Friday, August 31, 2012

On Scandshar

I've occasionally mentioned Scandshar from my D&D home game. Since there's a better-than-even chance that my PCs will end up there next (to help the revolutionary abolitionist movement most likely), I felt like posting some of the influences in one of those lovely picdumps that seem so popular.

(As one might surmise from the following pictures and video, it's an anachronistic mess.  Scandshar has taken a little from every culture it has contacted.  They're late medieval/early modern, but the local fashion reflects a little Enlightenment, a little Regency, a little Victoriana.  I developed Scandshar before reading The Hunger Games, but one can easily liken the weird fashion trends of Scandshar to the description of the Capitol.)

(Oh, also, all the pictures should be linked to their sources.  A lot of these pictures come from image collections, so you can totally lose your day by clicking those links.  Assuming they work, of course.  You're welcome.)


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Dial 9-9-9 If You Really Want The Truth

Rushputin just brought Magical Monstrosity Press to my attention.  This blog just started in June, and as the website states, it's "an online book of beasts, art gallery and blog inspired by pulp fantasy & sci-fi, medieval bestiaries, vintage role playing game books and classic death metal album covers."

They only have six posts as of this writing, but the artwork is pretty keen, and the monsters they've posted thus far are sufficiently awesome to merit investigation.  I mean, check out this sweet Wormhound:

Go ahead and check 'em out, would you please?

Wednesday Werk: Elajess

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Elajess.

The Elajess are a race of insectoid humanoids that absolutely abhor boredom.  It is easily their most recognizable trait, and is the cause of most consternation between the creatures and the other races.

The Elajess are planar travelers that appear to trace distant ancestry back to one of the Chaotic planes (in the World Axis cosmology, scholars typically connect them with the Elemental Chaos, whereas Great Wheel adherents typically trace them to one of the Chaos-aligned planes, typically Limbo; at least one crackpot claims that they come from a formless dimension of sound, and that their eyes are specially constructed to see in that eldritch place).  Whatever the case, they bear a rabid hatred of ennui, and will attempt to destroy it wherever it is found.  Make sure they stay interested, or else combat will likely follow shortly.

Elajess are also highly visual, being totally deaf.  They barely even recognize sound as a concept, never bothering to hide their footfalls.  Despite their lack of audible speech, they are quite familiar with languages, communicating using visual signs and prizing books and other visual media as valuable objects.  Those who feel comfortable with the proper signs have been known to draft contracts to hire them.  They are among the few races who can communicate with Dabus without any real difficulty.

Elajess typically do not resort to combat, but their crusade against boredom can cause them to easily clash with most humanoid races (seemingly with no reason to those who know little of them).  An Elajess will typically open with Double Attack, although it will use And Stay Down! whenever it is surrounded by opponents in quantity.  If it hopes to reposition or tactically retreat, it will use Phase Step if necessary.  They also have a habit of just leaving when they feel boredom has been banished, and so may attempt to leave in the middle of a particularly interesting combat.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Deadlands, Part XXI

The watchword of this session.
When last we left our heroes, they helped the rabbis retrieve a book, fought some prairie ticks, killed a Dustman, acquired the Box of Kakisis, returned to David Hood's house, were awakened in the night by the humanoid bat creature that may or may not be the Angel of Death, and chased it off.

Also, said creature is Ruby's mutated brother.  Cue hilarity.

One can hear the baying of hounds.  Like, all the hounds in Boston.  There's some talking.  David, Jake, and Jeb repair the broken barricade on the window; while doing so David peeks outside to note that a huge pack of dogs is going up the street.  Their eyes glow unnaturally, and they sniff each door before pressing forward.  Father Seward lays on hands and heals Rufina's wounds.  The sound of glass breaking is heard down the street.  Screams follow.

Content that the dogs bypassed the house, Father Seward sticks his head out the door to see a veritable army of dogs outside a house about six doors down.  They are forcing their way into the house through the window.

Astute observers also recall the next symbol on the Doomsday Clock face — a jackal's head.  The second hour (or day, if you prefer) has passed on the clock.  Eleven to go.

Since there isn't much to be done against an army of several dozen dogs, the group closes the door.  David Hood has the seemingly insignificant but ultimately brilliant idea of investigating the bowl that the John-Michael-Patrick-bat-thing brought.  Between he and Father Seward, they determine it to be a heavy-ish metal, perhaps pewter — odd, considering that the maker's mark suggests it was made by Paul Revere.  However, it seems likely that the lack of silver in the composition means that it was either a special commission, or that no silver was available — Seward posits that perhaps it was made during the War, and supply lines were scarce.

With the excitement complete, everyone returns to sleep.

Morning comes and everyone awakens.  David wanders upstairs and looks out a window — there isn't much activity on the street, although he notes something at the house that was attacked by dogs in the night.  A couple stands on the roof.  They are well-dressed, standing at the edge of the roof.  The woman has a sling around her neck; it obviously contains something and the bottom is stained crimson.  The pair raises pistols to their temples and pulls the triggers, their lifeless bodies falling into the streets below.

At the sound of gunshots, everyone is on alert, but David explains what he just saw.

