New shoes

Today was the memorial for a friend I’d not actually seen for many years. He died suddenly and too young. The service was lovely with many many examples of how warm and smart and funny he was.

My memory is the weekly movie club, more than ten years ago; I remember The Prisoner projected onto a white sheet in a tiny flat. But it’s Twin Peaks that sticks in my memory for his impression of Leo Johnson, complete with saliva.

I suppose you had to be there. Still, I’m grateful that I was.

Beyond the Waves: relics from the last war

For Beyond the Waves: ancient technology from the last war between the Haunted Empire and the Island States.

I. Ekranoplan wrecks

The airspace above the Archipelago is haunted. The Empire’s flyers would dive when they hit the Archipelago airspace, or curve in unpredicted trajectories. For decades the imperial scientists attempted to map that volume of air with its many loci and vortices and tunnels, but Sigma/Omega ratios could suddenly peak and vehicles would return decrepit, pilots bags of dust. Flying over the islands was too much of a risk even for a behemoth like the Empire who could throw steel and flesh and bone at any problem.

The ekranoplans were vast surface wing craft, much larger than any of the vehicles in service around the various island states. They were designed for carrying cargo, weapons and troops rapidly over long stretches of flat water for exploration or conquest.

Abandoned ekranoplan hulls can be found along the western shore of the land and on some islands.

1d12 Ekranoplan wreck points of interest
1 Wreck completely overgrown inside and out with several well preserved bodies inside
2 Coded military orders
3 A luxury fitted stateroom with Imperial memorabilia
4 1d4 active torpedoes of unknown payload
5 Several cubic meters of ancient computer
6 Disdended corpses and signs of bungled emergency egress
7 Maps of western ocean with expedition diaries
8 Leviathan tissue samples
9 Armoury with 1d3 lightning cannisters and other hand weapons
10 Neuronic interrogation equipment
11 Banks of cell samples, seeds and mature plants which have overwhelmed the vehicle interior
12 Human squatters who are either (1-2) inferior and afraid, (3-4) well-matched and hostile or (5-6) contaminated and infectious

II. Acoustic Mirrors

The obsolescense of aircraft that resulted in the ekranoplan in turn rendered radioetheric detection useless as the flyers were too low to resolve against the surface.

Sound mirrors were developed and many examples were installed on the shores of the eastern-most islands.

1d10 Acoustic mirror points of interest
1 Sound has attracted unusual animals or birds
2 Sheltering human settlement who have decorated the mirror
3 Mirror receives broadcast from somewhere out in the sea
4 Tribe bases religious observations, calendars and rituals around seasonal ambient sound from the mirror
5 Mirror contains a bunker underneath with telegraph room which is receiving a signal from somewhere
6 Mirror reflects leviathan song
7 Mirror has been damaged and tilts at an impractical upward angle, but is receiving transmission
8 Mirror has been broken down, moved and reconstructed to serve an unintended purpose
9 Local gravitational or spacetime distortion
10 Several imitation mirrors have been built up in the same area, and sing to one another

III. Targe hulls

Targe (“shield” or “border”) hulls are chains of either mobile floating or permanently anchored armoured platforms designed to interrupt assaults from ekranoplan vessels with poor manouverability and altitude control. Frequently installed close to sound mirrors.

1d10 Targe hull points of interest
1 Hull has been taken over by vast numbers of sea birds
2 Gigantic cannon, broken away from mounting and cannot be aimed
3 Remnants of a brutal skirmish; bones, damaged equipment, rusted firearms and cutlasses
4 Series of sophisticated signal towers line up with island mirror installations
5 Multiple stored drums of unknown chemical agent, some leaking into sea
6 Platforms severely damaged in collision, submerged ekranoplan wreck
7 Fishing settlement in former fortress with extended raft village anchored to fixed hardpoints
8 Suspended railroad connects network of artificial platforms strung between natural sea mounts and islets
9 Pirate hideout with livery
10 Bedrock collapsed under foundation revealing underwater natural structure

Image Credits and more images

Acoustic mirror by Paul Glazzard shared under CC BY-SA 2.0

Red sands forts by Russs shared under CC BY-SA 3.0

Ekranoplan art:

New Journal!

