Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Epilogue & Recap

Our very last recap episode of our final Shadowrun adventure, “Splintered State.”

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shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

And so we come to the end – not only of our latest Shadowrun mission, but also our campaign, and Shadowrun Fifth Edition. The official published adventure “Splintered State” acted as our grand finale, after some modifications. From here we’ll be moving on to Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition for a change of pace.

This was probably one of our more interesting recap episodes, since this was the first pre-published adventure for Shadowrun I’d ever used. Our previous three adventures were all originally written and crafted by me, for better or worse, and I wanted to try using an official adventure at least once.

Some time during our previous adventure I decided that I’d had enough with Shadowrun’s obtuse rules and complex systems, and wanted to draw our campaign to a close. Though “Splinterd State” would only be our fourth mission, we’d have been running our campaign for six months. Given my players’ recent run-in with Knight Errant law enforcement in the form of a refused quest-giver, I decided that “Splintered State’s” introduction via arresting all the players would work perfectly.

I tweaked a bit of plot and switched out several NPCs to make them work for our campaign. My players got a kick out of seeing these returning NPCs. The various characters I created along the way were defeinitely the highlight of the campaign – from Jeremiah Redd the cockney-accent ork gang leader to a rival street-runner gang that had escaped them before, I had a lot of fun bringing in old friends and foes back into the mix [Session 1].

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Unfortunately the plot of the adventure is needlessly steeped in backstory and information, when it simply comes down to having a McGuffin that other factions want, and will kill for. I’ve learned that my players are not fans of not knowing what to do next, but I feel this adventure did a good job presenting the options clearly and laying out their next steps, such as Dietrich calling them directly to buy the commlink at the zoo [Session 2].

The zoo (Session 3) went over really well. I was impressed how the PCs handled scouting it out, smuggling in guns and generally being very prepared. Too bad they got ambushed anyway! It felt very ‘Gotcha!’ since there was nothing they could have done when the elite Chimera assassins showed up. Thankfully the assassins leave quickly before murdering the players, but it was a nicely tense situation. Dietrich suffering from multiple personalities was also a fun roleplaying opportunity for my players to deal with.

For some reason every adventure has one player that takes the majority of the damage. Previously it’s usually Ursev but this time Falkirk took heavy amounts of stun damage, and actually dropped unconscious during the final battle back at the safehouse – from an ally NPC’s errant grenade [Session 4]!

Before the final battle the PCs had the choice of who to sell the commlink to – opting to only even talk to the ‘good’ choice, the underground resistance trying to undermine the evil racist Governor Brackhaven. The published adventure has lots of different options and outcomes available, which meant as a GM I had to build a TON of NPCs and we ended up using less than half of them. Wouldn’t have been so bad if I could’ve used them in future missions but as I mentioned above – this was our final Shadowrun adventure.

shadowrun splintered state

Everyone was generally very positive and pleased with this adventure. They loved seeing old NPCs crop up and have meaningful roles, and they enjoyed having a clear objective halfway through (meet Dietrich at the zoo) but different options on how to approach it. They weren’t terribly keen on using their contacts during the initial commlink investigations. We hadn’t used the contact system very well in previous adventures, and it’s another obtuse and somewhat strange system in Shadowrun.

I love Shadowrun’s setting. When we first started talking about doing online role-playing again early this year, I immediately jumped at the chance to do Shadowrun. The sci-fi cyberpunk setting with fantasy races and magic is just so damn fun and interesting. Too bad the rules are kind of awful! After six months I don’t have much of a better handle on many of the systems, and we purposefully cut out many of the more complicated things like recoil and most matrix stuff. The fifth edition rulebook is also a bloody mess that’s terribly organized.

After six months I’m ready to move on to a different rule system and setting. I miss monsters, I miss loot, I miss dungeons. I think my players will really excel at the D&D gameplay and story flow more-so than Shadowrun’s. I’m really glad we tried Shadowrun and I’ve learned a lot as a GM, and look forward to continuing our online role-playing adventures with a fresh ruleset and setting. I’ll definitely keep the Shadowrun mantra of Shooting Straight, Conserving Ammo, and Never Dealing with a Dragon.

Shadowrun anniversary cover

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – Moon Knight (2006), Vol. 3-4

Moon Knight tackles werewolves, Thunderbolts, SHIELD, and his own inner demons.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

moon knight 2006 vol 4Writers: Charlie Huston, Mike Benson

Artists: Mark Texeira, Javier Saltares

Issues: Moon Knight (2006) #14-25

 

My initial introduction to Moon Knight was of a tortured, violently psychotic and most likely insane vigilante. As Marvel’s resident Batman, Marc Spector is a giant asshole that alienates his few friends and girlfriend and gets the shit kicked out of him on a regular basis.

