Character a day #3: Professor Challenger

More characters for Inferno. This time it’s Professor Challenger, the moving force in Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. He’s presented here as he appears in that book, mostly because I haven’t yet read the other stories he appears in.

Professor Challenger, House Capricorn

The character: The physically and intellectually imposing Professor Challenger provides the inciting incident for The Lost World with his claims to have travelled deep into the Amazon and found proof that dinosaurs are still alive. Professor Challenger has a violent temper, and is widely mocked by the scientific establishment for his outlandish ideas.

House choice: House Capricorn is the House for scientists who are obsessed with a single objective. In Professor Challenger’s case, proving the existance of dinosaurs. Members of House Capricorn often have a somewhat loose grip on their sanity, something else that fits with Conan Doyle’s descriptions of Challenger.


Professor Challenger is regularly described as a large, powerful, physically imposing man, and early in the narrative throws the narrator (an international rugby player) out of his house. Prowess 4. He is unable to control his temper and constantly offending his peers and companions, so Influence 1. He is absolutely a great mind – Genius 3, but his plans often go awry – Focus 2.


During The Lost World professor Challenger comes up with a number of practical scientific ideas, most notably an attempt to create a hot air balloon, although they don’t all come off. So we’ll go for Engineering 2, we’ll also add Investigation 2 to reflect his pursuit of evidence about the lost world.

For Genius related skills we’ll go for five points of science, and two points of observation.

In Influence related skills two points of intimidate and a single point of leadership are perhaps the most he deserves.

Under prowess skills we’ll take a single point of athletics, and two points of scout, and one point of ride/pilot to reflect his previous experiences in the Amazon.

Talents and Reputations

We’ll start out by taking ‘Obsessive Focus’ from the House Capricorn options as a talent, allowing Professor Challenger to shrug off concentration damage. We’ll also take ‘Boundless Comprehension’ from the Earth Houses list, granting the professor bonuses whenever he encounters novel or inexplicable phenomena.

From the general talents we’ll take Enormous Strength, giving him +2 on strength related challenges, and remarkable physiognomy, for +2 on intimidation tests.

That leaves just one point over for Reputations, we’ll give him a single point reputation as a ‘Member of the Royal Society’, reflecting the fact that he is a well known scientist, even if he’s not particularly well regarded.

Secrets and Scandals

To earn some extra character points we’ll give the professor both a secret, and a scandal. His secret is his violent temper, which if exposed will give him a negative reputation as ‘a brute’. His scandal is ‘Believes dinosaurs walk the earth’, which gives him a negative reputation of the same name. This will count against him in any situation where it might come up.

Spending the extra points

Those earn us three additional character points which we’ll spend on a one point talent (pugilist) and 100 points of prestige with the Inferno club. Those prestige points translate to a single point of House Capricorn reputation which he can use to call on the resources of the house, and mean Professor Challenger will start the game knowing some of the secrets of the club.

What are House Capricorn’s resources? Members of the House with sufficient prestige can access

The Tabula Creationis: Sometimes called a map, the Tabula Creationis is really a collection of maps, rumours and accounts detailing all known geography, including accounts of lost continents, hollow earth realms, and other planets. 

Remote residences: House Capricorn’s vast knowledge of the world means they are well placed to locate hidden islands, concealed valleys or habitable plateaus where members can pursue science uninterrupted by the world.

The Arsenal: It’s not clear why House Capricorn maintain an arsenal of devastating weapons,suitable for mounting on the largest of their members’ creations, but they do. 

Relocation: Members of House Capricorn frequently find themselves the target of outraged publics, angry mobs and furious governments. House Capricorn are experts in helping their members disappear, often seemingly dead, only for them to quietly recommence their work elsewhere.  

In game terms this means Professor Challenger can add one card to an appropriate challenge to reflect his access to House Capricorn resources. As he rises in seniority within the Inferno club (where no-one is foolish enough to question the possibility of dinosaurs) his House Capricorn Reputation will rise, allowing him to make greater use of the resources.

