This is a pretty useless pen, but a lot of fun and a quick and easy way to get into calligraphy. Pilot Parallel pens are so called because they have two parallel plates that feed ink between them (rather than a nib or dip pen) and they work really really well. They come with a handy little booklet of different styles, and they also come in four sizes:
I recommend getting a big one to start with, just because it’s easier to use. But then of course you’ll go through a lot of paper… anyway, in a few short sessions you can realise just how easy gothic black letter is:
OK, I’m sure someone who’s actually good at calligraphy would find fault but… for the rest of us, it’s a start.
The parallel pens come with specific cartridges and no converter. I used a couple and then filled all four of my pens eyedropper style (take some silicon grease to the threads and just fill the body up; I didn’t bother with an o ring). Ink is Diamine Graphite, that never really grabbed me as much as I wanted it to until I put it in these pens.
Some day I’ll finish the alphabet for my Sabriel game…
I’m a big fan of Kaweco, and I really like the Kaweco Sport.
The “classic” sport is made of ABS plastic, not glamorous but tough. It’s pocket sized and lozenge shaped:
Once you post them, they’re a decent size.
They come in lots of different colours and formats — I have a black “guilloche” with an EF nib, and a burgundy one with an ink roller tip.
The nibs are great. They also come in different materials like acrylic and aluminium and carbon fibre and now brass. The only downside is the section and nib are both short so you’re either going to hold the pen close to the tip, or hold it around the section threads. That’s actually more comfy with the cheapo plastic pen than the (much) pricer Aluminium, so for everyday use I’d go with the cheap ones. You can still get decent replacement nibs.
Cartridge only, though. I’m using the nice-but-boring Royal Blue that came with the pen, and a Visconti red cartridge (because I wanted the fancy Bakelite cartridge case).
Apparently the little coin on the case was for displaying a corporate logo when the cases were given out as gifts.
I really recommend a Noodler’s Ahab. They’re not the easiest to get hold of in the UK (but not impossible) but they’re cheap, you can completely disassemble them for cleaning, and you can flex them:
Which means you get some great line variation.
It also means you lay down a lot of ink, which will affect the colour of the strokes and in some inks (like this “Deep Dark Purple” from Cult Pens) you get sheen.
Not the best pictures, but you can see that the sheen is a really nice shade of dark green on top of the purple (don’t tell the Drazi).
The only issue with flexing is it takes so much ink at once that sometimes the feed can’t keep up. But also some Ahabs just don’t like some inks — it may have something to do with the ebonite feed, rather than a plastic one. Here it runs dry on heavy flexing.
Of course I was really pushing the flex on that one — normally when I write the result is more like the middle line. It still lays ink pretty wet, but that can work with e.g. laid writing papers. Gives a lot of character to the writing, even if you don’t know how to do copperplate.
I recently discovered (thanks, social media) that every line of Stephen Lack’s dialogue in Cronenberg’s Scanners was re-recorded and used in place of the original. It explains how Cameron Vale’s voice is present in a subtly different way to the other characters, although maybe that wasn’t intentional.
I’d heard samples from Scanners before I’d even seen the film (yeah, I know).
I’ve already declared my deep joy at Silent Legions’ epub format — without illustrations and multiple columns I blazed through about half of the text yesterday on a couple of short bus journeys.
It’s easy to gloss over Silent Legions as “the OSR does Sandbox Cthulhu” which puts it on a pretty crowded field already, even before we start to consider the Cthulhu-alikes such as Kult and Nemesis. And gloss over is what I do more often than not; I don’t have much tolerance for other people’s worldbuilding efforts these days. RPGs are tools to be exploited (with the exception of self-contained storygames).
So let’s say you’re like me: you have an itch to run a cosmic horror game “your way” and you have many different games at your fingertips. You could pick any one (or more) of those systems, cut-and-shut until you have the right combination of mechanics to serve your purposes.
In the process of assembling your campaign, where’s the hard work? Picking the system should be easy, particularly if your group has a tried and tested favourite. You will have to take a knife to your chosen game and turf out any established mythos and ecosystem, although that shouldn’t be too hard — the smell of Unknown Armies or World of Darkness is likely to linger for a few sessions, but you’ll probably get over that quickly.
