Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Outer Presence - playtest #1

This investigative horror scenario was born here.  Got to keep this short.  Busy, busy, busy!  Also, this session report will be short on details - spoiler free, it's called these days.  ;)

Below are the players and their characters.  I told them to create a character concept instead of going through the motions using Call of Cthulhu or something similar.  Interestingly, none of the characters were scientists, explorers, or even academics.  For an inexperienced Game Master, this probably would have led to either GM interference or crying.  I decided to massage their entry into the story.  Seemed to work well, no one mentioned anything.

Oh yeah, I also decided on the 1970's.  Not only is it a compromise between the 1920's / 30's and present day, but I was going for a Cannibal Holocaust type thing.

Tim Virnig:  "Lang"; grew up wealthy; father founder and editor of Gazette newspaper; supposed to follow in his father's footsteps; instead, photographer of B-list celebrities and scandals; in free time, hoping to write mystery novel; also hoping to be a news reporter.

Jeff Adamus:  He played Jeff.  Photography print shop owner; advertising, pop culture, and band/music enthusiast; owns a couple cats; band and business promotion with marketing specialty.

Russell Reed:  Frank Smith; writer; reporter; disco dancing freak; reveals corruption; wants to write detective novels.

Kent Nedland:  Vince O'Donald; accountant; believes world can be placed in a monetary paradigm; scrawny dude; pocket calculator; # crunching.

Marie Nedland:  Susan Thompson; tech person; plays poker and goes dancing; wants to fix the disparity between rich and poor.

Somehow, I turned a desperate need for more explorers into a desperate need for publicity now that the first expedition was such a success (not really a success).  The players were all game and they roleplayed their involvement extremely well.

Clues led them to believe that this wasn't just a fun, all expense-paid tax write-off.  For instance, a couple investigators found a hand-written note telling them that the expedition's last telegram should be shredded so that no one can learn the truth!

Onto New Guinea!  Their host was a piece of work.  I really wanted to push the envelope with what players and PCs might expect from the scenario's principle antagonist.  He pushed a lot of buttons and made everyone hate him.  PCs didn't actually vomit... but they wanted to.  Incidentally, the actor Sidney Greenstreet was my inspiration for Doctor Karl Steiner.

Exploring the temple!  Over the last few years, I've been on the jungle cruise at Disney World's Magic Kingdom probably a dozen times.  The part when the boat goes into that dark structure was the basis for my temple.  Could have been more detailed, but I think it was successful on the whole.

Two investigators went temporarily insane, none died.  Was the world saved?  Perhaps...

The timing went extremely well.  Including 15 min. of character creation, the entire scenario took 2 hours and 55 minutes to resolve.  Good thing as two players had to leave just as we'd finished the game.  The first hour involved the set-up, including arrival.  The second hour involved getting a lay of the land, interacting with the people, and learning what the scenario was really about.  The third and final hour involved exploring the next location, learning the truth, and final resolution.

Probably won't get around to publishing it for awhile as I already have two irons in the fire: the Game Mastering book and Crimson Dragon Slayer, my very own OSR rule-set.  Both will be available this summer!  Check out the g+ community for CDS here.  The support, feedback, and even playtesting (!!!) that I've received since mentioning the idea weeks ago has overwhelmed me with happiness and enthusiasm.  Thanks, everyone!


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Why the hell not?

Against my better judgement, I've been tinkering around with my very own OSR type RPG.  I've just finished the first draft of the alpha version.  It's weak, there's not much there, and it breaks a few old school D&D conventions, but it's a starting point...

Those interested in taking a look and providing feedback would be doing me a service.  Nothing has been set in stone; it's all malleable.  Actually playtesting what I have so far would really be going above and beyond!

Send me an email and I'll reply back with a PDF:

I have no idea what to call it at this point, so I'm going with The Crimson Dragon Slayer Critical Mayhem RPG.



p.s.  Artwork by HELMUTT, owned by me.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Major Boobage

Several months ago, I caught about 30 seconds of a South Park ending at the beginning of what I'd DVRed, probably The Daily Show.  The last bits of South Park's 12th season and 3rd episode, Major Boobage, was obviously an homage to the 1981 animated film Heavy Metal.

Despite having this knowledge, I never bothered to watch the episode until today.  Here it is on hulu.

