Con men and Cutthroats : A Table of 50 Specialists For Your Thieves Guild.

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , , , , , , , , ,

Hugo and Sandurs were considered in the streets the big men to be scared of, the arm breakers of the Twisted Fist who come to visit if you had caused trouble and need some 'persuasion' or just needed to vanish but right now the two large men shuffled nervously shrinking away from their boss, this wouldn't be an issue normally but right now Karsh Krangtooth needed answers.

“I said where's Trino ya mangy gits, he was supposed to meet me once I got out now where is he?” practically growling the words as he advanced menacingly, the burly half orc with surprising speed grasping Hugo by the collar hauling him off his feet the muscles in his arm barely tensing under the human weight.

“H..He's dead boss him and all the high up lads, found them in his den sat all around the table throats cut..” Hugo gasping his reply squirming in his bosses grip trying to angle his face away from the scarred half orcs tusks, “Bollocks, Trino wouldn't be offed so easily..” Karsh found the words coming out of his mouth even as the wave of disbelief began to fade leaving a hollow emptiness behind. “Its true boss I swear, we think some bugger magiced him..” Sandurs stepped forward now to his partners defence his face mirroring the fear of their boss going berserk as he continued “Err.. thats not all boss, they raided the guild coffers in his place, took everything even the secret stuff..”

The silence over the next few minutes was unnerving as still holding Hugo Karshs lowered his head in thought, the two arm breakers sharing a worried glance unwilling to be the first to speak.
“So who did it?” The quietness of their bosses voice only served to worry the pair further as if they were seeing the calm beyond the storm.
Swallowing nervously Hugos voice almost cracked as he replied “We think it was those Blood Talon bastards from over the north side because of the red sash pinned to the table by a dagger.. thats their callin card ain't it?”

In the fantasy genre bandits, gangs and thieves are found lurking in every city either in the alleyways or shady taverns the party may visit. To be truly organised guild whose presence rises above the typical band of fighters and rogues a guild needs specialists that give them an edge over their rivals and the city guard.
Working together with some of my group and the lovely lady of Buzy Bobbins we created a table of 50 Thieves Guild Specialists to populate your world, my method is to roll about five times and pick the three that suit your guild the best or for a truly huge guild roll twice for each gang within the guild.

I know because of the layout the table may be difficult to read so click here for easy viewing.

1. Lookout Beggar: This is a member of the thieves guild who regularly dresses as a beggar as cover. Before a big job the thief will join a group of nearby beggars as to appear as part of the scenery however they are keeping an eye out for the routines of the locals in the area to help the guild find the best opportunity to strike.

26. The Tax Collector: This tax collector is also under the employ of the thieves guild. They carry out their normal job within the city collecting taxes and inspecting businesses but will report on guild owned fronts as if they were regular businesses to help keep them secret.
2. Messenger Children: These street kids are well known to the thieves guild they tend to pass pieces of paper with encoded messages or spoken code between members at assigned locations and times. They do not tend to participate in the crimes themselves and younger children do not know the meaning of the messages when questioned by town guards. When older the children have the opportunity to become full members of the guild.

27. Out of town Hideaway: This lovely family own a sweet little farmhouse just outside of town. It all seems completely ordinary but their house contains a number of secret hiding spaces and the house is sometimes used by thieves guild members who need to escape the law before they slip away under the cover of night.
3. The Sewer Dweller: This beggar has spent much of their life living in the sewers, basements and other underground areas of this city. They may not look like much but they are the go to person for anyone wishing to find their way across the city in secret for smuggling large amounts of goods or a quick get away.

28. The Sewer Jack: By bribing these sewer watchmen with a handful of coin the guild gains access to the sewers to get around unrecorded, they may also have a (somewhat reluctant) guide or a note of the patrol routes and schedules of the honest Sewer Jacks.
4. A Beggar With A Pet: This beggar owns a pet or other small animal and uses the pet to get more donations and information from passer bys than they would normally. The animal can also be used for their defence or distraction.

29. The Bribed Town Guardsman: A guard who grew up on the streets. They are a member of the thieves guild in secret and can sometimes help a member in need if they are in trouble. However there is a limit to how often they can do this without risking revealing their secret.
5. Street Performer: This is an expert showman who performs shows in the street for the entertainment of passers by to provide a distraction for trainee pickpockets.

30. Maid/ Manservant: This person works in a local building of high importance in an ordinary job. They are stationed there as a permanent spy and report any news of importance to the guild.

6. The Soup Stall Owner: This person cooks up a cauldron full of hot soup every day and sells it by the bowlful at their stall. The guild pays the stall owner to give soup to the street kids under their employment. He is well known around the local beggars and will sometimes swap a bowl of soup for some useful information from them.

31. The Bar Fight Professionals: Troupe of performers who specialise in staging fights between themselves. They provide distractions for other members, they can also be asked to start a bar fight or street riot if the right crowd can be found and then slip away from the chaos.
7. The Goon Squad: This group is responsible for jobs such as alley tolls or shaking down businesses for protection money. They mostly rely on brute strength and intimidation to get the job done and are not relied on for finer or quieter tasks. They are often the most well known to the city guard and may be used as scape goats by the guild.