The bulk of the creative work will be building your pantheon of nameless horrors, factions, and adventures. In doing so you’ll mentally deconstruct your genre of choice: you will externalise the need for an overarching cosmic structure, human scale factions, alien influences, metaphysics of magic, and so on.
And this is exactly what Crawford has done with Silent Legions. There is no setting here, there is only genre, and that makes this game phenominally useful.
Let’s get the boring and obvious bit out the way first.
You have four character classes (Scholar, Investigator, Socialite and Tough) each with their own skills, special abilities, and Prime Attributes. These progress through levels in OSR style. Combat, saves, stats, Armour Class are all familiar — nothing weird that would get in the way of players getting into character.
The skill system is functional and appears identical to Stars Without Number (2d6 and add your skill), as does the approach to Sorcery/Disciplines (five levels). Madness is new, as is the use of the “slaughter die” in combat (roll a d6 or bigger die along with your damage dice; on a 6 or more, triple the damage). Finally the class special abilities are activated by “expertise” points, which regenerate overnight — meaning that class abilities are useful but don’t dominate. Magic can be paid for in either Expertise or Madness.
That’s pretty much it. It’s the usual weird OSR melange of arms and legs, but in many ways it will probably get out of the way more effectively than a lot of other systems.
For the GM: Workflow
Where Silent Legions really shines is genre deconstruction and the implied workflow for the GM to build their complete world:
Tone and theme.
Create your pantheon of dark gods.
Kelipot, the places outside normal space.
Locations and location tags for your world.
Cults (a.k.a. Factions).
We already knew these different areas. But Crawford is not teaching us to suck eggs; this is a masterful deconstruction of the genre, a step-by-step aide memoir for making a complete world.
More importantly it’s not just paragraph after paragraph of text. There’s a truly remarkable number of tables in each section for random creation. There are epithets for the dark gods, motivations for aliens, flora and fauna and cultural flavour for Kelipot, foundation events for Cults, strangeness for Artifacts, and so on.
The world-building section uses the same location tags as SWN, although for some reason I found SL much more accessible. It’s worth mentioning in detail:
There are sixty location tags (randomised with d6 and d10)
Each tag has an evocative name like Bitter Envy or Cult Beachhead
Each tag has five elements: Enemies, Friends, Schemes, Secrets, Places.
Each of those elements includes a few terse examples, for example the Friends in Cult Beachhead include “Clergy for dwindling local faith” and “Suspicious society grandee”
This section packs a remarkable amount of value in a very small space, and again Crawford’s attention to the genre shows.
SL recognises the main mode of this genre is investigation, and requires preparation; and the advice given for the Adventure Template section is a process of Build, Tighten the Framework, and Implement. It also talks about change in the sandbox, and the need to clean up after an adventure in a given location.
The Scenes section is remarkably detailed. Crawford identifies Resolution, Investigation, Introduction, Hook, Ambush, Conflict, Escape, and Respite scenes, each with their own tables (for randomising or examples). Then there are specific Challenges that target a given class (for example the Socialite has a table of “People who want something” and the Investigator has “Infiltrating a place”). The section is finished with random tables for NPCs and crimes.
Cults are analogous to SWN’s Factions. Each Cult has its own attributes, actions it will take to further its aims, and resources. Cult Turns are intended to be run once per game month. There are point-buy costs for assets at different levels, and descriptions of those assets, some of which could then be plugged into locations and adventures.
The Monsters section is all about making monsters, and acknowledges the different kind of horror such monsters exude (Body Horror, Domination Horror, etc.). Yet more tables for fun.
The final section of GM’s Resources is a patchwork affair of ideas — each gets its own page. The Lovecraftian Name Generator is probably essential, the Secret Adepts tables are great, and there is the obligatory advice on how to use SL with other games (notably SWN and fantasy).
The comparisons with CoC are inevitable, but this game works hard to distance itself from Lovecraftian Horror and has the potential to be much more.