Why it took me so long, I don't know.  Maybe I feared being disappointed or shamed for my enjoyment of cheesecake, bloodshed, and psychedelics.  Perhaps I wanted something to look forward to, saving it for a rainy day, etc. (incidentally, it's been raining all day).  Or it could be that my memory sucks.  It probably helped that I just re-watched Heavy Metal for the 37th time this morning before work.

In any case, Major Boobage was a fun little nostalgic trip for Heavy Metal super-freaks like myself.  Like many South Park homages, it ripped on or lampooned what it's supposed to be praising.  Yeah, I guess all the nudity, boobs, butts, and gory violence stands out like the weirdo girl covered in pig's blood at her prom... but, damn it, that's my bread and butter.

Aside from the awesomely dated music, apparently, the creation of that episode took 8 times longer to make because they used the old fashioned rotoscoping technique used in the original film.  Porn actress Lisa Daniels was used as live action footage before converting it into the cowgirl Taarna that personifies South Park's tribute to one of the greatest scifi-fantasy movies in history.

Since I'm blogging about it, I'd love to hear about your experiences with Heavy Metal.  Doesn't have to be RPG-related. First time you watched it, last time, did it change your life, or inspire you to create something awesome?   What did you think of Major Boobage?  Was it a worthy tribute?  Did it re-watch Heavy Metal after viewing it?  If you have a story to share, comment below!


p.s.  Holy crap!  I just realized that the god Uhluhtc from the Den sequence that is about to receive a young, nubile sacrifice is Cthulhu spelled backwards!

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Are they paying attention?

This blog post is basically an open-ended question.  Do other, bigger paper & pencil RPGs (including their audience, fans, players, GMs, and scene in general) even know about the OSR?  And here's my followup question: If they know about it, do they care, do they use it, do they buy our products or use our free resources, are we influencing them at all?

Ok, here's a post-followup question I came with after discussing it a bit with +As If and +Erik Tenkar:  I assume that certain OSR blogs, podcasts, products, resources, etc. permeate the RPG mainstream from time to time, despite their niche within a niche status.  Does that increase awareness of the OSR as a whole or is it merely limited to the stuff that has managed to break out of the OSR ghetto?

I believe the OSR effectively changed 5th edition for the better, but what about the average D&D 5e gamer?  Are they aware that the OSR exists?  But specifically, I'm wondering about Pathfinder, Dragon Age, Numenera, Dungeon World, 13th Age, Fate, Savage Worlds, and other popular titles I can't think of right now.  Call of Cthulhu?  World of Darkness?  Post apocalypse RPGs?

Since mostly OSR people will probably see, read, and comment on this post, let me know what you've experienced.  If anyone actively into the above RPGs but not the OSR actually stumbles upon this, please answer as best you can.



Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Face Off

I've been watching the practical special FX tv show on the Syfy channel from the beginning, back when they still called themselves Sci-Fi.  Since I love older science fiction, horror, and fantasy movies and tv shows that used those sort of non-CGI effects, it's always been a pleasure to see.

Last night was no different.  Although, there was one concept that totally blew me away.*  It spoke to me in that creepy voice you only hear in a nightmare.  While Adam wasn't able to fully realize his vision, that concept drawing was everything I love.  Ironically, that makeup sent him packing.  However, I've been inspired to incorporate his basic conception in my future investigative horror scenario.

I'm tentatively calling it "The Outer Presence".  It's basically already written in scribbled note form.  All I have to do is type it up into a pleasing, useful format.  Part of me is tempted to do a Kickstarter, mostly to raise awareness because I just don't have the advertising dollars available.  If I went the KS route, I'd probably feel obligated to extend and expand the scenario so it also included a softcover version.  FYI, I'm not comfortable starting a new KS campaign without first having discharged my current KS campaign.  Yes, multiple Kickstarters can be done but I'm pretty sure it would make some backers uneasy.

The only downside is that such an endeavor would postpone any science-fantasy OSR adventure I might write.  The investigative horror scenario is in the same ballpark, of course, but it's still a slightly different audience.

So, I open it up to you guys!  I don't know how to make an actual poll, so below are your quick and dirty choices...

A.  Just do a short PDF of The Outer Presence in between your D&D type stuff. 
B.  Do a longer version of The Outer Presence with softcover via KS. 
C.  Forget this system agnostic Call of Cthulhu-esque nonsense; focus on your D&D type stuff.