It can be refreshing to read a Marvel comic that practically demonizes its own title hero but the third and fourth volumes of this series keep repeating the same self-pitying mantras, and I was ready for Moon Knight to get his shit together.

Marc continues to wallow in the hell he’s built himself, even after becoming officially registered with the Superhuman Registration Act by pure manipulation. “God and Country” (#14-19) sees the return of an old Moon Knight villain (I assume), Black Spectre. Spectre is a recent parolee and soon delves back into a life of crime, with his shtick of dressing up in full medieval plate mail and wielding maces and swords. He leaves calling cards designed to blame Moon Knight for a series of deaths, and soon the authorities are after him. It doesn’t help that Moon Knight takes out bad guys through gruesome maiming attacks – he rages against his moon god’s desire to kill but still leaves a wake of twisted and broken bodies in his wake.

Moon Knight 2006 #16

Iron Man gets wind of Moon Knight’s Punisher-style brand of violent loner vigilantism. The story builds to a climax with Black Spectre stealing some kind of goofy nanite-controlling weapon and unleashing it on a crowd. Moon Knight actually kills him by tackling him off a roof to save everyone, and Tony Stark soon shows up to raid Moon Knight’s base.

The integral tie-in to the larger Marvel world at the time (post-Civil War with Director Stark) is nifty, and I found myself enjoying Moon Knight’s supporting cast far more than the main anti-hero. His old war buddy Frenchie, damaged but trying to do better fuck buddy Marlene (“We’re not dating, we’re *****”). Even his angry young man pilot whom I can’t remember the name of is more interesting than Marc’s tiresome self-loathing. At the end SHIELD agents symbolically drop the statue of Khonshu and you think that maybe Marc will make some real advancement as a character. But no.

“In the Company of Wolves ” (#20) is a rare one-off issue in this series of giant story arcs, and it’s quite entertaining. A werewolf from Moon Knight’s rogue’s gallery has been captured, and his blood is being used to make new temporary werewolves for use in a dog fighting arena. It’s a dark but cool idea, and a great setting for Marc to unleash his inner beast when he infiltrates it.

Moon Knight 2006 #24“The Death of Marc Spector” (#21-25) is heavily tied into the Volume 3’s continuity, with Marc still on the run from SHIELD. At this point in the timeline, however, Norman Osborn is Director of the Thunderbolts and is given permission to hunt and capture Marc. Although Moon Knight has no actual super powers other than badassery and some moon knives, he’s able to withstand multiple attacks from the entire Thunderbolts team (the brief battles with Venom are especially disappointing).

In the end it comes down to the Thunderbolts’ secret weapon – Bullseye. Mike Benson does a great job picking up the Thunderbolts for their guest run here, accurately portraying their quirks, personalities, and inner drama. Bullseye had been built up as quite the badass, and he’s actually a great foil combat-wise to Marc. Moon Knight knows he can’t beat him in a straight up fight, so he lures him to an underwater hideout and rigs the whole thing to blow. Both are able to escape but Marc Spector is presumed dead, and goes into hiding.

I can definitely see Moon Knight‘s appeal. It’s interesting to see an anti-hero that’s much more realistic – he suffers from mental issues, he’s constantly bruised and bleeding from every fight, and his relationships are strained at best. But at some point it just gets to be too much. A clever plot or exceptional art style could elevate Moon Knight but neither are anything special. I did enjoy and respect the use of Tony Stark, Norman Osborn, and the Thunderbolts within the greater Marvel continuity at the time, though it probably had more to do with a lesser focus on Marc himself.

Moon Knight definitely needs an adept writer to keep him fresh and interesting and not retread the same ground. Moon Knight would go through several more series and reboots before settling on the acclaimed series that began in 2014. I’ll get there eventually!

Moon Knight 2006 #22

10 Awesome Gateway Games to Get You Into Board Gaming

Here is a list of some of the best games to get you started in the wonderful world of board gaming.

Read the full list at Playboy

 

We are living in a Golden Age of board gaming. Exciting indie Kickstarter projects bring innovative new concepts to the market. Big publishers like Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight Games successfully produce new high quality games every year. Board games come in all kinds of wonderful shapes and flavors, from deck-building card games to miniature wargames, and I truly believe there’s a great game out there for everyone.

Of course if you haven’t played a game since getting your ass kicked by dad in Monopoly all those years ago, you may not be aware of all these great games. Or worse, you may be intimidated by hefty rulebooks and boxes filled with dozens of pieces. Thankfully the industry is full of “gateway games” that are intuitively designed to ease you into this wonderfully social hobby. Here is a list of some of the best board games to get you started.

