Monday, December 31, 2012

FtA: The System: Skill Checks and Combat

The last System-based post dealt with the System as it relates to Opposed Rolls and Attribute Checks.  Following up on that, I wanted to run through some scenarios that deal with Skills, and then walk through Combat.

Each player's Skill Level has a Rank between 1 and 5.  When an Attribute Check intersects with a Skill, the Skill Rank is subtracted from the roll.

Marcus is attempting to track a fugitive through the woods.  This is a Wisdom based activity, and Marcus has an 11 in Wisdom.  The fugitive is more interested in getting away than hiding his trail, so the fugitive's Dexterity is used as the opposing roll.  The fugitive is not terribly agile, having a Dexterity of only 6, but he rolls a 2, resulting in a Distance of 4.  Marcus rolls a 9, making his Distance a 2.  Ordinarily, this would result in a Difference of 2 in favor of the fugitive, and a Degree of Minimum Failure for Marcus.  However, Marcus has 3 Ranks in Hunting.  As such his modified roll is a 6, giving him a Distance of 5.  This changes the Difference to 1 in favor of Marcus, and a Degree of Minimum Success for Marcus.  He is able to catch sight of the fugitive at the edge of the treeline.

Skills also allow for the result of a roll to enter into the negative, increasing the likelihood of higher Differences, and thus higher Degrees of Success.

Marcus attempts to take a shortcut to head the fugitive off at the other side of the treeline.  This requires an Intelligence check.  Because Marcus has been focused on the fugitive and not so much on where he is, the GM rules that this will be a more difficult check.  Rather than make this an opposed roll, he decides that there is a Target Number involved.  He sets the Target Number at 12, and rolls a 2, for a Distance of 10.  Marcus is of middling wit, with an Intelligence of 11.  Ordinarily, this would present a problem for Marcus, for even if he rolled a 1, it would result in a tie, forcing him to try again the following round.  However, fortunately for Marcus, he also is skilled in Navigation, possessing 4 Ranks in the Skill.  The fates smile upon him, and he rolls a 2, and then subtracts 4, giving him a modified score of -2, and a Distance of 13.  The Difference is 3 in Marcus' favor, giving him a Degree of Average Success.

Combat works in much the same manner.  Per usual, Strength is used to determine Melee attacks, while Dexterity is used to determine Ranged attacks.

Once the manner of Combat is chosen, the Player rolls an Attribute Check, per usual.  Anyone can attack with any weapon, with no penalty.  However, Players can choose specific weapons, and become Skilled in their use, in which case the rules above apply.  Just as with other Skills, rolls can be modified into the negative.

The recipient of an attack has three choices.  They can Dodge, they can Soak, or they can Parry.

Dodging means exactly that - the player attempts to get out of the way of the attack.  Dodging is a Dexterity based maneuver, and is handled per usual.  Minimum Successes result in half damage, Average Successes result in  no damage, but the loss of the next action, and a Great Success results in no damage, and no loss of action.

Grog, you will recall, has an 18 Strength, and is attacking Marcus with a street sign, a chunk of concrete still attached to its base.  Marcus is quite nimble, however, and has a Dexterity of 15.  Grog rolls a 12, resulting in a Distance of 6.  Marcus rolls a 4, resulting in a Distance of 11 - a Great Success.  Marcus is able to dodge out of the way of Grog's lumbering strike, unscathed.

Soaking means that the player will allow their armor and natural toughness to attempt to mitigate the damage of the attack.  Soaking is a Constitution based defense, but allow the player to modify their roll by their Armor score.  Armor is rated between 1 and 5, with 5 being the equivalent to full body armor.  Minimum Successes result in Half Damage, and the loss of 1 points of Armor Rating.  Average Successes result in no damage, but still the loss of 1 point of Armor Rating.  Great Successes result in no damage, and no loss of Armor Rating.

Marcus strikes back at Grog using a long shank of jagged metal, which he has put 3 Skill Points into.  Unfortunately, he only has a Strength of 9.  He rolls a 4, resulting in a modified roll of 1, giving him a Distance of 8.  Grog steps into the blow, determined not to let Marcus get away.  Grog has a Constitution of 14, and  rolls a 7, giving him a Distance of 7.  However, he has a stop sign hung around his neck, which has an Armor Rating of 2.  His modified roll is a 5, giving him a Distance of 9, resulting in a Difference of 2 - a Minimum Success.  Grog's stop sign is damaged, and now only provides an Armor Rating of 1, and he takes half damage from the attack.

Parrying is a maneuver only available when using melee weapons, and even then, the Player must be Skilled in the use of that weapon in order to use the maneuver.  It is a Strength based maneuver, and any Skill points put into the use of that weapon are applied.  In the event of a Minimum Success, the defender takes half damage, while an Average Success indicates no damage.  A Great Success results in no damage, and the defender is allowed a counterattack, and the victim of that counterattack may only Soak the damage.

Grog gives a yell, enraged by the sight of his own blood, swings the street sign over his head before bringing it down in a crushing attack.  He rolls a 17, resulting in a Distance of 1.  Marcus raises the metal shard above his head in an attempt to divert the blow, and rolls a 4, and with the 3 points he put into the weapon's use, he has a modified roll of 1.  His Strength is a 14, resulting in a Distance of 13, and a Difference of 12 in his favor, a Degree of Great Success.  The pole meets the blade and skitters down its length before crashing to the ground beside Marcus, who is able to use the momentum to swing at Grog's exposed side.  He rolls a 4, applies his 3 Skill points for a Modified roll of 1, and with his Strength of 9, he has a Distance of 8.  Grog rolls a 12, though, and his stop sign's remaining Armor Rating of 1 gives him a Modified Roll of 11, resulting in a Distance of 3 compared to his Constitution of 14.   The end result is a Difference of 5, in Marcus' favor, an Average Success.  Grog's stop sign bears the brunt of the blow, but Marcus still draws blood.  Grog suffers half damage, and the stop sign is now useless as armor.

Three Days Remain!

No, this isn't a Mayan Apocalypse thing, there are only three days left in the Morrow Project Kickstarter!  One of the original post-apocalyptic RPGs,

I played this a few times when I was but a lad.  I'm not sure how much was the setting and how much was the GM, but it played like a cross between Gamma World, Twilight 2000 and Paranoia.  Even though my group only played it a handful of sessions before moving on, I've always held it in high regard.