It's another day, and another time for a foray into the city.  Food needs to be acquired.  Father Seward needs some more .44 bullets (although Ruby has some).  David needs about $20 more dollars to hit $500 so he can pay his boat captain.  After some discussion, David, Jeb, and Rufina will go out.  Father Seward, Jake, and Ruby will stay to guard the rabbis.

David, Jeb, and Rufina go to the house six doors down to look at the bodies and see what can be scrounged. Upon examination, it is clear the couple is relatively well-to-do, although not super-rich, and they are wearing their Sunday best.  The woman wears diamond earrings and other assorted jewelery; Rufina leaves the wedding band, but takes the other jewelery and the two pistols (later determined to be Colt Army pistols, each with five shots remaining).  Upon turning the woman over, it is clear what she is carrying in the white sling — the largely clean bones of a child, one ripped to shreds by animals.  The dogs must have gone from house-to-house killing newborns.

The trio then goes through the rest of the house, finding $17 (quite fortunately, this brings David Hood's total to $500.25), three more .44 rounds, and assorted jewelery that is largely ignored.

David, Jeb, and Rufina then go into town, raiding what food they can before heading to the docks.

On the way, they pass the cathedral.  A crowd is gathered out front, and a man in a top hat appears to be addressing them.  David and Jeb somehow see through the shroud to determine that he is Bashiel, the demon responsible for slaying the religious leaders in Boston.  They inform Rufina that that's the guy, and everybody hears what he's saying — he claims the city's Jewish leaders performed this atrocity, and that they should be purged.  David and Jeb decide to continue to the docks, while Rufina will hustle back to Hood's house to warn the others.

David and Jeb make it to the docks without incident, and David finds the boat captain.  He pays him the $500 and the man takes the riverboat out into the harbor; upon positioning it, the captain realizes this is the Peerless and says it is a cursed boat owned by a cursed family.  David and Jeb crawl onto the overturned hulk of the Peerless before the captain notes that it will sink if they cut through the hull.

David decides to return to his house while Jeb stays behind to make sure the captain doesn't run off with his $500.

Meanwhile, Rufina returns to Hood's townhouse to inform everyone of Bashiel's gathering anti-Semitic army.  She also delivers some food — the rabbis appreciate, although they do note that they're not as appreciative of the ham (Rufina didn't know) — then leaves to get a good vantage point.  She picks the abandoned house six doors down and sits on the roof and sees some movement and isolated fires, but no roving gangs just yet.

While she's away, Father Seward continues his reading, but seriously considers blessing his guns and going after Bashiel.  Jake and Ruby go off alone to discuss things — largely about an attempted kiss the previous day, and where their relationship is headed.

David Hood returns and informs everyone of the situation, being sure to mention that they probably shouldn't mention his surname in the captain's presence.  The rabbis pull Father Seward aside and inform him that there's a chance of stopping the clock, but it appears to require a holy man, and since he's one of the few remaining, he should stay safe.  There's some bickering as Father Seward thinks they should be focusing more on stopping the clock than moving the clock, but the group decides to head in the direction of moving the clock (it'll need to be accessible to stop it, right?) and finally determines that the best way to handle the problem is by using leather bladders to keep the ship afloat.

Still early in the day, it is decided: David, Jake, and Rufina will return to the shipyard to meet with Jeb and start filling bladders.  Father Seward and Ruby will stay behind to aid the rabbis.  Rufina leaves one of the Colt Army pistols with Father Seward and he makes certain it is fully-loaded.

It's about 3:30 when Rabbi Ezekiel says there is a ritual.  It is mostly translated, and they expect to complete the translation sometime that night.  Rabbi Ezekiel says that the ritual does require some components that are absolutely necessary — a holy man (it sounds like this person has to be an actual clergy member, although the religion isn't important), holy water (although the holy water can be any water prepared by a person of faith, not necessarily full-on holy water), and a silver bowl.

Father Seward thanks them for the information, and he and Ruby discuss what to do.  She wonders if her brother/bat-thing was trying to perform the ritual; Seward says the thought occurred to him.  After some discussion, they decide to go get a silver bowl.  Father Seward asks if the rabbis will be all right, and leaves the loaded Colt Army with them.

Father Seward and Ruby go a few blocks over and find a silversmith that is still open.  They enter and Father Seward asks for a silver bowl of rather large circumference.  The proprietor of the shop asks if it should be the size of a baptismal, and Father Seward says that will be fine.  The proprietor asks when Ruby is due, and Father Seward says it's nothing like that — although he does shoot her a quick, quizzical glance knowing that she's spent some recent time alone with Jake.  He does confirm the proprietor's suspicion that the children have been killed.

The shopkeeper brings a silver bowl with cherubs on it, and Seward says this is acceptable.  When he explains that he can't pay for it, but his friend has very good credit, the shopkeep says he'll trust him if he'll bless four silver crosses and promise to pay for it when he is able.  Father Seward agrees and a deal is struck.  He throws a cloth over the bowl and he and Ruby start to return to Hood's house.

They arrive just in time to see Bashiel and the mob exiting the house.  Bashiel throws a lantern into a second story window and the mob leaves.  Both come to the entrance, and Seward tells Ruby to stay there with the bowl.  He goes inside, pulls out a burning rug so the house doesn't catch fire, and then makes the trek into the kitchen.

