Thursday, October 18, 2018

Archon Happened! (Archon 42 Convention Report)

Archon is an old-school sci-fi and fantasy convention in Collinsville, IL (just across the river from St Louis) with a pretty decent gaming component. What do I mean by “old-school” convention? Well, they still call it an SF/F convention, they talk about “masquerade” instead of “cosplay,” they still have “filking” and they refer to the dealers’ area as the “hucksters’ room.” Old school, yo. The con attracts about 2,000 people and plays hosts to a lot of room parties. Much of Saturday night just becomes a big nerdy bacchanal. I’ve had a lot of fun there.

Hex Games (makers of QAGS and Hobomancer!) is surprisingly popular there, and we usually sell
decently. Archon’s a bit of a trek for me from Toledo, so I haven’t gone back in about 6 years. But after the fun time I had at Gencon this summer, the Hex boys convinced me to return to Archon. It was, after all, Hex Games’s 20th anniversary, and we had some celebrating to do!

On Thursday, I made my way down to Cincinnati to meet up with Leighton “Laser Beams” Connor, and we headed out to St Louis bright and early Friday morning. The trip was largely without incident and we made it to the Gateway Convention Center in Collinsville with some time to spare before our 2pm games. We used that time to go to the Hex Games booth and touch base with Steve “Dollar Sign” Johnson, Carter ”Greyhound” Newton, Ian “Erudite” Engle, and Jeffrey “Beloved Family Man” Johnson. We admired our new 20th anniversary banner and were especially pleased with our new release, the print version of the complete American Artifacts collection (coming soon to DrivethruRPG!).

My first game was “Warlock High School” using the in-development Cinemechanix system:
  • The Abernathy Q. Weiterstadt Academy for Thaumic Studies is the Midwest’s third greatest school for young wizards. You’ll quickly find that magic doesn’t make high school any easier for your group of misfit teens. Midterms are on the way and those snobs from Presto Prep are causing trouble yet again. It’s high-school hijinx with a magical twist!

I ran this game at Gencon, so I was pretty well prepared. The plot revolves around the mysterious disappearance of the entire high school, an idea a stole from an old Firesign Theater album. The game went smoothly, and the Cinemechanix system works very well. It was easy to plug in sub-systems for magic and relationships. I have vague plans to adapt the setting into its own game using my own story-gamey system. So, y’know, watch this space.

Later that night, in the dealer’s room, I ran into Jarrett Crader, whose name was somewhere on almost everything I bought at Gencon this year. We talked briefly about the upcoming Mothership horror-sci-fi RPG (looks exciting) and the importance of editing and public gaming in regards to promotion. I wish I had a chance to speak with him more, but we both had things to do. He gave me some sweet Mothership swag, though. Thanks Jarrett!

We had two panels to run Friday night. The first, “Flash Bang Forever!” was about magic in RPGs, and frankly went kind of clumsily. The second panel, “How to Run a One-Shot” went a lot smoother. It focused on running one-shot games at conventions and public venues and I think we had a lot of good advice to share. At some point I’ll put together an article on the subject. I’ve run a lot of one-shots over the years.

Friday morning we carbo-loaded at the Drury Inn’s breakfast bar and made our way back across the street to the convention center. I had two games on Saturday, with only a half-an-hour between them. 

My morning game was QAGS: Apocalypse Truckers:
  • Civilization may have crumbled beneath a rain of nuclear fire, but folks still need their toilet paper, beer, and Molly Hatchet 8-tracks. The irradiated highways are dangerous for any lone trucker. Your best bet is to team up with some other wasteland weirdos and form yourself a CONVOY! Grab your shotgun, jump behind the wheel, and get ready for some post-apocalypse grindhouse fun with QAGS!

The set-up was pretty simple. Take cargo from point A to point B with weird stuff happening in between. I had a fun random-cargo table, and I had a bunch of Matchbox cars for the players to use to represent their vehicles. It was Smokey and the Bandit meets Road Warrior.  I made good of the copy of Country Crawl Classics I got from Jarett at Gencon, for times when I had to decide “what happens next?” It was bloody and violent and weird.

My afternoon game was Hobomancers in Space:
  • It’s the height of the Great Depression, and the Hobomancers are a rail-riding fellowship of drifters and shamans. You’ve fought monsters in a dozen small towns, you’ve even traveled through time, all to protect the soul of America. Now, it’s time to head into outer space and confront a cosmic threat from beyond the Outer Dark!

I also ran this game at Gencon, so I was good and ready to run it. It’s a sequel to last year’s “Hobomancers in Space” which was a sequel to the previous year’s “Hobomancer’s in Hell.” I’m not sure what the next step will be. This adventure was fun because I got to tap into all my knowledge of weird UFO lore—shapeshifting reptilians, blue doctors, planet Nibiru, all of that. It also lets me play one of my favorite NPCs, Thermal Vent Terwilliger, the alien hobomancer.

Saturday night we had our “20 Years of Hex Games” panel-slash-birthday party. We didn’t have a huge turn-out, since we were scheduled opposite the masquerade contest and drinking. Still it was a fun panel that went over the various ups and downs of Hex Games over the past two decades.

As I had said before, Archon is a party con. Much of Saturday night is given over to room parties, drinking, and nerdly frolicking. Not too many years ago, my friends and I were all eager participants in these celebrations. We stayed out until 4am, stopping only because the booze ran out, crawling into bed only to wake up a few hours later to run 8am games, hungover or still drunk from the night before.

