Monday, March 27, 2023

Gary Con XV [convention report]


I got back from Gary Con 2023 yesterday afternoon.  It was a good time.

Having GPS or google whatever really helps getting around.  I believe my last Gary Con was back in 2019 (where I got lost on the way home) and I didn't realize you could just have your phone navigate you all the way to your destination.

But this time, I had a friend navigate and the phone technology working, so got back in an hour and twenty minutes, stopping in Milton for some delicious fast food Mexican... Taco John's.

Anyway, let's get down to business!

I ran 5 games.  All of them Cha'alt and all with Crimson Dragon Slayer D20.  I came up with an original scenario for the convention, which I like to do when there's time.  And I ran that thrice, along with a semi-original scenario that borrowed heavily from previously published material.

For those who want to hack Cremza'amirikza'am (or any megadungeon) and turn it into a convention game or one-shot, here's what I did - provide a reason for them to go, present some kind of encounter, complication, social interaction, or whatever on the way to getting there.  Then, I dug out one of my many hand-drawn cavern maps and cherry-picked rooms, encounters, and set-pieces on the way to the McGuffin at the other end of the map.

Yeah, I ran that twice, and it worked just as well as the original scenario.  I decided to go with a smaller player max of 6.  In the past, I wanted to meet, game with, and run adventures for as many players as I could at one time, so usually a max of 8.  And that's fun, but when you've been doing this as long as I have, you realize that with a group of 8, generally, you'll have 2 or 3 very active players who do most of the talking and decision making, then you have 1 or 2 players who perk-up occasionally, taking a secondary role on the action-scale, and finally everyone else stays in the background until it's their turn to roll dice and let me know the result.

With a smaller group of players, you pare that down.  Let's say you have a group of 4 players.  Usually, there will be 1 player who's the most active, 1 who's moderately active, and the other two are pretty much wallflowers.  That's... not ideal.

I mean, every group makeup and dynamic is different, so there's no telling for sure until you actually sit down and start playing.  By and large though, the bigger the group, the more active-players you'll have... and you really need active-players because they generate the fun and excitement, they drive the story and get the action rolling.

I asked one of my players in the Sunday game (Sunday mid-morning is always my lowest attended session of a convention) what the best game he played in was.  He didn't remember the system and barely remembered the scenario.  So, I asked him point-blank what made it so fun.  He said the players. The players were really engaged and into the game (usually preceded by a passionate GM), and their enthusiasm just made everything else better.

So, there you go.  I think I'll go back to max-8 player sessions because there's a better chance of getting 3 or 4 active players.  I still remember a couple of different Game Hole Con sessions with 7 or 8 players each and how wild and crazy things got.  Looking back, each table had 4 or 5 active players, and it just made everything about the game come alive... well, more alive.

Let's talk about the pre-gens, shall we?  So, this convention, I decided to make things easier on me and the players.  I came up with ten PCs that all fit on a single page.  They didn't have any numbers or mechanics, though.  Just name, class, race, something about who they are as people, and a significant moment in their background that intersected with another PC's background (sometimes 2 or 3 PCs).

I printed-out 50 of those sheets so every single time a player sat down, he'd get that sheet to have and look at the entire game (frequently, players would write down who their companions were playing in the margins of that PC roster for easier interactions), then keep after the session was over, if they wanted some kind of souvenir.  Once everyone had picked, I'd hand every player a simplified character sheet and we'd spend about 2 minutes filling in the numbers... level, armor class, hit-points, etc.

That was literally it.  Because it was always the same ten PCs, I pretty much knew them all, and there was enough variety that everyone had something cool to pick from - without so much choice that it took them forever to decide.  Best of all (though it happened to be completely unnecessary in all the games I ran this weekend), the remaining, unchosen PCs could be in the background yet at the ready.  So, if one PC died, that player could assume one of the other PCs on that sheet immediately, rather than waiting to create a new character and for me to find a way to jump them back in.

That is now something I'm going to do with every fucking convention for the rest of my days... unless I stumble upon something even better.  If you struggle with character generation or pre-gens, I suggest you give it a try.

My games being Cha'alt, the scenarios focused on the Federation, the Great Old Ones, zoth, the Loc-Na'ar, bizarre creatures, weird dimensional rifts and sacrificial altars.