Thanks for your feedback,


p.s.  Currently, I can't find an image of his concept drawing on google.  I'll try looking later in the week.  If you spot it somewhere, please let me know.  Thanks!  The second image posted is kind of close... but not really.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Writing a Modern Day Investigative Horror Scenario

It's been awhile.  While working on the Game Mastering book and other life stuff, I haven't had much time to roleplay.  That's why the long space between posts, in case you were wondering.

However, a confluence of events had prompted me to write an investigative horror scenario.  This will be a short thing that can be completed in three hours.  Probably 9 or 10 pages.  I'll most likely release it as a $1 PDF on DriveThru when it's ready.  I'll craft it as mechanically generic as possible, should be good to go without much conversion for whatever your RPG of choice is or might be in the future.

So what are these stars in alignment?

  1. Walpurgisnacht (May Eve) is upon us!  I've actually got prior commitments on that night, but was able to secure a local library meeting space for playtesting on both April 18th and May 15th (let me know if you'll be in the Madison area and want to participate on either of those dates).
  2. I've wanted to both write/publish and Game Master something other than D&D for ages.  Now's my chance!
  3. I'll be running this scenario at Gamehole Con this fall.  If you check out their website (or simply look at the upper right corner of this post), the artwork for Gamehole's 3rd year as a convention is about as Cthulhu as it gets.  Yes, my "investigative horror scenario" will be inspired by H.P. Lovecraft.  Did you have any doubts?

As some of you may know, I work best when faced with a deadline (self-imposed, preferably).  The more pressure I'm under, the better I perform.  So, there are plenty of disconnected ideas floating around my subconscious, but I don't have anything written as of right now.  That'll change as April 18th draws nigh.

Have a suggestion?  Please feel free to make one (or a thousand... who's counting?)  If I incorporate something you suggested into the scenario, I'll be sure to give you credit in the front-matter of the PDF.


Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Story Map

My friend +Vb Wyrde has a really cool post about story maps here.  Personally, I think it's an awesome idea.  I've seen something like that before - probably multiple places - though nothing specifically comes to mind.

I'm also fond of the "story dungeon map" found in the DCC game and other books.  Not exactly the same thing, though it comes from the same place - wanting the map to become part of the adventure rather than the utilitarian marking of places you've been, would like to go, and desperately want to avoid.

Anyways, Wyrde's example reminded me of the painting in the hatch on Lost.  Just finished the 2nd season and about to start on the 3rd tonight.  Still really enjoying it all over again, by the way.  Since he hasn't seen the show, I'm including the image for everyone to see.  It's an interesting, colorful mural that really opens up your imagination.

So, I want to know if you've ever made something like this or thought about it.  If so, how did it go?  If not, do you think you might one day?  What's stopping you?

I'll be mentioning the art of story mapping in my upcoming book, How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss.  Your feedback is appreciated!



p.s.  In a way, this sort of ties in with my idea of doing a vision board for your campaign.  Although, I think a Story Map would be easier and more useful.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Campaign's End

Indeed, last session was the campaign's last session.  There's a lot that goes into ending a campaign, and I'll be discussing those finer points in my upcoming book How to Game Master like a Fucking Boss.  Below are the highlights...

