Now that I’ve had a chance to recover from my recent trip to Dubai in the UAE, I think I’m in the right headspace to do a Let’s Study series on Coriolis The Third Horizon by the Free League.

I joined the kickstarter campaign for this game, sold on the premise of “Arabian Nights, in Space!”, and opted to get a PDF and a copy of the physical book. While the book isn’t out yet, the PDF is, and so I’ll be cracking it open and sharing my thoughts on the setting, rules and design of the game. Having had the time to experience Middle Eastern Culture first hand (however short it was,) I’m really looking forward to seeing how the game brings it to the forefront.

As with all my Let’s Study Series, I’ll be taking the game apart to see what makes it tick. We’ll create characters, try out combat, and see if there are unique mechanics that deserve to be called out.

I haven’t been posting much lately, but I did want to pop in and talk a bit about a great experience I had today checking out a hobby store in Dubai. I’ve been lucky to be sent to Dubai on a company trip. Eager to see if the hobby has any representation in Dubai, I did some quick internet research a few days back and stumbled upon Geeky Lizard on Facebook.

A quick, and very friendly Facebook chat conversation later, I had an address to check out.

Fast forward to today, and I and my co-worker Daryl were able to find Geeky Lizard. It was clearly still under renovation, but the place was a nice open area, with plenty of gaming tables and neat things on display. It had everything from Board Games, to CCGs, Playmats, Deckboxes, dice sets and more!

I also go to finally talk to Omar, the proprietor of Geeky Lizard in person. Warm, friendly and passionate about his hobbies, he’s exactly the kind of person you’d like to see running a hobby store.


Omar of Geeky Lizard in black. The other guy is me.

Omar showed me around, and I regret not having taken more photos of the place as my phone was running low on power.

That said, he was able to show me two very cool things:


First, Volo’s Guide to Monsters was in stock for both the standard and special limited edition cover, that you see pictured here. Geeky Lizard carries a good number of D&D 5e books, as well as the Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight Games. Pathfinder has a place in his shelves while Numenera also had a few supplement there too.

The other, more impressive thing was the fact that his store had an area specifically for running tabletop RPGs!


Still under construction, but looking cool already!

Most gaming places in the Philippines don’t really have this sort of feature and I honestly wouldn’t mind paying for using something like this if it was designed to help facilitate play. Definitely a great idea.

Another thing I liked was how good the vibe of the community is. There was a Magic the Gathering tournament going on when I arrived, and they all seemed to be a fun group of gamers.

Given the large Filipino community in Dubai, I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than a few RPG gamers around. If you’re there, and you’re seeing this, then get your butts to Geeky Lizard over at Al-Ghazal Mall along 2nd December Street and dive right in!

Oh, and tell Omar that Jay sent you.

The team regrouped later on outside of the crime scene, and discussed their options in Prism’s Sanctum.

“What we know is that this ‘mage-killer’ tracked our victim down somehow.” Prism reviewed their notes.

“And that the assailant has some proficiency with Life magic.” Reynard confirmed, “I saw it, nobody can snap a neck that easily unless it was in the movies. He’s pumped with magic.”

“So it could be that he caught our DMV guy snooping around? Are there any locations on the board that match up?” Jane asked as she peered at the board again.

“I’ve got an idea.” Reynard pointed out a trailer park, “My post cognition also showed me that our military man had a trailer. If our DMV guy had been snooping around there for ley lines, then he might have tripped the Military Guy without knowing it.”

“Victim of circumstance.” Jane frowned, “Hell of a way to go.”

“Better him than us.” Reynard shrugged.

Prism decided to case the trailer park and see if he could get a bead on their military man. After five hours of frustrated searching (and a failure on the first investigation roll) she finally found his trailer… and was caught snooping around.

The Military Man packed his trailer quickly and drove off, eyeing her suspiciously as he pulled out of the park.

Reynard sat on the park bench, looking at the vagrant that spoke to him. “Thanks to your investigations, we had the tip we needed.” the man spoke in a familiar tone, sharing a faraway look, “Thank you, Detective. We’ll make sure you’re compensated fairly. Don’t worry, we take care of our business cleanly.”

Prism called for backup, and Reynard and Jane cased out the second trailer park where the Military Man moved to.

