Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Ashes of Angels: The Pale Lady (LoTFP Session 4)

This actual play report will perhaps be a bit more terse and less detailed than the previous entries. My players went through the Pale Lady adventure from Zzarchov Kowolski, and most of the session was a running action scene. They party decided to take on the Pale Lady and her minions with a direct attack. This seemed like a terrible idea to me, the GM, but by using good OSR combat tactics, including splitting up their enemies and liberal use of fire, they managed to pull off a narrow victory.

In the published adventure, the Pale Lady is a level 10 elf. I wanted to switch things up a little and make the Lady a bit more alien, so I statted her up as a level 10 Fey Elf from Necrotic Gnomes' Demihumans of Dolmenwood. She was still plenty powerful, armed as she was with many elf runes. However—and not to take to anything away from my player's hard-won victory—I did forget how a lot of her powers worked, so the PCs had a bit of an edge. Regardless, is a good weird time.

Here's how it shook out. Spoiler warnings for The Pale Lady and trigger warnings for casual child murder.

Our Cast
Belinda Kage: Serpentblood 1, Midwife.
Madeline: Specialist 1, Grave Robber.
Mortimer: Alice 1, Librarian.
Matthew: Outlander 1, One-armed Iriquois.
Julius Cervantes: Fighter 1, Former witch hunter.

Ana Fischer: Rescued witch.
Girnot: Former deacon of Nonsbeck. Mentally damaged by the Party. Human pack mule.

The party spent the day before the Winter Solstice resting at the Abbey of St. Agnes and making final preparations for their trip to the realm of the Pale Lady to find the Word of God for Mother Ruth. Ana confided to Belinda that she had no desire to go to this unknown faerie realm and didn't think the rewards were worth the risk. Belinda convinced the witch to stay at the abbey and watch over their stuff.

Bright and early the next morning, the PCs headed out to the nearby forest and found an ancient yew tree that had roots and boles big enough for the characters to pass through. Julius recited the magical phrase they learned from Mother Ruth and crawled through a small opening between the tree's roots. The characters moved from the cold mud of winter to a bright and warm spring world. In this virgin forest the colors were a tad too bright and the flowers a bit too fragrant.

Belinda tied one of her fishing lures to the tree's branches so they can find they way back, then the party headed towards an area where the forest growth seemed lighter. They came across a large clearing and an unusual sight. The clearing held a field of white roses and other flowers, all tended by men women and children with haunted eyes and beaten demeanors. These slaves were overseen by lanky, mangy rabbit men with stout wooden cudgels. A house woven from massive thorn branches sat near one end of the clearing, and a collection of crude reed huts sat behind that. The PCs hid in the hedges for a bit, observing the rabbit guards. Eventually they decided to take direct and furious action.

Matthew snuck through the reed huts (I judged that the clearing still counted as wilderness) lighting them on fire. The rest of the party stayed hidden in the brush and started other fires with flaming arrows. Several of the rabbit guards ran off to deal with the fires. The hidden PCs sniped the guards they had left behind. General chaos broke out. Rabbit men ran back and forth trying to fight the rapidly spreading fire while chasing down the invading humans. The PCs split into several groups, further separating the rabbit men and fighting them in smaller skirmishes, while also working to free the human slaves. The rabbit men had the advantage of numbers, but the beasts' low Hit Dice, lack of armor, and morale score of 5 made them fairly easy to take out as long as they couldn't gang up on any one PC. The only hero to take any real damage was Belinda's dog, Ekans, who got clubbed in the head and had an eye knocked out (I felt worse about this than any PC I've ever killed).

Chaos and fire continued to spread, and eventually Mortimer used his Frustration power to find a secret entrance into the thorny house. One-by-one the PCs all piled through the door as the rabbits built a firebreak to keep the flames away from the house.

The party crept through the “house.” Every wall was made of living vines and branches, some as thick as a man's leg, and all covered in thorns and white roses. Glass lanterns full of fireflies cast everything in a weird twilight. As they approached the center of the house, they heard a squealing rabbit voice speaking in unintelligible pleading tones. A sensual, narcotic voice answered the rabbit. “Very well, show me what is happening.” The party quickly ducked into shadows and around corners, trying (and failing) to hide.

