Monday, October 29, 2012

Monstrous Monday - Fear the Mayfly Queen!

The Mayfly Queen:Size: Medium, Number Appearing: 1 (Unique) Armor Class: -2 Hit Dice: 14 Movement Special  Attacks: 3 Damage: 1d8/1d8/2d12 + special, see below XP: 10000  

Mayfly Drones: Size: Medium, Number Appearing: See Below, Armor Class: 5 Hit Dice 1-6 Movement: 12" 40" Fl Attacks: 3 Damage: 1d4, 1d4, 1d8 XP: 500

The Mayfly Queen is the progenitor god of an entire race of insect-like creatures. Although it has taken the name of the Mayfly Queen, it is not strictly female, nor is its race made up of Mayflies. Scholars speculate that it is a remnant of a previous universe, or an invader from somewhere else entirely. Planar historians have records of periodic infestations going back millenia, and while these infestations have been driven off, it has never been without cost, and the Queen herself has never been destroyed. It is speculated that the Queen's natural habitat is a place outside of time, that it worms its way into the cracks and breeds, forcing the cracks wider and wider until time itself splinters, and the hordes of the Mayfly Queen spill forth, consuming all in their path.

This begins the Mayqueen's cycle. The Queen is not native to linear time, and in order to survive in the hostile environment, the Queen must nest within the brain of a sentient creature, letting it act as a buffer. The longer the host would have lived had it not been taken by the Queen, the more energy exists to be converted. As such, the Queen typically targets the young, and sends whole detachments of its drones out to capture as many as possible. These unfortunates are wrapped up in a salival resin, and placed in storage for future use. For every month that the victim would have lived, it can protect the Queen for one day, at which point the host expires, and the Queen must find another.

Further, the Queen can use that same potential energy to create additional drones. Should she wish, she can burn through all of the host's potential energy to create 4d100 drones. A single host can spawn an entire legion of Mayfly Drones, and an infestation will typically result in thousands upon thousands of hosts. Some are kept near the Queen, allowing her to direct her Drones and replenish their ranks as they fall, while others are stuffed back into the cracks in Time, as she hedges her bets. Should she fail, there are always hosts stashed away in different places and times. Outside of time, the hosts' potential energy is multiplied a thousandfold, allowing for the Horde to reach vast sizes. These drones are not long lived, however, hence the name given to the species, and applied to the Queen.  Born of potential energy, the Drones are unstable, and will typically only live for 1-2 days.  They can consume the potential energy of living creatures to extend their own lifespans, however, at the rate of 1 day per victim.

Thus the Queen must constantly expand, her hordes consuming all living creatures, decimating entire planes of existence, before collapsing under the weight of their own need, or being driven back, at which point the Queen begins breeding anew, and the cycle begins again.

There are legends of a race of Eternal beings named the Aasir of the First City who appear during swarms, aiding the beleaguered defenders, but even they seem to favor containment over direct confrontations, and it appears that in certain instances, the Aasir have also been known to slaughter those same defenders, to prevent them from falling into the hands of the Mayfly Queen.

The Queen itself is a bloated parasite, resembling a giant tick. It is a mottled yellowish white color, like milk mixed with pus. It has two sharp claws, and a proboscis which can also deliver devastating damage. If damage is taken from the proboscis, the target must save vs. poison or be paralyzed for 2d6 rounds.  If encountered, it will almost certainly be attached to a Host, latched onto the spine of the unfortunate creature.  Its proboscis will be extended through the base of the skull, extending outwards through the mouth, and has been known to communicate, indicating that it does possess some measure of intelligence.  If engaged directly in combat, it will immediately burn through its host and generate a host of defenders, and will only enter combat itself as a last resort. It has both Plane Shift and Time Shift available as last resorts, each is usable only once per day. 

It should be noted that there are no records of the Mayfly Queen ever having been engaged directly in combat.  Whether that is because no-one has been able to, or no-one has lived to tell the tale is unknown. 

Sunday, October 28, 2012

2000 cp Revisited

So you might of heard of this, yes?  The 2000 cp hoohah?  I participated in some of the... conversations on g+, but it's taken until now for me to formalize my thoughts to the point where I can offer some cohesive statement on the whole thing.

The bottom line here, for me, is that we play a game that exists solely within the confines of our mind.  Things exist, not because they must, but because we choose them to be so.  As such, if we choose them not to be so, they need not be so.

So that leads me to this: the idea of lazy module design only applies to those who lack imagination themselves.  Nothing in a module need exist unless the person reading it chooses to agree with it.  If you do not want there to be 2000 cp, there can be 2454 cp, or there can be none at all.  What I find more interesting, though, is taking the module literally and then working with it, no matter how deranged it seems.

So rather than change the module, why not ask yourself as a GM, why ARE there 2000 cp in a rat's nest?  How DID that improbable sum come to exist in such an innocuous location?  You don't need to plan out every possible scenario in advance, but rather leave yourself open to allowing for those scenarios to play out as needed.  Leave the 2000 cp where it is, and allow for the possibility that there IS a reason for it being there, and allow the PCs to explore that, should they so choose.

For instance, the party stumbles upon the rats, defeat them and search for treasure.  They find the 2000 cp, and say, "What?  Six rats have 2000 cp?  Well that's highly unlikely."

Rather than agreeing with them, stare right back at them, and say, "It is rather odd that there are exactly 2000 cp.  Would you like to look around more closely?"