Well, as I said above, they've got a Kickstarter on for a fourth edition of the game, and I've had the badge displayed prominently here on the blog for awhile now, but with only three days left, I figured I'd give it a final push.  It's fully funded at this point, and has hit the first two stretch goals, and the third is definitely doable with a strong push in the last few days, so if you haven't already, get on board!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

FtA: The System

Awhile ago, I mentioned that a mechanic I had been playing with as a mini-game within a module seemed to be more robust than I had anticipated, and it might work as a core mechanic for From the Ashes. Having toyed with it for a bit, I figured I'd throw it out there to gauge reactions.

The system has been built around the idea of opposed rolls, but can be adapted to meet what would typically be unopposed checks as well.  It's based on three key ideas - Distance, Difference and Degree.

The process is as follows: each party involved would roll a d20, and compare the result to their appropriate Attribute Score.  The Distance is the number rolled, subtracted from the Attribute Score.  The greater the Distance, the greater the Success, as compared to their own capabilities.  The Difference is the lower Distance subtracted from the higher Distance.  The greater the Difference, the greater the Success, as compared to the opponent's Success.  The Degree is the in-game, non-mechanical measure of that Difference, so a Difference of 1 or 2 results in a minimal Degree of Success, while a Difference of 10 creates an exceptional Degree of Success.

So let's say that Avery, with a Strength of 9, and Grog, with a Strength of 18, are arm wrestling.  Grog the man-mountain rolls a 16, while Avery the noodle armed choirboy rolls a 2.  Grog's Distance is 2, while Avery's is a 7.  Grog's effort is not his best, while Avery puts forth a herculean effort, and manages to defeat his much stronger opponent.  The Difference is five, which is an Average Degree of Success - after some hard work, Avery is able to beat Grog at arm wrestling.

If, however, Grog had rolled a 17, while Avery rolled a 1, Grog's Distance would be 1, while Avery's would be 8, so there would be a greater Difference of 7.  Perhaps Grog's elbow slipped in a puddle of beer, thus creating a more decisive victory for Avery.

If one party rolls above their attribute, they automatically lose, and the the winner's Distance alone is used to determine the Degree of Success.  Without an opponent's Distance to offset their own Distance in determining the Degree, an Exceptional Degree of Success is much more likely.

This time around, Grog rolls a 3, while Avery rolls a 12.  Avery fails his roll, and Grog's Distance of 15 is used to determine the Degree of Success.  With a Degree of 15, poor Avery doesn't stand a chance.  Grog slams Avery's arm to the table with a resounding, "THUNK".  Avery thinks his arm might be broken.

A tie means the challenge is at an impasse, and continues on to the next round, with each player taking a +1 penalty to their roll from the strain of continued challenge.  This puts a greater burden upon whichever has the lower score, as it should be in sustained challenges.

Grog rolls a 16, while Avery rolls a 7.  Both of their Distances are 2, so they roll again, this time with a +1 modifier to their roll.  This time Avery rolls an 8, while Grog rolls another 16.  Including the modifier, Avery did not roll below his score, and so he loses the challenge.

For rolls that would not typically be considered to be opposed, the GM sets a Target Number.  The Player makes their roll, corresponding to the appropriate Attribute, while the GM makes the opposing roll.  The Target Number represents the objective level of challenge of the task, while the die roll factors in the random events that can occur. The easier the task, the lower the Target Number.

While Grog is very strong, no-one has ever accused him of being terribly agile.  Faced with a chasm, he decides to leap across, although his Dexterity is only a 10.  The GM determines that the chasm is not terribly wide, and assigns it a Target Number of 6.  Grog rolls a 7, while the GM rolls a 2.  Grog's Distance is 3, while the GM's Distance is 4, resulting in a Difference of 1, in the GM's favor.  Perhaps a strong gust of wind catches Grog as he jumps, or he does not gauge the distance correctly, but either way, he does not make it across.  A Degree of 1 indicates a Minimal Failure, so perhaps he stumbles as he lands, and loses a turn as he recovers his balance.

I have to look at probabilities and such to develop a table that would standardize the Degrees, for right now I'm winging it a bit, but it seems to me that this could be a workable system.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Les Miserables Extravaganza!

I am hitting a mental wall on another post I've been working on for the last week or so, so I'm going to step away from it for a moment and talk about something completely unrelated - how incredibly excited I am for the Les Miserables movie coming out in less than one week!

What's Les Miserables, you say?  Really?  I can't imagine that anyone is actually saying this, but on the off chance you are, it was a book by Victor Hugo that was made into a musical that took the world by storm a couple of decades ago, that is getting remade into a movie, starring Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman, Amanda Seyfried, Anne Hathaway, Sacha Baron Cohen, Helena Bonham Carter, yeah, pretty much everybody.

It's the tale of the lives of a group of people, with the French Revolution as the backdrop.  It's an emotional rollercoaster - there's love, there's loss, there's life, there's death, and everything in between.  Lots of stories say that, but in this case, it is actually true.

It's also a great story to do one of those alignment chart thingies to:

I don't know that I agree with Valjean being cast as Lawful Good, I don't think there is a Lawful Good character to be found in the book (which I think might kinda be the point).  But aside from that quibble, the chart speaks the truth!

It's worth noting that Javert is one of the greatest villains ever created.  Proof of this can be found in the fact that people can't agree on whether he's a villain at all!  That's when you know you've done Lawful Evil right!

Here's some Trailers:

And, most recently, a complete rendering of "One More Day" has been released into the wild.  Get it while you can!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Operation: Mindcrime - the RPG

I've had an idea percolating in my brain for the last week or so.  I think it started with Edgar J's posts about how his DCC RPG adventure was based on songs by the Doors, heated up as I continue to play in Ark's Redshirts Stars Without Number game, and came to a boil yesterday as I was listening to Queensrÿche's Operation: Mindcrime.  I'm going to pitch this to my group, although I have a suspicion many of them are probably unfamiliar with the album...

I Remember Now...

It's 1984, and the Cold War is in full swing.  In America, it's a time of greed, paranoia and murder, awash in neon lights.  Big Business, Big Government, Big Media, Big Religion - monolithic organizations are everywhere, and the distinction between them blurs more and more each day.  Urban desperation grows as domestic spending plummets, the money being funneled into foreign wars to protect interests that seem to have less and less to do with the common man.  The rich sit in their towers of steel and glass, their cocaine-fueled orgies keeping them blissfully unaware of apathetic to the plight of those below.  Crack is just starting to hit the streets, hollowing out the ghettos.  The AIDS virus is spreading like wildfire but few know and even fewer care, terrorism is still something that happens in other parts of the world, and the threat of nuclear annihilation hangs over the country like a palpable shadow.  Marvin Gaye and John Lennon are dead, while Reagan and Thacher live, despite the best efforts of would-be assassins.  Smoking is allowed in public buildings, but if someone offers you drugs, you Just Say No.

