Woodsman in Valentino

by TechDiff's own Laura B

Stepping out the door, Woodsman took a deep breath of the chill air. The crabapple pollen was down from yesterday, there was a hint of Red Lake currants beginning to blossom on the air, and no more than 13 Casualties on the Valentino fence this morning—the tang of death and Blight juice was just about right for that many. There’d probably be a drive to the fence before Friday’s phys. ed. practicum.

Woodsman (he barely ever thought of himself as Erik anymore) scanned the crowd of children running around the yard as he left the dorms. He still wasn’t used to how muted children playing tag at Valentino was. His head snapped left; just a puff of dust kicked up by one of the youngest’s sandals. Smelled dry; they needed rain soon for the barrels. Made sense the enclave had abandoned this courtyard to recess/training though—the dirt here wouldn’t even support a grass variety. Woodsman paused as the smell of kicked dirt intensified from his right; two girls in 5th rank uniformed pants ran past him, the one in the lead suddenly juking behind him and evading the second. It wasn’t enough and, a bit past Woodsman, the longer-legged second caught up and tagged the first.

Still weaving his way through the courtyard, Toto alternating between chasing a child and following at his heels, Woodsman made his way to the edge. Jane looked up from the roots of a sambucus candensis she was digging around. Kelev thumped his tail once and went back to wiggling around in the dirt Jane was turning up; Toto bounced into Kelev. A waft of elderberry juice mixed with bone-dry dirt wafted up as the two dogs wrestled. Woodsman nodded towards the former soccer field and Jane stood up. Woodsman whistled the follow signal and turned towards the field.

Roger the Nurse was walking through the children towards the dorms Woodsman had just come from. A lumpy, brown haired chubby infant stared at Woodsman over her shoulder.

Woodsman blinked and dug his fingernails into his right palm; the smell of hot copper was in his nostrils. He blinked, hard, but the skin sloughing off Nurse’s should remained. He closed his eyes, squeezing them tight. He could hear his breath ratcheting up.

A small hand slipped into his left hand. Woodsman looked down; Jane was watching Roger the Nurse too. She looked up at Woodsman; her eyes blank but her lips were twisted in a pinch of sadness. She squeezed Woodsman hand and he squeezed back.

“Right,” Woodsman said with a sigh, “let's work on teaching Kelev the right distance from Casualties for kiting.


by special guest author Chris Hamann of the Roleplaying Exchange, check out his other stuff on Tumblr!

The drone went down at 8:09 pm on April 23rd. This sounds like a piece of needless minutiae, but the person we’re following is detail oriented, and she took note of this particular fact. She still thinks of herself as ‘Madeline’ even if that name is unknown to anyone else. Madeline found the timing curious because the drone stopped responding exactly at sunset. To the best of her knowledge, the drone landed in the center of a field in an area with very few casualties. If she remembered correctly, which she believed she always did, Valentino used that field as practice for dealing with casualties.

Madeline was not right in the head. She pushed people away and responded to any critique with aggression. She was there to do a job, what did it matter that she was rough around the edges? This made her superiors treat her as an acceptable loss, but she didn’t realize that. Instead, she had the ire of her coworkers to deal with. They hated her, but she was used to it. She would tell them what to do, and berate them until they did it. When they went with her plans, the work was so much easier. Why couldn’t they just fucking listen to her? Some day, Madeline will realize that this isn’t a healthy thought pattern.

Madeline did not fit in at corporate training. She was brittle and egotistical - smart enough to realize that she was smarter than everyone else, but not empathetic enough to mask that intelligence or use it as a means of ingratiating herself. She was the gear that ground down the less well-made cogs. If you couldn’t work to her standards, you deserved the punishment she dealt you. She thought of it as the crucible that created better tools.

There were logistical issues in reaching that field, of course — Madeline only had her dronkey, which was little more than a shotgun mounted on a robot — but she was resourceful. With the right planning, it was very easy to travel through the Loss as a solo traveler. There were raiders in the area, of course, but for some reason those raiders liked one of Madeline’s coworkers, so she spoofed his signal on Ubiq. The occasional friendly message from “420TimberwolfLyfe” was summarily ignored. Madeline wanted to figure out what happened to her drone then get back to work.

Sometimes she thought about when she left Seattle. She was in training then, and her superiors actually flew in a helicopter for some of them as a way out. The corporate campus was in shambles—geeks in short sleeved button downs bolted like someone came up with another competitor to Bitcoin or Netflix for pet supplies—they were more interested in spreading the Blight than the next big tech disruption. In private, Madeline thought this gave them more meaning than their previous lives.

