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Moving out

I'm leaving LiveJournal soon. I've been getting fed up with the Russian friendbots, and I've been introduced to the wonders of Wordpress. I would love to think that my friends here will drop by at my new home to read, enjoy and comment. Hope to see you there.


I thought I knew it all....

This time checking out Lord of the Green Dragon's excellent 'blog and this was buried in a long post about the old school movement:

"If you want to go really old school, who's to say you shouldn't roll your character's hit points every morning when they wake up. So a fighter that rolled an 8 on that D8 yesterday may only start with a 1 today. Thus, the adventurers would need to consult with each other about how they're feeling before deciding to sally forth, or else wait until tomorrow. Does anyone really want to go back to that excess? It's how it was done for a period, and straight out of OD&D. "

I never knew that. You rolled your hit points every day? Wow.

And then I thought, how cool is that? I've never, ever seen such a thing in RPGs, but it makes a crazy kind of sense!


Gaming Bling

Was checking out Mike Mearls' excellent gaming 'blog and admiring his photos. Did a double take at the Gelatinous Cube when I realised it was hollow and you could put a PC in it!

Taking the Pain out of Campaign

Came across an absolutely brilliant resource for campaigns. Obsidian Portal is a shared site for you and your players, which you can open up to the public if you like. I'm still messing around with it, but so far I'm very impressed with what I see.

Fantasy Noir

The body blow hit Skilari like a falling tree. He folded instantly and gargled dead air, sucking and gasping at something that wouldn't come. He collapsed into the fetid black earth dislodging two fat black millipedes from a fleshy root, the dark grains stinging the cuts on his neck and cheek.
"Enough... enough..." he coughed from his now horizontal world. "Whatever it is you want, I can get it for you."
Two iron shod boots looked back at him sideways on. They were as trees, planted and unmoving, as stoic as their owner.
Selar crouched beside the shaking fink. She cocked her scarved head to one side, the better to see his lying eyes. She blinked like a snake as if to decide whether to strike or be on her way. Instead she tasted the air.
"You know what Skilari? I'm never sure whether I'd prefer it if you lot cried, spat or just shut up. Everybody starts off with a show of some kind, strength, terror, whatever. But in the end it always comes down to whimpering, face down in the mud."
"Look, Selar," he began, sensing a chance to negotiate. He reasoned; if we're talking, I'm not dying. Selar flicked him in the eye with a delicately sharpened fingernail.
"No. You look ratboy. You've cost my mates. They had cash tied up in an enterprise of yours and you let them down."
"But I didn't know,"
"And, there are penalties for such behaviour as you are well aware. There's bugger all point pleading your innocence with me because I can't afford to go back without a result can I?" A rhetorical eyebrow cocked. "Now, I don't care about you or anything you have to say. I just need you to walk. We'll show you where. So up you get and start picking up the pace. Let's not make this night any longer than it has to be, alright?"
Selar straightened herself and brushed imaginary lint from her moleskin strides. She cadged a smoke from Piotr with a gesture and the big Khadoran hefted Skilari to his tremulous feet before roughly shoving the man onwards down the marsh path.
Selar sparked her smoke with a tindertwig.
"He'll be no trouble" muttered Piotr. "We'll be at the safehouse soon enough and we can get on."
"We'll see Piotr. You never can tell with these money men. But you're right, let's push on."
The three slipped through the bayou. Skilari's hands were bound in the small of his back, his once expensive overjacket scrunched around his elbows. Occasionally he slipped and went up to a knee in brackish, dead water. Piotr heaved him back on track and herded him deeper into the throat of Widower's Wood. The three of them moved steadily, Piotr's hand lantern barely piercing the green black gloom of twisted boughs and creepers. As the night got blacker and a chill air sent the flies to their torpor the trio arrived at the tumbled ruin of the villa.
Skilari went down again, hard. His jaw cracked off the marbled floor and a moan issued from behind his fat lip.
"Stay there." commanded the big man.
The villa floor was flat and dry, perhaps the only place with such attributes for a league or more. Caen's twin moons could be seen through the canopy of giant ferns and night blossoms which offered a meaty stench to the night flyers and crawlers. The light of those moons painted a quicksilver edge to the green black bayou, and neatly outlined the fallen pillars and stunted walls that had once framed the villa a thousand years ago. Now there was little remaining but for the mosaic floor which would have gleamed red and ivory in the sun, but now traced a blood diagram in the dark.
Piotr set his hand lantern down on a block of chipped masonry, flicking open the tiny iron shutters so that the pale orange glow could fight the dark. Meantime, Selar ground out her smoke under her boot and moved to the patch of floor over by the furthest fallen column. She narrowed her black lined eyes until she could make out the rune scratched into the tessera. The capital G was invisible unless you knew what you were looking for. Selar knew, she'd done this before. She drew the Cryxian dirk from it's retooled sheath and with it's cross sectioned tip scraped the moss from the lines of the concealed trap door. Piotr stepped over and pushed away the column with straining arms. The ton of stone rolled away crunching dried bark and vine as it went. When Piotr had cleared the way Selar popped the seals on the door and jemmied it up with the dagger. Swampy air rushed from the opening like a dying breath.

