Having taken a look in our previous installments at the City and the Factions that we created for our Karma in the Dark game, its probably time that we took a look at our leads! The base unit of Karma is a team of crooks toeing the line between striving and selling out… and its these desperate folks that we’ll be following on their adventures.
Our group decided on a crew of Cleaners… that being cleaners in the Jean Reno sense, specializing cover-ups, frame jobs, and at the extreme end outright assassination. Their lair is tucked away in the guts of a long abandoned tower block in the labyrinthine heart of Metro East’s decaying coastal highrises. Though partially collapsed, the team is in the process of stripping the building for resources.
Having chosen Anarchy as their Ideal, they’re going to need all of the resources they can get… but with their Tenacious rep and a knack for getting others to take the blame for their misdeeds, if anybody’s going to get away with it.
Jury the Rigger (Tech Jockey)
The teams resident tech head and getaway driver, Jury grew up in the elegant surrounds of one of the Clan capsule communities until the orcish tusks and muscles manifested along with puberty. Packed away to a vocational education away from prying eyes, Jury makes most of his money as a mechanic down in the lower levels these days. Despite little hints of sentimentality for his upbringing, Jury prefers a world where people have a purpose of their own, rather than being viewed as disposable.
Rebellion: Consumerism, Virtue: Give new purpose to the forgotten, Look: Mechanic Chic
Having made an unceremonious exit from her Clan after an unforgivable betrayal, Evie refined her understanding of the Source to push her body past the limitations of the petty laws of physics. As a highborn and an elf, she enjoyed a more refined upbringing than her compatriots, which made the fall more even more scarring, leaving Evie distrustful and wary of authority structures. Admittedly, when you’re a Source-fueled brawler who can free-run up sheer glass walls, structures begin to feel less and less real.
Rebellion: Exploitation, Virtue: I keep my promises, Look: Goth Clergy, Jaded: Distrust
If a life spent in and out of prison taught Bertrand anything, it was how to keep his head down. With a knack for co-opting social groups and a will to collapse concentrated power, he knows that power isn’t established by violence or strength, but by having others willing to use those for you. Understated, unobtrusive and on the run, Bertrand acts as a parasite living in the body of large and dangerous factions, and for now remains undetected… only time will tell how much damage he can do.
Rebellion: Monopoly, Virtue: I will feed the hungry, Look: Grey and Greasy
Fixer: Granny Lock
The ageing matriarch of an ever larger clan of low grade street criminals, Granny Lock has her ear to a lot of keyholes, including a string of recent coffee dates with Doctor Pierce of the Tailors’ Union. Granny shifts seamlessly between nurturing and ruthless; she knows from harsh experience that the city runs on the law of the wild, but also that its impossible to survive there alone. To her, the team are somewhere between adopted wastrels and a tentative retirement plan… no sense letting such talent go to waste, after all…
Traits: Ambitious, Patient, Drive: Secure the family’s future, Circle: Organised Crime
Tune in this Sunday to see what happens when the City and the Team collide…
Having given a description of our future-Sydney, Metro East, in last weeks post, lets take a look at some of its inhabitants. Building factions is collaborative in Karma in the Dark, and you can basically make as many as you like. With our team of ne’er do wells inhabiting an abandoned building down near the flooded districts and the industrial zones, that strongly influenced the flavour of our factions, and Karma gives you a lively nest of vipers right out of the gate.
The Marine Patrol Corps (Police Faction)
A municipally funded force has the primary function of keeping a lid on any crime and unrest in the city’s vital aquacultural centres. Painfully underfunded and thinly stretched, the MPC would have their work cut out for them if it was just jittery unions they had to worry about; with the continuing campaign of sabotage perpetrated by the Circle of the Tides they are beginning to get desperate. Their shows of force might not be enough to stop the situation from boiling over… they need up to date gear and boots on the ground, fast, and they are getting rapidly less picky about who supplies those.
Drive: Order, Goal: Acquire Up to Date Hardware, Methods: Shock and Awe, Crackdowns
Relevance: 5 (Pervasive, Protective)
The Circle of the Tides (Arcane Faction)
A loose conclave of mystics, beast speakers and environmental extremists who have taken the Outbreak’s mission to annihilate technology as their own, seeking to defend a natural world that each day grows more complex and dangerous with each day. With extensive knowledge of the city’s flooded districts, powerful magic and a bestiary of awakened animals at their disposal, they seek to rid the coastline of exploitative resource extraction and return to the world to a state of balance. Viewed by some outsiders as misguided and others as a deranged death-cult, the Circle nonetheless continues its mission in places where those same outsiders would struggle to survive.