It was after dark by the time she reached the field. By all rights, Madeline should have been scared, but Madeline was not right in the head. She was more worried about invisible threats—attacks on her tools, the things that made her useful—than her own life. This made her take risks when those tools were in danger. She found her drone, a surprisingly up to date model for someone living in the Loss. Her superiors had sent it to her, but she maintained to her coworkers that she stole it from an agricultural enclave.

Madeline didn’t understand why her superiors dropped her off in the Loss. Everyone else in the helicopter got to go to the Recession but her. “We need someone to act as an agent in this area, and we think you’re the best at it, Madeline. You’re the best operator we have when it comes to new technology, and you have that killer instinct that the other corporate types lack.” Madeline thought about that almost every day—couldn’t everyone else see the best course of action in an instant? Most problems were so easy to solve. There were the hard problems, but that had more to do with putting in effort—Madeline could tell the code in her drone caused it to malfunction, so she’d be spending the next few nights debugging it. That was a hard problem. She packed her supplies up, slung it back on the dronkey, and hoofed it back to Split Rock.

The defect caused the drone to land at sundown. Madeline was detail-oriented, and sometimes, the devil is found in the details, which is where she found the offer. A subroutine had been corrupted—rogue code placed into a weather app designed by government meteorologists.

“Your escapades have come to my attention, I have therefore looked into your situation. I believe it is your best interest to know that your parent company, Pear, has intentions of securing loose ends and removing you from service. The DHQS has need of personnel of your caliber and capability. I can offer you an alternative form of retirement than the bullet that your current employer has planned. I obviously must have viable proof of your willingness to forsake your current situation and join the right side of the efforts of mankind. “

She weighed her options. Everyone was out to kill her. No one liked her. Her relationships had eroded like the Rocky mountains. The one place where she had loyalty, the company that had specifically saved her life, had her in their sights as a target. Madeline always found it very easy to make decisions; the trick was figuring who would be the best pawns. Maybe the kid who hated her and the man who was afraid of her...

Martin Luther

And now for a character study of Martin Luther, from the 10K Lakes world, written by special guest author Lonnie

He stepped on the box.

It was a clear day, the sky a bluish white that stole what heat was in the air and replaced it with light that hurt the eyes if you raised them too high or looked too long at the snowdrifts beyond the camp. Everything man-made touched by it turned the brown of dried mud or the gray of an elephant, leached of color by the brightness.

He cleared his throat.

"A moment of your time, brothers and sisters, before you go." His voice was soft, but clear in the chill air, seemingly carried on the light. A student of music or voice would call it dynamics, but he didn't have that vocabulary, only the lessons of the listening to a thousand sermons, the rhythms, the pacing.

You don't need to be loud to be heard.

"I'd like to thank Sister Rose and her family for preparing that fine meal. Hopefully the supplies the church has brought can ease this winter, as this meal has eased our hunger."

Sometimes, he hated the looks he got as the archaic forms came from his lips. He's just a kid, talking like an old man, was the unspoken reproach of people twice his age who'd survived on hard measures and God's mercy, even if they didn't believe it.

But he was his father's son, raised for just this duty in just this way. In the cold light of his self-reflection in the quiet moments, he decided that talking like a teenager wouldn't make things better, either.

"However, I also came to give you the good news that the church is almost built. Our work is almost done, friends."

"So what?" This came from a man who shouldered through the small crowd to stand in front of the young man on the box. Even with the extra height, the man's eyes were level, such was his height. He was a huge frame, with the black veins bulging in his exposed face, running into the rough growth of beard.  He raised a hand where the dark merged with the dirt to point a mottled finger. "Another miniature Enclave, with yourself as boss, I take it. Won't be any better than here. Thanks for the food, but no thanks."

The boy shook his head. "No, I'm not here to be Caesar. I am only here to tend the flock. I - "

"Then why don't you go back to Covenant and run your precious church there?" The man interrupted.

"Because even in Covenant, there are walls."  The bitter tone behind the answer even surprised the young man, now that he actually verbalized it—but he realized it's truth the moment it left his lips.

The large man was brought up short by that. He looked mutely at the young man, or maybe the brown red wall behind him, tall and menacing.

"Have you ever wondered why the church hasn't tried to invite you all to Covenant? Why you're here, among those who haven't received judgement, instead of safe behind their walls?" He let the question sink in to a suddenly unmoving crowd. "It's because the men who run it fear what would happen if the church became too large. If people could come freely."

