Saturday, September 13, 2014

my favorite gaming blogs

I keep seeing these "Top Ten OSR Blogs" or "Top Gaming Blogs" lists and 1) I haven't seen Zak Smith show up on a single one yet, and 2) they also seem to be the same lists with one to three variable entries. Everybody lists Tenkar's Tavern and everybody always seems to mention The Dungeon Dozen which is quaint but I wouldn't really call it one of the top ten.

This is not my personal top ten, this is just a couple of blogs that I really like that I think are under appreciated.

Wrathofzombie's Blog : Not only does Mike Evans have his own campaign setting (Hubris) that he runs with Dungeon Crawl Classics, but he's consistently posting new ideas accompanied with tons of pictures that show off his inspirations as well as express the flavor and tone of what his idea is trying to get across. It's like soaking in awesome!

Gorgonmilk : Greg doesn't post enough, and it fuckin' kills me because that's how awesome his blog is. He's always showcasing other peoples' OSR works that you might not have seen or even heard of and occasionally he'll post entirely musical entries, but whenever he shows off whatever he's currently working on the blog is just golden!

From The Sorcerer's Skull : Trey Causey is a published RPG author so you may have already heard of him. I started following his blog because of his deeply intriguing Strange Stars setting, but his fantasy setting ideas and comic reviews are just as compelling and interesting to read.

False Machine : I saved the best for last!
If you haven't heard of Patrick Stuart and his False Machine then I feel bad for you. Everything he writes is amazing and awesome and reveals that his brain has many gears and levers that buzz and whirl with unquestionable weirdness.

There are tons of great blogs out there and I can't write about all of them. But just a few more that stand out to me and deserve mention are Aiee! Run From Kelvin's Brainsplurge!, Telecanter's receding Rules, Dyson's Dodecahedron, Monsters and Manuals, Goblin Punch, Last Gasp Grimoire, People them with Monsters, Giblet Blizzard, and Dreams in the Lich House

Happy Reading!

Friday, September 12, 2014

imaginary money

Written at the end of almost every playbook in Apocalypse World is a short description of barter that describes what the playbook could expect to charge for their services or receive in return for things they might want or need. There's a description in the rulebook which flat out states that barter is not a game mechanic but then follows up with an example list of goods and services which could be purchased with 1 barter. The one sentence that seems to appear identically in every description of barter, in both playbooks and rulebook, is "1-barter will cover a month’s living expenses, if your tastes aren’t too grand."

Barter is money, but it's not. It's things you have but don't need that you could trade.

In the Fallout video games trade works very similarly, except objects are given a value in bottle caps, the "money" of the setting, and the relative value of objects adjusts based on your character's Charisma or skill in Bartering. But let's say you ignored all of that fiddley nonsense of adjusting cost and introduced bottle caps into Apocalypse World. Would very much change? Characters would likely track their bottle caps, but then you might start feeling the need for tracking the size and weight of all of these caps. Much like AD&D forced you to track the weight of coins.

Trying to equate barter to a system like AD&D (or any of the OSR games where money equates to experience points) where there are different denominations of precious metals makes me really wonder what the value of a gold coin should be. I'm always looking for a simpler system, but barter is almost too simple, it leaves too many questions for players and leads to plenty of disagreements about what barter actually is when you're confronted with other people's ideas of how trade should work in the absence of money.

1-barter will cover a month’s living expenses, if your tastes aren’t too grand.

What are expenses then? Rent and food? Let's assume yes and say that a cheap real-world equivalent would be $200 a month for rent and $40 for food, so 1-barter might equate to $250 in cash. This means that spending 1-barter leaves you living in squalor and eating the apocalypse world equivalent of ramen noodles and metallic tasting water. Pay more and you can likely live in your own place (2-barter a month) and eat steak (4-barter a month). But who do you pay rent to? Where do you get the steak from? Good questions. Let's switch up the dynamics a bit and apply the idea of barter to a fantasy setting. Let's start here:

1 gold coin will cover a month's living expenses, if your tastes aren't too grand.

Living in flophouses and eating gruel, stale bread, and sour ale. Pay more for a small private room in an out of the way inn (2-gold a month) and to eat mutton, fresh fruit, and dark lager (4-gold a month). Now, with this standard, how much do these things cost per day? Assuming roughly 30 days in a month, and dividing gold and silver into the traditional 1-to-10 ratio, the room would cost about a silver per day and the food would cost a little bit more (a silver and three coppers) every day. Pretty simple. A player could handwave that they're living poorly at 1 gold per month, or living at a slightly better but still below average level at 6 gold per month. Or if they really want to they could get into the minutia of what they're actually spending their money on and the GM would have a standard for figuring out the cost of goods.

This standard could also be useful for determining what taxes are. Assume the population is paying about 3 or 4 silver a month per person, unless the local lord has raised taxes higher. A garrison with 48 people (citizens and soldiers) probably brings in about 19 gold per month but a village of 300 brings in about 120 gold per month, on average. If the standard of living is poorly then this is a huge cost for either population, but if they live in better conditions then the local lord probably has leeway to push taxes up. What is a village worth? When an invading army is threatening to burn the fields and steal the cattle, it could represent a loss of 700 to 2100 gold to account for recovery. How much gold is the lord willing to spend to get rid of the invaders? If he can give them 1000 gold to leave for a year, then why would he waste 4000 gold to mobilize an army?

1 gold coin (or 1-barter) will allow you to get by and survive in squalor for one month.
5 gold coins (or 5-barter) will allow you to live comfortably for one month.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Eagles' End

We started playing the Dark Age playtest and after a session of character creation the game already feels like the sort of campaign I wanted to run with Kosranon. Low magic, low tech, bandits everywhere, mysterious monsters.
And no elves!

We started by creating the village and stronghold where the characters live, Eagles' End.

Sitting on a hill at the end of a fjord, the village is surrounded by a wooden palisade with small towers for archers constructed along strategic points along the wall. Armed with spears and bows, the people of Eagles' End defend a library where scholars and scribes study the writings left behind by the Empire of Eagles as well as collect stories and legends of the Old Gods that were worshiped before the Empire took control of the region. The countryside is plagued by bandit clans who think of themselves as the last true Imperials trying to survive amongst lawless savages, and neighboring villages grow jealous of Eagles' End inflating treasury.

click the map to make it bigger

There are three kinships of people living in Eagles' End...

the Aetosians
Driven by a desire to gather and collect knowledge left behind by the Empire of Eagles, and consolidate it with the lore of the Old Ways that survived the Empire's reign, most Aetosians revere book keeping and historical record. The Aetosians living in Eagles' End wish to found a school and are the stewards of a library, and they keep the old Eagle shrine maintained. Most of them are cynical scholars, getting greedy as they collect more treasure and artifacts. They look fat and stocky, with pale skin and curly brown hair. They often wear gaudy, bright clothing. They obsess over the traditions and customs passed down from the Empire of Eagles, a few practice sorcery, as they hold any knowledge that can be acquired sacred.

the Ferdigen
They have the longest and strongest ancestral ties to the land which they call a sacred bond between the land and the people. They were once subjugated and enslaved by the Empire of Eagles, but now they speak of themselves as a people reborn. They look athletic and muscular, with straight blonde hair and tan or tawny skin. They are a simple people, but the loud coloring of clothing that the Empire wore, and that the Aetosians wear, has begun to creep into their fashion sense. They are master archers, craftsmanship, and practice single combat extensively. A loyal people, the Ferdigen consider themselves benevolent protectors of the Aetosians who search for the lost heritage and traditions of the Ferdigen people, and Ferdigen loyalty has led to many of them beginning to emulate their scholarly wards. The celebrations where they venerate the uprising of the Old Gods sometimes last for days.

the Munii
Once part of a vast and far-reaching empire of their own, the Munii were displaced by the rise of the Empire of Eagles and fallen into decline and ruin, scattered to many regions as disparate families of rogue pagans. They look tall and fair-skinned, with muddy-red hair that they keep loosely cut or tie back with simple ribbons, and typically wear simple clothes without ornamentation or unnecessary coloring. Near Eagles' End is one large family that settled along the river and built a small village where their descendants now fish and hunt and only trade with those who prove themselves worthy. A few Munii have spread into Eagles' End proper and prosper as messengers and prophets of the Old Gods. They are ever vigilant against monsters and trolls, their ruthlessness is matched by their great beauty, their sorcery and enchantments as well as their marvelous feasts are envied. They hold the brutal cycle of nature sacred by worshiping spirit animals, especially predatory beasts such as wolves and bears.

