Friday, April 29, 2016

Lady Knight and Noble Steed

I haven't done a ton of painting since the end of the Challenge, but I have done a little bit and it's about time I shared it.  These are a pair of Reaper Bones figures I picked up at my FLGS, painted and placed together on a 50mm base with some basing grit and dried plant matter.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Cthuesday: The Xotl'mi-go

Last week I alluded to T.E.D. Klein's ghastly humanoid horrors, the Xotl'mi-go, from the short story "The Children of the Kingdom," published in the 1980s in the collection Dark Gods.  I read the story years ago, having gotten the book for a dollar at a used book sale - would that I still had it! While much of the plot of the story has faded from my memory, much of the story's imagery, and of course the creatures themselves, remain fresh in my mind.  I decided it'd be worthwhile to devote this week's Cthuesday Creature entry to these grotesques.

The story is set during the New York City blackout of 1977, during which something like 36 blocks of Manhattan were ravaged by fire in under 24 hours, people basically going mad from the heat, the power outage, racial tensions and fears of the "Son of Sam" killer.  Klein took this all-too-human horror and wove a tale of inhuman horror amidst the looting and rioting.  The Xotl'migo, a race of pallid, near-blind, web-fingered humanoids, emerged from the sewers and sub-basements taking advantage of the darkness and chaos to pursue their unwholesome goals.

Much like the Deep Ones, the Xotl'mi-go are driven to perpetuate their race on humankind; mythology suggests that the Xotl'mi-go are a race of men that "God made wrong," and He cursed them with eyelessness and a complete lack of reproductive organs as punishment for their sins.  This lack of genitals has not stopped them from assaulting and trying to forcibly breed with human women, and they are indiscriminate - I recall from the story an infant and an elderly woman being assaulted.

Point blank, I'm going to say this: I'd leave the rape on the cutting room floor in any game I ran featuring the Xotl'mi-go.  I've got both men and women in my games right now, spanning a thirty-year age range, and we play in a public space.  There's no way I feel comfortable presenting the fact that these monsters are rapists at the table, no matter how "real" it makes the horror.  It doesn't have a place in my games.

Let's take a look at the stat block, updated to 7th Edition:

 STR= (2d6+8)x5 = 75
CON = (3d6+6)x5 = 80-85
SIZ = (2d6+6)x5 = 65
INT = (3d6)x5 = 50-55
POW = (3d6+3)x5 = 50
DEX = (3d6)x5 = 50-55
Move: 9
HP: 14-15
Av. Damage Bonus: +1d4
Build: +1
Attacks: 2 Claws, with a chance to bite if a victim is held.

Claws, 30%, dmg 1d6+DB
Bite, 25% if  victim is held, dmg 1d6

Armor: 1 point of rubbery skin
Spells: None, normally
Skills: Jump 55%, Listen 75%, Stealth 80%
Sanity Loss: 0/1d6 for seeing the Xotl'mi-go

While the Xotl'mi-go are not insanely heavy hitters, with these stats they can still be pretty nasty, especially given that they tend to be encountered in gangs of 2-10 individuals.  They're faster than the average man, and stronger as well, and with that 80% chance of being stealthy they're likely to be on a party of unsuspecting investigators faster than they can react.

So how do we want to use these creatures in an adventure? Rather than recycle the C.H.U.D. inspired scenario from last week, I'm going to draw from another horror film from the 80s and tie it into the blackout scenario from the original short story.

Psychiatrists at Oakhaven Sanitarium have been studying an unusual phenomenon - four patients, violent men kept away from the general patient population by electronic locks and armed guards, have begun to correlate their psychoses in an unprecedented fashion, forming a singular, shared obsession.

It began with Jack Cutter, a former POW who served in Vietnam.  He emerged from his captivity paranoid and insomniac, convinced of the existence of "creatures" - not men, but close, with grasping hands and tiny, burning eyes above a mouth like a fanged sphincter - that emerged from the jungle or the tunnels at night, lurching through villages in the darkness of the New Moon, looking for...something.  More than once, he says, inhuman faces were pressed against the bars of his cage, while boneless, rubbery white hands reached for him.  US Army Psychologists suggest that these were hallucinations brought on by the extreme mental strain of his captivity, dehumanizing his captors into loathsome monsters.

In Oakhaven, Cutter found confirmation in Fred "Preacher" Dobbs, a former minister and current pyromaniac who filled Cutter's mind with stories of lost tribes and races of men cursed by God for their sins, made monstrous and driven to the edges of civilization.  Cutter began to rationalize that the creatures he encountered were of such a tribe, while Dobbs found Cutter's stories to prove his own religious mania.

