About shortymonster

So, text box, what you appear to be asking is, 'how do you define yourself, Wordpress user'? Kind of an easy first question; geek. A big ol' geek in fact. That should give you some idea about what to expect in this blog, but in case you're curious, my geekiness is broad and covers several topics, so expect to find in the blogs that follow topics such as Comic books I love (and loathe), webcomics, table top RPGs, console gaming, sci-fi and fantasy literature/TV/movies, any other kind of literature/TV/movies, pop and not so pop science and maybe even a socio-political rant every now and then. Although I will try and keep those to matters concerning global significance or stuff that annoys me that was BBC breakfast news that day. Mostly though, I'll be talking about my biggest hobby/love-affair; table top role playing. I've been doing it for years and show no signs of stopping. I will be talking about hot topics, games I've run/been in, advice for players and GMs, and - if you're lucky, may even get some interviews with published writers. Why don't you join me?

On the road

If anyone from the law is reading this, we are totally not drinking on route to the nationals. We have had some fun discussing what it takes to win in competitive role playing. The consensus seems to be that winning matters nothing when compared to having fun. There are too many criteria to be judged and no way of knowing what they will be, so just have fun.

Hell, if you’re having a bad game, don’t even feel like you have to stick around. Just be polite and do what you need to do to have fun.


Fire and Freedom. Chapter I

If you didn’t know Lucius, you would be frankly amazed at the smile on his face as he walked into the Skrite. If you knew him, and knew him well, you may have been momentarily shocked that his usual, easy going grin was still in place considering the rest of his face had a more than generous share of dried blood and partially open wounds on it. True his nose had been broken on plenty of other occasions and it would take a dear friend indeed – not that Lucius had many of those – to tell if this had happened again recently.

But that smile, the smile that made his face look passably attractive once you stopped paying attention the few deep scars, clearly damaged nose and unusually dark olive complexion, was there none the less, peering out through bloody and cracked lips. In spite of everything that must have happened to him in the hour or so preceding his entrance to his local, that smile was still there. Edes was far from a close friend, but he had known the ex-legionary for the three years or so since he had wandered into Nosta-Pyrax, still carrying his legion shield, since before his Pelosian countrymen had thought to claim the free city state as its own. He knew that the smile hardly left the lips of the foreigner before him, and liked him for it. Liked him enough to already be pulling a small beer for the lad, even though it was clear as day that had no money to pay for it, his clothes as badly damaged as his face and ribs, his belt bereft of both sword and pouches. “Goin’ on the tab is this one Lucius?”, he asked, placing the watered down and foul smelling glass of almost-amber liquid down on the bar.

Reaching out for it with a nod gave the Landlord a look at Lucius’ blooded knuckles, and he smiled to himself, knowing that any street scum who had jumped the young man, no matter the numbers they fought in to give them confidence would not have walked away without something to remember the evening by. “Cheers Edes, to your health and that of your lovely daughter. I trust she will be around later on for the meeting? Not too sure on the numbers, but probably enough for you to want an extra hand on the pumps no doubt”. He put down the half empty glass, still smiling in spite of what was currently slipping down his throat. Nenia, the Landlord’s daughter was very well known to the Skrite’s customers. An even split between those here for the cheap drinks, and those who took advantage of Edes’ special relationship with certain less than savoury characters that worked this district of Nosta-Pyrax. It was mainly the fear of Edes’ fists and how he was known to use them in years past that stopped that interest being anything more than lustful looks and drunken cat calls. All it would take was a stern look from beneath the bushy brows of the hulking ex-bare-knuckle fighter to dissuade anyone from further interest, even those more deeply into their cups than others.

Lucius knew this well enough and enjoyed teasing Edes, especially when when saw the teen-aged beauty returning his smiles. Edes, for his part, was content to let it go. Lucius was a young man with important allies, and was definitely one to watch of the Lethain shadow cartel. There was also the fact that although he could talk the gold fillings out a Dromish man’s mouth, he didn’t have the first clue how to talk to women. All those years in the legions, he thought, too much time with nothing but the company of men. So he smiled and chose to ignore the comment. “What happened this time then”, he asked, certain that he would know at least part of the story, as it had been told several times this last year.

“Would love to fill you in on all the gories my good man, but if I look in this fuckin’ state when people start to arrive, we won’t get anyone wanting to join up. Any chance I could stick my head in a barrel of clean water and take a shirt off your hands for the evenin’? I just need to get through the night then report in, and I’ll be back to pay what I owe”. To give himself a better chance at getting some charity, he took the rags of his own woollen top and pulled them away from his bruised and battered body, “I mean, would you want to work with me looking like this”?

“Clean yourself up as much as you like you cheeky sod, and I still wouldn’t want ‘owt to do with you. But sod it, can’t have you and your lot putting of the regulars. Get yourself in the back, but keep your hands to themselves. I wouldn’t worry too much anyway, the miserable sod in the corner has the look of one your lot. I mean, who walks into a place like this and tries to sit in the darkest shadow possible, with his hood pulled up, not even touching his wine, if he isn’t up to somet’ no good”? Lucius turned a little to take in the figure, and true enough, whoever it was they looked like trouble would follow them. There was something about the eyes, darker than they should have been, even taking the shadows and the cowl pulled low over the face into consideration. Other than that, they just sat there, the glass of red wine not even moved from where it was gently placed over an hour ago.

Leaning in closer, Lucius whispered “He can soddin’ wait, the meeting’s not supposed to start for over an hour, and if he’s invited to it I’ll ask him then what the hell he was doin’ here so early”. With that, he swigged back the second half of the the ripe smelling brew and walked behind the bar with the air of someone used to having access to places others would usually fear to tread.

