Monday, June 29, 2015

No-Buy July is Coming...

As an experiment, Gina and I are forgoing any and all luxuries we have to spend money on for the month of July.  She's been very worried lately that she's becoming too materialistic, or too greedy a consumer (in large part because she's fallen in love with yarn produced by a specific indie dyer and seller, who releases each collection of vibrant, hand-dyed yarn for only a few hours, one weekend a year, with a different collection available each week).  She feels awful about sitting by her computer waiting for these sales to start up each weekend and feels guilty for spending her hard-earned money so lightly, especially when, with her current schedule, she has very little time for knitting. 

So we decided to try going a month without spending like that - if she wants to begin a new project she has to use yarn from her stash, while if I want to watch a movie, it needs to be one I already own - if I want to paint miniatures, they have to be ones I already have avaialble, and if I want to run a game I have to already own the books.  We're also cutting way back on going out to eat for the same reason. 

We bought a Scrabble set on Friday night and have been enjoying a daily game of that, which seems to help with her anxiety as well, and we also got a folding table and a 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle that she intends to assemble and then frame as a gift to my parents. 

We also had a massive "pre-No-Buy July" splurge; she bought a couple hundred dollars' worth of ultra high-end hand-dyed yarn, and I bought about $90' worth of Reaper Bones figures (it dawned on me that, having the prime them by hand with gesso, Bones will be a great project for me during the winter months when I can't go outside and spray-prime, plus with my renewed interest in Dungeons & Dragons - and nice new folding table to play on when it doesn't have puzzle on it - I'd like to get out the miniatures again for that purpose) and a big stack of OSR books. 

Does it maybe defeat the purpose of No-Buy July if we have a big buying spree right before? You tell me. 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Module Review: Liberation of the Demon Slayer (Kort'thalis Publishing, 2013)

So this is going to be something very new for me, and hopefully I won't FUBAR it too severely. I've never reviewed an RPG module before - in fact, outside of Call of Cthulhu, I've spent very little time reading them.  However, after letting Venger Satanis know I'd purchased a stack of books he'd produced for the Old School Renaissance of fantasy role-play, he asked if I'd consider posting reviews and/or play-reports.  So, here are my thoughts on his first module, Liberation of the Demon Slayer (warning: naughty bits ahead).

Spoilers likely ensue.

Plot (such as it is): the town of Clear Meadows is threatened by interstellar demons, newly-arrived via a meteor shower.  It falls to brave adventurers to risk their necks in a nearby cavern complex to retrieve the fabled sword Kalthalax, the Demon Slayer, and save the town.

I'm noticing female buttocks seem to be a theme in Mr. Satanis' work.

Thoughts: I'm intrigued.  As written, this module could in theory be completed in a single session of play by focused players.  Or, it could stretch out to weeks of play.  Kalthalax is buried in a six-level dungeon, but buried so shallowly that it can be retrieved quickly and relatively painlessly...unless you stumble into some of the oozes or jellies roaming that level. 

Here's where I think my intimate familiarity with Call of Cthulhu adventure modules, and my relative lack of familiarity with "old school" D&D modules, is going to mess with me.  Because I'm very used to very thoroughly plotted adventures where everything is fleshed out in detail, sometimes to a degree where the players will never encounter the information provided for the GM's perusal.

Liberation of the Demon Slayer (and to an even greater extent, The Islands of Purple-Haunted Putrescence, Venger's follow-up piece) feels less like an "adventure" and more like Venger showed up at my apartment with a case of beer and an enormous tool chest, which he proceeded to unpack, one piece at a time, while telling me about some of the things each piece *could* do, but never once saying "this tool is for this job," leaving me to decide what to do with each piece.  

And I know that that's kind of the OSR way, but given that this is the first time I've really sat down and read an OSR module for comprehension and then sat around digesting what I read, I really like the way he handled the presentation here.

In fact, given that the entire first section of the book is Venger's casual, conversational coverage of house rules and a laying out of "Well, here's how I did it, see what works for you," it really strengthens the idea that Venger is presenting this adventure to GMs, from one friend to another.  I like knowing how he ran it.  I'm likely to adopt the exploding-dice rule for my own future games, for example, and while I'd tone down some of the sexually explicit "Dark Secrets" he provides, I could see using that in game as well. 

And that's really the only thing I didn't care for here, is the explicit sexual depravity, and you know what? A) I know I can tone that down, and B) Venger says right in there, "This isn't for everyone, adjust to suit your group."  No big deal. 

I'd initially kind of rolled my eyes at having the Dark Gods of the adventure being Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, but on a second read-through...why not? Nobody's got a gun to my head and demanding that in my games Cthulhu be a force for chaos on Earth alone.  He's a polydimensional ravening horror, why shouldn't Razira (or for that matter, Greyhawk) be his playground as well? Cthulhu (aka Ktulu, Klulu, Quatualatu, etc) is a handy shorthand for inexpressible cosmic awfulness; players respond to Cthulhu in a way that they just don't respond to "Gromglatch the Insatiable, The Gnawer with a Thousand Tongues."  Cthulhu has cachet value.  