All five rabbis are dead.  Four have been badly beaten and stabbed; one has been relatively untouched, but has been impaled against the wall by a lamppost.  All six shots have been discharged from the Colt Army.  Father Seward makes a quick examination and determines the following:

  • The Box of Kakisis is still in the closet, and is closed.  It appears totally unmolested.
  • Of the Fall of Man and the book of translations, there is no sign.
  • The impaled rabbi died roughly an hour before everyone else, and apart from the impalement, has barely a scratch.
  • A box sits in a corner of the room.  Atop it sits a note in Hebrew.
  • The box itself contains a human tongue.
Content that everything is relatively safe, Father Seward invites Ruby into the house but tells her to avoid the kitchen.  They make sure they have everything.  Father Seward takes the note in Hebrew and blesses two of his bullets; they are considered blessed against Bashiel only until sundown.

Father Seward and Ruby make it down to the docks by 7:30 PM.  Father Seward informs everyone that the rabbis are dead and that Bashiel took the notes.  He suggests he's going to confront Bashiel and the mob and then turns and leaves.  Jake follows.  Ruby follows Jake; when Father Seward notes that they're following him, he tells Ruby to stay behind because she has no hope of injuring Bashiel.  Jake might be able to do so.

As Father Seward and Jake walk away, both David Hood and Jake notice a man on a nearby rooftop, staring down at them while shuffling cards.  Jake doesn't recognize the man, wearing top hat and tails, but David certainly does.

It is the ghostly Gentleman, the one previously only manifesting to David Hood and Father Seward.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

This Accurately Depicts LotFP

It's fantasy, it's metal, and the dude even gets frustrated and flips a table when he realizes that the adventure just isn't going to work in his favor.

That accurately captures Weird Fantasy Role-Playing.

But nobody does it like Alan Rickman. 

Wednesday Werk: Yirgao

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Yirgao.

The Yirgao, also known as the "Horrificus," is a brutish creature from planes beyond human reckoning.  Driven by hunger, pride, and cruelty, the Yirgao see themselves as the rightful inheritors of the planes.  In their warped minds, the Yirgao should be the dominant race of a multiversal empire, spanning countless worlds and planes.  They seek to subjugate and enslave the other races, using them as chattel in their quest for supremacy.

Fortunately, the Yirgao are hardly organized enough to perform this feat.  The Yirgao are barely capable of cooperation, typically falling to bloody in-fighting and cannibalism at any disagreement.

Some scholars claim that these behavior patterns of megalomania and xenophobia, coupled with a Far Realm origin, suggest beholder heritage, while others claim that Yirgao are most frequently encountered in planes where beholders are relatively unknown (typically being replaced by the ecologically similar but less megalomaniacal Eye of Terror).

Yirgao have not been heavily observed, but evidence suggests that they drink blood, possess rudimentary psionic abilities, and regenerate when injured, much like trolls.  Additionally, they reproduce asexually, forming monoclonal lineages; smart Yirgao keep a large food supply handy when gestation is complete, because the young eat their way out of the parent.  As they regenerate quickly, adults can frequently survive this onslaught, although the young will completely devour the parent if other food is not present.

The Yirgao Conquistador represents a Yirgao specimen that is probably part of some conquering horde.  Yirgao fight as an intelligent unit, and will frequently attempt to strike foes where they are weakest, drawing ranged combatants into melee and attacking melee combatants at range (these tactics may fall apart if the creatures are hungry or angry enough).  Frequently, a Yirgao will open with Handaxe before moving into melee, next attempting to grab the opponent with Constrict and then attacking with Longsword.  It will first consider using Blood Drain when falls below 81 hit points, and it will then use it whenever it is able.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Sharpened Hooks: Planescape Fusion

Dig this.  You're going to get a lot of background, so feel free to skip it if you like (and you're already down with magnetic confinement fusion reactors).  This all has a point.  Trust me.

There are two types of nuclear power: fission and fusion.  Both types of power rely on the mass-energy and binding energy of elements: iron and nickel have the lowest mass per nucleon and the highest binding energy of any element, making them the most stable (binding energy measures the amount of energy needed to break bonds, meaning that a high binding energy suggests a more stable system that is harder to break).  All other elements, under duress, will strive for this low energy state.  This is most striking for particularly heavy or particularly light elements, as they'll release the most energy when they are transformed.

We'll talk about fission first, because it's necessary to differentiate the two.

Nuclear fission provides 13.5% of the world's electricity.  (If you don't like my description, The Simpsons provides a fairly succinct summary.)  The principles behind nuclear fission are the same as those behind an atomic bomb: certain heavy elemental isotopes (such as uranium-235 or plutonium-239) are inherently unstable, throwing off energy and neutrons.  If you bring them in close contact, those released neutrons collide with other atoms of (for example) uranium-235, causing them to become more unstable and release more neutrons and more energy.  This nuclear chain reaction is a positive feedback loop.  If one performs it too quickly, it forms a nuclear weapon; nuclear power requires a more controlled reaction.

This energy is harnessed in a fairly simple way, recognizable to Vitruvius, Hero of Alexandria, Thomas Newcomen, and James Watt.  Since these reactions throw off a lot of energy as heat, the fissionable materials are usually shaped into rods and placed in a vessel to transfer the heat to water or liquid sodium.  This heat energy is then transferred to water, which turns to steam, which turns turbines, making the whole apparatus a steam engine.