In truth he was happy to get out of the Silver Skrite’s taproom. It’s use as a meeting spot for the local Umbruc was based very much on the fact that unless you had a reason to be there then there were many more salubrious places to get a drink in Haak district. Places that served beer that hadn’t been left to fester for weeks at a time, and usually charged better for them as well. Places where the company was better than conmen and thieves, cut-throats and leg-breakers, and where the smell drifting up from the cellars wasn’t enough to put off the bar’s namesake from staying around, and gods know, there aren’t many places in the Haak that could claim to be free of the large verminous creatures known as skrites. Before he closed the door that would lead him to a large back room, he made sure there wasn’t anyone else in the bar he wasn’t expecting, but saw only the hooded figure along with a couple of regulars, already too drunk to keep their heads from nodding towards the bleached and stained tables. It was still only early evening, but in the Skrite it was always either twilight or full dark; the windows so stained with old smoke and grime that even in the middle of summer at noon, Edes would have to keep a few candles burning, just to stop the drunks from walking into the tables.

It took Lucius a little longer than he would have liked to make himself presentable; the injuries were worse than he had first assumed, and even cold clear water was making the still open wounds sting as he gently washed the dried blood away. He was wincing with almost every pass of the wet cloth over his ribs and was grateful that Edes was not a vain man and had eschewed mirrors in his private quarters. He knew he was no oil painting, even before the men of his old legion had paid him back for siding against them in the invasion, but fresh scars and another broken nose would make it just that little bit harder for him to do his job.

Others in the Umbruc could slip jewels from pockets and cut purse strings without the owner knowing until it came time to pay the bill; there were some that could climb sheer brick walls and silently sneak through locked and bolted windows to relieve those within of their precious items. Of course there were also the leg breakers and bully boys that always found work in a shadow cartel, unimaginative though that work may have been. Lucius was none of those things – true, he could climb a wall when he needed to, and in a crowd could dip into pockets with a better than average chance of escaping with some loot, but what he excelled at, the reason he was well regarded even though he was still in the lowest rank of the Lethain Umbruc was his abilities as a confidence trickster.

Give him some time to get to know his mark, just a few clues about what would push their buttons, and he would have them handing over more money than it would take a second story man a month to earn while balanced high above the streets and canards of the Haak. He had made fair bit of coin from some of the wealthier residents of the Haak, and of the wider city, but only those that could afford it, and he made damn sure he recirculated the coin, either on booze or women.

Ah, women. If only his silver tongue could work its magic there. He had no luck with the women, but was buggered if he knew why. He tried, oh how he tried, but with never a glimpse at…

What the hell was all that noise?

Shrugging an old and badly fitted shirt over his head he strode back into the taproom, and as he was taking in the scene his hand fell to his waist, and he silently cursed the thugs who had set about him, taking another sword from him along with his money and the sample.

How they met.

Like damned near every kid his age he wore sneakers. Not because he was sporty, or even the outdoors type at all. Who the hell would go out and get themselves all worked up enough to have to take in lungs full of the actual air without some kick-ass trait to stop whatever cancer was fashionable enough to be airborne these days. And who on earth could afford to stop themselves sweating and all the associated bodily fluid discharges that went along with it. This kid was not some spoiled little rich mans brethren, and so had to deal with his own excretions as and when they happened. Be that during the gut-wrenching excitement of talking to a girl, or fleeing for his life. It was a sad indictment that one seemed to happen far more than the other, but more on that later, sports fans.

Nah, the kid was wearing sneakers – top of line knock offs, the best that a five finger discount could get the kid – because, well, almost everyone else did. Never had a gift for fast fingers, and as his burning lungs were swiftly informing him, fast legs were, if anything, further down his list of life skills. His footwear of choice was a pair of not quite designer, but also not quite department store own brand baseball boots; laces never done up, tongues hanging out as he slouched his way around the city. Usually. And now, running like fuck, he could at least be grateful that whichever Indo-china kid younger than him had put his keds together hadn’t been beaten into stupidity when he was sewing in the final stitches. That and the big ape behind him wasn’t wearing anything close to running shoes.

And why the fuck had he thought it was a good idea to head here anyway? As if getting away from crowded areas did him any favours when chased by someone with at least a two foot height advantage on him, and wearing a badly tailored suit that just screamed ‘spook’.

Hell, you could always tell them; even under-cover cops took the time to try and hide the bulge over the chest made by a shoulder holstered 9mm. When they weren’t cold cocking some down on his luck juvie or stim-head with it that is. But not this spook, hell no! He wanted anyone he was running down to know exactly what they were about to be staring down the barrel of. And judging by the way it shifted, and the occasional glimpse as his jacket opened a little every other pace, it was bigger than a nine, mat black and could punch a hole in the kid bigger than his fist.

Every pace the kid took away from the mall, away from the strip – away from people whose presence alone seemed to have been enough to stop the man monkey from drawing iron – made it a hell of a lot more likely that any second now, the next and last thing he heard would be the bark of a gun. The goon wouldn’t have shot him in front of people right? That idea – of course – occurred too late to be of any practical use. That’s why all he’d heard was a name shouted; all he saw was the furrowed brow of a government employee who would struggle to spell ‘government’ with the right number of letter Es; all he felt was ice cold terror dripping down his down spine like a snow cone dropped by a total fucker called Steve. Long story. And then he started running.

The noise of people died out quickly, especially those shouting abuse and taking the piss at him as he broke into a full headlong run away from the arcade. Cat-calls and jeers, with not a man jack of them doing him the favour of putting a foot out and tripping the goon, not even throwing some iced slush over the shitty suit to distract him. Once away from his ‘friends’ the noise had dropped to just a crowd, a crowd he darted and dashed through, hoping that his small size would give him an advantage, not thinking that his pursuer wouldn’t care less about barging people out of his way with a linebacker’s determination and speed.

