Thursday, January 17, 2019

RPGs That Influenced Me


Dungeons and Possums made a post  recently called “RPGs That Influenced Me.”  It’s a good read, and Possum asked for others to make their own posts about the games that influenced them. That’s what this is.

This whole thing rambles on a bit longer than I intended, but I’ve wanted to write a post for a while now that details my journey through the RPG hobby. This was pretty much an excuse to write that. I skipped over a bunch of stuff that I could write several pages about (WBS, Rolands’ Cavern, etc.). You’ll have to hit me up about that later.  In person, at a con, with booze is your best bet.

Anyway, here’s my journey…

Hello, old friends.


The Beginning
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness
  • Batman: the Roleplaying Game
  • Hero System: 4th Edition

I’m kind of an outlier among gamers, because I didn’t start with D&D, nor did I have anyone introduce me to the game. As a kid in the 80s, I was only marginally familiar with D&D as some kind of fantasy property, but I was a total sci-fi nerd (Doctor Who, Star Wars, and Star Trek) and didn’t care for anything without robots and spaceships. As I got older, I was vaguely aware that D&D was a game my uncle played, and there were ads for it the superhero comics I read, but that was it.

Any excuse to repost these guys. 
I got into Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Other Strangeness  when I saw an ad for it in the back of one of the Archie TMNT comics. A game where I got to play as one of the Turtles sounded really cool, so I filled out the order form and sent some of my paper-boy money to the address and waited. A while later the book arrived in the mail, filled to bursting with awesome gritty Eastman & Laird art and the intricate Palladium game system. I taught myself how to be a GM from that book, and ran many weird and nonsensical adventures with my junior high friends. I remember the Armidillos of Action were my first PC group—a quartet of mutant armadillos with a penchant for doing crazy A-Team mods on whatever vehicles they acquired. We were isolated gamers with no one to ask for advice. Any rules we didn’t grok we had to adjust or make-up on our own.

I ran TMNT all thru junior high. It was the only game I had. The only place to find other RPGs was 20 miles away at the Waldenbooks in Sandusky. That means if I wanted to run superheroes or cartoon kung-fu insects, I had to kitbash my own rules with TMNT as a base. Seems like I’ve been homebrewing systems since the very beginning!

When I got to high school, I became more mobile, as I suddenly had older friends with cars. I could finally peruse that RPG section at Waldenbooks!  At the time, I still wasn’t interested in D&D (although by this time, I had met people who played it). Instead I wanted superheroes. In 1989, Mayfair put out a stripped down version of the DC Heroes game called Batman: the Roleplaying Game, to coincide with the release of the Tim Burton Batman movie. I played that for a little while until I discovered the Hero System:  4th Edition. Because it was a generic system, I had to come up with my own settings by default. I played a variety of campaigns with Hero System for a few years—supers, sci-fi, and finally... fantasy. All of them with campaign worlds I created on my own (Navistar!). I’ve always loved world-building.


At Last, Dungeon & Dragons
  • Dungeons & Dragons 2nd Editon

My friends enjoyed my other games, but eventually, one of them asked “Look, if we buy you the books, will you just run D&D for us?” Well of course I couldn’t turn them down. A few weeks later I had a shiny new copy of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Players Handbook. I read through it and was hooked. It’s probably not coincidental that this also about the same time I got heavy into Fritz Lieber and Michael Moorcock, along with all the Dragonlance novels. I ran 2nd Edition AD&D all through High School. I still have a pretty good collection of brown and blue "Complete Whatever" handbooks.   Like before, I used my own homebrew world (Questor!). This was well past the golden age of modules, so I never got to play with Keep on the Borderlands or the Isle of Dread. Instead I ran a lot of stuff out of Dungeon magazine in all its 90s boxed text and purple prose. Also Ravenloft, one of the few prefab game worlds I would ever use in 30+ years. I ran AD&D all through high school and into college.


The Respectable Young Man Turns Splatterpunk
  • NightLife

Despite my appreciation for Ravenloft, I never cared much for horror movies. That changed after highschool. When I was about 19, I got heavy into horror movies, especially the weird, super-violent Italian stuff and the cheap splatter-fests on the shelves of the dusty and sketch video rental places that popped up all over Sandusky, Ohio. By this time, I could drive myself and had a lot of downtime between classes at ye olde community college. I spent that time off-campus poking around video stores and Hobby shops. I found NightLife by Stellar Games on a wire rack in A&B Cycles.

NightLife, I has it! (Also ACE Agents)
NightLife came out about a year before Vampire: the Masquerade and was totally overshadowed by that angsty juggernaut. But NightLife was different. You played as punk-rock monsters who never resented their inhuman natures. The game took place in a not-quite-yet-apocalypic New York City as envisioned by a bunch of Ohio guys who had never actually been to New York.  Brad McDevitt’s mohawk'd daemons and sexy zombie ladies struck a cord. Like D&D before it, I found this game at the right time. At this point in my life I was getting heavy into black metal, industrial, and mid-90s darkwave. While playing NightLife, my friends and I listened to the Crow, Demon Knight, and Mortal Kombat soundtracks on continual loops. A couple of us even started using some of the slang used by PCs in the game when we went to metal concerts at Peabody’s in the Cleveland Flats. Vampire was for mopey losers, NightLife for was the hardcore crowd. We sure thought we were sexy dangerous badasses.


We Become Sexy Dangerous Badasses
  • Mind's Eye Theatre
  • Changeling the Dreaming
  • Demon the Fallen
  • Vampire the Masquerade
  • Werewolf the Apocalypse

For one reason or another, my gaming died for a few years. Part of that was due to moving to a new town. Part of it was due bad romantic relationships. But eventually I got back into gaming thanks (?) to LARPing, the World of Darkness, and the late 90s Bowling Green goth scene. I moved to Bowling Green, Ohio in 1998. By the weirdest of coincidences I wound up living three apartments down from Brad McDevitt, creator of the aforementioned NightLife. It’s a crazy story that I won’t go into here. Brad and I are still friends, and he's been super suportive over the years.

