Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Message Across Aeons

This was something that was discussed in my house with some frequency as a child, and so I was most humored when James Hutchings at Teleleli wrote about the basic problem of communicating the danger of toxic waste sites to future generations.

Think about it.  The above radiation symbol looks a little like an angel, or a wheel.  It could be a holy symbol, or a mystical artifact.  After several generations, its original intent could be lost.

Other symbols suffer the same problem.  If you put a sign with a whole human body, and an arrow pointing to a skeleton, a future culture could easily interpret this in reverse and assume they've found an ancient, buried life elixir.

The challenge involves determining how to communicate with a culture that does not yet exist.  Several ideas have been proposed, and redundancy has been encouraged.  The current idea is to make burial sites look as foreboding as possible, as if the very land itself is sick and dissuades travelers from staying.  Others wish to put warnings in as many languages as possible, and leave spaces so that future cultures may write warnings in their local languages.  Other ideas include passing tales of the land into oral history — essentially building new mythologies to warn people of the sickness in the land.

Various ideas have been proposed regarding the last — some have suggested putting strangely-colored plants in the region, or plants with warning messages encoded in their DNA (there is an alphabet associated with the genetic code, so this is entirely feasible).  Another idea involves inserting genetic code into cats (domesticated cats being considered more-or-less constant human companions) that causes them to change color in the presence of radiation.  This trait will then be seeded into collective culture by use of myth and fairy tales (if a cat changes color, the land is sick and you should leave).  Some have suggested an "atomic priesthood," which would tend to these sites and keep away interlopers.  My personal favorite is simply placing a large concentration of human remains on the site so as to ward off any future seekers.

For obvious reasons, all markers must be large and lack value, lest they be moved by future civilizations.

Of course, many theorists suggest that marking the site in any fashion marks it as valuable (something any DM can appreciate), and that the wisest course of action is to avoid marking the site at all.

That certainly flows with the James Raggi mindset, anyway.

In addition to Hutchings' article at Teleleli, further information is available at Damn Interesting, Wikipedia, and Grist.

Gaming applications are obvious to anyone who plays D&D, Gamma World, or any similar sort of post-apocalyptic game.  Dungeon delvers in particular are famous for ignoring blatant warnings of danger to go raiding tombs, and so would be perfect for this sort of thing.

Lemons from the Hedge

Back from when I ran False in Some Sense, Nicole happened to record a segment from Story 6, Chapter 2.  In this, William Puckett, recently stolen by the True Fae and returned as a changeling, brings an enchanted fruit from the Hedge to a suspected Fetch by the name of Officer Hayward.  Hilarity ensues.

Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sharpened Hooks: The Divine Order of the Mediatrix

The Roman Catholic Church has been accused of corruption and mired in scandal throughout the centuries, but all these pale in comparison to the bloody work Mother Church must perform.  Were the governments of the world to learn of the state of affairs, the controversy would likely destroy the Church.

The unfortunate side effect is that the world would probably die with it.

Hernán Cortés declared himself victorious over the Aztec Empire on August 13, 1521, when he and Xicotencatl the Younger took Tenochtitlan.

Had he known how wrong he was, he likely would have left the Aztecs to their bloody work.

The few scholars in the know differ about what happened.  Most agree that the Aztecs encountered ancient deities and accidentally awoke them, but managed to find a way to placate them with blood sacrifice.  Some theories claim that the conflict between these deities shaped the New World — as the Mexicas saw a vision of an eagle eating a snake atop a cactus, a symbolic battle for the identity of the young United States centered around whether a serpent or eagle should be the national animal.  One theory tells a convoluted tale of cocaine mummies and a pre-Colombian trade route between Egypt and Central America, claiming that the mummified corpses of the deities Horus and Set were conveyed to the New World, and their spirits forced nightly to do battle with Apophis.  (Some wags, reading too many Conan the Barbarian tales, claim Set is the snake-deity.)

Whatever the case, the original Mexica people awoke something great and terrible, something which had to be placated with bloody sacrifices.  When Cortés destroyed the Aztec Empire, he destroyed the last members of a cult dedicated to keeping these deities asleep (or providing the energy they need to keep the world turning, depending upon the source).

Having uncovered the secret, Cortés and his men were forced to take up the duties of the priesthood.  What had begun as a tale of God, gold, and glory ended as a horror story.  Fearing for his soul, he contacted the Catholic Church.