Amongst the leaders and influential voices of Eagles' End are...

Lothric, the Ferdigen head of the Shrat household, is the Keep-Liege and rules Eagles' End. He tries to seem discerning and fair to his subjects, but he has always been more skilled in fighting than in law or judgment. He has personally established trade with many of his neighbors, though his overbearing physique and skill in combat are more likely responsible for the favors he has earned than diplomacy or skilled negotiations.

Ozan Renjara, the Outranger, was trained by the Ferdigen people to be a capable warrior though he was born as an Aetosian. His family was slaughtered by the Rapuns and has been adopted into, and earned a place of honor in, the Shrat household. He sometimes acts as Lothric's eyes and ears and is empowered by the Keep-Liege to forge trade with neighboring communities. He sometimes acts as a guide for travelers and exiles as his status affords him welcome in many places.

Leon Sofia, an Aetosian and Lothric's Court Wizard, spends his time maintaining the library and fostering expeditions in search of scrolls and parchment left behind by the Empire of Eagles. So far he has ignored the rising popularity of a return to the Old Ways amongst the people of Eagle's End but a schism of influence has already started to foment within his own household.

Hypatia Sofia, an Aetosian and self-proclaimed Dragon-Herald. She wants to return to the Old Ways and believes the dragons are benevolent and will return if more people embrace and worship the Old Gods. She also favors gathering knowledge left behind by the Empire and learning from it, though she still believes the slumbering dragons despise anything related to the Empire and will destroy those remnants when they awaken.

Hurit of the Arania household, a Munii and Wicker-Wise, the healer and midwife of Eagles' End, she is a master chemist and wears elaborately embroidered clothing and many rings and earrings as a sign of her status within the stronghold. She requires that supplicants kiss her hand to show proper respect before she will address their problems or assist them when she is fortune-telling, which many Ferdigen come to her for.

Togquos of the Arania household, a Munii and War-Champion. She recently gave birth to a daughter and the father was a Ferdigen who fought beside Togquos, Jesse of Pyreth, after the battle they spent much of their private time together. Togquos is well-known everywhere she goes and she is known by the Munii as "the Eagle-Killer." She dresses fancy, has many piercings, and carries a magical dagger which causes wound that no man has ever recovered from.

Aranck is a Troll-Killer and was adopted into the Arania household, her people and home are known only to her. As a child Aranck was rumored to be a troll born into the body of a child, and as she grew into adulthood she began traveling as a mercenary. She was determined to prove that she wasn't trollborn and became a hunter and killer of trolls but was still exiled by her aunt, who was also the chieftain of her tribe.

Other people who neighbor or live near Eagles' End are...

the Rapuns
A small nomadic band who worship the god, Stone, a being who lives in natural rock and is composed of stone. They are the closest neighbors to Eagles' End and typically fish and herd sheep upriver, but also trade with the Munii village to the north. They look tall and stocky with bronze skin, stoop shouldered and keep their wiry hair and beards short. They have an insular disposition and are typically untrustworthy of others. They are responsible for many of the circles of standing stones that can be found inland, and manage to travel through many areas where they know the land is rich.

the Spider clan
An outlaw band of descendants of former scholars and craftsmen who took up the sword, they hold the Empire of Eagles up as a paragon of civilization and consider the villages and townships in the area to be savage and filthy. They look much like Aetosians, as they were once members of the shrine stewards in Eagles' End, they are pale skinned and wear bright clothing, but have spare and willowy bodies topped with curly blonde hair. They tattoo their arms and legs, often with web patterns and depictions of spiders, and ornament their weaponry and fur clothing with amber stones. They have become skilled fighters and are known to make daring and fearless raids on weakened or vulnerable people. They have sworn blood vengeance upon the Ferdigen and the Aetosians over minor disagreements that nobody remembers. They venerate a mysterious spider god whose legends were told within the Empire of Eagles, but whose stories were never committed to parchment.

the Matosians
They worship the Witch-King, which is a person but also a title worn by their current king, Malik. The last Witch-King died at Malik's hands last summer, and since then trade with Eagles' End has ceased. Matosians look fair-skinned with muddy red hair and wear simple, dark clothing. They have been ruthless to their enemies in the past and crucify their criminals rather than exile them. Malik is also known to dislike any who do not worship the Witch-King before other deities. Matosians view the Empire of Eagles as a decadent and corpulent society that deserved to die, and they consider any who recite knowledge of the Empire as being corrupted by it. They love spicy food and bitter alcohol.

the Aetar
The last descendants of a military order from within the Imperial Legionnaires. The Aetar look pale and dark-haired, and wear bright yellow and white clothing or armor. They are fanatically devoted to Imperial law, which they pass down as an oral tradition. The Aetar hold everything about the Empire of Eagles sacred and would likely become allies with Aetosians if the Aetosians weren't trying to study the Old Gods and collect knowledge about the Old Ways before the Empire destroyed most of it. They have dwindled in numbers as they refuse to recruit Munii or Ferdigen or anybody else into their ranks. When they attack a community they do not take prisoners and attempt to slaughter anyone they find.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Gaz and the Drake, a patron for DCC RPG

I started writing Gaz and the Drake for our gaming group, but then our group stopped playing Dungeon Crawl Classics and I lost my inspiration for completing the description of this patron. Two years later, I'm clearing out a lot of my digital accounts and I see this draft document on my blog so now I'm finishing it up. Even if I'm not playing DCC at the moment, I think it would be pretty cool to have a custom patron for my players to choose, or maybe I'll write another one so that I have a range of options outside of the core rulebook.

Without further preamble, here are Patron Spells: Gaz and the Drake

Level 1: Iron Fist

Self, Duration: Varies, Casting time: 1 round, Save: None
General: Gaz and the Drake understand that their followers are not, strictly speaking, fighters and so they impart this spell early to give devoted wizards an opportunity to utilize the arcane arts to exercise some martial skill. The caster must spellburn at least 1 point when casting this spell.
Manifestation = Roll 1d4: (1) the caster's hands twist into wooden fists incapable of grabbing objects or casting other spells (the caster takes 1 point of damage); (2) the caster's hands glow with a golden light, making him an easily discernible target in the dark; (3) the caster's hands become like stone, hard and impervious to most damage but still able to manipulate objects and cast other spells; (4) the caster's hands take on the look and feel of iron but may still be manipulated like normal digits (this version of the spell will cause +1 damage to elves).
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-13 = The wizard's hands become hard like weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d3 + caster level) unarmed attacks inflict lethal damage of 1d3 + caster level + Strength.
14-17 = The wizard's hands become hard like weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d4 + caster level) unarmed attacks inflict lethal damage of 1d4 + caster level + Strength.
18-19 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d6 + caster level) unarmed attacks are at +1 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 1d6 + caster level + Strength.
20-23 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of rounds equal to (1d8 + caster level) unarmed attacks are at +3 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 2d4 + caster level + Strength.
24-27 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons! For a number of turns equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +4 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d4 + caster level + Strength.
28-29 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons that can punch through wood or plaster! For a number of turns equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +5 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d6 + caster level + Strength.
30-31 = The wizard's hands become magical weapons so strong that he can punch through stone or metal! For a number of hours equal to caster level unarmed attacks are at +7 to hit and inflict lethal damage of 3d8 + caster level + Strength.
32+ = The wizard's body glows with a golden hue and a low hum originates from the air around him! Until the next sunrise unarmed attacks the caster makes are lethal, can punch through any material, are +9 to hit, and inflict 5d8 + caster level + Strength damage. Whenever a creature is struck by the caster it must make a DC 20 Fortitude save or flee in terror and pain.

