2011 In Review

I started this blog back in February of 2011. Rather quickly, I jumped into the April A-Z Blogging Challenge. Having a goal and a focus really helped lift the blog off of the ground.

Below are links to the top content. The first three are had almost twice as many views as the next three, which in turn had about twice as many views as the remainder of the list.

  1. Burning Wheel Gold – Initial Impressions
  2. Life During a Wartime – Random Village Generator
  3. Good News Everyone…Bulldogs! RPG is Here!
  4. Translating Empire Strikes Back into Dungeon World Moves
  5. Hollowpoint Review
  6. Customer Service – Evil Hat Style – It is Fabulous
  7. The Mah Jong of Tichu
  8. Hollowpoint Session Observations
  9. Character Creation Session for Family Bulldogs Adventure
  10. Hacking Together a Burning Wheel Conflict Resolution on the Fly
  11. Playing Burning Wheel Gold With The Kids
  12. Weird Fantasy – Lamentations of the Flame Princess

My personal favorite post was Mustering into the GenCon Volunteer Corp, partly because I enjoyed making my drawing, but more importantly because this was the blog post about stepping up and working towards a solution.

The one post that I wish more people would read is my Carcosa review. The world of Carcosa is very different from the traditional fantasy fare that I’ve played in and read.

Carcosa by Geoffrey McKinney – PDF Edition

Published by Lamentations of the Flame Princess and available at RPG Now or the publisher’s site.

Carcosa is a [weird] science-fantasy role-playing game setting with a sandbox approach: whether heroic or opportune, adventurers of all stripes will find freedom and consequence worth their mettle in a horrifying milieu mixing adventure fantasy, the Mythos, and comic book sci-fi with no punches pulled.

Fair Warning: Carcaso contains explicit descriptions and illustrations. For more information on the warnings read the publishers blog post about his decision to publish Carcosa.  This review contains some quotes from the book, but I’ve avoided quoting the more explicit descriptions.

This book oozes with oozes and ideas. Carcosa is a land of waking nightmares in which humanity is the victim of both vile sorcerers’ ritualistic sacrifice and the incomprehensible machinations of alien and/or ancient beings.

The defacto rules system of Carcosa is Weird Fantasy – Lamentations of the Flame Princess, though other Old School Renaissance systems would work as well.  Special attention is given to how Carcosa varies from Weird Fantasy (i.e. there are no clerics, magic-users, elfs, dwarfs, and halflings).

The majority of Carcosa is devoted to the Sorcerous Rituals (p41 to p73), Monster Descriptions (p74 to p11), and Hex Descriptions (p112 to p213).

Sorcerous Rituals

The chapters leading up to Sorcerous Rituals allude to the strangeness of Carcosa both as a world and as a game setting.  It is in the Sorcerous Rituals section where the truly horrific nature of life on Carcosa reveals it’s true form.  Let’s look at the ritual “Weird Ascent of the Diseased Slime” (p73):

For eighteen hours the Sorcerer must stand by the diseased pit in hex 2511 while uttering the eldritch chants. At the beginning of the ritual a bound Dolm woman (not a virgin) must be cast into the pit, where the mutating viruses twist her body into inhuman contortions. After the eighteen hours, the woman must be retrieved and thrown upon the ground. The Slime God will ooze up through the earth and envelop the sacrifice’s body.

Each of the 96 rituals are equally evocative, and for the most part could rather effortlessly used in other rules systems; Did I hear someone say Burning Wheel?

Many of the rituals require victims of a specific racial color, age, gender, and/or virginal status.  It is these details that humanize the victim of these inhuman rituals.  Sorcery is not  an easy nor safe path — performing a ritual can age the ritualist. You certainly won’t make many friends as a Sorcerer.

Monster Descriptions

Immediately after the Sorcerous Rituals is a section on humanity’s other enemy, the monsters of Carcosa. Ranging from elder gods, the great race, dinosaurs, and suckered abominations, this section is details all that goes bump in the night.