Every time he turned his head, for just a second it looked like he was opening up a lead, then that big round head would reappear, snarling as its owner shoved some preppy wannabe to the ground and in a few long strides continued to close the gap. As the garish lights of the mall fell away behind him, the no less garish illuminations of the strip took over, but ahead of him he could see them getting thinner, seeing shadows sneaking in as the density of the crowds lessened. Maybe that’s what had drove him forward; the chance to hide? Who the fuck knew. But right now, all the kid could do was curse his damned foolishness and keep on hoping. Keep on running.

Why didn’t he just stop? He could have done so pretty much as soon as he got out the mall, away from people who would never let him forget if he got taken away for some petty shit he’d pulled. The longer he’d carried on running, the harder it was to stop and submit. The redder the goon’s face had gotten, the more angry his grunts had become. He doubted the bastard was in any mood to stop and have a chat now about why he was running what seemed like half way across the city. He’d run; he must be guilty. That was all he could think must have been going through the mind of the lumbering figure behind him. And with every foot he put in front of the other, he was just making him madder, making it more and more likely that the worst that could happen, was in fact going to happen.

“Please, just hit me in the leg”, he prayed silently. A leg shot could attract some attention to the scene, not kill him, and he could still survive…

What scene? There was literally no one here bit the kid and the spook. A leg shot would be just as fatal, since the bullet that followed it would be fired at leisure and would certainly open a new breathing hole in the kids face. One he personally could do without. There was fuck all left for him to do now but hide, maybe climb. His options were as thin on the ground as grass. There was nothing here but derelict buildings and ‘Dumpster’ brand trash containers. Those things would do nothing for him, a few seconds to hide maybe, but that was it, forget what you saw in the action vids, those things could barely stop a thrown rock, let alone a bullet.

And of course, with his life in the balance, and every bit of him needing to concentrate on finding a way out of this cluster-fuck, the kid’s mind went off on one.

Why was he being chased by this spook? This is not a question posed to some imaginary reader of the kid’s life story, it was the thought screaming through his brain as he ran. Was he on some government hit list for net runners? Three words to answer that question; im-fucking-possible. He’d bought his first deck less than a week ago, getting bored shit-less with the lag on public terminals, and the queues to get onto a decent machine at a cyber-cafe. It had taken months of not partying to get together the funds to pick one up.

He wasn’t stupid enough to try hacking his way into any money with what passed for a computer you could get free access to, so he had been biding his time, just practicing  fucking with news feeds and blog sites he detested. Had an opinion that kid didn’t agree with? Prepare for the whole world to think that you liked masturbating to the Discovery feed. Oh yeah, he was hardcore; a real Edger. The deck he’d bought himself could take a crap on the CPU of any public terminal and get the hell out before they noticed the smell, but it was still pretty lame when compared to what the big boys played with.

And what had he done with his new pride and joy since first hooking it up? A big ball of nothing. He’d shown off a few times to people, hoping to impress where his obvious social defects had let him down in the past. And just tried to get his name out there into the hacking community. Not his real name of course, he wasn’t a total red-neck. Silver lining though; if he was to perish in a hail of gunfire in the next twenty seconds, he’d picked a damned fine name to die with.

Blaze. If you asked he would say he never remembered who called it him first and smile as he recounted how it had stuck so quickly. In truth he’d chosen himself, since ‘dickwad’ didn’t have the same ring to it, the same edgy feel he was going for. No matter how often it was hollered at him in public. So, fuck that, set up a website for yourself, use that as handle, and when you meet new people, jut say, ‘oh, everyone calls me Blaze’. Give it a few months and they might very well start doing that. Posthumously of course seemed more and more likely based on current events.

Actually, you know what, fuck dying. These weren’t even ‘Dumpster’ brand, and would offer all the stopping power of a well buttered slice of toast, but they weren’t fucking see-through! Give a well informed and desperate as hell kid a few seconds, and he might just have a chance against some grey suited government spook. A few seconds without direct line of set and any one of the half dozen rounds that would surely be pounding through the thin as hell, tin can of a waste receptacle might just miss the lad. And give him long enough; long enough to dive deep into the pack over his shoulder, grab metal and withdraw a piece. Fuck, he had a plan.

Not a great one, one that had as many holes as the rusted metal box he was diving behind was about to have in it, but it was better than just running and hoping. Would hopefully not be as sweaty either.

Sadly, the metal his grasping hand found as he slid to a halt on his knees, back pack off his shoulder before he was even in cover wasn’t anything even close to an automag. The deck had cost him a small fortune, and self protection had taken the back seat as far as his wallet, and any real effort, was concerned. No, he had not visited the gunrunners, he’d hit the hardware stores!

Not for him the flashy chrome and nickel of the solos, not even the big-ass machetes you occasionally saw the worst kind of enforcers strutting round the strip with. The kid was a fan of zombie vids, and as such, he’d sunk his money into a chainsaw. If anyone laughed at the idea, he would just claim that it had worked so often against a foe ten times more dangerous than a biker gang wannabee after your notes, and smiled to himself, thinking how cool he would look using it in a fight. Of course before that he had needed to siphon some gas out of a car to get the damned thing to work, but right now, that was not high on his list of concerns.

The retort of gunfire was accompanying Blaze’s attempts to retrieve the unwieldy weapon from its cripplingly too small pack. So far, so lucky as it punched a half inch hole though the metal about two foot away from him. Next was the fun of getting it started; he’d practiced a few times and there was no easy way of guaranteeing the motor would turn over on the first attempt. Nothing focuses the concentration quicker than a bullet hole appearing through metal just six inches above your head though, and with that a hard pull on the starter cord, the kid heard the motor purr.

