Saturday 25 May 2024

Gangs of Titan City: solo session#1

When there aren't enough players available for a Friday lunchtime one hour sandbox game I try and get my RPG fix elsewhere. Recently I realised that I could probably make Gangs of Titan City work as a solo game, and went through session zero with myself to set up the character and world

Titan City aka Plutogia, picture from the original GoTC Primer

Well, that was fun and everything (and I confess to being quite excited to get into the meat of the game), but I still hoped I'd have enough players the following week to pick up City of Ghosts again. As it turned out, it wasn't long before I was back in Titan City again... and so here I am, starting with a MONTAGE.

( * m o n t a g e * )


~Opening montage~

The fugitive Tark, performing on stage in the guise of Madame Villette, subjects the audience to a baroque combination of biting stand-up, delicate chanson and surreal-yet-thought provoking performance art. Their old friend and colleague Bug manages a wry smile as he scans the faces of the enraptured audience in the cabaret room. He's confident no one noticed: since moving to this part of town, he's become well known for his grim countenance, and is secretly proud of the ironic moniker Smiler that he's been awarded. He checks for signs of trouble and/or possible marks, while ostensibly clearing empty glasses.

A rowdy gang of toughs muscle their way in, though the minor commotion they cause is not sufficient to break the spell of Madame Villette's performance. The bar manager Blind Willy Latif doesn't need enhanced optical implants to know these boys are part of the Lead Legion, and he'd managed to keep them out of his bar for a number of years now. His hand reaches beneath the counter for a terrifying looking cudgel, when something catches his wrist.

"If they're paying, their staying," says Carmen, whispering in Latif's ear. 

"I ain't havin' no bullet boys in my bar-"

"Whose bar, Willy?"

Willy grunts, releases the cudgel, and slopes off to the cellar. The three hoodlums approach the counter:

"What can I get you three fine gentlemen?" Carmen's face is trying its best to look charming.

"What're ya sellin', beautiful?" asks the group's leader

Carmen's face immediately sours, she shoots the man a murderous look... before remembering she's in the customer service game now, and does her best to smile:

"I can offer you three mugs of beet ale... I think anything else would be beyond your budget."

This retort lands surprisingly well, and Carmen serves the thugs their drinks to the sound of their throaty guffaws.

Down in the beer cellar, Ezra is attempting to find some peace and quiet. It's been tough living life on the lamb, first evading PSI-Squad and now his erstwhile employer, Wavelength. He wasn't sure what living in the Green Sector would entail before getting there, but the name New Eden definitely conjured up an environment more pastoral than a roadhouse bar and cabaret called Blind Willy's.

The thick concrete of the cool beer cellar was Ezra's temple, his meditation chamber. Above him, the noise of the bar was reduced to a droning thrum, an almost hypnotic mantra enabling him to attune his mind to the deeper whispers within the Titan City. Perfectly still, perfectly at peace, Ezra let the soul of the city wash over him like gentle waves on a beach...

...until the cellar door swings open and the full torrent of noise washes over Ezra like a tidal wave, followed by a grumbling Willy staggering noisily down to change a barrel of beet ale. The old man grumbles to himself at the place going to "rack and ruin" since "Smiler's people took over"... Ezra watches in silence, aware that Blind Willy can't see him. 

After he changes the barrel, Willy walks back up the wooden steps, pausing before opening the hatch. He sniffs the air:

"You comin' up to lend a hand, boy? We got mugs an' glasses that'll need collectin' an' washin'"

Ezra stayed silent.

"Whelp, I'll let Carmen know you're on hand if you're needed."

Ezra watched the old man leave. He tried to get back into the "zone", but the moment had passed. He sighs before ascending the stairs himself, before suddenly his attention is seized by a vision of a face he'd not seen in a long time: embittered and determined, an ugly face from his past...

...Agent Colm of PSI-SQUAD!

~Events table~

I rolled "2: A Rival adds a Hazard to the Danger Table". given that I mentioned Agent Colm, it's a good idea to use him as the rival. 