You're a good citizen, you believe in the American Dream, but when you look around, all you see are people and organizations perverting that dream, taking advantage of the weaknesses of others.  It's gotten to the point where even someone like you can see that something is wrong, that the system is broken, that there needs to be Change.

But what kind of an impact can one person have on an entire system?  The thought haunts your dreams at night.  Who are you?  Are you perpetuating the system by participating in it?  Even if you chose not to participate, what could you realistically do?  Do you even have any choice at all, or are you just playing out the part you were destined to perform from the day you were born?

Revolution Calling

Doctor X has the answer.  The figurehead for a mysterious organization known as the Underground, he preaches a gospel of change.  All he needs are some dedicated operatives, and he can bring an end to the insanity.  He can make you certain of things again, make the world make sense again.  All you need to do is join the cause.  Through a series of injections and indoctrination techniques, you're able to leave the questions behind.  You can rest at night again.  Things make sense for the first time in a long time, and you leave your life, your job, your friends and your family behind to join the cause.


Doctor X's treatments have turned you into something more than human.  You're an Operative now, one of many, a part of a Movement, dedicated to a single purpose: Change.  You have been Chosen, and you have a duty - carry out the orders passed along from high above in the Underground, no questions asked.  Deliver a package, kill a man, it's all the same.  They call, you answer.

As time passes, though, the doubts are starting to creep back in, the edges of your certainty curling before the flame of your misgivings.  You can't help but think that you've lost something along the way.  Days, weeks spent in a chair by the window in your run down apartment, waiting for the phone call that will activate you, give you purpose again. Is this the best you could have done?

Then the phone rings, the voice whispers, "Mindcrime", and all the questions are washed away.

Breaking the Silence

There are whispers of operatives that have gone rogue, went crazy - Fallen.  Occasionally you wonder, is it the treatment that broke them, or a fundamental flaw within themselves?  Do you have that flaw within yourself?  Will you Fall?  You find yourself thinking of these things even while on Missions, when you should be filled with Purpose.  You seek out ways to alleviate your stress between Missions.  Maybe it's booze, maybe it's something harder.  Maybe it's just human contact. 

Regardless, you feel a void within yourself, where once you were filled, and you seek out something, anything to make the hurt go away.

Waiting for 22

As the Fallen continue to multiply, the Underground realizes that they must change their ways of doing things.  Lone Wolves can only be kept on leashes for so long before they turn on their masters, and so they shift to a cell-based system.  One day there was a knock at the door, and an unfamiliar face shuffled inside.  Then another, and another after that.  You recognized them immediately, not because you'd met them before, but rather because of the Look - the same Look that you see in the mirror every single day.

Now you spend your nights, all of you, staring at the same phone.  It has a speaker attached to it now, but its purpose is the same.  When They call, you answer, and you're given your Mission.

Eyes of a Stranger

You're starting to feel uneasy.  It's getting harder and harder for you to make it through the day.  The doubts are multiplying, and you're asking questions not only about yourself, but about the Underground.  You ask, but silently, to yourself, always to yourself.  You wonder - who is Doctor X?  What is the Underground, and whose interests do you serve, really?  Are you creating Change?  And if so, what is that change creating?  You think that maybe, some of the others might be thinking the same thing, but you don't dare ask them, because what if it's just you?  Have you Fallen?  Are the haunted looks in their eyes signs that they're just as desperate as you, or are they waiting for someone to reveal themselves?  What if they're only here to root out the Fallen before they Fall?

Every morning, you see yourself in the mirror, and you recognize less and less of yourself, and you wonder - how long until I'm gone completely?  How long until the Me that I remember is gone?


From a system perspective, to make things easier, I'm thinking of running it using Sine Nomine's Stars Without Numbers ruleset.  Obviously, no psychics, you're either a warrior or a specialist, and no Tech above Level 3.  Further, some of the Background packages won't make sense in this setting either, but I think there's enough in there to make this work.  I may write up a few new backgrounds to fit the game more solidly into the setting, but for now the only things I'm adding are two Attributes and a Skill.

Attribute - Purpose.  This represents your level of indoctrination.  The higher your score, the greater your devotion to the Underground, and the more willing you are to do what is asked of you, without question.  Your Purpose is what gets you up in the morning, keeps you going during the day and allows you and your party to work together.  Your natural inclination is to be alone, to work alone, but your Purpose unites you. 

Attribute - Sanity.  Doctor X's treatment works, but at the cost of the mental health of the subject.  The treatments are sandpaper, working the wood of the subject's mind to get it to conform.  Every time a subject is forced to do something that runs counter to their nature, they lose a bit of who they were.    The Sanity attribute is rolled with 1d12+2, rather than 3d6 - the Underground doesn't pick people they can't control - only those who are already unstable are chosen.

These attribute scores should never be shared by the players with each other, nor should the results of any rolls associated with these attributes - these should be between the player and the GM.  None of the party should ever be truly sure of where the loyalties of their compatriots lie.

Mechanically, the Purpose attribute should always be rolled before Sanity, and the Purpose modifier subtracted from the Sanity Score.  So if you have a -1 modifier to your Purpose attribute, add it to your Sanity Score.  Conversely, your Sanity modifier is always applied to Purpose checks.  

Skill - Relationship - Yeah, I know it's not technically a skill, but it fits within the context of what I'm going for.  Your relationship is the grasping hands and last few breaths of a drowning man.  It's what you use to remind yourself that you're human.  A friend, a family member or a lover, your relationships act as a bulwark between you and Doctor X's treatment, a tenuous link between who you are and who you were.  Your skill level reflects the intensity of this relationship, for good or for ill (not all relationships are necessarily good ones).  Your score in the relationship can be used to modify a Sanity or Purpose check once per hour.  This skill cannot be chosen as an initial skill for any character, it must be developed as progress.  Further, the skill can be lost, and the loss of that relationship can be deadly.  A loss of access to a relationship results in a permanent loss of 1d3 Sanity points.

"Mindcrime" is the keyword, implanted in every member of the Underground.  When the PC is activated, they should make a Purpose check.  Again, to reiterate, the result of the check should not be shared with other PCs.  How you proceed on your mission should be determined by how you roll.  If you pass the check, your goal is the success of the mission.  If you fail the check, the choice is yours - do you carry on with the mission, or do you try and undermine it, somehow?  Either way, you must keep up appearances, for fear that the other members of your party will turn you in to your superiors.