32. The Diviner: A spell caster who specialises in fortune telling spells. Some members of the guild may come to a diviner for some advice on what to prepare for in important jobs. Other guild members prefer real information however not completely trusting information gathered by spells alone. In a high magic setting a diviner will also shield guild headquarters from being scryed by other spell casters and scary particular targets in the city.

8. A Large Enthusiastic Thug: This thug is of a large humanoid race or simply a very well built human. This thug is not very bright but will enthusiastically fight anyone their friends at the thieves guild point them towards. They can normally be found on jobs with someone who acts as their handler and very rarely alone.

Alternative: Well built human who believes they are cut out for the task of being a sneaky thief but due to general size and clumsiness they are not as competent as their fellows. They may be deployed as a distraction to the real burglary happening elsewhere or even be a fall guy for the real thieves.

33. The rabble rouser: This is a professional performer whose aim is to stir up trouble. With the careful use of speeches and lies they can turn groups against other groups or incite a mob against a single target or group.

The rabble rouser may only incite hatred against one target at a time and depending on the size of the target group could spend several weeks on one job.
Example uses of this may be to get public support in removing a particular member of the guard or noble from power or to put a dampener on other guilds activities by encouraging the public not to buy from their front shops.
9. Old Mercenary: Retired mercenary hired by the guild when they need someone threatening or killed.

34. The Disloyal Rogue: For some reason this thief is no longer loyal to the guild leader, he is looking to improve his position or earn extra money. He will be easy to bribe if the party offers to help him in either of these goals.
10. Were Creature: This member is a were creature. By day they are mild mannered and even an upstanding member of the community. But by night or the light of the full moon they become muscle for the thieves guild.

35. Backstreet Cleric: Heals suspicious wounds from traps and security systems which a thief may encounter in his day to day activities.
11. A Talented Sniper: This thief is talented in bows or cross bows and is often called upon for assassinations or passing messages with well placed shots. They can sometimes be found in the shadows above a meeting between guild members and other gangs just in case something goes ary.

36. The Animal Trainer: This member trains animals for other members of the guild. This may range from ordinary guard dogs to something more unusual such as animals who are trained to sniff out certain substances or provide timely distractions. They may also have a collection of messenger animals. While birds can be common for this purpose other animals common to the city can be trained and pass almost unnoticed with enough skill.

12. The Door Guard: A bouncer for one of the guilds fronts, they know exactly who is in the guild and allows them through to back rooms.

37. A Retired Expert Thief: He has impressive skills and much experience but has long since retired. While his body may not be as agile as it used to be he hopes to lead a group of skilled young recruits on one last big job.

13. The Tavern Landlord: An accomplice who works a local tavern. For a fee they are quite happy to switch out drinks of their patrons for ones of stronger alcohol content. They also act as ears on the street and brokers of gossip.
38. The Talent Scout: This person is always on the lookout in town for potential guild members. They look for people with talents the guild needs though they are often able to hold there own in a fight as other gangs do not like them luring away their members.
14. The Boarding House Owner: This location provides a safe place to stay for guild members or visiting allies, may have houses in other cities for guild members who need to travel.

39. The Cat Burglar: This thief specialises in infiltrating buildings from the second story upwards. They know their way around the city rooftops and can climb them with ease.
15. The Fisherman (And Boat Crew): Only guilds near a large river or the sea will have a fisherman under their employ. Then not needed by the guild the boat will be used for fishing but the guild could use it to smuggle people across the water or to larger boats waiting out of view of any town watch. They may also recover items which have been sunk to the bottom of the water in any misadventures by fellow guild members.

40. The Contact (And Gang): This person generally acts as a charismatic contact for ordinary people who wish to employ the services of the guild. While it is widely thought that they carry out meetings alone they in fact have a small team of highly competent thieves and fighters who hide in the shadows around meetings in case anything goes awry.
16. Brewer/Moonshiner: This guild member makes counterfeit alcohol which may be sold in false bottles this cheap knockoff can sometimes fool nobles into paying a high price for ordinary quality liquor. They also make strong moonshine which is sold cheaply amongst the poorer districts.

41. The Gambler: A very skilled gambler (also a very skilled cheat) who can be sent to win money or useful assets from nobles, occasionally they have convinced fools to part with deeds to land or buildings. However sometimes the gambler may be tasked with allowing someone to win to draw them into further high stakes games.
The gambler can find themselves in a unique position, sometimes invited to high stakes gambling games putting them in a position to gain information from sources outside the guilds usual contacts.

17. The Alchemist: The alchemist makes items for the guild, they will be particularly important in towns where detect magic is often used and non magical alternatives may be desired. They may send members out to find certain ingredients for their latest project.

42. Guild Cook: In a busy guild house a special cook may be employed to help feed members in the guild. The cook specialises in making hearty meals for a large amount of people from the limited ingredients available. This helps keep guild morale and loyalty high.
18. The Jeweller: A fence for jewels and jewellery often using stolen materials in creating new jewellery if a piece is too well known to sell. They have a keen eye for how much a gem is worth and have contacts in other cities to help sell on high profile pieces.

43. The Trap Maker: This person specialises in making traps. They are often highly prized in large guilds who need a collection of quality traps for practice, protection or competition between elite members, some trap makers even sell their traps publicly so that should the guild need to target an estate they know how to beat the defences.
They may pay adventurers to being back traps from dungeons undamaged for study. Traps which are very old or very unusual will be most highly prized however they may still get excited over a description of a large unmovable trap and being able to inspect the wound it caused the adventurer.