Yeah, we don’t do that anymore. This year we just went to Carter’s room with a bottle of Jefferson’s bourbon. We poured liberally from the bottle, reminisced about days gone by, and made wildly inappropriate jokes with Hex Games corporate mascot Happy D20. We were all in bed by midnight.
Calm down, fellas!
Happy D20 sez: "The 90s never died, y'all!"

Sundays at Archon are pretty hit-or-miss. Leighton’s game didn’t go off (no players) and Steve only had a short 2-hour game that attracted a handful of players. We made a few last-minute sales in the dealers’ room, and then it was time to break everything down.  We had our traditional Archon dinner at the thoroughly-average Mexican restaurant next to the convention center, and it was time to part ways.

I used to go to Collinsville twice a year—once for Archon, and once for Diecon. This was my first time back in 6 years, and I was happy to make the trip. The people at Archon are always welcoming, and it’s good to decompress with a smaller con after focusing on Gencon so much. More importantly it was good to see my friends again. I hope to come back next year.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Voyage of the Golden Humoungous (40K: Wrath & Glory)


We wrapped up our Silent Legions game not too long ago. It ended with world-hopping and body horror and sacrifice and explosions. At least the world was saved. My group needed to decide our next game, so we held a committee meeting to vote on what to play next. We decided upon the new Warhammer 40k RPG Wrath& Glory. (The other options were Vampire 5, Lamentaions of the Flame Princess, and Crawling Under a Broken Moon. Tough choices!)

My home group has a mixed level of familiarity with Warhammer. Three of my players are Warhammer veterans. My wife and kid are mostly unfamiliar, other than what she’s picked up from me. As for me, I’ve been gaming for 30-plus years, so I’ve picked up a lot by cultural osmosis. But aside from a couple of video games and a Death Watch one-shot using Fate Accelerated, I actually haven’t had a lot of table-time with the 40K universe. Thankfully, there’s like a ton of info out there on the Internet, so I’ve tried to be diligent with my research.

We started with a Session Zero to create characters and discuss setting elements. The next week we had a short session to give those new characters a whirl. Wrath & Glory uses a point-based character creation system. Many of my players aren’t used to point-buy, and I haven’t done much myself since running Champions in high school. So, character creation took a few hours, but with a group that size that included several 40k newbies, I don’t think that’s too bad.

The basic set up of our campaign is this:

The PCs are Tier 3 characters, all working for a rogue trader named Gabriel Galahad. Depending on who you ask, Galahad is either a swashbuckling  hero of the Imperium who’s personally responsible for claiing a dozen systems in the name of the Emperor, or he’s the ponciest ponce who ever ponced. Neither opinions are incorrect. He’s kind of as if Zapp Brannigan or Zaphod Beeblebrox was good at his job.

His ship, the Golden Humongous is an ancient Star Galleon, 10,000 years old. The players are his personal troubleshooters. “There’s trouble on that planet that I don’t feel like dealing with personally. I need you to go down there and shoot it.”

Tone-wise, I’m trying not to make this a comedy name, but there’s only so much I can go against my nature. We’re going to lean into the skulls & violence vibe of the setting, but it’s going to be more like Heavy Metal and GWAR. The universe is certainly terrible for the characters (although the PCs are mostly above the daily grime), but we the players don’t take it too seriously.

Here’s our current warband:
  • Tyst Toska: Death cult assassin who acts like Aubrey Plaza and has a secret stash of frilly pink girly clothes. In addition to her swords, she totes around an Astartes sniper rifle and melta gun. She has some history with the Sisters of Battle, too.
  • Ayza Yuutha: A mutant scavvy and psyker. He’s got a couple of tentacles and poorly controlled biopsychic powers. His fate could be interesting.
  • Nero:  A techpriest who didn’t want to be a tank, but somehow still managed to have the best armor and weapons.
  • Elizabeth Armisted: Commissar from the Death Korps of Krieg. She duel-wields chainswords and has utterly terrifying intimidation skills. Somehow, she wound up being the group medic as well. (“She glares at you, and you suddenly realize you’re not as hurt as you thought.”)
  • Gorgozak Hellkrushah: Black Sunz Ork Nob with a small pack of boyz and squigz. Galahad saved his life on Armageddon against the forces of Chaos. Now he’s pledged to Galahad's service, because he gives hi mopportunities to kill bigger and badder things. 

Pay no mind to the dracolich. 
I don't have any warhammer minis, but that just gave me an excuse to put together some lego version of our merry warband. I didn't have a lot of time, and I had limited pieces, but I think they turned out pretty okay.

I was actually very surprised that no one chose to play a space marine or sister of battle. I consider those to be super-iconic 40k archetypes. Meh, what do I know?

The warband’s first mission was to travel to the hive world Sombra and pick up the Humongous’ new engiseer, a tech priest named Thermius Stembolt-57. Stembolt is an old friend of Lord Captain Galahad’s. Of course, the tech priest didn’t show up at the spaceport like he was supposed to, so the warband has to descend into the and find the guy.

So far they’ve run into a less-than-helpful arbiter and wandered into a sleazy bar that hosts squig fights. Our first actual play session was shorter than I’d like, and we’ve barely gotten a taste of the combat system. The next session, however, promises to be exciting and violent.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

DCC Road Crew Game at the Edge House (Sanctum of the Snail)

Leighton and Alice Connor are friends of mine. Leighton is another member of Hex Games, and my co-author on Leopard Women of Venus. Alice runs the Edge House, a progressive Christian campus ministry at the University of Cincinnati. I love the Edge House. It has a great welcoming vibe and is a comfortable atmosphere for creative works. I’ve drawn a number of comics in the House’s upstairs. There was an RPG group that met regularly at the Edge House, but they’ve recently lost a number of players, and the group’s kind of fallen apart. The RPG group wanted to attract new players, the Edge House wanted to attract new students, and Leighton and I wanted to run some Dungeon Crawl Classics, so everything conspired in our favor. Even though Cincinnati is over 3 hours away from Toledo, I was excited to drive down to run some DCC for a new audience.