Level 2: Poisonous Gaze
Range: 30', Duration: Instantaneous, Casting time: 1 action, Save: Will vs. spell check
General: This spell gives the wizard a gaze attack that can be used to lock eyes with a living creature and poison their blood. The spell will have no effect on golems, elementals, oozes, or other such creatures that do not have eyes or blood per se.
Manifestation = Roll 1d8: (1) the caster's eyes glow green and a smoky green-tinted mist pours out from their eyelids; (2) a beam of soft white light pulses between the caster's eyes and the target of the spell; (3) a crackling sound emanates from behind the caster; (4) the sclera in the wizard's eyes turn black for the next hour; (5) the wizard emits a foul smell, similar to bleach or vinegar; (6) the wizard's eyes become ringed with pustules and sores, these heal after a good night's rest; (7) the wizard's eyes and mouth become ringed with a glittery substance that disappears at the next sunrise; (8) the caster's face becomes dry and wrinkled for the next turn.
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-13 = Failure, but spell is not lost.
14-15 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or suffer 1d8 + caster level HP damage.
16-19 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d3 Stamina; recovered at one point per day.
20-21 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d4 Stamina (or Dexterity, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
22-25 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d5 Stamina (or Dexterity or Intelligence, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
26-29 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or temporarily lose 1d6 Stamina (or Dexterity, Intelligence or Strength, caster's choice); recovered at one point per day.
30-31 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be struck blind for 2d4 rounds.
32-33 = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds.
34+ = The caster locks eyes with a target within range, which must make a Will save or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds and lose 1d6 Agility, Stamina and Intelligence; recovered at one point per day.

Level 3: Spectral Soldier
Range: 20', Duration: varies, Casting time: 1 turn, Save: None
General = The caster summons a ghostly warrior that fights alongside her and protects her from any who might harm her.
Manifestation = Roll 1d4: (1) the wizard breathes out smoke from her mouth which coalesces into the warrior; (2) a skeleton crawls out of the ground during the casting and the apparition forms around the bones (the bones crumble into nothingness at the end of the spell); (3) a heavy fog rolls in and the soldier steps out from it, the fog fades by the end of casting ; (4) the soldier is a dark misty thing that animates out of the wizard's own shadow
1 = Lost, failure, and patron taint.
2-11 = Lost and failure.
12-15 = Failure, but spell is not lost.
16-17 = The caster summons a spectral warrior who serves for up to 1 turn or until dismissed or killed, it will not stray farther than 20' away from the caster and if it is forced past that boundary it disappears. It never speaks or communicates in any way, and always attacks anything that is attacking the wizard or that the wizard attacks. If the spectral soldier is fighting another humanoid fighter it will attempt to disarm them or cripple them, and if it is fighting a monster or other non-humanoid creature it will attempt to push them back with it's attacks, keeping them away from the caster. Consider the warrior to be 1st level and have ability scores of 10. It has AC 16, 1d4+1d8 hp, and a deed die of 1d3 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
18-21 = As above, but it lasts for 1d3 turns and is considered to be 2nd level with ability scores of 12. It has AC 16, 12 hp, and a deed die of 1d4 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
22-23 = As above, but it lasts for 1d4 turns and is considered to be 3rd level with ability scores of 13. It has AC 16, 20 hp, and a deed die of 1d5 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
24-26 = As above, but it lasts for 1 hour and is considered to be 4th level with ability scores of 14. It has AC 17, 30 hp, and a deed die of 1d6 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
27-31 = As above, but it lasts for 1d4 hours and is considered to be 5th level with ability scores of 15. It has AC 18, 40 hp, and a deed die of 1d7 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
32-33 = As above, but it lasts for 1d6 hours and is considered to be 6th level with ability scores of 16. It has AC 19, 50 hp, and a deed die of 1d8 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
34-35 = As above, but it lasts for 1d8 turns and is considered to be 7th level with ability scores of 17. It has AC 20, 60 hp, and a deed die of 1d10 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.
36+ = As above, but it lasts for 24 hours and is considered to be 9th level with ability scores of 18. It has AC 24, 80 hp, and a deed die of 1d12 for purposes of attack bonus and damage. It's attacks are considered to be magical.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

perception rumination

Something I've been thinking about a lot lately is how the GM can fail to give information to the players which can lead to the players taking actions they might not have otherwise taken. The characters' perception of events is only as good as the GM's ability to narrate the scene. This should be one of those obvious statements that begins every and any chapter of GMing advice, but it's surprising how many people just don't make the mental leap of how much the collective concept of what is happening in the game rests on one person's shoulders.

There are several games that use perception as a risk-taking procedure, and supply a rule that gives players a mechanic with which to gain an advantage or simply to be warned of impending danger. 3rd edition D&D invented the much abused Spot check, World of Darkness has a derived Perception skill check, Apocalypse World has the Read A Situation move, and many times I've seen a GM who in the absence of a rule for it simply has a PC make a saving throw or a luck check or similar oddity. Using these checks as ways of doling out information is where the inspiration for Trail of Cthulhu came from.

It's a two-way street though, it's important for players to ask questions and prod for more information. Generally, I've noticed that if players just take the scene as described it's because they think their GM gave them all the information they needed. As a player, I am always asking for more details "Is the ceiling a dome or is it flat? How far does the curve in the wall go, all the way to the ceiling? Does it look like there might be a crack or crease where the wall meets the floor?"

Character perception requires player communication.

I used to think that being able to separate what your character knows from what you, as a player, know is a sign of good role-playing, but as I get older I find that I don't like the adventure to take too long. If there is something there and I've asked the right question I just want to hear a "Yes" so we can get on with the game without fiddling with dice or wasting time. But then, what is the right question?

If a room is trapped, how do detect it if the GM assumes you will just roll dice to discover it? Different games handle discovering traps and pitfalls in different ways. In old school D&D you better have a Thief to search for traps, otherwise you're hosed. In 3rd edition and in Dungeon World anybody could potentially search for traps, some are just better at it than others since in both games it almost entirely relies on your Wisdom bonus. In Dungeon World the existence of a trap might be determined by the dice roll to detect it.

In this same vein, if an NPC is lying to your character how do you detect it? Depending on the GM they might make this obvious, no roll required, but there are mechanics in games for having this kind of interaction with a skilled bluffer. Deadlands made a huge (but broken) mini-game out of the Bluffin' and Scrutinize skills. In some versions of D&D this might just be a saving throw but it could easily be a Sense Motive roll. In Apocalypse World the Read A Person move becomes a catchall for this kind of interaction, which I have noticed most players don't even actually use unless they think violence is imminent.

Sometimes pulling out dice to determine the answer to a question can answer the question for the player, and since the act of rolling might give the players information their characters shouldn't be privy to then how do you imbue that dice roll with failure and success?

Careful scrutiny still requires the possibility of failure.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

the dark twist

Apocalypse World: 10th session
click for previous session

During his preparation for the big (fake) fight the Swampys were going to put on for William H. Esquire Esq., he tracked down and confronted Onyx and convinced him to leave the Slavers and join up with his gang.

Morticia had been hearing rumors that anybody who hurts the Fishers ends up dead, and since she killed Gams she wanted to investigate these rumors. Tracking down Lamprey and Philo she found out that they were scared of her and didn't really believe the rumors themselves, but they were definitely hiding something from her. While leaving the Arcade Morticia noticed a big truck pulling into town that gave a wide berth from the Slavers. She had heard that some of the Slavers wanted William H. Esquire Esq. dead and decided to follow these newcomers.