Science Gone Mad

This is a very old story indeed, but I was reminded of it today.
Apparently, back in the sixties, there was a lot of reclassification done in biology and botany. You know, like what does a zebra count as, how about a duck billed platypus? Anyway, it turns out that there was a great deal of discussion about the whale. A certain Dr Cook-Moore wanted it reclassified as an insect. Imagine that.


When Evil Comes Calling

So I was having a brief conversation with my old mate Danurai today. He's been working up a potential new character for our weekly D&D game, a Drow Avenger. Fair enough. Then he wanted to know if it was ok to be evil. He'd been reading an article about just such a thing, so before I started replying to him in BIG CAPITAL LETTERS saying NO, I thought I owed it to him to give it a read. As I did I realised that there are all sorts of ways to play a game, but there are some that simply don't sit well with your regular home game.

"Whether or not you agree to let one person in the game play an evil character, or let everyone in the game play evil characters, you should absolutely have the talk. What's that? I like to call it the "don't be a jerk and don't be a baby" talk. It's a real, honest discussion about the tone of the game you are about to play. It's a verbal agreement to not let the nefarious actions of characters spill over into real-life arguments. It is the group realization that you are about to play something that will be challenging. It's going to be more work than a normal campaign."

Stephen Radney-MacFarland

A one shot is another kettle of fish though. Could an all evil game be just right if you had 4 or 5 hours to let rip with all your dark desires?

Of course, some RPGs make playing the bad guys all part of the fun, World of Darkness immediately springs to mind. But that's the default way of playing in that world. What would be fun to turn on it's head?

There's been some cracking zombie games of late, All Flesh... being perhaps the best known. Maybe it would be interesting to turn the tables and actually play the roles of the brains-seeking ravenous hordes? On a related note, did you ever catch the Marvel Zombies series where the traditional superheroes all caught the flesh eating bug. There's got to be mileage in running a supers one shot where you all play the villains, undead villains at that.

Of course, the traditional games could get a makeover too. D&D has always had Drow, Tieflings and other 'bad boys'. I'm not convinced there's a viable campaign in it, but for a one shot, I'd like to see the results. Or perhaps just flip the presumed game on it's head and play the monsters defending their dungeon against the predations of a band of shiny armoured adventurers. I've got an Ogre based scenario that does just that, I'll do a review of it if I remember.

Your thoughts, comments and opinions, always welcome!


Pros and Cons: Call of Cthulhu

Every now and again I'll be reviewing a role playing game from the viewpoint of Convention suitability. This is the first, the granddaddy of Con gaming, Call of Cthulhu.


This game should be rubbish. It's got nothing going or it at all really. The system is barely functional, the background is too scholarly, and the PCs are pretty much useless in any conflict. Also, it's expected that you die, or go mad if you're lucky, in most games. Except, except, except...


The game has been around for more than 25 years. It's fans are legion and actually give gaming zealotry a good name. Entire conventions are built around it. It's spawned an industry that has tentacles in the mainstream. It's launched magazines and websites devoted to it. It's also become, in my opinion, the quintessential Convention offering. How on earth did that happen?


