Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Flames Lit Up The Night



the ghosts were howling in the late afternoon
we were singing along to the same old tune

Alongside Mage: the Ascension, the other White Wolf game I keep revisiting my purely hypothetical plans for is Vampire: the Requiem.

Unlike the my dissatisfaction with the Ascension to Awakening transition, I think Vampire really benefits from the local, ground-level focus Requiem brought. The limits on cosmological buy-in and supernatural history don't just give you greater mechanical freedom in building your own little corner of vampiredom, it ends up foregrounding your world-building decisions on the street level. The first questions you ask aren't how the local Sabbat relates to Montreal or Mexico City, or whether the Tzimisce elder has a pew reserved in the Cathedral of Flesh, but whether your city even has a prince or not… or even other vampires. It's a different kind of game when biggest monsters on the block are your player characters.

As much as I like it, though, that doesn't stop me from wanting to mess with it even more:

• No Clans: Vampires are vampires. There is no global culture of vampirism which gives names to different lineages, and no recognition of a broader vampiric genealogy beyond the immediate sire-to-spawn relationship… if that's even there.

Bloodlines exist as very specific permutations of vampirism, whatever vampirism is.

Mechanically speaking, this means that new characters may purchase Disciplines from the following list as 'in-clan' Disciplines: Celerity, Resilience and Vigor.

The rest of the regular Disciplines may only be taken, at the cost of an out-of-clan Discipline, if they're 'unlocked' by choosing one of three clan weaknesses some time before Blood Potency 3. This represents a 'transitional period' between vampires who are just physically more powerful than humans and becoming weirder, more alien creatures of the night.

When the weakness is chosen, one of the previous Disciplines at a rating of one or zero dots may be un-selected as an 'in-clan' discipline, and an 'unlocked' Discipline selected as 'in-clan' in its place.

Mekhet weakness: Auspex, Obfuscate, Majesty
Nosferatu weakness: Animalism, Nightmare, Obfuscate
Ventrue weakness: Animalism, Dominate, Majesty

• Don't Scare The Rubes:
You will note the lack of Protean on the above list of Disciplines. Aside from the Nosferatu weakness, and the potential for blood magic, there's no really outré Vampire powers on the table for young vampires.

• No Covenants… Well, Except For These Guys: The Ordo Dracul works well as a multinational, long-term conspiracy because it has a job to do and the indoctrination framework to perpetuate itself. Likewise, the idea of a secret vampire religion, passed down through the ages as an addendum to the faith they professed as a mortal makes sense due to mirroring the parasitic nature of the vampire itself. As the vampire is a tick on the hide of human culture, so is its vampirism-warped culture.

So the Order exists in a more-or-less similar form, and the Lancea Sanctum and the Circle of the Crone are there as amorphous themes for local iterations, some of which might even use covenant terminology. The Invictus and the Carthians, however, are absent.

That doesn't mean that Invictus and Carthian behaviour isn't there, though. Thematically, the two poles provide the Gothic (as in, feudal) and Punk (as in, anarchist) halves of the vampire equations. Practically, any region which has a vampire population large enough to have a Prince, Alpha or Boss also has enough vampires to look for alternative ways of divvying the blood up.

Mechanically, this all means that Covenant affiliation and the mechanical benefits of such are only available to vampires in large cities, unless a smaller city or town has a secret cult of vampires dedicated to perpetuating the secrets of vampire-specific knowledge (like Cruac, Theban Sorcery, the Coils, or a particular weird discipline/rite).

• Vampirism is Weird:
This is where bloodlines come in. Vampires, as they get older, get weirder, so there's bloodlines running around doing weird bloodline things. The rules aren't any different, except that the prerequisite clan is changed to dots in the clan's primary discipline (except for Protean, which is replaced with Animalism, making Gangrel bloodlines a little more broadly available). Anything that has Protean-like transformations are out, though.

Also, many of the extreme versions of clan powers and weaknesses available in the clan books are present, especially Nosferatu blossoming flaws and Necropoli, the Malkavia virus, Hollow embraces and Mekhet shadow cults.

• Stuff is Weird: Vampires share the world with psychics and mortal sorcerors, as well as monsters from Predators and Antagonists, like funky Azlu/Beshilu/vampire hybrids, zombies, imbued, the Thief, the Hunger, and whatever crazy weirdness I think is cool. I'm not sure if I want supernatural societies out there, as opposed to just things, but I'm not totally opposed to a small conspiracy or two if it seems fun.

• Maybe Martin: I'm drawn to giving every vampire who doesn't take the Nosferatu weakness the No Fangs flaw. That, more than anything else, should give the campaign a unique feel. It forces the players to make a very literal decision to embrace monstrosity or find a workaround that keeps them 'human.'

I turned to my brothers
to look them in the eyes
there was ash
ash falling from the sky

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Ascension Will Not Be Televised




Question: If Control's control is absolute, why does Control need to control?

Answer: Control needs time.

A conversation on G+ led me to a few days of thinking about how I'd actually approach a Mage: the Ascension campaign. I regret never getting the chance to have a real go at a campaign back in the day, and the regret of reading so much of it but playing nothing is a fishhook that tears in a little more every year.