I think, to run this dungeon (which I would very much like to do), I'd tone down the sexual elements -- I liken it to the movies HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON.  Both are movies about fish-men taking an interest in human women.  The Humanoids actively assault women with the intent of forcibly breeding with them, while the Creature maybe just wants emotional companionship but maybe there's going to be an element of interspecies breeding off-screen.  I tend to run my games more like Creature, less like Humanoids, which has suited my players over the years just fine. 

I think I'd also want to work on the connections between levels of the dungeon and the inhabitants thereof, to provide stronger hooks to draw the PCs deeper and deeper into the earth, above and beyond, "Well, it's a hole full of monsters and weirdos, you can probably get rich down there." Based on my initial read-through, the different levels feel only very loosely connected to me - I could be wrong in my assessment, but I'll chalk that up to my unfamiliarity with this style of module.  I think the group of people I tend to GM for most would need stronger reasons to keep exploring the dungeon after the first level. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Next Campaigns

With the Manifest Destiny campaign wrapped, I'm still jonesing for more role-playing.  While I've got some ideas on the back-burner for a Call of Cthulhu campaign cobbled together out of about half of the published SHADOWS OF YOG-SOTHOTH campaign (which I ran in 2007) and a couple other published adventures with some new material gluing them together, I think I'd like to take a half-step away from the Eldritch for a little bit and maybe run some D&D of some stripe or flavor.  I've got a couple possibilities in front of me:

THE ONCE-GREEN AND PLEASANT LAND: In 1649, Oliver Cromwell accidentally breaches the barrier between Earth and the Unforgiving Dark, allowing magic (and demons, etc.) to flow into our world.  A generation later, England is a blasted, post-apocalyptic hellscape populated by roving bands of survivalists, cultists, and mutants.  Think Mad Max with horses instead of V-8 Interceptors.  This setting is pretty much tailor made for use with James Raggi's Lamentations of the Flame Princess ruleset, which I own and love, at least in the reading - I've never actually run anything with them yet, but I've found them to be one of the best-organized of the D&D variants I've read, with rules that I learned easily just by reading, something I can only say for one other RPG: Call of Cthulhu.

KHORLHOSSA: This would be a heavy-duty overhaul of my Carcosa/Dark Sun mash-up set on a now-metal-poor, slowly-freezing world whose nomadic populations shelter in the ruins of great, not-always-human, past civilizations.  I would probably use the Lamentations rules for this as well, because they're grimdark rules for a grimdark world dying a slow and exhausted death, and because, as noted above, I know them very well.  I think this campaign frame might be a hard sell for a lot of players of my acquaintance, just because it's so far from either the comfortable norms of "fantasy" or those of "science fiction."

OUT OF A CRUMBLING EMPIRE: The Everlasting Empire is in decline, its borders shrinking year by year as the empire contracts in on itself, leaving the far-flung reaches of its once-great expanse suddenly to fend for themselves.  Now the roads and aqueducts are falling into disrepair in those abandoned territories, and the monsters once held at bay by civilization's light are drawing closer and closer.  It's the collapse of the Western Roman Empire as experienced in Britain or France, as written by Robert E. Howard (if I can manage tone correctly), with the proper nouns swapped out for fantasy versions.  If I can make it work in play the way I see it in my head, it'd be a more sword-and-sorcery game then either high-fantasy or gritty-weird-fantasy.  I think if I go with this campaign, I'd run it in either Swords & Wizardry or Labyrinth Lord, with the balance probably tilting towards S&W over LL because to my brain, S&W is more "readable" and I like the layout and simplicity.


The next question, then, is whether this campaign would be played face-to-face or via G+ Hangouts/Roll20.  I've got some amazing players who I've gamed with locally, but it's getting harder and harder to get everyone together for four hours of gaming.  It's not like in college when I could poke my head out into the common room and say "D&D?" and be met with a chorus of "What level should I roll up?"

I have to admit to being a touch intimidated by running a game on G+.  The people I "know" and associate with on that platform are, to put it succinctly, goddamn geniuses of gaming.  That's not flattery, that's the plain truth of the matter; I see so many people toss out blog posts like they're nothing, and every other sentence contains some nugget of inspiration or wisdom that makes the bottom fall out of my stomach and wonder why I can't seem to manage to be that smart.

Part of this is my own neuroses, and part of it's probably the fact that for a lot of these people, the OSR and retro-gaming movement is a return to form; resuming play the way they used to when they first started playing.  It's not that way for me.  I started playing role-playing games in 2005, and didn't start gaming regularly until 2006.  My introduction to the hobby was D&D 3.5 and the associated assumptions and style of play, though elements of that style of play never fully sat right with me.  When I found out about the OSR, that mild discomfort came into focus - Having been weaned on Conan and John Carter from an early age, my subconscious wanted a pulpier experience, lighter on rules and expensive rule books then what 3.5 was offering, and the OSR style of gaming seemed to be offering me that experience.

This blog post took a weirdly personal, confessional turn at the end, but I'll roll with it.

