Total Pageviews

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Campaign Notes From ARCON XI 2012

Shaolin Samurai

Here is the story from our Shadows of Syracuse adventure held at ARCON XI by the StoryTellers' Guild at SUNY Oswego the last weekend of April, 2012. It was based on my home brewed noir urban fantasy hero setting "Shadows of Syracuse: Wonder Tales from the distant Present". This year, I used the rediscovered hero system "Villains & Vigilantes" to create some of the old school feel to the game.

Syracuse is an old upstate city struggling with expanding crime and a poor economy, with strong ethnic neighborhoods. Unaware to most of it's citizens, it is also at the intersection of the Five Mystical Circles of Power, the resident base of the estranged members of the Imperial Family of the Galactic Empire, and Ground Zero of the coming Apocalypse - the true center of the Universe. Several citizens have in various ways been touched by these forces and have received hyper-natural or supernatural powers. But this has cast them from the full light of day and made them targets of even greater forces they do not fully understand. They must try to carve their own way in the hidden recesses of the enchanted city.

This often means privateering for the various factions working to manipulate the direction of these forces. Our touched characters, natural born citizens who have received powers, have been recruited by Catholic Charities: Special Lichtensteinian Refugee Services Branch: (LRS) has contacted and called a meeting with them to help them with a serious internal matter. The archbishop in charge of the local organization cannot be it's recognized authority unless he possesses the original charter document. But during the last transition of power, an agent of Destiny Corps. and one of it's Corporate Ninjas (not a metaphor) has stolen the document and hid, to gain control over the LRS "assets". The intended successor has been de facto regent secretary but cannot rule fully. Only recently, by recovering one of the other victims of the Villain, have they been able to find where he is. However, he has picked a particularly reinforced place to protect himself - the Hotel Syracuse. A landmark of the city, the Great Hotel has seen hard times in recent years. Guests who stayed during the NCAA tournament complained of yellowing sheets and "a strange smell". Businesses in the ground floor have closed their shops and the property has been purchased by an Israeli interest. But the word in the Shadows is that some dark force has claimed hold of the building and scared away all the normal customers and that these other interests are seeking to contain the dark.

The only person to come out from that darkness is this recovered hostage. But she seems to have "Stockholm Syndrome". She is desperate to return to her former captor. So the plan is for our heroes to follow her lead back to the Ninja, defeat him, and recover the charter.

In late evening, she directs the group to enter the service entrance on the far side of the hotel front. Showing them a secret stairway, they descend steps to a sub- sub- sub- basement. This chamber seems more like a natural cave formation than a human structure, except the walls are covered of a strange crystalline material, "Watch your step. This is very slippery" the hostage says. Exploring reveals a few passages away from the main chamber but they arc dangerously down into deeper caves. The heroes decide not to go further. In the center of the chamber is an elevator shaft with an old elevator car from the early years of the hotel. After debating various strategies, the heroes decide to just take the car up. The hostage reveals a secret key which she inserts in a hidden keyhole which activates the car.

The heroes get the distinct impression that the car is going up higher than the actual height of the building. The car stops in the service corridor in he center of what looks like a typical floor of the hotel. The heroes have maps of standard floor plans from the public library. The other elevator shafts are sealed in concrete and useless. The hostage warns that some areas have been damaged by collapsed structure and some have been sealed off. But the way to her "dear one" should be accessible. The elevator does not go all the way up. They have to find the stairs to the upper level.

There are only three stairwells and the one in the service area is completely sealed up. The heroes then step into the elevator lobby. One of them. Using his magnetic power, opens all the room doors to insect the rooms. Contrary to the map, it appears that the hallways extend indefinitely long in opposite directions. Looking for an open stairwell, the heroes go in one direction and discover that this appearance is an illusion created by mirrors that block the way to the stairs. Using incorporeality, one hero passes through the mirror and peels off strips of the backing so all can see through the glass. He also discovers that the second stairwell is completely caved in.