Anyway:

• The Technocracy 'Won.' Characters would be a multi-disciplinary amalgam acting as 'Reality Cops,' tracking and neutralizing cognitive deviants and other threats to maintaining Consensus. The timeline of missions depends on the nature of the threat: a large-scale social movement requires a similarly long period of investigation to get to the root, while a folie a masses requires simply locating the centre of the delusion and eliminating it. Multiple missions would be ongoing at one time.

• Cosmology: Ghosts In, Blue Öyster Cult Out. While the Wyld-Weaver-Wyrm trinity makes a good allegory for the dynamism-stasis-entropy thing, having the rest of the regular Umbra in there and Werewolf's shamanism-centric spirit realm seems a bit much. The Dark Umbra is probably all that's necessary; abstract concepts, if someone wants to interact with them on a direct-metaphorical level, may be primordial ghosts shorn of any identity save their Passions for some platonic ideal. The Labyrinth and Yomi give you the possibility of Lynch-dungeons without making the Other World obviously a better place to hang out. Pocket dimensions or fragments of some previous, nicer Other World might still be floating out there in the Tempest—so a multi-dimensional home for Control isn't out of the picture.

All this means that the Void Engineers are going to be fairly different. They might be more focused on theoretical frontiers in quantum physics, or attempting to reach

• Tradition Structure: The Same, Except Where Different. In this version, 'Traditions' and 'Adepts of Hermes' are synonymous. The nine (ten?) Sphere organizational schema, and the associated seats at the Council, were filled by representatives from each House, arch-specialists in that particular Sphere. Most of the sub-traditions in each of the other Tradition's writeups (the Shi-Ren, the Li-hai, Vajrapani, Wu Lung, Children of Albi, Nashimites, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera) exist or existed as independant, discrete groups, not recognizing any affinity with other groups with similar Sphere affinities. The Hermetic Tradition saw these as ignorant dabblers and dangerous cultists, and either sought to police them the way the Technocracy does now or re-indoctrinate them as a member of their appropriate House. Between the Hermetic Tradition and the Technocratic Union, these other cabals may have recognized other persecuted magical societies as co-belligerents, but they were too dispersed and different to actually cooperate long-term.

This means many of the metaplot-heavy factions (Ksirafai) might not be recognizable from the splatbook versions. And, the Technocracy may have developed from a splinter-conspiracy of Hermetic adepts or a Cabal of Pure Thought outside the Council mainstream. (Either way, it's not like it's going to put that in the briefing dossier, is it?)

Now, of course, the Hermetic Traditions lack either the physical Chantries they meet in, or the population density to make a structure necessary. The distinction between a small-d dreamspeaker and a House Whatever Spirit mage are now irrelevant, unless the Adepts still have some sort of communication network going.

• Weird Stuff Is Weird. There's plenty of demons, vampires, and all the stuff from the Book of the Wyrm that you can throw at the Technocracy. It's an open question whether the Ascension War was them most important front in the fight for Consensus.

• It's The End of The World.
Going in, it should be understood that the campaign is about the ultimate fate of humanity, and will eventually feature everything getting pretty crazy. Whether the ultimate fate of humanity includes the Tapestry in the equation will be part of the choices made.

Unfortunately, if you're reading this and getting all excited, I have way too many other things to do right now than give this the time it needs. Mr. Elkins has also been talking about a game that will probably resemble this campaign frame closely, at least in the beginning.  

Question: Is Control controlled by its need to control? 
Answer: Yes

Friday, December 7, 2012

Night's Black Agents — dust settles on old bones


Here's an optional rule for Night's Black Agents to really bring out that old-boys'-network le Carré flavour.


OLD BONES
In addition to the 55 General Ability points characters start with under the DUST rules, characters who start the game fifty or older gain bonus General Ability build points, depending on their age:

Character's
Starting Age
Bonus
Points
50-59 5
60-69 10
70-79 15
80+ 20

These bonus points may not be spent on Athletics, Health, or Hand-to-Hand. In games which also use the BURN rules, spending bonus points on Stability is also prohibited.

Bonus points spent on Network and Sense Trouble, however, are doubled.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Today In Things I Am Doing Other Than Writing Blogs





Wrangling some layout stuff for Pelgrane and Fire Opal's 13th Age.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Place Where Black Stars Hang


Here's a random colony generator, for those times when you just have to violate human biology in a new and exciting place.

[A] [B] on a [C]. It is under the control of [D], and currently facing a threat from [E]. 

A — Quality
1: Failed, seemingly-empty
2: Violently divided
3: Understaffed
4: Ramshackle
5: Fully-functional
6: Overtaxed

B — Function
1: Mining colony (Examples: gas-mining balloons, seismic power station, mobile helium-3 extractor, unusually non-automated labyritnth deep in the planet's crust)
2: Industrial colony (Examples: raw-material refinery, semi-automated factory, repair facility with massive drydocks, bio-manufacturing centre, junk/salvage processing centre)  
3: Agricultural colony (Examples: vat-farms, luddite primitives, oxygen farm)
4: Settlement (Examples: terraforming homesteader community, refugee camp, splinter sect, mutant colony, crash survivor camp, squat)  
5: Outpost (Examples: listening post, expedition base, refueling station, isolated laboratory)  
6: Fortification (Examples: pirate port, rebel base, military storage facility, forward defensive position, prison)