Alice spent the preceding week promoting the game day by both fliers and word of mouth. By the time Saturday, September 15 rolled around, we had 11 people signed up, enough that Leighton and I could spilt them into two groups and run two different tables. We decided to Run “Sanctum of the Snail” from Crepuscular #1 because we were both familiar with the adventure (Leighton was my editor), and we wanted to able to compare notes with each other afterwards to see how each group handled things differently.

Our players were all young college students, men and women, and they were delightful. None of them conformed to the typical negative gamer-caricatures. Those post-millennials were super-cool to the two jaded old Gen-Xers running their games. Great people. All of them were avid D&D players (mostly 5th edition), but none of them were familiar with DCC. We were excited to introduce them to the “more awesome” hack of D&D.

Our sessions ran a little over 4 hours, with a break in the middle for pizza and Indian food. Of the 18 zeds at my table, only 4 managed to survive until the end. Leighton’s table were luckier, and managed to escape with something like 9 or 10 zeds intact. Both groups managed to avoid running into the Chthonic Snail (unfortunately). Both were disgusted by the giant tapeworms, and both groups found the secret armory. Also, both groups totally avoided the sepulcher and missed the magical axe therein. (No group I’ve ever run has bothered exploring the sepulcher.) 

LC working his magic.
All the players had a very fun time, and there was a lot of cheers and laughs from both tables. I hope we converted at least a few of them to DCC. I passed out the DCC bookmarks I had, as well as copies of the Free RPG Day Third Party companion. I had an extra copy of the DCC Quick Start Rules, so I awarded that to the player at my table who still had one of her characters left and had the highest remaining Luck score (16!).

Leighton and I considered the game day a great success. We exposed several new players to Dungeon Crawl Classics, we helped a bunch of gamers find each other, and hopefully the Edge House will be able to get a regular game group together again.


Friday, July 20, 2018

Bernie the Flumph's Gencon Survival Guide

I’ve been going to SFF and gaming conventions of varying sizes since I was 15. I’ve been going to Gencon every year for about 8 years. Gencon has become my family’s annual summer vacation. Over the years I’ve collected and developed a number of tips for surviving conventions, and now I’m going to share them with you. It should be noted that I go to Gencon primarily as a RPG gamer, so I don’t have any tips for cosplayers, filkers (is that even still a thing?), or other sub-branches of fandom.

This certainly isn’t the ultimate Gencon survival guide. Everyone’s experience is going to be different, but these are the tips that this simple Ohio boy has come up with for Gencon. I hope it will be helpful, especially for neophyte conventioneers.

1) Use basic manners. This is the first rule, the Golden Rule! This rule should trump all others. You are going to be out in public, interacting with thousands of strangers. Use the basic rules of civility you learned in grade school. Memorize these four basic phrases and use them often:

“Thank you.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Have a nice day.”

This goes double for service employees! Gencon is fun for you, but this is a super busy and stressful time for every worker in downtown Indianapolis. Treat them with respect and tip your waitstaff.

Courtesy also includes basic hygiene. There’s a long-standing stereotype of gamers being smelly and gross. Don’t be a stereotype.

2) Plan your week, but be flexible. Gencon is huge. 60,000 people attended in 2017. My home town only has 8,000 residents. Whether it’s games, shopping, movies, food, or seminars, there’s always something to do. Recognize right now that at Gencon, as in life, you are not going to be able to do everything you want to do.

Make yourself a schedule. I made a simple little spreadsheet that shows what times my games are. It also shows when various seminars and other events take place. You’ll want to make sure to leave time between events to eat, and don’t forget to consider that it takes to walk from once building to another. If you’re planning on participating in a lot of events, you might want to schedule some time specifically for socializing. I also have my friends’ arrivals times on my schedule, as well as the times for their events.

You don’t have to be a slave for your schedule, but just having everything you want to do written down in one place helps reduce stress and can keep your mind at ease.

3) Skip the hotels downtown. Hotels in downtown Indy are stupid expensive, and I don’t know why anyone uses them. I guess if you’re the type of person who wants to be able to stay out as late as they want then stagger back to their bed at 3am, it’s kind of cool, but I don’t think that’s worth $500 a night.

Hotel prices immediately drop as soon as you get outside of the city. For the past 3 years, we’ve stayed in a hotel in Franklin, about 20 minutes outside of Indianapolis. It’s only $70 a night. We can stay there the entire 4 days of Gencon for less than it costs for one night downtown. It’s a 20 minute drive into the city, but that’s less than I drive to work every morning.

4) Be prepared for traffic. On Thursday and Friday morning, not only are 50,000 nerds driving into Indianapolis, but hundreds of thousands of residents are going to their regular jobs. The freeways and off ramps in and around Indianapolis get pretty packed. Be patient, use your defensive driving skills, and allow yourself some extra travel time to get into downtown. Traffic gets a bit easier on Saturday and Sunday.

5) Get yourself a parking pass. Parking is insane in downtown Indy during Gencon. Unless you are very, very lucky, you’re going to spend 30 minutes frantically searching for an open parking garage, only to have to settle for one that’s a 20 minute walk to the convention hall. Plus you get to pay $20 for the privilege.