How the fuck had this seemed like a good idea? He could barely move now. It took both hands to keep the damned thing steady which meant moving from his position on his knees to any kind of combat ready stance would be next to impossible. Trying to lift himself up and forward had him tottering over ready to fall face first onto the rotary steel teeth; far from an ideal situation. He had to use a hand to steady himself, had to. Keeping the chainsaw in his right hand he used the left against the cold – and slightly better ventilated – metal and tried to lever himself to his feet.

Just in time too as the Fed turned the corner of the dumpster, eyes all small but filled with rage, lips apart but teeth clenched, flecks of saliva forced between them by his ragged breaths. ‘Life or death time Blaze’, he thought. And dived backwards and away, around the other side of the dumpster, trying to get some space to make a move. Or maybe just putting off the inevitable.

Wait. There was someone else there, a figure stood in a doorway, pretty much just a shadow in front of the light spilling from behind and within. What was totally fucked up though was that the kid was certain he recognized that shadow. Something about the careless ease that they stood there, like whatever was happening in the world was either of no interest to them, or could be solved with bare minimum of effort. Then the shadow got better lit, and the blue jeans and white tee shirt were obvious. The shadow had a name, and that name was Jasper.

For a fleeting quarter second the two of them locked eye contact; the kid, terrified with a side order of embarrassment at knowing he was almost certainly about to die whilst under the watchful eye of someone who would retell the story to anyone he met. Jasper, a smile that played across his entire face as he took in the play unfolding before him. Jasper. ‘The nice guy’. Everyone liked him, even though he seemed to put no effort in at all. They would all listen with rapt attention as he waxed lyrical about the kid, trying to fight off a guy twice his size with a K-mart hedge trimmer. Fuck.

The time to worry about about though would be if he was still sucking breathe in thirty seconds. The goon was following him round the corner; his bulk slowing him down on the tight turn just enough to give Blaze a window of opportunity to strike. He lunged forward, whirring blade whipping up from crotch level to try and hit the guy. Just hitting him would be enough; let the record show that Blaze fought back, that he did not just cower away and die!

He only realised he’d had his eyes closed while making the swing when he had to open them again to see what the hell the blade had gotten snagged on. Oh, and why his face was feeling a bit damp.

AS he opened his eyes he felt what cold have a plant mister spraying onto his face, but it was just a bit too warm for that. The motor was still running, but the teeth had gotten snagged on something. He didn’t want to think about what that could have been, but the word ‘bone’ just kept pushing itself to the front of his brain. He throttled the engine hard and pushed, eyes closed again to keep the fluid from his eyes.

With one last surge of effort he pulled the chainsaw up another half foot and it tore clean through the agents outstretched arm, the business end of it falling to floor with a rather unpleasant noise. The rage had vanished from the Fed’s eyes, replaced with surprise. Surprise and fear – Blaze was amazed to see – before his legs gave up the fight against panic and gravity’s winning combination and slumped to the ground, chainsaw dropped in front of him and still running. The Fed just looked down at him, speechless, his left hand moving up with almost glacial speed to try and stem the blood that was pumping from what remained of his right forearm.

Blaze just watched as the man in front of him went pale, went down on one knee, tried to say something, fell sideways to the ground and stopped moving. Better start breathing, he thought, the worst’s over now and oxygen seems like a damned good thing to have inside me. Someone should tell the Fed that, he looks like he needs some. So naturally, with that funny as shit line rattling round in a mind suffering quite poorly from shock, the kid started laughing. High pitched and knocking on the door of crazy, but thankfully, not being let in.

And that was how jasper found him, laughing and looking down at a man he’d just killed. That shut Blaze up pretty damned sharpish. Being thought of as crazy by this lad with with blue jeans and wife-beater shirt was enough to bring him under control. He turned what he thought would be a ‘seen-it-all-before’ look on the bigger kid, but barely managed to stop himself blurting out with laughter again. Jasper just sat next to him, back against the dumpster, head tilted up as if trying to see the stars through the pollution.

After five minutes, he spoke, ‘It’s Blaze, right? Well done’. The kid turned and took a long hard look at the guy sat next to him and immediately realised he couldn’t much older than he was, maybe even younger, just tall for his age, built a little better too, but his face was just as young. He couldn’t think of a response. Just shocked that he was known at all to Jasper, let alone by the handle he had created for himself. The bigger kid just smiled and slapped his hand onto the kids thigh as he went to stand, reaching forward and down to the Fed’s body, checking his wallet. He was about to sit again when a second thought seemed to occur to him and he picked the gun from out of the tightly curled fingers of the severed arm and a couple of spare clips from a strap on the shoulder holster.

Sitting down again he opened the wallet, taking out what looked like 500 bucks in notes and passed them to Blaze, ‘I think you earned these’, he said before pocketing the wallet and badge for himself. ‘And, no offence, although the chainsaw looked pretty bitchin’, in future, this might be of a bit more use to you’, and with that handed over the pistol that had almost ended Blaze’s life a few short moments ago.

It was heavier than he’d expected, but judging by the gaping maw of a barrel and the size of the holes it had punched through the dumpster, this thing could easily be classified as a ‘hand-cannon’. He slipped it into his backpack, and set about turning off the running chainsaw as Jasper got to his feet once more, smiling at the kid as he did so.

‘The name’s Jasper by the way. And after the excitement you’ve just had, I think we could both use a drink. And you’re paying’. With another slap, this time on the kid’s shoulder he started leading him back to the lights and people of the strip.

‘What were you doing round here?’, the kid asked as they walked, stuffing the tacky chainsaw back into his bag.