What else?  Oh yeah, Crimson Escalation!  I've used that for every game I've run (except for a couple playtests of Obsidian Escalation) for the last year or so.  It's awesome, and I've never had a combat last more than 7 rounds.  The only downside, if you can even call it that, is that long boring battles won't pad your session.  So a standard 4-hour sessions will probably come out at about 3 hours because your players didn't waste time with, "I hit... 2 points of damage," on the 11th round.  

As a GM, I tried to narrate almost every single attack, which (most of the time) went well.  Every once in a while I was tongue-tied or flummoxed, but there was so much flavor text that it was like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  I even got to try out GM Ben Shapiro's "How do you do it?" or "Tell me how you do it?" to good effect!

If you haven't seen Ben Shapiro Game Master D&D, I recommend you watch this.  I never expected to take GMing cues from an A.I. Ben Shaprio Game Master... but here we are.

I bought a book on writing that I hope to use in my scenario design and GMing (will review that once I've read it), and 3 sets of dice.  I would have bought more at the con (other than food, which was fantastic, BTW - that chocolate croissant from the lobby coffee shop [warmed-up] changed my life), but I only sold 2 Cha'alt books and the dice merchants wouldn't budge on price.  $43 for three sets of dice - ouch!

My favorite of the new dice is called Blueberry Doom.  They have such a cool look.  I don't normally go in for opaque dice, but the weirdly marbled "blueberry squirt" coloration in these lavender dice with deep- purple numbering just tickles my whimsical bones, I guess.

If I had sold a couple trilogies, I would have sprung for a matching set of The Last Unicorn bookmarks for my girls or fantasy artwork for my game room.  The economy, at least among independent creators, is circular.

Oh, and the highlight of the convention (but only if you count Twitter likes) was sitting directly behind Vince Vaughn during one of my games.  When he was done, Vince stood up to leave and was swarmed by several people wanting pics and whatnot.  I didn't want to add to his fan-service burden, so waited until he had a free second and asked for a quick picture, which he graciously accommodated.  

Who else did I meet and take pictures with?  So many fine gamer folks, I can't name them all... but there are pics in my Twitter feed, if you go look through @VengerSatanis.  The most notable was running into "ShadowDark Kelsey" who knew my buddy Colin.  Kelsey was really nice, telling me how much she enjoyed my writing, said that she was a fan of mine, and that Kort'thalis Publishing books like How To Game Master Like A Fucking Boss had inspired her.

Yes, if I had thought of it, I would have put a signed and numbered hardcover Cha'alt book in Vince Vaughn's hands before he exited, but it just never occurred to me.  Next time!

Speaking of next time, the next gaming convention I'll be attending just happens to be the one I'm organizing - VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo.  Grab your ticket today (limited to 100 attendees)!

And if you'd like some hardcover Cha'alt trilogy love, Here's your chance.

I believe the Crystals of Chaos campaign is picking up where it left off this coming weekend, so I've already got to start thinking about more GMing stuff... plus, finish revising the Advanced Game Mastering Like A Fucking Boss manuscript before it goes to layout.  

And here's a photo of me with my friend Griff from BlackMoor Film fame!

Feel free to comment down below.  I'd love to get your feedback (especially if you played in one of my sessions).  Alas, there's always room for improvement, so criticism is also welcome.  Well, not welcome, but I'm learning to tolerate it.  ;)

Make your next game the very best it can be, hoss!


p.s.  On the drive back home I was talking to Colin about incentivizing players and their PCs to interact with stuff that has little or nothing to do with the main objective.  So many times, the players bypassed, ignored, or spent minimal time exploring aspects of the adventure that didn't intersect with the main objective.  I'm going to tackle that next!

Thursday, March 23, 2023

Under Fuchsia Ska'ai & Gary Con


I'll be heading to Gary Con tomorrow morning!

Today, I'll be making preparations... just like I've been doing for the last few days (crafted an original adventure just for the con).  Creating this blog post has been on my mind for awhile, so let's get to it.

Below is issue #2 of Under Fuchsia Ska'aki, the Cha'alt webcomic I'm making with Jae Tanaka.  Here is issue #1 and a mid-issue insert.

What else?  Well, I'll be running Cha'alt at Gary Con.  I think all my sessions are full, but still say "Hi."  And if you want to buy some hardcover Cha'alt books direct from me, I'll have a few on-hand and ready to sign.