But what about fusion power?

If fission power breaks down atoms into their component pieces, fusion power builds them up.  Taking light elements such as hydrogen (typically as heavy deuterium or tritium) or helium (typically as helium-3), one can build these elements to helium-4.  This operates on the exact same principle as fission — helium-4 has less mass-energy than heavy hydrogen, and so is more stable.  Fusion reactions are extremely energetic, releasing lots more energy than fission reactions (it's why the hydrogen bomb is much more powerful than uranium bombs).  From there, modern fusion reactors look a lot like fission reactors — keep it controlled so that it doesn't explode, and the heat energy is diverted to a steam engine.

Of course, fusion reactors have a lot of problems.  There's a very successful one that produces most of the energy on Earth, but it's the near black-body called the Sun.  The Sun is so successful because it's so massive; a lot of energy needs to go into a fusion reaction, and so far, scientists haven't made it efficient enough to be viable.  That's why cold fusion is such a big deal — if scientists could figure out a way to produce fusion reactions under low-energy conditions, fusion would be much easier.

It seems unlikely, though.  For the moment.

Fusion reactions require a lot of energy, produce a lot of heat, and require a lot of space.  One approach is  magnetic confinement, best exemplified by the tokamak reactor.  Magnetic confinement uses magnetic fields to contain the superheated plasma, and typically takes place in a torus-shaped reactor.  (Compare with inertial confinement, which uses lasers to confine the pellet; inertial confinement can withstand higher temperatures, but magnetic confinement lasts longer.)

Which brings us to the actual point of this article: where can one find a big, indestructible torus among the Planes, complete with its own injection system?


Sigil contains portals to everywhere and everywhen, and some of those portals are either permanently open, or can be opened at will with the proper portal key.  Some enterprising scientist with enough manpower could divert power from the portals to the Inner Planes in the Lower Ward to act as the injection and containment center, and then open another portal to allow heat transfer to a site in another Plane, likely building a steam engine on the other end.  Containment would likely be a non-issue; it's called the Cage for a reason.

Sure, it would kill everyone and destroy all structures in Sigil, while also venting hot plasma out of every open portal to Sigil, but that's a small price to pay for nearly limitless energy.

Of course, the dabus and the Lady of Pain would likely have something to say about it.  As might any enterprising adventurers and Faction-types who catch wind of the plot.

It's also notable that Sigil contains roughly 50,000 residents, while hosting as many as 200,000 transients at any given time.  Certainly no entity would consider that a sacrifice of any kind, would they?

Also, didn't Vecna wrest apotheosis and change 2e to 3e by causing mayhem in Sigil?  What would happen to the scientist who finally does what Ravel Puzzlewell and Vecna could not?

What happens to the person who breaks the Cage?

Friday, August 17, 2012

Review: Lamentations of the Flame Princess

James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing.

Some of this ground has been covered elsewhere.  I wrote a review of D&D (and an addendum), and as a variation of a game containing subterranean lairs and reptilian monsters, Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing covers a lot of the same territory.

Additionally, noisms already covered my feelings on the game.  It's simple, it's intuitive, it's fast, it's basically D&D.  Boom.

The Grindhouse Edition (I haven't seen the original and the hardcover has not yet been released) is a box set of three books, a pile of character sheets, and a set of tiny dice; basically everything one needs to play the game.  The three books are Rules and Magic, Tutorial, and Referee.

Rules and Magic details what one would expect: the rules of the game (patterned after B/X D&D, among other things), character classes, spell lists, et cetera.

Tutorial is a classic solo game.  The first part depicts a similar setup to Death Love Doom — you're a lone adventurer who hears about an abandoned house, and you decide to loot it.  This part is a fairly linear setup with few choices; there are a couple of rolls to get new players used to the system, but it culminates in running into a friendly Cleric, fighting an evil sorcerer, and getting bitten by a zombie.  The second part of the adventure, which features the more standard choose-your-own-adventure with dice rolls format of solo adventures, depicts your character's return to the house to find a cure for his zombie-induced illness.  I will admit, it's fairly nerve-wracking — time is running out, and even if you've found a solution, you have no way of knowing whether it's the correct one until the time comes.

(Interested parties will be happy to note that Heinz Becker survived his foray into the cellar and even managed to make a little profit in the process.)

Referee contains rules and advice for running games in the vein of the weird tale.  The watchword of the game is mystery; Mr. Raggi includes no bestiary, because monsters should be unique, although he describes several monsters and suggests how they might be integrated into a game.  The book ends with some conversion notes regarding other retroclones; an adventure, "A Stranger Storm;" and a couple of charts for DMs.

As written, the game is fairly compatible with other retroclones, and only has one notable quirk which requires translation: it uses a silver standard rather than a gold standard (Weird Fantasy Role-Playing's implied setting is early modern, which led Mr. Raggi to use the silver-rather-than-gold standard for XP and treasure).  Of course, there are guidelines in Referee.