I pretty quickly became part of the burgeoning goth scene in Bowling Green. I hadn’t gamed much in the past three years, and had only LARPed once before in Cleveland. But there was a new World of Darkness LARP starting up in the back of the bar where the Wednesday night goth night was held. This was my introduction to the World of Darkness. The game was terrible, and it consumed our lives. I mean, no one got lost in the steam tunnels or anything, but LARPing was all we talked about and was the primary social outlet for a bunch of us. A lot of in-character rivalries became real-life animosities. Like I said it wasn’t great and ran too long. But that’s not important. What’s important is that the LARP was where I met the woman that would become my wife.

Look at these two edgy fucks.
Ivy and I were in the same Sabbat pack in the third failed goth-night LARP. She was a much bigger World of Darkness fan than I was, but she got me into it more and more as our relationship established itself (Pokemon too, but that’s not important). The nice thing about dating a gamer is that the two of you already have half a game group put together. Ivy and I ran a number of different World of Darkness games over the next few years—mostly Changeling, Werewolf, and Demon. For all their faults, running Demon and Changeling taught me how to build complex relationship maps between NPCs and PCs. Ivy is excellent at running urban sandbox games, where the players have free reign to wander through her world, interact with her fully developed NPCs, and get into whatever trouble they can. I learned a lot from her in that regard.

Goth night on Wednesday. World of Darkness on Sundays. Lots of booze, eyeliner, dancing, concerts, and clove cigarettes in between. That was my 20s.


The One-Two punch of QAGS and Story Games
  • QAGS Second Edition
  • Dogs in the Vineyard
  • Prime Time Adventures

We got older. Goth night died, and I got tired of dressing like a vampire (Ivy, not so much). D&D 3rd Edition came out, we played it, and got thoroughly sick of it well before 4th Edition made me decide I never wanted to play D&D again.

I don’t have the space here to go into great detail about how I found QAGS and weaseled my way into becoming part of Hex Games. I did it, and those Hex guys are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. QAGS got me to love rule-light systems. With only six stats and one die, you can put an entire character on an index card. It worked really well for the free-form online roleplaying I was doing at the time, too. Because the Gimmicks and Weaknesses were so broadly defined, they were almost free-form as it was. This is also about the time I discovered "story games." At the time, I was working at the college, and I had a lot of time to listen to these new things called podcasts. These podcasts introduced me to story games—a movement, it seemed, started by people who were also sick of D&D.

I never got heavy into GNS theory, and I think I can count on my fingers the number of posts I made on The Forge, but I liked story games a lot. I still like story games! The basic philosophy of story games seemed to be, “you write systems that promote the kind of gameplay you want.” If you want players to get into difficult personal complications, then you reward them for doing that. If you want players to try and steal treasure without engaging monsters, you reward them for that. 

The two games that really influenced me were Prime Time Adventures and Dogs in the VineyardPTA  taught me a lot about scene economy and pacing. It taught me how to set things up so every character eventually gets their own spotlight. Most importantly to me, as a guy playing a lot of free-form online chat games, it taught me how to establish interesting scenes. At the end of every scene, you should have learned something new about the character or something should have changed in the world. If not, then you’re wasting time and playing house. I still generally hold by this rule.

Dogs in the Vineyard blew my mind, man. Vincent Baker’s writing style was unlike anything else I had encountered, and it changed how I write and present games. He wrote DitV and presented the rules as though he was sitting across the table from you, all in second person. “Okay, you do this, then you roll these dice. Now I roll these dice and do this.” It was amazing. DitV also pounded the lesson into me that, when preparing for an RPG session, you shouldn’t come up with plots or stories, you should come up with situations. “Here’s the town as it stands now. Here’s what happened to get it to this point. Here’s the NPCs and what they want. Here’s what will happen if nothing happens.” After the railroady plots, pages of boxed text, and convoluted meta-plot of 90s AD&D and World of Darkness, this was revelatory. It totally revamped how I run games.


The OSR and the return of D&D
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics


Aside from a bunch of convention games I ran for QAGS with the Hex crew, I ran story games almost exclusively for several years. Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, Fiasco, Monsterhearts, Spirit of the Century (not actually that story gamey, I think), Smallville (ditto). I don’t think my players ever liked them as much as I did (although Ivy really loved Dogs in the Vineyard and the Fate Accelerated game she ran based on Fables). But story games were what I wanted to run, so that’s what we played.

At this point, though, you should realize how my taste in games always change. Eventually, story games started to lose their appeal. I got tired of feeling like all my games had to “mean” something. I missed the simple joy of going underground someplace where I shouldn't be, taking stuff that didn’t belong to me, and maybe killing a monster along the way. Thankfully, I was still listening to gaming podcasts, and about this time there was this sudden surge in “retro-clone” games like Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC. It wasn’t called the OSR yet, but a lot of people were rediscovering the simple joy of B/X D&D and its old-stlye brethren. I eventually convinced my game group to let me run some old-school elf games. I especially enjoyed Beyond the Wall and Other Adventures. The fairytale vibe appealed to me, and the playbooks had a lot of what I liked with Apocalypse World. Real-world interpersonal problems within my game group would be the death-knell of those games, sadly. I did manage to run a few Labyrinth Lord games online, however, thanks to the advent of G+ and Roll20.

Eventually D&D 5th Edition came out, and much to my surprise I loved it. It reminded me that yes, I actually did like mainstream D&D. My kid was 16 when Fifth Edition came out, and was ready to join our game table. So that was a major bonus, too (they played a frighteningly effective Assassin).