As a fun little bonus, I'm offering Encounter Critcial III for FREE all weekend!  If you liked Crimson Dragon Slayer D20, you'll definitely get a kick out of EC3, it's sister-game.

I'll blog about my experiences when I get back on Sunday (plus, there'll be a new episode of Inappropriate Characters to livestream on YouTube).  I will also be tweeting about the convention and might make a video or two, as well.

Until then, game well, hoss... game well!


p.s.  Here's a link to VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo my own RPG convention happening this July in Madison, WI.  And if you want those gorgeous Cha'alt books, but won't be at Gary Con this weekend, prices and ordering info here.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Crystals of Chaos [session report #6]


Six sessions probably doesn't seem like much of a milestone, but still feels that way to me. 

This campaign is set in the eldritch, gonzo, science-fantasy, post-apocalyptic world of Cha'alt.  And I've been using Crimson Dragon Slayer D20 to run it.

We had a full table of six players at the new space - the game room in my house.  Finally, after the pandemic and cleaning it (I had been using it as a storage room to house Cha'alt books, among other things), my gaming space was back in use.

  • Jackal - dwarf warrior
  • Crandol - half-orc warrior
  • Zagreus - dwarf thief
  • Gath - human priest
  • Ro-Robard - dwarf sorcerer
  • Heighten Chancery Philthrop III - halfling thief

Now, I'm just going to come out and say it... I don't think this session was as successful as previous ones.  I wanted to change things up and go for a different kind of adventure, which I think is a good thing.  

This session also comes after a two-week break due to our family vacation.

Session six was about going to Alpha Blue, the space station brothel, carousing, getting hired for a special mission, and then purchasing high-tech equipment.

Before they had a chance to leave the solar system in their weird tri-crystal artifact sentient starship, the ship detected a barrier that shifted this area of the galaxy out of phase with the rest of space.  The ship had a plan (they need to name that thing, but we know it's approximately the size of the Millennium Falcon and the interior is covered with leopard-print shag carpeting walls) - create a wormhole to break through the phase-shift.

They had to enter weird space... I don't know if this is something I invented or subconsciously latched onto and ripped off from somewhere else.  But this was the description I gave (with slight edit)...

You've just entered weird space... outside the ship you perceive rainbow slime, melting reality, ectoplasm vibrating, the sound of strange primitive drums, the smell of blue jellybeans, time-lapse of fruit decomposing... the bananas becoming sentient just before turning to a primordial soup... a leprechaun sprinkles shamrock gold dust over the primordial banana ooze, so that it now resembles the glowing chartreuse ichor known as zoth.  Llamas sit around a table playing D&D as they sip the ancient zoth from teacups.

Then, everyone blacked-out and entered some kind of dream state where they encountered a humanoid clown-worm with outstretched demon claw - each of seven fingers had a different colored string attached in a bow (according to the colors of the rainbow).  Everyone chose... and then the surgeon from Heighten Chancery Philthrop III's black urn ashes hallucination reappeared and swallowed the halfling into its torso-void.

When the PCs awoke, they each had a crystal the color they chose in the palm of their hand.  The clown worm-thing said something about this determining their destiny, remaking the universe, and extolling a terrible price.

How the crystals fit into the campaign might be revealed next session.  I'll put down what each adventurer chose so there's another record (besides my notes).  Incidentally, I had each player roll a d4 before the clown / string encounter, pairings meant that some PCs were together and others were alone.  That meant two or more PCs could conceivably choose the same color and have the same colored crystal at the end (which actually happened)...

Jackal chose indigo, Crandol also chose indigo (because he asked his demon sword and I rolled randomly), Zagreus chose orange, Gath chose violet, Ro-Robard the Red chose red (duh!), and Heighten Chancery Philthrop III chose yellow.

Ironically, I spent the most time preparing for this adventure than any other of the Crystals of Chaos campaign so far.  Who knows, maybe I'm wrong and everyone thought this session was one of the best.  Looking back, it's hard to pinpoint what did or didn't work.  Maybe the fish-out-of-water vibe I was going for took the players by surprise.  The format of revolving social interactions definitely kept everyone on their toes.  

There was a duel between Ro-Robard and an insect-humanoid that was fun.  Although, how it went was way different than how I anticipated it in my head... which is a good thing, but I switched lanes in my mind while crossing an imaginative intersection, and there was a disconnect.

