Friday, September 5, 2014

B.P.R.D. THe Reign of the Black Flame

One of the things I enjoy about digital products is the ability for the distributor to call a sale whenever they want. Oh, I want to put X on sale or Y on sale and bam! It happens! It doesn't require a whole new working of the distribution chain or anything. Just a few bits of coding to make say, The Bureau For Paranormal Research and Defense go from $1.99-$3.99 to .99 cents an issue.

And with that sale I picked up the last few arcs that I'd been missing, namely the Reign of the Black Flame.

For those who don't know, it's a difficult series to do a quick synopsis on. It started off kind of like Fringe or X-Files in that it was fairly normal people with a few oddballs here and there with some special abilities that were put into weird situations but as of late, those situations and those oddballs have both kicked it up by more than a notch or two.

It's a setting that shows mankind fighting in what may be it's last days. It's somewhat like Walking Dead in that society in many aspects has fallen down yet, but isn't completely forgotten. There are still guns and some bits of high-tech and depending on where you're at, perhaps even fellow humans. But it gets worse each story line.

In Reign of the Black Flame, the B.P.R.D. is sent into New York, which has gone completely dark. Strangely enough though, the corporation Zinco seemed to be hoarding supplies before everything went dark...

For a quick review, it's a powerful tale. It's one of my favorites as we see Liz hitting all of the 'awesome' buttons but countered by how terrible the setting is. We see some of the other characters like Iosif, an undead Russian commander,  getting to flex their chops and seeing how things, even when they work towards the B.P.R.D.'s side, don't always mean victory.

In terms of gaming and inspiration...

Right off the bad it's an adventure seed. Imagine one of the great cities of a setting that is cut off from the rest of the setting. Imagine that there is so much going on in the character's own sphere of the world that for a year they can't get in to look at it, but during that time, no one is heard from in that city. Anyone that goes into the city doesn't come out. Sounds like a job for adventurers to me!

One of the things I like about the story right off the bat is the framing of it.

In terms of a campaign, it makes me think of effective ways to bring the impact of what's going on to the players.

The B.P.R.D. is walking into the ruins of the once thriving city and note that there are no bodies.  One of the people in the group is a psychic, Fenix, who provides a quick bit of background. That the inhuman monsters have been hunting the remnants of humanity and devouring them whole. That in hospitals they are filled to overflowing. That many people decided to make a run for it in boats. In thousands of boats. And well, travel by boat in these dark times? Decidedly not a good idea. There is no method of procuring the "bigger boat" as previous attempts to enter the city with submarines and battleships have shown these vessels destroyed by the water serpents and other aquatic horrors.

But one of the mundane explanations that slips through? "I'd say a lot of cans of dog food haven't been opened around here lately." Yes, normal dogs following a group of armed soldiers look to be fairly well feed.

During the investigations early, another framing piece comes in. The group spots a group of people in a park but when they get there, these people are all suicides. They came to the park so that they wouldn't be alone when they died.

Mind you, it goes against the numerous reasons why there were no bodies earlier. It's not like an explanation is ever provided as to why say, the dogs don't eat the bodies or why the various monsters don't swallow the corpses whole, but as a piece showcasing how hopeless and powerless the normal people are? It's powerful.

In terms of tone being set, the characters see numerous monsters laying eggs or taking up massive amounts of physical space but not doing much. they become set pieces against the backdrop of horror without actually interacting with the characters. These pieces help set and maintain the tone of horror and hopelessness.

On the side of the B.P.R.D., there is also the loss of the tanks and other heavy weapons. Some bemoan this fact until the leader points out a huge monstrosity that takes up much of a bay. "What good is a tank against that?" he asks. "Our mission requires stealth. Lacking that, no armament can help us." It's a good example of a group of specialists sent into enemy territory to find out what's happening.

In terms of 'positive' things happening? The group captures Leopold, a former servant of Rasputin who strives to make his way, on the side of devils mind you, in this new world. Still, he's unhappy with how he's treated and quickly spills his guts to the B.P.R.D. in terms of what he knows and provides a handy source of information.

Having such a character, one who is willing to defect to the character's side given half a chance, is a useful tool to provide information to the characters who may otherwise be missing it.

One of my favorite bits? The fight between Liz and the Black Flame. Liz has long been shown to be a powerhouse whose upper limits really haven't been tapped. The Black Flame? An old foe brought back from the grips of the Old Ones themselves. His connection and abilities in his new incarnation haven't been tested but Liz does manage to test them.

It's a great fight because it shows Liz at the peak of her game. She's confident in her abilities. She uses her powers at full throttle. It brings a level of upper level power that has long been missing from the series. The good news is that as an opponent, the Black Flame is far beyond what he used to be and is in essence, a channel to the Old Ones whose tied into all life, or at least all life in the city and in this instance, without destroying the city and all her friends within it at the same time, Liz is unable to claim victory.

One of the things I like, is that the story show cases a number of characters that have vastly different abilities. If you as a Game Master have ever run a super hero game or a Rifts campaign, you may have had the pleasure of dealing with characters of vastly different power levels. In some instances it's easy to hand wave the differences. In Champions for example, 12d6 can come from a 20 STR, an offensive Strike, and a few levels of martial arts to match a laser blast that does 12d6. In other games like Rifts... the effect isn't something that matters to the affect. Getting hit for 180 M.D.C. when you're a S.D.C. creature isn't a good thing for example.

But here we see those different power levels each doing their own thing. It actually requires a bit of 'splitting' the party in that the power house characters, like say a Cosmo Knight, go specifically for the big bad who doesn't bother to associate with minions or have any guards because hell, he's the big bad. It allows the special players who may not be Cosmo Knights but are still powerful to pump out the damage on a significant level even if they can't touch the next level of villain but at least one member of the party can.

B.P.R.D. is one of those titles that while being modern and horror and supernatural based, is strong enough that no matter what type of campaign you're running you should be able to find inspiration for characters, adventure seeds, monsters, and all sorts of other good things.

The book is available from Amazon now for under $16 bones and is well worth reading.