Any Purpose check that succeeds by 5 or more points results in a loss of 1 Sanity point.  This is permanent.  For example, if the difficulty of the Purpose check is 10, and a 3 is rolled, the character loses 1 point of Sanity.

If a character's Sanity level reaches zero, they snap.  How that happens is up to the player, but it should be consistent with the character's background, and how they have been played up until that point.  It need not be an instantaneous action, they may continue to try and hide within the group, but it should be increasingly obvious to the rest of the party that something is wrong.

The Mission

Murder, infiltration, robbery, assassination, you do what you're told, in the name of a better tomorrow.  But who's better tomorrow will end up being shaped?  That should always be ambiguous.  You don't know your superiors, you can't trust the members of your cell, you can't even trust yourself.  

The main themes of the game are Identity and Change.  Here is a list of questions that should be asked as the game progresses:

  • What is the nature of the organization you're working for?  
  • It promises Change, but what type of change?  
  • Can it accomplish that Change?  
  • As bad as things are, is change inherently good?  
  • Who are you?  
  • Are you the master of your own destiny, or have you turned it over to the Underground?  
  • Will you ever break free of your conditioning, and even if you do, will there be anything left of your old self?  
  • At the end of it all, will you be sane enough for anyone to believe what you've got to say?

Why Am I Here, and For How Long?

The Underground recruits all types of people, from all walks of life.  Police Officers, ex-military, office managers, receptionists, artists, doctors, scientists, accountants, priests, the homeless, there is room for everyone in the Underground, and they all serve a purpose.  

Sample characters:

Nikki - A heroin addict and would-be political radical frustrated with contemporary society, he was manipulated into joining a supposed secret organization dedicated to revolution.  He will beat, rob or kill anyone, if they only ask nicely, and promise him a full needle when he's done..  

Sister Mary - At the age of 16, she ran away from home, and ended up working live S&M shows in Times Square, until she was taken in by Father William, an associate of Doctor X.  A member of the Our Lady of Pain Cloister, she does the bidding of the Underground.  She's quick with a knife, but she knows that violence isn't the only way to get a job done - sometimes a caress can wound just as deeply as a blade.

Joe Palumbo - Until recently, he was Officer Palumbo, but he had a temper, and a bad habit of beating the suspects.  Folks looked the other way when it was junkies that he was smacking around, but when he put the hurt on a suspected child murderer who also happened to be the heir apparent to the Lockwood fortune, he was kicked off the force, and Lockwood went free.  It didn't take much convincing to get him to sign up.

Dr. Adam Peterson - Angered by the unwillingness of the pharmaceutical companies to fund research into a groundbreaking cure for the disease that killed his wife, he began looking into the whys and wherefores, and found that the problem was even larger than he had thought.  The government, the companies, they were all in it together, and the media kept the story quiet.  Now he works from the inside, gathering information for the Underground, making sure they know what's going on, and when.

Dogman - Nobody ever pays attention to Dogman.  Dogman lives on a heating grate at the foot of the Billings Building.  Every day, he watches the rich and powerful go in and out, laughing and clapping each other on the back as they celebrate their success.  Nobody knows that Dogman has a photographic memory.  Nobody except the Underground.  Now he collects license plate numbers and faces, and every once in awhile, he does a little more for them.  If the cops ever found his stash of trophies, he'd be in big trouble.

But nobody ever pays attention to Dogman.

John van Meeter - John had a family.  He had a good job.  He had a home, and a dog, and he was happy.  But the company he worked for was testing drugs on the unsuspecting populations of third world countries, and they got caught.  He lost his job, and his wife, and his kids, and his home and his dog, and now John doesn't have anything. 

Having nothing to lose makes him a perfect candidate for the Underground.

Spreading the Disease

Further resources to aid in getting the "feel" of the setting:


Music Videos from Operation: Mindcrime - straight from the source

Revolution Calling

Operation Mindcrime

The Mission

Suite Sister Mary

I Don't Believe In Love

Eyes of a Stranger

Pink Floyd's the Wall - Ever wondered what a descent into madness looks like?  I think it's safe to say that Operation: Mindcrime owes quite a bit to the Wall.  It's thematically similar, and there are passages from the album that seem to be lifted almost whole cloth.  You can't have one without the other, so if you're not familiar with both, familiarize yourself.

Wall Street - the greed and excess of the 80s, encapsulated in two hours.

Cobra - pure Stallone cheese, but it's got the gritty 80s vibe down pat, and the cult is pretty creepy, what with the axes and all.

Falling Down - Not 80s, but a good look at how a normal, average citizen becomes fed up with society

Basic Instinct - Another one technically not in the 80s, but close enough


Just about anything by Bret Easton Ellis - yes yes, American Psycho, but there are other works that are more relevant here - Less Than Zero and the Rules of Attraction in particular.  If you're the tl;dr type, there have been movies made of all three, but I'd recommend the books over the movies.

The Punisher MAX - an adults only version of the Punisher, written by Garth Ennis.  Not the Marvel Knights version (although that is great, just not relevant), the series after that.  Two story arcs in particular stand out - In the Beginning is a tale of obsession and murder, while The Slavers shows the depths of depravity capable of those with power.

The Manchurian Candidate, by Richard Condon - The 1962 movie is worth watching, if only to see sweet old Angela Lansbury portray one of the most terrifying female villains of all time, but I'm putting it here because the book is much more of a psychological thriller.  Sergeant Shaw is a bit of a jerk even before he's turned, and never fights too hard against his programming, but it's an interesting look at brainwashing from the inside.

The Atrocity Exhibition, by JG Ballard - Years ahead of its time, if you don't know, now you know.


Queensryche - Operation: Mindcrime - obviously.

Pink Floyd  - The Wall - Yep, again.  The album is different from the movie, and they're both more than worthy.

Joy Division - Closer - released two months after Ian Curtis' suicide, the album was influenced by the Atrocity Exhibition, listed above, and is every bit as nihilistic as you might imagine. 

Dead Kennedys - Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables - it has a little more sardonic humor than I'm shooting for here, but the message is there, and it's potent.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

SWN Session Report: Sci-Fi Makeover Edition

I ended up last night's session 350 xp points shy of ascending to a Level Four Specialist.  My griping was rewarded by Ark saying, "Okay, you do the writeup for the session, and I'll top you off."

So here we go.  The following description is based on notes taken in session by Adelaide, and relayed after the fact.