19. Antique Dealer: This antique dealer knows how to get stolen items into and out of the city. A particularly successful trick is to make a authentic but stolen art piece look like a fake even to other trained professionals. In this way he can smuggle the occasional high profile item out of the city with ease.

44. The locksmith: The locksmith is an expert in making and picking locks. They have made a number of practice locks for trainees in the guild. He makes lock picks for all occasions, a tool set by this person can cost more than average but will contain something for even the most stubborn of locks. Once a year they make the most dastardly set of locks and traps with a monster thrown in for good measure to use as a gauntlet for the most promising of trainees. Those who complete it get put forward for the most lucrative of jobs those who don't generally end up being carted to the clerics.

20. The Seamstress: A talented group of seamstresses, while they have a legitimate store front they also copy the patterns of any uniforms they get in for repair and can replicate them with some time and cost.

45. The Guild Interrogators: This intimidating fellow is used by the guild to extract information from captives or contacts working mostly through intimidation but is not afraid to resort to violence. He can often be found with a team of thugs.

21. Madame Of The Brothel: The Madame is a competent business women who leads and protects her team of ladies of the night. She can take many roles within the thieves guild. She can provide a front and money laundering services along with perfect opportunities to provide blackmail materials against certain targets.

46. The Poisoner: This is a experienced chief who can make very fine foods and sometimes does so for the masters of the thieves guild. However their main skill is to disguise the taste and smell of poisons within fine foods. This helps other guild members slip poisons into the food of noble targets where is is very difficult for the nobles aides to detect it.

22. The Weapons Supplier: Need equipment for a job? The this individual can supply weapons from his warehouse. Items are generally loaned or rented from the warehouse per job. The owner of the warehouse keeps records of what equipment they have and who is using it. They also tend to buy up excess weapons from adventurers coming into town. Ever wondered who even needs all those +1 daggers you keep bringing into town?

47. The Accountant/Banker: The guild accountant helps to hide extra income from front organisations and helps to hide payments from the guild to members who need to seem legitimate. Unlike the tax man the accountant often uses legal loopholes to minimise costs and may even bring opportunities to the attention of the guild master.
23. Potion Supplier: A cleric or wizard friendly to the guild. The guild subsidises the potions they make so they can be sold at a lower price to guild members on guild appointed jobs.

48. The Guild Sorcerer: This rogue has few thieving skills, relying on his natural magic talents to get past traps, locks and guards. In large jobs he may be accompanied by a team who get him to the target which needs to be dispelled or disarmed when mundane means will not do.

24. The Miner/Stonemason: This is a member which may be brought along to old ruins to ensure it is safe to get into. In a large city the stonemason may also make hollow gargoyles or other stone features for buildings. These may actually contain a weapon or other necessary items for guild members escaping over the rooftops or breaking into the building.

49. The Job Co-Ordinator: This guild member works mostly in guild administration. They know what jobs are being organised and when as well as collecting information on the movements of other gangs, before planning a very large job guild members must consult with the coordinator to ensure no other members are working a job in the same area on the same day to reduce the chance of foiling each other's plans. The log books belonging to the co-ordinator are very well guarded and will often be written in code that only the co-ordinator understands.

25. The city archivist: This person has access to the city archives, can sometimes be relied upon to find blueprints of various buildings or maps to the city. Their services cannot be used too heavily as it may out them as a guild member or if bribed/ blackmailed into service may make this noticeable to others nearby.
50. The Masked Persona: This thief does not actually exist, it is a fake persona used by the guild to make many jobs look like the work of a single masked thief to help hide the existence of the guild.
To create this fictional personality the guild may have several copies of the same mask or use a particular calling card after certain jobs. Some jobs may be carried out simply to attribute it to this fictional thief by having them dramatically escape over the city rooftops where they may be seen by many of the townspeople. The bigger the thief's legend the easier it is to hide behind them.

Trino had been was feared within the guild as one of the two guildmasters the other which of course was Karsh, the two had come into town over a decade ago and taken over most of the gangs on the south and east of the city focusing on the slums and ghettos as a source manpower, the desperate and brutish ever ready to join the new founded guild as a chance of advancement they never had anywhere else.

Karsh Krangtooth was the obvious muscle of the two but possessed an cunning for street combat and organisation with a fiery temper and ability to stay standing, with his presence so common in any violent dispute the guard thought him nothing than an arm breaker for the guild and rarely held him in the cells more than was required. Trino had no last name or nickname but his name came to cause fear whenever it was heard spoken. Well educated, nimble and soft spoken many thought him a disowned noble but the man had a strangeness to him, taking a perverse delight in the pain of others not to mention the girls that would vanish after spending the night with him.
There would be many who would be relieved at the death of Trino but Karsh Krangtooth was not one of them.

With slowly his arm lowed releasing the quaking Hugo, his mind whirring Karshs turbulent mind settled into what it knew best a plan of attack. “So.. we lost all of Trinos go to lads.. anyone else missing or anything else you wanna tell me?”
“Well.. err well not heard anythin about that Thief of Stars recently, think he got what he was after and left the city, never know with these independents and we couldn't find out who he was either. Um.. I remember now that half elf lass from the Oaklane umm.. damm the good stealthy one can't remember her name anyhow her group is gone.”