Among other chores this weekend I’m rolling over to a new bullet journal. I’ve been using this approach for a few years but in 2018 I tried something different: rather than just use the BuJo for tasks, I’d use it for everything, including work meeting minutes, creative RPG ideas, daily tasks and so forth. This was a conscious departure from how I’d done things in the past, namely several notebooks on the go (e.g. one work, one home) plus brief episodes of going completely digital, embracing GTD with multiple lists, and trying to make Filofax work for me.

Thanks to my vacillating my last BuJo (one of the official Leuchtturm black embossed ones) lasted more than a year, this one (in blue) has been filled in three months. It’s filled up so quickly because I’m not using the system perhaps in the minimalist way Ryder Carroll does it; instead of a single day taking half a page, my working week might fill up to 20 pages. But while I write a lot more the principles are the same:

  • rapid logging; write everything down and bullet them according to information or tasks
  • monthly (or more frequent) task migration
  • one place for everything

Some changes to the BuJo approach, with varying levels of success:

  1. I’ve developed a few new bullets but the only one that’s been useful is the cross for sub-headings within meetings
  2. I have thought about doing weekly task migration as I generate a significant number of tasks daily, which are easy to lose
  3. The one other thing I tried but ultimately didn’t need was a much more complicated Future Log which I laid out like a calendar. For the next book I’m going back to the minimalist Future Log layout and keep it to a single page spread (given how quickly I’m likely to use up the journal).

I’m sticking with Leuchtturm1917 journals for now. The outgoing journal was squared paper and unlike Rhodia’s violet 5×5 grid on bright white paper the Leuchtturm square grid is very subtle grey on off-white, and doesn’t make it hard for me to read my words later. The Leuchtturm also has a prompt for Date at the top of each page which is both good and bad — good because I got in the habit of starting a new day on a new page but bad since I write across several pages, so the subsequent ones waste some space. This time I’m going back to a dot grid with one of the special edition Red Dots books which look fantastic — although the index has shrunk down to a 2-page spread which would not be enough if I were not indexing the BuJo way.

(still using Field Notes for gathering RPG project notes though)

Bolt On

This was unexpected:

It’s a tweet from Sean Nittner from a series concerning submissions for Forged In The Dark. Weirdly the image comes from a two year old post from this blog concerning Dice Clocks.

(it made me wonder if he’d read what I wrote and this was some very, very oblique vaguebooking)

The opening tweet is a bit nonsensical: if you’ve created a rule for a new kind of action, then surely the system reflects that by definition. But I don’t want to take it out of context so here’s the whole text for this point:

Mechanics concern: Bolting on new tech. If you’ve got a rule for a new kind of action in the game, that is fantastic. If it’s core to the game that’s even better. The trick is to make the system reflect that, which might make for a deep (and possibly uncomfortable) dive.

If games looks like “Everything Blades has plus a random treasure table” or really “and plus anything” then chances are there is still to many Blades in your Dark! Consider these ideas (and I’d love to hear more):

  • Create your system from the fiction you want to see. Decide what you care about (that’s really important, this is your game, what YOU care about is what matters here) and build from there.

  • Consider your values and how they affect your design choices. They always are!

  • Question the narrative of play. Why the are the characters taking the actions they do? What is happening in your setting? How do those interact?

  • Leave spaces to fill in the details, but define enough of it that everyone knows the basic parameters they are working with.

Crucially Nittner is speaking as a publisher to a potential pitch, so his opinion is critical (in more than one sense): this is what he would like to see from a differentiating product. I’m not that audience, although I am an advocate for genre awareness (hence Fictoplasm). But I’d also say, why not bolt things on? A lot of games are modular by design, Blades included (along with PbtA, OSR, etc.).