Right now I fancy using this kit for a Clive Barker-inspired setting like Weaveworld or The Great and Secret Show where the horror and mythology borders on urban fantasy, and where the characters actively explore worlds outside Earth, using the Gnostic themes as suggested. I think you could actually downplay the horror and run a good fantasy game with this kit.
Historical games could be great, too. What about an early modern horror game borrowing from LotFP? What about a Dark Ages game? What about the Name of the Rose? How about giving Cthulhu Invictus a run for its money?
The OSR framework may not be everyone’s cup of tea — but actually a lot of the tables are system agnostic, and good for inspiration for a campaign or one-shot game. What you’ve got here in the end is a creative process in a very tidy package. Highly recommended.
Yes, well done Giles. I remember when you were advertising Nescafe.
The article that follows is not mine, it’s by Pete Kautz of Alliance Martial Arts. It was posted last year on the Powered by the Apocalypse forum and then just recently re-shared on the PbtA G+ community. Since social media can be transient I’m reposting for visibility, with kind permission of the author. I’ve copied it below with minor changes to formatting and headings for ease of reading, &c.
It’s an odd-but-nice feeling having taken a few of Pete’s seminars years ago (recommended!) and then to see his name turn up in a totally different hobby context — although obviously the WMA and RPG demographics overlap. I played games with Milo before I joined his fencing school.
Five Conversational Hypnosis Tools For MCs: NLP “Verbal Components” For Better AW Gaming
By Pete Kautz, 2014
I’ve been gaming since 1978 and in real life among the thing’s you’d note on my “character sheet” is that I’m a certified professional hypnotist (CPH) who regularly works with clients on various life issues. This article draws on both experiences and is my way of saying THANK YOU SIR to Vincent Baker for writing AW. I thought it better to try and contribute something others could use than simply say it’s awesome and we’re having a ton of fun playing it. So here goes…
The premise of this piece is that for every player who’s primed to barf forth apocalypticia alongside the MC, there are probably two others with a great story going on inside their heads but who are just not able to fully articulate it all at once.
The goal here is to give MCs a series of five linguistic diagnostic tools they can utilize to better understand what the hell the players are talking about. These tools work exactly the same at the gaming table as they do in my office, to enhance the quality of communication and put everyone involved on the same page in our imagined space.
Each tool gives the MC a simple way to draw out more information from the players and help them express their inner vision of Apocalypse World to everyone at the table.
Each of these is set up like a mathematical formula for ease of use. You simply take the player’s words and plug them into a version of the sample Challenge Question (CQ). In each case, the answer to the CQ will help add more depth of understanding to the fictional setting by providing greater clarity.
The MC should conversationally vary the CQ to avoid monotony or sounding like you’re performing an interrogation (unless, of course, you ARE performing an interrogation in the scene…)
Dealing with Unspecified Nouns
Whenever you hear an UNSPECIFIED NOUN, reply with a version of “Which NOUN, specifically?”
“What do you see across the marketplace?”
“A bunch of Thugs”
“Which Thugs, specifically?”
“Thugs from the nearby town of Shell”
Dealing With Unspecified Verbs
Whenever you hear an UNSPECIFIED VERB, reply with a version of “How VERB, specifically?”
“What are the Thugs from the town of Shell doing?”
“Following Little Lulu”
“How specifically are they following Little Lulu?”
“They are keeping a distance and trying to blend with the crowds but they’re moving too quickly which is why I spotted them.”
“Cool! What do you do about it?”
“Nothing, she’s a complete bitch!”
Dealing With Fat Words / Nominalizations
Fat Words are words that sound like Nouns but are NOT. The easy test is “If it sounds like a noun but you can’t put it in a box, it’s likely a Fat Word” For example “hammer, nails, sheep” are nouns we can all pretty much agree on the meaning of. “Joy, Excitement, Loyalty, Safety” are Fat Words that mean different things to different people.
For example, somone might say they want “More adventure in their life”, and to them “adventure” means going on a summer bus trip to a museum while to you “adventure” might mean having a MMA cage fight. Listen to TV advertising and politicians and you’ll hear Fat Words used in abundance.