Where he fits in

Professor Challenger is first and foremost an excellent scientist who will quickly make sense of unusual discoveries. He is a social disaster, and should be kept away from social challenges, unless they relate to intimidation. His physical presence makes him a useful back up character in a fight.

Character a day #2 – Lord John Roxton

Onwards with the character a day challenge for Inferno. This time it’s a character from Conan Doyle’s The Lost World.

Lord John Roxton, House Aries

The character: Lord John Roxton is a sportsman, explorer, dedicated opponent of slavery and all round hero. Throughout The Lost World he takes the lead when feats of daring are required, and the narrator has an enormous man-crush on him.

“”…a sportin’ risk, young fellah, that’s the salt of existence. Then it’s worth livin’ again. We’re all gettin’ a deal too soft and dull and comfy. Give me the great waste lands and the wide spaces, with a gun in my fist and somethin’ to look for that’s worth findin’. I’ve tried war and steeplechasin’ and aeroplanes, but this huntin’ of beasts that look like a lobster-supper dream is a brand-new sensation.” – Lord Roxton, on the hunting of dinosaurs.

House Choice: Without a doubt, Lord Roxton belongs in that home of heroes, House Aries. Let’s see how he shapes up.


Lord John is an impetuous, and easily bored man. Focus 2. Likewise it’s not clear he has much time for science or indeed social events. We’ll put both Genius and Influence to 2. That leaves four points for Prowess, which might be an underestimate for the vigourous lord, still, rather than sacrifice a point elsewhere, we’ll go for Prowess 4.


Profession is a skill to reflect things a character specialises in, but aren’t covered elsewhere. I think three points of Profession: Hunter will get Lord Roxton off to a good start. Under genius we’ll take two points of observation.

As one of life’s natural leaders, we’ll give Lord Roxton three points in leadership, and two points of persuade. He’s bound to have picked up some social skills along the way. That leaves eight points for Prowess skills. We’ll go for three each in Athletics and Scout, and two in ride/pilot to reflect his passing interest in aeroplanes. No skulduggery for our upstanding Lord though.

Talents and Reputations

We’ll start off Lord Roxton’s selection of talents with Crack Shot at level 3, making him a world class marksman. To reflect his boundless confidence we’ll also give him ‘I’d stake my life on it’ from the House Aries list. This grants him a bonus to any challenge once a session, provided he makes it death defying (which means failure could be fatal).

As a last talent we’ll take ‘Rousing Speech’ which gives him +1 card leading others into action.

For reputations we’ll put two points into ‘The sporting lord’, Lord Roxton is something of a celebrity. To reflect his earlier adventures in the Amazon we’ll also add his description as “The Flail of the Lord”, a name given to him by the Indigenous Brazilians he freed from slavery.

Secrets and scandals

During the course of The Lost World Lord Roxton’s past catches up with him, with disastrous consequences. So we’ll give him a secret “Target of a blood feud”. to allow something similar to happen in our game. That gives us one extra point for skills, talents or reputations, which we’ll use to boost his scout skill to 4.

Where he fits in

With his high athletics skill and exceptional marksmanship Lord Roxton will be a useful man of action for any party. Where he really excels though is in the wilderness, where his profession and scout skills come into their own.

He’s a reasonably capable social character. Leadership 3 is always useful to have on hand, and his reputations should come in handy in a wide range of situations.

Character a day #1 – Dorcas Dene

Over on Twitter is the character creation challenge – make a character a day for an RPG (or RPGs) of your choice. So, it’s time to take the Inferno character creation rules out for a good run out. It’s a chance to introduce some of the various Inferno houses as well.