Get a parking pass. Gate 10 has a great program where you pay like $60 for the entire con, and you have guaranteed parking in their great big lot on the edge of town. They have shuttle busses that run pretty much all day and night from the parking lot to the convention center on a pretty quick schedule. They people who run it are all super friendly, too. This is easily the best $60 you’ll spend all week.

6) Dress for the weather. August in Indiana is hot, sunny, and humid. Expect heat in the 90s, and about 60% humidity. Dress appropriately--light fabrics, sunglasses, deodorant, etc. You’ll also want a good pair of walking shoes, because you will be walking a lot. Gencon sprawls across many buildings, indoors and out. On the opposite side of things, many of the buildings have the AC cranked super-high. If you get chills walking in and out of heat and cold, then wear layers as appropriate. Note that you will not feel the AC in the Dealer’s Room.

7) Bookbags are good, but be aware of your surroundings. Apparently some people are vehemently opposed to folks carrying bags at conventions. Those people are wrong. You are at a gaming convention; you need something to carry your dice and pencils and program. Also you’re probably shopping, so you need something to carry your new loot. All this to say nothing about whatever personal items you might require. Bookbags, messenger bags, and satchels are great.

But here’s the thing, Gencon is super crowded so you need to be extra aware of your surroundings and mind the personal space of others. Keep your packs moderately sized, like the bookbag you used in school not like the backpack you took when camping in the Appalachians. Keep your pack close and tight to your body, especially if it’s something that hangs by your side. You don’t want to turn quickly and have your bag swing out of control and slam into someone. And if you do accidentally bonk into someone, for God’s sake apologize and mean it (see rule 1).

8) Remember your meds! I might have mentioned before that Gencon is crowded. Well it is. If you take anxiety medication like I do, remember to take them. You might want to take a little more. Just thought I’d put that here.

9) Eat and Sleep. This seems obvious, but it’s easy to forget in all the excitement of the convention. When I started going to conventions, Marcon (my first con) had a rule of thumb called the “Four plus Two Squared” rule, meaning “four hours of sleep plus two square meals a day” rule. That was fine when I was 16, but that seems way to low now that I am post-youth.

I’ll admit, I rarely get enough sleep at Gencon, and by the time Saturday comes around I am thoroughly burnt out. It’s probably unrealistic to expect a full 8 hours, but make sure you at least you get the minimum required to maintain your physical and mental health, especially if you’re going to be at the con for all four days. There’s only so much that caffeine can do, and the Starbucks lines are long. I’m shooting for at least 6 hours a night this year (good luck, me!)

Food is a little easier, and I’d recommend trying to hit all three meals in some fashion. I usually eat breakfast off-site, at or near the hotel (which is outside of town, remember!). Get some protein and carbs in you to start the day, and avoid paying con prices for breakfast.

Food is easy to get at the conventions but there are two hurdles: 1) It’s expensive, 2) The lines are long. There’s always a good selection of food trucks outside of the convention, but they have a massive lines. The restaurants downtown are also crowded, and you can expect to have a good 60 minute wait for a table (or longer if you want to go the Ram or something). There’s nothing much to do about this except learn to accept it, or schedule your meals between the lunch and dinner rushes.
Food inside the convention hall is always expensive, just like at any tourist spot. Like $2 for a pop, $4 for a hotdog expensive. Budget accordingly.

Also, make sure you eat some fruit or veggies at some point during the week.

10) Carry cash. We live in an electronic society, and many people just don’t carry cash any more (I certainly don’t). While most Gencon vendors are set up to take credit cards, there are still many who do not, especially if they are from overseas (looking at you Lamentations of the Flame Princess). So, make sure you carry at least some hard cash so you don’t have to run back and forth to the ATM. There are a few ATMs on site at Gencon, but it’s not unheard of for them to run out of money on Friday or Saturday. Get that money ahead of time!

11) Have fun! Looking back on all I just wrote, it feels like I’m making Gencon sound like a massive, stressy nightmare. It’s not. It’s a bit daunting if you’re used to smaller conventions (or no conventions at all!), but it’s super fun and we always have an amazing time there. It’s a great opportunity to meet new people and try new games you’d otherwise never have a chance to play. Just remember to be patient, respectful, and kind, and you’ll do fine.

Next time… how to run convention games!

Saturday, June 30, 2018

Putting the "Party" in Adventuring Party (How to Mix and Mingle)

Your player characters have to attend a party or other large social function full of many (dozens? hundreds?) of NPCs. They are there to learn things, meet contacts, influence people, or otherwise do something related to their current goals or missions.

I have found this scenario to be one of the most difficult roleplaying situations to run. It used to come up a lot back in my old World of Darkness games, and it still pops up in D&D and other games I currently play. Most recently it occurred in my Silent Legions modern-Lovecraftian-horror campaign. In that particular situation, the PCs had to find and steal a tablet computer from a NPC. They also wanted to learn more about the evil cult that may or may not have had some influence over some of the high-society party-goers.

In the past, I would describe the party location, then basically go through a list of all the most interesting or well-known people the PCs see. The players would keep a list of who they saw, and decide who they wanted to go talk to. This technique worked but was unsatisfying. It feels like the party only has half a dozen attendees. It's like a video game where you walk into a room and one-by-one talk to each NPC with a question mark over their head.

So I did things a little differently this time. I treated the party like a small dungeon, and I treated the guests like wandering monsters. I also took some advice from Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard and Apocalypse World games. I made the NPC proactive. I made them come to the PCs with their problems, rather than make the PCs fish them out.

