately familiar with the idiosyncrasies of Elizabethan printing, I’m afraid Elizabethan handwriting is a skill I’m far from mastering.

That’s why our script owes a great debt to Wilhelmina Frijlinck. Frijlinck prepared the 1929 Malone Society Reprint edition of the play (published as The First Part of the Reign of King Richard the Second, or Thomas of Woodstock). This edition faithfully reproduced in modern type and layout everything which could be found on the page of the original manuscript.

While in some ways it can be frustrating to be dependent on Frijlinck’s observations instead of being able to study the primary text directly, there’s no question that Frijlinck’s edition is almost as good as the real thing.

THE TEXT

It’s particularly exciting to be able to offer this version of the script to the public because no other decent edition of the play has been made available on the internet.

To date, the only version of the script we’ve been able to find online was the text provided by the Hampshire Shakespeare Company. Unfortunately, this text proved to be so utterly corrupt and purposefully inaccurate that it was completely worthless even as a base text which could be corrected. Its most heinous flaw lies in the decision to expand every contraction (so that “it’s” in the original text, for example, becomes “it is” in the Hampshire edition), thus completely destroying the verse structure of the play. This by itself would utterly discredit the script, but it’s helped along by an essentially schizophrenic approach to punctuation: In some cases spraying excess punctuation in order to further damage the flow and sense of the text, while in other cases failing to provide (or even removing) necessary punctuation required for the text to make any sense.

I think you’ll find that our own script is far from perfect, but it does bear the honor of making an undamaged version of the play publicly available online for the first time.

RICHARD II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK – FULL SCRIPT

RICHARD II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK – CONFLATED SCRIPT

1. All emendations have been indicated to with [square brackets].
2. Scribal deletions struck thru.
3. Scribal deletions retained in <diamond brackets>.
4. Non-scribal additions underlined.
5. Non-scribal addition not retained underlined and struck thru.
6. Speech headings have been silently regularlized.
7. Names which appear in ALL CAPITALS in stage directions have also been regularized.
8. Spelling has been modernized.
9. Punctuation has been silently emended. (Although only in a minimalist fashion, as described above.)
10. A new ending has been added to the play, written by Justin Alexander. See Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock – The End of the Story.

THE NEW ENDING

Because the play is incomplete, a new ending was written for the Complete Readings of William Shakespeare. The ASR scripts of the play have been updated to include the ending as it was performed. For more details on the ending, check out Richard II: Thomas of Woodstock – The End of the Story. If you’re interested in reading the new ending by itself, a separate PDF link has been included below.

Permission to use this additional material in print or production is freely granted as long as the following notice is included on either (a) the title page or cover of the printed publication or (b) the cover of the production’s program, website, and any posters, postcards, or similar advertising:

New Ending Written by Justin Alexander
http://www.thealexandrian.net

Originally Produced by the
American Shakespeare Repertory
http://www.american-shakespeare.com

RICHARD II: THOMAS OF WOODSTOCK – THE NEW ENDING

Originally posted September 10th, 2014.

Untested D&D – Interrogation

November 26th, 2014

Jack Bauer from 24

Interrogation checks are made to resolve the controlled questioning of prisoners or suspects: People who have (or who you believe might have) a reason to withhold information from you.  Obtaining information through other forms of social interaction (questioning witnesses or chatting someone up at a social soiree, for example) is certainly possible, but may not be the right fit for these mechanics.

When interrogating a subject, the questioner can choose one of two approaches:

DIPLOMACY: These are “soft” methods of interrogation. Manipulation, seduction, a building of trust, a promise of quid pro quo.

INTIMIDATE: These are “hard” methods of interrogation. This doesn’t cover actual torture, but it does include aggressive techniques, threats of violence, and the like.

The appropriate interrogation skill is used to make a check against DC 10 + the subject’s HD + the subject’s Wisdom modifier. On a success, the interrogator gains one piece of information. Additional interrogation checks can be attempted, but each additional check applies a cumulative +2 modifier to the DC of the check.

After two failures, the interrogation will provide no more useful information. (The subject has broken down or their lawyer has shown up or they simple have no more useful information to share.)

ESCALATION

Each interrogation technique can be escalated to the next level:

BRIBERY: Diplomacy-based interrogations can be enhanced with bribery. If a sufficiently large bribe is offered, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus to their interrogation checks for the rest of the interrogation. (Alternatively, you could use these advanced guidelines for determining the efficacy of a specific bribe.)

TORTURE: Intimidation-based interrogations can be escalated to actual torture. This involves inflicting actual physical damage and pain. (Or possibly inflicting the same on comrades or loved ones.) The target must make a Will save at DC 10 + the damage dealt by the torturer. If the subject fails the Will save, the interrogator gains a +10 circumstance bonus on their next interrogation check. (Of course, they can continue torturing the subject in order to gain the same bonus again.)

Both of these techniques, however, represent a gamble: Under the temptation of bribery or the desperation of torture subjects may invent information or say whatever they think the interrogator wants to hear. There’s a flat 25% chance of false information when giving a bribe. There’s a cumulative 10% chance of false information when using torture. (So after torturing a subject for the third time, there will be a 30% chance of false information.)

SUPPORTING SKILLS

A couple of other skills can be useful in interrogations.

BLUFF: Subjects can attempt to provide false information with a Bluff check. If the check fails, however, the interrogator has seen through their lie and can immediately attempt another interrogation check with a +2 circumstance bonus to get the truth out of them. (All of the modifiers from their previous test still apply.)

SENSE MOTIVE: Sense Motive can, obviously, be used to opposed a subject’s Bluff checks. It might also be useful for determining what threats or promises would make for the most effective intimidation or bribery (offering a circumstance in accordance with the guidelines for aiding another, but perhaps inflicting penalties if the check goes awry).

OTHER SKILLS: Other skills can also be used situationally to aid the interrogation check. For example, demonstrating a bit of legerdemain with Sleight of Hand might impress a social contact. Or a Knowledge check might produce information that would endear an expert. Use the guidelines for aiding another to resolve these checks.

GOOD COP / BAD COP

An interrogation team can play good cop / bad cop by switching their interrogation technique (from Diplomacy to Intimidation or vice versa). If their first interrogation check after the swap is successful, they can negate a previous failure. (This will allow them to prolong the interrogation.)

It’s exceptionally difficult to play good cop to your own bad cop: Apply a -10 circumstance penalty to the first check of an individual interrogator after the switch in approach.

DESIGN NOTES

Kenneth Hite has a technique he uses in investigation games: When the characters have gained all the information they’re going to get from a scene, he holds up a sign that says “SCENE OVER” or “DONE”. The statement cues the players to let them know that there’s no reward to continuing the ransack the apartment, while using a sign is less intrusive on the natural flow of the scene (so if there’s something they still want to accomplish in this scene of a non-investigative nature, the scene can continue without the GM unduly harshing the vibe).

The core of this interrogation mechanic is designed to do something similar: It’s sending a clear and specific “we’re done here” message to the players, allowing you to perform a clean cut that keeps the pacing tight.

It also has the added benefit of answering for the GM, “How much information does this guy really know?” in situations where that isn’t immediately clear. (This is a question I frequently struggle with when some random mook gets interrogated.)

Collectively, that’s why the difficulty cranks up after each question: I want the mechanic to terminate the interrogation for me.

You might also want to check out my Advanced Rules for Diplomacy. And my thoughts on Social Skills and PCs might also be of interest.

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