‘Trying to get some work. Actually, I hear you’re supposed to be some up and coming net runner! I think you should meet my mates, we might have a use for you.’

Last night, it all went wrong…

From the street outside the figure was impossible to identify, until the neon sign flickered halfheartedly into life. Buzzing on for a second at a time, giving you a small chance to make out anything. Without the flickering glare it was just a human shape, a darker shade of grey against a dull light.

With the sickly green flashes from the motel sign, you could just about tell that it was female. Something about the face, but event then, you wouldn’t wager more than beer money on it. She was well built, with short cropped hair and a hard expression. One hand on the upper frame of the open window, the other on a hip that lacked any feminine curve. Wearing loose sports shorts and a grey vest that may in the past had more than a passing friendship with the colour white.

In this part of the City, it wasn’t healthy to advertise that you were a women living alone. True, being a man alone was far from risk free, but with softer targets out there, she felt reasonably safe. Picking on the weak was a popular past time here, and within a night of booking into this fleapit she had assured some not so friendly neighbours that she was not weak.

Turning her back on the street life, she sat on the ledge, enjoying the cool breeze on her skin, still slick with sweat from her exercise routine. Her night time activities required not only skill and athletic dexterity, but an upper body strength that allowed her to bench press a decent sized motorcycle. She had worked harder tonight, partly out of annoyance with herself, but also because it kept her occupied. And it stopped her eyes drifting once again to the front page story that no one knew was about her.

This City. Full of criminals doing despicable things every minute of every day, but you put a mask on and ‘bang’, you make the front page. Hers was no more than a black balaclava and existed for no other reason than to hide her face, but it had piqued the interest of the news vultures. The artist’s impression brought a sneer to her face, but in the long run was probably not that bad a thing. It looked like the Bugle had hired a cartoonist instead of an artist, and not a very good one at that. As long as the Big Man didn’t start getting interested…

All of this was because of one bit of bad luck. She had scoped the place out for weeks, sleeping – when she had to – on the stained mattress with its rusty springs that she was currently walking over to. Mostly during the day, when the summer heat was stifling and free running was an activity carried out for fun, not profit. The City was great for parkour, almost designed for it. Even Paris wasn’t a match, and she learned everything she new about free running a hundred feet above the French capitol. It was easy to see why He liked it here…

Every Thursday night, at the witching hour, there would two security guards playing cards in their office. There were cameras all over the place, but all the feeds went to this room, and putting two poker buddies on the night shift was a mistake that someone was going to regret.

So last night she had gotten ready to go out. Wearing dark grey, light clothes. Tight to her skin to stop them snagging on anything, and breathable to stop her getting to warm from her exertions. She had played around with some kind of body armour for a while, knowing how dangerous the City could be, but even a little extra weight was an inconvenience she could do without. And lets face it, if she was worried about getting shot or stabbed, she had clearly already screwed up the job in a big bad way. The best thing to do was just never get in the sights of a weapon, and in a close up fight? Well, Paris had taught her plenty about that too…

She knew her route backwards and upside down. Knew that just one camera needed to be knocked out before she made it to the security office. Knew that the two buddies would be at the table, paying enough attention to their hands of cards she could practically walk to their side and put them down before they knew what was going on.

The locks were good, and took about five minutes each to get through. Some were harder than others as she needed to hold her weight off the ground with either one arm or both of her legs to keep as much of self out of sight as possible. Awkward to say the least, but killing another three camera feeds was a lot more likely to get her noticed a lot soon than he would have liked. Plus, she had never cared for maintaining a womanly curve on any inch of her body, when raw power and athleticism suited her line of work an awful lot better.

Soon she was in the corridor, her small light club in her right hand and the left delicately testing the door handle of the security office. She only needed the night watchmen to go down for the count, and killing attracted far too much attention. Of course, some criminals in this City seemed to crave the attention. It was a wonder they ever managed to turn a profit. Not her though, with no hint of grandstanding she pushed open the door, and in half a second she was inside, swinging the club towards the jaw of the closest man.

The metal rod caught him squarely, and she felt the impact run up her arm. He was out for the count, and unless she was very much mistaken, he had not only lost a tooth, but also managed to bite his tongue with the ones he had left. Still, he was alive, and would hopefully have at least dental cover.

The second man had barely glanced over the top of his hand when the club whistled through the air towards him. The metal rang slightly as it connected with his skull and he slumped in his chair. Both were bleeding from her attack, but barring a headache and a lisp, both would be fine. For now though, she figured they would be out for at least an hour. She knew where she was going from here, and would be out the door within twenty…

Someone else was breathing in this room. Quick gasps, panicked. From her right.

She turned to see a third man. Sat with a beer can falling impossibly slowly from his slackened fist as he gawped at her like a confused fish, lower lip trembling. She had no weapon to hand so just started towards him, covering the couple of meters in no time at all, but his slow motion movement still continued as he rose from his chair. She lifted her left leg and placed the sole of her foot just above the kneecap before transferring most of her weight to it. At this he started to crumple, but not before her other foot shot skyward, connecting just below the chin and rattling his teeth.

For anyone else, that would have been enough. But he was built of stronger stuff this one, and as she landed she realised his face was familiar. Another guard maybe, come round to get away from a nagging wife or a bar tab he couldn’t clear ’til month’s end. He had the build of someone who traded on his physique too. Probably played high school football, and realised that after high school, nobody cared at all how many touchdowns you’d scored in that game against the local rivals. Right now though, he was a problem that needed dealing with.