“I need to know what he’s got in there.” Prism said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be careful.”

The Mysterium Mage layered several spells carefully on herself. Invisibility, a spell to conceal her magic, and a spell to make her inaudible. Prism felt herself struggle with the imago, feeling it slip and forced herself to contain the screwup. Trying to force reality to your will was very much like wrestling a snake covered in oil. One mistake and you could pay for it dearly.

Soon she was ready, stepping outside, she approached the parked trailer, and disconnected the generator.

After twenty minutes of waiting, the Military Man stepped outside to check on his generator, and Prism slid inside, turning on her Mage Sight to see if there’s anything in there of note.

What she found was a strange metal bell encrusted with jewels… but strangely, no clapper inside. She was supposed to inspect it further when she felt the trailer sway and the door close.

“I know you’re there.” Military Man said, brandishing a hunting shotgun, “You witches think you’re clever. I can’t see you. I can’t hear you… but I can still smell you, little girl.”

Prism kicked something over, goading the Man to fire his shotgun, before she deflected the pellets away, shattering the windows of the Trailer and jumped out, quickly casting a spell to conceal the bell, feeling paradox surging and twisting something inside her head as she did so. Too much magic, too quickly. Prism was dizzy with pain, but she powered through, hearing the sirens of the police coming to respond to the gunshots.

She paused by a tree, catching her breath as she watched the scene, police lights, officers responding… each one with a strange High Speech rune on their person, superimposed somehow. What was the meaning of that?

Jane observed the proceedings with a clinical eye. She wasn’t Jeanne right now, she was someone else, an assassin for the Guardians of the Veil. The response from the police officers on the scene was like clockwork.

Nobody responds within seconds of a reported shooting.

There were other forces at work. And this was high profile enough to get the Consilium’s attention. Time to see how much this Banisher has kicked the hornet’s nest then.

This marks the first session of our run through on Mage the Awakening’s 2nd Edition. I’ve been light on the mechanics on this one, but here’s a breakdown of some of the more interesting parts:

  • Paradox is much more common, akin to Ascension than the 1e of Awakening. This is a good thing, and gives spellcasting more risk than just simply failing. To that end, Prism is now carrying an Abyssal Condition upon failing to absorb all of a 4-success Paradox roll.
  • Reynard is now bestowed with the Connected condition to the Seers of the Throne. He has a bonus to dealing with them, but can be occasionally coerced to doing them a favor now and then, at risk to himself being exposed to the Consilium.
  • Jane Doe is now looking at an opportunity of getting in good with the local Consilium’s Guardians of the Veil faction with the information she’s gleaned. Add the fact that the cabal has managed to secure a strange artifact and suddenly the team has some strong leverage… if they can figure out what it does.

After the game, the players had a chance to give their feedback so far. They enjoyed the new casting system, even if it was a slog to understand the first time around. It felt more deliberate, consistent and fair.

They also realized that the way the new experience system works, it encourages player characters to take more risks and get into more trouble. Failing isn’t a bad thing now, and getting yourself into trouble is the fastest way to get experience. It’s tempered somewhat by the fact that you still want your Mage to live, so that should balance out the temptation to throw yourself headlong into trouble all the time.

Besides, you gain beats upon resolving a condition. You need to get out of the trouble you’re in, or suffer through it first to earn the experience as opposed to just amassing it by being a sociopathic ball of bad juju.

I’m enjoying it so far, and I’m glad I was able to get my feet wet again with this game. Next session, we get to meet the Consilium, and find out just how much this encounter with the Banishers will shake up the status quo.

Last weekend was the kickoff game of my Mage: the Awakening 2e game set in Chicago. It was a fairly straightforward re-entry into the Awakening universe for me and my players, but since this was only the second time we’ve had a chance to really run the God-Machine Chronicles rules through the paces, we came out of the session with a much deeper appreciation for the system.

But before that, let’s go over the characters:

Detective Jack Lawson, Shadow Name: Reynard (Played by Hikkikomori) Thyrsus of the Free Council. A dirty cop who does whatever needs doing… for a price.

Penelope “Penny” Spencer, Shadow Name: Prism (Played by Miguel) Obrimos of the Mysterium. A photojournalist specialising in the Occult with an obsession over Ley Lines and the flow of Mana in the city.