A tall woman of weird alien beauty walked into the room, accompanied by several rabbit guards--the Pale Lady herself. She stood well over six-feet tall, completely naked and bone-white, with hair reaching down to her ankles. Two ivory gazelle-like antlers swept back from her forehead, and her white skin was carved with swirling, Guillermo Del Toro-esque whorls and runes. She looked at the poorly-hidden party like one looks at an annoying insect. “You have invaded my home and murdered my children. Tell me why, before I kill you.”

Belinda nervously spoke up. “We were looking for the Word of Creation.”

The Pale Lady looked tired and annoyed. “Oh. That. You could have just asked.”

That idea had clearly never occurred to the party. And while this was going on, several other rabbit men had crept into the room. The party was surrounded and out-numbered, with a faerie queen of unknown power. “You should all leave. Now,” the Pale Lady said. “Except you,” she said to Mortimer. “You stay, to replace my lost servants.” Some of the runes on her skin flared with moonlight, and the Alice was immediately charmed. The Lady was now Mortimer's best friend and dearest love.

GM technique side note: Charm is always a tricky condition to enforce on players. I prefer to use carrots rather than sticks. I told Mortimer's player that every time he put the Pale Lady's well-being above his own safety or desires, I'd give him a poker chip. At the end of the session, he could turn those chips in for 50xp each. Try it. It works!

The PCs weren't the type to go out without a fight. Madeline fired her crossbow point blank at the Pale Lady, and the fight was on! Even at level 10, the Pale Lady didn't have a huge amount of hit points, and she had no armor. Still, she had several spells grafted to her skin, and many henchmen. She cast Mirror Image, and the GM (me) promptly forgot about it's effect in all subsequent rounds. (It was late, and I was a few beers in. This happens.) Matthew focused his attacks on the Pale Lady, while Belinda and Madeline tried to deal with the mob of rabbit men. Julius used a gambit to double-strike and take out both of the Lady's elite guards in one attack. Mortimer just tried to stay out of the way.

Julius and Matthew continued to hack at the Pale Lady from both sides. She tried to charm the outlander, but his powerful saves helped him resist. His luck wouldn't hold, however, as her next spell polymorphed him into a three-legged tree frog. More rabbit men were slaughtered, but the beasts managed to take Belinda and Madeline down to 0hp. Fortunately, Cavegirl's Horrible Wounds tables worked in their favor this time. The rabbits used bludgeoning weapons that only did 1d4 damage, and they were only knocked unconscious instead of being viciously maimed.

Julius continued to desperately slash at the faerie queen, but it still looked like a TPK was imminent. The Pale Lady polymorphed into an albino lion and turned on the fighter. The charmed Mortimer shouted “Ooh! Pretty kitty!” and tried to pet the lion.

Hmmm,” I thought. “Do you really pet her?” I asked Mortimer.

Ummm... sure?” he said nervously.

Okay, I thought. She's wounded and furious, and some dumb human just petted her. I had her make a morale check. She failed, and took a swipe at Mortimer in her fury. He was badly wounded, but the charm was broken!

Snapping out of the spell, Mortimer expressed his Frustration and found a loaded pistol in the pocket of his greatcoat. He fired at the Pale Lady just as Julius ran her through with his rapier. The Pale Lady lay dead, bleeding strange white blood. The rabbit men broke and scattered.

The party paused to catch their breath and count their blessings. Madeline and Belinda regained consciousness, and the gravedigger perched the Matthew-frog on her hat brim. After a quick breather, they continued to explore the house.

The first thing they found was a large and fancy mirror containing a smoky entity who called himself Lucifer. It spoke at length, with a smooth Tim Curry voice. The mirror said it could answer any question in exchange for the sacrifice of a first-born son. Belinda and the mirror immediately hit it off, and she said she'd come back to ask him questions later.

They didn't have to wait long, for the very next room contained a pit with three preteen boys from Spain, France, and Germany. Belinda took the German child out of the pit “For just a moment! We'll be right back!” and took him to the mirror room. She quickly slit the kid's throat and asked Lucifer where the Word of Creation was.

Wow! You didn't hesitate at all.” said Lucifer. “Okie doke, the Word is in a room at the end of the hall.”