  • We had the entire game store to ourselves that day.  That happens about once every three games.  Usually, there's some kind of card game tournament or miniatures battle going on all around us.  So, that was nice.  Although, the place was cold.  Wisconsin finally got a taste of Spring last Saturday.  It felt warmer outside at about 50 degrees and sunny than inside.  Oh well, we bundled up in our winter coats.  Yeah, if you're in WI in March, bring your warmest clothes possible cause you never know.
  • I noticed several awesome-looking miniatures in the back shelves near where we were setting up.  Just seeing those demons, snake-men, and gugs got my creative juices flowing.  I brought them over to our table knowing I'd be using them soon.
  • I reminded the party of Zargon's loot.  They divided up the spoils just before being attacked by a couple of invisible gugs (surprise, surprise).  The gugs became visible upon attacking.  Arik went down after a couple rounds.  The rest fought on until both adversaries were down.  I thought about giving the gugs some kind of treasure like a magic item but where would it be?  Hiding in their fur?  Lodged between their massive teeth?  Propped up in the corner of a room?
  • Lilah declared she was using her see invisibility spell and looking all around the dungeon on the way back up stairs.  I can't remember if I rolled 33% or made an executive decision... regardless, she found a demon's horn.  After spending some time with it (attuning the thing), Lilah discovered it granted the owner one wish per year.  Several Player's Handbooks came out as they wanted to know exactly what a wish spell could do (noobs).  They were tickled pink.  I put the kibosh on wishing for more wishes, naturally.
  • On the way out, they checked out those polished stone fragments embedded in the wall.  Again, it showed the demon X'ar speaking with a masked humanoid.  But this time, the gladiators in the arena were clearly visible (to one PC who made his perception check) as themselves!  
  • Skull-Face was waiting for them and became their trusted guide in the city of Xan.  Before making their way to the arena, the adventurers tried the local cuisine - giant worm intestines, monkey brains, and alcohol made from honey, dates, etc.  They also went into an alchemist/apothecary shop looking for healing potions.  This final session whittled the party down to two magic-users and two magic-using rogues with dark elf princess and alchemist NPCs along for the ride.  They acquired healing potions.  Arik was very interested in poison for his rapier.  I actually consulted my 5th edition DMG and picked out two beauties for him to choose from: carrion crawler mucus which paralyzed opponents and purple worm venom that dealt a whopping 12d6 to those failing a saving throw!  He went with the latter, obviously.  Even though it cost the nigh unbelievable sum of 3,000 gold pieces per vial.
  • That stuff was all improvised.  The planned encounter on the way to the gladiatorial games was this - a merchant selling rare coins, foreign and ancient.  Lilah spotted a coin with a familiar symbol engraved upon it.  An eye within a triangle within a circle!  Yes, the same as the giant metallic seal beneath their castle.  The merchant claimed his coin came from the lost city of Thebes, destroyed by dragons aeons ago.  It is said that the priests of Thebes knew the secrets of astral projection and dream travel.  Ah, another connection with the circle, square, triangle symbols (ONA) associated with the Eye of Providence.  The players asked if there was anything signifying the ONA or Oneiroid Navigation Assistance upon the coin.  Alas, no.  
  • However, Sam was dead-set on researching musty old tomes in Xan's library, Call of Cthulhu style.  Lo and behold, he discovered a book containing an incantation that would activate or open the seal.
  • At the Xan coliseum, the trade between X'ar and the king was taking place.  The king would get the short sword of Xan and retain his power while the demon got whatever was in that little black box.  For their intrusion, the king sentenced the adventurers to fight upon the sand.
  • Before taking part in the blood sport, the PCs noticed their comrades battling a giant in the arena.  How or why all of them were together and fighting for their lives was anyone's guess.  Their companions were defeated.  Akmenos had definitely been ripped apart into bloody pieces (#SorryNotSorry)  The others might have survived, though.
  • The adventurers had to fight a three-headed emerald dragon that breathed green flame.  Coordination, purple worm poison, and my lucky purple d20, Kaazor, turning on me led the PCs to victory.  Kaazor had been rolling poorly all night.  Only now do I realize that he hadn't betrayed me, after all.  No, he had taken a dive.  Well played, my purple friend.  Well played.
  • Now, it was time for the king and demon's comeuppance.  Returning to the royal box, an invisible Arik snuck up behind the demon with yet another cut laced with the purple worm's venom.  "Don't roll a one," I instructed Kaazor.  I rolled a two.  Haha, "Bastard!"
  • Turns out, the masked king had been the doppleganger that fucked Ethan's character, Erdan, over years ago.  Erdan killed his nemesis with his own sword - Erdan's sword - and the doppleganger went down.  Victory! 
  • Arik re-acquired the short sword and became king himself.  He decided to return to his native land with the party, leaving Skull-Face as his royal vizier, as long as Skull-Face promised to send frequent shipments of gold back to the absentee king.  
  • Back at Steel Keep, a letter had been delivered while the party was gone.  The letter was addressed to Arik.  It went something like this... Dear Arik, You don't know me, but I know something about you.  Namely, that you killed my brother who was a member of the black company of thieves.  Even though we had our differences, I feel obligated to pay you back for your bloodthirstiness.  At the end of this letter is an arcane mark which will explode momentarily.  Adieu.  Then it exploded doing 12d6 damage.  In my game, death doesn't come until negative hit points beyond one's level.  Arik was 7th level and the explosion brought him to exactly -7 hit points.  A single point of damage more would have killed him  [I don't worry about massive damage or death saves once unconscious].  While he did have a resurrection amulet to spare him if the damage had gone over, it was still pretty cool.
  • The only thing left was to speak the incantation before the great seal containing the Eye of Providence.  Sam did so.  It opened.  Below was a dark stairway, it smelled damp along with plant life.  They went anyway, finding themselves in a jungle at night, violet aurora-borealis in the unfamiliar sky.  As they wandered out, they heard the seal close behind them.  They were trapped in this strange land, at least for the time being.  Above, they heard the screech of undead pterodactyloids swooping down.  That's it.  The end.