One important entry, “Ordinary Beasts” highlights that there are no horses nor ordinary beasts of burden in Carcosa.  This bit of information further drives home that on the soil of Carcosa, the toils of man are puny and insignificant.

Slime God, described below, is conjured by “Weird Ascent of the Diseased Slime”, banished by “Descent of the Six Thousand Steps”, bound by “The Ineluctable Name”, imprisoned by “The Sunless Watery Blight”, and tormented by “Transmutation of the Slime God.”

This putrid glob of slime combines all the horrid qualities of dolm pudding, dolm ooze, jale slime, and ulfire jelly. About the only types of weapons effective against it are various hi-tech ones such as lasers, bombs, missiles, etc. Further, 24 hours after physical contact with the Slime God, a saving throw vs. poison must be made. Failure indicates that the victim has been afflicted with a rotting disease that will rot him away at the rate of 1 HD per day until he dies.

Not all monsters have associated rituals, there is no known way to control nor conjure Azathoth and Cthulhu.

Hex Descriptions

Hex 2511 is described below — the location where “Weird Ascent of the Diseased Slime” can be performed.

In damp natural caverns is a shrine to the Slime God. The caverns are filled with puddings, oozes, slimes, and jellies, none of which will attack any of the eight Green cultists of the Slime God, nor their leader, a chaotic 2nd-level Sorcerer who has mastered only the Weird Ascent of the Diseased Slime ritual. Any Sorcerer who will join the cult of the Slime God will be taught the ritual after three months.


Six Deep Ones are entombed deep within the glacier. The bodies may be recovered after a thousand man/hours of digging. One of the Deep Ones wears a weird gold necklace worth 360 g.p. If the bodies are allowed to thaw, they will return to life.

My personal favorite is hex 2510

A horror-stricken man has already been half-trans formed into a fruit tree. He is rooted to the spot, and in two weeks the transformation will be complete. At that time the chaotic Blue 9th-level Sorcerer who conjured the arboreal thing that caused the man’s transformation will arrive with his sensual Purple lover. They plan to feast on the exotic dolm fruit that the tree will bear.

Not all locations are as colorfully detailed, but there is ample descriptions to spur the imagination.

Interconnectivity

There is an interconnectedness between the rituals, monsters, and locations.  The author includes relevant cross-references.  This serves not only to provide quick access to the related information, but is useful as an adventure generation engine.

Need a monster? Find one that connects to a specific hex or ritual and read up on it.  Think about who would summon the monster? Or why someone would go to that hex.

Need a villain? Find a ritual associated with one or more locations.  How are they going to get there? Who is following them there? Or find a ritual that requires multiple sacrifices.  How is the villain capturing his victims.

Need a location? Find one related to a ritual and explore what it means for a sorcerer to show up ready to perform the ritual.

Other Stuff

While the majority of the book details the Sorcerous Rituals, Monsters, and Locations, Carcosa also provides rules for a simple and straight-forward Psionics system, random mutations, wandering monster tables, random robot generator, random space alien armament, descriptions of space alien & ancient technology.

Impressions

If Carcosa doesn’t smack you in the head with at least a full two-dozen adventure ideas and a half-dozen campaign ideas then you aren’t opening your mind to its blasphemous insights.

Carcosa is opinionated and not for everyone.  Humanity is not the master’s of their domain, but are more akin to infighting animals awaiting the slaughter.  It is a complete campaign world with discrete subsystems that can easily be extracted and brought into other games.

Pick it up if you are interested in a very non-traditional campaign setting document that pulses with inspiration.

Don’t pick it up if you are squeamish or prefer a traditional D&D campaign.

Other Reviews

Bloodstone Observations

Following up on Bloodstone Session #4

Bloody Vs. Instead of Fight

Instead of using the Fight mechanic, I chose to have the conflict resolved with Bloody Vs.  This felt a bit anti-climatic.