They could find a seal, indicating that this was once the treasure chamber of a local bandit, looted of all except the least valuable (200 lbs for 20 gp?  No thank you!).  They could find that there is a secret passage that is held closed by 200 lbs of weight, and removing even a single coin opens it - it could also be a trap, and the secret passage is beneath their feet!  They could discover that the coins are cursed, and that that a mage has been storing them here for future use, and is planning to distribute them at court.  They could be ensorcelled, allowing the spellcaster to listen in on any room in which they are placed.  The coins might not be coins at all, the pile could be a previously undiscovered offshoot of mimics.  They could be an illusion, designed to confuse adventurers long enough for  something to respond to a silent alarm tripped by their probings.

My point here is, that there are an infinite number of reasons why exactly 2000 cp are sitting in a rats nest, and only the GM has the power to make it interesting, or boring, not the game designer.

In general, especially when I'm in a Sandbox/Hexcrawl/Megadungeon, I try and allow the players the latitude they need to steer the game in a direction that they find interesting.  Even if I have a general idea of the direction that a game is headed in, that doesn't mean there can't be distractions along the way.  If the fact that 2000 cp are hidden in a rat's nest, then why not give them a story to chase?

I want to encourage creativity in my players.  I want them to find solutions to problems I didn't realize existed.  I want them to think of alternative solutions to problems I did come up with myself.  Just because I had thought of one particular way of solving a scenario doesn't mean that if they come up with a better one it's invalid.  Hell, even if it's not as good as mine, I'm still not going to shut them down - let's roll with what you've got, and see where it takes us.

Rather than saying, "No", ask yourself, "Why Not?"

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Coldfire: The RPG?

I remember reading these novels not long after the last one came out, some time in the mid 90s, and was smitten.  Compelling characters, a truly unique, fully fleshed out world, and a plot that kept me turning the pages, I've gone back to C.S. Friedman's trilogy many times since.

After stumbling upon a notification that she had recently wrote a new novella set in the history of the setting, I was reminded of how awesome it was, but more importantly, how shovel-ready an RPG would be set in that world.

The basic premise is that way back when, a spaceship full of humans landed on the planet of Erna.  While it appeared earth-like at first, there was an energy field surrounding the planet, which the humans called the Fae.  The energy was expressed through various aspects, creating differnt "types" of Fae - Earth, Solar, Tidal and Dark.  The first colonists were almost wiped out as they discovered that the Fae reacted to the humans' brain activity, and created monsters ripped from their imaginations.  Discovering there were rules to the Fae's existence, the realized that the Fae could be "worked" - that it could react to the conscious mind as well as the unconscious, and that sacrifice was the most powerful way to influence it.  Destroying all of their technology, they sacrificed their past to guarantee a future on Erna, and an uneasy truce was reached between the humans and the Fae.  A new church rose up, dedicated to focusing the will of mankind towards the goal of mastering the Fae, and even managed some significant victories.  The longer the humans stayed on Erna, the more people became able to, and adept at, working the Fae.  By the time the story begins, adepts, as they are known, are hawking enchanted items to the common folk, warrior priests walk the land destroying fae creatures, and the rakh, Erna's indigenous species, are tentatively interacting with the humans.

So you've got Mage-types who can work the various types of the Fae - earth fae is plentiful and stable except during earthquakes and near volcanoes, when they can run wild.  Solar fae has been worked in the past, but only through great effort by the Church - although it is plentiful, it is ephemeral and almost impossible to touch.  The Tidal fae is similar - some rare women can sense it, but only the rakh have been able to work it with any sustained success.  The Dark fae is the most powerful fae available to humans, but is ultimately deadly to all those who work it.  You've got priests, trained in the art of battling dark fae creatures, some of which can work the earth fae themselves, but who are viewed with mistrust by their own elders in the church.  You have the rakh, wild, noble beasts as a separate race.  The RPG literally writes itself.

That literally only scratches the surface of these books, and more information can be found here, here, here.  The point is, though, that it could easily be translated into an RPG.  I discovered a contact email address for C.S. Friedman on her website yesterday, and shot her an email, asking her about this very matter, and she was kind enough to reply, quickly even!

There has to be a company interested in the kind of investment that would take. Thus far the offers I’ve had, I did not feel would do the work justice.

Fingers crossed.

So hey now, here's hoping.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Devil's Advocate Theater: Skills

Welcome to the first installment of Devil's Advocate Theater, where I argue both sides of an argument, because I'm ornery.

The first item up for debate is Skills.  A fairly divisive topic in the OSR, there are no shortage of folks ready to line up and argue one side or the other in this debate, but how many are there that will argue both for AND against them, eh?

Introducing our two debaters today, we have the Grognard and the Munchkin.

Grognard:  I'm pleased to be here today, and would like to thank From the Ashes, and James MacGeorge in particular, for moderating this debate.

Munchkin: I would like to thank them both as well.  But more powerfully.

Moderator: Well, we're off to a good start - both sides agree.

Grognard: Technically, he doesn't agree with me, since he felt it necessary to emphasize the magnitude of his agreement.

Moderator: Yes, well let's get to the matter at hand - Skills.  Valuable tool or bane of all that is good in life?  Grognard, you won the coin toss, so you get first response.

Grognard:  Bane of all that is good.  Hands down.  Role Playing is meant to be a challenge for the player.  Skills act like cheat codes, allowing you to take shortcuts, and dumbs down the game overall.

Moderator: Well, a very strident answer, direct and to the point.  Munchkin?