Seeing his boss gesture for details Sandur continued “The gnome or what we think was the gnome got pulled out the river, wasn't enough left of the body to tell we think thats how the Blood Talons knew everything, must of tortured the poor bugger. The lanky chap with the blond hair was last seen drinking at the docks with Captain Adrans lads, got himself press ganged we think and the girl herself Trino sent her on some job out of town to some village somewhere.. other than that everyones still breathing, might need to round up some of the lads since we've been leaderless for a few weeks.”

Karsh slowly nodded as he took in the details trying to recall the half elf.. Holly.. Mistletoe or Tiasel some nature sounding name, for a moment he considered the possibility that half elf may have been involved but dismissed it. She was skilled and it was no secret Trino was growing interested in her in a uncomfortable way but it was unlikely the mousy would have the guts to follow through. No this was an declaration of war from the northern guild and Karsh Krangtooth was going to turn their streets red.

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Not content to let it lie Hax Monster takes a look at Sleeping Dogs

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , ,

So yeah, the internet is going nuts about Fallout 4, Halo number 200 or such and a remake of a ten year old Star Wars game, so guess what I’m going to talk about? I’m going to talk about a game that most people have only heard of because of that they mixed it up with something that wasn’t really better but was simply hyped up more. About the bombastic carnival of new releases of old IP, I can only say that I probably won’t be reviewing any of that anytime soon. My excuse for that is that I want to create some ‘ historical distance’ for the sake of fair and objective judgement, but really I can’t be bothered to play that quickly or buy three games for 60 euros each. The hype for the current parade of mommy-says-I’m-pretty generic AAA titles reminds me a bit of Watch Dogs in 2012. With it’s trailer, shinier than a mirror in the silverware shop, it presented itself as the new video-game messiah that would lead us to the promised land. When the damned thing finally showed it’s bloody face more than two years later it was played by everyone and forgotten by everyone in a matter of weeks. It wasn’t crucified for it’s horrible quality or anything similar, but people simply forgot it. The current excitement for new instalments and the memory of Watch Dogs remind me once again that the shiniest silverware is probably so shiny because it’s just made out of tin foil. 
Therefore it’s worth looking a few metres further and if you did so in 2012 you would come across Sleeping Dogs. Most likely a fair number of people will only have heard of this game because of that they mixed it up with Watch Dogs and when they realised their mistake they just let the sleeping dogs lie. That is really a shame in my opinion, because although Sleeping Dogs may very well have been the under appreciated underdog (teeheehee) of the two and was never destined for greatness, I enjoyed it a lot more than Ubisoft’s faux messiah. 

Sleeping Dogs is a sandbox set in Hong Kong starring Wei Chen, a Chinese American sent by the police to infiltrate the organized crime network of the triads. He then builds up his career in the triads while also doing some actual police work to solve a few crimes, whenever he isn’t busy committing them. So essentially this sounds like a far-east Grand Theft Auto that can’t decide if it’s about being a cop or a criminal, but in terms of feeling and gameplay the two differ a bit. Where Grand Theft Auto is the predictable cocktail of shooting and driving, Sleeping Dogs tries to be eastern in more than just setting and brings extensive martial-arts style melee combat to the fray. The entire system isn’t that complicated with nothing more than a lock-on system, a few basic attacks and combo’s and counters, but since it’s all so smooth it gets really satisfying if you manage to fight off a big horde of baddies. It’s just a shame that that doesn’t stop the fighting from being a bit repetitive most of the time. Besides the punch-ups the game also employs an assassins-creed style free-running mechanic during some missions.

 There is only three of them, this will be easy.

Setting also sets the game apart from other sandboxes in that you will hear your fair share of Cantonese and have to drive on the left side of the road suddenly, which is a surprise that I guarantee will cost you the first car you drive. This might seem trivial but this kind of stuff does very well immerse you in the setting and if the game succeeds at immersing you in any other setting than your generic old American city, that really contributes to the game’s uniqueness. 

 Absolutely beautiful and as usual bikes are the best way to explore it.
With fighting and setting being the smooth butter that Sleeping Dogs wisely decided to spread over the dry boring cracker that is the GTA formula, that cracker is still the same old cracker but even a bit dryer than normally. Driving and gunplay are very much inferior to that of other sandboxes. As far as driving is concerned, you can switch to any connected Xbox-controllers at any time but even then the acceleration and braking of cars feels very rather clumsy and plasticky. Then there’s the gunplay, which doesn’t feel the slightest bit real with nearly no recoil and laser-pointer accuracy. This makes shooting sections so easy that they don’t feel like gameplay, but more like a formality, placing it in the same category as pressing the ‘next’ key in a dialogue. Guns also are very powerful, especially against melee enemies. Because of their power you can’t have free access to guns in free roam so the game’s (very limited) collection of boomsticks is practically only available in fenced-off sections which I think is a shame because I could use such an easy way to let the pork bun salesman know what I think of his constant nagging. With their enormous damage, having guns lying around at any corner in the world would not work very well (which, looking at the US gun policy, also applies to real life) because you could erase any threat from the game world faster than you could by dragging the character out of the game into the recycle bin on your desktop. However, the gun sections are already begging for balancing measures, so that’s no reason to not give us free guns. 

