Friday, September 13, 2019

Fear and Loathing in Indianapolis: GenCon 2019

"I looked pretty bad: wearing old Levis and white Chuck Taylor All-Star basketball sneakers… and my ten-peso Acapulco shirt had long since come apart at the shoulder seams from all that road-wind. My beard was about three days old, bordering on standard wino trim, and my eyes were totally hidden by Sandy Bull's Saigon-mirror shades.

"But my voice had the tone of a man who knows he has a reservation. I was gambling on my attorney's foresight but I couldn't pass a chance to put the horn into a cop: and I was right. The reservation was in my attorney's name. The desk-clerk hit his bell to summon the bag-boy. 'This is all I have with me, right now,' I said, 'The rest is out there in that white Cadillac convertible.' I pointed to the car that we could all see parked just outside the front door. 'Can you have somebody drive it around to the room?' The desk-clerk was friendly. 'Don't worry about a thing, sir. Just enjoy your stay here – and if there's anything you need, just call the desk.' I nodded and smiled, half-watching the stunned reaction of the cop-crowd right next to me. They were stupid with shock. Here they were arguing with every piece of leverage they could command, for a room they'd already paid for – and suddenly their whole act gets side-swiped by some crusty drifter who looks like something out of an upper-Michigan hobo jungle. And he checks in with a handful of credit cards! Jesus! What's happening in this world?"

— HST, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas


My scribbled notes, shattered checkbook, and dangerously-stacked shelves imply Nicole and I attended Gen Con 52 (August 1-4, 2019).

(If you want previous after-action reports, you can read about Gen Con 49 and Gen Con 50. They haven't aged particularly well, but such are the vagaries of life on this wretched internet of ours. What's that old Lynn White quote about the Dark Ages? "If it was dark, it was the darkness of the womb?")

I'll keep this one comparatively short.

Wednesday

The drive to and Indianapolis was accompanied by The Legend of Drizzt: The Collected Stories. (We have minimal exposure to the Forgotten Realms, so it was an amusing diversion. And totally worth it to hear Ice-T say, "Menzoberranzan," over and over again.) When we ran out of audiobook on the return journey, we transitioned to Queen, as one does.

Dispatches from liminal spaces.
We eventually traversed the wastelands and arrived in Indianapolis. We had to rush to pick up materials for a game I was running Friday morning, but I did get an unexpected Exhibitor badge and a bunch of swag from Atlas Games, so that was pretty sweet.

Seriously, folks: run for Special Ops. It's clear they're still working out some of logistics, but they take great care of you.

Ol' Johnny Two-Badges
We were originally going to go to the Gong Farmer's Almanac stapling party, but it wrapped early, so we went back to the room.

Thursday

Here's the most important part of the weekend: there was a cat who clearly lives around our hotel. She was incredibly sweet, and we took to visiting with her each day and calling her Gen.

Oh, to be a little Gen Con cat.
We headed to the Exhibition Hall, and I finally encountered No Rest for the Wicked in the flesh.

The baby comes home!
We also met Kalin Kadiev in person. A longtime Unknown Armies Fan Club member and an illustrator for Chaosium, it's been a long time coming. We continued around the Exhibition Hall and grabbed the standard array of stuff before we had to hustle to a No Small Crimes in Lankhmar game at 2 PM. It was fun! (Protip: if you're going to rob a house, make sure it's not a wizard's house. Things get dicey.)
We also had an opportunity to meet Mike and Shoe in real life (after playing in Ben L.'s Dreamlands game with them for a number of weeks), and she ran Six-String for us (which she talks a bit about here). We sadly didn't get far into the playtest, but we await the finished product with baited breath.

Friday

I was running Maria in Three Parts for Unknown Armies at 8 AM, so we had to turn around and head back to the convention.

I will freely admit: it wasn't my best work. The adventure has a lot of moving parts, and in the shuffle, I skipped one which would have enhanced the runtime. But as it was, they managed to reunite the Marias and save the day, so it all worked out.