Whenever you hear a FAT WORD, reply with a version of “FAT WORD according to whom?” ”What does it mean to be FAT WORD?” “How would you know someone/thing is FAT WORD”
“Really! Little Lulu’s a complete bitch according to whom?”
“Everyone in the market place that I know at least. She throws around her weight every time she comes to buy things because she’s Sparkplug’s girl and the merchants are all really tired of her shit.”
“Oh, that’s very interesting. Anyhow, tell me some more about that Gang from Shell”
“They are very patriotic”
“How do you know they are very patriotic? What is it they do to show their patriotism?”
“They are totally loyal to the Mayor of Shell, a dude named Tooth. They wear a Shell patch on their right arm and follow his commands without question. He says shit and you’ll see a pile!”
“I see, so according to the Mayor of Shell if you wear a a patch and follow his commands without question then you’re very patriotic. How would you describe their behavior?”
“They’re more like his little lap dogs”
Dealing With Generalizations
Whenever you hear a GENERALIZATION ask “All GENERALIZATIONS?” or “Are there any GENERALIZATIONS that aren’t like that?” Listen for words like “all, always, everybody, never”
(Note that the MC already let two Generalizations slide by when the player said “everyone” thought Little Lulu was a bitch who threw her weight around “all the time” because the player tempered it by adding the details that this was the opinion of people “in the market place, that they know” implying there may be many other opinions of Little Lulu held by different people and groups around town.)
“I see, tell me more about what it means to be the mayor’s little lap dog”
“They’re all willing to perform tricks for the table scraps he doles out”
“Really, are that ALL willing to do tricks for the Mayor of Shell? Even Blue Bonnet and Sky who you’ve had dealings with before?”
(The MC is leading the player here, but let’s presume Blue Bonnet and Sky were existing NPCs in the fiction who have not acted in a lap dog like manner previously)
“Well, not those two but they go along with it. And I know Thumper hates the Mayor’s guts too after what he did to Calahan, but they put on the show in front of the others and do what they’re told because the mayor has so much muscle in town.”
Dealing With Rules
Whenever you hear a RULE ask “RULE according to whom?” or “What would happen if we didn’t follow RULE?”
“Nice. So, while I write down all those names, tell me about how the Gang from Shell is dressed.”
“They wear leather, furs, big boots and gas masks and are armed with crude hand weapons and bows.”
“They have gas masks on in the mid-day heat? Why is that?”
“Because they have to.”
“Who says they have to wear gas masks in this kind of heat?”
“Jujubee the Angel over in Resttop said they had to wear them all the time.”
“Fascinating! ALL the time, huh?
(The MC lets this Generalization slide because it’s an interesting detail and so they just make a note of it for now and will figure out the reason why later)
“So what do you think would happen if they stopped wearing them?”
Hopefully you already can imagine some of the different ways you can utilize these questions in your own AW games. They become quite reflexive after a short period of conscious use, and you may be surprised and delighted at all the other places in your life knowing how to ask these kinds of questions may come in handy…far from the sacred table we gather at to tell tales of glory and adventure!
Here are five things I really like in the OSR right now:
Further Afield is a supplement for Beyond the Wall. This book takes the low-prep, village centred concept of the game and inserts similar tools for campaign play including Threats (and Threat Packs), locations (and the way they are discovered by the village), and a campaign hex map. There are alternative rules for experience, rules for making characters a bit different with Traits, some nice treasure tables (in keeping with the flavour of the character and scenario tables) and expanded sections on magic and magic items.
Basically if you like Beyond the Wall this is more of the same, only with a wider scope. Lots to like, no filler, a bargain price.
Mostly the contents are subjective GMing advice on making magic items unique, running good adventures, creating creatures and generating a weird and gothic tone. If that’s your thing — particularly the last bit — this is worth a read through, as there’s not much system jargon, just good and opinionated advice. I’ve already got the dead tree version but it’s nice to have it on my tablet, particularly for bookmarking and annotating. Plus, the Grindhouse edition uses that medial s which we love.