 A left, then a right then go straight for five minutes..
In other departments too things are not quite that organic. With this being one of those sandboxes that just consists of a lot of intertwining pathways instead of just one big world of which every square centimetre is accessible, feeling free to make your way straight across the tropical island of Hong Kong is out of the question. The free-running has a similar problem in that it isn’t quite ‘free’. When you are actually in the world driving is really the only way to get somewhere because of that, outside of a few linear paths used during missions, there is nothing you can climb over which really wastes the potential. The other problem with the running is that it also isn’t quite like running. It shares the Assassin’s Creed problem in that you can just hold a button to automatically move over every obstacle. Pressing one single button when you encounter an obstacle only makes you go a little bit faster. That doesn’t at all feel like climbing, but more like a hidden quick time event. So with free-running that is not free and is not like running, all we are left with is a button mashing event. 

Then there’s a severe lack of sandbox activities that the player can engage in at any time. I know that this is one of those sandbox games that really revolve around the missions and where the world is only for the sake of immersion and commuting between missions, but when I get bored I also want to have the freedom to do a bunch of arbitrary side activities. Grand Theft Auto lets me do taxi missions, Just Cause 3 lets me staple civilians to my car using the hookshot, but in Sleeping Dogs there is nothing like that, except for a few identical fight clubs, cock fights and hijackable (yes, that’s a word) security trucks. 

 Lets not forget Street Racing!
Now you might ask: ‘Then what are we here for? Sandboxes are about freedom and gameplay, and if both are lacking here then we might as well go back to playing Grand Theft Auto V’. Note that if you are so quickly deterred by the unknown that you run back to GTA five’s warm embrace at the first sight of something new, I sincerely hope we don’t meet. After all, there are more things in life than guns and cars. As to why we are here, I answer: because Snoozing Hounds has feelings in it. Sleeping Dogs must be the first modern-day set crime sandbox that actually made me feel a bit of the emotions that the main character must be experiencing. Whenever a game makes me feel like I actually have some emotions left in that empty husk that is my soul I am willing to shake it’s hand until I erode it to dust.

With Wei working full-time for a criminal organisation, he is torn between his loyalty to the law and his ties to his new family. This central plot element would be no more than another chewed-out cliché if I hadn’t felt a thing for either side, but the game very nicely manages to make you bond with these ruthless murderers, depicting them as your family in a very convincing way. This is played out by having you do more activities with them than going on murder sprees. There are literally missions that involve you going shopping with some people in the triads. This seems completely pointless, but stuff like this can, if the writing is good enough, really get you to bond with these characters. That way you, as a player, forget that you are still an undercover rozzer and think of these criminals as your friends. Consequently, whenever you see one poor bastard get cleaved to death in a butcher’s shop by your new ‘family’, you come down from that feeling like a derailed rollercoaster and when a game achieves shock like this I think it has reached a pretty high goal as far as storytelling is concerned. 

 Believe it or not you will grow to like these guys.
Sometimes the most seemingly useless parts of a game can make it shine and Napping Canines is a good example of this. When you are in your own house, you are able to pee in the toilet and wash your hands. Pointlessness again? In the literal sense of the word it is indeed pointless, because moving the camera during the peeing animation showed me that Wei has no penis, but in a more figurative sense there is indeed a point to this. Letting the player do ancillary nonsense like this can really make the game world feel like a real place and in combination with the aforementioned left-hand driving and Cantonese, Hong Kong sucks you in like a starved sarlac. 
In spite of that there are a few weird things sometimes going on. The game has the tendency to be quite buggy. Cars quite often sink into the world geometry, which causes a sea of sparks that would almost make you think someone is celebrating the Chinese new year. Also, three NPC’s that were supposed to be running from the police on one occasion ran into a traffic barrier and just kept running into the wall like they were practising their stationary moonwalk. Also, much to my personal amusement, in one mission where you are chased by enemy cars, the NPC driving my car got stuck while exiting the freeway. Meanwhile, enemy cars kept spawning in which were immediately shot to bits by me. Soon I had created a collection of destroyed cars that could rival that of the Top Gear set after a busy recording day. One thing that is not a bug but just plain weird is a recurring side mission that involves, among other things, looking at security camera footage and finding a drug dealer who is within your view. That guy is always the only guy standing by himself, wildly gesturing with always the same suit. What is even more weird is that, if you don’t select him within literally 10 seconds or so the game points him out for you. That is so ridiculously easy that I don’t understand that they went through the effort to make this an entire series of side missions. 

 Top Gear: Sleeping Dogs Edition.
I just want to zoom in on one aspect of the immersive story to exemplify a more general theme. Games and sexuality are an interesting topic. They can be a good combination but don’t always mix. As a general rule of thumb, sexuality can be a great tool to show character development, but if it does not add anything, is oversexualized or is not quite gender-equal it takes you out of the experience like a bucket of cold water because then the developers only put it there because they thought that the audience, and then primarily the male half, would enjoy watching it. But in reality, it has the same effect as, say, making a horror movie which is suddenly intercut with a slideshow that shows pretty landscapes. When there is no connection it may be as pretty as you like but that won’t lead to a better movie or game.