She spun quickly back into a fighting position and continued the movement into a back handed punch, raking the metal spikes of her modified knuckle-duster cross his cheek before he finally dropped back to his seat, a second or two after the beer he had dropped. She had aimed for his jaw, hoping to knock him out as easily as she had done the other two, but he was quick too. Not too bright though, and it looked like his brain had finally caught up to his body, and even though the last impact had missed its mark, the combined assaults had obviously been enough. He slumped back, the four deep gouges already leaking blood down his stubbled jaw.

Alone in her room the next night, looking at the caricature of herself with ludicrous claws protruding from her finger tips, she gave a wry smile. Who on this planet would be foolish enough to wear such an adornment? They would offer no advantage other than surprise, and make everything else so hard, it wouldn’t be worth even considering such a foolish affectation. Even forming a hand into a fist would be risky, let alone using the fist to do anything…

Last night, she never even considered just getting on with the job at that point. Three unconscious men made no more difference than two, and she needed this score. It was not to be though. As she checked the pulse of the unexpected watchman, she spotted a flashing light on the security console he had been sitting in front of. He must have seen her on camera after being knocked out from a hand of cards. Why he hadn’t raised this with the other two was a mystery that may never be solved, but the silent alarm had been triggered. She had no idea how long ago the switch had been flipped, but sticking around would be at the very least, career suicide. She quickly deleted the last half an hour of footage to play it safe, and was gone.

She left the way she had arrived. Cursing under her breath as she climbed onto the roof and away. She had slept fitfully, not knowing how much had been seen by the guard and how much of it could be used against her.

She had awoken the next afternoon, already sticky from the heat. Before even showering she had had thrown some loose clothes on and made her way to the corner store. Picking up some cold cuts, coffee and a newspaper. She had gone deathly pale while handing over the few dollars to the kindly woman behind the counter when she saw the front page of the Globe. She hadn’t dared read anything until she was alone and could be sure of betraying nothing with her expression.

All day long she had poured over article. The sun had set on her and the City as she either exercised or re-read the front page. She couldn’t help but love this City. The guard had told the kind of story it loved. Either that or the hacks had turned it into what their readers expected. On paper she was lithe and sexual, ‘cavorting across the sleeping rooftops’ no less…

The scratches on his face had been caused by ‘razor sharp claws’, and the large blackening bruise had been ignored as it didn’t fit with the romance of the story. The skin tight outfit they had gotten mostly correct, but had added a push-up bra and stiletto healed thigh boots for some unfathomable reason.

All in all, it bore as much resemblance to her as it did the Indian lady who had sold her the paper. That had put her mind at ease a little, but it did open up a whole new world of potential problems. She had been in the City for over a year now after leaving Paris, and had been working constantly since she had arrived. She had avoided any unwanted attention by being very good at her job, and being thoroughly uninteresting, especially when compared to ludicrous rogues gallery that habitually operated here.

The front page meant that that could very much be over now. And once you got interesting, the Big Man started to pay attention. She crossed the tiny motel room once more to stand at the window as she thought.

In the sky, flickering across what few clouds graced to night, she saw that city was wanting him to come out and play. She would stay in tonight, and keep her distance from the Big Man. If she wanted to carry on working in the City, Celine would have to play it very safe from her on in.

For everyone who finds there way here…

I have moved I’m afraid. You can now find all my new posts as well as the stuff from this page over here. You may notice that there lacks a quick ‘Follow’ button; that’s because I am no longer a WordPress site, thanks entirely to these lovely people

If you want to keep up on the posts, there is an RRS feed link, but you can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+. Each of these places offer regular links to not only new content I put out, but updates on other projects, and links to fun RPG related stuff too.

Thank for your time and patience in this matter. To pay you back, I will offer you a free NPC. Just click here and follow the instructions

My new home

Good day one and all! Some interesting news over here at shortymonster, and the biggest is that I have a new place to call my home. Thanks to some awesome generosity from the folks over at G*M*S magazine, I have a shiny new domain. Please take the time to check out their site as none of this could have happened without them, and it’s all happened so fast that I don’t have a banner on my homepage directing you to them just yet.

From now on, you can find me here, and add to me your feeds here. I will still be posting new articles every Monday, with occasional mini blogs as the mood takes me. I hope to see all the people who followed me here at wordpress make the jump with me. Thank you all for the support so far.

The abandoned mine as a role playing location

Last week I did a bit of writing on how one can improve the scare factor when running a horror game, and thought I would continue the train of thought a bit further in that direction by looking at a great place to take your players if you want them to fear for their lives; an abandoned mine. For this to be effective, you game world first has to include a society that would mine, and for sake of ease all the information presented here will be based on real world post-mechanisation mining, as this is something I know a little bit about after interning one summer at the English National Coal-mining Museum.

There are hazards by the bucket load once you start working underground, even more so when you’re hundreds of feet below the surface. So many in fact, that I doubt I will even have to touch on some of the supernatural shenanigans that had my players stiff with fright last time I took them down a mine. A huge threat to consider, since it’s a slow creeping death, is oxygen supply. That far underground, there’s nothing producing oxygen (we’ll get to the other gases in a bit), so the characters will need to carry their own – in back pack respirators – or make absolutely certain that the ventilation in the mine is working. Although the GM can ask for an easy repair roll to get the fans turning, the fun comes with all the doors that need to be the correct combination of open and closed to keep the air going where the adventurers need to be. This can be a great little puzzle, and if they get it wrong, the first time they’ll notice their mistake is when they start getting light headed, far away from the daylight. There may be a point when you decide to knock realism on the head here; it would be almost impossible to change the doors from inside the mine, and totally impossible to move them by hand. Vacuums are created when dealing with the air pressure necessary to keep fresh air pumping that far and that deep, and if a player gets caught between a door that wants to close and the door’s frame (due to another door getting destroyed for instance) they will be crushed to death or have limbs severed in seconds. Fun, huh?