Monday, June 15, 2015

A New-Model Manticore

I snuck a few rounds in on Friday at work with an online generator built off of James Raggi's Random Esoteric Creature Generator to see what I could come up with between processing files.  This one struck me as a delight, and I saw immediate similarities between it and the legendary Manticore, hence the name.  Stats reflect how this creature would appear in Lamentations of the Flame Princess.

"Manticore"
# Appearing: 1
Armor Class: 18
Hit Dice: 6
Movement: 120'
Size: Large
Attacks: 1 (Tail)
Damage: 1d8
Special Abilities: Poison - Strong (-1 Save or Die), Bonus Attack on a successful hit, ESP
Body Shape: Serpentine
Basic Characteristics: Insectile
Distinctive Features: Shambling Gait
Conflict Motivation: Territorial
Combat Strategy: Weakest

16' long and 3' tall at the shoulders, covered in jagged, darkly-metallic exoskeleton, with a long, curving neck and an equally-long tail that curls up slightly at the end, which is barbed and drips venom like a scorpion's.  The body is supported by six slender, jointed legs, ending in wickedly-hooked claws that give it significant traction when charging prey.  The head is relatively large, dominated by six purple eyes, a wide mouth lined with hundreds of tiny, needle-like teeth, and a pair of bony antennae rising in a "V" from between the two clusters of eyes.  The teeth are too small and fragile for attacking armored foes, causing the manticore to rely exclusively on its stinger in combat.

Manifest Destiny, Session 8: Everything Comes to an End

We had a short, sweet session to wrap up the campaign.  To recap...

The investigators, in the course of figuring out who killed Meriwether Lewis, discovered an insidious plot by an alien race of fungoid insects to conquer Earth.  They needed to summon an entity known as "the Dark Mother," whose presence would allow them to breed in great numbers and overrun the Earth.  The investigators had determined the time and date of the ritual needed to summon the Dark Mother, and set themselves in place to await the day, and hopefully, stop it.

Using the influence of Thomas Jefferson, the investigators arranged to set up an assortment of cannons and mortars facing Monk's Mound, where the ritual was to take place.  They also, using the measurements Dr. Ryder had recorded, had machined replicas of the pieces of the summoning machine claimed from under Ettowah by the insects.  They figured out how the pieces fit together, assembling into a thirty-foot scaffold topped by an array of parabolic mirrors, lenses, pulleys and chains.

Experimenting, they figured out they could use the array to focus a beam of sun- or moonlight, and aim it as they pleased.  They started pointing the moon beam at various objects and people to see if it would have any effect.

image from http://yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com/
Liza Ripper, using a spell she learned from the book she's been carrying around, summoned a "Star Walker" to test the moon beam on.  The invisible entity giggled uncertainly upon arriving, as if expecting something.  Finding nothing offered, it latched onto Liza and sucked out all of her blood.

All of it.

The stolen blood rendered the creature temporarily visible, and then, having drank its fill and having no one to offer commands, it floated back into the gulfs of space.

Further experimentation with the moon-lens led the surviving investigators to focus the beam at the top of Mound.  This proved to be a bad idea, as it resulting in the preemptive summoning of the Dark Mother.

The moon beam revealed a portal within the side of the Mound, from within which heaved an enormous mound of translucent, rubbery flesh, spotted with jaundiced eyes, flailing, barbed tentacles and dozens of knobby, suction-cup-tipped feet.  Its serrated beak opened wide, producing a horrific bellow.

At which point the investigators gave the signal for the cannons to open fire on the hill and blow the
barrels of gunpowder they'd ringed the hilltop with.  The night lit up like day as a fireball rose off the hilltop, gobbets of unclean, alien flesh spattering the surrounding landscape.

Unfortunately, the Dark Mother was not yet dead, and was barreling towards them faster then the cannons could reload.  Amity made a final desperate effort, and called up an entity known to her only as "the Wyrm."

The creature appeared as a whirlwind, amidst which glimpses of repellent reptilian flesh occasionally flashed.

"I am here," a voice hissed in Amity's head, "What doth thou wishest?"

She pointed at the oncoming Mother and begged the Wyrm to stop it.

"As thou wishest," it whispered, again to her alone.  Everyone present felt their bodies suddenly sapped of energy, and the whirlwind swept around the Dark Mother.  It seemed to draw the whole atmosphere into it, and then exploded blindingly, banishing the Dark Mother to its ancient realm.

"My payment, now," the Wyrm hissed to the Investigators.

From Dr. Ryder it took a leg, severed cleanly (and cauterized) at the knee.

Nashoba, it converted one of his arms into a mass of tentacular tumors.

Bruce (the replacement character of Liza Ripper's player, one of the soldiers present at the battle), it converted one of his legs likewise.

Amity, comatose from her encounter with the Wyrm, had her torso covered in these same tumors.

The Wyrm then departed, its task complete.

End campaign, fade to black.

***

It was a very silly, light-hearted, fast-and-loose with the rules game, but everyone had a lot of fun, and I'm very happy with how everything turned out.