Read the full list at Playboy

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 4 Report

The runners try to sell the valuable commlinks and end up in the middle of a firefight.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Things wrapped up rather swiftly in our final session of “Splintered State.” The end of the published adventure is quite open-ended and very reactionary depending on whom the players decide to sell the commlinks to. I opted to eliminate the optional final run and instead use the meet as a staging ground for our climactic finale.

The commlink the players find early in the mission is mainly an excuse to suddenly make the runners big targets for many large organizations. They’re hunted and attacked through several scenes before everyone decides to play ball and offer them money.

Shadowrun splintered stateThere’s a bit of story going on but none of it really matters to the immediate plot. It was a bit unfortunate to be introducing this whole other plot involving FBI Agent Dietrich and Governor Brackhaven on top of our finale. To make it work I retconned Gregory Zane, one of the parties interested in the commlink and a shadowrunner working for Brackhaven, the main villain of our campaign.

The players had an opportunity to actually sell the commlink to Zane, as well as Ares or Mitsuhama for a sweet chunk of change. They chose to take the nobler path and sell to Eliza Bloom and Project Freedom, who vowed to take down Governor Brackhaven’s racist and terrorist activities. In hindsight I should’ve made Jeremiah Redd (their friendly fixer they rescued in “Not with a Whimper“) a member of Project Freedom. It would’ve fit perfectly since he was an ork and one of my players questioned him about it. I backpedaled not knowing if that would create some weird plot holes at the time, but it would’ve fit rather nicely and at least tied a few things together.

Instead my players were still left wondering why Zane went to all this trouble to hound them throughout the campaign, and attack them at the end. The players were in the midst of selling the commlink to some Knight Errant forces (whom they had actually battled previously in the adventure) when Zane showed up with a bunch of his own team to kill everyone and take the commlinks.

The final battle was filled with a dozen NPCs, but I quickly killed off many of them off screen to create a sense of chaos and deadly force. Zane’s team murdered most of the Knight Errant forces, then Mauta triggered some C4 she’d strategically laid around the windows and exits of their safehouse, killing some of Zane’s runners. The players had Detective Tosh Athack on their side, but hilariously my first roll with him caused an errant grenade to go off right in his face, knocking adept Falkirk unconscious.

shadowrun splintered state

The runners were actually pretty well fortified in the safehouse, and handled the battle fairly easily. Mauta’s sniper rifle is a one-woman wrecking crew, and nearly one-hit killed both Zane and his partner mage (the woman on the boat that mind controlled everyone at the end of “Road Rage“). Tosh took some heavy hits but revived Falkirk enough to get him up and stabbin’. Soon Zane had to retreat pitifully along with the mage and a single runner providing covering fire.

The players had successfully fought them off, and completed the transaction. Altogether they received 180,00 nuyen for their trouble, a huge increase compared to previous adventures, as well as a bunch of Karma points and some new contacts like Tosh. While the villain and overarching plot came up a bit flat, I think overall “Splintered State” did a fine job highlighting my players’ strengths of tactics, combat, and socializing with fun NPCs. Look for our full “Splintered State” recap episode next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Marvel Comics Final Thoughts – X-Factor, Vol. 6-7

The Secret Invasion tie-ins are awful but the rest is amazing, and X-Factor remains one of my favorite comics to read.

With Marvel’s popular and successful foray into films with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, I’ve finally decided to get back into comics. I grew up a big fan of X-Men and other superheroes but haven’t really kept up since the 90s. Thus begins my grand catching-up of the last ten years of Marvel comics, events and stories.

Thanks in large part to trade paperbacks and the digital convenience of Marvel Unlimited I can make relatively quick progress, and I’ll write down my Final Thoughts for each collection here on my blog. Like my gaming Final Thoughts, this will be full of spoilers. You’ve been warned!

x-factor volume 7Writer: Peter David

Artist: Larry Stroman (#33-36, 38), Valentine De Landro (#37, 39-45)

Issues: X-Factor #33-45

 

You know that TV show you love? The familiar characters that feel like long lost friends or a second family. The zany situations and clever callbacks that reward viewer commitment. The perfect blend of drama, comedy, and action.

I’ve read a lot of comics since subscribing to Marvel Unlimited digital service and I think I’m ready to declare that Peter David’s X-Factor is my favorite series to read.