I was unprepared to drop into Fight, but in hindsight really wish I would’ve.  Having a Fight running parallel to a Range and Cover could’ve increased the dramatic tension at the table — if paced properly.  In addition, the death of Felix, one of Menas’ goals, was very anticlimactic.

Lady Gwen and My Daughter

Towards the end of the game, my daughter held up a sign saying “I’m bored and tired.”  The session was winding down, so I hastened to the end.

That evening, in talking with Savannah about Lady Gwen, she said she wished her character could fight — after all that is one of the ways to interact with the system.  I instructed her to have Lady Gwen demand to be taught archery.

Lady Gwen could be a much more active participant in combat if she relied more heavily on prayers.  I believe the abstract Faith system may work against her.  An idea I have is to create a handful of Prayer cards that she can reference during conflict.

Indivisible Action Sequences

When Savannah was thinking of what prayer to have Lady Gwen mutter, there was a suggestion to choose a lower obstacle prayer — Hinderance at Ob 4-6 — so she could get away and then immediately follow-up with another prayer to help Holden get away.

There are two problems that I see. First, the Hinderance prayer would’ve needed to have been muttered as part of the Speed vs. Speed test. We could’ve retconned this, but it didn’t feel like it would help.

Second, it felt like that would run contrary to “Let it Ride” principle. Namely, if we broke the narrative into steps, Lady Gwen and Holden have been cornered. The hinderance would apply to the test “We try to get away.”

Lady Gwen can use it to get away, but Holden has failed the test. He can’t get away. The next hinderance would need to be injected into the current state; Holden is now in a Fight with 3 bandits. Certainly the hinderance would aid Holden, but not directly in the escape.

Artha Awards

Given that we are playing with 5 players, two of them being under 18, I’ve altered the way we do Artha awards.  If we have a humdrum session, I’ll award 2 Fate and 1 Persona to each character and then have the group choose a workhorse and MVP.  Players can petition for more, but must make a strong case.

If the session seems to click, and players are in character, I’ll up the base award to 3 Fate and 2 Persona.

Does it create Artha bloat? Perhaps.  Am I fully engaging the system? No.  Are we enjoying  ourselves?  I hope so, because I know I am.

Asking the Table for Feedback

I am terrible at asking for feedback concerning my campaigns.  I want to know if I’m engaging the players.  I’m usually pretty bad about folding their back stories into the main story and instead prefer to let actions generate reactions and fold those reactions back into the story.

So players that are reading this, what could I do better?  What do you want to see?

Bloodstone Session #4

Here follows the raw notes I have concerning the 4th session of Bloodstone.

Leaving the Fendowns

  • Lady Gilliam releases the party from their obligation.
  • Menas pursues orcs fleeing to a neighboring village on rumor that Felix is there. Menas calls off the pursuit as the village has too many hostiles.
  • Lord Tomson is left in the care of the church of Ilmater.
  • Lady Gilliam agrees to part with Lord Tomson’s warhorse — he won’t be using it.
  • Brother Robert gave Lady Gwen a letter to deliver to Abbot Aldric.