Munchkin: We're playing a game called Dungeons and Dragons, where people throw fireballs and call down the might of their gods upon those that anger them.  There are already cheat codes built into the game - they're called spells.

Grognard: Exactly my point - spells were built into the game from the beginning.  To borrow a phrase, "I must not use skills.  Skills are the game killer.  Skills are the little-death that bring feats."  Skills were the first step away from dudes picking up swords and venturing into dungeons and the first step towards the superheroes in chain-mail in 4e.

Moderator:  I'm hearing a presupposition there that 4e is an inherently bad game.  Which  is a different debate from this one.  So leaving that aside, we'll say that 4e is a different game than the original, and move on from there.

Grognard: Okay, consider this.  Skills remove the need for player involvement with the game.  It removes all incentive for the player to actually participate in the game itself.  The game changes from a game of skill to a game whose outcome is determined by the roll of the dice.  Chess becomes craps.  Many of the best traps conceived for D&D involve the player working out the mechanism and disarming it, based on observations, asking the right questions, etc.  With Skills, it just becomes, "Roll a perception check".  You got it?  Great, the trap is disarmed!  Where's the fun in that?   Where's the skill?

Munchkin: Look, if I wanted to be a master trapsmith, I would have gone into a life of crime.  I play these games to relax and have fun.

Grognard: You can have fun and still be involved!  If all you want to do is roll dice, there are board games and dice games out there for you.

Munchkin: Those games don't offer the narrative content that I crave.

Moderator: Sounds like we're veering off track again.  Let's refocus.  Munchkin, why do you believe that Skills are valuable tools?

Munchkin: Because not using them is discriminatory.

Grognard:  Discriminatory?  What???

Munchkin: Yes, discriminatory.  If the most your character is able to do is what you as the player can do, then you have certain class skills that just cannot be played by certain players.  How do you play someone with an Intelligence score of 18 if you yourself aren't all that smart?  How does a slovenly, abrasive jerk play someone with a high Charisma?  Nobody would ever be able to play a Paladin, because all the people who already have Paladin-like attributes are out there doing heroic things in real life, not playing games about them!

Grognard: Well first of all, I take exception to your characterization of gamers.  I'm sure there are some paladins in our ranks.  Secondly, that's just ridiculous.  Attributes are different from skills.  Higher attributes allow you to mitigate shall we say... shortcomings within the player.  They enhance what is already there.  Skills allow you to create, whole cloth, abilities which the player does not possess.

Munchkin: Do you know how to use a sword?

Grognard:  I hardly think that's relevant.

Munchkin: Moderator, will you instruct the Grognard to answer the question?

Moderator: This isn't a trial, Munchkin.

Grognard: I'll answer.  I can swing a sword, which is a step towards using a sword.

Munchkin: Okay then, let's go back to casting a spell.  Isn't casting a spell allowing you to "create, whole cloth, abilities which the player does not possess"?

Grognard: Yes, but again, it's a presupposition of the original game.

Moderator:  We're veering off point, gentlemen....

Grognard:  For the record, by the way, I'm not in favor of ability scores trumping player ability, either.

Munchkin: What???

Grognard: Your character is your avatar within the game.  If you're trying to talk your way past the guard, should you get a Charisma roll when you tell him, "I am Vecna, here to destroy you, stand aside little man!"?

Munchkin: Of course!  Maybe the guard doesn't know what Vecna looks like, and if you have a high enough Charisma, maybe you can sell it really well!

Grognard: What if you're a halfling?

Munchkin: I've met some pretty terrifying halflings....

Grognard: The point is, what you say matters, and skills or attributes shouldn't take the place of role playing and common sense.  If you're spouting nonsense, you shouldn't expect that a number on a piece of paper will mitigate that.

Munchkin: But that's ridiculous!  Your rule only makes sense when applied to social and mental attributes.  Should someone prove they can lift a gate in real life if they want their character to do so in game?

Moderator: Again, we've lost sight of our original topic, but unfortunately we're out of time.  I'd like to thank the reading audience for spending time with us this evening, and remember: if you can't be Good, be Neutral!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

October Horror Part III: John Carpenter Edition

This was a tough one to write.  What can you really say about John Carpenter's movies?  You either love them or you hate them.  If you love them, you know everything I'm about to say.  If you hate them, me saying that I love them and why probably won't change your mind.  Here goes nothing...

It's important, I think, to remember that Carpenter at his best is an auteur - some of his best and most fondly remembered films are instances where he exerted his influence on multiple levels.  At various points he has written, directed, produced, acted in and composed music for his movies.  Say what you will about his films, but very often they have a strong "voice" that carries throughout the work.  There is a list here that breaks down his entire filmography based on his contributions to each work.  Follow the link and be amazed!

Rather than try and list every single one of his works, I'm going to cherry pick what I feel to be some of his best.  I'll include at the end the extent of his involvement.

Halloween: Well duh.  The movie that launched an entire generation of slasher films, that defined Jamie Lee Curtis' career, that established Carpenter as force to be reckoned with in horror films, that bought Michael Meyers permanent real estate in the zeitgeist.  The story of how the movie of made is almost as interesting as the movie itself, and is worth a read, or a watch of any of the dozens of documentaries on the making of the movie.  Carpenter controlled every aspect of this film, Directing, Writing, Producing, creating the Music for it, and even put himself into it (he provides the voice for Annie's boyfriend).  This is how you make a low budget movie.  Scratch that, this is how you make a GOOD low budget movie.