Waking up yet again from their frozen slumber, the Redshirt Brigade bravely puked their guts out, while they received their new orders - to go to a planet and take over a ship.  Through some sort of consensus that did not involve the majority of interested parties, their newly acquired ship was named, "Molten Rain".  Because the crew had also acquired an AI on their last mission, another AI was sent by homebase because they didn't trust the newly acquired AI.

Yeah, I didn't quite get that one either, but I wasn't there for it, so I'm sure there was more to it.  Whatever - New PC!  WOOHOO!

As they finished puking, they pulled up to the planet, just in time to see the ship cruising around the surface, with a gorgeous woman in tow, water skiing along behind.

The ship looked like this:

The woman looked like this:

Owlicious scanned the girl, and determined that not only was she human, she had a chip in her head, much like the chips recently acquired by the group. There was much hacking, as they first tried to hack the woman, then the ship.  They managed to piss off the AI controlling the ship, which hacked the Molten Rain (is it stuck in your head yet?).  As it turns out, though, this was a good thing, since the asshole AI from the last session had stowed away on the ship, hoping to twirl its moustache, stroke its cat and take over the world.

After an epic hacking war, the rogue AI was shoved into a thumbdrive, jettisoned, and then blown up for good measure.

Having shown their prowess, the party was invited to the ship for dinner.  There was much anxiety and fussing over what everyone would wear, never having been invited to a dinner party before.  The outfits that were finally settled upon were as follows:

Kal Kek: 
Dr. Ramesh Ramapudi:
Gustav Adler: 


AI Jericho:

Yes, it was a very fancy dinner party.  The party was greeted by Yvonne, the woman shown above who had  been water skiing.  It turned out that she was the Pepper Potts to the owner of the ship's Tony Stark.  Being a knockout was just a bonus.

They were lead to a dining area where she sat down and began to sing, "Fly Me to the Moon".  Professor Ramapudi, realizing that he knew that song, sat down next to her and began to sing along, before segueing into a rousing rendition of Tunak Tunak Tun.

In a stunning coincidence, it turned out that Yvonne was very familiar with the song, and summoned holographic images of herself and Professor Ramapudi, and the dining area became the set of a Bollywood movie for a moment, as dozens of Ramapudis and Yvonnes danced and sang together (but never kissed!).

Needless to say, Professor Ramapudi was smitten.

Dinner was served as the host, Charles Shuttleworth (of the Asgard Shuttleworths, naturally) entered.  As it turned out, he was a really nice guy, not even seeming to mind as Professor Ramapudi played footsie under the table with his Gal Friday.  Conversation was made, and both AIs decided they liked him more than they liked the government they were (supposedly) working for, and decided to submit resumes with his HR department.  "Doc" Davies woke up at that point and shuffled in, joining the party.  

After a delightful evening, Yvonne showed everyone to their rooms, then showed Professor Ramapudi to her room.  Nudge nudge, wink wink, knowwhatimean, knowwhatimean?  A nod's as good as a wink to a blind bat, eh squire?

"Doc" Davies and Owlicious got tanked on margaritas, the AIs wandered the hallways of the ship looking for the HR Department, and everyone else had a restful night's sleep.  Unfortunately, they were awoken by Lt. Five, who had a message from their commander, wanting to know their status.  Lies were told, promises made, and commanders were gotten off of collective backs.  

That unpleasantness taken care of, the decision was made that, rather than assault this really nice guy and steal his ship, they would try and negotiate with him, to see if he would sell them a ship or two.  Or perhaps a neutron bomb or something.  The group found Mr. Shuttleworth and went on a tour of the ship, which was full of super high tech goodies, which he passed out like candy at Halloween.  Over lunch, the conversation was lively - he disclosed the secret to making psychics - good breeding stock, and conception in hyperspace.  The party stored that piece of knowledge, then prodded him for more information.  He had a fondness for miniaturized sharks and whales that he grew himself, much like he had grown the ship upon what they sailed.  Naturally the party's collective ears perked up.  Finally, the topic of trade is broached.  As it turns out, Shuttleworth's tech was far beyond anything the party could offer to trade with him, with one, small, exception.

He wanted people.

Specifically, he wanted more psychics.  

Thinking back to the vast numbers of Redshirts on ice back at homebase, and the lack of regard for humanity that such an arrangement implied, they told Shuttleworth that it was very likely that their masters would have no problem trading a few thousand psychics for a level ship battleship.

Thus reintroducing the slave trade to the future.  Yay!

As it turns out though, while temporarily enslaving soldiers in ice before sending them out on random, arbitrary reasons is well within the Aquila Union's comfort zone, letting other parties do it with their people is out of bounds.  The commander was iffy on the whole deal, but promised to run it up the flag pole to see who would salute.

Meanwhile, Professor Ramapudi bid farewell to the beautiful Yvonne, as the Redshirts went back into storage........

Monday, December 3, 2012

Fumetti Modules?

I've been thinking about fumetti lately, or rather photonovels.  They've fallen out of favor lately, in all likelihood because of their association with pornography, but some of the old pulp fumettis were really great.  I remember my father taking trips overseas when I was a kid, and bringing some home.  I was fascinated by the merging of a comic book layout with B-Movie sensibility.

Recently, this has gotten me to thinking - has this sort of visual styling ever been applied to RPG modules?  My recent trips into the wilderness have  got me thinking that maybe it's possible?  Certainly from a setting perspective, why not include a photo of a location that resembles the area that you're describing?  While it's true that people look better in outfits that have been drawn than put on, it seems to me as though this could be done.  With the capabilities that Photoshop brings, how hard is it to make your pictures fit the story you're trying to tell?

I may be crazy here, but it seems to me it could work?  Maybe not on an ongoing basis, but at least as a one-off?

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Comedy of Errors

I ran my first DCC RPG game, taking the group on a trip through the meat funnel.  I've played a bit of DCC RPG, but this was my first time running it, and I think it went fairly well.  The party certainly took the "You're no hero" bit on the back cover seriously.

Things started off innocently enough, a farmer came running into town, looking a bit scorched, talking about an earthquake having opened a crevasse in his cornfield, and how it was spewing forth flame spitting little creatures.  The village elders drew lots, and the 16 party members became the official militia.

They set off to the farm, and encountered a pair of the little jerks fornicating in the cornfield.  They slew them, but lost 2 of their own in the process.

It had begun.

Honestly, they were more deadly to themselves than the monsters.  Two particular instances proved deadlier than any demon of the depths I could conjure.