Based on this information, a secret cult arose within the Church.  Dedicated to keeping the dread gods asleep and keeping their existence secret, this group of monks started the terrible work of providing new sacrifices.  The cult likely took the name of the Divine Order of the Mediatrix in the 17th century, attempting to forge a symbolic connection with the grace of the Virgin Mary as well as the comparatively recent (and culturally native) Our Lady of Guadalupe and the pagan goddess Tonantzin that preceded her.

The Divine Order of the Mediatrix is a small order of monks with a special dispensation from the Holy See to perform the sacrifices necessary to keep the world turning, and to hide all evidence of this conspiracy.  Traditionally, the Pope is unaware of the Order of the Mediatrix, although some certainly are.  Typically, it is the quiet ranks of scholars, cardinals, and administrative personnel that organize and maintain the secret.

As for the order's methods, they are just as bloody as one might imagine.  Numbers vary, but one might estimate roughly 40 serial killers active at any given time worldwide.  At least one is probably a Mediatrician.  It is also likely that a sizable portion of the missing persons reported each year (roughly a million, according to some reports) are similarly victims of the Order of the Mediatrix.

As for using this in a game, an early modern game might feature the Divine Order of the Mediatrix as it struggles to survive and perform its grim work.  A modern-day game might feature the Mediatricians as the current conspiracy of killers for Christ, struggling to maintain their faith amidst modern technology and raw, cosmic horror.

In addition to the order of monks from which the Divine Order of the Mediatrix derives its name, the Mediatricians are aided by a cadre of exorcist-priests, therapists, and lay people who are necessary to keep the organization running.

(You can probably blame this all on my recent viewing of The Cabin in the Woods, along with my recent reading of The God That Crawls.  I'm going to say that there's probably a fair share of Delta Green, too.)

Friday, October 19, 2012

159 XP for a Level-0 Commoner

A British man, armed with a basic metal detector, finds 40 Roman gold coins.  He and a few others return to the site, and find 119 more.

The haul is reported to be worth roughly £100,000 ($160,000).

Neat stuff.  Read about it here.

Deadlands, Part XXV

When last we left our heroes, the survivors (relatively speaking) reunited, attempted to engage Bashiel, received some information and supplies from the Army, and prepared to go to the town of Buena Vista, Virginia.

The next few days are a flurry of activity.  The group gets supplies from the Army and whatever stores are open in town.  David Hood settles Father Seward's debt with the silversmith.  The group also informs the newly-arrived representatives of the Catholic Church about the Doomsday Clock, and they agree to move it.  As David Hood speaks French, Father Seward speaks Spanish, and Rufina speaks Mandarin, the group copies the ritual required to stop the clock into English, French, Mandarin Chinese, and Spanish.  Copies are given to the Catholic Church and also placed within the Hood family Bible for safe-keeping.

It is also noteworthy that crows have started following Father Seward.

Finally, the funerals begin.  There are funerals for the Hood family, funerals for the lawyers at Seward & Taft, and the group has a small funeral for Jake.  As they finish speaking their remembrances of Jake, Cobb arrives.  Father Seward asks him, "Do you want to say any words, Scratch?"  Cobb shoots him an angry, chilling look before breaking into a smile and stepping upon the grave to put out his cigarillo on the headstone.  Ruby spits on him, and he shoots her a similar look.  His expression then lightens, he wipes off the spit, looks at it, and says, "Yeah, that's fair."  He then takes his leave.

This prompts a discussion with their new companion Rex, who knows nothing of Cobb.  It is explained that he is the Devil trapped in human form due to a lost wager in Georgia many years ago.  Additionally, he drove David Hood's family to madness, stole Father Seward's daughter, trained Jake in the black arts, and had a presence at Ruby's wedding (possibly because the Hellgate he used to access the world initially existed on her family's plantation plot).  This prompts Rufina to realize something, and she pulls Father Seward aside to explain a dream-vision she had.  A female shaman led four men — each representing a different animal, specifically a wolf, a bear, an eagle, and a crow — in a ritual to purify their corrupted land.  The purification required the four to ritually rape a young girl, evidently Father Seward's daughter by description.

She also indicates that she is familiar with the spirit inside Seward, and that the creature should never be allowed to meet Henrietta.  Perhaps there is a way to exorcise this entity?

No funeral is held for John Michael Patrick O'Flahertie as Ruby wants him to be remembered in Georgia.  Shortly thereafter, Father Seward quietly goes down to the pier.  He explains his purpose to a nearby clergyman (the Catholic Church has people watching the Doomsday Clock until it can be quietly moved), and then dives into the water and gets a piece of the charred riverboat where John O'Flahertie died (the thought of trying to find his remains is outweighed by the fear of accidentally stumbling into the Clock and reactivating it).