Figuring Out How Many Horses They Needed

  • As they are traveling, they opt to avoid Daedmyr — It is home to Lord Tomson
  • They agree that they need more horses for scouting both ahead and behind.
  • Menas begrudingly parts with some of his wealth; Menas wanted to produce a bag of silver for Remy to purchase horses. The test was B3 vs. Ob 2, but due to his greed this became an Ob 3 — Converting his much needed routine test into a difficult test — and no one was willing to risk their resources on a failed roll.
  • After a rather heated argument about who is going into town and with what money, Remy and Holden head into town on one of the horses. They are going to buy another riding horse for scouting.
  • Arriving in Daedmyr, they see another massive warhorse (likely Felix’s warhorse). They approach the inn with caution, but Remy decides to circle up someone from the underground to help him out — Not a single success — sounds like an enmity clause to me.
  • Opening the door to the inn, Boris the Shiv turns and sees Remy and howls “You! You owe me money!” and draws a knife.
  • Remy, saying to Holden “Let’s get outta here” quickly flees.
  • Opposed speed tests (Remy, Holden, and Boris) – Remy is able to get away to their horse, Holden can’t get on the horse in time; Boris throws a knife at Remy, and misses (I gave the Ob 2 Throw test for Boris an additional +2 Ob based on Remy’s 6 Successes vs. 2 successes of Boris).
  • The thrown knife missed and Boris was drawing again — However, Holden was able to cast “Call of Steel” in time and successfully disarmed Boris. In the meantime, Remy was trying in vain to lift the old Holden onto the horse.*
  • Boris drew steel again and was again disarmed. Holden swooned for a brief moment but gained his composure (Forte taxed to 0, but the test raised it back to a taxed B1 Forte)
  • Boris, out of frustration, charged Remy, but Remy was able to position his horse and Boris slipped to the ground. Not wanting to get trampled, Boris crawled away and Holden was able to get on the horse and they fled.

Back at the Wagons

  • Meanwhile, back at the camp they all noticed some movement in the brush. Menas and a 7 of the dwarves advanced.
  • Traveling rather stealthily, they were able to get closer and determine there were about 5 to 15 orcs.
  • Menas had them flank their opponents but gave up their position.
  • Both sides charged each other and carnage ensued.
  • It looked like a potential blood bath – 12 orcs vs. 8 dwarves. Not wanting to bog things down too much, I called for a single Command test saying, each success would result in a mostly uninjured dwarf. Menas, calling up his Greed led the charge saying “This victory will be ours!” — An amazing 11 successes on 10 dice, and all the orcs were dispatched.
  • Using the Mythic table – I checked if any dwarves had sustained even a Light wound – and they had escaped without a scratch.
  • Curious about finding information – Menas scavenged for loot and clues. I gave the player (Aidan) the choice: Ob 1 would be find some wealth, Ob 3 would be to find evidence of Felix and his plans, Ob 4 would be both. He opted for an impossible untrained Ob 4 test. Failure!

But What About Daedmyr

  • In the distance they heard a loud commotion coming from the Daedmyr. There was concern that the village was under attack.
  • Menas rallied all the dwarves, leaving Kruder, Brandon (ally), Remy, Lady Gwen, Dragan (ally), Holden, Garlen (NPC), Garvin (NPC), Katie (ally), Dellan (ally) to guard the wagon train — a mixed bag of mostly lightly armed and armored characters.
  • Menas was going to approach the village to see what was happening. He approached near dusk – and saw a large contingent (50 or so) bandits and orcs being rallied by none other than Felix.
  • While Menas was approaching the village, Kruder would get the wagons closer to the tree line to better conceal them.

Abandoning Friends to Their Fate

  • Menas had again managed to approach quietly, and waited for the bandits and orcs to dispatch.
  • Felix commanded them to split into two groups and search for dwarves. Felix then withdrew into the village.
  • The enemies split and went separate ways leaving an open path for Menas to approach the village and ultimately confront Felix.
  • Menas approached the inn where Felix was staying and burst in.
  • Felix was talking with four other men who self identified as members of the Crying Man — likely assassins thought Menas. He rose and challenged Menas to single combat.*

Under a Rain of Javelins

  • Kruder and company tried to hide, but were found by one of the groups. We dropped into range and cover. The bandits split into two groups.
  • Kruder took command and wanted to get everyone on a horse so they could ride off to safety. The bandits, armed with spears and javelins wanted to engage in melee.
  • The first volley saw Kruder successfully hold their position. Everyone had their horses, and they managed to get a few supplies, but the javelins closed.
  • The second volley brought a rain of Javelins. The enemies won the positioning and threw five javelins. Garlin took a Traumatic wound, Kruder absorbed a few hits taking a Light wound, Dragan and Brandon’s armor successfully deflected the worst of it.
  • The third volley brought more javelins as the enemy engaged. Kruder took a Midi but otherwise the others were unscathed. A melee was about to start.