The Fog: The 1980 version, naturally, the less said of the remake the better.  I'm not a huge fan of ghost story movies, but that's mostly because this one did it so damn well.  Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau lead the way, in this tale of a town's dark secret as it comes back to haunt them on the anniversary of the town's founding.  It's the story Stephen King wishes he wrote.  He directed, wrote, composed music for and acted in the film (playing the role of Bennett).

Escape From New York: Every once in awhile I run into someone who has never seen this movie, and it blows my mind every time.  I mean... Snake Plisskin - c'mon!  The second teamup between Kurt Russell and Carpenter (5 internets to anyone who knows what the first one is without googling it), and Russell proves why he's an action star for the ages.  Come to think of it, I hope he can at least make a cameo in the next Expendables.  I think he's about the only one left who hasn't.  But yeah, Escape From New York, Russell is a badass, it's postapocalyptic, it's got Isaac Hayes as the friggin Duke on New York City, Donald Pleasance as the President of the USA, how have people not seen this?????  I
It should be required viewing, 'sall I'm saying.

They Live: "Rowdy" Roddy Piper is here to chew bubblegum and kick ass, and he's all out of bubblegum!  You're not going to get much better sci-fi than this.  Is it a warning on the nature of large organizations and conformity, or is it a terrifying meditation on paranoia?  It can be a horror movie, it can be a sci-fi movie, it can be a balls to the wall action film, it's the Rorschach movie.  Carpenter Directed, Wrote and composed the music for this movie.   Warning: Contains the most epic fight scene you will ever see.

The Thing: I was a fan of the original.  I love the original.  I have memories of watching the original through my fingers as a kid.
I like Carpenter's version better.
It takes the basic plot of the original and spins it into a tale of paranoia, isolation and fear and you just can't look away.  Another Kurt Russell film, he continues to show why he's a badass mofo.  Interestingly, Carpenter considers this, In the Mouth of Madness and Prince of Darkness to be a sort of Apocalypse Trilogy, all of which share a common theme of cosmic horror.  He was only the director on this one, although he did have a bit part as one of the Norwegians in the video.

Body Bags: Remember this one?  The made for TV movie?
I forgive you for saying no.  It wasn't his best outing, but it has a special place in my heart, reminding me as it does of the old Amicus films from way back when.  Carpenter teams up with Tobe Hooper to bring you three tales of comedic horror, with varying results.  The first one is the best (incidentally, it takes place in Haddonfield, IL, the same town that Halloween was based in), telling about a girl locked in a gas station when a killer is on the loose.  The second is just batshit crazy, with Stacey Keach, aliens and... hair.  The third, well, the third just kind of exists.  Overall, it's not that great, but it's fun, and I enjoy it, so whatever.  He did Direct, Produce and Compose music for it.

Masters of Horror: Cigarette Burns: Technically not a movie, but it was his best output in years, so it needs to be mentioned (which, incidentally, made his followup on the same show so disappointing).  Tapped to direct an episode of Showtime's Masters of Horror, the title refers to the practice of film cues, meant to tell the projectionist that the reel is coming to an end.  This ties in thematically with the larger story (starring everyone's favorite survivor, Norman Reedus) as he searches for a film that supposedly drives the viewer mad.  It's a spiritual sequel to In the Mouth of Madness, another of my favorites, and, I suspect, an unofficial member of Carpenter's Apocalypse series.

Monday, October 22, 2012

October Horror Part II

More Movies of the Horrific Persuasion!

Pontypool - Or rather, Noam Chomsky's Dawn of the Dead.  Just when you think there's nothing left to be done with the Zombie Movie genre, a gem like this one comes along and surprises you.  Seriously, the vector for infection is unlike anything I've seen in movies or literature, and actually kept me interested. The setting is claustrophobic, the acting is superb, and it's developed in such a manner that keeps you involved until the bitter end.

Splinter - I don't think I can overstate how low my expectations were for this film, so that probably helped cement it as a favorite when it actually turned out to be good.  Even with that caveat, I think most would agree this was a fantastic horror film.  It has what you want - an original villain, special effects that are horrific, but well (and selectively) used to maximize impact, decent acting and a great ending.  I went into this expecting a SyFy Original Movie, and got something else entirely.  The setup is basic - two couples have an unfortunate chance encounter and are trapped inside a remote gas station - it's the execution that matters.  It got nominated for a slew of awards when it came out, but lost to bigger budgeted movies, even though (IMHO), this movie used its money far more wisely and effectively than any of their competitors (which included Saw and Hellboy II).

AM1200 - "Lovecraftian" is a term that gets tossed around quite a bit in the reviews of this short film, and not undeservedly so.  At 40 minutes, this is less of a film than it is a visual business card for first time (non-documentary) director David Prior.  With so little time, there's no need for filler, it gets straight to the point and never lets up, cranking up the tension.  After stealing a bunch of money from his employer, the protagonist goes on the lam, jumping into his car and heading off cross country to escape.  He tunes into the titular radio station as he goes, which preaches an evangelical message at first before morphing into a cry for help.  Continuing his streak of bad ideas, the protagonist decides to track down the station and try and help out.  Anything more would spoil this one, so if you haven't seen it, find it.  The DVD is for sale on the movie's website, by the way.