Finally, the group has settled its affairs.  The party needs to travel to Connecticut by wagon so that they may catch a train headed south to Richmond, Virginia.  From there, they should be able to travel by foot, horse, or wagon to Buena Vista.

The journey to Connecticut is rainy, and is marred by one strange occurrence.  The group becomes aware of a follower behind them, and they manage to determine that the rider (in Union uniform) is slumped over his horse.  Father Seward, gifted with far sight from his time beyond the grave, sees that the rider is probably dead and the horse is badly malnourished.  As the rider approaches, his head raises and declares a letter for Jeb.  Everybody is wary, but when Father Seward goes to grab it, the mail carrier pulls it away.  Jeb grabs the letter, and the rider declares that there is no more mail.  He rides back the way he came.

As Jeb cannot read, David Hood reads the letter.  It is correspondence from one Sullivan to his very dear Sarah, and is evidently a wartime love letter.  It is dated July 14, 1861.  Nobody can determine any relation to Jeb, but they decide that perhaps they can find answers on their journey.

The train ride is uneventful, a welcome respite from the past few weeks.  When they arrive in Washington, D.C., they decide to take a day to inquire at the Army archives.  The request is fruitful — using a letter of marque from General Sully, they are able to gain the services of an archivist who says he will attempt to see what he can learn by tomorrow morning.  They wander around D.C. in the meantime, and one of the crows following Seward settles on his shoulder and pecks at him.  He takes a swing at it and it flies off, prompting a question about what they mean.  Father Seward explains that they are psychopomps in some Indian cultures,  meant to convey the dead to the World Tree.  When everybody asks how he knows that, he explains that he read a great deal both theologically and for personal research.  He also takes the opportunity to explain what Rufina told him about his daughter.

The next morning, they visit the archivist and learn that the letter possibly refers to one General Sullivan Ballou, killed by sniper fire at Bull Run.

Jeb, incidentally, was a sniper at Bull Run.  He admits that he recalls little about what happened there, as an explosion seems to have damaged his memory.

David Hood records the archivist's name — Thomas Johnson — and suggests that he will pass it along to General Sully.  The group then catches the train to continue onto Richmond.

While on the train, they discussed whether they would attend to Ruby's business in Richmond or the mysterious business in Buena Vista first.  They decide on Ruby's business.

As such, they agree to accompany Ruby to meet her estranged husband, Brent Manning.  They arrive to his estate by carriage, and find a black bow tied over the gate; the house is obviously in mourning.  The group wonders about who died; Father Seward suggests that Manning probably heard about the trouble in Boston and presumes Ruby dead.

An old Negro attendant answers their summons and seems very surprised when they say that Ruby O'Flahertie wishes to speak with Mr. Manning.  He trundles off.  A gunshot is heard within the house, and the butler is seen running back outside, followed by a disheveled man.  He has a gun in one hand, a bottle of liquor in the other, and appears to be wearing a woman's bathrobe over his pajamas.  He is admonishing the butler for playing dirty tricks on him.

Another man follows the drunken Brent Manning.  He, on the other hand, is well-dressed, but he is unknown to Ruby.  He appears to be comforting Brent.

As Brent approaches, Ruby steps out and addresses him.  He is shocked and begins weeping tears of joy; he runs for the gate, stumbles, stands up, and attempts to open the gate.  Unable to maneuver around the bow, he shoots it, sending shreds of black ribbon everywhere.  He finally pushes the gate open.

He runs at Ruby but meets her hand instead, as she pushes the disheveled Brent away.  Rex snatches his pistol while he's preoccupied.

Blubbering, he describes how distraught he was when he heard about the troubles in Boston, to which his companion replies, "Yes, he was inconsolable," while his hand slips into Brent's.


We play a little fast and loose with history (the poker game should bear that out), but having a primary document from history appear is still pretty neat.  (One of the things I really enjoy about games set in the "real world" is the fact that it is easier to establish verisimilitude than it is in fictional settings.)

(And for the GM: don't worry, I only looked for the text of the letter given the details you gave us.  I didn't look up any details regarding Sullivan himself, so your plot secrets are safe.  For now.)