Throwing Down in the Inn

  • Menas accepted and we went into Bloody Vs. — I had thought about using Fight, but this would’ve been the first Fight scripted by Menas’ player, and I was running the Range and Cover concurrently. It would’ve been a bit much.
  • The first exchange resulted in a tie. No one was able to punch through. I’d give them one more Bloody Vs. to see if someone would emerge.

Attempting to Flee

  • Back at the grand melee, I had everyone make opposed speed tests. Each ride would make a speed test, with +3D advantage vs. B6 opposed speed. Kruder, Remy, Brandon, Garlin & Garvin, Katie and Dellan all succeeded. But Holden and Lady Gwen & Dragan’s horse had not escaped.

Death Comes to All

  • The second Bloody Vs. saw Felix land a Light wound against Menas
  • And Menas landed a Mortal Wound to Felix.
  • Menas quickly disarmed the Crying Men. They cooperated.
  • Menas looted Felix’s room, getting documents and a massive chest filled with gold.
  • While opening the chest, Menas felt ill — there was poison on Felix’s blade. Menas took a B9 (a midi).
  • The accompanying dwarves quickly dressed the wound to stop the bleeding.
  • Menas then took Felix’s horse, the other dwarves stole horses and they all left town.

Victory out of the Hands of the bandits

  • Kruder was going to turn around.
  • Holden attempted to cast a spell, but it harmlessly dissipated. He collapsed in complete exhaustion.
  • While the spell was being cast, Lady Gwen beseeched Ilmater to deliver them (Ob 8 Faith test). She rocked it with a Deed point.
  • And into the waning dusk the party retreated.

Confusion

  • Menas returned to where the wagons were, and seeing that it was being looted by bandits he fled into the night.
  • Out in the brush, Menas, feeling worse for the wear, cried out for Lady Gwen and Kruder answers.

And finally, the group was reunited, and Lady Gwen tended to the wounded Menas.

Assassin Lifepaths for Burning Wheel

Bloodstone was written for AD&D 1st Edition.  Assassins are used rather frequently as opposition.  In fact, the leader of the opposition is named the Grandfather of Assassins.

Below is my take on what it would take for the Grandfather of Assassins to rise to his current power.  I did draw initial inspiration from Luke Crane’s Jihad: Burning Sands, the H-Series of Bloodstone, and the OSRIC reference document.

Outcast Setting Time Resources Stat Leads
Initiate of the Brotherhood 4 yrs 5 +1P City,Village, Servitude, Military
Skills: 7 pts: Cooking, Repair, Climbing, Swimming, Apothecary, Trap-wise, Crossbow Training
Traits: 2 pts: Quiet, Bitter, Cynic, Nimble
Initiate of the Brotherhood is considered a Poisoner and/or Desperate Killer for purposes of Lifepath selection.
Brother of Assassins 5 yrs 10 +1M/P Any
Skills: 7 pts: Inconspicuous, Stealthy, Poisons, Knives, Disguise, Falsehood, Picking Lock
Traits: 1 pt: Merciless, Cold-Blooded, Hard-Hearted
Brother of Assassins requires Initiate of the Brotherhood
Father of Assassins 5 yrs 15 +1M/P Any
Skills: 7 pts: Greathall Tunnel-wise, Assassin-wise, Extortion, Intimidation, Sword, Observation, Persuasion
Traits: 1 pt: Arrogant, Prominent Scar, Precision Training
Father of Assassins requires Brother of Assassins.
Grandfather of Assassins 7 yrs 25 +1M,P Any
Skills: 8 pts: Command, Fortress-wise, Noble-wise, Sorcery-wise, Logistics, Oratory, Strategy Games, Strategy; General Skills: 1pts
Traits: 1 pt: Calm Demeanor, Domineering Presence
Grandfather of Assassins requires Father of Assassins.