As much prepared praise as I have for Volume 7, Volume 6 is actually quite terribly. Half Secret Invasion tie-in and half bringing in new characters in a regurgitated plot of bad guys experimenting on mutants, Volume 6 is also cursed with some of the worst art I’ve ever seen. Characters look like deformed alien monkeys with zero adherence to proportion or skeletal structure. It’s distractedly awful and even a stellar story would struggle to climb its way out of that mess.

The story is less than stellar. Thankfully the Secret Invasion tie-ins are only two issues long, as well as pointlessly crossing over with an issue of She-Hulk. I think it literally boils down to a random street fight with a single skrull.

It does introduce two new X-Factor members – dimensional playboy Longshot with his nebulous probability powers, and the constantly evolving Darwin fresh off the X-Men’s space adventures. Both end up as surprisingly neat characters in David’s capable hands, but in the immediate story following event tie-ins Darwin is captured and the rest of the team are hired to rescue him. It’s familiar ground that the comic has disappointingly tread before in the Complete Collection Volume 1, and wraps up all too easily.

x-factor #39It’s pretty rare for any story to go from its lowest point immediately to its highest, but that’s exactly what happens between Volumes 6 and 7. Syren is pregnant with Jamie’s baby from a drunken tryst during the Complete Collection Volume 2 that may or may not have involved one of his duplicates, and her water breaks right at the end of Volume 6.

In Volume 7, “Time and a Half,” the team rushes to the hospital for the dramatic birth. There’s an intriguing side story with Val Cooper of the O.N.E. trying to protect them. The mutants of X-Factor are understandably resentful of her involvement and fear for the baby, and once again David turns a seemingly minor throwaway character from a different comic into an interesting cast member.

Turns out the one they needed to fear was Madrox himself. In a supremely dark twist, Madrox holds his son for the first time only to absorb him like he does all his dupes. The baby was really the child of a dupe! Syren completely flips out and attacks him and the drama surrounding the event is deliciously crazy and awesome. Madrox’s unique powers and multiple personalities is fascinating, and together with his noir-ish inner monologue make Madrox one of the most compelling characters in Marvel comics.

Madrox reaches a low point and becomes suicidal as he leaves the team to search for a dupe he’d met earlier in the series (another awesome callback). John Madrox represents a life Jamie doesn’t have – a community leader and a loving family. Just when Jamie prepares to off himself, who should show up but the future-flung former member of X-Factor – the teenage psychic Layla Miller, now all grown up.

x-factor #42Layla (who’d teased earlier in the series that they’d be married some day), brings Madrox to the dystopian future of the Summers Rebellion. It picks up a lot of pieces from the Lalya Miller One-Shot but also acts decently on its own, considering there’s about four other stories happening concurrently. Syren and Val have a heart-to-heart girl bonding session over miscarriage. Guido and Rictor visit John Madrox only to be attacked by a mind-controlled Shatterstar. Darwin and Monet guard a new client who’s worried someone’s trying to kill her.

All the plot threads start coming together in a cool way, involving yet another mutant-targeting organization, but at least this one seems to tie in tons of previous events as well as drawing everyone together despite their different situations – and in some cases, timelines.

I say “seems to” because Volume 7 actually ends at a cliffhanger, to be resolved  in Volume 8. I try to organize these Final Thoughts so I’m not trying to cram too many issues in one write-up, but it was really hard not to sprint ahead and read Volume 8. Volume 7 had so many incredible moments and big plot-centric payoffs, and a big reason for that is maintaining the same comic show-runner throughout its run.

X-Factor has that perfect balance of soothing familiarity and exciting changes, all of which have been fantastic. My advice: skip Volume 6, “Secret Invasion” but read everything else, because X-Factor is nothing short of amazing.

x-factor #43

RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 Review [iPad]

The 2004 3D entry in the series is effectively ported to mobile devices with new touch screen controls and same great gameplay.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

rollercoaster tycoon 3

The RollerCoaster Tycoon series was one of the most beloved simulation games on PC. It gave players control of an entire theme park, tasking you with the simple but fun jobs of building rides, keeping your visitors happy, and making enough money to build more rides.

Originally released in 2004, RollerCoaster Tycoon 3 was the first to take the series 3D. Its big new feature was letting you ride your own custom-built coasters from a thrilling first-person perspective.

In a growing trend, the original developers have now created an iPad version of RCT3. The intuitive design meshes well with the new touch screen controls. However newcomers may be put off by the low-resolution graphics and somewhat slower pace.

Read the full review at Pixelkin

Shadowrun 5E “Splintered State” Session 3 Report

All hell breaks loose when the runners meet-up with an important contact at the zoo.

shadowrun

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.