I have a whole separate blog post about Dungeon Crawl Classics and why I love it. You should go read that. None of my praise has changed. The best thing I discovered about DCC, though, is the wonderfully supportive and creative fanbase that sprung up around it. Zines, websites, and third-party publishers, all with the awesome support of the Goodman Games crew. It’s great, maybe my favorite fandom for just about anything.


Today
And that’s it! That’s where I am today, a 40-something petite bourgious ex-goth gamer dude. I skipped over a whole bunch of stuff. I barely got into all the (embarrassing) online chat-based roleplaying I did through my 20s and 30s. I didn’t talk at all about my podcasting adventures with Monkeys Took My Jetpack, Porcelain Llama Theater, Of Steam Steel & Murder, and others. I didn’t mention Deadlands (pre-Savage Worlds), Zorcer of Zo, Dragonstar, Houes of the Blooded, Fiasco, or Stars Without Number. Those are all stories for another time, I guess. Hit me up anywhere if you want the gory details.


AAAAAADVENTURE TIME!!!

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Truck Amok (a one-page adventure for QAGS)

You’re Bobby Joe Sludge, apocalypse trucker. You’ve been hired to take this load of toilet paper and beer across the irradiated badlands to the good people of Possum Junction. All you have to help you is your truck, your guts, and your grampa’s old shotgun. Best get a move on, son!

A ways back, in November, I put together a one-page adventure for QAGS. We passed it out for free at the Hex Games booth at Archon with our schedule of events on the back. I meant to share it earler, but well... time makes fools of us all.

Truck Amok is a post-apocalypse adventure designed for one player and one GM, although I imagine it can be expanded pretty easily to accomadate a group of players. You can play it using the free QAGS Qik Start rules, or you can adapt it to your favorite rules-lite RPG system.

You can download the PDF here, or check out the JPG file below.







Thursday, January 10, 2019

So, you've made a pact with Satan...

Satan loves himself some wizards! Magic Users already walk the crooked line of Chaos as they attune their minds to alien magics, but not enough of them are properly evil. The Devil wants to change that, of course. Old Scratch will gladly grant gifts of power to any wizard who signs their name in his black book and pledges their soul to the Prince of Hell.

These benefits are for Magic Users only. Sorry, elves, you don’t have souls, and Satan isn’t interested.

These rules were written with Lamentations of the Flame Princess in mind, but should adapt to other old-style games with a little tweaking.



My magic user just made a deal with Satan! Now what?

Good for you!

Well, the bad news is you can no longer cast spells on holy ground, and you are burned by holy water (1d6 damage per vial). You cannot benefit from spells cast by lawful characters. Also, you now have some sort of easily-hidden witch-mark on your body, like a moon-shaped birthmark or an extra set of nipples.

Whenever you have enough XP to level up, you must sacrifice an number of non-chaotic humans with Hit Dice or levels equal to your new level (0-level humans count as 1 HD for this) before you can gain the benefits of your next level. This sacrifice must be done in a properly spooky folk-horror or black-metal fashion--stone altar in an ancient groove, black mass, blood orgy, wicker man, whatever. The GM has final call on whether or not it’s wicked enough.  This sacrifice will be attended by a demonic representative of Lucifer with HD equal to your new level (which means, like, Orcus himself shows up to your party at level 20).

Now here’s what you get for all your trouble. When you level up, that demonic servitor will put a nice new spell of the highest level you can now cast into your spellbook. The spell is randomly determined by the GM, but you learn it instantly, without having to spend any time or money researching or transcribing it. This is in addition to any other spells you may or may not normally gain by leveling up as a Magic User.

If you convince another Magic User to join the ranks of Satan, you gain XP equal to twice the amount you would have earned for killing them.

Also, when you level up, roll 1d20 on the Satanic Gifts table. Entries marked with an asterisk can be gained more than once, with cumulative benefits. Otherwise, a duplicate roll gets you nothing this level (and Satan laughs!).


Satanic Gifts
1) Secrets Stolen from Heaven*: You add one cleric spell to your spellbook, chosen at random, of the highest level you can cast (maximum spell level: 7). You can memorize and cast this spell as a normal Magic User spell. You can scribe scrolls of this spell, usable by MUs and Elves but not clerics. Other magic users cannot copy the spell into their books, however, unless they also have this gift.

2) Forever Young: You stop aging.

3) Hex Appel*: Your Charisma bonus increases by 1 (maximum +4).

4) Skyclad: When you are naked (jewelry and hats are acceptable) your AC is increased by your CHA bonus +1 (minimum 1).

5) Black Kisses*: Once per day, your kiss can cause narcotic sleep for 1d6 hours unless your victim makes a save vs. poison Additional instances of this gift increase the number of times per day you may use this poison kiss.

6) Luciferian Prodigy: The time required for you to learn or transcribe spells is cut in half.

7) Toil and Trouble: The time it takes you to craft potions is cut in half.

8) Demonic Scribe: The time it takes you to create spell scrolls is cut in half.

9) Malefactor: The time it takes you to craft wands and staves is reduced by 25%

10) Typhoid Mary: You are immune to mundane diseases, although you can still act as an infection vector.

11) Blessing of Brimstone: You take half damage from fire (and nothing if you succeed in a save that would normally reduce the damage to half). You are also immune to mundane hot weather, up to blistering desert temperatures.

12) Ninth Circle: You take half damage from cold (and nothing if you succeed in a save that would normally reduce the damage to half). You are also immune to mundane cold weather, up to subarctic temperatures.

13) Eat Your Heart Out*: Once per day, you may eat the still-warm, raw heart of a human and heal 1d6hp, plus 1 extra hit point per Hit Die or level (0-level characters count a 1). You can double this amount if the heart donor is a virgin. Eating a heart takes 1 turn. Additional instances of this gift increase the number of times per day you can eat a heart, but doesn’t increase the damage healed per meal.