Here’s a run-down of how it worked for the Silent Legions game. I’m sure it would be easy to adapt to other settings.
"Nameless horrors in the house say YEEEEAH!"
The Situation
The PCs are invited to a big fancy party at the Seattle Space Needle. They need to find out who has the tablet computer and steal it from them. The party is hosted by the North Pacific Association of Creative Technology (N-PACT) and LaSalle Technologies. Trendy conceptual artist Veronica Vespers is going to unveil her newest project at the party. The PCs suspect N-Pact and LaSalle have connections to the cult they are currently investigating (Rite of the Grey Truth). Any info the PCs can get about that will also be useful to their goals.

Setting Things Up
The conference floor of the Space Needle has three large rooms, which I treat as dungeon rooms. The whole place holds about 300 people. As the PCs split up, mx and mingle, and enter each room, I describe the d├ęcor and atmosphere as well as the NPC that draws the most attention.
  • Lake Union Room: Dance floor. Loud EDM music. Flashing lights. Trevor K is in the DJ booth, occasionally throwing cupcakes at the dancers.
  • Puget Sound Room: Buffet – gluten-free vegan fare. Each hors d'oevre costs more than your hourly wage. Mobile sculpture “Helix B” – 6-foot tall mobius strip of mirrored tiles, three chrome spires orbit around it. Seems to fold in and out of itself. Veronica Vespers is here, all coked-up.
  • Seattle Room: Quieter. Low, cool lighting. Blue walls, white plush seats, glass tables. Muted grown-up conversations. Marcus LaSalle is here with his bodyguard Luke Patton, avoiding the crowd.

Mix and Mingle
As the PCs split up and move from room to room, I roll on the “Mix and Mingle” NPC table I made. This is a party, so people are here to chat and have fun. These are the NPCs who will approach the PCs and share their business with them. For this party I made a list of 8 NPCs. Some of them are directly involved with the PCs current mission. Several are just interesting folk that may act as useful contacts later on. A few are red herrings. Most should have some connection to one or more of the campaign's factions. All of them should be fun for me the GM to play and offer some interesting role-playing opportunities for the players.

The chart lists the NPC, some key words, a brief description, as well as what they want and how they will act towards the PCs. (Note: The Ascension Society is a popular spiritual/self-help group, kind of like Scientology-Lite. It's financially shady, but ultimately benign with no real occult connections. )

Mix and Mingle Table
1) Veronica Vespers (Artist, N-PACT, Grey Truth)
  • 20s. Short and vivacious. Crayon red hair. Minidress of clear pink vinyl with strategic leopard spots. White leather purse with pet box turtle. Clearly high. Eager for praise on art. Ready to show her schematics to any who ask.

2) Kimberly Fort (Reporter for Seattle Times, Grey Truth)
  • 30s. Latinx. Conservatively dressed. Short black hair. Broke the big story about the Garibaldi crime syndicate. At the party to work and report. Will ask NPCs their opinions about the event and Vesper’s sculpture.

3) Trevor K (Musician/DJ, N-PACT)
  • 20s. Perpetually high. Half-shaved head. White trench coat.  Dating Veronica Vespers. Superfirendly, but clueless about occult. Will offer the PCs drugs (black sugar).

4) Thomas J. Bundy (Thomas J. Bundy Motors, Ascension Society)
  • 50s. Cowboy hat. Ex-quarterback (Go Huskies!). Loud and friendly. Owns largest car dealership in Seattle. Will try to sell the PCs a car.

5) Marcus LaSalle (CEO LaSalle Industries, Grey Truth leader, N-PACT)
  • 60s. Fit, white hair, classy. Vespers patron. Cult high-priest( spells: Anti-magic talisman, Despicable worm, Halt advance). Never far from bodyguard Luke Patton (occult gunman, briefcase with MAC 10 and mask). Trying to ferret out occult rivals and/or Garibaldi spies.

6) Nicole Naples (LaSalle’s secretary, Ascension Society)
  • 20s. Blue skirt-suit, glasses. Ambitious. Unaware of cult, but super-loyal to LaSalle. Bored and cannot drink enough. Kinda’ love-sick and will hit on any NPC who talks to her.

7) Justin Zhao (Social media developer, N-PACT, Ascension Society)
  • 30s. 3rd generation Chinese-American. Claims to be Bruce Lee’s cousin. Overweight. Developing new social platform SARTORI-ALL that caters to creatives. Looking for investors.

8) Danielle Blake (Occult investigator)
  • 30s. Pakistani-English. Brown corduroy jacket, jeans, knee-boots. Twitchy (currently at 85 Madness). Has a metastasis projector up her sleeve. Snuck into party, trying to keep a low-profile. Also looking for tablet. Will work with PCs if purpose is revealed.

I keep rolling for mix and mingle encounters until it’s no longer interesting or the PCs’ or NPCs’ actions move us into a different phase of the “plot.”

For this particular adventure, I also had a random chart for where the tablet computer was. This meant the PCs were forced to interact with the PCs to find out where the MacGuffin was.

In play, this all worked extraordinarily well. NPCs like Thomas J. Bundy and Justin Zhao were very fun to play. Constantly being pestered by friendly NPCs added an extra layer of challenge for the PCs as they tried to be all sneaky and subtle while looking for the tablet. The interactions also added a touch of emotional weight when the eventual monster attack killed several of the PCs new friends.