The other interesting thing is this is Evil Hat, home of FATE, a system so generic and malleable that it should be simple to apply desired settings (a great strength, particularly if you’re developing games). But with FitD suddenly talking about baked-in mechanics which drive towards a particular genre. I’d be very interested to see how much the different Forged products differentiate themselves from the source and each other. I think I’m right to say the best PbtA games require incredible dedication and thought, plus engagement with the playtest base to achieve the creator vision.

Will company oversight help the differentiation, or will everything come out smelling of FATE?

Cthulhu Dark: Annihilation

Yeah, this is the first post for about three months. Short version is I took a break from social media to fix real life stuff, get well, re-evaluate what I want to do creatively, and make some resolutions.

One of those resolutions is to actually design and run some of the games we’ve talked about over on Fictoplasm; and one of those games is Annihilation/Southern Reach, using Cthulhu Dark.

One: Cthulhu Dark

The standalone Cthulhu Dark is a massive expansion on the original seven page appendix in Stealing Cthulhu. Not much has changed mechanically, but there’s a lot of added value in the Keeper’s section on writing and refining mysteries, how to play, and the new settings that make the bulk of the book.

Cthulhu Dark is a thoughtful product for a post-CoC RPG market. A lot of CoC successors colour the “trad” CoC experience via mechanics (Trail of Cthulhu, Cthulhu Hack, Savage Worlds versions, even Tremulus). Inevitably they also retread much of CoC’s content. Cthulhu Dark assumes the reader’s prior experience of Call of Cthulhu, the mystery RPG genre and the Cthulhu mythos. It’s a very self-aware product in that sense: it knows its audience, an audience that understands and runs free-form mysteries without the need for dictatorial mechanics. Here are the bits I particularly like:

  1. Very simple mechanics (one die automatically, one die for expertise plus the Insight die if you risk your sanity). This is good; I don’t need the full gamut of CoC’s attributes and skills to run a one-shot horror game.
  2. A very focused and concise Keeper’s section covering the essential elements of the mystery (Hook, Theme, who has the Power, what is the Final Horror)
  3. Well considered tools on how to make the mystery the best you can make it. Some of these are iterative (for example, refining the Final Horror) and others are lenses through which to analyse your module by clarifying the key elements and asking whether they in isolation are enough (are the locations special? Do you telegraph the approach of the monster? Does the plot hold together logically? Can anything circumvent it?)
  4. The notion of “creeping horrors”, recurrant motifs that underscore the horror
  5. And finally, the section on Mythos threats with a couple of themes, creeping horrors, and locations for each. Unsurprisingly this feels a lot like a stripped-back Stealing Cthulhu (and that’s a good thing).

Two: Annihilation

I’ve been keen to cover Annihilation since we talked about it in S2E4 of Fictoplasm. Rather than recap here in detail I’d say listen to the podcast or better still read it first (it’s only a couple of hundred pages long). Also Alex Garland’s film of the same name will be out on Netflix this month, apparently.

I reckon Annihilation has a lot to offer Mythos fans, and more to the point it’s a great fit for Cthulhu Dark which in many ways is a successful return to the fundamentals source material of Lovecraft when the Call of Cthulhu RPG surpasses Lovecraft as its own, distinct genre.

The other nice thing about Area X is its ambiguity; it has a few loose principles expressed subjectively to the characters in the books, enough to work with in a game without choking the plot with canon.

I’m currently writing my notes for a one-shot that I hope to offer at Concrete Cow. When they’re done I’ll stick them up here as a pdf. For now, here’s a blurb:

This is the Southern Reach’s ninth expedition into Area X. You don’t know each other’s names, only vocations. Your equipment is outdated and careworn. Your memories are unreliable, and paper journals tell you where you have been. Some of you are studying the landscape, others are studying your team-mates. All of you are looking for answers in the wild coastline, and hoping you can get back without losing too much of yourself here.

Oh, and check out the Spanish translation’s cover of Aniquilación, from this article.