He lifted his hands. "Friends, you know who I am. Doubtless you've heard what I do. And what I've done. But know this," his voice rose. "I don't do it for myself. I have no home in the Recession to go to. Everywhere on Earth, there's a wall to keep out the faithful. They fear God's judgement. And so it falls to me to build a place—the ONE place—where the wall will keep us all safe, instead of keeping us all out."

"I don't come asking for Bounty. The work is almost done. Hopefully, in a short while—" After I've finished committing all the sins I can stand, his brain added unhelpfully, if silently— "we'll be able to open the gates, and all are welcome. That's all." He made a helpless gesture with his left hand and stepped down from the box.

"Even if we don't believe?" came a woman's voice from his right side. He'd turned, so he hadn't seen her. He turned back around, but didn't bother to meet her eyes. He was so tired.

"The Lord's reach is not shortened for sinners. It's not even shortened for them." He waved a hand at the wall where the hint of rifles behind slots in the wall loomed, fencemen watching. "They haven't been judged yet. That's God's work. But they will be."

He left in silence that felt like defeat. Always the same at every Enclave. The work of the Lord is hard, his father had told him over and over. Walking away from the small camp, he hoped it would be worth it.

He took out his Ubiqs and put them on. Time to go find Toss Up. His work was almost done.

Everyday Hustlin'

Taxey kisses Shardonae, tucks the sheet around her, and creeps out the door without waking the baby. He's getting good at that, finally. Outside the shack he slides the Bounty cards into the rent slot, and just like every month, thinks about how easy it would be to pop the lock off (but they'd know it was him, better wait on that shit 'til it's time to leave this enclave anyway). He climbs the cliff ladder up to the streets that ring the Split Rock lighthouse.

Then he puts the earbud in, hits play on the worklist. Same first track as always - M.O.P. feat. Busta Rhymes, Teflon, Remy Martin - Ante Up (Remix).

"Attention please, attention please...this shit here feels like a whole entire world collapsed...motherfuckaaaaaaa..."

Just 15 seconds, then switch it off to save battery. That's all he needs, the rest plays in his head. Soundtrack to the everyday hustle.

Today's hustle: debt collection. Yesterday a kid named Alex showed up here in Split Rock flashing around a shiny new AK -- and a stack of Bounty cards that looked way too thick for somebody who'd just made that kind of purchase. Sure enough, a quick check on Ubiq of the New Hamar gun market shitlist showed Alex as a credit customer in arrears. Nice little contract for anybody who could settle him up.

Second track. Gang Starr - Just to Get a Rep.

"Stick up kids is out to tax -- and this is how the story goes..."

One Bounty to the morning fenceman gets Taxey the Alex’s location: the Bassboat Brothel. Two Bounty to the desk girl gets him Alex's room number and a key. Third floor, too high to jump out the window, nice. Climb up the steps, check the clock. 7:30 am, perfect timing to do this Pulp Fiction-style.

Play track three. Notorious B.I.G. - Gimme the Loot.

"You ain't got to explain shit,
I been robbin' motherfuckers since the slave ships
With the same clip, and the same .45
Two point blank, a motherfucker sure to die..."

Take off the shirt, the tats help for this kind of job. Pull the Glock 18, turn the key, kick the door, find Alex sprawled naked in bed next to last night's lady friend.

"Wake up call for Alex! Rise and shine, motherfucker." Taxey jerks the sheet off the bed and dumps Alex on the floor. He turns to the girl. "Hey, Carallina, sorry you ain't gonna get to serve him breakfast this morning. Here's something for your troubles." Taxey flips her a Bounty and she bolts out the door.

Alex is not coming around very fast, understandable after what must have been a long night. His eyes sweep blearily between the pistol in Taxey's hand and the darkness underneath the bed. Taxey kicks him in the face, flips the bed over, and grabs up the AK.

"Alex, this ain't ya gun, son. My boy T-Crit up in Somaliland says you ain't paid the bill on this chopper. So they gonna have to repossess it."

Alex mumbles something through the blood in his mouth.

"And also you gotta pay some penalty fees."

Alex inches toward the door. Taxey puts the Glock away and levels the assault rifle on him.

"Now A-Lay, I don't wanna have to test this chopper out, make sure it's still in working condition. So you just sit right there and we'll talk this through. New Hamar wants five Bounty for the trouble you gave 'em, and then I'm gonna need five more to cover my expenses in hunting your punk ass down. So that's ten Bounty. Ante that up, and you can bounce up on out of here, all square."