Drive: Defend the Natural World, Goal: Disrupt the Kelp Farms, Method: Secrecy, Hit and Run
The Circus Maximus (Entertainment Faction)
The Circus is a loose alliance of celebrities, entertainers and their myriad support staff, driven by the whims of the Oligarchs’ patronage and sharpened by their precarious position. With the favour of the great clans comes some of the benefits they enjoy, including the coveted biotech and longevity treatments… as long as one can hold the spotlight. Their power comes from being able to make or break reputations, and cultivation of powerful friends… though some whisper their attempts to secure monopoly rights in the burgeoning international market are their first step in replacing the nobility they have imitated for so long.
Drive: Power, Goal: Acquire an export monopoly, Method: Social Engineering
Relevance: 5 (Pervasive, Trendsetting)
Circus Maximus Agent: Clint Burgundy
Clint was one of the beautiful people once, but that was a long time ago. With the good life of sex, drugs and loud music having turned him into something of a greasy walnut of a human male, he clings on to his place in C-Max as a broker, enabler and troubleshooter. The team has landed on his Shit List due to their cover-up activities… if there’s a PR clusterfuck looming, Clint wants to be the one in control of it.
The Tailor’s Union (Crime Faction)
In Metro East, the rich get access to tailored bioware, and the finest medical care that can be found. For everyone else… there’s the Tailor’s Union. Where there is a demand a supply will surface soon enough, and the Union have a strong hand in keeping the city’s poor and desperate alive, running the black clinics, pharmaceutical smuggling and illegal cybernetics that keep the human element from breaking down. The fact that they cement this position with a merciless network of blackmail and a small army of augmented assassins has not done anything to hurt their reputation.
Drive: Expand criminal empire, Goal: Inflitrate the MPC, Method: Secrecy and Terror
Relevance: 4 (Consuming)
Tailor’s Union Agent: “Doctor” Francis Pierce
A quiet, almost monkish demeanour hides the scalpel sharp mind of “Doctor” Pierce, with the willowy troll being perhaps the most capable surgeon ever to have their license revoked. Not cruel, or malicious, they might best be described as efficient, whether in an improvised operating room or aboard a smuggling sub… and they owe the team one, on account of some help with some personal problems…
Artemis Pharmaceutical Futures (Corp Faction)
The local branch of APF has seen better days… a long way from their patron’s heartland, the lab has been struggling to produce the results that they need to avoid being written off as a loss come next review. The Head of Research is going to need to get creative… especially after a rather nasty chemical spill that they may or may not have been responsible for. There’s a lot to worry about, but Artemis aren’t to be written off just yet; they might not be a big lab, but their parent corporation doesn’t like competitors messing with their assets…
Drive: Secure more funding for research, Goal: Cover up recent accident, Method: Market Manipulation
Relevance: 4 (Protective)
Tune in next week, and we’ll meet the team!
Well, the Liberation Industries team took to the world and character creation section of our Karma in the Dark game with characteristic gusto. The full recording of this technologically hobbled session is still available through the Whimsy and Metaphor Twitch, and should surface on our Youtube pretty soon. But for those in the Too Long, Didn’t Listen camp… I’m going to do a few quick blog posts here to summarize the results, and whet your appetites for when the next live sessions air.
Welcome to Metro East
Now Karma offers us some downright robust world building tools; though the game’s elevator pitch is probably “Blades Powered Shadowrun” its got a lot more going for it than that, and can basically handle all of your magic cyberpunk needs. It lets you build a world with a strong focus on privilege, and the exact avenues that power is expressed in that dystopia.
Naturally, we decided to set our game in Sydney, Australia. Or at least, what’s left of it.
Power is influenced by three factors in Karma, chosen by the players at the start of the campaign. Our group chose Metatype as one factor in a nod to classic Shadowrun; elves and humans have an easier time negotiating society than their goblinoid cousins. The other two factors we chose were Bloodline and Property, with family ties to the Oligarch Clans offering a measure of protection, and a citizen’s social clout strongly resting on how much capital they can bring to bear.