Yes, a satisfying conclusion.  I'm sorry to see the campaign end but also glad it could be resolved in a timely manner.  Now, I can focus more of my energies on the book, my family, some home improvement projects, etc.

Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Beneath the City of Xan

Last week's session was full of mystery.

Once the adventurers had been transported a few miles outside the city of Xan, they walked the desert region between two hills.  The perfect spot for an ambush.  Three demonic humanoid pterodactyls aka pterodactyloids (one of the players came up with that one) swooped down to attack.  Shortly after, nearly a dozen rolled boulders down the hills, wounding the characters.

Once the pterodactyloids were slain, the PCs ventured up one of the hills to see what they could see - several mutant humanoid primitives with spears.  They wanted Lilah (the party's sorceress).  After trying a few things, one of the primitives dissuaded his friends via a charm spell.

However, the adventurers followed them back to their cave.  Inside, there was a shiny - possibly metallic or magical - object laying upon a large, central stone - probably an altar of some kind.  This is what was used to distract the mutants:  ball-bearings, an obscuring cloud of smoke, oil, fire, and prestidigitation fireworks (the party's whoopee-cushion must have gotten left behind in Steel Haven).  After all that, a couple rogues ran inside to retrieve the object, they attained their prize!

T'was a crystalline great-sword with a faintly luminous green crystal eye at the top of the hilt, a couple inches well into the blade itself.  Attuning it to the dwarf fighter, Kildrak, the magic weapon revealed itself as +1 and a 1 in 6 chance of repelling harmful magic, (with double damage to certain creatures - revealed later in the session).

Arriving at the city gates, the party was intercepted by a man in a skull mask and black robes, accompanied by three human slaves without masks.  Skull mask assured them they would be granted access to Xan upon worshiping at the statue of Yogsoggoth, a clearly demonic god with enough tentacles to make Lovecraft shudder.

They prayed before Yogsoggoth's tentacles.  Just then, a black monolith rose from the nearby sand.  It was covered with hieroglyphics, including the eye, triangle, circle symbol from last session's unmovable seal.  The monolith also had an impression matching the Talisman of Ultimate Evil which the adventurers had been carrying for weeks.

Putting the talisman into the monolith's impression, a half-buried tomb appeared within a stone's throw.  Its iron door depicted the leering faces of devils.  Opening the door, the party walked down stone stairs to find a subterranean area, whose predominant feature was a rushing stream.  Their exploration was cut short by mutant primitives who'd been down there for centuries.  They had evolved into darkness-loving amphibious beings hostile to intruders.

The mutants threw javelins that were organic rather than metal.  They bit and stung for 2d6 damage.  I managed to roll three natural 20's in a row.  Two on Lilah who took something like 27 points of damage in one round.  Luckily, the party was 6th level and could withstand such onslaught.

It was a good long battle.  Once it was over, the party followed the underground river to battle none other than Zargon from B4: The Lost City.  Should have beefed him up or given his tentacle attacks some kind of contact poison because Zargon was defeated fairly easily (even though he had some magical resistance).  Of course, he was vulnerable to crystalline weapons.  Kildrak did the majority of the damage.

So, what did Zargon have in his treasure trove?  Twenty-three exotic gemstones such as blood opals, demon eyes, and aqua-marine quartz (totaling around 6,000 gold pieces), a scroll containing silk of a thousand spiders, a cloak of invisibility, and a leather pouch containing thirteen greenish-grey travertine marbles.

Oops, almost forgot!  Between the amphibious primitives and Zargon, the party wandered around, finding a wall embedded with seven curious stone fragments polished so smooth that they reflected like glass.  They tried a few things before the fragments revealed a scene of the demon who bought Arik's short sword of Xan talking with an unknown masked humanoid with some gladiatorial fighting in the background.  The PCs weren't too sure what to make of that.

This Saturday is the next session and then we'll be taking another week off because Briella is turning 4 years old.  Yay!


p.s.  The polished stone fragments didn't really look like the picture I found on the internet, but if there were only seven pieces and larger, that looked more like stone than glass, it would be really close.