There was food and more Exhibition Hall. At some point, we encountered cosplay of Sweet from MCDM's The Chain stream.

Who is this under my knife?
Then, we returned to the hotel to change before the ENnie Awards.

Those are some ENnies.
Somewhere when I was getting drinks, Nicole met Janet Forbes of World Anvil and Michael Kesavan of DeadAussieGamer. Doubly exciting because World Anvil won an ENnie this year!

As you have no doubt heard, Chaosium swept the ENnie awards, although there were some notable others, with Mothership having an excellent showing. The winners are listed here.

Saturday

I was running Over the Edge at noon, so I dressed in my Al Amarjan best.

Thank you for your consent.
Under Broken Wings went more smoothly than Maria in Three Parts, I think. We had a rockstar woodwind player, his tiny fireplug of a bodyguard, a monster-hunting monsterfucker, and a thief who always lies. After becoming trapped in the Stately Arms, running into vein-creatures and rubbery hair monsters and a manic dentist named Dr. Benway, they managed to solve the strange occurrences and leave.

After that, we hustled to PST Productions' Once in a Lifetime LARP. (Amusingly, Once in a Lifetime was the very first PST game I played over a decade earlier.) If you want to see pictures of the event, they're over on Facebook.

Sunday

We headed to The Goodies and annual Goodman Games raffle. We also had the chance to meet with Max and Kate, both known to us from the Unknown Armies Fan Club. (And Kate's been playing in an online Unknown Armies game with us for a couple of months now.) Then it was back to the hotel room to prepare for the long journey home the following day.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

A Tale of Two Swords

A parable about the importance of choosing names. This is a tale of two sapient swords, Perversion and Pervert.

Perversion

It probably looks something like this.
Crafted by the warlord Bamara Ondus in the second millennium before the Common Epoch, Perversion is a wicked sword: a slayer of Men, a burner of churches, and a bastion standing in opposition of Law. (They say Bamara Ondus forged the sword — or had it commissioned, sources differ — to launch a pogrom against the dragonborn of the northeastern Sorrowfell Plains. The fact that the sword is currently lost, as well as the prolonged existence of Archmagus Iandak Voiddrake, implies how well that went.)

Dedicated to the Demon Lord Baphomet, Perversion is as cunning as the demon lord in whose name it was forged. It is a +3 bastard sword, and Chaotic (Evil) in alignment. (If your system doesn't differentiate among different swords, treat it as a long sword.) In Labyrinth Lord, it has Intelligence 12 and Psyche 5, with a total Willpower 18. (In 5e terms, it has Intelligence 17, Wisdom 12, Charisma 18. If you're using another system, it should have an effective total Ego 18 with which to oppose characters, however that shakes out stat-wise. It's a fairly strong-willed sword.) It communicates telepathically with its wielder, an imperious voice resonating in the skull. It wishes to smite the Lawful and reward the ambitious, eventually uplifting the cause of Chaos amidst the ruins of civilization.

Perversion is adept at navigating mazes and smiting the weak. It can detect secret doors and sloping passages within 10'. When it attacks a foe, its damage dice "explode" — so if you roll an "8" on that 1d8, roll another d8. (If you roll additional dice on a crit, go ahead and assume all of them "explode.") While holding Perversion, the wielder regenerates 1 hit point per round.

It is intelligent enough to suggest its wielder engage subtly, although it relishes any opportunity to goad its wielder into berserker rages and glorious combat.

Pervert

Maybe a little like this.
Urrion Slenderblade forged this magic blade millennia ago in an attempt to remove parts of his own id he considered strange or shameful. The histories do not record whether he was ultimately successful in hiding his urges in swords, but they do record at least one sword he forged. Although it is more properly known by its Elvish name, Solavelque ("the sword of forgotten memory"), it is more frequently called by its Common moniker, Pervert.