14) Parselmouth*: You can speak to snakes and have a +1 reaction bonus with them.

15) Black Phillip: Once per night, you can polymorph into a large, black goat. This transformation takes 1 turn, during which time you are considered stunned and helpless. As a goat, you can speak is a sultry whisper but cannot cast spells. You instantly revert back to normal at dawn or if you are brought to 0hp or less. You cannot end the transformation early.
  • Goat: AC: 12; HD: 2, Horns +2 (1d4), Movement: 150' (50')

16) Child of Darkness*: Gain 2 dots in the Stealth skill. Additional instances of this gift increase Stealth by 1, to a maximum of 6 dots.

17) Red Right Hand*: Your base attack bonus increases by 1.

18) Horny: Once per night you may sprout a wicked pair of serrated goat horns from your head. You can attack with these for 1d8 damage. The horns disappear at dawn. You cannot get rid of them sooner.

19) Red Nails: Once per night you may sprout wicked claws from your fingertips. You can make two attacks per round with these for 1d4 damage each. The claws disappear at dawn. You cannot get rid of them sooner.

20) Strike Back from the Grave: If someone kills you, you arise 1d3 rounds later as an undead creature with HD equal to your level and powers linked to your manner of death. As an evil revenant, you're an NPC now, but at least you can take some solace in revenge. (The GM should at least let you play your initital rampage.)



Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Ashes of Angels: May the Winter's Wolves Surround You (LotFP session 3)


Our third Lamentations of the Flame Princess session was shorter than the first two. One of our players (Julius the fighter) couldn’t make it, and the rest of the group was loathe to get into too much trouble without him. Most of the session revolved around travel and administrative work, as well as an admirable amount of roleplaying.  They also fought some wolves and barely escaped with their lives. By the end of the session, though, they were properly set up to go straight into their next adventure.

(This play report should be spoiler free and safe for my players to read.)

Stay a while and listen…

Our Cast
Belinda Kage: Serpentblood 1, Midwife.
Madeline: Specialist 1, Grave Robber.
Mortimer: Alice 1, Librarian.
“Matthew”: Outlander 1, Iriquois warrior and former slave.

Absent PCs
Julius Cervantes: Fighter 1, Former witch hunter.

NPCs
Ana Fischer: Rescued witch.
Deacon Girnot: Deacon of Nonsbeck's church. Intelligence and charisma sold off to the Ghoul Market.

The players exit the tunnel from the Ghoul Market and return to Nonsbeck. Madeline replaces the slab in the side of the monument that leads to the tunnel. The slab easily ker-chunks back into place, almost as though it’s magnetic. The party leaves the cemetery just as the first cock crows. They shuffle Girnot into his shed and retrieve the Black Book of Agamot from the hole under some haystacks where the deacon had hidden it. Confident that they’ve covered all traces of their otherworldly explorations, the party makes their way back to the inn.

Most of the party crashes into their beds and fall right asleep, but Belinda stays awake to eagerly copy the spells from the Black Book into her own spellbook. She is happy to discover that she now has access to Summon and Transylvanian Hunger (from Vaginas are Magic). Particularly, the regenerative benefits of Transylvanian Hunger might allow her to fix her face or replace the seemingly inevitable lost limbs that have been plaguing the group.

While the PCs doze away in their rooms, word quickly spreads across town that something has happened to Deacon Girnot. He seems to have gone quite mad, babbling incoherently about a nightmare world and monsters underground. The party had sold off a large chunk of his intelligence and charisma to the Exchequer (Session 2). While it didn’t erase his memory like they’d hoped it would, it left him unable to form coherent thoughts or express them to others. The villagers send a boy to a nearby town to get a physician, but there’s already talk of sending the poor man to an asylum.

Around noon, the PCs finally wake up and face the day. Belinda has allowed Ana to borrow her spellbook, and the witch dedicates herself to copying spells into her own fresh new book. (This gives a good boost to Ana’s Loyalty score.) Mortimer goes off to one of the local farms to chop wood for a few extra coppers, while Belinda buys a puppy from another farm. Her eventual goal is get a whole pack of loyal doggos. Madeline offers to help the innkeeper’s wife pluck chickens in order to pay for the party’s dinner. Since the grave robber has a fresh new demon arm, she refuses to take off her gloves or roll up her sleeves, even while elbow-deep in chicken blood. This causes some questions from Gella the serving girl, but Madeline manages to wave off her concerns. Meanwhile, Matthew heads a few miles out of town to scout around the road ahead. He finds several wolf tracks and the signs of a small pack operating in the area.

As the sun sets, everyone meets back in the Laughing Ox inn. Ana comes from downstairs, still clearly high from the narcotics required to research and transcribe spells, but proud of her success. Between the restoration of her previously fire-scarred face and the on-going reconstruction of her spellbook, the witch has clearly grown more confident and ambitious. Belinda notices that Ana is transcribing spells (“copying recipes into your new cookbook”) a lot quicker than expected. “Oh. It must be because they’re recipes I already knew and am only relearing,” Ana explains. This seems reasonable to Belinda and the matter drops for now.

It’s a busy night at the Laughing Ox. There are several farmers here, as well as another group of traveling soldiers and the two nuns the PCs had talked to previously. The nuns are eager to leave the village soon, but the PCs convince them to wait one more day and then they will escort them to the convent of St. Agnes as agreed.

The topic of Girnot eventually comes up. Asylums are terrible places, but no one seems to be too upset about sending the weasley deacon away. On the other hand, if the party decides to take him with them, they can use him to carry equipment and stuff. Belinda and Matthew decide to go and talk to Father Cristoff and ask for his permission to take Girnot with them.