Rotation: November 2017

Listening in November 2017

UNKLE: The Road pt. 1

Brian Eno: Reflection

Max Richter: Taboo

David Kuckhermann: The Path of the Metal Turtle

Hotline Miami 1&2 Soundtracks

The Kinks: Arthur

The Egg: Albumen

Roger Waters: Radio KAOS

Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross: Gone Girl

Peter Kruder: Private Collection

Castle Lysander: The Stolen Child

A playbook for Castle Lysander

The Stolen Child

I met her in a forest glade // Where starbeams grew like trees // I did not take her for a witch // She wasn’t what she seemed // She turned the key of endlessness // And locked me in a dream // Infinity

Once upon a time you were a child, playing alone. Queen Antipathie approached you and asked you to be her knight, tempting you to shed your youth and become an adult in her Realm. Not knowing what you had given up until too late you became the protector of her Realm, loving its people as much as you hated her.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 What were you doing when Queen Antipathie approached you in the forest glade? Gain
1 You were daydreaming in that magical spot. +3 WIS, skill: sense magic
2 You had enticed a doe into the glade. +3 CHA, skill: animal ken
3 You were foraging for mushrooms. +3 INT, skill: survival
4 You were swimming with your friends the Naiads in the river nearby. +3 CON, skill: swimming
5 Intent on becoming a hunter like the adults in your clan, you had cornered and were facing down a wild boar. +3 STR, skill: hunting
6 You were hiding, waiting to see who approached. +3 DEX, skill: stealth
1d6 What weapon did your Queen give you? Gain
1 A golden spear, with two scarlet ribbons twining from the spearhead. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Spear
2 A broad sword of ancient design that she said had been held by many heroes before you. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Sword
3 A long-hafted axe, struck with a dwarven prize-mark at the head. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Axe
4 A slender side-sword, nimble in your hand almost as if it knew your intent. +2 DEX, weapon specialisation: Sword
5 A silver hammer, with a pommel shaped like a beetle. +2 STR, weapon specialisation: Hammer
6 A short and jagged sword that seemed to pulse with a heartbeat as you held it. +2 CON, weapon specialisation: Sword
1d6 The Queen brought you to her Realm to face an even greater evil. What was it, and where did you fight your battle? Gain
1 A demon demanded the Queen lay down her life or it would blight the Realm. You slew it in single combat in the stone circle at Nearbury. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
2 You uncovered a political plot against the Queen and slew her would-be assassin and the Vizier attempting the coup when their endgame played out in the Owl Spire. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT. +2 INT, knack: Fleet
3 You hunted the Crone to its lair in White Marsh, and made an elixir of its brain and heart to cure the disease it had spread. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CON. +2 CON, knack: Resilience
4 You hunted for a colossal Wyrm in the Undermaze beneath the Realm. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 STR. +2 STR, knack: Great Strike
5 You confronted the Lichling in the cyclopean Temple of Aan, and resisted its offer to unite against the Queen. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS. +2 WIS, knack: Resilience
6 You battled Antipathie’s twin sister in the Inverted Citadel. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, knack: Defensive Fighter
1d6 When you left the Realm and plunged into the surrounding Mists, what did you take with you? Gain
1 Antipathie’s cartographer gave you a compass that might help beyond the Mists. +2 INT, a compass
2 You took a golden mask from the theatre to remind you of the players there. +2 CHA, a golden mask
3 A cobbler made you boots that would allow you to step between shadows. +2 DEX, shadow-step boots
4 An alchemist gave you what she claimed is a bag of dragon’s teeth, hinting that it may help you on the road ahead. +2 STR, a bag of dragon’s teeth
5 You took a mirrored shield from a statue of one of your predecessors in the Realm’s Hall of Heroes. +2 CON, a mirrored shield
6 You found and stole Antipathie’s phylactery containing her true name +2 WIS, Antipathie’s phylactery

Castle Lysander

Castle Lysander

This is a playset/re-skin for Beyond the Wall.

Lysander’s castle lies at the centre of a magical wasteland. Those who dwell in the castle are citizens of Lysander, having taken their lord’s offer of sanctuary. Many have fled untold horrors. Many more are unsure of how they arrived here; they remember the castle gates, and the mists, and the sounds and scents of the outside, though as soon as they crossed the threshold into Lysander’s domain these melted away like a dream. Almost as if the memory were hiding from them.