According to the tales, Urrion instilled his sexual urges into this blade, to "better purify himself for the trials ahead." (The tales don't record what these trials were or why he potentially considered his sexuality shameful — most elves don't dwell overmuch on that sort of thing, although it is possible that his tribe had certain unrecorded rituals or taboos that might shed light on this strange practice.) Pervert counts as a +1 rapier, Chaotic (Neutral) in alignment. In Labyrinth Lord, it has Intelligence 10 and Psyche 5, with a total Willpower 15. (In 5e terms, it has Intelligence 16, Wisdom 10, Charisma 15. If you're using another system, it should have an effective total Ego 15 with which to oppose characters, however that shakes out stat-wise. It's a moderately strong-willed sword.) It speaks its desires aloud, a reedy voice capable of speaking Common, Elvish, Sylvan, Gnomish, or Chaotic (Neutral).

Pervert detects gems and jewelry within 60', invisible or hidden creatures within 20', and has the unique ability to sense the gender identities and sexual proclivities of sapient creatures within 10'. This is very much based on how a given creature perceives itself, and so is mutable from moment to moment. Beyond just sexual inclination, this also gives an inclination of symbolic societal gender roles as the person understands them — are they aggressive or nurturing, for instance? (Astute observers no doubt recognize this last sense as the first channel of The Sexual Rebis avatar from Unknown Armies.)

Pervert doesn't have motivations or goals, per se, but it is an expression of its creator's repressed desires without the mediating influence of nerves, time, or a sense of scale. If the Referee wants to include Pervert, they have to make a decision as to how weird or pushy the sword is about its appetites. I left the sword's convictions deliberately vague, as well as whatever Urrion considered "shameful." It could be anything from the sword pining over a lost love that Urrion considered a distraction, to straight-up Slaanesh worship. You have to judge what works best for your player group, whether it should be dramatic, tragic, comedic, or grotesque. (Personally, I'd go for whatever mood is most currently lacking.)

The obligatory warning: This is not an excuse to push your players into an uncomfortable situation. If they don't want to deeply delve into the psychology of a sapient sword and its long-dead Elven creator, Pervert is not the sword for them.

Monday, September 9, 2019

You'll Catch Your Death

I've previously outed myself as a recovering microbiologist, so it comes as little surprise that I liberally sprinkle disease and other such biological ephemera in my scenarios. (One of the players in my Los Angeles-set Unknown Armies game was bitten by an extradimensional raccoon, and was dismayed that her character became feverish and the bite wound became swollen despite passing her Fitness roll. I reminded her that fever is the sign that your body is doing what it's supposed to; the symptoms would have been far worse — and rules-influencing rather than merely descriptive flavor — had she failed.)

The following content originates from an early draft of No Rest for the Wicked. I'm glad to have dropped the prospect of cold weather as an antagonist, but the rules are still potentially useful, so here you are. As written, this is for Lamentations of the Flame Princess, but easily adaptable to any sort of old-school adventure game.

Hypothermia and Pneumonia

If player characters insist on sleeping outdoors on a cold, rainy night, they can potentially deal with the following complications:

If the player characters lack bedrolls and tents, the cold and wet threatens them with hypothermia. The player characters must save versus Paralyzation every turn or else lose a point of Constitution. Constitution lost to hypothermia potentially returns at a rate of 1 point per turn of rest, provided the characters are resting in a warm, dry space. Characters gain a +2 to the save if they have winter clothes.

If the player characters lack tents and winter clothing, sleeping in the cold, wet night threatens them with a respiratory ailment like bronchitis or pneumonia. If player characters spend more than 2 + Con modifier hours (minimum of 1 hour) out in the bad weather, the Referee should save versus Poison on their behalf. Failure indicates characters become feverish and are wracked with coughing fits within the next day or two. Three days after initial infection, the Referee should save versus Poison on the character's behalf again. (This roll is made at a -2 if the character is not resting during the infection, i.e. still adventuring.) Failure means the character loses 1 point of Constitution and 1d2 hit points. This saving throw repeats every 6 hours for 7 days. If the character survives the week, the disease passes. Lost Constitution returns at a rate of 1 point for every day of rest. At the Referee's option, a character might permanently lose 1 point of Constitution if their Constitution becomes low enough (maybe within Con 1-3).