End of the Line - I was rolling my eyes at parts of this, but stuck with it till the end, and I'm glad that I did.  What at first appear to be rather hamfisted swipes at modern religion actually serve a purpose, setting the viewer up for the ending of the movie, which is both horrific and unexpected.  The upshot is that a cult decides that the end of the world is nigh, and go about "saving souls" using sharp pointy objects.  Some folks are trapped in the subway with some cultists, and drama ensues.  The acting leaves a bit to be desired, but can be forgiven.  Watching it for a second time means wading through the eye-rolling again, and I think the payoff only works once.  So I'm not sure how much replay value this movie has, but if you haven't seen it before, it's worth it, at least once.

Frailty - Speaking of eye-rolling religious symbolism that ends up being better than expected, there's Bill Paxton's directorial debut.  Maybe it's his terrifying earnestness, maybe it's the better than average performances by the kids, but whatever it is, this movie works.  Paxton comes home one day to tell his children that God has told him that there are demons hidden inside some people, and that it's his job to "destroy" them, and he really loves his boys and wants them to be a part of his vocation.  There's a bookending piece to this that provides a nice twist, but it's not really needed - the core story is riveting enough.

House (Hausu) - I try and avoid spoilers in these reviews, mostly because I don't want someone to lose some of the impact of the movie by knowing what they're getting into.  Imagine seeing Dark City for the first time, and knowing that.... what happens... happens ahead of time?  It's still a good movie, but it looses some of the punch.  In this case, I'm not revealing anything because it wouldn't make any sense anyways.  There's really no way to explain this movie without the shared context that comes from having seen it.  Filmed in 1977 but only released in North America several years ago, I can almost guarantee that you will utter the some iteration of the words, "What the hell?" at least once during this movie.  I wasn't even sure whether or not to include it in the list because I'm not sure how much of a horror movie it's supposed to be.  While it uses many of the tropes of horror movies, it has characters with names like Gorgeous, Fantasy, Prof and Kung Fu, and that's the least of the weirdness.  Upshot is, you're never sure exactly how seriously you should be taking this.  Definitely worth the watch, just to say that you have.

Monstrous Monday - Spider-Baby

 Spider Baby: Size: Small, Number Appearing: 1 Armor Class: 6 Hit Dice: 1 Movement 80’ Attacks: 1 Damage: Save vs. Poison or Paralyzed for 1d6 rounds XP: 200

Little is known of this legendary beast, the sum total is described here:

Body of a spider, but it's actually a baby
It doesn't have a nappy on it
It doesn't have the head of a baby
Looks like a spider
Doesn't gurgle at you or anything
Kept in a pram

Sunday, October 21, 2012


So I read this page awhile back, which has prompted me to set up my +James MacGeorge g+ account, (which also explains why I've abandoned purestrainhuman, in case you were wondering - if I wanted to link my blogger account with my g+ account, I had to use a real name, not my nom de plume).  I followed all the directions on the page, and have started engaging in the online g+ community, and I'm interested in the idea of gaming via hangout and such.  While I've read the information , I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around it conceptually.  I think I might need to observe a game, see how it works mechanically.  I see people talking about playing talking alligators wearing sweaters, and others playing half orc paladins, my brain turns to mush.

I haven't seen any negative reviews of the process, so it must be working for others, and I'd love the opportunity to play more games, I just need to figure out the right trajectory from which to approach it.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Monstrous Monday: Bonus Texas Edition

Flaming Giant Zombie Golem: Size: Gargantuan, Number Appearing: Unique Armor Class: 2 Hit Dice: 10 Movement 120’ Attacks: 2 Damage: 1d12/1d12, save vs. breath weapon or catch fire (1d6 fire damage each round until successful save) XP: 2200

For years, the statue kept watch over fairgoers, smiling benevolently down upon those who passed through its gates.  A freak magical accident afflicted it with the spell "Perry's Perpetual Pyromancy".  Wreathed in flames that will not die, trapped in a body that will not die, the pain drove the goodness from its soul, leaving only an enraged shell in eternal agony with no desire other than to hurt and destroy those it once protected.

Beware the wrath of Big Tex, the Flaming Giant Zombie Golem!


Too soon?

(Context for non-Texans - )

Friday, October 19, 2012

October Horror Part I

I love October.  I really do.  The weather starts to cool down, the trees start to change color, lots of work holidays are coming up which means more family time, and best of all, I have an excuse to watch horror movies that my wife would otherwise veto.

I've recently been out to the theater to see two, one that was very good, the other that wasn't horrible, and Paranormal Activity 4 kicks off today, so far so good.  I'll get to them in Part II, but for Part I, I wanted to show some love for my very favorite horror movies of all time.  I'll try and avoid the obvious ones (Night of the Living Dead, Psycho, Exorcist, Halloween, etc), in hopes that there might be at least one on the list you've never seen before....


In the Mouth of Madness: I'm a big fan of John Carpenter.  His recent stuff has been pretty ho-hum, but when the man was in his prime, he could crank out stories that would chill you to the bone.  I don't want this to be a post devoted entirely to John Carpenter (maybe later this month), so I picked my favorite, and that was tough.  In the Mouth of Madness, though, sits at the top of my list.  The inimitable Sam Neill in all his Sam Neill-ishness, the obvious Lovecraftian overtones, the genuinely disturbing use of special effects, but more importantly the wisdom of knowing when NOT to use them.  It's rare to encounter a movie in the modern age that has any sense of restraint - why hint at death and destruction when we can throw it in the viewers' faces?  I don't know about you, but the things I imagine typically scare me more than the best Hollywood shlock, and Carpenter gets that.

Crazy fact about the movie: the Black Church depicted in the film as the seat of all evil is a real place!