The characters are Lysander’s knights. They each came here from elsewhere; they are given title and responsibility above the other citizens, and they venture beyond the walls to do their lord’s bidding, not knowing what they will confront in the external landscape.

They have a sense of self and an acute connection to a place, somewhere in their past. But their families, friends, political sides, even their names — these are less certain, and they change from day to day.

How this works

This is a playset for Beyond the Wall and the Further Afield supplement. It’s been created with Beyond the Wall’s core values in mind — namely a low-prep fantasy game about a group of characters striking out from safety into unknown danger. It uses the following concepts:

  • Playbooks
  • Major locations (from Further Afield)
  • Threat packs
  • Beyond the Wall’s specific colour including True Names, magic, etc.

It differs from Beyond the Wall as follows:

  1. Characters are adults, or at least reasonably confident in their place in the world. Their ignorance of what lies beyond the wall comes from magical trickery rather than youthful ignorance.
  2. There’s no reason this can’t use the BtW rules as written; however I plan to make this system work with StormHack, which is essentially level-less (but levels come from something else).
  3. Level advancement then is about climbing the social ladder within the Castle, currying favour with the mysterious Lysander.
  4. Playbook structure is similar but there are crucial differences. Like the core game the playbooks have three common tables, and four playbook-specific tables. See below.

Characters and their playbooks

The goal of the playbooks is to present a complete set of characters each with back-story in minutes, ready to drop into an adventure. Standard BtW does it by first talking about childhood via common tables and then moving on to a set of themed tables around the playbook’s premise.

In this version the character premise is a lone figure, an eternal champion or protagonist who has found themselves outside their own time. The first three tables are common to all playbooks and cover three things:

  1. How they entered Lysander’s Castle
  2. Their audience with Lysander
  3. Someone else they met in the castle.

The next four tables describe the character in more detail. This should be imagined as if the characters, newly arrived in the castle, are sitting down together to their first meal and talking about their past. This exposition could be in-character, or it could be inferred (e.g. by the strange attire of the character, their mannerisms and other cues the other party members pick up on) or it could simply be internal monologue.

Normally in Beyond the Wall each playbook has a climactic event which also involves the player character to the right. In this case these events have been replaced with a strong sense of a location. This location will be of primary significance to the character but may have a completely different meaning to another character — their version may be a reflection, or be far in the future or the past, represent a diverging timeline, etc.

Over the next few blog posts I’m going to write some sample playbooks — the first one is at the end of this post.

Twists

One: Within the Castle

While the action game should take place outside the castle walls when running missions at the behest of Lysander (as directed by his various mouthpieces), in downtime the PCs may explore the labyrinthine castle and its many weird denizens. Consider using these relationship rules to develop relationships with the castle’s inhabitants. What do they know? What do they want?

What places are there to find in the castle? How does one’s level affect access to these places — as you go up a level and further into Lysander’s favour, are you invited to explore new and stranger sights within the castle?

Two: The Ladder

In place of, or as well as, individual character advancement levels there is a Ladder for social advancement within the castle. Advancing means access to better equipment, spells, libraries, and so on; so it means you will get the benefits of rising through your class’s levels. But in addition it grants access to new social circles, new places in the castle, more information, and even the right to ask Lysander questions directly (within a certain scope).

Three: Naysay the Cartographer

The characters have been recruited by Lysander. At the same time they have been contacted by Naysay, the secret cartographer. Naysay questions the mystery surrounding the castle; he asks why Lysander would limit information about the outside world, and not even provide a map. Naysay has therefore struck a deal with the characters: provide information about the places they visit, and he will in turn give them access to his maps.

His red-draped workshop and filing systems are a complete mess — the “map” is distributed over many pieces of paper and parchment stuffed into drawers, hung on walls behind other maps, and even cunningly woven into the rug in his room. Absconding with a map will do the characters little good. However giving him information means he will give them advice in return — in the form of Major Locations (see Further Afield).