He and another hero, looking through the glass, sense danger and see something at the end of the corridor - a pair of children in nightshirts. Suddenly, the group discovers that they are surrounded by the Hungry Dead - former guests of the hotel who died there but have come alive as hungry ghosts. First the group tries to fight them. At this time, one hero reveals her pet - an invisible "phase ape" - she named him "Fluffles" - that came with the cache of alien tech that she discovered in her uncle's pawn shop. The ape allows her to attack remotely and gain a facing advantage. Another, using magnetism, is hitting the ghosts with hotel doorknobs. However, more ghosts keep coming. Making agility saves, the group evades the ghosts and runs to the opposite side of the floor. One hero grabs the hostage and swings her onto his shoulder, taking out another of the Dead in the process. They find a similar mirror but this time with a secret door. Blasting a hole with a disintergrating ray through the mob of the Dead, they make it to the one maintained stairwell.

This takes them to a floor which hosts many dining rooms, meeting rooms, and a grand ball room. "That's where he will be", the hostage says. This floor is more damaged than the other. Caved in areas create a functioning maze trap. Eventually, in the master kitchen, one of heroes found materials to use as weapons with his magnetic power. Unfortunately, the also found a string tall figure with pale white skin and hair, black outfit, obsidian eyes, pointed ears and a broadswords the he welded as easily as a throwing knife - a genuine Drow Elf from the Unseali Courts of the Underdark. The only possible form of communication with him is through telepathy - which he invites since he is willing to parley. The hero who links with him is filled with dreadful images of the Underdark realm, including visions of caverns covered with a crystalline material like the basement. The heroes realize that the hotel has become touched from beneath by the Dark Fey realm and the taint of it has corrupted the building, bringing back the dead as hungry ghosts and who knows what else. The Drow sees the hotel as an extension of the Drow domain and demands tribute or he will not allow them to leave alive. The heroes shiver as it us clear to them that "tribute" means offering a human life to him. The elf allows them to contemplate their choice and leaves.

Moving this to the back of their minds, the heroes go next to the grand ball room. When the hostage sees her beloved she runs to him. He us also a powerful experience character with robes and a polearm. He is serene looking and glad to see them. He returns the expression of love from the hostage but in a more brotherly family way and not as a lover.

In response to questions, he explains that the former archbishop was murdered - not by him, a faithful disciple - but by the so-called successor who was the real agent from Destiny who disguised himself as a member of LRS from HQ to take over the organization. The former archbishop, before he died, entrusted him with the charter to prevent the complete transition of authority to the usurper. He has been holding on to the charter pending an appeal to HQ to rule on the matter and take care of it internally. The "hostage" was never her prisoner but was a member of a family that helped him hide from the usurper - which cost them dearly as many were killed helping him escape. She only survived. It was then he decided to take the risky measure of hiding in the "fortress" of the Hotel Syracuse, only letting her know how to find him in an emergency. He shows them the charter document. The heroes come to believe that they might have been used. He is, in fact, though Catholic, a very very eastern rite version. He us the Shaolin Samurai.

This gets confirmed when the "phase ape" appears to everyone, and then transforms into the usurper himself. Unknown to the hero, she was picked for this assignment to open the way for the usurper to face the Shaolin Samurai himself. The usurper, using his powers, killed and replaced Fluffles, to hide among the heroes. He then calls out. The windows of the great ball room smash as four gargoyles become animated from the roof of the hotel and come at the command of the usurper. Combat ensues.

The Shaolin Samurai and the incorporeal powered hero attack the usurper himself, while the others go after the gargoyles. The magnetic hero gets a lucky shot using the kitchen utensils like a billing ball picking up first strike like a seven ten split. one hero uses psychic force to pin two gargoyles to the wall while another blasts them with disintegration (getting a facing advantage from the pinning effect). Shaolin Samurai finds himself equally matched by his opponent getting no experience bonus to hit with his chi enhanced polearm attacks. Meanwhile, the incorporeal hero is able to take advantage of facing and incorporeality - which was a good thing because it prevented the usurper from using Touch of Death on him.

Eventually, the players succeed at their goal to kill all the gargoyles and wind and restrain the usurper using paralysis ray. Shaolin Samurai still holds the charter and is allowed to leave the hotel freely. The true usurper has been caught and given over to the Drow Elf as tribute - although no one can say if this "justice" was proportionate. The Shaolin Samurai promises the LRS will reward the heroes for their great service.

On the other hand, the loser is the "hostage" who finally realizes that the Shaolin Samurai is bound to an oath of chastity. He could never be hers. Also, mourned is Fluffles, the loss of whom will embitter her owner against Destiny Corp forever. And finally, there remains the yet unknown effect of the taint if the Dark Empire on our heroes.