In the church, Father Decaon sits in a pew, drinking heartily from a bottle of schnapps. He seems to be in a surprisingly jovial mood. Belinda and Matthew suggest letting them take Girnot with them in order to spare him the indignity of the asylum. “Yes! An excellent idea!” the priest agrees, almost before the words are out of Matthew’s mouth. “In fact, here’s 25 silver thalers to help with travel expenses! Let’s drink a toast to poor Girnot’s health.” Schnapps are poured, toasts are made, and a deal is struck.

Belinda and Matthew go to Girnot’s shed to tell him the news. The (now former) deacon is in a bad way. His shed smells of piss and sweat, and he’s clearly been digging around looking for the Black Book. He is terrified of the PCs, because he knows they did something to him, but can’t properly comprehend what. The thought of going underground fills him with horror. He’s also calling himself “Conrad” now for some reason. Matthew tells him they are going to take him with them to the convent “You know, where the nice ladies are. Maybe they can help you.”

“Oh yes,” leers Girnot, “The nice virgin ladies. They can help me indeed, yes.” It’s here that Girnot’s personality changes from Gollum to Ken Shabby.

The next day passes without incident. Belinda and Ana continue to copy spells, while the others buy and sell equipment and prepare for travel. Finally, the party leaves bright and early the next morning. The PCs and their ersatz henchmen are on horses, and the nuns ride a couple of stout mules. The little convoy heads north along the muddy road to Hegendorf, there to turn east toward the abbey of St. Agnes. The whole trip should take a day.  Julius (whose player is absent) stays behind in Nonsbeck to look after affairs.

Halfway to Hegendorf, danger rears its baleful head. The party hears they baying of hungry wolves. It’s winter in a time of constant war, so the beasts have almost certainly tasted human flesh. Four wolves bare down on them, charging towards their horses with terrible speed.


But the party has arrows, bolts, bullets, and several rounds before the wolves’ teeth can get at them. They are rightfully afraid that the gunfire will spook the horses, so Matthew, Belinda, Mortimer, and Ana leap off their mounts. Madeline grabs the rest of the horses and leads them, Girnot, and the nuns away from the combat, hopefully keeping them safe from the wolves.

The PCs take time to aim at the wolves (they’re still at long distance), while Ana begins chanting an alien rune. The air around here glows, and smoke pours from her mouth as she summons a smoke demon with multiple antenna and jointed eyes. She does remarkably well on her control roll and permanently bonds the demon (thanks to Ramanan’s awesome Summon app). The witch crows in triumph, feeling like a real spellcaster once more. Thankfully, Madeline is leading the nuns away, so they don’t notice this obvious display of sorcery.

Bullets and arrows fly. Two wolves are wounded, but none are killed outright. The smoke demon engages with another wolf, lashing it with festering wounds. There’s another round of fire from arrows and bolts. The alpha wolf is wounded as are two other wolves. The two lesser wolves fail their morale checks and flee. The fourth wolf continues to fight the demon, both exchanging damage. Matthew issues a war whoop, successfully drawing the attention of the wounded alpha wolf.

The wolf fighting the demon finally kills it. The wolf is badly wounded, but maddened by pain. From a distance, Madeline fires her pistol at the wolf but misses. Mortimer the Alice expresses his Frustration. He recalls a bit of information about wolves—they can often be distracted by fresh meat. This isn’t immediately helpful, because all they have on them is hardtack and dried beans.

"We leveled up!"
The alpha wolf is upon them! It leaps upon Matthew and tears off the outlander’s arm! He’s bleeding out and will be dead in moments. The good news is the wolves now have fresh meat! The alpha runs off with Matthew's arm, and the reaming wolf follows its leader. The wolves, having gotten what they wanted, have technically won this combat encounter.

Belinda’s chirurgy kit is on her person, not her horse, so she is able to quickly staunch Matthew’s bleeding. Madeline returns with the nuns. The younger sister looks positively green and ready to faint. Even though there’s a nice easy-to-follow blood trail, the PC’s decide not to track down the wolves. They know how to get to the Ghoul Market. Once they get their hands on a Writ of Protection, maybe they’ll get Matthew a new arm.

Hegerndorf was only an hour away, so the party packs up their unconscious friend and heads to the village. Hegendorf is another small village, maybe even smaller than Nonsbeck, without a proper church or tavern. But the people there know the nuns, and are willing to help the wounded outlander. The PCs spend only an hour in Hegendorf, reapplying bandages and giving Matthew some strong drink to dull the pain. They head east along the trail to the convent of St. Agnes where they are assured Sister Brunhilde is a talented surgeon.

At the convent, the party is greeted by several nuns, excited that their missing sisters have returned safely. Ana the witch seems reluctant to enter, but Belinda convinces her to come along. “What, does it burn?” she chides the witch. Matthew is shuffled off to the infirmary where he is attended to by Sister Brunhilde, a short, warty troll of a woman with the hands of an angel. Girnot/Conrad is locked into a nice comfy cell where he can’t cause any trouble. The rest of the party is invited to the dining hall for a simple but hearty meal of turnips, peas, bread, and short beer. The nuns they party escorted relate the events of their trip to the mother superior, Mother Ruth. They commend the party’s bravery and honesty. 

At dinner they meet a permanent guest of the convent. A nameless but harmless madman the sisters simply call “Mensch.” He showed up on the doorstep of the convent a year ago, babbling nonsense about a “Pale Lady.” He is a eunuch, so the mother superior allowed him to stay here. The PCs try engaging him in conversation, and he only babbles about the “Pale Lady, the Queen of Flowers” and how he and his sister were taken by her beastmen as a child, had his genitals removed, and forced to work in fields of flower with other men, women, and children. He only escaped when a man in a starry robe told him the secret words that let him escape her realm.

After dinner and evening mass, Mother Ruth invites the party into her office. She tells them how Mensch came to the convent almost a year ago, and confirms much of the story they have already heard. She has had to piece together the story from Mensch’s ravings over the course of several months. The nearby woods are supposedly haunted by a witch or demon, and her beast men kidnap children every winter. Mensch and his sister were kidnapped unknown years ago, when he was a child. The Pale Lady welcomes occultists to her home who enter as young men and leave aged. One of these wizards told Mensch how to escape through the hedges using a complicated magical phrase.