The two of them enlisted Reggie "Lennie" Bruster, a giant of a man judged not guilty of child-murder due to his own simplistic mental state, and Jimmy "Ferret" Skaggs, a rat-faced little man with some fairly antisocial compulsive tendencies and a long history of violence towards women.  Cutter became convinced that Lennie and Ferret were on the verge of being cursed by God to become the creatures he saw, and concluded that he and Preacher had been placed with these men to save them.  The fact that Ferret, in his old job with the sanitation department, claimed to have once seen the hastily-disposed of, waterlogged corpse of a similar creature fished out of the sewer, cemented his usefulness to Cutter.

The four became convinced that they were the only ones who knew for certain of the creatures' existence, and decided that God had ordained them to burn these creatures out of wherever they'd found refuge from the harsh light of day.

When a blackout disables the electronic locks to their cells, the four realize that now is their chance, and set off for nearby New York City, intent on cleansing the Big Apple of the worms at its core.  In hot pursuit are a team of psychiatrists, orderlies and security guards (i.e., the Investigators), eager to return the four madmen to the safety of their cells before they can burn down half the city in their hunt for these imagined "monsters."  But are they so imaginary...?

This scenario takes its set up from my absolute favorite under-known 1980s horror film, 1982's ALONE IN THE DARK, from writer/director Jack Sholder, starring Jack Palance, Walter Matthau and Donald Pleasence.  Using it here, I've made the focus on pursuing the human monsters, which if handled well will lull players into a false sense of security, letting them think that this is a "red herring" sort of scenario where there are no Mythos elements - then BAM, a webbed, slimy hand emerges from the shadows and clamps over an investigator's mouth, dragging them backwards with their friends none the wiser.  Of course, then we have the moral quandary - what do the players do when they realize the lunatics are *right*?

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Cult of Chaos Report: "Stern as Death is My Sway"

"Wild and wide are my borders, stern as death is my sway; From my ruthless throne I have ruled alone for a million years and a day." - Robert Service, "The Law of the Yukon"

August, 1903.  Elsie Thorne, an adjunct professor of anthropology at Miskatonic University, along with her uncle Charles, a retired soldier, her father's lawyer Jackson Watt, and a hired Canadian guide, Frenchie Sinclair, arrive in the small town of Fort Yukon, Alaska, on the banks of the Yukon River near the Alaskan/Canadian border.

They are looking for Professor Wendell Thorne, Elsie's father and an ethnographer employed by Miskatonic University.  He'd come up to Fort Yukon to record the folklore of the local Inuit people, but his letters had stopped arriving home.  Fearing the worst, Elsie organized a small expedition to look for him.

Their first stop was Haly's Roadhouse, the center of life in the small town.  Arranging beds for themselves for the duration of their stay and food, from proprietor Jim Haly they learned that "the Professor" had not been seen in town in at least two weeks, and that he mostly kept to himself or talked to the local tribal elders.  He also mentioned that one of the local prospectors, a man named Amos Phillips, had struck it big the night he last saw the Professor.

Further inquiries around town netted them the information that the Professor had purchased large quantities of volatile chemicals through the mail (three pounds each of ammonium perchlorate and potassium perchlorate were awaiting pick-up at the post office) and that Amos Phillips had been acting very strangely since his big strike.

Investigating Professor Thorne's cabin, they discovered his journal, in which he correlated Inuit legends of "star people" with the "Old Ones" spoken of in the Pnakotic Manuscripts.  They also learned that Amos Phillips had been by on more than one occasion, and that the prospector's big strike had also opened up a cavern, buried for millions of years, which the professor expected to yield evidence of the "star people."

Checking out Amos Phillips' claim, five miles up the nearby tributary of Porcupine River, they find a bag of dynamite and are shot at by a member of the Billy Boys, a local gang of Inuit teens.  Shooting back, they force him to surrender.  Interrogation yields that he's working for "the Master," and if they want to see the professor they'll need to go through the Master.  They force him to lead them to this so-called Master.

They're brought to a cave in a cliff-face; the cave discovered by Amos Phillips, they realize, and are ushered inside.  They're taunted by a few other members of the Billy Boys, then "encouraged" at gunpoint to go deeper into the cave.  In the next chamber, they discovered a "temple," with a pentagonal altar, a five-sided throne and two rows of pews.  The pews, carved out of the living rock of the cave, are littered with the bones of pre-human creatures, and two mummified examples, still clad in ancient finery, squat in niches on either side of the throne.