Some of these characters will be based on literary or historical figures. Some will be created from whole cloth. Today’s is…

Dorcas Dene, House Libra

The character: The Victorians loved a lady detective, which was slightly odd as nineteen century ladies were forbidden from entering the profession, but nonetheless, the literature is full of them. Dorcas Dene’s unique characteristics were that she was a master of disguise, having previously been an actress, and mostly dealt in crimes which had to be resolved discretely, to leave the good reputation of the victims intact. Sometimes the crimes were murders, but often they weren’t.

House choice: ‘Consulting detectives’ are often found in the heroic House Aries, but I’ve decided to put Dorcas in House Libra. House Libra run the Inferno club, and are responsible for maintaining its secrecy. Dorcas’ discretion and knack for resolving situations outside the public eye is sure to be useful to them.


Dorcas’ investigations are often long, sustained affairs, and she is very organised, frequently coordinating her friends and assistants in complex plans, so Focus 4. She’ll need a good observation score, but not much else in the Genius category, so Genius 2. Her social skills are a strong suit, mostly around deception, so Influence 3. Finally, she’s always careful to ensure that she doesn’t come into personal physical peril, so Prowess 1.


Key skills for Dorcas are going to be Investigate, Observation, Decieve, Persuade and, since she isn’t above aquiring evidence while disguised – Skulduggery. So four points each in Investigate and Observation, three each in Decieve, Persuade and Skulduggery. The one remaining point will go into science – Dorcas seems likely to take an interest in new discoveries in forensics and such.

Talents and Reputations

Dorcas is frequently referred to in the novels as ‘the famous detective’ Dorcas Dene. So we’ll give her a two point reputation as a famous detective.

We’ll definitely take the House Libra Talent ‘Understanding Nature’ which gives +1 card when trying to get someone to betray a confidence. From list of Air House Talents ‘Skilled negotiator’ which gives +1 card to reach a deal or compromise also looks appropriate.

To avoid getting accidentally broken while making observation tests we’ll take the general talent Inspired, increasing her Inspiration by 2. We’ll also take the ‘Disguise Artist’ talent, allowing her to appear as any kind of person she likes.

And while she doesn’t do this in the novels, we’ll take the much more impressive ‘Master of Disguise’ talent, allowing her to adopt the guise of specific individuals, provided she has sufficient time to research them.

As a final touch we’ll spend her last point on a chronicler. In the books her adventures are related by her friend Mr Saxon, and being able to put a suitably adjusted description of events into public discourse is something House Libra would value.

Secrets and scandals

While Dorcas knows a great many other people’s secrets, and has suppressed a number of scandals, she doesn’t appear to have any of her own. So no bonus points for Dorcas, but no baggage to resolve either.

Where she fits in

Dorcas looks like she’d be a very useful member of an adventuring party. She’s a capable investigator and would be a dab hand at infiltration, although if she gets into any physical trouble she’ll need help from elsewhere. Her high focus also means she’s likely to take a leadership role in group challenges of a social or investigatory nature.

Campaign 2, session 3: Sandbox time

The previous week’s game had been very much ‘let’s have an adventure’. This week was about letting the players run around in their Ruritanian sandbox and do what they felt like.

Which is how two of them came to be fleeing through the woods with the Queen, pursued by a giant metal machine, that strode through the forest on five telescopic legs. Sometimes things just escalate.

The escape from the castle was a bit like this

Downtime actions

We had a good mix of downtime actions, with the group successfully rigging the auction of mining rights in favour of Mathen Mining and Minerals. This meant ignoring the growing clamour for war though, and Ruritania is now on the brink of throwing its lot in with the Prussians in their campaign to crush the free city of Dresden.

Another action saw social climber Elmira successfully snag herself a wealthy, influential husband. He might be 73 years old, twice widowed and the father of eight adult children but that doesn’t make ‘Whiskers’ any less perfect in her eyes. This made the GM particularly happy, since it meant I could unleash a plot based on her past as a ‘lady of negotiable virtue’ – could she supress her secrets and save her engagement? At least Captain Emil Gustav and Radimir were on hand to help out.