I also need to add a lead or a job to the danger table, courtesy the gang's contact, Rennia Ren. I'm guessing her ultimate goal is to use the gang's skills for her own social justice mission in her Arcology (i.e. against the Hypercorp, Empyreals and other authorities) but not sure how just yet. I rolled on the "jobs" table for Heartwards and got "The Enforcers have set up a hidden listening station somewhere on our turf. Destroy it!" This works as there's already a listening station in Arcology 23. Maybe the gang could repurpose it?

The Danger Table now looks like this:

  1. Wavelength move to locate and ultimately abduct Ezra
  2. Willy Latif resolves to reclaim his bar
  3. Carmen's secret is out: all the gang know that she is Sujo's ex-lover
  4. Agent Colm tracks Ezra to New Eden 
  5. Lead from Rennia Ren: The Enforcers have set up a hidden listening station somewhere in Arcology 23... destroy it!

~Gang Moves~

Probably a good idea to take a look at the gang's objectives and dynamic before deciding their first moves.

There's a bit of a few conflicts within the gang at the moment, though they have not yet bubbled up to the surface. Tark and Carmen are (mostly) keen for the quiet life, whereas Smiler (and Ezra, on the quiet) wants to destroy Wavelength for good. This dynamic is complicated by the fact Tark and Smiler are both slightly resentful towards Carmen and Ezra for "forcing their hand", and causing them to leave Wavelength before they were fully ready. despite their differences, Tark and Ezra find common ground in their outsider status (Ezra as a psion, Tark for their gender fluidity). Conversely, Smiler and Carmen are former lovers currently on an extended break.  

In any case, the gang need cash money to live: despite the roaring trade, running the bar isn't helping out too much as they're paying exorbitant rates to the the local brewer. The brewer is in the pocket of The Lead Legion, whom all gutters are keen to stay on good terms with until they're better established.

Immediately a job springs to mind: rob the dray after it's stocked up the bottle shops and bars of the neighbouring hab unit ward... and make it look like it was the work of the Misshapers, known to be hiding out somewhere in New Eden!

Smiler, came up with the idea for this job. He's had a few minor run-ins with local Lead Legion capo Scorgio and loves the idea of pulling one over him... but they need to gather intel first so that'll be down to Tark.

After Ezra tells Carmen about his dream, she's keen to find out if PSI-Squad is active in the area, so also decides to gather intel around the vice den in the centre of the sector, operated by Lead Legion. She's going to see if she can exploit the rapport she established with some of the Lead Legion's gutters during the previous night's service. 

Meanwhile, Smiler has decided to head down to the the Misshapers territory (they are a minor faction in this sector) and see if he can get some of their disenchanted mutant street gutters to help him out. In the short term, the idea is that they're going to take half of the hijacked cargo, including the vehicle, ensuring its not traced back to Smiler. Ideally they'll also provide some stolen motorcycles so the gang can make off with their share of the cargo back to base. In the long run Smiler's plan is to take this claim (Eager Hopefuls) from the Misshapers and  recruit the mutant gutters as a squad,.  

A. Tarquin's Gather Intel

Tark is going to use  their spend a few days in disguise as an old drunk, getting an idea of the routes and times the draymen take. They also plan to spy on the draymen to establish how heavily armed and armoured they are, whether they have additional security and, as a bonus, how likely they are to accept bribes.

If Tarquin  had a player, it's likely they'd argue that they can use Tarquin's specialism in stealth and approach this intel gathering move using exploit. However, Tark doesn't have a player so I'm ruling that they're to use appeal (as they need to use charisma to create a convincing disguise) and it will be a flat 2d6 test.

I roll 2 and 6 = 8, partial success

In the context of an intel roll partial success means:

The Gutter makes a specific and useful discovery about one of the Operation’s obstacles awaiting the Gang, but the local security forces detect their intrusion. The Narrator describes an avenue of approach that is either cut off or heavily reinforced. 

At this early stage it is absolutely imperative for Tark that he goes undetected: this is a minor disaster! We can imagine that a local enforcer has clocked Tark going from bar to bar and bottle-shop to bottle-shop- maybe even recognise them from their performances as Madame Villette at Blind Willy's (might be pushing it?)- time to use some desperation.  