In the next room they meet Amos Phillips, squatting with shotgun at the ready, and the Professor, who is working out complex chemical formulas in charcoal on the wall of the cave, near a carefully carven pit, half-filled with bubbling, milky fluid - water mixed with certain chemicals, they learn, as Professor Wendell Thorne takes the ammonium and potassium from them and adding it to the pit.

Wendell Thorne begins to rave joyously about how the "Master" will save the world from itself, and how the investigators will be so happy to serve the Master as agents, advancing his agenda through the world until he is ready to make his presence known.  When they try to argue against this, he gives them a smile, shakes his head and explains it's not their choice to make - the Master's race created humanity, as it did all life on Earth, and "our gray matter is as sculptor's clay to them, to mold as they see fit."

They demand to see this "Master."  Professor Thorne ushers them into the next room, where squats what at first glance is a barrel-shaped, plant-like growth...until its eyes open and it rises up on five spidery legs, tentacles unfurling and raising a glowing, crystalline rod...

The thing whistles and chirped, and Jackson Watt fell to his knees before it, eager to serve his new Master; meanwhile, Sgt. Charles Thorne lit the dynamite on a very short fuse.  Elsie and Frenchie began to make a run for it, narrowly avoiding a shotgun blast from Phillips.  The chemicals and vapors in the cave ignited when the dynamite went off, and Elsie and Frenchie were blasted off their feet just as they reached the mouth of the cave, sending them flying into the river below.  The cave and its inhabitants were no more.


All in all, I think this turned out to be a really good session.  The older players liked the change of locale and time period that the Alaskan Gold Rush provided (one of these days I'll run something set in Dawson City, Yukon -- kind of the last no-holds-barred "Western" boom towns) while my youngest player, Katie, went from being kind of ho-hum regarding the choice of characters to really engaged and eager for the next game.

I really liked being able to use the Elder Things finally in an adventure; I played around with an idea that I think I pulled from an episode of the Unspeakable Oath podcast, that the psychic commands used to control the Shoggoths would work on lifeforms derived from the byproducts of Shoggoth-generation -- including humanity.  I liked the idea of an Elder Thing setting itself up as a god to lesser beings - originally Voormis (the pre-humans whose bones and mummified priests were discovered) and now restarting its cult with humans.

Next time, May 3rd, I'm actually going to be starting up the "Time for Harvest" organized play campaign that Chaosium is putting out in installments to members of the Cult of Chaos, and I'm lucky enough to have a full table - six players, including my fiance, who will be playing Call of Cthulhu for the first time.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Cthuesday: the Miri Nigri

It seems like Cthuesday comes around faster every week.  This week we've got something a little bit further off the beaten path, unlike most of what we've covered so far, I'm actually unfamiliar with the source material for the Miri Nigri - I've yet to get a hold of and read a copy of Frank Belknap Long's The Horror from the Hills.  So my only familiarity with the Miri Nigri is the entry in the Malleus Monstrorum.

So these are a race of small, ugly humanoids created by the Great Old One Chaugnar Faugn from toads, to serve him and his offspring.  They look human except for their toad-like faces, cannot speak and exist solely to fulfill the will of Chaugnar Faugn, spending much of their time crawling over their god's inert form (picking off parasites, perhaps?).  They are generally encountered in groups of ten or more.

Not having a lot to go on here, I think I have a lot more leeway to make these creatures my own.  First, the stats:

Miri Nigri, Strange Dark Dwarves
STR = (2d6)x5 = 35
CON = (3d6)x5 = 50-55
SIZ = (1d4+4)x5 = 30-35
INT = (2d6)x5 = 35
POW = (3d6)x5 = 50-55
DEX = (3d6+6)x5 = 80-85
APP = (1d6)x5 = 15-20
Move: 8
HP: 8-9
Av. Damage Bonus: -1
Build: -1
Attacks: 1 claw attack per round.

Fighting 35%, damage 1d3+DB

Armor: none
Spells: none
Skills: Stealth 90%, Swim 75%
Sanity Loss: 0/1d2 to see the Miri Nigri

So what do we do with these strange, dark dwarves? Well, how many horror movies have you seen?