C — Planet Type
1: Noxious, volcanism-shattered magma planet. (Examples: Io, Mustafar)
2: Hazy, cloud-wrapped storm planet. (Examples: Venus, Titan)
3: Arid, wind-carved desert planet. (Examples: Mars, Arrakis)  
4: Grey, primordial, grit-choked rocky planet. (Examples: LV-426, Fury 161)
5: Brackish, fungal swamp planet. (Examples: Dagobah, primordial Earth)
6: Glacially-encrusted ice planet. (Examples: Europa, Pluto, Hoth)

D — Who's In Charge
1: A governor appointed by an absent power.
2: The owner of the colony; a prospector, corporate head or aristocrat.
3: A combined council of the heads of each segment of the colony's operations.
4: A strongman who rules by force and fear of force.
5: Elders, headmen or leaders by popular esteem.
6: [Reroll twice for separate factions, adding another reroll each time a 6 comes up.]

E — Threat
1: Unexplained phenomena such as ghostly apparitions, or disappearing things and people. (Or appearing things and people.)
2: Illness or disease of the inhabitants, or other essential life-forms.
3: Unusual or suspicious behaviour among the colony personnel, or suspicion of unusual behaviour, or unusual suspicious behaviour…
4: Equipment malfunctions. 
5: External assault from outsiders, or giant bugs, or giant bug outsiders.
6: A natural disaster—this is Ceti Alpha V!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Risable Pursuits

Procrastination is the mother of invention, and I'm never more inventive than when what I should be doing is what I'd normally do to procrastinate. Therefore, here's some unplaytested, probably horrible, very likely subconsciously plagiarized rules for Risus: The Anything Game.

These adjustments are of the 'serious Risus' sort, the kind which slightly disincentivizes Hairdresser vs. Sorceror combats and other symptoms of the High Gonzo Mode in favour of an action or "pulp" mode (whatever that means these days).

All of these variants are based on the big important variant.  

The One Risus Errybody Variant: Instead of adding the total dice together to compare against a difficulty, a roll is counted as a success if any of the numbers on the die match. In combat, the winner is the one with the largest number of matching numbers, including multiple sets of matches (e.g. two 2s and two 3s all count as four matches).

If the number of matching dice is a tie, then it goes to (in descending order of trumps):

-Whoever has a Dramatic Success (see below).

-Whoever is using their Expert Cliché (see below).

-Whoever has the most of the same matching number (e.g. four 2s beats two 5s and two 6s).

-Whoever has the higher matching number (e.g. four 3s beats four 2s).

-Whoever rolled the most dice. If none of these tiebreakers are present, then both lose.

Rolling for matches roughly approximates the probability of a 3d Cliché (Professional level) rolling against a difficulty of 10, "A challenge for a Professional." This, then, is the baseline difficulty for any roll. Because of the probability breakdown, though, the Whiff Factor is slightly higher than in regular Risus.

Increased difficulty may involve either a target number of matches, or a penalty die.

- Target number of matches: Remember the minimum match target is 2, so increased matches will have to be 3+. Keep in mind the dice pool of the character rolling so that you don't inadvertently set it at an impossible difficulty. This way is actually a slightly more punishing difficulty than dice pool penalties (see below), since it basically knocks out successful matches instead of just reduces chance of making them in the first place.  

- Penalty die: Subtract a die from the pool based on increased difficulty based on the Target Number Scale chart:

"5: A cinch. […] Routine for a pro." +1
"10: A challenge for a Professional." = 0
"15: An Heroic challenge." = -1
"20: A challenge for a Master." = -2
"30: You've GOT to be kidding." = -3

This is, basically, the same as how the damage system works. Since the lack of granularity in this system can quickly reduce dice pools to a useless 1 or 0, overcoming difficulty will usually involve either Pumping, Teaming Up (see below) or finding tools which provide bonus dice. GMs should actively reward character effort to gain advantage from their environment, and should try to prep with an eye toward how difficulties might be modified one way or another.

Teaming Up is slightly different in this version. I'm not sold on any of the ideas I have for handling it, so here's the options.
- Team Leaders roll normally; secondary characters add only matches which also match the the numbers of the Team Leader's matches. (e.g. Team Leader Mok rolls two 2s and two 4s and Participant David Bowie From Labyrinth rolls two 5s and two 4s. Only the two 4s from Participant David Bowie From Labyrinth add to Team Leader Mok's total.)
- Team Leaders and participant characters all pool their dice, with a -1 penalty to the pool for each participant character.
- Team Leaders and secondary participant characters all pool their dice and roll normally.  

Damage is a little more dangerous in this version, since a 2-die Cliché will become useless after only one die of damage. To counteract this, the GM may allow any Cliché reduced to 1 to be used as a Quirk (see below).

Borrowed shamelessly from ORE, but research during writing revealed a previous version of this variant.  

The Drama Die: Each dice pool includes one die of a different colour than the rest; this is the Drama Die. It has two special effects:

- If the Drama Die is part of a matching set, then the character has achieved a Dramatic Success. In combat, this means that the loser suffers an extra die of damage, or, if the player chooses, they may regain a die of damage, or 'bank' a one-time reduction in difficulty (assuming a sensible explanation of how the Dramatic Success affects the later difficulty). Other effects are at the GM's discretion.

