Monday, September 21, 2015

Tabletop & LARP RPGs Advice & Inspiration

Because I don't have nearly enough to do, I recently took over the Tabletop & LARP RPGs Advice & Inspiration group on Facebook from Patricia Willenborg.  It's already sitting at around 200 members, but could always use more, particularly people who have advice to offer.

Come check us out, would you please?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The West That Never Was: Harmonia

So I'm currently reading The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land by John Benedict Buescher, possibly as preparation for an Unknown Armies game I seem increasingly unlikely to run.  (It would also be an excellent resource for anyone running a God-Machine Chronicle game.  The idea of John Murray Spear as a mortal cult leader — or even a stigmatic — contacted by angels of the God-Machine would be a pretty rad time.  Astute observers might also note Spear's frequent dealings in Lovecraft country, and disturbing parallels with the Nyarlathotep avatar the Tick-Tock Man.)  You can read a basic run-down at Wikipedia or other sources, but as a very brief background, John Spear was a New England Unitarian minister in the mid-1800s who became heavily involved in prison reform, equal rights, and suchlike.  He eventually became active in the Spiritualist community, and claimed he was being contacted by a bureaucracy of spirits (including several famous figures from American history, notably Ben Franklin, Benjamin Rush, and George Washington), entities who were giving him instructions to build a new America on spiritual principles.  He built a god-machine (that was either destroyed or never worked, evidence is unclear), he built model communities based on spiritualism and socialism, and basically did the messianic occultist cult leader thing.

After the destruction of the god-machine, Spear's activities continued with the conception of what would be an ideal city, a New Jerusalem run by mediums in constant communion with the spirits.  It would be an enlightened, socialist society called Harmonia.  The spot was in Kiantone, on the site of an old spring.  (Spear and his followers believed the spot had mystical properties left by the machinations of an ancient race.)  It only met with limited success, but the plan was to build the city according to the symbolism of the human body (most of Spear's creations follow anatomy in some way).

Of course, as awesome as all that would be as background for a modern (or historical) occult horror game, I was immediately struck by the timeframe.  What if this were in the Wild West rather than New England?

What if it were in the West That Never Was?

(Note: As per the theme in the first West post, I'll reference spell names from Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but similar spells are available in pretty much every fantasy RPG.  If you want to do that Boot Hill/AD&D crossover, just look for the appropriate AD&D spells and go from there.)


Population 1,020

Harmonia is a mixed theocracy-magocracy, a community primarily run by clerics and magic-users.  However, only the day-to-day operations are actually performed by mortals; the true work is done by the spirits.  The local government makes heavy use of Speak with Dead, Commune, and similar extraplanar communication spells (alternately, the entities they contact are willing to come to them).

The town is completely without mundane defenses, as the government is entirely pacifistic.  They instead rely on faith and the guidance of spirits to avoid external threats.  (It's entirely possible that some manner of "guardian angel" guards the site against interlopers.)  As expected, weapons are not allowed in town — travelers must either divest themselves before entry, or turn their weapons over to the townsfolk, whereupon they will be destroyed.  (Note that if travelers just drop their weapons outside town, the townsfolk will gather and destroy them.  If the travelers do something clever, like burying their weapons, but they look like the sort to carry weapons, the townsfolk will use Locate Object to find them, excavate them, and destroy them.  They're pretty thorough, although it might take a few days to locate well-hidden weapons, so the PCs might be able to recover them.)

The town is built on the site of an ancient healing spring; access to the spring is free, but monitored so that no one tries to pollute the well.  A single drink of water will cure the most serious ailment affecting the imbiber, as per a Cure Disease, Cure Light Wounds, or Neutralize Poison spell.  (So someone who is diseased, poisoned, and wounded would need at least three drinks to be fully healed.)  The water can be bottled, but loses potency after a day away from the well.

The head of the town is the Reverend John Spear, a spiritualist and minister from Back East.  Now in his sixties, he was an adventurer and rabble-rouser in his youth, and is a 10th level cleric.  He has a family Back East, although they do not live out here as they do not understand his spirit communion.  (His daughter, Sophronia, participated in his spiritual explorations, but she died of brain fever a couple of years back.  He still communes with her, however.)  He is tended by a council of mediums, low-level clerics and magic-users whom he provides with scrolls when resources allow.

The townsfolk do not use wealth among each other, but when dealing with the outside world, they gather their wealth through the use of the Locate Object spell.  (Gold mining is a popular profession, as is a certain level of dungeon delving.)  They will sell general goods to outsiders for nominal fees (use the standard rural values; at the DM's discretion, prices may also be lower for some goods), although they sell any found treasure and treasure maps at normal (but relatively fair) values.

If your game uses Cattle Punk tech as described in the first West post, it is available here (although weapons never are).  Also note that if you are just running traditional D&D, you can strip the Western elements and Victorian-level technology with no trouble.  (The more technology available in your world, though, the more steampunk they get; they're all about the divine essence as a New Motive Power, an advanced engine that powers the world and whose power can be harnessed by mortals.)

Note that the nature of the spirit entities that guide the townsfolk is left deliberately vague.  Spear certainly thinks they're angels and spirits of the dead guiding the town to a glorious future, but they could be anything: ancestors, aliens, angels, demons, devils, the ghosts of the ancient race that enchanted the spring, gods, psychic projections of Illuminated masters (or aboleths or illithids), spirits of the Duvan'Ku, the weird entities summoned by the Summon spell, or any other entity of the DM's choosing.  The creatures chosen will naturally influence the town's goals and general feel to some degree.