Also, after slogging through a world of occult horror, the revelation of Brent Manning's homosexuality was unexpected but incredibly relieving.  Contrary to the typical attitudes of the time, I'm guessing the group as a whole doesn't care about his sexual orientation because he's not engaging in assault, murder, cannibalism, or attempting to end the world.

I'm guessing Cobb only appeared because he has a vested interest in Ruby's family, but we don't know that for sure.  Manning could still be some sort of psycho-killer cannibal occultist, I guess, but he's hopefully mundane.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Persons of Interest: Loturik the Bound, Kolyarut

Loturik the Bound

Loturik the Bound is one of the Inevitables, order-aligned extraplanar constructs originating from Mechanus (and thusly making them spiritual kin to the Modrons).  Specifically, Loturik is a Kolyarut, a type of Inevitable that hunts oathbreakers.  They are known to be the most personable of the Inevitables because they will actually deign to speak to their chosen prey, and may even attempt to negotiate a settlement (so, rather than killing the oathbreaker, they may simply convince the person to uphold the broken bargain).

In this case, Loturik the Bound is occasionally seen around Sigil, and is identified as a member of the Planar Trade Consortium.  Scholars can think of no reason why a Kolyarut would willingly serve any authority less than its duty, but rumors suggest that Loturik, as his moniker suggests, is bound to the will of the Planar Trade Consortium.

Rumors suggest that no less authority than Estevan himself (an oni mage and a key leader of the Consortium) tricked this rogue Kolyarut into forging an oath with the wily magus.  If this is true, Loturik is bound to serve because it cannot break its own oath without defying its base nature.

Loturik is currently thought to be gathering adventuring parties to help cultivate the town called Skyfall in a grim and distant Prime Material World known as Carcosa.  Special attention is to be paid to the ruins below the town, as there is apparently wealth to be had down there.

(Also, the above image was found on at the phrase, "human-shaped clockwork automaton.")

An Auspicious Time for Megadungeons

I go silent for a week and a half, and a bunch of stuff happens.  The OSR blogosphere (yes, I hate that Web 2.0 Newspeak as much as you do, but sharks die if they stop swimming*) has been blowing up with things regarding megadungeons, largely because of the perceived failure of James Maliszewski's Dwimmermount (truly, you're just best off reading about the whole debacle on The Other Side, because he gathers several of the salient links for your perusal).

For my part, I don't really have an opinion on the matter.  I supported the project, but I have no real issue with the delays ("Do you want the job done right, or do you want it done fast?").  And I don't have an opinion on the "empty space" thing because I haven't read the digital materials Autarch has been releasing, mostly because I've just been that busy.

Ah, well.

Anyway, this is humorous because I received several parcels on Monday.  One was a blotter pad of graph paper so I can start sketching the first few levels of my Carcosan megadungeon.  Another was a miniature of a Kolyarut (here's the D&D 3.x version and the Pathfinder version) whom I plan on using to represent a Planar Trade Consortium agent with business regarding that very same megadungeon.  Finally, my copies of Barrowmaze I and II arrived that very same day.  I haven't had the chance to read through them yet, but still, megadungeons.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bene Gesserit for B/X

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

One quick thing this morning: Stuart from Strange Magic gives us the Bene Gesserit class for B/X, a cleric sub-class.  Check it out!

Deadlands, Part XXIV

When last we left our heroes, they were infected with cholera and successfully stopped the Doomsday Clock from opening a Hellgate in Boston.  Father Seward, Jake, and Rufina are all dead or missing.

It's pouring rain so hard a body can barely see, but one-by-one, the group reunites.  Rufina crawls out of the ocean; she's burnt, but she's fine.  She finds Ruby in the rainstorm.  They find David Hood.  Eventually, they stumble into Jeb.  They take shelter until the rain dies down a little.

The group determines that Jake is dead — dynamite — and that Father Seward was on the burning ship.  Rufina swims a bit, but finds no evidence of the Father.

With no other options at the moment, the group decides to return to David Hood's parents' house.  Despite reeking of ill shits and decomposing corpses, it's a home of sorts.  Good enough until they move on.

They start to hear noise in the distance, noises of drums and activity.  A knock at the door reveals a corporal  who asks for an accounting of the house; David notes the survivors.  During the conversation, the corporal indicates that someone is looking for them.  An older, blind man with tousled hair greets them and feels their faces.  He indicates they are the people he seeks, although a fifth should be with them.  The corporal indicates a General Sully wishes to see them, and David Hood asks if they can freshen up and go to the docks to look for another of their party.  The corporal, reluctantly, agrees.