- If the Drama Die rolls a one, and there are no matches, then the character has suffered a Dramatic Failure. Either they get hit with some damage in a non-combat situation, increased difficulty on a later round of combat, or some extra challenge in the future. Drama Dice may be included in every roll, or just those made by a dramatically-important characters. (e.g. In a fight between David Bowie From The Hunger and Goblin Puppet From The Labyrinth #25, David Bowe From The Hunger uses a drama die and Goblin Puppet From The Labyrinth #25 doesn't.)

If a Cliché is Pumped by at least 2, the drama die is also doubled, increasing the chances of a dramatic success. Borrowed shamelessly from ICON.

Cliché Tags These are little sub-definitions appended to Clichés which change how they work. Expert Cliché This is the cliché which defines their profession, calling, talent, obsession, ten-thousand-hours of experience, essential nature or whatever. Here's how they work:

- Expert Clichés break ties in favour of said Expert.

- The Expert Cliché may be double-pumped. If it's pumped by at least 2 dice, then the Drama Die is also double-pumped, giving you three Drama Dice total. It's up to the GM if the Expert Cliché costs as much as a Double-Pump Cliché in regular Risus, or whether they can co-exist in character creation. (I'd vote no on both counts.)

- If the GM uses dice penalties for difficulty, the Expert Cliché automatically reduces one die penalty before rolling. If the GM is using target number of matched dice, the Expert Cliché doubles any one matching die, automatically creating an extra match.

Body and Mind Clichés These tags are applied to the two Clichés which most closely describe those two aspects of a character. These are now your character's 'Health Pools' for each; if a character damages you with an attack, this Cliché is the one that takes the damage and the one which determines when you lose the fight.

Body damage is the most obvious: bullets, knives, punches, poisons, illness.

Mind damage is madness, fear, mind-affecting poisons, psychic domination, torture or stressful situations. It might also mean damage to your sense of self or identity.

For a Cliché to be tagged with Body or Mind, it must have at least 2 dice. It is suggested that one's primary offensive combat Cliché should be tagged with Body, and the primary Cliché for knowing things or convincing people of things should be tagged with Mind, but that's not required. It's permitted to assign both Body and Mind tags to the same Cliché, but really, who would?

If the GM wishes, damage to non-Body or Mind Clichés might still happen, but be represented in-game as change in tactical position or temporary conditions which would refresh after a combat.

Another option would be to demand all Clichés would be tagged with either Body or Mind, so as to create a broader pool for damage to be assigned. A corollary variant would be to number each tag to determine which Cliché takes damage first.

Borrowed, kind of, from Unknown Armies.

Quirk: Since a 1d Cliché is useless in this variant as it can't generate any matches, 1d Clichés are handled a little differently. 1d Clichés are Quirks. These are odd or idiosyncratic traits which colour your character's motives or habits, especially visually or verbally distinctive ones, but in ways unrelated or in addition to other Clichés. (e.g. Always Smokes A Cigar, Distinctive Scar/Breathmask/Hairstyle/Hideous Deformity, Huge Limpid Eyes, Quotes Mangled Movie Lines). Quirks can be used in two ways:

- The player can invoke the Quirk as a bonus die for another Cliché. This might apply just once in a combat, or for each round. As can expected, this depends on the GM's or table's agreement.

- The GM (or the player, if they're the sort) can invoke the Quirk as a 1 die penalty to a roll where it may cause problems. (e.g. A lit cigar may draw attention in a dark room, or allow a creature to track the distinctive scent.)

 Quirk Clichés may not be pumped, nor damaged (see Body and Mind).  

Example Character: This is what the Risus sample character would look like with these variant rules.
Viking 4 [Body, Expert]
Womanizer 2
Gambler 3 [Mind]
Poet 1 [Quirk]

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

By These Strange Lights

"Tempus Fugit/Max" is probably the best, most pristine example of the X-Files mythology episodes. Unlike most of the other mythology episodes (especially the pilot), it manages to hang the mythology elements on an physical, forensic and answerable mystery—What happened to the plane?—and letting the mythology elements—abductions, MUFON weirdos, sinister government operatives, crashed ufos, recovered alien technology, incredulous locals—interact in and around it. That the key mystery is intricate enough to support the episode without the mythology is essential. If you took the military's cover story at face value, it would make complex enough premise for a Law and Order episode. The actual work of collecting and analyzing the evidence provides suspense which is eventually released, instead of cascading into an increasingly sprawling web of never-answered sub-mysteries, something no individual player can really keep straight.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Coming Soon... Er, Now.

Take a look at what I've been doing instead of posting on this blog at Pelgrane Press's most recent See Page XX.

Monday, June 18, 2012

COVENANT — Part Two



Last time, on Trail of Cthulhu: Covenant...


•  In Iolanthe's sweltering apartment/psychic studio, Carmenelli hands Iolanthe a note about a seance he's hastily arranged.

• Needham begins his investigation into the financial history of Michael Thomas, pastor of the Chapel of Contemplation by talking to Father O'Leary, a salty old priest in the North End.

• Jacob interviews a new maid to care for his children, and lays out the rules governing their care. Esther hands him an address.

• George, Marty, Ephraim Weaver, Carl Standford and Ralph Gilman and sundry others are relaxing in the Silver Twilight lounge; Ralph invites them to a seance he's arranged in one of his father's properties.