As noisms noted, the game is fairly simple.  Some rolls (like reaction rolls) have special rules, but most actions fall under skills or combat.  Skills keep the standard "x in 6" chance mechanic, except that this is how they're defined.  Every person starts with a 1 in 6 chance of using a skill (demihumans may have different chances, of course), with bonuses or penalties depending on the situation (so the classic 1 in 6 chance of detecting secret doors or 1 in 6 chance of opening stuck doors are conserved).  Specialists (the rough Thief analogue; Specialists, however, might also represent sages or scientists, as well as the typical rogue) can spend skill points to increase these chances.  In addition to typical skills such as Climb and Search, there are also specialized skills such as Architecture and Bushcraft which can represent specialized fields of study.

Combat is familiar to 3e fans — roll 1d20, add modifiers, and compare against the opponent's Armor Class.  Simple.

The other notable tidbit is how the classes are specialized, and don't really multiclass or move outside their roles — Fighters hit things, Specialists know things, Clerics are religious magic-types, Magic-Users are arcane magic-types, Elves can fight and cast arcane magic, Dwarves can fight and take heaps of punishment, and Halflings have excellent saves.

Everything else regarding the game lies in the implied setting.  As noted, the artwork suggests that the world is early modern, right in the thick of exploration and the early stages of globalization.  Modules and supplements continue this trend (Weird New World takes place in an implicit fantasy Canada with totally-not-Inuits; Death Love Doom explicitly takes place in 1625 London undergoing the transition from King "My-Name-Is-on-a-Bible" James to King "Decapitated-by-Puritans" Charles; and The God that Crawls will supposedly include more early modern goodness, like rules for converting demihuman classes to human classes and rules for firearms).  The domain level has been removed; instead, there are rules for purchasing real estate and making investments, so characters with the wealth can establish "domain level play" whenever they can afford it.  Magic-Users have spells with odd effects, and the most famous LotFP spell at this point is likely Summon, which generates a unique creature when it is used.

(Additionally, though, there are familiar spells such as Invisibility, which works by scaring the light away from the target, and eldritch magics such as Strange Waters, which summons a group of magic fish which may be eaten for magical power.)

The game is fairly solid overall.  The biggest complaint typically centers around the lack of a bestiary, although DMs wanting to use this as straightforward D&D can do so with any other old school bestiary; they're basically all compatible.

The combination of simplicity and weird/horror/fantasy dings everything I like about a game.  If either of those points seems interesting, you should take a look; you can download free rules at the website.

The final point — something the free rules won't show you — is the art.  Lamentations products always have beautiful artwork, and the Grindhouse Edition box set is no exception.  As befits the implied setting, some of the artwork is gritty and graphic (there are some savage wounds, a monstrous birth, and a medusa with a young paramour or two), but it's all fairly gorgeous.  The center of the book bears color prints, while the rest is in black-and-white.  As with most Lamentations products, this is two-column, A5.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review: The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time

The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time is a response to the frequent complaint that the saturation of H. P. Lovecraft undermines Lovecraftian themes.  Lovecraft is ruined forever because someone made a plush Cthulhu.

This, of course, is a fallacy.

As Mr. Raggi says in the Author's Note, "But uninteresting is uninteresting no matter how original the topic, and interesting is interesting no matter how unoriginal the topic. Making it interesting is the difficult, but important, bit." So, The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time can be considered an adventure that reconstructs Lovecraftian tropes after the overworked squamous, tentacled, cyclopean stereotype.

The Monolith details a location that can be placed in any sandbox campaign: a forested valley ringed by mountains.  All told, it probably encompasses a square mile of territory.  The valley is Weird, though; depending upon the DM, it's possible that it's always been there, or that it just appeared one day.  Perhaps it even has a fixed location, but the adventurers stumble into about twenty miles away from where it's located on the map.  People who enter the valley tend to never return.

That's the setup.  The valley, of course, houses the titular Monolith and contains all the weirdness that the Monolith brings with it.  Traversing the valley brings one directly into contact with Things Beyond, and the entire place runs on alien geometries (it's entirely possible that the valley itself is millions of miles across, and that you'll encounter yourself from the future; it's equally possible that neither of these things are true).  As for the Monolith itself, well, it's entirely worth investigating, but as with most Raggi modules, you likely won't return the same as you left.  If you return at all.

This module emphasizes the "unknowable alienness" of Lovecraft and de-emphasizes the "fuck 'em and let Cthulhu sort 'em out" descent of Call of Cthulhu.  In that respect, it reads as though it's as challenging to run as it is to play, as one has to explain things that don't make sense as we understand them.  For example, assume there are two characters; there is a possible effect whereby one character might move, one character might remain in place, but both characters remain together.  As Mr. Raggi says, "Good luck describing that to your players!"

I'd recommend The Monolith from Beyond Space and Time if you want a dungeon crawl with minimal focus on combat, or if you want to give your players a strange and unnerving experience.  Or if you just want to mess with the players.  If you want something more straightforward, you might want to shy away from this one.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wednesday Werk: Monoptrian

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Monoptrian.

The Monoptrian is a clone, apparently of some extraplanar warlord who wished to both form an unstoppable army and become immortal.  He (or it, more accurately; no one has properly studied Monoptrian gender) accomplished both ambitions by cloning himself in a process that could become self-perpetuating after his death.

Of course, things are rarely so simple.  Flaws in the cloning process ensured that descendants would become increasingly degenerate, forming mutant variants that probably have little in common with their progenitor.  Of course, the degenerate offspring have little knowledge of this fact, with several variants forming factions under some rogue leader or other.