As mentioned, there’s plenty of other gases down there. Stuff that could lead to suffocation or massive fireballs of death. I’ve found it’s best to be fair to your players when it comes to this, as just walking down the wrong passage could be death in a matter in a seconds from suffocation. Be fair, but don’t feel the need to go too easy on them. If they’re going down a mine, they should be warning signs everywhere about the gases they could encounter, so if they choose not to take precautions, that’s their own problem. What they should expect to find are Davy Lamps. These are handy bits of kit that contain a small flame that can be watched to show differences in oxygen levels or the presence of fire damp etc., that they will want to keep a very close eye on. There are more high tech ways of doing this these days, but we are talking very recent inventions, and they’re far from quick to learn to use, or to use when you’re down a mine. Best left in the hands of professionals really.

Now that the characters are down there, and breathing safely; they’re still far from safe. As mentioned, flammable gas is a big risk. Nothing that could cause a spark was allowed down into a mine at the pit head. The miners were very careful about this indeed, but would your players be? If they have guns, then letting them off just once could be the death of them. A horribly painful, drawn out death. Firearms aren’t the only source of sparks though, so keep a close eye on the characters, and watch what they’ve brought down below. And don’t feel like you have to TPK for one slip up; if the group are spread in a line, only one needs to feel the full lick of flame, and even that doesn’t need to be fatal. One would think that it happening once would be enough to make sure that they’re considerably more careful in future. This next bit probably goes without saying, but fire needs oxygen to burn, and since that’s already a problem in a mine, just imagine what could happen if a lot of it gets quickly burnt away?

Fire brings us neatly onto another huge problem; collapse. Even in modern mines with pneumatic roof supports, the sheer amount of rock being moved can bring down miles of tunnels in one collapse. In an abandoned mine, the risk is even greater, as the supports will have been left without any maintenance for as long at the mine has been left empty. The older the mine, the more likely that it’ll come down when disturbed, and this can be all kinds of fun and terror. Once again, don’t kill the lot of them – unless you’re bored – but have them stuck behind the rubble. This becomes an interesting survival situation as air, water, and food all become very important. Don’t get too worried about the Chilean miners and having the players down there for months; there should always be a secondary draft that will allow the characters to get out. This will mean walking the entire way back up on a one third incline, once they’ve found a way to it of course.

Now, I also had some fun with ghosts when I subjected my players to a Victorian era mine, so feel free to add in anything you like to these little snippets, and if you want to get an idea of just what it’s like down there, find a mining museum that offers underground tours, and wait for the bit when they tell everyone to turn their lights off…

I’m not at GenCon or play testing D&D next, but…

I know that a lot of the people who read this blog will be doing those things, and if at GenCon won’t really have the time to digest anything huge at the moment blog-wise. The people who aren’t there at the moment though, who may not be too fussed about D&D next themselves (I know I’m not the only one; I tried to get a play test group together out of my local gaming society, and had only two volunteers out of a possible 25 players) might be in the mood for something that has nothing to do with either. Presented for you then is inspiration. Inspiration in the form of an article I came across on the BBC news site a couple of days ago that had my mind going into overdrive, thinking about what I could do with this information. So I present for you here, China’s ghost towns and phantom malls.

I hope that like me, it gives you some inspiration, and if it does, feel free to sound off below and share them with anyone else not lucky enough to be at GenCon.

Some advice on running a Horror RPG

This is not going to be a masterclass on how to do it right every time, but more a look at the things you can do as a GM to make the game as memorable an experience as possible for your players, along with a few things that you might want to avoid.

Before we get into the advice I just want to say that the horror game I’m talking about running isn’t a splatter-punk/zombie survival kill fest kind of game, although it could very well include elements of any of those things. No, what I like to run are games of creeping terror. Games that stay in your players’ minds and make them nervous to perform even the simplest action while playing. Think about some of your favourite horror movies and how terrified the characters are when all they want to do is close the refrigerator or check on a strange noise. That’s what I want my players to be like when I’m done with them; shivering, in a fetal position and cursing my name.

One of the most fundamental ways of getting this response from them, is letting the players know from the start that they’re going to be playing a horror game. If everyone’s on the same page, it means there’ll be less mood breaking chatter and horse-play coming from your players; something that would be totally totally understandable if they don’t know what kind of atmosphere you’re trying to achieve. If they know what’s expected of them with regard to the genre of the game, they’re going to be more likely to stay in character and respond to in game threats like they’re lives actually depended on it.

Another consideration is the size of your group. This comes from my own experience of trying to keep the intimate ambiance needed for a horror game with a group of seven gamers. Ideally I would try to keep the group at four players, and absolutely no more than six. Smaller games are great, and I really don’t think there’s a minimum number for a horror game. With your group set up, it’s now time to look at the place you game.

I have in the past gone all out on the room dressing for my horror games, but the simplest stuff to get right is also the most important. I know not everyone has as much control over their gaming space as they would like, so take this next bit of advice as what to do in an ideal world. You’re going to want a smallish space, ideally with the players all pretty close together. Intimacy is very much what you should be going for here. Keep the lights low, as this helps just a little bit, but make sure everyone can still see their character sheet and dice. Keep noise to minimum, and if you’re going to use a soundtrack, put some thought into it. One of my favourites for this at the moment is a band named AKLO, who do some great Lovecraft inspired music. Suno))) are also worth a look, as they manage to put together some of the best blackened creeping drone music out there. Maybe not the kind of stuff you can dance to, but it does its job of creeping out the players very well indeed.