• Fred gets a call from Carmenelli, inviting her to a seance that night.

• Needham, tracing the way to the old Chapel of Contemplation, talks to a few more characters in the North End, which point him to a narrow, empty lot down a North End alley. He avoids falling into the crumbling floor tiles, and finds his way into a hidden subterranean section of the old building. There, he found skeletal remains of former members, a mysterious, crumbling book, and a selection of their old records. He takes the book and financial records for consultation later.

On the way out, he's accosted by two local youths of unpleasant disposition, but some skillful gunplay and the crumbling architecture allows him to make his escape.

• Iolanthe hits some local archives to do some research for the sake of making her act more convincing, uncovering the history of madness that surrounds the residence. She picks up a likely name to pin on the 'restless spirit' she'll contact later: Walter Corbitt.

• Fred grabs some occult 'artefacts' to salt around the house, when she arrives.

• Jacob gets dressed for the evening, and delivers further instructions to the maid to avoid the 'artefact' room.

• Needham, on the way to an address he discovered in the Chapel records, encounters an odd man doing a painting study of the house.

• Carmenelli introduces everybody, the Hermetic Order members and Cecile X arrives, and Marty checks out the rooms upstairs and peers down the basement steps.

• The seance begins.

As Iolanthe invokes the spirits, they hear scratching noises from below and a thumping from above. Events come to a crescendo as Iolanthe, continuing her act, asks if Corbitt is the one disturbing the house, and what they want—at which point, she croaks out "DIE!" and blood begins to splatter the table from above.

• Needham, Iolanthe and few others decide to book it. Marty, George and Jacob decide to investigate the source of the blood by revisiting the rooms upstairs. The people outside see something send the glass from one of the bedroom windows flying outward—Jacob narrowly avoided being hurled out the window into the alley of junk by a rusty bedframe.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

COVENANT Part One - Characters


Here's the list of PCs for my Trail of Cthulhu miniseries campaign. The biographies are perfunctory, reflecting the lack of play behind them; I like to develop backstories in game.


The characters are organized based on patron.

HERMETIC ORDER OF THE SILVER TWILIGHT

George Mewhinney
Occupation: Dilettante
Drive: Duty
Sources of Stability:
• Mummy!
• Lodge friend Ralph
• Boxing club trainer Ferdinand

A Harvard alumnus with an ongoing sideline as a boxer, looking to jump-start a career in politics. To do so, he's become a Neophyte in the Boston lodge of the Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight. Friends with Marty McTavish, bodyguard of a fellow lodge member.

Marty McTavish
Occupation: Criminal
Drive: Sudden Shock
Sources of Stability:
• Dog, Peepers
• Landlady, Gerty

Personal bodyguard for Ephraim Weaver, an Initiate-level member of the Boston lodge, and friend of George Mewhinney, a Neophyte. Still suffers from amnesia concerning an incident three years ago.

ROCHEFORT DETECTIVE AGENCY

T.J. Needham
Occupation: Private Investigator
Drive: Curiosity
Sources of Stability:
• Martha, works with Institute
• Caroline, sister's kid daughter
• Rodger "the Codger," ex-client

Formerly in the employ of an eccentric gentleman (Rodger), he's awaiting a new assignment with the Rochefort Detective Agency.

AMERICAN SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH

Maggie Jenkins AKA Iolanthe Melitele
Occupation: Charlatan
Drive: Greed
Sources of Stability:
• Parrot
• School friend, married rich

Medium who works out of her house.

BOSTON SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH

Archibald Denham
Occupation: Professor
Drive: Duty
Sources of Stability:
• Cat
• Mother
• Hospital-bound brother
• Brother (also on staff)

Librarian at Widener Memorial Library.

CECILE X

Winifred "Fred" Winslow
Occupation: Forger
Drive: Artistic Sensibility
Sources of Stability:
• Cecile X
• Bartender, Mitch
• Brother, Clinton Winslow

A forger of antiquities and "magical" relics, with an unusually earnest take on her profession.

Jacob Schlemmer
Occupation: Archaeologist
Drive: Antiquarianism
Sources of Stability:
• Moses
• Rachel
• Esther
• Isaac

Recently returned from a dig in the Middle East with four children in tow. Alienated from his former family, he's fallen into the orbit of Cecile X.

---

Some of you might be thinking, "Seven players in a Cthulhu game? That's crazy!" I agree. And at least two more are likely to show up. Not only that, I'm trying something ambitious (for me) with the episode hooks. Instead of creating characters that initially know each other (a la Delta Green), or starting with the characters thrown together via sudden disaster, I've given them the choice of five different patron groups. Most of these groups are interested in esoterica, weird occurrences, or the occult, but with different exoteric facades. The patron groups interrelate, in some obvious ways (like the ASPR and BSPR), but also in secret ways they may discover. With the first few sessions, as I introduce them to lower-key scenarios, I'll attempt to stitch together their patrons, their personal backstories, and goals, before pulling the thread tight and knotting them together. Those of you who know the Delta Green backstory can probably guess where this is going, but I'm keeping that off-stage for now. To complicate it more, I've got a mix of people new to tabletop games, people new to Call of Cthulhu, along with the more (cough) seasoned players. We'll see how the first threads are sewn in the next few weeks.