Into the Odd
This is an incredibly light (48 pages including adventures, random tables) and fast (3 attributes for all checks, simplified levels, simple combat) and flavourful (arcana, weird places) OSR game. There’s a claim somewhere about a party going through 21 rooms in 3 hours, which is vastly different to my experience playing the Worlds Largest Dungeon with 3.5e.
This is the sort of thing you’d expect from mashing up Lamentations of the Flame Princess with Marcus Rowland’s Forgotten Futures, with maybe a dash of Everway.
I love the weird art, the font, the terse style, the sheer amount of value packed into 48 pages. Every Odd home should have one.
Silent Legions (epub version)
Kevin Crawford’s game of DIY Lovecraftian horror is obviously awesome, containing a wide range of tools for crafting a strange modern mythos your way. I like to build and play in my own worlds, and a toolkit is much more welcome than someone else’s world. Silent Legions contains some of the innovations found in other Sine Nomine publications such as location tags for your sandbox.
But I’m specifically excited that, thanks to reaching one of the Kickstarter stretch goals there is not only a pdf (which I can take or leave) but epub/mobi versions as well.
I know that not many people will care about this, but I like my Kindle. It’s very portable and I can read it in sunlight and adjust the font size. OK, I can’t view the art on a Kindle but for the first read through I just want the author’s words and ideas. I don’t care about the layout, the art, making annotations — save those for my second and third read-through when I’m dipping in and out of the text.
I wish more producers did this. A lot of people dismiss ebooks as inferior to a hard copy, and I wonder if those people are lumping epub and pdf together. I appreciate that it may be a pain to create that document (I’m sure tables are a real hassle) but for me it really adds value, my reading speed goes up, and my retention of the text gets better. I can’t be the only one.
Swords and Wizardry New Edition
Not a product, at least not yet; but something that should be celebrated and talked about. The next version of Swords and Wizardry will have an all-female art team led by Stacy Dellorfano (founder of the Contessa online convention) and featuring art with women and people of colour in iconic roles. According to the Dorkland article there will be a Kickstarter for that edition in the summer, hurrah!
I’ve not read into the S&W system too much but I do like the covers, e.g. the Whitebox cover by Pete Mullen and the Erol Otus cover on the current Complete edition:
The style makes me think of Beyond the Wall, with a bit more whimsy or liminal overtones. It will be cool to see what direction the new team takes with the book.
Grand Exhibition was an alt-Cthulhu game (that is, SAN loss and horror but not the mythos) around displaying an artist’s mind-bending work all in one place, with hilarious consequences.
Keeper’s Cottage was about running a B&B in a weird village at the junction between the human and fairy worlds.
Relics Of The Past was about running around Paris being a sociopathic were-cat.
The game I wish I’d played but didn’t was another run through Liz’ Rise and Fall, this time with a fat-shaming dystopia involving doughnut quotas, cupboard inspections, and the first public eating of chocolate on TV for a decade.
Less fun was being laid out with the ‘flu for a day, which severely got in the way of drinking:
For the Gimlet just take the juice of a lime, 2 measures of a nice gin (I use Blackwood’s), a measure of 50% sugar syrup, a few drops of Fee’s Orange Bitters, shake with ice and strain.
For the French 75, juice a lemon and add a measure of gin and one of sugar syrup, stir a bit, then add lots of ice to a tall glass, top up with fizzy wine (cheap Cava in this case), add a cherry, lemon slice and straws.
(there are lots of different ways to serve this one but the over-ice method comes from my classic cocktails book. It’s like a poncy Tom Collins)
This was the first game I ran, and it went OK but clearly needs work — so it was good to playtest before the next outing which will be at 7 Hills. The premise is Sapphire and Steel, Powered by the Apocalypse. So far I haven’t looked beyond one-shot games, but creating a longer term Front for play that links Agents and The Enemy over different missions shouldn’t be too difficult, and PbtA’s concepts of Clocks and Threats are just what I needed.
I think the players thought the Human would be boring. Certainly if you were offered the chance to play either the supernatural Steel or Sapphire, or one of the many humans that end up as collateral damage, it’s an obvious choice. However when we came to play I was pleased that the human had plenty to do, although I should have made more of her Local Knowledge / Historical Context powers.