In his ravings, Mensch also mentioned a gleaming white cube of stone. Mother Ruth believes this is one of the fabled “Words of Creation” cast down to Earth after God created the world. Mother Ruth would like the party to travel to the Pale Lady’s realm and find out more about this Word of Creation. If they do this for her, she will give them the Sword of Prester John, an artifact the convent has hidden for many generations.

The gateway to the Pale Lady’s realm will be accessible only on the Winter Solstice. That’s only two days away…

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Arm Replacement Table

Only three sessions into our Lamentations of the Flame Princess game, and already two different PCs have lost an arm in combat (all thanks to Cavegirl's Horrible Wounds rules).

That's awesome!

So now they're planning on making another trip to the Ghoul Market to visit the Skinsmith. I get the feeling the PCs are going to give the him a lot of repeat business with limb replacement. Of course, that crafty old demon likes to improvise with these sort of operations, and you rarely leave with the arm you hoped to get.

Time to make a new table!

When you visit the Skinsmith to replace an arm, pay 1d6x100sp and roll 1d12 on the table below: 

Oh my god! What has the Skinsmith replaced my arm with?
  1. Scaly, clawed demon arm (1d4 damage from claws)
  2. Suckered tentacle (+5’ reach).
  3. Skeleton arm with mummified sinews.
  4. Some H. R. Giger biomechanical monstrosity.
  5. Thorny, leafy, plant-like limb (can grow into a sword, 1d8 damage).
  6. A snake! (Bite only does 1 damage, but target must make a save vs poison or take damage equal to 2d4 + your CON bonus).
  7. Wooden puppet arm.
  8. Zombie/Frankenstien arm (you take 1d3 damage from holy water).
  9. Surprisingly sophisticated clockwork prosthetic (+1 to Tinkering).
  10. Green-skinned mutant arm with grotesque, over-large muscles (+1 damage with weapons wielded with this arm).
  11. Child’s arm (-1 to hit with this arm).
  12. An actual adult human arm, you lucky FREAK!
With a few easy adjustments, you can also use this table for replacement legs, genitals, or whatever.



Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Ashes of Angels: Down in the Ghoul Market (LotFP Session 2)


Our second Lamentations of the Flame Princess session had less action than the first, but involved a lot more roleplaying and offered some much desired decompression. The group layed low and recuperated for a few days, met the new party members, then traveled to the nearby village of Nonsbeck (poor, doomed, Nonsbeck), buried their dead, and visited the Ghoul Market.

I was very conflicted about introducing the Ghoul Market so early into the campaign. My instinct with these sort of games is to introduce the horrific and fantastic elements slowly, so they remain weird an alien. I was afraid of making the ghouls and devils of the Market too familiar and thus reduce their effectiveness. On the other hand, one of the problems I had with my old D&D 5th Edition game was that I waited too long to introduce all the weird stuff, and certainly Dungeon Crawl Classics doesn’t worry about that sort of thing. In the end, I decided to throw caution to the wind. If the ghouls wind up seeming too much like “people,” then I guess that will just make the real alien horrors even more alien.

Our Cast
  • Belinda Kage: Serpent Blood 1, Midwife. (Starts the session with a broken blade thru her head.)
  • Madeline: Specialist 1, Grave Robber. (Starts the session missing an arm.)
  • Mortimer: Alice 1, Librarian. (Starts the session moderately wounded, but relatively intact.)
  • “Matthew”: Outlander 1, Iriquois warrior and former slave. (New PC)
  • Julius Cervantes: Fighter 1, Former witch hunter. (New PC)

NPCs

  • Ana Fischer: Rescued witch, secret Satanist. (Starts the session with horrific facial and body burns.)
  • Deacon Girnot: A sleazy weasel of a man, deacon of Nonsbeck's only church

Spoilers for ObsceneSerpent Religion 2 ahead.

The session starts with Belinda, Madline, Mortimer, and Ana tending to their wounds. Once everyone is on their feet, they gather up the bodies of the dead from last session. They pile their enemies’ corpses into a great big pyre. They bury their dead comrades Hector and Tranquilo in the snow so they keep relatively fresh until they can get a proper burial.

As the survivors keep warm by the pyre, Belinda notices Ana gathering up the charred remnants of the book she was to burned with. The accused witch is barely holding back tears and seems distraught. Belinda recognizes the scraps as the remains of a spellbook. She confides in the witch that she too is a spellcaster, and promises to help her recompile her lost spell book. This earns her Ana’s gratitude and (for now) loyalty.

Meanwhile, Julius and Matthew have been traveling together for few days, and notice the warm glow of a fire and the smell of cooking meat coming from the ruins of the old Roman fort. They ride up to the camp and announce themselves. The grizzled Spaniard and dusky-skinned warrior from the New World surprise the group of survivors, but Julius and Matthew are just as surprised by the horrifically mutilated quartet before them. Questions are made and explanations are offered, but eventually the two groups of misfits decide to join forces. PC party reestablished!

The party has pretty decent shelter and plenty of food in the ruins of the fort, so they decide to recover here for a few days until everyone is properly healed up. Belinda’s chirurgy skills help speed this along. While the wounded rest, Matthew and Julius keep watch. On the third day, a rabid bear wanders out of the forest and jumps on a nearby deer (random encounter!). The PCs don’t believe the fort’s crumbling walls will keep the bear out, so they quickly hustle everyone indoors and try to wrangle their horses into a tower. One of the horses gets spooked and breaks free, running off. The rabid bear gives chase!