I'm also considering developing meatier personal arcs to throw at them, either in collusion with the player or by twisting what they've already given me via the Sources of Stability. Trail's sister game Fear Itself includes more starting points for  creating soapier sessions, which I want to use to focus on the PC's unraveling personal lives—or, in this group's case, unraveling relationships with their pets, and the pursuit of their pet projects. Sometimes, like this time, the PCs already give you plenty of fodder for really twisted scenarios. I don't want to waste it.

This week's session, after character creation, I started with a little vignette of a few of the characters in an unlicensed boxing match; not every got into the scene, but at least one of the characters got to take some hits on the chin before getting drugged and contributing to a bar brawl.

How next session begins depends on who exactly shows up.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Century of Shadows



Copy of an email sent to my regular group.

This campaign is a miniseries of short episodes surrounding the origin of Delta Green. The time is 1927; the setting is New York, Boston and rural New England.

Everybody chooses one of five patron groups for your character to belong to. While some can be your character's employer, most of them are associations based on your character's interests. Players who've already chosen a patron and Occupation are also noted.

The Hermetic Order of the Silver Twilight, a fraternal organization with an esoteric scrim. The Boston Lodge is located in a large house just on the edge of the city, where many prominent and wealthy members of Bostonian society mix. The Hermetic Order itself is open only to men, but the Order has a daughter-organization for connected women.
     Suggested Occupations: Any except Hobo. Members should have a high Credit Rating, or be from a politically-connected family.
    —Rachel: Dilettante

The Rochefort Detective Agency was founded by a former Pinkerton man in 1905. Investigation is only part of what the Agency does; many employees also provide building security or act as bodyguards for clients.
    Suggested Occupations: Private Investigator, or former Military, Police Detective or Federal Agent.
    —Lily: Private Investigator

The American Society for Psychical Research (ASPR) was founded 43 years ago in Boston to investigate psychic phenomena. The Society publishes a Journal for discussion and dissemination of news on topics as varied as hauntings, esotericism, Spiritualism, Theosophy, clairvoyance, telekinesis, and other strange phenomena.
    Suggested Occupations: Alienist, Antiquarian, Archaeologist, Artist, Author, Charlatan, Clergy, Dilettante, Doctor, Journalist, Occultist, Parapsychologist, Professor, or Scientist.
    —Karen: Charlatan

The Boston Society for Psychical Research (BSPR) recently split off from the ASPR after the 1925 'Margory' case. The Boston group is dominated by those who look to telepathy, hypnosis and more 'scientific' explanations for psychic phenomena, whereas those who remained with the ASPR have aligned themselves, strongly or not, with Spiritualism.
    Suggested Occupations: same as the ASPR
    —Trevor: Professor

Cecile X, owner of the Silver Pen book-shop in downtown Boston and a collector of codices, incunabula, grimoires, manuscripts, antiquities and reputedly haunted objects.
    Suggested Occupations: Antiquarian, Archaeologist, Artist, Author, Book Scout, Bookseller, Charlatan, Dilettante, Forger, Occultist, Parapsychologist

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Long Lives the Thief of Lives


My submission to the (unofficial?) 2012 Delta Green Shotgun Scenario content took second place. Not bad for a first try, I suppose, but next year I shall surely lay waste to all before me.

I mean, uh, congratulations everybody.

Monday, May 14, 2012

[Map] Four Left Turns And You're In A Whole New Place

In those strange aeons before Starbucks and iPods made the white, bitten apple ubiquitous, those of us who held fast to the rainbow fruit lived in an alternate gaming world, two years behind everyone else and echoing their statements in similar, if slightly different languages. Deprived of the vast torrent of Doom clones sweeping PCdom, we contented ourselves with the visually dark, narratively dense and occasionally surreal shooter Marathon, from a Bungie Studios that consisted of a dozen or so dudes and bug reports logged on a mountain of pizza boxes. One of the most interesting levels was the result of Marathon's not-actually-3d software, which extrapolated 2d geometry into the illusion of 3d space. So, while you couldn't make a simple ramp, you could force players to battle each other in two overlapping, intersecting grids which occupied the same 'space.' Since then (and Myst, et al), I've been somewhat obsessed with the exploration of spaces which defied normal human experience, whether they're just regular labyrinths of interconnected 5d cubes or dungeons with multiple concurrent timelines overlapping. As an introduction, I submit a map of the Marathon level drawn for insertion into friendly a dungeon near you. All you need is a teleport error or a maze spell trap to dump your PCs into it. Because of the weird sightlines, I recommend filling it with ranged attacks, flying monsters, gelatinous cubes or mobile area effects to chase PCs around corners.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Delta Green Shotgun Scenario 2012



My submission for the 2012 Delta Green Shotgun Scenario contest is up! You can read it here and if you like it, please vote for it in the poll!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Investigator Weapons Volume One



Investigator Weapons Volume One: The 1920s-30s is out!

I did the cover and layout design for this one.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Nameless Sandbox, Part One

I've been following Dreams in the Lich House's Cthulhu sandbox posts with interest, since the idea has been kicking around in my head for a while now too. (I'm a lazy blogger, though.) The sandbox I picture is something halfway between what I imagine most (good) Vampire games are like—politicking, favour-mongering and investigations punctuated by unexpectedly violent responses—and Pelgrane's excellent Armitage Files campaign-in-a-box kit, which Dreams mentioned a few times. He adopts the term 'target-rich environment' for the idea: lots of clues toward lots of concurrent mysteries and suggestions for a player-directed exploration of the environment.