Sleeping Dogs is a good example of a proper execution in this area. Wei has a few sexual moments after a bunch of dating missions with some women. It isn’t much; just some suggestive noises and a camera that looks away. Come to think of it, since we have established that Wei has no penis and since we don’t see one thing of what’s going on it could just as well be that he and his girlfriend are getting rather excited about an engaging game of Scrabble. This helps show how much Wei considers the triads to be his family, as he is even getting into relationships with people in the criminal society. Also, this for once depicts a human side of the normally almost robotic, all-powerful protagonist. Another example of proper execution is Far Cry 3, where (spoiler) Citra’s seduction is an influence in the decision the player has to make at the last moment. Then there are games like Ride to Hell: Retribution or The Witcher 2 that don’t give context, meaning or personality to the nudity or the people involved in it. That is really a design decision that I despise. 
Sleeping Dogs isn’t new IP, since it’s a continuation of the ‘True Crime’ series, which makes it so surprising that it took a relatively fresh approach to sandbox games with it’s own mix of gameplay types and special setting. Where Watch Dogs and maybe even Grand Theft Auto V were the metaphorical tin foil vases in the silverware shop, Sleeping Dogs is the beautiful Ming vase hidden beneath the floorboards. It just goes to show that looking further is rewarding.
Next time around I’ll (sky)dive into Just Cause 3.

Silverain here I have to agree with most of Hax Momsters review here but there were a few little details I wanted to expand upon. First of the the excellent melee combat system is combined with a brutal environment use mechanic which can see you outright murdering your attackers by ramming their faces into whatever is nearby such as various signs, stalls or (the one that made me flinch the first time I saw it) into ventilation fans. Your fighting style also expands over the course of the game resulting in attacks that can one shot most basic thugs however like most games that involve a fluid fighting system such as this there are particular enemies that are immune to certain attacks and frustratingly as the game progresses in sections these become the norm rather than the exception making many of the attacks you have somewhat useless and dragging out combat.  Likewise the gun combat is somewhat sudden and frustrating with death coming out of nowhere at first but when guns are involved you know the stakes are suddenly all that much higher, with the decent enemy disarming and cover system it actually becomes rather fluid to combine tackling a guy to steal his shotgun shoot him dead before taking cover firing a few shots before tacking the next gun wielding thug.

 You should see there reaction after you really mess someone up.
The city itself was a delight to explore and experience with it been generally more beautiful and alive than many other sandboxes but the shallow level of interaction made me wish there was more I could do, that said there are numerous cheap DLC's for the game that were released sometime afterwards that added several additional aspects for the game but just as many were simply extra costumes.

Story line wise Sleeping Dogs made me feel like I was playing every old cop film at once and I loved it, if I had any issue is that in points of the game there are time skips that are not exactly clear at first and I often felt that it would have been more appropriate to add a additional mission or two to explain just how Wei gained the trust of the triad so quickly, that said much like the city itself the game had me immersed and wanting more and I was a bit sad once it was all over.

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Smouldering Embers: The Use Of The Camp Fire Scenes In Modern Roleplay.

Posted by: Jason Silverain / Category: , , , , , , , , , ,

Flitting restless as the loaned bedroll did little to cushion the packed soil beneath it Tiasel cursed quietly, groggily sitting upright swaying slightly from the growing headache. While normally able to rest anywhere within the city the keen senses she relied upon to keep her safe now acted against her, the mixture of unsettling silence and moments of unfamiliar noise repeatedly roused her from the little rest she could manage.
A sudden surge of anxiety twisted and knotted her stomach only growing as she found herself scrabbling for her rucksack, her fingertips confirming that her mask still lay within the hidden compartment within her hands withdrew still shaking slightly even as the panic receded.
Glancing down at her softly trembling fingers what little panic remain was replaced with anger at the former Mayor of Pryham as another curse left her lips, now fully awake it seemed impossible to keep out thoughts of the events of the day.

In retrospect she had been more than fortunate, the group of mercenaries that had rescued her had allowed her to join them giving her protection and prospects of making some money while simultaneously putting as much distance from the capital as possible. However something was simply strange about the group, she had encounter self proclaimed 'Adventurers' in the city often gesturing and posturing about the wealth they had obtained and often losing said wealth in binges of gambling, drinking and wenching, this group didn't seem to fit that at all.
Closing her aching eyes the throbbing in her forehead eased for a moment though the air within small tent the dwarf Sandell had loaned her seemed stuffy and hard to breath, leaning through the hide flaps the nights chill greeted her face filled with scent of leaves and embers as she now crawled from the tangled bedroll glad not for the first time she was well practised in sleeping in her leathers.

The fighter applying a whetstone to his blade looks up as the ranger steps out from the surrounding undergrowth, cocky smile on her lips as she reveals her success holding up a pair of rabbits and some wild root vegetables before joining the cleric who is currently cooking dinner over the camp fire. Meanwhile the rogue finishes unrolling the last of the bedrolls and furs within the parties shared tent aided by the wizard who chants incantations to ward their possession from insects and other unwelcome guests...