The PvP aspects of the moves weren’t really explored because that mode of play wasn’t really familiar to the players (none of whom had played PbtA games). But also the game had a strong mission focus that meant inter-party fighting wasn’t part of the fiction.
As you’d expect from an investigation game a lot of the first moves would be observation in order to divine where the next clue was. In keeping with canon the Sapphire PC had plenty to do, and spent most of his time reading the situation and opening his mind. The Silver (Engineer) and Steel (Director) PCs had less to do by comparison, although both had fairly strong abilities. I was also a bit surprised at how much fighting went on in the end stages — so clearly this is another place some playbooks can be expanded and reinforced, which is good.
A few powers didn’t work, like Sacrifice (because the exchange rate of Harm for Help was not good). Also while Hx should have come into things with Steel ordering the other characters around and helping them or being helped by them, the actual Hx values I assigned were too low to be helpful. I think I mistook Hx for being liked. That’s another fix.
The most gratifying part: the players said it was true to the genre in their eyes, which is what matters above all. I think apart from the minor issues of some moves not making sense I’m not in too bad shape for the next run through.
Death Comes To Wyverley
I ran my modified version of Beyond the Wall on the last day. Much more within my comfort zone than Transuranic World. Nevertheless the game was still a playtest, as in I wasn’t just running a one-shot but a reusable game pack. Any mechanical changes I’d made needed to be solid.
The first problem was time; despite planning the playbooks last year I’d still only half-finished them (excuses, excuses; lots of foreign travel and stress). The common tables for nearly all the playbooks are done and got used, but the others are still in progress.
Since I didn’t have time to present them in the state I wanted, I improvised a bit of storygame-type character generation which I now submit as an alternative and systemless approach. It goes like this:
Your playbook concept has four key questions to ask about your character.
Ask each question in turn by going around the group and asking the other players for an answer.
The player then picks the answer they like the most.
GM fills in the stat upgrades, skills and powers that you’d normally get from the playbook (while the players break for lunch).
It took a bit longer than the standard method and there was afterwork required by the GM, but it worked really well. The links to the playbooks overview and common tables are provided at the bottom.
Other things I worked into the game:
Relationships worked well, coming directly from the common tables at character gen (see link below). I don’t think they need any mechanical weight, just a line item on the character sheet.
Modified damage rules worked very well. The idea was to limit the rate of hit-point loss so the players wouldn’t turn around for home at the first hint of damage; but it was all illusiory, and just made the PCs take more risks and go closer to 0 HP. In the end everyone survived but two PCs were right at the edge of Death. No rolls fudged.
Speaking of Death, three characters ended up in the First Precinct thanks to misuse of the Abhorsen’s bells and one PC being actually properly dead (but they got better). The rules for sliding towards the Gates worked, and will need minimal tweaking.
They used the Abhorsen’s Bells a lot. Here I tweaked the Ritual rules and made the game level-less, so the Abhorsen-in-waiting did end up ringing Saraneth, but the stakes were still there. She was lucky that she never ended up a slave to Saraneth’s will, although she screwed up Kibeth and threw half the party into Death at one point.
The main problem I had was the constant switching between roll-over (to hit and saving throws) and roll-under (stat checks for skill rolls, etc.). It’s something I’ve always had a problem with in Beyond the Wall and I’m not sure how to fix other than by the group just getting familiar with it.
The next change I intend to make is with the damage system, using Armour as a damage reduction mechanism — reducing the roll on the dice before damage is calculated. Even 1 point of armour will have a 1 in 3 chance of reducing the damage taken.
That deviates further from the standard D&D AC model, but that’s a trivial fix. Just create a Dodge attribute that rises with the levels in line with wearing better and better armour, and use that value in place of AC when a monster rolls to-hit. All you’ve done is change a class attribute from being externally regulated (by class permission and money) to internally (by level).
The other change I’m considering is to the character’s levels, possibly to remove them entirely. However as clunky as levels appear actually I think they work really well. Superimposed over the college system they could work in-fiction, too.
Useful links for the game so far (links to pdf docs):