Spector spent time installing two of the gun turrets on the tops of the destroyed warehouses, and Snail met with her afterward to offer her a relic of the golden age past in exchange for the plant growing on the spine of her assistant and lover, Cullen. She accepted, without discovering how Snail knew about the plant.

Ever since his very public foursome, Boy Esquire had been followed by two girls, Chase and Amex, who began working as whores for him. They were infected with the dark twist and so he was trying to find a way to cure them. Nothing was working, so he went searching for Snail but was blocked by the Garden, and when Snail finally appeared Boy Esquire was coerced into letting Snail dance with him before the big fight.

One of the newcomers, a woman named Susan, found William H. Esquire Esq. and asked to speak with him in private, but Morticia interrupted and intimated that she thought these people were here to kill him. Preparing for the worst William H. Esquire Esq. met with Susan and discovered that she was the mysterious owner of the Stax. Susan didn't like Slaver towns and was pleased to find that William H. Esquire Esq. didn't support them but tolerated them. She also wanted permission from him to get justice over the death of Gams and Braille, and William H. Esquire Esq. explained that disputes are resolved in the Pit, but anything that happened outside of town was also fair as long as it didn't come back into town. Susan thanked him and left, and William H. Esquire Esq. relayed a message to Morticia about who Susan was.

The pre-show dance went off without a hitch, though many people were visibly concerned with Chase and Amex's health. Snail's interpretive dancing was also remarked upon widely.

Gnarly led his gang into the Pit and put on a very good show for William H. Esquire Esq.. They decisively announced that cannibalism is not allowed in Arcade Esquire and at the end of the show the Swampys joined William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang.

After the show Onyx brought Boy Esquire a fancy pistol as a gift. Weaving through the crowd Morticia tried to confront Susan in town, but noticed that they were both surrounded by Susan's guards and Susan refused to talk with Morticia unless they met outside of town. Slightly panicked, Morticia found William H. Esquire Esq. and asked him to accompany her outside and he agreed. They met Susan by her truck, her gang packed into the back seats and ready to leave Arcade Esquire. Susan explained that Gams was an asshole and probably deserved to die, but he was still her employee, and the Stax was hers before Morticia took over in Braille's absence. She demanded to either receive 2-barter every month or Morticia could buy the Stax from her for 5-barter. William H. Esquire Esq. thought this sounded fair and Morticia agreed to pay 2-barter now but insisted she would want to buy the Stax in the future.

Susan confirmed with William H. Esquire Esq. that he wouldn't care about anything that happens outside of town and he said "Yes, as long as the town doesn't get blamed for whatever you do." and at that Susan strolled over to the Slavers encampment and slaughtered them all single-handedly. Both William H. Esquire Esq. and Morticia made a hasty retreat before the shooting started.

Marlowe's pregnancy was moving further along, he left town to find a safer place where he might be able to give birth.

Spector successfully removed the plant from Cullen's spine and, per their arrangement, she gave the plant to Snail who then took it to his family, Orchid and the Garden.

William H. Esquire Esq. tried to commune with the Tree but received visions of enslavement. He decided that the Tree needed to be freed, and since he viewed Snail as a representative for the Garden went to him to discuss the Tree's enslavement.

Morticia spent her time trying to cure members of her crew who had contracted the dark twist, but the only healer in town, Rags, was also infected. Going to his goat farm, Morticia saw that all of Rags' livestock was infected as well.

William H. Esquire Esq. and Spector spent some time trying to convince Snail to move the Garden out of town, but he claimed he couldn't control them. Snail auguried over the Tree and opened a very large portal that spread across the town of Arcade Esquire, William H. Esquire Esq. and Boy Esquire appeared to be completely untouched by it. In that moment Snail was able to pull on the bonds between the Garden and the Tree and instead of cementing the Garden's control over the Tree he betrayed them. The Tree became Snail's new family, the conflict between the two entities balanced evenly, and as Snail closed the portal into the maelstrom Morticia was enveloped by it and disappeared.

At that moment an earthquake shook the town. Large tree roots disgorged the earth, and corpses beneath the soil were uncovered and vomited out.

to be continued

MC Note: the game might go on hiatus for awhile since we're about to start playtesting Apocalypse World: Dark Age

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

gaming should be fun

I used to play Arkham Horror every week. I have every expansion and I have followed the annual tournament reports, the forums, and the fan sites. I downloaded a program to make my own characters for Arkham Horror based on the members of my gaming group. That should be enough to explain how much I loved this game and how much my group played it.
Despite all of the expansions I own and all of the different ways we tried playing the game one of the guys in our group always played Ashcan Pete.

We played the game so regularly that I was starting to get annoyed that he always played the same character and never tried anything different. So one time we started setting up the game I surreptitiously slipped Ashcan Pete underneath the box. When he couldn't find the character sheet somebody challenged him to try playing something different and he looked crestfallen, like his favorite toy had been taken away. I echoed the challenge and revealed I had hid the character, hoping he would pick something different.

He said "I understand. You don't want me to have fun. I'll play something different."
At that, I felt bad. I handed Ashcan Pete to him and I never brought it up ever again because I never got annoyed by him playing the same character ever again. Even if I thought it was droll or uncreative or predictable, this was his fun, and why should I be critical of that? I shouldn't. Coming down on the way a person plays a game is a dick move.

I've been playing this character in Apocalypse World named Tully. Tully is a grotesque of indeterminate gender. Tully has this weird black slime that grows out of his skin, his eyes are lidless and milky green as if something is growing beneath the surface of the sclera, and he's scrawny and hunched like a corpse come to life. The "tarman" zombie from Return of the Living Dead is literally what I based Tully's appearance off of.
In all likelihood, Tully's gender morphs to be compatible to whoever is near him/her, but in truth I think of him as something entirely different, similar to Pie'oh'Pah from Clive Barker's Imajica. I call him "he" because I named him after Louis Tully, and also in my backstory for him he was declared a "he" by his parents despite their not knowing what he was. He accepts this because it is also easier for others to accept.

He's my favorite character that I've ever made. I've written him up in two different games. I will likely end up playing him again in other games if I'm given the opportunity.

I'm not sure exactly how long I've been playing Tully this time (three sessions? four?) but I know that I have firmly established that Tully does not fight. He is not aggressive or mean or divisive in any way. Yet Tully's hard has been highlighted in nearly every session I have played him. The first time it happened I said nothing, but made a note right under his hard stat on my character sheet "TULLY DOESN'T FIGHT" in all caps and yet, his hard still gets highlighted.

"Yeah I'm a pacifist, you wanna fight 'bout it?!"

Recently Tully was confronted by the presence of some nasty supernatural shit and in that moment Tully decided "This thing is not human, this thing is bad, this thing I will fight." But even in that scene where Tully decided to fight, there was literally nothing I could do. The creature that appeared was made of shadow and ephemeral so I didn't even get to roll dice. Let's forget for a second that making an enemy you can't fight is an obnoxious thing to do on the GM's part and focus instead on the fact that everything I've established about Tully is set in stone, I am not going to change Tully's relationship to violence. Tully doesn't fight, but his hard has been highlighted three times now.

The first time it happened it was irritating. The second time it happened was frustrating. Now it just feels antagonistic. I have a lot of fun playing Tully, but I also have a lot of fun expanding the character and giving him a wider range of options. That I should be distracted from this because somebody wants to see my pacifist get aggressive is annoying. The process of gaining experience and moving my character forward in a game where the characters are defined by the phrase "you are what you do" has become more alienating and challenging than actually playing the game. I am at the point where I've stopped moving Tully forward in a way that I want and I am considering taking moves just to be able to play the character the way I want to play him.

Tully is the third character I have made for this game, and the third pacifist.