Gutters also have access to Desperation, which can be used to push beyond their normal limits (for more about Desperation, see page 104). Once a Player rolls a Test, they can take 1 point of Desperation to reroll one Die from that Test before determining its outcome.

If a player in a conventional game asked to use desperation, I'd ask them to tell me what that looks like. In this instance, we can imagine Tark realises they're being followed at attempts to do something crazy, to ham up their roleplay to throw the enforcer of the scent.

I re-rolled the two, achieving four: Tark is has now achieved a full success. For gather intel, that looks like this:

the Gutter makes a specific and useful discovery about one of the Operation’s obstacles and learns a critical piece of information about the obstacle, such as a weakness, particular quirk, or useful opportunity.

Tark has worked  out the following:

  • Most of the small bars and bottle shops receive irregular deliveries
  • The dray visits 2 bars every night: one in a highly visible area pretty close to the enforcers' precinct and one on the outskirts of the hab block where there's not too many enforcers or Lead Legion cronies
  • The drivers change regularly, and are armed with cattle prods only
I decided Tark wasn't able to work out the corruptibility of the drivers at this stage.

B. Carmen's Gather Intel

Carmen is going to go to the Vice Den operated by Lead Legion, The Serpent in the Garden. She's going to hang out in the bar for an evening, keeping an eye out for any Lead Legion gutters she's met at Blind Willy's, and try to get some info using the rapport she's established with them before. She wears her trademark broad-brimmed hat and poncho, but with her auburn hair down.

Carmen is using an appeal-led approach, not her best stat (0), but I think she can get a +1 as she'll be dealing only with those she's familiar with. She rolls 9 which is a partial success, but this is boosted to a full success thanks to the circumstantial bonus I applied: ordinarily the Bullet Boys would think there was something off about their favourite bar maid materialising out of nowhere and asking them lots of questions about psi-squad, but they genuinely think she might be into them on some level.

They at least discover that she can handle her drink, and Carmen extracts the following from them over the course of the night:

  • They haven't seen psi-squad in New Eden for years- if they were here it'd be to check-in on the territory under Misshaper control
  • There's word of a PSI Agent fitting Colm's description ruffling feathers around Little Titan
This is the info she was after, but she has to stay around for a little longer to make her cover convincing. She drinks the 3 gutters under the table and catches a hover-bike taxi home in the early hours.   

C. Smiler's Arrange a Meeting

Smiler is getting ahead of himself in attempting to lure a whole claim and squad: he first needs to arrange a meeting with the disgruntled Misshaper capo.

Kayvan Hoo is identified as the person to speak to, following a convoluted chain of comms leading all the way up to Rennia in the adjoining sector. Kayvan is the daughter of a mutant activist fallen on tough times and leading a small squad of misfits in the service of the Misshapers. She is athletic, hairless, and almost entirely turquoise in colour. She rarely laughs, but when especially pleased issues a gurgling trill from the back of her throat. She carries an antique longsword which can be electrified if required. 

Smiler elects to play it completely straight: he lays out all his plans, short and long term, secure in the knowledge that Kayvan Hoo doesn't know exactly who he is (though she's had her own contacts vouch for him) and can disappear without fear of reprisal from Lead Legion or the Misshapers if she rebutts him. she's mildly enthused, but wants to see how this first operation goes, and wants cash up front.

  • Contact bonus: One of the Contact’s interests closely aligns with yours (kick The Misshapers out of the claim).
  • Contact drawback: They’re “falling on tough times” and need you to take on 2 Debt to help them out.
Smiler's People will get the dray truck to Kayvan's squad, split the cargo then trade the truck for two stolen jet bikes. They now have 2 DEBT.

Operation Phase

To break the narrative of the preceding, a solo player this represented an interesting juncture: the first operation! I'm trusting my instinct that I can just allow genre literacy to guide the decisions I make as GM, and allow the characters to follow their own instincts. Hopefully I won't need any additional tools (i.e. outside my brain and the sourcebook) to shape the narrative.