Students of popular culture and science fiction may also note that "Harmonia" sounds suspiciously similar to "Harmony," the name of the Wild West version of The Village from The Prisoner.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Revised Map of the Sorrowfell Plains

So I finally made an actual document on all the named settlements of the Sorrowfell Plains.  It's on Google Drive for any and all interested parties, although there are spoilers for some of the smaller settlements, so if you play in one of my games, you may wish to avoid it.  Consider it a very brief gazetteer of the Sorrowfell Plains setting.  Check it out:

Sorrowfell Settlements

The settlement write-ups correspond with the settlements on the revised Sorrowfell Plains map, made in Hexographer.  It also contains spoilers, and it's a pretty big image, so I also threw it in Google Drive:

Sorrowfell Plains (revised map)

And just for completion, you can also check it out here:

Click to enlarge
Note that the Tower of the Archmagus in last week's treasure map sits where Duchy Jepson resides today, in Hex 90.28.  You can probably determine the rest of the points on that map using this one.

Friday, September 4, 2015

The Map

One of my PCs in the Dungeon World game has gone looking for trouble, so I have trouble prepared.  Assuming all goes according to plan (which is a notable assumption in this group), the Terrible Old Man has a treasure map to some long-forgotten treasure.  The treasure will go unrevealed until the PCs speak with the Terrible Old Man, but for the time being, the treasure map may be useful.  I made it in Hexographer; it's based off a revised version of the Sorrowfell Plains map.  Interested parties might be able to use it in their own campaigns, if you need a random treasure map; I tea-dyed parchment-looking cardstock and burned the edges to give it a weathered look.

Click to enlarge.

Monday, August 31, 2015

There's Apparently a Level 1 in Dungeon Crawl Classics

After a couple of funnels ending in hilarity, we finally breached level 1 in rushputin's run of Escape from the Purple Planet.  We used the Purple Sorcerer Games funnel generator to make Earthmen of the Purple Planet, because if you're doing the John Carter thing, you might as well go all the way.  As is standard, most players experienced a reckoning of their 0-level PCs, although one of our players only lost his first character as we successfully escaped the prison complex.  He lost the street urchin, but still has a talking cosmonaut chimp, Pope Innocent XIII, and Rick Springfield Greenfield.

Here's my rundown:

Horatio duBois, displaced sailor from 1812, was frequently at the front, which meant he was the first to be captured and killed by the Maur.  Which is a bit unfortunate, as he grabbed one of the two suits of chainmail we found in the pits.  Oops.

Pop star Rebecca Black had a collection of wigs, a mace, and 7 hit points, but was unfortunately too slow to successfully avoid the rampaging strekleon in the control chamber.  She was impaled by quills multiple times.  She will look forward to no more weekends.

Mirabilis the Magnificent also met his end at the quills of the strekleon.  He bashed it with his mouldering old tome, which unfortunately found him close enough to get tangled in the beast's quills, like some sort of infomercial gone horribly wrong.  Proof that would-be wizards should stay out of melee combat.

The sole survivor from my four 0-level PCs was the British expatriate school teacher from turn-of-the-century Germany, Samantha Parkington.  She managed to acquire scale mail and a great glaive, cementing her transformation from school teacher to 1st level Warrior:

Monday, August 17, 2015

Review: Black Sun Deathcrawl

This is the bleakest setting I've ever had the pleasure of reading.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is a Dungeon Crawl Classics setting by James MacGeorge.  Imagine the unforgiving world of Dark Sun, the bleak pulp atomic horror of Carcosa, the dark fantasy of Dark Souls, the existential dread of Wraith: the Oblivion.

Black Sun Deathcrawl is worse than all of them.

Many years ago, the apocalypse happened.  The evil Black Sun became ascendant, turning the world to waste.  Its merciless rays have worn the world smooth and featureless.  Its wicked thoughts have taken shape as monsters that harry the few survivors, and push forth with the rays of the Black Sun.  The few survivors became the immortal and mutated Cursed, forced to eternal mutation under the harsh rays of the Black Sun.  The apocalypse was so total, even the gods have fled this landscape.  The only respite from the Black Sun is to dig.  Dig far underground in the hopes of escaping.

Of course, to dig means allowing the rays to penetrate the ground and eventually corrupt the entire planet.  By saving themselves, they doom the world.

It's a short zine, so you get only the barest flavor of the setting.  Fortunately, this means it does not stay overlong nor become tiresome.  Characters start as first level Fighters, but have already gained mutations from the Black Sun's corruption, and will gain more as exposure continues.  Death is not permanent, as characters return from the grave (bearing additional mutations!) within a round.  (Characters can die permanently if they run out of Hope, which replaces the Luck stat — committing suicide might be the only way to "win" at the setting.)  The only hope spot of the setting is that the Black Sun's gravity will eventually pull in existence around it and end its evil.  That's certainly small comfort to your PCs, of course — it could be millennia before that happens.

The zine ends with a sample adventure — the PCs dig into a city of dwarfs, but they bring the corrupting influence of the Black Sun with them, and are forced to flee deeper into the earth.  It plays a lot like the horror-march of Heart of Darkness or Apocalypse Now — you'll see a lot of horrific tableaus, some of which you can rage against but cannot fully stop.  Maybe you can save a life or two, but eventually, everyone becomes Cursed under the rays of the Black Sun.

I absolutely recommend it.  If any of the above sounds like something that interests you, get the pdf or pre-order from the next print run.

Monday, July 27, 2015


It's Gary Gygax's birthday!  The referee may include a preplanned encounter with fondue, a cask conditioned ale, and Gold & Mild cigars.  Alternately, the referee may roll 1d10 for birthday cake:


In the event of a random cake encounter, the day is usually arranged into three periods (breakfast, lunch, and dinner).  Cake has a 1-in-20 chance of appearing at any of these times.  This may be adjusted according to the referee's game milieu.

Print Friendly