Specifically, I'm thinking of some of the early work of Canadian director David Cronenberg, in my opinion the indisputable master of body-horror.  The first thing that came to mind when I read about these weird, sexless, alien dwarves was Cronenberg's film THE BROOD, in which a woman undergoing an unusual psychiatric treatment manifests her rage as grotesque "children" that kill at her command.  The similarities are striking; she is effectively imprisoned in her therapist's office, leaving these dwarves to serve as her hands in the world, much like with Chaugnar Faugn and the Miri Nigri.

The Miri Nigri are referenced in The Malleus Monstrorum as abducting blood sacrifices for the vampiric Chaugnar Faugn.  I love this imagery, of them descending the mountain to remote villages and carrying off young men and women in total silence.  If you wanted to tie this in to Cronenberg's RABID, for example, I'd give the Miri Nigri a blood drain ability similar to a vampire's - they do the actual drinking of the blood, which Chaugnar Faugn "feeds" on vicariously - via a tentacular trunk, similar to Chaugnar Faugn's, that emerges from a concealed pouch on the body.

So let's put these in an adventure, and I'm going to continue the '70s-'80s horror movie theme.

The Investigators get involved when a homeless man turns up, torn to shreds.  Investigating reveals he was one of the city's "mole people," homeless people who had colonized abandoned subway stations and forgotten sub-basements to make living spaces for themselves, away from the eyes of the law.  Getting down there to speak with them will prove difficult as they are elusive and wary, but communicating with them can earn the investigators word of "those little guys," silent, child-sized figures in bulky clothing that are occasionally glimpsed in the distance but never up close.  They've become an urban legend to the already-legendary mole people, a sort of boogey man; whenever one of their own goes missing, well, "those little guys" must have taken them.

Exploring the city's underworld turns up recurring images scrawled and scratched on walls of Ganesha-like figures accompanied by script in no recognizable language.

The second phase is introduced as the mole people begin to arm themselves; lead pipes, fireplace pokers, anything they can swing like a club gets picked up and carried with them; one of them is caught trying to steal a police officer's pistol, claiming he needed to be able to defend himself against "those little guys." Interrogation reveals that those little guys have been coming closer, lingering longer around human settlements in the underworld.  They never speak, but the mole people pick up..."ideas," for lack of a better term, when those little guys are around.  The ideas are infectious.

First, a mole person begins drawing "the elephant headed fella" and writing the strange runes.  Then they start talking about how the elephant headed fella is the oldest god, the First God, the god that doesn't forget his children and leave them to go homeless and hungry.  They stop blinking so much.  Their bodies hunch and dwindle, their hair falling out.  They stop speaking.  Then eventually, they just slink away into the darkness to join their new family...only coming back to find food for the elephant headed fella.

So that's kind of a blend of THE BROOD, RABID and the 1980s cheeseball classic C.H.U.D., with the Miri Nigri taking the place of the Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers.  Just about any good Deep One-focused adventure could probably be adapted to use the Miri Nigri as well, while the adventure outlined above would also work with the sinister Xotl'mi-go from T.E.D. Klein's "Children of the Kingdom."

That's it for this week, readers.  I'm running a session at my local gaming store tonight, test-driving a new scenario I've written.  I'll hopefully have the write-up posted Friday.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Cthuesday: Desh, Greater and Lesser

Apologies for the lack of Cthuesday post last week, readers, I spent the weekend in Cleveland at the Cinema Wasteland Movie and Memorabilia Expo with friends, and just didn't have the time or energy to produce content here when I got back.  So this week I'll give you a two-fer, and cover both varieties of Desh, an interdimensional creature that originally appeared in the adventure "The Dark Wood," in Adventures in Arkham County.

Appearing as long, tadpole-like creatures, both varieties of Desh are native to a coterminous dimension that overlaps but does not intersect our own, much like the Terrors from Beyond.  Unlike the Terrors, the Desh are not accessible through the use of an Ultraviolet Projector - Desh come into our dimension when summoned by specific spells known to the Hyperboreans.  When cast, the spell uses the human neural network to draw Desh into our dimension; the process is painful but not otherwise harmful with Lesser Desh, but tends to prove fatal with the Greater Desh, who explode out of a subject's skull, leaving a star-shaped hole behind.  Intriguingly, the Greater Desh's skin flickers with images drawn from the memories of the individual through whose brain it was summoned.

Lesser Desh seem to have only the most tenuous grasp on our reality when summoned; they tend to "unravel" within 1d3 days, and are ineffectual in combat.  They may be of the most use to the Keeper as "warnings" to investigators - signs that their investigation is proceeding in the right direction, and that if they keep going they'll encounter much worse.  Alternately, swarm the PCs with them! They won't take any physical damage (unless the Lesser Desh use their grab and trip ability near a flight of stairs or a cliff, heh heh!) but the feeling of dozens of cold, wriggling alien bodies slithering over and around them is good for some SAN loss for sure.