The first character was Errol, a driver, who just didn't like conflict. I barely figured out exactly who Errol was when he got into an argument with the gunlugger in the group about how to intimidate people, Errol started a fight to prove a point (because his hard was marked) and a few missed rolls later Errol got killed. I didn't mind too much, but I did mind when I got called an asshole for following my highlighted stats.

The second character was Glitch, a 19 year old girl missing her left arm, also a brainer (with -2 hard). She's not very good with people, but she was also tortured physically growing up. I never established how she lost the arm. It was really easy to figure out who she was, but when her hard got marked I spoke up and pointed out that one-armed teenagers are not exactly fighters. I was, and have been ever since, essentially told to shut up.

The whole process of highlighting stats works in theory. You want to pick the stuff a character is good at, but you also want to see what else they will do. Getting a player to try out different approaches is not inherently a bad thing. Mark cool and hard for the Hocus and maybe he will get a little confrontational. Mark hot and sharp for the Gunlugger and maybe she'll try manipulating someone instead of just going in, guns blazing. It's okay to try things out, push the characters into new directions, and that definitely works really well sometimes. But when a character's philosophy is established firmly as one of peace - and Tully will never hurt other human beings under any circumstances, ever - marking a stat that would force me to change that philosophy and actively seek conflict in order to advance is just rude and unfriendly, if not downright hostile.

Monday, September 1, 2014

a grave on the side of the road

This scene requires that a PC has a lover or spouse, or even better a child. The party is traveling along a dirt road, or a path that is not popularly used, and they see a simple gravestone cut from common rock. If they have passed this way before then they have never seen the gravestone before, it is new to the path despite the fact that it looks worn and weather beaten and old. There is no date but the name carved into the stone is the name of a child to one of the PCs (or a lover or spouse).

If the grave is ignored and they return to town, the child (or lover/spouse) is still alive and doesn't speak of any ill happenings. The grave remains there on repeated journeys along the path.

If the grave is dug up, a wooden coffin so old that it falls apart when trying to pull it up out of the earth lies beneath the stone. Inside the coffin is the very old corpse (at least a hundred years old) of the child, identified either by some distinguishing feature or a piece of jewelry or armor. There is no reliable way to discover how they died.

If the corpse is raised, the spell works exactly as it is described in the rules except the living child collapses dead at the moment the corpse is revived with no memories beyond being alive one moment and then suddenly teleported to wherever the corpse has been raised. Similar kinds of spells placed upon the corpse have similar effects.

If the living person is killed in some way, the corpse takes on visible injuries related to how they died despite the fact that those injuries weren't present before.

The truth is, the corpse IS the living person's body, but perhaps from another time or from another reality. For the purposes of the reality the PCs are in, the corpse and the living person are one and the same and any form of magic or divination will respond accordingly.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

post-apocalyptic fiction freeform

Ula mesmerizes the crowd with her juggling, but draws Chrysler near to him, he needs to meet her. She manages to get Chrysler alone after and hypnotizes him, now he will act as her eyes and ears.

When Chrysler saunters into town the next day, he corrals his soldiers along the fences and announces that he's the new mayor, anybody who wants to challenge him can face him now, in front of his men. Nobody does, but Cream takes careful eye of the proceedings.

Cream and Louvre take their time sneaking into Chrysler's camp, but Louvre is forced to make a hard maneuver against Chrysler's enforcers and all hell breaks loose. Cream spends most of his time ducking behind cover while bullets fly between Louvre and Chrysler's men. When the dust settles, Cream and Chrysler are alone, face to face.

Having lost everything in the fight, including his prized car, Chrysler lashes out wildly and recklessly, but Cream is ready and catches him off guard. Cream huddles back down to his tavern, the Cellar, believing the town of Jambalaya to be safe for now, but Ula's attention is focused onto Cream now...

Saturday, August 30, 2014

diseases from Hell

When you enter the lower planes you risk infection of the mind. Surrounded by the infernal machinations of a twisted landscape, the human psyche can fracture under the strain of confronting an irredeemably evil universe designed to defile mortal souls and eradicate all traces of hope. Psychological disorders contracted within the lower planes are not always apparent or immediate.

Humans who enter the lower planes are subject to a unique mental illness. Torphrenia.

In some areas of the lower planes simply breathing the air is dangerous. Characters who come into contact with this should save versus breath weapon to avoid contracting the illness. After infection, symptoms don't appear until the character returns to their home plane. The next day they wake up, they will have a sever headache (-1 maximum hit points). Every day that passes the headache gets worse (cumulative -1 maximum hit points). When the character kills somebody (a humanoid) then the pain abates slightly (remove one -1 penalty) and if the humanoid is killed in a particularly painful or gruesome way then the pain almost disappears completely (remove five -1 penalties) but never quite goes away (never drops below -1 maximum hit points). This is not a disease in the usual sense, so typical methods of curing the illness won't work, but attempts to remove a curse or even successful exorcisms will cure the victim.

Humans who physically touch the skin of devils are likely to contract a virulent skin disease. Cubiasis.

At the moment of contact roll 1d20 and add intelligence (add +5 if the character is Lawful), if the total is 24 or greater than the character contracts the disease. Anybody infected with cubiasis can potentially spread the disease through skin on skin contact. Once infected the only way to prevent or cure the disease is either with priestly magic or reducing the character's intelligence to 0 (the latter method make the disease flake off and disappear after one week). The disease is not obvious for three days, symptoms appear on the third day when the infected develops a strange square pattern of reddish lines on their skin. These squares grow out from under the skin like cubes and turn dark red by the fifth day of infection. These red cube-like growths are always tightly packed together and grow it in small patches, slowly overtaking the body. Once the character's skin is completely covered by the growths (after 9+1d6 days, about two weeks) they are overcome by the disease and will look for a quiet, cool place to rest. If they are allowed to rest or sleep, the character dies. Within another day the small cubes will explode into spores and the disease becomes airborne. It is possible to be infected and show no symptoms, evil characters who get infected never show symptoms and are merely contagious.

treasure by value

I got around to (finally) finishing this treasure generator that I had been working on since March. It was inspired by a page over at Telecanter's Receding Rules where he suggests a generic treasure table for getting a quick idea and throwing it into a dungeon. I took the idea of the values and made a generator that creates a series of items where the inherent value matches the material and condition of the item.

These words will take you to Telecanter's original post on the treasure table.

These words will take you to the Treasure By Value generator I wrote.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Dude, where's my garage?

Apocalypse World: 9th session
click for previous session

Spector returned to town and her crew, Cullen and Whitehead, learned about how their gang got slaughtered by the Swampys. Whitehead was really pissed but he kept his cool, and he even managed to make contact with the last surviving Baller, Gray, and she joined Spector's garage crew.

William H. Esquire Esq. returned to town, and saw some Slavers pouring cement and building what they called a "pit stop" across the road from Arcade, which William H. Esquire Esq. now christened as Arcade Esquire. The Slavers met him and his gang with hostility but rather than start a fight he backed off and returned to town. Many of the people in Arcade Esquire were startled at his return and started talking about fighting the Slavers.

Boy Esquire stayed behind and tried to work his way into the Slavers' gang, but got bored before their leader Onyx would make time for him.

Dremmer, a twister, was preaching of the glories of the Dark Twist in the marketplace and flinging the dark slime oozing from his pores onto anybody who came near him. William H. Esquire Esq. tried to approach him and got hit in the face with some of the black slime, then Marlowe shot at Dremmer wounding him, Dremmer ran and before Marlowe could kill him William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang arrested Marlowe and threw him into a cell. In the cell, Marlowe found a poster listing the Rights and Articles of the Free People of the Shop.

Snail wiped the slime off of William H. Esquire Esq.'s face then took it the Household and Orchid instructed Snail to infect people with the slime before he would hand over a cure.