Matthew and Julius decide the bear is too much of a threat to leave alive so they open fire with their muskets, cycling through extra guns while Mortimer (who’s fully healed at this point) reloads for them. The angry bear charges towards them, making its way through the large gaps in the fort wall. Musket balls hit a few more times, but it gets within melee range before they can completely drop it. Julius’s spear catches the bear as it charges, striking a devastating wound, but the maddened beast will fight to the death! Matthew leaps at the bear with his French tomahawk, and the bear turns on the Iroquois. The beast’s claws and teeth savage his flesh, tearing flesh away from his hand and arm (luckily he makes his poison save, and doesn’t catch rabies).  Desperate, Matthew lashes out with his dagger in his good hand while Julius stabs and stabs again with his spear. Finally the rabid beast falls. Matthew crawls out to join the rest of the convalescing PCs, while Mortimer and Julius drag the diseased carcas away from the fort.

The next few days are peaceful, and eventually everyone is back on their feet. Before they leave the fort, they decide to explore the secret tunnel in the jail cell below. They use Madeline’s pick and shovel to work on widening the tunnel, while the rangy Matthew crawls ahead on his belly with a lantern pushed ahead of him. The outlander discovers that the tunnel connects to an ancient Roman aqueduct, knee deep with cold, clean water. After some debate, the PCs decide not to explore the aqueduct for now and prepare to head east towards the village of Nonsbeck. Maybe they’ll find some work there. They bundle up the bodies of their dead friends and head down the road.

On the road to Nonsbeck, they come across a man pulling a wagon load of dead bodies to a nearby mass grave (random encounter!). Apparently a nearby village (not Nonsbeck) has been recently wiped out by the Red Plague (seting up The Punchline for later). He offers to take their friends’ corpses off their hands (“Plenty of room on the old cart!”) but the PCs decline and give the man their farewells.

Eventually, they make their way to Nonsbeck, a pleasant little village that would certainly never fall prey to demonic terror.  The whole place is decorated for Christmas and seems perfectly pleasant. The hilltop church of St. Margaret is their first stop. They are greeted by Deacon Girnot, a greasy weasel of a character who is not at all pleased to see a bunch of mutilated weirdos on the church’s doorstep. The good priest Father Cristof, however is more friendly to strangers and ushers them into the church. The PCs explain (lie) that they were attacked on the road and two of their friends were killed, and hope the priest could give them a proper burial. Father Cristof is saddened by their tale. Of course he’ll arrange for burial first thing in the morning. For now, they can keep the bodies in the shed where Girnot sleeps. The deacon is not at all pleased to be put out of his room by a bunch of strange corpses.

The party’s next stop is the stable where they meet the friendly stable boy Reiner. They pay him for a week’s worth of stabling in advance, as they plan on staying here for a bit. Then it’s off to the inn for some food and rest. The inn is busy this night. A group of farmers drinks mulled ale and sings Christmas songs. A small group of five soldiers are spending the night here while on their way to Berlin, a merchant and his guards have made this their stop for the night, and two travelling nuns also have rooms. 

The party makes arrangements to rent the last two rooms and settle in to eat. While they are eating, Belinda notices that the soldiers are starting to get “handsy” with Gela, the nice young barmaid. The buxom redheaded serpentblood saddles over to the soldiers and snags their attention away from the younger girl. While the soldiers thusly distracted, Belinda takes some of the opium form her chirurgy kit and spikes the soldiers’ beer. Soon the soldiers are all unconscious, and the inn is a much more pleasant place.

Meanwhile, Julius talks to the nuns. They are on their way to the convent of St. Agnes, about a day away. The men escorting them along the road have abandoned them, and it’s a dangerous world out there. Julius offers the party’s aid in escorting them, if they are willing to wait a few days. The older nun decides that arriving late is better than arriving dead, so they reluctantly agree to wait for the PCs to finish their business.

The next morning, Father Cristoff performs a nice but simple funeral for Tranquilo and Hector. The party springs for a couple of nice headstones (and the money so spent becomes XP for their new characters, Matthew and Julius). While in the cemetery, Madeline notices a large monument bearing a statue of the Virgin Mother. It is clearly old as it is covered in moss and the inscriptions have long worn away. But on the back of this monument she sees a white ankh, the sign of the ghoul market!

The party spends the rest of the day lazing about the town or chopping wood for extra silver. But when night falls, they head back to the cemetery to investigate the marked monument. It’s starless and bible black. The moon is nothing but a thin sliver behind the clouds, and all the lights are out in the village. The only sound is deacon Girnot’s snoring from his nearby shed. They manage to find the monument again, and Madeline works her shovel into a crack in the base. She moves a slab away to reveal narrow, steep stairs descending into the cold earth. Madeline, Beleinda, Mortimer, and Ana head down into the foggy darkness. Matthew doesn’t wish to walk on burial land, and Julius feels guilty about desecrating the dead, so they decide to stay topside and stand guard. We have split the party!

The stairs widen and grow less steep as the quartet descends, but it still takes them 30 minutes to reach the bottom. The stairs lead to a large tunnel filled with low-fog and shards of old bone. They refill their lantern and press on.

Topside, Matthew and Julius grow worried. Their friends have been down there for a half-an-hour or more. The decide that deacon Girnot (that sleazy weasel) must know something. They sneak into his shed and awake him with a sword held to his throat. Girnot looks up in fear. “Did Agamot send you?” Who? The PCs have never heard of this man. After some graphic threats and a failed Morale check, they learn the truth. Girnot stole a book from a wizard in Heidelberg named Agamot. He suspects the wizard has sent people after him. “What’s buried under this cemetery? Who’s buried under the Madonna gravestone?” they demand. Girnot claims he doesn’t know. The grave’s been here longer than anyone remembers. He doesn’t think there’s anything under the cemetery other than more dirt and worms. Matthew and Julius don’t quite believe him, so they grab the deacon and frog-march him to the cemetery and drag him with them as they head down the stairs to the Ghoul Market.