Meanwhile, Father Seward awakens on a vast grassland overlooking a lake.  On the other side of the lake stretches an enormous tree, stretching heavenward.  He is compelled to walk toward the water.  As he approaches, he sees several boats moving hither and thither.  They are piloted by Dustmen, taking people to the island with the Tree.  He climbs into a boat and the Dustman starts rowing.  Ahead of him, he sees a boat containing Jake, also headed for the island.

He hears a splashing, followed by something climbing into the boat.  This is followed by a much heavier splash.  Whatever climbed into the boat curses Jake's foolishness, and turns the boat around.  Father Seward can see the Dustman rower floating in the water.

As the boat returns to shore, Father Seward starts to regain control of his faculties.  When the boat reaches the shore, out splashes none other than Cornelius Cobb, the man with purple gloves.  Father Seward expresses surprise at seeing him — he's figured out he's dead and certainly didn't expect to see the former Satan.  Cobb indicates that, as much as he'd love to let the Father die and move on to the afterlife, Father Seward has some information in his head that Cobb needs.

Cobb beckons him to follow.

Father Seward steps from the boat and goes to step into another boat.  Before he can board, Cobb grabs him and starts dragging him into the grass.  He indicates that Seward's returning to the land of the living whether he wants to or not.

He drags him over by an old cowpoke, and indicates that this man is going to ensure he gets what he wants.  Cobb then reaches his fingers into Seward's breast and opens his ribcage, allowing the other man to climb inside.  Before he disappears into the Father's chest, the man tells Seward to say hello to Henrietta, whomever that may be.

Father asks one final question: what did Cobb do with his daughter?  Cobb says he sold her to him — gesturing to an American Indian shaman with a flayed head.  Against his will, Seward pushes off the ground and starts trudging to the shaman.  As he does so, he feels the sensation of dipping into water, and is fully submerged before he can reach the shaman.

It is dark when he awakens, and he is surrounded by water.  There is some flailing and panic before he realizes that he does not have to breathe.  He fumbles around until he finds an exit — he is in the burned wreckage of the riverboat's hull, and he is underwater.  He starts walking toward land, and climbs up a rigging.

With the light, he can see himself — he is completely naked, and completely burned, like a singed corpse.  He thinks, and returns underwater to the hull.  He fumbles blindly until he finds the sword — he accidentally touches the edge, and it keens and burns — and then returns to land.

He starts moving from shop to shop looking for clothes.  He finally finds a clothing store, breaks the window, and swipes oversized pants and an oversized shirt.

As he's walking out, a soldier is investigating the door.

The man raises his rifle and shouts, "Shit, it's a Negro, and he's armed!"  Father Seward chides him for foolishness and then snaps at him for raising his rifle at a burned man.  As the soldier stands, dumbfounded, Father Seward walks past him, then apologizes for snapping at him and says a quick blessing.

In the commotion, Father Seward is sighted by the group.  Rufina jumps out to greet him, and so he is reunited with the others.  He returns the sword to Rufina.

With the Army nearby, Seward says little, but implies that he's dead (Rufina seems to miss the subtlety), but he does take David Hood aside and reveals part of John Michael Patrick O'Flahertie's confession: the focus containing Bashiel's spirit, as well as some real estate papers from Seward and Taft, are all at City Hall.  With this information, the group goads the Corporal into taking another detour from General Sully to City Hall.

Upon arrival, they find Bashiel, some Dustmen, and several knife-wielding babies loading things into a cart.  With minimal Army presence, and still injured from the previous battle, the group decides to reluctantly let them go.  For now.

The group goes to the Army encampment outside the town and is introduced to General Sully.  After introductions are made and food is brought to them, General Sully indicates that he has something of the group.  From Denver.  He asks to address the leader, and when no one immediately speaks (Father Seward explains they typically just do things by committee), he chooses David Hood.

They walk outside and go around a cart to reveal a man in a tattered Union uniform.  He is bound.  Some discussion indicates that he is Rex O'Malley (of the same O'Malley clan as Detective O'Malley in St. Louis and Officer O'Malley in Boston), and that he is a dangerous man.  Conversation suggests he has familiarity with the occult, and probably hunts the creatures of the night.  David Hood accepts the man as his charge, and has him untied.