The camp fire scene is iconic in almost any roleplay though its game mechanic effect varies between systems and settings, its also a common sight in fantasy film, literature and most recently video games often used as a time for the party to rest, recuperate and discuss with one another.
However in spite of all this I ask as a player when was the last time in your campaigns did your group set up camp and it went beyond organising who was on watch and a roll for random encounters?

Now this isn't to say that groups are not roleplaying as in depth anymore, in fact even back in the original Dragon Warriors books of 1985 while providing the rules for random encounters and resting the premade example adventure and the campaign The Elven Crystals often glossed over travel using it more as a story telling element.
Its quite understandable that as roleplaying systems (most notably Fate) in recent years have tried to emulate movie or play like scene to scene layouts in order to promote a fast pacing of action flow and between these scenes healing occurs “off screen” that the camp fire scene use has dwindled further.
It should be noted that this is not necessary a bad thing, much like shopping is not always suitable to roleplay these scenes as it can upset the pacing or mood that the DM is trying set, trying to roleplay the camping scene every night for a long journey would quickly grow tiresome. In systems such as Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder many rules that require additional book keeping are often glossed over, simplified, house ruled or ignored, rations, non magical arrow ammunition, encumbrance and random encounters are all the most common rules affected. Since food rations and possibility of random encounters are often factors that influence setting up camp the loss of these risk factors can make it somewhat superfluous from a mechanics point of view.

Now it is interesting that Tavern scenes and scenarios are still widely popular and common though on the surface they share the same purpose as resting up at the campfire there are several key differences.

  1. The Presence Of NPCs: Arguably the most notable difference, in personal experience with my own parties over the last 10 years I've noticed players may be reluctant or shy to roleplay in character when speaking to one another or pursue possible cross party agendas but will be more than willing to chat to NPCs and use them like puppets. Part of this is due to player personal preferences some groups dislike having inter party conflict or romance due to possible issues with player/character separation (who hasn't heard stories of groups dissolving after two or more players took a character death by another party member personally). Another issue is simply that some players simply will not know what to do or discuss because they are talking to another character who already knows everything they might talk about or alternatively certain players (particularly newer players) may feel uncomfortable with been in the spotlight. While there may be NPC's such as followers, fellow travellers or captives in a camp fire scene more often than not the party knows the exact alliances and motivations of these NPCs (or in some cases be directly under the control of another player) so there is no mystery or risk.

  1. A Variety Of Additional Purpose: A camp fire scene has arguably 3 core purposes: to rest, eat and heal, to create a temporary area of safety and to allow time to perform tasks such as changing equipment, interrogating a captive or performing a complicated spell, wait for a contact to arrive etc. A Tavern can cover all three of these in its own way and provides more possibilities such as gathering information (both discreetly and overtly), indulging in celebration and vice such as drinking and wenching, acquiring supplies and wealth (through merchants, fences and gambling) as just a few examples and because of this it retains more of an important role even into the later campaign as the party gain access to versatile magic. In addition a campfire scene in nearly all scenarios occurs while the party is travelling between locations (even if that location is between floors in a dungeon) whilst a Tavern might be a stop between locations or lie in the heart of destination if it is within a city.

  1. Location And Illusion Of Safety: Even if a Tavern is owned by the local thieves guild and has a two people drinking in the corner who a group suspects wants them dead a tavern will nearly always seem safer than a camp. This may seem a strange claim but when analysed it is down to the simple fact that far easier for both a player and character to identify possible risks and sources of danger. After all you only really have to analyse the people within the tavern, if your worried about been killed in your sleep you barricade the door of your room and check for possibility other entrances, if your worried about poison you eat your own food and drink, in the case of a fight its often well lit and attackers are visible. There is no worry about possible roaming monsters, the elements, the possibility of the shelter collapsing and all the other issues that may affect a camp and because of this players are more likely to engage and take risks and be involved in scene where in a camp scene its set up, make a strong fire, deploy spells and bunker down.

  1. Player Familiarity: Simply put many players and dungeon masters are more personally familiar with the concept and imagery of a tavern through media and personal experience making it far easier immerse themselves into the scene. Often camp fire scene in films and book shows the characters recuperating and mentally relieved at the break from the events of the day or alternatively nervous and in fear of what may occur during the night, but because of the detachment between the player and character and often the emphasis on heroic roleplay its difficult to portray either of these feelings in roleplay.
So how is the camp fire scene still used? Well for some groups its still an important for roleplay and character development and plays out much like the introductory paragraph of this article, this is more likely to occur in low magic settings or with low level parties in Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder where the mechanical effects of resting are more important and a party simply cannot cast Mordenkainen's Magnificent Mansion and be all but immune to ambush and the elements.
More often than not its condensed down to a few survival checks for suitable location organising who is on watch or just a time skip by the DM, in special note to scene skipping this habit grows somewhat problematic for arranging unexpected attacks and ambushes on the party simply as by asking the question “Who is on watch?” or “What do you do as you set up camp this evening?” will make the party immediately wary in a similar way that the DM asking if a player is sure about committing to an action will make them pause to think.