Sample Playbook

Veteran of the Sonic Wars

The Sonic Wars: where both sides employ sonic weapons and sonic drugs which resonate key areas of the brain to control sleep and emotion; where years-old remnants of aural detonations still resonate in unexpected patterns, making any journey outside a soundproofed Dome hazardous; where the ultimate act of intimacy is to remove one’s ear pods and listen.

Starting ability scores: STR and CON of 10, all others at 8.

1d12 What was your first sight of the castle, and how did you enter? Gain
1 You emerged on a balcony to a skyline of minarets, spires and bell-towers under a starlit sky. +2 INT, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Astrology
2 You arrived at the Southern Gate and hammered your fist on the oak door until they allowed you in. +2 STR, +1 CON, +1 CHA, Skill: Intimidation
3 You cut your way through a mass of ivy to locate a small archway in the Eastern Wall. +2 CON, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Spot Hidden
4 You nearly drowned wading through a mire to reach the North Gate. +2 CON, +1 STR, +1 DEX, Skill: Swimming
5 You leapt a chasm to reach the West Gate. +2 STR, +1 DEX, +1 WIS, Skill: Athletics
6 You climbed up the well in dining hall. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS, Skill: Climbing
7 You remember falling forever, then waking in an amphitheater surrounded by weather-worn statues +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 STR, Skill: History
8 You wandered through the arboretum until you found the Southern Gate. +2 DEX, +1 INT, +1 CON, Skill: Navigation
9 You entered a submerged bunker in the desert and followed a rough-hewn passage to the Eastern Gate. +2 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CHA, Skill: History
10 A portal in the temple by the lake carried you over a blue-starred causeway to the North Gate. +2 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA, Skill: Legend Lore
11 Stones around your ankles dragged you down to the sea bottom, where you found the Western Gate. +2 CON, +1 WIS, +1 DEX, Skill: Breath Control
12 You emerged from a sarcophagus in the mausoleum. +2 CHA, +1 WIS, +1 CON, Skill: Sense Death
1d8 Upon entering the castle you were told that you were now in Lysander’s domain and under his protection. What happened? Gain
1 Lysander addressed you in a booming voice from a balcony, his features obscured in shadow +2 STR, +1 INT
2 Lysander entertained you in a grand room, offering you a jet-black wine +2 WIS, +1 CHA
3 Lysander’s seneschal regretfully informed you that his master was occupied, and to enjoy the lavish meal laid in front of you +2 CON, +1 WIS
4 You chased Lysander, a cloaked figure in a white mask, through a hedge maze demanding answers — but he was always just out of reach +2 DEX, +1 STR
5 Old and kindly Lysander appeared at your bedside, asking if you had rested well and offering you bread and fruit +2 CHA, +1 CON
6 Young and androgynous Lysander escorted you through a gallery of their ancestors’ portraits +1 WIS, +1 INT, +1 CHA
7 You glimpsed Lysander, flanked by an entourage of armoured hyena warriors, as they passed through a grand colonnade +1 CON, +1 INT, +1 STR
8 You crept into Lysander’s sanctum, and witnessed them converse with a living mist billowing from a brazier +1 DEX, +1 INT, +1 WIS
1d8 Who else did you meet in the castle? Gain
1 Prome, librarian +2 INT, +1 CON
2 Fulker, mistress of owls and hawks +2 DEX, +1 INT
3 Madame Zmeice, keeper of the observatory +2 WIS, +1 CHA
4 Vain, steward +2 CHA, +1 INT
5 Constable, castle security +2 STR, +1 INT
6 Orville, fool in motley +1 INT, +1 DEX, +1 CON
7 Elle, sitting in an apple tree +1 CHA, +1 INT, +1 DEX
8 Durt, skulking pot-washer +1 CON, +1 WIS, +1 CHA

As you sit down to eat with your fellow knights you recall your past life. Your armour and weapons leave no doubt that you’re a Warrior of some skill. You have the class abilities of knacks and weapon specialisation.