GM notes: Total truth. V&V has "open powers" during character creation which simply ask the player or GM to come up with something under the general category. When this happened, I used the "Unlimited Powers" handbook from "Mutants & Masterminds" 2.0 for inspiration.

RIP, Fluffles. We hardly saw thee!

Psychological Egoism and the Homosexuality Debate

One of the great mysteries in the public debate over homosexuality is the widespread acceptance of genetic determinism argument for homosexuality -- a homosexual simple cannot help themselves so they cannot be obliged not to be gay. the religious spin on this is that since it's genetic, it must be considered God's gift and will for that person -- and you can't go against God. The mystery of this is that there is no evidence at all that genetics plays a significant role but plenty of evidence that a convergent set of certain types of environmental factors over the course of a person's development from pre-natal to childhood to adulthood can induce an intransigent homosexual orientation - a case such that as a child the person is helpless to do anything about and for which he cannot be held responsible for its origin but which is something he can start to deal with as an adult and the prevention of which is something the community can control and prevent for the children.

But a better explanation is that the genetic argument is just an archetype of legitimacy that characterizes the worldview of the age and reduces it to a cliche that does our thinking for us. The real point is the socially settled view that humans have evolved from nothing but natural causes, thus their behavior is determined in all cases. Also, human behavior is necessarily egoistic and hedonistic, focused only on the basic instincts for survival and pleasure in common with other animals. Consequently, no one can behave in any other way that to seek these and that no matter how things appear otherwise. One might object that if this were true how could we have ever come by our intuitions about morality or our great moral institutions. The answer given is that these formed over the course of time as a kind of cultural evolution. Practices which had value at the time for encouraging survival against hostile forces and which were reinforced by repetition to become habits. As habits they continued to be observed even when the original motives for introducing them ceased to exist. When asked about them now, we no longer see how it came to be that we observed such customs, although we still feel the note of approval and disapproval about following or failing to follow them. We thus take them to basic intuitions of moral truth, even though they are just detritus from previous circumstances. Thus the Voice of God in the Soul turns out just to be a shadow of our evolutionary history.

But once this has been dispelled by scientific discovery that needs neither God nor morals to play a role in explanation, we now see that there could not be any possible moral grounds to base a rejection of homosexuality. Further since as a survival driven organism humans must necessarily seek themselves, they could not be obliged to do otherwise. This means that is we are to speak of moral categories at all we must speak of a right to pursue ones own satisfaction as one sees fit. Finally, one one says for whatever reason that someone cannot enjoy their homosexual lifestyle, that denies them a pleasure they desperately desire and also adds the pain of being shamefully regarded. Since hedonism is also hardwired in the species, the cannot be obliged to accept this misery.

As this account came to be developed, starting with the advent of early modern thought's adoption of nominalism and its denial of formal and final causes, it was thought that (or at least presented as if) these ideals would be no threat to conventional morality. But history has shown us that once natural teleology has been rejected, panmaterialism erodes the conventional codes progressively. The shift in perspective from Aristotelianism to Corpuscularianism in the 17th Century has undercut the foundations of traditional morality, but not all at once. But the history of modern western thought has been the progress of the acceptance of one previously unthinkable conclusion after another so that now what has become unthinkable is morality or justice in the traditional sense.

So the genetic argument is only an ectype for the real argument and the grip it has especially on the rising generation is that we have crossed another threshold of unthinkability. The problem with it is that this explanation does not adequately explain the experience we all have of moral reflection. In deciding what the right thing to do in a situation, and especially in situations when we are faced with conflicting moral demands, we have the capacity to reason from moral intuitions to novel applications which being situation based are necessarily new but also seen to be sound. We are also able to discern exception cases that enable us to distinguish actual duties from merely prima facie dutiesAlso beside the ability to deliberate with these principles , we also see an appropriate emotional response of approval, disaproval, shame, or guilt - including the difference between moral guilt and just regret for getting discovered - and that the fitness between the two is logical. If our intuitions were simple de facto affirmations that have passed there sell-by date, we shouldn't expect this to be the case. But if they are genuine intuitions of moral reasoning along with their appropriate feelings, then it is odd that such should emerge from the flux of cultural evolution alone. I can give real and valid assent to the idea that I am guilty of wrongdoing, which suggests less an old piece of doctrine and more a Voice speaking to me about my conduct.


I just installed the Blogger App so expect more posts from me. Thanks.