Alex indicates that he does not have ten Bounty.

"But you had it yesterday, I saw you flashing the stack around down by the pier. You had twenty, easy. You gotta learn to keep that shit on the downlow, bruh. Now the Bassboat's a nice place, and Carallina's a nice girl, but they ain't ten Bounty worth of nice. Now are you gonna pay up, motherfucker, or am I gonna be putting another dot on my knuckles?"

Alex eventually manages to explain that last night at some yacht party he bought some pre-crash molly and bottle service, besides the bed with Carallina. There’s only five left over. Taxey fishes them out of the pocket of the crumpled up pants on the floor.

"Five, okay, that's enough for the Muslims, but we got a little problem with my end still. That's bad news for Mister Alex. I'ma have to tax ya son, old school style. Take off that fuckin' watch."

As Alex shakily removes a cheap-looking fake gold watch, Taxey drops the rifle on the upturned mattress and pulls the pistol back out. It's tricky to toss a room one-handed while keeping a gun on a guy, but Taxey has had some practice. And Alex's stuff isn't too hard to collect. Find his backpack, throw the watch and the five Bounty in it, a half-smoked blunt, an unused DHQS-issued condom, and the clothes on the floor -- everything, shirt, pants, underwear, socks, boots.

"No hat, man? Thought you had a hat. Stylish kid like you should have a hat. Oh wait, there it is on the door hanger. Stand up and toss me that hat, homie."

The ballcap goes on Taxey's head with a jaunty tilt. The backpack goes over one shoulder. Alex, awkwardly standing naked, seems to suddenly realize the implication of Taxey packing up all of his clothes.

"Oh shit is right, Alex my boy. Next time maybe trying living within your means when the Tax Man's in town. Ayo, talk nice to Carallina, maybe she'll let ya borrow one of her see-through dresses or something. Now if you'll kindly step aside...oh wait, don't wanna forget this thing."

Taxey slings the AK over his other shoulder and saunters out the door past the cowering Alex, snatches up his own shirt from the banister and walks back down the stairs.

Track four. Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg - Nuthin' But a G Thang.

"One, two, three and to tha four
Snoop Doggy Dog and Dr. Dre is at tha door..."

Blow a kiss to Carallina and the desk girl, and stroll out into the morning sunshine.

Taxey messages T-Crit in New Hamar with a photo of the gun and a photo of Alex naked on the floor. He sits on a bench by the lighthouse, checks his new watch -- 8:00 am, good work for half an hour. Might have some time to kill. Put on Run the Jewels 2, the full album, and light up the blunt.

His Ubiq rings four minutes later. The Muslims must be early risers, too.

"Ayo T-Crit, I found ya boy Alex. And as you can see, your property has been repossessed."

"Good morning, Taxey. Please, once again, call me Abdullahi now. But thank you for fulfilling our contract. Did you also secure the Bounty that Alex owes us?"

"Sure did, bruh. Five B for you. It was close, though, that shit was all he had left. Motherfucker was livin' large. I always told ya, man, never sell guns or drugs on credit."

"Yes, I recall. And I also recall that you personally demonstrated to us why that is. Your payment for this contract covers the remainder of your debt to New Hamar."

"Plus what?"

"Plus nothing. A drone will come for the rifle and Bounty this afternoon. Meet it at the lighthouse. When it returns, we'll take your name off the repayment list. You're welcome."

"Come on, T-Crit, I told you that shit wasn't me."

"Right, you just found that Glock 18 you're always waving around. You should really learn to keep that stuff on the downlow."

"Fuck you, T-Crit."

"Assalamu alaykum, Mike. Hey, congratulations on the baby."

Click. Motherfucker.

It'll be good to be off the New Hamar shitlist before he ends up like Alex, but Taxey is still down four Bounty from this morning, and all of Alex's stuff put together isn't going to be worth more than two. And baby Shampane needs diapers and bottles.

Still no Freelance jobs on the Lifelines group either. It’s been like four weeks now, did the whole crew just fall off? Lazy-ass fucking Takers.

Fuck it, it's not even 9:00 am yet. He's got at least three hours before the drone arrives. That's time enough to put in work. And shit, all of Alex's money ended up somewhere in this town. Maybe his molly dealer is still slipping after that crazy yacht party. Might as well find out.