1d6 How were you recruited? Gain
1 Citizenship demands enlistment — you signed up thinking it was a way to climb the social ladder. +3 CHA, knack: Fleet
2 You were conscripted along with the rest of your Dome. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
3 Your parents were career military, so you followed their example. +3 CON, knack: Weapon Specialisation
4 You were abducted from a border village and illegally pressed into service. +3 CON, knack: Resilient
5 You were idealistic and believed the recruiter’s propaganda. +3 STR, knack: Defensive Fighter
6 The enemy hit your Dome and killed everyone you knew. You enlisted bent on revenge. +3 STR, knack: Great Strike
1d6 What was your first taste of war? Gain
1 You were patrolling a village, and without warning your whole squad was hit with a sonic weapon. You remember shooting desperately as your sergeant sounded the retreat. +2 WIS, Weapon specialisation: carbine
2 You were waiting in a trench for the big push. Someone thrust a sword into your hand and pushed you over the top. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
3 Your unit received a cavalry charge, and in the chaos you picked up a lance from a fallen cavalier and defended yourself. +2 CON, Weapon specialisation: lance
4 In the middle of battle you fenced with an enemy lieutenant. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: sword
5 You and an equally green enemy soldier found yourselves fleeing into a maze of tiny passages under a ruined bunker, where you stalked each other in the dark. +2 DEX, Weapon specialisation: pistol
6 You were forced to defend an undersupplied fort over several weeks. When the enemy finally broke in you had to grab whatever was to hand to defend yourself. +2 STR, Weapon specialisation: club
1d6 Deep in the wasteland you found a place of peace. What was it? Gain
1 An abandoned ballroom filled with holographic ghosts of party-goers. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 DEX. +2 DEX, skill: Dancing
2 A ruined theatre full of abandoned set pieces and costumes, posters and flyers of past performances. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA. +2 CHA, skill: Acting
3 A dusty museum full of enormous displays depicting life in earlier times. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: History
4 A greenhouse of thriving and overgrown vegetation, fruits and vegetables. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 WIS +2 WIS, skill: Plant lore
5 A gallery of white walls, wide open spaces and huge canvases of vibrant paintings. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 CHA +2 CHA, skill: Art
6 A library of maze-like stacks with books on every imaginable subject. The friend to your right has seen, heard of or read about a similar place; what do they know? They gain +1 INT +2 INT, skill: Trivia
1d6 What did you take from the battlefield? Gain
1 A grenade. +2 STR, grenade
2 A collection of letters from a fallen comrade. +2 WIS, Letters
3 A pair of decent boots from an officer. +2 DEX, Fine boots
4 Identity papers from an enemy combatant. +2 CHA, Identity papers
5 A small white flower growing in the mud, which you pressed in a book. +2 CON, a flower
6 An officer’s sight-glass. +2 INT, Sight-glass

huh.

Concrete Cow 17.5

I won something! I never win anything.

The thing is the new Traveller Starter Set which I scored in the Concrete Cow raffle:

That’s the box side-by-side with my original GDW Traveller Starter Edition. I’ve looked at Mongoose Traveller before and I basically felt if I were inclined to run Trav, I’d use this version. There’s an in-depth review of the core in Reviews from R’lyeh so I’ll just give my first take:

  • it’s a lovely box with a ribbon to help you lift the books out
  • three books covering Characters and Combat, Spaceships, and a campaign, plus a map and pre-gens, all in a minimalist black with red stripe
  • The artwork is growing on me. Didn’t care for it initially thanks to a couple of duff ones, but the illustrations of armour and gear are cool and really bring the game up-to-date — I always imagined Jack and Mesh armour to be sort of like a blouson, but here they look like Mass Effect-style flight suits
  • Given how much I’ve complained about Mongoose’s Eternal Champion layout, this is a vast improvement. I don’t much like white on black pages but the career section really stands out

The one thing that annoys me is the pre-gens don’t use a hexadecimal UPP. What’s up with that? Yeah, anyway. I would never have thought to buy this, and now I kinda want to run it.