Strangely, for a review, I'm not going to go into the ins and outs of the rules or the setting, because if you don't know them by now, well, what have you been doing with yourself all this time? The rules are essentially BRP (Basic Role Playing), which means they could be described as a pretty simple gaming toolkit. Functional. On paper, those rules really shouldn't work, and many have tried to update or straight out rewrite them. For modern examples, see Trail of Cthulhu or CthulhuTech. Even CoC itself is on it's sixth edition, not that you'd really notice once you get past the cover. It's one of those games that's all the better for it's wonkiness. It's a bit like AD&D, absolutely full of holes, needs lots of patching, or handwaving, by GMs, and is played in a slightly different way at every game. Maybe its because of these idiosyncrasies that the game has proved so durable. Certainly, you can learn to play it in less than 2 minutes, a boon to any Con GM (a role called the Keeper of Arcane Lore in CoC, Keeper for short). It's also a cinch to modify, adding in skills is as simple as just writing them down and giving them a number from 1 to 100, the higher the better. Situational rules are well covered by Spot rules in the game, but frankly you can wing it with bonuses and penalties on the fly. It even has a resistance table that covers, well, I can't imagine a conflict it can't resolve with a single roll. So, there are good rules in CoC, even if many Keepers never really touch them. As an example of that take a look at character generation, for many experienced Con Keepers, a section read once, a long time ago, and then largely discarded in favour of customised pregens.


Balance is a notion utterly alien to CoC, from chargen right through to the combat rules. When you get to the antagonists, balance has been torn up and thrown in the bin. You see, one of the main points of the game is to lose. The universe is a place that cares not a jot for you or your humanity or your petty concerns. It doesn't even care enough to actively hate you, it just considers you the way you consider the bacteria on your teeth, beneath your notice. That's if you're lucky. Actually, in many CoC scenarios, you have been noticed, or made yourselves such. In which case the creatures of the Cthulhu Mythos have the means to swat you like a fly, assuming you don't turn into a dribbling madman for just looking at them. Essentially, it's game over whenever the Keeper feels like it. The players know this too, and they lap it up and keep coming back for more.


All these things come together in an imperfect storm of Con gaming gold.

Rules that you're best off not looking at too closely


a setting where the less you know the better


an inevitable end point


an unwritten social contract of genre acceptance


a one shot game that cannot fail.


Con Keepers over the years have bent the game into barely recognisable shapes (how Lovecraftian). I've seen Roman Cthulhu, wild west, deep space, Elizabethan, stone age,  you name it it's been Cthulhu'ed. Even it's default setting of the 1920's has had games set in every concievable corner of the globe. Maybe it's this near infinite malleabilty that appeals so much to the gamer?


Or maybe it's the cosmic horror? I can't say I've ever been scared in a CoC game. Unsettled, yes, nervous and excited, plenty of times, but never truly frightened. Maybe you don't have to be scared in a horror game, and that's what CoC is billed as after all. Perhaps it's that unknowable, cosmic, uncaring universe element that people keep coming back to, more than simple shadows and gore that so many other games provide.  It's not like you can't have fun in a CoC game, you can and you will. I've heard more laughter at CoC tables than I have at any number of other games, and still, the game is all about the atmosphere. Watch the way that when a CoC Con game enters it's last hour the players all tend to perk up a little bit. That's because they are all angling to find the best way to die or go mad before the game ends. The sheer joy on their faces when they describe their character eating the end of a shotgun or being carried off to another dimension by a Hound of Tindalos or being buried alive in a watery cavern full of Deep Ones. These are the moments CoC gamers live for. The time when they can say, 'let me tell you about how I went mad...' and their fellow CoC fan nods, 'niiiiice'.


Call of Cthulhu is now almost the default Con game. There will always be a sign up sheet for a CoC game at every Con. At some Cons it will be nothing but. What's more you can guarantee that not one of them will be the same, and that they will always generate some of the best post game stories.


What's yours?

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Tomorrow I find out whether or not I get the promotion I've been after for a while. Very, very nervous. That's all.