Friday, September 6, 2019

Alacritous Ogre



Here is an intensely stupid conversation from a couple of weeks ago.

A friend of mine was watching the above speedrun, and given Shrek's movement speed, conversation turned to, "How terrifying is a permanently hasted ogre?"

Now your players can find out.

BECMI-style Stats:

(as modified from Labyrinth Lord)
No. Enc.: 1d6 (2d6)
Alignment: Chaotic
Movement: 180' (60')
Armor Class: 4
Hit Dice: 4 + 1
Attacks: 2 (club)
Damage: 1d10
Save: F4
Morale: 10
Hoard Class: XX + 1,000 gp
XP: 290

Ogre culture is as described on page 90 of Labyrinth Lord, except these ogres live at double-speed. Weird, smelly, violent, giant-sized speed-freaks.

5e-style Stats:

Alacritous Ogre
Large giant, chaotic evil
Armor Class 13 (natural armor)
Hit Points 59 (7d10+21)
Speed 80 ft.
Str 19 (+4), Dex 8 (-1), Con 16 (+3), Int 5 (-3), Wis 7 (-2), Cha 7 (-2)
Skills Athletics +6
Senses darkvision 60 ft., passive Perception 8
Languages Common, Giant
Challenge 2 (450 XP)
Evasion.  If the ogre is subjected to an effect that allows it to make a Dexterity saving throw to take only half damage, it instead takes no damage if it succeeds on the saving throw, and only half damage if it fails.
Actions
Multiattack.  The ogre makes two weapon attacks.
Greatclub.  Melee Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target.  Hit: 13 (2d8+4) bludgeoning damage.
Javelin.  Melee or Ranged Weapon Attack: +6 to hit, reach 5 ft. or range 30/120 ft., one target.  Hit: 11 (2d6+4) piercing damage.

Monday, July 29, 2019

Gen Con Bound

I can still hear the voices of my ancestors calling to me, telling me to avoid giving out personal information on the internet.  But we're all social media's stooges, so I suppose I might as well do this.

Since a couple people have asked: If you want to say hello at Gen Con, I'll no doubt be around — probably bouncing around the vicinity of the Lamentations booth (booth #3010) and shilling the few copies of No Rest for the Wicked likely to make it.  Buy them and I'll devalue them with my signature upon request!

I'll no doubt be flitting around the Atlas Games (booth #1421) or Goodman Games (booth #117) booths, although that's likely to be more of a transient thing.  If you're at the Gong Farmer's Local #282 meeting on Wednesday night, I should be there.

If you want more definitive information to dispatch assassins and end this wretched charade, I am likely to be found at the following places:

Thursday, 2 PM: Playing No Small Crimes in Lankhmar (ICC: 127-128: 14)

Friday, 8 AM: Running Maria in Three Parts (Marriott: Indiana Ballroom C: 1)

Friday, 6 PM: The ENnies! (Union Station: Grand Hall)

Saturday, 12 PM: Running Under Broken Wings (Marriott: Indiana Ballroom C: 2)

Saturday, 5 PM: Playing Once in a Lifetime (Hyatt: Network)

Sunday, 2 PM: The Goodies! (ICC: 127-128)

Friday, July 19, 2019

Spore Week: I Dreamt A Dream Of Human Iniquity, And It Disturbed My Rest

Can a mind think a thought so toxic it becomes a viral meme unto itself, churning and ripping through the other minds it infects?

A dungeon concept to round out Spore Week.

(I'll actually have to revisit and stat it out eventually, but one step at a time.)