The trio returns to the tent.  General Sully then indicates that they have been sought by the blind man who greeted  them.  A consultant with the United States government in things occult in strange, the man has predicted where the group is to go next.  Apparently, the group is to travel to the small town of Buena Vista, Virginia and speak to a man in the local bar, who will tell them a tale of import.  The man indicates they have been chosen for this life amongst strange and horrific things, and he is truly sorry for the group's burden.

General Sully gives the group an opportunity to tie up any loose ends regarding those they have lost.  Father Seward indicates that Jake's next-of-kin have already been notified.

Finally, General Sully addresses Father Seward, saying that he has met those who have returned from beyond the grave.  Many regret it.  If he wishes, General Sully can execute him.  Father Seward says he has to speak with his associates first.

Outside the tent, Father Seward addresses the group.  Rex O'Malley says he will allow them to be alone, but the group pretty unanimously indicates that he'll have to know this stuff eventually if he's traveling with them, so he remains.  Father Seward explains his time in the afterlife, and his experience with Cobb, his possession, and the reference to Henrietta.  He says he can no longer be trusted, and intends to take General Sully's offer.  When some argue, he says this is a democracy, so he'll put it to a vote.  He'll abstain.

There is a pause, when finally Ruby puts in a vote for execution.  Father Seward appreciates her honesty.  After some dithering, Rufina follows suit.  David thinks Father Seward is still useful and still a friend (and shouldn't commit suicide in such a manner), so he should be spared.  Rex has little idea of what's happening, but more or less agrees with David.  Jeb, after some thought, suggests that as all people are on Earth for a reason, perhaps Father Seward is still here for a reason.

Father Seward accepts the decision, although he warns them that he does not know what his rider shall force him to do in time.

The next few days are full of preparations.  With Army resources at their disposal, the group outfits for the journey ahead of them.  They also prepare to bury their dead.


This was a comparatively low-key session with a couple of Shocking Swerves!  Bashiel got away, Rufina survived, and Father Seward is Harrowed (basically a revenant if you're unfamiliar with Deadlands lore).  And we're off to Virginia, ostensibly to prepare food.

Arashi was pretty surprised to be the only person making a new character this session.  And everybody looked at me with suspicion when I asked for Father Seward's chips (his fate was a surprise to everyone save me and the GM).

Also, as Nicole was quick to point out, the vote for Father Seward was split amongst females and males — the women thought he should die, while the men did not (Jeb doesn't quite count, as his player couldn't make it, so the GM made the decision on his behalf).  Admittedly, I'm not sure that says anything about gender identity — it pretty much makes sense for the characters involved — but it was still an interesting thought that she had (and that I honestly didn't notice).

Next session should be pretty grueling and emotional, as it's time for eulogies.  Father Seward should probably invest in a mask before then.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Review: The Magnificent Joop van Ooms

I can accept the lack of an early modern supplement with The God That Crawls because I got The Magnificent Joop van Ooms.

This is acceptable.

The Magnificent Joop van Ooms continues a recent Raggi trend of setting adventures in real-world early modern locales.  In this case, it's Amsterdam in 1615.  The Dutch are a major power and Amsterdam is their cultural capitol, featuring notable financial, political, and technological achievements.

As Raggi writes, "The city competes with London not just as a center of commerce, culture, power, and influence, but for the bragging rights to be the de facto 'Capital of the World'—in European eyes at least."

A few pages are devoted to encounters in Amsterdam and trading in Amsterdam's black market.  The rest of the book details the man himself, Joop van Ooms.

Joop van Ooms is an iconoclast in the vein of Wilmot, de Sade, or Wilde, with shades of fictional variants such as Henry Fool or Brian Slade.  Ooms is a celebrity, artist, and Renaissance man in Amsterdam, and he is no stranger to controversy.  He is a whirlwind of scandal, and a proponent of the relatively shocking idea that everybody should just get along.  He is mildly tolerated because he routinely donates his money to various causes — and if he were killed, many of his critics' revenue streams would dry up.

He travels with two attendants: a hulking, African slave he jokingly named "Gilles de Rais," and Ooms' fabulous attendant whom he calls "Henry VIII" (because he's quite the ladykiller, you understand).  They cause as much trouble amongst the high society of Amsterdam as one would expect, and are always the center of attention.

As one might expect, Ooms is more than he seems, and holds a great many secrets, some of which are potent indeed.  He's hardly the sort of man a group of adventurers and scalawags would be inclined to meet...but then again, a great many things are said about Ooms, and he is quite the intriguing character.