I’m eager to throw another party in my next campaign.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Black Katana (Silent Legions)

The Black Katana is an eldritch artifact for Silent Legions

The Black Katana (also known as Hatsunetsu Yume, Fever Dream, or Thought Breaker) is an ancient sword made in the Japanese style. Its black metal blade incredibly sharp and never needs honing. Its hilt and guard are made of an unknown organic substance resembling yellow bone or coral. According to legend the sword was forged from the fang or claw of a demon by a traitorous samurai, who used it to kill his daimyo. The sword carves the mind as well as flesh. People wounded by the Black Katana are wracked by nightmarish visions of alien hellscapes from beyond the quicksilver grid of Reality. But the sword is also dangerous to its user. The wielder of the Black Katana will experience the dying thoughts of anyone they slay.

The Black Katana is currently in the possession of the Blood Message of the Shadowed Brotherhood in Yakima, WA. It is wielded by Ajax, the half-ghoul Cursed Warrior, who is immune to the madness the sword inflicts.

Black Katana primitive weapon (Dex or Str)
Damage: 1d8+2              Slaughter: 1d10
  • The sword proves a +2 to attack and damage rolls.
  • A person damaged by the sword also takes 1d6 Madness (no Madness cap).
  • If the sword is used to kill a terrestrial creature, the wielder takes 1d8 Madness (no Madness cap).
  • The Black Katana is a magical weapon and can damage and slaughter eldritch creatures.
  • If the blade is drawn and doesn't kill a sapient creature, before they resheath the sword, the wielder must make a Save vs Magic. If they fail the save, they must attack the nearest visible person, turning the sword on themselves if they are alone. 

Ajax (Half-Ghoul, Cursed Warrior asset)
AC: 14 ascending (tactical armor)
HD: 6 (30 hp)
Move: 40'
Skill: +2
Save: 13+
Morale: 9
  • Claws x2: +3 to hit, 1d4 damage, 1d6 slaughter
  • AK-47: +4 to hit, 1d12 damage, 1d8 slaughter
  • Black Katana: +5 to hit, 1d8+2 damage +1d6 Madness, 1d10 slaughter

Special: Regenerates 1d3 hp per round while not in sunlight. Cannot regen fire damage.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Free RPG Day--Road Crew: "Sisters of the Moon Furnace"

On Saturday June 16, I ran the Dungeon Crawl Classics adventure “Sisters of the Moon Furnace” for Free RPG Day. This was my second DCC Road Crew game. My first was back in February, at BASHcon where I had a large group of eight players. I had the opposite circumstance this time, with only two players at my table, but I ran anyway.

All set to go!
The event took place at The Dragon’s Roost in Sylvania, OH (part of the greater Toledo area). The Dragon’s Roost is a coffee house/game store that’s been open for just over a year. I think this was probably their first Free RPG Day. They also make the best iced chai latte I ever had. The ‘Roost seemed to have pretty good business that day; it was as busy as I ever saw it. Besides me, there was someone running Starfinder and the old West End Ghostbusters game. There were also a couple of guys demoing a card game they just published called Master Thief that is all about stealing works of art it sounded pretty fun.

Like I said, I only had two players, which was kind of disappointing, but the Toledo RPG scene is kind of hard to parse, and I can never guess what kind of turn out I’m going to get. But two players or not, I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to run, after all the work I put in to prepping the game.

My players were Gordon Cooper, who I had spoken with a couple of time before through G+, and my newly-adult son Erik. Gordon runs DCC so he’s familiar with the game, but this was his first time playing. Erik had never played DCC, though he’s heard me talk about it a lot. Two players, no problem. I gave them each eight 0-level characters and we were off.

Two players and 16 characters wasn’t the tactical nightmare I was afraid it might be.  In fact in some ways it was easier. With only two players, I didn’t have the problem I often run into in convention games where several different people (usually strangers) low-level argue about what course of action to take or where to explore next. With only two players, the decision making was pretty harmonious. Individual combat turns were kind of long, but after the zeroes started to get winnowed down, the pace picked up pretty quickly.

I’m not going to go over the module in detail, but I do want to hit some of the highlights of the session. Spoliers for “Sisters of the Moon Furnace,” obviously.

The moon-boulder of on top of the well in the first area squashed several PCs, much to my delight.

The PCs never bothered with the jeweled tiles in the first area, so a lot of the magical statue effects never manifested. 

Gordon’s clearly an old-school gamer, as he made judicious and careful use of the ten-foot pole on every staircase and doorway.

The tank of floating heads in the library was a lot more dangerous than I expected—probably the most dangerous monster in the session. Between possession and its telepathic scream it killed something like five characters. 1d3 damage will make many 0-level character’s heads explode like Scanners.

After one of Gordon’s characters got the flesh stripped off their skull from the blood blights, Erik’s gongfarmer covered his PCs’ heads with night soil, making them unappetizing to the monsters. I think this was the first time I’ve ever seen manure used to such tactical advantage in a game, and I was right proud of the lad.

Gordon pointed out that the final encounter in the furnace room with the Warden is illustrated on the front of the Judges Screen, something that I totally managed to notice for a year.

Reading through the last encounter, I didn’t see anything that said the players couldn’t just run past the Warden and the Paroxysms and jump through the furnace door to safety. I decided there was a hot iron grate in front of the door, but a good STR check with a crowbar made short work of that. I certainly wasn’t going to cheat the PCs of their forward thinking just for the sake of a fight. The warden managed to kill a few PCs in the rush, but at the end of it, several PCs stood safe in the Fields that We Know.

From 16 starting zeroes, plus four more replacement characters near the end, I think 5 in total managed to make it out alive.

During a break I did talk to the fellow running the Master Thief demos. He was interested in what we were playing, and I talked with him about DCC for several minutes. I think if he wasn’t running his own games I could have gotten him to play.