Spiritualist dandy Easton’s downtime saw him fail to repair his relationship with the king. So when the game started a miserable Easton decided to abandon the capital, and headed off to Zenda, where the young Prince Michael was being treated for some kind of nervous exhaustion. Concerned about Easton’s drinking Johannes went with him to keep an eye on things.

Processing the downtime actions doesn’t take too long. The players have been pretty good at keeping their instructions to a couple of sentences, and it’s generally clear what skills / talents / reputations to apply. The most time consuming part has been drawing the cards, determining the result and keeping track in a spreadsheet. But now I’ve made a google sheet that lets me generate the results of card draws, so next time will be *much quicker*.

Sandbox activities

That set things up nicely for the sandbox session. Elmira needed to save her marriage, and Easton was looking into the Prince’s illness. The card of fate system gives you a nice structure for this kind of thing – each objective has a number of challenges and when the Protagonists have resolved a majority of them either positively or negatively the objective has succeeded or failed.

I ended up handling this as follows. When the Protagonists encountered the first challenge we’d play it through and resolve it. Then I’d explain what the associated mission was going to be. As an example – Elmira went to visit her fiance but was forbidden to enter the house. The first challenge was to get in and find out what was going on. Once that was resolved the objective was revealed to be ‘Preserve Elmira’s reputation by putting a stop to the blackmailer’s activities’.

Over at the castle Easton spoke with the young Prince and confirmed his suspicions that his malady was supernatural in nature. The biggest problem was the entirely rational alienist who had been hired to treat him. Meanwhile Johannes noticed that one of the towers in the castle was unusually well guarded – for no obvious reason.

A note here on stake setting. The stakes for Johannes’ observation test were not about whether or not he would notice the unusual presence of the guards, but whether he would tip off those responsible that he had done so. As it turned out he succeeded, and so when he crept across the castle roofs to break in he found the Queen, apparently held prisoner*. Had he failed the observation test he’d have arrived to find the room empty – someone was being held prisoner, but who?

A dramatic escape

Having found the Queen Johannes decided to rescue her. The only question was how. In the end we decided that a swordfight (see above) was the right way to go about it. We made a single melee test, Johannes aced it, and we narrated things through to the point where he, Easton, the Queen and a few cossacks they’d borrowed from Gustav were fleeing through the woods.

Which is when the giant machine turned up.

* Which raises the question of just who has been masquerading as the Queen for all this time, and why?

Campaign 2: Session 2, the other club member

The write-up on this session is a week late, so likely to be a bit briefer than usual. The purpose of the session was ‘to have an adventure’ and get everyone into the swing of things. I also wanted to showcase some of the elements of magic in the world, as the group includes three magic using characters.

The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun (William Blake, 1805-10)

First though, I had to process the players’ downtime actions.

The Protagonists had been given a bunch of tasks by the Inferno club when they arrived in Strelsau. They were to keep Ruritania out of the current military conflict, they were to rig an auction of mining rights in favour of Mathen Mining and Minerals, and they were to ensure a proposed railway line went to Prague rather than Warsaw. The party focused their attention on the issue of neutrality, giving speeches, talking up the folly of war and generally doing their best to keep Ruritania out of conflict.

Adjudicating this stuff was pretty basic, but I think the system I’d come up with for ‘how a country works’ was in itself a bit too complicated. I’ve now drafted a simpler version and will shift the campaign over to it.


Some of the players chose downtime actions that were intended to boost their profile in various parts of Ruritania. When these succeeded, the obvious thing to do was to assign them an appropriate reputation to reflect this. But… reputations can also be bought with experience points, while acquiring them through activity might be much more efficient. One option is to say that reputations can’t be bought with experience, and have to be acquired through activity in game. Another is to let both happen. Thought required.

I’ve also been contemplating limiting the number of different Reputations you can have to your influence quality. If you let people acquire reputations for stuff they do, you might want an upper limit on how many they can have.