Most people on the surface see the strange, purplish, bloated mushroom men of the deepearth — creatures that cannot speak and shun the sun and raise the dead with strange growths — and fear them, assuming them monstrous when they are in fact enlightenment-seeking pacifists.

People always assume all sorts of things about creatures which they do not understand.

And so it was that noted tomb robber Lupus Gaertner (7th-level thief) saw fit to penetrate the subterranean tunnels of the mushroom men and steal their riches, assuming that all under the sun is like himself and values gold from the earth.

He instead sneaked through lightless tunnels, finding no treasure but the strange alchemies of the fungus men and their peace-loving king.  His interrogations yielded nothing, so he slew the myconids' king.

Imagine his surprise when the king's cap sloughed off his head.

Donning the mushroom cap, Lupus found he could command and control the furtive fungus men.  They are clumsy and die in the sunlight, but night raids are better anyway, and stealth is less important when you have overwhelming force

Old Lupus began his slow transformation into the new Mushroom King when he donned the King's Crown, eventually becoming a myconid himself.  But his human ambitions remained, and he only uses the meld as a psychonautical training exercise to better prepare himself and his loyal subjects — a way to astrally case target sites and practice burglary strategies.

The myconids are essentially helpless victims, but the local populace will not see it that way, assuming that the mushroom men's nightly raids are of their own volition.  Even if Lupus is killed, they might continue their raids, simply assuming this is now their work.

About 100 myconids of various sizes lair in the lightless tunnels beneath the earth.  Old Lupus Gaertner is their king, twelve feet tall but still wily and possessing his various thieves' skills and tools in addition to his capabilities as a myconid sovereign.

The mushroom men themselves hold little treasure apart from their fungal and alchemical preparations: three potions of anointment (special poisons brewed by the mushroom men that elevate a 5 HD myconid adult to a 6 HD myconid sovereign; they are deadly poisons — save vs. poison or die — if consumed by non-myconids), and five potions of another type.  (You can use these strange growths to round out the potions, or you can roll on the potions table from some source like Labyrinth Lord.  I generated oil of etherealness, potion of giant control, potion of growth, potion of plant control, and potion of poison.)  Lupus tightly controls the myconids' alchemy, always trying to maintain his control.  (He is especially worried about those potions of anointment, as he wants to keep his hegemony over the myconid circles, but he keeps them in case they ever come in handy.  Especially because they form a deadly poison to humans.)

Although myconids don't usually keep treasure, Lupus stashed his old loot throughout the complex before completing his transformation, not to mention what he and the myconids have gathered on raids.  He probably has the equivalent of Hoard Class X stashed throughout the underground complex, although what he plans on doing with all that money is anyone's guess.

For maximum gonzo, the player characters play a circle of myconids trying to find out why this other circle has suddenly started attacking humans and drawing entirely too much attention to the local mushroom men.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Spore Week: The Crown of the Mushroom King

Heavy is the head that wears the crown.
Is there an actual King of all Mushrooms?  Is this just a particularly venerable myconid sovereign?  Or is there an actual mycelial king lurking somewhere in the Deepearth, secretly lording over all fungi?

Regardless, there is a crown, and it is said to belong to the Mushroom King.

(Who knows how it works?  Fungal sovereignty no doubt works differently than the monarchies of humans and demihumans.)

The crown appears to be a standard sort of mushroom cap in a rich purple color.  It is shaped to fit on standard humanoid-sized heads, although it's elastic enough to be a little forgiving.