Meanwhile, deep below the earth, the first group continues down the tunnel for an hour before it comes to a large cavern. A wall of skulls stretches across the cavern, and two statues of faceless angels form an entrance arch with their wings. Black-bannered market stalls are scattered among crumbling crypts and mausoleums of ancient design. Green flames burn in large iron lanterns suspended from the ceiling. The smell of rot, spices, and cooking meat fills the air. The dead and damned wander the isles, buying and selling. This is the Ghoul Market!

The PCs walk to the central square. They can feel hungry eyes watching them, but they use the timeless social tactic of “acting like we belong here." Belinda still has a sword blade through her head and rough stiches across her face, and the cenobite look helps sell the illusion. The central square features a dry fountain with a large statue of a nude medusa. Behind that lies Cold Ethyl’s Pleasure House, a desecrated cathedral of black stone with a crucified nude woman writhing and moaning on the cross in ecstasy.  The PCs decide to ignore that for now and follow a road sign towards the Skinsmith.

In the cavern of the Skinsmith, they are greeted by a robed dwarf with a patchwork face, one of the Skinsmith’s minions. Of course they will be able to fix Madeline's arm and repair Belinda and Ana’s scarred faces. Sadly the party does not have enough money. But the dwarf is glad to inform them that the Exchequer will trade them silver for parts of their vital essence (250sp per attribute point permanently sold). The PCs have some scores they aren’t really using, so this sounds like a good deal to them. They chit-chat with the dwarf for a bit before leaving, and find out that a human wizard known as Lord Prospero frequents the Ghoul Market. They file this info for later.

As they leave to find the Exchequer, they run into Matthew and Julius, who have finally arrived in the Market. They have Girnot all tied up so they look like slavers (“so we look like we belong). The party is reunited, so they all head to the Exchequer for some easy money.

The Exchequer has a tent in the main square. He is a hulking creature in dusty yellow robes with a cage of fire where his head should be. The PCs have a new idea. Since Girnot is their "slave" now, his Essence is theirs to sell! Plus, if they reduce his Intelligence and Charisma low enough, he won’t be able to tell anyone what the PCs have been doing (“And if he dies, well, he doesn’t seem like someone anyone will miss.”). The Exchequer pulls silver cobwebs out of Girnot’s face, reducing his INT and CHA to 4 and 3, respectively. The deacon is now very stupid and poorly spoken, and the party is several thousand silver oboli richer.

Pleased with themselves, the party heads back to the Skinsmith. Madeline wants her old arm re-attached, but it’s too far gone. Instead, the great cyclopean demon gives her a new arm covered in green scales and orange hair, ending in a taloned claw (1d4 damage!). Belinda doesn’t quite trust the Skinsmith to remove the blade from her head (and she kind of likes the cenobite look), so she just has him grind the metal down so it’s not sticking out any more. Ana whispers something in the demon’s ear (she’s actually in league with Satan, remember, though the PCs still don’t know this). The Skinsmith nods in ascent. When he’s done with his work, Ana’s hair and skin is replaced. She’s beautiful, but her skin has a weird too-tight almost-artificial look to it.

Next, it’s off to the antiquities and sundries section of the market. Belinda buys magical inks and psychoactives so Ana can begin to make copies of Belinda’s spells. Julius buys a lightweight coat of bone chainmail from a purple woman of Carcosa. Madeline buys a glove to cover her demon hand. It’s here that the PC’s hear a hissing, hungry voice behind them “You look like you’re new to the Ghoul Market, how delicious.” A group of six hungry ghouls have come up behind them. The rest of the market looks on with interest. When the PCs came to the market, there was a 1-in-8 chance of them running into “hungry complications” from the patrons. Each time they went someplace new, this chance went up by 1. They were lucky for a long time, but I finally rolled low enough for the ghouls to make their move. “You don’t have a Writ of Protection,” says the lead ghoul. “That means you’re meat for the taking. But we’ll give you a break, just give us one of your number and leave.”

I fully expected my players to hand over Grinot, but they are craftier than that. “I wouldn’t mess with us! We’re on business for Agamot the wizard.”

“Agamot? Who’s that?”

“He’s a friend of the great Lord Prospero?”

“Oh really?” Says the ghoul, “Well Prospero is right over there. Let’s go ask him.” 

Sure enough,  since they are in the antiquities section of the Market, Lord Prospero is here with his servant Catherwood. Prospero is a decadent Vincent Price sort of wizard, and Catherwood is a stooped old man carrying a large cabinet full of Prospero’s goods. Both wear a scroll around their necks that reads: “The bearer of this writ of protection shall be afforded all the hospitality and safety due a guest of Prince Dracula and his official representatives.”


Prospero is drunk and in a good mood, but he doesn’t corform to the PCs’ lies. “I assure you that amateur Agamot is no friend of mine!” The party quickly explains that Girnot stole one of the rival wizard’s books. “Well in that case, anyone who causes Agamot such irritation is certainly welcome in my company!” He extends his one-time protection to the PCs for the night, and the hungry ghouls slink off disappointed. The party talks with Prospero for a bit. They find the libertine wizard charming, and he finds the adventurers amusing. He invites them to come visit him in his castle sometime “And bring that book of Agamot’s. I will pay you well for it!”

The party has made a new friend and finished their shopping while narrowly avoiding being eaten by ghouls. They decide they’ve pushed their luck enough for one night and leave the Market. The PCs emerge from the cemetery just as dawn breaks over Nonsbeck.


Treasure Gained:
  • Nothing that earned them XP, but..
  • 300sp in Ghoul Market oboli, left over from shopping
  • Carcosan bone mail that protects like chain but encumbers like leather.
  • Friendship... the real treasure.

Graveyard:
  • No one new this session!
  • Tranquilo (Fighter 1)
  • Hector (Alice 1)