Jeanne Donnely, Shadow Name: Jane Doe (Played by Silver Countess) Obrimos of the Guardians of the Veil. A woman without a past, but an abundance of identities, somehow hoping that one of them will be a clue that leads her to the truth.

The story begins with the three characters gathered in a torn-up bedroom of a tiny flat in a bad part of town. Illuminated by just a single feeble lightbulb, the room looked like it was torn right out of a horror movie. The bed was soaked through in dried blood, but the room was otherwise untouched. Whoever lived there was a recluse and a bit of a hoarder, with stacks of papers piled up around a work desk, and a wall with a large inboard featuring a web of threads and articles tacked to a map of Chicago.

All over the room, little yellow plastic evidence markers dotted the room. indicators of the team of forensics people and cops that scoured the place already. The corpse was long gone, but the iron smell of dried blood clung to the air.

Reynard stood quietly, keeping an eye on the front door that had been cordoned off with police tape. None of them had a right to be here. This wasn’t his case, but it seemed to be a cute enough lead to look into and make a quick buck from. Both Prism and Jane had a thing for occult stories so a cut from their work for what was a quick in-and-out didn’t seem so bad.

Prism was already working through the place, taking photos on her phone, using a pen to lift the evidence markers out of the way before each shot. Jane on the other hand, had her eyes on the pinboard.

“What do you make of it?” Jane asked.

“We’ll find out.” Prism acknowledged, looking at the threads and expanding her senses, reaching out to peer into the Supernal through her understanding of Prime and Forces, adding with it a touch of Space.

The familiar faraway look of a mage gazing at something that was beyond normal sight came over Prism as she analysed the board, as she came to the conclusion that the board was somewhat magical. It had a weak Sympathetic Link to all the places on the board, possibly through the events marked down.

“Looks like our dead guy was one of us.” She said, “Jane? Fancy a look?”

Jane nodded, adding her own touch of the supernatural, accessing the vagaries of Fate. “What are you for?” she whispered to herself… as Fate replied in her head. Your answers will come right through that door.

“Someone’s coming!” Jane warned, and Reynard stepped into the living room as the other two hid away from sight.

Reynard assumed the stance of a detective at work, turning towards the figure of a slight woman, clearly from the streets, unwashed, wearing a ratty shirt and torn jeans.

“I’m going to have to ask you to stop right there, ma’am.” he said, taking out his badge and flashing it, “Detective Jack Lawson, and this here is my crime scene.”

“Hello Detective.” the woman’s voice held a funny accent. Educated, enunciated. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t believe you. This crime scene belongs to another Detective. You shouldn’t even be here.”

A cursory scan and Jack felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end. He caught the dark lines under her eyes, the rank smell and bad teeth. He saw the marks on her arms, scars of substance abuse. Whoever he was talking to, it wasn’t this girl.

“I’ve come to tell you that you should leave well enough alone.” The girl said, “Whoever did this took one of our own. And we mean to resolve our own business.” She glanced over his shoulder to the doorway leading to the bedroom, “That said, we’re not against overlooking this transgression in exchange for information on any leads you might find. You are a detective after all.”

Jack frowned, “You’ve got me at a disadvantage.”

“Just as it should be.” the girl replied with a wry smile, “We’ll be in touch Detective Lawson. If you play well, we’ll make sure to reward your effort handsomely.”

Lawson said nothing else, instead tailing the woman as she walked out, watching as her confident stride fell into a junkie’s staggering gait not long after she’d left the apartment building.

He lingered outside, before messaging the others, “Do what you need to do. We’re being watched.”

He met up back with them not long after. “All done?”

“We know what the pinboard does.” Prism replied, “Sympathetic connections across a whole range of places. Weak, but serviceable.”

“But no motive, and no suspect.” Jane added, “Aside from our little visitor from the other guys a while ago.”

“The dead guy’s one of them.” Reynard confirmed, “But now it’s time to see what really happened.” He cast the spell, crafting it with his will, setting it’s parameters and fashioning the Imago with High Speech before letting it go, and peering into the past… just before the time of death.

The vision was crystal clear, and Reynard recounted the details to the rest of the Cabal, how the victim came home from work, settling in on the bedroom to work on the inboard. The victim was some mid-level employee working for the DMV, a regular nobody that kept track of records that could be used to track people down. A perfect position for a non-ambitious member of his conspiracy.