The party's halfling thief got laid, but it kind of felt forced.  By that I mean, the reptilian prostitute I was roleplaying put in all the work, but maybe that was par for the course (again, I wrongly assumed it was going to go down differently than it did).  I was dimly recalling his liaisons with the tall woman from last session, but I should have laid more groundwork in the roleplaying.  It's possible I was rushing myself because I didn't want to neglect the rest of the group.

There was a bar fight between Zagreus, Crandol, and Gath against this VIP dude that Yogoo (this Yoda-like character with a massive dong) wanted to intimidate.  Even with disadvantage, I rolled a critical-hit with the VIP's bodyguard.  Zagreus nearly bought the moisture farm as he was brought down to -3 HP.

Jackal did some gambling, betting on a droid fight, as well as, placing a wager for some spacer who was banned from betting on such droid battles.  He won some credits.

Eventually, the entire party listened to Astra, a Draconian Princess, and her space-ape companion Graaawl.  Basically, they hired the PCs to transport a rebel leader named Garren Voy out of this prison facility on Frigia (an ice planet) and then transport him to Cha'alt.  Astra offered the PCs 10,000 credits, which they thought was a little low, so she upped it with a 2,500 signing bonus.  They gladly accepeted.

Graaawl was a professional assassin, so he went with the party to make sure the mission goes well and transfer funds when Garren Voy was safely transported to Cha'alt.

On the way out, Ro-Robard gets lured over to an exotic dancer.  A little tentacle squirmed out of her g-string.  The tentacle clutched a data-crystal in its suckers and deposited it in the palm of the crystalline cyborg dwarf sorcerer.

They had it scanned on the way to the high-tech equipment emporium.  Long story short, rescuing the resistance leader might be one big psy-op by the Federation, as the data-crystal revealed Federation plans to release undercover agents posing as resistance leaders on Cha'alt.  Eventually, the destabalization will lead to regime change.  During the civil unrest, the Federation plans to buy up strategic zoth reserves, continuing to drain the planet of its natural resources.

No names were given, but at the end of the hologram transmission, it warned to beware of the banana!

And we just about ran out of time as the PCs shopped for the upcoming mission.  Here's a breakdown of the gear, benefits, and prices I came up with...

  • Power Armor; gets you to 20 AC; 500 credits
  • Slow-Field Armor; gives you a 2 in 6 chance to dodge out of the way as the thing trying to kill you is slowed down as it enters your personal shielding zone; 200 credits
  • Laser Shield; shield made out of pure energy that gives you a +2 to AC; 100 credits
  • Disintegrator; on a successful attack, the target must make a successful saving throw or be disintegrated, but you have to wait at least 10 minutes per shot; 1000 credits.
  • Plasma Cannon; 4d6 damage; 400 credits
  • Thermal detonator; 8d6 damage, save for half; 50 credits
  • Laser-Sword; 3d6 damage and 2 in 6 chance of severing a limb; 250 credits
  • Blaster; 3d6 damage; 200 credits
  • High-Tech Thieves Tools; gives you advantage on doing thief type stuff; 400 credits.
  • Hoverboard; travels up to 20 miles per hour and it's fun / looks cool; 150 credits.
  • Advanced Weapon Systems (starship upgrade); advantage on attacks with your starship; 5000 credits.

Perhaps my ever so slight disappointment with this session has to do with the fact that I haven't run Alpha Blue for a couple years, and that was a convention one-shot.  I'm out of practice.  Or maybe it's just me, and everything went great?  It's honestly hard to tell from this side of the screen.

Since this day was a different format that my wife actually suggested, gaming 2 - 6pm, then pizza, then watch a movie, instead of a movie on Friday night and then gaming noon - 4pm on either Saturday (or occasionally Sunday), I left to go get the pizza immediately after the session ended, so didn't get to hear any feedback.  So, it's possible that's contributing to my unsureness...

Regardless, I'm looking forward to session #7 (in two weeks) where the PCs travel to Frigia, attempt to complete their mission (which might include killing the dude they've been hired to rescue if he turns out to be a Federation agent), and then, presumably, back to Cha'alt.

As it happens, this coming weekend is Gary Con!  Ro-Robard the Red's player and I are traveling to Lake Geneva, WI to attend one of my favorite gaming conventions (2nd place in my affections would have to be Game Hole Con).  I will be running a series of Cha'alt adventures, and have to start preparing for that.