I want a place which has what every D&D adventure area has: dangerous subterranean locations (like 'The Haunting'); dangerous wilderness locations (like 'A Night on Owlshead Mountain'); a 'home base' with different societies coexisting (or not coexisting, as it were); a source of hirelings and new PCs (like the Silver Twilight or Delta Green), either from local sources or people just passing through; a bunch of people out to make a buck; and vicious calumnies plus a hint of horrible truth about each of them (like the Necronomicon).

So, as a starting point, here's my not-so-short list of places:

West Virginia has always struck me as a spooky and occasionally terrifying place, not just because of their patron ultraterrestrial. It's also because of guys like these and those miniature corporate dictatorships which seem to spring up whenever profit and desperation intersect. The terrain adds to that feeling of isolation, shoving all the urban areas into tiny strips along rivers and piling the natural spaces right overtop of them, a physical reminder of the wilderness and wild people just hidden behind the treeline. Aside from the Mothman film adaption and Matewan (filmed in a town that looks almost exactly like it did in the 1920s), film adaptions tend to focus on the deadly hillbilly attacks angle, so I don't feel I have a good, well-rounded sense of what the place is like.
Mythos Connections: Despite sounding like a state-sized version of Dunwich, and the aforementioned extradimensional wildlife, none that I'm aware of.

Louisiana doesn't need an explanation. If you're talking about the best places to set a horror story in North America, it's a given. Unlike West Virginia, the Spooky Louisiana backdrop is almost over-supported, from Alan Moore's excellent Swamp Thing run to, again, Vampire, to the Haunted Mansion ride.
Mythos connections: Legrasse's tale in 'The Call of Cthulhu,' the scenario 'The Plantation' in Mansions of Madness (set in Carolina, I think, but who remembers that?), another swampier scenario, 'Murder of Crows' in Mortal Coils, and a whole sourcebook, Secrets of New Orleans.

The biggest recommendation for Toronto is that I live here. I'm not sure I can summon up the devotion Lovecraft had for his native Providence towards my particular native burg, but there's particular times and places—the high garret of Casa Loma; Honest Ed's in winter; Queen and Bathurst in summer; deserted (or at least run-down) shops between King East and the lake; the Don Valley from the subway at sunset—where there's deep-rooted sense of familial affection.
The very mundanity of the setting is a strike against it, though. Methodist Rome's self-image makes it hard to really believe places like the Ward really existed, much less in the middle of what is a grey, Modernist—even Brutalist—corridor of the city. Toronto now is defined by Videodrome and Twitch City—but digging into Toronto then to find something sordid and gothic enough to hang stories on is a little harder. Creating my own Canadian Arkham might be a better bet.
Mythos Connections: None that I'm aware of; the city's only appearances in Call of Cthulhu scenarios I've read are set in the modern day, and don't feature any native entities.

Feeling unsatisfied by the North American locations that come to mind, I could go for British colony somewhere warm. Imperial Britain is still a powerful image in the Classic era, something we're still familiar with now.

Cairo is a good starting place. It's filled with the detritus and folly of empires new and old, winding streets and winding catacombs. Really, I don't think it needs to be sold. The downside to that is less opportunity to pin down details of my own.
Mythos Connections: All of them. Specifically, the Cairo chapter of Masks is all you'd need to actually run it.

My next thought is an island territory off Southeast Asia: Papua New Guina, Burma, Borneo, or some other bit between the Pacific and Ceylon. I don't actually know as much about the geography or history of the region, so there's a greater weight of research for setting a game here. The fact that I can't even pin down a specific island probably means I wouldn't be able to do it justice.
Mythos Connections: To vague to say. You could throw in the staples of Tcho-Tcho, deep ones, and Mu, or plant something in the soil of local myth and folklore one a specific site is chosen.

Shanghai, another traditional Call of Cthulhu location, (not to mention pulp literature staple) is also an obvious choice. Like other pulp staples, it's a city of stark contrasts between wealthy and poor; rural natives, cosmopolitan urbanites and foreign visitors.
Mythos Connections; Like Cairo, it's chapter from Masks gives you plenty of starting points and culty doo-dads. It's also the eponymous setting for 'Shanghai Bullets,' one of my favourite ToC scenarios and one which gives you plenty of reusable NPCs as fodder.

Aden, the Protectorate's hinterland, and the Kingdom of Yemen is less well-represented in Call of Cthulhu adventures, but the area's claim to mythos prominence is Sana'a, the birthplace of Abd Al-Azrad himself. It's not too far from Irem of the Pillars and the Nameless City, either. Explicit mythos connections are just two or three disparaging lines in Tatters of the King. Physically, the city of Aden is located in an extinct volcano jutting out into the Indian Ocean. It's a stopover point for mail and travellers going from Europe to the Raj, putting it in the middle of what was a real-world occult pilgrimage. Like Shanghai, there's a big difference between the rural, tribal hinterland and the internationally-flavoured urban port.

Aden was my first choice for a while, but after trying to dig up some more research I hit a wall trying to figure out what it felt like in the Classic era. I have some detailed descriptions of the city's role in international politics of Empire, but I couldn't tell you what the number of reported homicides in 1932 were.