I've found in my personal experience that the traditional role-played camp fire scenes occur very early in a campaign but as travel grows more routine then it is often overlooked or reduced to a few simple questions it is only when new elements that change that routine occur that these scenes are role played in character and examples of these are meeting new travelling companions whether NPC or Player and this can include captives, when the players find interesting relics and artefacts that they did not have time to examine in detail and when the players are under stress such as been hunted.
Location has an effect on this as well, scenarios such as fortifying a room in a dungeon to rest in or when the party is under threat (such as been hunted like mentioned above) often had my own groups both as a player and DM act far more involved in and often prompt camp fire scenes.
Its my observation that the reason behind this is that in these situations the party in the mentality of an encounter much like a tradition fight or trap where as traditional camp fire scenarios can be considered party 'down time' and something the players to gloss over so they can continue with the action.

Overlooked, glossed over and made redundant by magic and house rules even so just why do I think the camp fire scene is still important? Two very simple points:
  1. It allows wilderness classes such as Rangers and Druids to bring their skills forth and gives them some time in the spotlight.
  2. It creates a scene where characters can interact with each other in a casual, non stressful manner.

So the next question is what can be done to make the camp fire scene more appealing, well here are a few game elements I've personally found to help:
  • I've introduced more encounters with other travellers on the road such as day to day merchants, PCs in the wilderness may also encounter stray animals, a lone hunter or even another adventuring party though I try to limit these encounters. It helps bring detail to the world and helps with players who have trouble role playing with other player characters.
  • Describing possible weather and conditions that may affect possible camp sites, this combined with some detailed descriptions of the land have lead to rather entertaining side adventures as the parties refused to stop and sort out better camp sites.
  • I also have a general rule of a single camp fire scene per journey (unless the players want more or a event causes another) unless the journey is particularly short. This reduces the problem of the party growing overly wary when questioned about camping as mentioned earlier.

Other Dungeon Masters have also highlight the issue and have created their own sets of house rules some of my favourites are Telecanter's Receding Rules article on camp site mechanics which has two of my favourite rules quoted below:

Music in the wilderness means you are not afraid of being attacked and what reminds characters of home more than the songs of home. +1hp per level per night in camp where music is played. The idea came for having bards as hirelings, but I've allowed characters to buy and play their own instrument. This costs some money and takes up encumbrance space. And how about the noise? I wouldn't want to penalize too much, or players would never play music in camp, maybe just a +1 to encounter rolls.

The Hearth
If the campfire is the extension of the hearth, maybe it should offer some protection against the dark. I'll repost an idea here:
A cleric, or anyone versed in the Old Ways, can take a stone weighing a half-stone or more from the night's fire. By incorporating it into the next night's fire ring they make that fire a hearth. Each night of doing so makes the hearth magic stronger. Undead and shape changers can not enter the light of a true hearth.
Half-stone is ~7 pounds which is one of my simple encumbrance slots. I'm not interested in the bookkeeping part now. Maybe just, using the hearth a second time on gives the protection, but skipping a use in a fire will mean you have to break the stone in again. Particularly old stones taken from ruins or abandoned cottages might function as magic items that give extra bonuses. 

WCP over at Escape Velocity Gaming also very much liked these suggestions and has expanded them in a further article and gave the idea of particular wood properties when burned.

The Campfire Fuel
Telecanter discusses a hearth stone idea that is tremendous. In the same vein, I like the idea of a particular type of wood helping the party. If those with botanical knowledge harvest these special woods to burn in the fire they enjoy some varied bonuses.
Wood with its effect
Barkbane This thick-barked wood is purported to keep all dogs and wolves at bay and is found to be nauseating to lycanthropes (any lycanthrope suffers a small attack penalty while fighting near barkbane).
Bloodthorn This reddish wood has severe thorns all over it. Those who have open wounds will find they quickly close and coagulate (a small immediate healing bonus for those affected by naturally occurring battle wounds of the cut/slash sort).
Greencloak This leafy, vibrant tree has wood that burns with a very thick low-laying smoke. Anyone who burns greencloak is somewhat obscured as the green smoke helps hide them. The GM may institute a small penalty to any foe trying to spot the party’s campsite.
Wyrdwoode This white, gnarly wood burns with a pale yellow smoke. The smoke has a calming effect on all persons and animals nearby (horses won’t spook as easily, the party familiars will rest easily). The wood’s effect may reduce the duration of any sort of agitated condition or mental state (shaken, scared, etc.) or remove the effects of a spell that affects the target’s mental state.

While those of my favourites I hearty recommend giving the full articles a read and if your players are stuck for things to do at the camp fire remember there's always the rules for Skinning and Cooking available here.

I would love to hear what your own thoughts are on the matter and if anyone has any further articles on the matter please send a link,

Clambering through the narrow tent opening Tiasel froze mid step as a quiet snort caught her attention, her gaze flitting in the direction of the sound she found her self eye to eye with the heavy set dwarf in full armour lent against a thick oak camouflaged to the casual observer by his thick brown cloak. About to apologise for disturbing him she caught her words as she noticed the unfocused look in the dwarfs eyes, another low snort rumbling from Sandell confirmed her suspicions. 'He's asleep with his eyes open just like old watchman Andrews used to do...' she thought to herself a sly grin growing on her lips as she resumed untangling herself from the tent flap before lightly stepping through the camp barely even making a sound on the dry leaves.
Placing another log on the campfire to ensure the dwarf would remain warm she turned her head to check on Sandell one last time before wandering down the hill towards the nearby lake hoping that a brief stroll would ease her mind.

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