A wasted question, perhaps, but at least where know where Belinda (a midwife!) stands on children.

The next two rooms contained the Pale Lady's laboratory and library, with an amulet and scroll that described how to access the Word of Creation. Then, at last, they came to the Word itself. The Word of Creation sat in the center of a large room. The Word was a large, 10-foot cube of white stone, surrounded by a circle of salt. Following the direction on the scroll they found in the lab, Julius stepped into the circle of salt and snapped the amulet. He suddenly found himself inside the cube, inside another circle of salt with an unsnapped amulet. A tall skeleton with long white air sat in the corner. The Word of Creation was carved on all the walls. The holy divine script burned itself into Julius' brain, granting him a brief glimpse of the quicksilver grid of creation beneath the four-dimensional hologram of consensual reality. It seared into his brain, with ideas he'll never be able to relate. But the cosmic epiphany boosted him to level 2! There was nothing left to do but snap the amulet again.

In a flash, Julius reappeared outside the cube with an unbroken amulet. But what's this? There was still another Julius outside, standing in a circle of salt with a broken amulet. Yes, the ritual didn't teleport Julius. It appeared to have duplicated him. 

The rest of the party decided to give the whole thing a try. They all (including the frog) piled into the salt circle and snapped the amulet. Inside the cube they all saw the Word of Creation. The human PCs all gained a level. Belinda, the serpentblood, instead added the Word to her own magical repertoire (as a Turn Undead spell). She can also grant this spell to anyone who worships her. She's essentially now a tiny god. The Word awakened Matthew's froggy brain to human consciousness, but it was trapped in a frog's body, so the poor amphibian went insane in a Philip K. Dick crisis of identity. They also discovered a panic-stricken Julius, who had realized he's trapped in the cube, doomed to starve to death. They shoved him away before he could break the salt circle, then snapped the amulet. The third set of PCs appeared outside the cube, having blithely left their other duplicates to die inside the cube.

My players are not the type to dwell on existential quandaries. They all decided to play the duplicate, higher-level PCs.

With no way to move the Word of God, the party decided to pack up whatever valuables they could find and head back to the mortal world. They would tell Mother Ruth what they found and give her the amulet and directions on how to access the Word of Creation.

As they PCs exited the Pale Lady's house, they noticed the empty fields and the bodies of several rabbit men beaten to death. With the end of the Pale Lady, it appeared as though the remaining slaves revolted and escaped. The PCs hoped they were able to find their way home, but didn't dwell too much upon it.

We ended the session with the PCs returning through the yew tree and too the abbey with a small pile of loot, two orphaned boys, an insane three-legged frog, a demonic mirror, and the body of a dead faerie queen (whom Belinda wants to skin, so she can use her runes as a spellbook).

Treasure Gained:

  • Ivory comb (300sp)
  • Several bundles of silk (750sp)
  • Eight golden trinkets of unknown use (50sp each)
  • A magic mirror holding "Lucifer"
  • The body of a dead faerie covered in usable spell formulas 

  • Matthew, now an insane three-legged tree frog (Outlander 1)
  • Tranquilo (Fighter 1)
  • Hector (Alice 1)


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Character Concepts for LotFP Classes

Surprising no one, several PCs have died in my Lamentations of the Flame Princess campaign. Some of my players have difficulties coming up with concepts for their replacement characters. They don't want to be just a fighter or just a cleric. I dig that. 

I put together this list of character concepts for the four basic classes (plus the Alice). I did it partially as an aid for my players, but mostly as an interesting thought experiment. What kind of characters can I make with the different classes without changing any mechanics?

You’re trained to kill people for the State. You probably go bare chested or wear some cool chain armor. Get yourself a cool black hood and a great big axe, Use gambits to do badass combat tricks with a noose.

Yo-ho-ho! Grab yourself a cutlass, a fancy hat, and a parrot. Drink rum and swing on some chandeliers. If you don’t already have them, you’ll probably get a peg leg, hook, and/or eyepatch eventually. It’s LotFP after all!

You’re a fancy lad who fights for fun, but you’re good at it! Get yourself a sword and a dagger and some fashionable clothes. Swagger around in seedy taverns looking for fights.