Spector finished the portable tunnel and gave it to William H. Esquire Esq., who asked her to set up the guns they scavenged from Montana around the perimeter of Arcade Esquire, but half of them turned out to be missing from the armory.

William H. Esquire Esq. confronted the Swampys about their cannibalism in his absence and negotiated for them to have a "fake" fight between the diehard cannibals in their group and the ones who wanted to reform to William H. Esquire Esq.'s way of ... eating. Their leader, Gnarly, agreed to the idea. Afterward William H. Esquire Esq. released Marlowe with the understanding that he can't just attack people.

Boy Esquire tried to help Snail get some new clothes, but Snail was insistent that he was going to keep wearing the dress. They both went to Rags'es goat trough to clean themselves off, and Snail managed to infect a few people with the Dark Twist along the way, but Boy Esquire seemed to be immune.

Morticia found Gams smashing up her bar in the Stax. Gams looked tough and had a mouth filled with razor-sharp teeth, but Morticia met him with violence regardless. Though she was deeply injured Morticia prevailed and got bandaged up by Rags.

Snail confronted Orchid and demanded to be let back into the House but Orchid explained to Snail that they were one and the same, Orchid was just a shell that the House spoke through, and Orchid further explained that the House no longer wanted him to be a part of it. Instead, he should consider himself part of the Garden: the growing group of children and teenagers that reverentially followed Orchid.

Marlowe caught up with Dremmer and forced him to promise that he would leave town, but in the course of the conversation he learned that Dremmer had been infected with the Dark Twist by people in Hanford and they were holding Dremmer's wife and three daughters as hostages in exchange for him coming to Arcade Esquire and infecting the populace. Marlowe enlisted Snail's aid and they cured Dremmer of the Dark Twist.

Spector's garage was inexplicably in a new location very close to the Tree and the fighting arena. Spector was trying to deduce how her garage got moved across town while she was inside of it with her crew, some people seemed to think it hadn't moved at all, but others agreed that it was in a suddenly new position in town. Snail was convinced the Tree had somehow done it. When Boy Esquire was asked about what he knew of the Tree he tried to leverage his knowledge for sex with Spector and through the course of negotiations a small orgy happened between Boy Esquire, Spector, her assistant Cullen, and Morticia

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Third Verse, by Johnstone Metzger & Tony Dowler

The Third Verse is the third of Johnstone Metzger's Dungeon World / Labyrinth Lord series, and like the previous adventures before this one the River Knife runs alongside the area where this module takes place. I think this is pretty cool because it allows a GM to use all of these adventures as part of a larger campaign and use the River Knife as a constant feature and returning point for the PCs. Either the river is their main method of navigation, or imagine a three-segment artifact that needs to be put together and each piece is found somewhere in all of the adventures. This isn't something that is suggested in any of these modules, it's just my own flight of fancy after having read all of them.

This module has the PCs being asked by a venerable sorceress to complete an ancient song that will banish the monsters the plague this region. There is a short description of the town of Springvale and the sorceress Liniakatra, and the rest of the adventure is a dungeoncrawl. The players presumably learn the first two verses from Liniakatra and then they must venture into the underground temple housing portals that spring forth a variety of monsters to learn the third verse and seal the infernal portals forever.

This is a fun adventure, but short. There are some interesting conundrums and encounters inside the dungeon itself, but some GMs might be turned off by the simple dungeon design. The whole structure of the dungeon and it's denizens reminded me very heavily of playing Gauntlet when I was younger, but it's different enough that most players might not notice the similarities. There is a lot information here to build off as well, with the portals that disgorge otherworldly monsters to the shrine in the last level.

You can purchase both pdf and print versions of "RK3 - The Third Verse" at DriveThruRPG or just a print version at Lulu
Johnstone Metzger also has a blog and a Patreon campaign for writing up monsters in Dungeon World and Labyrinth Lord stats
Tony Dowler also has a blog and a Patreon campaign for creating maps

Monday, August 25, 2014

Evil Wizards in a Cave, by Johnstone Metzger

Evil Wizards in a Cave is the second of Johnstone Metzger's Dungeon World / Labyrinth Lord series, and in a change of pace from some of the other modules this one is a hexcrawl. Those familiar with the previous adventure will see that the River Knife features prominently in the landscape of the setting.

This book has a fairly straightforward sounding adventure: some monks in a monastery, nestled in a mountainous territory plagued with extraordinary monsters, have had a sacred artifact stolen from them by some wizards who are using it to power a far-reaching and nefarious ritual that will affect every living creature in the surrounding region. Find the wizards, stop their ritual, and get the artifact back. Pretty simple really, but not quite.

The thieving wizards have to be tracked down and because the adventure is presented as a hexcrawl this adds a level of anxiety to stopping the ritual. The worst aspect of this is that there is nothing specifically in the adventure to tell you the ritual is happening. There are suggestions on how to impart this information to the PCs like prophetic dreams or insidious rumors, and there is even a suggestion that you just describe an impending supernatural feeling coming from the mountains where the wizards are hiding, in this way it's left very open for the GM to construct their own method of spurring the PCs to action, but not having anything concrete to give the players right away is a huge detraction from the rest of this module.

There is also very little in the way of clues to guide the PCs to the cave where the wizards are hiding, but the map puts the hexes at 2 miles across so it would be fair to give the players an eyeline to the mountains and hills on the map, thus narrowing their search. There are a few magical beasts prowling the area and there is even a dragon, and every hex has some kind of feature that ties into the local population of humans or beasts. The monastery even has it's own twist going on, but the twist seems unnecessary and I suspect this was added on for players who might find the hunt for the wizards too easy.

I have mixed feelings about hexcrawls and that might be why I am not as excited about this adventure as I was of the previous ones Johnstone Metzger has written. There is a lot going on in this adventure and plenty of interesting encounters, but the most interesting part of the module is the ritual the wizards are performing. It's too bad the players are set up to prevent the ritual because I think it would be a lot more fun for the PCs to enter this hexcrawl after the ritual has just been completed.

You can purchase both pdf and print versions of "RK2 - Evil Wizards in a Cave" at DriveThruRPG or just a print version at Lulu
Johnstone Metzger also has a blog and a patreon campaign for writing up monsters in Dungeon World and Labyrinth Lord stats

Saturday, August 23, 2014


I once wrote about how I had been toying with this Apocalypse World-inspired magic system of success/partial success/failure results. Recently I've been looking at Dungeon Crawl Classics magic system a lot more, because I like the varying power levels of spells despite the overload of paperwork. The way I've been thinking of spells now is that even on a "miss" the spell would be cast, a character who can use magic will cast the spell regardless of choices or rolls. After the spell has been cast the magic-user would roll again to see how powerful the spell is, potentially all of these dice could be rolled together since the power roll would use different die types.

Using the DCC RPG spells as a standard, here's how I have it written so far.

when you cast a spell, roll+spell or choose 1 option, on a 15+ choose none, on a 10-14 choose 2, on a miss choose 3 and you draw attention to yourself:
- spell lost, you can't cast the spell again until after you rest
- the spell corrupts you
- the spell misfires and does something unexpected
- your magic dwindles, -1ongoing to magic until you rest

Power (2d10+magic)
Under 12: Spell works as normal
12-15: +1 enhancement
16-18: +2 enhancements
19-21: +4 enhancements
22+: Critical!