With that in place, we have a distinctly neo-feudal city.
Glittering Heights, Murky Depths
Even before the magical Outbreak hit, Metro East was not doing so well. With its lower levels subsiding in ever greater floodwaters and further growth choked by geographical restrictions, the skyline grew desperately taller, clawing for the sky even as the building’s foundations were swallowed by the sea. The city grew upwards in layers, like a mad termite mound.
Then the Outbreak struck, and the world changed completely. With the return of magic to the world, technology that had been the lifeblood of a globalised economy – wireless communication, positioning satellites, even long distance radio – went silent in the face of a global magical susurrus. Technology had to be rebuilt in shielded, wired form, and cities were left to fend for themselves. It is a metropolis of text-fed terminals, flickering hologram billboards, and murky phone booths with gnarled nerve-jack leads swinging in the ever present storm winds.
The crash was eighty years ago, and only now are we returning to the globalised world that was lost. So far, even the great corporations have been unable to challenge the primacy of the City States, but with more ships arriving in Metro East from abroad every day, that may be set to change.
It is a city of great divisions. Industry is driven by intensive, exploitative aquaculture and risky ocean mining, offset by a ravenous urge for respect that has manifested in a cutting edge fashion scene. The Oligarchs maintain their hold through monopolies on the most alarming magic – they say the rites of divination that keep them ahead of their rivals are unspeakably horrid – and access to the best medical care. They have developed a taste for flaunting their elegant, tailored bioware, the symbol of their coveted longevity, with the fashion for gauzy, revealing garments that display humanity’s augmented peak. For the kelp-fed poor, crude cyberware can be the difference between life and death, but social pressure often drives it to be covered; given the harsh weather, the working classes make their way in shrouds and bulky raincoats through the torrid, waterlogged industrial quarters. Life expectancy gets lower the deeper you go.
Metro East is viewed by outsiders as both an enclave of vain upstarts, and a pit of desperate criminal savagery… and both of these statements are true.
Tune in next week, and we’ll take a look at some of the City’s movers and shakers, at least in the tumbledown neighbourhood our characters inhabit. If you have any questions, drop a comment, or have a look at Cass K Designs; this game comes thoroughly recommended!
Hey hey imaginary listeners!
We are taking the Liberation Industries magic into the modern age with the help of Whimsy and Metaphor, and taking our teeth to Cass K’s fantastic Shadowrun/Blades in the Dark hybrid, Karma in the Dark!
The show will be airing on Twitch at 7pm tomorrow (Sunday 1st April), Australian Eastern Standard Time. The first session will be mostly world creation, but for the die-hards among you I look forward to seeing you there!
Apologies for the accidental hiatus we have been on for the first half of the month, imaginary listeners.
Due to the terrors of house moving we have been without a reliable internet connection here at Liberation Industries, but with that reestablished and things settling back to a modicum of sanity, we should have your usual transmissions flying out later in the week.
We’re gonna be doing our darndest to have you all caught up by the end of the month, as frankly leaving bandwidth fallow feels… wrong, somehow. So for now, just this.
We’re not dead yet, listeners. We just don’t exist.
Well, we certainly played a lot of it. There’s probably 45 or so hours stacked up in our backlog so far, so you would have thought we’d have picked up some Wisdom renown.
In short, we probably didn’t, and we’re the same dysfunctional freaks we started as. But here’s a few things for those who might be interested in WtF Second Edition who put their trust in internet weirdos.
Slice of Life
This may be our default means of playing, but the updated pack creation, Wolf Blood and Lunacy mechanisms play into this really beautifully. Your werewolf pack is, by default, part of a much larger community… which makes it real hard to take the Murderhobo route, as was seen in Payment in Kind. With Lunacy being less of the Masquerade protection it used to be, you can’t rely on people forgetting your carnage, and even PCs seem less willing to kill an enemy if its one that can fish up embarrassing childhood stories about them.
Tactical Nuclear Gauru
Yeah, the huge regenerative capacity of the war form has been a sticking point for some posters online, but in my mind it combines the best of the wuxia second wind trope and a weird game of mutually assured destruction. Lets just say that the advantage isn’t as huge as it seems once you fight people who actually have an idea how Uratha tick, which incidentally includes the ubiquitous swarms of spirits, the Azlu and Beshilu, and those oh-so-buff Predator Kings. Oh, and… any group willing to pin down a giant and devour them Lilliput style. Ouch.