Burly Farm Lad
You’re a simple man, but clean country living has made you strong and beefy. You ain’t gonna’ let no monsters eat your kin. Grab yourself a pitchfork, some torches, and maybe your granpa’s old shield.

Folk Healer
You’re a little bit of doctor and a little bit of white witch. You know the natural healing medicines of plants, stones, and the elements. Get yourself a white smock, a big hat, and a bagful of roots and herbs. Memorize a lot of healing spells.

You’ve dedicated yourself to the studying the universe and contemplating the nature of God. You’ve had some startling insights in the meaning of Creation, but no one’s really listening to you yet. Get yourself a big pile of books from Plato, Thomas Aquinas, and Descartes.  Memorize a lot of divination and augury spells.

You live up in the hills, far away from the prying eyes of neighbors and nobles. Also, God speaks to you in dreams, the whispering wind, and the twinkling stars. Get yourself a burlap robe, a great big beard, and a basket of hallucinogenic fungi. Memorize a bunch of spells that let you survive in the wilderness.

Witch Hunter
You are authorized by the church to hunt down witches and demons and bring them to the torch. You’ve learned the blessed rites of exorcism and abjuration. Get yourself a pistol, a sword, and a great big hat. Memorize Turn Undead and a bunch of protection spells.

Magic User
You’ve straight up made a deal with Satan and his devils. You’re also probably known as a scandalous libertine. Dress all in black velvet and talk like Vincent Price. Memorize a lot of summoning spells.

You and your brothers have dedicated yourself to understanding the grand architecture of the universe. You have a decent support network of secret lodge members throughout Europe. Get yourself a sword, an apron and a collection of mathematical apparatuses. Memorize a variety of divination and buff spells.

You’ve dedicated your mind and body to something far older than the Devil—Hecate, the Morrigan, Shub-Niggurath, whoever. Get yourself a sacred athame and dance naked under the moon. Memorize a lot of charm and transformation spells.

You study magic of all origins and traditions. For you, magic is a field of academic discipline more than a spiritual devotion. Get yourself a sensible skullcap and some tiny little eyeglasses and start building that library. Memorize a lot of general purpose utility spells.

The Empire is built on the ashes of history. You intend to know it all, no matter what kind of dangerous underground labyrinths you need to infiltrate. Get yourself a lantern, a notebook, and a satchel full of books. Put a bunch of points into Languages and Search.

Someone’s got to gather firewood and keep the wolves away from your village. That’s you! Get yourself a bow and a hand axe. Put a bunch of points in Bushcraft and Stealth.

Healing magic is rare and morally suspect. Needle, thread, and a jar of leeches are much more reliable. Get yourself a collection of scalpels and a creepy plague doctor mask. Put a bunch of points in Medicine (assuming your campaign uses that popular house rule) and Bushcraft (to find legit medical herbs).

Bounty Hunter
The Empire is full of criminals and deserters on the run. There’s good money to be made in bringing them to justice. That’s where you come in. Get yourself a club, a whip, some manacles, and a stack of wanted posters. Put a bunch of points in Search and Sneak Attack.

God loves fools and drunks, and you ented to test that theory to the limit. You're a rake and wastrel whose never done an honest days work in their life. But somehow Lady Luck keeps pulling your ass out of the fire, usually through a series of imporbable coincendences. Get yourself a big ole' beer stein and some sloppy clothes. Put points into Sleight of Hand and do whatever you can to scam drinks from friends and strangers.

You were kidnapped by the Fae as a child, but you’ve somehow made your way back to Christendom. You brought a little bit of that faerie magic back with you, and it manifests in the oddest ways. Put some points into Bushcraft and make friends with the Elf.

The world is made of stories and songs. You’ve committed so many to memory that you can occasionally tap into the Great Narrative of the Universe rewrite your own story. Get yourself a guitar and a hat with a feather in it. Put some points into Languages and talk in rhyming couplets. 

Lucid Dreamer
You’re asleep in the “real” world and now you’re trapped in this nightmarish world of war, monsters, and sorcery. At least that’s what you believe. Everyone else thinks you’re mad. You have few memories of the Waking World. Occasionally you can change the dream-stuff of this nightmare world in unpredicatable ways. Put points into Search and quote Lovecraft and Dunsany a bunch.

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.

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.


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.

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…