1.  Pitpocalypse

The party were crawling through a tunnel with an extremely low ceiling, when they encountered a giant white tunneling worm.  It saw them and dove downwards, creating a gap they had to cross.  The lead party member tied a rope to his ankle, and they crossed, one by one.  Agility check to make it.  If you fail, a luck check to grab the rope before you fall, but then the person on both sides of the gap needed to make a Strength check to keep from getting pulled in by the weight.  All was going swimmingly, until the very last person, Sorcia, the wannabe Witch.  She failed the Agility check but passed her Luck check.  Petunia, the urchin who had collected vast quantities of corn from the field and was presumably distracted by her newfound fortune, failed her Strength check, and was yanked into the pit as well.  The lead character with the rope tied around his ankle, had his leg jerked from beneath him and fell forward, taking enough damage to kill him, presumably as he smacked his face into the ground, driving his nose into his brain and sending the body sliding back through the rest of the group taking them with him as he slid into the pit.  This set off a chain reaction, as one party member after the next tumbled into the pit.  Altogether, almost a full third of the party was lost in what became known as, Pitpocalypse.

2.  Piqued Oil

Again, the party's fault more than mine.  Faced with an overwhelming force of Imps, they decided to break out a flask of oil and go for an area attack.  The PC wanted to take it from another PC, light it and throw it.  I said that was too many actions for one round, so he got clever.  Making use of his multiple PCs, he comes up with the idea, "One PC takes it from another, hands it to another PC who lights it, who hands it to another who throws it."  One action each, voila!  While I grumbled, I couldn't argue the logic, and so the flask was passed, lit and thrown.  And they fumbled. Checking the table, it seemed that the weapon was faulty.  There was a crack in the flask, and as it had been passed around the party, it had left a trail of oil behind it.  When it was lit, a conflagration enveloped the party, and even more died a horrible, flamey death.

Other choice quotes from the evening:

  • The book contained secrets not meant for the eyes of a baker...
  • What's a gongfarmer?
  • Okay, so what's nightsoil?
  • I take the helmet off of the dead orphan
  • We've all had our fun eating human flesh, but now it's time to move on
  • C'mon, of course I can sneak!  Haven't you heard the expression, "Silent as a barber"?
  • I make sure to have my Vampirella outfit on when I perform the ritual
There were plenty of memorable moments as they banished the evil god.  There was poor Omar, the gangsta baker who ended up a hissing, light-sensitive, lizard tailed, crab clawed creature before finally being put out of his misery, there was the barber named Seville, the very manly Florence, with her buzz cut and rat tail haircut, Kaye's Dire Halfling, ah yes, memories...

They've all hit level one, except for Kaye, so much of the hilarity of zero level adventuring is gone, now we get to the serious stuff.

More on this group as it develops...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Curse the Player, Not the Character

****Warning - If you Haven't played Bioshock, this post may contain spoilers which will severely inhibit your enjoyment of the game.  Turn back if this sort of thing concerns you - YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED****

I'm a huge fan of Bioshock.  I think it might be my favorite video game, no scratch that, I think it might be my favorite game period.  In general, I don't play first person shooters.  I find them dull and repetitive, and the idea of lining your sights up on a two pixel tall figure to try and kill it before it kills you just doesn't appeal to me.  I heard good things about Bioshock, though.  A horrific first person shooter with philosophical overtones?  Well sign me up!

It did not disappoint.

It was horrific, it played with the ideas of Ayn Rand, it presented you with serious questions of ethics and morality.  Oh yeah, and you blew stuff up.  The thing that sealed the deal for me, though, was THAT PART.  If you've played it, you know what I'm talking about, if you haven't, seriously, this is your last chance to turn back.

Okay.  So when it turned out that you had been doing the bidding of the bad guy, not your character, but YOU YOURSELF.  You, lulled into complacency by video game tropes, not even thinking about what the missions were accomplishing, were mind controlled just as much as your avatar by faceless being with a sunny sounding brogue and a, "Would you kindly..."

Mind.  Blown.

Seriously, I put down the controller, and, all alone in my apartment, said out loud, "Damn.  DAMN."

I can honestly say that is the only time that a game, video or otherwise, has had that kind of impact on me.  So before I continue, hats off to 2K Games.

Now, to the point.  I got to thinking, how to replicate that experience in an RPG?  Specifically with regards to cursed items.  Traditionally, in games that I've played, when somebody gets a cursed item, it usually goes something like, "Bad news, bro.  That sword you picked up has a -1 modifier, and you can't ditch it until you find a priest."

Fair enough, that's accurate, but that's a player's description, and draws a bold line between the player and the character.  Whenever I can, I'd rather blur that line, and force the player into the mindset of the character, so why not mess with the players a bit, rather than just the characters?  Here are a couple that  have come to mind.

Bloodthirsty Weapon

This one is a direct homage to Bioshock - the weapon appears, for all intents and purposes, to be a weapon of speed, allowing the user to strike first in combat.  Who wouldn't want to use that weapon?  It works fine, doing just what it says on the tin, until the  party finds itself in a social setting, when the weapon leaps into the hand of the person who has been wielding it, and it strikes at the nearest noncombatant NPC.  That's when you realize the weapon has been controlling you all along, not vice versa.

Weapon of Misdirection -1

This sword radiates strong magic, and the DM should tell the person wielding that it is a +3 weapon.  Then, simply increase any foe's defense/AC/whatever by 4, without telling the player.  If the player gets frustrated and tries to switch weapons, the DM secretly rolls a Wisdom check/saving throw/whatever.  If it's failed, the character thinks they have switched weapons, while still holding the same cursed weapon.  If they pass the check, they realize the weapon is cursed.

Deck of Many Curses

See who the degenerate gamblers in your group are.  It's a Deck of Many Things, with all the good stuff taken out.  With unlimited draws.

Ring of Inner Truth

Ring of +1 Wisdom, but at the GM's discretion, table talk is actually spoken aloud by the character.

Tent of Paranoia

This tent aids in the healing of the characters, and is big enough for the entire party.  Any who sleep within it double their normal healing.  For the following 24 hours, however, all NPCs appear to be monsters or other demonic creatures.  Any speech will be heard as threatening, and movements observed will promise violence.  The illusion persists until they are dead, at which point their true form is revealed.  Actual monsters and other demonic creatures appear and act as normal.

The point is, you're the GM - nothing says that you have to be a reliable narrator!  It's something gamers tend to take for granted, but it doesn't have to be that way - keep them on their toes and make them question everything!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Harrowing pt II - Wrapping Up

First off, an apology - I was truly a lazy blogger yesterday, copying and pasting the article from Wikipedia, and the God of Sloth cursed my work, with horrible formatting that I didn't even check!  I've reformatted yesterday's post, so if you were curious just what in hell I was talking about, now you can know.