Lesser Desh
STR = (2d6+1)x5 = 40
CON = 1d6x5 = 15-20
SIZ = 1d6x5 = 15-20
INT = 1d4x5 = 10-15
POW = 1d3x5 = 10
DEX = (3d6+1)x5 = 55-60
Move: 6
HP: 3-4
Av. Damage Bonus:N/A
Build: -2
Attacks: 1 Trip

Grab and Trip 35%, dmg N/A (target must make a Hard DEX roll or fall prone)

Armor: none
Spells: none
SAN: 0/1d3 to see a Lesser Desh

Greater Desh are another story.  They are fast, they are mean, and they can chew your face off.  With a movement value of 30, there's simply no such thing as outrunning them.  They're even likely to have spells, albeit possibly with strange effects in this dimension, which is a double-whammy.  The luck required in killing them is a triple whammy.

Greater Desh
STR = (4d6+3)x5 = 85
CON = 3d6x5 = 50-55
SIZ = 2d6x5 = 35
INT = 2d6x5 = 35
POW = (3d6+2)x5 = 60-65
DEX = (6d6+1)x5 = 110
Move: 30
HP: 3-4
Av. Damage Bonus:N/A
Build: 0
Attacks: Greater Desh Grab and Hold their targets to restrain them for a Bite attack.

Grab (Maneuver) 45%, target is restrained and a Bite attack hits automatically.
Bite 55%, dmg 1d10

Armor: none, however Greater Desh do not take damage normally.  On a successful attack against a Greater Desh, the damage is rolled then multipled by five, giving a percentage chance that the creature is destroyed outright by the attack, dissipating from our dimension in a star-shaped burst of light.
Spells: keeper's choice, likely with very bizarre effects in this dimension
SAN: 1/1d4+1 to see a Greater Desh

So what do we do with these creatures in an adventure? I think a good starting point is their
connection to the Hyperboreans, the prehistoric magic-using people of Greenland in the fiction of Clark Ashton Smith and others.  The adventure "The Dark Wood" has an artifact that can be used to summon the Desh, an item that, while not mass-produced, was likely not a one of a kind deal, but, like a Hand of Glory, was created by wizards as needed, and as such would be a useful tool to use in creating adventures.

For example, in a Gaslight or Classic scenario, an expansion of the London Underground might unearth buried Hyperborean ruins - a crypt or, perhaps, a wizard's laboratories.  Hyperborean runes look enough like Elder Futhark at a glance to be mistaken for Viking, and archaeologists descend on the site.  One of them determines that he's looking at relics of an entirely unrecorded civilization, and becomes obsessed with the site, with unlocking its secrets, to make himself famous.  He interprets bas-reliefs of humans "communing" with this bejeweled skull as a form of ancestor worship, and when he finds the skull in a sealed lead box, he can't help but pick it up and touch the gems...activating it.

For a more scientific take on the Desh, I'd tie them in with altered states of consciousness - either on the cusp between waking and dreaming (maybe connecting them to the terrifying experience known as "sleep paralysis") or from hallucinogenic drug use - in which case, could the Desh be the "Self Transforming Machine Elves" associated with DMT usage?

To borrow an idea from an old episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," maybe the subconscious mind of a coma patient has made contact with the Desh-Dimension, and during REM cycles he begins to "leak" Lesser Desh into the facility.  Perhaps at first the Lesser Desh try to swim out into the world to contact his family members with messages (flickering across their quicksilver-like skin) from his trapped personality, or harass people he held grudges against.  Soon these tadpole-like creatures begin to emerge from the heads of those he's "contacted" in this way.  What happens when a Greater Desh follows its lesser brethren into our world?

In the latter case, if we're using DMT/REM Desh, I'd give the Greater Desh access to a lot of the perception-altering spells - things like "Consume Likeness" and (a personal favorite of mine) "Curse of the Putrid Husk." Spells like "Gate" would be completely apropos as well, and I might throw in some nasty stuff with a memetic or genetic memory bent to it, like "Dread Curse of Azathoth" or "Red Sign of Shudde-M'ell" (for more on memetic horror ideas, check out Ken Hite's "The Madness Dossier"!)

I think that'll be it from me for this installment.  Next Tuesday I'm running another one-shot at Just Games Rochester, and I'll have a fresh installment of Cthuesday for you all as well.