Also, a well built Rahu is murder incarnate. Grandpappy Fever was no pushover, but sometimes your bonuses do lead to seventeen successes…
This led to some fun moments of nudist comedy, but once the pack got to a balanced level it seemed to become less important. Perhaps a default “hit a breaking point and gain Conditions” would have been better, with Flesh-Locked and Spirit-Locked being the dramatic failures in either direction. I think the Harmony gauge is a relic from previous edition, but like all elements of the CoD toolbox, you can discard whatever you like. Which leads us to…
Conditions, Conditions, Conditions
These are great. Print the deck, and for any extreme occurrence, you have something tangible for the player to nurse. Love ’em, best thing God Machine did.
… is something I don’t think I said once in all 29 episodes. Basically, we put a slightly modified Down and Dirty Combat system up front and center, as… well, Werewolf, to our minds, shouldn’t feel like an Errol Flynn thrust-parry-riposte-dodge-lock-break-taunt-repeat routine. You’re rolling at the same time as your opponent because you are crashing into each other at speed with each trying to tear something vital out of the other. We let defense count, as it pays to have a guard up, but otherwise we never used the turn-based combat system.
This Story is True
I quite like this little recurring phrase in the book, as it really drives home the fact that most of the Werewolf tribes’ founding mythology is… hearsay at best. In the end we kinda doubled down on this, with most tribes claiming their totem as the eldest, giving contrary information, and extolling the grand cosmic importance of the refreshments table. This played into our new players insecurities, and it took a long time for the pack to shake the idea that Destroyer Wolf wasn’t a Pure totem. I also took some liberties with tribal backgrounds, but more importantly with their current human manifestations: Jonah’s Ivory Claws present themselves more like the Bene Gesserit than neo-nazis, the modern Blood Talons are mostly ex-military burnouts, and… well, it wasn’t much of a stretch to make the Hunters in Darkness completely nuts.
After all, just because your god is still up and lumbering around the Deep Shadow doesn’t mean they’re sane.
We love Werewolf. That’s probably pretty obvious, but it is a rock solid toolbox for your middle-crunch gamer. If you wan’t to run a game that explores family, community, and the slow disintegration of a dying warrior clade, you can do a lot worse than this one.
Keep on rocking listeners.
It has come to our attention here at Liberation Industries that we have been publishing a regular podcast for nearly two years without engaging in any kind of “social media”. Apparently this media is something that humans do.
So we have established beach-heads to begin a process of media socialization, and you are free to utilize the boltholes that we have established below.
We also have a charming new banner courtesy of Fred, who has been hard at work over at Mimic not being a marmot.
Liberation Industries out.
And a grand Festivus to you all from the team here at Liberation Industries.
Got a couple of little bits of news for you now that dread 2017 (which crazy cult was it that predicted the end times for this year?) has finally borne down upon us. The first is, as prophesied, our early Apocalypse World sessions are due to be stricken from the internet due to our inconsistent approach to web hosting and inability to pay more than the bare minimum. Shouldn’t happen with anything we deployed after that, but if you want ’em, now is the time to grab ’em.
The second piece of news is that this darling New Year weather has not killed us yet, so we’ll be coming at you with Werewolf over the next few weeks with a spooky as can be return to the Devil John Moulton after that.
And as a New Year gift Dandy, who plays Sleeves in our Crescent Coast Werewolf game, has drawn these super cute chibis of Alex, Ava and Sleeves, the three teenage lycanthropes currently terrorizing the northern New South Wales coastline. So enjoy.
Well, for those of you who listened to our Devil John Sessions, you’ll recognise that we all had a pretty good time.
Some of that was the rum. Some, but not all of it. It was very nice rum though.
In the interest of seeing this cool little game get a bit more polish as it develops further, we at Liberation Industries figured we’d jot down a few of our thoughts regarding how it played.
As possible points of interest, we didn’t have the official character sheets, and had to jerry rig some which in retrospect made the game very slightly more lethal. Which in a one shot session was ok, but it did skew the game slightly.