Finish the blunt and put on the next track. Wiz Khalifa, Big Bang & Big Bake  - Hustlin' Everyday.

"I’ve been hustling like everyday
Doin' time on my grind tryna make a pay.
Hey, I’m still postin’ on the same block,
The same hood, still duckin' from the same cops.
I try hard, but the life that I live, man, ain't all it's seemin',
Sometimes I pray to God I’m dreamin’,
But I ain’t. Try to get out, but I can’t. Damn."

Ordinary World

NRG peeked through the window of the bus garage. He could see Roger Arnold and Roger Martinez yelling at the two armed men outside the gate. He ducked back down, clutching Block and Sparky, praying they hadn’t seen him. Nitro stood at the door, growling. NRG appreciated his canine friend's courage, but knew he'd be no match for the armed coyotes. Mercifully, three minutes later, the roar of a motorcycle signaled that the bastards were gone. The two men breathed a sigh of relief.

"I think they're gone."

"Yeah Le--... NRG. I think they're flown da coop."

NRG helped Block up. Together, they lifted up Sparky onto Block's shoulders. The boy's giggles helped ease their tension.

"The bad men are gone?"

"Yeah, but they're only gone for now. They'll come back."

"But Roger and Roger won't let them in, right?"

"Yeah." NRG could only manage a half hearted reassurance for his son, worried for the day the coyotes had the money to buy or the balls to fight their way into Valentino.

A sudden knock at the door startled the family from their reverie. Block dashed with Sparky behind a bus while NRG drew his gun. Nitro, however, gave a playful bark at the door. A quiet voice came from behind the door.

“Sparky! Wanna play?”

“Left Shark!” The adults softened their stances as Sparky ran to the door. Left Shark stood behind the door, a rail thin Latino boy, his Valentino uniform hanging off his frame. Sparky waved to his dads as he ran out into the playground, his terror gone.

As NRG holstered his gun, he tensed as Block grabbed his shoulders, massaging them.


“God, Len, ya shoulders are so tense. Yer wound so tight I think yer about to pop.”

“Bl- Tom, can you blame me? The Coyotes at the gates, Freelance… god. I’ve barely been able to go out on jobs. I’ve had to stay here. We’re barely scraping by, I don’t know how we’re gonna-”

NRG couldn’t finish as Block spun him around and kissed him. Block, having an extra foot in height and a hundred pounds in weight, enveloped NRG with his body. NRG sank into his husband’s body, returning the kiss. Block pulled them to the ground as they made out. After a few minutes of passion they pulled back to face each other. Block had a giant shit eating grin on his face.

“Huh. Ya a’int so tense now.”

“... dammit, Tom.”

“Look, Len, I didn’t traipse half the Goddamn…”

“Goddamn United States for you to quit on me. I know, Tom.”

“Do you?” Block’s face nuzzled NRG’s. Block reached up to the table and grabbed the Ubiq Specs. He handed them to NRG.

“I’ll be fine. Sparky will be fine. Call them. Get us out of here.”

NRG kissed Block one more time, and stood up. He stared at the Specs. He donned them, and turned them on. His welcome screen showed his family, smiling on a Valentino bus. He wiped away a tear.

“Hey Ubiq, check messages.”

“Message from Freelance: Open Job Posting. Please notify Woodsman on availability.”

“Hey Ubiq, call Woodsman…”

GM's Corner 10: The End of the Reformers

After 18 sessions, our Red Markets beta campaign reached its end. With a good recon and planning session, our heroes and their unexpected DHQS allies tried to stealth their way into the Truman Building to destroy the printing machines, only to end in a hail of gunfire. Through strategy and a little luck, they completed their mission and fled to the sounds of Governor Carnavan’s men brutally murdering him for putting the whole nation at risk. Their task completed, they were flown to the Recession and succeeded in playing the Red Markets.

When I first planned for my Red Markets campaign, I knew I wanted to structure the campaign with an overarching plot. Ethan had written up Jeff’s City as a potential Enclave, and mentioned the possibility of Carnavan making fake driver's licenses. With the economic theme of Red Markets I knew I wanted that to be my plot. While making fake ID is normally a dangerous idea, in an economy where the IDs are the primary form of currency it can also act to destabilize the economy.

My plan was to introduce this slowly in the campaign. I laid hints in multiple missions, like the dead Taker diary in the mine, the DHQS presence at the warehouse, some of the DCA encounters, etc. However, after the Reformers’ mass influx of bounty I felt I had laid enough ground work to not finish the story. I should have let them and take the consequences, but it’s in my nature to want to see the best possible ending. Plus, the raid on the Truman Building turned out to be an amazing end to a wonderful campaign.