Naturally, each faction claims to be the "pure" one, and the only one fit to overwhelm the planes in the name of their progenitor.

As such, this race of super-soldiers is less of a threat than it first appears, as it seems unlikely that they will ever organize enough to begin their conquest.  Of course, there are always rumors regarding all sorts of things — that the progenitor is still alive and waiting to take control of the entire army; that a messiah will rise from the ranks of the clones; that a subtle Monoptrian faction secretly runs the Illustrious Menagerie of Peacocks; or that some power player has determined the signal that will gain control of the whole army — but those are only rumors, right?

The following Monoptrian represents an agile warrior of his clan.  Individual Monoptrian specimens may vary considerably, and indeed, are only really unified by the immunity to Charm and the monoptrian keyword (additionally, they all tend to bear the same slender, monocular physique).  Depending upon circumstances, other specimens may use other weapons, represent other levels or monster roles, and may have different varieties of eye-beams (enterprising DMs wanting to customize this creature may wish to give it a different weapon, although damage will be the same, and may also wish to change the eye-beam by changing status effects and damage types).  In combat, this Monoptrian will typically open with Eye-Beam to daze an opponent, and then move into melee to take advantage of the confusion with Staff.  It tries to use Eye-Beam whenever it recharges, either using it in melee against dazed opponents or using Combat Agility to move out of range of opportunity attacks.  Monoptrians fight intelligently, but will fight to the death if necessary.  Depending on the variety, they may also make decisions based on the good of the collective — one Monoptrian might draw the party's fire if it means that its fellows can better complete a mission objective.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Review: Death Love Doom

That link will give you the low-down.  Jez Gordon of Giblet Blizzard turned down the illustrations (Kelvin Green did them instead) because of the graphic content.

And then Zak Smith posted this spoilery thing, and yeah, it's a messed-up gorn module.


I bought it because James Raggi has been pretty consistent in the quality of his stuff, and he didn't disappoint.  The hint lies in the Author's Note, wherein Raggi concludes:
That’s how horror works in make-believe. Take real world pain and fear, and add fantasy bullshit. Use your life’s pain to make some gaming fun. Isolating past trauma and treating it as something to mention only with the greatest reverence gives it far more importance in life than it should have. What better way to show dominance over one’s painful past than to present it to others for purposes of amusement?
Well said.  This tale, you see, has a point.

Death Love Doom is a tragedy set in London, 1625.  It's a love story gone sour, as those things are sometimes wont to do.  With a minimum of adaptation, it could be set anywhere, although setting it in a London that will see the coronation of Charles I and a major plague outbreak within the year is genius and hardly an accident.  It's a fairly standard haunted house setup with body horror trappings.

As written, the setup assumes (and works best with) classic D&D murderhobos: wealthy merchant Erasmus Foxlowe hasn't been seen in several days and no activity has been noted at his manor, the Bloodworth Estate.  There hasn't been enough time or activity to move, so obviously, all his stuff is still in his house.  Anybody looking for quick cash might want to take the opportunity to loot the mansion, which is just remote enough to avoid prying eyes.  If the PCs don't get there first, robbers will likely loot before they do, so time is of the essence.

As for the adventure itself, it's fairly concise, being largely a description of the grounds and the conditions therein.  It presents several classic Raggi Weird Fantasy tropes, such as backhanded treasure (things that have drawbacks and benefits such that they are still worth something, but require a little more intelligence to utilize) and the overwhelming temptation to leave.

But that's always a problem for an adventurer, isn't it?  How far are you willing to go?

As with many Raggi modules, there is a lot of lethal stuff here, but that's not the point; there's really only one thing that provides a huge combat threat to most parties, and even it is hardly insurmountable.  It's the psychology of the adventure that's the point.  Unfortunately, that's also the challenging part of the adventure — I'm not sure for what sort of group I'd run it, because I know there's grotesque stuff that wouldn't be appropriate for all players.  Trigger warning and all that jazz.

As usual, Raggi created a module which strives to change the characters.  By and large, he succeeded.

Also, rather unsurprisingly, astute observers will note several connections between this adventure and Death Frost Doom.

Addendum: When Kelvin Green responded, I realized that I didn't talk about the layout!  It's pretty standard — two column, the usual (I'm guessing A5, but since I don't have a physical copy, I can't speak for that).  Pretty much the quality one would expect from Lamentations.  The art is minimal, but appropriate.  The cover is a simple title page with a large sigil of the Dead Sign front and center.  Inside are a few samples of Green's simple line art.  It's stark (the word naked comes to mind), and there isn't much of it, but that's a good thing — all the pictures depict the house's grotesqueries, and if there were too much of it, it would be a distraction.  It really captures the feel of the adventure. If you liked the art in the Grindhouse edition of Weird Fantasy Role-Playing, and if you liked the art in Carcosa, you'll like this one.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Deadlands, Part XX

When last we left our heroes, they engaged in some investigations.  Father Seward witnessed the destruction of most of Boston's religious community.  David and Jeb chartered a ship.  With the help of the Jewish contingent, the group determined that the Fall of Man contains secrets behind its pages.

Rabbi Ezekiel needs a text back at the synagogue to properly translate.