Working off an official published adventure has been an interesting experience. It’s incredibly handy in a lot of ways, with lots of pre-made stat blocks for all the NPCs, hefty amounts of colorful descriptions, and even suggestions for how to tweak the challenge level of various encounters. Even then I can’t help but modify and change things to suit my needs. I can’t get into spoiler-y stuff just yet, but the recap episode should be especially fascinating.

In last night’s session the players had a clear objective in front of them – meet FBI Agent Seth Dietrich at the zoo. He offered to buy back his commlink for a cool 100,000 nuyen. While the pay was certainly nice, my players were much more interested in getting some answers to this confusing mystery.

Having a clear focus of where to go and what to do greatly motivates my players into tackling the objective in some fun ways. In this case they wanted to scope out the zoo location the day before the meet, and check to see if they’d be able to smuggle weapons in. I may have made them a tad paranoid – not only is the world of Shadowrun generally violent, but this adventure has been especially action-packed as the players have been attacked left and right.

In fact on their way to the zoo they noticed a car following them, and opted to pull over and ready their weapons. It proved to be a solid move as they made short work of the crazy cyborg Night Hunters that poured out of the car to attack them. A combination of Ursev’s ball lightning centered on the car and a barrage of bullets put most of the them down. I did the rest by rolling a 0 on a leaping charge attack from a very wounded attacker. I had him sail past his target and splatter on the sidewalk. Hey, as long as it’s fun I don’t mind failing miserably with my NPCs, and I’ll always play it up.

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At the zoo it was fun describing the various para-animals that inhabited the enclosures. Falkirk did a great job scouting out the areas and finding a hiding spot for their weapons that they tossed over the wall.

They next day they waltzed in through the entrance. Well, all but Saran the decker who really wanted to hack into the extensive security in order to bring his gun inside. He had failed at this task the previous day, also for no reason other than wanting to walk in with all his gear. His team mates balked at this and finally talked him down, where he went back to the car. I don’t think the decker role suits the player very well, but that’s also on me as someone who’s still not totally on board with how decking (or rigging) work in the obtuse Shadowrun rules.

Inside, the other three retrieved their weapons and met Dietrich in the reptile tunnel, next to the basilisk exhibit. Unfortunately while Dietrich’s body was there, his mind was not. It was currently occupied by someone named Jake Armitage (whom you may recognize from the old 16-bit Shadowrun game or the recent Shadowrun Returns).

Armitage was just as confused as the players as to his situation, alluding to the title of the adventure as well as the confusion surrounding the missing commlink. Like any good mystery it led to more questions than answers – especially when an unseen sniper tore a hole through Armitage/Dietrich’s throat at the height of their confusion.

shadowrun basilisk exhibit

All hell broke loose in the zoo – what you thought this was going to be easy? A pair of highly skilled assassins opened fire on both sides of the players as the basilisks burst through the glass. Falkirk and Ursev were sitting ducks, but Mauta actually got the jump on one of the assassins by being nonchalant at one end of the tunnel.

There were only two assassins but they were both more powerful than any of the PCs (skill and armor wise, at least). The players were also slightly under-equipped since they couldn’t smuggle in Ursev’s battle axe or Mauta’s sniper rifle. Thankfully for them the assassins didn’t want to stick around with UCAS Military Police converging on the location. They left the runners after a single round (though not before doing some significant damage) to deal with the basilisks.

My players have proven heroic in the past so I played up the screaming and crying of the crowd during the chaos, and had one basilisk attack a group of huddled school children in a corner. My players responded immediately with charging melee attacks and Mauta’s deadly shots, making fairly short work of the overgrown lizards – though not without a briefly enjoyable scare as one of them partially petrified Falkirk.

Saran was able to watch the video feeds and then shut down one of the assassins’ cyberware and weapons, further hastening their retreat. Unfortunately he really didn’t have anything to do for the round or two where only the basilisks remained – a bad design on my part. It speaks to our ineptitude at thinking of things a decker/hacker can do, most of which isn’t written in the adventure.

shadowrun

The players were able to blend in with the chaotic, surging crowd leaving the zoo, and escaped with relative ease. Mauta managed to grab the pouch of credsticks and a 2nd commlink that Dietrich had on him – something I specifically mentioned to the players during the conversation and hoped they’d remembered about. Maybe they’ll find some answers in this commlink.

They also have several pending messages from some contacts and unknown parties, no doubt pertaining to this hot potato of a commlink they have in their possession that everyone wants to get their hands on. This was one of our more enjoyable sessions with lots of laughter, jokes, and fun heroic moments in combat. Tune in next week!

Watch our sessions live on twitch.tv/gorbash722 every Sunday night beginning at 9:30pm Central. Catch up on previous sessions on YouTube.