Despite the small player base, we had a great time, and I was glad to do it. Both players really enjoyed the adventure. I’m certainly going to try and run some more Road Crew at this venue.
A chillingly accurate depiction of the last encounter.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

My Current Projects

It’s continued to be a busy and exciting time down here in the flumphwerks. Almost immediately after releasing Crepuscular #1, I had a bunch of new projects come across my desk. I was really hoping to get Crepuscular #2 (Dungeon Chow Classics, aka “We Eat Monsters”) out before Gencon, but sadly I don’t see that happening. I am, however, working on a super-secret ashcan project that I should have ready for Gencon, so I’ll have something fun to share in Indianapolis.

So let me share all the fun stuff that all the little flumphs are working on around here.

If you follow me on G+, Facebook, or Twitter, you’ve probably seen that I’m doing a comic project with Leighton Connor again. Leighton and his daughter Abi co-write a delightful sci-fi fantasy adventure comic called Electric Team with illustrations by the one-and-only Samantha Albert. Sam’s taking a break, so Leighton decided to write a side-story featuring Bart Hill, the Golden Age (and public domain) Daredevil. He asked me if I wanted to do the art, and I could hardly say no. I get to draw Daredevil punching dinosaurs, so it’s been real fun.
Pow! Take that, you velociraptor you!
I’ve done a bunch of work for Mark Taormino (Maximum Mayhem Dungeons/DarkWizard Games) in the past, and he just wrapped up another successful Kickstarter. He’s got me signed up to do some more character sheets for the new project, so that will be in the works soon.

Of course, Gencon is lurking closer and closer. I’m running three games again this year, and I need to prepare for that. I always like to make cool character sheets and other table artefacts for my Gencon, so I need to get that completed as well. My games have all sold out(!) but here’s a look at what I’m running:

As I've said before I’m still cobbling together the new funnel for Crepuscular #2 which I hope to playtest soon. The secret Gencon project is also in the works, and I’ve got most of the hard part done for that.

Add caption
I’ve been a busy dude.

While I’m here, reviews have started to come in for Crepuscular#1 and Crypt of Morgrath.

Daniel Bishop was good enough to review them both on DCC Trove of Treasures, and I was super flattered by his kind words. Thank you, RavenCrowKing!

Sanctum of the Snail at DCC Trove of Treasures
Crypt of Morgrath at DCC Trove of Treasures

Over at Beyond Fomalhaut, Gabor Lux also reviewed Sanctum of the Snail and had some very nice things to say about it. You all should check out his 'zine, Echos from Fomalhaut. It's pretty awesome and has some badass dungeons.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Thoroughly Inadequate Silent Legions Update

It has been a busy time here down in the Flumphwerks, what with my son graduating high school, the release of Crepuscular #1, and working on a comic with Leighton “Cowboy” Connor.  That’s to say nothing of various other art assignments, trying to follow up the ‘zine, and trying to prepare for Gencon in (*checks calendar, shudders*) sweet Christ, only eight weeks.

So the long and short of it I’ve fallen behind on the blog, specifically my Silent Legions session reports. We’ve only played two sessions since the last report (I told you it’s been busy), and this recap is going to be woefully inadequate, but I want to try and hit the high points and go over the most interesting things happening.

Broadly, the players are really enjoying the game. They’ve enjoyed the death and madness, leaning into it like the roller coaster ride it should be. My son, especially, has been enjoying it, which is good because he’s the one that suggested a Lovecraftian horror game in the first place. The Factions/Cult part of the game has really helped keep interesting things going on in the sandbox, and I’ve yet to be at a loss for interesting things to throw at the PCs. The heroes are also finally starting to get a good handle on the main factions in and around Seattle, and they’re starting to make alliances and pick sides.

Current Investigators
  • Bernadette “Bunny” Kennedy: Tough/Bodyguard
  • Abigail Spencer: Tough/Reporter
  • Glen Gabriel Gerhardt: Scholar/Programmer
  • Abraham Goldstein: Socialite/Police Officer
  • Vinnie Morg: Investigator/Business Owner (DECEASED)

So here’s the interesting things that have happened…

Vinnie is approached by the Garibaldi Syndicate, the new crime family taking over Seattle. Word of the PCs expertise in the occult has reached Zeno Garibaldi (head of the syndicate) and he wants the PCs to do a favor for him. As a show of good faith, Mr. Garibaldi has “taken care of” Vinnie’s problems in Atlanta.

N-PACT (North Pacific Association for Creative Technology) is hosting a party at the Space Needle. At this party, Veronica Vespers (a trendy modern artist) is to reveal the plans for her new large-scale installation sculpture project. Vespers will have a tablet computer with her, Garibaldi wants that tablet (or at least the data on it).

Vinnie eagerly agrees to the request, and the rest of the players are all too happy to make friends with the Mob.

Meanwhile, Bunny, Abby, and Glen make their way to Yakima, following the cannibal gunmen from the last session. In Yakima they players totally fail to interact with any of the interesting PCs. Thus is the way of player-driven sandboxes.