With David Hood and Jeb still gone, the remaining group organizes.  Father Seward, Jake, Ruby, and the unfortunately-named Rabbi Schlemiel will go to the synagogue to retrieve the book.  Rufina will remain to guard Rabbi Ezekiel and the remaining scholars while they continue working on examining Da Vinci's Fall of Man.  So decided, they depart.

The trip to the synagogue is uneventful, but the large synagogue doors are broken, apparently having been forced inward by a large force at roughly head level.  Uncertain of what to expect, the group enters.

The synagogue is dark inside, but Jake senses movement and makes a little light by casting black lightning through the ceiling of the synagogue (much to Father Seward and Rabbi Schlemiel's chagrin) to let the sun through.

In moments, the creatures begin their attack.  Fist-sized, blood-red carapaces appear in the light, and both Father Seward and Jake recognize the shapes of prairie ticks, creatures that force themselves down a creature's gullet and begin drinking blood from the inside until they eventually force themselves out through the stomach.

A few launch themselves at Jake, and before anyone else can react, he annihilates three or four of the creatures with black lightning.  As one tries to wriggle into Ruby's mouth, Father Seward shoots it off her face.  One manages to muscle its way into Jake's mouth and force itself down his throat, prompting Father Seward to faint.  A last tick scurries away through an open doorway into another hallway.

Jake recalls that some people have used emetics to decent effect.  Still having a bottle of liquor with him, he proceeds to down it — since it turned to blood after the activation of the Doomsday Clock, he presumes that it will induce vomiting.

It does.

After the prairie tick has been destroyed and Father Seward has been awakened, the group proceeds down the hallway to investigate the library.

Meanwhile, David Hood and Jeb are still atop the bank.  Satisfied that both the weird top hat guy and the mob have left, they descend back to the street and decide to go to Seward and Taft to see if they can collect some money.

When they arrive, the offices are completely closed.  They break in and scrounge for petty cash, finding a little cash as well as a silver candelabra that is probably worth something.

As they leave, they see a bolt of purplish-black lightning fire up into the air.  David and Jeb decide to investigate.

Back at the synagogue, the group sees an open door on the right that Rabbi Schlemiel identifies as the entrance to the library.  Cautiously, Father Seward steps forward and swings around the corner, gun in hand. He sees a stone box with an ajar lid.  The prairie tick wriggles into it, and the sounds of several writhing shapes come from within.  The box bears pictures in bas-relief depicting an animal of some kind bursting forth with prairie ticks that envelop every being nearby.

At the far end of the room, a robed figure with his back turned to the door is gathering books into a pile and appears to be prepared to light them.  Father Seward calls to get his attention as he squeezes the trigger, putting a bullet in the figure's head.

A puff of dust comes out and the figure barely seems to notice.

Jake tries to play poker with demons when something goes wrong.  It's not clear what, precisely, but his hex doesn't quite work.

Ruby turns the corner with her gun and puts a slug in the creature's gut.  That seems to catch its notice and possibly even injure it; Father Seward fires at it again but Ruby puts three more bullets in the thing and drops it.  As it crumbles, a spectral, demonic figure flows out of its abdomen and dissipates.

Around this time, David and Jeb arrive to investigate the black lightning.  Jake notices that Ruby has a second row of needle teeth.  Since nobody else can see it, he assumes that something has gone wrong with his hexslinging.

As Father Seward determines how best to close the box, Jake just walks up and closes it.  Rabbi Schlemiel goes to look for the book they need, although he does explain that that the box is the Box of Kakisis and that it contains a near limitless number of what Jake and Seward call prairie ticks.  He also refers to the robed figure as a "Dust Man" and indicates that the Jewish people encountered their kind in old Egypt.

After a bit of a wait, Rabbi Schlemiel finds the book.  Before everyone leaves, Jake informs Father Seward of his suspicions that he cannot quite be trusted due to demonic influence.  Father Seward responds that he understands, with the further implication that he will do what needs to be done.

The group manages to return to David Hood's mother's home without incident.  Rufina has largely been spending her time asking the rabbis questions (and unfortunately annoying them).  Once Rabbi Ezekiel receives the book, he and his scholars continue translating.  The group eats and prepares to sleep for the night.  David, Father Seward, Jeb, Ruby, and Rufina all take watches — Jake is allowed to sleep through the night.  The rabbis will continue translating in shifts.

During the night, Father Seward is awakened by Jeb who indicates that he hears something.  Everyone is awakened and manages to piece together that something is sneaking in through one of the upstairs windows.  Everyone readies weapons and takes positions in the halls; Father Seward takes position at the base of the stairs.  A figure starts to descend the stairs — when he sees the tattered Confederate garb, inhuman hands, and silver bowl, Father Seward opens fire, launching several bullets in the thing's belly.  Finally, the creature loses its balance and drops the bowl, spilling blood down the stairs.

Chaos ensues.  Rufina leaps into combat with it, wielding the relic sword, while Jeb takes the occasional shot at it.  Ruby, however, recognizes the mutated form of her brother, John Michael Patrick, beneath the batlike features.  She calls out to him and he communicates, suggesting that he is trying to fight against whatever transformation has been performed on him.  He still cannot resist, though, as he bites and latches onto Rufina's breast, sucking her blood to heal his wounds.  She manages to shake him off, and finally, he crashes through one of the barricaded windows and into the night.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Blogman: Year One

A year ago, I'd been reading D&D With Porn Stars and I gave into the most perverse urge.