Additional Lifepaths can be found at the Burning Wheel Wiki.

Stealing Cthulhu by Graham Walmsley

Back before GenCon 2011, I went on a bit of a Crowdfunding spree, sponsoring Do: Pilgrims of the Flying TempleBulldogs!Technoir RPG, and Stealing Cthulhu.  Today, the last of the lot has arrived all the way from the British Isles — Stealing Cthulhu is here!  This is more a recounting the pilgrimage of Stealing Cthulhu than a proper review.

From Graham Walmsley‘s Thieves of Time site:

The book is 175 pages and 30,000 words long (6 by 9 inches), with original art by Jennifer Rodgers and . It is annotated throughout by Kenneth Hite, Gareth Hanrahan and Jason Morningstar. It’s designed for use with any roleplaying system: Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Nemesis, Cthulhu Dark or whatever you enjoy playing.

I’ve never played a game of the venerable Call of Cthulhu nor any of it’s relatives (i.e. Trail of Cthulhu, Delta Green, Cthulhutech, d20 Cthulhu, or Cthulhu Dark), but have always been intrigued.

In fact, I’ve only read a few of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories.  But the Cthulhu Mythos permeates the modern geek culture.  Something about slipping into madness and ancient beings from beyond time and space with inhuman motivations resonates with the zeitgeist of today.

Why Did I Buy It?

Earlier in the year, I purchased Graham Walmsley’s “Play Unsafe“, a book about improvising in role-playing games.  It is exceptionally well written, with ample advice for sharing in a collaborative

I then traded to get a copy of Graham Walmsley’s “A Taste for Murder.” It is a wonderfully well written game that melds the “Importance of Being Ernest” with a murder mystery.  “A Taste For Murder” builds on Graham’s “Play Unsafe” book.  I even used the book when I demonstrated “how to protect your game books.”

So when I saw that Graham was running an IndieGoGo crowd-funding campaign for running Cthulhu games, I pulled the trigger and sponsored the project.

First Came the PDF

After the project was funded and the book was edited, Graham provided the backers with the PDF version of the book.

Graham breaks down the components of a Lovecraftian story and translates them to their RPG counterpart – Stealing Scenarios, Locations, Patterns, and Descriptions.  I read the book on my tablet and found the PDF version a bit more challenging to read.

In part, the pages have hand-written annotations that are a bit harder to read in electronic form. The bigger problem, by far, is that I personally have a hard time reading on my tablet.  I get distracted and start checking Twitter or my RSS feed.

Then Came the Wait

The PDF was released to backers on June 17, 2011.  The book was available for purchase at GenCon 2011 — This was a decision made by Graham that raised some ire.

While I certainly wanted my “shiny” right away, I also knew that Graham uses his trips to the US as a means of transporting small press books across the Atlantic.  He was able to bring copies of Stealing Cthulhu to sell at GenCon at Pelgrane Press’s booth.  He was then able to return to Britain with small press books to sell in his webstore.  This service has helped bring small press books to European fans by greatly reducing international shipping costs.

Knowing this, and honestly having lots of other books to read, I simply waited.  I trusted Graham, having briefly talked with him at GenCon, would get the books to me as soon as was humanly feasible.

Then Came the Book

Today, December 1st, 2011, and I have received my physical copy.  Given that I haven’t yet finished reading the book, I can’t do a proper review.  However, since I accidentally published this article, I figured I’d better write something about Stealing Cthulhu.

The physical book is fantastic!  And flipping through the book, the hand-written annotations evoke an ominous tone — Herein lies the madness of delving too deeply into the mythos.

Stealing Cthulhu argues that many Cthulhu scenarios are very cliched and original scenarios can be found in Lovecraft’s writings. Stealing Cthulhu is intended as a guide for crafting these adventures.  The book provides tools, insights, and prompts for the disassembly of the short-stories and reassembly into scenarios.

Though it may be a bit premature…”catacomb.”

Other Books by Graham Walmsley