Despite not being a traditional adventure, I always appreciated books such as this from my days in World of Darkness and Unknown Armies.  No dungeon, no plot, no setup, just an interesting NPC to insert into ones' own game.  If you're looking for a typical D&D adventure or dungeon crawl, you're probably out of luck (although you can always rob his house if you want a classic site-based adventure), but if you want a brief history of 17th century Amsterdam or a fascinating NPC with secrets and adventure hooks galore, then look no further.

Review: The God That Crawls

Imagine an Indiana Jones movie set in the 17th century, and with Indiana Jones as a total murderhobo rather than a misguided murderhobo for science.

That's basically The God That Crawls.

The book says it all:
A murdering cult.
A religious order dedicated to protecting sacred history.
An ancient catacomb full of danger and reward.
The God that Crawls
This features several things that are Raggi's trademark, including an historical setting (the book assumes 17th century Britain and includes various references to the Catholic church) and a moral component (most of Raggi's modules assume that the adventurers are greedy bastards who will "dig too deep" and receive their comeuppance in the form of a cursed treasure or terrible monster).  Adventurers aren't precisely punished for being greedy, but at the same time, they totally are (although, as per usual, adventurers are also rewarded for being clever).

Most dungeons assume no time limit, other than more time in the dungeon creates more risk (in the form of random encounters).  This dungeon, on the other hand, mostly lacks random encounters — save one, in the form of the titular God.  While this can be handled as a random encounter, the Referee may also treat it as another participant in the adventure, keeping track of its movement and so forth to make the result less arbitrary.  The Referee also has the option of treating the thing as a random encounter for easier bookkeeping.

Mostly, though, the God ensures that smart parties try to balance getting rich with not making noise, which is always a tough consideration.

As for the dungeon itself, it is a series of catacombs underneath an otherwise unremarkable church.  Adventuring-types in the village or church might hear rumors about the catacombs and go investigating.

All-in-all, The God That Crawls is an excellent site-based adventure and a decent horror module.  There is a lot of risk, but a lot of reward — it's totally worth it to enter this dungeon, although odds are that the cost will be quite high (like The Grinding Gear or Death Frost Doom).  Additionally, the dungeon requires a little planning; like The Grinding Gear, it pays to be prepared when tackling this dungeon, as resource management is quite important.

In terms of graphic design, layout and artwork is delightful, as always.

I do have a couple of notes about the module.  The magical axle really bumps against the horror-versus-whimsy line that Raggi likes to flaunt.  I rather appreciate the strange device, but I understand why some (which is to say, many) would consider it a bit silly.

More importantly, I received this through the Indiegogo campaign and the initially-promised early modern supplement was not ready.  This is hardly an issue — Mr. Raggi has indicated it will be released as its own supplement, and sent to Indiegogo backers — but it's still a fact of life.

Overall, I'm pleased with it.  It's an easy locale to drop in your own hexcrawl (although if you're using a fantasy setting, there needs to be a little conversion from early modern Britain), and provides a challenging adventure site.  As with most Raggi modules, it's meant for low-level characters.

Game Masters with a fondness for kitbashing may also want to translate the system to the horror system of their choice — the church could easily appear in World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu.

Most Raggi modules have some sort of secret hook that shouldn't be spoiled.  I try to avoid doing this, but the secret is part of the module's design, so if you plan on playing it, you should probably leave now.

...okay.  The deal is this: this church conceals several holy secrets.  One is St. Augustine of Canterbury, whose mutant corpus forms the shoggoth-like God That Crawls.  Cursed by ancient pagan magics, he hunts down here eternally.  The other secret is that this place has been used as a dumping ground for old holy relics and strange pagan artifacts, as well as heaps of coin.  There's a lot of wealth down in the dungeon, but the God attempts to devour anyone who arrives in the catacombs.

As for the church, they're in on it, but they're running a grand deception.  The community pretends to be a decent, God-fearing lot, which is just a front for the cult that worships the God That Crawls, which is just a front for the decent, God-fearing lot which realizes it must protect the secret of the God That Crawls on behalf of the Catholic church.  They will subtly suggest that interlopers investigate the dungeon, but they will not force them to do so unless they have uncovered uncomfortable secrets.  However, they will maroon anyone who descends into the dungeon, presuming that the God That Crawls will devour them and preserve the secret.

They will experience great remorse for doing so, however.

As with many Raggi modules, this is a lot of information which may never be learned, but it adds to the atmosphere of the scenario and helps keep the Referee focused.