...I started a blog.

I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole enterprise, but I try to keep up with it weekly.  I usually end up posting a couple of times a week.  I'm still not sure I've hit my stride with all this business, but there it is.

In the past year, I've gone from running one game and occasionally playing in another to running one game, occasionally running two others, and playing in two other games.  The focus has been increasingly on D&D and its variants, although I get occasional forays into my much-beloved modern/occult/horror/conspiracy genre I so thoroughly enjoy.

I've delved into the OSR a little, even contributing to Secret Santicore 2011, because I like fast and furious rule sets.  My fourth edition game is fun, but hour-long combats and predictable character advancement are a bit outside my niche.  (I used to think World of Darkness combat was sometimes overlong, and then I played fourth edition.)  The fast, simple, what-the-heck-ever-ness of the OSR, coupled with the wholesale adoption of FLAILSNAILS, really hits a lot of places I enjoy.  That having been said, I still think Unknown Armies just about hits everything I appreciate in a rules-and-setting package — I'd likely adapt its design elements and aesthetic to any homebrew system I'd create.

Anyway, I might as well take the opportunity to revisit some things that readers seemed to particularly like as well as some things that I particularly enjoyed.

Readers' Choice

Carcosa replays

Guest Spot: Vampire: the Masquerade Conversion

Review: The Blasphemous Brewery of Pilz

Review: Carcosa

Review: Fiasco

Review: Isle of the Unknown

Wednesday Werk

Author's Choice

Down the Glen Tramp Little Men

Free RPG Day in Review

Fiasco: Play Report

Review: Unknown Armies

Sharpened Hooks: The Cursed Throne of the Sun

Sharpened Hooks: Fun with Wilderlands of High Fantasy

Sharpened Hooks: The Slender Man Mythos

Since I've been fortunate enough to actually play more recently, here's a list of games I played or ran at some point in the last year:

Games I Played

Owlbear Stabbings

Games I'm Playing


The Salzenmund Apophaſiſ

Games I Ran

Nasty, Brutish, and Short

True in Some Sense

The Truth Shall Set You Free

World Pulse Remix: All the Agents

Games I'm Running

Crux of Eternity

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Wednesday Werk: Flutter Worm

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Flutter Worm.

The Flutter Worm is a flying, haematophagous worm primarily found in caves and urban environments, preferring ruined and subterranean structures in the latter.  Flutter Worms are frequently found hunting alone, although they typically lair in extremely large groups, typically averaging around twenty or so individuals.

Flutter Worms are not known for their intelligence, although some varieties are cunning enough to hunt among urban rooftops, seeking open windows so that they may feed on sleeping prey.  Flutter Worms are also known for their unnerving locomotion style; their flight is partially powered by an inherent teleportation ability, meaning that they partially blink in and out of existence while they move.  Trained warriors and typical adventurers typically have no problems, but untrained peasants have a tendency to just cut and run.

In combat, Flutter Worms attack without regard to themselves, being slaves to their immense hunger.  Once a suitable target has been located, a Flutter Worm will latch onto the target using Bite and will then drain blood with Blood Drain until sated.  One Flutter Worm is hardly an issue, but a swarm of them tend to be rather overwhelming.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Busy, Busy: A Blogroll Joint

Life's busy, so posting gets slower.  Ah, well.

Anyway, here's some fun stuff:

The web comic Doctor Mystery has a companion piece called Sucker Monster Creatures which is a bestiary of creatures from the former.  If you want neat monster descriptions and pictures, check it out.

This Penny Arcade article details Wizards' AD&D 1e reprints.  I'd particularly recommend the article, though, because it is AD&D as seen through the eyes of new-wave RPG guys.  It hits a lot of the notes seen in places like Grognardia — old-school characters have less power and more freedom, as well as the whole idea that AD&D was more mainstream than modern role-playing.  Read the Penny Arcade Report on AD&D.

A few other people have already hit this, but over at Blood Ghost, they just announced the Adventure Time RPG.  It's built on the 4e chassis, but try it, you might like it.  This includes the core rules and a character generator.  It's even Jeff Rients approved.

Finally, here's an article on15th and 16th century underwear for authentic medieval/early modern underwear.

And now for something completely different.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Wednesday Werk: Miasmagaster

In this week's Wednesday Werk, we'll look at the Miasmagaster.

The Miasmagaster is a strange creature, frequently found in subterranean environments.  Bearing features reminiscent of mollusks, crustaceans, and insects, Miasmagasters are predatory creatures that wander the Underdark in search of prey.  Somewhat affable and charming, they will gladly stoop to trickery in an attempt to ensnare suitable prey.

Despite formidable claws and mandibles, Miasmagasters are probably best known for the noxious stench that follows them.  It is more than capable of quickly incapacitating prey with these fumes, and the stench of Miasmagaster spawnlings is even toxic enough to affect humanoids several times their size.

The following Miasmagaster is suggestive of a typical specimen.  When diplomacy fails, the creature will exude its stench by using Miasma, and then will use Flurry of Blows to antagonize potential prey, using Miasma whenever it recharges.  Intelligent creatures, Miasmagasters will gladly flee from stronger prey.

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