So, down to business.  I set out this month with lofty goals, and as the month winds down, I can look back and say that the the results were decidedly.... mixed.

I was able to blow through the Risus One Page Challenge entries with little problem.  Both of my submissions can be found here.  I'm a bit proud of both of them, even if they both leaned a bit more towards post-apocalyptic than steam punk.  It was a fun exercise.

NaGaDeMon is next.  I started off the month designing a board game, sort of like Axis and Allies, but with less of an emphasis on military strength.  The game has evolved, and is now a card game.  There are 172 nations in play, and much like during the Cold War, escalation is everyone's enemy, and the nuclear Damocles Sword hangs over all players.  Convince the people to rise up, buy them off or just invade and take them over, there are many different ways to secure world domination, but if you invest too much of your resources, you may succumb to forces at work on the home front.  I've been working with someone I know to turn this into a real thing, and while there is zero chance it will be anything close to playable by the end of the month, it's real.  It's going to happen.  So while I failed the NaGaDeMon challenge, something good has come of it, for sure.

NaNoWriMo.  This was always going to be the longshot, and lo and behold, I didn't quite make it.  Actually, it would be fairer to say that I bombed out spectacularly.  I held through the first week, missed one day and never recovered.  But hey, I now have a quarter-finished novel under my belt, so I can go back and peck at it sporadically.  I also learned that the "Don't edit, just write" is impossible for me to do.  Literally.  Impossible.

The Clockwork Cave continues to slog along.  In an interesting twist though, a sort of "mini-game" that I designed as a part of the adventure has mutated (heh) into the core mechanic for From the Ashes.  I'm actually quite pleased with it, and I think it fits the system not only mechanically, but spiritually, as well - it enhances the idea behind the game.

So that's pretty much it.  The easy stuff was easy, the hard stuff was hard, I made some progress, fulfilled some goals, left some undone.  Pretty much life, yeah?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Real Life Adventurers: Bill Tilman

Taken from his wikipedia page:

Major Harold William "Bill" Tilman, CBE, DSO, MC and Bar (14 February 1898–1977) was an English mountaineer and explorer, renowned for his Himalayan climbs and sailing voyages.

Early years and Africa

Tilman was born on 14 February 1898 in Wallasey in Cheshire, the son of a well-to-do sugar merchant John Hinkes Tilman and his wife Adeline Schwabe (née Rees). He was educated at Berkhamsted Boys school. At the age of 18, Tilman was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery and fought in the First World War, including the Battle of the Somme, and was twice awarded the Military Cross for bravery. His climbing career, however, began with his acquaintance with Eric Shipton in Kenya, East Africa, where they were both coffee growers. Beginning with their joint traverse of Mount Kenya in 1929 and their ascents of Kilimanjaro and the fabled "Mountains of the Moon" Ruwenzori, Shipton and Tilman formed one of the most famed partnerships in mountaineering history. When it came time to leave Africa, Tilman was not content with merely flying home but rode a bicycle across the continent to the West Coast where he embarked for England.

World War II

He later volunteered for service in the Second World War, seeing action in North Africa, and on the beaches at Dunkirk. He then was dropped by parachute behind enemy lines to fight with Albanian and Italian partisans, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his efforts, and the keys to the city of Belluno which he helped save from occupation and destruction.
Mount Everest & Nanda Devi
Tilman was involved in two of the 1930s Mount Everest expeditions - participating in the 1935 Reconnaissance Expedition, and reaching 27,200 feet without oxygen as the expedition leader in 1938. He penetrated the Nanda Devi sanctuary with Eric Shipton in 1934, and in 1936 he went on to lead an Anglo-American expedition to Nanda Devi. With the support of a team which included Peter Lloyd and H. Adams Carter, Tilman and Noel Odell succeeded in making the first ascent of the 7,816 metres (25,643 ft) mountain, which remained the highest summit climbed by man until 1950. Tilman later described their arrival on the summit:

Odell had brought a thermometer, and no doubt sighed for the hypsometer. From it we found that the air temperature was 20 °F (−7 °C) but in the absence of the wind we could bask gratefully in the friendly rays of our late enemy the sun. It was difficult to realise that we were actually standing on top of the same peak which we had viewed two months ago from Ranikhet, and which had then appeared incredibly remote and inaccessible, and it gave us a curious feeling of exaltation to know that we were above every peak within a hundred miles on either hand. Dhaulagiri, 1,000ft higher, and 200 miles away in Nepal, was our nearest rival. I believe we so far forgot ourselves as to shake hands on it.

In 1939, Tilman was the first man to attempt climbing in the remote and unexplored Assam Himalaya, exploring the Southern approaches of Gori Chen, 6538 metres, before his team succumbed to malaria. In 1947 he attempted Rakaposhi, then made his way to Kashgar to join up with Eric Shipton in a lightweight attempt on Muztagh Ata, 7546 metres, which nearly succeeded. On his way back to India, he detoured through Afghanistan's Wakhan Corridor to see the source of the river Oxus. During his extensive exploration of the areas of Langtang, Ganesh and Manang in Nepal in 1949, Tilman was the first to ascend Paldor, 5896 metres, and found the pass named after him beyond Gangchempo.
Following his military career behind enemy lines in the Second World War, Tilman took up deep sea sailing. Sailing in deep seas on the Bristol Channel pilot cutter Mischief, which he purchased in 1954, and subsequently on his other pilot cutters Sea Breeze and Baroque, Tilman voyaged to Arctic and Antarctic waters in search of new and uncharted mountains to climb. On his last voyage in 1977, in his eightieth year, Tilman was invited to ship as crew in En Avant with mountaineers sailing to the South Atlantic to climb Smith Island. The expedition was led, and the boat skippered, by the youthful Simon Richardson. He and his crew aboard the old, converted steel tug made it successfully and without incident to Rio de Janeiro. Thereafter, en route to the Falkland Islands, they disappeared without trace - it was presumed the ship had foundered with all hands.

Monday, November 26, 2012

End of the Line

My wife and I finally finished our epic road trip late Saturday night, and spent all day Sunday doing pretty much nothing.  We're watching Babylon 5 for the first time, so most of the day was spent working through Season 2.

Before we left, we generated a massive, 1200 song playlist on Spotify to accompany us on the road as we traveled.  I've already described one instance where the music synchronized with our experiences, but it happened again late Saturday.