Under 10: Minor corruption
10-14: Major corruption
15+: Greater corruption

Charm Person
The magic-user charms a humanoid to become friendly, they will regard the caster as a friend and ally but not do anything against their own nature.
Range: 40 yards, Duration: 1 day, Corruption: 1d4+magic+spell
Enhancements: affects +1 target (multiple), add +1 day (multiple)
Critical: affects 2d6+magic targets, lasts one month, and caster has complete control over targets (will perform suicidal or contradictory tasks)
Misfire 1d4: 1) caster also falls in love with target(s), 2) two randomly determined nearby humanoids fall in love with each other, 3) caster inadvertently puts target(s) to sleep, 4) target(s) are repulsed and angered by everyone nearby except the caster

The magic-user impairs the ability of a target creature to move at its normal speed, to such a degree that it's attacks are easily avoided. Attack rolls must still be made to hurt the slowed creature.
Range: 30 yards, Duration: 1 turn, Corruption: 1d8+magic+spell
Enhancements: affects +1 creature (multiple), add +1 turn (multiple)
Critical: all creatures that are actively hostile to caster within range are frozen in place for 3 turns
Misfire 1d4: 1) caster slows one ally within sight (if no ally in sight then caster slows themself), 2) caster slows all allies within range (if no allies in range then caster slows themself), 3) caster ages 10 years, 4) a nearby animal or insect develops the Slow spell as an innate ability (usable once/day)

The magic-user transforms himself or another into a different creature, assuming the creature's form and manner of movement as well as the creature's ability to survive in it's natural habitat.
Range: touch, Duration: 1 hour, Corruption: 1d10+magic+spell
Enhancements: affects +1 creature (multiple), add +1 day (multiple), grant all of the natural & magical abilities of the new form
Critical: caster can transform themself and +magic+spell targets into a new creature with all of the natural & magical abilities of the new form for up to one week
Misfire 1d4: 1) target is transformed into inoffensive domestic animal, 2) partial transformation of changed head and normal body or vice versa, 3) target's skin changes to new form but that is all, 4) also summons 1d4 creatures of the intended transformation to the caster's location and they are angry or hungry

Pretty simple in comparison to DCC RPG, but still requires a bit of paperwork.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children, by James Edward Raggi IV

The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children (DCCHC) was the Free RPG Day release for the Lamentations of the Flame Princess RPG. If you were really lucky, your FLGS isn't run by a douchebag who refuses to carry LotFP products and you got a print copy earlier this year. Unlucky souls can still pick up a pdf copy of the adventure. DCCHC was initially funded on Indiegogo and that is the only way I was able to procure a print copy of the module.

James Raggi IV has a reputation for writing adventure modules that are basically traps for the PCs. Another blogger coined the term negadungeon to explain this kind of module, an adventure that is meant to destroy the PCs rather than to entertain or reward. I personally find assessments like this unfair, but I will say that he manages to craft adventures which seem uncompromisingly difficult from a cold reading.

The premise of DCCHC all by itself is weird and horrifying. All of the women in a small town are convinced that they gave birth to a son four years ago, named him Andrew, and yesterday he disappeared - despite the fact that nobody else remembers these multitudes of Andrews and there is no evidence that these Andrews exist except as a mass hallucination of the women of this town, one of these boys is seen outside of town, and... you'll have to read the adventure or play through it to find out who and what these Andrews are.

Having read that last paragraph, aren't you intrigued to find out what is going on? I know I was!

DCCHC is a great module because there is a ton of weird and dangerous stuff inside a dungeon complex that is authentically creepy and strange, but the real charm of this adventure is that the main hook that brings the PCs to the cave could all be resolved in the very first rooms. The plot involving the many Andrews takes up about 6 pages of a 36 page adventure. Everything else around the crystal-headed children is just icing on the cake!

Even though it was a Free RPG Day offering, you can still get "The Doom-Cave of the Crystal-Headed Children" for free (or purchase it as a pay-what-you-want pdf) at DriveThruRPG

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

"I would prefer not to"

It occurs to me that some OSR grognards regard any game where the players are given some sort of narrative control over the action as a "story game." To put it another way, some people think if you're not recognizing Rule Zero as a fundamental aspect of playing role-playing games then they don't consider it a role-playing game.
Rule Zero was always a stupid concept to begin with. The best D&D games I ever played in were ones where the GM built off of things the players handed them, and the worst D&D games I ever played in were the ones where the GM completely ignored the other players' desires and ambitions for his own plotline or slavish devotion to his setting. When I hear other people talk about their best and worst experiences at the table I hear the same kinds of stories, except when somebody is targeting a particular game. I try not to declare something is bad simply because I had a bad experience with it, or didn't have fun. I try to explain exactly what it was I didn't like without falling into generalized descriptions.

I don't like the Shadowrun system and I have only had bad experiences playing it, but that doesn't make it a bad game. I love a lot of things about Shadowrun despite my bad experiences and my distaste for the rules. I would definitely try playing it again with a fresh GM.

I don't like 4th edition D&D because it requires a map to play it, I think of it as a glorified board game, but that doesn't make it a bad game. When I get done playing a game of 4th edition D&D I am left thinking about the tactics I could have used rather than the story that was happening around, plot is incidental to the action on the table. It's just not a game that appeals to my sensibilities.

I don't like Paranoia because I have only ever had bad experiences with it, yet when people talk about what has happened in their games of Paranoia it always sounds like a lot fun. It's like when I hear about a sketch on Saturday Night Live and it sounds really funny when somebody describes it to me, but when I actually watch it it's not that funny. I could probably try playing it again if I was with the right group of players.

I don't like Monsterhearts because the playbooks are each individually defined to promote a very specific style of playing that particular character and I want to be able to have more freedom with my character then following a guided playstyle and narrative. I probably won't play it again.

I have probably had more bad experiences than good ones while playing 1st and 2nd edition D&D, but this always came down to a GM who either ignored what his players wanted to do or a GM who took possession of the campaign world in such a way that it limited the fun players at the table were having. The level-based system of D&D no longer appeals to me, but I would still play it as long as the GM didn't quote Rule Zero as a maxim for how they ran their game.

Monday, August 18, 2014

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, by Venger Satanis

The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence (IPHP) is an OSR hexcrawl over a gonzo science-fantasy landscape populated with strange creatures, unique challenges, and deranged populations. IPHP was initially funded on Kickstarter and was one of those rare gaming projects that actually saw an early delivery.

The first half of the book consists of background information about the islands as well as lots of useful tools for inserting weird ideas and background data for the PCs. I would think of this part of the book as a grab bag of inspirational ideas and useful character building tools. Some players might balk at having a randomly generated flashback to their childhood or having a random personal connection to the islands, but with the right group of people this can be really charming and adds the to astronomical creepiness of the island's history. My favorite part of this section are the purple stones, a mechanical method to reward players for acting in the islands' interests (yes, you read that correctly), and the mysterious crystals native to the islands, powerful but nonmagical artifacts left behind by the decaying corpses of ancient wyrms.

The second half of the book describes the islands, hex by hex. There are lots of weird diversions scattered across the three islands, but there doesn't seem to be alot of effort made to connect them together in any discernible way. A constant theme is aliens from another dimension/planet who have crashed/landed and are up to some kind of mischief, or just minding their own business. There are pop culture references appearing just as often but are obscured in ways to not be immediately noticeable or recognizable, and some of the treasure includes items that might be found in our modern world which I found amusing, but some gamers might find distracting.

Some things I don't like:
1) There are sometimes multiple encounters listed for a single hex, but the map itself doesn't have distance marked so it's difficult to know exactly how big each hex is. One of the islands is said to be over 1000 square miles and a rough estimate means each hex represents about 30 square miles. A simple map key would have saved me the time to try and figure this out. This isn't egregious, but a lot of sections probably could have used some proofreading from a fellow gamer because there are lots of little things like this that seem overlooked.
2) There are lots of encounters that result in a save or die scenario, and I personally dislike these because I would either never use them or feel the need to rewrite them.

Some things I really like:
1) It's almost like having two sourcebooks because the first half is written with a general approach and many of the ideas can be used outside of a IPHP adventure. But hen you have the second half, which can be used as a straight up hexcrawl or as a collection of ideas to throw into your own games.
2) Despite the randomness of each encounter, each has enough detail to build off of and potentially create a whole session worth of adventure around. Played right, and this module could make a campaign last for months or years.
3) The artwork is great. There's a lot of great talent inside and I would love to see more of it!
4) Amazing Larry in hex 016

This book is a lot of fun! I don't see myself running it as a straight adventure but I can definitely see myself taking things from it frequently (and perhaps randomly) in order to spice up my own OSR games.