The other thing was that I had played copious amounts of Hard West before GMing this session, and it was a pretty serious influence. In case it wasn’t absolutely clear, by knowledge of Catholicism, indigenous myth, demonology, and ritual magic radically outstrips my knowledge of United States history, which probably coloured this session and later ones a bit.
Anyway, I’ll break this down into rough pros and cons.
Stuff We Liked
Character Creation Cards
These were a real winner. I loved that in a western themed game your character creation is a card based mini-game, which felt very evocative. The passing of cards between the players also made a nice prelude to the themes of guilt and devil’s bargains that the game features so heavily, with each player trying to second guess what shade of poison their compatriots would send them. The last card was almost inevitably terrifying.
It is a quick way to create characters with interesting and very troubled pasts, and means that both players and GM are given an avenue to create anti-heroes without chickening out with their prior acts of evil. You can take this to redemption or damnation with equal ease in play, which I think is great.
In future, I think it would be great if the deck could be expanded with more options; like a lot of what we found, it was a good number for a one off session, but trying to add new characters in later sessions led to a lot of repetition.
Its simple, its elegant, and it works perfectly. The fact that your pact will always work gets people thinking more creatively, trying to bring their horrifying powers to bear in a manner that actually helps makes for interesting situations.
Then there’s the repayment. As a GM I love any element that incentivises the players acting to promote chaos and something other than their own best interests, and really keeps the game full of surprises.
Of anything, I hope this element is the one that doesn’t change.
Stuff We’re Not So Sure On
In honesty, I don’t think we minded the combination of dice as a combination of your skills and a death-clock. It did feel a little clumsy at times, but on a later playthrough we found that the system became much easier to follow once we had the official character sheets.
The roll low element was a bit strange, with the pasts that cemented a characters competence making the rolls higher on average. This was sort of played off by the fact that a higher dice allowed more use of the “re-roll until you make it” system, but it still felt a little counter-intuitive at times.
In contrast to the very collaborative, rules light “indie” elements of town creation, character creation and demonic pacts, the dice system feels almost out of place, though I struggle to think of an alternative that would be appropriate. Perhaps a bidding system like Insylum or Undying, with characters receiving different coloured poker chips based on the four stats, which would be in line with the games other tactile elements.
As I said, not a bad element for a game by any means, but it may be worth shaking things up a little.
The extended hunt for the Immortal Bastard is a handy framing construct, with the collaborative element once again allowing players to shape their story as well as the identity and motives of the main villain.
The problem we noted is the level of lethality, and even with the short-chase option there is a very strong chance of an old style Call of Cthulhu-esque ending where none of the characters at the finale were there at the start. Not saying this is bad; the system works beautifully for a poignant, Seven Samurai style showdown, but feels a little harsh if you want to actually reach the end of your search.
Whether this is handled by more opportunities for healing between towns, or perhaps a more cinematic approach to each session, or even just more options to choose when you all meet your destiny – say, “It was in the fourth town that we found him, but this is the story of the first.” – might give more options for campaign play.
I weigh whether the final showdown with the Immortal Bastard should be a question of dice at all, whether we couldn’t use a newer-fangled collaborative thing to decide how it ends. But perhaps that’s just my rules aversion talking.
What I will say is that it is gritty as all hell, which I suspect was the intention.
I would thoroughly recommend you check out the Devil John Moulton, available through Drivethrurpg, and add your voices to this infernal choir we’ve now joined. Nick Wedig has produced a very promising alpha that we would like to see developed further.
Its a very timely addition to the Western genre, and with a recent revival of interest in revisionist works, it means you as players can play out the stories that you want to see.
So jump on and show it some love.
Keep on Rockin’.
Heya folks. Got some good news and some bad news.
Bad news is that I didn’t have enough bandwidth to publish the final installment of Devil John at the end of the month. Part of that is the funny alignment of the Gregorian Calendar and my fortnightly publishing cycle, and part of it is the addition of playtest info to give as much data for the Devil John’s development as possible.
Whichever reason is responsible, the next episode will be delayed a week.
The good news is that I was able to use the tail end of my bandwidth to archive an old production of Satyros Comedy Society, the whacked out radio play Jerks in Space. First four episodes are up, and you can expect the others in the near future.
Couldn’t leave you without some entertainment, now could we?