And I’ve been thinking about adding some classifications to Reputations to reflect which sphere they belong to. Basically because the person with the highest appropriate reputation in a country should gain some influence. e.g. the person with the highest martial reputation is ‘The defender of the realm’, and so on. This is mostly relevant for the projected *really big game* with dozens of players who can argue over these kinds of titles.

But – in a small tabletop game achieving such a title could be a major milestone. The point at which your protagonist is acknowledged as the greatest scientist in all of France could be pretty cool.


This is working now. Adding the criteria for earning prestige (per house) to different character sheets makes it easier to administer, and now I’ve got written lists of what is revealed to players at each security clearance that’s easy to do to. Sometimes this results in players being told things they might have already learned, or guessed in play, sometimes it provides them with important clues, and sometimes it makes them aware of bits of the world they haven’t seen yet. Mostly though it provides players with some more information about their House that they can lean into during play.

I do need to clear up the link between Prestige and security clearance though. In short, as your Prestige increases, so does your security clearance. It’s that simple. But without a clear explanation, this is hidden from the players.

The adventure

The game opened with Benson letting the Protagonists know that there was another member of the Inferno club in Ruritania. The Count Montcriffe, a senior member of House Scorpio was living in the countryside, having been chased from his home in Saxony during the recent uprising by a mob with torches and pitchforks. The Count had not been heard from for some time, could the party check in on him?

Part of the goal for this session was to let the Protagonists discover just how odd some magic users are. They arrived to find the Count’s home was empty, although there were signs of a struggle. There was a temple in the basement, devoted to something carnivourous and unpleasant. There were lots of books. There was a ghost on the staircase, but only one of the Protagonists could see it.

The ghost was that of the Count Montcriffe. He didn’t know what had happened to him, but he wasn’t going to let it stop him. Could the Protagonists please get on with things and put him into a suitable body as soon as possible? The Protagonists were skeptical about this. It seemed the Count had summoned the carnivorous and unpleasant thing in the basement and commanded it to murder his enemies. They didn’t approve.

The Count argued that since he’d died the carnivourous and unpleasant thing wasn’t under anyone’s control anymore. Yes it had killed his enemies, as instructed, but any time now it was going to start killing anyone it felt like, and only he could stop it. The protagonists weren’t sure if this was true, but decided to try necromancy.

Which worked! And so one of the players got to play the Count for the remainder of the session as the party set about hunting down the escaped entity.


Perhaps the best bit about the adventure was the amount of in character angst and concern it provoked. Is it typical for members of House Scorpio to go around murdering people who disagree with them? Is raising the dead OK? Where does the Inferno club stand on all of this? Just what have we got ourselves in to?

Inferno magic: The Conjurers

Magic in Inferno is a tricky beast. There are three houses in the Inferno club who practice magic – House Cancer are conjurers, House Scorpio are enchanters and House Pisces are Magi. Each group do magic in a fundamentally different way and I want these to give magic in Inferno a very specific feel.

L’Envoûteuse (The Sorceress), Georges Merle, 1883

(Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Purchase with funds provided by the Children of the Vann Family: William O. Vann, Sally V. Worthen, Robert D. Vann, in memory of Suzanne Oliver Vann, AFI.2.2009)

The conjurers of House Cancer

House Cancer are conjurers, able to perform magical effects seemingly instantaneously and out of thin air, but the practice is actually very different. Cancerian magic works by summoning entities from beyond the veil and making pacts with them. Once a deal is made the entity invisibly shadows the conjurer until its services are called on.

In game terms this means that conjuurers need to find entities that can perform the kind of services they want, summon them, and agree a price for their services before they can do magic. The more powerful the entity being summoned the harder the challenges will be. As summonings take days they should usually take place in ‘downtime’ between games.