You can purchase both pdf and print versions of "The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence" at DriveThruRPG

Saturday, August 16, 2014

It's like that old saying "fourth time's the charm"

Apocalypse World: 8th session
click for previous session

After William H. Esquire Esq. was driven away in the Slavers' trucks, Boy Esquire, Marlowe and Morticia cleaned themselves off in one of Rags' water troughs. Snail appeared, naked and slimy, and revealed he had been ejected from his House (changed to the Last Child playbook), he seemed agitated and afraid and looked very young now that he was no longer inside the thick leather shell of the House so Boy Esquire tried to help him by finding (stealing) new clothes for him from inside the Arcade.

Morticia seduced one of the Slavers, Queen, the apparent leader of the bikers, and brought him back to her house, a storage container that once housed many of the arena gladiators but now belonging solely to her. The Ballers and Swampys started fighting again, and gunfire could be heard across town. Morticia intervened and convinced the two gangs to fight in the arena where spectators wouldn't get injured and could bet on the fight. Left to their own devices, the Swampys won and with William H. Esquire Esq. seemingly no longer in charge they began to feast on the corpses of the Ballers.

The House took possession of a spot underneath the Tree and a small group of people started to pray to the House. Snail led Boy Esquire back to the House and they discovered a new person was sitting inside of the suit, Orchid. Snail demanded to be let back in, but Orchid ignored him and shut him out of the group forming around them, the Household.

Marlowe eavesdropped on Rags and Toyota, discovering that Chief had been muscling Rags for drugs and medicine without paying, but then overcharging Toyota. Toyota was having a withdrawal fit and seemed on the verge of violence, but Marlowe threatened him and he ran off.

Meanwhile, William H. Esquire Esq. accepted his new role as "slave" for the most part. The guard that was left on him, Robot, made promises to check in on Arcade and suggested he might abandon his job in the City by the Sea. William H. Esquire Esq. was taken to a cell at the Courthouse and was told he would be assigned a job the next day.

was once Mercer Island near Seattle

In the morning William H. Esquire Esq. could see the ancient skyline of an abandoned city, overgrown with weeds and flowers and plants that towers alongside the old world's skyscrapers and office blocks. He was given a work assignment in the Field and escorted there by Robot who then left. Another guard, Fleece, began to succumb to William H. Esquire Esq.'s charms and was soon promising to take William H. Esquire Esq. to see either Lala or Bill, the two top people underneath Sweet.

Morticia arrived at the Stax the next day and saw Chief taking over the business now that Braille was dead. She took two steps behind the bar and met with immediate resistance from Chief and so Morticia killed him with one quick blow to the head with her club. She then announced that the Stax was hers and nobody protested.

William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang was warily passing the Slaver bikers as they headed west toward the Fishers' Place and both Marlowe and Boy Esquire followed the gang. Birthday detailed a rough plan they had of hiking along the riverside until they found the City by the Sea and looking for a way to sneak in and break William H. Esquire Esq. free.

In the City by the Sea William H. Esquire Esq. had already made waves. He managed to get a meeting with Bill and then convinced Bill to take him to Sweet. In Sweet's company, William H. Esquire Esq. tried to convince her that slavery was wrong but she explained that two towns nearby once tried to institute democratic rule and both failed spectacularly. Sweet also explained that her sister used to run Arcade but back then it was called the Shop. William H. Esquire Esq. admitted that Sweet's rules seemed logical, but he made a mental note of trying to thwart them later. Bill revealed that William H. Esquire Esq.'s gang was spotted hiking along the river and Sweet offered a new deal: he would be returned to lead Arcade as long as he accepted and facilitated the first deal that Ritchie had offered, or he could keep being a slave in the City by the Sea and any resistance from the Arcade would be wiped out. He took the deal.

Later on Bill piloted a boat down the river for William H. Esquire Esq. and when they met up with his gang there was fighting happening between them and a large underwater plant with tentacle vines that floated on the water's surface. Snail managed to kill the plant, and in the aftermath Bill made sure everybody got safely back to Arcade.

Also, this is what William H. Esquire Esq. looks like (Antonio Fargas with a face tattoo)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"Call-Me-Kenneth and the Sonic Pigs" would be a great band name

Apocalypse World: 7th session
click for previous session

A new character joined our cast:
the Spectacle - Morticia the Magnificent has been fighting in the sinkhole that everyone calls the Pit for several weeks, the last fight she won was to the death

After returning from Montana and settling back into town William H. Esquire Esq. decided to sell the Arcade to his former employee, Betty, and establish his hold over the town, by throwing a huge party to celebrate. This activated everybody's sex moves. Boy Esquire became a Skinner, Marlowe got pregnant, Morticia had an orgy with her fans, and Snail took a closer look at William H. Esquire Esq. with his acquisitive eye.

When Betty took over the Arcade she kicked Boy Esquire out and he had to find a place to sleep, so he dug out a small pit behind the Arcade. He had been offered a role as a fighter in the Pit but turned it down, and Pit the Elder told Morticia to start antagonizing Boy Esquire so that he would want to fight her in the Pit.

Uncrow had stayed behind after Gau led his tribe members back to their hidden grotto, but had been murdered and nobody had done anything with his body. Boy Esquire decided to loot the dead body and took the late Good Deal tribal's armor and weapons. Marlowe showed up to investigate the murder and in the midst of questioning Boy Esquire saw movement in Uncrow's tent. The two of them approached with weapons drawn and were confronted by a sonic pig. Their immediate reaction was to try and kill it, but not before it screamed and compelled the two to shit themselves.

picture by Logan Knight

Another scream was heard in town. Marlowe and Boy Esquire went to investigate, while Morticia met with Betty about a job offer and discovered that Betty wanted Boy Esquire killed. William H. Esquire Esq. was told about the sonic pigs and he escorted Marlowe and Boy Esquire to the Arcade so they could get cleaned up. Boy Esquire snuck away and cleaned himself off in one of Rags' troughs for his goats. William H. Esquire Esq. discovered Betty's job offer and convinced her to let it go, but Morticia had already set up a fight with Boy Esquire in the Pit.

William H. Esquire Esq. met with both Pit the Elder and Pit the Younger and bribed them into changing the fight at the last minute. Morticia won her fight, and Boy Esquire was stepping into the sinkhole to dance artfully & graciously for the crowd, but was interrupted by some slavers who had moved into town...

This is when the sonic pigs showed up.

Four sonic pigs were unleashed upon the crowd by four slavers wearing ear plugs. While fighting the sonic pigs, Morticia was attacked from behind by a slaver and started to be carried out of the Pit. Marlowe came to assist Boy Esquire but they were overwhelmed by the sonic pigs shrieking. William H. Esquire Esq. took steps to capture one of the sonic pigs but gunfire could be heard outside of the Pit and the crowd was obviously being corralled by more slavers that were in town. Snail assisted those fighting the sonic pigs and desperately opened his brain while touching the weird tree at the edge of the Pit and saw a vision that the tree was "in control" of the Arcade but that his hoard was stealing power from the tree and that's what drew the slavers' attention to town.

William H. Esquire Esq. managed to get to his house hanging above the center of town. The leader of the slavers, Call-Me-Kenneth, walked into the center of town with a retinue of armed guards and demanded recompense from William H. Esquire Esq. A brief showdown with Braille occurred, but she was killed by Call-Me-Kenneth's enforcers. William H. Esquire Esq. made a deal with Call-Me-Kenneth to surrender himself publicly in exchange for releasing the citizens of his town, and so they did. Morticia and many of her fans were released as William H. Esquire Esq. was bundled into a truck and driven away...