He heard a sound, startled, heading to the door as it was kicked open. He was supposed to say something when the sight of his assailant silenced him. Seven feet tall with muscles straining from under a military surplus jacket. Rough, massive hands reached for him, and snapped his neck, ending him even as he was desperately scrambling to put together a spell.

“All your fault.” the military man whispered, talking to himself as he hoisted the dead man into the bed. “You’re all puppets.”

He stepped outside and pulled in a large duffel bag, again, military surplus. “Nobody else can do this.” he muttered, “I’m the only one that can.”

Reynard continued to narrate how the giant stripped down naked and began to break the man’s limbs at key joints, threading some heavy duty fishing line through them like one would a puppet, tying them in a strange formation above the bed. It was painstakingly slow work, and when he was done, the man took a hot shower, scrubbing himself clean of the blood, and left.

The detective turned to his two companions. “Things just got a lot more interesting.”

“Not one of ours.” Prism said, “Both the victim and the suspect. This has nothing to do with the Consilium.”

“But it does.” Jane corrected, “Remember, this is a mage killer. Just because his first victim belongs to the other team doesn’t mean he won’t strike one of our own next time.”

“But what led him to the guy?” Prism turned to the pinboard on the wall, “I think the answer is staring right at us.”

This writeup is getting a bit long so I’ll cap it off here. I’ll pick up on the second half of the session where the team confronts the killer in my next entry, and reflect a bit on just how the new 2e system works to push the atmosphere of horror and influences how people play.

Today we talk about group dynamics and table management both in and out of character. One of the unwritten responsibilities of a GM is the fact that you are often the de-facto leader of the table, and the task of managing player expectations and experiences falls to you.

Think of yourself as a moderator in that sense, where your goal is to ensure that everyone (including yourself) has a good time with the hours and effort that everyone invests in the game.

That said, let’s look at 2 specific concerns raised so far:

Find out what they want

Different players want different things from a game. This is why I tend to stress the pitch phase of a game with a lot of dialogue with your players. Tell them what kind of game you’d like to run, and ask them if they’re willing to give it a try and what they’d like to do in it.

The more information you have about the style of play they expect, the easier it is to understand what kind of game to run. A lot of times that a player group feels “problematic” stems from the dissonance of expectations between the participants. Maybe one player wants more drama and character acting, while another just wants to cleave orc heads.

Get the group to sit down and buy into the central concept and themes and adhere to them. Write them down if you have to to form a social contract of sorts if you feel the need to.

In this way you get to mitigate the incidences of players who are out to “derail” your game by acting against the established mood of the game.

Help! My Players are kicking the asses of my monsters in combat!

This is a very common sensation for a lot of GMs. There’s something to be said about the gut-level panic at seeing the players wipe out an encounter that was meant to be more difficult.

But fret not, this is merely an illusion.

Players who are rules-oriented are naturally able in terms of wiping the floor with the enemy. This isn’t a bug, it’s a feature.

The best way to overcome this panic is to think of it from the perspective of the world they occupy. That kind of sublime skill in the art of slaughter is bound to pick up a ton of complications that players can’t just shrug off. These can range from job offers to apprentice applicants to rival combatants that seek to test their might against the players.

In addition, if you’re looking to make the players sweat a bit, throw in a mix of challenges. Think of GMing as boxing. Throwing jabs for an entire match isn’t going to get you anywhere, you need to mix it up with a combination of jabs, straights, hooks, and uppercuts aimed towards both the head and the body.

So don’t be afraid to throw players in mix of social and physical challenges. Maybe they get forced into a fancy dress party where they could start a war by sneezing wrong. Or they could be caught in a devious trap somewhere that requires puzzling their way out of it. Engage them on all fronts, and always, always follow up with consequences.

Remember that RPGs are also about playing a role, and that the player characters don’t exist in a vacuum. As they do more impressive things, more people are going to pay attention and soon things will snowball into more challenging scenarios that don’t always play to their strengths.

That said be careful to not get too caught up in this that you ignore their strengths all together. Let them wipe out an enemy force in a single turn, they deserve that. But don’t let up when they find themselves sweating bullets in a social scene, because they deserve that too.