As a first time GM, I was satisfied with how I ran things. I know I made mistakes with pacing and rules mastery. However, the players had a good time, it was helpful to Caleb, and we’ve been happy to see the fan response. This likely won’t be the last time we slip into the Loss, but we’ll probably wait until we have our Red Markets books in hand before the next campaign.

- Gre

GM's Corner 08 - Red Markets Episodes 13-15

Now that the Takers had their massive amount of Bounty, they had to design their Mr. JOLS – their Score that would render all of them independently wealthy in the Recession. The Mr. JOLS process, like the process for designing Scores, works really well as a collaborative tool to make an adventure. The players are making a mission they want to do, while the GM manipulates things behind the scenes to make their hard final mission even harder.

The players’ idea of raiding a vertical farming startup seemed like fun, but I needed a challenge worthy of the series finale. After starting the Delta County Avengers storyline in earlier sessions they seemed to be a perfect fit for a cinematic fight near the end of the campaign. I had intended on them being a minor nuisance throughout the campaign, but with how thoroughly demoralized they had become at the hands of The Reformers, their rage became an excellent weapon.

All throughout the campaign I had wanted to better test the combat rules against human opponents, but the players had either used charisma skills to talk opponents down or crippled their enemies so fast a protracted fight wasn’t happening. The closest was the fight against the DCA in the beer plant, but even then the players had ruined DCA limbs and left them to be devoured by zombies. Not that this was a major concern; as a play test this was a unique set of circumstances that were hopefully helpful for Caleb as he prepared the next version of the rules, but coming from my background in RPGs I had been hoping for more combat.

The fight outside the startup was the fight I had been wanting. By adding combat NPCs to the party, the players were more effective against the DCA and we were able to get a lengthy fight, with players, NPCs, human enemies, Vectors, and Casualties all in play. In the end the fight was thrilling and would have been an excellent end to the campaign…

If I hadn’t had them wrap up my meta plot. In all honesty, it might have been a better move to leave things there, but as I had accidentally given them so much Bounty and had started to establish the end game, I felt I had to finish it. So I shoehorned in roughly four sessions worth of exposition into 20 minutes of post fight chat. They had also managed to avoid directly fighting the Aberrant I had created, so the end of Session 15 was a little lackluster. I should have had the courage to let go and either let them live with the consequences or thrown the Aberrant at them anyway, but that was Monday morning GMing that I’ll be mindful of in future campaigns.

Regardless, as a new GM, I’m thankful that these issues did not derail or ruin the game. My players still had fun, this chunk of the campaign was still good, and the conclusion of The Reformers was about to begin.

Red Markets: Character Sheets

As a special bonus to all our fans and a helpful sample to backers or potential backers of the Red Markets Kickstarter, we’re posting the character sheets for Elder, Freebird, and Pixie. These are the original sheets for the versions of the characters as played in Episode 1. Thanks to all our fans for enjoying our campaign! Please support Caleb and help us make Red Markets the best it can be!




GM's Corner 05: Red Markets Episodes 8-9

One of the chief tenants of writing for any media is to never throw away ideas. If something has potential, do not forget it or destroy it because it doesn’t work at the moment. There is always a new angle to make a concept work. Case in point was the Mega Playground scenario.

When I was first coming up with contracts for my players to obtain, I was trying to think of different adventures for them to come up with. The first that came to mind is one they never encountered, raiding a spice manufacturer and fighting with the people who took up residence. My second concept was to have the players emulate the game Five Nights at Freddy’s by having them invade a children’s restaurant and fighting with the Casualties wrapped up in animatronic nightmares. While I fell in love with this idea, as I further talked with my players they indicated they wanted a more serious campaign. It was instantly obvious that this Five Nights at Freddy’s concept was a bit too absurd, and I had to abandon it.

I was disappointed, because the chief image in my mind was the Takers going into a kids’ restaurant to fight zombies. It was a striking image that I wanted to recreate in game, but couldn’t find an angle. So I kept my notes, but continued to create new missions, like Anton’s mission and the LIttle Pittsburg Mine.