In time a conjurer might have a ‘spellbook’ listing many entities, all able to perform different services in exchange for different prices, and might have some, or all of them on call at any one time. Although there are side effects to having creatures from beyond the veil following you around 24/7…

To help GMs come up with entities on demand I’ve written some tables for use in the game. These list the appearance, powers and price of an entity. And because the internet is wonderful lets me turn it into an online generator for anyone to use. This generator produces a single, weak entity, which a new conjurer would be confident of controlling.

Invoking entities

When a conjurer summons an entity they get a certain number of reputations with it. Each time they invoke it they spend one of those reputations. Particularly powerful entities might require more than one reputation to be expended to invoke their powers. When a conjurer has expended all their reputations with an entity they have to summon it anew. Conjurers can also spend reputations to restrain entities by putting conditions on the price they have agreed with it.

If a conjurer wants more reputations with an entity they can agree to a higher price. This will always be in keeping with the first price, but escalate the requirement. For instance a conjurer summons the following spirit

“An Owl, with a burning beak. It has the power to command the weather. In exchange you must permit it to vandalise a statue.”

Finding themselves in urgent need of a snowstorm, but lacking sufficient reputations the conjurer agrees a new price with the entity. After a bit of thought the GM suggests “It agrees, provided you permit it to desecrate a holy place after invoking it.”

Dealing with entities should lead conjurers down dark, and questionable paths. But in exchange they get to wield extraordinary powers.

Campaign 2: Session 0, Last train to Strelsau

It’s time for another playtest campaign. This one taking place in the far off Kingdom of Ruritania.

House Leo starting equipment, one squadron of Cossak Cavalry

After a lot of drifting around I’ve finally decided on a time period for Inferno. I’m opting for a version of the 1850’s where the revolutions of 1848 went rather better than they did in the real world. So the Hapsburg Empire has collapsed, replaced with a whole range of kingdoms and states, all experimenting with different forms of government – anarchists, communards, republicans, and monarchists abound. France is firmly under the control of the newly proclaimed Emperor Louis Napoleon III, the great cities of Britain are pressure cookers of working class radicals and in the north Prussia is preparing to unite Germany, if not with diplomacy then with blood and iron.*

When the Hapsburg Empire fell the citizens of Ruritania were quick to fully assert the independence of their nation and their loyalty to its hereditary rulers, the Elphenbergs. Ruritania is now an island of stability, an absolute monarchy surrounded by the wreckage of an empire.

The new situation has convinced the Inferno club that it needs to establish a Ruritanian cell, and five individuals have been recruited. For their induction it was necessary to invite them all to meetings elsewhere in Europe, and so the game begins with the characters returning to Ruritania.

Continue reading

Inferno @ Furnace!

Two weeks ago all kinds of exciting things happened. Most importantly, I made it to the UK, travelling outside the Netherlands for the first time since the pandemic started. I got to see my family, and I got to meet face to face with my Tuesday night gaming group for *the first time ever*.

The venue for this auspicious event was the Furnace gaming convention, held at the Garrisson hotel in Sheffield. This is one of a number of ‘garricons’ held at the venue, so if you like the sound of this one, you probably won’t have to wait a year to attend something similar.

And the venue is lovely. Originally a nineteenth century barracks it has been converted into a big pub-hotel, with fine food, a decent selection of beers and an attached fancy restaurant. More importantly, the upstairs rooms are just what you want for a games convention, with half a dozen converted cells lining one side of a large communal area. The cells make cozy spaces for a GM and four or five players, and while they’re open on one side the thick walls make the noise level manageable.

Covid precautions were sensible, with attendees asked to have a recent, official test result on hand as well as proof of vaccination for admission. Annoyingly my day 2 PCR test that I’d taken the day before hadn’t delivered a result when I arrived, so I had to do a quick test at the venue – plenty of kits were onhand. The missing result eventually turned up 30 minutes after the con started.

What did I play?