Though I ran out of time to put it into action, I think I'll devote an entire session to the operation phase next time I sit down at the table, structured like this:

  1. Planning: the book breaks this down a) into setting objectives b) choosing gear and c) starting the operation. Because I'm the sole player, these elements will sort of get mashed together while I come up with an idealised plan of action, maybe with contingencies ("plan B")
  2. The main driver will therefore be the gang's plan: f they roll well, things will go as intended... partial successes and failures will either push the desperation up or send things off the rails. I'm going to follow the flowchart on p.158 of the core rules:

1. the narrator presents an immediate situation or dilemma; 2. the players reply by describing their goals for the situation and how they want to achieve them; 3. the narrator decides if there is risk or danger inherent in their actions; 4. if there isn’t risk, the gutters accomplish their goals. If there is risk, the narrator tells them what they need to do to achieve their goals, potentially requiring a test or using an advancement or other resource. 5. once all tests and resource uses are resolved, the narrator describes the results of the gutter’s actions. 6. continue this process by presenting and addressing new situations one after another to represent the gutters working through the operation as it evolves.
Page 158 Gangs of Titan City, alt-text provided

Fundamentally, between operations the danger table should provide further complications: right now, the gang are new players on the scene: they have the advantage of surprise. That said, we'll see whether the second operation is "dramatic" enough to warrant the introduction of a further complication mechanic.

I'm also doing this theatre of mind, as per the book: beyond the sector map locations are vague (though atmospheric). It's a narrative game, after all! Again, we'll see how that works: it's quite far away from the skirmish based spire-meets-grimlite-meets-Necromunda I had planned just before gangs was kickstarted

So: the next session will be the operation phase, session 3 will deal with fallout (and possibly the prep phase of the next operation. They may or may not appear as two separate reports, let's see! I'm hoping to get another session of City of Ghosts in come next Thursday (30th May) , and if that goes ahead I'll prioritise getting that out prior to any GoTC reports.


Thursday 23 May 2024

D12 Meteoric Metals

I had a draft of the post D12 Anomalous Orbs sat unpublished for long enough to justify its "retroactive dating", so it sits neatly in the April posts... but this is genuinely hot-off-the-press, unadulterated May 2024 content just for you.

When I first used the phrase STAR METAL in PARIAH volume 1 I imagined the reader would assume this to be meteoric iron, though I made no explicit statement regarding its nature... though a while back I washed my hands of a monster created by cryptomnesia known as an Ancient One  Now fully immersed in UFO lore and the existence of supposed “exotic materials”, I thought it would be fun to come up with a list of alternative material properties for “star metal”. In addition to the usual fantasy sources, this table was inspired by anecdotal accounts from ufology and the preindustrial metallurgists and alchemists. There used to be a spiritual element (pun intended) to material science which is sadly lacking today!

Metallic cube photographed from an axometric perspective, fills most of the frame. Light silver and grey metal, criss-crossed with what might at first appear to be artificial engravings or scratches are in fact a structural property of the metal. An annotation indicates the cube's edge dimension of 5cm
Cubic of polished meteoric iron illustrating the Widmanstaetten structure

Monday 13 May 2024

GANGS OF TITAN CITY: Solo experiment, session zero

As part of my continuing effort to squeeze in some tabletop action wherever I can, I've been hosting a weekly, open-table, no strings drop-in sandbox every Friday lunchtime (whenever life permits). Occasionally the stars align, and we get a short but sweet hour of exploratory roleplay: you can read all the play reports at this link right here.

Sometimes, things don't go to plan: to show my commitment (and scratch that RPG itch), I've decided to start a solo-game of GANGS OF TITAN CITY. I backed the Kickstarter nearly 2 years ago (have a look at my review of the quickstart here), yet the odds of me getting it to the table any time soon remain relatively slim. For this and other reasons, it was an obvious choice.

A stylised, almost woodcut inspired image of an ogre-sized being in orangey browns, blasting into the top corners of the frame, behind them a pink white inferno burns
The alternative cover to GotC, by Rollin Kunz

You can order a copy of this excellent game here