The Medusa Touch: A latter day Richard Burton glowers and growls his way through this tale of a man with a "gift for disaster", proving that misanthropy and psychic abilities are a bad combination.  There is a scene in this movie, you'll know it when you see it, that explains why this gem has never been released in the States.  There's not too much to say about this - it's got spectacular acting, a solid plot, some shocking scenes that make this a regular every Halloween.  Burton's dead-fish stare make his dialogue all the more terrifying, and there's a general air of creepy, "things are not right" that runs through the background of the entire film, which leads up to a horrific climax that makes you want to start the movie over again to catch all the things you missed the first time through.

The Sentinel:    This movie is a veritable Who's Who of actors, including some from before they were famous.  Jerry Orbach, Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Tom Berenger, Burgess Meredith, Chris Sarandon, John Carradine, Arthur Kennedy, Ava Gardner, Martin Balsam, Jose Ferrer and Eli Wallach all share the stage in the 1977 film.  In it, an actress moves into a loft in NYC, at a price that seems to be too good to be true.  Of course, it is too good to be true - the building sits on a gate to hell, and the order of excommunicated priests that own it have their sights set on the heroine to become the next guardian of the portal.

The movie does an outstanding job of starting things off with an uneasy feeling, then ratcheting up the tension to a truly terrifying finale, made infamous by the fact that actual physically and mentally disabled people were hired to portray demons and damned souls.  Whether it was in good taste or not, it makes for a scene you won't forget.

Prince of Darkness: Okay, so I said I would only put one John Carpenter movie on this list, but I'd be remiss if I didn't include at least one more.  This movie often gets a bad rap, and not entirely undeservedly so.  Alice Cooper plays a hobo that stabs someone with a bicycle, and the portrayal of the villain is not what most people are expecting.  Fair enough.  But the good outweighs the bad by far.  In a recent g+ thread, Raggi asked who the audience thought should write a LotFP adventure, and I threw Carpenter's name up there with this movie in mind.  It's a classic RPG setup - a group of scientists from disparate fields are called to a church basement by an order of priests who, as it turns out, have been hiding the Anti-Christ from prying eyes for centuries.  Unfortunately for them, and the rest of the planet, it appears to be waking up.  They are trapped in the church, and the fight for survival begins.  It's a metaphysical, eschatological horror story with a foundation in Carpenter's studies of theoretical physics and atomic theory.  What's not to love??????

"I have a message for you, and you're not going to like it.  Pray for death."


Session 9: Starring David Caruso, this was Brad Anderson's first horror movie, but he did it right.  I could have sworn Chris Bauer was also in this, but IMDB says I'm wrong.  Huh.  Anyhow, this is a movie that is all about atmosphere.  An asbestos crew goes into an abandoned asylum, and things start to get weird.  Then they get weirder, and weirder still.  Nobody went to see it when it was released, which is a shame, because it's almost universally praised.  It's a movie that plays with the viewer's expectations, and pulls off an ending that would have fizzled in lesser hands.  I'd love to tell more about it, but I don't want to take away from the awesomeness that comes from seeing this cold.  Just trust me and watch it.

It's also the origin of this classic .gif file, from the ever-over-emotive David Caruso:

Jacob's Ladder: Another movie that excels at barely glancing at the more horrific aspects of its mythology rather than slapping the viewer across the face with them, freakishly tall Tim Robbins (6'5!) plays a Vietnam vet who comes home from the war after nearly losing his life to find that things are significantly stranger than he remembers them being.  Another movie that watches like an RPG, you can see the influence on 90s horror RPGs such as Kult, World of Darkness, and other games where the horror of the unknown creeps in, fraying the edges of the world a bit at a time until the protagonist can't tell where the real world ends and where the horror begins.  A movie that keeps the viewer off balance, and effectively puts the viewer in the protagonist's seat, you'll find yourself wondering along with Robbins' character, "Did I really just see that?"

more to come.....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Stars Without Number - Dr. Ramesh Ramapudi

I've been participating in Ark's Redshirts campaign, where we play... you guessed it!  Expendable, low level characters hopelessly out of their league sent out to do the jobs nobody else wants to do.

Continuing my ongoing efforts to create characters as ill prepared for combat as possible, no matter the game, I created Scientist/Lieutenant "Professor" Ramesh Ramapudi.  Lieutenant Ramapudi carries a Laser Pistol, but barely knows which way to point it.  He is far more proficient with his Dataslab, Compad, Metatool and Survey Scanner.  He started off rather bland, somewhere between the guy that manned the science station when Spock was on a mission, and Microsoft Tech Support.  He was quiet, supportive and hung around mostly with his assistant, Petty Officer Owlicious.  He used his survey scanner to communicate with an intelligent AI, and communicated effectively with a clan of flying mosquitos.

All was going well until this mission.  This mission, the party hijacked an ancient ships warp thingamabob, discovered and awoke a shibboleth, which picked poor Ramesh up and would have eaten him, had Ramesh not been able to convincingly describe a process that would send it home (scientifically!).  The shibboleth didn't buy it, instead shaking him violently and screaming, "HOOOOWWWWWWWWWW" at him, but hey!  It didn't eat him!  The group only barely escaped the beast after a security officer sacrificed himself to take it down, detonating all of his rockets.  Escape they did, however, hacking down tree-limb sized crab legs as they went for food, finally getting back into their own ship just in time to escape being warped to god-knows-where. 