As noted above, the crux of this adventure involves trying to grab treasure and escape before attracting the attention of the God That Crawls, as adventurers are unlikely to be able to face the thing directly.  Moving quietly is pretty important if one wishes to survive, and breaking into treasure caches is hardly quiet.

If you want a thrilling chase through darkened dungeons, or a good horror-themed dungeon crawl, this is probably one to buy.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Wednesday Werk: The End?

I've skipped around a little, but I've been doing Wednesday Werk entries more-or-less in order, skipping creatures only found in Mutant Future.  So, when I looked for the entry for this week, I found Gore-Worms.

I'd been debating how to end the weekly feature for a while, and since that's where I started, and I have recently become stupidly busy (I haven't posted in a week? Madness!), it seems like a good stopping point for the moment.  I may revisit Wednesday Werk at some future point, but we're stopping the feature for now.

So, What Did We Learn?

I was inspired to do this by garrisonjames in the comments on my Gore-Worms post, and there's a lot of creative stuff over at Hereticwerks.  I encourage you to continue checking it out for your own games.

When I started Wednesday Werk, I was neck-deep in my D&D 4e game, but I was still running a couple of modules for my group.  I had not yet gotten into modifying and creating creatures with any frequency.

Creating creatures for 4e is pretty simple, but can be incredibly time-consuming.  All-in-all, it falls somewhere between 3e and earlier editions; 4e creatures lack the detail of 3e entries, but are way more detailed than 2e and earlier creatures.

In the end, it all comes down to game balance.  Creatures in 4e are a collection of formulas with a certain narrative hook — it looks like an elf, or it hunts like an intellect devourer, or whatever.  On the one hand, scanning other monsters of similar level and sticking to the formulas ensures a creature that is "fair" by the rules (if game balance is a concern, of course).  On the other hand, determining number of hit dice, AC, and any special attacks is way more simple.

This process is rather time-consuming.  The best way to go about it is to reference the monster math (which scales with level and "creature role" — is it a meaty sack of hit points which dishes out damage, or does it strike from the shadows every couple of rounds or so?), and then compare other creatures of the chosen level.  Again, this is to ensure "game balance" — 4e adventurers are assumed a certain level of competence, and tend to encounter challenges they can survive.

At the beginning of Wednesday Werk, this could take a couple of hours.  Now, it only takes me about an hour to crank out a creature, including brainstorming, research, and writing its write-up.

Additionally, I found the things that make 4e monsters unique are not the same as the things that make early edition monsters unique and memorable.  Many of Hereticwerks' creatures are planar travelers with spells or spell-like abilities.  In 4e, these creatures have a tendency to be fairly similar, with only the "fluff" differentiating them from one another.  Unique, memorable creatures in 4e are typically molded by strange tactics and odd powers; the story surrounding a creature helps differentiate it to the players, but makes it feel similar in play.  In early edition games, monsters have few statistics, so the fluff is absolutely necessary to differentiate them.  In 4e, powers and tactics serve to differentiate monsters.

(As an aside, the 4e DM has a role in differentiating monsters — there is absolutely nothing wrong with taking a monster and using it with a different description to make a "new" monster; describing those orcs as barbarians will change the encounter for the players, although it will still probably feel familiar to the DM.)

Basically, 4e is fun, and making monsters for 4e is fun, but the simpler approach of earlier editions is easier when planning and playing.

If you want to see everything, here's the backlog of Wednesday Werk posts:

0. Gore-Worms

1. Gronk Sword, Octoscholar, Synchronocitor

2. Gronk

3. Petrocloptrian, Flytaur, Queen Lobster

4. Bruthem, Glimp-Shell, Xulg

5. Irving the Impressionable Shoggoth

6. Acephali, Almas

7. Candle Head, Grikflit

8. Zaldrim, Scarletscales

9. Walmakash, Urglun

10. Triloo, Rattong

11. Quindra, Hallimox

12. Phorain

13. Ordrang

14. Pseudoblepas, Nerglid

15. Molg

16. Lurm

17. Koponu

18. Drilg

19. Jaladari

20. Illigom

21. Mind-Slime

22. Plodder-Shell

23. Quintapoidal Fungi

24. Necropixies

25. Hagtessa

26. Ractur

27. Sanguinovore

28. Withering Mist

29. Rulak

30. Fantomist

31. Vilg

32. Grobbly-Bonk

33. Miasmagaster

34. Flutter Worm

35. Monoptrian

36. Yirgao

37. Elajess

38. Blatherer

39. Crannit

40. Crudiv

41. Xilmpa

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