One day while driving, I was reflecting on the Five Nights at Freddy’s contract while racking my brain for a new idea for a contract as I was fresh out of ideas and needed more in case my players weren’t interested. I started to think, well, if a video game kids restaurant wouldn’t work, what would? I thought of Chuck E Cheese, but it’s more of an arcade than a playground, like Discovery Zone–

There was my answer, my angle. I laughed out loud in my car as the concept seemed so obvious in hindsight. Discovery Zones were an active restaurant, with a huge playground complete with climbing structures and a huge ball pit, as well as an arcade. A place where the players would have to fight through the playground and clear out the party rooms. A means of reflecting on how far things have fallen in the Loss and looking at the individual tragedies, like Charlotte sending her daughter to a birthday party and never seeing her again, somehow forever lost in the Crash.

Even if an idea has to be cast aside, do not throw it into the dustbin of history. You never know when a stray thought can unlock a scenario, chapters of text, or clarify an image or shot. That absurdity or odd piece might become the centerpiece of your creation. The Mega Playground was one of if not the personal highlight of my creations for The Reformers. I hope it’s also one of yours.


GM’s Corner 04: Red Markets Episodes 6-7

After our Technical Difficulties in the prior episodes, we opted to go for system difficulties in these two. A rule set within Red Markets allows for the players to make up their own mission, called a Score. They talked about what to do and came up with the concept of raiding a maker space, a place where people can work on projects, whether electronic, artistic, mechanical, etc. The challenge in this from my end was to give them enough incentive to complete the mission while making it difficult.

Wracking my mind to come up with a solution, I actually asked Caleb for further elaboration about one of the cults made for the game, the Archivists. With religious conviction, the Archivists are assuring themselves that the zombie apocalypse will eventually completely destroy humanity. Thus, it’s their job to preserve as much of human knowledge as possible for whatever come next. As a concept for either an NPC or player character, it means playing them as fatalists with a purpose; they aren’t concerned with human life because it’s all going to end soon one way or another, but they have a mission that at least can give them a reason to keep living just a little bit longer.

With this in mind, I made up ‘antagonists’ for the Reformers to run into. The two heavily armed Archivists aren’t evil, just defending their base. They didn’t even care so much for the non-media contents, just that they were being invaded. After allowing the players to navigate the building undisturbed, I initiated the sequence where they came back. I was fully expecting a fire fight. What I wasn’t expecting was them to try to talk it out with the Archivists.

In retrospect, it’s one thing I should have. We are all fans of Role Playing Public Radio, and one of their hallmarks is trying to negotiate with and / or befriend antagonists who aren’t necessarily out to kill them. The rules don’t really have a means of talking things out with people on the field. What they did have, however, were rules for negotiation for jobs. On the fly, I thought to use the negotiation mechanics in this setting, and we engaged in what we had nicknamed ‘Combat Negotiation’.

If they players dip too far into the bad end of the negotiation table once the rounds are over, the opponents will not be pacified and will initiate combat. The low end of the positive side and they’ll want you to do something for them, the high end they’ll acquiesce. Our heroes succeeded, but I didn’t feel enough to just let them take what they wanted after entering the maker space uninvited, so I made up a mission on the fly for them to help raid a library for the Archivists.

The lessons I learned at the beginning of the campaign were showing their usefulness. Without my experience with Anton, a session where I had to blend player expectations with the job they made and the necessary changes to make a challenging scenario could have caused me to freeze up. Instead, as the heroes stood in a Mexican Standoff, I was able to do backseat game design and allow us to have an exciting game session.



GM’s Corner 02: Red Markets Episodes 3-5

If the first set of episodes (Big Trouble in Little Pittsburg)  was a good test of improvisation and role play, the second set (Crying Over Spilled Ink) was a good showing of pushing through failures.

This has nothing to do with the system, the players, or the mission concept and story. I totally messed up the role of the GM in Red Markets, which is mostly as a storyteller and rule keeper, by actively rolling for the Vectors in Episode 4. Caleb joked in an episode of his podcast that there were times that he nearly drove off the highway to take down notes on things that players got wrong in the playtest, and I have no doubt this episode nearly killed the man who created our game. If I had played correctly, Ethan’s character would have almost certainly died and the campaign would’ve turned out very differently.

To say nothing of Episode 5 and the repeated technical difficulties that inspired me to suggest that as a possible name for our podcast. Microphones wouldn’t work, Google Hangouts would drop, the internet would slow down so badly I couldn’t hear my players, etc. The night was pretty much a disaster that could have easily turned us off of playing and derailed the campaign.