Next time on The Elder Skull, we travel farther afield in search of exciting cosmic horror-cosmopolitan convergences…

Sunday, February 26, 2012

It's Pretty Cold On The Mountain-Top

The student approached the master, and asked:

"Master, how will I know what my players will do?"

The master replied, "I don't know, I am not your players. Why don't you ask them?"

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Quizzicus Zakus

1. If you had to pick a single invention in a game you were most proud of what would it be?
The Mirror Labyrinth. Haven't finished it yet.

2. When was the last time you GMed?
This week, last monday, in person.

3. When was the last time you played?
Online: Last G+ game. Uhh. Last two weeks? Not sure.
In Person: Mid-December, there's a holiday hiatus.

4. Give us a one-sentence pitch for an adventure you haven't run but would like to.
Umm. Hmm. A quiet sobbing comes from just the other side the bathroom door…

5. What do you do while you wait for players to do things?
Goad them into discussing options. Describe environment more. Remind them of previous options. Reiterate situation.

6. What, if anything, do you eat while you play?
As a player: whatever I've brought.
As a GM: whatever the group cooks.

7. Do you find GMing physically exhausting?
Yes.

8. What was the last interesting (to you, anyway) thing you remember a PC you were running doing?
My PC? Um. I tried to assassinate a guy. A whole bunch of guys. Didn't quite work.

9. Do your players take your serious setting and make it unserious? Vice versa? Neither?
Some do, others don't. I've found the seriousness is a direct correlation with how 'into' it they are.

10. What do you do with goblins?
What can't you do with goblins?

11. What was the last non-RPG thing you saw that you converted into game material (background, setting, trap, etc.)?
The Golden Venture.

12. What's the funniest table moment you can remember right now?
It wasn't 'laugh-out-loud-funny,' but I'm still pretty amused that it took three sessions for people to get bored of the kitchen.

13. What was the last game book you looked at--aside from things you referenced in a game--why were you looking at it?
Delta Green. Running a Delta Green game. Need more villains dubious patrons.

14. Who's your idea of the perfect RPG illustrator?
Guy Davis. I should probably make some sort of statement of artistic purpose or discussion of the functions of RPG text to evoke setting elements or themes in parallel with the text or just to communicate information in a non-linear way as a diagram or mapping of semi-abstracted elements, but I've got to go draw stuff.

15. Does your game ever make your players genuinely afraid?
They seemed a bit creeped with the seance. It was the players who suggested turning off the lights, too.

16. What was the best time you ever had running an adventure you didn't write? (If ever)
I've only ever finished two, so I can't really point to one as better or best or standout or whatever.

17. What would be the ideal physical set up to run a game in?
• Minimalist conference room with a big table, big enough I could stand up and gesture, enough space for players to spread out maps, handouts, etc.
• Light control.
• Sound system I could play music on without needed a whole laptop.

18. If you had to think of the two most disparate games or game products that you like what would they be?
• Wraith: the Oblivion 2nd ed.
• Encounter Critical

19. If you had to think of the most disparate influences overall on your game, what would they be?
The X-Files and Day of the… no… The Mothman Pro… well… Law and Or… wait, Belzer was in the X-Files, and… Homicide? Homicide and The X-Files?

If it's not the same well, it's definitely the same CIA-spiked municipal water system.

20. As a GM, what kind of player do you want at your table?
Proactive. Kind of a dick to NPCs. Sarcastic. Guy who pokes stuff. Basically, I write adventures for me.

21. What's a real life experience you've translated into game terms?
Most of how I design locations in D&D comes from what I remember of real-life forts and recreationist longhouses, etc. I like setting horror stories in East Coast-area suburbs, just because it's really easy for everyone to picture it.

22. Is there an RPG product that you wish existed but doesn't?
The Dark Age of Byzantium, a guide to playing noir investigations in just-pre-Comnenian Constantinople. (Solution: I'm writing it.)

23. Is there anyone you know who you talk about RPGs with who doesn't play? How do those conversations go?
There used to be. Now they play RPGs.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Sound and Vision

In case you didn't see them elesewhere, and still have cash left after Boxing Day, here's a couple dazzling products with some drawin's I did in them:

Weird Adventures, pulp metropolitan fantasy. With hobo goblins.

NOD 12, featuring a minigame called Mutant Truckers.

Monday, January 9, 2012

"HIS NAME IS…"

Roll 2d6:

1-2: Potential informant gurgles blood, and spits out (1d6: 1-2 pins, 3-4 snakes and frogs, 5-6 unidentifiable organic matter, highly acidic) before dying from internal haemorrhaging.
3-5: Potential informant reacts with terror to symbol on the character, or is struck with intense paranoia. Accuses PC of being "One of them!" and flees through nearby window, down slippery steps or over cliff.
6-8: Potential informant is fatally struck with a (1d6: 1-2: knife, 3: shuriken, 4: poison dart, 5: arrow, 6: bullet) from the shadows.
9: Potential informant reacts to other half of binary poison sprayed on PC earlier in adventure, and dies messily.
10: Potential informant gasps in terror, looks past the PCs and suffers a fatal heart attack.
11-12: Potential informant suddenly jerks free, grabs suicide pill and downs it. If medical aid or stomach pump saves them, reroll on chart.