The other bit of loot I got was an upgrade to my All Rolled Up “Nevermore” in the premium Harris Tweed version. Of course when I got it home the other half asked why the hell I went with all-black (“Steggles”) since the point of tweed is to be, well, tweed. Actually it’s got a really nice lining and the texture is gorgeous. It’s authentic cloth, apparently hand-woven for ARU in the Outer Hebrides (and they even have an exclusive pattern woven for them). Seek them out! Buy ARU stuff! (Note that they had a lot more patterns than you can see on the website and you really need to see these in the flesh)

Cthulhu Hack

In the morning I played The Cthulhu Hack with the author, Paul Baldowski, who was testing out the new scenario Tainted. These are my brief remarks about the system:

  1. Really like the Flashlights, Smokes and Sanity decreasing Usage Dice. I know the Black Hack’s Usage Dice are a bit marmite, but this feels like a solid implementation since it’s not about physical resources
  2. I was less keen on the disconnect between the usual OSR six stats, and the Flashlights and Smokes. It’s easy to assume that a high INT character is going to be a top investigator, only to find that really it’s the number of dice you put into Flashlights that matters and INT is kind of irrelevant.
  3. Thinking about this some more, I wonder if INT should interact with Flashlights (and CHA with Smokes) more. Say, roll INT normally but to get an automatic clue (as you would in Trail of Cthulhu) use the Flashlight.
  4. Character generation was quick, the ARU wipe-clean character sheets are genius
  5. I liked the idea of having separate special talents dealt to us from a card deck, but in practice I rarely looked at them (but then I’m terrible at hoarding resources like Strings)

Bottom line, just as Cthulhu Dark is all you really need to run CoC’s straight cosmic horror, The Cthulhu Hack seems a great system for running pulpy CoC with a nod to Trail of Cthulhu. Way easier to get up and running. I think it would probably complement Silent Legions nicely.

My Game: Monsterhearts

In the afternoon I played through my Pale Assassins setting for Monsterhearts 2. To do this I usedI added “skin tattoos” over the top of regular Monsterhearts 2 skins, which is a technique used by Epistolary Richard for his Dark Dungeons game.

The three “tattoos” I used were:

  • The Outsider, a character newly arrived in the town of Gaelen; they were played as either the Mortal or the Hollow.
  • The Regent was the leader of the Ruritanian colony; the skin options were Fae, Queen or Vampire. They had a few special moves for Holding Court.
  • The Court was composed of the other five skins — Ghoul, Ghost, Infernal, Werewolf, Witch. All of them had a special move for Petitioning the Court.

On top of that I had a mapping technique called Depth. The idea is that the Real World (aka the Wasteland) has a Depth of zero, and as you get further into the magical world the Depth increases, kind of like John Crowley’s Little Big. The characters, being not quite real, can’t exist outside Gaelen for too long (just as the townsfolk in The Land of Laughs sicken and die, and Storybrook’s citizens forget their magical nature outside the town in Once Upon A Time). Each of the characters had territory with its own Depth within the magical town.

I made a move for working Territorial Magic:

When you Work Magic Through Unreal Territory, roll Deep. On a 10+ you can choose:
Gaze into the Abyss as a 10+
Confront a supernatural force (make a move if you wish)
Go Deeper into the Unreal
Extend the Territory if it’s yours to play with
On a 7-9 the above happens but
The Regent gets a String on you, or
The Supernatural Force gets a String on you

If it’s not your Territory, the Territory’s claimant may get a String on you.

And there were the Assassins… I had a counting mechanism to herald the approach of the Assassins, the idea being that as the count went down the moves they would take in their pursuit of the Regent would be more extreme and damaging. The Assassins manifested as golems formed of tiny white flowers that don’t grow outside Ruritania.

The session was OK BUT I realised a few things. The first was: don’t gild the lily. Instead of adding layers onto Monsterhearts, work with the mechanics already present.

The second was: PvP games aren’t really my thing, and whilst this setting should work for Monsterhearts, that system doesn’t quite sit for me. So I will probably try this again, but next time using something like Dramasystem (and maybe Malandros).

The third thing was: this really isn’t a one-shot game. One session isn’t enough for a Twin Peaks style slow burn. So maybe I need to pick a system, and then run it for a short campaign.

I’ll write up Gaelen shortly.

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