Why do the caps conform to human symbolism, anyway?
Regardless, whomever acquires and wears the cap of the mushroom king effectively gains the spore-based powers of a myconid sovereign.  Other myconids will follow your orders more or less without question.  Additionally, as per the AD&D Monstrous Manual, pages 264-265, the character can use each of the following spore types six times per day:
  • Distress: This spore type is used to alert other myconids to danger or a need for aid. The cloud expands at a rate of 40 feet per round, expanding to its maximum of 120 feet in three rounds.
  • Reproducer: These spores are only emitted at the proper time for growing new myconids so the population can be rigidly controlled. They are also automatically ejected by a dying myconid.
  • Rapport: These spores are primarily used in the melding process. However, they can be used by the myconids to communicate with other species, since the fungus men do not talk. A small cloud of spores is aimed at one person; if the person fails a saving throw vs. poison (it can choose to fail), it can go into telepathic rapport, speaking mind-to-mind with the myconid as if it were normal speech. The range of this effect is 40 feet and the duration is 60 minutes.
  • Pacifier: This type of spore cloud may be spewed at a single creature. If the creature fails its saving throw vs. poison, it becomes totally passive, unable to do anything. The affected creature only observes; it is unable to perform any action even if attacked. The range of this effect is 40 feet and the duration is 6 rounds. The duration of this effect is a number of rounds equal to the Hit Dice of the myconid.
  • Hallucinator: This type of spore is usually used in the melding ritual, but a myconid can project them at an attacker. The spore cloud may be shot at one creature, and if that creature fails its saving throw vs. poison, it suffers violent hallucinations for 60 minutes. Hallucinating creatures react as follows (roll 1d20): 1-10 Cower and whimper; 11-15 Stare into nothingness; 16-18 Flee shrieking in a random direction; 19-20 Try to kill the closest creature. The range of this effect is 40 feet.
  • Animator: The king uses these spores to infect a dead animal or creature. A purple fungus quickly covers the corpse, taking over the dead body systems and putting it to work, animating the corpse to resemble a zombie (AC 10, Move 9, HD 1, hp 4, #AT 2, Dmg bony claws for 1-3/1-3). It is not undead and cannot be turned by priests. It always strikes last in a round. The body continues to rot and the fungus gradually replaces the missing parts, becoming specialized to take over their functions. Eventually, however, the decay proceeds too far, and the body stops functioning, able to rest at last. Animation takes place 1d4 days after infection, and the corpse is animated for 1d4+1 weeks before it decays. Animated creatures will follow simple orders given by the animator (with rapport spores) to the best of their ability. Orders take priority over self-preservation.
If you're using 5e rules, the character wearing the crown can use the animating spores, hallucination spores, pacifying spores, and rapport spores from the myconid sovereign stat block (Monster Manual, page 232).  The crown requires attunement, and counts as a very rare item.

You know what's coming, right?
Of course, there are side effects to joining with another species.  Wearers find that the cap does not easily come off; indeed, after the wearer dons the cap, it joins with them and reacts as a part of the body.  (Attempts to pry it off are exceedingly painful.  If someone makes a good faith attempt to pull it off, it stays put and deals 1d4 damage.)  This precludes the use of helms, and at the GM's discretion, worsens the character's Armor Class by one or two points as the head is now a much larger target.  (It is possible that the character can get a custom helm manufactured, but that sucker is going to be heavy.  To avoid collapsing your neck from the strain, you'll probably end up having to wear custom armor that makes you look like the Juggernaut.  Or maybe druids or elves can manufacture something appropriate.)

Maybe you get used to it after a while, and regain your full Armor Class.  That all depends on how generous your GM might be.

At this point, sufficiently high-level restoration magic can still remove the cap.  (Remove Curse doesn't work, though, as strictly speaking, it's not a curse  It's just part of you now.)

Every week you wear it, make a saving throw vs. poison.  On a failed save, you begin the transformation into a myconid over the course of 1d6 weeks.  At the end of this time, switch your race or class: you're permanently a myconid now, and the cap has bonded with you permanently.  (Good news, though: if you're using 5e attunement, it stops being attuned when you become a myconid.  It's part of you now, although you're unlikely to find another magic hat that will fit you.)

It's up to the GM if you eventually become so absorbed by your myconid sovereign mindset that you become an NPC, but that seems a likely outcome for most afflicted with the Crown.

If the wearer is slain, the cap detaches, ready for another host.

Probably best to remove it before then.

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