The important lesson I learned those two nights is perseverance. It’s part of my nature to feel guilty for failing, and the guilt of ruining Caleb’s system and the internet causing problems was palpable. But ultimately, those failures did not affect our fun or our ability to play. Mistakes will happen while learning a new system. When we are forced to play using technology, we are allowing failure points into the system that can break down our ability to play. What matters is pushing forward and continuing to play. None of my players were upset that we kept having problems, and I realized that the failure to keep the rules straight is, in its own way, helpful to the game designer in showing what is confusing about the system. In the end, even the failures have their own way of helping.

Ultimately, we did have a good time. It was a lot of expressive fun to design the warehouse, in that I made a shipping manifest of different goods for the players to find. The backstory given to Anton was a good arc that fleshed out his character and made him real to the players. Laura made her own score by raiding a Planned Parenthood location which challenged me to think of what to find on the fly. There were multiple thrilling close calls where the zombies could have easily overtaken our heroes. This adventure in stealing ink for printers was the important first step in the overarching plot of my campaign.

When things don’t go right, keep pushing forward. These issues will hopefully be speed bumps in the overall fun of a game session or campaign.


GM’s Corner 01: Red Markets Episodes 1-3

Our first campaign was done as a beta playtest for Hebanon Games’ upcoming RPG Red Markets (http://hebanon.blogspot.com/). None of us had an established gaming group that wanted to play Red Markets but we all wanted to take part in the closed beta. Our team first met on the Role Playing Public Radio forums, after I posted to the forum a suggestion that people should band together and play the game online.I was lucky to have Aaron, Ethan, and Laura respond, and the rest is history.

Now with our group set, our discussion fell to creating the world of our campaign. Red Markets’ system allows the players and GM to collaborate on their base of operations. As Ethan is on the side of the country that serves as the playable area in Red Markets, his home state of Missouri seemed like a good place to base our Enclave out of. We took to Google Earth, and they agreed that a place along a river or lake would work well. They settled on the serpentine Lake of the Ozarks. While checking it, we spotted the small Village of Four Seasons. Struck by the absurdity of naming a post apocalyptic city after a fancy hotel, our Enclave’s name and location were decided upon.

With our characters and Enclave out of the way, it fell to me as GM to create the scenarios for them to play in. Red Markets provides a random roll table to set up scenarios, so it seemed prudent to test these rules. My rolls gave me a job for energy goods. Not knowing what would make sense for the middle of Missouri, I searched Google and found a website for the Missouri Department of Energy, which said that coal is a major part of Missouri’s energy needs. Modifying my search to ‘Coal Production in Missouri,’ I found a page from the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The Department asked people to provide old maps for abandoned underground coal mines, showing a map of the Little Pittsburg Coal Mine of Lingo, Missouri, originally surveyed in 1890 as a sample. (http://dnr.mo.gov/geology/geosrv/coalminemaps.htm) Such a striking and clear concept gave me all I needed to make a job for our heroes to partake in.

Their job in hand, I now had to provide a twist (as is also mandated in the rules.) My first thought was to trigger a mine collapse, but that seemed too deus ex machina and had the potential to kill my players with one set of bad rolls. My background is not in tabletop RPGs. I’ve only been playing games in these systems for the past four years. My background is mostly in video games, where one of the biggest tropes is boss fights. One of the creatures in Red Markets that had not (as of the beta) been fleshed out were ‘Aberrants,’ highly mutated zombies that could function as bosses. Taking a risk and some artistic license, I made an Aberrant for them to fight.

Perhaps my biggest lesson from this session is the importance of improvisation. Another facet of the Red Markets experience is the random Leg table. The GM places the jobsite for a session an arbitrary distance away using Legs: small vignettes or encounters along the way. I set out to make my own table for the purposes of our campaign, and had to think of 20 encounters. I was struck by the ability to use dogs as a companion in the game, so I created an encounter where the players meet a dog and have the choice to give it food to take back to its master. It was even written such that they did not have to meet the owner, but they followed the dog back. I had written no dialog or personality to this dog and its owner.

The only things I had written were that the owner, Anton, was the lone survivor of a group that failed their mission, whereupon he became a Latent, infected with the zombie virus but still human. So, naturally, they met the owner and had a tense encounter with him as they found he was infected and befriended him as he came to the realization that he was infected.

This one paragraph throw away NPC turned out to be the most important NPC in the game.

The thing I love the most about RPGs is the collaborative process. It should never be the GM forcing a story upon their players; it’s the GM and players working together to tell an amazing story. We hope you enjoy this session and the many more to come from Technical Difficulties.