Over the course of the session, Dr. Rampaudi's calm exterior began to crack, and his fundamental, primal personality began to crystallize - calm and collected until he is placed under stress, and then the SCIENTIST SUPREME is revealed!.  The SCIENTIST SUPREME is not to be questioned or denied, as evidenced by the constant berating of his team mates for examining med packs instead of teleporting the monster into the vaccuum, for burning a round using their tactics skill to determine the best angle from which to shoot the giant frikkin monster, for wanting to shoot firearms in the room that had the warp thingamabob in it, etc etc etc.   Whenever the word "Why" was used in the form of a question, the answer was, inevitably, "SCIENCE!", and he may have, at one point, ordered a security officer to gun down a possessed team member, suggesting that he could be lazarus patched back to life later.  That last was unconfirmed, and did not make it onto his evaluation report for the session.

So it turns out that he would not have made for a good Customer Service Agent after all.  Or at least, not if he had to perform Customer Service in a war zone. 

In fact, he is sounding more and more like Dr. Nemesis, from recent X-Men comics!  Here are some of Dr. Nemesis' more choice moments, some of which actually align fairly well to situations that occurred last night....

Monday, October 15, 2012

Barrowmaze II: Barrow Harder

Now that was fast!  Two days after receiving the email from Greg Gillespie letting me know that my order had shipped, it arrived today, safe and sound. I didn't spring for all the goodies that came with the Indiegogo campaign, but I did get a good amount of swag that accompanied it. 

The package contained:

  • Barrowmaze II Hardcover
  • Illustration Booklets for Barrowmaze I and II
  • Barrowmaze Map in classic blue
  • Three Exclusive Barrowmaze Dice
  • A Certificate identifying me as the proud owner of number 59 of 200 in the first print run for Barrowmaze II

The Good:

I loved Barrowmaze the First,  with all of it's undead weirdness, and Barrowmaze II: Electric Boogaloo lives up to the reputation of it's predecessor, and surpasses it in some ways.  The inclusion of the poster map was key, for me at least.  As much as I love some of the megadungeons that are hitting the shelves these days, putting the maps page by page in the book itself makes it difficult to get a real sense of the place.  To me, it's closer to reading an excel spreadsheet than looking at an epic dungeon.  So yeah, big map = big plus.  I love Greg's personalized inscription on the book - a nice touch, very classy.  The Random Crypt Generator looks like a ton of fun, and something that could be used in or out of the campaign, and more new spells and magic items are always a good thing.  The integration of the new areas has been well handled, for instance room 122 in Barrowmaze I indicated that there had been a collapse, in Barrowmaze II: The Barrowmazening, that collapse has apparently been cleared, and there is now a doorway leading into the new areas.  Oh, and the art is lovely.  With the text as just as spare as its predecessors, the art fills in the gaps, giving the dungeon the breath of life.  The two illustration booklets in particular were worth the price of admission by themselves.

The Bad:

As I mentioned above, the in-book maps are a bit... well, not good.  In the first Barrowmaze, the maps were at a 90 degree angle compared to the rest of the  book, in small print, and had a bit of overlap from page to page, with some squares getting cut off by the page halfway through.  Barrowmaze II: Attack of the Clones has all of that except it's not as small print.  I mean, I guess you could photocopy all the pages, cut out the actual maps, line them up and then tape them to make your own map, but when I buy a pregen dungeon, I have an expectation that it be a bit more ready to play than that.  As I said above, the inclusion of the big map will be key to my enjoyment of the dungeon, so I'm glad that I don't have to rely on the in-book maps.  Barrowmaze II: Barrow of Doom suffers from additional problems, with what looks to be a formatting error that results in some of each page of the map spilling into the next page, with 3/4 of the page left blank.  BI was only 3 pages, BII is 11.  I wouldn't relish building that map.  The Random tables were nice again, although I was disappointed that there wasn't more original material, in the Dungeon Dressing table in particular.

The Ugly:

Getting into the nitpicking here, but the cover isn't terribly secure, on my copy at least.  The corners are a bit crumpled, with the cover art already separating from the cover itself.  Judging by how securely it was shipped, I can only assume this was a manufacturer's defect.  Oh, and my name was misspelled in the credits.  Ah well, I'll have to live in anonymity for another day.


Any negatives are far outweighed by the vast amount of new material poured into Barrowmaze II: Barrow of Secrets, and I'll gladly sit it next to its predecessor on my shelf, ready to pounce upon unwary gamers at a moments notice!

Oh!  And hey!  That's my 3rd kickstarter type project that has fully fulfilled its obligations!  Great job good day!

Barrowmaze II: Wrath of the Barrow 
Barrowmaze II: The Two Barrows
Barrowmaze II: Dead Man's Barrow
Barrowmaze II: Barrowmaze Returns
Barrowmaze II: New Barrow
Barrowmaze II: BM2
The Lost World: Barrowmaze II
Barrowmaze II: Meet the Mazes
Barrowmaze II: Barrows Reloaded
Barrowmaze II: Lost in the Maze
Barrowmaze II: The Maze who Shagged Me
Barrowmaze II: The Maze Takes Manhattan
etc etc etc      

Friday, October 12, 2012

Realism vs. Hyperrealism

Much has been made of joethelawyer's review of the session of Dwimmermount, run by Erik Tenkar, of Tenkar's Tavern fame, and I'm hardly the first to weigh in, but since when have such considerations ever stopped someone from blogging? 

There's a reason why nobody has published an rpg based on accountants who go to work every day to deal with their shitty bosses and crunch numbers in excel spreadheets.  With that being said, nobody has published an rpg where the GM asks the players what they want and then just gives it to them, either. Realism vs. Hyperrealism.