But here’s what they find out about Yakima anyway…
  • There is definitely some kind of large cannibal cult on the outskirts of Yakima. The cult has some connection to the Top Hat Diner.
  • The cannibal cult conforms to almost every sleazy redneck horror movie cult trope there is. (I decided to make it easy for the players)
  • The cult lives in a run-down trailer park on Old Sluaghterhouse Road, across the street from the old cholera cemetery and the abandoned Ajax Slaughterhouse.
  • There’s a large black pole-barn in the center of the trailer park, heavily padlocked and covered in occult graffiti.
  • All the trailer park residents look surprisingly well-fed.
  • Why yes, there has been an upswing in missing persons reports in Yakima lately.
  • The biggest trailer has a super expensive custom Humvee parked in from of it.
  • They’re having a barbecue that night, and the investigators are invited.
  • The trailer park is owned by a man named Augustus Blott, who also owns a plot of rural land where a militia has built a compound. He also owns the old abandoned insane asylum in Hot Springs.

The Darkness the Hungers
The investigators decided none of this was currently their problem and decided to make their way back to Seattle. (They do plan on coming back at some point, hopefully with help from their new Mafia buddies.)

So by not investigating, the cannibal cult (Blood Message of the Shadowed Fellowship) was able to continue with their plans unimpeded. The world doesn’t pause for the PCs! That night, after the “barbecue” the cult opened the vault in the floor of the pole barn and called upon their ghoul allies (“the old fellers”). The ghouls performed an augury on the guts of a sacrifice and determined that the Rheinholdt Manuscript (stolen by Chase the rival cultist way back when) is in a Pawnshop in Seattle. The cult sends a retrieval team to PC’s neighborhood!

A few days pass in Seattle, and the PCs spend time getting ready for the party at the Space Needle (it’s super fancy). We are also joined by a new player and his PC, semi-retired police officer Abraham Goldstein.

The cannibal cultists enter Vinnies’ Pawnshop, dressed in their Sunday best. Bunny recognizes one of the gunmen from the fracas at the apartment complex. They inquire about rare books, especially those dealing with “esoteric” subjects. They don’t seem to believe Vinnie when he tells them he has nothing like what they’re looking for, but they leave anyway.

The PCs hide the Rheinholdt Manuscript in Glen’s apartment. Glen’s player isn’t here this week, and my players know I won’t kill and absent player’s character off-screen. I can’t argue with this lite meta-gaming, and it moves the story along anyway.

The PCs arrive at the Space Needle and it’s a big fancy party with a lot of rich and beautiful people. Danielle Blake. She is Pakistani-British, very agitated, and if not yet insane, then close to it. They find out she is another occult investigator, on the trail of The Rite of Gray Truth and has made connections with them and Lasalle Industries.
On their way in, they run into a woman named

Lasalle Industries is a major corporation in Seattle. Marcus Lasalle is a member of N-Pact and Veronica Vesper’s patron. The PCs and Danielle decide to work together.

At the party, the PCs meet and talk to a variety of interesting character. I will make a separate post later about the mix-and-mingle charts I came up with. (Edit: It's right HERE.)

The most fun NPC to play was Thomas J. Bundy of Thomas J. Bundy Motors!, the owner of the biggest car dealership in Seattle (“Why don’t you come down to the dealership on Monday! We’ll set you up with something nice and big!”) . Turns out he’s the guy that sold Augustus Blott his Humvee. The PCs make note to visit Bundy later.

Veronica Vesper’s tablet kept moving around. I had a random table for “Where is the Tablet now?” At one point it was in the briefcase of Luke Patton, Lasalle’s intimidating personal bodyguard.

Vinny overhears Lasalle and Patton talking about some kind of shoot-out between the Garibaldi Syndicate and Lasalle’s “Thaumic Assets Division.” It’s all very sinister.

Eventually Vesper gives her presentation and the tablet is in her possession. Abraham fakes a heart attack, and Bunny lifts the tablet in the confusion.

The presentation reveals Vesper’s new art project. It’s a series of five motion sculptures of various sizes. They resemble Mobius loops made of mirrored tiles with three spires weaving in and out of the loop. The whole thing causes a weird euphoria to look at (1 Madness).

(The PCs haven’t figured this out yet, but they will when they have a chance to examine the data. The sculptures are components of a large-scale summoning ritual that will free Dahg-Othyg-Zoag from his prison in the center of a super-massive black hole and bring the alien god to Earth.)

That’s when the power goes out!

The cannibal cult attacks the Space Needle! While the PCs were out, the cult broke into Vinny’s home, found his hairbrush and used his hair to track him here!

The cult strike team consists of four mundane gunmen, a petty sorceress, and the half-ghoul cursed warrior with a black katana. Chaos and panic ensues. Great winged beasts crash through the windows, looking for Vinny!

It’s cult-on-cult violence! Lasalle uses the Despicable Worm to create Some Hideous Thing of Raw Muscle and Ropey Tendons. His bodyguard Patton pulls on a mirrored mask, revealing him to be the lead gunman at the hotel shoot-out from two sessions ago.

Bunny, Abraham, and Abby let the rival cults clear the stairwells of each other. Bunny has the tablet, it’s time to get out of there.

Danielle Blake blasts one of the monsters with some weird alien cancer gun. She is then lost in the fracas. (She will pop up again, to be sure.)

Vinnie, poor brave Vinnie, he was in a separate room from his friends when the fighting started. The half-ghoul and the sorceress are gunning for him specifically because he knows where the Rheinholdt Manuscript is. He takes cover behind the bar and starts making and throwing Molotov cocktails (because it’s not a real game until the Molotov cocktails come out). The fire succeeds in driving the half-ghoul away and kills the sorceress. Sadly the fire gets out of control (Vinnie had previously spilled booze all over the bar so the whole thing would light up). Vinnie’s player makes a couple of bad rolls, and we lose our second to fatal flames.

The session ends with the surviving PCs stealing the cannibal cultist’s awesome 70s van and driving home.