I got four games in across the day and a half I was at Furnace. Here’s what I played…

Fenrir’s Pups, GM’d by Declan Feeney using the Demigod system

The Demigods system is the result of a kickstarter that funded quite some time ago. I’m told that the game is very late, but that backers have been provided with plenty of material as they wait, including playable rules and scenarios. The project is alive, and happening, it’s just not done yet. The basic premise is that you’re modern day demigods, hanging out in the world and trying to balance your divine and mortal lives. If you’ve read the Percy Jackson books, they seem like the closest jumping off point for this one.

As systems go, demigods is a PBTA system, and the mechanics didn’t stray too far from that basis. We did character generation as part of the session, whipping up our characters and establishing links between us. We were all scions of the norse pantheon, and we were fresher students, who had just picked up the keys to a new house when Loki’s daughter popped by with a housewarming gift – two puppies.

And from there all kinds of madness kicked off. There were zombies, there was a secret society, there was a sinister band, some ancient grudges and a giant magical artefact. Plus a landlady, who was at least as much of a concern as any of the other things. The system was satisfyingly flexible, and did what you’d expect a PBTA game to do.

King for a day, GM’d by EvilGaz using Vampire Dark Ages (V5)

I used to play a lot of vampire, mostly LARP. But I reckon it might be twenty years since my last game, so I was looking forward to a chance to see what was going on in the World of Darkness these days, and, to play a face to face game with Gaz, who’s part of my Tuesday night gaming group.

If, like me, you haven’t played Vampire for a while the big news is the arrival of hunger dice. Hunger runs from 0-5. When you roll dice you replace a number of dice in your regular pool with hunger dice, depending on your hunger level. It’s the results on the hunger dice that determine whether your actions are cool and controlled, or if the beast gets loose. This is much much better than the old blood pool mechanic, and in the hands of a capable GM makes hunger an ever present concern.

The scenario pitched our little coterie (Ventrue, Nosferatu, Gangrel, Lasombra) into a fight for survival, with the first night revealing threats to our land on several fronts all aggravated by a demand that we present ourselves at the next fief over early the next day. From this inauspicious beginning Gaz showed how well designed pre-gens and the classic small fight, social conflict, big fight, structure can produce an entertaining, unpredictable and dynamic game.

I thought I was mostly past playing vampire, this session reminded me what was so good about it. Plus, the Dark Ages remains the superior Vampire Setting.

Operation Rasputin, GM’d by Remi Fayomi using Alien

Alien has been sat on my shelf for over a year now, unplayed, so this was a good example of using a con to take a system out for a run. Before saying too much about the game though, I must compliment Remi on the fantastic quantity and quality of table bling he brought to the game. Perspex point of sale displays to hold your characters? Check. Massive pile of branded dice? Check. Touchscreen for the map? Check. I’ll definitely be getting some of those perspex displays for face to face gaming.

Pop a picture of your PC and their name in here, and you’re good to go. Great table presence!

Playing Alien confirmed a lot of my assumptions about the game. Everyone knows the movies – so you don’t need much setup. The Mutant Year Zero engine is it’s usual, discrete, functional self. Everyone is waiting for the xenomorph to show up.

The major mechanic added to MY0 for Alien is stress dice. As your stress goes up you get to add stress dice to your dice pool. Which increases your chances of success. But if one of them comes up as a one, you panic, rolling a dice and adding your stress level. On a 1-6 you’re fine, on a 7-9 you’re hampered, and on a 10+ you’re obliged to take a particular action, freezing, fleeing, screaming or going berserk. It certainly adds a degree of jeopardy to any situation, when you’re all stressed out, and the sight of something unexpected could send you, or one of your comrades off the edge.

There are plenty of ways for panic to spread, with lots of the things you do when you panic (like screaming) forcing those nearby to make their own panic tests. The potential for a panic cascade rippling through a party is very real, and I did feel that there’s a chance that the players end up losing a lot of their agency just as things get interesting.