We had lined up a bunch of stops for our last day, trying to squeeze as much into what was left of our time on the road together as possible.  We left out of  Amarillo, TX early Saturday morning, having gotten in to late the night before to get a picture in front of the Cadillac Ranch.  We charged east, swinging through the Jesus Christ Is Lord Truck Stop (no seriously), stopping off to see largest Cross in the Northern Hemisphere (again, no, seriously), a a museum dedicated to the history of barbed wire (I couldn't make this stuff up if I tried), the national Route 66 museum, and finally hitting the Teepee-Shaped Cherokee Trading Post as the sun was setting.

We pulled through Oklahoma City after dark, and set off down the road towards Dallas, and as we rode, Johnny Cash's turn came up on the playlist, and he sang us through the night.  Ghost Riders In the Sky set my mind racing as we drove through the black plains, the tale of damned cowboys forever chasing the Devil's Herd calling to mind the tales of the Wild Hunt.

For a brief bit of time, I was free.  The window was rolled down, the air was sweet and the world seemed like it went on forever, that there was nothing to hold me back, nothing to keep me from doing anything I could imagine.  Ideas popped and snapped in my head like fireworks, and I could see it all.

And then... and then... the lights of Dallas started to appear in the sky.  The darkness was pushed back, and I started seeing the overpasses and the buildings and the cars and the construction.  It turned out my playlist had one final joke to play, one last bit of irony to share...

That isn't my favorite recording, I think the guitar line in the middle betrays the solemnity of the song, but hopefully you get the point.  Honestly, though, hopefully you don't.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Epic Metal in the Land of Fire and Ice

Another post from the road.  My wife and I continue our honeymoon and, having left Arizona behind, are now slowly making our way back to Texas.  We started off yesterday morning in Gallup, and I'm writing this from a hotel in Santa Fe.  We're hunkered down here for Thanksgiving, and plan to head out again on Friday morning.

On our way out to Arizona this past Saturday, we passed by several signs along the side of the highway for something called, "The Land of Fire and Ice".  Looking into it, we found that there was an exploded Volcano sitting right next to a cave full of ice that never rises above 31 degrees, no matter the temperature above.

Well, "Hell Yeah!", we said, and on our way back, we veered off of the highway to see this elemental badassery.  Right off the bat, we were struck by how desolate the location was.  It was twenty miles, through a national park, just to get to the sign telling us to turn off the road.  From there it was another couple of miles along a dirt road, and suddenly there it was - the Trading Post.  $22 later, and we were on our way.  There were trails running to either side of the building, the one to the right leading to the Bandera Volcano, the one to the left to the Ice Cave.

The Trail Guide recommended we take the Volcanic path first.  It's longer and steeper, and the exertion would warm us up, and then we could head to the Ice Cave to cool down.  Taking the advice, we headed up the trail to the Volcano.  The first thing we noticed was huge amount of lichen, covering almost all of the lava rock surfaces.  According to the pamphlet we received, the formation of this primitive life is the first step towards breaking down the lava rocks, a process which occurs over a ridiculously long period of time.

As we ventured forth, we started noticing all these ridiculously twisted and evil looking trees.  Apparently, it's hard for trees to put down roots in the cooled lava.  It can do so, but it ends up causing the trees to look wicked.

Caves and inlet dotted either side of the trail, dark and mysterious.  Some sat right by the trail, inviting investigation, while others crouched behind the treeline.  Who knows where they lead?  They were all the result of lava tubes cooling in different shapes

The lava fields became denser and denser, to the point where even if we wanted to leave the trail, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to traverse the landscape.

Finally we reached the site of the ancient violence, an inverted cone all that remained of the site where, 10,000 years ago, the earth itself swelled and rose up, before bursting like an infected boil, spewing liquid fire across the land.

We headed back down the mountainside, past the Trading Post and out towards the Ice Cave.  The trail was easier, but more thickly wooded, and the cries of birds surrounded us as we headed deep into the trees.

Along the way, there were actual ruins to be seen off to the side of the path, with rocks arranged in specific patterns, as though indicative of ancient, perhaps blasphemous rites performed long ago, and walls, arranged to keep something, or some things, out.  

Snow began to dot the landscape as we descended, with patches appearing hither and yon, and small entrances to caves appearing along the path.  This was but a preview of what was to come.

Finally, we came upon the entrance to the cave, the rocks hanging over the entrance menacingly.  As we descended, the rocks took on a greenish hue, as more and more moss was attracted to the moisture in the cave below.

Finally, we reached the base of the cave, where we were confronted by the ice itself.  It's estimated that the first bit of ice was created down here almost 2,000 years ago, by uncertain means.  Since then, it has become a self-perpetuating system, with the existing ice keeping the temperature low enough that rainwater that runs into the cave is turned to ice, and so on.  The moss and lichen in the area has given the ice its signature greenish hue.  

The back of the cave was inaccessible, but hinted at dark mysteries hidden in its unseen depths.

At this point, we headed back down the trail, picked up a few post cards at the Trading Post, and jumped back into the truck.  As we started back towards the highway, we took in the desert around us, the mountains looming in the distance, the wind howling across the vast expanse, and, as if on cue, the most epic song on one of the most epic albums of all time made its way to the top of our playlist, To Wander the Void, by While Heaven Wept.  Between this song, and the sights I'd seen, things began to percolate in my brain.

The album has art by John Martin for its cover, so you know it's gonna be awesome, but check out the lyrics:

A million miles from everything the emptiness is everywhere
The lone and level sands stretch as far as I can see
Nothing but the hollowed eyes of skulls and ancient bones despair
Remains of those who wandered this wasteland vast before me

Fatigue and famine render every step a tribulation
Beneath the blistering sun sabulous winds just a mockery
Lost within an infinity of dust and desolation
The vultures circling overhead await my lonely expiry

Maintaining this course to nowhere I have traveled so far
Far beyond the valley's carnage and death's silent repose
Compelled to journey onward by the calling of the morning star
Haunted by visions and voices, memories or madness providence only knows

I can't remember when or how I'd first lost my way
Thirsting even a tear of solace knowing naught will ever come
Siren celestial have mercy on me allow my flesh into dust decay
And carry my soul far beyond this damned and forsaken kingdom

I fell to my knees as the last trace of strength slowly faded away
With stone in throat I knew I'd never reach the hallowed and promised land
I conceded my carcass a vulture's feast, my soul eternal umbrae
Once a king, now nameless, forgotten, swallowed by the seas of sand

Yeah, it was an epic freakin' detour.