Thanks for reading,


p.s. Want to purchase some gorgeous hardcover Cha'alt books?  They're signed, numbered, and include the PDFs.  Ordering details here!  And of course, there's my own convention happening again this July in Madison, WI.  Of course, I'm referring to VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo.  It's exclusively for old-school, OSR, and traditional roleplaying games.  Limited to 100 attendees - grab your ticket today!

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Thirsty For Cha'alt


I'm back from vacation!  What's up, hoss?

Besides the usual family fun, I spent a few free moments thinking about everything from thirst, dehydration, cosmic horror, hallucinations, mysticism, altered states of consciousness, madness, and all that good stuff.

I made a video about it, but my ideas hadn't fully coalesced into what they are now (and everything here is still subject to change).  So, without further ado...

When you buy provisions, resupply, stock-up on water, then it's assumed you have enough to get by.  After all, this isn't your first foray into the desert.  You live on Cha'alt for fuck's sake!  You take little sips here and there in order to survive.

However, if you want to take a big delicious cool drink of life-giving water (I strongly recommend PCs roleplay this - at least the player has to say that his character is taking a long drink), that PC gets a water die (d6) he can add to any role in the next hour of time in the campaign.

That PC is actually able to acquire as many water dice as he wants, just by guzzling water like it's going out of style.  The water dice can be saved up and used for any roll, keeping in mind the time limit.  The water drank this morning will not sustain you tonight.

However, when that d6 comes up with a 1, it means he got too greedy and/or misjudged the amount of water needed.  No more water, no more water die (any remainder of collected water dice evaporate).  Now, the GM rolls a thirst die (d6) whenever that PC rolls a d20 (other rolls are exempt), and that result is automatically subtracted from the PC's roll.

If the GM rolls a 6 on the thirst die, that PC is suddenly overcome by the terrifying realization that all things irrevocably succumb to the nigrescent, faceless, tentacled devourer and his demonic insects buzzing and howling in the desert as the lavender and violet moons rise in the deep purple sky.  All things are merely ephemeral grains of sand to Ubbo-Sa'athla, The Most Ancient Of All... also known as The Thing That Existed Before The Universe Was Dreamed.

It is a dark night of the soul, a spiritual angst caused by visions of Ubbo-Sa'athla, seemingly on the precipice of wakefulness.  It is said that when Ubbo-Sa'athla wakes, his dreams which have become our reality will no longer hold this universe together and all that is will be as nothing.

The Great Old Ones are prophesied in the Nya'azian scrolls to have manifested from another plane of existence, outside our universe.  They struggle against this existential threat so that his awakening may either be postponed or averted.  

At this point, mechanically speaking, the GM could do a number of things... catatonia followed by a creeping madness, out of body state where the subject goes in and out of reality, random table with various bizarre results, all rolls have a negative-6 modifier, etc.  

All this lasts until the PC takes a short rest and finds meaning again - symbolized by a ceremony invoking the Great Old Ones while the hallucinogenic sorcerous ichor known as zoth is imbibed... allowing the PC to come to grips with this horrifying understanding and overcome the soul-crushing darkness pulling at the frayed outer threads of his unraveling sanity (that should be roleplayed out between the player and GM). 

Having said all that, looking forward to hearing your comments, questions, and hopefully feedback if you use this in your own Cha'alt one-shot or campaign!

This weekend is session 6 of the Crystals of Chaos campaign, and the following weekend I'll be running even more Cha'alt at Gary Con!



p.s. Want a gorgeous hardcover Cha'alt book or maybe the entire trilogy?  Ordering details here.  And don't forget to grab your ticket for VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo this July in Madison, WI.  

Friday, March 3, 2023

Fuchsia Ska'ai Insertion


Here's a little something between issues of Under Fuchsia Ska'ai...

See issue #1...

A bunch of us will be hard at work revising the manuscript for Advanced Game Mastering Like A Fucking Boss next week.  Until then, I wish you fantastic gaming!  And hopefully I'll see some of you at Gary Con...



p.s. Don't forget about VENGER CON II: Electric Boogaloo this July in Madison, WI... there's going to be so much old-school, OSR, and traditional roleplaying!  Also, if you want hardcover Cha'alt books, ordering details here