We also got to experience just how deadly the Xenomorphs are. When encountered the GM rolls each round to see which of their horrible attacks they carry out. They might hiss cinematically, or loom threateningly, or play with their prey like a two meter tall cat or they might unleash an attack that instantly turns a PC into a corpse. RAW, this is a game where encountering a xenomorph almost guarantees a PC death or two. And of course, once one goes, the remainder are easier prey.

Alien does feel a lot like it’s a game for oneshots, and more specifically, the ‘investigate a deserted structure, find a xenomorph, try not to die’ one-shot.

What did I run?

Inferno, of course. I took the quickstart scenario out for a spin. This time out I got to test two new things.

  • How does it work if none of the players are familiar with the setting?
  • How does it work without Jemima Gosh?
Jemima Gosh: Apparently surplus to requirements

No-one picking the swashbuckling Jemima Gosh was a surprise to me, I think of her as the coolest of the four pregens. Still, that left Viscount Pusey, Sophie Durand and Dr Rook to take on the aerial menace, and they did just fine by themselves. None of the players had familiarity with the Card of Fate system, but after the first group challenge everyone had got to grips with it.

The players romped through to a 3-0 victory in the group mission. Along the way they made more progress than previous groups have done on their personal objectives, possibly because I sharpened up some of the cues that point to these in the scenario – or perhaps they were just more goal oriented players. Next time I run this I might up the difficulty of the opening scene, just to push the scenario off down one of its other paths.

Elsewhere at Furnace Neil Gow was putting the revised Card of Fate system through its paces in his long awaited ‘Duty and Horror’ scenario. Highlighted here was a mechanic for simulating fear by taking cards out of a players deck. It basically worked, and we got some useful feedback from the mathematically inclined players to sharpen it up a bit.

And that was it, a great convention featuring four great games. I’ll do my best to be back next year, when maybe, just maybe, this pandemic will be receding into the rear view mirror.

Inferno playtest session 7: Carmilla’s comeuppance

I have been remiss in blogging these sessions, but work on Inferno continues. So – how did the campaign conclude?

After the PvP events of session 6, it was time to get everyone back on the same page for session 7. Fortunately all the PCs were on board with this, and no-one used their turn sheets to do anything sinister to each other. The game began with the news that Carmilla von Carnstein was set to marry Prince Leopold – Queen Victoria’s youngest son – and so place a vampire at the heart of the British Empire. The news contained other worrying suggestions, with numerous senior members of the Inferno club finding themselves arrested, detained or otherwise inconvenienced. Someone, it seemed, had been talking.

Meanwhile, Carmilla’s dramatic fashion sense had become a craze, and the streets were full fashionable ladies sporting pale makeup, blood red lipstick and a lot of black lace. In honour of the wedding, London was going Goth.

Just who had been talking became apparent when during their investigations one of the players found themselves being shadowed by the Pipistrel Gang, now seemingly controlled by the sinister Renfield (who had been a PC, but the player involved had to drop out at the exact moment he went rogue – so that worked out nicely.) The player involved in this part of the group mission botched his investigation roll, and so found the gang closing in and things looking bad. When the group challenge was passed we had to explain how he escaped – enter PEEL, the predictive policing system developed back in session 3. Once again London’s finest were in the right place at the right time, and the gange were forced to retreat.

In another call back to the start of the game Lord Armstrong was back in business, seemingly rehabilitated, and had installed one of his refrigeration machines below St Pauls, ostensibly to ensure the bodies of entombed British Heroes were perfectly preserved. Our heroes, having encountered this creation before were far from convinced by this explanation.

Ultimately, Carmilla met her end moments away from her complete triumph, as ‘malfunctioning’ refrigeration pipes panicked the wedding guests and froze the bride, exposing her to both demonic attack and ritual banishment. The Empire was saved, and the mysterious protagonists vanished in a waiting carriage.

All in all, a nice epic end to a great little campaign. One that brought the players properly into the mysteries of the Inferno club, and gave them plenty of strings to pull on if they wanted to go further.