So most games fall somewhere on that axis, with the "sweet spot" being, like many things, in the eye of the beholder.   I noticed it for the first time when I was playing Grand Theft Auto IV.  I absolutely LOVED GTA2, 3 and all its iterations.  It was big, it was brash, it was gonzo.  It was a cartoonish version of the 80s and 90s that was close enough to reality that it could look over at the player and wink knowlingly, and if you were familiar enough with its in jokes, you got a good laugh.  If not, you still had a solid game playing experience.  With GTA4, Rockstar drank its own bathwater and suddenly we were in a real life simulation as a gangster.  There were occasional flashes of humor, but nothing comparable to the previous games.  It crystalized for me when I sat down on my couch and play a game on my television where my character sat down on a couch and watched a television.  At that point, the navelgazing created a singularity that pulled me right out of the game.  I put down the controller, and haven't played it since. 

I've been reading Grognardia for awhile, and anyone who does is probably familiar with Jim's turn of phrase, Gygaxian Naturalism.  Basically, the idea being that the monsters the PCs encounter existed before the combat, and will still exist afterwards (assuming they survive).  Based on the descriptions I've read of the session, it seems as though Dwimmermount is the architectural extension of this theory.  This is a dungeon that has been around for ages, has served multiple purposes, been inhabited by numerous creatures, etc.  It's a "naturalist" dungeon - it existed before the PCs arrived, and will be around long after they're gone.  Some of the stuff they find will make sense, perhaps because whatever they're interacting with is from a recent incarnation, perhaps because it's just obvious, but some of the other, more obscure stuff just might not make sense because the PCs lack the context to understand it. 

Is that a design flaw?  I don't think so.  Is that context required?  Again - I don't think so.  It just depends on where, on the axis described above, your "sweet spot" lies.  What, for you, constitutes a "good" dungeon?  If, as joethelawyer says, you're in it for the gold and glory, high adventure and praises from the serving wenches, then you probably lie closer to the "hyperrealism" side of things - titans riding tarrasques into battle would be the extreme end of it.  If you're looking to simulate the feeling of exploring ancient, long abandoned ruins, you're probably closer to the "realism" end of the spectrum, with 1st level adventures from 1978 D&D where you're being paid a few coppers to clean the stirges out of the bar's basement on that far end. 

Although I was a Dwimmermount backer, I have yet to download any of the previews, preferring instead to see the finished product before going back to see how the sausage was made.  I do feel pretty confident saying that Dwimmermount probably just didn't work for that group of players.  Hell, when I get it, it may not work for mine either - my group tends towards the more gonzo side of things, so they may react the same way.  Either way, though, I'm looking forward to holding the finished product in my hand.

So where does your group fall on the spectrum?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

I'm back... and I'm all about YOU

Back to reality.  Or rather, back to escaping reality. 

The picture to the right is the word cloud generated from this blog, proving I talk about YOU along.  Yes you.

Anyways, I had a fun time, got married, and  discovered a really awesome FLGS out on Cape Cod,  Yes, their name includes the .net, which is also their website.  Which isn't operational right now, but as it says, the store is open.  And it's really quite good.  They have a wall of 40% off stuff, which puts them near and dear to my heart in these troubled times.  I picked up a slew of old Dungeon Crawl Classics, including the Cage of Delirium, which came with a CD by Midnight Syndicate.  Also found a copy of The Lost CIty of Barakus, which looks like a TON of fun. 

Came home to find my copies of Lamentations of the Flame Princess' new books had arrived, along with a copy of a module I half remember from ages ago that had stuff to do with time.  With time  being a key factor in the Clockwork Cave, I'm looking forward to reading through it.  I also found a bunch of stuff in the dollar bin at Half Price Books.  More than likely it deserves to be there, but for a dollar I'll take a chance.

I'm most interested in a game called Morpheus.  I picked the main book and several supplements up for less than $20, so my expectations are pretty low.  I couldn't help but chuckle at the claim on the back that it had been, "Heralded as the best roleplaying system ever developed".  But hey, in for a penny in for a pound, right?  The idea seems to be that you operate within a shared dream, so literally anything can happen.  Okay, whatever.  To be honest I skipped right by the main book and only went back for it when I stumbed upon the supplement "Operation: Hitler".  I'm going to paste the blurb from the back so you can understand why.

Innocent Dreamwarriors, drafted and shipped off to Europe to assassinate "the man that represents the greatest threat the human race has ever known." If they fail, they die. If they succeed, they probably die anyway. If only things were that easy!
Operation: Hitler! is an adventure for Morpheus characters of 2nd to 4th level. Adventuring in the past, you are conscripted for a suicidal mission: fly into Europe to destroy the Nazi party with a surgical strike. Or maybe not.


PLUS: Important addenda and errata for the Morpheus RPG. No Referee should be without this!

I know, right?????????????

I needed to know what the hell was going on there.  So yeah, um.  Snagged.

One final note, I volunteered to by the RPG coordinator for Dwarf Con 2013, being held in Austin, TX.  If any of you are in the area, or plan to be in early May, or just love Dwarves, the idea of a Dwarf-based RPG, or both, enough to change your plans, come on down.  Details will be coming, but essentially, it was borne of a stretch goal on Mike Nystul's Axes and Anvils kickstarter.  Which I had the pleasure to playtest recently, as some of you may recall.  Anyhow, Mike's got a lot of big things planned for the Con, so clear yer calendars!  I'll repost updates here as they become available!