One last thought on the room and atmosphere, and this is something I’ve done myself and seen done very well by other GMs too; get the group to sit facing each other, while you as GM sits apart. Make sure everyone can still hear you, but that they will have to keep the noise down a little to catch your disembodied tones coming in from he darkness away from the table. This may not seem like much, but if you can pull it off, it’s well worth the effort.

When it comes to running the game, there’s a few little bits you can do to heighten the tension and thus the fear. First, never worry about splitting the party. Isolation is a great companion to fear. If you do this, impose a strict ‘no OOC chat’ rule around the table, but ideally you should occasionally split the actual group up. If you do this though, try to keep moving between the players, as you don’t want tension you’re building to become boredom. If each player can still hear hushed conversation, the creepy music, or some unexplained noises, you should buy yourself a bit of time though.

Pacing is important in any game, but when it comes to a horror RPG, even the speed that you talk at can be used to ratchet up the horror level. Start slow, and quiet, but shift up when you need to, increasing volume and pitch, but never drop the scare on them when the players are expecting it. If you have the right players, you can even use them to help out occasionally. Dropping a note to a player you can trust, reading, ‘scream when I say the word “door”‘, and then waiting for it to catch the other players unaware is just priceless.

That’s just a few of the things I do to help keep my players gripping the edge of their seats, and since I’ve played more than my fair share of horror games as well as GM them, watch this space for advice for players soon. If you’ve anything you want to add to the above, or you just want share some stories of your own scary horror role playing games, then sound off in the comments box.

Revenge as a game hook.

So, the players have broken up a major crime ring/necromancy lair or some such, and fancy cutting loose and celebrating. This of course would be a great time for the kingpin/necromancer NPC to strike back! That is at least according to every film made ever about such things. But would they? Really?

What’s just happened is a small bunch of people have done possibly millions of dollars/gold pieces worth of damage to his organisation, and the costs still haven’t been counted for if they decide to restart the operation. What profit is there in going after those people? They have already proven themselves to be highly capable and resourceful killers who it would seem foolish to annoy further.

This post is inspired by the soon to be released film Taken 2, and the comic book series Sin City: Hell and Back by Frank Miller, touching on how the idea of revenge as a plot device could be handled in an RPG. A lot of what you take from this blog comes from the type of game you’re going to be playing. I’m not talking about sci-fi versus fantasy, but high adventure/Hollywood movie action versus dark and gritty/life on the line kind of games. If you’re rocking some high adventure kind of game, then you’re going to have players who are nigh invincible, especially if all the bad guys have to throw at them are mooks by the bucket load.

In this instance, I would advise sticking to using revenge as a motivator for the characters. It may be tricky to think of something that will drive all of the party to action. If the group are already well established this could be easier, as they may already share common goals and associates that could be compromised by the bad guys. In this kind of story the avenging angels (read:player characters) will almost always succeed, but the reverse is never true. Boss bad guys will look at the damage wrought on them by a group of heroes and send wave after wave of increasingly tougher mooks against them, all of whom will die without being much a challenge to the PCs. Only in the final act will the party face a real challenge other than attrition, usually in form of a right hand man, who’s been itching for a chance to take them out from the start. Even this will be an easily surmountable obstacle that will open the way to final Boss who will be the only real challenge before the thirst for revenge is satisfied.

This kind of thing is certainly fun, but the final speech from the head bad guy in the comic book mentioned above is far more realistic,

Revenge is a loser’s game. There’s no percentage in it. All that matters is profit… and power. …As for Wallace… let the man be on his way – and prey we never see his like again”.

After watching the trailer for taken 2, all I could think was, Why the hell don’t more bad guys think like that?!

Not every band of heroes is a mook grinding machine though, and if your game lends itself to more realistic combat, then it’s much more likely that the threat of revenge from a powerful criminal consortium, or even dark wizard, would be something worth worrying about. Handled well it will drive the players away from their safety zone, away from friends and allies, and will make them watch over their shoulder every second. It will take some thought on the GM’s part to give a sense of genuine peril without just killing someone,but there are plenty of ways to do it. My personal favourite is to play the first round of bad guys that are sent after them as way more clever and well organised/disciplined than the players would expect from a random group of NPCs.

Expect them to know how to use the terrain; know that trying to take out the PCs in a single rushed charge will do very little, but whittling away at them while keeping themselves as safe as possible makes a lot more sense. They will also know when to withdraw from a fight, and know to keep an eye on their own resources, not wasting anything while doing their job, but doing what they can to reduce the party’s supplies. It’s also a foolish evil overlord indeed who is stupid enough to send out only the one team. Don’t feel the need to swamp them with everything all at once, but use a second team to stymie the PCs as they seek to get themselves squared away after the first attack. Markets or inns that they would run to in times of trouble will be nothing but scorched remains, or closed to them, the owners fearing threats of violence for helping them in any way.

This all sounds very much like the characters are eventually going to die, or just stay on the run, fleeing for their lives for as long as the bad guy keeps his attention focused on them. There are a few ways to combat this, but if you have a strong group of role players, I’m sure they could figure a way out of it that their GM would never see. The opportunity to turn the tables on the  bad guy should be presented though, just to keep them interested.

Maybe one of an attack party over plays their hand and could be captured and ‘persuaded’ to give up some goods on the antagonist? I’m not going to do all the work for you, but you see where this could go. As long as nothing that happens is easy, and the threat from the bad guy remains constant, then there’s a lot of fun to be had with the consequences of your players’ actions, even if they were carried out from the moral high ground and especially if they thought they were doing the right thing. Eventually though, they will want to take the fight to the big bad, and this should be a hard slog indeed,but still a workable option. To deny the players closure after putting them through so much is just plain mean.

So, I hope that’s been useful, but if you have any ideas of your own, or some examples from play that you want to share, sound off in the comments and let us all know.